Saturday, March 31, 2012

Are Waters/Duncan et al Borrowing from the Baptist Playbook?

Matthew Claridge (a Baptist) did a review of the Ligon Duncan/Guy Waters edited book Children and the Lord's Supper. Right away, I wondered why a Baptist would be interested in this book. After all, the only reason I could think of is to identify perceived inconsistencies in the paedobaptist position. I can't judge Claridge's motives, but it definitely looks like Claridge found what he may have been looking for.
The book is very learned, convincing, and comprehensive in its critique. Nonetheless, as a baptist, I cannot help but notice the irony of the whole discussion. In many cases, it is as if the authors must draw from a Baptist playbook to make their case against paedocommunion.
I would love, in the future, to move point by point through Claridge's review, but for the moment I have a singular point I wish to make. Claridge's logic could be turned around. It is actually the paedocommunionists (hereafter PCs) who borrow from the Baptist playbook. Let me explain.

The Baptist holds one sacramental commitment (among others, of course) in common with the PC; namely: without distinction, all members of the covenant community are permitted to partake of all the sacraments. The Baptist and PC alike believe that once someone is admitted to the covenant community, they may be admitted to the table. This was not so, however, with the Westminster Divines. I quote, now, the Westminster Larger:
Q. 176. Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree?

A. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and his benefits; both are seals of the same covenant, are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other; and to be continued in the church of Christ until his second coming.

Q. 177. Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ?

A. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper differ, in that baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord’s supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.
I won't belabor this point, but it is obvious to me that the Westminster Standards are not friendly to PCs. It is clear that the divines understood that there were significant differences between the two sacraments. Both Baptists and PCs throw up their hands and say, "If they're in the covenant, they should receive all the sacraments." The Westminster Divines caution us, however, that this thinking is not so. While I am aware that the scripture proofs were not in the first drafts of the Standards, it is nevertheless significant that the authors of the WLC did point to 1 Cor. 11:28-29 as their scripture proof for their teaching on this. It is clear that their understanding of this passage differs quite a bit from, say, a PC understanding of this passage.

Is it really Baptistic to say that one must be capable of heeding the Scriptural warning against partaking wrongly? After all, it is the other views which leave little room for the subtlety involved in the WLC's explanation of the sacraments and how they differ. Why use a sniper rifle when you can drive a steam roller?

To my mind this is simply Pauline ecclesiology. So I would counter to Claridge that if he is right, then there are plenty of 'Baptisty' hermeneutics to go around. If PCs are thrilled by Claridge's detection of Baptist plays in Children and the Lord's Supper, they should look for Baptist moves in Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated? as well.

(This post originally identified the author of the review as Chris Cooper, which was incorrect. It has been updated to reflect the correct author. My apologies to Chris Cooper.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don't Try to Be Einstein - Just Tighten The Screws

One of the blessings/curses of the era of connectivity in which we live is the possibility that anyone can become a celebrity or develop a following. This is true of niche blogs like ours, and it is true of the big dogs as well. In many respects, it is a new phenomenon that nobodies can become somebodies simply by speaking their mind in a unique voice. One of the temptations in this day and age that isn't new is the temptation to innovate for the sake of innovation.

In other words, it is tempting to draw attention to ourselves by becoming crackpots. And this is where the show 'This American Life' comes in. In case you've never heard 'TAL' before, it are a radio program which explores different issues in each episode, usually by telling the story of an average person. In episode #293, titled "A Little Bit of Knowledge," the hosts talked to a guy who believed he had disproven Einstein and shown that E does not equal MC squared. So convinced was this man that he quit his job and spent an entire year doing research to show that his math was good. Even though he was not a trained physicist and admittedly not very good at math he nevertheless believed he had felled the giant of physics himself.

The hosts of TAL finally found a trained physicist named John Baez who was willing to spend time with the man's paper explaining his theory and the results were not surprising. After a very short time with this paper the physicist explained that his paper contained errors which seem like the sort that a psychology student taking a physics elective would make. In short, there was absolutely nothing to this man's theory. In truth, he was just another crackpot.

Baez then explained that there is a whole community of crackpots out there who exist to disprove Einstein and what they see as conventional scientists who "tow the party line." When asked to explain ultimately why such people exist, the physicist admitted that these people want to know what the universe is like and to understand it. He explains that it isn't glamorous to do what most scientists do. So what does Baez think it is about the crackpots that distinguishes them from the good physicists?
They don't want to be somebody whose epitaph says that they tightened the screws on a particle accelerator that made a great experiment. They want to be Einstein. And most of us can't be Einstein, and that's the trouble.
So in Baez's interpretation, one obvious reason for the emergence of the crazy is the belief that one can become important and offer the breakthrough of the century. Everyone wants to come up with the idea that will change the orbit of the earth and send children running and singing into the streets while Coldplay simultaneously broadcasts on stations across the globe while confetti blankets the streets. However, Baez explains that this just isn't what physics is like, and it isn't what the nitty gritty of furthering science really involves, either. At some point, innovation must slow down and people have to start tightening the screws.

What if those who are in the ministry or those of us who are preparing to enter the ministry could take these words to heart? What a revolutionary and beautiful thought to concede that no, I'm not here to come up with general relativity. I'm not here to be a Calvin or a Luther. I'm not here to come up with a movement that will bear my last name in a slightly modified form 400 years from now. I'm here to serve my little church, to feed my little flock, and to protect them from the wolves. We must be faithful and not lose heart. At the end of our lives, our success is not measured by anything on our epitaph - it is measured by how many people are following Jesus Christ and growing because of what God has chosen to do through us.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jillette Believes There is No God - Is Evidently Omniscient

Penn Jillette says he is beyond atheism, since atheism is simply not believing in God. Rather, Jillette says, he believes that there IS no God. Evidently he has recently been blessed with the gift of omniscience. Or at least the belief that he has omniscience. He comments briefly on the aesthetic advantages of his true-blue atheism:
Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.
The thing that I can't help but reflect on is that the same subjective advantages Jillette sees in atheism are totally absent when I look at it. What ground does Jillette have for believing that the blobs of DNA he has chosen to call 'family' are any more worth valuing than the other blobs walking around? What reason other than his own physical sensations does Jillette have for his notion that suffering is 'bad' or something not to be done to others?

The fact is, Penn Jillette is a terrifically moral man who cannot account for his morality. He can assert it all the live-long day, and he has in his book. I've seen how mad he gets when people lie, for example. I love it. It's just that in his universe, I should be able to lie to him without him getting all morally superior and telling me to cut it out. And even if he does, in his universe, there is no higher court of appeal.

Back to the aesthetic point for a moment. Jillette sees a beauty to human solitude, apart from God. That is to say, he sees a universe full of suffering and evil. He admits that there is misery and sorrow all around him. He lives in a toilet. But he has accustomed himself to it and comforted himself by thinking, "At least nobody is going to flush the toilet." The best nihilism can give its adherents is the thought that a future nothing is better than a future something.

I imagine Penn Jillette and Cornelius Van Til going on a walk together. As they stroll along they come across a bird who has fallen out of its tree, its wing broken. What do they each see? Consistent with the atheistic worldview, Jillette sees an inferior biological creature. He of course, explains to Van Til that this creature was beautiful and that the suffering of said creature is even more proof that there is no God, for why would a loving God allow this beautiful creature to suffer like this?

Van Til, on the other hand, waits for Jillette to finish and looks from Jillette to the bird, and then back to Jillette. After some time of looking between them, Van Til says, "This bird can only suffer in a universe where 'oughts' exist. Either this bird 'ought' or 'ought not' to suffer, but you can not tell me what the difference is between the bird and the tree it fell out of. You assert that there is a difference, but you cannot account for a reason to actually distinguish the two other than your intuition. My worldview makes sense of suffering. Yours can't even account for distinguishing between objects."

In the end, Jillette is making due with what he has. He knows there must be beauty in the universe and he is choosing to enjoy the toilet bowl because that's the only choice that he has.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Doing Church Without God

Piggybacking on my last post, I wanted to note a few sporadic and yet related thoughts.

It is worth noting that Christianity does, in fact, have its own branches which wouldn't care or even notice if God didn't exist. Things would move along pretty much as they always have if it turned out He never existed or if He just up and disappeared. Christianity is infected with what often gets termed 'moralistic therapeutic deism.' These churches have given up worship of God in exchange for moralizing their members - making them good citizens who obey the golden rule and teach their kids that God will let them into heaven if they just follow God's rules and check all the marks on the list.

Many churches have such little belief in the sovereignty of God that they believe they must be the ones to make God come within their midst. Inspired by Charles Finney and his axiomatic belief that it is man and not God who decides when revival happens, much of Christendom has set to work doing religion when the show has already left the building. The sad reality is, many churches have gotten so used to 'making church happen' that it now bears no urgent dependency upon the Divine. If God were to depart, such churches would scarcely even notice.

Other experiments in fulfilling John Gray's supposedly 'novel' idea have been tried. Back in the 60s, Thomas Altizer and William Hamilton posited a 'Christian' denial of God's existence known as the "God is dead" movement. It is of course, a relic of the old liberalism which is long forgotten by most Christians today. Such men truly argued that God is dead and gone - most specifically that Christian theism is not true. And yet they insisted on calling themselves Christian. They may have made great elders in most churches in the PCUSA.

In truth, attempts throughout recent church history have been made to separate the existence of God from the practice of religion. One need only look at the demise of the mainline protestant denominations in the United States to see that a divorce of God from religion is not sustainable in the long-term for more than the obvious reasons. When experience of God and devotion to God is split off from liturgy and sacraments, one is left with a rank and odious procession which is more a funeral for the divine than worship or celebration.

In the end, it is sad to say that despite my own protestations, I'm afraid John Gray's arguments may have been unwittingly adopted by large portions of American Christianity without their conscious awareness. Is there help for such churches? Sure. But the changes needed are fundamental, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for them to turn around.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Yes, It Matters Whether God Exists!

An opinion piece in the NY Times sets forth the thesis (from philosopher John Gray) that it doesn't really matter whether God exists. In the piece, which is admittedly very interesting, the author, Gary Gutting, explains Gray's view by pointing to eastern religions which are atheist/agnostic-friendly such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Of course, Gray marginalizes people who disagree with his theological indifference by calling them "religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths."

To the best of my knowledge, all of the Semitic religions believe that God really exists and that the universe is centered around His person. Some are more God-centered than others, but it seems harmful to Gray's case that most of the people on the planet who worship and follow God actually do believe that God exists and that his existence is important. Regardless of percentages or opinions, the author evidently thinks that the strongest response by someone such as myself who believes that God's existence is very important is the following:
The obvious response to Gray is that it all depends on what you hope to find in a religion. If your hope is simply for guidance and assistance in leading a fulfilling life here on earth, a “way of living” without firm beliefs in any supernatural being may well be all you need. But many religions, including mainline versions of Christianity and Islam, promise much more. They promise ultimate salvation. If we are faithful to their teachings, they say, we will be safe from final annihilation when we die and will be happy eternally in our life after death.
To me, this is far from the strongest response. My reaction is not to offer a subjective answer to an objective claim. And for those of you new to Christian apologetics, let me just offer this little tidbit. If somebody says, "It doesn't matter if God exists," your best reaction should not be, "That's not what I want out of a religion. I want a God who really exists!" The cynic will rightly respond, "I want to see a ladybug eat the cast of Twilight whole, but it ain't happening."

I'll digress, however, and keep following Gray's argument. He goes on to argue that even if God's existence could be sufficiently established to one's satisfaction, that still would not prove that such a God wants to save said person and take them to heaven.
Here, discussions of the problem of evil become crucial. An all-good being, even with maximal power, may have to allow considerable local evils for the sake of the overall good of the universe; some evils may be necessary for the sake of avoiding even worse evils. We have no way of knowing whether we humans might be the victims of this necessity.
In other words, if the universe is even a little bit out of the control of God, there is no guarantee that the most devoted saint will be able to enter heaven since the existence of any counterfactuals means that God's will is not ultimately supreme. If there were 'rules' for going to heaven, doesn't the existence of evil and sin in the universe mean there is no guarantee that evil will not triumph in the salvation process of said saint?
It may seem to us that if we live as we should, God will ensure our salvation. But it also seems, from our limited viewpoint, that God would not permit things like the Holocaust or the death of innocent children from painful diseases. Once we appeal to the gap between our limited knowledge and God’s omniscience, we cannot move from what we think God will do to what he will in fact do. So the fact that we think an all-good God would ensure our salvation does not support the conclusion that, all things considered, he will in fact do so.
He then goes into a bit of a digression about how there are people who appeal to their experience with God as proof that He will save them, but then Gray points out that even if the deity does exist and is communicating to this person, how does one have assurance that the deity will be able to ensure that this salvation will happen? How does the person know that the deity is not malevolent and fooling them, or simply unable to actualize the salvation? After all, He does dwell in a universe where evil has happened before. Perhaps evil will show its ugly mug again.

Aside from the fact that this does sound a bit like a monologue that the guy holding his sixth Guinness next to you at Rosie McCafferty's Pub might be spouting off, there is a reasonable point here. Fortunately, the author does get to that point by the end of the piece.
We can, of course, simply will to believe that we are not being deceived. But that amounts to blind faith, not assured hope. If that doesn’t satisfy us, we need to find a better response to the problem of evil than an appeal to our ignorance.
The point which I accept is that we need a robust view of God and his sovereignty. 99% of this article does not apply to Reformed people who do not appeal to free will to explain the sin which is in this universe. The truth is, the first sin was not out of the control or sovereignty of God, and so any and all evils which happen are under the self-determination of God.

Gray would, I think, argue from his position of skepticism that our problem is not the impotence of God to stop evil, but rather, the claim that God may be evil or deceptive. There are effective responses to this, however.

First, it is important to remember that God has revealed Himself to us, and He has told us that He is good. If men want to hypothesize that he is evil, then they must posit the alternative and consider what that leaves them with (read the next points to see what that is).

Second, if you even grant for the sake of argument that God might be immoral/deceptive/evil, you remove all possibility of morality. John Gray might say, "well, there you are," but I'm not entirely sure John Gray - in all his skepticism - would be willing to posit a totally amoral universe.

Third, if you grant that God is deceptive for the sake of argument, then you destroy the foundations for epistemology. In other words, you become unscientific. Knowledge itself becomes totally uprooted.

From Gray's position of entrenched skepticism, he is not free from criticism. Often skepticism is enjoyed because it is seen as unassailable. However, even the skevptic must be able to account for some things. Even the skeptic wants to believe true things. Even the skeptic wants to offer arguments which are logical. Even the skeptic believes that lies are immoral. How can he account for a universe where truth, logic, and morality can co-exist? Does the skeptic's universe even allow for universal, immaterial, invariant laws? If so, why is he exempted from enunciating a basic defense of his skeptical worldview?

In the end, the skeptic goes into a tail dive because he speaks as someone who is standing outside the conversation, without a horse in the race. However, the reality is that he is quite invested and is far from the disinterested observer that he likes to paint himself as. So speak up, skeptics. Criticize dishonesty and bad arguments when you see it, but remember that you also must account for the universe as we know it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why She Shouldn't Have Left The Church

She doesn't really know me from Adam, but Rachel Held Evans and I really don't see eye to eye very often. Her latest blog post is no exception. In it, she offers 15 reasons why she "left the church." Now, I freely confess that I don't know what she means by the term, since she claims to be in the process of looking for a church where she fits in. I'm assuming she now sees herself as "out" of the church somehow, but am too terrified to read the 400+ comments on the post for more clues, as they almost always seem bring out the worst in everyone. Perhaps a braver soul than myself will journey into that abyss and report back.

Regardless of the poor ecclesiology which almost certainly underlies her entire post, and whatever she means by saying she has "left the church," one thing is for sure: she considers herself "out." In the post, she offers 15 reasons for her departure, and I have some frank observations, though I admit my title is a bit deceptive. I don't have 15 reasons why she shouldn't have left the church, but I hope to comment on many of her reasons.

Before I begin, I wish to openly observe that Mrs. Evans would almost certainly add blog posts like the one I am writing to her list of grievances with the church. Therefore, Mrs. Evans, if you are reading this post right now, I hope you will hear me out in spite of the fact that I am choosing to disagree with you. As G.K. Chesterton said, minds are meant to be open in order to let something in and then close again.

Several of the reasons Evans lists for leaving the church have to do with gender roles in the church. I don't know her personal experience, but it seems like there are more than a few denominations which allow women to preach and teach. The Methodist Church down the street... the Congregational church down the street... the Anglican church next door... The Free Methodist Church down the street...

She lists one reason: "1. I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers...but they only wanted me to plan baby showers." The PCA, to which I belong, would allow her to teach Sunday School to other women and to children. Perhaps she wants the whole kit-and-caboodle and won't settle for anything less than the pulpit. If so, she can join my club. I am not licensed to preach in my denomination, either, but I get to do lots of Sunday School teaching and leading small groups, which I consider to be no small thing.

"
4. I left the church because sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse." When given a shot at making this work, I'm sure Mrs. Evans was able to keep her house church from feeling neither cult-like or country club like. Actually, I take that back. All house churches feel cult-like. There's no avoiding it.

"
8. I left the church because it was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans." She could have come to our church. We're all libertarians, as best I can tell.

"9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because 'God’s ways are higher than our ways.' " Didn't she have access to any books? Just because people in her church didn't have satisfying answers isn't a reason to leave. Perhaps Mrs. Evans should have been the one to find the answers and help out. My thinking is, if my church is lacking something, I should seek to build it up, not retreat from it.

"13. I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school." Give them all free cars! The keys are under your seats, ladies and gentlemen.

Her most honest admission of all: "10. I left the church because of my own selfishness and pride." I don't mean this in an accusatory or cruel way, but if you read through the list of 15 reason she left the church, they are all profoundly self-centered and self-focused. This is very revealing, because this answer (#10) should really be appended to each of her 15 points. How does it benefit the church for Mrs. Evans to leave it? In what sense does she build up the body of Christ by removing herself from it? Her church clearly doesn't seem to have had knowledgeable people who could explain something as simple as violence and misogyny in the OT. There appear to have been needs there which people were not stepping up to fill.

In the end, we do have a whole world of selfish human beings. Some of them choose to attend church for numerous reasons - some good, and often some self-serving - but those who choose to run from it while manufacturing smug, self-justifying excuses couched in self-righteous condemnation of their former places of worship are doing harm to themselves by kidding themselves that separation from Christ's body on earth is actually a moral, righteous, and good thing to do. (Maybe they should join Harold Camping in proclaiming the end of the Church Age.)

I am no fan of Mrs. Evans' theology, and I am certainly no fan of her ecclesiology. But if Mrs. Evans is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and considers herself saved of Jesus Christ, she owes it to herself to return to her family - her brothers and sisters.

"14. I left the church because there are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience." I go to one of those traditional, conservative, scary Calvinistic churches, and people are so open with me there. One morning I asked one of our elders how he was doing and he just paused and said to me, "Sometimes it's hard to follow Jesus. And it's really hard to come in to church when you were only yelling at your kids 5 minutes ago in the car. But I'm glad Christ's still lets me come and worship him anyway." I guess her problem makes me feel really grateful to be part of a body where transparency is encouraged and sin is looked at as something to be defeated rather than celebrated.

I don't share these things to say, "Look! I found a perfect church!" but rather to say that every church will have blind spots and areas they're really good at. Rather than contributing and making her church more the way she thinks Jesus wants it to be, she has left it. And leaving it altogether is a mistake. (I keep repeating this point because it's my main point.) It does seem, to me, that there are plenty of liberal mainline churches where she could go and feel welcome.

I'm trying to speak to Mrs. Evans on her own terms and not to bring her around to my Reformed, Presbyterian way of thinking of the Church (though I'd like that) because it's wiser to deal with the big error and then deal with the small ones. My gut feeling on posts like Mrs. Evans' is that they arise out of a need to justify oneself before one's peers. When two people break up, questions are inevitable. It's impossible to answer the question of why the breakup happened without insulting the other. The fact is, Mrs. Evans sees problems in the church, and that's enough for her to break it off. We should be grateful that Christ doesn't divorce the church just because he sees his church when she wakes up in the morning with that nasty green facemask with cucumbers over her eyes and rollers in her hair.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Vow and Walker Percy "We have sinned and grown old"

This week I went with my wife to see The Vow. In the film, a wife (Paige) emerges from a coma forgetting who her husband (Leo) is. He spends the film trying to win her back and trying to learn how to love this new woman his wife has become. For my own part, I liked the movie. It wasn't great filmmaking, but I was partial to the soundtrack (some prominent songs by The National) and found myself somewhat absorbed by the whole concept of a man trying to get his wife, who has forgotten him, to love him again.

In reflecting on the film, I was reminded of the first chapter of Walker Percy's book Lost in the Cosmos. In the book, Percy spends time exploring man's self-alienation and desire to escape from himself. Percy appreciates that this is a somewhat modern phenomenon (Percy rightly observes that there was no word in the ancient world for 'boredom,' for example). Why is it that man so strongly desires to not be himself? Percy asks. In particular, Percy spends some time getting his reader to reflect on the usage of amnesia as a plot device in movies.
A variant of the amnesic-plot device is the inadvertent return of the amnesiac to home territory, where he is welcomed by a lovely woman, unknown to him, who is evidently his wife. The crucial scene is his being led off to bed... The source of pleasure for the moviegoer is not the amnesia but the certified and risk-free license to leave the old self behind and enter upon a new life, whether by amnesia or mistaken identity.
There is, indeed, a similar scene in The Vow where Leo decides to take Paige out on a date and try to get her to remember him. Though they have been married for years, here they end up sleeping together and spending the night as a brand new couple who barely know one another. The viewer is, of course, tantalized to a certain degree at the newness of all of this, but then they keep reminding themselves that these two people are married. Percy should have stopped writing brilliant novels and worked on some screenplays.

The Vow
has been a popular movie, and I understand that the movie was 'inspired' (loosely) by a true story. But I think Percy is on to something in his comments. People go to movies to find an escape. In many respects, there is something romantically intriguing about a tale where a woman wakes up with license to throw away the encumbrances of the decisions made for a half decade. After all, she has no choice in the matter - she has amnesia. What person does not - on some level - want to abandon their life only to experience the life she knows from a new perspective? Recall at the end of the movie 50 First Dates. Drew Barrymore wakes up in a strange bed, on a boat. She watches a video summarizing her life up to that point and being told that she has a daughter and she should come above deck to meet her family she has made anew for another day. Every day for her is new. Every day is a delight and discovering of the new.

One of the keys to living a life of joy (and I stress this is not the only or even the best key) is choosing to see each moment from Drew Barrymore's perspective in that movie - only without the amnesia. I quote Chesterton now:
It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
What we need is not to lose our memory in order to reclaim the joy of life. What we need is perspective. "And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:17). I turn to Jonathan Edwards:
It is plain, nothing can exert itself, or operate, when and where it is not existing [because] what is past entirely ceases when present existence begins…it does no more co-exist with it, than it does any other moment that had ceased twenty years ago.
There is a reason why God every morning cries out, "Again!" It is because the Sun cannot speak for itself. It does not have the power of self-sustenance. Every moment is anew. We have become bored of God's continuous work in creation, not because we understand it, but because we have ceased to understand it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

All Israel Will Be Saved

Romans 11:25-26 reads, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:a partial hardening has come on Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.' ” (Romans 11:25–26 ESV)

There are many who expect a worldwide conversion of Jews before Christ can again return in judgment, and for the most part that view is based on this verse. I thought that Calvin's words on this verse would provide some food for thought, as well as a confidence in God's preservation and salvation of his Church - who have been ingrafted into Israel.
Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, — “When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.” This interpretation seems to me the most suitable, because Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Galatians 6:16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles; and he sets the people, thus collected from their dispersion, in opposition to the carnal children of Abraham, who had departed from his faith.
If Calvin's interpretation of this verse is correct, then Romans 11 is concerned - not with spelling out the fate of ethnic Israel, but with reassuring the church that the hardening of Israel took place so that the true Israel could all be saved.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Don't Cultivate an Empty Legacy

I hesitate to write this for a lot of reasons. The fact is, Andrew Breitbart has died and for the last week or so we have observed a flood of contrary evaluations of the man. On the one hand, people hated his guts and thought he was the biggest slimeball who ever lived. On the other hand, some people are already lionizing him - Ann Coulter, for example, says that this is similar to the death of John Lennon.

My suspicion is, there are many Christians who would look at the life and career of Andrew Breitbart and - without having known anything of his religious life - say that Breitbart as "finished the race," borrowing Paul's own phrase. In reality, Andrew Breitbart fought for a temporal kingdom - one which will not endure in its present form. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved" (2 Peter 3:10 ESV). This points to a cataclysmic end for the world as we know it. When Christ ushers in the age to come, it will not come calmly and smoothly with the institutions and structures of this world relatively unchanged. Rather, we will inhabit a new heavens and a new Earth. The cosmos will be fundamentally remade, and so we see that the institutions, the news papers, the blogs, and the buildings of this world will not endure into the age to come.

The Bible points to very few things which will "endure forever": God's steadfast love (1 Chr. 16:34), God's righteousness (Ps. 111:3), God's praise (Ps. 111:10), every one of God's righteous rules (Ps. 119:160), God's name (Ps. 135:13), and whatever God does (Eccl. 3:14). This does not mean that nothing we do is of any benefit. However, it should cause us to make our ultimate end and goal the one which God has designed for us (WSC Q1), so that our endeavors and labors in this life are not "burned up" in the end (1 Cor. 3:15). "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life" (John 6:27).

Andrew Breitbart... Ronald Reagan... John Lennon... Herod... All passing fads.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cameron Under Fire in The Lowest form of Public Discourse

It is difficult to avoid the hubbub over Kirk Cameron's latest comments if you read the internet or have even a tiny bit to do with the social networking world (either Twitter or Facebook). Apparently, calling something a sin today can get you tarred and feathered - and then bloodied and bruised. The story, over at the Huffington Post has actually generated over 18,000 comments - almost as many as our story about the death of B.B. Warfield.

Now, If you should be brave enough to start digging through this muck which represents the lowest form of public discourse imaginable (try reading the comments on Huffpo or ABC News' story) then you realize that the commenters are pretty evenly split. On the one hand, there are original gems like "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. I love your show on TBN!" and then on the opposite end you have people calling out everyone who believes in right or wrong.

In other words, this is the opposite of rational public discourse, from both sides. I wanted to share an interesting sampling of self-contradictory and illogical comments.
  • "Kirk Cameron is an idiot. Homosexuality is most definitely natural as it has been around for thousands and probably millions of years."
  • "Kirk Cameron has a right to believe as he does but he doesn't have the right to make absolute comments."
  • "I think many people are upset because he said that he thinks everyone else 'should do the same' as what he believed in."
  • "Judge NOT. God is in charge of judging and condemning, none of us mere mortals is capable of that kind of responsibility."
  • "For you to believe that GOD has any reference to this is just your way of trying to power play your beliefs onto someone else..DO NOT USE GOD AS YOUR BULLY TECHNIQUES!!!"
Every single one of these comments is poorly composed, self-contradictory and can be turned back on itself with very little effort.

I'll save the most seriously cautionary comment for last: "In the past, the Bible was used to defend slavery, keeping blacks and whites seperate, women from voting and all kinds of other absurdities that we know now to be wrong. And anti-gay bigoty will likewise be relegated to the past." Note that all of this persons' examples of 'bigotry' involved the active oppression others, and that this oppression was eliminated by laws and by force, not by changing the public's mind through arguments and reason alone. Who knows what lies ahead for free speech for Christians if every view is tolerated except our own? We may become like our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world who live in danger for proclaiming Christ as Lord and God's Law as supreme. As Christians, we should be ready and willing - not to fight for our rights - but to suffer for the Gospel.