Friday, December 31, 2010

The Ten Best Things About 2010

It's time for every blog on the planet to do top ten lists. Well, we're a blog, so here's my top ten list (not listed in order of importance!):

10. Sinclair Ferguson's Podcast.
Earlier on in my journey into Reformed Christianity, I thought there wasn't anything better than hearing R.C. Sproul's teaching. Then, once I got really into preaching, it was John Piper. However, as I've moved along and become more familiar with the real Presbyterian form of Reformed Christianity, I've begun much more to appreciate the preaching of Sinclair Ferguson, who became my favorite preacher of 2010.

9. Discovering Sherlock Holmes.
Since I cannot live on a diet of strictly theological reading, I discovered the novels of Dennis Lehane, whose work I simply adore. But a little after discovering Lehane's books, I started reading the real detective himself, Sherlock Holmes. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, I have every single Sherlock Holmes novel and short story that Doyle ever wrote, all in one convenient file on my Kindle. Whenever I feel like I've pushed my brain too far theologically, I go to the old standby. He is logical, exciting, jaded, and addicted to the poppy seed, so he's still a man with feet of clay. I absolutely adore Holmes and don't know what I'll do when I actually finish reading all of his adventures. Nothing will substitute, I'm afraid.

8. Reading The Marrow of Modern Divinity.
Although I am not even a fourth of the way through reading The Marrow, I do believe that this wonderful, amazing, rich book will be the greatest thing I have found this year. It doesn't get #1 though, because I haven't finished it yet.

7. Calvinist Hip-Hop.
There are few things as thrilling as finding out that there are literally rappers who do songs about penal substitutionary atonement and openly defend the doctrine of election in their music. Discovering the Pollen Posse (as they are called in some circles; think of tulips) was a terrific thrill and made 2010 a year to be reckoned with.

6. The Birth of My Daughter, Penelope.
She's just the sweetest thing I've ever seen. At least since the last child we had. Also, the fact that we were able to have this child at home and not in a hospital is a matter for praise, because it's the first time we've ever been able to actually pull it off.

5. Love/Hate Relationship With Social Media.
Social media is honestly one of the best and the worst things about 2010. On the one hand, I get to write on this blog, which is a thrill, and I am now friends with Charles Hodge on Facebook. On the other, I am quite convinced that my digital connectedness is affecting the way I think. If you don't believe me, read Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows. It's a terrifying book to read as a Christian, because you become aware of just how short the internet makes our attention spans.

4. Ditching piracy.
This was painfully bittersweet. I still don't like to talk about it.

3. Losing my interest in music.
See #4. When you can't get tons of music for free anymore, it has a way of helping you make idols out of other things instead.

2. The Amazon Kindle.
Don't believe me? Just look at my entry from December 29th. Everything I read, practically, is on the Kindle. Couple that with the constant free books from Reformation Trust, and you've got an invaluable addition to my reading repertoire.

1. Finding our church home at Heartland PCA.
This is easily #1. Easily. Something about discovering you're not the only Reformed person in the state of Kansas has a way of at once humbling you and at the same time strengthening you in unspeakable ways. Having opportunities to teach and contribute in a real Reformed church setting has been far more transformative for my family than I ever could have imagined. We got to join the church, see our children baptized, and enjoy the fellowship of fellow Reformed believers. I don't know what I'd do without the friends I have made. Arryn and I glorify God constantly for bringing us to Heartland, and especially for bringing me under the discipleship and care of Pastor Rick Franks, who is a constant encouragement to me in many respects.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Weed and Weed Substitutes

Some time back, a friend of mine from many years ago asked me a question regarding a "weed substitute" which has apparently been making the rounds. He wanted to know if it was Biblically permissible to smoke this substance if it was legal to do so.

We could discuss these issues in two different ways. The first way, which settles it easily, is to ask the question, "Is it legal?" If the answer is no, then there we go. Done deal. Romans 13 says that we must submit to the magistrate. This applies to marijuana, and therefore takes all of the thought out of the issue, doesn't it?

On the other hand, in only a few years, if we're really honest with ourselves, marijuana probably will become a legal substance, and so we as Christians need to decide at this moment what we will do with marijuana once it is no longer a banned substance. Since my friend asked about this legal substance "Blue Grass" (which I've never actually heard of), we ought to broaden the question and pretend that both marijuana and blue grass are both legal for the sake of discussion.

So we've got these two substances which we are not strictly prohibited from using, in terms of Biblical commands. Does it follow that we ought to partake of something, simply because it is NOT forbidden? Most would agree, I think, that this would be swinging the pendulum a bit too far. After all,
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV).
I think these verse by Paul here are very helpful when we're considering what we will ingest and why we will ingest it. Simply because we're not prohibited from using something does not justify its use. Paul seems concerned with two questions in particular:
1. Is it helpful?
2. Will it enslave me?
I used to be quite liberal about my own use of alcohol. When Arryn and I were living in Phoenix, a friend of hers from high school took us out to eat at a Japanese steak house. He brought his boyfriend along. Being a Biblical Christian who understands that alcohol is a gift of God, when he offered to buy us drinks, I heartily accepted. However, two sake-bombers later, I realized I may have made a huge mistake. I could feel my judgment slipping.

Then, the companion of Arryn's friend explained to me that he was a Christian and that he felt bad about having a gay relationship. He wanted to know what I thought about their relationship. Now, I can't remember exactly what I said, but I do recall that it was the wrong answer. It was the wrong thing to say in that situation, but for the first time in my life, I really, really regretted drinking. Ever since then, I have been so careful in my consumption of alcohol as to resemble a paranoid teetotaler.

The point of this story is that it is a foolish decision to use mind-altering substances - either legal or otherwise, as a Christian. My own reason for it is that 1 Peter says you must always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within you. I now know from personal experience that ingesting some things can, in fact, inhibit our ability to live life to the glory of God and to consistently show the real Jesus to others.

So this answer is very broad. In short, I would argue that Blue Grass may be permissible, but it is not helpful, AND it does have the potential to enslave us.


Several years ago, I read an article by Douglas Wilson, "One Toke Over the Line," which I found very helpful in regard to this subject. I would be sore amiss if I did not mention it, since it goes much more in depth than I have done, here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All the Books I Read in 2010

I started keeping track of all the books that I read this year. Since this is a book-themed blog, I thought it might be worth sharing. Notice how much fluff is in the list. That's because fluff books are easy to finish. All of the worthwhile books (such as Vos' Biblical Theology and Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics) never did get finished. I'm still working on the books that really matter.

1. Dennis Lehane - Shutter Island*
2. Dennis Lehane - Mystic River*
3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - A Study in Scarlet*
4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Hound of the Baskervilles*
5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Sign of the Four*
6. Bryan Burrough - Public Enemies*
7. Ron Paul - End the Fed*
8. Erik Larson - The Devil in the White City*
9. L.E. Fletcher & E. Stover - The Guantánamo Effect*
10. George Orwell - 1984*
11. Jeff Lindsay - Dexter in the Dark*
12. Jeff Lindsay - Dearly Devoted Dexter*
13. Alister McGrath - The Dawkins Delusion
14. Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged
15. Peter Demant - Islam vs Islamism
16. Dennis Lehane - A Drink Before the War*
17. Collin Hansen - Young, Restless, and Reformed*
18. John Owen - The Mortification of Sin in Believers*
19. Mark Driscoll - Pastor Dad*
20. H.G. Wells - When the Sleeper Wakes*
21. Craig R. Koester - Revelation and the End of All Things
22. N.T. Wright - Simply Christian*
23. Tom Farley, Jr. - The Chris Farley Show*
24. George Marsden - Jonathan Edwards: A Life*
25. Philip Pullman - The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ*
26. G.K. Chesterton - Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox*
27. Paul Johnson - Churchill*
28. Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan - The Strain*
29. Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan - The Fall*
30. John Piper - Don't Waste Your Life*
31. Washington Irving - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow*
32. St Anselm - Cur Deus Homo (God Became Man)*
33. R.C. Sproul - Can I Be Sure I'm Saved?*
34. Mark Noll - The Civil War as a Theological Crisis*
35. Mosab Hassan Yousef - Son of Hamas*
36. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes*

*Denotes the books I read on the Kindle. In other words, pretty much all of them.

How Not to Treat Your Congregation

There are so many things wrong with this story, I wouldn't know where to begin.

Pastor charged with burglarizing church member's home

Monday, December 27, 2010

How Adam Violated All Ten Commandments

I'm only a fourth of my way through The Marrow of Modern Divinity, but already I am prepared to call it the greatest thing outside of the Bible that I've ever read. At one point in the book, Evangelist sets forth an argument against the Legalist and the Antinomian that hinges upon Adam's violation of the whole decalogue in the Fall. He then explains exactly how it is that Adam violated all ten commandments; and he goes one commandment at a time:
1. He chose himself another God when he follows the devil.

2. He idolized and deified his own belly; as the apostle's phrase is, "He made his belly his God."

3. He took the name of God in vain, when he believed him not.

4. He kept not the rest and estate wherein God had set him.

5. He dishonoured his Father who was in heaven ; and therefore his days were not prolonged in that land which the Lord his God had given him.

6. He massacred himself and all his posterity.

7. From Eve he was a virgin, but in eyes and mind he committed spiritual fornication.

8. He stole, like Achan, that which God had set aside not to be muddled with; and this his stealth is that which troubles all Israel, the whole world.

9. He bear witness against God, when he believed the witness of the devil before him.

10. He coveted an evil covetousness, like Ammon, which cost him his life, and all his progeny.
From The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher

In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson Free on Kindle Today

Thank God for Reformation Trust. They keep making their books available for free on the Kindle, and that is a great ministry to Christ's church, in my opinion. It is also a great reason to get a Kindle. Today only, they have made available Sinclair Ferguson's book In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life. It is available by clicking here.
Noted theologian, pastor, and educator Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson explores aspects of the person and work of Jesus in his latest book, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life. This collection of articles, published earlier in Tabletalk magazine and Eternity Magazine, is designed to help believers gain a better understanding of their Savior and the Christian faith, and to live out that faith in their day-to-day lives. In fifty short chapters arranged in six sections, Dr. Ferguson shows that Christ, who is fully God, took on humanity that He might be the Great High Priest of His people as well as the once-for-all sacrifice; that He now ministers to His people through His Spirit, crowning them with great and precious blessings; and that believers are called to duty, from cultivating contentment to mortifying sin. In Christ Alone is packed full of nuggets of Scriptural truth that will spark and fan the flames of the believer s love for the Savior who is so beautiful in His person and so faithful in His work on behalf of His beloved sheep.
One of the big advantages of this book is that is is composed of 50 short chapters which read well for use in devotions. With chapters such as "Union with Christ," "Playing the Second Fiddle Well," and "The Practice of Mortification," I am very excited to dig into Ferguson's book.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Real Conversation That I Just Had...

PHARMACIST: Alright sir, your son's prescription is ready; I just need to know his birthday so I can confirm the sale.

ME: Uh... I don't know his birthday.

PHARMACIST: Well, I need his birthday, or else I can't give this to you.

ME: Well, I can tell you what year Jonathan Edwards was kicked out of his church.

PHARMACIST: Unfortunately, that won't help us get you your prescription.

ME: It won't help you do a lot of things.

Friday, December 24, 2010

God's Grace vs. Allah's Justice

I've been reading Mosab Hassan Yousef's book Son of Hamas. In this book, Yousef - a son of one of Hamas' founders - discusses his devotion to Allah, and then his subsequent exposure to Christianity. In the book, He becomes a follower of Jesus and leaves the Islam of his fathers behind. From the very first moments when the Christian evangelist enters Yousef's life, I haven't read a page of the book without finding myself wiping tears away. Being a Calvinist, myself, and just seeing God sovereignly drawing Yousef to Himself as Yousef tells the story is truly remarkable. People get saved every day, and yet there is nothing common about each and every individual having their heart softened by the Gospel and experiencing the grace of God for themselves, one person at a time.

What follows is the passage where Yousef describes first meeting Jesus in the pages of the New Testament:
I understood that we all share the same common enemies: greed, pride, and all the bad ideas and the darkness of the devil that live inside us. That meant I could love anyone. The only real enemy was the enemy inside me. Five years earlier, I would have read the words of Jesus and thought, What an idiot! and thrown away the Bible. But my experiences with my crazy butcher neighbor, the family members and religious leaders who beat me when my father was in prison, and my own time at Megiddo [a prison] had all combined to prepare me for the power and beauty of this truth. All I could think in response was, Wow! What wisdom this man had! Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). What a difference between him and Allah! Islam’s god was very judgmental, and Arab society followed Allah’s lead. Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and I thought of my uncle. I remembered a time when he received an invitation to attend a special event and how angry he had been that he was not given the best seat. It was as though Jesus was talking to Ibrahim and every sheikh and imam in Islam. Everything Jesus said on the pages of this book made perfect sense to me. Overwhelmed, I started to cry.

Mosab Hassan Yousef
in his book Son Of Hamas
I recommend this book very highly. Although I have not finished reading it yet, I know that the church needs to hear Yousef's story.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Free Richard D. Phillips Book for Kindle

Reformation Trust has - for today only - made What's So Great About The Doctrines of Grace? by Richard D. Phillips free in the Kindle store.
In What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?, the Rev. Richard D. Rick Phillips shows that the doctrines of grace, those theological tenets more popularly known as the five points of Calvinism, are comforting, faith-strengthening, and humbling teachings. In six short chapters, Rev. Phillips demonstrates conclusively from Scripture that this view of salvation exalts God and makes plain His great love for man, which drove Him to do all that was necessary to redeem a people for Himself. In his opening chapter, Rev. Phillips cites the calling of Isaiah the prophet to show that a proper understanding of the sovereignty of God leads to a willingness to serve, a humble obedience to God s commands, a holy boldness, and a firm reliance on sovereign, saving grace. Then, over the next five chapters, he deals with the five doctrines of grace one by one-total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints providing thorough explanations, answering objections, and showing how the doctrines advance Christian living. What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? is a compact, highly readable treasure chest of scriptural wisdom.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thomas Boston: Union With Christ and Communion

I came across an interesting argument for union with Christ in the writings of Thomas Boston. In the course of his two-volume work An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Boston makes many compelling arguments against the Lutheran understanding of justification with respect to the discussion of the doctrine of union with Christ. One of the more novel and fascinating arguments that Boston makes has to do with the Calvinistic understanding of the Lord's Supper.
If this union be not a true and real one, but a mere relative one, the sacrament of the supper is but a bare sign, and not a seal, exhibiting and applying Christ to believers. For without this real union, the feeding on Christ's body and blood truly and really in the sacrament cannot be; which yet is the doctrine of the scriptures, and of our Larger Catechisms, proved from the words of institution, 'Take, eat, this is my body.' For if there be a true and real feeding, there must be a true and real union, as there is betwixt the food and our bodies into which it is incorporated.
The only way in which we truly take the Lord's body and blood is spiritually. As Boston points out, communion involves taking Jesus into us and being spiritually united to him. If we are not truly united to Christ by faith, then, Boston is arguing, we cannot be said to spiritually partake of Jesus in communion, either, in any true sense.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron Legacy and the Ontological Trinity

I finished watching TRON: Legacy earlier today, and I was struck by one relationship in the film which seemed particularly significant, from a Christian perspective. In the film, Kevin Flynn, who has been trapped in The Grid for over 20 years, is at war with C.L.U., who happens to be a program created by Flynn long ago to run The Grid and make it a perfect place. However, C.L.U. began eliminating perceived imperfections in the programming, effectively committing genocide on the inhabitants of The Grid.

I was not particularly interested in the relationship between C.L.U. and Flynn until a scene later in the film. At one point, Flynn's son, Sam, talks about how C.L.U. went bad. Flynn stops him, however, and says that C.L.U. is a perfect image of himself, and the C.L.U. is only doing what he was told - and that, very well. He then tells Sam that C.L.U. is him because he's a perfect image of himself. The thing which went wrong was that at the time he had created C.L.U., he didn't understand everything about perfection that he should have. This was the conversation that really caught my attention, because this idea of a person having a perfect image of themselves immediately struck me as reflecting a distinctly Edwardsian understanding of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son within the Trinity.

According to Edwards, Jesus is the perfect image of the Father:

Therefore as God with perfect clearness, fullness and strength, understands Himself, views His own essence (in which there is no distinction of substance and act but which is wholly substance and wholly act), that idea which God hath of Himself is absolutely Himself. This representation of the Divine nature and essence is the Divine nature and essence again: so that by God's thinking of the Deity must certainly be generated. Hereby there is another person begotten, there is another Infinite Eternal Almighty and most holy and the same God, the very same Divine nature.

In support of this understanding, Edwards cites 2 Cor. 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15; and Heb. 1:3. Now, for Edwards and Augustine, the relationship of Father to Son is one of love, eternally generated by the Father having an eternal, infinite, perfect, and ceaseless love of His own being. Note that there was a never a moment in time when this relationship began; it is an eternal one and has always existed.

In this respect, the comparison between the Father/Son and Flynn/C.L.U. does break down. Flynn and C.L.U. are not related by love, and are strictly temporal in their relationship. Nevertheless, it is helpful to consider Jesus, who is a perfect image of a perfect Father; and then contrast him with C.L.U. who is a perfect image of the imperfect creator of The Grid. With C.L.U., we have a perfect Tyrant, distributing justice and ruling with a mechanistic iron fist. With Christ, we have a perfect Savior, knowing his Father's will perfectly, and reflecting his father perfectly in all that He does.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nature and Grace Conflict in Malick's The Tree of Life

I am someone who believes that every movie Terrence Malick ever made has been a complete masterpiece. I have consistently, for the last decade, said that The Thin Red Line is the greatest movie ever made, and I have not backed off on that claim. (By the way, Fox Searchlight - lets consider giving that movie the Bluray treatment, please!) For years and years I had been reading about the development of the script for his new film The Tree of Life, and to me it has always sounded like the most quintessentially 'Malick' movie that Malick has ever made. What I thought might interest our readers about the project is this prevalent theme - both in the trailer and in the film's synopsis - of nature and grace in conflict.

Here is the official synopsis for the film:
From Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of such classic films as Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through Malick’s signature imagery, we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life.
The way that the movie appears to set nature against grace is interesting, but judging from some things I've read from the elusive Malick in other places, it appears that the movie is set to bring nature and grace together, concluding in some respect that brute nature is unendurable apart from grace and forgiveness. It does appear that forgiveness is an integral part of the storyline.

As with all of Terrence Malick's movies, don't expect this to be a straightforward polemic advocating one specific view of the universe (as an example, Jesus probably won't be making an appearance; but neither will Buddha or Mohammed). Rather, it has always appeared to me that Malick's films are designed to cause the audience to interact with the story, to consider what they're seeing, and think about the nature of the universe. His films always cause me, for example, to think about and reflect on the pain, brevity, and beauty of life, as well as to glorify God for the short time he has given us, seeing every moment as the gift that it is. I'm looking forward to offering my thoughts on this beautiful film on May 28th, God-willing - the day after it hits theatres. It will not get here too soon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lasserre On Calvin's Advice to the Huguenots

For years, I have heard about a friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's who defended pacifism from a Reformed perspective. The man was Jean Lasserre, a French Reformed pastor whose defense of pacifism rested primarily upon the Decalogue. This position of Lasserre's was most fully expressed in his book War and the Gospel (at least a third of the book is committed to the Sixth Commandment). Having recently obtained a copy for myself after much searching, I have every intention of reading it. As I was examining some of the footnotes (I was looking to see who he quotes the most, and I see a lot of Calvin and a lot of Barth), I came across this fascinating gem that might spark some interesting discussion:
A striking example of how hard it is to draw a line between lawful and unlawful war is to be found in Calvin's tergiversations on whether French Protestants might defend themselves by arms against their enemies, the Dukes of Guise. The day after the massacre of Vassy, he frankly encouraged and helped the Huguenots to organise their army, finding many fine pretexts, resting on great principles, to authorise such action. But quite soon afterwards, in April 1563, he wrote: "I shall always recommend that arms be abandoned and that we should all perish rather than return to the confusions that have been experienced."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Joel Beeke's Living for God's Glory Free Today on Kindle

Joel Beeke's book Living for God's Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism is available today for free download on the Amazon Kindle, for today only. From the book's summary:
The theological system known as Calvinism is often caricatured or simply dismissed as a relic of the past. But as Dr. Joel R. Beeke shows us in this comprehensive treatment, Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, is biblical, God-centered, heartfelt, winsome, and practical. As such, it is uniquely suited to help Christians fulfill the purpose for which they were created-to live to the glory of God.

With the gifted help of eight contributors, Dr. Beeke traces the roots of Calvinism and sets forth its doctrinal distinctives, then explores how Calvinists live out their beliefs in every sphere of life, from their private devotions to their service in the church, from their marriages to their careers, from politics to ethics. Through the examples of John Calvin himself, the Puritans, and other Calvinists of the past, this God-exalting belief system emerges as a timeless guide for Christian living.

The book's contributors: Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Dr. James M Grier, Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin, Dr. Nelson D. Kloosterman, Rev. Ray b. Lanning, Dr. Robert W. Oliver, Ray Pennings, and Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
This is a pretty substantial volume, weighing in at over 400 pages in the print edition. As a matter of fact, I just saw someone bring this book to our church's mens' theology night, and I immediately felt something akin to joy when I saw that Reformation Trust had made it available for free, today.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hermeneutical Face-Offs During the Civil War

In his book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Mark Noll sets himself to the very complex task of providing an overview of the theological debates which occurred prior to - as well as following - the United States Civil War. Having just finished the book yesterday, I can say that it was quite an eye-opening read. I was especially surprised with just how unclear the issues really were at the time. It is the simplest thing in the world for us, as open-minded, liberal, 21st Century Americans to look at the southerners as simple-minded, Bible-perverting monsters for whom the Scriptures were a tool to control people and to justify wicked behavior.

On the flip-side, it is clear to me that there were, in fact, people who opposed American Black Slavery as experienced in the south who, through reasoned arguments and Biblical examination demonstrated (certainly to my satisfaction!) that slavery ought to be ended. These voices, however, were drowned out by the more popular - albeit less Biblically focused - advocates of abolition. In the end, the narrative which most people tended to believe was that, by the letter of the Scriptures, the slaveholders won the field, but that everything in the ethics of Christ and his followers screamed for abolition. In the end, those are the sorts of generalities that tend to appeal to historians - as well as the populace as a whole, which years for a simplistic narrative explanation for the events surrounding the civil war.
  • The theological agenda of the abolitionists was often perceived as a reason-first approach (as opposed to a Bible-first approach) that was seen as involving compromised views of Scripture. This was partially because a few of the defenders of abolition did, in fact, hold compromised views of Scripture.
  • The southerners, such as Thornwell, seized on these opportunities to overgenerally point out that their abolitionist views stemmed from a flawed view of the Bible.
  • Any views which were more middle of the road and which involved a nuanced critique of Hebrew slavery versus black-only American slavery were simply lumped together with the other Enlightenment-inspired arguments, which tended to appeal more to the genuine democratic spirit than to Biblical texts.
Noll writes:
On the eve of the Civil War, interpretations of the Bible that made the most sense to the broadest public were those that incorporated the defining experiences of America into the hermeneutics used for interpreting what the infallible text actually meant. In this effort, those who like James Henley Thornwell defended the legitimacy of slavery in the Bible had the easiest task. The procedure, which by 1860 had been repeated countless times, was uncomplicated. First, open the Scriptures and read, at say Leviticus 25:45, or, even better, at 1 Corinthians 7:20-21. Second, decide for yourself what these passages mean. Don’t wait for a bishop or a king or a president or a meddling Yankee to tell you what the passage means, but decide for yourself. Third, if anyone tries to convince you that you are not interpreting such passages in the natural, commonsensical, ordinary meaning of the words, look hard at what such a one believes with respect to other biblical doctrines. If you find in what he or she says about such doctrines the least hint of unorthodoxy, as inevitably you will, then you may rest assured that you are being asked to give up not only the plain meaning of Scripture, but also the entire trust in the Bible that made the country into such a great Christian civilization.
By Noll's estimate, the abolitionist agenda was often (and for the most part) badly argued. Many of its advocates utilized a compromised methodology and in the end, the overall image of the abolitionist movement was one which serious Bible-believers were told they could not abide.

In the end, the 'Reason First, Bible Second' hermeneutic that carried the day when the Civil War ended. This hermeneutical transition was already well under way into the American mindset before the war, to be sure. However, the violence of the civil war cemented this approach to Biblical interpretation once and for all into the American psyche. Sadly, as Noll points out, the issues were not in the end decided by the theologians or philosophers - the were argued and settled by the generals and their men.

One of the more fascinating chapters in the book was near the end when Noll reviewed the opinions of Roman Catholics from outside the United States. It is interesting, and yet not at all surprising that the RCs very much concluded that the civil war was the fault of Protestant hermeneutics and a lack of authoritative church structures (as though there had never been civil wars in Roman Catholic lands!).

This book filled a large blank-spot in my understanding of American - and especially Presbyterian history. For, example, I did not know that Thornwell held that blacks were literally inferior to whites. I could not have imagined that such a respected Presbyterian theologian would actually say the kinds of things that Thornwell evidently said. On the flip-side, I was surprised at how fair-minded Hodge seemed to be with regards to his opinion of men like Thornwell. Princeton's Charles Hodge, on the other hand, defended abolition and at the same time seemed to intone that if he had found himself in the south he might just be defending slavery, himself.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How I Get Edwards and Co. on My Kindle

I have been getting requests via e-mail from our readers for some time, now, for me to explain how it is, exactly, that I am putting the Puritans that we find on the internet into my Amazon Kindle. I am now going to fulfill my promises to eventually explain how I go about doing this somewhat tedious, yet very rewarding task.

What You Will Need:
  • An Amazon Kindle
  • Microsoft Word 2007
  • Calibre. It is a free program.
Finding Your Old Dead Guys:
Typically, I have been finding the writings of the Puritans (or other old dead guys who rock) in several different formats. If you go somewhere like Google Books, you will be sorely disappointed with the text, because most of them are not convertable to your Kindle in any readable format, since they tend to scan first editions of books that look horrible. Someone down the road could convert those books using a program like ABBYY Fine Reader, but it would be very tedious work.

Another place you might be tempted to find books to put on your Kindle might be the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Unfortunately I've stopped looking for books there because of the fact that a fifty-chapter book there gets broken down one page at a time and you end up having to highlight and copy and paste way too much. They even create individual pages for chapter headings, which is insane. However, after I explain how I make my books, someone out there may be willing to put the work into messing with CCEL. I don't mean to knock CCEL, but the way they format their books is designed to keep you glued to their site.

Here are the places where I've found the most helpfully formatted texts to work with:
  • The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale (Not the easiest site to do this conversion with, but the content is second to none, and it's totally worth it to have Edwards on your Kindle!)
  • Puritan (Probably the BEST site I've found to get lots of Puritans on. My only warning is that they have a lot of supposed "Kindle" files that are actually unreadable because they were scanned and then quick-converted for Kindle, and there was no proofreading done. If you want a clean book that doesn't have formatting problems, then I would stay away from the "Kindle" files and the "EPUB" files that they have up there.)
  • Monergism (They have amazing content. Most of it is formatted in traditional internet-style HTML, which is ideal for what I'm about to demonstrate for you all.)
  • This list could go way longer.

Putting Pre-formatted HTML Text on Your Kindle:

Maybe down the road I'll deal with the more complex formats like PDF and EPUB, but for now I'm going to explain how to do the simplest conversion that you'll run into the most.

What you want to look for is a web page that, when you click on it, displays the extension ".htm" or ".html" at the top in your browser bar. For today's example, I found John Owen's A Display of Arminianism at Monergism, so we'll use that page as our working example. Now, the first thing to notice is that yes, it's going to be annoying copying the chapters one at a time. Deal with it. No pain, no gain. Many books out there such as Richard Sibbes' wonderful book The Bruised Reed are absolutely perfect and put all of the text on one page. But this is the exception. Most stuff you will find is broken down chapter by chapter.

Step One:
Open Microsoft Word and start a new document (make sure your version of Word allows you to save in HTML format. This is important if you want your e-Book to look nice and not be formatted all screwy.)

Step Two:
Copy the text of the Title and Table of Contents first into Word. Then go back to the web page and open chapter one and do the same thing. Copy and paste the entire content of the book into Microsoft Word until you've got all the pages of the book now resting comfortably and in order in your Word document.

Step Three:
Format the book to your satisfaction. The formatting decisions you make (such as font size and italics) will translate over once we do this conversion. I try to format all the text to 12 pt. font. You can also get very elaborate if you want. For example, if you want to create a Table of Contents that you can actually jump throughout the book from chapter to chapter, then you will have to use Word to create bookmarks within the body of the book, and then create hyperlinks within the Table of Contents linking it with the bookmarks you've place throughout the book. It's a lot of work, I won't lie, but I'm getting pretty fast at it, now. One specific formatting decision that I always make, aside from linking within the Table of Contents, is that I always insert "Page Breaks" within the book at the end of each chapter of the book, because then each chapter always starts on a fresh, new page. It's the little things like this that make reading old dead guys on your e-Reader a much more palatable proposition.

Step 3.5: I should add that if you don't have Word, you aren't completely out of luck. You can just save the book as a TXT file using something like Wordpad, or some simple text editor. The only downside is, you get no formatting, no hyperlinks, no nothing. But if you do the simple TXT file, you can just copy it straight into your Kindle's Documents folder and start reading without even needing to convert it into an e-Book format.

Step Four:
After you have finished formatting the text to your satisfaction, to to "File" "Save As" and from the drop down menu where you can select the format to save your Word Document in, save the file, first, as a regular Word Doc so that you will be able to, down the road, fix errors, or fix formatting that you might have missed, down the road. After this, save the file as "Web Page (HTM, HTML)" file. This format best preserves the formatting, and works flawlessly when it gets run through Calibre, which we're about to do.

Step Five:
Open Calibre. Calibre is a free e-book software that is very good for converting files between different e-reader formats. It's my program of choice for converting EPUB files to Kindle's format, as well, and the steps are almost identical to what we're about to do, except you're doing it with EPUB files instead of HTML files.

Step Six:
Copy the HTML file you've just created into Calibre. Just drag and drop the file into the main window. After that, in Calibre, right click on the file you're dealing with and select "Edit Meta Information" and then "Edit Meta Information Individually." Here is where you get the book's title and author information exactly right. I highly recommend putting the author's name last name first, because then your Kindle will keep your author list in order, which is pretty nice. I'm sort of a picky stickler for this kind of stuff, though, and I do have a lot of books to keep organized, so if you don't care about these small details, then just skip this step. But it's not a very good idea...

Step Seven:
Right click on your file in Calibre and choose "Open Containing Folder." When Calibre converts your file, it will show up here as a ".mobi" file.

Step Eight:
Right click on the file in Calibre and choose "Convert e-Books" and then "Convert Individually." When the menu comes up, the most important thing is to make sure that the "Output Format" has MOBI selected. Once you're happy with what you see on this page, click OK. It may take a few minutes depending on your computer and the size of the book you are converting, but when it's all done you'll have a nice baby e-book formatted to a Kindle-ready format.

Step Nine:
Plug in your Kindle, open the Kindle's directory and find the folder called "Documents." Copy your new e-book into that folder, and when you unplug your Kindle, you will now be able to review your e-book, making sure you're happy with the way you formatted it.

Step Ten:
Glorify God for giving the internet and the Kindle to his church for her joy and worship of God. Glorify Him that we Reformed Christians can live in a day and age where we can freely share with one another the fruits of the labors of all the church for the last two thousand years.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thomas Watson Rejects Clean-Nosed Living

In his book The Saints Spiritual Delight, Thomas Watson starts out by making an important argument. He looks at Psalm 1 and notes that in the first verse we are told, in essence, blessed is the man who neither walks, nor stands, nor sits in the way of sinners. Watson points out that the easiest thing for a religious person to do is to convince oneself that living a life of "sin avoidance" is sufficient. To put it another way, Watson is cautioning against the ethic of "clean nosed living."
If you are only negatively good, God makes no reckoning of you; you are as so many ciphers in God's arithmetic, and he writes down no ciphers in the book of life. Take a piece of brass, though it be not such bad metal as lead or iron, yet not being so good as silver, there is little reckoning made of it, it will not pass for current coin ; though thou art not profane, yet not being of the right metal, wanting the stamp of holiness upon thee, thou wilt never pass current, God slights thee, thou art but a brass christian.
We are missing something, he says. Watson is careful to explain that verse two of Psalm 1 holds the true key to making sense of the Christian life. After seeing the list of "negative behaviors" or things that the Christian is not to do, in verse one, verse two brings us further into the light: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." As Watson explains, it is a life of delight in God which brings wholeness to our Christian experience.

I think of how easy it is for us - even those of us who know better - to slip into a pattern of sin avoidance and clean nosed living. As Luther once told his people, "I keep preaching the Gospel for you, because you keep on forgetting it!" We often begin to believe that such a way of living is sufficient. But if we are not driven by a delight in God and His law, then we are walking in hypocrisy and we are as unpleasing in our sacrifices as Cain, who offered his sacrifice out of duty and not out of delight.
But it is not thus with a hypocrite; he may be forced to do that which is good, but not to will that which is good ; he doth not serve God with delight.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Free Books From Jerry Bridges and Sproul Today for Kindle

Two books have been made available for free, today in the Kindle Store. Navpress has made available, for free, Jerry Bridge's book Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts. Also, Reformation Trust has made available, today only, R.C. Sproul's book Can I Know God's Will?

Jerry Bridge's Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts discusses God's sovereignty over evil and suffering, and about the rock-solid trust we can have in the goodness of God through it all. From the book's cover:
Adversity is hard to endure and can even be harder to understand. If God were really in control, why would He allow the tragic auto accident or crucial job loss? How could He permit cancer in a loved one or the death of a child? Grappling with His concern for us we ask, “Why is God allowing this?” or “What have I done wrong?”

In an effort to strengthen his own trust in God during a time of adversity, Jerry Bridges began a lengthy Bible study on the topic of God’s sovereignty. What he learned changed his life, and he now shares the fruit of that study with you in Trusting God. As you begin to explore the scope of God’s power over nations, nature, and the detailed lives of individuals, you’ll begin to acknowledge His loving control. And as you come to know Him better, you’ll find yourself trusting Him more completely—even when life hurts.
R.C. Sproul's Can I Know God's Will? is the fourth book in the Crucial Questions series. Having just finished reading another book from this series (Can I Be Sure I'm Saved?), I can attest to the brevity and quality of these books. If the title of Can I Know God's Will? isn't clear enough about the subject matter, here is the official product description:
As human beings, we long to know that our lives will unfold in ways that we will find pleasant and rewarding. As Christians, we have a different focus-we want our lives to be pleasing to God. Thus, we ponder His will and worry that we are not doing what He wants us to do. In this Crucial Questions booklet, Dr. R. C. Sproul outlines timeless principles for discovering and applying the will of God in day-to-day decisions. He then illustrates how these principles should inform two of the most significant decisions we face in life--the choice of a career and the choice of a spouse. Here is valuable guidance for those who are passionate to follow God.
Please note that you should read the page that the link takes you to carefully, as I can only be sure the books have been made free for December 6th. Once this date passes, it is very likely that both books will go back to their regular prices.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

King and Servant Show 27

Blubrry player!

Jonathan discusses the hypostatic union and how this profound truth serves as a model for Christian humility.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians

I had a nice surprise waiting for me when I arrived home yesterday. It was a mystery box from Zondervan. However, I had no idea what was inside because I did not order anything from them. Since it is always great to get random boxes from a great publisher, this was the sort of surprise you often hope for. When I opened the box, I found Clifton Arnold's new commentary on the book of Ephesians. This new volume is only the fourth in Zondervan's Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.

At the outset, I want to state my appreciation for this series in general. I really like the way these commentaries have been done. At least two reasons come to mind: First, the ECNT commentaries use the Greek font, which I appreciate since I have always found transliterations to be useless. If you do not know Greek, then in what sense are transliterations even helpful? And if you do know Greek it is frustrating to read Greek in English characters. Second, to my knowledge, this is the first commentary series to use charts that show the relationship between clauses, which should be a very helpful feature.

Aside from the ECNT series itself, I do have some comments to make about this particular volume: The first thing that caught my eye was its immense size, which is a whooping 508 pages of raw commentary, not even including the index. This is one of the largest Ephesians commentaries on the market and the space is not wasted! Each section of Ephesians is examined from different angles: literary context, main idea, translation and graphical layout, structure, exegetical outline, explanation of the text, and theological application. The readers of this blog would also be interested to know that he does deal with Ephesians 1:3-11 in a very "Calvinistic" way.

All and all, I think this is a great addition to the corpus of commentaries on Ephesians and I look forward to using it in my future work on Paul in general and Ephesians in particular.