Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Links: Happy Reformation Day!

The birth of the reformation at Of First Importance:

"...I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise."

The 95 Theses that started it all on October 31, 1517.

Stand to Reason's blog has a nice summary of Luther's role in the reformation.

Today only: Reformation Study Bible for $15.17 @ Ligonier Sorry, they're already sold out. I didn't get mine either :(

Here are some Reformation Day sermons from Reforming my Mind

Addition: The Reformation Day Symposium at Challies

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On seeker churches and self-feeding

Recently the news came out that the folks at Willow Creek have come to the realization that their programs and methods were not feeding the more mature believers in their midst. You can read more about it at Christianity Today here and here.

The mature believers in their congregation say they “are not being fed” and want “more of the meat of the Word of God.” The response of the leadership there has been that they should teach their people to become self-feeders.

I’m of two minds on this issue. I guess you can say my response is “yes, but.”

Some time ago I came the realization that I’m not going to be “fed” at church in the same way some folks are. This isn’t because I’m such a fantastically mature believer but because I grew up in church. Over my 30 plus years I’ve been in Sunday school, VBS, youth group, Bible studies, and of course “big church” countless times. I’ve read and had taught to me just about every passage in the Bible multiple times.

I’m probably not going to hear anything in church I don’t already know. If your life has been like mine, you probably won’t either.

Because of this, I’ve realized that I need to stop looking for a church where I’ll be “fed.” Instead, I need to look for a church where I can serve. In church I will hear lessons and sermons where I will be encouraged, inspired, reminded, and occasionally chastised, but I’m not going to be told something I didn’t already know very often. So from that respect, I somewhat agree with Mark Galli in the second piece.

However, the folks at Willow Creek may have a different situation. Let me say up front that I’ve never been to Willow Creek nor have I ever even spoken to someone who has. But I know what Willow Creek is, and I have attended my share of “seeker” services. If those are typical of what goes on at Willow Creek, the “mature” believers there may have never heard a sermon out of Hebrews or even John 15.

Seeker-friendly churches shy away from deeper theology and the scriptures that take you into it, and they seem to avoid those passages that, as one pastor I had said, makes the preacher hope the second coming will arrive before next Sunday. If that is the state of things there, the more mature believers at Willow Creek (and any other seeker church) will need some real meals before they’re expected to become “self-feeding.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another Halloween question

Last week I asked what you thought about participating in Halloween. Most people I’ve heard from, plus those I’ve read elsewhere, fall into one of two camps: church-based parties or joining in the traditional Halloween festivities.

Today my question is this: What is the difference between those two approaches?

Some, no doubt, prefer church-based activities based on safety concerns. Though I’m not sure how true they are, we’ve all heard the stories about tainted candy not to mention kidnappings and general accidents due to darkly clothed pedestrians stepping out into streets. If that is the concern, I think we can all understand that.

If, however, you prefer the church-based “harvest” festivals or whatever you call them because you think it’s not right to participate in Halloween, I’d like your thinking as to what makes them different.

Here’s what I’m seeing – children dressed in costumes going around asking for candy and playing silly games for prizes. That description is as true for the harvest festivals as it is for Halloween. The costumes may be scarier and the games may be a little grosser at the Halloween parties (though, frankly, this isn’t always the case), but I have to say I really don’t see a difference in these two activities.

This isn’t an attempt to change anyone’s mind about Halloween – or church harvest festivals. I genuinely want to understand the thought process here because soon, probably next year, I’m going to have to make some decisions for my family, so I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

Here are some other interesting sites I've happened across on the topic:
There was an interesting conversation at Challies Dot Com.
Christian History & Biography had a fact-based piece that's worth a read.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More Holy

Reflections on Leviticus

Leviticus 10 relates a story that is sometimes difficult for modern readers. Two of Aaron’s sons offer “unauthorized fire” to the LORD and are killed. This passage reinforces what seems to be a recurrent theme in Leviticus – we can only approach God on His terms.

He says, “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored” (v3).

This is a message that modern people need to hear. There is a pervasive notion today that if people just search after God in whatever way seems best to them, He will accept them. That is not how God Almighty works. In the Old Testament days, there was a system in place to approach God, and deviating from it could cost you your life. In the New Testament era, there is a Man through whom we must approach God, and striking out on your own path will cost you your soul. God has condescended to make us a way, and He expects us to follow it.

In verse 6, after the death of two of his sons, Aaron is told that he and his other sons may not even mourn their loss. Why? Because it was a special thing to be allowed to serve the Living God, and when you serve the Lord, you do not serve yourself.

In this part of the story I can’t help but hear echoes of Jesus’ warning: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

In verse 10 the priests are given a rule that is designed to keep them alive: “You must distinguish between the holy and the common.” Only holy things are allowed to come before God, and we are common in every way. That is why the priests have to go to great lengths to even enter the sanctuary (c.f., Lev 8, 16). This is one of the parts of the Mosaic Law that most clearly points to the need for a savior – even after going to such effort to purify themselves, the priests are still just barely acceptable. Something extra would be needed to allow people to approach God.

Verses 16-20 are, to me, quite remarkable. Moses asks why the priests did not eat their appointed portion of the sin offering, and Aaron answered, “‘Would the LORD have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?’

“When Moses heard this, he was satisfied” (v19-20).

I can’t find a rule that says you can’t eat the sacrifice after your kids are killed by God, but Moses thinks this is a good answer. Why?

Aaron demonstrates a principle that we all should take to heart today: When in doubt, treat God as more holy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Does Christianity Argue from Silence?

Today I received a somewhat bittersweet1 surprise when I came across an argument against Christianity that I hadn’t heard before. One way people argue for Christianity is to say that Christ’s miracles – especially the resurrection – were performed in public and so couldn’t be fabricated or people would have exposed the lies.

The opposing argument is that we don’t know that there weren’t attempts to expose the lies; we only know that we don’t have them today.2 If that argument holds, then our defense of the miracles of Jesus is really just an argument from silence.

Does Christianity stand on that kind of shaky ground? I don’t think so.

First, I think we can safely say that any of Jesus’ miracles – even all of them – is disposable with one exception: the resurrection. That is the one miracle for which we do have an opposing story – see Matt 28:11-15. Why didn’t that story take? Because it's harder to believe than a mere miracle.

Second, even if we had no other evidence, an argument from silence for the resurrection is still strong because in the face of any reasonable alternative story the resurrection wouldn’t fly. Quite simply, if the resurrection didn’t happen, the body was still in the tomb. If the body was available, it would have been produced when Christianity got annoying – apparently within the first year or two. A religion built around a risen savior couldn’t fly in the presence of a body.

As I’ve written before, Christianity is based on a story no one would make up. If we don’t assume from the start that miracles are impossible, the evidence for the resurrection is pretty sturdy. And that’s good news because, as Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised… you are still in your sins” and “we are to be pitied more than all men.” But since He has been raised, then we too shall be raised, and we will be like Him, forever, to the glory of God.

(1) I like a good argument, and there are so few new ones from the skeptics, but it's always sad to come across unbelievers.

(2) The original is at an largely anti-Christian
anti-literalist blog.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A question about Halloween

I’d like to know your opinion about how Christians should approach Halloween.

Some see it as a pagan event to be shunned entirely. Some feel like it is safe to participate from afar – at church or a church-sponsored program. Some see it as a chance to evangelize those who come to their door. Some feel comfortable joining in the revelry without qualification.

I’d especially like your opinion about evangelizing those who come to your door. Lately I’ve been thinking about evangelism more like it were a tag-team match or relay race. The people I interact with, even those I share the gospel with, may not come to Christ today or tomorrow or next year, but they may eventually come to Christ, and my contribution may well be an important step in that process.

My quandary is whether evangelizing trick-or-treaters is taking part in the relay or dropping the baton. What I don’t want is to teach the couple of dozen kids that come to my door on Halloween that Christians are weirdoes and party poopers. I don’t want to be the guy who ruins every party with an Amway pitch because he not only makes people dislike him but also Amway.

So does evangelizing trick-or-treaters do good or harm? I’d like to know what you think.

Some useful resources I've found:
Here's an article at Stand to Reason. (It may require a free login.)
Here's an article from the Christian Research Institute.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Looking for God in all the wrong places

Scientific American online has an article on the attempt to explain God as a physical phenomenon in the brain. In this study, the researchers ask the participants to get into, or remember, a religious experience. Various instruments then record brain activity. When an experience is accompanied by a change in a particular part of the brain, the researchers declare a causal connection – and the brain is the cause:

"The height of this meditative trance... was associated with... a large drop in activity in a portion of the parietal lobe.... Because the affected part of the parietal lobe normally aids with navigation and spatial orientation, the neuroscientists surmise that its abnormal silence during meditation underlies the perceived dissolution of physical boundaries and the feeling of being at one with the universe."

In psychology and philosophy debates go on as to whether the mind affects the brain or the brain affects the mind. These researchers clearly assume the latter. Far be it from me to defend Buddhism, but the nature of the debate is whether the "perceived dissolution of physical boundaries" turns off the parietal lobe or the parietal lobe shutting down creates the perception of "being at one with the universe." These guys are getting a bit ahead of themselves.

Where is this going? You know where. The researchers say "that religious experience and belief in God are merely the results of electrical anomalies in the human brain. ... Praying before a meal, for example, links prayer with the pleasures of eating. God, he claims, is nothing more mystical than that."

If you deal with skeptics much, you'll probably hear about this again. If someone starts telling you that your brain creates your religious experiences, you can bring up the mind-brain question.

Anyway, the researchers didn't stop with claiming that the mind creates religious feelings. They also said "the religious bents of even the most exalted figures—for instance, Saint Paul, Moses, Muhammad and Buddha—stem from such neural quirks."

So I have to ask, how do you explain public miracles like water being turned into wine, thousands being fed with a few biscuits, or a resurrected dead man via neural quirks?

I wanted to share this because it's good to be aware of this kind of work as it will appear in debates with skeptics and even serious seekers sooner or later. I recommend reading the whole article. Overall, it is fairly balanced and even ends on a faith-friendly note, but the ideas of these researchers will be back, so we should be ready for them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

7 principles and 1 hot topic

Christianity and the environment, part 2

Last time I offered seven Biblical principles that I think can be applied to debates over environmental issues. Today I want to apply those to a specific topic that tends to generate little light but lots of heat (no pun intended).

A few years ago you saw “environmental” stories in the news about endangered species, air pollution, and contaminated water. Today you see stories about global warming, global warming, and global warming. This issue is the environmental topic today. It is also the topic where what passes for debate has sunk the lowest.

About ten years ago I did a fair amount of research into this topic for a newspaper piece. I haven’t done any serious research since, and the state of things may have changed, but at the time the situation was 1) there was some uncertainty as to whether the “warming” was real, 2) there was a fair amount of uncertainty as to whether/how much any warming was due to humans, and 3) there was some uncertainty as to whether warming could be stopped.

I’ve seen nothing in the news to suggest that has really changed. There is a little more support for the idea that the warming is real, but the counter evidence is really quite impressive, even if it’s debatable. Natural causes still cannot be ruled out, especially since Mars is experiencing global warming too. Finally, there seems to be more and more confidence that global warming can’t be stopped. Also, there is a new debate over whether it is even desirable to stop it.

I don’t want to debate the issue of global warming. What I want to do is say that, given the above, reasonable and even godly people may well disagree about this topic. It’s ok to disagree about this issue. It’s ok to debate this issue. But we need to follow some ground rules. Last time we outlined just such a set of rules, so let’s examine them on this topic.

1. When you’re using someone else’s stuff, you have to take care of it.
2. Leave the planet like you want it left for you.
3. Assume people are going to sin.

The first three rules suggest that it is reasonable to address this question. If global warming is really a problem, it’s not going to be much of one in my lifetime, but I have a responsibility to leave the planet in as good a state as possible for the next generations. If we need to do something, a little arm-twisting may be necessary because people are people.

4. God gave us the earth to use.
5. Humans are more important than the environment.

There is a lot of talk lately about capping carbon emissions. The much-touted Kyoto agreement asks first-world nations to put some heavy caps on those emissions. There are two loud warnings that have been shouted in return. First, it is claimed that achieving those caps with current technology would ruin any industrial economy. Second, it is said that if we actually met Kyoto, at best it would delay the onset of the worst of global warming for five years.

This may or may not be true. If it is true, we would be ruining people’s lives for no good reason. That doesn’t mean we should chunk the whole idea. It means we have to take the questions seriously and really examine the problem. On that note, it is probably worth asking whether global warming is as bad as has been suggested. The coasts get flooded, but Canada and Siberia become farmlands. Is that a bad trade? Maybe, but the conversation should take place.

6. Don’t ask anyone to do anything you’re not willing to do.

Last time I mentioned those who want wind energy – as long as it’s generated somewhere else – and those who burn tons of jet fuel to tell you to be more environmentally conscious. I really really hate carbon indulgences … I mean “offsets.” If you aren’t practicing what you’re preaching, sit down and shut up.

7. Debate, but pretend you’re sitting between your mama and Jesus.

This debate is one of the ugliest around. Those who doubt the reality of global warming are often compared to war criminals. Some have suggested revoking professional credentials of scientists who don’t toe the party line.

Ad hominem attacks are uncivil and definitely not Christ-like. They have no place in reasonable debate and typically only prove that the attacker is not as well-equipped as he’d like people to believe.

While we may all be surprised, this question’s probably not going away any time soon. Christians are and will continue to be on both sides of the debate. We have a choice. We can carry on just like the rest of the world, or we can show the world what it looks like to disagree in a godly manner.

In this, as with everything else, the Master’s words apply: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Christianity & the environment: 7 principles

Blog Action Day 2007

The goal of Blog Action Day is to get the whole blogosphere talking about one topic – this year, the environment. A goal of this blog is to get Christians to think about things from a distinctly Christian perspective. To that end, I’d like to look at some general principles I think the Scriptures give us for approaching environmental issues.

1. “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). If the earth belongs to the Lord, then we must apply a concept that we all try to teach our children:

When you’re using someone else’s stuff, you have to take care of it.

We have a fundamental obligation to take care of this planet for the simple reason that it’s not ours to tear up.

There are those who claim that we don’t have to worry about the environment because soon the Lord will return and destroy the whole place anyway. Let’s assume that their timeline is correct for the moment: That still doesn’t give us permission to mess the place up. If God wants to destroy the earth by fire, that’s fine because it’s His earth. We don’t have that privilege. And whenever the Master may return, until then, we have to share this place, which leads me to the second principle.

2. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). For however long we have to share this place, we’re stuck with each other, so:

Leave the planet like you want it left for you.

Do you want to drink dirty water? Then you don’t expect anyone else to do it either. Do you want to have to chew your air? Then no one else should have to either.

Taking this a little farther, if your child was living with filthy water, would you want someone with the power to fix that to actually do something about it? Then you have to do so as well.

3. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). We are a fallen race. Every human bears the image of God, but it is marred, and the best of us sometimes give in to our most base impulses. The rest of us do it a lot more than “sometimes.” So here’s a principle for environmental issues and everything else in life:

Assume people are going to sin.

People are selfish, greedy, lazy, and arrogant – and this is on a good day. Most people don’t set out to ruin the environment, but it’s so much easier to do than it is to do right.

On most issues, I’m pretty conservative, maybe even libertarian, but on the issue of the environment I turn a bit left, and this is why. Republicans will talk about things like market forces and enlightened self-interest encouraging people and corporations to take care of the environment, but experience tells me that everyone tells themselves at some time or another that “my one piece of litter” won’t make that much of a difference. But if everyone said that, we’d be hip deep in paper. Ditto for toxic chemicals and anything else that can be difficult to get rid of properly. So on this issue, I’m inclined to say that we may need laws, even lots of laws.

Of course, since I believe in the rule of law, specifically our Constitution, we have to address the fact that our federal system doesn’t permit the national government to do certain things. That’s a topic for another time, but I’d like to say briefly that the answer is to change the Constitution, not ignore it.

4. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Gen 1:28). Or in the vernacular:

God gave us the earth to use.

We’re supposed to use it wisely, but it is ours to use. We’re allowed to cut down trees, eat animals, and dig up coal. Just don’t go crazy.

5. “God created man in his own image” (Gen 1:27). The Bible makes this statement about no other creature. Humans are special. We are also told, “you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt 10:31). Given all that we’ve said so far, I think it’s safe to say, borrowing from the Master, the earth was made for man, not man for the earth. So let’s keep this in mind:

Humans are more important than the environment.

We need to protect the environment, but not at the expense of people. Humans are more important than owls, field mice, and wetlands. This doesn’t give us license to clear cut whole continents, but it does mean that we should be sure we take care of individual humans (not just the whole) while we take care of the environment.

6. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). Yep, that again. That bit about giving people clean water if you want clean water has a nasty twist:

Don’t ask anyone to do anything you’re not willing to do.

Here I’m think about people who want clean energy – in other people’s back yards – and people who use personal jets to tell you to raise your thermostat. Hypocrisy is a sin, folks.

7. Speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Strong feelings tend to rise up when discussing this topic, but the truth is that the evidence isn’t always cut and dried, and even when it is, the appropriate action is not necessarily as obvious as some think. And, let’s say it again, no one wants to have dirty air, poisoned water, or a treeless planet. It’s just a matter of what to do about it. So here’s the final principal to guide us through these issues:

Debate, but pretend you’re sitting between your mama and Jesus.

If you wouldn’t say something if you were sitting between them, or if you wouldn’t say it the same way, rethink your words. Remember, speak the truth in love.

Next time I’d like to try to apply these principles to a specific debate that gets particularly heated.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doing nothing wrong

Reflections on Leviticus

The first verse of Leviticus 5 opens a big can of worms as we continue the instructions for the sin offering:

“If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.”

Inaction is sin. Here it is talking about public testimony, but this idea can be applied to anything when you remember the words of the Master: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

Would you want someone to speak up if they knew something about your court case (which ever side you were on)? Then you’d better do it too. Would you want someone to stop and help you fix a flat? Then you’d better break out that jack. Would you want someone to protect your child if you weren’t around? Then you have to stand up for the weak.

Many people think they’re “good people” because they don’t kill, steal, or cheat on their wives. One day, though, they’re going to stand before their Maker, and He will show them a hungry child.

They’ll say, “But I didn’t do anything to them!”

He’ll say, “Exactly.”

Today we live such hectic lives that it’s easy to run around with blinders on. We go from crisis to crisis (or maybe dance class to ballgame) and never see the needs outside our little world. There are people all around us who need to experience the love of Christ through us. Let’s make a conscious effort to look around and see what’s out there. It’s going to require effort, time, money, and maybe even risk.

But remember the words of the Master: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Links: a question, a resource, and a carnival

Tony at The Shepherd's Scrapbook asks an important question:

"American churches seem to be cultivating a growing interest in apologetics.... In a pluralistic culture that grows ever diverse, it’s important for the church to formulate answers to the challenges. But along with this new emphasis on apologetics runs a concurrent temptation for churches to confuse evangelism and apologetics, to confuse defending and proclaiming.

"Does what I call evangelism look more like apologetics? Is the ultimate goal of my evangelism aimed towards mere agreement? Or am I lovingly and gently calling sinners to see sin as personal sin, and see wrath as wrath directed towards them?"

Paul at Reforming My Mind has created an excellent collection of mp3 files of lectures and sermons from dozens of different speakers including Voddie Baucham, John Stott, RC Sproul, and Wayne Grudem among many others. It's a great resource.

Christian Carnival 193 is at Lingamish.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

So what's wrong with Calvinism?

I have written about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism before and really had no desire to do it again, but the topic has come up on another blog, and as I have been asked to explain myself, I figured I should do it here publicly.

Full disclosure #1: I don’t really have a horse in this race. As I said in my previous post, I don’t think answering the debate as to the nature of election should really change anything. As such, I really don’t have a lot of interest in the issue.

Full disclosure #2: I haven’t read Calvin’s Institutes. As my reading list now stands, Institutes is on the long list. (The short list is mostly books on the problem of evil.) I also have Arminius, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Wesley all on the same shelves awaiting their turn.

Tulips are lovely flowers, but TULIP?
As far as the traditional elements of Calvinism go, I don’t really have a problem with them, though I’m a bit ambivalent about total depravity. (As CS Lewis said, if we were totally depraved, how would we know?). My problem comes in when you try to fit various scriptures into this mold.

One of the most moving passages in the gospels is where Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt 23:37). This theme can be found all over the scriptures. In the NT, “God wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). In the OT, God basically pleads with Israel to repent on a weekly basis (e.g., Isaiah 1:18-20).

Calvinists explain this by resorting to God’s two wills. It all sounds well and good until I actually try to read these passages in that light. At that point it seems that the “two wills” is closer to two personalities. God pleading with someone to repent when they are simply incapable of it makes no sense. It’s like me standing on top of my roof pleading with my daughter to come up to me – without giving her a ladder.

Arminianism: Which God are they talking about?
The flip side is the Arminian view that says God elects those who He knows will choose Him. That may be how things work in the fourth grade, but as I read my Bible, that’s not how the God of Heaven works (e.g., Pharaoh or Romans 9). However free will works out, it has to do it within the limits of a God who chooses whom He chooses, whose call is indeed irresistible, and who will not give up any of those He has bought at such a great price.

Is an intermediary position possible? Calvinists and Arminians both say no. I'm not so sure.

When Calvinism goes bad.
Personally, I can coexist with Calvinism quite nicely. (Calvinists sometimes take a little more work.1:) Unfortunately I’m in the minority. Most people find the concepts of unconditional election and irresistible grace offensive – especially if they don't quite understand them. They are very attached to the idea of free will and appalled at the notion that God simply selects some people for hell (yes, I know, it’s not quite like that, but that’s how it basically boils down, and people know it).

So if Calvinism grows, less mature Christians are likely to move away from these ideas (and the churches that espouse them) and non-Christians are going to lose interest in Christianity – especially a God they see (improperly) as arbitrary, unfair, and vindictive. Of course, Calvinists might say that these people aren’t elect and we can’t help their reaction. Great. I’m not a Calvinist, and I see this reaction as a problem.

A second problem arises when people get a bit overly Calvinistic about evangelism. In the past there have been great evangelists and missionaries who were Calvinists; they are remembered because they are exceptional in more ways than one. Wasn’t it Carey who was told that when the Lord decided to convert the heathen, He would not need someone like him? His Calvinism made him a missionary; their's kept them from it.

I also know Calvinists (I’m not going to name names) who refuse to do anything like an invitation/altar call because if people are going to believe, they’re going to just do it, and we don’t need to get involved.

Calvinism properly understood doesn’t change the Great Commission, but in practice it sometimes seems to remove some of the urgency. I say this as someone who believes in sovereign election – and who sometimes struggles with that urgency thing. If Calvinism is exactly right, it’s really not an issue. But if there is more of a free will component to salvation, then this is a dangerous issue.

I guess that really lays out my position: If Calvinism is correct, then there really is no problem with it. If you see Calvinism as less than completely correct, then it can be problematic, which can, of course, be said of any theological system.

My basic view is the same as before: I don't think we're likely to know the truth here on Earth, and even if we did, it shouldn't change how we do things. So if we're going to pick a theological issue over which to go to battle, I don't think this is the one.

(1) Diane at Crossroads recently wrote that even many young Calvinists find the older Calvinists too arrogant.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Link: Blog Action Day 2007

Oct. 15, 2007: All the blogosphere talking about one topic -- the environment. Let's make sure there's a Christian presence.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Review: The Ever-Loving Truth

Rating: must read

Today we frequently hear accusations that Christians have a blind faith, that they believe the Bible uncritically, and that they don’t know how to think – or at least they don’t do it. When you are asked why you believe the Bible, you can support these accusations, or you can fight them.

So why do you trust the Bible? Because you were raised that way? Bad answer. Because it works? That answer’s only slightly better. How about this:

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses to supernatural events that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating that the Bible is divine in origin. (Here I am paraphrasing the book from memory, which is important to say for later.)

That’s the answer recommended and explained in The Ever-Loving Truth by Voddie Baucham. This book was written as both a diagnosis of and prescription for what ails the West and the Church – especially in the US. His goal is “changing the manner in which we as Christ’s followers respond to modern trends within our culture” (5).

The work contains three sections. The first “examines cultural attitudes toward Christianity” (5). He addresses the attack on truth (“Rare is the person who believes that there are facts that correspond with reality and that those facts are true for all people in all places and at all times” p13) and answers a number of mistaken ideas about truth. He then examines popular images of Christians and the reaction to the name of Jesus in the public square.

The second part “draws a line in the sand, noting essentials where Christians must be in agreement if they are to keep their Christianity intact” (5). Here he covers the necessity of evangelism and the universal duty that Christ followers have to it. In the process he gives some helpful tips on how to do this in a post-Christian culture. He also discusses the necessity and inevitability of sharing in the suffering of Christ as we stand for Him.

The third part “elaborates on two crucial issues in contemporary Christianity – belief in the Bible and the trend toward belief in an unbiblical Jesus – and how to respond to each of them” (5). In chapter 8, “Why Believe the Bible?,” which is worth the purchase price of the book on its own, Baucham lays out the excellent answer I paraphrased above. It is, in sentence form, a great thumbnail answer. It is also an excellent outline, and he uses it to flesh out the evidence for the reliability of the Bible, a feat we should all be able to reproduce.

There is something about his little summary that is just very memorable. I do not memorize well, but I memorized his one-sentence overview of the evidence quite quickly and with almost no effort. After a few readings of the chapter, I think most people could do the same and could expound on the details of the evidence as well.

Chapter 9 looks at who Jesus really was and is. He examines what are traditionally held to be the key elements of the gospel (the kerygma) – both explaining and, where necessary, defending them.

Finally, the last two chapters address how Christians should engage their culture – both what needs to be done and the manner in which it must be done. He calls us to put some sweat into learning what needs to learned and to take the truth of Jesus Christ into various parts of our culture, and he reminds us that this has to be done in humility and holiness.

The Ever-Loving Truth is not an apologetics text per se. It is a call to action that, if answered, will require consuming texts in apologetics as well as theology, philosophy, and science. It will also require us to reach higher and work harder than many American Christians are generally inclined. That is precisely the problem, and this is fanny-kick in the right direction.

You may also be interested in The Resurrection: A story no one would make up.

Also, Voddie has an article on his blog called "Why I choose to believe the Bible" that briefly addresses some of the information mentioned above.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A parable of perseverance

Some thoughts on evangelism inspired by the parable of the sower (Matt 13):

A man went fishing and waited for a long time with out even a nibble. Then something hit is line, but it got away from him.

After a while he felt a fish grab his hook. He struggled to reel it in only to find out it was a gar.

He cast his line out again and reeled in a ten-pound bass.

The fisherman cannot control what happens on his hook. His job is to keep his line in the water.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


If you haven't already, please check out the new blog Of First Importance. It is a daily quote focusing on the Gospel. I find it to be a great way to kick off the day. This has been one of my favorites:

“Believe in Jesus Christ, crucified for thy sins. If thou feel thy sins, and the burden thereof, look not upon them in thyself, but remember that they are translated and laid upon Christ, whose stripes have made thee whole (Isa. liii. 5). This is the beginning of health and salvation.”
- Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians

Timmy Brister is discussing Outsourcing the Local Church and other issues in the SBC.

Christian Carnival 192 is at On the Horizon.

One more: The free audiobook download of the month at is The Life of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Emerging heretics?

There's something that worries me about some emerging church types.

They don't all do it, but many do. It's seems pretty popular of late to talk about how "our" orthodoxy is simply the philosophy that won out, and that we should continue to look at "minority" positions (i.e., heresies). To these folks, the differences between the orthodox and Arians (and maybe gnostics) are no different than those between protestants and Roman Catholics or even Baptists and Church of Christ.

In their search for "humble" orthodoxy they seem willing to give up too much ground. Our spiritual ancestors fought long and hard to develop and preserve doctrines that are consistent with the biblical data as well as philosophically/logically sound.

While I do want to us read the old heresies, we have to keep in mind that they are heresies. It is altogether too easy to fall into heresy, and as we move further away from the truth, the lies become more dangerous.

Here's an example. If we give up the deity of Christ the atonement no longer makes sense – it looks like "divine child abuse." So to save God, we have to give up the atonement. The cross becomes meaningless.

So what do we do about the cross? The usual response is that God didn't know Christ would die and/or didn't save Him – meaning God doesn't know the future and can't or won't stop evil from happening to His own son.

The next step, of course, says since there is no atonement, there'd better be no sin – or at least no punishment for it. So we have a "nice" God who is not just and is simply trying to keep the world from falling apart as we race along screwing stuff up.

This is a reasonable, natural progression from giving up the deity of Christ to a mishmash of open theology and antinomianism (i.e., it doesn't matter how you live). Not only is this not a God I'd want to worship, it's a religion that has nothing to offer.

I'd like to recommend this piece from Scriptorium Daily on the Council of Chalcedon and this personal story of the dangers of leaving orthodoxy at Crossroads.