Sunday, August 30, 2009

How well do you know John Calvin?

Christian, a sub-section of Christianity Today, has posted 10 questions testing your knowledge of Calvin. Some of the questions are fairly elementary, but some might just catch you off guard (like his wife's name).

I can say I got 80% correct.

Take the test and let us know what you scored. How well do you know Calvin?

Friday, August 28, 2009

A "Gospel-Centered" Reader

James Grant passes on a good idea from Tommy Brister:

One of the things I learned to do while in seminary is create “readers” for myself on research topics. Basically, a “reader” is a compilation of shorter works (articles, essays, sermons) that is put together in a Table of Contents and bound together. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a Reader on the subject of “Gospel-Centered.” I thought I’d share the contents with you. If there are others out there that I could add, please let me know!

The reader can be found here. Most of the selections are linked as free pdf's.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Antichrist Wrote the NIV

I've been looking for some illustrations on textual criticism for a Sunday school class I'll be teaching at my church on Sunday and I came across this wonderful video:

My favorite part is the cheering.

Woe To You When All Men Speak Well of You

J. C. Ryle comments on Mk. 6:14-29 (John the Baptist's beheading), saying,
    Let it never surprise us when we hear of faithful ministers of the Gospel being spoken against, hated and reviled. Let us rather remember that they are ordained to bear witness against sin, the world and the devil, and that if they are faithful they cannot help giving offense. It is no disgrace to a minister's character to be disliked by the wicked and ungodly. It is no real honor to a minister to be thought well of by everybody. Those words of our Lord are not considered enough - "Woe to you when all men speak well of you" (Luke 6:26).
My father recently told me about a survey he had read some time ago that found that the most common factor in unhealthy churches was non-confrontational leadership. When pastors are subject to the tyranny of congregational opinion, their churches fail.

This isn't surprising, on the one hand, because most pastors are Really Nice Guys. Thus the common caricature of a warm-hearted country pastor full of gentle wisdom. Peterson calls them "chaplains of the culture" and rejects the label. Since pastors are like that, and since culture expects them to be, pastors don't confront sin.

This is also not surprising because people are sinful. Yes, even Christians. Yes, even Christians who have gone to a church for a long time. So when a Really Nice Guy tries to shepherd a bunch of sinners without ever confronting their sin (or just poor biblical thinking), church problems don't just slowly fade away. Owen was right: if we are not continually at work killing sin, sin will be killing us. While Owen aimed that at individuals, it applies to communities just as much. And no one has ever killed anything without being confrontational.

After my father and I had that conversation, I resolved that I would never be a non-confrontational pastor. If I am to take my mission as a pastor seriously, I must be willing to call sinners to repentance, always with the aim of grace-filled restoration. I must carry out biblical church discipline. I must commit unwaveringly to the Bible as the only textbook for Christian ministry by rigorously applying its teachings to my life and my church, even if it means risking my approval rating.

Our Lord purposed to go to the cross from the beginning. Confronting sinners was his chosen means to that end. Woe to us if we will not follow his example. Woe to us if all men speak well of us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New CiC Poll - What Do You Want More Of?

If you read CiC in a reader or through email subscription (or if you come to the site but are somewhat lacking in powers of perception...), you may not have noticed that we put up a new poll on the right side of the blog asking for your input about what kind of content you would like to see more of here.

Do us a favor and vote, would ya? It really will help us know how best to serve you, dear reader. For that matter, do feel free to email any of us if you have any other suggestions. You can click on any of our names on the top left corner of the blog and get our email addresses there.

Many thanks for your support and involvement with Christians in Context. We sure appreciate it, and we hope you do too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: Christian Mission in the Modern World

I'll admit it: when I saw Christian Mission in the Modern World on the "Future Books" section of IVP's website awhile back, I thought Dr. Stott had come out with something new. Apparently I failed to notice that it was being released in the "IVP Classics" series, which would have been a remarkable prediction for a new book, to say the least.

Soon I discovered that CMitMW was originally released in 1978 at the tail end of a worldwide flurry of ecumenical councils on the subject of, well, Christian mission in the modern world. Included in these was the truly evangelical Lausanne Covenant (whose third council, now headed by Christopher J. H. Wright, will be meeting in 2010 in Cape Town). Many of our readers will already know that Dr. Stott chaired that document's drafting committee when it was released in 1974.

So CMitMW was written in the wake of all of this with the express purpose of biblically defining five key missions-related terms:
  1. Mission is the comprehensive term for what God sends His people into the world to do, including both evangelism and social action.
  2. Evangelism is the church's missional priority (i.e. ahead of social action, though social action is absolutely part of mission), carried out when Christians preach the gospel (i.e. the good news about Jesus). Evangelism is necessarily verbal.
  3. Dialogue is what happens when multiple parties not only speak, but sincerely listen to one another despite opposing views. Note well: Stott does not advocate dialogue that does not include verbal proclamation at some point. In fact, he says, that would be disingenuous.
  4. Salvation is neither psychohysical health, nor sociopolitical liberation, though both may be related in certain senses to salvation. Rather, salvation is personal freedom from sin and to a life of service to God.
  5. Conversion is the human response to the salvation that God works, in which a human repents and places faith in Christ, thereby turning from the life of slavery to sin to that new life in Christ.
If any of these definitions seem either unbalanced or unbiblical, it is likely from poor summarizing rather than poor defining from Stott. Indeed, Stott's biblical rigor is the greatest strength of CMitMW, and likely the reason that it has achieved "classic" status.

While Stott moves through biblical texts with typical ease, almost equally impressive in this book is his remarkable knowledge of seemingly every contemporary conversation about Christian mission in existence. The sheer number of documents from world councils and books on mission that Stott cites is incredible. Stott is a master of both biblical content and contemporary opinion, thus qualifying him as a true expert on the subject.

This is not to say the work has no weaknesses. For one, while Stott rightly argues that salvation is not psychosocial health, one wonders exactly how psychosocial health in fact does relate to Christian salvation. Perhaps having a father who is especially interested in this subject makes me acutely aware of this, but Stott seems less clear than usual on this important subject.

Second, while what Stott says about "dialogue" is actually quite helpful, I wonder if by now, the battle for the term has been lost. Stott quotes Bishop Stephen Neill, who suggests that anyone who reads Plato knows that dialogue vigorously pursues truth as its only goal. Perhaps a few philosophers can still use the term that way, but where tolerance is the heart of religio-cultural orthodoxy, we may as well give up. In the context of religious discussion, dialogue is what happens when multiple people with differing views put on sweaters, drink cappuccinos, and amiably tell each other how great it is that none of them believe in anything worth arguing for. Again, note well that Stott means nothing of the sort when he commends dialogue. But "dialogue" simply has too much baggage to go on using the term so long as we actually care to change anybody else's opinions, let alone their hearts.

Which leads to my final thought: while "dialogue" may no longer be a salvageable term, most of Christian Mission in the Modern World is remarkably relevant for current discussion, despite now being over thirty years old. I picked up this book specifically to try to sort out the biblical relationship between evangelism and social action and I was not disappointed. So I wonder, for example, how the Emergent discussion would have changed if more people would read this book. For those who are still committed to the Bible as God's Word, my guess is that they would find, like I did, that Stott's definition of "mission" is nearly incontrovertible.

Because here is this bottom line: if you are interested in sorting out the foundational theological issues in Christian missions, you will be hard-pressed to come up with a better starting point (especially since the 2008 "IVP Classics" release is available for less than 7 bucks from IVP) than Christian Mission in the Modern World. For this reason, I pray that this book remains truly classic.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Unreformed Christianity

To no one's surprise I have a quote from R. C. Sproul's A Blueprint for Thinking teaching series which has stuck with me over the years. I came across it last night while surfing the everlasting web at The Reformed Pilgrim. No doubt some might disagree with Sproul, but anyone who is even moderately Reformed in their theology can appreciate this...

At the heart of Reformed Theology, at the heart of Luther and Calvin’s struggle, and in Knox and Jonathan Edwards, were men who were awakened to the greatness, to the majesty, to the holiness, and the sovereignty of God. By contemplating the holiness and sovereignty of God, they were driven to develop their doctrines of the grace of God. Because until you meet a God who is holy and is sovereign, you don’t know what grace means. I don’t think we are ever going to see a healthy evangelical church until the evangelical church is solidly Reformed, where it takes biblical Christianity seriously with a right concept of a sovereign God.

That’s because unreformed Christianity has failed in our culture. It has been pervasively antinomian (no law, no Lordship), and has been pervasively liberal in it’s trends and tenancies away from Scripture, because there’s been no real basis in the sovereignty of God.

Today’s evangelicals are never amazed by grace, because they don’t understand sovereignty. They don’t understand God. The evangelical church today is sick, more sick than it ever has been. We need a style and a variety of Christianity that is not a religion, but is a life and a worldview, where at the heart and foundational structure of it is a sound and deep biblical concept of the character of God.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book Review: The Lost Virtue of Happiness by J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler

I was fully prepared to enjoy this book, having already enjoyed one by J.P. Moreland earlier this summer called Love Your God With All Your Mind. So if he can write such an excellent book on the role of the mind in the life of the Christian, why not on the role of the spiritual disciplines in the life of the Christian? After all, that is how The Lost Virtue of Happiness by Moreland and Issler was billed.

"Discovering the disciplines of the good life"
"A fresh look at the spiritual disciplines"

Alas, I was disappointed on two fronts. Unfortunately, the earlier book I'd read by J.P. Moreland was a factor in this book being a let-down. In at least two rather extended portions (that I noticed), J.P. borrowed heavily and even quoted word for word sections from Love Your God With All Your Mind. This is not a grave offense, I've noticed other authors do it before. However, in this instance it felt forced and a little out of place because the sections did not seem to fit the expressed intent of the book.

Which brings me to my second critique. For a book supposedly dealing with spiritual disciplines, they were not the disciplines I was expecting. Instead of chapters devoted to prayer, fasting, and the study of the Scriptures, there were chapters like "Embracing the Hiddenness of God" and "Defeating Two Hardships of Life: Anxiety and Depression".

After I got over the initial disappointment of being misled by the packaging, I found the book somewhat insightful in finding happiness in the Christian life (I would recommend this book to any Christian dealing with depression).

I know that often the publishers have the final say on what is on the front and back cover. Unfortunately, if that was the case with this book, it made some truly engaging and helpful material feel like a "miss" for me.

The Lord's Prayer, Up Close and Personal

How's this for a good idea for a youth group prayer event: an interactive walk and prayer session through the Lord's Prayer.

My good friend Trey Allen is a youth pastor in Texas. Trey set up seven different rooms at church, each one themed around one line from the Lord's Prayer. The students spent about ten minutes in each room praying and thinking in accordance with the prayer. So, for example, there was a room totally covered in white sheets from floor to ceiling (thus the picture on this post) for the room based on "And Forgive Us Our Sins." That room also had a musical version of Psalm 51 playing (I'm assuming Jon Foreman's excellent song, but the post doesn't say) and verses from Eph. 1 and Ps. 51 scattered in the room. Sounds pretty awesome.

Go read the full explanation here and consider doing something similar with your church.

Friday, August 21, 2009

For the Joy of the Master

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.

Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, "Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more."

His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, "Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more."

His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master."

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."

But his master answered him, "You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." - Matthew 25:14-30

This parable used to really bother me. I was always upset that the master gave the servants different amounts to work with. What bothered me even more was the fact that the master, upon his return, seemed to add talents and rewards proportionate to the gain that the servant made on the money, regardless of the fact that they didn't start with the same amount (Don't believe me? See the parallel passage in Luke 19).

Now I don't consider myself a financial guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that it's easier to make five of something back if you start with five rather than two. So when the master seemingly rewards in proportion to the profit, that seemed extremely unjust.

I say "seemingly" because I noticed something recently I had not noticed before. I had been confusing exactly what the reward was.

I realized that when the master rewards the servant with the pronouncement "I will set you over much" (in the Luke passage this is authority over cities), he is not giving the servant a reward. He is adding to his responsibility. The master is not giving money to the servant for making him money. The money, the cities, the "much" all still belongs to the master.

What then is the reward for the servant? "The joy of your master". With this short phrase, all of my materialistic categories of life are crushed.

I am guilty of using the gifts and abilities that God has given me for the motive of gaining more. I want more stuff, status, prestige, in this life and the next. How foolish! How could I have missed for so long that it all belongs to the master!

Nothing that is given to me belongs to me. Nothing that I add to what has been given to me belongs to me. And nothing that is placed under my care because I have been productive in the past belongs to me.

If I am working for anything but the joy of the master, I am working foolishly. So to those of you who are constantly jealous of the gifts or possessions or status that someone else has, consider what you have and work for the joy of the master. To those of you who have said gifts and possessions and status, work for the joy of the master. And remember, to whom much is given, much is required.

And above all, work for the joy of the master.

Almost Forgot...Carrie Allen's Blog!

We forgot to make this more explicit in the interview posts from today and yesterday, so I wanted to correct the mistake: our dear friend Carrie Allen blogs at "The Greatest of These is Love." Do go drop by and thank her for the interview with Mike Erre if you enjoyed it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The One Sine Qua Non of Church Health

John 15:1 says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser." God planted Israel as a vine, but that vine had failed to yield fruit (Isa. 5; Jer. 2:23; Ps. 80). Our Lord here proclaims that he stands in Israel's place as the true vine- the vine that does not fail to give life, tended by the Father Himself (cf. 15:2, which I've written about here).

John 15:4-5 says,
    Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
If we abide in Jesus, we will be fruitful. Bet the farm on it. Jesus is the perfect vine. The Father is the perfect vinedresser. If we are in him, we will be fruitful.

If we do not abide in Jesus, we can do nothing. We will bear no fruit in our own lives and in our churches. We are useless, except for being burned as firewood (15:6).

This is significant, since bearing fruit is in fact how we glorify God and prove to be His disciples (15:8). Christians recognize that glorifying God is the central purpose of our life. Fruit-bearing discipleship is what glorifies Him, and we attain that by abiding in Christ.

Jesus told us all of this so that we may share in his joy, which means that our joy will be full. Note it well: when we glorify God as fruit-bearing disciples by abiding in Christ, we become maximally joyful. This is an exciting prospect.

We might lay this out more simply like so:

Abiding in Christ --> Bearing Fruit/Discipleship --> Glorifying God --> Fullness of Joy

Not Abiding in Christ --> Spiritual Death & Worthlessness

The writers of this blog love the Church. We are often frustrated by her to be sure, but we love her. This is the major reason why we write, that in some small way we might contribute to her overall health. To this end we strategize constantly. We try to think carefully, then articulate clearly problems and potential solutions in the Church.

But as I read John 15 this morning I was reminded of something that is often so obvious that we fail to think about it: if church leaders are not abiding in Christ, all the strategizing in the world is a waste of time.

Brothers and sisters who love the Church and seek to lead it to health, I beg you: abide in Christ. If you fail to do this, your ministry is worthless. Abide in Christ through prayerful reliance on the Spirit (16:13), through Bible reading and memorization (15:7), through meditation on the overwhelming love of Christ (15:9), through obedience (15:10), and through love for other Christians (15:12-13).

Abiding in Christ is the one sine qua non of church health. Abide in him, and do it constantly. This is what we need above all else in our churches: leaders who abide in Christ.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What if This Article Was About Polyamory or Polygamy?

By chance I came across a Wall Street Journal article titled "Gay Marriage and the Constitution" the other day in a museum exhibit discussing freedom. It is an op/ed piece by David Boies. Boies is one the chairman of Boies, Schiller and Flexner, LLP, an apparently major law firm that has been involved with, among other cases, United States v. Microsoft and Bush v. Gore.

The article turns out to be remarkably relevant for the discussion here over the last couple days about the gay marriage progression argument. The heart of that discussion, as I have labored to constantly restate, has been the issue of legal precedent. You could ask the question this way: why should or shouldn't we allow homosexuals to marry? My reading of the pro-gay-marriage camp is that, above all else, if consenting adults are in committed, love relationships, then why should they not be allowed to marry?

And as I have argued in the past, I understand that point of view from a state perspective. What reasons do state or federal lawmakers have, if any, to not allow people to marry? Until recently, the reason has been that we have defined marriage as being between one man and one woman only. Why do we do it that way? Well, because we always have.

So here is my challenge to those involved in this discussion: as you read the article, can you find any argument used by this high-powered lawyer in a universally respected newspaper that could not be applied by polygamists and polyamorists to their own cases?

I'll say from the beginning that there is one, and it is in this quote: "But, in fact, the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians is as much a God-given characteristic as the color of their skin or the sexual orientation of their straight brothers and sisters." This is a remarkably bold claim based on remarkably scant evidence. But even if you agree with Boies on this claim, I hope you will see that this is not really the heart of the legal argument so much as a way to fend off one objection.

The central claim, rather, is in the opening sentence of the third paragraph: "The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the right to marry the person you love is so fundamental that states cannot abridge it." If I was a lawyer for the poly cause, I would heartily agree and add, "So why not the people you love? What's so different and wrong about that?"

As older, more traditional generations continue to pass and younger, more progressive ones rise up, does anyone really think that our culture would find much reason to disagree?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Marriage of Ian Clausen

Unfortunately, there are some things in life that you just can't liveblog. CiC team members weddings fall into that category. So in lieu of that, let me offer my hearty congratulations to Ian Clausen and his new wife, Lauren. I pray that their marriage would model Christ's relationship to the Church in a way that will convict Christians and call non-Christians to our Lord.

The two head to their honeymoon this week, then go back to Scotland where Ian will continue on with his doctoral studies under Oliver O'Donovan and Lauren will begin a Master's in theological ethics (also with Dr. O'Donovan, I think). But we all know that Ian's greatest joy will be in no longer being the only unmarried CiC team member!

Below is a picture of me, my wife, Ian, and Lauren. And yes, Ian and I think the same thing you are: how did guys like that end up with ladies like that? God's grace is the only possible answer...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kids from the Inner City Aren't Stupid

From my wife's blog:
    A woman who teaches at the same school as my friend and I do proffered the suggestion that perhaps the errors in grammar and spelling [on a recent AP English test] could be owed to a language barrier issue. That suggestion was met with this response: "I don't think it's a language barrier problem. I think it's a stupid problem."

    I know hardly anything about teaching in the inner-city. I know what one year's worth of experience has allowed me to observe, what others who have been there longer than me have shared, and I know a lot about what NOT to do in a classroom. I do not profess expertise in this arena. However, one thing that the last year has done for me is solidify the belief that kids who read on a 6th grade level in 12th grade are not stupid. They have crappy educations and/or limited English proficiency. When I say "don't talk poorly about my students" it's not because they are all particularly endearing. Several of them are, in fact, the embodied antonym of "endearing". The reason we shouldn't talk poorly about students in the inner-city is because, by and large, the fact that they can't read or write as they ought often speaks little about their academic potential. It speaks more to a public education system that is so big, and so poorly organized that it cannot actually hold its teachers and its parents accountable for solid foundations in the academic subjects.

    When we call them "stupid" we mean that they cannot learn like others can. We take years of poor teaching, unstable communities and home lives, racism, and a myriad of other factors and turn to those kids and say "stupid" and make them culpable for all the forces at work in their lives. It is not a "stupid problem". It is a quagmire of personal and education issues which combine to render many of them without the necessary literacy skills to continue learning past high school. It is a problem so big that most days I am not sure that anything we do even makes the smallest dent in it. But above all, it is not a "stupid problem." And the ignorance that perpetuates that kind of thinking will be the same ignorance that chooses the relatively easy work of mocking those kids rather than undertaking the labor it is to teach them.
Britt teaches high school Spanish at Locke High School in Watts (South Central Los Angeles- the ghetto), as she alludes to.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Justin Taylor is Bad with Technology

You heard it here first: Justin "Master of the Theo-Blogosphere" Taylor has admitted that he is technologically illiterate. Remarkable considering how successful his blog is! While in Wheaton, IL visiting my wife's family, I had the privilege of having lunch with Justin and heard it straight from the horse's mouth. Who knew?

More seriously, I was reminded by a few of his wise comments that those of us who blog need to be careful to think through our intentions as we write. Are we self-important? Are we writing out of anger? Do we constantly pursue more readers and better links? There is legitimacy to seeking readers, but edification should always be our goal.

So James 1 says,
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
The blogosphere is a place where these words are steadfastly ignored, despite that they apply here as much as anywhere else. Justin reminded me of this passage, and I pass it on to you, dear readers and bloggers, to consider as well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Gay Marriage Legal Trajectory Argument Revisited

After my polyamory post mishap the other day, a reader named Jude raised some good questions asking me to tease out the reasons why I think that the legalization of gay marriage would lead to the legalization of other forms of marriage, especially polyamorous or polygamous marriage. I'll summarize the questions and try to answer each one, because they're worth exploring. If you want Jude's full questions, follow the link above and read them in the comments.

1. Why is it that allowing marriage to be inclusive of same-sex unions will lead to a concept of marriage that is divorced from monogamy? Don't most advocates of same-sex unions still hold to a concept of love and marriage that contains some concept of fidelity as monogamy?

Because it's not so much a "why" question as a "why not" question.

Strictly speaking, there is certainly no logical connection between homosexuality and polyamory. But what gay marriage advocates often want to do is say, "Why is marriage between one man and one woman? Where did we get that from and who says it still has to be that way? Why not let it be between one man and one man, or one woman and one woman?"

If we allow that legal foundation to change, then it seems obvious to me that a polyamory advocate or a polygamous FLDS family say, "Why is marriage between only two people? Where'd we get that from and who says it still has to be that way? Why not let it be between more than two?"

So you start messing with basic principles, and you get statements like this (from this article) from a practicing poly, "Any people who wish to form a marriage with all the rights and duties of a marriage should have the legal right to. The spurious arguments of marriage being for procreation of children is (sic) ridiculous." It's a total why not question.

More thoughtful people might frame it another way, but the pro-gay-marriage cultural voice says, "Equality for all!" or "Down with Prop H8!" or whatever else. Why not? Why not equality for polys too? What foundational principles, what precedents will there be left that define 'marriage' as between two people instead of more? Or for that matter, why is, to quote the question, "monogamy" the only way to express "fidelity"? That's how they'll frame it.

2. While polyamorous "triads" may be clamoring for cultural acceptance, why should we think that they would gain it, even if gay marriage does? Numerous "non-traditional" forms of sexual union and marriage have tried for cultural acceptance and been laughed off (or shouted off) of the public stage, such as the man-boy love folks and beastiality folks?

Simple: because the one precedent that will surface as the basis for marriage will be consenting adults. Both of the examples given here and any other such laughable ones break that principle.

The American view of freedom is, "I should be allowed to do and say whatever I want with whomever I want as long as I/we are adults not harming others." So polys will say, "We're consenting adults. Why stop us from marrying if you want to?"

3. Why should we think that there would be an easy transition in legal precedent in the legalization of polyamory even if there were cultural pressure for its acceptance? In the case of gay marriage, it seems that the same legal precedents set for dealing with matters such as divorce, inheritance, etc., for heterosexual couples could be readily appropriated. But it is not so clear that this would be the case for polyamorous couples because of the addition of another partner. It seems that new forms of legal messiness would arise. For example, what sort of legal precedent would need to be set if one part of the triad wanted to divorce one spouse, but not the other?

One word: laywers.

It's not that it will be easy- I never said it would be. But polys and their lawyers will see this problem and address it. Perhaps a legally required pre-nup with extreme attention to detail would solve a lot of the asset issues. And since polys see themselves as one unit (not a series of units) one person's exit would mean the break of the whole unit. Perhaps you could simply have a, "One person's exit means that the whole marriage needs to start over." I'm not sure- I'll leave it to polys and their lawyers to figure out, but it doesn't strike me as an especially tough obstacle.

4. What standards other than just "being in love" are included in traditional heterosexual marriages that exclude homosexual (or other) unions?

Here is the heart of the issue. Why does the government define marriage as it does?

Well, we've always done it that way. When our laws were drawn up there could have been no consideration of the possibility that people would one day fight for gay marriage. So why were they drawn up that way?

I'm no expert, but I'd guess it has something to do with some widely held religious principles! That doesn't mean we must still define it that way, and you'll note that I've not said anywhere here that I'm against the government doing any of this stuff. Frankly, I'm still undecided. I lean towards wanting the state to grant nothing more than civil unions and allowing churches and other private institutions handle "marriage."

In any case, perhaps we should put this all the other way: why wouldn't the legalization of gay marriage lead to the legalization of poly marriage? What principles would stand in the way of that if you are one who thinks this idea is so crazy?

Because here's the thing: I hear this argument called extremist and unfair all the time, but the heart of most of that thinking is, "Well, because marriage is between two people regardless of gender." Or sometimes there isn't even that much.

Either way, it's not enough. Not all that long ago the idea that we would redefine marriage to include same-sex partners would have been as unthinkable and unpredictable as the idea that we would redefine marriage to include more than two people. I just don't get why some think that another redefinition is so crazy.

My Two Favorite Books This Year (So Far)

I wanted to share these two books with you all, not only because I left a lot of highligher ink in them both, but because I've found myself thinking about When Helping Hurts and Notes from the Tild-A-Whirl weeks after reading them. While I would recommend both of these books to everyone, I would put an added endorsement for When Helping Hurts to anyone involved in or even giving to missions and poverty alleviation.

In the span of one paragraph, N.D. Wilson made me break out in goosebumps then made me laugh and cry at the same time. His writing in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl from Thomas Nelson Publishers evokes emotion like the best fiction, scratches the brain like the best philosophy, and stirs a love for Creator and creation like the best theology.

His bursts of thought are not always clear-cut and linear, rather they seem to be confusing and unrelated at times. As his ideas shape the chapters, however, and the chapters form the book, a step back reveals a beautiful piece of work.

And this, I think, was no accident. Wilson's premise is that the universe we live in is a work of art and the masterpiece of The Artist. It is a drama, a play, and God is the Author. And so, just as his writing style reflects, there are surprises, twists, and turns. It doesn't progress in an uneventful, gradual incline.

The best dramas have real tragedies, the best paintings have both shadow and light. Thus it makes sense that the best of all possible worlds made by an Artist/Author will have real tragedies, both shadow and light.

N.D. Wilson writes like Donald Miller on uppers and caffeine. He writes like someone with ADD who has sat through too many college-level courses on philosophy and art appreciation. He writes like I imagine Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) would if he found Jesus and switched to non-fiction.

My favorite book of the year, hands down.

You can read the entire thing online for free at Google Books. However, that's kind of like choosing to look at a Rembrandt on the Internet rather than having one to hang on your wall. Yes, I thought that highly of this book, but that's just me. You have fun with your pixels.

When Helping Hurts came at a very opportune time as my pastor and I am currently discussing the missions giving of our small church. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert's offering seemed more biblical and practical and less depressing and disheartening than other books I've read recently on poverty alleviation and social justice. Anyone struggling with the idea of social justice and how a Christian best addresses such issues would do well to read this book.

My review has been brief because Kevin DeYoung has already written a very in-depth and helpful summary of When Helping Hurts in three parts following the three parts of the book (I've had to reference these a couple times now as I have loaned my copy out): part 1 : part 2 : part 3

Again, I cannot say enough good things about these two books, and if you read them and want to disagree with me, I'd be happy to throw down.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Blog: Film and Therapy

My brother loves Jesus.

He also loves film.

He also loves therapy.

The result? A new blog called "Film and Therapy". Go check it out. Chris is a licensed therapist working with students at a school in downtown Los Angeles. He loves film and has been writing reviews in facebook notes that many have enjoyed for awhile, so I'm glad he's decided to take it the next step.

Add it to your reader and enjoy.

"Women Must Cook for their Husbands" and Other Ways We Exaggerate Biblical Gender Roles

Last week Dr. Mohler posted this piece decrying the disappearance of home cooking in America (ironically alongside the rise of the Food Network on cable t.v.). My recently discovered enjoyment of cooking is probably why the post grabbed my interest, and as a bit of social perception, it's worth a read.

But towards the end Mohler offered his Christian appraisal of the cultural trend, saying:
    The Bible dignifies the loving preparation of food as one of the distinctive gifts of women. While cooking is not limited to women, throughout human history wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, have shown their love for and commitment to their loved ones through the careful preparation and celebration of food. When this is lost, something more than culinary knowledge is lost.
Really? Does the Bible dignify cooking as a gift of women? You'll note that Mohler cites no passage in support of that claim in this quote or elsewhere in the article.

He may be thinking of Prov. 31:15, but if we are to take that as saying that all women should cook, then they (a) need to start their cooking the night before the food is served, and (b) need to be doing a whole lot more than just cooking (cf. vv. 13, 15, 16, 19, 22, 24). That is to say that whatever Prov. 31 is doing, it is not listing specific activities that make good wives. And beyond that I know of no other Biblical text that calls cooking a "gift" unique to woman.

Which means that Dr. Mohler is wrong: the Bible does not commend cooking as a woman's gift. It may be that women are seen cooking much more often than men in the Bible, but that is not the same as saying that women are gifted cooks and therefore should continue to cook today if they want to truly be Biblical. Women generally cooked in ancient cultures, so of course they are more regularly the cooks in the Bible.

And here's why I bring it up: complementarians have a tendency to exaggerate the Biblical prescriptions for male and female roles. Put another way, biblical complementarianism does not commend every attitude or activity associated with traditional male/female role distinctions.

But Dr. Mohler has done exactly that (i.e. appeal primarily to traditional rather than biblical role distinctions) in the quote above: after saying that the Bible dignifies women as the gifted cooks (again, with no Biblical citation to back the point), he immediately shows that women have historically been the cooks. True, but that doesn't mean that it is biblical!

A woman can submit to her husband as Eph. 5:20-32 commands without being the primary cook, or for that matter, the one who cleans the house, home schools children, and so on. These are traditionally female roles, but not biblically mandated ones. I don't even know of a passage that dictates that husbands should be the primary bread winners (gasp!).

Some Christian families will inevitably look more traditional in the sense described above, and I am not suggesting that they are being unbiblical by doing so. What I am suggesting is that the Bible is silent on some of these issues, despite some broad claims to the contrary.

My own wife hates cleaning (so we share it), has less time to cook when school is in session than I do (she's a teacher), makes more money than me (I'm an associate pastor at a small church), and we don't plan on homeschooling.

And I for one don't think the Bible gives any reason to change any of that.

Why I Deleted the "Polyamory" Post

I thought it through a little more and looked it over and am a little embarrassed. Not so much at the content (though I admit some hasty reading...) as my tone. Take this as my apology!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Imputation of Adam's Sin: A Theory

I was challenged recently that the idea of original sin and Adam's fall as our Representative Head was an unfair and antiquated idea. Nobody still believes that today, do they?

The push-back was not on universal sin, a cursory read of the Bible (or the newspaper for that matter) will settle that one. We're all sinners, no son of Adam (save one) has ever lived a sinless life. "But this idea that we are sinners because Adam sinned, that's so archaic!"

As I considered an answer, I was reminded of a similar complaint. Why did God make humans so we could sin at all?! Why not create us so that we would always choose to love and worship God? The answer is that this sort of love and worship would not be real, would not be genuine. In order for our love and worship to be real, it must be free.

So God created the first two humans with genuine moral freedom (a freedom we don't possess or fully understand). God made them this way not because he wanted humans who would sin, but because it must be so in order to have free God-worshippers.

The nature of God-worshipping freedom requires it.

And I think this may illuminate our question of the imputation (or the passing down) of sin. Just as the nature of freedom played a role in the sort of humanity God made, I think the nature of worship played a role in the sort of humanity God made.

Remember, sin is not just disobeying God, it is the love and worship of something other than God. The devotion, allegiance, obedience, and affection that should be God's is turned to something (or someone) else. So while God did not make us sinners (nor did he create sin), sin happens when we put anything else in God's place. We remove God from the throne in our hearts and place ourselves there.

So perhaps God did not make us linked to Adam in our sinfulness just because he wanted it that way. Maybe, in order for the imputed righteousness of Christ to be a possibility, mankind must be of the nature that the imputed sin of Adam was a reality. And this, then, is one reason people don't like the idea of the imputed righteousness of Christ. It presupposes the imputed sinfulness of Adam.

Perhaps God made us this way because it must be so in order to have the sort of worshippers he desired. The nature of freedom required the potential for a fall, and the nature of worship required the potential for slavery to sin. Perhaps the nature of our relationship to sin is the way it is because that's the way God desired our relationship with him to be. At least that's my theory right now.

When You Preach the Gospel, Preach Repentance

John Stott, in his Christian Mission in the Modern World, 174-5:
    In all our evangelism there must be integrity. Our anxiety to win converts sometimes induces us to mute the call to repentance. But deliberately to conceal this aspect of our message is as dishonest as it is short-sighted. Jesus himself never glossed over the cost of discipleship, but rather summoned would be disciples to 'sit down first and count the cost.' For he was requiring them if they were to follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross and die. Any kind of slick 'decisionism' which sacrifices honesty on the altar of statistics is bound to cause other casualties as well, the victims of our own folly. We are under obligation to teach that a new life in Christ will inevitably bring in its wake new attitudes, new ambitions and new standards. For in Christian conversion not only do old things pass away but in their place new things come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I plan on reviewing this book in the next week or so, but I'll give you a hint about my thoughts: it's awesome.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Train of God's Love Moving Down the Tracks of His Holiness

A. H. Strong in his Systematic Theology, as quoted in Fred Sanders' short biographical sketch:

That God is only love has been called ‘the doctrine of the papahood of God.’ God is ‘a summer ocean of kindliness, never agitated by storms.’… But Jesus gives us the best idea of God, and in him we find, not only pity, but at times moral indignation. John 17:11, ‘Holy Father = more than love. Love can be exercised by God only when it is right love. Holiness is the track on which the engine of love must run. The track cannot be the engine. If either includes the other, then it is holiness that includes love, since holiness is the maintenance of God’s perfection, and perfection includes love.

Provocative stuff. If correctly understanding God's love is of any interest to you (and I suggest that it should be...), go get Carson's short but potent The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. It is an amazingly good book.