Friday, February 24, 2012

Lessons for Christians from 'Take Shelter'

Take Shelter is not easily summarized. It is about a man named Curtis who continues to have nightmares which always seem to include stormy skies, lightning, and tornadoes. As the film proceeds along, the dreams become increasingly vivid. Curtis responds by building an expensive storm shelter, which becomes the center of the tale in a lot of ways.

Michael Shannon is a fantastic actor. Many of you may remember him for his role in Revolutionary Road as John Givings, the mentally troubled son of the Wheelers' neighbor. Shannon really blew me away in that movie, but in his newest film, Take Shelter, he completely unsettled me and moved me very deeply. If there is one thing Michael Shannon does well as an actor it is 'unsettled to the point of explosion'. That is most certainly his specialty.

Take Shelter is hard to categorize. Is it psychological horror? Is it family drama? Is it personal allegory? My take is, it's all of these things when viewed from different angles.

I don't wish to spoil the ending, but I was moved to tears by the climactic decision which Shannon's Curtis has to make. This surprised me since I spent most of the film a bit on-edge and - well, unsettled. I was not prepared for my own response to what was taking place in the movie. In the end, I was struck by Curtis' resolve to do whatever it took, in spite of what everyone said, to do what he could to protect his family from what he understood to be great danger. Too often, our willingness as Christians to really commit to follow Christ is shaped a great deal by how our radical decisions will be seen by others. Often we pull punches and soft-pedal because the world is watching and we want their approval. In this film, Curtis does whatever he can, even if it means being alienated from those around him, because he believes danger is approaching.

I am not saying that Christians should be as paranoid or afraid as Curtis is in this film, but I am saying that we could use a dose of Curtis' resolve and follow-through. If we (for purpose of illustration) believe that the wages of sin is death, and we really believe it, what would that really look like? Would our commitment to waging war on sin in our own lives and the life of our family look like lunacy to the watching world? Would we ultimately care whether people thought we were crazy?

One other aspect of the film which struck me was the importance of a good wife. In this movie, Curtis' wife, Samantha (wonderfully played by Jessica Chastain in her seventh movie to be released last year) is a much needed rock for Curtis. She becomes his anchor of reality in the movie and strikes me as a Proverbs 31 woman. She is a church-going woman, whereas Curtis is not. She and her family appear to frequently invite him to church, but it is evidently a sore subject which the family appears to be reticent to continuously struggle with him over. She makes things and sells them to help support the family and cares very much for their hearing-impaired daughter. When he is unable to cope with decision-making because of his own deterioration, she becomes a woman of action. In the end, she demonstrates great wisdom in understanding what Curtis needs to do if he is ever to overcome his fear of what he believes is impending doom.

Ultimately, this movie is more something that stands on its own than a lesson for Christians or a sermon-illustration in the making. It is a picture of a troubled man seeking to understand himself, of a family that hangs together through resolution and commitment rather than feeling or sentimentality, and in so many ways it is a fantastic example of what a film ought to be.

[This film is rated R for language. There is no sexual content whatsoever.]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

If I Were The Devil...

Some may consider this a bit easy of me, but I have a comment I want to make.
Rick Santorum: The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies, Satan, would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country -- the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States, and that's been the case for now almost 200 years, once America's preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.
I can think of someone I would attack if I were Satan. I would attack the Church of Jesus Christ, and I would do it through one very broad strategy. I would put on a snappy-looking sweater-vest and talk like Rick Santorum did in this now infamous speech. I would convince the Church that America is a bigger target than her. I would convince the Church to invest itself in a temporal institution which does not hold the keys to the Kingdom of God. I would convince the Church that if she closes the gap between herself and the State that she is fulfilling the great commission as well as the Adamic commission. I would convince the Church that she should care whether her political leaders are good theologians, but then have lax views about who should be in the clergy. I would convince the Church in America that she is more important than the Church in China or India or Bangladesh because of the country she is in.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

All Books at Desiring God are $5

You read the title of this post correctly. Every book at Desiring God is $5 "while they last." If I might make a recommendation, I purchased the Festschrift for Piper, For the Fame of God's Name when it first came out and I paid over $20 for it. It is a beautiful hardbound book over 500 pages in length, and the fact that you can get it for $5 is almost a sin. They also have another large Piper book, What Jesus Demands From the World, for only $3.

Well I said it, now you can do what you will with such information.

91 Years Ago Today, Old Princeton Died

The folks over at This Day In Presbyterian History have a fascinating article. You see, today (February 16th) is the anniversary of day that B.B. Warfield died in 1921. I have always appreciated what J. Gresham Machen said upon reflecting on Warfield's death, and I thought it might be worth recalling:
Dr. Warfield’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon at the First Church of Princeton... It seemed to me that the old Princeton—a great institution it was—died when Dr. Warfield was carried out.
In many ways, Dr. Warfield was the agent God used to preserve the old, conservative, Confessional, Biblical heritage upheld by Alexander and Hodge. When he left, as Machen put it, Old Princeton died.

I highly commend to you the article over at TDPH. It has a fascinating anecdote from Johannes Vos that is not to be missed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Paulites and R2Kites" with a Backbone

I just came across this article by the Bayly Brothers in which they state:
Ron Paul is to national politics what R2K is to the salt and light of the Church. Both Paulites and R2Kites have never seen a battle they want to fight. So instead they come up with sophisticated reasons why Little Round Top is the wrong hill to defend and Colonel Chamberlain's bayonet charge was over the top. The wrong man led the wrong troops in the wrong charge using the wrong weapons at the wrong time and the wrong location.

In fact, watch these men closely and you find the only battle they're willing to fight is the battle opposing battles. But of course, I use the words 'battle' and 'fight' quite loosely because both require courage. I don't write this to demean them, but so readers will see the connection between their techniques, commitments, and character.
Well, as someone who is a supporter of Ron Paul and a holder of the Reformed Two Kingdoms perspective (that is what the "R" stands for, right?), I found this very interesting. Anyone who has read our blog for any length of time knows that we are not afraid of a fight. For example, I can think back to a post I did in which I "battled" both the Federal Vision and Lee Irons. In fact, the sheer fact that I am writing now shows that I am not just "battling against battling." I am battling the fact that those in the R2K camp do stand up for truth.

Or as another example, take my friend Jason Stellman who has stood up against the Federal Vision in his presbytery. He is an out spoken advocate of the Two Kingdoms view and someone who is known for having a backbone. In fact, at times, he is accused (wrongly I would say) of having too much backbone.

If the Baylys want to dialogue with those on the other side, putting up inflammatory posts like this one is not the way to do. It seems that those outside the Two Kingdoms view are fond of doing this, but this is not the way to convince those who disagree. All this type of rhetoric does is convince the convinced.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

R.T. France: 1938 - 2012

I just learned that R.T. France died on Friday, February 10th. He was a great scholar and Christian, and an expert in the Gospel of Matthew. I have benefited tremendously from both of his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, as well as his commentary on Mark, and to date I consider his Matthew commentary for the NICNT series to be my favorite modern Bible commentary.

We should thank God for giving us good teachers. We now have one less.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Another Free Jerry Bridges Kindle Book!

At the moment, you can get Jerry Bridges' book The Transforming Power of the Gospel at Amazon for free. From the product description:
The apostle Paul writes that we are to be transformed, but for many Christians, figuring out how to approach spiritual transformation can be elusive. Bestselling author Jerry Bridges helps us understand that we have available to us the ultimate power source for true spiritual growth: the gospel.
In The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Bridges guides you through a thorough examination of:
  • what the biblical meaning of grace is and how it applies to your life
  • how Jesus’ work in His life and death applies to the believer in justification and adoption
  • why basic spiritual disciplines are necessary for spiritual growth
  • what role the Holy Spirit plays in both definitive and progressive sanctification
As usual, these deals don't last forever, so grab it while you can. Even if you don't have a Kindle, whenever you do get one someday down the road, this book will be available in the cloud for you to access when the time comes.

Get it here.

The Sixth Commandment is About More Than Murder

Our home fellowship group at my church has been going through the Ten Commandments. The nice thing about the time that we have is, we have two weeks to spend on each commandment. Virtually every lesson has included exploration of either the positive commands or the negative commands within each commandment. For example, "thou shalt not steal" is about more than taking what is not yours. It is also about preserving another's posessions.

When one reads the Larger Catechism, Q. 135, one finds a lilliputian world of commands contained within the one small seed of "thou shalt not kill." Here is the catechism:
Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defence thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labour, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behaviour; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succouring the distressed and protecting and defending the innocent.
One of the questions we are going to be asking this coming week is, what on earth is our catechism doing talking about sleep, cheerfulness, forgiveness, and charitable thoughts in a commandment that simply says, "Thou shalt not kill"?

I like what Charles Hodge says about this, because it's quite helpful in seeing how the layers of this onion get peeled back in the first place: "In the several commandments of the decalogue, the highest manifestation of any evil is selected for prohibition, with the intention of including all lesser forms of the same evil. In forbidding murder, all degrees and manifestations of malicious feeling are forbidden" (3.19.10).

This is, of course, confirmed in the New Testament when Jesus in Matt. 5:21-22 directly connects the command not to murder with a seemingly lesser command not to be angry with or to insult one's brother.

We don't normally think of our anger in traffic, malicious feelings toward this or that co-worker, or despising someone who publicly disagrees with us about something as being a violation of the sixth commandment - and yet that is precisely what it is. We may not all be killers, but we are all nonetheless be guilty of violating the sixth commandment in one way or another.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thoughts on the New ESV Single-Column Legacy Bible

After spending a great deal of time researching and thinking about it, I decided to order one of the new ESV Single-Column Legacy Bibles from Crossway. I wanted to very briefly share some of my thoughts.

I want to state, right out of the gate, that this is already my favorite Bible I've ever owned. I have a Reformation Study Bible, an ESV Thinline, an NIV Thinline, a pocket NASB (which is quite amazing) and more than my fair share of NKJV Bibles that were given to me as graduation gifts at one time or another. I have a long history with thinline Bibles and Study Bibles, but I have never owned a Bible like this one. The Legacy Bible is a departure from my old tradition as it has a minimalist design. If you like Apple and keeping your desk tidy and see the appeal of minimalist aesthetic, this may be the Bible for you.

It is physically large - almost as large as my 12 year old Reformation Study Bible (but not as big as the ESV Study Bible), and yet it is only Bible text on the page. The pages have been specially printed so that the words on both sides overlap, meaning that there is white space around the words instead of seeing the grey of the text behind it bleeding through the pages. The minimalist design means that there are no cross-references, very few textual notes, and larger letters than are in my ESV Thinline. Section headings have been moved to the margins allowing for a fluid reading experience. At times when I was reading through Galatians I gloried in the thought that the section headings (and chapters) were never really there to begin with. Paul's book is one prolonged argument, and it is easier to enjoy the way that Paul meant it without the headings inserted into the body of the text. This was a winning decision by Crossway.

The margins are very nice and draw your eye towards the text in a very appealing way. You want to keep reading simply for the joy of it. [If you are interested in seeing some photos and a bit more in-depth discussion of the Legacy, look here.]

After spending two days reading this new Bible, I declare it to be my new favorite. It is a blast to read, an aesthetic experience, and an excellent Bible. My only regret is that I did not wait a couple of months to purchase one of the Calfskin versions. The black genuine leather Legacy Bible which I purchased (in my haste) is pretty stiff and "plasticky" in my opinion. I guess I'll just have to break it in. Regardless of the binding, however, this is going to be the Bible that I use for my own personal study, and it is hard to imagine a Bible any time soon eclipsing this one.

[In case there is suspicion about my glowing review, let me be transparent with you all. I bought this book and was not given one for review purposes.]

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Another Free eBook: Real Sex

I know this is normally Adam's territory, but since I received an email this morning asking to pass along a free ebook, I thought I could give it a try.

Brazos Press is giving away, today only, Lauren Winner’s new book titled Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. You can get the ebook at Amazon. I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on its content, but a free book is always a good thing.

Here is what the publisher has to say about the book:
In Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, Lauren Winner speaks candidly to single Christians about the difficulty--and the importance--of sexual chastity. With nuance and wit, she talks about her own sexual journey. Never dodging tough terms like "confession" and "sin," she grounds her discussion of chastity first and foremost in Scripture. She confronts cultural lies about sex and challenges how we talk about sex in church. Building on the thought of Wendell Berry, she argues that sex is communal rather than private, personal rather than public.

Refusing to slink away from thorny topics, Winner deftly addresses pornography, masturbation, and the perennial question of "how far is too far?" Winner also digs deeper: What does chastity have to do with loving my neighbor? How does my sexual behavior form habits and expectations? With compassion and grit, she calls Christians, both married and single, to pursue chastity as conversion and amendment of life.

Real Sex will be an essential read for single Christians grappling with chastity, for married Christians committed to monogamy, and for those who counsel them. Discussion questions have been added to the paperback edition.