Saturday, July 31, 2010

Music for Theologians: Hammock

Back in the 90s, one of my favorite bands was Common Children. I still love Common Children, and I listen to their music with unavoidable nostalgia. With their last album, they took a decidedly dream-pop turn, and all their fans got a glorious taste of Marc Byrd's beautiful guitar work. Since then, Byrd has written songs such as "God of Wonders" and acted as producer for bands like The Glorious Unseen and even produced a tremendous album with his wife, Christine Glass.



In 2004, Byrd partnered with Andrew Thompson and began releasing albums of glorious ambient-shoegaze music under the name Hammock. Now, I mention this band in the context of doing theology because it is perfect music to listen to while working your way through a meaty text or struggling to finish Vos' Biblical Theology. It is at once gorgeous and emotive and yet unobtrusive.

I am a big time advocate of post-rock music because rather than entertain, it is music which enriches our immediate experiences. I am constantly in a worshipful mindset when I listen to Hammock. As I drive to the store, I turn this music on and am reminded that life is more than a series of material experiences; there is a transcendent element to Hammock's music which makes studying theology feel like the most important thing in the universe - which it is. Almost.



Like all music which is without lyrics, listeners of post-rock music can insert their own ideas or notions into the music, but lyric-less music can be redeemed by Christians just as much as it can ruined by pagans. Also, knowing that Byrd and Co. do approach the music they do with a Christian perspective in mind, for me, makes me feel somewhat justified in delighting in God while listening to the gorgeousness of it all.



If someone was to pick an album by Hammock to start with, I would suggest Raising Your Voice...Trying to Stop an Echo. It is the most guitar-heavy (very ethereal guitar; not at all a U2 album by any stretch), shoegazerish album from them so far. Also, Amazon is selling the MP3 version of the album for $6.99 which is a great deal. However, their album Kenotic is a close second. I also would not shy away from recommending their newest album, which is also epically beautiful; it is called Chasing After Shadows...Living With the Ghosts. My favorite song off of the new album is called "Little Fly/Mouchette" which reminds me a great deal of Brian Eno's greatest piece of ambient work ever, "An Ending: Ascent." In fact, as of this moment as I write this, if you go to Amazon's Hammock page, you can see that the first song off of Chasing After Shadows... is available for free download.

Friday, July 30, 2010

French Mother Murders Her 8 Babies; Naturalism Cannot Condemn This

An article in the UK Telegraph is reporting that a woman spent many years killing her babies and burying them in her back yard. The woman, a 45 year old nurse, is accused of "systematically killing her babies since 1988... It appears she had been hiding her pregnancies from her husband." Most people react to this story with shock; I know I do. One of the woman's neighbors said, "We all knew this couple. What has happened is unthinkable. No one knows how to react. We are in shock...They never did anything to suggest that they might be capable of abnormal behaviour. The husband was even elected to the town council."

Here is my question (and it is rhetorical, unless an atheist really wants to rise to the occasion): On what basis should we be morally outraged that this woman has chosen to eliminate her offspring?

Given a darwinian outlook, the worst charge that can be leveled is that this woman is simply defective (but by what standards?) - or "abnormal" as the neighbor said. Buy why? Because she has not effectively preserved her genetic fingerprint? But even more dreadfully, in a darwinian universe, this one creature spawned more creatures and then showed that she was the fittest by elimination of said new competition from the gene pool. Many atheist ethicists theorize that motherly instincts exist so that genes can be preserved. They theorize this to explain situations where parents give their lives to save their children, for example. Surely there is a darwinian motive for altruistic behavior towards one's offspring.

So what are we to make of this woman, then? They might argue that she is simply broken, but if that is the worst moral outrage that can be leveled at this evil woman, then that may hardly be regarded as a condemnation at all.

What cannot be explained, however, on the atheistic formula, is whether it was truly objectively wrong that this woman was murdering babies year after year. If her murder of these babies was merely conventionally wrong, then upon what basis do we condemn her? The Christian understanding of human beings tells us that these children were made in God's image and that this mother was made in God's image, as well. As a moral being with God's law within, she is guilty of suppressing the moral law and murdering at least eight times. This crime can be understood in Christian terms, but the naturalist understanding of these events only has some creatures eliminating other creatures. I will leave it to the reader to decide if such an analysis is sufficient.

He Thinks His Wife's a Calvinist

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Daughter the Theologian

Having just put my daughter to bed, I cannot help but feel overjoyed to see that at such an early age she clings to and recognizes God, her own sinfulness, and her need for Jesus as a Savior. She is only four years old, but she has memorized the substance of most of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Whenever I ask her, "What is the chief end of man?" she always answers faithfully, "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever." That's my girl. Someday I'll teach her Piper's version of it: "To glorify God by enjoying Him forever."

Her favorite question is when I come to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. She has memorized the old Puritan rhyme, "In Adam's fall, we sinned all." We had her baptized two weeks ago at church; I started to explain baptism to her, part of my answer being that baptism is a testimony that though her parents trust in Jesus for our salvation, she also must trust in Jesus to be saved. She quickly retorted, "Too late, Dad! I already trust in Jesus to be saved. You baptized me, but I already believed!"

All that to say, it is important how we teach and raise our children. Atheists can call bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord "brainwashing" if they want, but I can fire the same thing back to them when they teach their children from infancy that "The universe is everything!" as I recently saw one of my kids' PBS cartoons (for the record, it was Martha Speaks) declare. So I quickly told Genesis, "That song isn't true. Do you know why?" She thought about it and said, "Well the universe isn't all there is. What about God? He isn't the universe, is he?" Brilliant.

She has a lot of questions for me. One almost got me stumped. She wanted to know how it is that God can see even if He doesn't have any eyes? Trying to keep things simple I said, "Well God can see without eyes." She responded, "But He doesn't have a physical body! Remember, you said a spirit doesn't have a body, and that God's a spirit!" I'm not making this conversation up. So I decided to jump in head-first.

"I was trying to keep things simple so as not to confuse you, but since you asked, here's how it works. God does not have eyes or a body. He is not physically confined to any spacial location, and yet He is spoken of as being omnipresent - or everywhere. God's knowledge of all that happens in creation does not have a reference to being in a certain place and perceiving events, the way things are with you and me. When we imagine God watching us, we imagine Him watching us from up above, or over in the corner, or looking through the walls of our house. Yet God does not perceive us in that way. He knows us by virtue of His decrees. God decreed that you and I would be sitting here having this conversation, and by virtue of that decree, He knows what is happening here down to the smallest detail. He does not passively see us having this conversation. We are having this conversation because God decided long ago that we would have this conversation."

She looks at me for a second and goes, "Thank you. Much better." No follow-ups or anything.

Somehow, for the first time in my life, I felt condescended to by a four year old. And it was awesome.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Amazon Drops Kindle Price to $139!

And the e-book wars continue as Amazon unveils a $139 version of the Kindle with Wi-Fi instead of 3G internet. Things are starting to look up for those of us who read lots of dead guys...

Reflections on 45 days of Continuous Blogging

I've spent over a month posting literally every day here at Bring the Books, and often two or three times a day. At first, this started by accident because I was doing the series on Craig Koester's Revelation commentary, but after awhile, I felt like I was being sharpened by writing here every single day. About two weeks into it, I decided to make it a challenge to myself to write every day, and to see if I could write quality stuff each time.

Looking over the last month and a half, I'm quite happy with what I see, but I can sense the end of my "personal challenge" drawing near. Our readership has grown by almost 40% in the last two months; we are now drawing between 2000-3000 visitors a month (RSS feeds make it hard to know for sure), which is really unexpected and incredible. It's an exciting feeling to sense that you may be really contributing something to the Reformed online community, and at the same time knowing that I am able to keep myself sharpened in the faith while doing it is very rewarding. Fighting for constant forward momentum is one of those disciplines that I've developed by pushing myself in this way here at BTB.

So why am I writing this introspective pause? Mainly because I need to take the pressure off which I've now put on myself. Blogging every day only takes a few minutes if you're a good, quick writer. But my biggest challenge is that I don't want to write if it doesn't come passionately from my heart, and so I need to just make a promise to our readers. (I seriously have no idea how Tim Challies does it.)

I promise never to write something which I don't feel deep in my bones, and not to write simply for the sake of taking up space or fulfilling obligation. Josh and I started Bring the Books because we believed we had unique voices to share in the Reformed community. Now, whether that is true or not is inconsequential, but the point is, we write because we love to write. And we write specifically for the Reformed community because we love Jesus Christ and His Church, and we want to see the church built up. The presence of orthodox, Reformed, culturally aware, plugged in fellow Calvinists should be edifying, and that's what we hope comes out of BTB.

I'm in the middle of reading a lot of great biographies, works of theology, and I was thinking of reading some more Sherlock Holmes short stories. In order to do that, I just need to turn the pressure valve and tell myself that it's okay if I don't post here literally every single day. In the long run, it's much healthier for the quality of the posts and the overall integrity of the site.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Now Reading: The Infidel Delusion

Paul Manata and the fellows at Triablogue have written (it seems they are still writing it...) a book in response to The Christian Delusion and they are calling it The Infidel Delusion. It is available for free in PDF format, but I easily converted it to Kindle format with no trouble at all.

In his blurb for The Christian Delusion, atheist Michael Martin said the following:
John Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have certainly produced one of the best and arguably the best critique of the Christian faith the world has ever known.

Steve Hays and the fellows respond to this quote in their introductory chapter of The Infidel Delusion with the following quip:
Well, in that event, if The Christian Delusion turns out to be just another white elephant in the overcrowded zoo of militant atheism, then that‘s a vindication of the Christian faith.

Now, this book has been getting recommendations all over the Christian blogosphere, so I have nothing special to add. I have put this book on my Kindle and pushed it to the front of the reading line, so I'll be working through The Infidel Delusion for the rest of this week, probably. Sorry, Christopher Hitchens, but you'll just have to wait!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church at Comic-Con. Seriously.

Have the folks from Fred Phelps' church ever been counter-protested by trekkies, Bender from Futurama, or men dressed like "jesus" before? Probably not. Here are the Phelpites:



Now, the much more effective and hilarious counter-protest:







Some of my favorite comments on Comics Alliance's web page:

  • "Everyone who participated, thought about participating, or knows someone who saw this counter protest, is going to hell! It's in the book of Joshua."
  • "Having grown up in Kansas, I've seen better showings from the Westboro Baptist Church protesting at countless smaller events, whether it was Railroad Days, a Beck conert or an Italian restaurant that allegedly had a gay waiter."

Source: Comics Alliance

"You are gonna stay, and you are gonna LIKE it!"

Now, this is old news from March, but it is quite sad to see that a church can vote to leave the ELCA over issues like this, and the denomination can simply "deny" their request. This congregation in Fort Pierce, FL voted to leave the ELCA because of their decision to ordain homosexuals as long as they are in committed, long-term relationships. What are the people supposed to do, stay in a heretical church just because the higher-ups say so?

Synod Council Denies Florida Congregation's Request to Leave ELCA

According to the synod, though they're not sure what their next step with this church is going to be, "we are committed to trying to walk with them and rebuild the relationship."

A quote from one of the church's members: "How are they going to work with us? We completely disagree with them...There's nothing we can do. They don't want to let us off the rolls."

I checked in with St. Peters' website just to see if they're still around, and I did find a webpage still up, but it hasn't been updated since March, so for all we know, everybody packed up and left.
"Those denominations that worked through the controversy of women's ordination a generation ago have certainly moved on. Their controversies now concern whether sodomites should be wearing sodomitres in solemn procession up the central aisle."

-- Why Ministers Must Be Men , p. 23

Thinking About God is Not Great

I do not set myself up as a moral exemplar, and would be swiftly knocked down if I did, but if I was suspected of raping a child, or torturing a child, or infecting a child with venereal disease, or selling a child into sexual or any other kind of slavery, I might consider committing suicide whether I was guilty or not. If I had actually committed the offense, I would welcome death in any form that it might take. This revulsion is innate in any healthy person, and does not need to be taught. Since religion has proved itself uniquely delinquent on the one subject where moral and ethical authority might be counted as universal and absolute, I think we are entitled to at least three provisional conclusions. The first is that religion and the churches are manufactured, and that this salient fact is too obvious to ignore. The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. The third is that religion is—because it claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs—not just amoral but immoral. The ignorant psychopath or brute who mistreats his children must be punished but can be understood. Those who claim a heavenly warrant for the cruelty have been tainted by evil, and also constitute far more of a danger.

-Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great


I am four chapters into Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and probably the most surprising thing about reading this book is how much I agree with what he is saying. Now, of course, I don't agree with his larger points or his primary arguments, but it is delightful to see Hitchens take on child abuse in Rome, blood transfusion-phobia in the Watchtower, Catholic demands that condoms not be used in AIDS-destroyed sections of Africa, and radical Protestants who would rather pray over their child's dying body than go to the doctor. Hitchens takes the scattershot approach (so far) listing off all of the grievous sins of religion and then grouping all religions together as a demonstration of how bad all religion really is.

My reaction to this is twofold: My first thought is, what about religious systems which can be demonstrated not to fall under his criticisms? At no point in this book have I felt like my own beliefs have been reflected in his criticisms. Perhaps I am more influenced by modernism and rationalism than I care to admit, but in either case he has grouped all religions together, and these things must be done with more care.

My second thought is surprise that Hitchens experiences so much moral revulsion. In fact, I can honestly say that virtually every single page of this book is a series of consecutive moral judgments upon different religious systems. Certainly he is angry at the Catholic church's cover-ups of abuse, as we all are, but given what set of morality? From where did he get this system of moral values? And is it objective, such that he can actually say that, regardless the society, child sexual abuse or circumcising infant boys (he argues that circumcision is abusive) is always wrong? My suspicion is that in the end, Hitchens' morality reduces to relative conventions. But I'm only four chapters in, so maybe he'll surprise me.

Hitchens' revulsion is a great example of the Christian claim that everybody stands on the solid ground which is accounted for in the Christian worldview. Only the Christian worldview can account for all the transcendentals which underly logic, morality, induction, etc. Hitchens isn't immoral, he just can't adequately account for why he is moral while remaining consistent with his larger worldview commitments.

I'm not going to call this a series, but I will probably be periodically writing about my thoughts on this book, because I am going to continue reading it, and I know I'll share more thoughts as they come. Also, it's a little embarassing to think that Hitchens has a new book on the way, and I'm just now getting around to reading this one, which everybody else and their dog has already read. Nevertheless, I press on.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Atheism is Parasitic

This morning my son and I went out to enjoy the morning air before the heat and humidity choke the joy out of the day. Immediately, I noticed that our two bushes in the front yard had brand new creeper vines climbing over them, attempting to piggyback off of their structure so that the vines could get their own share of sunlight. Of course, being the brilliant botanist that I am, I went in at the roots and tore out these blasted vines from the ground up. If I were to leave these vines, the bush would have eventually turned brown, dried up, and died while a healthy creeper vine sits on top of it, wrapping it up tightly.

I'm used to Christian writers taking analogies like this and comparing this vine to sin that can choke God out of our lives (I'm pretty sure Jesus told a story like that as well), but I had a different take on the vine. When I saw this vine, I saw a parasite. This parasite was unnatural to the bush and did not belong. It fed off of the bush, it needed the bush, and yet it fights to maintain its own independent existence, almost screaming to the rest of the plant world, "I don't need this bush!"

I related the bush and vine to the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG), and specifically I see Christianity as the bush and atheism as the vine that doesn't belong and is fighting to declare its independence. All the while, however, the only thing holding up atheism or even making the atheist's inconsistent worldview possible is the fact that enjoys luxurious benefits which are borrowed from the Christian's consistent worldview.

For example, given the naturalistic worldview, there ought not to be invisible, universal, non-physical, invariant laws. And yet, the atheist demands that our worldview be consistent with the laws of logic. They hold themselves as well as their religious opponents to the standards of laws which their own worldview cannot account for. Usually, when they misunderstand the TAG (they think we're saying that they're not logical, which isn't true. We're arguing that given their worldview, they shouldn't believe in logic), they protest, "You think I'm not being logical, but you're wrong. My whole worldview is logical; yours is the illogical worldview, because you believe in the giant spaghetti monster!" The charge is never responded to by the atheist with, "No, I'm not following universal, invariant, non-physical, binding laws! How dare you charge me with being non-naturalistic!" But if they understood the challenge being presented by the TAG that is exactly the response they would give if logical rigour and consistency were really of interest to them.

I'm aware that this claim about detractors being parasitic is not new. When Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, his claim was that superstitions such as theism are a genetic disease. Lets assume for the sake of discussion that Dawkins is right and that theism really is simply a dreadful disease that needs to be purged from the natural world. If that happens in a consistent way, then with theism should go the transcendental theistic elements of reality which atheists enjoy so much. This includes the laws of logic (which are not consistent with a purely physical universe), morality (which becomes a mere convention, given naturalism), and induction (which the atheist cannot justify the use of, given Hume's critique). What we start to see when we look at this picture is that if theism were to hypothetically go, we wouldn't be losing the vine, we would be losing the supporting branches that the parasitic vine sits on. We would lose the very preconditions which would make science, knowledge, or thought even possible.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Calvinists, Grow Up! Or Why Calvinists Must Embrace Election and then Keep Going

You can't call my Election Pedigree into question. I've spent almost a decade arguing with any Arminian that would get within ten feet of me. I spent five years in the cage stage (the stage early on where all new Calvinists need to be put in a cage so they do not hurt themselves or others). I wrote an unpublished book destroying Arminian soteriology. I'm the guy who calls you an Arminian, even if you swear you're a four-point Calvinist. I've been that guy for almost ten years.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Geneva (or should I say, after I reached Geneva): I started caring about other stuff. Yeah, I still like poking semi-pelagians. And yeah, I will defend Calvinism until your mom agrees with me. ... If she brings it up.

You see, it took me a long time before I joined a church where I really felt like I belonged, theologically speaking, and then the funny thing happened. I started to love the Church and stopped loving my club. Richard Mouw makes the point in his book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport that God has elected us, but He elected us to something. The election was merely a step - an all-gracious and free step - but a step nevertheless. It was not the end of the line, the conclusion of the argument. It was the step which made the rest of the journey possible, and which ensures that we will reach our destination. But what happens between "election" and "eternity" is happening right now. And there is an impressive amount of stuff that fits in between those two events.

The fellow whose emphasis is on election is like someone who has just been given a new Corvette and he can't stop playing with the sunroof. You just want to throw a water balloon through the roof and scream, "Drive the car!" To misquote Switchfoot, "we were meant to live for so much more." Election & predestination were an essential part of why God's grace has been expressed towards His people, but if we stop there, then we're almost no better than the broad evangelical who's read The Purpose Driven Life three times and thinks that Max Lucado is "pretty heavy stuff." I'm grateful for the doctrine of election, because it was the springboard that got me really into studying theology in the first place. But after awhile, we have to admit that if you've been a Calvinist for a decade and can't stop thinking about and fighting about election, then you have settled for something just a step above milk, but far from the meat that you should be chewing on.

It needs to get into our blood, and soak into our bones, and come out every time we breathe, but it paradoxically is not to be our focus. This is because once it gets into our blood, then it can stop dancing before our eyes. This is a much better way to live in the grace and knowledge of God.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fighting Against Distraction and Wasted Time

On top of the half-dozen or so books which I am reading and perpetually never completing, a friend and I are reading through John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. One of the most potent sections of the book is where Piper talks about the things which distract us from having a wartime mentality. Particularly, television. And since I touched on this last week, I thought I would share what Piper says here:

"Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the ads are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust, no matter what program you’re watching. The greater problem is banality. A mind fed daily on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. Its facility for this great is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial and so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers, and the capacity of the heart to feel deep emotions shrivels. Neil Postman shows why.
What is happening in America is that television is transforming all serious public business into junk. . . . Television disdains exposition, which is serious, sequential, rational, and complex. It offers instead a mode of discourse in which everything is accessible, simplistic, concrete, and above all, entertaining. As a result, America is the world’s first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death."

Now, if we're feeling cynical, we might just say that Piper is being an irrelevant old-timer here, and Piper needs to lighten up and see that they times are a'changing. However, as a twenty-something who finds himself perpetually distracted while attempting to be perpetually focused, I have begun to realize that many of the things we enjoy do, in fact, form a fog obscuring our thinking. Let me give an example.

How many times have you come to the computer with a particular task, only to moments later forget why you came to the computer... You check your email, facebook, our blog... only to forget why you actually sat down in that chair. My strategy that I've been developing (and I'm still working on this) is to look at the clock, decide when I'm going to be done, and to mentally settle what tasks I'm at the computer to accomplish.

Sometimes it's just time to check my RSS feeds. But even my RSS feeds can be distracting, so I've had to shed a lot of them. For example, I dropped my daily updates from Mises.org since economics and general anger with the government has dropped on my priority list. This helps me to spend less time sorting through things which I simply shouldn't bother wasting time thinking about.

Sometimes I'm at the computer working on a blog post. As an example, since that is that task I am performing right now, I have settled that no matter what, I'm getting up from the computer at 8:45 am. If I'm not done, I'll have to come back later. This keeps me from finishing my task, then wandering around the internet looking for videos of bulldogs licking window panes.

One of my other personal rules/practices is that I do not use the computer, check email, etc. until I have finished my Bible reading for the day. I've been using the ESV Bible Daily Reading Plan for several months now, and I make it a priority that The Bible is number one in my daily activities. Only after I have finished with the highest priority activities will I deal in less important affairs such as writing about how I prioritize my daily activities on Bring the Books.

I am interested to see/hear/read about some of the ways that our readers try to fight the lethargic draw of the internet while actually using the internet. For my part, I can honestly say I haven't gotten the balance figured out yet, but if we as Christians are to survive in this age of distraction, we have to find strategies, methods, and practices which we can take with us through life since, unless Al Gore shuts it down, the internet is probably here to stay.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

M'Cheyne Poem Written After Reading Richard Baxter

I have recently started reading Andrew Bonar's biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyney (along with way too many other books). This poem was written in October of 1834 by M'Cheyne after he read Richard Baxter's Call to the Unconverted. The poem is a challenge which I have recently taken to heart, as one of my greatest fears in life is to be of no use to the Kingdom of God.
Though Baxter's lips have long in silence hung,
And death long hush'd that sinner-wakening tongue
Yet still, though dead, he speaks aloud to all,
And from the grave still issues forth his "Call,"
Like some loud angel-voice from Zion Hill,
The mighty echo rolls and rumbles still,
O grant that we, when sleeping in the dust,
May thus speak forth the wisdom of the just.
This emphasis on making an eternal difference was tempered, however, by the sort of self-forgetfulness I especially sense the need to be humbled under. I consider the following quote to be especially convicting:
I need to be made willing to be forgotten. Oh, I wish that my heart were quite refined from all self-seeking! I am quite sure that our truest happiness is not to seek our own, just to forget ourselves and to fill up the little space that remains, seeking only and above all that our God may be glorified. But when I would do good, evil is present with me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making Fun of Atheist De-Baptisms

ABC News has a story covering a phenomenon which I have heard of before relating to atheists' and their apparently strong desire to undo their baptisms - either from infancy or from a mistaken adulthood "conversion." Apparently, the thought that they were baptized at any point in their past is so upsetting that they are willing to put themselves through a rather silly ceremony, using the ceremonial blow-dryer to symbolically "dry off" the waters of their baptisms. When they perform the ceremony, the leader calls out, "Come forward now and receive the spirit of hot air that taketh away the stigma and taketh away the remnants of the stain of baptismal water."

One of my favorite quotes from Calvin is his statement that man is "incurably religious." Now, the atheists all profess to believe in a materialistic universe, and yet these particular atheists who practice this ceremony feel the compulsion to rid themselves of another ceremony which they - in principle - do not believe had any efficacy or even real meaning (lets be honest; the notion of "real meaning" is incoherent, given an atheistic worldview". The Christian is constantly claiming that there is no such thing as a "neutral" position with relation to God and His existence, and that atheism reflects a religious expression of rebellion against God, just like every other religious worldview which rejects Christ. Ceremonies like this make it all too apparent that atheism is simply another religion, which chooses to glorify the creation rather than the Creator.

Now, the story does make clear that in the ceremony, "Atheists poke fun at baptisms... saying they believe their waving around a hairdryer holds the same level of magical and spiritual powers as does the baptismal ceremony." They should read the Westminster Confession, because we also attribute no spiritual or magical powers to baptism, either. In fact, my children were baptized just last week, that pastor said almost exactly that before administering the sign to them.

Now, some astute reader might say that this blow-dryer ceremony is no more silly than the Christian ceremony of baptism itself. However, the Christian's ceremony is consistent with his worldview. This blow-dryer ceremony is hardly consistent with a naturalistic, atheistic worldview. Theses atheists should be mocked, because they are living inconsistently with their own worldview (which they must constantly do in order to reason, use logic, or language, etc.).

There is, therefore, a sense in which this ceremony is symbolic of the way all atheists must live. While denying God, they still must use reason, logic, language, induction, and myriad other "creature comforts" which they would not have, given an atheistic universe.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Fine Line

Ligonier Ministries has posted an article by my good friend Nicholas T. Batzig titled, "The Fine Line." You can find this article here. I especially enjoyed the way Nick ended his article,
There is no more pressing need for the church at present than for her ministers to take a firm but loving stand in matters of faith and worship. The Lord Jesus Christ will help His servants as they resolve to faithfully minister the whole counsel God.

M'Cheyne's Healthy Self-Knowledge

"What a mass of corruption have I been! How great a portion of my life have I spent wholly without God in the world, given up to sense and the perishing things around me! Naturally of a feeling and sentimental disposition, how much of my religion has been, and to this day is, tinged with these colors of earth! Restrained from open vice by educational views and the fear of man, how much ungodliness has reigned within me! How often has it broken through all restraints, and come out in the shape of lust and anger, mad ambitions, and unhallowed words! Though my vice was always refined, yet how subtile and how awfully prevalent it was! How complete a test was the Sabbath—spent in weariness, as much of it as was given to God's service! How I polluted it by my hypocrisies, my self-conceits, my worldly thoughts, and worldly friends! How formally and unheedingly the Bible was read,—how little was read,—so little that even now I have not read it all! How unboundedly was the wild impulse of the heart obeyed! How much more was the creature loved than the Creator!—O great God, that didst suffer me to live whilst I so dishonored Thee, Thou knowest the whole; and it was thy hand alone that could awaken me from the death in which I was, and was contented to be. Gladly would I have escaped from the Shepherd that sought me as I strayed; but He took me up in his arms and carried me back; and yet He took me not for anything that was in me. I was no more fit for his service than the Australian, and no more worthy to be called and chosen. Yet why should I doubt? not that God is unwilling, not that He is unable—of both I am assured. But perhaps my old sins are too fearful, and my unbelief too glaring? Nay; I come to Christ, not although I am a sinner, but just because I am a sinner, even the chief... And though sentiment and constitutional enthusiasm may have a great effect on me, still I believe that my soul is in sincerity desirous and earnest about having all its concerns at rest with God and Christ,—that his kingdom occupies the most part of all my thoughts, and even of my long-polluted affections. Not unto me, not unto me, be the shadow of praise or of merit ascribed, but let all glory be given to thy most holy name! As surely as Thou didst make the mouth with which I pray, so surely dost Thou prompt every prayer of faith which I utter. Thou hast made me all that I am, and given me all that I have."

-From the journal of Robert Murray M'Cheyne

Monday, July 19, 2010

So Much to Read...

  • Phil Johnson has a brilliant piece over at Pyromaniacs called "Evangelical Bunko Artists." In his article, Johnson connects the Ergun Caner situation with evangelicalism's long history of pious gullibility.
  • In 1995, the Westminster Theological Journal published an article comparing the apologetics of Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til that discusses Schaeffer's "middle way."
  • Finally, I have put several books on my Kindle which I found at Project Gutenberg which may have some interest to our readers. On Puritanboard, somebody started a thread about favorite biographies, and these biographies were all mentioned as favorites, and they also just so happen to be available for free:

George Müller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson
De Viris Illustribus by St. Jerome (A brief sketch of early church fathers)
The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne by Andrew A. Bonar
The Story of John G. Paton by John Gibson Paton
A Retrospect by James Hudson Taylor

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Dearborn Police Lied!


This video needs to be spread all over the internet. Not only should this be done out of a love for the truth, but also as a refutation of the Christian groups who lied about these Christian brothers. Notice how Nabeel is there to answer questions from these young muslims. I feel myself reproved for not being more daring in the ways that I share my faith.

You can email the mayor of Dearborn at: mayor@ci.dearborn.mi.us

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Francis Schaeffer on the Failure of Classical Apologetics

In a section titled "Presuppositional Apologetics Would Have Stopped the Decay," Francis Schaeffer shows his Van Tillian sleeve:
It was indeed unfortunate that our Christian "thinkers," in the time before the shift [from absolute truth] took place and the chasm was fixed, did not teach and preach with a clear grasp of presuppositions. Had they done this, they would not have been taken by surprise, and they could have helped young people to face their difficulties. The really foolish thing is that even now, years after the shift is complete, many Christians still do not know what is happening. And this is because they are still not being taught the importance of thinking in terms of presuppositions, especially concerning truth.

The flood-waters of secular thought and liberal theology overwhelmed the Church because the leaders did not understand the importance of combating a false set of presuppositions. They largely fought the battle on the wrong ground and so, instead of being ahead in both defense and communication, they lagged woefully behind. This was a real weakness which it is hard, even today, to rectify among evangelicals.

The use of classical apologetics before this shift took place was effective only because non-Christians were functioning, on the surface, on the same presuppositions, even if they had an inadequate base for them. In classical apologetics though, presuppositions were rarely analyzed, discussed or taken into account.
-Francis Schaeffer; The God Who Is There Page 9

If this was true when Schaeffer wrote this in 1981, then how much more true is it today, with the postmodern shifts which have taken place! Given Schaeffer's analysis, it is more important today than ever before in history for us to have a firm grasp of presuppositions and their role in understanding truth. The presuppositional gulf between the Christian and the common pagan has never been wider than it is in our day.

And, if Schaeffer is right (which I think he is), the harder it will become to do classical apologetics. Classical apologetics requires something of a Scottish Common Sense epistemology, and yet - right or wrong - that old-hat approach to knowledge would hardly be acceptable to your average man on the street, or to your average educated person for that matter. As people move further away from the commonsense approach, the greater the challenge for the classical apologists who thinks that he can somehow prove God's existence by unbelieving standards without addressing the deeply flawed assumptions that your average nihilistic optimist brings to the table.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Orthdox Guy Says It Best

From an Associated Press story:
An Orthodox Church theologian who was invited to greet the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has criticized its approval of non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy.

The Reverend Siarhei Hardun of Belarus said that vote and efforts to approve gay marriage looked to him like an attempt to "invent a new religion -- a sort of modern paganism."

Hardun added, "When people say that they are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to do it, I wonder if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible."

The Orthodox priest's remarks drew applause from conservative Presbyterians who made similar arguments at the gathering in Minneapolis.
Thanks, Siarhei. Our thoughts exactly.

Don't Waste Your Life Sentence

Sorry I Panicked!

The Church in a Mass-Media World

Personally, I think cyberspace means the end of our species...because it means the end of innovation. This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death. Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they'll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups. Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That's the effect of mass media - it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there's a McDonald's on one corner, a Benneton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there's less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity - our most necessary resource? That's disappearing faster than trees. But we haven't figured that out, so now we're planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it'll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in it's tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity.

-Michael Crichton in The Lost World (1995)


Although Crichton's words from 15 years ago seem quite prescient, our concerns lie in different directions. What I wonder about is not necessarily the evolution of species or whether innovation will continue at a stunning space. What concerns me is what the constantly interconnected online community will mean for the church. In the short term, if it is used in a healthy way by the church, then it means sharing of resources, the spreading of preaching, knowledge, and information. It means having an online community (Puritanbard for example) where men can help each other pursue truth and a love of the gospel. On the downside, I think Crichton is right that society will continue to break into smaller communities within the cyberspace domain in ways that are theologically unhealthy, and therefore genuinely unhealthy.

I think, for example, of a group that a friend invited me to on Facebook (I declined) called "Facebook Church." Many may look at FB Church as an innocent enough of a group, and it probably is, but it reflects a shifting understanding of community away from physical, organic, and personal interaction towards impersonal, inorganic, and purely platonic categories of what defines a community - and especially a community of Christ's people. We're only 15 years or so into the widespread acceptance of the internet as a part of everyday life, and now we're seeing entire churches which appear online, and which webcast their messages - often live - for their audiences to "participate" in.

Taken on their own these developments have their undeniably positive aspects. I love going to Puritanboard to get my tough questions answered. I love downloading podcasts of The Narrow Mind, Christ the Center, the Heidelcast, the Dividing Line, etc. I love podcasting in the latest sermons from Tim Keller, Ligon Duncan, John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson, and the rest of the team.

However, Christianity becomes anemic if disconnected from our real community at our local church, where we contribute our gifts, where we take communion together, where we hear the same word preached from the same pulpit, and where we know and pray for one another. Online communities can only present a faint shadow of the true Christian community as God intended it. Christianity is a physical religion. In contrast to the platonists the neo-platonists, and the gnostics, Christianity taught that the physical world is good and blessed by God, and that physical interaction is good. This is part and parcel of why Christians do not simply hide themselves in a monastic cloister and practice their private religious ceremonies (such as communion) alone.

So here comes the real irony of when the internet is used in an unhealthy way by Christians. While all Christian online communities start as a way of connecting the church, if abused (like all of God's gifts) its purpose is perverted and people end up being disconnected in meaningful ways from one another. The internet is so young that we are all the pioneers in a sense of how to balance our lives on it and with the church.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The World, The Flesh, and the Television

Riding on the coat tails of yesterday's post about TV commercials, I wanted to talk a bit more in this vein regarding the destructive ways in which we train ourselves to think. One of the frustrations with blogging is that you are not writing books, and often a day's thoughts are insufficient to tackle the subject. This is most certainly true with regards to this whole issue of the American consumerist mentality and how we as modern westerners can fight to innoculate ourselves and our children against these destructive cultural patterns.

We are sinners because we were born in sin; all of us. And as sinners, every part of us is affected in some way by sin. By God's grace, our souls are not given over to this corrupt nature completely, but those of us who are Christians and are raising covenant children face three great enemies, classically identified by Martin Luther as The World, The Flesh, and The Devil. These three great enemies conspire together to frustrate the sanctification of believers, and they also conspire to keep our children out of the Kingdom.

My previous post focusing on advertising really points to one small strategy of our enemies. In advertising, The World becomes an ally of our Flesh, encouraging its sinful passions, desires, and tendencies to worship created things rather than the creator Himself. Advertising cannot make us do bad things. It cannot create new desires, per se. All that advertising can do is lean down to that flame of sin within us and blow on the coals, fanning flames in our stomach to misdirect our desires in sinful ways, fanning our propensity to covet, and reinforcing our already sinful belief (which we are born with) that the desires we have are natural and good and worthy of finding fulfillment.

In many ways, our desires are good. In fact, at their root, all of our natural desires have a God-given outlet by which they can be expressed in a God-honoring way. For example, our hunger can glorify God if we eat in a way that is worthy and which reflects a regard for God as the source of our "daily bread." Our sex-drives were designed by God for use within our marriages, and when they are used in that way, we will find that even our sexual desire is good.

So what of advertising? Let me propose that there is one difference between the virtuous enjoyment of our desires and the inordinate exercise of those desires: godly contentment. If we are content with our station in life, with our possessions, with our wife, with our family, with our situation, as Paul exhorted us in 1 Tim. 6:6-8, and we have godliness, then we can experience "great gain." Advertising, by its nature, is meant to strip us of our contentment; for if we are content, then its message is dull and falls on deaf ears.

Advertising comes from The World as one of the greatest modern obstacles to contentment, and as such conspires with our flesh to lead us away from "godliness with contentment." If we lack Godliness and we lack contentment, then we experience "jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions," according to 1 Tim. 6:4. Now, the World assaults the Christian from every angle and at all times, and it would be wrong for me to give the impression that advertising is the Christian's great enemy. It is only one infantryman in the great battle. But this infantryman lives in our houses and pines constantly for our attention, and is unceasingly pushing itself in our faces.

Even in houses without any television or internet, sin will show its ugly face in one form or another. For example, if we think that Amish people do not experience jealousy or greed, then we're simply blind to the Bible's teaching about human nature. After all, sin has been around since the fall. Recently, we've invented these new ways to sin and make sanctification a greater challenge. But as Romans 1:30 demonstrates, there is nothing new in humanity's creative invention of ways of sinning.

In the end, Luther has the answer: "Nothing is more effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts than to occupy oneself with the Word of God, talk about it and meditate on it."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Piper's Warning for Young & Restless Reformers

John Piper was asked whether there was any warning which he might have for the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd. He responded that the greatest tendency for this crowd (and I feel he was talking to me in his response) is to idolize theology and not God Himself, much as modern worshippers idolize "loving God" rather than God Himself.
Reformed people tend to be thoughtful. That is, they come to the Bible and they want to use their minds to make sense of it. The best of them want to make sense of all of the Bible and do not pick and choose saying, "I don't like that verse. That sounds like an Arminian verse, so we will set it aside." No! Fix your brain, don't fix the Bible.

The kind of person that is prone to systematize and fit things together, like me, is wired dangerously to begin to idolize the system. I don't want to go here too much, because I think the whiplash starts to swing the other direction, and we minimize the system, thinking, and doctrine to the degree that we start to lose a foothold in the Bible...

So that would be my flag, the danger of intellectualism. And maybe the danger of certain aspects of it becoming so argumentative or defensive that it becomes unnecessarily narrow.

He then reminds us of how we should be doing things:
We should be intellectually and emotionally more engaged with the person of Christ, the person of God—the Trinity—than we are with thinking about him. Thinking about God and engaging with him are inextricably woven together. But the reason you are reading the Bible, and the reason you are framing thoughts about God from the Bible, is to make your way through those thoughts to the real person.

Reforming Advertising (Or; How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Ads)

I have three children, and get to make tough decisions like whether the TV stays or goes. I like movies occasionally, and I have been known to watch television shows (and sometimes write about them) every now and then. I have a bit of a phobia of commercials, however. I will mute the TV or change the channel or turn it off before I will sit through a television commercial, and I absolutely refuse to let my kids watch TV shows with commercials. What I want to do here is set forth my primary reasons for my hatred of commercials and why I believe that if my kids see a lot of them, the commercials will do real harm to my childrens' souls.

Reason #1:
Television commercials in particular stir up desires which would not otherwise exist.

Example: My son doesn't want a Hot Wheels until the TV commercial reminds him that he wants one. He has enough trouble with coveting, I don't need his desires further inflamed.

Reason #2:
Television commercials, without exception, communicate one central message: Your desires are important, and must be fulfilled.

Example: Every television commercial appeals on two levels: needs and wants. These two become so intermingled that wants and needs become almost indistinguishable.

Reason #3:
Television commercials promise fulfillment which only God can ultimately bring.

Example: I am reminded of the chocolate commercials which run every afternoon during Oprah where the woman puts the chocolate in her mouth and then she magically floats away into fantasy land.




Reason #4:
Television commercials reinforce destructive patterns of self-control (or lack thereof)

Example: Commercials do not function in any way to communicate truth. Their function is to expand the market share of their particular product. Therefore, the undiscerning viewer knows only unfulfilled desire. Self-control and self-denial are part and parcel of the Christian approach to self, and yet they are both antithetical to the message of modern advertising.

To get polemical for a moment, it is not hard to believe that the majority of evangelicals finds Calvinism so revolting and Arminianism to be so pleasant. They have been told for the last 60 years (longer, really; we can't hang all of this on TV, after all) that they are important, that all things work together for those who will pay for it, that all emotional deficiencies can be corrected if we will only acquire the right thing for ourselves. Rejecting all of these premises are preconditions to being able to believe that God is the center, that we are fleeting mists, and that God is the most meaningful person in the universe, and yet they are drilled into our minds continually if we submit ourselves to the culture of advertising.

Conclusion:
If we as Reformed Christians want our children to be able to learn the catechism, memorize scripture, to enjoy reading, to be able to focus, to develop a sense of self-control, to develop a healthy sense of their own sinfulness, and to see the universe as revolving around God and not around themselves, then we should understand modern advertising to be incredibly destructive to those ends. Does that mean that seeing a commercial for a Dora the Explorer backpack will ruin your daughter for eternity? No. But it does mean that the implicit assumption in the commercial for the backpack [that she should want this item, and that this want will result in emptiness if it is not filled] is never challenged. As sinners, we and our children don't need any more help being selfish. We are enough of our own enemy as it is.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thank You, Mark Dever, For An Incredible Day

In 2003, Mark Dever preached from his pulpit, Jonathan Edwards' [in]famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." A few days ago I downloaded this to my iPod. My co-worker and I listened all the way through Dever's reading of Edwards' glorious sermon.

A few reasons why I recommend that everyone listen to Dever's rendition:
  • There is nothing like hearing the sermon delivered audibly, as it was originally heard.
  • Dever's sermonic delivery is full of passion, which is often missing from our own reading of the text.
  • Hearing the sermon, all at once, from beginning to end is tremendously affecting.

I was so affected in hearing the sermon delivered, that I was literally in tears as Dever preached the following:
How awful are those words, Isaiah 63:3, which are the words of the great God, "I will tread them in mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment." 'Tis perhaps impossible to conceive of words that carry in them greater manifestations of these three things, viz. contempt, and hatred, and fierceness of indignation. If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favor, that instead of that he'll only tread you under foot: and though he will know that you can't bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he won't regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he'll crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt; no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet, to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.

For me, this is literally the most haunting and terrifying image in all of Edwards' sermon. You can find Dever's rendition of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" here. There is nothing quite like being overwhelmed with the holiness of God, contrasted with your own unholiness.

Is the PCA that Prototypical Denomination?

Yesterday, a friend of the blog recommended Gary North's book Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church which is available for free online. I knew that what I was going to read in the book would feel very relevant to the PCA, but I didn't exactly think it would happen in the first two pages. Since I'm going to quote a hefty portion of North's analysis, I will resist blocking the text. Here is what North says:

"America in the twentieth century has offered a three-fold ecclesiastical development.

1. Theologically conservative, creedal, hierarchical denominations grow more liberal as they grow larger and wealthier, thereby attracting the services of pastors who have been educated in state-funded and state-accredited colleges and universities.

2. Theologically liberal hierarchical denominations grow smaller as their members discover what their well-educated pastors actually believe.

3. Theologically conservative, non-creedal, non-hierarchical churches enjoy most of the growth. Their lack of formal academic requirements for the ministry inoculates them against the worst features of liberalism. Their freedom from hierarchical control allows the members to fund the theology they prefer, which is rarely liberal.

"This has created an institutional dilemma for the leaders of theologically conservative, creedal, hierarchical churches. To grow, they apparently have only three choices: to go soft creedally, to go independent, or both. They must position themselves creedally somewhere in between Cotton Mather and The Christian Century. In no denomination has this dilemma been revealed more clearly than in American Presbyterianism, but it has happened in all of the large Protestant denominations.

"Are you a well-catechized Presbyterian? If so, you are the member of a tiny minority group. People such as you have been in one of the following situations since 1960: (1) members of a large, wealthy, but shrinking denomination that has been taken over by liberals; (2) members of a medium-sized, officially Calvinistic, and growing denomination that has been taken over at the top by people who are more concerned with Church growth than theology, and who do not make it sufficiently difficult to penetrate by Arminians, neo-evangelicals, Scofieldians, and Baptists who happen to sprinkle babies and who want in on the deal; (3) members of a tiny, hard-pressed Calvinist denomination that Arminians and liberals do not regard as worth the effort to take over. Putting it graphically, you're governed by ministers who believe the editorials in (1) The Christian Century, (2) Christianity Today, or (3) a denominational magazine printed on non-slick paper with no color pictures inside. It boils down to this: you've been sold out to liberals; you're being sold out to neo-evangelicals who will later sell you out to liberals; or you're not yet worth buying.

"What you need is membership in a large and rapidly growing Presbyterian Church that is so costly to penetrate by neo-evangelicals that the liberals might as well concentrate on taking over the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. Sorry; this ecclesiastical product is not only not available at the present time, it is not even in the early prototype stage."

My first thought is that the PCA does seem to fit within the second scenario which North points to. However, I would also like to think that the PCA is that prototypical denomination which North seems to dream of. Now, I know that when North wrote this book in the mid-90s he must not have agreed with me. What I am interested in is what others who are closer and more ingrained with the culture of the PCA really think of North's analysis, here. For my part as the newcomer who likes to think of himself as a healthy mix of doctrinaire and piety, the PCA looks like a fortress that no liberal would be able to conquer from within. But the reason why it looks that way to me is that I've spent so long on the yellow brick road, I don't want to admit that Oz probably has some serious problems with its walls; and maybe, just maybe they haven't stationed enough guards around the sewer drains.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Joy of Church Family

Next Sunday, God willing, my wife and I will be joining our new church family in Wichita, KS by becoming members and having our children baptized. The church is Heartland Community Church, which is a PCA church located about an hour from where we live. For as long as we've been married, we've never belonged to a PCA church (even though we fit best with the PCA in our convictions).

These are photos from this last Sunday, where we introduced our new daughter, Penelope, to our church family. I would post photos of the baptisms next week, but I doubt if we'll have anyone to take pictures then. Needless to say, it is very exciting to belong to a church where our theological convictions are considered an asset, rather than a liability. Every other church where we have ever attended has either been Arminian or credo-baptist. Becoming members at Heartland is simply a dream come true for me, and I am excited to begin finding opportunities to exercise my gifts in places other than in cyberspace.


PCUSA Decisions a Warning for the PCA

Many of us on the PCA side of the Presbyterian world are watching with great sadness as the PCUSA gnaws its own limbs off in an effort to escape the horrible bonds of irrelevance. In motion after motion, it concedes time and time again to the shifting mores of the day. Of course, its most recent decision to permit ministers who identify themselves as non-celibate and homosexual is perhaps its saddest move yet. This of course still has to be passed by the majority of Presbyteries nationwide and is therefore far from decided. However, the downward spiral of the PCUSA is nevertheless heartbreaking.

On the plus side, the PCUSA did decide against redefining marriage as being between two objects, so long as both objects occupy space and are composed of matter, which was something of a relief.*

One feature which seems largely absent from most of the coverage of this decision by the PCUSA is the profound absence of arguments from the traditionalists. One story from the Associated Press presented statements from one gay minister, referring to the decision to not redefine marriage:
"I think we’re seeing acts of desperation by those who feel their way of life is slipping away," the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, the openly gay pastor of Janhus Presbyterian Church in New York City, said after the marriage vote. "Progress takes time. But to gay and lesbian people, it says their relationships, who they are, does not matter to this church. I don’t call that Christian or loving."

I will say that Bagnuolo has a bizarre way of defining "Christian," and most definitely has a strange idea of "loving." Apparently, for Bagnuolo, loving is "approving of your neighbor doing whatever he wants, even if it is forbidden by God."

Bagnuolo seems to think that conservatives within his denomination are merely defending an old-world, Bunker-esque way of life as one longs nostalgically for the good old days. What boggles the mind is that if Bagnuolo had really thought these issues through theologically, wouldn't he be willing to grant that the other side prima facie seems to have some persuasive Biblical arguments? Or that the Bible seems to - even at first glance - teach that homosexuality is a sin? The idea that Bagnuolo sees this as a sociological issue and not theological tells me that he simply isn't listening to his opponents within the PCUSA.

I really couldn't care less what the state does, regarding marriage. If the secular authorities want to recognize a man marrying a turtle, what do we in the church care? But when it comes to fights within the church over issues like this, I am for all-out war (metaphorically speaking, of course). When a church literally looks at a passage like Romans 1:26-27 and goes, "It doesn't say that," or worse, "Who cares if it says that?" then it is a reprobate institution and is ashamed of the Gospel.

We in the PCA should be very cognizant of how the PCUSA got to where it is. Not that I'm a historian, but one thing which should be obvious is that had the PCUSA voted on the issue of having non-celibate gay clergy back in 1950, there is no doubt which way the PCUSA GA would have voted. Fast forward 60 years, and suddenly the very same denomination now has a majority in their leadership who favor this horrifying change. It's almost unbelievably laughable if it wasn't so terrifying.

So these things happen over time, and it is theological compromise early in the church's life which can land it in its death throws a hundred years later. For the PCA, this sort of compromise seems like a realistic possibility since we inhabit such a relatively big tent. Keeping the big tent big and orthodox is quite a task which in our generation doesn't seem like a problem, but the fight for orthodoxy and truth is a day-to-day battle. We in the PCA do have our own battles over homosexuality, but they seem to trend in the opposite direction of where the PCUSA is. In our present day, battles such as the Pacific Northwest Presbytery's issues with FVer Peter Leithart are watershed issues which will determine what sort of Gospel is and is not tolerated within the PCA. This is a worthwhile battle.

Though I don't know enough about the Strategic Initiative to really make any comments for myself, I can say that I know many in the PCA who are concerned that passage of the strategic initiative will do long-term harm to our denomination, even if it does cause our numbers to grow.

A hundred years from now, history demonstrates for us that these discussions will matter in bigger ways than we can ever really understand within our own lifetimes. And so we have to take the long view on theological controversies.

He may not be a Presbyterian, but I really think that Piper's emphasis in this video is exactly where our long-term antidote is:



*Joke

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Unprofessional Book Review: Revelation and the End of All Things by Craig R. Koester

So here we are. If you've followed along with my last eleven posts then you will be somewhat familiar with Craig Koester's approach to the book of Revelation by this point. I found the idea of reading an Amillennial/Preteristic commentary of Revelation to be an exciting prospect since I'm somewhat of an eschatology newbie. By that I mean that I'm not the type to obsess over end times events or to really engage in argumentation somebody who has a different view of Revelation than me. The plus of this for me is that I'm not getting into arguments over stuff that I won't likely be around to witness anyway. The downside of this is that I lack a refined eschatology. Every good theological position needs to be raked over the coals by your rivals a few times before you can feel confident of its cogency, in my opinion.

Now, from the get-go let me say that Koester's commentary struck me as something more akin to reflecting a Preterist-Idealist understanding of Revelation. Almost every image in Revelation is interpreted symbolically by Koester. Even the beast whose number is 666 receives a possible historical interpretation, and yet Koester seems unwilling to ever really commit to a firm historical understanding of any one individual fitting the image of the beast. This is true in almost every area of Koester's interpretation of Revelation. His commitment to the idea that the things in Revelation are for every era of the church means that nothing can be taken as having historically happened in any firm sense. This is why I am tempted to repeal my labeling of Koester as being Preterist. Now, it may be that he believes the events of Matthew 24 to have happened, and he might rightly be a Preterist in some sense, but his reading of Revelation does not really make clear (at least to me) that he really deserves to be considered a Preterist. Like I said, his reading of Revelation appears to me as more like what I understand the Idealist reading of Revelation to be. To be sure, he is Amillennial in his reading since he does not literalize the time of the millennium. But though he mentions favorably Augustine's view that we are in the millennium now, I noticed that he never comes out, himself, and shares his own belief. I noticed this because I was explicitly looking for it in the text. I have difficulty, as you can see, actually labeling Koester's approach, and since I'm an eschatology novice, I am myself unable to really categorize his approach, though I'm almost set on Amil-Partial-Preteristic-Idealist. Maybe somebody more knowledgeable than me can read my summaries of his arguments and tell me what he would rightly be considered.

My experience reading Koester's commentary was very positive. Up until now, Revelation seemed to me - as it does for many - to be a confusing book which tended to radicalize people in unpleasant ways. On top of that, I never wanted to be an "eschatology guy," - a sentiment shared by most Reformed theologians that I know. But Koester's discussion of Revelation really opened the book up to me in that I knew there was a tremendous amount of symbolism in the book, and I had rarely seen it interpreted before. Even in the interpretations of Koester where I disagree (for example his contention that the "first resurrection" and "second resurrection" are actually the same resurrection seen in "slow motion") I was able to at least put the text into an intelligible framework within which I could at least consider alternative interpretations of different ideas.

I can't say that I agree wholeheartedly with Koester's approach or conclusions, but I agree with his recognition with Augustine that Revelation is a book of cycles, where we see the events unfolding from different "perspectives" as it were. And so I appreciate his basic structure and will be piggybacking off of the things which I have learned from his book for many years, to be sure.

I do recommend Revelation and the End of All Things to every person who is looking for a simplified approach to Revelation that doesn't involve sticking your wet thumb into the proverbial wind to see where we're at in the eschatological time line. My gut tells me that he over-spiritualizes too many elements of the book, but his skill in crafting a coherent overall approach to the book scares me off a bit from criticizing too much of his take on things since his spiritualization of much of Revelation is what lends consistency to the account he has crafted for Revelation and the message that it was/is meant to communicate to the Church.

Ultimately, his contention that Revelation is a book with Christ as its center is absolutely right, and a message for all Christians, whatever their view of the end of all things happens to be.

Links to all 11 Parts of my discussion of Revelation and the End of All Things:Revelation and the End of All Things is available from Amazon for just under $13 (as of my writing this, someone is selling a used copy on Amazon for $4), and the Kindle edition is available for $9.99.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Conclusion)

The Last Cycle of Visions: Revelation 19-22 (Part 2)

The Last Judgment: Revelation 20

So John has just witnessed the final defeat of the false prophet, of the beast, and of Satan himself. In a tremendous display of his might, Christ defeated them solely by his Word. But as John looks again, he sees a vision of a great white throne. As God enters the picture, we sense the dread fear with which His creation regards him. We read that "earth and sky fled from his presence."

The dead are all standing before the white throne, and we see that there are two books being opened - the contents of which are of tremendous importance. In one book are all of the deeds each person has done, and in the other, we have something like "a civic record, in which the citizens of the city of God have their names inscribed." Koester recognizes that this book was written "from the foundation of the world," and rightly recognizes that some readers will sense the helpless approach of Calvin's hoofbeats. "Note that in the judgment, both divine grace and human accountability are important, but God's decision is finally based on the grace that is represented by the book of life." He raises the concern that some have regarding the fact that the names have been written "from the foundation of the world," but seems to sidestep the question by simply recognizing that the rescue is at hand if they will only believe, since that is the path of escape. "[L]eave matters concerning the final judgment in God's hands" (191).

Notice that those whose names are not written in the book of life have plenty of deeds in the other book by which they are judged. I'm so tempted to start making my own comments about the predestinarian elements in this section of Revelation, but I will restrain my tendencies, since Koester himself does not dwell here. But let it unofficially be remembered that the Book of Life is a very counter-intuitive idea to your average modern evangelical Arminian.

The New Jerusalem: Revelation 21

Throughout Revelation, there has been this tension between promise and warning. "To the one who overcomes" is the common refrain which we hear, and now we see those promises fulfilled in the New Heaven and the New Earth. So throughout, from beginning to end, Revelation has consistently hammered the message of enduring hardship and persecution. All those trials, pains, hardships, and martyrdoms are finding their promises fulfilled here. Although at this point in the narrative, the city's inhabitants have been decided, the reader is still offered another reminder of warning: that "the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars" will not have any part in this new creation, but that, rather, their place will be in the lake of fire. The heavenly voice names off these sins - all of which we have broken to some degree " in order to move people to reject sins and to trust in the grace Christ provides." Revelation is in many respects an evangelistic book.

In 21:9, an angel tells John, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." But the next thing he shows him is a city - the New Jerusalem. Some readers might be expecting then, to look into the city and see the Bride, but alas, the city itself is His Bride. Whereas Babylon is associated with the Harlot, the New Jerusalem is associated with the Bride - the same one who was earlier pursued by the Dragon.

When we come to the dimensions of the New Jerusalem, we receive another clue to the symbolic nature of the New Jerusalem, because we are told that its dimensions are 12,000 stadia on each side; this is not-so-coincidentally the same as the number of each tribe in the 144,000. Consider the alternative; if this is not a symbolic representation of the city, then for the first time in human history, we have a city that looks suspiciously like the Borg Cube from Star Trek. Also consider that this cube would cover about half of the United States in its size, since it would actually be around 1500 miles on every side and also extend 1500 miles into space. This is hardly a picture of a literal city. Also, remember that Ezekiel's vision of the restored city pictured it as being only a mile and a half on each side (Ezekiel 48:8-9). The city is the Church, and she is His beautiful Wife (ESV). By referring to its size as being perfectly cubical and 12,000 stadia on each side, "The New Jerusalem's holiness and perfection is expressed." The point is not the quantity of the city, but rather, the quality. (Koester also points out that the city's cubic shape suggests that the city is a sanctuary, much like the inner chamber of the tabernacle and temple, which were also cubical in shape.)

The River of Life/The End Is Near: Revelation 22

In addition to being a city in which there will no longer be any uncleanness, the church is also pictured as returning to the state of pre-fall Eden. Not only will the river of life run through the city, but the Tree of Life, which eluded Adam and Eve at the time of the Fall will be returned to redeemed humanity.
In the New Jerusalem, the barriers of sin and mortality are removed by the grace of God, and the redeemed find themselves again in the garden. Instead of hiding from God's face, they turn towards God's face...The promise that the righteous might one day see the Lord comes to its fulfillment (Ps. 11:7; Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2). The night of sin and death is gone; the uncertainty issues into understanding (1 Cor. 13:12). The story of God's people reaches its culmination when they 'rest and see, see the love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end' (Augustine, The City of God 22.30).
(200)

Koester says that there are two reasons why Revelation "can and should speak to people today."
  • Christians culturally encounter similar situations to those in the seven churches to whom this letter was written.
  • Revelation speaks of the timeless one Who "was and is and is to come." Because Christ is objective and real and does not change, the realities communicated about Him in Revelation are still every bit as true now as they were when they were first written.
The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.'
And let everyone who hears say, 'Come.'
And let everyone who is thirsty, come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
Revelation 22:17

I will be writing one more blog post with regards to Koester's book, and in that post I will be offering what essentially amounts to a review of the book, now that I have tried to present Koester's views and basic arguments.