Friday, August 27, 2010

Atonement

Edwards: An Argument for Hell's Eternity

It seems to me certain that the wicked that are punished by God will continue to hate God all the while they are punished, and that their punishment, instead of humbling them, will stir up their hatred to God and make them blaspheme him. Now it is not probable that their punishment will be either taken off or mitigated whilst they do so, nor that they will cease so to do while their punishment is upon them. Those minds that are so destitute of principles of virtue, will unavoidably dreadfully hate that being that brings so much misery upon them. Therefore, the punishment of the damned will be eternal.

Jonathan Edwards; Miscellanies No. 237

Put Not Your Trust in Princes

This is another one of those posts that has been gestating for a very long time. When the first financial meltdown happened at the end of George W. Bush's presidency, I realized that I didn't know anything about economics. And so I started learning from the Austrian economists about what was happening. I started reading Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, and I began to realize just how bad things really are, and how much worse they're going to get. I believe that their logic is airtight. I believe that the Austrian account of what has happened to the economy is the best account of things as we know them.

But all of this study had a dreadful side effect, because I am a pretty passionate guy. If I get really into something, I tend to forsake the other things in my life and chase down my prey until it is mine and I feel I've sufficiently mastered it. And the thing that I noticed with my immersion in economics (and by extension my resulting political outrage) was that my idol-making heart was busy at work when I got mad about government spending and mad about the federal reserve and mad about big government. And sometimes I would be afraid of what's around the corner. In fact, in a Godless world where it's just us little human bits of protoplasm, I would have no ground for optimism, frankly.

But such fear is sinful. If we have faith in God, we won't be afraid. I take this from Matt. 6:25, which tells us, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life." In verses 31 and 24 he repeats the command, "do not be anxious." (I am here equating anxiousness and fear.)

Now, John Piper points out that the Bible presupposes that we will be afraid (Ps. 56:3), but the question is, when that fear comes, where do we go with it? Do we get internal and start stockpiling guns, thinking that living by the sword as a frontiersman will be our way to reflect God's glory to the watching world? No. We have an attitude of faith. "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you" (the very first Bible verse my daughter ever memorized). An abject attitude of need is to be the Christian's response; we can't solve this problem on our own. God is the one who will hear our prayers: "Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you" (1 Peter 5:7).

A word about stockpiling and gun collecting. I hear a lot of people saying that the answer to our problems is to build up a massive collection of rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, etc. as though that is where we will find our salvation. Now, I'm not taking the pacifist approach here and saying that we are never ever justified in defending our families for example, but I do want to challenge this paranoid militia mentality. If a man comes to the door of my fallout shelter and is in need, but life is more Mad Max than Annie Hall, what does the Christian faith look like? I can guarantee you that Christlike living does not look like that scene in The Happening where the farmer shoots the kid through the door because he's banging on the door begging for food and water.

In such a situation, maybe a man will lift his gun and point it at that person who is in need, but it will not be a Christian doing that. It will simply be a conservative, fearful, American whose idols have been threatened. You can fight to defend your way of life because it's that precious to you, but a life lived like that is not Christian any more than it's Jewish to eat a pack of bacon. Jesus does not look like the man pointing a gun at the needy, and society can't be a society if it's lived in that way.

Lets go worst case scenario here (short of nuclear holocaust). Lets say the economy goes through a double-dip recession (which it almost certainly will if the Austrian economists are right). Lets say that the value of the dollar drops like a rock and the dollar loses its buying power and we all start getting hungry and find ourselves suddenly unable to pay for our houses, and we have to live like nomads. Lets say that somebody detonates an EMP over the U.S. and all our iPods and (God forbid) Kindles stop working. Lets say that we have to live like we're in the stone age. Lets say that zombies start walking (nevermind; lets leave that one out). Lets say that life gets hard; really hard. Lets say food is hard to come by and our lives in the lap of luxury become a distant memory and we can't drive cars anymore and we are forced back into medieval serfdom. Lets say the Chinese invade, and soon we're all speaking Mandarin.

In such a scenario, would not Christ still be the glorious Lord over heaven and earth? Would not the heavens still be full of His glory? Would not the excellencies of Christ be such that even the stones would cry out? Would not the Holy Spirit continue to regenerate the lost and rescue men from the depths of sin and misery? Would not the church thrive and grow and glorify God as her one true and sure foundation? Would not Jesus Christ be 'very God of very God,' the Savior of the World?

If there is one thing that the post I shared yesterday from Edwards communicated to me, it was that our security cannot be bound up in the survival of nation-states (they always come and go). If we believe that it is, then our perspective has become that of the world, whose only hope is in worldly rulers or revolutions which can never endure. Even mighty Rome fell in due time. And considering that America is repeating Rome's errors all over again, it's only a matter of time before we go her way as well, whether it takes 5 or 500 years.
"Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When this breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever."

Psalm 146:3-6

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jerry Springer Jokes That He's Going to Hell

Jerry Springer was on Chelsea Handler's talk show, Chelsea Lately last night. Now, I'm not particularly interested in Jerry Springer or Chelsea Handler. But what does interest me was a brief part of the exchange that went something like this, as summarized by the bloggers at TVSquad:
"Congratulations on twenty years," Chelsea said to him. "That's a really long time." But this was Jerry's response: "I'm going to Hell." Yes, Jerry Springer is not actually a big fan of the 'The Jerry Springer Show.' "There's no excuse for it, but yeah; it stays on the air," he said. Jerry also pointed out that his talk show has "no redeeming social value." He seemed to be struggling to think of something positive about his long TV career.
I have seen this frequently happen, where somebody who knows that they have done something bad or lived a bad life will jokingly say, "I'm going to hell." It just terrifies me each and every time that I hear it happen.

Edwards Offers Encouragement to The Fearful

One of Edwards' sermons that I read this week was titled "God's Care for His Servants in Time of Public Commotions," and it seemed so timely. His central doctrine in the sermon is, "In the time of great public commotions and calamities, God will take thorough and effectual care that his servants shall be safe." I have been thinking a great deal about the notion of America and just how rooted and invested we as the church should be in her survival, and in her persistence. I may talk a bit about these things at a later time, but what I want to suggest is that the fear which many I know within the church have regarding the coming years, economic tumult, fears of social disorder, the stockpiling of guns, bullets and gold... all of these things reflect a fundamental distrust that God will preserve his church, and as such, Edwards' words are profoundly helpful to the wavering and fearful saint:
God's covenant with them is more stable than the foundation of states and kingdoms. 'Tis an everlasting covenant that is “ordered in all things, and sure” (2 Samuel 23:5). God has once sworn by his holiness, and he won't alter the thing that is gone out of his mouth (Psalms 89:34). He has often promised that he will preserve them safe and happy through all changes and troubles. Isaiah 3:10, “Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him.” In Psalms 91:4, he promised that he will do with them in times of public commotion and calamity as a bird does to shelter her young in her nest from the rain in a time of storm: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”

He has promised that when they pass through the waters, he [will be] with them, and through the rivers, and they shall not overflow them; and when they walk through the fire, they shall not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon them (Isaiah 43:2). If there comes a time of famine or a time of dreadful calamity and destruction by war, God has promised to preserve them from the power of the sword, and from men that are furious as the wild beasts of the earth, and from all destruction. Job 5:19-22, “He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee. In famine he shall redeem thee from death: and in war from the power of the sword. Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh. At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh: neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth.”

These promises stand here, and cannot be removed. God's covenant will remain not only when states and kingdoms are overthrown, but when the everlasting mountains and perpetual hills are removed. Isaiah 54:10, “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Jonathan Edwards Sermons Are a Blessing and a Joy

It is simply a fact that I'm going to be relating a lot of my posts for awhile to Jonathan Edwards, and there's a simple narrative to explain why that's happening. I know that Jonathan Edwards has been the "It Guy" in Reformed circles for quite awhile, but there is a reason for that, and it's not because he has a great public relations team working overtime to get people to read his 300 year old sermons and books. It's because he really is a redwood in the forest of the Christian faith.

But the truth is also more practical than that. The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has begun to publish Edwards' complete manuscripts - most of which have never before seen publication. In addition to his Miscellanies, this also includes lots and lots of Edwards' sermons. Now, even though the 24 volumes of Edwards' writings sell for well over $100 each, Yale has made every single thing that Edwards wrote available online for free. They have also made three of these volumes available in paperback for around $20 each: The Freedom of the Will, The Great Awakening, and Religious Affections.

When you combine this awesomeness with an e-Reader like the Kindle, it creates a series of wonderful (and portable) heavenly delights. I have the physical two volume works of Edwards' published by Hendricksen, but the words in these volumes are tiny, and the giant size of the books is not exactly conducive to frequent and constant reading.

What I have done is take every single complete sermon of Edwards' that Yale has made available and put them into user-friendly files that my Kindle will read, complete with tables of contents so that I can easily get to any sermon that I wish to read. Here are the sermons by year:

So I took all of these sermons contained in these links and placed them into a file on my Kindle. I can literally carry around all of Jonathan Edwards' sermons - worth at least $600 in printed form - around with me wherever I go. What is most exciting to me is being able to read sermons that most people for the last 300 years were unable to read. One of my favorites is only available in a shorthand form that is somewhat difficult to read, but it has the greatest title of a sermon that I've ever seen: "Judas Iscariot Has Been in Hell for 1700 Years." There is no ambiguity in the title, and he shows himself a master of the human condition as he skillfully forces his audience to connect with not only the reality of Judas, of his continued existence even to our own day - but with the even now present suffering of Judas. What follows is my sloppy reconstruction of my favorite part of the sermon based on Edwards' notes which have been made available to us.
How many things have come to pass since [Judas was sent to hell]. Great Changes. Many things worn out since. City of Jerusalem destroyed & Roman Empire fallen but still his torment [continues] [the] flames [have] not gone out ...He has had no rest all this while; none one moment...Every moment is dreadfull to him. You lie & down & rest, but he has none. You lay down the last night, [but] all his cries have been in vain. Every moment is dreadfull to him. What he endured this day since [morning]. Since you came into this [house], since this Text was read. God has no mercy on him.
Edwards concludes his sermon with a warning for all of us:
Don't do as he did & sell your Lord & your God for a moments enjoyment of a few Pieces of silver.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Church and the Elderly

Ben Franks has written a great blog piece called "Does It Really Take a Village?" about the church's need to fulfill its biblical mission to the elderly. As the baby boomers begin to shift into the senior citizen class, and therefore become a larger demographic percentage of the American cultural structure, it is becoming more important than ever that the Church have Biblical values about age and our responsibilities to care for the elderly. This is hardly a peripheral issue, and we Reformed cannot allow ourselves to dodge the culture's understanding of sexuality and money and autonomy and truth, and yet still retain the culture's abandonment of the elderly.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Logos is Coming to Mac

Logos Bible Software is giving away tons of prizes to commemorate the launch of Logos Bible Software 4 Mac on October 1. Prizes include an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPad, and an iPod Touch!

They’re also having a special limited-time sale on their Mac and PC base packages and upgrades. Personally, not only would I love to win a Mac, but I wouldn't mind winning a copy of Logos 4 Mac, since I don't have much hope of buying a copy unless I have an inheritance coming to me that I was previously unaware of.

While I recognize that by telling you all about the contest, I decrease my own likelihood of winning, I decided to tell you all about it anyway; that's what an awesome guy I am.

Newly Translated Turretin Sermon

A sermon by Francis Turretin titled "The Happiness of the People of God" has been very recently translated into English from the original french by Riley from Reformed.us, and it is truly one of the most incredible sermons I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Actually, the scope of the sermon is most remarkable, because it is in a sense a tremendous overview of the work of God among covenant Israel and the promises of Israel being for the Church today. It is indeed one of the grandest, most epic, and comprehensive sermons I can recall in all my history of reading and listening to great sermons. One thing which stood out immediately to me was that Turretin over and over again repeats the central claim of John Piper's book God is the Gospel, that God's greatest gift to the Church is Himself. Throughout the sermon, Turretin repeatedly refers to him as "the happy Lord," and talks continually of God Himself as the source of the Christian's joy, and he anchors this happiness in God's own happiness within the Trinity before the creation of the world.
But, with God one never fails to find in his possession all the contentment and joy for which one could wish, because there is none but he, who being an eternal and infinite Being, is able to fill the vast capacity of our desires and grant to us in the enjoyment of sovereign good.
Had this sermon been around when John Piper wrote Desiring God, I could almost guarantee that Piper would have quoted Turretin. In one particularly remarkable section, which I am about to quote, Turretin refers to our union with God, and in particular discusses our union with each person of the Trinity. Read it slowly and take it in, because what Turretin has to share is worth two minutes of concentration.
[T]his marvelous union does not only take place with regard to the general Divinity, but also with each Person of the Holy Trinity in particular, with whom we have a communion so intimate, that as we glory in belonging to them, we may also assure ourselves that they belong to us.  That is why baptism, which is the seal of this covenant, is administered to us in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to teach us that by this sacrament we are engaged to the service of these three divine Persons to whom we are consecrated.  They also promise to us their blessing and their grace, and all Three engage themselves, if one must speak so, to work to accomplish our salvation.  In effect they each work according to the unique manner which is attributed to them: the Father by his grace, the Son by his merit, and the Holy Spirit by his efficacy.

The Father elects by his counsel, the Son redeems us on the cross, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us in our hearts.

The Father gives us his promises, the Son signs them in his blood, and the Holy Spirit seals them with his signet.

The Father ordains salvation to us, the Son acquires it, and the Holy Spirit applies it.

The Father adopts us to be his children, the Son purchases us to be his members, and the Holy Spirit regenerates us to be his temples.

So we become objects of the love of these three adorable Persons, and as the Father takes particular care of us as his children, the Son and the Holy Spirit give themselves to us with all their graces.

Jesus Christ makes himself ours in all his offices.  He is our Surety to make satisfaction for us, our Head to give us life, our Prophet to promise us salvation in his word, our Priest to merit it by his blood, and our King to apply it to us by his power.

The Holy Spirit is ours with all his gifts.  He is our Doctor to teach us in our ignorance, our Comforter to gladden us in our afflictions, our Sanctifier to cleanse us of our stains, and our Life to deliver us from our death.  In short, we find nothing in the Holy Trinity which is not ours, and which does not work for our good. 
This is actually my own first exposure to Turretin. I know that his Institutes were only recently translated into English, and now more than ever, I want to read them.

In addition to "The Happiness of the People of God," Reformed.us also have another Turretin sermon translated, and it is his sermon "Jesus' Tears for Jerusalem," which I have yet to read; though you can guarantee I will be reading it soon. My only other thought is that we need to encourage our friends at Reformed.us to keep up the good work and to continue translating these Turretin sermons, for it is a great service to the Church.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

This Photo Needs a Caption!


I'll start it off: "John demonstrates for his barber the 'fu-man-chu'."

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Motivations for Conversion

In an article written for Themelios titled "Pastoral Pensées: Motivations to Appeal to in Our Hearers When We Preach for Conversion," D.A. Carson reflects on many of the motivations which, Biblically speaking, we ought to appeal to when ministering the gospel to someone - specifically to non-Christians.

The motivations Carson points to:
  • Fear (Heb. 2:14-18)
  • The burden of guilt (Ps. 51:4)
  • Shame (He argues shame and guilt are bound together)
  • The need for "Future Grace" (this is not exclusively a need for Christians)
  • The attractiveness of truth (John 19:35)
  • A general, despairing sense of need
  • Responding to grace and love (Gal. 2:20)
  • A vague desire to be on the side of right
Carson is careful to clarify that this list is neither exhaustive, nor is it a list of either/or propositions. Although the modern tendency is to appeal exclusively to God's grace and love, Carson points out in this well reasoned piece that as Christians we do not get to emphasize one of these at these at the exclusion of others, but rather that our responsibility is to reflect the whole range of human need in our preaching, teaching, and evangelizing. In Carson's conclusion he states,
The point to be made is simple: any failure to appeal to the full range of biblically exemplified and biblically sanctioned motivations not only means that there are some people we are not taking into account, but, more seriously, that there are elements in the character and attributes of God himself that we are almost certainly ignoring.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have We Arrived at the Post-Emergent era?

Take a trip with me into the past - not the distant past, but the less than distant past. Rewind to five years ago when fellows like Tony Jones, Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt were the talk of the town, and every twenty-something Bible school student was reading Blue Like Jazz. Those were the days... iPods were 3/4 of an inch thick, MySpace was something people actually used, and people actually thought that you could build a whole Christian system off of questions - even though systems were bad and they never would have called what they were building a "system."

Now lets look at where this movement is today. The Emergent leaders have become a niche in the Christian marketplace, and even worse, some of them have stopped asking questions and started giving us their answers. Kevin DeYoung alluded to this in his "Christianity and McLarenism" where he points out that Brian McLaren has finally arrived at the answers he was seeking, and his answer is essentially classical theological liberalism. As H. Richard Niebuhr put it in describing liberalism, "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross." And isn't that really where the Emergent crowd was moving in the first place?

Five years out now (it's really been longer), we can look back and see the forest, because the trees are behind us, and what do we see? We see a group of men who built their entire enterprise on being un-label-able, un-pinnable, in-decipherable, and entirely answer-less. We had a series of catch phrases such as "We don't worship a book," or "Christianity is so heavenly minded that it's no earthly good," or "Jesus was not a Republican (or Democrat)." But eventually you've got to affirm something, and McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity, if it showed us anything, showed us that underlying the whole enterprise of questioning the Greco-Roman narrative of post-Constantinian Christianity was traditional liberalism. And if there is one thing which history shows, it is that liberalism does not lead to relevant, fresh, vibrant, and robust Christian zeal.

In the wake of these Emergents who have started to find out who they are, a whole host of their students have jumped ship on the Emergent label, finding out that it was a volatile and dangerous place to stand if you wanted to have anything to do with traditional churches with Orthodox theological traditions. It is this crowd which I am labeling Post-Emergent. They are now leaderless, parasitic, and looking for a home, but their old label has lost its hipness.

It's no longer cool to just ask questions, but it's also not cool to be so arrogant as to think that you have answers. For the time, the Post-Emergent is still recovering from its painful defeat, as conservative Christianity reacted strongly against the inroads that Emergentism attempted to make into the mainline evangelical churches. The Emergent project simply couldn't stand in any permanent way because its edifice was formed from plaster. Or to substantiate the charge of its being "parasitic," it couldn't stand on its own. Emergentism could only live off of a once healthy host, taking advantage of its weaknesses and fixing itself onto the evangelical church like the goiter on Aunt Matilda's neck.

Now, evangelicalism, I believe, has found its antidote to the Emergent spirit, and the solution is nothing new. If one reads Young, Restless, and Reformed, one is struck by the dramatic need within the church for the recovery of the person of God. Not merely a conversation about a possible deity. The church's antidote to questions and lostness is the person of God Himself, as revealed in Jesus Christ and as found in the Bible, which is the Word of God. This is an old answer for an old problem. Whenever people find themselves adrift at sea, the plainest solution of looking for the lighthouse is usually the best one. God committed his truths into the fixed form of a book because the culture's mood does shift from one era to another, while the Scriptures themselves never change. The rising popularity of the New Calvinists are no accident; it is not a movement that is happening in a vacuum. It is a generation of Christians who have seen the futility of answerless Christianity - of having a political or ethical agenda without having a God to get that agenda from. This is nothing fancy or inventive, but then the best answers usually aren't.

In other words, the antidote to questions that deserved answering were found in an old fashioned service where an old man made of dust read out of an old book, helped along in his speech by an old God who has yet to be forgotten, regardless of what the coolness of skepticism about that God appeared to dictate for a short season. Eventually, people need answers - it is implicit in the human condition to ask questions, and those questions necessarily imply answers just as hunger implies quesadillas.

So the Post-Emergents - who are they? They are the generation who have questioned themselves out, who have resigned themselves to living in conservative churches while quietly judging those around them for thinking they have answers. They are the ones who liked McLaren's questions and are justifiably uneasy with the classical liberalism in his answers. That was never what the Emergents wanted. What they really wanted, in my opinion, was for someone to do the hard work for them and answer their theological questions and to stop making them feel bad for not voting Republican.

But remember - you can't define Post-Emergent any more than you could define Emergent. Emergent was a mood, not a movement. Emergent was an attitude, not a system. And so it is with the Post-Emergents. They are still a lost bunch, but the realization that you can't chase your tail forever has forced them into an impasse: They can either affirm that answers exist and get to the work of finding those answers, or they can become the same group who ruined the PCUSA 90 years ago and who are still running the Anglican church today. And I don't think anybody going to argue that those two groups are up to their ears in cultural relevance.

More E-Book Fun

The Kindle is getting cheaper, and now I am told that there are budget e-book readers on the horizon set to sell for less than $50. This is very exciting to me, simply because I've benefited so much from my Kindle. You may have noticed day after day of book reviews from me, and this is largely due to my Kindle. You see, I have a job where I drive almost constantly (yeah, this blog doesn't make any money, except for the Westminster book ads which eventually get more books into our hands) and the fact that the Kindle will read to me while I drive means that I am fighting to never waste even a moment.

So Tim Challies, on his blog, gave 5 Reasons Books Are Better Than e-Books, and I felt reproved. But then he listed 5 Reasons e-Books Are Better Than Books. My take on it is that if you want to hold a bundle of paper simply for the sake of holding a bundle of paper, then pick up a shieve at Office Max on your way home from work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Unprofessional Book Review: Thomas Aquinas by G.K. Chesterton

As he entered Paris they showed him from the hill that splendour of new spires beginning, and somebody said something like, "How grand it must be to own all this." And Thomas Aquinas only muttered, "I would rather have that Chrysostom MS. I can't get hold of."
Now that is why I read biographies of the giants of church history! I love stories like that. It is just a shame that G.K. Chesterton kept getting in the way of his subject time and time again in this book. I know that these are old criticisms of Chesterton, but I have never admittedly finished a Chesterton book before now. I am a big fan of his chapter "The Ethics of Elfland" in his book Orthodoxy but this is the first time I followed a complete narrative from beginning to end in a book by the man, and honestly - I hated it. G.K. Chesterton is great for quips and quotes, but trying to read a whole book by the man is frankly unbearable. There, I said it. Now that I've outed myself as a hater, allow me continue.

After meandering for the first two chapters of his book Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton gets down to business talking about Thomas' life - from his childhood as the dumb ox to his silence before God's glory, which made all of his writings "look like straw." I loved the book for the anecdotes about Aquinas' life, but Chesterton jumps around so much that it's hard to follow any real narrative. He makes a passing reference to his visit by St. Paul, but I wanted to know more about it. He assumes we know all of these stories - and maybe we do - but he writes at the beginning of the book that he's writing for novices of Thomas. Hence he should not assume that we know these stories! Either that, or he has changed audiences, mid-book! Yes, these are exclamation points.

Chesterton spends a bit of time touching on Aquinas' classical apologetic method:

After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours. We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views of what actions are morally permissible; but if we argue we must argue "On the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves."


I disagree, but will continue, because later Chesterton rips on Calvinists, and this deserves some attention.

Later, again, it [Manicheanism] took the form of Calvinism, which held that God had indeed made the world, but in a special sense, made the evil as well as the good: had made an evil will as well as an evil world. On this view, if a man chooses to damn his soul alive, he is not thwarting God's will but rather fulfilling it. In these two forms, of the early Gnosticism and the later Calvinism, we see the superficial variety and fundamental unity of Manicheanism. The old Manicheans taught that Satan originated the whole work of creation commonly attributed to God. The new Calvinists taught that God originates the whole work of damnation commonly attributed to Satan. One looked back to the first day when a devil acted like a god, the other looked forward to a last day when a god acted like a devil. But both had the idea that the creator of the earth was primarily the creator of the evil, whether we call him a devil or a god.
There are no Calvinists who teach the things Chesterton is saying. And the charge that Calvinism is related to Manicheanism in any sense is patently absurd. I suppose these are the sorts of slanderous lies which the Catholics like to bandy about regarding Calvinism. Either that, or Chesterton is intentionally misstating the beliefs of Calvinists.

And, if there were any doubt that Chesterton is a Roman Catholic, we have this wonderful little rabbit trail that he decided to follow:
For there was one particular monk in that Augustinian monastery in the German forests, who may be said to have had a single and special talent for emphasis; for emphasis and nothing except emphasis; for emphasis with the quality of earthquake. He was the son of a slatecutter; a man with a great voice and a certain volume of personality; brooding, sincere, decidedly morbid; and his name was Martin Luther. Neither Augustine nor the Augustinians would have desired to see the day of that vindication of the Augustinian tradition; but in one sense, perhaps, the Augustinian tradition was avenged after all. It came out of its cell again, in the day of storm and ruin, and cried out with a new and mighty voice for an elemental and emotional religion, and for the destruction of all philosophies. It had a peculiar horror and loathing of the great Greek philosophies, and of the scholasticism that had been founded on those philosophies. It had one theory that was the destruction of all theories; in fact it had its own theology which was itself the death of theology. Man could say nothing to God, nothing from God, nothing about God, except an almost inarticulate cry for mercy and for the supernatural help of Christ, in a world where all natural things were useless. Reason was useless. Will was useless. Man could not move himself an inch any more than a stone. Man could not trust what was in his head any more than a turnip. Nothing remained in earth or heaven, but the name of Christ lifted in that lonely imprecation; awful as the cry of a beast in pain.
Chesterton laments Augustinianism because it gave birth to Luther, whom he saw as a barbarian who knew nothing but emphasis. He spends some time at the conclusion of the book lamenting Luther because, in his opinion, Luther is the one who eclipsed Aquinas, who should have reigned supreme as the most important thinker in the history of the Christian church.

I still love "The Ethics of Elfland," but I'm going to stop reading Roman Catholic histories of famous saints of the church and expecting them to read like Protestant biographies.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Unprofessional Book Review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scroundrel Christ by Phillip Pullman

Phillip Pullman drew a lot of attention from Christians when his children's book The Golden Compass was brought to the big screen. Most reviewers of the films pointed out that although the film didn't seem to have many atheistic elements to it, Pullman's books in the rest of the His Dark Materials series did, in fact, display a decidedly anti-Christian approach. For my own part, when I reviewed the movie for Reformation 21, I was not a naysayer of the film, although I recognized the problems which the books presented. If there was ever any doubt as to Pullman's agenda, however, those doubts are long gone with Pullman's new book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

What Pullman has done with this short book is attempt to retell the story of Jesus with enough radical departures from reality that we can see he is attempting something significantly different. Lets just say the book is more The Last Temptation of Christ than The Passover Plot. Pullman isn't positing his version of events or even a plausible alternative to what we find in the New Testament. Instead, he is writing a fictionalized account of Christ's life through which he can express his opinion that Jesus may have been a good teacher whose "editors" misused his life in order to create what we today know as the Church (I honestly think he is primarily taking a shot at Catholicism more than he is Protestantism).

The book begins with the conception of Jesus. An angel enters Mary's room, tells her how beautiful she is, and there is an implicit sexual encounter between Mary and this angel.

Jesus' birth soon follows, but after Jesus is born, a twin brother also emerges, and Mary chooses to name him Christ. Pullman's Jesus is a typical child who finds himself periodically in trouble, while his twin brother always seems to find a way to put a righteous spin on what he does. When Jesus writes with mud on the wall of the temple, Christ tells the religious leaders that Jesus was just enacting a passage from the book of Job. Confusingly, there is a scene where young Jesus makes clay birds on a Sabbath, and Christ claps his hands causing the birds to come to life and fly away. This is honestly confusing because while this is depicted as a genuine miracle, Pullman depicts the rest of Jesus' miracles in the story in terms of naturalistic explanations.

It becomes apparent that while Jesus is basically a good guy with a rebellious streak who is wise and loves God, Christ has a bit of a Messiah complex - no pun intended. During Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, it is not Satan who appears - but his brother, Christ. Christ reveals his plan to exploit Jesus' following he has developed so that together they might birth what is essentially described by Christ as the Catholic church with its elaborate magesterial structure, bishops, and all the bureaucracy that attends systems of that sort. Jesus tells his brother to get away from him because this is a wicked and satanic plan.
What you describe sounds like the work of Satan. God will bring about his Kingdom in his own way, and when he chooses. Do you think your mighty organisation would even recognise the Kingdom if it arrived? Fool! The Kingdom of God would come into these magnificent courts and palaces like a poor traveller with dust on his feet. The guards would spot him at once, ask for his papers, beat him, throw him out into the street. "Be on your way," they'd say, "you have no business here." '
The rest of the story involves Christ following Jesus around, writing down his sayings, and people thinking that Jesus is performing miracles. Jesus doesn't seem to like it that people think he is doing miracles, but for some strange reason, he doesn't try to stop the people from believing that he has special powers. Christ, all the while, is actively spinning everything that he writes about Jesus' life. Pullman's agenda is a little too obvious to make for good reading. Essentially, Pullman is doing nothing new, here. He's copying down the New Living Translation and occasionally perverting the story wherever he feels like. This is hardly novel or clever, by my own estimation.

The Stranger continually is telling Christ to edit Jesus' life in a way that will inspire future generations. At one point, Christ has been finding out much of what Jesus said from one of the disciples. The Stranger asks him about his approach:
'What did you tell the disciple who is your informant?'

'I told him that I was writing the history of the Kingdom of God, and that he would be helping in that great task.'

'A very good answer. You could do worse than apply it to your own question. In helping me, you are helping to write that history. But there is more, and this is not for everyone to know: in writing about what has gone past, we help to shape what will come. There are dark days approaching, turbulent times; if the way to the Kingdom of God is to be opened, we who know must be prepared to make history the handmaid of posterity and not its governor. What should have been is a better servant of the Kingdom than what was. I am sure you understand me.'
So we see Pullman's agenda is to call into question the editors of the New Testament by assuming that they saw all of the implications of what they were building and how their teachings would eventually be adopted by some sort of magisterial structure hundreds of years down the road.

In the end, it is Christ - spurred on by a Stranger whose identity is never explained (though I assumed him to be the Devil) who betrays his brother. Jesus is crucified, and what should happen but several days later, people begin to mistake Christ for Jesus. Christ, believing that his brother is the history and Christ is meant to be the truth, assumes his role as his risen brother.

The ending would have been funnier if Pullman had done a Weekend at Bernie's and had Christ walking around with Jesus as his puppet after the crucifixion. It wouldn't have been original or true, but then again, there was nothing original or true about this book. It certainly would have been more interesting.

My greatest criticism of Pullman's overall point is not simply, "This is blasphemy" (even though it is). Pullman makes what I believe to be a fatal assumption. He seems to believe that the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life are friendly towards an eventually bloated and power-hungry Catholic Church.

Simply because the Catholic Church did emerge and that they claim that their edifice is built upon the New Testament does not prove Pullman's point. If one looks at the Gospels specifically (since they are the focus of Pullman's argument) one struggles to find endorsements of organized, systematic, bureaucratic, authoritarian, hierarchical, papal forms of church government. I will grant that the case could be made that those sorts of things are hinted at in the New Testament epistles, but when it comes to the actual teaching of Jesus Christ as found in the Gospels, you largely see general condemnation of the sort of people who abuse power.

Just as one example; Jesus' disciples are arguing among themselves who will be greatest in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus comments on their argument. If I were an editor, and I wanted to strengthen my position in the church, then I would have Jesus saying something like, "Whoever has been made greatest among you - let him exercise the authority God has given him," or something along those lines. Instead, Jesus says, "Let the greatest among you be the servant of all." The message of Christ is one of humbling those in leadership - not building them up and strengthening them in the selfish pursuit of power.

In my opinion, this is a fatal flaw for Pullman's argument. It strips his case of all its power.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On the "Fairness" of Original Sin

For many, Original Sin is a deal breaker. I hear it so often that it's almost a cliche. "It isn't fair that we were all punished for Adam's Fall." Dave Bazan lamented the unfairness of humanity's state in his song "Curse Your Branches":
All fallen leaves will curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all
This is a popular sentiment. I know personally of several friends who have gone from Christian theism to agnosticism or atheism because they could not "get over" the issue of original sin. As I understand it, the issue of Original Sin was a factor in Bazan's own abandonment of Christianity.

So is it unfair? What I want to do is step in underneath of the question and look at the two worldviews by which one can even ask the question, because my contention is that in the Christian worldview, Original Sin is coherent, it is fair, and it is just.

Lets look at the person who says, "Original Sin isn't fair, and because of that I can't believe it or Christianity are true, since Original Sin is essential to what we know as Christianity." Lets first ask the question, where is this person getting this notion of fairness from? This is a fair question since he is essentially judging the whole Christian system by one of its parts.

Lets say for the sake of discussion that he is judging the fairness of the Christian God by an unbelieving ethical system such as consequentialism... In that case, they are not judging the Christian God by Christian standards. In this case, the criticism must be made on a worldview vs. worldview basis. This means that the "fairness" question can't be raised by someone else's standards. The disagreements are too foundational to simply argue on the basis of a preferred ethic. "Who cares, if your ethical system doesn't think that Original Sin is fair?" would be a completely legitimate response in this sort of situation. Therefore such a criticism from unbelieving presuppositions cannot lead to a valid claim of internal incoherence.

The only standard by which a claim of internal incoherence (aka "unfairness") can be made is by Christian ethical standards. But given the Christian worldview, there is nothing unjust or unfair about God's decision to so constitute humanity with a single individual as the federal head of the race. The point is, if you are a Christian and you are struggling with the issue of the fairness of Original Sin, you need to ask yourself the question of where you are standing when you make the unfairness critique. If you are standing on Christian standards, the problem of unfairness isn't an issue, and if you are standing on skeptical or unbelieving standards, then your critique is invalid for your purposes anyway.

Many people who adopt skepticism because of theological wrestling like this don't give up because they have found an actual contradiction in the Christian worldview. They abandon their Christianity because we live in an intellectually lazy society that has adopted skepticism as an intellectually valid approach to life. If something is too hard to think through or figure out, then it must not be true since all claims about reality should be arrived at via the easiest and plainest seeking and searching (Ockham's universally applied razor?), and if we can't make sense of it right now, then it must not be true since reality should be inherently simple. As I said, I think the single greatest source of agnosticism, skepticism, and abandonment of faith is that people don't know how to think, they don't know how to reason, and when they find themselves in a mental bind, when they hear the flak guns hitting the plane, they jump without a parachute, as though that somehow puts them on better footing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thankful Thomas


G.K. Chesterton relates in his biography of Thomas Aquinas that Thomas was once asked what he is most grateful to God for. His response was, "I have understood every page I ever read." Clearly, Thomas had never read N.T. Wright on justification. Although I'm not willing to say he wouldn't have liked him.

SLAM!

The Unprofessional Book Review: Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden

This book review of Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden has been seven years in the making. I first read Marsden's chapter on Edwards' The Freedom of the Will while working on my philosophy degree as I was attempting to understand Edwards' meaty and heavy arguments against the Arminian position. I resolved to actually read the book once school was out of the way and I didn't have other people telling me what I had to read. Having finally done this thing which I vowed to do, my only regret is that it took me seven years to finally read it.

I supplemented reading this book with lectures by John Piper and the men who spoke at Desiring God's conference on Edwards a few years back. Nothing, however, can replace reading about the man's life for yourself.

Let me lead off with what I take to be Marsden's overall statement of his approach to Edwards' life: "One of my hopes is that this book may help bridge the gap between the Edwards of the students of American culture and the Edwards of the theologians." The result of Marsden's approach is a book which faithfully develops the narrative of Edwards' life while at the same time carefully examining the theology which was central to all of Edwards' life.

Edwards has become quite a rockstar in our own day, getting conferences devoted to exploring his thought, volume after volume published year after year about him, and most significantly, all of his works are still in the process of being printed and released by Yale at around $100 a volume! He was a man who was appreciated in his day, but certainly not to the degree that he is in our own.

This is evidenced in part by a quote from Ezra Stiles which caused me to roll with laughter when Marsden mentioned it. According to Stiles, Edwards' works would
in another generation... pass into as transient notice perhaps scarce above oblivion, and when posterity occasionally comes across them in the rubbish of libraries, the rare characters who may read and be pleased with them will be looked upon as singular and whimsical.
And yet none of us even knows who Ezra Stiles is unless we're specialists in American History.

Now, other people have eulogized Edwards, and it isn't even my goal here to offer any sort of revolutionary take on the man. What is most significant is the biography itself which Marsden has given us. Simply put, it is remarkable. It is the best biography of Edwards that there is, and it will be the high water mark for any and all bios of the man which are ever again produced.

After years of hearing Reformed theologians, biographers, laymen, and scholars offer their own unique thoughts on Edwards, I am pretty well convinced that the essence of Edwards' legacy is the notion of the universe's radical God-centeredness. Having read this biography has changed my perception of all of his works. One of Edwards' books which I have only skimmed is his book Original Sin. After reading this biography, I began reading straight through Original Sin and it is remarkable what a little bit of contextualizing can do to help one's reading experience.

All in all, if you are an Edwards admirer and reader, don't read any more of his work until you've read Marsden's work. And if you aren't an Edwards admirer, you probably will be after reading this book.

I read the Kindle version of this book, but since most people seem to like physical books, you can get it at Westminster for 1/3 off.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Futurama Does Evolution/Creationism

Let us first acknowledge that yes, that is an image of the flying spaghetti monster protesting evolution. Every now and then, a TV show throws some surprises at you, and to my mind, Futurama did that this season with the newest episode, "A Clockwork Origin." Ever since the show's triumphant return to television on Comedy Central, I have watched and loved every episode, even the episode which made wildly offensive (to me, anyway) arguments about things like gay marriage (See the episode "Robosexual Marriage") and Apple (See "Attack of the Killer Apps"). But I'm the kind of guy who likes his opponents if they're clever and have a hilarious way of disagreeing with me. Hence, why I like Christopher Hitchens so much even though he is dead wrong and misrepresents my worldview with every chance that he gets.

Thursday night's episode tackled the issue of creation and evolution. Let me share some of the nuggets:

  • "A bunch of smiling angry people were handing out these anti-evolution flyers."
  • One protester has a sign that reads, "Nothing Ever Changes!" Another reads "Read my lips: No New Taxonomies"
  • Dr. Banjo: "May I remind you that evolution is merely a theory; like gravity or the shape of the earth."
  • Dr. Banjo: "Things don't exist simply because you believe in them: thus saith the almighty creature in the sky!"
  • Professor: "Your tux doesn't fit because you stole it from a boy!" Bender: "You mean a man; it was his bar mitzvah."
By the end of the episode, Dr. Farnsworth's nano-robots have evolved into complex and intelligent creatures. When Dr. Farnsworth tells the robots that he created the nanobots which they evolved from, the robots gasp, "This is creationist talk!" Farnsworth is then arrested for crimes against science.

Dr. Banjo calls this "evolution set in motion by an wise and all-knowing creator." While taking exception with the "all-knowing part," Dr. Farnsworth still has a laugh at the idea that he was created by some wise all-knowing bearded man in the sky. This appears to be an intentionally ironic statement. Therefore, in an oddly backhanded way, Futurama appears to be saying at least that theistic evolution is not out of the realm of possibility. But in another backhanded way, the episode also at one point referred to creationism as being unfalsifiable. And therefore, perhaps the conclusion of the episode is simply an outworking of that earlier conviction that if something is unfalsifiable then it shouldn't be discounted.

It was interesting to see a TV show that did not take the hard-line naturalist approach to origins, in either case.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Calvinists Have Their Cake and Eat it Too!


Jon Bloom shared this awesome picture over at the Desiring God blog. Apparently this was the cake that the groom wanted at the wedding. I only wish I had shown this sort of foresight at my own wedding.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Three Reformed Amigos

The Unprofessional Book Review: Simply Christian by N.T. Wright

While I'm sure that the Rob Bell and Anne Rice blurbs for N.T Wright's Simply Christian should have been a clue as to the quality of theology I would be getting myself into, I gave the book a chance, and now I'll tell you precisely why you should stay away from Wright's much lauded book.

In the book, Wright argues that all human beings yearn for four basic things: justice, spirituality, relationships, and beauty. He addresses all four of these categories of need and argues that only in Christianity can one find the fullest expression of fulfillment.

From a literary perspective, Simply Christian harkens so strongly towards C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity that Rob Bell's comparisons between the two writers on Amazon's web page are, in my opinion, warranted. (Hey look; something I agree with Rob Bell on!) The good bishop writes like a true Englishman, and his love of Lewis shows through in his writing style. This is especially true in the opening chapters of the book where he is attempting to introduce the uninitiated to Christianity via their moral sense that justice in this world is important.

Everyone knows that Wright is a truly gifted writer, but he shines very brightly in this book. He offers brilliant illustrations of the Christian faith. His story of the springs being cemented over is one of my favorites and I felt it adequately illustrated the spiritual thirst which exists within modernity as well as postmodernity. Like Lewis, Wright really shows himself to be in strongest form when he is talking worldviews. He is at his weakest when he gets into the specifics of theology.

Here enters the crux of this book. In my opinion, Wright wanted so much to sound like Lewis' own literary classic that he aped him in many of the wrong aspects. The greatest strength of Mere Christianity is Lewis' very broad appreciation of Christianity - from the Catholic tradition all the way to the wackiest Pentecostals. Lewis wrote a book that all could agree with, but in doing so he limited his message to the broadest brush strokes and left us with an elementary portrait of the faith. Lewis was fuzzy on atonement, sanctification, regeneration, and a host of other features of Christian faith, and what we were left with was a portrait of a religion which was uncertain of most of its central beliefs.

When we come to Wright's Simply Christian we find the same sorts of problems plaguing the book. I should, say, this is not, in my opinion, by design, as it was for Lewis. In the case of N.T. Wright, the man is so confused on the meaning of the Gospel that he can't help but give us only the muddiest picture possible of what Christ came to accomplish. Time and again, Wright tells us that the Gospel is the message that "Jesus has come to set the world to rights." To be a Christian means to "be a partner in God's rescue of the world."

He does talk about sin and salvation, he describes sin as missing the mark, and he he doesn't exclude the more traditional notion that sin needs forgiven (he even defines "justification" as "God's declaration that a person is right"), but he hammers so much on the fact that salvation is so much more than just going to heaven when we die. But if he believes in Heaven and an afterlife, shouldn't he at least talk a little bit about not going to hell and about spending eternity in the presence of God? After all, Wright tells us that he does believe those things, he just doesn't want to "reduce" the Gospel to being saved from a justly deserved eternal damnation. But a new believer who reads this book should probably learn about it, shouldn't he? Wright just takes the "traditional" view for granted and tells us that real salvation is so much more! Too bad for the newcomer who wants to learn more about this "fleeing from the wrath of God" stuff.

When it comes to his view of Scripture, Wright says that it is a modern invention to speak of the "inerrancy" or "infallibility" of Scripture. Therefore, he rejects it. He doesn't replace it with another view, however. Instead, he quotes Barth when he said essentially, "It doesn't matter if the serpent [in the Garden of Eden] was real; what matters is, what did he say?"

The book was 95% good, but the stuff that was bad really ruined the rest of it for me. His explanation of what it is to be a Christian is so broad and fuzzy that I was getting badly frustrated, wondering if I was simply missing something. What was it that Wright was saying and newly un-Christian Anne Rice grasped, but it just wasn't getting through my thick skull? John Ortberg said in his blurb for the book that "[no one] has done more to clarify what Christianity looks like in our day than Tom Wright." Were we reading the same book?

For my money, it seems like if I were to give somebody a book introducing them to the faith, I could do better than Wright's book. For example, I would sooner give them a copy of D.A. Carson's new book The God Who is There.

Ultimately, my conclusion is that John Piper is absolutely right about how confusing N.T. Wright's gospel is. If there's something orthodox in there, it's wrapped in cheese cloth, covered with cement, and buried somewhere below where my attention span can penetrate. Sorry for the polemical book review, everyone. My review of Marsden's biography of Edwards should be ready by the end of the week, and it will be nicer. Much nicer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How To Build A God

Stephen the Levite: The Interview (Part 2 of 2)

Picking up on our interview from yesterday with Lamp Mode Hip Hop artist, Stephen the Levite:

BTB: It seems like you tackle a pretty wide range of Christian doctrines. Are there any doctrines that you've tried to rap about, but just couldn't make it happen, for one reason or another?

STL: I had this one song I attempted to write years ago where I compared the tower of Babel and Babylon to Hip Hop Culture. I started off talkin' about Nimrod and the tower, then moved to the time when Daniel and the three Hebrew boys were there and wouldn't bow to the idol, then tried to make my comparisons. It was a cool idea, but it just didn't sound good. In retrospect I think it just may have been too conspiracy-theory-ish and I'm glad the Lord never let me put it out.

BTB: In addition to doctrinal subjects, it seems like you have quite a passion for addressing the sort of cultural problems which are going on in the church - especially the more materialistic American church. What areas do you think are in greatest need of being addressed?

STL: Without repeating my answer for the first question, I'd say the need for the gospel to penetrate and affect the way we view and do culture is a huge need. I've never been so convinced of the fact that the gospel is the solution to the legalism that fleshes itself out culturally, and the road blocks that it creates for the church in trying to reach others with the gospel. In America we don't seem to do a lot of cross cultural mission work, but I think we would if we were more willing to be all things to all men like Paul was. But that won't happen until we understand how the gospel and culture work together for the mission.



BTB: Back to the Lamp Mode Records album The Church for a moment. When you are working on a conceptual album like that with so many other artists, how do you all decide who was going to address which subject; for example, how did you end up addressing the topic of church membership and church discipline?

Basically, we all got an email from the Brian, who works at the label with a list of the topics and I tried to respond as fast as i could to get the topics i wanted. They were topics I was the most passionate about so I made sure i was the early bird. But i think even from the label's side, when you have a deadline, it's best to have the artists write about something they want to write about. I think the project turned out as well as it did because everyone got topics that they were either passionate about or practically living out in their own lives. Artists need that freedom to be authentic.

BTB: Has there been any negative reaction to the rhetorical line "If you're not a part of a church/ how do you know that you're saved?"

STL: The first time I performed it, I definitely got some funny looks. People came to me afterward saying that they could see it on the face of others as well, but nobody's really come to me personally about it. I noticed from "...to die is gain" that even though a lot of people are out there that disagree, most of them won't tell you. Either they just avoid your music, or they are intimidated, or they are convicted and just don't want to talk about it. You're actually lucky to get people that disagree with you. Pluralism is such a part of the world's culture that it's easy for people in the church to personally interpret your songs in a way that's more comfortable to them. People who actually disagree with you will enjoy your music and never realize what you really mean.

BTB: More congratulations are in order as well, since I understand you're a new father! This does lead me to my first part of my last question. Any chance we'll be seeing any songs about catechizing your babies on your next album? Also, any idea when we might be seeing your next solo album?

STL: Ha! Probably not catechizing, I'm a little more organic in my approach to the scriptures. I didn't learn Christ that way, so I probably won't teach Him that way. My Pastor teaches his son that way though so I'm not dissing it or anything. My son's only 6 months old, so we're still trying to get him to talk and crawl and stuff, but we'll see.

I have an EP coming out in September called "The Forerunner EP" and hopefully I'll have a full length solo project out next year, the earlier the better.

[You can find the first part of our interview with Stephen here]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stephen the Levite: The Interview (Part 1 of 2)

One of the greatest things I learned about when I first read Collin Hansen's book Young, Restless, and Reformed was of the existence of Calvinist Hip Hop. Artists such as Shai Linne, Hazakim, and Stephen the Levite faithfully proclaim the word of God in their music, and their message is being heard at events such as the Legacy Conference, which just concluded a week ago.

Stephen is signed to Lamp Mode Recordings. Interestingly enough, after I requested this interview from Stephen, I discovered that my co-blogger Josh Walker actually attended bible college with him, which, to me, was a funny coincidence. Stephen's first solo album, To Die is Gain... was released in '06, and he has a forthcoming EP called The Forerunner coming out in September. Lyrics to all of Stephen's songs can be found at his blog.

BTB: First of all, let me just say thank you for agreeing to speak with us. Let me also say, congratulations on your Lamp Mode collaboration 'The Church'. I saw that it made it into the top 10 and outsold Lil' Wayne's album on iTunes the week that it came out, which must have been a thrill. It's a tremendous album from beginning to end, but I especially appreciated the insights you brought with your contributions.

I guess to begin with, I wanted to talk about this Christian sub-culture that takes theology very seriously and yet tends to look down on musical and cultural engagement. There are a lot in the Reformed community who think that the idea of Christian Hip Hop is not just a bad idea, but actually wrong. What do you say to Christians who think that Hip Hop is the Devil's music and should have no place in the church?


STL: Well, and I mean this as respectfully as possible, it's culturalism.

It reminds me of the passage in Galatians 3 where the Apostle Paul rebukes Peter openly for trying to leave the Gentiles when the Jews showed up. It works against the gospel of peace, which should bring cultural reconciliation based on Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2, and demonizes the culture instead of redeeming it. It's no different than racism or classism. When you say that Hip Hop has no place in the church, you're really saying that Hip Hoppers don't belong in the church. The cultural supremacist is saying that in order to be holy, you have to drop your culture, your language, your clothing, your music, and all that identifies you with your origins and your people, and become like the suburban, European-American middle class. You might as well say we need to get circumcised. I know these are strong terms, but that's what it is.

BTB: There are a lot of Calvinistic undertones in your music. Can you tell us a little bit about the point at which you started to really recognize the sovereignty of God and then make that a serious part of your theology?

STL: My membership at Epiphany Fellowship was a major part of it. I wrestled with a lot of God-centered theology for years, but being at Epiphany and being taught there help me come to grips with the reality of it all. It became less about how the doctrine felt and more about whether it was true and in the Bible or not.



BTB: Who are some of your biggest theological influences?

STL: Obviously for me it's just the Bible. No book can keep my attention as well as the Scriptures do, so I don't read a lot of theology books or too many commentaries. I'm big on reading huge chunks of scripture and meditating on what I've read. But also my Pastor Eric Mason from Epiphany is a huge influence on my understanding of Scripture. Marriage also changed the way I viewed foundational stuff like the Godhead, church, government structure, the gospel. And lastly I'd say a book called "Missional Church" which also changed the way I read the Bible and viewed missiology.

BTB: Your song "DNA" (Demons and Angels) makes hay of Christian rappers who do over-the-top spiritual warfare in their songs, calling it "an embarassment." You conclude the first part of the song by saying, "so preach the gospel, and stop tryin' to prove/ that you’re God's Ghostbuster, and the Bible is a glock that you shoot." When I listened to this song for the first time, I laughed out loud. Do you intentionally try to employ humor in your songs, or is it just sort of a byproduct of dealing with theological errors?

STL: I think the topic itself was humorous. Not all theological error is funny, but I felt like this wasn't the kind of theological issue where it would be unkind to make light the opposing view. So I was a little sharper in the first half because I was dealing with rappers whom I feel fit under the teacher category and should know better. But at the same time, it wasn't a damnable heresy, so i felt the humor would help drive home the point of how silly some of it is, and hopefully get them to laugh as they agree.

Tomorrow we will post the conclusion of our interview with Stephen.

[You can find Part 2 of the Interview here]