Friday, April 30, 2010

Praise in the City

So I was skiing in Slovenia a couple of weeks ago with some of the students from the chapel and we studied the book of Ecclesiastes. Whilst being a book of resounding encouragement there were great warnings which took me by surprise and left me rather struck. The following verses are particularly challenging:


Ecclesiastes 8:10-11: "Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This is also vanity."


The great warning for me is that the wicked can and do go in and out of the holy place. Now this may well refer to just non-Christians who frequent upon church, but what if it were also extended to Christians and our leaders? Worse still are those who are praised for living such hypocritical lives - those who live for false religion.

No one pretends that Christianity is easy- we all suffer great pressure from the world to conform to its standards (as Jesus said it would be). Yet we are attempting to become 'other' as God is 'other'. Therefore, given the tension we experience between the created and the Divine we must allow the Divine to win out and be opposed to the world and the burden of expectation it places on us. That being said we are a dynamic community - times and challenges do change. Yet our dynamism lies in our anchorage to the solid Rock: the Bible gives us the foundational precepts of God upon which we can address any issue we face. Sure the problem changes but our answer remains timeless. The cry still goes up though that the Church remains stolid and unyielding in the face of a changing society - the church should and must change to suit a more liberal society.

My last post spoke of our inability to handle the moral power and knowledge of God - given that, I am always concerned when there are calls for the Church to liberalise. We are still fallen humans, children of this world, and do not know when to stop. Each step leads us inexorably towards spiritual ruin. God does not make mistakes - so His word is to be adored and His principles adhered to. After all given we trying to attain Christ-likeness, why wouldn't we follow in the footsteps of the only man to ever please God? Why bring death - that most unwelcome of visitors - into the House of Life?


When faced with issues within and outwith the Church and new moral challenges not explicitly spoken about in the Bible (such as euthanasia and abortion) we need to return to the Bible. When we are told to liberalise and change so that we can fit in with society and its enlightened values we always need to ask what does the Bible have to say on the issue? Do we do it so that we may be praised within the city walls? What does the Bible teach us on continual sinning when a Christian? It certainly doesn't make grace abound.


I worry that I would be included amongst the wicked and seek praise within the city. In these times of great medical uncertainty I look to the Bible for grounding and resist the calls for me to adopt consensus view. I yearn for true religion. I turn to the Valley of Vision:

"I ask not to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich, but to be numbered with the spiritually blessed. Make it my present, supreme, persevering concern to obtain those blessings which are spiritual in nature, eternal in their continuance, satisfying in their possession."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Review: Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne

Sticky Teams has been the most imminently practical book about church leadership I have read this year, hands down. For those of you unfamiliar with Larry Osborne, do you know who John C. Maxwell is? The guy who wrote The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and like a bazillion other books on leadership (no really, I checked Amazon, that number's right)? Well Larry Osborne is the John C. Maxwell of church leadership.

I know, I know, for many pastors, John C. Maxwell is the John C. Maxwell of church leadership. I can barely get through a meeting with my pastor without him referring to "the law of the lid". But in Sticky Teams, Osborne has written out of the wealth of his ministry experience to bring us what only time may show to be the definitive work on church leadership.

This is not a theological treatise on the spiritual elements of leadership. Rather, this is a ground level book that deals with all the interpersonal conflicts and miscommunication within a church. It may bother a few readers that only the occasional Bible verse is quoted, but Osborne is not addressing the doctrinal issues that sometimes divide a church. Instead, he is addressing the petty, the selfish, and the interpersonal issues—unmet or uncommunicated expectations, power shifts, undefined roles.

Osborne covers too much ground for me to give you a nice preview here, but I thought I would give you a teaser from one of my favorite chapters, "Six Things Every Leadership Team Needs to Know". Here is his list:
  1. Ignore your weaknesses
  2. Surveys are a waste of time
  3. Seek permission, not buy-in
  4. Let squeaky wheels squeak
  5. Let dying programs die
  6. Plan in pencil
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Anyone and everyone within (or interested in) church leadership

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan Publishers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Resurrection of Jesus Isn't Boring

From Carl Trueman's editorial in the latest issue of Themelios:
    Now I am not saying that high-powered technical theology is not important. For the single mum, the most important thing she can hear on a Sunday is that Jesus is risen. A simple statement, one that can be grasped by a child, but also one which rests upon a vast and complicated array of other theological truths and connections. But the mistake the professional theologian, or even the over-enthusiastic amateur, can make is the assumption that truths such as ‘Jesus is risen’ are in themselves so boring and mundane that they must always be elaborated and expressed in highly technical language in a way that can blunt the sheer gospel-power of what is being said.
Why does it work this way? A little later on he explains:
    The answer to such abstraction is not to stop making the study of theology our goal; it is rather to stop making the study of theology our goal. We have a tendency to make the chronological end points—what new things we learn each day—the most important. Yet this confuses the process of learning with the real order of things. The study of theology is not a chase after something or a movement beyond where we start our Christian lives; it is rather a reflection upon the foundations of where we already are. The end term is, strange to tell, the beginning. I start by confessing with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in my heart that God raised him from the dead, and I never actually go any further. All my theology, all my study, is simply reflection on what lies behind that. Thus, I never move beyond praise, never leave behind the beauty of adoration of the living God; I simply learn more and more about the deep foundations upon which that praise and worship rest, which all believers share from the most brilliant to the most humble.
My theologically minded brothers and sisters: let's not use theology to make the gospel boring. Let's use it to reflect on the same gospel that first brought us to Jesus.

Read Trueman's whole piece here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Free Hymns Album from Page CXVI

Awhile ago CiC had the pleasure of giving away free downloads of an excellent album of hymns by Page CXVI. Well, we're glad to tell you that Page CXVI has now released their second album of hymns, and as part of their promotion for the new album, they are giving away free downloads of their old one again for any and all who want it.

There's no catch. Just click here, download, and enjoy. Once you've done that, be sure to go back and give a listen to the new album as well.

Make sure you go download quickly though: the free promotion only goes for this week.

Jennifer Knapp, a Pastor, Ted Haggard, and Larry King

Nope, that title is not the beginning of a joke. Unless by "joke" you mean "what these four pass off as thoughtful theological/life discussion".

The four folks mentioned in the title are on King's show talking about Jennifer Knapp's recent coming out as a lesbian. In one sense, the discussion is predictable: Knapp tells the story with some questions from King, the conservative pastor comes on and takes some questions, Knapp and the pastor have some back-and-forth (my favorite part there being where Knapp interrupts the pastor, only to insist 10 seconds later that he not interrupt her), then Haggard comes on and gives his two cents, which ends up being worth well less than that.

Denny Burk has all four videos here (broken up into 10 minute sections), and the rest of this post is a response to them.

First of all, I am no longer surprised when conversations like this on national television do not get us anywhere because most people simply have thought deeply about the issues. Most of the discussion sits around the least common denominator that national t.v. and radio have to be at if they want to appeal to the widest range of viewers (which they do- remember, the goal is ratings, not thoughtfulness).

Second, I am even less surprised when bad discussion happens at the desk of Mr. King. Some time ago my Dad pointed it out to me, and I have thought it was true ever since: Larry King is one of the worst interviewers alive. How the man became famous for this is baffling. He consistently interrupts his guests, often with thoughtless counterpoints that are downright distracting. At one point here he says to the pastor, "Is God omnipotent? Well then didn't he create homosexuality?" How I would love to see the comments that a junior college philosophy professor would write on a freshman paper with that syllogism on it. This is one of many examples.

Third, Jennifer Knapp shrouds her coming out in the standard culturally respectable ways. Everyone but those crazy fundamentalists are supposed to nod in delighted approval as she talks about herself as an "artist" (not that she's the worst songwriter ever, but there is no more pretentious word for pop singer-songwriters and rock musicians- don't we use that word for Bach and Picasso?). She applauds "diversity", talks about her interest in the "mysterious" Scriptures and the "sacred text" (why not just say "the Bible"?) and delves into some driveling reader-response literary theory--cause, you know, we all have our interpretations that cloud everything and blah blah blah. This is to say nothing about her babbling (and I don't believe I'm being harsh with that word) about Greek and Hebrew terms for homosexuality.

What stands out is this: Knapp wants to be a homosexual. That's understandable- I've acted on my impulses and feelings in ways that I wish I hadn't. But she clearly hasn't thought seriously about it, and I wish that she did before she waxes not-so-eloquent about it.

Haggard may be the worst of all of them. Should I be so struck by his total inability to articulate what the Bible says about this topic anymore? He even gets a total softball of a question from King: "Do you think homosexuality is a sin?" Haggard says everyone sins all the time. What he should've said was, "Yes, and I've experienced how that sin has ruined my life." If it's not a sin, Ted, then why did Larry introduce you by noting that you say you no longer have any homosexual desire? Why is that at all relevant? Burk is right: Haggard contributes nothing valuable to the discussion.

As for the conservative pastor, he is not much better, though frankly he is rarely given time to complete a thought. Still, must we say on national t.v. "God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve?" Why not just say instead, "I don't have anything thoughtful to say about this as a Christian, so don't bother listening to me"? Even if he does, in fact, have something thoughtful to say, comments like that write off his opinion a priori. The best thing he does is to direct the conversation to repentance instead of whose sin is worse. Every sin separates us from God, yes, but the issue is being repentant or not.

As long as t.v. stations air garbage like this (and I'm not hopeful that they'll stop doing so any time soon), no one will understand how Christians think theologically about homosexuality. This is the big frustration for me: here you have a group of "leaders" in various aspects of society and the Church having a mostly inane conversation about one of the most pressing topics in contemporary culture. This is inexcusable. At this point in American life, if you want to lead Christians in any way whatsoever, you need to be ready to address this topic with intellectual and theological integrity and from experience of dealing with real, actual homosexuals.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Article: Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity

Recently an article has been brought to my attention which I have found utterly fascinating—not only because of it's content but because of it's source. Over at American Thinker, John D. Steinrucken has written an article called Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity. Keep in mind, this is written by a secularist of an atheistic bent!

Steinrucken's big idea is as follows: "Western civilization's survival, including the survival of open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition."

And his closing remarks: "If the elitists of our Western civilization want to survive, then it is incumbent upon them to see to the preservation of the hoary, time-honored faith of the great majority of the people. This means that our elitists should see that their most valued vested interest is the preservation within our culture of Christianity and Judaism. It is not critical that they themselves believe, only that they should publicly hold in high esteem the institutions of Christianity and Judaism, and to respect those who do believe and to encourage and to give leeway to those who, in truth, will be foremost in the trenches defending us against those who would have us all bow down to a different and unaccommodating faith."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rounding the Bases

If you're a Johnny Cash lover (as I am), you'll enjoy Stephen Nichols' review of the last Cash album (at Ref21, of all places), American VI: Ain't No Grave. I've really enjoyed the album myself, and Nichols writes as someone who seems to get what has made so many of us appreciate the Man in Black.

The New York Times best-seller list has defeated Tim Challies. It was fun while it lasted.

Greg Stump is summarized Roger Olson's "post-conservative evangelical" approach to theology from his Reformed and Always Reforming. You ought to read part 1 first, but I especially appreciated part 2. You can tell that Greg went to great length to provide good summaries.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

An apology (sort of) and two book reviews (sort of)

Before I go any further, I would just like to say that you can blame Tim Challies for all of this. He was the one who helped me realize that one shouldn't read every book the same way. Yes, of course, left to right and top to bottom. But not every book needs to be read as thoroughly. For that matter, not every book needs to be finished. So before I take any book out for a long steak dinner and a bottle of wine, I go on a speed date with the book first, complete with a timer on the table (OK, not really). I get to know the book as quickly as I can, what it's about, what the author's main idea and purpose is, etc. For an in depth treatment to this approach, see these helpful articles written by Tim Challies and Greg Koukl.

Now to my main point. The reason I began by blaming Tim is because I have come across two books that demanded that I take my time with them. And so I am ruminating on them only a chapter at a time before I move on to something else during my reading sessions. And they demand my time for two different reasons, though I am equally and utterly loving both of them. So I am writing this for any readers (or CIC co-contributors) who wonder where my book reviews have gone, or for anyone at InterVarsity Press or NavPress who wonders where their books have gone.

The first book I am savoring is A Praying Life by Paul Miller. While this book is not a difficult read when it comes to comprehension, it is when it comes to operation (for myself, at least, as praying has never been my strong suit). So I am reading it slowly, a chapter at a time, hoping that my application can keep up with even such a slow pace. I am about a third of the way into the book and it is by far the best book I have ever read on prayer (as many other reviewers have already attested to).

You can read what others have to say about the book over at Fundamentally Reformed and at Challies.com.

Or you can buy a copy for yourself at 33% off the list price over at the WTS Bookstore.

The second book I have been taking my time on is Unceasing Worship by Harold M. Best. While this book is by no means a new release, I had a particular interest in reviewing it because of my role as a worship pastor, and InterVarsity Press was kind enough to oblige. I have had to take my time with this book more out of necessity—not because Harold's ideas are difficult to grasp, but because there is a wealth of depth and truth in every sentence. The first couple chapters reminded me a little of those in John Piper's magnum opus Desiring God in that I was finding myself pausing and pondering the vast truths and implications of almost every paragraph.

I have just finished the first couple of foundational chapters that make the argument we are all continual outpourers of worship every moment of our lives, and now Best is describing what that can and should look like in the Christian's personal, public and church life.

Visit IVPress.com for more details or to buy your own copy!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Purpose of John 1/The Whole Bible

I am in the beginning stages of working through John's Gospel these days, and in the process of studying chapter 1 I came across Matthew Henry's take on what Jn. 1 is all about: "The scope and design of this chapter is to confirm our faith in Christ as the eternal Son of God, and the true Messiah and Saviour of the world, that we may be brought to receive him, and rely upon him, as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and to give up ourselves to be ruled, and taught, and saved by him."

I'm not totally sure he is right about the purpose of John 1 as a whole (and he is, by the way, referring to the whole chapter, not just vv. 1-18, the "Prologue"). But it is a great quote either way, and with the addition of only a few clarifications, you could work this into a statement that pretty well sums up the purpose of the whole Bible, don't you think?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Questioning Sproul?

I know I start just about all of my once-in-every-two-month posts with nearly the same line, but I have to do it again. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll attest to the fact that I often find myself guilty of committing the same sin as those described in 1st Corinthians 1:10-13. In which way you ask? When it comes to pledging allegiance to a Christian figure. That figure: R. C. Sproul. Some years ago while debating my brother on the finer points of Calvinism I believe he once called me R. C. Sproul Jr. I responded back somewhat childishly by saying, “Chris, R. C. Sproul Jr already exists.” Antagonistic, but clever, no? Eh.

In any event, the reason why I’d share that with you is because if you look back at some of my history of posts you’ll notice that Sproul takes up about ½ of my commentary. What’s the significance of that? Well here’s the reason. While 99% of the time I find myself agree with Sproul, for once I’m actually on the opposing end of my buddy ol’ pal R. C.

Nowadays I don't subscribe to his award winning magazine TableTalk, so I’ve been reading the articles online when I find the time. Well, while reading this article I noticed a bit of a contradiction within his reasoning. Well maybe not necessarily contradictory, but humor me.

To summarize, the article is shaped around the premise that the church should not conform to the patterns of this world as is often the case. This of course is not something I’ll argue with, after all it is a biblical principle. Though I will say that there is very grey area involved when assessing “how” and “when” the church is adopting the patterns of this world, but nevertheless I agree with Sproul.

Where I don’t agree with him is where he takes the example from. The April 2010 issue tackles the tough questions surrounding the advent of technology and how it’s affecting the church as a whole; surely a noble task.

Sproul writes:
With this moral relativism came technological advances that also altered our daily lives. The knowledge explosion rocked by the advent and proliferation of the use of the computer has brought a new culture of people who live more or less “online.” This relativisitic culture brought with it a culture of eros and heightened addiction to pornography, as well as a culture of drugs with the subsequent invasion of addiction and suicide.

I won’t disagree with his assessment of the negative affects of the technological advances. But what I will say is this: I felt it extremely ironic and somewhat contradictory since I was reading this article on their website, or,“online.” Couple that with the fact that Ligonier has not only participated in this aspect of technology for some time now, but I remember downloading MP3’s of Sproul’s teaching as far back as 2001 when MP3's were scarce especially among the church. Likewise not only does Ligonier have a full blown website (as most every church does), but they also participate in the latest and greatest social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook…and they even have a section for blogging. :)

I guess I just felt a little let down at the fact that while I fully understand the point Sproul was trying to make, he failed to speak of, or qualify rather, the fact that with the explosion of technology also came a way to expand the Kingdom of God. Take for example Logos Bible Software. And that's not the half of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love R.C. and of course will continue to support the efforts of Ligonier Ministries. But I felt Sproul should have explained himself a little further, lest it give off not only a negative connotation in opposition to the use of technology, but to also avoid what may appear to be, well, hypocritical.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Prayer and Evangelism within God's Sovereignty

I have often heard the following challenge leveled at those who have a high view of the sovereignty of God: "If God is sovereign, why does He need us to pray and evangelize? Why must I be involved if, in His sovereignty, He will accomplish his will and the elect will be saved?"

It is a fair question, one I have wrestled with in the past myself, but it betrays our tendency to think of God's commands in terms of His need rather than our own. For instance, when God gave us the ten commandments, it did not grow out of God's fear that the world would spiral out of His control if we didn't have some rules. Rather, God knows His creation so intimately that He knows that not committing adultery (and obeying all the other commandments) in the long run result in a happier, healthier humanity.

Perhaps you see where I am going with this now. Can God accomplish all He desires and ordains without my prayers to assist Him or "grease the works"? Of course. Can God save the lost without my participation in evangelism? Certainly. BUT . . . can I benefit from evangelism and prayer if I'm not actively participating in it? I think not, or at least not to the same extent.

You see, just as humanity benefits from living within moral guidelines God set for our good and ultimate pleasure, healthy Christians benefit from prayer and evangelism. When you become a Christian, you become a part of the body of Christ. Through this union, we are given the Holy Spirit and the heart of Christ. The "heart of flesh" that God puts in us desires the things of God. Nothing breaks that heart and makes it beat sluggish and slow like living a placid, menial Christian existence. God desires our obedience in prayer and the great commission for our own good.

Should we pray and evangelize because we love God and want to obey Him? Certainly this is the primary reason every Christian should. But I believe that our ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment as a child of God is at stake as well. Are evangelism and prayer hard work? Of course they are. But so is the fruit of the Spirit. Yet when I work at being more loving or patient or kind, I become a more satisfied and fulfilled Christian as those things come more naturally and with less work. So it is with prayer and evangelism. They should not be simply designated as tasks we do while the fruit of the Spirit (and the rest of the Christian walk) is seen as something to aspire to for happy, healthy Christian living.

Evangelism and prayer begin to make sense within God's sovereignty when we begin to see them in the context of the need of the Christian rather than that of God.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some Scholarly Smack-Talk from Leon Morris

Awhile ago I posted an article about what some Bible nerd friends and I call "scholarly smack-talk". You can go there for the full explanation, but scholarly smack-talk is what happens when one scholar slams another's work while maintaining an academic writing style and tone.

It is always a joy to come across this sort of thing, so I thought I'd pass along a good example I found from Leon Morris's commentary on the Gospel of John. Enjoy:
    Perhaps we should notice that Kysar makes some strong criticisms of those who view John the Apostle as the author of this Gospel. He says of Werner de Boor, Jean Colson, and myself that "In both cases -- their failure to take into account the work of form and redaction criticism and their view of history -- they represent critical efforts more at home in the previous century than the current one and certainly at odds with the major movements of fourth gospel criticism in the past decade."

    It is curious to find oneself consigned to the last century, but besides doubting the accuracy of this view I find myself wondering whether the scholars of that century were invariably wrong. I would prefer to have been shown to be in the wrong by the facts as we have them than by allegations that I have failed to take into account form and redaction criticism. It does not seem to occur to Kysar that the confident assertions of some redaction critics are not as convincing to all as they evidently are to him. And I wonder how he would deal with the fact that Werner, Colson, and I have been joined, among others, by I. Howard Marshall and J. A. T. Robinson in seeing the evidence as pointing to John the son of Zebedee as the author of this Gospel. Did Robinson belong to the nineteenth century? Did he too fail to take into account "the work of form and redaction criticism"? That such an eminent scholar, so far from conservatism, could find the evidence for authorship as pointing to John bar-Zebedee surely indicates that the testimony for this position should be taken far more seriously in Kysar's cavalier treatment.
You tell 'em Leon!

And as I said in the other scholarly smack-talk post, I'd b glad for any examples you have.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rounding the Bases

This week's "Monday with Mounce" at the Koinonia blog is about the differences between the KJV/NKJV and modern translations, using 1 Cor. 7:5 as a test case- are husbands and wives to abstain from sex for just "prayer" (modern translations) or for "fasting and prayer" (KJV/NKJV)? Mounce answers the (easy) question, but the article is mostly worth linking for this closing paragraph:
    Apparently the early church was serious about concerted times of prayer, times when normal and good activities would be set aside so the people could focus on prayer. I wonder what would happen today in most churches if the pastors called for sexual abstinence so that husbands and wives could concentrate on prayer for, let’s say, God revealing sin in their hearts, or training their hearts to hurt for the things that hurt God’s heart such as the plight of widows and orphans, for reassessing our priorities, or perhaps just times of extended prayer in worship and adoration of our beautiful God?
Last week's "Rounding the Bases" pointed to a couple articles about the recent resignations/dismissals of Bruce Waltke and Tremper Longman III from their teaching positions. If you found yourself interested in that discussion, definitely go read the letters from Dr. Waltke and RTS-Orlando site Chancellor, Ric Cannada that JT posted.

Kevin DeYoung explains who "the least of these" are in Mt. 25. Here's a hint: they're not the poor in general- they're Christians. I've been convinced of this interpretation for some time now myself.

Dan Phillips is one of the best pure writers I know of in Christian blogging. So whether you tend to agree with him or not, you should probably go read his advice on blogging. Really good stuff.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Illogical Nature of Euthanasia

For the Christian in medicine probably the biggest challenge on the horizon is that of euthanasia. The Joffe Bill was rejected by the House of Lords in Britain, but it will only be a matter of time before it re-emerges in one form or another. The issue for the Christian therefore is to be prepared not if the debate re-arises but when. How though do we develop our arguments in the face of overwhelming secular support? After all euthanasia is murder: it is the willful removal of one person's life by another. However, the argument for euthanasia is far more nuanced than just that and so the Christians response should be as well. Indeed to remain mired in this binary way of thinking belies our beliefs and I think if left unchecked misrepresents the character of God. It is wrong because it is more than just murder - euthanasia goes to the core of what it is to be human and how we value humanity.

The strongest argument for the institution of euthanasia into law rests upon the concept of autonomy - essentially the freedom to choose: we should be allowed to choose what we want for ourselves at all parts of our lives including when and how we die. Now this is a compelling argument (despite the fact that autonomy is the weakest of the four medical ethical principals), but there exists within euthanasia difficult and irreconcilable contradictions which arise from this foundational principle and the following four statements which must be true for euthanasia to be admissible under current thinking:

  1. There should be terminal illness with a short life expectancy.
  2. There should be 'unbearable suffering'.
  3. There should be a persistent request to die.
  4. The patient should legally competent to take such a decision.

Advocates would say that these four principles must be present before euthanasia can legally proceed. Yet this patently can never be the case. If we are to hold to the over-riding belief that autonomy is king over all moral and medical principles then it would be unethical to restrict euthanasia to just those who have a short life-expectancy and suffering - no, we should, morally, extend euthanasia to those who are suffering but do not have a short life-expectancy (say if we were confined to a wheelchair). Or what about if I have a terminal illness and a desire to die but yet am not suffering (say for instance early motor neuron disease)? Logically you must deny me that right, yet you would not be moral or ethical to do so according to our precepts above.

This descends further if one considers suffering per se to be a moral justification for killing someone. If someone is suffering so we then not have an obligation to euthanise them whether they have a terminal diagnosis or not? You wouldn't let a dog suffer, so why a human? Should we not act to end their suffering whether they wish to die or not. What constitutes suffering? Pain? Restriction of movement? Sadness? Who are you to determine whether I am suffering or not? We deny autonomy because we feel that we cannot satisfy our other requirements.

The problems here should start to become clear - this is the beginning of the much maligned slippery slope. We have innumerable historical instances of the ways in which man misappropriates good intentions - despite what the official stance may be in Britain it is possible to gain abortion on demand. The original abortion legislation was designed to protect women from backstreet abortion clinics and the deaths they inevitably brought, but that has been liberalised with overwhelming social pressure into something completely different.

Why though should be anything otherwise? The Bible clearly teaches that we cannot handle the responsibility of the knowledge of life and death (Genesis 2:8-17). Eating of the Tree of Life endowed us with great power - the power of morality. We gained knowledge of all the good and bad that may be done on this earth, yet are completely incapable to utilise that power in a holy, meaningful way - we succumbed to sin and death. Only God is able to have full knowledge of good and evil and act in a perfectly moral way. How we long to be able have all of this knowledge, yet we are totally incapable of its application. We distort and bend our precepts to fit a desired conclusion but end up contradicting ourselves. Despite these inconsistencies the appeal is still made to autonomy for euthanasia yet it is a self-defeating process. There cannot be a series of requirements that reconcile our need for autonomy with our attempts towards morality. We attempt to establish black-and-white lines for ourselves and just smear them whilst we're waiting for the paint to dry.

My concern in these posts is manipulation: that the writer manipulates the data to suit the conclusion. I hope that would not seem the case. If so I apologise. I just cannot see how the above points can be reconciled and yet very few make mention of this seeming self-defeater (to use philosophical parlance). We need not hide behind simplistic arguments to oppose euthanasia - man after all has a handy habit of defeating himself.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rounding the Bases

A short list today...

Fred Sanders analyzes his 7 year old daughter's drawing and poem, "Kittens in the Air", with comparison to its likely artistic influences (just click the link- it's hilarious).

James Grant has the round-up on Bruce Waltke's resignation/dismissal from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, as well as a statement from the president of RTS-Charlotte, Mike Milton, on the resignation. Waltke, if you didn't know, is a huge name in OT scholarship. At issue are his views on theistic evolution and the Bible.

In light of the situation with Waltke and the resignation/dismissal of Tremper Longman III, Michael Bird wonders if we've reached the end of legitimate Reformed Evangelical OT scholars in America.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturdays with C. S. Lewis - Screwtape on Wordliness

"Some Saturday C. S. Lewis" was introduced and explained here. The following quote is from the 28th of The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictional set of letters that a senior demon, Screwtape, sends to his nephew, Wormwood, giving advice on how to effectively tempt his human "patient". From the demons' perspective, the "Enemy" is of course God. The picture, by the way, is of Lewis, left, with his older brother Warren.

Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is 'finding his place in it,' while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.

The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unraveling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth. While they are young we find them always shooting off at a tangent. Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry--the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon--are always blowing our whole structure away. They will not apply themselves steadily to worldly advancement, prudent connections, and the policy of safety first. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics of 'science' or psychology, or what not. Real worldliness is a work of time--assisted, or course by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense of Maturity or Experience.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Studying the Bible by Reading the Bible

I almost saved this for a simple link post on Sunday, but it was a little too good to get shoved into a list of other links.  Fred Sanders put up a long but excellent piece on The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (you can buy it here, or get it free online here, if you don't already have it in your Bible software bundle).  In short, the TSK is organized in Biblical canonical order, but with cross-references for every verse.  It's your study Bible's cross-references on steroids: it has a total of 500,000 of them (averaging 62 references per verse).

I've never used the TSK, but I admit that I scoffed inside as I read Sanders' explanation of the book. The hermeneutical elitist in me thought, "That sounds like out-moded, Fundy, simpleton Bible study that I'm well beyond, what with my commentary language that discuss historical backgrounds and original languages in scholarly detail..." I might have even stopped reading if Fred Sanders (who is a real live super-genius, if you didn't know) wasn't the one who had written it.

Here is the paragraph that pulled me off my pedestal:
    In our time, Christian theologians are praising canonical readings, the theological interpretation of Scripture, and lectio divina with varying levels of trendiness. Richard Hays has argued persuasively that a resonant canonical memory is necessary for the proper interpretation of the Bible. The TSK was a tool for carrying out all of these projects at the level of Fundamentalist Bible readings. Christians of our day can hardly claim to have advanced beyond what our grandparents were capable of doing with the TSK in hand. The TSK is for serious Bible students without specialist training; it presupposes, validates, and reinforces the twin theological claims that the canon is the most relevant (and the only mandatory) context for understanding scripture, and that scripture is self-interpreting.
This is a really discerning comment.  I have found just recently that following the cross-references has been perhaps more beneficial than any reading I have done recently as I have led my adult Sunday school class on Revelation recently.  The reality is that I scoff at using the TSK not because I think it sounds like a bad idea, but because I'm lazy.  I don't want to track down a ton of cross-references.  I just want to read and get it and move on.

How well would I understand the Bible, how good would my preaching and teaching get, and how saturated would my mind be with the whole counsel of Scripture if I disciplined myself to study with the TSK at hand?  As Sanders says, the TSK is for "serious students without specialist training".  Specialist training or not, the study will be serious.  I figure it's at least worth a shot, right?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book Review: CrossTalk by Michael R. Emlet

Understanding what the Bible says and means can at times be a daunting task. Properly applying that to our lives in our modern setting only adds to the difficulty. Enter Michael R. Emlet with his utterly practical CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet.

After reading for yourself, it is easy to see why there is so much buzz surrounding this book. CrossTalk is half hermeneutic lesson/half Christian counseling session and it is Gospel-centered from page one. As Emlet himself describes his trajectory: "It is appropriate to call the approach of this book 'redemptive-historical' or 'gospel-centered' application. It is an approach that takes the narrative (storied) nature of the Bible seriously in order to make wise connections with the narratives of our lives."

A proper understanding of what the Bible is places us in the best position to apply it to an individual life. And since Jesus saw all of the Old Testament scriptures as about him (and clearly the New Testament is equally so), a proper understanding of the Bible centers around Christ and our redemptive history in him.

After a couple chapters on Gospel-centered hermeneutics, Emlet shifts gears to application within a counseling setting. He is insightful in emphasizing the fact that every Christian, in any given situation, is to varying degrees a sufferer, a sinner, and a saint. While Emlet is clearly writing for an audience of Christian professionals (whether pastors or counselors), I found these chapters equally compelling in my own sort of self-counseling session. While the last few chapters get pretty involved as he walks us through two hypothetical sessions using his methods, there is more than enough in the first several chapters to highly recommend this book to every Christian.

Often I read to gain new information. But CrossTalk was a perfect example of another reason I read: to get a new articulation. Though many ideas in the book may be familiar ones to anyone well-read, you will be hard pressed to find a better and clearer communication of them. Additionally, this book will be among the first I recommend to those for whom this is new information. Either way, an excellent addition to the library of every Christian professional and layman alike.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian, but especially anyone positioned to counsel or teach other Christians

This book was a free review copy provided by New Growth Press.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Saturdays with C. S. Lewis - Lewis's Resurrected Wife

Some Saturday C. S. Lewis" was introduced and explained here.  The following quote is a poem Lewis wrote on a plaque commemorating his wife, Helen Joy Davidman Lewis, after she died in 1960.  I suspect you'll also find it fitting on this Resurrection weekend.

Here the whole world (stars, water, air
And field, and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes was left behind
in ashes, yet with hope that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In lenten lands, hereafter may
Resume them on her Easter Day.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jesus Christ: The Spotless Lamb, the Scapegoat, and the Bronze Serpent

Today Christians around the world celebrate Good Friday, the most tragic and beautiful of holidays (literally: holy-day) on which we remember the death and sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus. Tragic for the death that it entailed. Beautiful for the lives that it bought. And yet all of history from the point of the fall was leading up to that moment because "it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (Lev. 17:11) and "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22).

Likewise, all of the Old Testament was leading up to and foreshadowing the coming of the Messiah who would redeem his people. For this reason, the most dominant characteristic of the Old Testament sacrifices for the sins of the people was that it must be pure, spotless, unblemished. Thus when John the Baptist saw the one for whom he was to prepare the way, he announced "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" Jesus came as one pure and unaffected by Adam's fall. Spotless and unstained by sin. Unblemished and righteous before God. As Peter wrote,
"You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (1 Pet. 1:19)

Yet, among the other Old Testament allusions, two have stood out to me as beautifully poignant. The first is only mentioned once in the entire Bible.
Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat . . . Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins ; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land ; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:8-10, 21, 22)
Notice that the scapegoat remains alive to carry the sins of the people away. Though there are no explicit New Testament references (that I am aware of) to this living atonement, there is still a clear image of Christ.

The second is less obvious and, had Christ himself not drawn the connection, it would have seemed a bit of a stretch to draw the parallel ourselves. In Numbers 21 we read the account of yet another rebellion on the part of the Israelites against their God. In response, the Lord sent "fiery serpents" with a deadly bite into the Israelite camp. When the people repented, God commanded Moses to "m
ake a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." (Num 21:8) And Jesus calls our attention back to this account when he said "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life." (John 3:14,15)

This imagery can be fairly confusing. It is easy to see the parallels to Christ in the unblemished sacrifices and the scapegoat. But Jesus also says he is like the bronze serpent which, instead of being the picture of purity, is the representation of the curse. Yet Jesus did just this when he came in human form. Beyond this, " God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

Thus, in Christ all of this Old Testament imagery comes to a head and fulfillment. Christ became the One who was without blemish or defect to be our sacrifice, the One who lives to take sin upon his head and carry it away from his people, and the One who was lifted up in the likeness of the curse—nay, became the curse
!—so that all who looked upon him in faith in the promise of God would be saved.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Regarding Unity, Piper, Warren, and Blogging

Here's an easy text to exegete, from Eph. 4:1, 3: "...I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called...eager/dilligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."


How many of us can honestly say that we are eager to maintain Christian unity?  Somehow diligence in our pursuit of unity gets us pegged as liberal.  Funny- I thought seeking to obey the clear words of the Bible made us conservative.  Who knew?

This passage has been rolling around my mind for a few weeks now, but I couldn't resist commenting on it more publicly as all this Piper/Warren conversation has surfaced.  For the three of you who haven't heard, Piper invited Warren to be one of the speakers at this year's Desiring God conference, which is focused on the life of the mind for Christians.

Many in Reformed circles are not just surprised; they're positively upset.  What is Piper thinking?  How could he invite someone like Warren?

Warren is actually a confessing Calvinist, but of course he is known best for being the champion of seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven Christianity than anything else.  He preaches, according to many, a watered-down gospel and pushes a way of doing church that necessitates theological shallowness.

So in the midst of all this, many are loudly commenting that Piper has invited a guy who preaches "a different gospel" (in the worst sense) to speak at his conference.  Now, if Warren does, in fact, preach a different gospel, he shouldn't be preaching at any Christian conference.  But for all my disagreements with Warren (and they are considerable), for the life of me I cannot find anything that tells me that Rick Warren is a heretic or a non-Christian- which ultimately is what we're saying if we say that he preaches "a different gospel".  And I've been to Saddleback plenty of times- I lived 10 minutes from Saddleback for years.  I've actually known many godly people who are or have been heavily involved in that church- hard to believe, I know!

All that to say this: unless you're really willing to say that Rick Warren is a heretic, it's time to back off just a tad bit.  Take all that theological eagerness and reallocate it toward preserving Christian unity.  The passionate desire to be humble, charitable, and personally gracious toward a professing Christian who seems to love other Christians and walk in obedience to Christ (cf. the indications of true Christianity in 1 John) is patently biblical.

And that includes how we talk about Piper in all this too.  You might remember that it is fair to precede the word Piper with "Doctor", a titular prefix which he attained at no less than the University of Munich.  You might remember that Dr. Piper knows a few things about what makes a Christian and has consistently displayed his godliness and wisdom in a life of fruitful ministry.  You might remember that Desiring God as a whole is one of the most trustworthy large-scale ministries in existence, reformed or otherwise.

So here's what I'm thinking: maybe we go ahead and eagerly preserve unity by trusting him on this one?