This is a test to see if I can post with my new iPhone (Note: This phone is highly addictive.).


Islam and Violence According to Gallup

The quotes below are from Dalia Mogahed in an interview with Warren Larson (“Islam According to Gallup: Analyst Dalia Mogahed says it's time to rethink what we think we know about Muslims.” posted 11/14/2008 09:04AM at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/november/26.38.html?start=1). Dalia Mogahed is a “senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies,” and her comments are based on a standard scientific survey that covered “90 percent of the global Muslim population.”

How do you respond to conventional wisdom that says the Qur'an espouses

First, [violent] verses have a historical context and must be understood and interpreted in a specific way. Second, if the Qur'an espouses violence, then we should have a greater percentage of Muslims involved in violence. Violence is usually politically, not religiously, motivated. Third, terrorist sympathizers or the "cheering section"—the 7 percent who are politically radicalized—are no more religious than mainstream Muslims who abhor violence and say it is morally unjustified. Muslims are as likely as Americans to denounce attacks on civilians. Finally, people defending their position on 9/11—the 7 percent who think it's completely justified—do so because of political and geopolitical perceptions, not theology. Not one referred to the Qur'an. Their responses could have come from an atheist. They see the U.S. as an imperialist power trying to control the world. Those who condemned 9/11 quoted Qur'anic verses that forbid killing innocent people. So moral objection to terrorism is competing with political rage, and people can go either way.

I cannot help but wonder what we can do politically to undermine terrorism. I know what we can do from a religious perspective (see posts here and here). I hear of the current religious climate in Iran, and hope and pray God gives our current and future political leaders wisdom and a winsome spirit.

How should evangelicals respond to what seems to be the spread of extremist
Islam globally?

Evangelicals should respond the way everyone should respond. Understanding the cause of the problem is important. The data clearly show it is driven not by religious extremism but by extreme political ideology. Second, as a human family, look at the extremists as an outside group, rather than as an outgrowth of religion. This builds bridges between people of different faiths all fighting a common enemy. Let's not forget that Muslims are the primary victims of violent extremism. People in majority-Muslim countries, unlike Americans, say their greatest fear is terrorism. Third, evangelicals should help empower those trying to make positive change peacefully. At the end of the day, this battle is not for the soul of Islam. It's the road to reform.

The grievances terrorists champion are strategically chosen and ones the vast majority agree with. Others try to address these same issues peacefully. To the extent these people are effective, terrorists are seen as ineffective and their methods as barbaric. Finally, evangelicals should vocally and unequivocally denounce anti-Muslim hate speech. When prominent Christian leaders make degrading statements about Islam, it feeds [Osama] bin Laden's claim of an American "crusade" against Islam and Muslims. Hateful statements against what Muslims hold most dear are a gift to bin Laden and a slap to mainstream Muslims who fear and reject his methods and therefore should be seen as allies, not enemies, in the fight against violent extremism.

The approach Mogahed recommends does seem to be more conducive to missions to the Muslim world. And if we are to make lasting change in the religious / political systems that produce terrorists at home or abroad, the only thing that will work is the life change that individuals experience after they come to Christ. Military might, although sometimes a valid approach to terrorism, is not the primary solution.

Thanks to Gallup for informative research.

On The Nature of Saving Faith

Two men start to walk across a 300 foot bridge that spans a mile deep chasm. One man walks confidently and makes consistent progress while the other steps catiously and nervously, starting and stopping along the way. Which of the two reach the other side?

Both. The integrity of the bridge remains the same for both men and is the only reason for there successful crossing.

There is only One Bridge with the eternal and redemptive integrity that will carry a sinner into God's presence. His name is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the Living God.

- Rick Frueh, a comment on Camp On This


Christmas in 2009

The wonder of Christmas has overwhelmed me again. I am taking a week or so off from blogging to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with my family. I wanted to leave you with these links:

Martin Luther on Christmas

Ligonier post on Christmas - note free resources

Stand to Reason on Christmas in history

May your Christmas be filled with hope and your New Years filled with joy!


Warren to Pray at The Inauguration

It is interesting to see the fire-storm of rhetoric that has ensued over Obama’s pick of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Please see the well written posts by Al Mohler and Ben Witherington.

It is ironic because I have lone admired Warren for one thing, despite the many theological differences we have. Warren has steered away from politics in his pulpit, and he has urged other pastors to do the same through his Purpose Driven Church Conferences. He now finds himself in politics up to his neck after hosting the presidential debate in his political forum. (Note the lack of political posturing here and the article here.)

Some comments on the separation of church and state. I am for it. So are many Baptists throughout history. Warren has positively influenced me to keep out of politics on this blog except where matters of ethics are involved.

I am for letting any candidate and / or elected public official pick whichever religious leader he / she wishes to give speeches or prayers at any ceremony he / she has authority over. The right to free expression of religious ideas does not end just because one has a government job or becomes an elected official. That goes for Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, etc.

This freedom of expression is a requirement of separation of church and state, not a violation of it. The free expression of religious ideas is protected, and it leads to much needed, civil discussion of theology (or lack thereof), ethics and morals. Forceful arguments and debates are the stuff from which good thinking results.

Separation of church and state as a principle is violated when someone uses physical force or other forms of persecution or coercion to force someone to convert. Putting a gun to someone’s head and telling them to convert or die is a violation of separation of church and state. So is banning him or her from the free expression of his / her ideas just because he / she is in the public square.


Another Quote that Deserves a Post of Its Own

“What is the greater miracle: the raising of the dead man in Lazarus, or the mere existence of the man who died and of the witnesses who swore to his revival?” - William F. Buckley, Jr.


R. C. Sproul on The Origin of Sin

R. C. Sproul does a good job of explaining what we can know about the origin of sin in “The Mystery of Iniquity” over at Ligonier’s blog.

I’ve tried to tackle the issue here and here, but R. C. does a more professional job.


The Shack and the Atonement

I have been reading The Shack by Wm. Paul Young over the last few weeks. Evidentially, I am not alone in this.

While I do find much of the book to be somewhat helpful when read very carefully, I cannot help but express some concerns with its theological underpinnings. I am going to leave some of the issues it raises regarding the trinity, theology proper, the incarnation, Christ’s exclusivity, and special revelation to those more able. (See Norman Geisler here.) I want to focus on the way the book expresses the atonement (what Christ did in His life and death to secure salvation for us).

On pages 95 and 96, we are told that God the Father has “scars in her wrists” just like Jesus does. The character that represents God the Father says that Christ did at the cross “…cost us dearly.” In this book’s scheme, the Father does not desert Jesus on the cross. The Father suffers with Christ. This has implications for other areas (see here and here), but it also has very personal implications for all of us.

God can forgive us only because Christ paid the penalty for our sins. And what was that penalty? The wrath of God the Father Almighty. All of the punishment that we deserve because of our sins was suffered by Christ. How could God the Father poor out His wrath on Himself? Christ must be seen as a distinct Person for Him to suffer God’s wrath, and if He doesn’t suffer God’s wrath for our sins, we will.

The character who represents God also states that “Regardless of what [Jesus] felt at that moment, I never left him…” (p. 96). Christ became a curse for us on the cross. All of our sin and shame were credited to Him as He suffered and died. How could God the Father not turn His back on Christ once He became a curse for us? God abandoned Christ because at the moment that Christ was credited with our sin, Christ was the worst sinner in the history of the world. God abandoned Christ so Christ could endure the abandonment we deserve on our behalf.

Because of what Christ did for us, we are no longer shameful sinners. We no longer need fear that God will punish us. God is not mad at us anymore. We need no longer fear that God will turn His back on us and leave us in our sins. As one Lutheran puts it, “God abandoned One, so He does not need to abandon you.” When we place our faith in Christ, we are loved and accepted by the Father. We are accepted because of what He did on our behalf.

(For a book-length treatment of what Christ did for us, see R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross.)

The Shack is an allegory, and allegories are not always a way to express great truth with equally great precision. Despite this, I do not recommend this book for newcomers to Christian theology. Much of it is misleading.

Al Mohler on How to Use a Study Bible

Mohler has a very helpful article on the use and benefit of study Bibles here.


Iraqi Christians

Stand to Reason gives a link to a World Magazine article on the persecution of Christians in Iraq. Here’s an excerpt:

As a result, over 2 million Iraqis—about 25 percent of them identified as Christians—have fled to neighboring countries, mostly Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. (View the map.) Judging from extensive conversations with Iraqis living in Jordan and Syria, few want to go home. While at least 40,000 Iraqis have been killed in fighting, random violence, and terrorism since the U.S. invasion in 2003, these refugees are the Iraq War's living casualties—psychologically damaged from the prolonged terrorism, afraid of the next text message or the letter on the doormat, and helpless before a fearful future.

The most appalling thing that I hear about the Iraq war is the notion that Christians were better off under Saddam Hussein than under the current government. It breaks my heart that my friends are going to Iraq to get shot at so that we can let the new government we helped set up condone or at least ignore the persecution of Christians.

It’s like we are following Star Trek’s prime directive. Didn't we see Captian Kirk and company debunk that enough times?

Why do we not require the guarantee of religious freedom for all citizens of all religious belief (or non-belief) by the Iraq government? Why do we allow our soldiers to die for something less than the freedoms we enjoy?

Chuck Colson comments here. Another article can be found here.


Black Friday

Thanks to The Point for a link to an article on “three dead, more wounded” in ‘Black Friday’s’ shopping spree. The Guardian article says in part:

Two men shot and killed each other in a crowded Toys R Us shop in southern California on Friday as shoppers thronged to the sales on what is normally one
of the biggest retail days of the year in the US… A Wal-Mart employee was killed when a crowd, which had gathered for a sale at a Long Island outlet, surged into the shop as the doors were being opened at 5am…

It is humbling to see where unbridled consumerism leads us. Once we start to depend on things we buy to make us happy, we start down a road without a cross-over for a u-turn. I know I have been guilty of the same kind of spirit. It’s so easy to use that credit card to purchase something.

In any circumstance, we always do what we want to do, and we always want to do what will make us the most happy. (That’s my short version of the book The Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards.) The problem arises when we begin to think that something other than the glory of God can bring happiness. We look to the stuff we buy instead of the God Who Is.
John Piper does a great job of calling us back to the love of God above all else. He calls us to desire “the vast, ocean-deep pleasures of God more than the mud-puddle pleasures of wealth, power or lust.” Oh that God would be our supreme pleasure. What tragedies could be avoided. Let’s repeat David’s prayer: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).”


Defining Hyper-Calvinism

Between Two Worlds passes on a definition of Hyper-Calvinism that I wish some of my Calvinist friends on the internet would read. Here’s a part:

A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:

Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear,

OR Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner,

OR Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal),

OR Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace,"

OR Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

All five varieties of hyper-Calvinism undermine evangelism or twist the gospel message.


Whatever happened to indwelling sin?

The Point gives a link to an article on a study of teen sexuality from CBS News (“Study Links Sex On TV To Teen Pregnancy: Girls Who Avidly Watch Racy Programs Have Higher Pregnancy Rates, Research Claims” CHICAGO, Nov. 3, 2008). The study:

…suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among those who have tamer viewing tastes…[It] is the first to link those viewing habits with teen pregnancy, said lead author Anita Chandra, a Rand Corp. behavioral scientist. Teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant over the next three years as those who watched few such programs.

Previous research by some of the same scientists had already found that watching lots of sex on TV can influence teens to have sex at earlier ages.

The conclusion reached: “Shows that highlight only the positive aspects of sexual behavior without the risks can lead teens to have unprotected sex "before they're ready to make responsible and informed decisions.”

The study only shows a correlation. Those who watch racy TV shows are more sexually active as per the study outcomes. But which comes first? Does TV watching lead to sex, or does having the mental attitudes which lead one to engage in sex also lead one to watch TV shows that are racy? Which comes first, the TV or the sexual behavior?

I propose that the same heart condition causes both racy TV watching and risqué sexual behavior. The problem is not outside the heart, but inside it. We sin because of the condition of our hearts, not because of the conditions we find ourselves in. As R. C. Sproul is somewhat famous for saying, “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” Jesus teaches the same thing (Matthew 15:10-20).

Our problem is not out there in society. Our problem is in here in our hearts. We are the ones who are so sinful that the raunchy stuff is attractive to us. We are the ones in need of a new heart. We are the ones hopelessly dependent on God to provide us with one.

Is there help for us? Yes. With the Apostle Paul, we can say “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross takes away the guilt of my sin (Galatians 3:13-14), and Christ’s Spirit gives us a new heart and new desires to change our behavior (2 Cor. 5:17).

Let’s stop blaming the porn and get in the business of sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for us. That’s the only way to improve society, one heart at a time.


More on Election

Camp on This gives some great quotes on election. Two are reproduced below with my comments.

"Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised
universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For
Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are
they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is
displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is
given to us by the Father -- that is, as having freed us from the condemnation
of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice
of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from
acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the
efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if
by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ." -John Calvin

I once heard Jerry Vines say that the gates of heaven had a message printed on either side above the entrance. From the outside, the message read, “Whosoever will may come.” From the inside, the message read, “Foreordained from the foundation of the world.” Although he probably meant something different by it that what I would, it’s still true. Whoever wants to can come to Christ. However, because of our bent toward sin and lawlessness, no one wants to come. The Holy Spirit must change a person’s heart before he has ‘the want to’ to come to Jesus in repentance and faith.

"[Limited Atonement] is the most controversial of the five [points of
Calvinism], because of Bible passages apparently teaching that Christ died for
every individual. See, for example, 2 Cor. 5:15, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2. There
are "universal" dimensions of the atonement: (a) it is for all nations, (b) it
is a recreation of the entire human race, (c) it is universally offered, (d) it
is the only means for anyone to be saved and thus the only salvation for all
people, (e) its value is sufficient for all. Nevertheless, Christ was not the
substitute for the sins of every person; else, everybody would be saved. For the
atonement is powerful, efficacious. It does not merely make salvation possible;
rather it actually saves. When Christ "dies for" somebody, that person is saved.
One of the apparent "universal atonement texts," 2 Cor. 5:15, makes that point
very clearly. Thus he died only for those who are actually saved. The biblical
concern here is more with the efficacy of the atonement than with its
"limitation;" perhaps we should call it "efficacious atonement" rather than
"limited atonement," and, having then lost the TULIP, develop through genetic
engineering a flower we could call the TUEIP. But of course efficacy does imply
limitation, so limitation is an important aspect of this doctrine." - John Frame

Everyone on both sides of the current Southern Baptist debate on election agrees that not everyone will get to heaven. There will be a population in hell. Christ’s death will not pay for the sins of all men because some will choose to reject Christ in their bondage to sin. Christ’s death could have paid the penalty for all sins, but it did not.

God does not punish sins twice, so if He punishes some sins in hell, then Christ could not have been punished for them. Also, to my great comfort, if Christ was punished for sins, those sins will not be punished again in this life or in the life to come.


R. C. Sproul Threads the Needle Again

Ligonier Ministries blog posts a section from one of R. C. Sproul’s books on election:

We conclude that fallen man is still free to choose what he desires, but because his desires are only wicked he lacks the moral ability to come to Christ. As long as he remains in the flesh, unregenerate, he will never choose Christ. He cannot choose Christ precisely because he cannot act against his own will. He has no desire for Christ. He cannot choose what he does not desire. His fall is great. It is so great that only the effectual grace of God working in his heart can bring him to faith.

Sproul’s approach to election leaves a man responsible for his choice because he chooses according to his own desires. He can be called to account for his rejection of Christ because nothing outside of him causes him to choose as he does. He is responsible before God to repent of his sins and believe the gospel.

Sproul also accurately describes a man’s bent toward evil. Men will not choose Christ without the intervention of the Holy Spirit to change their hearts.

Those who reject Christ are responsible. Those who accept Christ humbly acknowledge their dependence on God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward them.

That’s election as the Bible teaches it.


After the Election, 2008 – Pray for the President-Elect

I wanted to link to a post by Al Mohler giving his post-election commentary. Here’s the best part (but please follow the link and red the rest):

Evangelical Christians face another challenge with the election of Sen. Obama, and a failure to rise to this challenge will bring disrepute upon the Gospel, as well as upon ourselves. There must be absolutely no denial of the legitimacy of President-Elect Obama's election and no failure to accord this new President the respect and honor due to anyone elected to that high office. Failure in this responsibility is disobedience to a clear biblical command…

…We are commanded to pray for rulers, and this new President faces challenges that are not only daunting but potentially disastrous. May God grant him wisdom. He and his family will face new challenges and the pressures of this office. May God protect them, give them joy in their family life, and hold them close together…

We must pray that God would change President-Elect Obama's mind and heart on issues of our crucial concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light. We must pray this from this day until the day he leaves office. God is sovereign, after all.


Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day. Wikipedia gives a helpful note:

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted a proposal at the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany to debate the doctrine and practice of indulgences. This proposal is popularly known as the 95 Theses, which he nailed to the Castle Church doors. …the event created a controversy between Luther and those allied with the Pope over a variety of doctrines and practices. When Luther and his supporters were excommunicated in 1520, the Lutheran tradition was born. This in turn would later ease the creation of the Reformed and Anabaptist traditions as well.
Monergism gives more details here, along with links to m3 sermons on topics related to the Reformation.

A great post over at Stand To Reason outlines the meaning of Martin Luther’s seal.

Here’s some audio and video from Ligonier Ministries that outline the Reformation’s theological issues.

This is a holiday that Southern Baptists should celebrate. We have wanted a Christian alternative to Halloween for years, and Reformation Day certainly serves the purpose.


Has Richard Dawkins changed his mind?

A very interesting article, “Is Richard Dawkins still evolving?” by Melanie Phillips (The Spectator.co.uk; Thursday, October 23, 2008), notes an interesting statement in Richard Dawkins’ last debate. It seems Dawkins recently made the statement: “A serious case could be made for a deistic God.” The article is a very interesting read.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

...I asked Dawkins whether he had indeed changed his position...He vehemently denied this and expressed horror that he might have given this impression. But he also said other things which suggested to me that some of his own views simply don't meet the criteria of empirical evidence that he insists must govern all our thinking.

For example, I put to him that, since he is prepared to believe that the origin of all matter was an entirely spontaneous event, he therefore believes that something can be created out of nothing -- and that since such a belief runs counter to the very scientific principles of verifiable evidence which he tells us should govern all our thinking, this is itself precisely the kind of irrationality, or ‘magic’, which he scorns. In reply he said that, although he agreed this was a problematic position, he did indeed believe that the first particle arose spontaneously from nothing, because the alternative explanation – God -- was more incredible. Later, he amplified this by saying that physics was coming up with theories to show how matter could spontaneously be created from nothing. But as far as I can see – and as Anthony Flew elaborates – these theories cannot answer the crucial question of how the purpose-carrying codes which gave rise to self–reproduction in life-forms arose
out of matter from which any sense of purpose was totally absent. So such a
belief, whether adduced by physicists or anyone else, does not rest upon
rational foundations.


The Law and The Gospel and My Experience with Reality

Thanks to Debbie Kaufman at Ministry of Reconciliation for a great post found here. Here’s the post:

‘Be a better mom, be a better wife. Be a better dad, be a better husband. Do more try harder, keep busy’ is what is being preached today, but where is Christ and what He did at the cross? That is the message from Michael Horton. We have lots of Christian T-shirts, bumper stickers, jewelry, WWJD bracelets. We have those who say if one is a true Christian they cannot vote for (fill in the blank). But where is Christ in all of this? Michael Horton gives his view and it’s one I agree with. But you knew that or I would not be highlighting this podcast would I? One thing Michael said that I think is profound :”Christianity is being used as an adjective today. ” ending the podcast with “Christ has won the victory on the battlefield.” This should be the message the church gives, not Christ is our helper.

Please listen and prayerfully consider if Michael Horton is right, and if he is right, which I believe he is, what can we as individual Christians do to change this?
Listen here.

I have heard over and over lately at my church how coming to Christ immediately delivers a person from all of their sinful habits and hangups. That has not been my experience. I have bad habits. Some are even listed in Galatians 5:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (namely idolatry/materialism, greed, anger/hatred, envy). I repent of these sins daily, but I repent over and over and over…

Is there hope for me? Does my faith in Christ count for something? My repentance desperately needs to be repented of, but does that repentance count? Sometimes I am ready to give up.

I contend that there is hope for me, and for others like me. I look to passages like Luke 18:9-14, Romans 3:21-4:12, Romans 7:7-25, and 1 Timothy 3:12-17.

Am I right?


Christ Out of Christianity?

I am looking forward to getting a copy of Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Michael S. Horton. I listen to White Horse Inn broadcasts avidly, and I agree wholeheartedly with much in their current series on “Christless Christianity.”

Here’s the established website for book information.

My Take on the Election

What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot. - Kenneth Kaunda

Elections are important. Platforms should be carefully reviewed, and candidates should be selected with care. But politics must be kept in perspective.

A “good Christian” leader will not move this country toward holiness. Revival, brought about by the Spirit of God in the hearts of people, is the only hope we have.

That’s about as political as I will get on this blog.


Religious, the movie

Craig Hazen does a good job of reviewing the movie Religious here. Here’s a sample:

Maher is pitching this film as mavericky—telling the truth about religion that everyone else is afraid to address. But Religulous is nothing more than filthy, nudie, druggie, and obtusey. There is little to laugh at and nothing to learn…

John Newton on Gospel Ministry

A quote from John Newton given by The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies is here. Here’s the quote:

The message I would bear is Jesus Christ and him crucified and from the consideration of the great things he has done, to recommend and enforce Gospel holiness and Gospel love, and to take as little notice of our fierce contests, controversies and divisions as possible. My desire is to lift up the banner of the Lord, and to draw the sword of the Spirit not against names, parties and opinions, but against the world, the flesh and the devil; and to invite poor perishing sinners not to espouse a system of my own or any man’s, but to fly to the Lord Jesus, the sure and only city of refuge and the ready, compassionate and all sufficient Saviour of those that trust in him.
[Cited Marylynn Rouse, “An important turn to my future life”, The John Newton Project Prayer Letter (October/November 2008), p.1].

Books on Church Planting

Nine Marks Ministries Gives a strong list of books for church planters to read here.


Warren’s Missions Vision

A recent Christianity Today interview, “After the Aloha Shirts” (Interview by Timothy C. Morgan posted 10/01/2008 07:28AM.)

Here’s an interesting section:

Is the career missionary obsolete?

We need far more missionaries than we have right now. What we need is in addition to that. We need an amateur movement out of love. We have to remember that in the first 300 years of the church, it was pretty much all amateurs. Paul and Barnabas were sent out by a church. It was local churches sending out their people to go around the world. My prayer is that we will work hand in hand. The expertise of missionaries can be used and multiplied.

I put Rick Warren’s PEACE plan on my prayer list a few months back. The movement could do much good. It intends to mobilize local churches in partnership with oversees groups and churches to advance the gospel. It can conceivably create a mob of short-term missions volunteers.

There are some drawbacks to short-term missionaries. Most notably the tendencies of short-term trips to draw funding from full time missionaries, paint a view of missions that is overly optimistic, and sometimes even hinder the work of full-time missionaries. (See here, here, here, and here.)

There is another section of Warren’s Christianity Today interview that worries me more:
There are more than 1 billion Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers. Where do
they fit in?

We need to mobilize a billion Catholics and Orthodox [believers]. I'm not really that interested in interfaith dialogue. I am interested in interfaith projects. Let's do something together. You are probably not going to change your doctrinal distinctives, and I'm probably not going to change my doctrinal distinctives. We have different beliefs. But the fact is, we do serve the same Lord. Let's work on the things we can agree on.

I wait with baited breath to see how this partnership with Catholics and Orthodox believers works. I will not partner with Roman Catholics to share the gospel, as I believe that the gospel they preach is not the true gospel at all. I am a Protestant that has not forgotten what I am protesting.

Let’s join in prayer for this new program by an exceedingly influential pastor. May God grant that the PEACE plan will avoid the many dangers it may be prone to.


It’s gonna cost how much?

A t-shirt available at Despair.com captures my take on the government’s buy-out plan.
For the best summary I have found.
For opinions I respect, see The Point and Al Mohler.
For a view of the crisis from the outside, see The Point (note that this is American Triumphalist).


Islam in Iran

I found a very interesting article in this month’s edition of Mission Frontiers Magazine (September-October 2008 – The U. S. Center for World Missions – 30:5). “Today’s Iranian Revolution: How the Mullahs Are Leading the Nation to Jesus” by Krikor Markarian reports that a cultural revolution is underway in Iran that could re-shape the Muslim world. This cultural revolution is sparked by the breakdown of government under the Shiite sociopolitical system. Here’s a section of the article:

… In the year 2000, Christian satellite broadcasting began beaming the gospel to almost every home in Iran. This was made possible by the fact that millions of satellite dishes had been illegally smuggled into Iran by corrupt members of the same government that had outlawed them. The Christian satellite programs became a lifeline for the church in Iran. Much more, when the Iranian people learned that the government was trying to scramble the broadcasts, they became an overnight sensation. Recent nationwide surveys reveal that over 70% of the population is watching Christian satellite programs. These same surveys indicate that at least one million have already become believers, and many millions more are on the verge.

This growth has happened so fast, the underground church can hardly keep apace. In one example, a house church that began with two people several years ago has now multiplied into over twenty groups. The leader of this network remarked, “Starting churches in Iran is easy! Everywhere you go to evangelize, people are ready to receive the gospel, or they have already become believers through satellite broadcasts.” … The government has left young people with nothing to do. So believers spend time with one another everyday.

They are constantly gathering for prayer, Bible study and evangelism. When a group reaches 25 people, they divide in half and begin again. Within two years, a new believer is expected to become a leader of a new house-fellowship and a disciple of new leaders.

God is at work in the world in unexpected ways। Many Christians have prayed for years that the light of the gospel would shine in the Arab world, and news of Christian revival in Iran is especially significant.

In a side bar called “Spiritual Vacuum,” Markarian notes that “Iran was supposed to become a model for the entire Muslim world of what an Islamic society should look like।” The Shiite Muslim system emphasizes a government by the clergy, and a failure of this system in Iran would reflect poorly on Shiite Islam (Shia) in the Arabic world.

I will never forget walking into the lobby area of my student dormitory at the University of Tennessee to see a man with a sledge hammer standing on top of a wall covered with graffiti। He was using the sledge hammer to tear down the brick barrier. The announcer told us this was the Berlin wall, and it was coming down. A small youth group at our rural church had prayed for this all during my high school years. We echoed prayers being made all over the world.

I am not a person who hears “the voice of God” to guide me everyday. As a general rule, I don’t “hear God speak.” But at that moment on that day I sensed an impression that was more clear than any spoken word. God “said” to me: “You didn’t think I would do it, did you.” I do not recall ever doubting that my prayers make a difference after that moment.

Iranian Christians, our prayers are with you!


Spurgeon on Doctrine

Thanks to Adrian Warnock for a quote from C. H. Spurgeon that is well worth repeating:

The gospel is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men's understanding; it is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience and the reflecting powers। Hence, if we do not teach men something, we may shout, "Believe! Believe! Believe!" but what are they to believe? Each exhortation requires a corresponding instruction, or it will mean nothing. "Escape!" From what? This requires for its answer the doctrine of the punishment of sin. "Fly!" But whither? Then must you preach Christ, and His wounds; yea, and the clear doctrine of atonement by sacrifice. "Repent!" Of what? Here you must answer such questions as, What is sin? What is the evil of sin? What are the consequences of sin ? "Be converted!" But what is it to be converted? By what power can we be converted? What from? What to? The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the truth which saves. "That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good," and it is ours as the Lord's instruments to make men so to know the truth that they may believe it, and feel its power. We are not to try and save men in the dark, but in the power of the Holy Ghost we are to seek to turn them from darkness to light.


Personal Request

Please pray for my niece, Lilah. She is two months old, and she has some very serious heart defects. Updates can be found here.

Also, there are several other issues facing my family right now: my father-in-law’s leukemia and hospitalization, and several other stressors are making life difficult।
Something(s) we are doing are ticking Satan off, and God must really think a lot of us or we wouldn’t have all of this (1 Cor. 10:13).


Al Mohler on New Atheism

I just finished Al Mohler’s book Atheism Remix. It’s a short, pithy call to Christians for a distinctly biblical response to Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Crossway’s new book blog has a link to a clip of Mohler talking about the topic.

The book is a good read. Mohler summarizes a response from Alvin Plantinga in an article on the web called “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad absurdum.” The web article was worth the price of Mohler’s book. Mohler chooses to summarize other people’s arguments instead of putting forth his own, and that does trouble me.

God and Genocide

New Attitude gives a good introductory answer to questions about the Israelite conquest of Canaan and God’s direction to kill the inhabitants. It’s a sensitive answer to a question that makes many stumble.


Cosmological Argument Restated – Why I am Here

Conversations with Kevin over at HeathenZ inspired me to write this post. I have tried to expand the comment I posted at HeathenZ and make it a little more understandable. It is a cogent argument for God’s existence from God’s creation, a cosmological argument.

I exist. I must exist in order to deny my own existence. This may seem an obvious point, but some make much of the idea that everything we see is an illusion. Even if that is the case, I must exist in order to have the illusion.

I was caused. There was a time when I came to be. My own self-awareness and the empirical evidence that I find support this.

There must have been a cause of my existence. Something must have existed before me in order to bring about my existence. Out of nothing, nothing comes. There is something now, so there was never nothing. Remember this is about causing to be. It is about existence itself.

If I trace back from the cause of my existence to the cause of the cause of my existence, and so on, I must arrive at something that never came to be. The series of causes cannot go back without end. Some examples follow.

It is not possible to count to the end of the series of positive real numbers when you start at zero (0, 1, 2, 3, 4…). You can always count one more. It is, in one sense, an infinite series of discrete things. You cannot count to the end of the string of positive numbers; it has no end. Starting from zero, you cannot count to the beginning of the string of negative numbers; it has no beginning (0, -1, -2, -3, …). We go endlessly in either direction. We cannot count either up or down through an endless series of numbers. If we count forward to zero, we must start counting from a particular negative number, or we will never count to zero.

It is similarly impossible to move through an infinite series of discrete moments of time. For example, if time extends forward endlessly it will obviously never end. Reversing the process, if time extends endlessly into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment because an endless number of moments of time would have elapsed to get to now.

Going back to the series of causes leading up to me, this series cannot contain an endless number of causes in the past because I would then be the end of an endless series of causes, which is impossible. There must have been a first cause to begin the series of causes that lead to my existence. This first cause must have always existed in order to give a starting place to the series. If there was a time when it did not exist, there would be nothing now.
This first cause must always exist because it has the power of being in itself. Again, it existed before everything else, so nothing else could cause it to be. It’s being is not caused by anything but itself.

This first cause must have the power to bring about everything else. It was the only thing that existed at the time of creation, so everything must have been a result of its action. If it has the power to cause everything to be, it must have the ability to cease to cause everything to be. It can create or destroy.

This first cause must be able to cause itself to act to produce everything else. The first cause existed before everything else, so there was nothing else to cause it to act. This ability to act or not to act implies something like the freedom of choice. Free choice is a key element of personhood.

So the argument has arrived at a being that has always existed and cannot cease to exist (what Christian theology has called being ‘eternal’). This being has the power to bring the universe into existence or take the universe out of existence (what Christian theology has meant by omnipotence; the power to do anything with the creation that is possible), and has the power to cause itself to act (this is part of the foundation for personhood).

What if the universe has some element in it that has always existed? Then that element must have always existed and cannot cease to exist, has the power to bring the universe into existence or destroy it, and has the power to cause itself to act. Now we are just arguing about the name of the first cause, not its essential nature.

This eternal, self-existent, omnipotent, personal First Cause is remarkably similar to the God of Christianity. Other evidence from our universe leads us to other attributes. Design requires an intelligent designer (see search label “Teleological Argument”). Morality requires something to be good (see search label “Moral Argument”). Reasoning abilities require a ground in an unchanging logical being (see search label “Presuppositionalism”). This First Cause has communicated with us in the Person of Jesus Christ (see search label “Argument from Scripture”).

This is my best shot at arguing for God’s existence from the fact of my own existence. Please pardon my limited language skills. (I am, after all, an engineer.) It should at least be a conversation starter. I have tried to state the argument using what I have learned from Norman L. Geisler, R. C. Sproul, and J. P. Moreland. Of course, if I have misunderstood something they wrote or said, it is not their fault.


The Greatest Sexual Tragedy

The Ministry of Reconciliation blog gives an article on Egyptian women and their fight against Female Circumcision.

More should be said about this horrible practice and about the Islamic nations which allow it!


John Macarthur on Evil

I have a copy of John Macarthur’s book The Truth War on the shelf at home. I was a great read. I have an mp3 disc of the messages at last’s years Ligonier conference where Macarthur spoke. In both places, he handled the ‘problem of evil’ very well.

Ligonier Ministries has now posted links to Macarthur’s address. These are great links to follow.


Searching Ourselves Into Oblivion?

Breakpoint commentaries are always informative and help me to think clearly. That is true even when I do not necessarily agree with the conclusions reached. Today’s commentary by Mark Earley is a good example. Titled: Google and Our Heart's Desire, today’s commentary bounces off an article from the Atlantic Monthly’s July/August edition by Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains.”

To the Breakpoint commentary:

…Google and the Internet-at-large are convincing us that knowledge ought to be at our fingertips; whether it is a map, stock-price, article, quote, or video clip…As author Carr puts it, “the Net seems to be . . . chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.” Carr is right. No wonder we are so crazy about it—it gives us the instant gratification we crave.

While the Scriptures teach us that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, Google bombards us with the opposite message: You ought to have what you want when you want it. And when you break it down, instant gratification is really another manifestation of pride.

Having detailed information at our fingertips is not necessarily something that can play into proud, self-gratifying, thinking. Having something to keep up with the details can free our minds to contemplate larger questions of life.

I have never been a detail person. (If you are a type-watcher, I am a Myers-Briggs INTJ.) I learned long ago that if I am to keep track of details, I need a very carefully designed system to help me remember. You should see my day-planner. It’s full of notes and reminders. My computer e-mail software is the same. You find multiple “to do” lists with automatic reminders, including multiple layers of information to help me fulfill my daily obligations.

Having detailed information at my fingertips helps free my mind to think clearly about concepts and abstract ideas. I find that I am able to concentrate on applying those concepts to current situations. The systems help me remember what I need to do, and in turn, I can do what I need to remember.

The internet functions in much the same way. The ESV web-site helps me find the Bible’s guidance. Mapquest helps me get where I am going. Wikipedia gives me a place to start research (There are limits to Wiki. I never end research there.). Google Reader lets me keep up with multiple blog sites whose articles interest me. MSN gives me news. The National Weather Service helps me keep my head dry. And the mother of all search engines, Google, finds details I could never recall

I am free। I am free from worrying about the things I forget। I am free from the ‘devil in the details.’

But I am also free to think. Free to contemplate the Greatness of God and my small place in His universe. Free to force abstract ideas into practical problem-solving tools. Free to pray far-reaching prayers from a comfortable, mostly worry-free place. Free to learn how to talk to others more clearly. Free to find out how my wife and daughter ‘tick.’ Free to do the most important things in my life.

This is not instantly self-gratified laziness. It’s glorious freedom.


Hamas / Islamic Convert

Stand to Reason’s Blog relates the story of a Hamas Leader's Son named Mosab Hassan Yousef who has become a Christian. The FOXNews version is here.

Here’s a quote from Yousef:

When I studied the Bible carefully verse by verse, I made sure that that was the book of God, the word of God for sure, so I started to see things in a different way, which was difficult for me, to say Islam is wrong.


Chapmans Interviewed

Thanks to Between Two Worlds for links (here and here) to interviews of Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman and family. I grieve with that family on the tragic loss of their daughter to a freak accident.

I have been a fan of Steve Curtis Chapman’s music for a long time, and I cannot imagine the grief they feel. I applaud the courage they are showing by undergoing the interviews.


Gene Edward Veith on the New Atheism

Try the article on modern atheism by Veith here. Here’s a taste:

...The atheists' problem, though, is that however much they attack belief in God,
their own worldview lacks all appeal. They get hung up on the last remaining
absolute: Atheism is not beautiful. It is so depressing.


The End of Reason – Zacharias Does It Again

I have grown to appreciate the apologetics ministry of Ravi Zacharias, so it should come as no surprise that I purchased and read a copy of his latest book. The short little book is titled: The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008), and it is a winsome and effective counter-argument to Harris, Dawkins, et. al. Zacharias’ polemics are clear and convincing. His version of the moral argument for God’s existence is emotional and intellectually vital.

Here is part of his response to Harris’ argument that evil and suffering prove that an all-powerful, good God cannot exist:

Harris’ antagonism toward God ends up proving that he finds some things reprehensible. But he cannot explain his innate sense of right and wrong – the reality of God’s law written on his heart – because there is no logical explanation for how that intuition toward morality could develop from sheer matter and chemistry.

Popularly stated, I would put it this way:
* When you assert that there is such thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good.
* When you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil.
* When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law.
But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove. (pp. 54-55)

We know evil because of what it does to others and to ourselves, but that knowledge assumes that all people have worth in and of themselves. When we postulate a moral code, we assume that people have this intrinsic worth. How can mere matter in motion make us worth something? We end up being big germs. Why should we care if the big white germs discriminate against the big black germs? Neither color of germ has any value anyway.

Back to the book:

…in a world in which matter alone exists there can be no intrinsic worth. Let me put it in philosophical terms:
* Objective moral values exist only if God exists.
* Objective moral values do exist…
* Therefore God exists. (p. 56)

We have to assume that true moral standards exist in order to object to the evil and suffering we see all around us. We cannot have those standards in a universe without God. A person’s denial of God’s existence because of evil ends up being an affirmation of the existence of the God that he tries to avoid accountability to.

[I have used this argument as formed by Greg Bahnsen here.]


An Emerging Headache

I am currently reading a book by Tony Jones called The New Christians: Dispatches From The Emergent Frontier (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008). I understand what Jones is reacting to, and I share many of his concerns, but some of his “dispatches” give me a splitting headache when I think about them.

Take for example Dispatch 13, delivered after a brief discussion of Stanley Fish:

Emergents believe that truth, like God, cannot be definitively articulated by
finite human beings (p. 153).

So, Tony, is that a definitive truth? It seems that you cannot escape a truth claim even when you claim to have no truth claims. The notion is self-defeating (or self-refuting). If Dispatch 13 is false, then there is some truth. If Dispatch 13 is true, then it proves itself to be false, because it is a definitively true statement.

He states the notion another way on page 154: "…“truth” is not the hinge on which the biblical narrative turns."

There’s only one response to that from someone raised in rural Tennessee: “Really; is’at so?” Here we have a true statement about the Bible that says the Bible does no depend on truth. Another self-defeating statement. I must stop typing now, my headache is getting worse and worse.


Batman: The Dark Knight

I “took the plunge” this week and went to see the new Batman movie. I was not disappointed. The action was a bit over the top, but that is to be expected these days.

Heath Ledger’s Joker was the best villain I have seen on the screen since Darth Vader.
Something about the smeared make-up brought out the “best” (do you say “worst” for a villain?) in the character.

I never thought of Batman as a Christ Figure before this film. I am torn between not revealing the end of the movie and explaining what I mean. I’ll leave it at this: Jesus Christ took all of our sin and shame upon himself on the cross. He was the only One big enough to handle that shame, and He took our shame from us as He paid the penalty for all of our sin. Batman gets the chance to do essentially the same thing for another character in the film.

Other interesting reviews of the Batman movie can be found here, here, here, and here.


Early Church Fathers and Justification by Faith Alone?

Stand to Reason’s blog has some great quotes from early church fathers on justification here. I like these quotes enough to post all of them.

For by grace you have been saved through faith," in this way: "All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler. For [Paul] adds, 'And this is not of yourselves but it is a gift from God; not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).' It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after having been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins. - Theoloret of Cyrrhus, in his fourth-century commentary on the Epistles of Paul, speaking of Ephesians 2:8

So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place. For 'by grace you have been saved,' he says 'through faith.' Then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again, saying 'and this not of ourselves'...Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? 'For how,' [Paul] says, 'shall they believe if they have not heard?' (Rom. 10:14). So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, 'the gift of God (Eph. 2:8c)." - Chrysostom, end of the fourth century, Hom. on Ephesians 2:8

Here's one from Modern Reformation quoted here:

If an example is required, I think it must suffice to mention the thief on the cross, who asked Christ to save him and was told, 'Truly, this day you will be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43)...A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are works of the law these are not based on the foundation of faith. Even if they are good in themselves they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God" - Origen, commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, referencing Romans 3:28, as quoted in Thomas C. Oden, "Patristic Texts, on Justification," Modern Reformation (September/October 2007).

I would be especially interested in Lutheran and Reformed opinions on what these quotes mean. Are they teaching justification by faith alone?


Where Do We Go from Here

This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal, but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed. - Martin Luther

I have been a Christian for thirty-two years as of a few days ago. It was very simple when I was young. Christ died for my sins, and I didn’t have to worry about God being mad at me for what I had done or would do. I learned to do the right thing, not because I wanted God to like me, but because it was the right thing to do in and of itself.

I wish my life had continued to be that simple. I learned to complicate it while sitting in revival meetings, on the forth or fifth verse and chorus of “Just As I Am.” I learned that I shouldn’t be so sure that Christ had died for my sins. I learned I need to re-dedicate my life to Him each time I failed. I must have trusted Christ at least 50 times during high school.

I have developed some bad habits since becoming a Christian. Yes, it is possible to do bad things when you are a Christian, even what some consider really bad things. The consequences in my life have sometimes been severe, but never as bad as they could have been. God has disciplined me as a loving father would his child; yet his discipline has always been for my good, to conform me to Christ’s image. (See Hebrews 12:3-17 and Romans 8:18-30.)

I am encouraged by Luther’s words above. I am headed in the right direction. I have some starts and stops along the way, but God has been faithful to me. I am better than I used to be.

It’s not about where we have been, or how far we have gone; it’s about where we are headed and where we will be.


Ten Hours to Slavery

According to the post and links here, it takes about ten hours to arrange for and purchase a child slave from Haiti from New York City.

What would Wilberforce do?


The Stone’s Story

An interesting bit of information is highlighted here on Ben Witherington’s blog. I use his words:

David Jeselsohn bought an ancient tablet …but he was totally unaware of its significance. Now it may be the earliest Jewish evidence for the idea of a dying and rising messiah figure.

The stone has been credibly dated to the first century B. C., before Christ's birth, and this has caused quite a bit of discussion.

Isaiah 53 foretold the Messiah’s death a few hundred years before this stone’s composition, so I don’t think this stone should surprise most Christians. (Other prophecies from the Jewish tradition concerning Christ’s suffering are found here and here.) Of course, that will not stop some sensationalists from reaching extreme conclusions like those related here.

What’s BW3’s conclusion?

…the real implication of this for Jesus' studies should not be missed. Most radical Jesus scholars have argued that the passion and resurrection predictions by Jesus found in the Gospels were not actually made by Jesus-- they reflect the later notions and theologizing of the Evangelists.

But now, if this stone is genuine there is no reason to argue this way. One can show that Jesus, just as well as the author of this stone, could have spoken about a dying and rising messiah…

Charles Colson, who addressed this issue in his latest book, reaches a similar conclusion in the article here. From the article:

…I wrote about this new evidence in my book The Faith as an apologetic argument for the historicity of the resurrection. The idea of a messianic figure rising from the dead goes way back in antiquity. Jesus simply fulfilled the truth written by God on the human heart…The newfound stone does not call Christianity’s credibility into question. Instead, once again, when it comes to the historicity of Scripture, the only credibility at stake is the media’s.

Most of the parallels from other religious traditions either occur after Christ’s life or are such a stretch to the imagination that they are easily ignored. However, even if you do accept some of the parallels as authentic, what does that prove exactly? Could not God have given some form of revelation about Christ to other people outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition? This seems to be Colson’s logical conclusion.

Stand to Reason has an interesting post here. It seems that if you assume beforehand that accounts of Christ’s resurrection are false, then no matter what the “stones say,” you will reach the same conclusion you assumed to begin with.

(For expert opinion on related topics, see Edwin M. Yamauchi, here and here.)


Craig and Reasonable Faith

It’s good to hear that William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith is going to be released in a third edition.

I like this book, particularly it’s comprehensive overview of theological trends and, of course, it’s treatment of the Cosmological Argument. The book is one of my favorite.

See also the Christianity Today cover story here.


The God-Man

Ligonier Ministry’s blog has a series of posts from John Gerstner on the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. You can find the first three here, here, and here.

The last post above contains great examples of Christ’s influence on the world. Here’s an excerpt from the summary:

We are fully aware that to attribute Godhood to any man is a colossal
affirmation. It borders on the incredible--the impossible. But when we consider
the impression of Christ's humanity, the great claims He made for Himself in the
most humble way, the unrestrained adoration and worship of those who knew Him,
the miracles associated with Him whose life was a "blaze of miracles," and the
constant recurring miracles of grace which have attended the heralding of His
name throughout the world, we propose that (if it is difficult to believe that a
man was also God) it is impossible to deny Christ's deity. It is difficult to
believe; it is impossible to doubt.



Several posts and articles on Christianity in China have recently caught my attention. See the posts here and here and follow their links.

It seems Christianity is no longer just a Western phenomenon. (Not that it ever was to begin with.)


O God of Grace…

Thanks to Between Two Worlds for printing the prayer below:

O God of grace,

Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,
and hast imputed his righteousness to my soul,
clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe,
decking me with jewels of holiness.

But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so much impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many
aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with

I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;

I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;

I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth
the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it
shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.


Faith and Surrender

I’m reading the best recovery / self-help book I’ve seen. The book, The Last Addiction: Why Self-Help Is Not Enough, is written by Sharon A. Hersh (WaterBrook Press: Colorado Springs, 2008). The book’s take on “surrender” is the most Biblical expression of the concept I have read. Here’s an excerpt:

When I surrender my wounds to [Christ’s] death on the cross for me, I am acknowledging that I can’t save myself. This concept of surrender is more foreign [than] we might think, especially if we are familiar with words of faith. We can believe that Jesus died, was buried, and arose again. We can say the words, “I know Jesus died for my sins. I want Him to come into my heart.” But surrender goes further. Surrender is joined to belief when I know that I am utterly helpless, and I exchange my ways of being good, of proving myself, of pulling myself up by my bootstraps, for The Way of needing [Jesus’] love, forgiveness, mercy, grace and holiness as much as I need oxygen. This desperation is only born out of dying to myself.

Whether it is addiction or another excruciating reality of life that strikes the final wound that leads to surrender, it becomes a gift when we invite the healing wounds of Jesus to minister to our wounds. (pp. 87-88)

This concept of surrender is really a form of trust. Trust in the life and death of Christ alone as payment for my sins, not in the abstract, but in a concrete and final way.

I had this type of trust when I invited Jesus into my heart when I was seven years old, but I have found that this trust has deepened over time. I have become more and more aware of my sins and the imperfection of even my best works. I have become more and more aware of the dark depths of my heart where my sin comes from.

This heightened awareness has caused me to cling to Christ more fully and more desperately than ever before. That humble trust is the true meaning of surrender.


Where to Start Reading the Bible

I appreciate the post over at Ligonier’s blog on Bible Reading. R. C. gave a similar list of books to start reading in his Knowing Scripture. It helped me to read the books of the Bible he recommended in order to get the big picture of the Bible’s story. I then went back and read the other books to fill in the details.


Piper on Psalm 51

I have been obligated to confess some deeply troubling personal sins over the last few weeks. I’ve always loved the Psalms, and I quickly found Psalm 51 when God was pleased to change my heart and grant repentance. I find that David’s prayer gives expression to the pain and turmoil I find myself in as I confess my sins to God.

John Piper made some comments on this Psalm in a recent sermon that are worth quoting at length. He explains some of the darker feelings I have been having. Here is part of what he says, and I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole thing.

…David is forgiven for his sin and justified in the presence of God. But what Psalm 51 describes is what David felt and thought as he laid hold on God’s mercy. Some might say that Christians after the death of Jesus do not pray and confess this way. They should not think and feel this way. I don’t think that’s right…

This is foundational to everything. Being a Christian means being broken and contrite. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you get beyond this in this life. It marks the life of God’s happy children till they die. We are broken and contrite all the way home—unless sin gets the proud upper hand. Being broken and contrite is not against joy and praise and witness. It’s the flavor of Christian joy and praise and witness.

(John Piper, “A Broken and Contrite Heart God Will Not Despise,” as downloaded from here on today’s date.)

I know I am justified by what Christ has done for me. He has paid the penalty for my sins, and there is nothing I can add to or take away from His payment. But it is good to know that feelings of remorse, and even revulsion, are normal in view of my past sin. And, somehow, because I know these feelings are normal, I can turn myself over to God in a wholehearted way. I can think of myself rightly as God lets me feel His love once again.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!


The Four Horsemen Get Some Things Right

Stand to Reason’s blog contains a great post on the new video from our modern aethiest group. Here’s a sample from the post.

Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris are actually doing us a favor. The thing I appreciate about these men is that they don't view religion as a relativistic, subjective enterprise. They take the claims of Christianity seriously by addressing them as truth claims, not preferences. In the first ten minutes of a video they've titled The Four Horsemen, they express frustration about
the fact that people have made religion untouchable--that if a person tries to argue against the truthfulness of a religion, even the non-religious will shake a finger at him for criticizing it. I couldn't agree more with their frustration...

I agree. I dislike the way most people in the modern church make religion subjective. When religion moves into the are of “blind faith,” our critics are right to ridicule us. The Christian faith is about truth that is revealed by God. Truth. Objective, provable, demonstrable truth. We would do well to remember that.


The Universe as Illusion vs. The Ontological Argument

Skeptic magazine gives a summary of possible explanations for the universe we live in. The article (“Why This Universe?: Toward a Taxonomy of Possible Explanations,” Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Skeptic, Volume 13, Number 2, 2007.) starts with the question “Why is there something rater than nothing?” and notes many of the alternatives scientists and philosophers put fort as possible answers. This listing, or taxonomy, is intended to promote useful discussion about the alternatives.

The article states that each of the alternatives given is “logically permissible.” This is a misnomer; “logically permissible” implies that there is a cogent argument in support of the explanation. Since many of the explanations are contradictory, this cannot be the case. To imply otherwise makes no sense. The author does note that these possibilities “should not be mistaken for scientific theories or even scientific possibilities.” I agree, but would add that logic in and of itself excludes all of the possibilities except one: theism.

I will grant that many of these explanations are theoretically possible, that is, taken individually, they are internally consistent. They are possible in that sense, but one must successfully argue for the truth or falsehood of each in order for them to be logically possible.

I will give a series of posts that address many of the possibilities given in the article. I have given logical arguments for God’s existence elsewhere, and I do not plan to repeat all of the argument’s details for these posts (see here and here to get started). I will start with the notion of the universe as an illusion.

To quote R. C. Sproul, “if something exists - if anything exists - then that which exists is either an illusion, self-created, self-existent or ultimately created by something that is self-existent.” All alternatives in the Skeptic Magazine article reduce to one of these four. I will take each of the four alternatives in a slightly different order: illusion, self-created, created by something self-existent, or self-existent. I apply these alternatives to you, your own being. (Quote from here.)

The universe could theoretically be an illusion. But, if you find yourself in an illusion, there is one truth you can be certain of: you exist. You must exist because if you did not exist, there would be no one to have the illusion. You are not an illusion, so you must have an explanation for your own being. We must now explore different possibilities.

You cannot be self-created. For anything or anyone to create itself, that thing must exist before it exists. I hope that last sentence gives you a splitting headache, because it is supposed to. It is not logically possible to exist before you exist. You would have to be existing and not existing at the same time and in the same way. That is not logically possible.

Now we can explore what we mean by something that is “self-existent.” By “self-existent,” I mean something that has always been, something that has the power of being in and of itself. It cannot not exist. That is, it exists necessarily. To clarify, I turn to Sproul:

… if something exists, then something exists necessarily. This piece of paper that I’m holding cannot exist unless there is some necessary existence somewhere somehow that has the power of being in itself. If there ever was a time when there was nothing - absolutely nothing - then nothing could possibly exist now. And whatever is eternal and self-existent is ontologically transcendent [of a differing order of being] to everything else. (Quote from here.)

We can know a few things about this necessary being. If it must be in and of itself. If this being causes all that is to exist, it must exist independent of the universe it creates, or it must transcend the universe. Since it exists outside of the universe it causes, it is not limited in its being by anything or anyone else.

Something that has always existed would not have a changing being because to change means to be limited by something or someone else. Change also means to stop being one way and start being another way, but the cause of all that is cannot stop being. Therefore, the cause of all that is cannot change. Norman Geisler expounds on what it means to exist in the way I am describing, to exist necessarily:

… necessary existence means that He cannot not exist—so He had no
beginning and no end. But it also means that He cannot “come to be” in any
other way. He must be as He is necessarily. He can’t become something new. That removes all change from His being—He is unchanging... In fact, since a necessary being cannot not be, He can have no limits. A limitation means “to not be” in some sense, and that is impossible—so He is infinite. Also, He can’t be limited to categories like “here and there,” because unlimited being must be in all places at all times—therefore, He is omnipresent. All of these are attributes that follow just from knowing that He is necessary. (Quote from here. See Norman Geisler here and here for further argument.)

Now the other option is that you have existed forever. First of all, this runs contrary to all of human experience. You are conscious of a time when you began to be. You have a first memory. In addition, you are not capable of maintaining your own existence forever, and you are conscious of that fact. You can cease to exist. That is why you spend so much time and energy preserving your life.

Second, our being changes. Scientific studies that show that even our very cells die out and regenerate. We are literally not the same physical being today that we were yesterday. We grow old. We take ill. We are injured. All of these things are a change in being or essence.

If you cannot be self-existent, then you are left with a self-existent cause of your own existence. Other arguments lead to the same conclusions, and I have tried to expound on them here.

Quotes from R. C. Sproul are from the article “God’s Existence and Atheism: R.C. Sproul talks to Peter Hastie,” Copyright Australian Presbyterian July 2002, as downloaded from here on 7/27/07.

Quotes from Norman Geisler are from the article “Questions About God: What Kind of God Exists?” by Dr. Norman Geisler as downloaded from here on 6/4/08.


A Re-print of a Letter to the Editor on Chance

I wanted to reprint a letter to the editor I found while going through some old files of mine. Please note that this basic argument can apply to many scientific theories that claim that evens happen “by chance.” May evolutionists and scientists use that type of language.

Dear Sir or Madam:

William M. Montante’s article titled “Journey to a Definition of Chance” appearing in the August 2004 issue of Professional Safety hinted at a very important point about chance. However, it failed to adequately express the main philosophical issue.

“Chance” is spoken of at many points in the article as if it were a tangible being that has the power to cause something, namely an accident. Some examples are the phrases “through which chance can act,” and an “outcome [that is] chance dependent” (page 39).

Chance is an abstract concept. As such it has no existence. It is not a thing, no-thing, nothing. It cannot cause anything since it has no existence in reality. It has no being, and hence no power. It’s similar to the idea of a negative number. We can never find a negative number of tangible things. This is one of the first rules I learned as an engineering student to test the outcome of a classroom problem. If I had a negative length for an answer, my answer to the problem was obviously wrong.

The safety profession often uses the concept to describe the unknown or immeasurable events and circumstances that cause an accident. Statisticians also attempt to predict the future based on “chance” or probability. It has been useful to scientific research for this purpose. It is the best way we have to predict the future with imperfect knowledge.

But “chance” has no being. It is not some force that can intervene in the world. We do great damage to the rational underpinnings of science when we say that anything, from the evolution of man to the cause of an accident, is “by chance.”

Take a coin flip. The best mathematical predictor of the outcome we have is a “50-50 chance.” But we cannot rationally state that chance caused the coin to land on heads or tails in a particular incidence. If we knew all of the variables involved in the particular coin flip: the exact weight of the coin, the distribution of the weight over the coin’s volume, the force imparted to the coin by the finger, the exact location on the coin’s surface of the force, the air’s density, the exact point where the coin is caught, etc.; we would be able with 100% accuracy to predict the outcome of the flip. These variables are the true causes of the heads-or-tails outcome.

As safety professionals, we would better spend our time learning new ways to measure the events that lead to accidents as opposed to attributing any causal power to “chance.” The true causes of accidents are rationally accessible through our senses. They are scientifically discoverable.

What we can measure, we can learn to control. We simply cannot afford to let faulty notions of “chance” distract us from our ultimate goal of accident prevention. Lives are at stake.

(The argument of this letter came from Dr. R. C. Sproul as expressed in his book Not a Chance. Of course, any mistakes are mine.)


J. K. Jones, M. Sc.
Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers


Jay Smith vs. Islam

Christianity Today ran a great article for their June edition on an apologist named Jay Smith (The short internet version is here.). This article gives us a glimpse into the life a very direct, confrontational person who confronts Muslims with the grace of Jesus Christ. I don’t know much about Smith yet, but I will learn more. I appreciate direct communication. Not all aspects of the Christian message are positive.

Here’s a part of the CT online article.

Smith calls on Christians to match the passion of Muslims. "I was never commissioned to go and die," Smith says. "Most people ask me, 'Aren't you scared for your health? Aren't you scared you're going to be killed?'

"So what? Yes, probably I will be killed. I told my wife I'll probably die before
she does. If I were to die, there would be 10 or 20 people to take my place willingly."

Smith has several You Tube videos, and you can find a sample here.

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