12/30/2009

300 Posts

I have now made more than 300 posts on this blog.  That's a milestone for 2009. 

There have been 3,232 visits this year and 5,549 page-views. Since Fear and Trembling’s inception in February of 2007, there have been 8,079 visits from 5,079 visitors and 12,675 page-views. (As per Google Analytics)

I will try to hit 400 in 2010.

Thanks for reading!

Read the Bible in 2010

Justin Taylor has done a fabulous job of compiling numerous Bible Reading plans here and here. I hope you will take advantage of these as we ring in the new year.


I recommend the M’Cheyne plan as I have used it before. I found it to be extremely helpful.

I cannot decide for certain which plan to use this year. I make take my time. I may just read a chapter a day from the Old Testament and a chapter a day from the New Testament in the Reformation Study Bible, including all of the notes. Should help me “dive deeper.”


Happy New Year!!

12/26/2009

William Cowper, Poet and Hymn-writer

William Cowper was one of the most popular poets and hymn-writers of the 18th Century. He is credited by some as the fore-father of English Romantic poetry, inspiring work by William Wordsworth, among others.


Cowper was born in 1731. He was a contemporary of John Wesley, George Whitefield, and William Wilberforce. He struggled with depression. Some believe he suffered from manic-depression (bipolar psychosis) due to the alternating periods of emotional highs and lows evident in his life.

After a major depression at age 21, he attempted suicide. At age 28, he had another breakdown caused mainly by the threat of a public examination before Parliament. They were to see if he could be appointed to a government position. He was committed to an insane asylum after more failed suicide attempts.

He became a Christian during his stay in the asylum when he picked up a Bible placed there and read Romans 3:25, where Christ’s sacrifice for us is highlighted. Cowper later wrote, “I saw the sufficiency of the atonement [Christ] had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel…”

Over the next few years, he developed a close relationship with his pastor: John Newton. He and Newton worked together on a collection of hymns, including Newton’s “Amazing Grace” and Cowper’s “God Moves In A Mysterious Way” and “There Is A Fountain.”

Cowper, even as a Christian, continued to struggle with depression. Our doctrine must make room for Christians who struggle. Some of his friends were convinced that Cowper’s depression was a physical problem. You see, his depressions seemed to come every January and get worse, then better, in a regular pattern. John Newton was so convinced.

It was spiritual depression. Satan sometimes convinced Cowper that he was not saved and could never be saved. Cowper died in 1800, in deep despair, but he never completely forgot the hope he had in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had many friends like Newton to remind him, when he needed reminding the most, of God’s grace evident in Christ’s sacrifice.

There is hope for all who struggle with depression. We can often share hope with them by reminding them of Christ’s love and passion. We can let “redeeming love” be our theme, as the verse of the following hymn by Cowper reads.


There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood


There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins; and
sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Lose all their
guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains; and sinners plunged beneath that
flood lose all their guilty stains.


The dying thief rejoiced to see that
fountain in his day; and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins
away. Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away; and there may I, though vile
as he, wash all my sins away…

E'er since, by faith, I saw the
stream thy flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be
till I die. And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die; redeeming love has
been my theme, and shall be till I die…


Sources:

Hymn text excerpted from http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh622.sht

Information from The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001.

[1/6/11: I am astonished at the popularity of this post.  It seems many readers land here.  Please feel free to comment on this post while you are here.]

12/23/2009

Maybe X-mas is not so bad after all.

Why is X Used when it Replaces Christ in Christmas? from R.C. Sproul


Merry Christmas everyone!

Am I a Christian just because I was raised that way?

I have recently shared much of my experience growing up in an evangelical church. I had many experiences, both good and bad, but by and large the experience was positive. I was raised Christian, and I am Christian today.

Does this mean I am biased? Yes, but that does not mean I am wrong. The strength or weakness of an argument should be evaluated independent of the circumstances of the person giving the argument.

Besides, we are all biased in some way or another, if we are honest with ourselves. The accusation that “you believe only because of your circumstances” goes both ways. After all, we all have faced and are facing circumstances that shape our views.

I am an intelligent adult. I am not now a “product of my raising.” I am a Christian by choice, and my religion is my own. I like the way Cornelius Van Till addresses concerns on bias here.

I urge you to review the arguments I give critically on their own merits. Let them stand for themselves.

12/15/2009

The Gospel Is for the Broken by Rod Rosenbladt

Follow this link to a great statement of the gospel for those of us who struggle with sin.  Here's an excerpt:

When the major stress in pulpit and curriculum shifts from "Christ outside of me, dying for me" to "Christ inside of me, improving me," the upshot is always the same: many broken, sad ex-Christians who despair of being able to live the Christian life as the Bible describes it. So they do what is really a sane thing to do -- they leave. The way it looks to them is that "the message of Christianity has broken them on the rack." To put it bluntly, it feels better to have some earthly happiness as a pagan and then be damned than it feels to be trying every day as a Christian to do something that is one continuous failure -- and then be damned anyway...What the "sad alumni" need to hear (perhaps for the first time) is that Christian failures are going to walk into heaven, be welcomed into heaven, leap into heaven like a calf leaping out of its stall, laughing and laughing as if it's all too good to be true.
Rosenbladt then offers hope in the Gospel of Christ.

12/09/2009

Christianity As A Series of Verifiable Facts

A Christianity Today article piqued my interest: “The Missionary Who Wouldn't Retire: Lesslie Newbigin, born 100 years ago today, launched a new career at age 66 by calling Western churches to act like they were in the mission field,” by Krish Kandiah posted 12/08/2009 10:07AM.

I wrestle often on this blog and others who argue that religion is a matter of “faith,” or personal preference. This “faith” is supposedly opposed to reason and science, which present objective, verifiable facts.

This notion escapes me. I present reasoned arguments for the faith that do not precede from unverifiable assumptions (see this series of posts for an example). I present a Jesus who acted in history, a history that is verifiable in the same way the most important decisions in our culture are: eye-witness testimony and historical witness (see here).

This is in line with Newbigin’s recommendations as expressed in the article:

[Newbigin] challenges the post-Enlightenment separation between so-called objective facts in the public realm (taught at school and presented without the need for the preface "I believe") and the subjective values of the private world of religion and ethics. He argues that the church needs to humbly yet boldly enter the public sphere with a persuasive retelling of the Christian story—not as personal spirituality, but as public truth. He takes the logic for this public dialogue from the scientific community. A scientist does not present research findings as a personal preference, but with hope for universal agreement if the findings stand up to investigation. In the marketplace of ideas, we should likewise present the gospel not as personal preference but as truth that should gain universal acceptance. This allows us to commend the faith with the humble admission that we might not have exhaustively grasped the truth, but that we have truth that needs to be investigated and seriously engaged.


Like it or not, presentation of Christianity as an objectively true, verifiable religion is the best approach we can take.

12/08/2009

R. C. Sproul Weights in on the Manhattan Declaration

[For background, see here.]


Here’s an excerpt from Sproul’s comments:

The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.

11/26/2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I wanted to take the chance to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. And to thank God for His many blessing in Christ!

II think the most interesting things have been said by Al Mohler, who asks how an atheist can celebrate Thanksgiving, and Mark D. Roberts, who reminds us who to thank.

11/14/2009

A “New” Attitude for J. K.

I am going to try a new approach to comments on this blog, especially those who elect to remain anonymous. I plan to take Carl Trueman’s approach:



I have been asked by several people over recent years whether Christians should respond if they are criticized or defamed on the web. The answer is simple: for myself, I do not believe that it is appropriate that I spend my time defending my name… As a Christian, I am not meant to engage in self-justification any more than self-promotion; I am called rather to defend the name of Christ; and, to be honest, I have yet to see a criticism of me, true or untrue, to which I could justifiably respond on the grounds that it was Christ’s honor, and not simply my ego, which was being damaged… Hitting back in anger at those who, justly or unjustly, do not like me and for some reason think the world needs to know what they think of me is no part of my God-given vocation. God will look after my reputation if needs be; He has given me other work to do.



I’ll respond to comments or the parts of comments that stick to the arguments that have substance, and I’ll ignore the rest.

11/05/2009

J. K. Jones’ Slightly Irreverent Personal Testimony

I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church. That means several things, good and bad.

I can’t dance. At all.

I am horrible at poker. No practice. I’m pretty good at Rook, though.

When growing up an “adult beverage” meant coffee. After all, it was hot and you could burn yourself if you spilled it.

Gospel quartet music makes me smile. My heart sings! I like to pretend I am a bass like George Younce, but I’m really a baritone.

I placed my faith in Christ when I was seven. I did not yet know just how selfish my own heart was, but my faith was real. I turned from my sin to Christ. I understood that “Christ died for our sins…” God has never let me go. He has taught me to repent, forgive and love. He’s still teaching me today.

I’ve understood the meaning of “penal substitutionary atonement” since I was in the fifth grade. That was about the time I learned the meaning of omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, spirit, love, truth and some other attributes of God. I learned about what God was like. Of course, I wouldn’t learn the word sovereignty until college.

I can find any passage in the Bible in about three seconds. That is, except for the Minor Prophets. They never preached on those guys unless the topic was tithing or divorce.

I sometimes think all sermons should include ten or eleven main points that can be remembered with an acrostic.

I learned what it felt like to commit gluttony at church “potluck dinners.” Great food at those.

I got used to swimming in a t-shirt and long shorts at church functions, that is, after the youth director finally decided boys and girls could swim together.

I used “Thee” and “Thou” when I prayed silently until I went to college.

The first religious book I ever read outside the Bible was Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth.  I also went to see that movie at the theater.

Consequently, I learned to be more afraid of being left behind in the Rapture than I was of going to Hell. It was probably the combination of the movie and the hypnotic repetition of the chorus “We’ve been left behind.”

I renounced my sins and put a list of them in the fire at church camp once or twice. My resolve to never commit those sins again dissolved within two weeks of the event.

I ‘learned’ that, with respect to my salvation, God cast the first vote, Satan cast the second vote, and I cast the third and deciding vote. I was then told that God would save me even if my trust in Him came and went. That never really made sense. It seemed if it was up to me then, it was up to me now. Deep down I knew it was all up to God in the first place.

I know all of the verses to Just As I Am, Only Trust Him, and I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. For most other hymns, I only know the first, second and fourth verses.

I have participated in the sacred ritual of burning rock and roll music tapes in the church yard beside the activities building. It was like a sacrament.

I have heard what “Night Moves” by Bob Seger sounds like when it is played backwards. Something like “I Love the Devil.” I’ve often wondered if they ever listened to the song played forwards. It says:

Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy
Out in the back seat of my 60 Chevy
Workin’ on mysteries without any clues;
Workin’ on our night moves…

We weren’t in love, oh no, far from it.
We weren’t searchin’ for some pie in the sky summit.
We were just young and restless and bored,
Livin’ by the sword.

And we’d steal away every chance we could
To the backroom, alley or trusty woods.
I used her, she used me
But neither one cared.
We were getting’ our share.
Workin’ on our night moves.
Why do we have to listen to this song backwards in order to make a decision about it?

I actually thought Stryper was a good heavy metal band for a while. To bad Skillet was not on the radio, that would have been better.

I saw a church go through a horrible split when I was in the Seventh and Eight Grades. There were accusations that the pastor had committed multiple adultery. I won’t know whether those accusations were true until the judgment. I watched the people I had gone to church with and respected “tear at each other.”

On the bright side, those events lead me to discover the theology of St. Augustine. The pastor accused of adultery was the pastor who had baptized me. One of the things Augustine taught was that the Lord’s Supper and Baptism were good even if the pastor was a hypocrite (Donatist controversy, I think). Yeah, I know I was taught that baptism was only a symbol, but, once again, deep down I knew better.

On the dark side, I have several friends in that church who, after they moved out of their parent’s house, have never “darkened the doors” of a church since. I also used it as an excuse to turn to sin myself. I mean exactly what I said there, it was an excuse. I am responsible for my own actions.

I learned to channel my anger into football. I was pretty good. I played “weak side guard” on the offensive line. I loved to pull and trap block. The feel of my helmet hitting a person when I had a five or six step running start was absolutely exhilarating. Of course, that might explain why I have sort-term memory problems.

Our team had the second winning season in the history of the program my senior year. We were the first team from Central to play in the state football tournament. We got put out in the first round, and our accomplishment was rightly over-shadowed when the basketball team won the state championship.

I was the lightest man on the 1985 All-District Offensive Line at 180 Ibs. Everybody looked at me real funny when I stood up to get the trophy at the ceremony. The other players on the stage were all looking down.

I earned Eagle Scout with the BSA, and the Boy Scouts help me to grow up. If I had to give back what I learned from my Master’s Degree or what I learned in becoming an Eagle Scout, I’d give back the Master’s in a heart-beat. Thankfully I don’t have to.

That’s pretty much it up to high school. In high school I learned to do some things I am not proud of. God let me see the selfishness of my own heart.

My miss-behavior continued when I went to U. T. Knoxville. My hometown had a population of 1,000 when I was growing up. My dorm at U. T. housed more people than that.

From my dorm-room window I could see four or five bars. I went often.

I was rebellious. Beyond that I am going to leave it where the Apostle Paul did when he said “it is shameful to even speak of what the disobedient do in secret” (Ep. 5:12).

I was a member of the U. T. Concert Choir during most of my college years. That was a great time. We sang Meldelson’s “There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob.” We did “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony” with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the Knoxville Community Chorus. The director was a strong Christian, and at was my primary form of worship for a number of years.

I guess you could say that in high school I was a football hero, but in college I was a choir boy. The big guys hit hard at the SEC school.

My rebellion continued. I may be the only person in the history of the Christian church who rededicated his life to Christ in part because of a Jimmy Buffet song. In 1990, I was drinking alone in my dorm when I heard Buffet sing, “Where it all ends I can’t fathom my friends, if I knew I just might pull up my anchor.” A verse I had read in junior high came flashing into my mind:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14, KJV).
I poured the fine Kentucky bourbon in my shot glass down the toilet along with the remaining content of the bottle. I read my dusty copy of the Bible for a few hours. Then I went to sleep. I went to church the next day for the first time in a few years.

I wish I could tell you that I laid aside all of my sins that night never to return to them, but I can’t. Like Paul, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:21-23, ESV).

The Baptist Church, where I attended and joined, was pastored by a humble man with whom I could disagree without fear of reprisal. That was very important to me because of my experiences after the church split.

In 1990 I attended a Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru) Christmas Conference in Atlanta. Awesome experience. Sermons were on the Psalms. We prayed in the New Year together. Praying together with thousands of people strengthen my faith. I read through the Bible from cover to cover for the first time that next year.

They also had a book store at the conference. I bought Christian Apologetics by Norman L. Geisler and Pleasing God by R. C. Sproul. These books opened the worlds of philosophical and polemic theology to me.

I completed D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion course in 1991. I memorized a ton of Scripture and learned intellectual reasons to hold the Christian faith. EE changed my life and gave me confidence to share the goods news of what Christ has done for me.

I bought The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul about that time. I read that book all at one setting in an all-night marathon. I just could not put it down. The chapter “The Insanity of Luther” was worth the price of the book several times over. One paragraph of the book converted me to Five-point Calvinism on the spot.

Calvinism was one of the things I disagreed with the aforementioned pastor about. But he did not hold it against me. He disagreed, but he understood and respected my new position. I told you he was humble.

Our Baptist church youth group went to the Navaho Reservation in Arizona each year with the youth from a large Presbyterian church in West Knoxville. We were there in part to support a church started by a Mission to the World missionary (Mission to the World is the PCA denominational missions organization). Baptists will partner with anyone with remotely similar beliefs for missions work. That’s usually a good thing.

Somewhere in all of this I married and divorced. My ex-wife and I grew to be in very different places spiritually. I did not initiate the divorce, and tried to get the help of the church where my ex-wife and I had started to attend, but there was nothing I could do.

I also earned a BS and an MS in Industrial Engineering along the way. Good, practical degrees to have.  I went back to school to earn an MBA in 2011.

I went back to the Baptist church after my divorce. I began to date the pastor’s daughter about two years later. We grew close. We loved to talk to each other, and still do today. We married in 1997.

We adopted our child in 2004 when she was three months old. We adopted through Family Life Services and the Liberty Godparent Home in Lynchburg, VA.

These ministries were started by the Rev. Jerry Faldwell. Dr. Faldwell was asked during a press-conference on the abortion issue where a girl could go if she found herself pregnant and in need of support. Faldwell answered in classic form, “I don’t know, but I will know tomorrow.”

I have often wished Faldwell’s mouth had a clutch and someone else’s foot was on the pedal, but the guy sure could raise money and start strong ministries. Dr. Faldwell did our daughter's baby dedication the day she was ceremonially placed into our home.

I have recently been ordained a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination I have now been a part of off and on since about 1993.

I still struggle with sin. I still need God’s grace each day. I live what C. John Miller called a “life of repentance.” But that life is truly worth living.

10/31/2009

Happy Reformation Day

Today is the anniversary of the day when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis to the church door at Wittenberg. That was arguably the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.



There are some great give-aways and promotions on the web to celebrate:



The Listener’s Bible is giving away a free mp3 download of Luther’s “Here I Stand” speech. (Offer ends Nov. 1.)


Ligonier Minsitries advertizes a special price on case quanitities of "The Holiness of God" by R. C. Sproul. The chapter in this book called “The Insanity of Luther” is worth the price of a whole case, and you would have some left over for friends.


And what better way to celebrate than with study of some current issues on justification by faith:



Find Christianity Today’s “Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together” here.


Find links to a Michael Scott Horton review of N. T. Wright’s theories on justification here.

10/30/2009

Geisler’s Cosmological Argument

I have cited several forms of the cosmological argument for God’s existence on this blog. One effective form of this argument comes from philosopher Norman Geisler. This argument begins from an undeniable premise: I exist. This is not always assumed to be true by modern philosophy. Geisler argues that God exists because I exist. Here’ s a rough outline:


1. Some things undeniably exist (e.g., I cannot deny my own existence).

2. My nonexistence is possible.

3. Whatever has the possibility not to exist is currently caused to exist by another.

4. There cannot be an infinite regress of current causes of existence.

5. Therefore, a first uncaused cause of my current existence exists.

6. This uncaused cause must be infinite, unchanging, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-perfect.

7. This infinitely perfect Being is appropriately called “God.”

8. Therefore, God exists.

9. This God who exists is identical to the God described in the Christian Scriptures.

10. Therefore, the God described in the Bible exists.
(Geisler, Norman L., Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House , 1988, pp. 238-39)

This is just an outline, but it is an outline of an effective positive argument. A Non-Christian has the right to demand a defense of each of these premises, and I would welcome that discussion here.

10/26/2009

Unfashionable

I recently read the Kindle for iPhone Edition of Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian. This is an excellent book written at a popular level to help Christians see that they “make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same” (Location 284).


That makes sense. If you want to change something, you have to make it different in some way. If what you want to change is a culture / people group / nation, you have to create a different culture within it.

One excerpt:

Ironically, the more we Christians pursue worldly relevance, the more we’ll render ourselves irrelevant to the world around us. There’s an irrelevance to pursuing relevance … To be truly relevant, you have to say things that are unfashionable eternal, not trendy. It’s the timeless things that are most relevant to most people, and we dare not forget this fact in our pursuit of relevance. (Location 405)
There is another way to look at this. A subject’s relevance to me really depends on my situation, not my perception.

A train coming down the tracks is relevant to me if I am standing on the tracks in front of it, no matter whether I perceive the train’s whistle to indicate a threat. Whether I think the train is important, it will crush me if I don’t move. If you bring the train and its threat to my attention, I will consider it relevant immediately.
The gospel is like that. If we bring to someone’s attention that they are under the wrath of God, then they will see that Christ having died for the sins of the world is important to them. The gospel is relevant in the extreme.

(Additional comments on the book can be found here.)

10/18/2009

Operation Christmas Child on my Birthday

I just stumbled on a Face Book application that allows a person to ‘donate’ his or her birthday to a cause in order to raise money. I ‘took the plunge,’ as my birth date is October 22.


I would like to support Operation Christmas Child. I went on a trip to Lima, Peru, last year to help distribute shoebox gifts to children. You can read my stories from the trip by clicking the label “Operation Christmas Child” to the right in the sidebar.

Please take the chance to pack a shoebox gift for National Collection Week this year, November 16-23. Drop off locations can be found by entering your zip code here.

Also, a $7 donation will pay the shipping on someone else’s shoebox, and we get several boxes each year at our collection center that need the ‘scholarship.’ You can donate by following the instructions at the Face Book Causes link here or by following the appropriate links here.

Then children were brought to [Jesus] that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15, ESV)

Amen!

10/17/2009

Flew’s Gardner and The Gardner

Two of my favorite modern parables are printed below. The first is one of my favorites not because I agree with its conclusions, but because I admire the way its point is made. From Anthony Flew:



Let us begin with a parable. It is a parable developed from a tale told by John Wisdom in his haunting and revolutionary article "Gods." Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, "Some gardener must tend this plot." The other disagrees, "There is no gardener." So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. "But perhaps he is an invisible gardener." So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Well's The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. "But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves." At last the Skeptic despairs, "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?" (Antony Flew, "Theology and Falsification," University, 1950-51; from Joel Feinberg, ed., Reason and Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy, Belmont, CA: Dickenson Publishing Company, Inc., 1968, pp. 48-49. )




I wonder what Flew thinks of his own parable now that he has converted to theism.


My second favorite is an answer to Flew’s parable. John Frame:


Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. A man was there, pulling weeds, applying fertilizer, trimming branches. The man turned to the explorers and introduced himself as the royal gardener. One explorer shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries. The other ignored the gardener and turned away: "There can be no gardener in this part of the jungle," he said; "this must be some trick." They pitch camp. Every day the gardener arrives, tends the plot. Soon the plot is bursting with perfectly arranged blooms. "He's only doing it because we're here - to fool us into thinking this is a royal garden." The gardener takes them to a royal palace, introduces the explorers to a score of officials who verify the gardener's status. Then the skeptic tries a last resort: "Our senses are deceiving us. There is no gardener, no blooms, no palace, no officials. It's still a hoax!" Finally the believer despairs: "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does this mirage, as you call it, differ from a real gardener?"  (John M. Frame, "God and Biblical Language," God's Inerrant Word, ed. J. W. Montgomery (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), p. 171.)



I side with Frame. God’s existence is ‘as plain as the nose on your face.’ It’s obvious. You must suppress or purposefully ignore overwhelming evidence in order to deny God’s existence.

10/10/2009

New Favorite iPhone Application

The Reformation Study Bible is now available as an application for the iPhone.


This is the best format and interface for a Bible program I have purchased. It beats Mantis and Olive Tree, although both of those are very good.

Its most useful function is the readily accessible daily Bible reading plan. It’s a ‘must have.’

How to Plant Churches – PCA Style

Thanks to In Light of the Gospel for a link to Redeemer Presbyterian’s new Church Planting Blog.

I just wish I could add it to my Google Reader account. Bummer.

Interesting that Keller spoke at a Willow Creek conference this past summer (see here for more). I missed that one. I didn’t know Presbyterians had it in them.

10/02/2009

Classic Luther

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther:

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. (from Letter 99, Paragraph 13. Erika Bullmann Flores, Tr. from: Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften Dr. Johann Georg Walch Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590.)

Are we daring enough to live  this? 

9/30/2009

Old Testament Genocide

Justin Taylor weights in on the conquest of Canaan here. This is a careful and sober analysis.

9/25/2009

9/23/2009

God Is, Part 3 - Thinking about Thinking

God establishes reason, and without Him, we have no reason to be reasonable.

We reason by the laws of logic combined with facts we observe. For example, the Law of Non-contradiction, that A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship. These abstract, conceptual principles must be accounted for if any discussion on any topic is to take place. Only God can account for these laws. His thinking upholds ours.

If the laws of logic are based on human thinking, then we have to realize that people are different and the laws may differ from person to person. They are no longer absolute. Some particular examples follow.

If the laws of logic are just social conventions, then they are not absolute, and they can be ignored at will. My social network is, after all, different from yours.

How do we avoid the conclusion that all of our thinking is not the result of mere instinctive reactions to our environment? Since our environments are all different, we would all reach different conclusions. We would have no basis to argue because we could not change each other’s environments to the degree required to change each other’s minds.

If our thinking is a preconditioned response determined by our genetics, rational impulses would then be determined by genetics. There would be no decisions made in any traditional sense. We would all be pre-programmed to do what we do, and therefore there would be no sense in arguing. We could not change each other’s genetics, so no one could possibly win.

The laws of logic cannot come from science because science is based on inductive reasoning from things we see in our environments. For example, we cannot see the law of non-contradiction in the world. We would have to see the properties of a non-existent things (non-A). The laws of logic are abstract constructions that exist only in the mind. We discover the laws of logic by thought, not observation.
The laws of logic are also undeniable. If we say, for example, “I know the laws of logic do change. We’ve found scientific discoveries in quantum physics that disobey those laws.”

Any discovery you make must be logically understood. For example:

If the Law of Non-contradiction (A cannot be both A and Non-A at the same time, in the same relationship, and in the same sense) is not in effect, then you might as well say to me: “We’ve found scientific discoveries in quantum physics that obey the laws of logic.” “Obey” and “disobey” can have the same meaning in your sentence.

If the Law of Identity (something is what it is, something that exists has a specific nature) is not in effect, the discovery in question would not necessarily be a discovery. Your statement of the discovery could be: “We’ve found scientific discoveries in quantum physics that disobey those laws, but the discoveries changed into discoveries which followed the laws of logic when we came back the next day.”

If the Law of Excluded Middle (a statement is either true or false) is not in effect, your statement on quantum physics could be false even if it were true.

None of the sentences used by anyone would have any objective meaning if the laws of logic do not apply. If the laws of physics as they are currently understood do not apply, it does not follow that the laws of logic do not apply. This would go for any recent scientific discovery. As soon as a person opens their mouth to refute logic they have assumed it.

If Christians are wrong, we are left with no reason to think that we can have rational discourse. Atheists and agnostics cannot have an argument, because, in the ultimate sense, they do not have a position.

(Sources for the above are: John M. Frame, The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, and Tearing Down Strongholds: And Defending the Truth by R. C. Sproul, Jr. Of course, the mistakes are all mine.)

9/10/2009

“You should tell the devil “

Just by telling me that I am a miserable, great sinner you are placing a sword and a weapon into my hand with which I can decisively overcome you; yea, with your own weapon I can kill and floor you.

For if you tell me that I am a poor sinner, I, on the other hand, can tell you that Christ dies for sinners and is their Intercessor… You remind me of the boundless, great faithfulness and benefaction of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The burden of my sins and all the trouble and misery that were to
oppress me eternally He very gladly took upon His shoulders and suffered the bitter death on the cross for them.

To Him I direct you. You may accuse and condemn Him. Let me rest in peace, for on His shoulders, not on mine, lie all my sins and the sins of all the world.

Martin Luther

9/06/2009

John Calvin the Evangelist

John Calvin, a Sixteenth Century leader of the Protestant Reformation, is a well-known theologian. Calvin is well known for his teaching on divine election, the idea that God sovereignty chooses who will have faith in Christ. In many churches, Calvin is an arch villain who tried to stop evangelism. After all, if God chooses, why should we witness?

That is John Calvin as many know him: the stern teacher of election. But what they probably do not know is that Calvin was the leader of one of the largest, most successful church-planting movements in history.

Calvin became a Protestant in 1531 at age 22. He soon left his native Paris, France, because of persecution. Most of Calvin’s work was performed in his new home of Geneva, Switzerland.

Calvin and The City Council of Geneva had many conflicts. At one point, Calvin was even run out of town. He was asked to return, and after a few years most of his reforms were accepted by The City Council in about 1554.

Protestants from all over Europe fled Roman Catholic persecution. Many came to Geneva, including refugees from Calvin’s native France. Calvin and his leadership team saw an opportunity.

Calvin and his team carefully selected men from among the refugees. Each of these men was given a comprehensive theological education. The men were also closely watched to ensure they lived up to the faith they professed.

Calvin’s team had started 5 organized churches in France by 1555 using this strategy. Less than four years later, they had begun over 100 churches. By 1562, there were over 2,100 Protestant churches in France. Ultimately over 100 missionaries were sent.

Most think of the “Mega-church” (churches with large numbers of members) as a modern development, but some of Geneva’s new churches grew to over 4,000 members. One even had close to 9,000.

Calvin’s Geneva even sent two missionaries to what is now Brazil. However, they were martyred before they saw their first convert. Persecution was a fact of life for many of Geneva’s missionaries.

Odds are you have never heard of this side of John Calvin. But he was an evangelist. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

How does this fit with Calvin’s theology? Quite well, actually. I learned as much when I read Calvin’s books for myself.

All Christians, no matter what their views on election, should join Calvin in one of the prayers he often said: “Now let us fall down before the face of our good God, praying that He would be pleased to touch us with repentance…that He would be pleased to touch not only us but all the nations of the earth.” We can figure out all the details later.

Sources:

“John Calvin the Church Planter” by Dr. Frank James III


“John Calvin and his Missionary Enterprise” by Erroll Hulse

George, Timothy. “John Calvin: Comeback Kid.” Christianity Today. September 2009, Volume 53, Number 5. p. 27-32.

God Is, Part 2

This is the second in a short series of posts that give arguments for God’s existence. These arguments complement each other. That is, one proves one aspect of God’s nature; another proves another aspect, and so on.

My area of professional expertise is industrial engineering, also called “process engineering.” I have spent most of my life in the pursuit of process improvement. I have professionally applied myself to manufacturing processes in several industries. I have looked at ways to improve equipment, organization of jobs, the way human beings interact with machines, and the way humans interact with each other.

The purpose of a manufacturing process is to produce quality products, when needed by customers, at minimal cost, in a safe manner. There is one thing I know: a process left to itself does not produce products like that. If we take our hands off the controls, neglect the equipment, or ignore the people doing the work, we get bad products, late shipments, high costs, and increased injuries. If we neglect the process completely, we get nothing whatsoever.

The world around us is full of processes that move toward an organized purpose. We don’t have to look far at all to find them.

John Gerstner, in his book Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995), uses this example on p. 34-35:

The dandelion sends up a little parachute to carry its seed along on the wind and find a place to germinate. That certainly spells intention … we search in vain to find anything in the dandelion that corresponds to our brain, the brain that enables us to think up useful plans.
We find the location of that purpose in “the ultimate cause which we have seen lies behind everything that is.” This is not an argument based on probabilities. Evidence for any purpose whatsoever at any point in any process demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose.

I am arguing teleologicaly, that is, arguing from evidence that the things in nature seem to have a purpose. It’s a little like saying things are designed, but not exactly.

So now we have reasoned to a being that has always existed, has great power, and has the power to choose in our last post. Now we add that this Being has intelligence and intention. Only persons show the power to chose, intelligence, and intention. This fits the general idea of the eternal, personal God of the Bible.

The last post in this series will look at some abstract principles and processes that can only be explained by appeal to God.

9/01/2009

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: One Great Book

Thanks to In Light of the Gospel for posting a video introduction for Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham. This book is an excellent exploration of the historical evidence for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels. It contains up-to-date scholarly references and Bauckham’s own fresh approach.

See an additional review of the book by Ben Witherington here. Witherington applies Backham’s research to various current historical issues here.

Another review can be found here. Some endorsements and a less critical review can be found here. Background on Bauckham can be found here.

8/30/2009

God Is

God’s existence has long been debated. Atheists and Christians alike argue forcefully for their position, but the argument I will give in this post is one of the arguments I find convincing. In fact, this argument has never been adequately answered. This post is my ‘spin’ on an argument put forth by both William Lane Craig and James Patrick Moreland, among others.

God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. This is foundational for a popular argument for God’s existence. Reason demonstrates that something in the past must have always existed.

It is not possible to count to the end of the series of real numbers. You can always count one more. It is an infinite series of discrete things. You can’t count to the end of a series like that. It has no end. There is always one more.

Let’s assume the common understanding of time as an example (please see the note at the bottom on time). It is just as impossible to reach the end of time as it is to count to the end of a series of real numbers. There’s always one more moment. If time has no end, we will never reach the end of it.

What if we move backwards through time? If time had no beginning, it would be like counting backwards to the end of the negative numbers. We would never reach the end. There would always be one more.

Time, in the common understanding, would have to begin at a certain moment. If it had not, the series of moments that had to expire in order for us to get to this moment would have been an infinite series. The end of an infinite series cannot be reached.

Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused us, to the things that caused those things, to the things that caused those times, and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, the end of the infinite series of causes, namely us, would never have been reached. We would never have moved through the series of causes to get to ourselves.

Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been. If it had no beginning, it would be able to start the series of causes. The series would not extend infinitely into the past.

This first cause must also have the power and ability to bring about all we see in the universe. The universe came from something that has always existed. Something, or someone, has always been here. It was not caused to be by something that existed before it. It is self-existent; it has the power of being in itself.

As J. P. Morland points out, nothing outside this first cause can cause it to either act or not act. There was a “time” when there was nothing outside it, so there was nothing to cause its actions. It acted independently of anything else. This is how we define the power of choice. Only a person has the power of choice.

Now we have a being that has always existed, is super-powerful, and displays intention. This fits the Christian notion of God quite well, but not perfectly.

I expand more on what this being must be like in my next post.

8/19/2009

To Digress - The Health Care Crisis and Individual Choices

I have followed with interest the news stories regarding the current ‘health care crisis.’ Some examples of the better articles are here, here, here, and here.

Efforts to blame some group or the other abound. But I blame us.

If we all lost some weight there would be a clear reduction in the health care costs currently experienced. The same is true for smoking, alcohol / drug abuse, high salt diets, not exercising, etc. One article makes it clear:

If people would just do four things -- engage in regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet, not smoke and avoid becoming obese -- they could slash their risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke or cancer by 80%, a new report has found.

But less than 10% of the 23,153 people in the multi-year study --
published in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine -- actually lived their lives this way.


Like it or not, our lifestyle choices are fueling the medical care crisis. It’s our fault. There must be some individual responsibility, or we will never get out of this mess.

The situation we face is largely brought on by a form of ‘welfare mentality.’ We want to make foolish choices and avoid the consequences by running to our doctors and having our health insurance foot the bill.

Grow up, America!

Now, off to Snap Fitness before my friends point out how hypocritical I am.

8/18/2009

The Gospel, The Spiritual Gift of Hospitality, and Crime

Today’s BreakPoint commentary by Prison Fellowship Mark Early tells a story that speaks clearly to the best answer to our crime problem. Here’s the conclusion:

And as we go about doing what God commanded—visiting those in prison and sharing the good news—it won’t just make a difference in private attitudes, but in public safety. So that the next time [criminals and victims] meet, it can be across the pew instead of across the barrel of a pistol.


BreakPoint links to related news stories here and here.



It sounds trite, but we must share the gospel, or they may kill us.

8/01/2009

Contextualization – A Dirty Word?

The Resurgence has an article on a church planted by a man who is quickly becoming one of my heroes: Tim Keller. He planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a body of believers in the heart of New York.

His address to the Desiring God conference on The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World is an good treatment of the controversial subject of contextualization. You can find a good summary of his approach here.

Some Tim Keller quotes to inspire discussion:



Contextualization is not giving people what they want. It is giving God’s answers (which they probably do not want) to the questions they are asking and in forms they can comprehend.





'Contextualization' is unavoidable. You yourself have 'incarnated' Christianity into a culture. As soon as you choose a language to preach in and illustrations and humor--you've contextualized. You are 'closer' to some people and 'farther' from others. And it is also right to have a heart for a certain people group and seek to serve and win them over others…It would be nice if non-Christian people would not care about cultural differences, but people cannot be sanctified before they are justified!




I see contextualization is adapting my communication of the gospel without changing its essential character.



So, what do you think?

(8/13/09 - I'm not getting any response on this one. Time to post on something else.)

7/23/2009

Sometimes I Hate Christianity

“The fact that conversion and salvation are of God, is an humbling truth. It is because of its humbling character that men do not like it. To be told that God must save me if I am saved, and that I am in his hand, as clay is in the hands of the potter, "I do not like it" saith one. Well, I thought you would not; whoever dreamed you would?” - C.H. Spurgeon, qu. in Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, Banner of Truth, 2nd edn, 1973, p 60.


There are times when I have a deep revulsion for Christianity. It requires of me something that I find hard to give.

I must despair of my own ability to earn my way, my own self-sufficiency. That is burdensome for an American. It goes against everything my culture values.

I must abandon my view of myself as virtuous. I must be honest about not just my sins and failures, but also about the deep soul-sickness that afflicts me.

The Recovery Movement calls my particular maladies “character defects.” This is a good description. Things like selfishness, hatred, and greed plague me. In the Bible, these faults are described as “the sin within me” (see Romans 7:13-25).

Despite my best efforts, both before I knew Christ and as a Christian, I cannot rise completely above my own evil desires. That is humbling in the truest sense.

My animosity for Christianity is not due to a deficiency in the religion itself. It is due to a flaw in my own character.

I expect that hatred for the Christian faith is shared by many.

Our only hope is grace. Grace can be spoken of as the process by which a person is brought to the end of himself in humility and then brought to see that the goods news of Christianity’s gospel is for them.

Grace in this sense includes all of the means by which a person is persuaded to change. It is God’s supply of the desires and attitudes that lead a person to Christ in humble trust and reliance on what He has done in His life and death.

This grace God readily supplies.



(Please see search label “Extra Nos” for the rest of the story.)

6/27/2009

Infant Baptism – Now’s your chance to convince me

I am reading through Mathew Henry’s Treatise on Baptism. It’s a copy I have from a Presbyterian minister friend.

I would like to hear your opinion on Henry’s Treastise and on the matter in general. I would like to have some debate.

My paedobaptist friends should ‘smell blood in the water’ on this one. Now’s your chance. I’m coming around to the position, but still struggle a bit.

Lutherans, now’s your chance to convince me. There is a Missouri-synod Lutheran Church here in town.

6/20/2009

SBC to PCA

After an extended period of soul searching, I have decided to change religious denominations.
I have long self-identified as a “five-point Calvinist.” But I found myself avoiding the term in my Southern-Baptist home church because it was so often misunderstood. Recent conflicts in the SBC over Calvinism have left me even more disillusioned (see here and here).

I am simply tired of feeling like I must hide my beliefs in this area “under a bushel.” I am going to become a Presbyterian.

I have become convinced over recent weeks that I can affirm the beliefs held by The Presbyterian Church in America as expressed here and here. I have not decided for certain, but I can see joining that church in the near future.

This will begin an adventure, a whole-new phase of my Christian experience. I hope that you will hold me in your prayers.

5/06/2009

Post-Christian America

Al Mohler’s blog recently linked to an article by Stephen Prothero titled “Post-Christian? Not even close.”

Reminds me of a quote from a book I read a few weeks back:

…Is skepticism or faith on the ascendency in the world today? The answer is Yes. The enemies are both right. Skepticism, fear, and anger toward traditional religion are growing in power and influence. But at the same time, robust, orthodox belief in the traditional faiths is growing as well…

…each side should accept that both religious belief and skepticism are on the rise. Ahtiest Sam Harris and Religious Right leader Pat Robertson shouls each admit the fact that his particular tribe is strong and increasing in influence. This would eliminate the self-talk that is rampant in each camp, namely that it will soon be extinct, overrun by the opposition. Nothing like that is imminently possible. If we stopped saying such things to ourselves it might make everyone more civil and generous toward opposing views.

(The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy
Keller, New York: Dutton, 2008, pp. ix, xvi.)

5/03/2009

H1N1 and the Church

Ligonier Ministries has a wonderful entry by Greg Bailey on John Calvin’s response to the plague.

Here’s a quote referenced in the post:


During Calvin's ministry, Geneva was terrorized by the plague on five occasions. During the first outbreak, in 1542, Calvin personally led visitations into
plague-infected homes. Knowing that this effort likely carried a death sentence,
the city fathers intervened to stop him because of their conviction that his
leadership was indispensable. The pastors continued this heroic effort under Calvin's guidance, and they recounted the joy of multiple conversions. Many pastors lost their lives in this cause. Unknown to many, Calvin privately continued his own pastoral care in Geneva and other cities where the plague raged. Calvin's pastoral heart, already evidenced by the provision of hospitals for both citizens and immigrants, was further revealed as he collected the necessary resources to establish a separate hospital for plague victims. When believers died, he preached poignant funeral homilies with passion and personal concern. (John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Discipleship, ed. Burk Parsons [Lake Mary, Fla.: Reformation Trust, 2008], 65)


We will wait and see what the virus has in store for us, but we may have the chance to practice some of the same principles in view of the recent H1N1 outbreak. Let’s hope not.

Prayer for healing for those suffering is in order as well.

[For any of the atheists who monitor this blog, this is not antithetical to Christian Faith. In fact, the battle against disease using scientific methods can arguably be attributed to Christians. See here, here and here for a start.]

A. N. Wilson on Belief

The recent return of A. N. Wilson to the faith has prompted much discussion (see here, here, here and here). Here is a quote I appreciate:

"My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known - not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die." – A. N. Wilson

4/14/2009

Bart Ehrman Interrupted by Ben Whiterington

Ben Witherington provides a detailed analysis of and response to Bart Erman’s “Jesus Interrupted” in his four posts here, here, here and here.

[4/16: I forgot to mention this will be an ongoing series for Witherington. The next post is here.)

4/12/2009

Easter - The Power of the Cross

A song from the Easter Service at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I attended this morning:

"Oh to see my name written in the wounds, for through your suffering I am free. Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live won through your selfless love!

This is the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us. Took the blame, bore the wrath. We stand forgiven at the cross."

- "The Power of the Cross" by Townend / Getty

4/05/2009

My Number One Felt Need

Much has been said by leaders in the modern church about “felt needs” and the necessity of reaching the lost by an appeal to those “felt needs.” I will pretend to be a non-Christian for a minute. I will speak from the perspective of “the mind set on the flesh.”

My number one felt need at this point in my life is a Victory Red, 2009 Chevrolet ZR1 Corvette. Motor Trend Magazine’s article sold me on the idea. It’s hard to beat a 620 horsepower engine in a 3,324 pound car. Plus the typical Corvette suspension package and amenities.

I guarantee that if your church buys me this Corvette, meeting the felt need of my heart, I will attend each and every Sunday morning for the rest of my life. I will constantly and enthusiastically tell everyone I meet about the great things happening at your church, and I will invite everyone I know to the church that is serious about meeting our felt needs. That church will be successful in the way that the modern church measures success: numerical growth.

Okay, now I will put my Christian hat back on. Appealing to felt needs misses the point. Non-Christians’ felt needs are not the need God intends to address. He intends to meet their foremost need.

We must inform non-Christians of their foremost need: as sinners falling short of God’s glory, we need to be made perfect to stand before God’s judgment unafraid. We need God’s grace to avoid His wrath.

We are not going to think that up on our own. We are far to proud to admit that kind of need. Someone has to tell us. Clearly and plainly.

3/28/2009

How Crazy is God’s Love

I finished the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan (Colorado Springs, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2008). The book is a strong call to the kind of Christian discipleship that can change a person’s life and change our world for the better. (See also the website associated with this book for information and supplemental videos and other materials.)

This book is a strong call to the life of obedience that necessarily follows faith in Christ. But anytime a strong call to discipleship and obedience is issued, it can be misunderstood. I wanted to post a quick look at the underlying assumption of the book: the grace of Almighty God as demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This grace is the righteousness of God that is earned for us in Jesus and credited to us through faith (Romans 3:21-31).

Our constant and consistent sin against a Holy God is a source of guilt and shame among Christians. Chan describes the problem and provides help:

So why, when we constantly offend Him and are so unlovable and unloving, does God persist in loving us? … I do not have an answer to this question. But I do know that if God’s mercy did not exist, there would be no hope. No matter how good we tried to be, we would be punished because of our sins…God’s mercy is a free, yet costly, gift. It cannot be earned. Our righteousness…certainly did not help us deserve it. ..sin is paid for through the death of Jesus Christ, instead of the death of you and me.
(60)


Elsewhere: “In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace covers us…The Scriptures demonstrate clearly that there is room for our failure and sin in our pursuit of God.” (87). The Christian life is lived in constant sin and imperfection, but those failures do not jeopardize our relationship to God because that relationship is guaranteed by Christ’s work credited to us through faith.

Chan points us to love for God as a motivator for Christ-like living (102). He tells us what the solution to our constant, guilt-ridden felt need to justify ourselves before God with our works is not: “…The solution isn’t to try harder, fail, and then make bigger promises, only to fail again. ..When loving Him becomes obligation, one of many things we have to do, we end up focusing even more on ourselves.” And the best solution? “The answer lies in letting Him change you…Jesus didn’t die only to save us from hell; He also died to save us from our bondage to sin” (103).

We need God’s help to change, and we are assured of that help when we turn to Christ in faith. Christ has already purchased everything we need to live for Him.

We run toward Christ, and we are “freed up to serve, love, and give thanks without guilt, worry, or fear” (104). We run to Christ because of what He has done for us, not to earn His favor. As we run to Christ, “we begin to focus more on Christ” and “we are satisfied in Him.” This satisfaction helps us to avoid sin, the satisfaction of our desires with things God condemns. (104)

Do we then sin with impunity? Of course not. No one who has any understanding of their sinfulness and God’s grace can fail to live differently.

When we are focused on loving Christ, it doesn’t mean we do less. I used to do many of the same things I do now, but I was motivated by guilt or fear of consequences. When we work for Christ out of obligation, it feels like work. But when we truly love Christ, our work is a manifestation of that love, and it feels like love. / In reality, none of us will ever be worthy. It is useless to attempt earning it; you will never feel ready…But there really is a God who forgives everything and loves endlessly. (110)



We can stop trying to earn God’s favor and start enjoying the favor Christ earned for us in His life and death. We don’t have to live in guilt and shame. We no longer live in fear. We move forward into new life motivated by our love for God in view of His love for us.

3/20/2009

Christless

I finished a book a few weeks ago by Michael Horton called Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2008). The book is intended to diagnose and describe formidable problems facing the evangelical church in the U. S. In blogging terms, the book is a ‘rant,’ but it’s a powerful one. (Horton promises a “more constructive sequel “ to propose solutions (p. 27), and I look forward to that book.)

Horton applies his keen, analytical mind in a devastating critique of a church that consumes a “regular diet” of “do more, try harder.” The book resonates with me as I have endured this many times. I have sat through sermon after sermon of “weekly calls to action” instead of the clear and simple statement of the gospel of salvation apart from my own works. (17)

I have found much of what our Southern Baptist churches do to be vulnerable to Horton’s pointed criticism. He says of our theologically vacuous teaching that it “is not profound enough to constitute heresy,” that “ our doctrine has been forgotten, assumed, ignored, and even misshaped and distorted” by our selfish “habits and rituals.” (21)

I am a selfish person who finds himself quite at home in the blatantly narcissistic evangelical culture described in Christless Christianity. I struggle daily (really minute by minute) with the many little self-centered words and actions that I have been in mortal combat with as far back as I can remember.

My walk with Christ has been characterized by starts and stops, setbacks and backslidings. Despite my doctrine, I have strived in my heart of hearts to earn favor with God by my own actions, and that has resulted in hypocrisy. It has also contributed to my backslidings. After all, no one can strive to follow God’s law perfectly without failing, and too many failures in a row will cause anyone to give up eventually. (Psychologists call this learned helplessness.) When I give up, sin is right there with me, seeking to rule over me. “Do more, try harder” just doesn’t help.

Horton diagnoses the primary reason that much contemporary preaching does not change me. First, it doesn’t tear down my pride, so I am vulnerable to self-righteousness. True doctrine teaches:

…the bad news is far worse than making mistakes or failing to live up to the legalistic standards of fundamentalism. It is that the best efforts or the best Christians, on the best days, in the best frame of heart and mind, with the best motives fall short of that true righteousness and holiness that God requires…

In my best moments, I cannot meet God’s standard of perfection. I cannot satisfy God’s justice without help from outside me. (91)

Without the bad news, I have no way to understand the good news of Christ’s work on my behalf. The bad news leads naturally to the goods news of what Christ has done, and away from me.

Second, it applies a pressure to force me to conform to a hypocritical and self-righteous image. The reality is that I can’t.

…despite my best intentions, I am not an exemplary creature…I will always provide fodder for the hypocrisy charge and will let down those who would become Christians because they think I and my fellow Christians are the gospel… (117)


The bad news relieves the pressure to perform for others that I feel so clearly under moral exhortation, and it points the world to Christ instead of to Christ is us. We see his perfection, not our imperfection.

…I am a Christian not because I think that I can walk in Jesus’ footsteps but because he is the only one who can carry me…Jesus Christ alone is the gospel. His story saves me, not only by bringing me justification [making me right with God] but by baptizing me into his resurrection life. (117)


The good news that overcomes my sins it that, “The God who accomplished our salvation now delivers it to us” (218).

We loose ourselves “… with the accent on “What would Jesus do?” rather than “What has Jesus done?” (106). The gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, based on the promises of Scripture alone, and for the glory of God alone is lost.

Forth, only the gospel, understood in light of our sinfulness, can give us gratitude. Gratitude toward God for what He has done for us in Christ is the motivation for deeds of service (155). “The creed leads to deeds; doctrine fuels doxology, generating love and service to the saints as well as to our unbelieving neighbors” (154). As Horton points out, the Heidelberg Catechism has three sections or divisions: guilt, grace and gratitude, and we would do well to let those divisions of doctrine drive out Christian lives (155).

May God grant His church mercy and let us all discover these truths anew in our time. If we do, the world will never be the same.

(4/14/09: See R. C. Sproul's review of this book here.)

3/04/2009

Political Quote

I am going to break my own rule in this one instance and place a political quote on my blog. I do so only because I think this issue does have moral implications.


You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation.

You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it. - Dr. Adrian Rogers, Pator, Bellevue Baptist Church, Lived 1931-2005

2/28/2009

Good Debate

Thanks to Apologetics 315 for a link to the Plantinga – Dennett debate on God’s existence.

An anonymous first-hand account of the same debate is found here.


From that account:
In my estimation, Plantinga won hands down because Dennett savagely mocked Plantinga rather than taking him seriously. Plantinga focused on the argument, and Dennett engaged in ridicule. It is safe to say that Dennett only made himself look bad along with those few nasty naturalists that were snickering at Plantinga. The Christians engaged in no analogous behavior. More engagements like this will only expand the ranks of Christian philosophers and increase the pace of academic philosophy's desecularization.

2/16/2009

The Personal Problem of Evil

Much has been written about the philosophical problems the existence of evil poses for the Christian faith. The philosophical question is simple: how can God be both all-powerful and all-good while allowing evil and suffering?

I have attempted an answer to this intellectual question here, but I wanted to explore the personal side of it in this post.

In my own life, many things have not worked out the way I had hoped. I have been quite disappointed. I’ve had childhood illness, watched my grandmother die of colon cancer when I was about 13, been through a painful broken engagement, been through a divorce, remarried only to struggle with infertility for several years, endured a devastating car wreck that has injured me permanently, watched my mother die a long and painful death at the hands of congestive heart failure, and wrestled with personal illness in adulthood. Above all, I have faced my own sins and failures with the pain that comes from regret and remorse.

But my suffering has not been particularly great compared to some, and for that I am thankful.

I have found the Christian faith to be a great comfort to me. The following quote from Steve Brown illustrates why.

In response to the problem of evil and pain, the Christian must always start with Jesus and the incarnation. Everything else is a dead end road. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). No other religious or philosophical system deals with the problem of pain in the unique way with which the Christian faith deals with it.

God enters time and space, and suffers with his people.

The infinite God says to us in our finiteness: If you could understand it, I would explain, but you can’t understand it. Instead, I will come to suffer and die, not to keep you from suffering but to suffer as you suffer … not to keep you from your loneliness but to be lonely as you are lonely … not to keep you from asking your questions, but to have mine, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus Christ has been there … and sometimes that is enough. He knows how much it hurts.

[“How Could He?” by Steve Brown, an article in “Key Life,” published by Key Life
Network, Inc. Easter / Spring 2009, Volume 24, #1, p. 2-3, 8.]


God comes to earth as a man in the Person of Jesus Christ. He suffers with us and for us.

His pain brings forgiveness of sins to His people, a people bought with a price. A people purchased as His reward.

This reward for His suffering gives us hope that there will be reward for ours. He suffered for a purpose, and we can know there is a reason and purpose for our suffering, even when we can’t see it.

He rose from the grave as a victor over all of the sin and death and misery that infect the world. He won a battle with all of the dark forces that would torment us. He gave us hope for a glorious future, free from our sins and struggles.

Taking the message at face value, I can respect the God of the Christian faith.

He lays aside His privileged position to walk as one despised and rejected. He left behind His riches to become poor.

He enters the fray against the mightiest foes. He fights and wins. He brings hope and inspires strength.

He rescues us from the fate that we all so richly deserve, and gives us gratitude as a gift to help us persevere.

“To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25). To whom indeed.

A Significant Convert from Islam to Christianity

Thanks to Nightmares and Dreamscapes for the link to a video about the son of a Hamas leader who converted to Christianity.

2/11/2009

Theology’s Implications - A Ramble

Some conversations I’ve recently had over at The Atheist Experience made me think about some implications of certain of God’s attributes, namely His knowledge and His immutability.

God is unchanging in His being, character (what theologians call His perfections), purposes, and promises. Yet God does act. He does feel emotions. And He acts and feels differently in response to different situations.

God’s unchanging nature means that His knowledge does not change. He never learns new things or forgets things. He knows all things past, present and future, actual and possible, and knows them all equally vividly.

This is why the universe follows logical laws. Logic helps us see how everything fits together (how facts interrelate). We can know it all fits together because God knows everything. There must be truth, and it must all logically inter-relate because it can be known in God’s mind vividly. In a sense, it can be know all at the same ‘time,’ so it must all be logical. God’s knowledge does not change, so we know the interrelatedness of facts must also be consistent.

I frankly have heard no explanation for universal, abstract concepts like the laws of logic that do not at least appeal to God’s design of the universe.

(Most of the wording for the definitions of God’s attributes given here comes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Of course, any miss-interpretations are all mine.)

2/02/2009

Go Steelers

I was delighted to see the Steelers win the Superbowl last night. The last few minutes of the game were so exciting this year that it truly was super.

The first football game I can remember seeing was when the Steelers won their first Superbowl against the Vikings. I have been a Steelers fan ever since. I can still see the faces of Bradshaw, Harris, Greene, Holmes, White, Greenwood, and others. Now I have a whole new set of faces.
Steelers Superbowl victories are summarized here.


As to Kurt Warner’s Christian witness, I would like to quote In Light of The Gospel: “Before the game, Warner won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which honors a player’s volunteer and charity work. That kind of work will last much longer than the Super Bowl victories and records.”

There is more than one way to win!

1/29/2009

Chance?

I’ve been doing a little reading on Quantum Mechanics lately (see here, here, and here for interesting articles).

There are many abstract concepts that do not have any reality behind them: randomness, chance, and luck, for example. These have no bearing in the real world because they are abstract concepts used to describe things we cannot understand yet. If we knew the causal relationships, we would not need a concept of chance or probability.

I have no reason to believe in chance or randomness in the concrete sense because I believe that all events have a cause. I may not be able to identify the cause yet, but I have no reason to believe in an uncased event.

Chance 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.

Scientists often use the concept to describe the unknown or immeasurable events and circumstances that cause an event. 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 attempt to predict the future with imperfect knowledge.

Chance 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 a quantum event, 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 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, 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.

Using “chance” or “random events” or “spontaneous popping into existence out of nothing” as explanations for things that happen in the world is the ultimate kind of question begging. It lets us avoid looking for real causes.

(This argument is adapted from R. C. Sproul as expressed in his book Not a Chance. Of course, any mistakes are mine.)

1/23/2009

Rick Warren’s Prayer

For the record, I think Rick Warren did good: (Quote of Inauguration prayer from Between Two Worlds)

Almighty God, our Father:

Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone.

It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory.

History is your story.

The Scripture tells us, "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one." And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.
Now today we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge point of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States.

We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where a son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama,

the wisdom to lead us with humility,

the courage to lead us with integrity,

the compassion to lead us with generosity.

Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans--united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you--forgive us.

When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone--forgive us.

When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve--forgive us.

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes—even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve, and to seek the common good of all.

May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy, and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet.

And may we never forget that one day, all nations--and all people--will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, 'Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus—who taught us to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

Darwin’s Motive?

An interesting Christianity Today article discusses why Darwin rejected Christianity, and the facts may surprise you. It may have been more of an emotional reaction than an unbiased reflection on the facts.

1/19/2009

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday

Just my favorite quote from the “I Have A Dream Speech:”

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

(Compare Isaiah 40:4-5.)

Amen, Dr. King. We miss you.

1/18/2009

Some Posts of Note, Along with Where I've Been for a Week or So

I have been spending more time commenting on other blogs that posting on my own lately. Here are a few things I have found in other places that have caught my interest.

Between Two Worlds gives links to interviews and commentary on N. T. Wright’s response to John Piper. We also find brief commentary, and an interesting discussion in the comments.

In a newsletter, Lee Strobel notes reasons not to give up on evangelism when we become discouraged. Also, the site announces Lee Strobel’s upcoming blog.

Apologetics 315 gives links to Rev. Todd Wilken’s review of The Shack. This is a very level-headed review.

Extra Nos gives a link to a Utube video in which Richard Dawkins attributes the appearance of complexity and design in the world to “luck” and a system that makes the “luck” hold out.



Why did I run out of time to carefully comment on the above? Long comments I typed for other blogs.

I engaged in a running argument with numerous atheists over at Unreasonable Faith. I thought I did pretty good considering I was greatly outnumbered and hence lost track of some of the discussion. I also gave myself a pretty good case of carpal tunnel syndrome. It gets really lonely really quickly on this blog, and I wish other Christians would join me there.

Out of curiosity, what do you think of the cosmological argument? It was the subject of much of the argument at Unreasonable Faith.

Search This Blog