August 2006

31 Aug 2006

Its history is that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at least in the innovation. It is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward to perdition. -RL Dabney

Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying in seven years. -Francis Schaeffer (hat tip for the quote: David Wegener)

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, if you’ve come up with a doctrine that matches what the majority (or the hip, connected minority) of the population believes, and what the church has never believed in its history… you might be on the wrong path.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. -Jude 3

28 Aug 2006

One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. –J.I. Packer

25 Aug 2006

I’ve written of my disllusionment with rock music, but not my, er, scholarly history with it. When I was in college in the 1980s, my friends and I despised the contemporary rock scene — Poison, Ratt, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue — and so we listened to Classic Rock. That is, Boomer rock: Zeppelin, the Stones, AC/DC, Skynyrd, etc.

I outclassed my friends in my School of Rock pursuits. I read the musings of Frank Zappa. I learned the influences on Dokken’s guitarist, the cymbals favored by Aerosmith’s drummer, and how Malmsteen quite liked Mixolydian mode. I thrilled at Steve Morse’s picking and lamented how Robert Plant had blown out his voice by early ’72. I wore out Live Bullet and pondered things that didn’t require it. I read Billy Sheehan’s bass theories. I learned about genres and influences and who played what instrument on any number of records. I could tell you who wrote hundreds of songs and what they were thinking when they wrote them. I saw Stevie Ray live and bought delta blues. I spent countless hours learning and playing ZZ Top and the James Gang on the guitar, books full of tablature, hoping one day I’d be ‘the man’ (and of course I could play “Stairway to Heaven” and “Over the Hills and Far Away”). Then after college, the hair bands were all thankfully swept away by Nirvana and I graduated to the grunge scene and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. I lost my hearing at many King’s X and Galactic Cowboys concerts. In short, I have forgotten more about 1960s-1990s rock and metal than most of you know.

And I say that with regret, because my heartfelt “study” of this stuff was in place of things like, oh, reading the words of eternal life. In a word, idolatry. To paraphrase Muggeridge, it is a chronicle of wasted time.

I don’t need to tell you that much of rock music is blatantly unbiblical. My conscience was eventually convicted that I should consume music that encourages sinful behavior (especially since music has that way of running through your head). And I couldn’t stand the shallowness, the pretense, and the other earmarks of youth. At best, it’s milk, not solid food (Heb 5:12).

Further, I no longer believe that any popular music belongs in the church. Rather, church music should be sacred, set apart from the trendiness of rock and CCM (or whatever Nashville calls it now). And don’t get me started on the dreadful use of pretentious imagery that usually accompanies music videos in the church (Narnia: “[The old Professor] muttered to himself, ‘I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.'”)

However, with all that said… I remain unconvinced that rock music is “born in rebellion” and is thus completely evil. At its best, rock music can be joyous (Listen to 4:00 to 4:25 of this, for example). Insisting on its intrinsic evil is a misguided attempt to bind the consciences of others. Concerned with antinomianism masquerading as liberty, some Christians seem to want to outlaw liberty altogether (not politically, but in the minds of their readers) and to yoke people where the Bible does not.

“Don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go out with girls who do” goes the old saying. And rock joins that fundamentalist hall of shame. It’s false rigor and shabby righteousness. I say this not as someone looking to excuse personal indulgence; the half-dozen ales I drink every year could be easily cut to none, as could my listening to rock music, and I would be no holier because of it; significantly less so if it were a point of pride.

So what is the point of all this? Former OPC pastor G.I. Williamson nails it in “Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes” (my emphasis):

It has been said that there is “a pope in every man’s heart.” We are all tempted to think that we could improve our fellow Christians if we had charge of their conscience. We are likewise all liable to imagine that we are doing much better than others in the use of our cherished liberty. We would restrict others and relax strictures against ourselves. But the Scripture requires the reverse: charity towards others, and carefulness in the use of our own liberty. We ought to give our brother the benefit of the doubt. We should esteem others better than ourselves. And even where it appears that our brother has abused his liberty, we should correct in meekness taking heed to ourselves. Meanwhile, we should guard against the abuse of our own liberty, taking heed that we do not make it an occasion of the flesh, and exercising care that we do not cause a weaker brother to stumble by the exercise of our liberty.

22 Aug 2006

Years ago, Dana Carvey stated on a show that he grew up Lutheran. The interviewer asked what that was like, and he said “Well, sorta Catholic-lite.” That example of absolutizing form while disregarding content, laugh-out-loud funny as it is to this childhood Lutheran, reminds me of the popular understanding of infant baptism.

My sense, with no figures to back it up, is that at least a quarter of the people in paedobaptist churches are closet baptists. Not from any serious study of the issue, mind you, but because: (a) They have never heard the doctrine defended, (b) Most pop evangelical authors, preachers, and musicians are as credobaptist as they are dispensational premillenialist, (c) Paedobaptism is associated with apostate mainline churches, “dead orthodoxy,” and baptismal regeneration, (d) the doctrine isn’t easy for even theologians to state clearly, and (e) there’s a suspicion that the Reformation simply didn’t shed enough “Roman” baggage.

The Reformed case for infant baptism is based on appeals to Scripture: that both old and new covenants are dispensations of the same covenant of grace (cf. Genesis 17, Romans 4), that the church has the same nature and design in both old and new, that baptism is a sign (symbol) and a seal (guarantee) of regeneration to those “to whom the grace belongs” (the elect), and thus that that “baptism is to the new what circumcision is to the old.” Infant baptism was the practice of the early church and the unanimous practice of church until the 16th century, while, in A.A. Hodge’s words, “its impugners (a) date since the Reformation, (b) and are generally guilty of the gross schismatical sin of close communion.” Augustine, c. 350 AD: The doctrine “is held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.”

Now, this whole post is not meant to tweak my Baptist brothers, much less to start an amateur internet debate, but to simply say that — agree or not — the doctrine is based on appeal to Scripture. The popular understanding that it’s nothing but stubborn adherence to tradition is wrong. Then again, with so many who act as if there was no church between the end of the apostolic era and the Reformation (which appallingly cedes vast territories to Rome and Constantinople), maybe this is just part of a wider misunderstanding.

19 Aug 2006

I came across this Modern English Study Version of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). I love it!

Chapter 1 of the WCF says that the Sriptures “are to be translated into the common language of every nation to which they come,” and most of us use modern, faithful Bible translations. So why are Reformational confessions and catechisms still stuck in a time warp? Why not translate all of them all into modern English, too? Maybe it will encourage people to start reading them again. Their interpretations are no less timeless today, and they are, after all, our official doctrinal standards.

16 Aug 2006

Unmentioned in all the news about fighting in the Middle East is that, according to Professor Walid Phares, a quarter of Lebanon’s population is Christian (at least in name). Dr. Phares is an author and Middle East expert who frequently shows up as an analyst on news talk shows. He adds this in an interesting article about “Arab” Christians:

The overwhelming majority of the Christians in the region are ethnically non-Arab, and their major common characteristic is their subjection to Arab colonialism and Islamic oppression for thirteen centuries. The Christians in the Middle East are not, as it was portrayed by the Arab regimes and many in the West, the followers of Christian faith among the Arab ethnic group. “Arab Christians” exist in few spots in the region, but they are a minuscule minority within the world of Middle Eastern Christianity.

Our Christian brothers, many of whom are descendants of the Assyrians and Phoenicians, some of whom can read Scripture in Aramaic, need our prayers.

15 Aug 2006

The Acts 15 deliberations bring joy every time I read them. The letter itself overflows with charity, brevity, and glad tidings:

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

12 Aug 2006

The task of the preacher is to show Christ to his audience. For precisely this reason, some churches have a plaque fastened to the pulpit just below the open Bible and visible only to the preacher. The plaque has the words, “Sir, we want to see Jesus” (John 12:21). The average member of a congregation listens to the preacher only on Sunday, during the worship service. He comes not to hear views on a number of topics that may or may not relate to his life; he has come to meet Jesus. And he meets Jesus through the faithful exposition of the Scriptures. The preacher must be a workman ‘who correctly handles the word of truth’ (II Timothy 2:15, NIV) and opens the Word for his audience. The old adage is worth repeating: Expound the Scriptures, Exhort the sinner, Exalt the Savior” -Simon Kistemaker, Commentary on Acts, verses 8:30-33

11 Aug 2006

Ever wanted to know an abortionist’s marketing dream for the future? Well, how about this menu from a Pittsburgh abortion clinic? One proposed package provides the gist:

5. Deluxe Spa Treatment– Get the luxury and personal attention you deserve!! Check into our special suite at the Jetson Hotel where you will meet with our experienced guide, who will be available to you for your abortion experience. After extensive orientation for you and your partner or family, enjoy a relaxing massage and jacuzzi. Full emotional support is available to you and those close to you, tailored to your needs. A full range of sedatives and pain relievers to choose from make for a pain free procedure by our experienced and friendly physician. Recover back in your suite and choose from 3 relaxing options–a foot massage, a mud pack facial, or a rebalancing of your shakras by our expert Reiki master. Then, enjoy room service from a 4 star restaurant. Our guide will be available to you to review aftercare and discuss any emotional issues. Full cable and choice of video entertainment available, and enjoy our feather pillow beds for a good night’s sleep. $3000


10 Aug 2006

Despite the background music, here’s another good site for anyone still interested in the Da Vinci Code. It is sponsored by Westminster Theological Seminary.

08 Aug 2006

Iain Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided teaches on every page. Murray was born on that precious stone set in the silver sea. In the best English way, he confronts error firmly and yet gently. His knowledge of Scripture and fear of the Lord hops out of the page, as does his charitable spirit toward the believers in all evangelical denominations (as he quotes Ryle: “Keep the walls of separation as low as possible, and shake hands over them as often as you can.”).

If you want to understand the faulty underpinnings of modern evangelicalism as it filtered through Billy Graham and Fuller Seminary (timely still given Rick Warren and others), or the corruption of evangelicalism in the Church of England (timely again given the possible marriage of those evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics who may leave the unrepentant Episcopal Church and realign into a new U.S. church), then this is your book.

Evangelicals, liberals, and Roman Catholics all differ on what the Gospel is, and thus differ on the answer to the key question: What is a Christian? One of Murray’s key themes is that the evangelical church cannot succeed as a political party succeeds, via compromises or an ill-defined (false) gospel acceptable to Catholics and/or liberals. Why? Because, Murray says:

The church is wholly dependent on supernatural aid and without that all success is short-lived and illusory [1 Sam 2:30, Zech 4:6]. … Liberalism gained its hold on Protestant churches because good men feared that unless concessions were made to the latest ‘scholarship’ the churches would lose their place in the modern world. Co-operation with non-evangelicals and participation in the ecumenical movement were promoted in the genuine hope of wider gains for the gospel and for an evangelical renaissance. Anglican evangelical alignment with Anglo-Catholics was justified as the best counterpoise to liberalism in the Church of England. Neutrality over whether the miraculous gifts of the apostolic era have been renewed in the charismatic movement was judged best for the preservation of evangelical unity. An acceptance of the basic Christianity of Roman Catholicism has been advanced as a sound way to strengthen protest against secular materialism…

I do not mean that the move away from principle was deliberate. The tempation was more subtle. The spiritual gains appeared substantial yet an ethos developed in which one concession led to another. No one thought that the sending of the names of those who made ‘decisions’ back to Roman Catholic churches would lead to Billy Graham being prepared to share a platform with the Pope, but it did. No one supposed that if members of Inter-Varsity gained recognition in the world of university theology they might begin to criticize the faith with which they began, but in a number of cases it has happened… In the words of Horatius Bonar, ‘Fellowship between faith and unbelief must, sooner or later, be fatal to the former.’ The reason is not that error is more powerful than truth; it is rather that, without the Holy Spirit, spiritual weakness is a certainty.

He quotes his former mentor, Martyn Lloyd Jones:

We have evidence before our very eyes that our staying amongst such people does not seem to be converting them to our view but rather to a lowering of the spiritual temperature of those who are staying amongst them and an increasing tendency to doctrinal accomodation and compromise.

05 Aug 2006

I like this plugin. It adds an English Standard Version (ESV) Bible search to the search bar (the little one to the right of the address bar). A Ctrl+K gets you to the search bar without using the mouse (hat tip: this helpful cheat sheet).

Or you can use a Firefox keyword for quick search of the Crosswalk Bible.

02 Aug 2006

This John Samson article gets it right: have we all not read enough “cage-stage” Calvinism? Most center on the Five Points. The back-and-forth on this issue has apparently convinced some opponents that Calvinism floats independently of Scripture. “Calvinists will not believe anything that goes against their system!”

Perhaps the reason people think it independent is that internet Calvinists often speak the language of theology texts, not Scripture; the language of men, not the language of God. It’s easy to pick on the ceaseless arguing, but self-examination is in order: How often have I spent twice as much time reading theology as Scripture itself? How often have I forgone prayer to read a book I’ll forget tomorrow? How often have I avoided the troublesome but rewarding task of memorizing Scripture? Too often.

It’s in reading and meditating on Scripture that the truths of the Gospel appear over and over again. Here in the Gospel of John, there in Romans, there in Ephesians, again in Galatians, and so forth. The great confessions – the Three Forms of Unity, the Westminster Confession, and even the 39 Articles – come alive, organically, in bright colors, for behind the “system” is Scripture itself. And behind Scripture is the living God. The system doesn’t live independently; it draws its life and truth from Scripture. If we only know our system and go about arguing other people’s systems, are we getting anywhere?

When reading the Bible, one finds that what Spurgeon said is true: “It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” For our great salvation is all of God:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. -Eph 2:1-10

To the Book!