Wednesday, April 30, 2008
HT: Mark Roberts
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The rise of what is popularly termed “Calvinism” or “Reformed theology” among younger evangelicals is well known. Here are a few observations from a sympathetic (albeit quite unconvinced) observer.
I. Two Cheers
The first cheer: These “New Calvinists” care about theology. They really care. A lot. They understand that doctrine matters for the life of the soul – and for the life of the church. They read voraciously, they discuss passionately, and they write prolifically. They understand that there are important existential and pastoral implications, and they want to see a “pattern of sound doctrine” become deeply ingrained in their personal, familial, and ecclesial lives.
They have a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture, and they want to know God as he reveals himself – and not as we might like him to be. They take seriously, and defend energetically, such doctrines as substitutionary atonement and the classic Protestant account of justification. Moreover, (to understate things drastically) they care about the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Ours is a context in which these doctrines are considered unimportant – ours is also a context in which these doctrines sometimes are charged with being sub-biblical and even non-Christian. What’s not to like about seeing so many people care so much about theology? And what’s not to appreciate about seeing so many people completely committed to worshiping God as he graciously reveals himself to us?
These New Calvinists care about theology. A lot. More importantly, though, they care about God. They exhibit passion for God – they want to know his greatness and revel in his grace. Theology for them is anything but a parlor game; nor is it only a means to some supposedly greater end (as in: “well, people in our churches are dissatisfied with their level of understanding, so let’s market more depth”). Theology is important because it is all about God: knowing, worshiping, glorifying, and enjoying him.
This brings me to my second cheer: these New Calvinists care about holiness. To know God is to know that God is holy. The New Calvinists get that, and they want their lives to be in step with him. They are anything but content with a soteriology that reduces redemption to a cosmic I-pass or “get out of hell free” card. No, they know that God is holy, and they know that to walk with the Holy One is to be transformed. Thus they know that the doctrine of sanctification matters, and they pursue holiness vigorously. Some of them offer testimonies in which they describe their “discovery of divine sovereignty” in language similar to the way some Christians in the Wesleyan tradition refer to a “second definite work of grace” or “second crisis experience.” And all of this for good reason: they read the Puritans and (especially) Edwards. They know that holiness matters. They get it. And I, for one, appreciate it.
II. Only Two Cheers? Some Cautionary Notes and Advice for which No One Really Asked
I thank God for what is so good about this New Calvinism, but I also have some concerns. Trying really hard to leave the substantive theological disagreements aside for now, I mention a few observations about some rather worrisome features of this movement.
One is this: they would do well to know their own tradition better. Consider as a case study the doctrine of divine sovereignty. I take it to be universally accepted (or at least nearly so) among the New Calvinists that divine sovereignty entails determinism. But Richard Muller (a top-tier Reformation scholar and the leading historian of 17th century Reformed theology) insists that within post-Reformation scholasticism there is “not even a tendency toward metaphysical determinism” (PRRD, I, p. 128). Muller says this as he is applying the finishing touches to the coffin for the old “central dogma” myth. But it seems quite obvious to me that there indeed is a central dogma to the New Calvinism: belief that God determines everything, and that he does so for his own glory, is taken to be necessary and sufficient. If you are a Christian who believes this, then you can safely claim to be “Reformed.” But by more traditional accounts, it is less than obvious that this is either necessary or sufficient.
Furthermore, it would be good if they would set themselves to the task of coming to a better understanding of the broader Christian tradition. I know that we all need this advice (well, at least I do), but it seems to me that the New Calvinists are far more interested in reading Edwards or Owen (worthy reads to be sure) than they are in mining the riches of patristic theology or grappling with the subtleties of medieval scholasticism. This is, I fear, to the detriment of the movement, and more development in this area might go some distance toward loosening the unhealthy reliance of some of these New Calvinists on what might be called the “Neo-Reformed Magisterium” (the small group of theologians and conference speakers who are sometimes quoted as the final word on any theological topic at issue... if you doubt what I say, consult Collin Hansen’s sobering observations about “Piper fiends” and those who “worship” John Piper, Young, Restless, Reformed, pp. 14, 46).
No theological tradition has cornered the market on arrogance. I have been accused of it (sometimes, I fear, with very good reason). Yet there seems to be – though I’m sure that what I say here is highly fallible – an amazing quantity of it among the New Calvinists. I’ve been told that my resistance to “the doctrines of grace” (no hubris in that label?) is a sign of my probable reprobation. I’ve had the senior pastor of a fine evangelical church tell me that although we were welcome to attend, I could not expect to be involved in any way because I was not “Reformed” – even though this particular church was not confessionally Reformed at all (their official statement of faith was generically evangelical). A friend (who teaches theology in a seminary in the Methodist tradition) told me of helping an incoming student (at a seminary in the Reformed tradition) move into a neighboring house. When the incoming student – who, if memory serves, was about to begin an MDiv – discovered that my friend was a Wesleyan, he quickly said “you guys don’t think much about things, do you?” Another friend expressed doubts about aspects of Calvinism and then was rejected by a missions agency for perceived confusion about the gospel. Alas, such stories are not rare. They are legion. Again, I am well aware that New Calvinism does not have a monopoly on theological arrogance, and I’m also very happy to say that many Calvinists do not exhibit this at all. And perhaps it is simply easier to spot it in someone else. Still, though, I mention it as an abiding concern.
I thank God for these New Calvinists, and sometimes I’m convicted to pray for the blessing of their ministries. I appreciate so much their evident concern for biblical and theological fidelity, their passion for God and his glory, and their heartbeat that Christ be exalted and sinners redeemed. And I pray that we will know that we belong to one another in the communion of the Triune God, that we will understand that we are called to live and love together, and that we will see more clearly the greatness of the sheer, unalterable goodness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Consider this thought experiment:Situation A: To stimulate the economy, the U.S Government asks everyone to take $1,200 out of their pocket and spend it on consumer goods.On Situation A it would be clear that we had no moral imperative to spend our money on big-screen television just to jump start the economy. As Christians we'd recognize that our primary obligation was to be stewards of our money in a way that is honoring to God. (Of course, we might believe that using the money the way the government wanted was God's purpose for those funds. But I don't think it would be clear that everyone would feel the same.)
Situation B: To stimulate the economy, the U.S Government takes $1,200 out of everyone's pockets, gives it back to them, and then asks them to spend it on consumer goods.
So the question is what moral requirement is changed by Situation B? Just because the government took the money out of your pocket for you does not change our stewardship obligations. We are also not obligated to follow the government's suggestions about how we spend our own money. Also, the legislation makes no suggestions for how the money should be spent. (And if it were intended only to purchase consumer goods then the IRS should have sent us vouchers rather than cash.)
If out of sense of obligation to the government and/or economy a Christian buys a Wii, an iPhone, and a dozen Crossway books from the DesiringGod.org store, then they should feel free to do so. But if they believe that the money would be best used on foreign missions they should do that too.
And if they are conflicted then they can fulfill both obligations by using the money to buy material good (e.g., clothes, food) for those in need. That way they can be Christ-exalting and government-pleasing at the same time.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I have met people who knew a lot about baseball, a lot about oldies rock and roll [oops], a lot about computers, a lot about a lot, but I have never met anyone who knew the Bible too well. Not one person. Ever. Especially not in these times.Dr. Ortlund wrote the notes on Isaiah for the Study Bible. Reading them was not only instructive but worshipful.
The ESV Study Bible comes out this October. I see an opportunity here. Could we all give ourselves ESV Study Bibles for Christmas and then set 2009 apart as "Our Year of the Bible"? Could we all give less to other things so that we give more to the Bible? Could we bore down together and discover the wonders of this holy Book as never before? Could we acknowledge our spiritual hunger, and thoughtfully, carefully, attentively, daily feed our souls? Could we shut off the noise and listen? Could we re-set our focus from the voices inside our heads to the Voice in the Book? And if we did, is it even conceivable that we could then come to the end of 2009 and say, "Dang. I could have done more TV and more computer and more video games and more dumb stuff. What a loser year 2009 has been! Next year, man, it's going to be different. No more of this Bible-focus for me. I'm going to LIVE again"? Is there any chance, any chance at all, that could happen? Or might Jesus become more real to us? Might the Holy Spirit be poured out? Might we look back on 2009 as our turn-around year?
October 2008. The ESV Study Bible. Think of the possibilities.
Friday, April 25, 2008
They also conducted an interview with Dr. Blomberg on this topic.
See also his book, Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions.
These questions help to clarify and correct my preaching even before I stand up on Sunday.
1. Does this message exalt the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Will people walk away from this gathering encouraged to trust in law or grace? Can a person hear this message and know our only hope of redemption?
2. Will people know what to do after hearing the message?
I never want my preaching to merely grant knowledge. Good theology always impacts the will. Does a man know what he should do in response to the truths unpacked in the message beyond the general call to repent, and believe? What will repentance and faith look like for my audience?
3. Am I saying anything that will distract from the point I am trying to make?
Here I am thinking less of content and more of expression. Might the language I use, or the illustrations I choose, become the focus rather than the message I am trying to communicate?
4. Do I, at any point, make much of myself in this sermon?
I have heard a number of people express frustration with how some preachers make much of themselves in their preaching and teaching. It is as if some men are ever the example of how to do things well. This will either lead men to think “That pastor is awesome!” or “That pastor sure thinks a lot of himself.” Either way I am getting in Jesus’ way during the sermon if I make much of myself.
5. Would I like this to be the last sermon I ever preach?
It’s a good question to ask, because it just might be the case. Believing that this may be my last opportunity to preach Christ will clarify what really needs to be said. Am I okay with this message being the last thing my family and church hears from my lips? And more importantly, am I okay with this message potentially being the last thing a man, woman or child will hear about the gospel before they die? This too just might be the case.
When asked, these questions bring a sense of sobriety and urgency to my preaching. Do you ask yourself any questions like these before preaching/teaching? What else might we ask ourselves?
Check out the website for the book.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick also has a CD in conjunction with the book:
The CD is an over 50 minute collection of readings from scripture and inspirational writings read by Elyse Fitzpatrick combined with original music and new hymns written and performed by Steve and Vikki Cook (writers of Before The Throne of God Above, I Will Glory In My Redeemer, Great Are You Lord and more).You can download (in PDF) the contents of the album (lyrics from the Cooks' song as well as all of the readings, Scripture, and references from Elyse Fitzpatrick).
Here are some endorsements for the book:
"Thank you Elyse. The gospel for yesterday but also for today and tomorrow. What you wrote is inspirational, and it overflows with practical application that pushes me to take the gospel into the otherwise private corners of my life. You said in the book, "This message will be the only message I'll ever have from now on." If that is the case, I am already in line for the next one."
—Edward T. Welch, Counselor and Faculty Member, Christian Counseling & Education Foundation
"Because He Loves Me will provide hope and a desperately needed supply of “spiritual oxygen” to many Christians who have lost sight of what they have and who they are in Christ and are struggling to live a life they can never live apart from him. We can never afford to move “past” the gospel message of the love of God through Christ."
—Nancy Leigh DeMoss; Author; Radio Host, Revive Our Hearts
"Elyse Fitzpatrick has given us a helpful, encouraging, and stimulating book that explores the practical impact of God's great love for his people in every aspect of Christian living. Her rich insights into God's revealed truth, when understood and applied, will certainly equip and inspire Christians to better fulfill their chief end of glorifying and enjoying him forever!"
—Carol J. Ruvolo, author of Grace to Stand Firm; Grace to Grow, and No Other Gospel: Finding True Freedom in the Message of Galatians
"The Spirit of God seems to be initiating a widespread recovery of the gospel and its implications. The centrality of the gospel in the ministry of the local church and the life of a Christian is being rediscovered, proclaimed, and enjoyed in place after place, person after person. Because He Loves Me is another—and welcome—indication that fresh gospel breezes are blowing. If you love the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’ll love what Elyse Fitzpatrick has written in this book. —Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
"Many Christian books focus our gaze on the difficult duties of the Christian life, leaving us either triumphant in self-righteous pride or burdened down with a backpack full of guilt. Elyse Fitzpatrick shows us how to lay down that burden of guilt at the cross and put to death that self-righteousness, not merely once but daily as we glory increasingly in the gospel. Here is profound and practical wisdom that will leave you equipped to face life and death with joyful confidence in God’s love for you in Jesus Christ." —Iain Duguid, Professor of Old Testament, Grove City College
"Elyse Fitzpatrick reminds us why the gospel is such good news—not only when we hear it for the first time, but even after a lifetime of familiarity with the message. This is a moving exposition of gospel truth showing how the doctrinal content of our faith is not merely dry, academic stuff, but wonderfully personal and practical truth. And the gospel message is not just the foundation of our new life in Christ but the bricks and mortar as well. It is therefore relevant not only at the start of our walk with Christ, but every day thereafter. That simple but crucial truth is all too often missed in the church today."
—Philip R. Johnson, Executive Director, Grace to You
"We believe our friend Elyse Fitzpatrick has written her magnum opus. This excellent book can be likened to John Piper’s Desiring God and C. J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross-Centered Life in the way it shines a refreshing light on the gospel and reminds us of its impact on our life and ministry. This book is amazingly practical while deeply theological. It is destined to become a classic!"
—Pastor Lance and Beth Quinn, The Bible Church of Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas
Our purpose is not to presume to set a theological agenda for African Christians, but to resource African Christians as they rethink their own agenda using classic African sources. Our desire is to come along side Africa Christian leaders helping them collect seeds from their past in order to equip them to answer the questions, pressures, challenges they are facing today in order that they might shape a better future. The resources are already there, waiting to be discovered. The resources are in Africa. The wisdom is in the texts of Africa. The matrix is the soil of Africa. We desire to make these classic sources available in order to equip 21st century Africans to become the leaders of 21st century Christianity, even as they were leaders of early Christianity.Also of interest is the 2006 publication of the Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars.
HT: Scot McKnight
Thursday, April 24, 2008
The attached PDF . . . provides some of the documents in the theological discussion brought forth by the book Inspiration and Incarnation.
The following items are included in the pdf document:
- Statement from the Chairman of the Board
- Preface to the Historical and Theological Field Committee
- Historical and Theological Fied Committee Report (HTFC)
- Preface to the Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply
- Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply to the HTFC (HFC)
- Edgar-Kelly Motion
- Minority Report
- "'The Infallible Rule of Interpretation of Scripture': The Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards"
12 Ways to Improve Your Blog by Serving Your Readers: What I Didn’t Say at Band of Bloggers (by Abraham Piper)
I love blogging.
I know that sounds odd, but I feel about blogging the same way some of you feel about preaching. I get excited about it. I think it matters. I think the Lord uses it. I even think it’s some people’s calling.
So I was honored to sit on the panel at the Band of Bloggers gathering last week. However, the discussion was only an hour, so naturally I had more I wished I could have said.
If there had been more time, I would have mentioned these suggestions for how to blog better by putting readers ahead of yourself.
1. Blog uniquely.
Even though the gospel is the focus and flavor of a lot of blogs, it’s still important for each one of these blogs to be unique. If people can get pretty much the same thing I offer at a hundred other sites, then what am I really offering them?
Everyone has a unique perspective. I want to capitalize on mine for the glory of God. And when I read your blog, I want to hear yours.
Serve your readers by offering something they aren’t getting anywhere else.
2. Don’t let the importance of truth minimize the importance of presentation.
Truth needs to be proclaimed, but trueness alone doesn’t make what I have to say worth saying. I need to say true things well.
It motivates me to concentrate on presentation when I realize that badly written truth is almost as bad as being just flat wrong.
Falsehood well said, doesn’t serve readers. It won’t lead people toward what is worthwhile because it’s, well, false. Truth poorly said is similarly unhelpful. It won’t lead people toward what is worthwhile, because it’s unclear or boring.
In order for our message to spread—in order to transfer value from us to an audience—each blog post should be a purposeful marriage of quality content and engaging presentation.
3. Be familiar with the blog genre and write for it.
It will serve our readers if we write for the way they read, rather than the way we think they should read. More important than changing people’s reading habits is getting them to read our content at all. That’s how our message will spread—and that’s the main point, right?
If your experience is anything like mine, every minute you spend educating yourself about how to blog well is worth it.
4. Use interesting and informative titles.
Titles are our first and sometimes only chance to grab our audience’s attention.
Many readers decide whether to read a post based solely on the title. Let’s serve them by making our titles as useful as possible.
5. Write to process your thoughts, but don't post to process.
Every post should offer value to our readers—this is what it means to serve people with a blog. To be valuable, content will generally be the result of processing thoughts, not the processing itself.
6. Set yourself some kind of limit as you write.
Limits force us to think about each specific word we write in a way we’d never have to if we always accepted the first thing we came up with. A good limit can be as basic as a word count you won’t go over or as difficult (and absurd) as not using the letter m.
How you choose to constrain yourself doesn't have to be the theme of your blog or even public knowledge. The point is to be creative and come up with your own constraint that serves your readers best by improving your content most.
Then, of course, you need to abide by whatever limit you’ve chosen, so that you are continually requiring yourself to write as if each word matters (because each word does matter).
7. Think nugget-sized posts.
Short, punchy content is less time-consuming to read than full essays (obviously). Most people only give a blog a few brief moments a day (not as obvious, but true). It’s my goal (and I commend it for your consideration) to serve my readers by offering content that can be delivered in their timeframe, not mine (regardless of whether I wish they would spend more time on my site).
8. Syndicate your whole feed.
If your entire post isn’t in your audience’s feedreaders, many of them will read the first few lines and be done, because they won’t click through.
The whole point of a feedreader is to aggregate many posts so that readers don’t have to go to each individual website. It doesn’t serve them (and can actually come across as self-serving) when a blogger counteracts this.
9. Keep in mind that the blogosphere is not a boys club.
More preachers' blogs should be appealing to women. The demographic of T4G attendees should only be the niche of a few blogs. The rest of us may be a part of that niche, but we should blog outward.
If your goal in blogging is to be at all pastoral, then your readership should be roughly similar to the people you pastor.
10. Let the general flavor of your blog be positive, not contentious.
(Warning: In order to become all things to all men, I’m going to be harsh when I make this point.)
If the majority of your content is made up of disagreeing with people, you should question your motives for blogging.
If you actually derive pleasure from bashing others, you should just quit.
If your blog regularly makes you enemies, that doesn't necessarily mean you're being persecuted for Jesus. It may just mean you're a jerk.
(OK, I’ll go back to being nice now.)
11. Be both confident and reasonably open-minded.
Bloggers tend to be a confident breed. We write what we write because we think what we think, and we think what we think because we’re right, right?
This can be good, especially when we’re confident about true and wonderful things. But it’s unfair to readers and sometimes even hypocritical when a blogger writes in order to change other people’s minds but seems completely unwilling to have his own mind changed.
It’s good to not be wishy-washy. It’s good to say what you mean clearly with unassailable assertions. It’s good to take a stand. But it’s also good, even as we stand confidently, to show a willingness to take steps toward better ideas.
12. Recognize that it’s OK to take blogging seriously and to try to succeed.
If a blogger does everything to the glory of God, then he will blog for the sake of the Gospel, whether he’s writing about theology or fishing in Alaska. And if we’re blogging for God, we have only one choice: pursue excellence.
The servant who buried his talent, thought he was doing the wise thing. He wasn’t. As a Christian blogger, I don’t want to be that servant. If I’m going to blog the gospel, I want to do whatever I can to blog it excellently so that what I have offered to my readers is also worth offering to God.
We’ve been given a great platform for the gospel in blogging—how could we not take it seriously?
Here is an endorsement he recently wrote for the ESV Study Bible:
The stunning illustrations and full-color maps immediately set apart the ESV Study Bible. Not only are the graphics highly attractive, they reflect detailed accuracy and the most recent archaeological discoveries. The three-dimensional reconstructions bring the biblical cities and buildings to life, and with 200 in-text maps, the reader doesn’t need to reach for an atlas to see the biblical sites. With its first-rate translation, top-notch scholarly notes, and superior illustrations, the ESV Study Bible is in a class of its own.
Update: Doug Wilson responds, and I think he's right.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
There is now no excuse to teach or preach without pictures and maps.HT: James Grant
1) Interactive maps & GoogleEarth
2) Traditional maps & powerpoint maps
3) Photos of places & archaeology
In June of 2002, the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster (in Vancouver, Canada) voted to authorize a service to bless same-sex unions. J. I. Packer was among the synod members who walked out in protest, and he explained why in an article for Christianity Today. The lede summarized his rationale: "Why did I walk out with the others? Because this decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth."Two days ago Dr. Packer and the other clergy responded in the following letter:
On Feb. 13, 2008, Packer's church, St. John’s Shaughnessy in Vancouver (at 760 members, the largest church in the Anglican Church of Canada), voted to leave the ACC and to align with a more orthodox branch in Argentina: the Province of the Southern Cone.On Feb. 22, 2008, Michael Ingham, Bishop of the New Westminster Diocese, sent a letter to Packer (who has been an honorary assistant at St. John's for over 20 years) and other clergy serving a Notice of Presumption of Abandonment of the Exercise of the Ministry under Canon XIX, based on (1) publicly renouncing the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada; and (2) having sought or intending to seek admission into another religious body outside the Anglican Church of Canada.
Statement by nine Anglican Network in Canada clergy to
Bishop Michael Ingham
Delivered April 21, 2008
We, the undersigned clergy, are writing in response to the Notice of Presumption of Abandonment of Ministry that you have sent to each of us. We would like to point out that the Notice is not in compliance with the Canons in that it does not set out the required facts but simply repeats the language of the Canon. The canonical process has therefore not been engaged.
We have not abandoned the “ministry to which we were ordained”. Each of us was ordained into Anglican ministry; indeed, we were ordained into ministry in the “Church of God” as per our ordination vows. We have been privileged to serve in the Anglican ministry for many years and it is our intention and prayer that we may continue in the Anglican ministry.
Further, it is our intention to remain members of the Anglican Church. We are not leaving the Anglican Church to become members of another church or to minister in another church, which is the concern of Canon XIX.
However, with deep reluctance and regret we have concluded that we cannot continue the Anglican ministry to which we were ordained under your jurisdiction. The Diocese, under your leadership, has departed from historic, orthodox Anglican teaching and practice. It has departed from what the Primates have unanimously recognized as the standard of teaching of the Anglican Communion. The Diocese is in a state of broken or impaired communion with the majority of Anglicans worldwide. Sadly, it appears the Anglican Church of Canada has now similarly departed from Anglican teaching and practice.
We have therefore determined that in order to uphold our ordination vows, we must leave your jurisdiction, and by this letter, we hereby relinquish the licences we hold from the Bishop of New Westminster. Each of us will receive a licence to continue our present parish ministries from Bishop Donald Harvey, who, as you know, is under the jurisdiction of the Primate of the Southern Cone. In this way, we will be able to continue our Anglican ministry within the Anglican Church, under the jurisdiction of and in communion with those who remain faithful to historic, orthodox Anglicanism and as part of the Anglican Communion worldwide.
Rev. Dr. James I. Packer
Rev. Dr. Trevor Walters
Rev. David Short
Rev. Simon Chin
Rev. Stephen Leung
Rev. Dr. Archie Pell
Rev. James Wagner
Rev. Dan Gifford
Rev. Mike Stewart.
I had read just a bit of it in pre-pub form and knew it would be good--but I didn't know it would be this good. I would highly recommend the book, which can teach us a great deal about American culture and how we view Christ. It's been a while since I've read a book this good, and I've found it hard to put down!
Here's the description from the back cover:
Jesus is as American as baseball and apple pie.And here is Mark Noll's blurb for it:
But how this came to be is a complex story--one that Stephen Nichols tells with care and ease. Beginning with the Puritans, he leads readers through the various cultural epochs of American history, showing at each stage how American notions of Jesus were shaped by the cultural sensibilities of the times, often with unfortunate results.
Always fascinating and often humorous, Jesus Made in America offers a frank assessment of the story of Christianity in America, including the present. For those interested in the cultural implications of that story, this book is a must-read.
Stephen Nichols's account of how Jesus has been perceived throughout American history is long on wisdom and short on tedium. His lively account is especially noteworthy as it explains what the nation's first presidents made of Jesus and how he has been depicted by some of its most popular movie producers. Not the least of the book's many merits is Nichols's ability to sort through the extraordinary mix of cultural nonsense and profound theological insight that make up this story." —Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre DameIt really is worth picking up a copy.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Noll Lectures at Princeton: "Race, Religion, and American Politics from Nat Turner to George W. Bush"
1. The Bible, Slavery, and the Irrepressible Conflict
2. The Churches, "Redemption," and Jim Crow
3. Civil Rights, the Republican Alliance, and the Endurance of Evil in the Land of the Free
The link above provides both audio and video.
HT: Celucien L. Joseph via Thabiti Anyabwile
Douglas Kmiec (pro-life, pro-Obama) is Caruso Family Chair and Professor of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University. He argues that Obama should endorse something similar, pleasing neither of the absolutist sides of the abortion debate, but unifying the country nonetheless.
Ross Douthat responds.
In partnership with the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, Baker Academic is proud to offer in English for the very first time the fourth and final volume of Herman Bavinck's complete Reformed Dogmatics. This volume includes the combined indexes for all four volumes. In addition, editor John Bolt introduces each chapter and has enhanced the footnotes and bibliography. This masterwork will appeal not only to scholars, students, pastors, and laity interested in Reformed theology but also to research and theological libraries.Read the Table of Contents & Introduction (PDF).
Author Information: Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) succeeded Abraham Kuyper as professor of systematic theology at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1902. John Bolt (PhD, University of St. Michael's College) is professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The late John Vriend translated many classic theological works.
[Written upon the publication of volume 1:] "Arguably the most important systematic theology ever produced in the Reformed tradition - I have found it to be the most valuable. English-speaking theology throughout the 20th century until now has been singularly impoverished by not having at its disposal a translation of Bavinck's Dogmatiek in its entirety. The appearance of this volume…will be an incomparable boon for generations of students, pastors, teachers and others, serving to deepen understanding and enrich reflection in both historical and systematic theology." -Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. - Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia
Ideal for Hebrew students and pastors, A Reader’s Hebrew Bible saves time and effort in studying the Hebrew Old Testament. By eliminating the need to look up definitions, the footnotes allow the user to read the Hebrew and Aramaic text more quickly, focusing on parsing and grammatical issues. A Reader’s Hebrew Bible offers the following features:To see some sample pages, click here.
Featuring a handsome Italian Duo-Tone™ binding, A Reader’s Hebrew Bible is a practical, attractive, and surprisingly affordable resource.
- Complete text of the Hebrew and Aramaic Bible using the Leningrad Codex (minus critical apparatus)
- Shaded Hebrew names that occur less than 100 times
- Footnoted definitions of all Hebrew words occurring 100 times or less (twenty-five or less for Aramaic words)
- Context-specific glosses
- Stem-specific glossed definitions for verb forms (Qal, Piel, Hiphil, and so forth)
- Ketib/Qere readings both noted in the text and differentiated appropriately
- Marker ribbon
Page Count: 1680
Size: 7.2 wide x 9.9 high x 2.1 deep in. | 183 wide x 251 high x deep 53 mm
Weight: 3.26 lb | 1477 gms
Available: March, 2008
And here's an offer from Zondervan for readers of this blog: they will send a complimentary copy ($49.99 retail) to the first five people who (1) post a link to the Amazon page for A Reader's Hebrew Bible, (2) agree to write a blog review about the book after receiving it, and (3) email chris (dot) fann (at) zondervan (dot) com.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Jeremiah Burroughs, The Saints’ Happiness, Delivered in Divers Lectures on the Beatitudes. Reprint, Beaver Falls, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1988, 193–202.
HT: Joel Beeke
When a TV network offers new programming that’s entertaining, inspiring and substantive it’s enough to renew our faith in miracles. HBO’s epic eight hours on John Adams is precisely that sort of pop culture miracle: a lovingly-rendered tribute to the most misunderstood, most under-rated of our founding fathers. Aside from admirable attention to historical detail, the HBO miniseries offers perfect casting—with Paul Giamatti as an Adams who’s simultaneously brave, pompous, and selflessly patriotic. The luminous Laura Linney captures Adams’ wife Abigail, with dialogue based frequently on actual letters, providing a singularly moving portrait of a romantic, richly functional, lifelong marital partnership. The series also stresses the nobility of politics – without which, even battlefield heroism could come to naught. David Morse is appropriately noble, charismatic and dignified as George Washington while Tom Wilkinson enjoys the role of Ben Franklin nearly as much as Franklin himself enjoyed his long life. Every American over the age of ten should see this rewarding piece of work – while prepared to see brief, disturbing glimpses of war time violence.
A passionate discussion is unfolding in public and in private among Evangelical leaders and communities. Should Christians be involved in politics and if so, how? What has gone wrong, and what has been learned from the Moral Majority up until now. In this live public conversation, Krista probes these ideas with three formative Evangelicals.
This conference is not going to be a "Let's bash the Calvinists" conference. This conference is going to be a biblical and theological assessment of and response to 5-point Calvinism. It will be helpful for lay people as well as preachers.Steve Lemke, one of the speakers, explains:
Southern Baptist scholars will be presenting a Biblical response to the well-known tenets of the Presbyterian Synod of Dort. . . . This conference is intended as a majoritarian Southern Baptist response to the “Building Bridges” and “Together for the Gospel” conferences.Given the line-up of speakers, it seems geared toward older pastors and lay people within the SBC. Furthermore, it seems that it is only intended to be heard by those who actually attend the conference: "There will be no live or archived audio or video of this conference via the Internet."
It'll be interesting to see the number of attendees. Since it is being held in Johnny Hunt's megachurch, and since most of his people will probably attend, I expect there will probably be at least 7,000 people there. If so, expect the Baptist Press to play up the significance of this number.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
How are we to productively push forward in our engagement with culture? We must be critical, both of our own theological sects and of secularist views that jettison faith. Engaging culture well will mean striving to avoid the path of the sectarian and secularist, retaining faith and reason. If we are to move beyond religion and reason to the redemption of culture, we will also need the gospel. How then do we engage culture?Read the whole thing.
Here I offer six ways to redemptively engage culture: 1) prayerfully, 2) carefully, 3) biblically-theologically, 4) redemptively, 5) humbly and 6) selectively. Much more could be said; however, my hope is that this article will facilitate more robust, redemptive, critical, and theological engagement with culture.
I sent the guys at Power Line a note about this, including a section from the ESV Study Bible that briefly addresses the question of the reliability of the exodus account. You can read it here.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
An excerpt from Sanders's post:
Hazen gets everything right in this book: it’s a short book that’s a quick read. He doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s a piece of Christian apologetics, but he also doesn’t force it out of the world of fiction by including study questions or an evangelistic appeal. I could even say that the hero is a smoker and nobody gets saved, but that would make it sound as if the book is going out of its way to transgress boundaries (like one of those youth leaders who can’t stop cussing).
A lot of art made by Christians is spoiled by didacticism, or “teachyness”: it breaks out in overt teaching when it shouldn’t. But Hazen’s out to teach, and he’s honest about it. As a result, Five Sacred Crossings is perfectly didactic: a character who is a college professor leads a class of students in fascinating discussions. It’s a good reminder that didactic isn’t a bad word in itself; it was always mis-placed didacticism that was the problem.Five Sacred Crossings is a fine piece of work; I genuinely enjoyed reading it and have already considered giving copies to people who need to be eased into serious conversations on spiritual matters.
As I mentioned previously, all the presentations and responses will be published by Fortress Press. And all of the sessions are available as an MP3 download for the very reasonable price of $10.
As for me and my house: it depends on what one means by "merit." I empathize with those who want to banish "merit" (both the concept and the vocabulary)--I used to be in that camp, too.
But Lee Irons was one who helped me think through the issues more carefully. For a fuller, technical treatment, see his essay, Redefining Merit: An Examination of Medieval Presuppositions in Covenant Theology, in Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, ed. Howard Griffith and John R. Muether (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press/Reformed Theological Seminary, 2000), pp. 253-269.
But I would also recommend a recent blog series that Irons did on merit. (It's seven parts; scroll down then work your way up.) It's a thoughtful presentation, and I think it has a great deal of merit (if you'll pardon the bad pun).
Irons also shows the practical implications. Here he gets to the heart of why merit is important for gospel-driven sanctification:
The merit of Christ necessarily and ineluctibly results in progressive sanctification. Anyone who claims to have the right and title to eternal life, but lives as if they are on the way to death, has an empty profession, a hollow claim. If you have the right and title to eternal life, then you are obligated to live as one who is on the highway to eternal life, and to show even now — in the midst of your mortal existence in a non-glorified, sin-tempted body, in the midst of your failures and partial obedience — the marks of one who is heaven-bound. And you show this best, not by perfectly avoiding sin (which is impossible while you are in this mortal flesh), but by fighting against your sin.As they say, read the whole thing.
The heaven-winning merit of Christ is mightier than your sin. By faith, lay hold of that reality. By faith, even when you have blown it big time, lay hold of the truth that heaven has been won for you by Christ, and since heaven has been won, you have not only the legal right to heaven but a foretaste of heaven itself already living in side of you, which foretaste is called the Spirit, so that by that Spirit you are empowered to fight against your sins and strive for greater obedience and service to Christ. . . .
The merit of Christ is the powerful spearhead of the attack that has broken into the devil’s kingdom and rescued you from Satan’s grip, transferring you into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The merit of Christ is the shield of faith with which you are able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. The merit of Christ will prevail, and nothing in heaven or hell can stop it from having its full, divinely-intended, predestinated effect.
Take courage, then, from the merit of Christ, and boldly fight against your sins. In the strength of the merit of Christ, put to death your sinful deeds and desires. Bolstered by the confidence of a merit that has won heaven for you, you can courageously take up your cross, risk everything, and follow Christ. You can spend and be spent for his glory and his kingdom, failing and sinning and repenting and getting back on your feet, and so wending your faltering pilgrim-way to glory steadied by the confidence that your way to heaven has been paved by one mightier than you. Your besetting sins are no match for Christ and his merit.
Marshall Shelley (editor of Leadership) writes about the conference, honing in on Mark Dever's presentation.
On his radio program, Al Mohler sits down with Mahaney, Dever, and Duncan "to reflect on how God is using the conference and what it says about the state of American evangelicalism."
And as I mentioned earlier, all the talks are now free online. A book from the conference will be forthcoming.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Ross Douthat responds to one of the points raised by Coates.
As a friend wrote to me: "I think everyone would benefit from a little Latin: abusus usum non tollit ('Abuse does not take away proper use')." It's a biblical sentiment, and I would venture to say that if it's kept in mind when thinking through this issue, the basic conclusions are pretty simple and clear.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Thus far the following talks are available:
- Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry (Ligon Duncan)
- Bearing the Image: Identity, the Work of Christ, and the Church (Thabiti Anyabwile)
- The Sinner Neither Able nor Willing: The Doctrine of Absolute Inability (John MacArthur)
- Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology (Mark Dever)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
We've been deeply humbled by the endorsements we've received from people we deeply respect. Here are a few:
Jerry Bridges: “The ESV Study Bible is the finest study tool I have seen in fifty years of Bible teaching."
Joshua Harris: "As a pastor it’s my goal to get one into the hands of every member of my church.”
C.J. Mahaney: "“I can’t imagine a greater gift to the body of Christ than the ESV Study Bible. . . . A Christian could make no wiser investment for himself, a pastor could recommend no better resource for his congregation.”
Mark Driscoll: “The ESV Study Bible is the most important resource that has been given to the emerging generation of Bible students and teachers. The ESV Study Bible is the best. Period.”
On the website you can see a list of the eight editions it will come in for the first printing (and the ability to pre-order them for 35% off), a list of all the contributors (and what they worked on), and an overview of the contents and features (including news about the entire things being online and interactive for free for those who purchase a print-edition).
On the features page, you can also see a couple of sample pages to see the single-column Bible Bible and double-column notes, along with a couple of charts and diagrams and one of the 200+ full-color maps (utilizing the latest archaeological research and the elevation data from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission).
You can also see the spread for the cutaway and floor plan of Solomon's Temple. Each of the 40+ full-color paintings went through a painstaking process of research and refinement, using the best scholarship (biblical, historical, archaeological) available. Leen Ritmeyer (widely considered the world's leading authority on Jerusalem's Temple Mount) guided the reconstructions, and they were drawn by Maltings Partnership (a leading illustration firm in the UK--the folks behind the drawings in the DK Travel Guides).
Lord willing, the ESV Study Bible will be published October 2008. We hope the Lord will use it to instruct and edify his Church.
Recently I noted an article about a planned animal sacrifice in Jerusalem. This event was controversial because 1) there is no temple or altar in Jerusalem today; 2) killing an animal makes some people mad.You can watch the video here.
Friends in Jerusalem went to the Old City that day and saw a guy they suspected of carrying a ritual knife in his briefcase and followed the guy through a wild maze of streets in pursuit. It turned out they followed the right guy. They filmed the service.
We talked about the appropriateness of putting this online. The 5-minute video is as graphic as it gets. More and more people today don't realize that meat doesn't originate at a grocery store. They have little concept of an animal being raised and then slaughtered. Furthermore, almost no one in the Western world has ever sacrificed an animal for religious purposes.
I think, however, that is precisely why this *graphic* video should be shown. We read about sacrifice in the Bible but we don't really understand what that means. We read passages that talk about the "life being in the blood," but those are just words that we don't really consider. We "know" that the wages of sin are high, but we don't get the life lesson that the ancient Israelites received every year.
The point of sacrifice was simply this: you deserve to die because of your sin. This animal is dying in your place. Watching the priest slice his throat and watching the blood drain out drove the point home much better than reading a chapter of Leviticus.
Today New Testament believers know that the blood of bulls and goats is not enough to take away sin. But I think that we can often just take for granted Jesus' death in our place. We don't think about his innocent blood draining away because we can't conceptualize it. We don't always appropriate the idea of substitute because we've never seen a living object die in our place. But our loss can be this: sin is easy because forgiveness (we think) is cheap.
The video was made by SourceFlix Productions. Instead of dubbing over the scene with English commentary, they chose to include some explanatory text below. Don't watch this video while eating, and if you're thinking about showing your children, watch it yourself first.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The following is a prayer for those who preach, adapted from The Valley of Vision:
My Master God,
I am expected to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people will be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony will be given for you.
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and passion.
Present to my view things pertinent to my subject,
will fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a deep emotion to accompany the words I speak,
and grace to apply them to people’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for yourself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting your mercy.
Give me freedom to open up the sorrows of your people,
and to set before them comforting consolations.
Give your power to the truth preached,
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May your people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that people might be made holy.
I myself need your support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of your grace,
and be able to do something for you.
Give me then refreshment among your people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with you as I do this work.I know many readers will be at T4G. This would be a wonderful prayer to adapt and to pray on behalf of the men who will be teaching and preaching God's Word this week--and also, of course, for your own pastor.
HT: Trevin Wax
- Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”
- Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”
- Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”
- Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”
- Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”
- Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs."
- “Social-ism.” “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”
CT Movies has an interview with Douglas Gresham about the upcoming movie, Prince Caspian. Here's one exchange:
I understand you recently saw a rough cut of Caspian. Your thoughts?HT: Z
Gresham: It's a fabulous film. I'm very, very pleased. It's a film that portrays probably even more strongly than the book the essential message of Prince Caspian, which is a return to truth and faith and honor and justice after a millennium of corruption in Narnia. I almost hate to say it, but I think it's a better movie than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Prince Caspian started with a poorer story than Lion/Witch, but has worked out probably to be a better movie.
ModernParables now has a digital download store where all of the Modern Parables lessons can be purchased individually either in DVD or HD quality. Each download includes the film, application video, director's commentary, and a combination of the student book and teacher's guide for those sessions as a PDF. As a way to let people see all the films for free we have versions available for iPods or to watch in iTunes. All the downloads are available at https://modernparable.com
The prices for the full downloads are $19.99 for the DVD-quality version and $26.99 for the HD-quality version. The downloads are available in both Quicktime and Windows Media formats.My brother, who is leading a couple of groups in his church through the materials, sent me a quick note about them last night:
Hey, Modern Parables is awesome! . . . What a great tool and a way to open up the parables. I felt like I had never read them before. That is a compliment to the resource book which provided pithy and insightful commentary in a fresh way.I, too, recommend them and encourage you to check them out.
While the current political cycle has sharpened our focus on the role of religion in the public square, we often fail to reflect on the role of the public square upon religion. Increasingly, when Christians engage others in public forums, we do so using tools that we did not develop. Whether through movies, music, or new media, we tend to start with a pre-existing cultural forms and incorporate the Gospel as best we can.
As communication theorist Marshall McLuhan argued, the tools we use to communicate a message can shape that message in ways we may or may not intend.* If this is true then Christians have a duty to critically evaluate the effect of our media choices on our message. Do our choices of media forms allow the message to remain Christian? Or are the tools with which we communicate at odds with the message of the Gospel?
In order to explore the issue in greater depth, I've decided to make it the topic of the 2008 EO Symposium, sponsored this year by Wheatstone Academy.
Responses to the following questions will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, April 25th:If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?
The top five posts chosen by our panel of judges (James Kushiner from Touchstone magazine's Mere Comments, Melinda Penner from Stand to Reason, Matt Lewis from Townhall.com, and Matthew Anderson from Mere Orthodoxy) will receive:(1) A full tuition scholarship for a Christian high school student of the winner's choice to Wheatstone Academy. [A $950 value]
(2) The 'Quintessentials' from Stand to Reason, including the Ambassador Basic Curriculum, Tactics in Defending the Faith DVD, Decision Making and the Will of God CD set, and a signed copy of Greg Koukl's new book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. [A $150 value]
(3) A $200 donation made to Compassion International in the name of the winning blogger.
(4) A full-tuition scholarship to the upcoming GodBlogCon (September 2008). [A $150 value]
(5) A two-year subscription to Touchstone Magazine. [A $59.95 value]
(6) A year subscription to Townhall magazine. [A $34.95 value]
The first place winner will have their choice of items with the second place deciding between the remaining four items, etc. The sixth place winner will will automatically receive the unselected item.
Those who choose only to write a brief comment promoting the Symposium are still eligible to receive a prize for participating. Anyone who includes a link to this post and a brief comment will be entered into a separate drawing for one of three copies of The New Media Frontier, forthcoming from Crossway Books.
To include your post in the symposium, send the following information to email@example.com:
- Name and URL of blog or website
- Title and URL of post
- Brief summary
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Some well-meaning theological literateurs, or rather amateur theologians, who patronize religion in their own way, are fain to warn us of the danger of not "keeping abreast of the age," as if we were imperilling Christianity by not being quite so learned in modern speculations as they are. We should like, certainly, to "keep abreast" of all that is true and good, either in this age or any other; but as to doing more than that, or singling out this age as being pre-eminently worthy of being kept abreast of, we hesitate.
To be "up to" all the errors, fallacies, speculations, fancies, mis-criticisms of the age, would be an achievement of no mean kind; and to require us to be "up to" all this under threat of endangering Christianity, or betraying the Bible, is an exaction which could only be made by men who think that religion is much beholden to them for their condescending patronage; and will be accepted by men who are timid about the stability of the cross of Christ if left unpropped by human wisdom; and who, besides, happen to have three or four lifetimes to spare. We may be in a condition for believing, and even defending the Bible, without have mastered the whole deistical literature of the last century or the present...
In attempting to "keep abreast of the age," there is some danger of falling short of other ages; and we are not sure but that the object of those who shake this phrase so complacently in our faces, both as a taunt and a threat, is to draw us off from the past altogether, as if the greater bulk of its literature were rude lumber, a mere drag upon progress...Old theological terms and Scripture phraseology are set aside, or spoken in an undertone, or used in a loose sense. Sharp adhesion to old doctrines is imbecility; and yet defined expression of the new is avoided, the mind of the age being in a transition state, unable to bear the whole of what the exact and honest exhibition of "advanced" Christianity would require to utter.
Many of our young men are more afraid of being reckoned Calvinistic than Platonic; they shrink from bold and definite statements of Reformation doctrine, lest they should be pronounced "not abreast of the age"--stereotyped, if not imbecile. Indefinite language, mystical utterances, negative or defective statements, which will save the speaker's or writer's orthodoxy without compromising his reputation for "intellect" and "liberality"--these are becoming common. Many are doing their best to serve two masters, to preach two gospels, to subscribe two confessions of faith, to worship two Gods, to combine to religions, to grasp two worlds; they would fain be neither very evangelical nor very heretical.
From Christ is All: The Piety of Horatius Bonar, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Darrin R. Brooker (2007), 31-33.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Christianity Today recently looked at the issues:
Which do we really need—to give love or to receive it? We resist the question because we want to say both.
Yet Scripture seems to favor the imbalance. Not that we aspire to have our friend or spouse love us less, but that “in humility [we] consider others better than [our]selves” (Phil. 3:4). When the kingdom of God is ruling our hearts, we aspire more to serve than to be served, honor more than to be honored, and love more than be loved. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care about being loved; it simply means that we always want to outdo others in love.
Do we run the risk of a lopsided relationship? Absolutely. That is the relationship we have with God—he always loves first and most. . . . Throughout Scripture God is the one who loves more than he is loved. He always makes the first move. He advertises his extravagant affection for us even when we are indifferent or opposed to him.
When Jesus Christ, God incarnate, walked the earth, the pattern continued. Through his life Jesus was rejected by his people and misunderstood by his disciples. At the most difficult point of his life, he was betrayed, denied, and abandoned. But through it all his love was unwavering. In this, he established the pattern for true humanness. This is the way we were intended to be.
This is life in the kingdom. It wants love, but it wants even more to love others deeply. Its treasure is to grow in the fruits of the Spirit, foremost of which is to love others.
Charles Barber (lecturer in psychiatry at Yale) is the author of a new book entitled, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, described as “an unprecedented account of the impact of psychiatric medications on American culture and on Americans themselves.”
The Winter 2008 issue of the Wilson Quarterly ran an excerpt of it, entitled, The Brain: A Mindless Obsession? It’s a fascinating look at the rise and now full embrace of biological or scientific psychiatry, and along with it, psychoactive drugs.
Here are the closing paragraphs, which summarize Barber’s argument:
If there’s any lesson to be gleaned from the recent history of psychiatry, it is, in the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann’s words, “how complex mental illness is, how difficult to treat, and how, in the face of this complexity, people cling to coherent explanations like poor swimmers to a raft.”
We don’t know much, but we should know just enough to recognize how primitive and crude our understanding of psychiatric drugs is, and how limited our understanding of the biology of mental disorder. The unfortunate fact remains that the ills of this world have a tantalizing way of eluding simple explanation. Our only hope is to be resolute and careful, not faddish, in assessing new developments as they arise, and to adopt them judiciously within a tradition of a gradually but steadily growing arsenal in the fight against genuine human suffering.
David Powlison writes in with some thoughts on the column:
Charles Barber offers a thoughtful, high-end critique of one of our contemporary world's most potent obsessions. Biopsychiatric claims distract countless people (inside and outside the church) from getting first things first. Barber’s article contains some real keepers, of which I’ll mention and comment on two.
. Even at the high end of medical science, an understanding of grave human troubles remains elusive. “If anything has been gleaned from the last two decades of work in the genetics of psychiatric disorders, it is that the origins of these maladies are terribly complex. No individual gene for a psychiatric disorder has been found, and none likely will ever be. Psychiatric disorders are almost certainly the product of an infinitely complex dialogue between genes and the environment.” And, saying the same thing in a different way, psychiatric troubles are "incredibly complicated and poorly understood . . . an intricate, infinite, dialectical dance between experience and biology."
This observation comports with a Christian understanding of human life. But I'd add three important facts.
First, the intricate motives of the human heart always play lead in what is actually a three-way dance. And the motives of hearts are unsearchable. Do they express aspirations of the remnant image of God and common grace? Do they express intricate, self-blinding assertions and falsities of the fallen human heart? Do they express the dynamics of renewed wisdom, as the redemptive image of Jesus progressively infiltrates who we are? Do they express one, or some, or all of the above? The dance and dialogue between nature and nurture, between social context and physical body – does not occur in a moral vacuum.
So the dance is more complicated than Barber sees – in fact, it is infinitely more complicated than the infinite complications which rightly humble him. The human dialectic actually has three partners, and this third one is the most complex and the most decisive. (This underlying moral reality is in fact why merely talking with people – the psychotherapies Barber mentions, which variously mimic and substitute for Christian wisdom and Christian ministry – help and work to the limited extent they do. This moral reality is also why Christian wisdom will produce the only truly constructive “psychotherapy.” As we learn to speak the truth in love, as our words become constructive, timely, and grace-giving, people will grow wise in Christ, and life will triumph over death.)
Second, the renewing and redirecting power of Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh, tempted in all ways as we are yet without sin – rewrites the dance and rescripts the dialogue. He initiates fundamental, qualitative changes in the human heart. He continually changes us, awakening us to love God and neighbor more clearly. He will finally complete what he has begun. Whether we live amid the happiest social and biological conditions, or amid the most “normal” mixed conditions, or amid the most grievous conditions, Christ makes a decisive difference.
Third, God himself is creating exactly this intricate, infinite dance and dialogue as the stage on which he reveals himself to us, in us, and through us. It is in the actual conditions of life – our complex physical embodiment, our complex social embedment, and our complex (and renewable) moral center – that he shows himself as the creator, sustainer, king, judge, and redeemer.
. Barber writes: "The unfortunate fact remains that the ills of this world have a tantalizing way of eluding simple explanation. Our only hope is to be resolute and careful” as we acquire a growing arsenal of scientific, medical, and psychotherapeutic knowledge and skill “in the fight against genuine human suffering."
Barber is right on target in his description of the unfortunate fact: “The ills of the world have a tantalizing way of eluding” human efforts at explanation and solution. Of course, given his premises, what he sees as "our only hope" does not in fact include our only hope! And his vision fails to see the endemic sinfulness intertwining all through our suffering. Barber offers an argument for sanity in a culture of psychiatric hype; but there is a deeper fight than he can imagine, a deeper sanity than he can envision, and a deeper, more substantial hope.