Monday, August 31, 2009

"There's a Little Holy Spirit in Here"

I'll say.

A comment from the blog where I found this gem:
What are the odds, my friends, that the bottom of a stiff-bristled broom would be so uniformly flat as to let it stand on its own? One in, er, 100, maybe? Or is it silly to ask about probability where the hand of the Holy Spirit is so clearly at work?
I personally think it's adorable that she thinks the Holy Spirit is in the business of making brooms stand on their own. He's not now, but maybe in heaven, if we're lucky.

I'll Take Some Christian Improv, Please, Hold the Eternal Salvation

Time Columnist Joel Stein recently joined the stage to perform with Saddleback Church's "Improv Group" (not kidding...they have one) and then wrote about it:
Their goal, Barnes explained, was to give people a way to get friends to the church who have turned down an invitation to a service. This made sense until I thought about the kind of person who would say, "I'm not interested in eternal salvation, but I'd love to spend a Saturday night in a small conference room watching Christian improvisational comedy!"
Again, Jesus come quickly.

Choosing Thomas

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4)
Jesus, thank you for life, but please come quickly.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Uh, Best Dog Costume Ever

The Gospel is Not Religion

Mark Galli:
Unfortunately for fans of religion, the Christian gospel is not primarily interested in religion. To be sure, the New Testament talks about religion. It discourages sexual license and other forms of immorality. It encourages patience, kindness, and other virtues. It tells believers how to worship aright. There is nothing unusual in all this—all religions have similar admonitions. In this respect, the New Testament is realistic. It doesn't pretend that the common rules of morality and social concern don't apply to the church. It understands that groups of people, even if you call them churches, have to behave themselves if they're going to get anything done!

But this sort of thing, religion, does not stand at the heart of the New Testament message. The gospel isn't primarily about helping individuals to live the life they've always wanted; it tells people to die to their yearning for self-fulfillment. It is not about helping people feel good about themselves, but telling them that they are dying. It's not about improving people, but killing the old self and creating them anew. It's not about helping people make space for spirituality in their busy lives, but about a God who would obliterate all our private space. The gospel is not about getting people to cooperate with God in making the world a better place—to give it a fresh coat of paint, to remodel it; instead it announces God's plan to raze the present world order and build something utterly new.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mute Math on Letterman

Pretty killer:

Desires That Organize to Oppose the Good in Marriage

Dave Harvey, in When Sinners Say "I Do", p. 49:
You realize, don't you, that there are desires within you that organize to oppose the good things you want to do in marriage? When we're not moving toward God, these desires don't cause any trouble. But just try, for example, to plan a regular prayer time with your spouse. Or seek to make yourself accountable in an area in which he or she would like you to grow. How about when you confess a "small" sin, and suddenly you want to point out the really "big" sin your spouse dumped on you last week? Your warring, sinful desires come out swinging. Why? Because their purpose is to keep you from doing the things you want to do for God.

Getting Old is a Gift From God

So good:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Twitter Shoutout

Forgiveness is Conditional

Someone said this to me a few years ago. "Forgiveness is conditional." Forgiveness, he believed the Bible taught, was not something you gave out freely, without condition. Unless the person who has sinned against you actually repents and seeks out forgiveness, you should not forgive them. I didn't want to believe him. Forgiveness is unconditional. It is what I had been taught all my life. "The only way you can be free of the pain someone else has caused you is to forgive them." My reason? Because Jesus dispensed forgiveness freely, and I want to be like Jesus. And until about fifteen minutes ago, I still believed that.

Then I read an article by Chris Brauns. It is one of the most amazing things I have read all year and I suggest you take some time to read it. Based on a conversation he'd like to have with Keley Grammar, Brauns "unpacks" forgiveness, exposing the obvious biblical teaching that forgiveness is, in actuality, something you offer freely, but only give out conditionally. Here's one section:
Contrary to what many say, in my book, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, I argued that forgiveness is conditional. Christians are not called to automatically forgive every offense. Rather, we should offer forgiveness to all. Said another way, we should maintain an attitude of forgiveness. But biblical forgiveness is more than a feeling. It is something that happens between two parties, and it takes place in the fullest sense only when the offending party repents and the relationship is restored.

While I include more detail in the book, the Biblical argument for conditional forgiveness is straight-forward.

• Christians are called to forgive others as God forgave them (Matthew, 6:12, Ephesians 4:32).
• God forgives conditionally. God only forgives those who repent of their sins and turn in saving faith to Him (1 John 1:9, John 3:36).
• Likewise, we also should offer forgiveness to all.
• We forgive those who repent. Indeed, we are obliged to forgive (Luke 17:3-4), knowing that whatever someone has done to offend us pales in comparison to what we have done to offend God (Matthew 18:32-33). (See what others say on conditional forgiveness here).

If I was talking with Grammer and I suggested that forgiveness is not automatic, he might ask, "Didn't Jesus forgive those who crucified him, even as he was on the Cross (Luke 23:33-34)?" The short answer to that question is, "no, Jesus did not forgive them." By praying, Jesus demonstrated an attitude of forgiveness. He prayed that those who crucified him would be forgiven in the future; he did not thank God that they were already forgiven. If they had already been forgiven, such a prayer would have been superfluous.
Read the whole thing.

He Can Count!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Let Your Repentance be a Growing Habit

Addendum to this post, J.C. Ryle:
Let your repentance be a growing habit, your faith an increasing faith, your holiness a progressive holiness, your victory over the world a more decided victory, your love to the brethren a more hearty love, your watchfulness over yourself a more jealous watchfulness.

Things Not To Do With Your Kids

From Harvey Bludorn, Ten Things NOT to Do With Young Children:
1. Do not let your child be a passive observer.

2. Do not let your child ignore God.

3. Do not let your child explore the world only from a cathode ray tube.

4. Do not do for your child what he can do for himself.

5. An important corollary to this is: Do not do for yourself what your child can do for you.

6. Do not allow your child to ignore you.

7. Do not let your child rule you.

8. Do not set your child in front of a television screen.

9. Do not let your child waste away.

10. Do not let your child play in a cyber world.
Harsh, but tons of truth here. Click over for descriptions of each.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How Often Do I Fast, Weep and Mourn for My Own Sin?

From a friend's blog, a reflection on Joel 2:12:
From what I understand about Joel, he has received word from the Lord to plead with the Jews to repent and return to the Lord. He warns of impending judgments from the Lord in response to their sin.
Joel 2:12 reads:
Therefore, also now, says the Lord, turn and keep on coming to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning [until every hindrance is removed and the broken fellowship is restored.]
A commentary by Matthew Henry suggests:
Our business therefore on earth must especially be, to secure an interest in our Lord Jesus Christ; and we should seek to be weaned from objects which will soon be torn from all who now make idols of them. There must be outward expressions of sorrow and shame, fasting, weeping, and mourning; tears for trouble must be turned into tears for the sin that caused it. But rending the garments would be vain, except their hearts were rent by abasement and self-abhorrence; by sorrow for their sins, and separation from them.
I began to wonder about my own life. What objects in my life have I made into idols? Are my tears over my own sin or for how now I'm left to deal with the affects of my sin? How often do I fast, weep and mourn for my own sin? How do I rend my heart?

I recognize that Jesus has taken sin away from me by His death on the cross but shouldn't that make me more aware of my own sin? Shouldn't I understand the cost He paid to save me from spending an eternity away from God? Sometimes I wonder if I truly understand it all.

God calls to people all over the world to turn and keep coming to Him with their entire heart. He wants "every hindrance removed" which means that nothing stands in the way of surrendering our life to Him. His greatest desire for us is to have our "broken fellowship" with Him restored.
Spot on. Or, as Martin Luther said, "The whole life of believers should be repentance."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Women Will Do Anything to Ward Off the Death of an Infant

Christopher Hitchens, in a review of Elizabeth Edward's new memoir, commenting on the ways in which she deals 'religiously' with the death of her 16-year-old son:
As to the other great supposed cure for isolation, the consolation of religion, Elizabeth is at the same time vulnerable and skeptical. In describing the dreams and superstitions and fantasies that assailed her when she lost her boy, she confirms something that I have long thought to be true about the apparent conundrum of female religiosity: Why is it women who keep up the congregations in male-dominated places of worship? That’s easy: women do all the childbearing, and they will try anything—anything—to ward off the illness or death of an infant. They will also grieve over and commemorate such a catastrophe long after the menfolk have “moved on.” Elizabeth manages to get a slight laugh out of a sad parishioner at her North Carolina church who says that his unending misery is like the movie Groundhog Day (“I think he must have left before the end of the film”), and she ends up with a sort of deistic compromise whereby she doesn’t demand the right to have an explanation from God but doesn’t believe he intervenes, either. Like a surprising number of people, she fails to see any contradiction in the idea that God “gave” her “free will.” When she goes to texts for illumination, she is more likely to quote Ovid than the Gospels. From the Old Testament she prefers the Book of Job, and no wonder.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

You'll Love Your Adpoted Kids as Much as Genetic Ones

Jim Caviezel, on adopting a little boy and girl from China:
I don’t even know who I was before (laughs). Dennis Quaid told me a long time ago when he had his son Jack, 'You’ll have emotions in you that you didn’t even know existed before you had a child.' I now know what that feels like. Even though they’re adopted, it’s as strong as any instinct. That’s what blew me away. I always thought if I adopted that I wouldn’t have the same feeling [as I would] if they were genetically my own children. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Best Find of the Year Post: 100 Bacon Recipes

Here (and a bonus, video).

For Your Kids, Practice What You Preach

J.C. Ryle, swiftly kicking most of us in the face:
Instruction, advice, and commands will profit little, unless they are backed up by the pattern of your own life. Your children will never believe you are in earnest, and really wish them to obey you, so long as your actions contradict your counsel.

Be Like Paul: Uphold Both Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

D.A. Carson, on the theological contrast of Romans 8 and 9 with Romans 10, in For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word:
The point to observe is that the same Paul ho insists so strongly in Romans 8 and 9 that God is unconditionally sovereign insists no less strongly in Romans 10 that people must believe in their hearts and confess gospel truth with their mouths if they are to be saved, and lays on the conscience of believers the imperative to bring this good news to those how haven't heard. Any theology that attempts to diminish God's sovereignty by appealing to human freedom is as profoundly un-Paulie and any theology that somehow diminishes human responsibility and accountability be appealing to some crude, divine fatalism.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

So Many Links (19 Aug 2009)

Zombies would probably wipe out the human race if they really existed scientists say.

Piper on Lewis and Edwards and the "Layers of Self-Admiration."

FYI: Jumping into water might help you survive a nuclear blast.

How long, exactly, does Bill Murray's character spend in Groundhog Day?

Word of the day: Celerity.

Nerds Rejoice! Reasearchers have calculated pi out to 2.5 trillion decimal places!

Pastor Dad, a free online book by Mark Driscoll.

Obligatory "Japanese People are the Coolest People in the World" video:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Prosperity Gospel Promises Far Too Little

Al Mohler, in response to a NYT article reporting on the events of a 9000 person "Prosperity Gospel" conference:
Prosperity theology is a False Gospel. Its message is unbiblical and its promises fail. God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God.

In the end, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity. While we should seek to understand what drives so many into this movement, we must never for a moment fail to see its message for what it is -- a false and failed gospel.
Whole thing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Other Lives: "It Was the Night"

Is the Task of Missions Forgotten? I Pray Not

The Extent of the Atonement

Or, for whom did Christ die? Michael Bird posts responses to this question from three different theologians from three different camps. Of course, I side with Paul Helm, the Calvinist:
‘Definite atonement’ is an improvement on ‘Limited atonement’, but neither phrase clearly captures and expresses the idea, which is not exclusively to do with the atonement. The view is that the Triune God ensures the salvation of men and women, boys and girls. He does not merely make possible their salvation, leaving it to the sinner to make up his own mind. Rather, whom he intends to save, he saves, through the distinct but inseparable work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Augustine puts it in his letter to Simplicianus in AD 396, God’s grace is effectual, effective, actually ensuring that those ordained to eternal life believe, secured by the golden chain of Romans 8.

What is at issue is an estimate of divine grace. The biblical basis for the view does not rest upon a single proof verse, or a few of these, (though verses such as John 6.37 and Acts 13.48 and of course Romans 8 28f should be borne in mind). Rather it is founded on the implications of Scripture’s overall witness to God’s powerful love, to the spiritual death of fallen mankind, and to the actual salvation of countless people.

By contrast, the Arminius-inspired view leaves the outcome of the work of redemption uncertainly suspended upon human choice, even though valiant efforts are made to link it to the divine foreknowledge, though in a weaker-than-biblical sense. And the Amyraldian view is in danger of upsetting the unity of the Trinity, and confounding the work of the preacher, heralding the grace of God indiscriminately to all, with the work of God. Through such means as preaching, God brings his elect to be justified, and to be sanctified, and to be glorified, calling them all out of darkness into his marvellous light.
For BenWitherington's Arminian view, click here.

For Michael Jensen's Amyraldian View, click here.


You Must Know Your Sin Lest You Go Back to the World

J.C. Ryle:
Without a thorough conviction of sin, men may seem to come to Jesus and follow Him for a season, but they will soon fall away and return to the world.

Concerned About Your Privacy?


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nine Reminders for Parents

Via Life Together, David Eby's nine reminders in raising kids:
First, know your call to stewardship. Parenting is part of biblical stewardship. God has entrusted children to you. They are not really your children; they belong to Christ. You are accountable to your Lord for faithful, not necessarily ’successful,’ parenting. Parents are pastors and teachers to the church in their home. Children are your congregation. Pastor faithfully with a vision for stewardship.

Second, see your mission clearly. You are training the next generation of laborers, leaders, warriors, and servants for Christ’s bride and the kingdom of grace.

Third, keep the gospel central. Your privilege is to evangelize your children. You’ll have countless opportunities, over many years, even a lifetime. Your message is: ‘See God’s holy character, see the sin and corruption in your heart and in dad’s and mom’s hearts, and embrace Christ in the gospel, the only hope for sinners.’ Keep preaching the gospel of grace to yourself and to your children. It’s the foundation and motivation for everything in life.

Fourth, pray for your child’s true conversion. Never be content with outward Christian conformity. Like you, your child needs radical grace to address radical corruption. Pray for the Spirit’s deep work in the new heart.

Fifth, model servanthood. Let your children see your submission to Christ, your devotion to prayer and reading the Word, your use of time and money, your marriage depending on grace, your commitment to your family and to worship, your love for the church, your hospitality, your passion for world missions, and your compassion for the alien, the poor, and the needy. Indelible learning comes by watching.

Sixth, anticipate many failures and capitalize on them to teach the gospel. Parents are imperfect disciples. Confessing your sins and failures to your children and humbly seeking their forgiveness models the gospel like few things you can ever do.

Seventh, expect great things from grace. God’s grace is greater than parental sins and child sins. God loves to display His grace and power through human weakness.

Eighth, keep praying for your kids after the nest is empty. God is still working. Keep trusting His transforming grace.

Finally, pray for the humanly impossible–the new heart from the Holy Spirit.
Whole thing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Christians Are Morally Obligated to Support ObamaCare Because Jesus Would

Good lesson to be learned here on how not to do biblical theology from "Ed":

Dear Ed,

When Jesus comes back, his offer of free, universal healthcare will be off the table.



Good Question

From a

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is Your God Dangerous?

Another barn-burner of an editorial from Mark Galli:
Before giving us the Bible or the sacraments or music or theology or whatever, God should have attached a warning label: "Danger: Do not use this without proper supervision; handling this improperly could be injurious to spiritual health."

Instead—to take one example—God just hands us the Bible. And we take this pack of dynamite (with the fuse lit, no less!) and constantly misinterpret and misuse it; we manipulate it to manipulate others, and then ignore it when it suits our purposes. It is supposed to be a means of the gracious revelation of the love of God, but so often we turn it into a new rulebook for the righteous and religious. Yes, through the Bible many, many come to faith. And yet through our use of the Bible, people get confused, some get hurt, some are alienated from the church, others from God himself. The Bible is both a blessing and a danger in our hands.

Even worship, which takes place in a "sanctuary," a safe place, has a scary patina to it. Our services are crowded with cheerful tunes and inspiring sermons, with jokes from the platform and smiles everywhere—so much so that we forget sometimes that we are in the presence of God Almighty, our Maker and Judge and Redeemer. If we lose the sense that worship is a dangerous place, well, we're probably not in the presence of the biblical God. As writer Annie Dillard put it in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

Monkeys in the Swimming Pool

I challenge you to find a more hilarious and satisfying video this year.

Sermons Without Christ is Like Bread Without Flour

Does your pastor preach Christ in every sermon? A compilation of quotes from C.H. Spugeron (compiled by Tony Reinke):
The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching. [Exposition of Acts 13:13-49 published in 1904]

Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach. [sermon: “A Prayer for the Church” (1867)]

Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertize it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour; put it in every paper, “Bread without flour” and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other tradesmen. … A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of “believe and live.” [sermon: “Christ the Glory of His People” (3/22/1868)]
Whole thing.

Speaking of Youth Groups...

We Are Killing Our Kids' Imaginations

Michael Chabon, on the notion that kids don't have the freedom to roam anymore, and that it is suppressing their imaginations:
Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map—marked here there be tygers and mean kid with air rifle—that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children.

A striking feature of literature for children is the number of stories, many of them classics of the genre, that feature the adventures of a child, more often a group of children, acting in a world where adults, particularly parents, are completely or effectively out of the picture. Think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Railway Children, or Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy presents a chilling version of this world in its depiction of Cittàgazze, a city whose adults have all been stolen away. Then there is the very rich vein of children’s literature featuring ordinary contemporary children navigating and adventuring through a contemporary, nonfantastical world that is nonetheless beyond the direct influence of adults, at least some of the time. I’m thinking of the Encyclopedia Brown books, the Great Brain books, the Henry Reed and Homer Price books, the stories of the Mad Scientists’ Club, a fair share of the early works of Beverly Cleary.


The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children's imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible.
Completely agreed. I ran wild through the streets as a kid. Today when I see a child on their bike in the neighborhood, I instantly think, "My child will never do that." Though I am sure reasons for this run deep and wide, I can't help but think that we have made idols into our kids, that we believe that we are their protectors, not God. But that inevitably makes tragedy much harder to bear.

HT: Joe Carter

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Art Can't Satisfy Our Longing for Beauty

From an an interview with singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson:
Art can’t satisfy a longing for beauty. Art can pique it. It can remind us that we were made for ultimate beauty, but it’s only a window. When I’m confronted by a profoundly beautiful work of art, I feel a profound ache, like a kid peeking through the gate at Disney World. I’m comforted to remember that such a world exists, but I’m not yet allowed entrance. An artist hangs windows all over the shadowy world, lets the light in, reminds people to draw near and peek through.

Calories and Caffine

Youth miniStarZ

When the Sheep Care for the Shepherd (and the Sheep)

If you're interested, posted below is the sermon I preached this last Sunday, from 2 Timothy 1:15-18, on Onesiphorus. Click the play button to listen to it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brandon Heath and St. Sara

Sorry for those long posts. Here's a palette cleanser, "Love Never Fails":

Does Sola Scriptura Leave Room for the Work of the Holy Spirit?

John Frame, against the idea that sola Scriptura leaves no room for the work of the Holy Spirit:
Evaluating present-day situations is not merely a matter of taking the Bible and relating it to our extra-biblical knowledge. It is also a matter of spiritual insight, spiritual growth.

Many Christians, especially those who are inclined toward the charismatic movement, fault the Reformed for making the Christian life too much of an intellectual exercise. To them, the sola Scriptura principle looks like an academic way to God. You have a textbook; you read the textbook; you correlate it with other factual knowledge, and you act. But where is the spirit? Where is the personal relationship between ourselves and God?

I do believe that some Reformed teachers and writers can be justly criticized in this way. The idea of the "primacy of the intellect" has been prominent among some Reformed writers, and I believe that idea is not biblical at all. But the genius of Reformed theology is not at all to turn the Christian life into a kind of academic curriculum. Above all, our relationship to God is fully personal: covenantal, as the theologians say. Learning to apply Scripture to our present opportunities is also a personal process, the process of a developing personal relationship between ourselves and God.

Let us look at a familiar passage: Rom. 12:1, 2. We could also look at other passages, such as Eph. 5:8-10 and Phil. 1:9-10, where Paul uses a similar pattern of argument; but we'll stick with Rom. 12 for now. In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul has expounded very systematically, but also passionately, God's way of salvation in Jesus Christ. Then he comes to the question, "how shall we then live?" He says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The second verse tells us how to discover God's will. The question, "how do I discover God's will?" is a very practical question. High school young people ask it all the time. In Reformed churches, we tend to answer by saying "read your Bible," and that answer is very sound. sola Scriptura; the will of God is the content of the Bible. But as we have seen, finding the will of God in the Bible and relating it to my life situations can be rather complicated. It is not just a matter of reading; it is also a matter of understanding your own times in the light of Scripture. And what Paul tells us here is that it is also a matter of spiritual transformation. It is when by God's grace we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, turning away from worldly patterns of behavior, it is then that we come to know, and take delight in, the will of God.

1 Cor. 2:14 tells us that the "natural man," the unregenerate person, cannot rightly understand the word of God; the word is foolishness to him, and of course his ideas are foolish to God. But when God comes and transforms a person by his Spirit into his image, a whole new way of thinking develops. Paul calls that in 1 Cor. 2:16, "the mind of Christ." Rightly understanding and using God's word, therefore, is a spiritual process, an ethical process, the outgrowth of our personal relationship with God.

It is those who walk with God who are able to discern God's will for their lives. Perhaps that seems backwards to you. You might think that one must know God's will before one can obey him. Didn't J. Gresham Machen say that doctrine comes first, and then life is built on doctrine?

But of course it works both ways. Obedience is built on knowledge, but knowledge is also built on obedience. Knowledge contributes to obedience; obedience contributes to knowledge.

It sounds paradoxical, but of course we know how it works, don't we? We've all experienced it. Regeneration comes first; that's good Reformed doctrine. The first change in us is not something we do, but something God does. Unless a man is born again, he shall not see the kingdom of heaven. Regeneration creates both new knowledge and new obedience. The knowledge feeds on the obedience and the obedience feeds on the knowledge. Our knowledge of God's word helps us to obey him. But as we continue to obey him, over and over, overcoming temptation, going through trials in a godly way, we find ourselves thinking differently. New patterns of thought develop. With new habits of life come new habits of thought. We look at Scripture in a new way, and our knowledge grows. That leads to more obedience and more knowledge, on and on.

Hebrews 5:11-14 tells us a bit about this process. The writer here intends to enter a rather difficult theological discussion, concerning Melchizedek and his relation to Christ. He pauses, however, to observe that his readers are not quite ready for this teaching. They are "slow to learn." They should be teachers themselves, but at this point they need someone else to teach them the elementary truths of God's word all over again. They need milk, not solid food. Who subsists on milk? Babies, of course; the Hebrews are spiritual babies. Theological babies, we might say, since they are not ready for heavy, though valuable, theological teaching.

Well, who are the mature? Are they the ones with more book learning, with academic doctorates and the like? Surprisingly not. The mature, the ones who can take the solid food, the meaty theology, are those "who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil," verse 14.

Notice that maturity here is ethical in character, rather than merely intellectual. Theologically mature people are people who are ethically mature, who are able to make proper distinctions between good and evil. And where does that ethical maturity come from? From "exercise" gymnazein. From "constant use."

Theologically mature people are not necessarily the most academically astute; they are, rather, the ones who have been on the front lines of the battle against Satan and sin and death. They are the ones who have fought the good fight. When you seek a fellow-believer's help in discerning the will of God for your life, those are the people you should go to. Not the smarty-pants types whose sole accomplishment has been a string of As in college and seminary, but the people whose devotion to Christ you have come to admire: those who have made sacrifices for the kingdom; those who have suffered some persecution and ridicule; those who have been tested and, by God's grace, have prevailed.

So when Scripture sets forth the qualifications for elders in the church, it demands people of this kind: above reproach, sexually pure, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, managing his own family well, having a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Not much there on academics, except perhaps for the ability to teach; but even there the emphasis is less on academic preparation than on the ability to communicate.

Does Sola Scriptura Leave Room for Human Creativity?

John Frame, against the idea that sola Scriptura limits human creativity:
Certainly, sola Scriptura places some limits on human creativity. We are not permitted to do as we please; there is no autonomy over against God's word. Thus it might seem that the believer in sola Scriptura may never exercise his own judgment about anything.

But that also is certainly wrong. Indeed, every time we use the Bible, we use our own judgment. Reading the Bible is a rational activity, requiring human judgment. Choosing one text to study rather than another, for a particular purpose, is a rational activity. Interpreting the Bible is a rational activity, requiring a great deal of human judgment. And applying the Bible to people's needs is also an activity requiring human judgment.

The step of application is what we are most interested in now, because it is at that step that we seize opportunities. Let's say we wish to address a social question as Christians. It may be the question of abortion, or nuclear war, or government welfare, or genetic engineering. Well, the Bible doesn't directly address any of these issues. Finding out what the Bible requires of us in these areas requires quite a bit of human knowledge and wisdom.

We want to find biblical principles that apply to these situations; but to do that requires quite a bit of extra-biblical knowledge. If you want to know what the Bible teaches about abortion, you need to know some biblical texts; but you also have to know what abortion is, and the Bible alone will not tell you.

So when we say "Scripture alone," Scriptura sola, we don't mean that the Bible alone will give us all the facts, all the information, all the detailed knowledge we need to apply it to contemporary situations. Scripture is not sufficient to do that. For that purpose, Scripture needs to be supplemented-- by human logic, human knowledge, human wisdom-- so that we can make the best use of God's word.

What, then, is Scripture sufficient for? The answer is, it is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, as our confession puts it. Scripture is the only book in the world authored by the living God. Therefore it is ultimately authoritative, and it alone is ultimately authoritative. As ultimate authority it is sufficient. As our ultimate authority, it judges all of our wisdom, knowledge, and logic. We may need other information to apply the Scriptures; but we don't need any more words of God.

But within the bounds that Scripture provides, there is plenty of room for the play of faithful human creativity. Indeed, Scripture requires us to use all our God-given gifts to apply his word.

Surely God expects us, not only to read the Bible, but to use it, to apply it to the situations of our experience. The Fourth Commandment says "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Well, what about operating a factory on Sunday: is that sin? Well, Scripture doesn't say anything about factories. So are we simply to set that question aside? Certainly not. Scripture wants us to apply the principle of the Fourth commandment to all these issues.

To give another example: Some years ago I served on a committee in another denomination to study the question of abortion. Our committee gave to the general assembly a report which, one year before Roe v. Wade, was strongly opposed to abortion. I'm happy to say that the assembly did approve the report. But there were some in the assembly who opposed approving that report, arguing that the church should not speak about abortion at all. Why? Because the church is limited by sola Scriptura, and abortion is not mentioned in the Bible.

Well, it's true that abortion is not mentioned in the Bible. I believe there are passages which teach a very high view of unborn life, and of course there is the sixth commandment, which says, "Thou shalt not kill." But the Bible does not mention abortion as such. But put that fact in context. The Bible says "thou shalt not kill," but it doesn't mention the killing of Presbyterian ministers between 35 and 45 years of age. So somebody might argue that although we may preach against killing in general, we may not preach against the killing of ministers between 35-45, or any other particular kinds of killing. The bottom line to that argument is that you can preach only generalities, not specifics. Or perhaps the conclusion of this is even more radical: you cannot apply the Bible at all, you can only read it. For what these people were saying was that the church can say only those things which the Bible itself explicitly and specifically says. That would mean that we could not use the Bible at all. That would mean that we could not preach, only read the text.

But that certainly is not what sola Scriptura means. Scripture requires us not just to read it, but to use it, to apply it to all the issues that concern us today. "Preach the word," Paul says to Timothy.

In Matt. 22:23-33, the Sadducees asked Jesus a fairly stupid question: a widow was married to seven brothers; to whom will she be married in the Resurrection? They thought that this question made the whole idea of Resurrection look silly, and they hoped, by asking it, to make Jesus look silly too. The critics of our abortion report might have answered by saying: Scripture does not address that question, so we must not address it either. But Jesus does not do that at all. He assumes that the word of God is not silent, even about the Sadducees' stupid question. The Scripture has an answer to it. He says to them in verse 29, "You are in error, because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." See what he is saying? The Sadducees, in asking their question, showed ignorance of the Bible. The Bible had an answer, but they didn't know it. They were ignorant. The answer was, first, that people don't marry in the Resurrection. Second, the Old Testament does teach Resurrection from the dead. God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is not God of the dead, but of the living. Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still live before him. Notice that Jesus's answer goes far beyond the explicit or literal words of Scripture. Jesus takes several broad biblical principles and puts them together, applying them to the Sadducees' stupid question. And he says that because the Sadducees did not do this, they were ignorant of the Bible. You see the implication? You don't even know the Bible unless you can apply the Bible to questions that arise outside the Bible. You don't know the Bible unless you can use it rightly.

Yesterday I mentioned the 24th chapter of Luke, where the risen Christ speaks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. These men too were ignorant of Scripture. Jesus had to teach them, for they were foolish and slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken. What was it they didn't understand? The passage does not say that they had failed to read some passage or other. The problem of these disciples was that they had failed to see the connection between the Old Testament writings and their own experience. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had entered their experience. In their experience, he had suffered and died for sinners, but they hadn't understood, because they had failed to apply the Old Testament prophecies to the events of their own experience. So, says Jesus, they didn't understand the Scriptures. Again: you do not understand the Scriptures unless you can apply the Bible to extra-biblical experience.

There are many other examples of this principle. In John 5:39-40, Jesus upbraids the Jews because they searched the Scriptures, but did not believe the Scriptures' testimony to Christ. They didn't apply the Scriptures rightly, so they didn't understand the Scriptures. In Rom. 15:4, Paul says that the Scriptures, written long ago to be sure, were written for our learning. Remarkable statement, isn't it? Of what other book can it be said that though it was written to instruct people living hundreds of years after its composition? Surely that testimony speaks to the divine character of the Scriptures. It also implies that God gave us the Bible precisely so it could address contemporary issues.

Scripture, according to Paul, is "profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work," 2 Tim. 3:16-17. That's the language of application. Scripture is given-- not just to be read, but to be used, to be applied, to address current issues. In 2 Timothy, Paul is looking toward the day when he will be in heaven with Christ, and the church on earth will have to carry on without him. After Paul is gone, the church will face many challenges; Paul says that false teaching will abound, and the church will need to make judgments. The key to such judgments is Scripture, but Scripture applied intelligently to the new situations that arise. Scripture applied to extra scriptural knowledge. Therefore, as Peter says, also looking toward the same situation, Scripture will be a "light shining in a dark place," 2 Pet. 1:19.

My conclusion is that God gave us the Bible for the purpose of application. To know the Bible rightly, you must not only have verses in your memory; you must also have the skill of applying the Bible to questions that come up outside the Bible, to questions that the Bible does not specifically and explicitly address, to states of affairs that are not mentioned specifically in the Bible.

This means of course that to understand the Bible we need to know some things from outside the Bible. To understand the Bible, of course, we need to know something of the biblical languages, of the history and geography of the biblical period. We also need to know our own time. We need to know what questions need to be addressed. We need to know some things about modern technology, modern culture, science, philosophy, art, music. We need to know our world in order properly to use the word of God. If we don't know our world, we cannot apply the word to it; and if we cannot apply the word to our own time, we don't really understand it.

So you see how sola Scriptura does not exclude the use of knowledge from outside the Bible. In fact, that knowledge is absolutely essential if we are to use the Bible to reform ourselves, our church, and our culture. sola Scriptura, in fact, is a divine mandate for human creativity. Relating Scripture teachings to contemporary problems requires considerable creativity. It engages all the gifts which God has given to us.

Does Sola Scriptura Warrant Traditionalism?

John Frame, against the idea that sola Scriptura warrants traditionalism:
Over and over again, God's prophets challenge the people to rethink their traditions. A while ago I listed some of the heroes of the faith in Scripture and in church history, as people who stood up for principle, for the word of God, against overwhelming odds. What I want to add now is that these heroes of the faith always stood for something new, because the word of God imposed upon them something new. It knocked them out of their routines, routines both of thinking and of living. From them we learn the lesson that when people think they have God figured out, reduced to a routine, God comes with his powerful word and shakes them to the roots.

Think of Noah and Abraham: how God shook up their routines. The flood had no historical precedent at all; God called Noah to do something entirely new. And God specifically called Abraham to tear up his historical roots and to start over in a new country, to become the father of a new people. He did not break all ties with his brothers and their families, but his move was a decided break with the past, and a commitment to a divine promise for the future that seemed from every human point of view quite incredible.

Think of Moses delivering God's word to Israel in Egypt. Leave Egypt? Promised land? When Pharaoh hears this, he will only make us work harder! We have a routine here; let's stick with it! And even after God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty arm, they remembered that routine: Didn't we have great food in Egypt? Why, Moses, did you bring us out here to die in the desert?

All through the history of the Old Testament, people were tempted to mistake their routines, their traditions, for God's word. The Lord says through Isaiah, “The people come near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isa. 29:13) This passage is quoted in the New Testament in Matt. 15:8-9 and Mark 7:6-7. In these passages, we learn that the Pharisees dishonored their parents by their tradition of giving to God what would have otherwise gone to parental support. Jesus accused the Pharisees of making the word of God of no effect by their tradition. The example is multiplied, for Jesus said that the Pharisees did many other such things.

The Pharisees thought they were experts in the word of God, that they knew what God expected of them. They were the ones who in their time were considered the most principled in their adherence to God's word. But they had developed various traditions, which they thought were applications of the word of God, and they had their pattern of obedience down to a routine. But Jesus told them their routines were wrong. The word of God actually challenged those routines and called for change.

The Pharisees also had their hermeneutical or exegetical traditions. They read the Old Testament and concluded that a certain kind of Messiah was coming: one that would restore the throne of David, the independence of Israel from Rome, and the earthly prosperity of the Jewish people. Again, they had it wrong. Their traditional ways of thinking prevented them from recognizing Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh to save his people from their sins.

In John 5:39-40, Jesus says to the Jews, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” A terrible indictment: they gave themselves over to study the Scriptures, to becoming experts in God's word; yet they missed the entire thrust of it, its most important theme.

To two disciples who mourned the death of Jesus, not knowing that he had risen from the dead, the risen Christ complained, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter into his glory" (Luke 24:26)? Again, these disciples had read the Scriptures, but had missed the whole point. But their hearts burned within them as Jesus taught them the Old Testament in a whole new way.

Similarly, through the history of the church, God has from time to time called his people to reconsider their traditions and to return to the purity of the word of God. Most of us would agree that the greatest of these occasions was the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a great time of housecleaning for the church-- in theology, worship, preaching, and every area of the church's life. The reformers were conservative in going back to the scriptural teachings; but they were radical in their attack on the traditions of men.

Thus came the slogan “sola Scriptura," by Scripture alone. We sometimes refer to that principle as "the sufficiency of Scripture." This was one of the great "alones" of the reformation, together with sola gratia, "by grace alone," sola fidei, "by faith alone," sola Christo, "by Christ alone," and soli deo gloria, "glory to God alone." The sufficiency of Scripture means that the ultimate authority for faith and life is the Scripture alone, not any ideas or traditions of men. Popes and councils may err and have erred. But God's word does not fail. All human ideas, whether contemporary or traditional, are to be tested by the Scriptures. As Paul said to Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Scripture is inspired of God, God-breathed, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Scripture is our sufficient rule; we need not and dare not supplement it with our own ideas.

Three Misunderstandings of Sola Scriptura

When the Reformers were doing the work of reforming, one of the main issues they had to address was that of authority. That is, in the church, who or what has final authority? This became singularly important because upon this idea would be determined the nature of justification. The Roman Catholic church at the time believed that both tradition and scripture (as interpreted by church leaders) were authoritative . The Reformers, on the other hand, asserted the notion that because humans are fallible and will often err, the church must protect herself by submitting to the only thing that does not err, namely, the Scriptures. Sola Scriptura latin for "By scripture alone." We also refer to this as the "sufficiency of scripture."

Now much of the church has adopted the latter stance (and even the Roman Catholic church to some degree), but there are still lingering questions about this doctrine. John Frame in his article "A Theology of Opportunity: Sola Scriptura and the Great Commission" answers to three of the most common objections. The objections?
There are three misunderstandings which especially need to be corrected, in my view. One is the idea that sola Scriptura warrants traditionalism; the next is that sola Scriptura leaves no room for human creativity, and the third is that sola Scriptura leaves no room for the Holy Spirit.
For readability, I will give each objection its own post.

I'll Like Lance When He Can Do This

A TLC Train Wreck

It mostly sucks to watch, but you can't help but stare. Like looking at the sun I guess, though I think I made need new retinas now. Behold, the Today Show interview with Kate Gosslin:

The whole thing is like watching a train wreck not because this is the first Christian marriage to spilt up (and I doubt it's even the first Christian 'sextupleted' marriage to disintegrate). Three reasons why it is all so awful:

1. Divorce is always tragic. Kate is in pain, their kids, if not already in pain, will be soon.

2. Christians suck the most not when they sin, but when the reject the fact that they are Christians. What Jon and Kate are dispensing to the media is mostly crap and, especially, not Christian. Moral niceties reign. "It's for the kids." "We're doing this out of love." But not Jesus, not his gospel. That is breathtaking. As I watched, I tried to will her to say something about her commitment to God. Commitment to her kids is fine, but it is no commitment if it is not based in her love for Jesus. And so not only do we have to watch 'Christians' publicly sin and fail, we have to watch them deny their sin and creator.

3. It is likely that Jon's 'path' is the desire to have an open marriage. Awesome. Good job, dude. Yet an another husband and wife combo where the wife wears the pants (or, not Ephesians 5:22-33). Of course he was emasculated. Of course she dominated him. That will make any marriage an unhappy one. So the obvious choice is not to actually flip the roles. That would be ridiculous! Have an affair!

I did have a thought the other day, about how this could all turn out well. On the backdrop of duplicitous sin and failure, Christ's redemption stands out brightly. Wouldn't it be something if they came back together, a repentant Jon and Kate, ready to base their happiness not in themselves or their kids or other women, but in Christ who died for them? Thankfully, that is not pie in the sky. I'll wait patiently for that Today Show interview.

John Piper Wants You to Get Ripped

Monday, August 10, 2009

So Many Links (10 Aug 2009)

Beautiful, horrible: Pictures from Hiroshima before and after the bomb.

Worst interview ever.

"Here’s what you buy when you buy a Kindle book. You buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use with the aid of an electronic display device approved by Amazon."

No kidding: 3D drawing.

Randy Alcorn retells his harrowing Alaska emergency plane landing and eventual rescue.

Why we pick our noses. Or, 10 things science can't figure out.

Does you pastor believe in hell?

"What are the expectations for togetherness?" And other Q's you should ask before getting married.

Passion Pit (Like 'em? I'm not sold):

Don't Watse the Precious Opportunity to Accept Correction

Man, do I suck at this. Good word:

We Are Morally Conservative, But Not Really

Ross Douthat, on Judd Apatow's new movie, Funny People:
More than most Westerners, Americans believe — deeply, madly, truly — in the sanctity of marriage. But we also have some of the most liberal divorce laws in the developed world, and one of the highest divorce rates. We sentimentalize the family, but boast one of the highest rates of unwed births. We’re more pro-life than Europeans, but we tolerate a much more permissive abortion regime than countries like Germany or France. We wring our hands over stem cell research, but our fertility clinics are among the least regulated in the world.

In other words, we’re conservative right up until the moment that it costs us.

Both “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” were designed to hit this worldview’s sweet spot. There were threads of darkness in both stories, but for the most part they made their moralism look appealing by making it look relatively easy.

Still a virgin in middle age? Not to worry — you’ll find a caring, foxy woman who’s been waiting her whole life for an awkward, idealistic guy like you. Pregnant from a drunken one-night stand? Good news — the oaf who knocked you up will turn out to be a decent guy, and you’ll be able to keep the baby and your career as a rising entertainment-news anchorwoman. Frittering away your life on porn and pot? Fear not — your wasted twenties won’t stop you from being a great dad.

With “Funny People,” though, Apatow is offering a more realistic morality play. This time, doing the right thing has significant costs — but you have to do it anyway. This time, doing the wrong things for too long has significant consequences — and you have to live with them. It’s the first Apatow film in which love doesn’t conquer all. And it’s the first Apatow film in which you get punished for your sins.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Daily Mail:
A premature baby declared dead by doctors was found to be alive hours later when he was taken home for a funeral wake.

The baby's father, Jose Alvarenga, was told by doctors that his son had died shortly after birth.

Staff from the state-run hospital in Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital, delivered the infant's body to Mr Alvarenga's home fours hours later.

Shortly afterwards, the grieving father opened the baby's coffin to bid an emotional farewell to his son.

"I opened it to look at his remains and found that the baby was breathing," Mr Alvarenga said. "I began to cry."

He rushed back to the hospital with his unnamed baby in his arms and nurses placed the infant in an oxygen chamber.

He is now reported to be in a stable condition.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Americans are Idiots

Well, that's how I would say it, but not Daniel Hannan. He says it much more eloquently, much more convincingly. Really, it is quite breathtaking when you think about it. Here's to hoping our congressmen and senators think about it!

WSJ Quotes of the Day

"By now it is beyond obvious that Democrats view whole segments of the health-care industry as expendable. After all, what do insurers really do, besides bilk consumers? Government already pays Medicare bills; it can handle the under-65 crowd too. Over time doctors can be transferred into the civil service, but if they’re good sports maybe at a higher pay grade than the DMV. As for drug research and development, the National Institutes of Health can fill in—and as a bonus, all those government-funded professors won’t care about profits either. For the Democrats running Congress, merely allowing a business to continue to exist is a concession."


"All of this is unnecessarily and unhelpfully divisive and provocative. They are mocking and menacing concerned citizens. This only makes a hot situation hotter. Is this what the president wants? It couldn’t be. But then in an odd way he sometimes seems not to have fully absorbed the awesome stature of his office. You really, if you’re president, can’t call an individual American stupid, if for no other reason than that you’re too big. You cannot allow your allies to call people protesting a health-care plan 'extremists' and 'right wing,' or bought, or Nazi-like, either. They’re citizens. They’re concerned. They deserve respect."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Funny Theologian

Usually an oxymoron, that's not always the case with Michael Bird.

Things On Earth That Will Also Be in Heaven Post of the Day

fail owned pwned pictures

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No Brown M&M's

Hilarious and depressing post from Joe Carter, here. David Lee Roth for Senate!

John Hughes is Dead

He's not well known, at least by name. But he's dead. He was the undisputed king of the 80's comedy, writing screenplays for Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Great Outdoors and many others. Beyond his gift for writing funny comedy, he had a heart and wasn't afraid to bring that to his scripts. Movies like Uncle Buck, The Breakfast Club and Trains, Planes and Automobiles were as hilarious as they were human, compassionate. Hughes' movies are some of the only ones that I will watch over and over.

One of the funniest scenes in movie history:

Hope you knew Jesus, hope you trusted in him, John.

Diddling Around on Ephemeral Blogs and Listening to Unenduring Music

Information does not necessarily spell knowledge, and knowledge does not necessarily spell wisdom, and the incessant demand for unending sensory input from the digital world (says he, as he writes this on a computer for an electronic theological journal) does not guarantee we make good choices. We have the potential to become world citizens, informed about every corner of the globe, but in many western countries the standards of geographical and cross-cultural awareness have seriously declined. We have access to spectacularly useful information, but most of us diddle around on ephemeral blogs and listen to music as enduring as a snowball in a blast furnace. Sometimes we just become burned out by the endless waves of bad news, and decide the best course is to turn the iPod volume up a bit.

Awesome Surfer Speak

It seems like I have posted this before, but I couldn't find it on da blog. And, honestly, who cares. This video is awesome.

On Understanding Suffering Through the Lens of Personal Experience

Andy Naselli, in an interview with Randy Alcorn on his new book If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, asks the question, "You interviewed many sufferers and tell many people’s stories in the book. Why was that important to you?" His answer is interesting and very helpful:
Stories of people’s personal experience are a mixed bag to me. I love them when they are subordinate to biblical truths and illustrate them rather than replace them. I love them when they help give us a glimpse of biblical doctrines, such as God’s providence, wisdom, patience, justice, common grace, and saving grace. In If God Is Good I tell many such stories, from the interviews and that I’ve witnessed personally and gotten from reputable sources. When I see God’s sovereign grace at work in the lives of suffering people, it touches me deeply, and in my experience it touches most readers.

But I don’t like it when stories are placed above Scripture and become the lens through which we interpret God’s dealings with men. I have seen this happen in books on the problem of evil. Honestly, I think Greg Boyd does this when he tells heartbreaking stories to demonstrate, supposedly, why God cannot know in advance people’s future contingent choices, and how comforting it is to them when they believe He can’t.

Some of the best-selling atheists books by Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens use illustrations that “prove” there is gratuitous evil and pointless suffering. But in fact, they do no such thing. Just because as finite and fallen creatures we are not in a position to see the point of suffering, or the greater good that can come even from terrible evil, does not mean that there is no point or greater good. It simply means that we are creatures, not the Creator, finite and not infinite. I mean, the universe is full of things we don’t know and understand. Why should it surprise us to see evil and suffering we don’t understand? This is where faith comes in to play—believing God even when for the moment we can’t see his purposes.
Read the whole thing.

The Gospel, Summarized

D.A. Carson, in summary of the gospel, from 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 (taken from Tim Keller's article, "The Gospel and the Poor"):
  1. Christological: The gospel centers on the person and work (the life, death, and resurrection) of Jesus Christ.
  2. theological: The gospel tells us that sin is first and foremost an offense against God and that salvation is first to last the action of God, not our own.
  3. biblical: The gospel is essentially the message of the whole Bible.
  4. apostolic: The gospel is passed on to us by Jesus' disciples as authoritative eyewitnesses.
  5. historical: The gospel is not philosophy or advice on how to find God, but rather news of what God has done in history to find and save us.
  6. personal: The gospel must be personally believed and appropriated.
  7. universal: The gospel is for every tongue, tribe, people, and individual.
  8. eschatological: The gospel includes the good news of the final transformation, not just the blessings we enjoy in this age.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A World of Nice People is Still a World That Needs Saving

C.S. Lewis:
We must not suppose that if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world.

Every Person Should Go On a Short-Term Mission Trip

On Bible Study and Prayer

Robert Murray M'Cheyne:
You read your Bible regularly, of course, but do try and understand it, and still more to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a Psalm also; or if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an Epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the First Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel and pray, '0 Lord, give me the blessedness of the man'; 'let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly.' This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wilcox on Music and the Church

If you haven't heard David Wilcox sing, you are missing out. Though his style and voice might not be for everyone, he is undoubtedly one of the best songwriters of the last fifty years. I heard someone say once that where some see glasses half-full, or see them some half-empty, Wilcox sees the finger prints on the glass and wonders who left them, how they lived their life, if they were hurting, what made them smile. And then he sings into that.

Wilcox is frustrating at times because though he says he is a "Jesus follower," that can often mean quite a few things. Sometimes he is able to poignantly and pointedly call out the church for her failings. Other times his rejection of the church borders on unorthodoxy which probably stems more from liberalism than submission to biblical truth. Whatever the case, he is a rarity and, if you'll let him, he will fill you up with plenty of questions and, if you listen long enough, quite a few answers.

I say all this because he was just interviewed by CT for his new album. This was the most interesting interaction:
There are references to the church throughout your body of work. How do you see your relationship to the corporate church?

Wilcox: I have a lot of gratitude and compassion. It's like when musicians talk about the music business as some big, evil thing. It's not an evil thing; it's just people who are scared of losing their jobs. When you get individuals who are scared of losing their jobs running an institution, pretty soon the institution starts thinking about saving its skin. And if the institution were to behave like Jesus, it would have to value the truth more than its own life. That's a hard thing for an institution to do. Board meetings don't say, "How can we die gloriously?" Their death is not in their business plan. For Jesus it was. So I think it's beautifully contradictory.
Here he is with his song 'Start With the Ending':

Fleet Foxes: He Doesn't Know Why

JP on How to Love Prayer

Great Mercy Given to an Ordinary Man

Bob Kauflin on story behind the great hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness":
Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,” was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey. He died in 1960 at the age of 93. During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.

But back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23.

Lam. 3:22: "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

Runyan was particularly moved by Great is Thy Faithfulness and sought to set it to a melody that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics. Apparently, he succeeded.

The song quickly became a favorite Moody Bible Institute, and later George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham crusades. Now it’s known all over the world and has been used to encourage millions of Christians to trust in a faithful God.

Pretty impressive spiritual fruit from a life insurance agent.
Whole thing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dude, Let's Hope Not

On a side note: If every Dunkin' Donuts imploded right now (and in New England that would mean about three billion), I would not shed a single tear.

Ever Seen an Upside-Down Building?

We are Not God, God is God

Most of our problems with God have to do with our deep-seated belief that we know what is best and he does not. Or, we believe that we are more God than he is. This sort of uni-perspectival approach to things is obstusley individualistic and arrogant. But this is also the root of all sin. When Eve took the fruit she was saying with her whole being that God was not God. But had she actually believed that God was God, it would not have mattered to her had the restriction seemed wrong. Once you begin to believe that God is truly God (that he is omniscient and perfectly good), you subvert the festering belief that you really know what is best. Or, we'll go from saying "This just can't be the way God is" to "Why in the world would I trust myself to know what is best?" Or, as Paul said it, "Has the potter no right over the clay...?"

WSJ Quotes of the Day

Must read Robert George on gay marriage:
Some insist that the Supreme Court must invalidate traditional marriage laws because “rights” are at stake. But as in Roe, they are forced to peddle a strained and contentious reading of the Constitution—one whose dubiousness would undermine any ruling’s legitimacy.

Lawyers challenging traditional marriage laws liken their cause to Loving v. Virginia (which invalidated laws against interracial marriages), insinuating that conjugal-marriage supporters are bigots. This is ludicrous and offensive, and no one should hesitate to say so.

The definition of marriage was not at stake in Loving. Everyone agreed that interracial marriages were marriages. Racists just wanted to ban them as part of the evil regime of white supremacy that the equal protection clause was designed to destroy.

Opponents of racist laws in Loving did not question the idea, deeply embodied in our law and its shaping philosophical tradition, of marriage as a union that takes its distinctive character from being founded, unlike other friendships, on bodily unity of the kind that sometimes generates new life. This unity is why marriage, in our legal tradition, is consummated only by acts that are generative in kind. Such acts unite husband and wife at the most fundamental level and thus legally consummate marriage whether or not they are generative in effect, and even when conception is not sought.

Of course, marital intercourse often does produce babies, and marriage is the form of relationship that is uniquely apt for childrearing (which is why, unlike baptisms and bar mitzvahs, it is a matter of vital public concern). But as a comprehensive sharing of life—an emotional and biological union—marriage has value in itself and not merely as a means to procreation. This explains why our law has historically permitted annulment of marriage for non-consummation, but not for infertility; and why acts of sodomy, even between legally wed spouses, have never been recognized as consummating marriages.

Only this understanding makes sense of all the norms—annulability for non-consummation, the pledge of permanence, monogamy, sexual exclusivity—that shape marriage as we know it and that our law reflects. And only this view can explain why the state should regulate marriage (as opposed to ordinary friendships) at all—to make it more likely that, wherever possible, children are reared in the context of the bond between the parents whose sexual union gave them life.

What the clunker policy really proves is that Americans aren’t stupid and will let some other taxpayer buy them a free lunch if given the chance.