Wednesday, May 28, 2008

For Those Who Like To Laugh

This faux-news-article is awesome. If you like to laugh, read it. If you do not like to laugh, well... you are probably a Presbyterian. [Snap!]

Obama Practices Looking-Off-Into-Future Pose

Here's another one for those who enjoy potshots at churches with coffee shops in them.

Church transforms into coffee chain

And last but not least:

DC Talk Reunite, To Their Dismay

Oh to laugh... Oh to cry tears of joy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Is Transformationism Postmillennial?

As some of you may be aware, in H. Richard Niebuhr's seminal work, Christ and Culture, he characterizes Calvin's position as "Christ the Transformer of Culture." Notwithstanding the fact that Niebuhr forgot to quote Calvin in the chapter devoted to him, the question could be raised whether "transformationism" is the best paradigm to capture the Church's relationship to, and responsibility in, society.

Transformationism, for those who haven't heard the term, is the view that the Church's role in this world includes transforming and redeeming the culture, and bringing it under the banner of Christ's Lordship (which, as contemporary Kuyperians tirelessly remind us, includes every "square inch" of the cosmos).

Obviously this position is directly opposed to the two kingdoms model, which recognizes culture as its own kingdom that is legitimate on its own terms, and therefore is not to be the object of redemptive efforts.

So here's my question: Is the desire to (in some sense) inaugurate the kingdom of God by means of cultural renewal more consistent with an amillennial or a postmillennial eschatology?

I'll show my cards later, but you first....

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Disconnected Society

"The tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work [is] … a land full of places that are not worth caring about [and] will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending."
-James Kunstler
Last night my wife and I watched an interesting documentary entitled Radiant City where film crews follow around some families who live in the suburbs so as to understand why they have chosen to live massive distances from the rest of civilization and gigantic "cookie-cutter" neighborhoods. When I delivered pizzas in Peoria, AZ, the only places I delivered to were these prefabricated, giant housing pods where all the houses looked the same. It was spiritually draining just being there and seeing the lack of character, identity, and history in these communities.

Now, the film was clearly in opposition to what it depicted as "artificial" communities. As one of the film's interviewees pointed out about the use of the term "community" for these places; according to them, a community is a gathering of people who come together to share commonalities, but as it is, the suburbs are "giant groups of identical houses where no one has to ever see or meet another person if they don't want to."

This leads to the real point of all this I want to reflect on, and that is what the sprawl opponents term "social capital." In sociology, social capital refers to the interconnections within and between social networks. It's what links people together even though they have little in common. In the case of towns and small communities, this could best be illustrated by a family playing on the lawn and having a casual conversation with a passing neighbor who is out for a walk. Here are people who have little to nothing in common being, nonetheless, brought together, even if only briefly.

With urban sprawl, people can go out for walks, but the housing is designed so that the familial interactions take place in the backyard, away from society. Every place must be commuted to by car instead of by foot, and so you see that opportunities for social capital are squandered.

What this all comes down to is the disconnectedness of our society. Hear me out before I start sounding like a nostalgic old-timer:

-Urban sprawl is leaving our society disconnected from one-another.
-Text messaging and cell phones separate people from holistic interactions, creating the illusion of community.
-The internet is substituting for real interactions between people (face-to-face conversations are becoming passe and outdated, aren't they?).
-Television and movies in our own homes prevents us from meeting people in more meaningful ways.

As I was watching this documentary with my wife (which only addressed the issue of suburban sprawl, not the other things I just mentioned above), I turned to her and said, "if these communities are all supposed to be perfect and ideal, what kind of churches are being built for them to go to?

The answer is, instead of building small churches for these subdivisions of houses, what has happened is, each suburb has a gigantic mega-church within driving distance (at least the ones in Phoenix that I'm familiar with did). Now, with all this complaining about social capital being squandered, it would seem, prima facie that the maximum opportunity for people to interact is being provided on Sundays at these mega churches. However, the opposite is happening. After all, one of my simultaneously favorite and also least-favorite things about mega churches is the anonymity they provide. When i lived in Phoenix, I went to mega churches occasionally before I found a PCA church to attend. One of the loneliest and most ironic experiences is entering a gigantic church where communion with one another as well as with God is supposed to happen and actually finding a more anonymous experience than entering a darkened theater to watch the latest blockbuster.

The reason these anonymous mega-churches are finding success is because of the disconnected populations which they appeal to. Their "customers" (isn't that how they think of their attendees?) want to go to church, but do not want the social accountability that the small community requires of them. They want a passive experience which they do not have to contribute to if they so desire. And, most importantly, they want non-invasive sermons so that they do not have to change or grow in sanctification if they do not so desire. These sermons should help them to get through the week, but should not challenge them in any deep or difficult way.

I do think the church is in a unique position to be the melding point of different social segments, and that means that if our churches provide sound teaching and social interactions between its members, then we can fight to reverse the trend of disconnectedness by intentionally meeting others face to face and challenging our brethren. I don't have a lot of answers, because I'm not a sociologist, and also because I'm better at complaining than I am at being part of the solution.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

PCUSA...I Use to be One

For someone who was once in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., I could not resist finding the humor in this cartoon and passing it on to our readers. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I am now in the PCA.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tim Challies' Great Give Away

On Tim Challies' blog he is having a giveaway this month--a $200, $75 and $35 gift certificates to monergism books. Now, all our readers know that here at Bring the Books... we love to read. So, there is nothing greater (alright there are many things greater) than receiving a gift certificate for free books. Why do I mention this? Here is why. If you register and use my referral ID: 70430, my chances to win increase. You can help a poor seminary student get his dying wish (this is the part where you tear up and go register for little Timmy). To register you simply need to click here. It's a very short process. Make sure to also subscribe to the mailing list, if this is your first time, or else you won't hear about the winner. Which, with your help, will be me!

In Praise of Profanity

One of my former seminary profs recently presented a paper to the Evangelical Theological Society titled "In Praise of Profanity" (or something like that). And no, he wasn't talking about cuss words....
The term "profanity," of course, refers to things that are profane. Now "profane" can mean vulgar, but it doesn't have to mean that. One of the dictionary's definitions is simply "secular and non-religious." In other words, things that are profane are distinct from things that are holy; they are non-holy, but not necessarily unholy. Get it?

Understanding this category is crucial for understanding the two kingdoms paradigm. Some areas of life -- particularly those belonging to the civil kingdom -- are non-religious, i.e. they do not properly belong to the category of redemption, but to the category of creation. Yes, God still rules these areas, but he does so as Creator, not as Redeemer.

Consider a couple New Testament passages. First, Rom. 13:1-7. Here we read that all people, including believers, are to subject themselves to the government, even if it is evil and corrupt (which it was when Paul wrote this). The reason for this submission is that the civil magistrate bears the sword as a minister of God (v. 4). Therefore we are to render to Caesar his due: taxes, revenue, honor, and respect (v. 8).

Secondly, look at I Pet. 2:11-17. Describing our conduct "among the Gentiles" (or, out in the world), the apostle tells us to be subject to "every human institution" (vv. 12, 13). The reason we are to live this way is that we, like the Jews during their Babylonian captivity who received the same instruction, are "sojourners and exiles" in this age (v. 11). Our goal, like our Old Testament counterparts, is to pray for and seek the prosperity of our leaders and land, "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (I Tim. 2:2; cf. Jer. 29:4-7).

What's conspicuous (and perhaps disappointing) by its absense is the call to redeem the culture and transform it into the kingdom of Christ. But the reason this call is absent from the biblical narrative (with the exception of typological, theocratic contexts like Israel in the holy land) is that, in God's economy, the civil and spiritual kingdoms are distinct. And further, this is how God has ordained life to be, at least in this present age.

Or to return to what I mentioned above, there is a category that is properly called "profane," and the civil matters that fall into this category (politics, art, dentistry) are just that, profane. They are not unholy, but non-holy. They are not sacred, but secular. They are not cultic, but cultural. In a word, these things are neither demonic nor divine, but are simply common grace endeavors that were never intended to be forcefully transferred or transformed from one category to the other.

So if the art you like doesn't depict biblical scenery, if the politician you voted for doesn't invoke the name of Jesus, or if the guy who tuned up your car doesn't have a fish on his add in the Yellow Pages, don't worry. Common grace blessings are just that: common to all God's creatures (believing or not). Until we recognize this, we'll never be able to enjoy them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Federal Vision's Trajectory

I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past few months about the Federal Vision. One area in particular, namely, most in the Reformed camp believe that the FV is outside of the bounds of the Reformed tradition, while all those in the FV claim that they are clearly within it.

As I have been pondering this issue one reason seems to fit best with what is going on. I want to share this reason with our readers so we can discuss this point. I am not saying that this is how it must be, nor am I saying this is how it is, but rather, I am suggesting one possible way to explain this phenomenon within Reformed circles.

Many in the FV point back to John Murray as their theological root. That is, those in the FV believe that they are in the theological trajectory of John Murray. This may be the case. However, those in the FV have moved past Murray on issues of the Covenant and other key Reformed distinctives. Even though those in the FV can point back to Murray as their theological ancestor, they have moved far enough past him to put themselves outside of the camp.
Another example of this may be Lee Irons (I am not up on all the ins-and-outs of what happened with him, but I do know that the OPC saw fit to remove him from their denomination.), Irons stands in the theological trajectory of Meridith Kline, who is well within the Reformed tradition. Irons can point back and show who his thought is rooted in Kline, but, as the OPC decided, he is outside of the Reformed tradition.

I think something similar is going on with the Federal Vision. I think they can look back to Murray and pick out a few of his thoughts and "develop" them to the point that that are outside of the Reformed Camp. Those in the FV are unaware of this because they think they are just following Murray, but, what they do not understand is they have taken Murray in a direction that leads them outside of the Reformed tradition, a place Murray did not go.

Again, this is just a "theory" that I have about why the FV thinks they are within the Reformed camp, while the majority in that camp believe them to be out of it. I am trying to make sense of this "mess" and this has been helpful for me to understand what is going on.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One Punk Under God

I was recently introduced to Jay Bakker and his show on the Sundance channel, One Punk Under God. Jay would be, though I am not sure if he would use this title of himself, part of the Emergent Church. I recently heard an interview with Bakker on Larry King Live in which he listed Brian McLaren as someone he think is on the right track and this is clearly seen in his views and opinions.

For starters, Bakker's church, Revolution, meets in a bar and he encourages his members (as he says, anyone who walks in the door is a member) to buy drinks during the church service. I can only assume that meeting in a bar is an attempt to be "relevant." The strange thing is, I do not see the Bible holding up "relevance" as a virtue.

Another issue that puts Bakker in the Emergent camp and that has put him in the hot seat are his views on homosexuality. Bakker is pro-homosexual. He thinks that it is not a sin to be gay and on top of that, he is pushing for "gay rights" on marriage (is marriage a right???). The way to solve the problem, according to Bakker, is to read the text on homosexuality "in their historical context." As if that solves everything. It is not like those who view this act as sinful do not read the relevant passages in their historical context, but I digress.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I think we should not be irrelevant, but the problem, that can be seen in Bakker, is relevance is elevated to an unbiblical level. When truth is sacrificed on the altar of relevance you have neither relevance nor truth. There is nothing that is more relevant to a sinner, dead in his sin's, than the truth of the Gospel. The truth that Jesus Christ can bring their dead heart back to life. The truth that God, because of his Son, can look at you in all your guilt and blame and declare, based on another's right standing, you are right with me. This verdict is truth. When truth is sacrificed, you lose any and all ways of being relevant to a dying and broken world. Now, do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that Bakker would disagree with this (I have no idea what his views on justification are), but I am saying that truth is at the heart of Christianity. If we give up truth (in any area) for relevance, we are headed in a direction that the Bible warns us not to.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

From The Archives: Josh Walker Exposed!

Sure he presents himself as an intellectual giant - one not to be trifled with. Sure it's difficult to win a verbal debate with him. But how intimidated would the Arminians of the world be if they could see this picture!?

Or maybe those professors who think he's so attentive and awesome in class should take a look at this revealing image!

Finally, we have a blast from the past. The old days at Grand Canyon University when Calvinism - like punk music - was not only the truth, but a way to be different from all the Rick Warren-loving classmates.

Just look at those young men. Enjoying God's gifts as he intended them. The only thing missing was a pint of Guinness (which I'm sure Ben had stashed somewhere on his person). Shame on them! SHAME!

Door to Door

This afternoon I embarked with 12 other seminary students through a lower income neighborhood behind RTS, "the Queens." We went 2 by 2 armed with Bibles and the love of Jesus. I went with Jonathan Craig, a fellow M.Div student here at RTS. We had a great time going door to door handing out Bibles and asking people if we could pray for them.

One guy, named Demarkus, asked us to pray that he finds a record producer. Looking back, I should have asked him to spit some rhymes, but I didn't. Who knows he might just be the next 50 cent. We also came across a group of young men playing spades. We sat down and played a few hands. Jonathan and I got worked, but I think it was because after every hand, they had a new rule that we did not know about, like the 2 of diamonds is the highest trump card, who knew?

All and all Jonathan and I had a great time. We ask that you pray for Demarkus and the rest of the people in the Queens neighborhood behind RTS. Ask that God would use our time there to grow his Kingdom and to glorify himself.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Occasionally Helpful Satire

If any of you read the Onion, you probably already know that they are not exactly the best source for solid news stories, but it is a good source for laughs. I was reading this morning and came across an article which I initially regarded as a throwaway piece. However, it now strikes me that this fake news story from The Onion is not only pretty funny but also somewhat insightful as to the ways that some people really must think about religion. Consider the fact that people are happy to come to Christianity as long as it is on their own terms, not God's. John Piper points out that God is honored when people come to Him because they want Him personally, and not because of the benefits He bestows. Having introduced my brief thoughts, give the article a read. It's pretty funny and I especially enjoyed the last line of the story, where Presbyterians make their own bid for the man's soul:

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Two Kingdoms, Part III: Exile, Cont'd

We have seen that the rules that govern God's people's relationship to culture are contingent upon their possession of the land. When the covenant community is sojourning in the land as strangers (Heb. 11:8-16), this relationship can be described as "pilgrim politics." The example of Abraham demonstrates, as we have seen, that the patriarchs were cultically and religiously distinct, but culturally homogenous.

But when Israel ceased to wander and settled in the land, the rules changed. Now they became a theocratic army whose mandate was not to dwell peacefully alongside the Canaanites, but to utterly destroy them.

(Interestingly, the strictness and rigidity shown in Israel’s universal withdrawal from pagan culture only applied to those living within the bounds of the land of Canaan. Outside Israel’s borders things remained as they had always been under the Abrahamic arrangement. This is demonstrated by the fact that Solomon engaged in friendly dealings with delegates from Tyre (I Kings 5:1ff) and with the queen of Sheba (I Kings 10:1ff), without any hint that he was compromising or doing anything wrong.)

But what about the Babylonian captivity? What happened then?

Well, if the land plays such a significant role in determining God's people's relationship to the surrounding culture (as I have argued), then the situation during the exile is exactly what we would expect it to be:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.'" Jeremiah 29:4-7

God’s covenant people, once again, were exiles without a homeland. As resident aliens in a pagan land they were culturally similar to the inhabitants of the land while remaining religiously separate from them. When outside the borders of the theocratic domain, Israel returned to the pilgrim ethic that characterized the patriarchs before the institution of the Mosaic covenant. They engaged in such common cultural activities as building houses, planting gardens, taking wives, and producing offspring, all the while praying for the welfare of Babylon. In exile, Israel’s distinctiveness and particularity was once again solely cultic (which explains why Daniel was willingly instructed in the pagan arts and literature of Babylon and even agreed to advise his ungodly rulers, while at the same time refusing to defile himself by eating Nebuchadnezzar’s delicacies or worshiping Darius, Dan. 1:1-8; 2:16; 5:17; 6:13). As during the period between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, Israel was religiously distinct but culturally homogenous.

But as Ezra 9:1-3, 10-12 shows us, when Israel returned to their land after their exile was ended the rules reverted back again to those of the theocracy: No more cultural assimilation. All of life - the cultic and the cultural, the sacred and the secular - was again to be considered holy.

In our next post we'll take a look at the cultural role of believers under the New Covenant. Hang on to your hats, because here's where things get really interesting....

Sunday, May 11, 2008

We Hit the Big Time

I would like to be the first to announce that Bring the Books... has hit the big time. We are no longer a small time operation posting at, now we have our very own domain name, Though the old address will work, we wanted to let our readers know that they can now reach us at this new address.

Also, now that we are 'big time' you can expect that the posts here are going to be much better. Well, I am not sure that that is possible, I mean Stellman is already a stud and Parker brings it, I guess that leaves me to step up my game. I am ready for the challenge.

You do not need to change your RSS feeds, but if you change it to the new address, it posts to your reader a bit faster.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Does Bonhoeffer Live?

In a side-by-side comparison, I think you will all agree that our fellow blog-mate Jason Stellman bears an uncanny similarity to the German theologian and author of The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Could it be that Elvis, 2Pac, and Bonhoeffer have all somehow managed to survive death and still walk among us (even though Bonhoeffer would be well into his 80s if he were alive today), writing cool blog entries and enjoying the musings of Bono coupled with the delayed echoing guitar of The Edge? It is possible, though ultimately unlikely.

The Christian Practice of Confession

"Therefore when I admonish you to confession I am admonishing you to be a Christian." -Martin Luther-
To whom shall we make confession? According to Jesus' promise, every Christian brother can hear the confession of another. But will he understand? May he not be so far above us in his Christian life that he would only turn away from us with no understanding of our personal sins?

Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Life Together, Pg. 118 (Emphasis Mine)

Friday, May 9, 2008

My Not-So-Lengthy Journey With Rob Bell

At the behest of every hip young Christian I have met in the past five years (I have since decided that no one is hipper than us who are Young Reformed), I finally opened the book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, which has been the bane of my existence for the past several years. Why has it been the bane of my existence, you ask? I'll give you a couple of quick reasons:

1. Bleached blond hair with horn rimmed glasses does not mean you are someone worth listening to. This is a trend that should have stopped before it began. Gordon H. Clark and Cornelius Van Til pioneered the "cool theologian in horn-rimmed glasses" look, and it's theirs until Jesus returns, as far as I'm concerned. It's the 21st century, people; they're called "contact lenses!" Look into it.

2. The soothing, gentle voice of a man who wants to hypnotize me. This just makes me nervous.

3. I am tired of hearing, "Until you read Velvet Elvis, you just aren't involved in the modern conversation. Your God is in a box, man."

Anyway, my wife was out for the evening, my daughter was asleep, and The Chameleons were spinning on my record player (YES!). What better time to try and read this obnoxious abomination than right now. I got no further than page 25, and my closed mind forced me to stop reading. I literally could go no further than page 25 if you paid me or put my life on the line. What was it that literally put a hobble in my literary step? Well, let me share it with you:

"The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up."

This sentence itself completely undermines the entire book this guy wants to write. He wants us to listen to this "new picture" of Christianity, but offers me no assurance that his picture of God he is presenting is even a remote similarity to the true God. If we can't have any clear, neat definitions about who God is, then maybe those of you who have read Bell's book can confirm for me my suspicions: through the rest of the book, Bell remains consistent and offers us a muddy, murky vision of God with no clarity or understanding. Knowing modern people (I live and breath modernity too; I swim in it), this is just what they want.

I'm sorry, hipsters. I tried to read this. I really tried. Maybe I'm just a wimp. Oh yeah, and I know that I'm about 3 years behind the trends, and that's why it took me this long to finally post my opinion of this book.

I'm going to go take a hot metaphorical shower in John Piper and Mark Driscoll books.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Further Study: Two Kingdoms

For those who are enjoying Stellman's posts on the Two Kingdoms, as I am, here is a post that will provide further resources for study on this topic.

Bavinck on the perfect Savior

If Jesus is truly the Savior, he must also really save his people, not potentially but really and in fact, completely and eternally. And this, actually, constitutes the core of the difference between the proponents and the opponents of particular satisfaction (atonement). This difference is defined incorrectly or at least far from completely when one formulates it exclusively in the question whether Christ died and made satisfaction for all humans or only the elect...The real issue concerned the value and power of Christ's sacrifice, the nature of the work of salvation. To save, said the Reformed, is to save truly, wholly, for eternity...Those whom God loves and from whom Christ made satisfaction are saved without fail.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics vol. 3 p. 467

The Two Kingdoms, Part Two: Exile

We have seen that, throughout redemptive history, God's people find themselves in one of two situations: theocracy or exile.

A "theocracy" exists when God's dominion is coupled with a domain, his rule with a realm. In other words, for a theocracy to exist, God's people must have a land to call their own (such as the land of Canaan). In a theocracy, there are not two distinct kingdoms, but one. All of life is holy.

But what about the other condition, exile?

Exile is radically different from theocracy. When the people of God are without a homeland, they find themselves co-existing in two kingdoms, with a divine distinction being made between cult and culture, the holy and the common, and the sacred and the secular.

To demonstrate this, let's consider Abraham.

In the Abrahamic covenant, the patriarch was chosen from among the sinful members of the human race and made the father of a distinct people (Gen. 17:1-14). But it is the nature of Abraham’s distinctiveness that is important for our discussion. Abraham’s distinctiveness, as I will demonstrate, was not cultural but cultic. In other words, the covenant that God made with him contained no instructions governing his activity in the common grace realm, but he was to continue to participate in culture as he had done before—he conducted business transactions (Gen. 23:16), settled land and property disputes (Gen. 21:22ff; 26:26ff), engaged in warfare (Gen. 14:14), and showed appropriate deference to earthly kings (Gen. 20:17).

Exactly unlike Israel in Canaan, the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and their descendents were called to coexist peacefully in the land that God had promised them, waiting in hope and journeying in faith until Yahweh would drive out the Canaanites forever (Heb. 11:8-22).

The situation of the patriarchs before the giving of the law, therefore, can be characterized as pilgrim politics which highlighted their status, not as a triumphant theocratic army, but as “resident aliens” and “tolerated sojourners” whose inheritance was not yet a reality.

Moreover, it was specifically in the cultic and religious sphere that Abraham’s particularity was displayed. This is seen most strikingly in the fact that the sacrament of the Abrahamic covenant—circumcision—was a bloody rite foreshadowing the sacrificial redemptive work of his true Seed (Gen. 17:9-14; Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:11). As OT scholar Meredith Kline has written, “Tolerated pilgrims, not triumphant possessors—such is the life of the nontheocratic community of faith, waiting while the kingdom is withheld.”

The patriarchal community, therefore, was culturally common but religiously distinct.

And such is the case with us today. As we await the true, heavenly theocracy our calling is to lead peaceful, quiet, and Christlike lives (I Tim. 2:2). We dare not take up the sword in the name of Christ, we do not wage our warfare in the voting booth, and we must not attempt to usher in the eschatological kingdom by cultural, secular, common grace means (II Cor. 10:4).

More to come....

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Video on Indigenous African-American PCAs

The church my wife and I are members at, Redeemer Church PCA, is one of the churches featured in this short video about African-Americans in the PCA. It is very encouraging to see the PCA, and other Reformed denominations, reaching out to different sub-cultures. May God continue to bless the work he has begun.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Two Kingdoms, Part One: Theocracy

The doctrine of the two kingdoms (i.e., that God rules over two distinct kingdoms, one earthly and civil, the other heavenly and spiritual) is the topic that the contemporary church most urgently needs to discuss and defend. My next few posts will be an attempt to do this.

Crucial in this connection is the fact that, throughout redemptive history, God's people find themselves in one of two conditions, generally speaking. The one is theocracy, and the other is exile.

A “theocracy,” as its name suggests, has to do with the rule of God over a people. But there is more to a theocracy than the bare fact that God is exercising control over his children (which is always the case). A true theocracy exists when God’s dominion is coupled with a domain, when his rule is connected to a realm—an actual piece of real estate within the borders of which God rules his people in a special and unique way.

Though other examples exist, Israel’s situation in the Promised Land is perhaps the most obvious example of a theocracy in the Bible: God had given the land of Canaan to his people and charged them with the task of subduing and exercising dominion over his enemies.

Moreover, when God's people are in a theocratic situation, all of life is holy. There is no distinction between the religious and the everyday, the cultic and the cultural, or the sacred and the secular. It was for this reason that when Israel was in the land of Canaan, their uniqueness and peculiarity extended to both the "religious" and the "non-religious" realms. They were forbidden from marrying foreigners (Ezra 9:1ff), from entering into covenants with other nations (Ex. 23:20-33; cf. Josh. 9:1-15), and even from sharing the diets of the surrounding pagan peoples (Dan. 1:8-16).

In a word, when God's people are in a theocratic context enjoying a God-given land, their uniqueness extends to all areas of life, both civil and spiritual. Or to put it more simply, in a theocracy there are not two kingdoms, but one.

The question arises, then, "What about us? Are we in a theocracy?" Though we often act as though we are, the answer to this question is no. The Church in this present age is in exile.

More on this in my next post....

Monday, May 5, 2008

Topic For Discussion: The Faulty Theology of Gaius Baltar

Battlestar Galactica has always had strong religious themes running through it. The most noticeable being somewhat of a rivalry between the human polytheism and the monotheism of the Cylons. Most recently, however, the humans have begun worshipping a single God (at the behest of Gaius Baltar). At one point, Gaius caught everyone's attention by declaring that:

1. God only loves that which is perfect.
2. God loves us.
3. Therefore, we are perfect.

I'm just going off the top of my head here, but I definitely believe that the first premise is the one which is in error. I'd like a discussion of why Gaius' teaching regarding the monotheistic God on BSG is wrong. Now, considering that Gaius does not have a New Testament, what would it take for someone to demonstrate rationally that God does not only love that which is perfect? And the real question we as Reformed thinkers should be able to answer is, "how is it possible for God to love the imperfect?"

Now, I have my own thoughts on this, and it may seem a tad simplistic to some, but I felt that this might make for an interesting discussion. Without Scripture to appeal to, can we answer this type of rationale? Come on, everyone; let the Thomist within you respond. If you were on the Galactica, what would you say to him?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Reformed Perspective on Doc Frankenstein

If there is one medium in our culture which we in the Young Reformed crowd have neglected, it would have to be comic books. I know, I know. Comic books are for kids with acne and no girlfriends. Well, I am 26 years old, and I just got a zit right in the middle of my forehead the other day. As such, I felt it only appropriate to talk about one of the few comics that I actually do read.

Doc Frankenstein was created and written by the Wachowski Brothers (yes, the same guys who directed The Matrix Trilogy and the upcoming family-friendly (supposedly) Speed Racer). The concept for the comic is most intriguing: Frankenstein's monster has taken his creator's name and lives a virtually immortal life. Not only is he gifted with long life, but over time his knowledge has grown in such a way that he is now a PhD who works for the betterment of the world. He has had many adventures, including serving President Lincoln, fighting outlaws in the old west, inventing a cure for lycanthropy (werewolves), and a bunch of other cool stuff that I can't remember.

Anyway, the curveball for the series is that Frankenstein is a hardcore liberal who is a strict empiricist, a believer in man-made global warming, an advocate for abortion and birth control, and something of a socialist/communist. As such, Frankenstein's enemies are people who disagree with his viewpoints and want him killed. These super-enemies are conservatives, and especially the (apparently Roman Catholic) Church.

Things come full-bore when Frankenstein creates a great city where everyone who believes in liberal values can live without intervention from the rest of society. It is depicted in the comic as a type of utopia which is short-lived. This is because The Church (complete with jet fighters and bombs bearing the image of a cross and sword) attacks Frankenstein's city for the purpose of apprehending him and devastating this little piece of "heaven on earth."

They succed, and in issue 3, he is captured by the Pope who intends to kill him if he will not repent. While in captivity, Frankenstein quips, "Kinda symbolic, ain't it? The only hope Religion has for keeping a thinking man on his knees is a length of chain."

Anyone who is somewhat familiar with The Matrix will know doubt be aware of the penchant the Wachowskis have for philosophical banter, and this is my primary reason for being so interested in Doc Frankenstein (other than that it is just a cool comic book with lots of action).

In issue 4 (there have been 6 issues printed since 2004, so they're taking their time) things take a disturbing religious turn when a fairy tells the story of who yahweh (sorry, I have to lower-case the name) and Jesus really are. The fairy explains that yahweh is one of many gods (part of the Greek pantheon), and that Yahweh was first a hill god named "el shaddai" with a physical body who is depicted as looking like a giant. The fairy goes on to explain that this version of yahweh is an arrogant, dishonest, foul-mouthed (in the flashbacks he is constantly using the f-word) profligate who is only interested in dominating the rest of the world. The Wachowskis depict the virgin birth as being a real physical act between this god and Mary. Anyway, their version of Jesus is that he was not a carpenter (the fairy explains that "carpenter" is a mistranslation) but rather a man of the trees who nurtured them to grow because he was in touch with his chi and able to manipulate nature because he had some kind of Buddhist philosophy underlying everything he did.

At the end of issue six, while the fairy has been telling another character this mythological reconstruction underlying the series, Frankenstein has been preparing for a new showdown as he gets ready to invade Rome and kill the Pope in what he hopes will be a final showdown.

So, what do I take away from Doc Frankenstein? Is it edifying? Hardly. But it does reflect certain segments of society. Of primary interest to me is that there will be some who read this comic and in the religious discussions will find their own justification for unbelief. They will see this intentionally fictitious portrayal of the "origin of god" and live with this caricature of Judeo-Christian theism in their minds, doing nothing to correct it or find out if there is any historical basis for what the Wachowskis are saying in this comic. Now, it is a comic, so if people are getting their theology from a comic I do pity them.

On the grounds of blasphemy and profanity, I wouldn't recommend this comic to a wide Christian audience, but I don't see the problem with reading it for the purposes of entertainment or intellectual interaction if you are discerning and can spot a bad argument when you hear it. The Christians (and unlike in The Golden Compass, these people really are depicted as worshipping Jesus, and so they are definitely supposed to be Christians) in this series are clearly a caricature, and their blind rage towards whose who are different than them exists only in the farthest wings of "christendom" (ahem, Rev. Phelps!). I could definitely say that I enjoy reading the comic because it deals with bigger metaphysical issues than your average comic, but I would be troubled if this was fed to the unthinking masses (say, in the form of a film adaptation).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Unprofessional Beer Review: Bass Ale

I wanted to be cool and hip like Parker and Stellman, so I wanted to post a blog like them. This is the best I can do, what can I say; I am a theological egghead. I am no good at the culture stuff, but boy do I long to be.

I thought the best thing for me to do was post a beer review, after all, I am reformed and I love beer. The most natural choice for my beer review is the greatest beer on the planet (now, keep in mind, I have only had about 20 different kinds of beer), Bass Ale.

Anyone who knows me, knows this is my favorite beer. Near my home in Clinton, MS there is a grocery store that has a build your own six pack (you know pick any six beers you want). Every time I go and build a six pack, I inevitably walk out with at least four Bass Ale. What can I say, I love this beer.

A bit about the history of Bass Ale; this beer is brewed in England by Bass & Co Brewery, which was established by William Bass in 1777. They are most famous for their pale ale (which is the one I like). Bass was one of the original FT 30 companies on the London Stock Exchange when the listing was established in 1935. Business was up and the beer was moving because of its great taste.

Now about the beer itself; when it is poured it is a clear reddish amber with a modest tan head that dispels quickly. You want your imperial pint glass filled to the brim with nothing but the good stuff, and that’s how this beer is designed. The aroma is mostly the sweet malt. Bass is a well balanced beer, plenty of flavor, and a clear after taste. Those sweet caramel malts register first, then the hops give it just a touch of a bitter ending, barely worth mentioning. The flavor coats your mouth for awhile. You don’t forget what you’ve drank after the swallow. It’s light or barely medium bodied, but the taste sticks around.

If you are looking for a fairly inexpensive beer that will go great with dinner or as an after dinner snack, this is the beer for you. But you must make me a promise if you are going to drink this beer, you must drink it to the glory of God. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

RSS Readers and You

A very helpful blog has been posted on the Desiring God site. This post, by Abraham Piper, explains, in a very easy to understand way, what an "RSS" reader is and why you should use it. Go read the post and then add us to your list of blogs. No really, go now, get started!

Once you are ready you can use the address below to add us or click the icon in the address bar:

On Pinch-Hitters and Pitching Lips, Pocket Rockets and Perichoresis

"Bottom of the ninth, full count, runners at the corners."

"On the button, Texas Dolly flops the nut flush draw."

"Lowers was nice and hollow during the evening glass-off."

Not many people would be able to decipher even two of these phrases, let alone all three. Sure, we understand the words contained in them, but what their meaning is remains somewhat opaque. This is because the cultures represented by these sentences employ their own particular brand of slang which, to outsiders, sounds utterly foreign.

Moreover, when a channel-surfer comes across a TV program displaying one of the cultures represented by these sentences, he doesn't get angry with the commentator for using such obscure language. And conversely, if a long-time baseball fan were to turn on the game and hear the announcer say, "Runners at the corners, for all you first time viewers, means a runner on first base and another on third," he would probably be annoyed, and rightly so.

You see, every culture has its own unique way of speaking (which, if you think about it, is part of what makes a particular culture "particular" in the first place). But for some reason, Christians are warned to avoid "Christianese," especially in church services. After all, what if a nonbeliever is there? What will she think if she hears the word propitiation?

Is it me, or is asking Christians to jettison Christianese about as silly as asking someone from Tokyo to quit speaking Japanese?

Batter Up!

It is my pleasure to introduce a new blogger to the Bring the Books... staff, Jason Stellman. Jason was born and raised in Orange County, CA (also known as ‘The OC’ by people not from there). He spent some time as a missionary with Calvary Chapel in Uganda (’91-’92) and in Hungary (’94-’00). After becoming Reformed and being subsequently “dismissed” from ministry with Calvary, Jason went to Westminster Seminary California where he received a M.Div. in 2004. After graduation he was ordained by the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA and called to plant Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area. He enjoys books, music, films, and well-brewed beverages. Currently Jason has been blogging at De Regnis Duobus and he will be working double duty posting here and there.

We are all exited that Jason has joined the fine staff at Bring the Books... and we look forward to his interesting and thought provoking blogs. His insights into politics, culture and the two kingdoms, are outstanding. And I for one would love to see him add to the beer reviews Adam has been doing. I would like to be the first to welcome Jason to the blog, so Jason, welcome and enjoy your time with us here at Bring the Books....