Thursday, June 30, 2005

Studying the New Testament

For those who want an extremely helpful guide on exegesis, perhaps the best online resource is Gordon-Conwell's Reference Manual for Interpreting the New Testament, compiled by various professors over the years. If I'm not mistaken, it was all pulled together by Greg Beale. The table of contents is as follows:

1. Preface
2. Translation
3. Grammatical Context
4. Textual Criticism
5. Lexical Analysis
6. Historical Context
7. The Gospels

Another useful reference for modern exegetical tools is Denver Seminary's Exegesis Bibliography.

Modern Reformation on Emergent

The latest edition of Modern Reformation is devoted to the issue of the Emerging Church. In his opening editorial, Cool Kids Church, Eric Landry sets the stage and offers a preview of the issue:

Most of us here at Modern Reformation like the Emergent Church folks. Frankly, it’s a bit of a relief to have someone within Evangelicalism making the same points we’ve been trying to make for the past fourteen years. We also like
their interest in liturgy, in church history (prior to 1972), and in engaging with Scripture in ways that take it beyond the “handbook for living” genre that so many of our own churches have adopted. And, truth be told, we were always the nerdy kids in the youth group, so now that the cool kids with their cool hair, tats, and body piercings are saying much the same thing we do, we can’t help but look around with some appreciation.

But the appreciation is a nervous one. As much as we are warmed by their insightful criticism of Evangelicalism, we just can’t shake the sense that these children of the megachurch are taking their postmodern angst and marketing it to the urban jungles just like their chino-wearing, cool hair dads did in middle America. That, of course, leads us to wonder if Emergent will really offer anything substantially different than what they are critiquing.

After reading their books and blogs, conversing with them, and attending their conferences most of us just want to grab a beer and talk with these men and women. I think we would find that we have much in common and I would hope that our own like-minded efforts might serve to keep the Emergent folks from swinging the pendulum too far in an unhealthy direction. We’re grateful to New Testament scholar D.A. Carson for making the same point in his article, which we’ve adapted from his new book Becoming Conversant with Emergent. Carson’s article is a good overview of the Emergent movement’s concerns with a few pointed observations about evaluating the movement as it grows into maturity.

Shane Rosenthal, the executive producer of the White Horse Inn, had a chance to visit the Emergent conference that was held in San Diego this spring. His first-hand report also helps those who are curious about the movement get a better idea of its strengths and weaknesses. Turning to critique, Reformed theologian and editor in chief Michael Horton takes a hard look at the theology and practices that characterize the Emergent movement. We’ve also included a transcript of a discussion by younger Reformed and Lutheran pastors on how our own churches are responding to the concerns we hold in common with the Emergent movement. To make sure that we’re not dealing with caricatures we’ve included interviews with Brian McLaren and the late Stanley Grenz as well as extensive reviews of the seminal books in the movement.

Will the Emergent Church be anything other than another passing evangelical fad? We hope so. But in order to be such the movement will have to acknowledge how their history as an evangelical institution (as the Young leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, arms of the Leadership Network) continues to shape their present course. In order to be a real force for good within Evangelicalism the movement will have to go beyond Evangelicalism and appropriate a churchly tradition that gives it real depth, not just an ecclesiological field guide. Otherwise, their efforts at reform will be truncated, for Evangelicalism can’t be reformed. By its very nature the movement is shaped not by confession or doctrine but by personality, culture, and circumstance. And thus far, that seems to be what is shaping the efforts of the Emergent Church as well.

ModRef has posted online for free an excerpt from Carson's book as well as an interview with the late Stanley Grenz, conducted one month before his untimely death.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was originally preached by Jonathan Edwards in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741. It is the most famous sermon in American history.

Last year, on October 5, 2003--the 300th anniversary of Edwards's birth--Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. decided to do something he had never done before, nor plans to do again: preach another's sermon.

To listen to Dr. Dever provide the background to this sermon, and then to hear him preach this famous sermon, you can listen to an MP3 online for free.

May we all be sobered at this truth and reality. As Dr. Dever says: "If hell is real, it is a loving thing to warn people of it."

(HT: Paleoevangelical)

Max McLean has also produced a reading of the sermon, available for purchase through his site. You can also listen online for free to R.C. Sproul's introduction to the sermon.

Revival and Controversy

"Every true revival is born in controversy, and leads to more controversy. That has been true ever since our Lord said that He came not to bring peace upon the earth but a sword. And do you know what I think will happen when God sends a new Reformation upon the Church? We cannot tell when that blessed day will come. But when the blessed day does come, I think we can say at least one result that it will bring. We shall hear nothing on that day about the evils of controversy in the Church. All that will be swept away as with a mighty flood. A man who is on fire with a message never talks in that wretched, feeble way, but proclaims the truth joyously and fearlessly, in the presence of every high thing that is lifted up against the gospel of Christ."

--J. Gresham Machen, "The Importance of Christian Scholarship in Defense of the Faith"

Heresy-Hunting, Inside and Out

"A man cannot successfully go heresy-hunting against the sin in his own life if he is willing to deny His Lord in the presence of the enemies outside. The two battles are intimately connected. A man cannot fight successfully in one unless he fights also in the other."

--J. Gresham Machen, "The Importance of Christian Scholarship in Defense of the Faith"

Who Do You Worship?

Louie Giglio writes:
“Think of it this way: Worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: Worship is our response to what we value most. That’s why worship is that thing we all do. It’s what we’re all about on any given day. Worship is about saying, ‘This person, this thing, this experience (this whatever) is what matters most to me . . . it’s the thing of highest value in my life.’ That ‘thing’ might be a relationship. A dream. A position. Status. Something you own. A name. A job. Some kind of pleasure. Whatever name you put on it, this ‘thing’ is what you’ve concluded in your heart is worth most to you. And whatever is worth most to you is—you guessed it—what you worship. Worship, in essence, is declaring what we value most. As a result, worship fuels our actions, becoming the driving force of all we do. And we’re not just talking about the religious crowd. The Christian. The churchgoer among us. We’re talking about everybody on planet earth. A multitude of souls proclaiming with every breath what is worthy of their affection, their attention, their allegiance. Proclaiming with every step what it is they worship. Some of us attend the church on the corner, professing to worship the living God above all. Others, who rarely darken the church doors, would say worship isn’t a part of their lives because they aren’t ‘religious.’ But everybody has an altar. And every altar has a throne. So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy: You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne, and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying; ‘I worship my stuff. I worship my job. I worship this pleasure. I worship her. I worship my body. I worship me!’ But the trail never lies. We may say we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words.”

(HT: Lig Duncan)

Mohler on the Emerging Church

Al Mohler reviews D.A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church today. Key quotes:

There is a thin-skinned sensitivity on the part of many of those who identify with the Emerging Church. Even as they level severe and unstinting criticism at the inherited evangelical models, they recoil from criticism directed at their own proposals. The issues at stake in this controversy transcend sensitivities and are far too important to be sidelined in the name of uncritical acceptance. As always, truth remains the ultimate issue.

. . . Contemporary evangelicals face the responsibility, not only of becoming conversant with the Emerging Church, but of continuing a conversation about what this movement really represents and where its trajectory is likely to lead. Some of the best, brightest, and most sensitive and insightful individuals from the younger evangelical generation have been drawn to this movement. Undoubtedly, they have much to offer in terms of legitimate criticism of mainstream evangelicalism. The evangelical movement is far too immersed in pragmatism, experientialism, consumerism, and anti-intellectualism. Evangelicals seem only too eager to provide evidence of cultural isolationism and an eccentric grasp of cultural priorities.

Beyond all this, far too many evangelicals seem unconcerned about the absence of authentic ecclesiology--failing to see a vision of the church that is driven by the very missional and incarnational priorities that drive many within the Emerging Church Movement.

The real question is this: will the future leaders of the Emerging Church acknowledge that, while truth is always more than propositional, it is never less? Will they come to affirm that a core of non-negotiable doctrines constitutes a necessary set of boundaries to authentic Christian faith? Will they embrace an understanding of Christianity that reforms the evangelical movement without denying its virtues?

At the same time, the tables must be turned. Will evangelicals be willing to direct hard and honest critical analysis at our own cultural embeddedness, intellectual faults, and organizational hubris?

The Emerging Church and its leaders are right to insist that substance must be preferred to superficiality. We can only pray and hope that they will remember and acknowledge that substance requires a substantial and honest embrace of truth.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"Pottery Barn" Democrats vs. "Home Depot" Republicans

The Wall Street Journal editorial this morning, in response to the Democrats' criticism of the President and their proposals for what to do about Iraq, seems to me to be spot on. After surveying the views of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden, they write:

We stress Mr. Biden's views because he strikes us as one Democrat who understands the stakes in Iraq and seems genuinely interested in a good outcome. The thinness of even his policy alternatives suggests that Democrats really don't have any better ideas than the two-pronged Bush strategy of 1) supporting a new, inclusive democratic Iraqi government and 2) training and deploying Iraqi security forces as rapidly as possible.

As for the sincerity of Mr. Biden's colleagues, we are less sure. That goes especially for the 122 House Democrats--Barney Frank, Rahm Emanuel and Charlie Rangel among them--who last month supported a Congressional resolution calling for a timetable for withdrawal. This is a guarantee of defeat. These are the "Pottery Barn" Democrats, who claim to support the war effort on the premise that since the U.S. "broke" Iraq (rather than Saddam), the U.S. has to fix it--even as they have nothing but criticism to offer.

So what's left? It's not as if there's no room to criticize the President's policy. Senator John McCain insists we need more troops on the ground, and while we think Mr. Bush convincingly rebutted that view in his speech, at least it's an argument worth having. A more serious criticism is the failure so far to inflict harsher penalties on Syria for its continued support for the insurgency. On these and other points, the Democrats could contribute to a victory in Iraq. But that isn't going to happen until more of them, or even some of them, switch from the Pottery Barn to the Home Depot rule: You Can Do It, We Can Help. . . .

Franklin Graham on His Father and the Clintons

A commentor points me to this new answer on the BGEA website:
Q: Is there a response from the BGEA addressing questions about Bill and Hilary Clinton's appearance on the platform at the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade?

A: Thank you for your concern regarding comments about former President and Senator Clinton at the recent Greater New York Crusade. Franklin Graham has issued the following statement addressing this topic:
Recently at my father’s New York Crusade, he made comments in jest concerning the Clintons, which may have been misunderstood. His comments indicated that President Clinton could have been an evangelist and his wife, Senator Clinton, could run the country. My father, of course, was joking. President Clinton has the charisma, personality, and communication skills, but an evangelist has to have the call of God, which President Clinton obviously does not have, and my father understands that. For a long time, my father has refrained from endorsing political candidates and he certainly did not intend for his comments to be an endorsement for Senator Hillary Clinton. While his political views are quite different than the Clintons, they remain good friends.

–Franklin Graham

The Valley of Vision

I'm thrilled to learn that Max McLean has now recorded The Valley of Vision onto CD:

The Valley of Vision is a collection of prayers and devotions taken from the writings of spiritual giants like John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, Isaac Watts, and Richard Baxter. These men were not only devoted students of the Bible, but men who expressed an enthusiasm for prayer that is inspiring and contagious. Compiled by Arthur Bennett, Canon of St. Albans Cathedral, England, The Valley of Vision captures their devotion and reflects the wide variety of joys and struggles that we are privileged to bring before our Father in heaven. In this audio collection, gifted narrator Max McLean presents a heartfelt narration that releases the passion within these prayers in a way that will assist your own personal devotion. Listening to these prayers will inform your own prayer life and help you to approach God with humility and faith.

You can listen to a sample at Max McLean's website.

A couple of new additions to the website. We've added two resources by J. I. Packer:

(1) Packer's analytical outline of The Death of Death in the Death of Christ--the classic text on the Reformed doctrine of definite atonement. Packer writes that Owen

has a lordly disdain for broad introductions which ease the mind gently into a subject, and for comprehensive summaries which gather up scattered points into a small space. He obviously carries the whole of his design in his head, and expects his readers to do the same. Nor are his chapter divisions reliable pointers to the structure of his discourse, for though a change of subject is usually marked by a chapter division, Owen often starts a new chapter where there is no break in the thought at all. Nor is he concerned about literary proportions; the space given to a topic is determined by it intrinsic complexity rather than its relative importance, and the reader is left to work out what is basic and what is secondary by noting how things link together. Anyone who seriously tackles The Death of Death will probably find it helpful to use a pencil and paper in his study of the book and jot down the progress of the exposition.

This outline is therefore a great aid to readers in following Owen's exposition.

(2) Packer's short introduction to an abridged version of Owen's exposition of Hebrews, Owen's "massive two-million-word exposition of Hebrews, which fills seven of the twenty-three volumes of the standard edition of his works."

Mohler on The Truth About Hillary

Al Mohler joins with others in his disgust at the new, big, anti-Hillary-Clinton book by Edward Klein:

Christians should repudiate this book and determine to take no pleasure in it. Why?

First, because we are morally obligated to tell the truth, to honor the truth, and to respect the truth. A quick look at The Truth About Hillary is enough to reveal the lack of documentation that would justify many of his charges and 'revelations.' Rumor is no substitute for evidence, and unnamed sources that dish out personal dirt are morally reprehensible and worthless in terms of credibility.

Second, because taking pleasure in this book will divert our attention from what really matters--the battle of ideas and the hard work of intellectual engagement. We should direct our energies to engaging the policies, proposals, and ideological commitments represented by Hillary Clinton---not to dirt-throwing contests over scandals without evidence.

Third, because we know that character really does matter--and this means the character of those on both sides of a political contest or controversy. Those who oppose Hillary Clinton's policies and ideas will reveal true character by focusing on those policies and ideas--not on scandalous rumors. Inevitably, character will reveal itself, especially in the crucible of a heated political contest.

Fourth, as Christians, we are not to take pleasure in the real or imagined wrongdoing of others. We must not give ourselves permission to read a book that will encourage us to feel morally superior about ourselves, even as it poisons our hearts about someone seen as a threat to what we cherish.

Read something edifying this summer. So many books . . . so little time. Don't waste your time--or tempt your heart--with The Truth About Hillary.

Emergent on PBS

PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly will present a two-part series on The Emerging Church. (check local listings).
In this two-part report, correspondent Kim Lawton examines how some evangelical and mainline Protestants are rethinking Christianity for a new generation. In conversations conducted largely through 'blogs,' leaders of the emerging church movement argue that old models and categories are no longer effective. They are developing new theologies and new forms of worship, often blending elements from different traditions - and eras - of Christianity.
Some are generating controversy for urging a radical re-examination of conventional understandings of the faith. In the first report, Lawton explores the diverse ways the emerging church movement is taking shape at the local level, profiling a congregation in Minneapolis that uses couches and recliners instead of pews, and going behind-the scenes at experimental worship sessions that blend contemporary technology with ancient religious practices. Lawton also talks with leaders of the movement about how they are reassessing what it means to follow Jesus in today's culture, and hears from one critic who says that some parts of the movement are threatening traditional Christianity. In the conclusion, Lawton conducts an extended interview with Brian McLaren, named by Time magazine earlier this year as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. McLaren, whose writings have played a key role in emerging church conversations, advocates a 'generous orthodoxy' that is 'post-conservative and post-liberal.' He also raises provocative questions about traditional teachings on subjects such as hell and the afterlife.

[HT: Melinda at STR]

Vos on Preaching and the Gospel

". . . whatever topic you preach on and whatever text you choose, there ought not to be in your whole repertoire a single sermon in which from beginning to end you do not convey to your hearers the impression that what you want to impart to them, you do not think it possible to impart to them in any other way than as a correlate and consequence of the eternal salvation of their souls through the blood of Christ, because in your own conviction that alone is the remedy which you can honestly offer to a sinful world."

--Geerhardus Vos, A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 5:7

Cited in A Geerhardus Vos Anthology, ed. Danny E. Olinger (P&R, 2005).

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Peacemaking Women

Baker Books has just released a new book--Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope For Resolving Conflict by Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler--that comes with some glowing endorsements:

"Peacemaking Women is not just for women and is not just about peacemaking. This powerfully honest book is about the peace the gospel brings every heart that applies the truths of the gospel to past wounds and present brokenness. And this book is about how personally embracing this gospel of peace makes each of us a loving instrument of God's grace to others."--Bryan Chapell, president, Covenant Theological Seminary

"Judy Dabler and Tara Barthel weave into Peacemaking Women their wealth of wisdom and experience in counseling and conciliation. They show that conflict resolution demands more than communication techniques and negotiation strategies. Real peace (with God, others, ourselves) flourishes only when the deep drives of our hearts are captivated by the God of peace. In other words, the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ alone contains the life-changing mercy and power to heal our relationships with our Maker, each other, and our own conflicted hearts.
Real people populate these pages, not only the authors but also the women (and some men) whom they have helped find peace in the love of Jesus (and some whom they've tried to help-their realism also admits that not everyone wants peace on God's terms). Their stories, told with refreshing humility and honesty, show how concretely practical the Bible's theology of peace is and speak hope that God's shalom can and does invade our broken lives and relationships in sovereign grace. I learned much about women, myself, and my God and his grace from Peacemaking Women. I highly recommend it."--Dennis E. Johnson, academic dean and professor of practical theology, Westminster Seminary California

"This book tells the truth. The authors know the struggles of women and they offer hope rooted in God's Word to transform conflict into grace in lives, families, churches, and communities."--Charles Colson, founder, Prison Fellowship

"Peacemaking Women is worth a dozen counseling sessions. The chapter on romantic love is worth the price of the book."--Charles Mylander, coauthor, Blessed Are the Peacemakers

"Women know how conflict can threaten to tear apart relationships and homes. And worse yet, this conflict frequently begins within our own hearts, working its way out in demands and desires that can seem overwhelming. Peacemaking Women isn't just another book on communication or conflict resolution. It will open your eyes to the role our idolatrous hearts play in our conflicts and then point you back to the Peacemaker who took peacemaking so seriously he was willing to die for it. I strongly recommend it!"--Elyse Fitzpatrick, author, Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety

A Preview of President Bush's Speech Tonight

From the White House (via the Corner):

As Prepared for Delivery

Tonight, President Bush will address the Airborne and Special Operations Forces at Ft. Bragg to mark the one year anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people. The President will address the violence in Iraq and will answer the fundamental question on the minds of the American people:

"The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying – and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country. And tonight I will explain the reasons why."

While acknowledging that the new Iraqi government and coalition forces have experienced tough fighting and suicide bombings, the President will explain why the terrorists are failing:

"The terrorists can kill the innocent – but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11 … if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi … and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden."

After detailing both our military and political strategy in Iraq, the President will provide the American people with a broader, strategic understanding of the stakes in Iraq, the enemy we face, and why he’s optimistic the Iraqi people and coalition forces will prevail:

"We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America’s resolve. We are fighting against men with blind hatred – and armed with lethal weapons – who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq – just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat – and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins."

This is a crucial time, and it will be a crucial speech. Feel free to weigh in later regarding whether or not you think it was compelling.

Recommended Reading

Not too long ago I linked to a survey by Barna that listed the books and authors that were most influencing pastors. For many of us, the results were largely depressing.

So what books should pastors (and laypeople!) be reading? One good place to start would be with the recommended reading lists provided by 9Marks Ministries and Desiring God. For a helpful list of contemporary books on Christian living, you also might want to check out the CCEF bookstore.

[Link has been fixed]

A More Perfect Society?

Angela Beise--a missionary and the mother of four children, including a 10-year-old with a rare genetic chromosomal disorder ("18Q-minus")--ponders the news that as medical technology is increasing, the number of parents who are willing to carry their children with disabilities to full term is descreasing. She writes:

As I pondered this potential "perfect" society, one verse from the Bible kept coming to my mind: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit" (Phil. 2:3). Parenting a child with special needs makes living out this verse a little easier.

This child becomes the focus of most of his parents' time and energy. An enormous amount of money may have to be spent on therapists, doctors, hospitals, and equipment. He limits what dreams his parents can pursue. They grieve throughout his lifetime. They not only grieve the child they "lost" at his birth, but grieve as they see him struggle with tasks that normally come easy, grieve when he realizes that he is not like other children, and often when he is in physical or emotional pain. They have little room left for selfish ambition.

What about vain conceit? That is likely to die, too. It's often embarrassing to have a child who cries out in public for no reason, looks different, and acts different. He won't be at the top of his class, won't be the best athlete, and will probably never be voted Most Beautiful or Most Likely to Succeed.

I wonder, if our advanced technologies successfully eliminate the weak and needy, will future scholars, theologians, politicians, and poets ponder: "Why has our society become less loving, so selfish, so intolerant, so uncommitted to anything outside of individual gain? Why are we so full of selfish ambition and vain conceit?" Is this "perfect" society a place where any of us would want to live?

The Greatest American

The Disovery Channel's Greatest American campaign is now over. After three million votes, the winner is Ronald Reagan, edging out Abraham Lincoln.

Just last night I finished watching an excellent documentary on DVD, called: In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed. The film is about "one man’s triumph during the bloodiest and most barbaric century in mankind’s history: the 20th century. It "chronicles the brutal conflict between totalitarianism and freedom as seen through Ronald Reagan’s forty-year confrontation with Communism."

One of the highlights of the DVD for me is being able to view some of Reagan's key speeches in full. Especially significant is Reagan's 1964 speech, "A Time for Choosing," given at a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. This address eventually became referred to as simply "The Speech." (You can watch, listen to, or read the speech online.) This was Reagan's first opportunity to set forth his politics to the American public in a televised setting. The speech still has tremendous relevance for today. It demonstrates Reagan's command of economics, his insight into the nature of the worldwide struggle for freedom, and his mastery of rhetorical persuasion. It was so brilliant and powerful, that it has been said that there was a collective sense in the room that night that the Republicans had nominated the wrong man for president!

Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us that they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy 'accommodation.' And they say if we only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he will forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer . . . not an easy one . . . but a simple one, if you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based upon what we know in our hearts is morally right."

"We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, 'Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin, we are willing to make a deal with your slave-masters.' Let's set the record straight. There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace . . . and you can have it in the next second . . . surrender!"

"Admittedly there is a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face. . . that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand--the ultimatum."

Monday, June 27, 2005

David Wells Interview

In the most recent 9 Marks interview, Mark Dever interviews David Wells. You can listen to Changing Minds: Theology and Culture for free at the 9 Marks site.

Aid to Nigeria

According to the London Telegraph:

The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria's past rulers stole or misused £220 billion. [JT: If my calculations are right, that's about $400 billion in US dollars.]

That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa's most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent. . . .

The stolen fortune tallies almost exactly with the £220 billion of western aid given to Africa between 1960 and 1997. That amounted to six times the American help given to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan.

British aid for Africa totalled £720 million last year. If that sum was spent annually for the next three centuries, it would cover the cost of Nigeria's looting.

[HT: SmartChristian Blog]

Did Hillary's Presidential Candidacy Just Receive Its First Evangelical Endorsement?

AP: "Graham called the Clintons 'wonderful friends' and 'a great couple,' quipping that the former president should become an evangelist and allow 'his wife to run the country.'"

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Who Owns Palestine?

Who owns Palestine? What are Israel's rights with regard to the Land? Is there a divine right for the nation of Israel?

Both John Frame's short essay Who Owns Palestine? and John Piper's sermon, Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East attempt to answer these questions--and their perspective is rather similar.
Frame argues: "The political issue itself must be settled either by negotiation, or by war, or by some combination of these. Neither Jews nor Palestinians have such a clear claim to the land that everyone must instantly recognize it. The Arabs gained the territory through military conquest. The Jews gained some of it back through their own conquest in 1948 and subsequent wars. This is the time-honored way of establishing sovereignty throughout human history. Modern observers should not be scandalized at the thought of such issues being settled by military force, nor should we refuse to recognize a regime simply because it was established through force. Most every government today owes its existence to someone in the past who conquered its territory by war or revolution."

And Piper think that a peaceful settlement should be sought not on the basis of "present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility."

If this issue interests you, I encourage you to read their pieces for fuller explanation and argumentation.

"Why Do We Need Fairy Tales and Fantasy?"

In their new book, Faerie Gold: Treasures from the Lands of Enchantment (a collection of classics for young readers), Kathryn Lindskoog and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker include a message to parents and teacher entitled "Why Do We Need Fairy Tales and Fantasy?" Here's the outline of their reasons:

  1. They stimulate imagination and creativity.
  2. They help readers empathize with others and develop compassion.
  3. They carry readers beyond the restrictions of time and space and promote a sense of mystery and transcendence.
  4. They satisfy the innate desire for communion with other living things.
  5. They show how the small and powerless can triumph through perseverance and patience.
  6. They awaken higher ideals without preaching.
  7. They help readers envision a better society where intelligence, courage, and compassion prevail.
The classic case for fairy tales is J.R.R. Tolkien's "On Faerie Stories." Highly recommended reading.

I couldn't locate it online, though. (If anyone can find a link, let me know and I'll add it.)

(HT: Matt Reimer)

Joel Osteen Apologizes

Al Mohler delivers this heartening news:

Joel Osteen has issued an apology for his disappointing June 20 appearance on CNN's Larry King Live program. The apology is published on the Joel Osteen Ministries Web site.

"It was never my desire or intention to leave any doubt as to what I believe and Whom I serve," he stated. "I believe with all my heart that it is only through Christ that we have hope in eternal life. I regret and sincerely apologize that I was unclear on the very thing in which I have dedicated my life."

Further: "I believe that Jesus Christ alone is the only way to salvation. However, it wasn't until I had the opportunity to review the transcript of the interview that I realize I had not clearly stated that having a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to heaven. It's about the individual's choice to follow Him."

The statement reflected both humility and candor. "God has given me a platform to present the Gospel to a very diverse audience. In my desire not to alienate the people that Jesus came to save, I did not clearly communicate the convictions that I hold so precious," he acknowledged. He also described the interview and its aftermath as "a learning experience" and expresssed his confidence that "God will ultimately use it for my good and His glory."

Mr. Osteen's statement is encouraging on several fronts. First, it is encouraging to know that the constituency of Joel Osteen Ministries was so upset about the interview. Second, Mr. Osteen's statement includes a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Third, the timeliness of the statement underlines the importance of the issues at stake. Fourth, Mr. Osteen's apology is free from the evasions typical of the pseudo-apologies so often issued to the public. He did not say that "statements were made," but instead acknowledged that he had failed to communicate Gospel truth. The humility and honesty of the statement serve to fortify its authenticity.

This is a reminder to all of us who appear in the media. Statements made to an audience of millions are difficult to retract and are often impossible to correct. When Mr. Osteen writes, "I hope that you accept my deepest apology and see it in your heart to extend to me grace and forgiveness," the only proper response is to extend the very forgiveness for which he asks -- and with equal humility. Our other concerns about his theology can wait for another day.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Kids

Here's a picture of Claira and Malachi together.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Prayer and Predestination

Prayerless: I understand that you believe in the providence of God. Is that right?

Prayerful: Yes.

Prayerless: Does that mean you believe, like the Heidelberg Catechism says, that nothing comes about by chance but only by God's design and plan?

Prayerful: Yes, I believe that's what the Bible teaches.

Prayerless: Then why do you pray?

Prayerful: I don't see the problem. Why shouldn't we pray?

Prayerless: Well, if God ordains and controls everything, then what he plans from of old will come to pass, right?

Prayerful: Yes.

Prayerless: So it's going to come to pass whether you pray or not, right.

Prayerful: That depends on whether God ordained for it to come to pass in answer to prayer. If God predestined that something happen in answer to prayer, it won't happen without prayer.

Prayerless: Wait a minute, this is confusing. Are you saying that every answer to prayer is predestined or not?

Prayerful: Yes, it is. It's predestined as an answer to prayer.

Prayerless: So if the prayer doesn't happen, the answer doesn't happen?

Prayerful: That's right.

Prayerless: So the event is contingent on our praying for it to happen?

Prayerful: Yes. I take it that by contingent you mean prayer is a real reason that the event happens, and without the prayer the event would not happen.

Prayerless: Yes that's what I mean. But how can an event be contingent on my prayer and still be eternally fixed and predestined by God?

Prayerful: Because your prayer is as fixed as the predestined answer.

Prayerless: Explain.

Prayerful: It's not complicated. God providentially ordains all events. God never ordains an event without a cause. The cause is also an event. Therefore, the cause is also foreordained. So you cannot say that the event will happen if the cause doesn't because God has ordained otherwise. The event will happen if the cause happens.

Prayerless: So what you are saying is that answers to prayer are always ordained as effects of prayer which is one of the causes, and that God predestined the answer only as an effect of the cause.

Prayerful: That's right. And since both the cause and the effect are ordained together you can't say that the effect will happen even if the cause doesn't because God doesn't ordain effects without causes.

Prayerless: Can you give some illustrations?

Prayerful: Sure. If God predestines that I die of a bullet wound, then I will not die if no bullet is fired. If God predestines that I be healed by surgery, then if there is no surgery, I will not be healed. If God predestines heat to fill my home by fire in the furnace, then if there is no fire, there will be no heat. Would you say, "Since God predestines that the sun be bright, it will be bright whether there is fire in the sun or not"?

Prayerless: No.

Prayerful: I agree. Why not?

Prayerless: Because the brightness of the sun comes from the fire.

Prayerful: Right. That's the way I think about the answers to prayer. They are the brightness, and prayer is the fire. God has established the universe so that in larger measure it runs by prayer, the same way he has established brightness so that in larger measure it happens by fire. Doesn't that make sense?

Prayerless: I think it does.

Prayerful: Then let's stop thinking up problems and go with what the Scriptures say. Ask and you will receive. You have not because you ask not.

Libertarian Free Will and the Absurdity of Praying for Others

Excerpt from John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, pp. 705-706.

If I [believe in libertarian freedom and] plead with God to remove my friend’s illness, that is not absurd, for God can answer that prayer without negating anyone’s freedom. But what about the request that God change the attitudes and actions of my friend’s tyrannical boss? What about petitions that ask God to move those processing applications for graduate school to accept my friend? Or what about prayers that ask God to keep my enemies at work from bothering me? And what about pleading with God to save a dear relative or friend? In all of these cases, what am I asking God to do, if libertarian free will obtains? I am either asking God to override others’ freedom, or I am asking him to move them to do something freely in spite of the fact that my belief in libertarian free will means that I believe Gold cannot get anybody to do anything freely. If I truly value libertarian free will as much as libertarians say they do, why would I ask God to override it just because of my petition? . . . Libertarians may be asking God to try to persuade their friends, but I repeat that God can only guarantee their persuasion by casual determinism, and that abridges libertarian free will.

On the other hand, if I am not asking God to override someone else’s freedom, then I’m asking him to do something which I believe he cannot do (make it the case that someone else does something freely). I may ask him to try to persuade the person, but I know that without God overriding their freedom, he cannot guarantee that they will change. In fact, since at the moment of free decision making nothing decisively inclines their will, regardless of what God or anyone else does or says, the matter may be hopeless. In light of such problems with interceding with God to change someone’s incompatibilistically free actions or attitudes, there is good reason for anyone committed to libertarian free will who understands the implications of the position to think twice before offering intercessory prayers of the kind mentioned. In fact, prayer to change either our or others’ actions seems problematic.

Libertarian Free Will and the Absurdity of Praying for Oneself

Excerpt from John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, pp. 705.

…[W]ith libertarian free will many prayers make no sense. . . .

…[C]onsider petitions about ourselves that do involve our free will. Suppose we ask the Lord to help us be more faithful in Bible reading, prayer, and witnessing. Or suppose we pray that the Lord will help us treat our family or neighbor better. I maintain that if libertarian free will obtains in our world, these are to a large degree absurd requests. For what are we asking God to do? In order for me to be more faithful in Bible reading, prayer, and witnessing, won’t I have to decide to do these things? But if I have libertarian free will and am allowed to exercise it, how can God fulfill my request? If he doesn’t override my libertarian freedom, he cannot guarantee the fulfillment of my request. So what am I asking him to do? Override my freedom? Make it the case that I freely decide to do these things? But here libertarians tell us that, if God brings it about that we do anything, we don’t do it freely. It seems that God cannot be certain to grant my request unless he overrides my freedom, but why would God want me to engage in these spiritual exercises because I’m forced to do so (according to my libertarian free will, I would be forced, but God wants my love and devotion freely!)? Shouldn’t I, then, petition myself in an attempt to convince myself to do these things? After all, only I can freely effect what I choose to do, given libertarian free will. But if I did petition myself, wouldn’t that usually mean I had already decided to do these things, and if so, the petition becomes unnecessary? I submit, then, that unless I really want God to override my freedom, what I ask him in these cases is absurd. If he doesn’t tamper with my libertarian free will, he can’t do what I ask; only I can, but petitioning myself engages me in the further absurdities mentioned.

Durbin's Original Draft

Many are now aware of Senator Dick Durbin's tearful apology the other day on the Senate floor after he compared our military to the Nazis. But few have heard that the original draft of that apology--which differs markedly from the actual apology--has been leaked to the press. Here it is.

(For the ironically challenged, this is a parody!)

Joel Osteen, the Megachurch, and the Mini-Gospel

Do you know the two most popular admission tickets that Ticketmaster sells? According to a knowledeable source, U-2 is #1. And Joel Osteen is #2.

Who is Joel Osteen? He's the pastor of Houston's Lakewood Church and author of the best-selling book, Your Best Life Now (currently ranked #41 on 30,000 people attend Osteen's church. 7 million watch him each week on TV. (For more on Osteen's life, background, and beliefs, see Christianity Today's profile on him: Thou Shalt Not Be Negative.)

Osteen was interviewed on the June 20 program of Larry King Live. I encourage everyone to read the transcript. (One interesting factoid from the interview with Larry King: Osteen said "I don't know" 45 times--an average, I'd guess, once per minute.)

Here is but one of many mind-boggling exchanges:

KING: But you believe your way.

OSTEEN: I believe my way. I believe my way with all my heart.

KING: But for someone who doesn't share it is wrong, isn't he?

OSTEEN: Well, yes. Well, I don't know if I look at it like that. I would present my way, but I'm just going to let God be the judge of that. I don't know. I don't know.

KING: So you make no judgment on anyone?

OSTEEN: No. But I...

KING: What about atheists?

OSTEEN: You know what, I'm going to let someone -- I'm going to let God be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell. I just -- again, I present the truth, and I say it every week. You know, I believe it's a relationship with Jesus. But you know what? I'm not going to go around telling everybody else if they don't want to believe that that's going to be their choice. God's got to look at your own heart. God's got to look at your heart, and only God knows that.

What should our reaction be to this? First, I think there should be a mingling of righteous anger and deep sadness, that so many people believe that this man's teachings are representative of Scripture and that it can offer true and lasting hope. Second, I believe it should cause us to have a greater resolve to preach and teach the whole counsel of God. (For some excellent thoughts on this, see John Piper's talk at the recent PCA convention--available online as audio or manuscript.) Third, we must speak the truth and condemn error where we see it. We must do so humbly and brokenheartedly, but with courage and conviction. The apostle Paul wrote that "even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). Osteen is presenting a pseudo-gospel, and we must not be afraid to say it.

Al Mohler comments on his blog:

I have avoided mention of Mr. Osteen thus far. His church claims to have over 30,000 in weekly attendance and he has an expanding base of operations and growing influence. He obviously means well and loves to help people. His message of smiling affirmation is well received by thousands who come to his church and by millions more who watch him on television and read his books. But affirmation and encouragement, devoid of biblical content and context, will quickly turn into a message leading "from death to death" (2 Corinthians 3:16). In contrast, the Gospel leads "from life to life," telling us the truth about ourselves and pointing us to Christ for our salvation. We must encourage persons to believe in Christ, to repent of their sins, to trust in Christ alone, and to live for God's glory. Anything less is an encouragement to eternal disaster.

My prayer is that the church would rise up to faithfully, courageously, winsomely proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ . As Sam Storms recently wrote in a must-read meditation on "The Mega Church and the Mini-Gospel":

if you are a pastor or member of a mega church that faithfully proclaims the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone, I pray that your congregation would expand to even greater heights. If you unashamedly affirm the reality of divine wrath (without redefining it as simply the inevitable moral consequences of sin), the pervasive depravity of the human heart, the necessity of the new birth and repentance, and the centrality of God’s glory in all things, I’m thrilled that your church is mega! You have my permission to ignore the rest of this article. My complaint isn’t with you. In other words, as long as your gospel is as big as your membership roll, I praise God with you for such an outpouring of divine favor.

. . .

What bothers me is the consistent and somewhat humanistic message of human potential, personal fulfillment, and hope for prosperity, together with an obsession for self-esteem, that is proclaimed from pulpits that rarely hear the echo of solid exegesis or communication of the content of Holy Scripture. This soul-shrinking “gospel” serves only to distract people from what makes the biblical gospel good news: the majestic, mind-blowing beauty of a transcendently holy God who graciously condescends in the person of his Son to absorb in himself the punishment we all so richly and eternally deserved.



Aliens invade earth in a cosmic battle! Is this the plot of Tom Cruise's new movie, War of the Worlds? Yes. But it's also the explanation for the origin of evil on earth according to Cruise's religion, Scientology.

Those that reach the higher teachings (OT III) within the Church of Scientology will learn all about Xenu, the evil intergalactic ruler who implanted "thetans" or alien spirits, in earth's volcanoes 75 million years ago, after which they escaped and invaded human bodies. The ultimate belief of Scientology is that you are possessed by the spirits of aliens murdered 75 million years ago by "Xenu" and you have to exorcise these spirits. The cost of reaching OT III approaches $360,000.

According to MSNBC,

The search engine company Lycos reported that “Scientology” had leaped into the top 50 search terms last week for the first time, hitting 37, marking a 260 percent increase in interest — a spike the company attributed to the Cruise-Holmes effect. In fact, said Lycos in a press release, Scientology was now the most-searched-for “ology,” acing out the likes of geology, technology and astrology.

For a more detailed look at their teachings and philosophy, see the entry at Wikipedia.

For a Christian critique, see John Weldon's From Science Fiction to Space-Age Religion.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Carolyn McCulley

My friend Carolyn McCulley--one of the contributors to Sex and the Supremacy of Christ and the author of Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred--has a new blog: Among other things, she's answering questions that have come in from readers of her book. Here is her description of herself and her blog:

Because I've survived to my forties as a single woman and I managed to write a book (Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred), I've ended up as a minor "expert" on singleness. Believe me, that was never my goal! But apparently it's been God's goal so far, and for that reason it's been an honor to be used by Him to encourage other single women (and the single men who lurk here). When I'm not pontificating about singleness, I am either at work (Sovereign Grace Ministries), at church (Covenant Life), Starbucks (let's be honest!) or in front of my mirror trying for a good hair day.

Hats off to Carolyn--as well as Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters--for offering such an seriously joyful (or is it joyfully serious?) presence in the blogosphere for Christian women!

A Reader's Guide Through the Wardrobe

This fall IVP will be publishing A Reader's Guide Through the Wardrobe: Exploring C.S. Lewis's Classic Story, by Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead. Paul Ford, author of Companion to Narnia and Pocket Companion to Narnia, says this book "is the most thorough literary study of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that I have ever read."

Against Libertarian Free Will

John Frame, in a forthcoming IVP Dictionary of Apologetics article on “Determinism, Chance and Freedom,” outlines the case against the Arminian notion of libertarian freedom:

  1. Human intuition reveals that we choose among various alternatives, but it never reveals to us that any of our choices are absolutely uncaused. Intuition cannot prove a universal negative.
  2. Far from teaching that libertarian freedom is essential to moral responsibility, Scripture never mentions libertarian freedom.
  3. This doctrine would make it impossible for us to judge anyone’s guilt in a court of law. For to prove someone responsible for a crime and therefore guilty, the prosecution would have to take on the impossible burden of proof of showing that the decision of the accused had no cause whatsoever.
  4. Law courts, indeed, assume the opposite of libertarianism, namely that people are responsible only for actions that they are sufficiently motivated to perform. If it could be shown that an accused person committed a crime without any sufficient cause or motivation at all he would most likely be judged insane rather than guilty.
  5. Scripture contradicts libertarianism, by ascribing divine causes to human decisions (Exod. 34:24, Is. 44:28, Dan. 1:9, John 19:24, Acts 13:48, 16:14), even sinful ones (Gen. 45:5-8, Ps. 105:24, Luke 22:22, Acts 2:23-24, 3:18, 4:27-28, Rom. 9:17). In none of these (or many other) cases does divine causation eliminate human responsibility. In fact, these texts often mention human responsibility in the same context.
  6. Scripture also contradicts libertarianism by teaching that human decisions are governed by the heart (Luke 6:45), and by teaching that the human heart itself is under God’s control (Ps. 33:15, Prov. 21:1).
  7. In Scripture, the basis of human responsibility is not libertarian freedom, but (a) God’s sovereign right to evaluate the conduct of his creatures (Rom. 9:19-21), and (b) the knowledge (Luke 12:47-48, Rom. 1:18-32) and resources (Matt. 25:14-29) God has given to each person. (b) shows that in Scripture there is an important relation between responsibility and ability, but the abilities in view here do not include the absolute ability to choose opposite courses of action.

Children as Pride Protectors

John Piper writes:

One thing to watch for when assessing a person’s spiritual fitness for ministry is how he or she relates to children. Put a child in the room and watch. This is what Jesus did to make his point. Children are the litmus paper to expose the presence of pride.

Read the whole thing.

Economics in One Lesson

Every Christian should know some basic economics. One of the (many) reasons is that we are called by God through his Word to care for the poor. But there are wildly differing views on how to do that, and what the role of government should (or shouldn't) be in helping the poor and the downtrodden. Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, for example, give answers that are very different from Marvin Olasky and Chuck Colson. In order to evaluate who has the better arguments, it is necessary to study both the Word and the world. A knowledge of economics can help us with the latter.

One fruitful place to begin is with Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics, originally written in 1946. F.A. Hayek wrote: "I know of no other modern book from which the intelligent layman can learn so much about the basic truths of economics in so short a time." And H.L. Mencken said that Hazlitt is "one of the few economists in human history who could really write."

Here's the "one lesson":

The whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
It sounds so simple. But Hazlitt writes that "Nine-tenths of the economic fallacies that are working such dreadful harm in the world today are the result of ignoring this lesson." He argues that this fallacy--of concentrating on the short-term effects of policies on special groups and ignoring or belittling the long-run effects on the community as a whole, is "The most frequent fallacy by far today, the fallacy that emerges again and again in nearly every conversation that touches on economic affairs, the error of a thousand political speeches...."

Hazlitt then offers "the simplest illustration possible" of this lesson:

A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop. The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone. A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies. After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection. And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side. It will make business for some glazier. As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it. How much does a new plate glass window cost? Two hundred and fifty dollars? That will be quite a sun. After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum. The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles. The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

Now let us take another look. The crowd is at least right in its first conclusion. This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier. The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaken to learn of a death. But the shopkeeper will be out $250 that he was planning to spend for a new suit. Because he has had to replace the window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury). Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window. Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit. If we think of him as part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new “employment” has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.

Again, this sounds simple. But I'm persuaded that Hazlitt is right: "the broken-window fallacy, under a hundred disguises, is the most persistent in the history of economics. It is more rampant now than at any time in the past."

Flew and Frame on Theology and Falsification

In 1950 philosopher Antony Flew wrote a paper entitled “Theology and Falsification,” which has been reprinted (and presumably read) more times than any other philosophical work of the late 20th century. Flew originally delivered the paper at the Socratic Club at Oxford, chaired at the time by C.S. Lewis.

Here is Flew’s famous parable intended to show that God-language resists falsification and therefore does not make a meaningful difference:

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, ‘Some gardener must tend this plot.’ So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. ‘But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.’ So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. ‘But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.’ At last the Sceptic despairs, ‘But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?’

John Frame, in an excellent article entitled “God and Biblical Language: Transcendence and Immanence” [not yet available online—published in God’s Inerrant Word, ed. John Warwick Montgomery (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974)], writes:

What is Antony Flew’s “basic commitment”? To reason? To “academic integrity” of some sort? To a secular ethic? To religious agnosticism? I don’t know, but I would assume that he has one, since he does not seem like the sort of person who accepts values unreflectively. And more can be said: If with the Bible we divide the human race into Christian and non-Christian, those who know God and those who don’t, those who love God and those who oppose him, clearly Flew by his writings has identified himself with the God-opposing group. If this self-identification truly represents his heart commitment, then according to Scripture Flew is committed to “hindering the truth” of God, “exchanging the truth of God for a lie.” According to Scripture, he is committed at a basic level to opposing, contradicting, resisting the truth of God which in some sense he nevertheless “knows.” This commitment too will be unfalsifiable and yet self-verifying, for it is a basic commitment; and for all its irreligiosity it is logically like a religious commitment. Let us illustrate by a parody on Flew’s parable:

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. A man was there, pulling weeds, applying fertilizer, trimming branches. The man turned to the explorers and introduced himself as the royal gardener. One explorer shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries. The other ignored the gardener and turned away: “There can be no gardener in this part of the jungle,” he said; “this must be some trick. Someone is trying to discredit our previous findings.” They pitch camp. Every day the gardener arrives, tends the plot. Soon the plot is bursting with perfectly arranged blooms. “He’s only doing it because we’re here-to fool us into thinking this is a royal garden.” The gardener takes them to a royal palace, introduces the explorers to a score of officials who verify the gardener’s status. Then the sceptic tries a last resort: “Our senses are deceiving us. There is no gardener, no blooms, no palace, no officials. It’s still a hoax!” Finally the believer despairs: “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does this mirage, as you call it, differ from a real gardener?”

Some of you may recall, by the way, that Flew famously converted to deism/theism in 2004.

The Truth About "The Truth About Hillary"

It looks like conservative commentators really dislike Ed Klein's new anti-Hillary-Clinton book: The Truth About Hillary. Klein is an apolitical reporter who has held significant positions at the New York Times Magazine and Newsweek. So one would think his reporting and writing would at least be respectable when dealing with a liberal political figure.

But Peggy Noonan--herself an author of an anti-Hillary book--writes: "The book is poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced and full of the kind of loaded language that is appropriate to a polemic but not an investigative work." And John Podhoretz--author of an excellent pro-Bush book--writes: "This is one of the most sordid volumes I've ever waded through. Thirty pages into it, I wanted to take a shower. Sixty pages into it, I wanted to be decontaminated. And 200 pages into it, I wanted someone to drive stakes through my eyes so I wouldn't have to suffer through another word." Ouch.

Michelle Malkin has a roundup of reaction from other conservatives.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard breaks this news:

(1) There will be a Supreme Court resignation within the next week. But it will be Justice O'Connor, not Chief Justice Rehnquist.

(2) President Bush will appoint Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to replace O'Connor.

But Kristol admits its just "speculation"--nay, "well-informed speculation"--on his part.

Propitiation for the Whole World?

Pyromanic's Phil Johnson explains how Calvinists understand 1 John 2:2--"He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Parsing the Clintons

Dick Morris, who worked for years with Bill and Hillary Clinton, explains their differences:

These days, one is constantly asked for one’s opinion of the “Clintons.” There is no such thing. There are two Clintons, Bill and Hillary, and they are very different people.

Anyone who knows both of them realizes how different. He is brighter than she and much more creative. He is intuitive and instinctual, while she works hard to compensate for her lack of these qualities. He crafts novel solutions to important problems; she learns the party line by rote and glories in its recitation. He is an innovator; she is a gladiator. She has discipline that he lacks and self-control he has never even attempted.

Most of all, Bill is a moderate who is a liberal when he has to be. She is an ultra-liberal who moves to the center as a charade to win election. Rated as the 11th most liberal senator by National Journal — one notch to the left of Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) — she has a liberal quotient, according to Americans for Democratic Action, of 95 percent, contrasted with 85 percent for the party as a whole and 60 percent for a real moderate such as former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

Bill Clinton made a fine president on domestic issues because of his ability to find common ground in the center of our process. Hillary has never been comfortable in the center and is at her most natural when she is deriding the motives of the opposition, as when she wondered if someone could be Republican and Christian at the same time.

TULIP Seminar

This weekend--June 24-25--I will be doing a seminar at Bethlehem Baptist Church on TULIP. The strangest question I was asked after teaching on TULIP was, "And what exactly is the background for the lillies?" (It was not asked as a joke.) (And no, I didn't have a good answer!) We won't be talking at all about flowers, but rather about God's pursuit of his glory in salvation.

The Friday session will be from 6:30-9:30pm, and the Saturday seminar will be from 8:30am--12:30pm.

Advance regisration is helpful (though not absolutely necessarily). It helps them plan for seating.
You can call the church office (612-338-7653, ext. 420) or e-mail (

Blog Update

We've been experiencing some, er, technical difficulties. The upshot is that I know about as much about technology as I do about changing the oil in my car--which is to say, virtually nothing! Fortunately, my friend Josh Sowin knows how to fix my messes. Thanks for your patience.

In other news, we received news this morning that we can fly back to Minnesota. We are catching a late flight tonight. It will be good to be home.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Peace Like a River

Brad Pitt is going to produce the film adaption of Christian novelist Leif Enger's excellent Peace Like a River. Billy Bob Thorton is slated to star in it.

(HT: CTMag)

[I originally wrote "Bratt Pitt." An honest mistake--not a Freudian slip! Thanks to Pastor Matt for pointing it out!]

Sunday, June 19, 2005

What Is Biblical Theology?

Graeme Goldsworthy explains what biblical theology is, and how it relates to other theological disciplines.

Girl Talk Blog

Carolyn Mahaney and daughters' Girl Talk Blog is now up and running. As Nicole Whitacre says in the opening post, this will be a great way for women to pull their chairs up to the Mahaney table and join the coversation on biblical womanhood.

The Last Laffer

What happens when the government lowers the tax rate on production, work, investment, and risk-taking? Answer: There is more production, work, investment, and risk-taking. The result: There is more, not less, tax revenue collection for the government. Economics 101, and the simple theory known as the Laffer Curve (illustration here). 0% taxation will yield no tax revenue for the governement and 100% will yield no tax revenue for the governement (since there is no incentive to work). Therefore, the government must seek a tax rate in between those extremes that will produce a maximum revenue.

Stephen Moore
, in this morning's Wall Street Journal, explains that the Congressional Budget Office released its latest report on tax revenue earlier this month. "The numbers," he writes, "are an eye-popping vindication of the Laffer Curve and the Bush tax cut's real economic value." Federal tax receipts in the first eight months of fiscal year 2005 rose 15.4% over receipts in 2004. Since Bush's cuts in 2003, individual and corporate tax receipts have risen 30%. The Bush tax cuts have also created a revenue windfall for states and cities. And in the private sector, there is an investment boom. In short, the "tax cut rates have created a virtuous chain reaction of higher economic growth, more jobs, higher corprorate profits, and finally more tax receipts."

This doesn't mean that President Bush is necessarily a fiscal conservative's dream. He is, after all, a big-government conservative (as Fred Barnes accurately labeled him). Along with tax cuts, there also needs to be more serious restraint in spending.

But the fact remains that the Bush tax cuts have been great for the economy, and great for the middle class. Just remember that when 2008 rolls around, and we begin to hear about those evil "tax cuts for the rich" and how it hurts the poor and the middle class.

Censure Senator Durbin

Newt Gingrich sent a letter to all the Senators explaining why.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Third Mission to the West

Os Guinness, in a pair of very insightful articles, warns:

No great civilization endures if it cuts the roots that have made it what it is, yet the West is on the verge of doing exactly that. The situation may be stated this way: The central feature of the modern world is globalization; the central carrier of globalization is Western civilization; and the single strongest source of Western civilization is the Christian faith. Yet the Christian faith has effectively lost its influence in the central institutions of the West today.

Guinness traces this lose of influence by dividing the Western world into four parts: between the United States and Europe; and between leaders and ordinary citizens. Guinness suggests three conclusions:

First, the Christian faith has essentially lost Europe for the time being, at the level of both leaders and ordinary citizens. Christians are a practicing minority in every European country except two Catholic countries, Poland and Ireland, and the current decline of the Church in Ireland is precipitous. The blunt fact is that no Protestant Reformation country in Europe has a practicing Christian majority. Europe has decisively shifted from “Christian continent” to “mission field” in a few swift generations.

Second, the Christian faith has effectively lost influence in almost all the key leadership institutions in the United States. The universities, the press and media, the professional associations, the cosmopolitan global elites, the worlds of entertainment and leisure—all these are effectively lost to faith. Only in the spheres of business and politics has faith retained a significant presence, and even there its presence is often controversial and its influence weaker than its numbers should warrant.

Third, the Christian faith is strong in only one quarter of the West: among ordinary citizens in America. To be sure, the numerical strength of faith in this sphere is striking. Whereas religious affiliation in most modern countries has declined, the United States is distinctive for being the most modern and the most religious of modern countries. At least among ordinary people it has high rates of religious affiliation. But this strength is not an immediate ground for optimism because numerical strength does not mean spiritual and cultural strength. This means there is little current likelihood of their winning back American leaders, and therefore winning back American culture and the West as a whole.

Many balance despair at this situation in the “global North” (=West) with hope for the surprising growth of Christianity in the “global South” (sub-Sahara Africa, Asia, and Latin America). But Guinness, while rejoicing in the work of God in the South, notes that the Church there is largely pre-modern, unaffected thus far by modernity. “The massive strengths of the Church in the South are therefore no automatic help to the Church in “the global North” (or West) because they haven’t yet faced the challenge of modernity that has damaged the Western Church so severely.” The implication, Guinness suggests, is plain:We are on the verge of a radical new possibility in history—a post-Christian West and a post-Western Christian Church.

For those in the West, the challenge may be expressed this way. Unless and until God intervenes in His sovereign freedom with a powerful new revival and reformation in the West, our present situation represents a stirring triple challenge to faithfulness as we wait for Him:

1. The Church in the West is on the verge of losing the West, the civilization it has helped to create, and which it has influenced profoundly over two thousand years.

2. With Europe largely lost for the moment, the future of the Church in the West, in human terms, is staked upon the integrity and effectiveness of Christians in America.

3. Because of the chronic weaknesses of the faith of most American Christians at the popular level, in spite of their numerical strength, there is special responsibility for Christians in two particular callings: pastors, because they stand Sunday by Sunday between God and the people of God and are therefore in a unique position to awaken and empower God’s people; and leaders who are followers of Christ in positions of secular leadership, especially at the national level.

If the overall challenge facing Christians is expressed spiritually rather than strategically, it may be stated even more simply. A central reason for the weakness of the Christian faith in the West is the deficiency of discipleship among those who are Christians, including many leaders who are committed to Jesus Christ.

What Guinness is calling for is a “third mission to the West.”

The first mission to the West was the conversion of the Roman Empire, a three centuries-long movement under God that was a staggering accomplishment through which the faith of a bunch of provincial malcontents grew to replace the faith of mighty Rome herself. The second mission to the West was the conversion of the barbarian empires, a less known but equally staggering achievement through which the violent tribal peoples of Europe were “gentled” and the foundations were laid for what became Christendom. Today, as the legacy of those great and successful missions runs out, we face the challenge of giving up or setting out on a third mission to the West.

To accomplish this, Guinness knows that we must be in it for the long haul:

Winning back the West will not be the work of five minutes, five months, or five years. It may take a hundred years, for the hardest spheres of our society such as the universities are not going to be won without immense toil and perseverance. And our motive must not be to win back the West for the West’s sake (or for the sake of America or Europe, or even for democracy or civilization), but to win back the West for Christ’s sake—out of faithfulness to the Great Commission. In other words, our concern is the West, not because it is in any way superior and worth saving—we could easily argue the opposite—but because the West is our Jerusalem and our Judea, from which we must join hands with others around the world and reach out to bring the gospel also to Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.

How can it be accomplished?

The task of winning back the West is so stupendous that we can only succeed if we determine unflinchingly—in Hudson Taylor’s great phrase—to “do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.” With all due respect to the brilliance of modern insights and technologies, reliance on them, as much recent church growth and mission has done openly, will be to court failure and be exposed as faithless.

Put differently, winning back the West involves many things, but it is an essentially spiritual, theological, and evangelical task. Hence the need to surmount the widespread disdain for theology and to shed the recent cultural and political baggage of the evangelical movement and be truly evangelical—people who define themselves and their lives by the first things of the good news (or evangelion) of Jesus Christ.

There have been times in the past when things have been far worse than they are today, and those who responded in faith were far fewer than those who stand ready to respond now. But the challenge is the same: to trust only in God, to have no fear, to let God be God, and watch and wait to see what He alone can do.