From that "of first importance" theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical questions asking for our attention. The more clearly our logic connects with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further our thinking extrapolates from that center, the less certain and the more open we should be.Read the whole thing, as he explains the difference between "all certainty" Christians and "all openness" Christians.
When a question cannot be addressed by a clear appeal to the Bible, our conclusions should be all the more modest.
The gospel requires us to have high expectations of one another on biblically central doctrines and strategies, and it cautions us to be more relaxed with one another the further we have to move out from the center.
A church or movement may desire, for its own reasons, to define secondary and tertiary doctrines and strategies as important expectations within their own ministry. That's okay. But then it's helpful to say, "We know this isn't a dividing line for Christian oneness. It's just a decision we've made for ourselves, because we think it will help us in our situation. We realize that other Christians will see it differently, and that's cool."
May we become more certain where we've been too open and more open where we've been too certain, according to Scripture alone. And where it seems helpful to provide further definition on our own authority, may we do so with candor and humility but without apology.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
I was reminded today of John Piper's 1995 sermon, "Fasting for the Safety of the Little Ones":
This war will not be won by bullets. It will be won by brokenness and humility and sacrifice. It will be won when we identify with the children in our suffering rather than with the abortionist in his killing.Amen.
But the objections are still going to come fast and furious. If you believe that abortion is an American Holocaust, and if you would approve of taking out a Nazi executioner or Hitler himself in order to save lives, then how can you object to murdering a man who earned his living by killing fully formed babies day-in and day-out? Or to put it even more sharply: if you saw a thug about to kill a toddler, wouldn't it be justified to shoot him in order to stop the murder in progress?
Greg Koukl gives a fairly detailed answer here regarding the ethics and logic of the dilemma.
Update: Robert P. George weighs in:
Whoever murdered George Tiller has done a gravely wicked thing. The evil of this action is in no way diminished by the blood George Tiller had on his own hands. No private individual had the right to execute judgment against him. We are a nation of laws. Lawless violence breeds only more lawless violence. Rightly or wrongly, George Tilller was acquitted by a jury of his peers. "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord." For the sake of justice and right, the perpetrator of this evil deed must be prosecuted, convicted, and punished. By word and deed, let us teach that violence against abortionists is not the answer to the violence of abortion. Every human life is precious. George Tiller's life was precious. We do not teach the wrongness of taking human life by wrongfully taking a human life. Let our "weapons" in the fight to defend the lives of abortion's tiny victims, be chaste weapons of the spirit.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The latest from the Janette Oke series of Christian-novels-turned-Hallmark-movies is now out on DVD: Love Takes Wing.
The ladies love the mix of Christian characters, romance, and Western stuff. If other guys know that you're watching these, you'll get mercilessly mocked, but your wife may appreciate the investment. (It's only 88 minutes--I checked.)
No need to thank me.
The vote for faculty appointment was unanimous.
I first got turned on to Newton from John Piper's biographical sketch on The Tough Roots of His Habitual Tenderness (also in Piper's book, The Roots of Endurance).
Last night I read a letter he wrote to a young man who had just been ordained. (You can read it in vol. 1 of the Works, also available as a stand-alone volume.) [Update, via Coty: the whole letter is here online.] The young preacher's evident gifts made Newton nervous:
If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more. To say the truth, I am in some pain for you. Your natural abilities are considerable; you have been diligent in your studies; your zeal is warm and your spirit is lively. With these advantages, I expect to see you a popular preacher. The more you are so, the greater will your field of usefulness be: but, alas! you cannot yet know to what it will expose you.Newton then explains the danger:
It is like walking on ice. When you shall see an attentive congregation hanging upon your words: when you shall hear the well-meant, but often injudicious commendations, of those to whom the Lord shall make you useful: when you shall find, upon an intimation of your preaching in a strange place, people thronging from all parts to hear you, how will your heart feel? It is easy for me to advise you to be humble, and for you to acknowledge the propriety of the advice; but while human nature remains in its present state, there will be almost the same connexion between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder: they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder is kept very damp. So, unless the Lord is constantly moistening our hearts (If I may so speak) by the influence of his Spirit, popularity will soon set us in a blaze.Newton goes out with sagacious counsel, but there's one other sentence especially worth highlighting and taking to heart:
Beware, my friend, of mistaking the ready exercise of gifts for the exercise of grace.You can read the whole letter on pp. 159-166.
Those interested in learning more of Newton's advice on pastoral ministry might want to check out what James Grant posted here:
The John Newton Project published a book by Newton on pastoral ministry that was previously unpublished: Ministry on My Mind: John Newton on entering pastoral ministry (transcribed by Marylynn Rouse, Stratford-upon-Avon: The John Newton Project, 2008). This book contains Newton’s thoughts on entering the pastoral ministry, and was written at Liverpool in 1758. You can see the book on the main page, but you need to go here to buy it. They provide several blurbs for the book, one of which is J. I. Packer:
“It is hard to believe that any Christians, wondering if God was calling them to ordained service, ever meditated on relevant Scriptures so perceptively, and recorded their discernments so luminously …a very precious part of the legacy of this great man of God.”
Friday, May 29, 2009
I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labour in my study. To compel oneself to fashion that sentence, to dismiss every word that is vague, ragged, ambiguous, to think oneself through to a form of words which defines the theme with scrupulous exactness—this is surely one of the most vital and essential factors in the making of a sermon: and I do not think any sermon ought to be preached or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.”To see an excellent example of this in practice, check out any of Jonathan Edwards's sermons. The thesis, or doctrine, is always clear and up front.
—J. H. Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (Harper & Bros, 1912), p. 133.
The book was written to answer the following question:
How has the movement from language-based media to image-based media and electronic media altered our sensibilities and how, in turn, has this change in sensibility shaped today’s preachers? (p. 16)John Dyer has a good summary of the book here.
Dr. Gordon recently delivered some related lectures at Amoskeag Presbyterian Church on “Reformed Worship in the Electronic Age.” My friend James Grant recently told me that they were some of the best lectures he's heard in a long time:
You can also read a Word doc with his outline and notes: Reformed Worship in the Electronic Age.docFor those who want more, Dr. Gordon also did a roundtable discussion on these issues at the Reformed Forum.
In the foreword to the book Postman contrasts the visions offered in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949):
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.Stuart McMillen, on his cartoon blog, recently illustrated their contrasting visions (HT: Challies).
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
. . . [W]e think you should use Twitter before and after corporate worship to say what you take in and take out. But when you are in corporate worship, Worship! There is a difference between communion with God and commenting on communion with God.Keep reading the whole thing.
Don’t tweet while having sex. Don’t tweet while praying with the dying. Don’t tweet when your wife is telling you about the kids. There’s a season for everything. Multitasking only makes sense when none of the tasks requires heart-engaged, loving attention.
In the lecture below he begins by talking about the three tasks that a society must do in order to remain free: (1) winning freedom (American revolution of 1776); (2) ordering freedom (Constitution of 1787); and, finally, (3) sustaining freedom (the crucial ongoing task still before us today). It's this third point that is the subject of the following 40-minute lecture:
This lecture will be available in printed form in a book coming out later this year: God and Governing: Reflections on Ethics, Virtue and Statesmanship, ed. Roger Overton.
Last night at the National Press Club in DC, Robby George and Doug Kmiec squared off in a civil discussion (otherwise known as a debate) on President Obama and pro-life issues. This morning on Public Discourse, we publish an adapted version of Professor George’s opening statement. Anyone interested in watching the entire debate (which was televised on C-SPAN) can do so here. It was quite good and is well worth watching, especially for the back-and-forth and Q-and-A.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
[David] Powlison suggested three categories of questions to ask your husband or wife. Each of these categories can be asked on a daily basis. And each of these categories are simple and broad, but certainly provide helpful reminders. Here are the three:For more on this, see Powlison's very helpful little booklet on Renewing Marital Intimacy.1. What are your present burdens?
The Bible tells us that we are born for trouble (Job 5:7). So what is the trouble? A sin? A responsibility? An issue at work? A particular conflict? What weighs you down? What was your lowlight of this day? These burdens are the “heat of life.”
2. What are your present joys?
What were your highlights from the day? These joys are the “dew of blessing.”
3. What is your calling?
This could include the mundane tasks, or broader life-purpose questions. What are your duties for this day? What do you need to do? What are your goals for this day? For example, a parent could say, “Today, I don’t want to lose my temper with the kids.” It could be as simple as this.
Kevin's main session talk at NEXT was both very funny and very insightful. C.J. Mahaney said the next day that Just Do Something is the best book he has ever read on discerning God's will.
Justin Buzzard did a short blog interview with Kevin today, which you can read here.
The New York Times' Verlyn Klinkenborg had a good editorial recently on the lost art of reading aloud. Read the whole thing, but here's the conclusion:
You can easily make the argument that reading silently is an economic artifact, a sign of a new prosperity beginning in the early 19th century and a new cheapness in books. The same argument applies to listening to books on your iPhone. But what I would suggest is that our idea of reading is incomplete, impoverished, unless we are also taking the time to read aloud.Readers should ponder Klinkenborg's following suggestion with regard to the reading of Scripture:
one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether they understand the words. It reveals how far into the words--and the pattern of the words--the reader really sees.This Fall Zondervan will publish Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture by Max McLean and Warren Bird. The book includes a DVD, as well as a foreword by Ravi Zacharias.
Though other contemporary books may be available (if so, leave a comment), the only other one I know of is Thomas Edward McComiskey's out of print (though still available used) book,
Reading Scripture in Public: A Guide for Preachers and Lay Readers.
HT: Scott Polender of Simeon Trust
. . . [P]resent church leaders (pastors, lay ministers, youth leaders, etc.) must educate themselves in the arts and aesthetics. Of course, the usual demands of ministry are severe, and most pastors are over-worked as it is. I am not suggesting that they supplant their normal duties of ministry and counseling for the sake of this task. What I do suggest is that church leaders at least make the arts a regular part of their lives, whether that takes the form of attending plays and symphony orchestras, reading great literature and poetry, or perusing local art galleries. I believe that as few as two hours per week devoted to artistic edification can significantly enhance a person’s aesthetic sensibility. For those who complain that they do not even have that much time to spare, I would ask them to estimate the number of hours per week they spend watching television. If they are sincerely convinced that it is better stewardship of time to watch a sitcom or football game than to attend a play or read a classic work of literature, then nothing I have to say will convince them anyway.In a 2004 lecture on Engaging the Renewed Imagination, Tim Keller said:
Christians cannot abdicate the arts to secular society. We must consume, study, and participate in the arts if we are to have a seat at the table. Whether it has a religious theme or strikes us as irreligious, we must be patrons if we are to have an impact on how the world interprets and responds to the arts. We cannot be wary, we cannot be afraid, we cannot be self-righteous. Christians must look, listen, read, and experience the arts if we are to lead our culture to renewal.Keller also provides several questions you can ask yourself to determine the extent to which you are a "patron" of the arts.
For thoughts on how you can support the arts through blogging, see the presentation notes here by Steve McCoy.
Curtis Allen (aka "Voice") is a Sovereign Grace pastor serving at Solid Rock Church in Maryland. He is also a rapper, with excellent lyrics coming out of a Reformed worldview. I interviewed him here a few years ago.
He's just released a new digital-only album, called "A Theist" (available from Amazon.com, iTunes, and elsewhere). At Amazon it's only $8.99 (it's a dollar more at iTunes).
He recently did a bunch of talks to high schoolers (at 18 different schools) in post-Katrina New Orleans, one of the most dangerous cities in the US. It seems like the Lord granted him a lot of favor. He put a few pictures together on a YouTube video, where you can hear the song "Cultural Jesus" in the background, one of the songs off of the new album.
Here's one exchange from their interview:
On page 35, you write "Spiritually you're better off a little mixed up about economics than indifferent to human suffering. Economically, though, only what you do is important, whatever your reason." This seems to be a very important point for the book. What are you trying to say in these two sentences?Read the whole thing.
When I wrote: "Spiritually you're better off a little mixed up about economics than indifferent to human suffering. Economically, though, only what you do is important, whatever your reason," I was trying to balance but capture Gilson's "Piety is no substitute for technique." To me, this is one of most important points I've tried to make. Motivation IS important when we're considering our spiritual state before God. It's just that our motivation for a policy has nothing to do with the real world effects of the policy. I think that Christians often weight our (and others') motivations far too heavily on economic matters. It's as if we think feeling bad about poverty is more obligatory than actually doing something that helps the poor. For instance, several times in churches I've pointed out why minimum wage laws don't really help the poor in the long run. I've never had anyone try to debunk the argument, but several times I've received the complaint that my argument shows that I'm not really concerned about the poor. It doesn't of course. But even if it were evidence that I weren't concerned about the poor, the argument's validity (or lack thereof) would remain the same.
Reading Richards' book and Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy would help to dispel a lot of bad economics among Christians, would actually lead to serving the poor more effectively and efficiently, and would help people realize that folks like Jim Wallis frequently offer arguments that are nothing more than demagoguery (cf. pp. 37-38 of Richards's book).
Finally, here's a quote from Richards's book:
. . . [H]aving the right intentions, being oriented in the right way, doesn't take the place of doing things right. A pilot's caring deeply for his passengers and wanting to land a plane safely are no substitute for his learning how to actually land plans safely. . . . I hope you already have a heart for the poor. Lots of Christians do. But do you have a mind for the poor? Unfortunately that's in rather short supply. (p. 35)
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
- Who wrote the film? Who produced it? Who directed it? Do we know through the writings and previous work of these people anything about their philosophy of life? The previous works of actors are also important. Actors contribute much to the quality of a film, little to its fundamental conception. But actors do tend to sign on to projects with which they have some ideological affinity (assuming financial rewards are not otherwise determinative). Mel Gibson almost never takes on films with a heavy sexual element; Mickey Rourke almost always does. The presence of certain actors, granting that they sometimes go "against type," can tell you something about the message of a film.
- Is it well-made, aesthetically? Are the production and acting values of high quality? These factors may have little to do with the "message." But they do tend to determine the extent of the film's cultural impact, and that is important for our purposes. If a film is well-made, it can have a large impact upon the culture for good or ill. (Of course some bad films also have a major impact!)
- Is it honest, true to its own position? This is another mark of "quality." Generally speaking, an honest film, regardless of its point of view, will have a larger cultural impact than one which blunts its points.
- What kind of film is it? Fantasy? Biography? Realistic drama? Comedy? Obviously each film must be judged according to its purpose and genre. We don't demand of a fantasy the kind of historical accuracy we demand of a supposedly literal biography.
- What is the world view of the film? Is it theistic or atheistic? Christian or non-Christian? If non-Christian, is its main thrust relativistic or dogmatic? How does it employ the theme of "equality?" Is there any role for providence, for God? Is the film pessimistic or optimistic? Does the action move in deterministic fashion, or is there a significant role for human choice?
- What is the plot? What problems do the characters face? Can these problems be correlated in some way with the Fall of mankind in Adam? Does the film in effect deny the Fall, or does it affirm it in some way?
- Are the problems soluble? If so, how? What methods are available to the characters so that they can find the answers they need?
- What is the moral stance of the film? Is the film relativistic, dogmatic, or both in some combination? What are its attitudes toward sex, family, human life, property, truth, heart-attitudes? What is the source of moral norms, if any? Does justice prevail?
- In comedy, what is it that is funny? What are the typical incongruities? Who is the butt of the jokes? (Christians? traditional values? the wicked? the righteous? God? Satan?) Is the humor anarchic? Is it rationality gone awry? Is it bitter or gentle? Does it rely on caricatures? If so, of whom?
- Are there allusions to historical events, literary works, other films, famous people, Scripture, etc. that would give us some idea where the filmmakers are coming from? We should remember, of course, that allusions may be negative, positive, ironic, or merely decorative. A biblical allusion does not necessarily indicate acceptance of biblical values.
- What are the chief images of the film? Is there anything interesting about the lighting, the camera angles, the sound, the timing which would reinforce a particular theme? Are there significant symbols?
- Are there any explicit religious themes? Christ-figures? Does the film express significant attitudes toward Christ, the clergy, or the church? Does it distort Christianity or present it at its worst? Or does it present it with some insight and/or sympathy? Does it recognize the element of personal piety in people's lives? There are exceptions. If so, does it approve or disapprove of it? What about Satan, the demons, the occult? Does the film recognize their activity in some way? Is the devil taken seriously? If so, how is he dealt with?
- The Preeminence of Christ (Joshua Harris)
- Christ's Incarnation (D.A. Carson)
- Christ's Life (Kevin DeYoung)
- Christ's Death (C.J. Mahaney)
- Christ's Resurrection (Sinclair Ferguson)
- Christ's Return (Sinclair Ferguson)
Before there was a universe,
Before a star or planet,When time had still not yet begun --
I scarcely understand it --Th' eternal Word was with his God,
God's very Self-Expression;Th' eternal Word was God himself --
And God had planned redemption.
The Word became our flesh and blood --
The stuff of his creation --The Word was God, the Word was flesh,
Astounding incarnation!But when he came to visit us,
We did not recognize him.Although we owed him everything
We haughtily despised him.
In days gone by God showed himself
In grace and truth to Moses;But in the Word of God made flesh
Their climax he discloses.For grace and truth in fullness came
And showed the Father's gloryWhen Jesus donned our flesh and died:
This is the gospel story.
All who delighted in his name,
All those who did receive him,All who by grace were born of God,
All who in truth believed him --To them he gave a stunning right:
Becoming God's dear children!Here will I stay in grateful trust;
Here will I fix my vision.
Before there was a universe,
Before a star or planet,When time had still not yet begun --
I scarcely understand it --Th' eternal Word was with his God,
God's very Self-Expression;Th' eternal Word was God himself --
And God had planned redemption.
. . . [I]t has become abundantly clear in the second half of the twentieth century that Western Man has decided to abolish himself. Having wearied of the struggle to be himself, he has createdMalcome Muggeride, from his essay "Jesus: The Man Who Lives," in Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith, ed. Cecil Kuhne (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 16.his own boredom out of his own affluence,himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, in a process of auto-genocide, convincing himself that he is too numerous, and labouring accordingly with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer in order to be an easier prey for his enemies; until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over a weary, battered old brontosaurus and becomes extinct.
his own impotence out of his own erotomania,
his own vulnerability out of his own strength;
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The Ligonier Academy Certificate tracks in Biblical Studies are structured programs intended to help believers come to a better understanding of the content and message of Scripture. A solid grasp of the content of the Bible is absolutely crucial for our spiritual growth and daily life.
Ligonier Academy offers three different Certificates in Biblical Studies: Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced. For more information on the requirements for each level, and for information on how to register, please visit the Ligonier Academy website at the links below.
Introductory Biblical Studies Certificate
Intermediate Biblical Studies Certificate
Advanced Biblical Studies Certificate
For more information on other Ligonier Academy certificate programs, please visit our website or call 1-800-435-4343 today!
Update: Just noticed that the whole thing--34 songs--is only $5.49--obviously a better deal than doing what I did and getting one song for one buck!
My song is love unknown,You can hear the song on the T4G CD.
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?
He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.
Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.
They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.
In life, no house, no homeHere might I stay and sing,
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
HT: D.A. Carson
It also loosely inspired a Coldplay song:
Sonia Sotomayor for appointment to the US Supreme Court, to replace Justice Souter.
President Obama, who used to teach ConLaw at the University of Chicago, has previously explained his view about the key ingredient in his view of an effective judge, namely, the empathy and values within the judge's heart. (See his comments here.)
As one who holds to a conservative view of the judiciary, I'll be following National Review's Bench Memos, which functions as a sort of clearing house for critical commentary and evaluation of this nomination.
His argument is that it is both moral and effective to achieve a partial good in politics and public policy when the ideal is not possible. In other words, there's no moral compromise in aiming for the greatest possible good when the perfect good is not available. The historical examples of the American founders, William Wilberforce, and Abraham Lincoln are used as example of what it looks like to employ effective, virtuous prudence to fence in social evils when outright prohibition is not possible.
The chapter on "Overturning Roe v. Wade Successfully" is alone worth the price of the book.
Here are a couple of blurbs:
Prudence, especially in the context of politics and the struggle for social reform, is a poorly understood, largely neglected and desperately needed virtue. We have long needed an intellectually coherent and compelling treatment of the subject. Happily, Clarke Forsythe has met the need. Drawing on the wisdom of Aristotle, Wilberforce, Lincoln, and other theorists and practitioners of political prudence, Forsythe has written a book that will both instruct and inspire all who work to protect the weak and vulnerable and to advance the cause of justice."
—Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, and director of theJames Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University
"Clarke Forsythe's Politics for the Greatest Good is an invaluable contribution to reflection within the pro-life movement on the best strategy to adopt in vindicating the right to life. He grounds his analysis on important historical materials, both from early American political thought and from the career of William Wilberforce, in making his case for an incremental strategy to reverse Roe v. Wade. He also provides effective critical analysis of the misguided argument that political morality requires never voting for laws that expand protection of the unborn but do not prohibit all abortions (for the time being), due to the lack of the necessary political support for broader protection. As a longtime leader in the pro-life movement who has done so much to craft and defend legal and legislative strategies to protect the right to life, he is intimately familiar with the often difficult circumstances facing those who would reestablish an American commitment to protecting all innocent human life from conception to natural death. Christians involved in pro-life work should be thankful for, and attentive to, his astute analysis and advice."—Christopher Wolfe, codirector, Ralph McInerny Center, and Emeritus Professor, Marquette University
This free, nicely designed booklet looks like it will serve a lot of guys:
Most men hope to marry some day, but there's no guarantee they will. Increasingly, young men are — as one writer put it — "stumbling on to the altar as if by accident."
Too many guys make their way into their 20s and 30s without the marriage modeling and insights that were once easy to find from dads, coaches, teachers, mentors and Christian leaders. When they do find advice about relationships, it's often spectacularly bad.
The simple purpose of the information here is to present a path that is as biblical as possible in order to help you marry well. But not just so that you can experience all the happiness, health and wealth that guys who marry well enjoy, but so that your marriage can point to God's glory and His greater purposes.
This guide is based on a few timeless concepts — intentionality, purity, Christian compatibility and community — that we rarely encounter in popular culture but are a proven path to marrying well.
May God bless the time you spend with this information and help you apply His design in your life.
The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.HT: David Powlison
The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is.
Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this.
In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.
The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness.
The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Thanks to Andy Rowell for the reference in the critical edition: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (vol. 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 115.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was instituted to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. After World War I, the purpose of the day was expanded to include all men and women who died in U.S. military service. Today, Memorial Day is mainly thought of as the unofficial start of summer–a long weekend with a car race, playoff basketball, and brats and burgers on the grill.Below is an outline of Kevin's main points--but of course to see the explanation and justification for each you'll have to read the whole thing:
It is always tricky to know how the church should or shouldn’t celebrate patriotic holidays. Certainly, some churches blend church and state in such a way that the kingdom of God morphs into a doctrinally-thin, spiritually nebulous civil religion. But even with this dangers, there are a number of good reasons why Christians should give thanks for Memorial Day.
1. Being a soldier is not a sub-Christian activity. . . .
2. The life of a soldier can demonstrate the highest Christian virtues. . . .
3. Military service is one of the most common metaphors in the New Testament to describe the Christian life. . . .
4. Love of country can be a good thing. . . .
5. This may be controversial to some, but I believe the facts of history will demonstrate that on the whole, the United States military has been a force for good in the world. . . .
Read the whole thing.
1. Seek the Lord earnestly about it. Pray like crazy that God would open your eyes to see wondrous things out of his law.
2. Immerse yourself in the Bible, even when you don't feel like it, pleading with God to open your eyes to see what's really there.
3. Get in a group where you talk about serious things.
4. Begin to share your faith. One of the reasons we are not as moved by our own faith as we are is because we almost never talk about it to any unbeliever. It starts to feel like a kind of hothouse thing, and then it starts to have a feeling of unreality about it. And then the powers of entertainment have more sway in our life.
5. . . . [T]hink about your death. Think about your death a lot. Ask what you'd like to be doing in the season of life, or hours or days, leading up to meeting Christ. I do that a lot these days. I think about the impact of death, and what I would like to be found doing, and how I would prepare to meet him and give an account to him.
Gail Schoonmaker--who did the illustration for The Big Picture Story Bible--did the drawings for this book, too.
You can browse the book online for free.
Thabiti Anyabwile recently wrote on a few of the things he appreciated about the book:
1. I appreciated that every aspect of friendship highlighted in the book pointed to the Savior and to a specific passage of Scripture highlighting His character.2. I appreciated that most of the faces in the book are some shade of brown. You can read this book with every ethnicity or phenotype and the reader can see themselves in it.3. I appreciated that the main family was an intact brown family. Don't see that enough in children's books.4. I appreciated that this brown family was socially and economically mobile.5. I appreciated that people with disabilities are plentifully included--even in the background family photos hanging on the walls.6. I appreciated that tears and empathy are taught in the book.7. I appreciated that people of every age play meaningful parts in the book.8. I appreciate that the book not only points to Jesus as Friend, but to Jesus as the only Savior, Friend of sinners. That it ends with the gospel and doesn't shy away from telling children that sin is dangerous but Jesus is greater.9. I appreciated the hymn that concludes the book, "One There Is, Above All Others." The book ends in doxology. Praise the Lord!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Passivity is a plague among Christians. It's not just that we don't do anything; it's that we feel spiritual for not doing anything. We imagine that our inactivity is patience and sensitivity to God's leading. At times it may be; but it's also quite possible we are just lazy. When we hype-spiritualize our decisions, we can veer off into impulsive and foolish decisions. But more likely as Christians we fall into endless patterns of vacillation, indecision, and regret. No doubt, selfish ambition is a danger for Christians, but so is complacency, listless wandering, and passivity that pawns itself off as spirituality. Perhaps our inactivity is not so much waiting on God as it is an expression of the fear of man, the love of the praise of man, and disbelief in God's providence.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Theology, Powlison says, is the compass that points to true north as the storm of life swirls around us. Studying theology is essential, but we cannot neglect studying the realities of human experience of this world. You can tell Powlison has a burden for pastors to become familiar with the storm of everyday life for the purpose of informing pastoral labors and helping connect biblical promises to the contours of life. Scripture makes sense of the chaos.
To this end, he recommends pastors become familiar with the arts. Over coffee and crème brûlée, Powlison recommended a number of books, drawn from required reading he assigned in his class on ministry and literature. Powlison recommended psychological novels like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a book that details many sides of human experience—anger, shame, fear, passion, guilt, shamelessness, suffering, child abuse, adultery, reconciliation, etc. He also recommended two titles that illuminate life reality but also feature simple pastors as their heroes—Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
In his class, to encourage pastors better understand the messiness of life, Powlison also assigned readings from a number of dark and despairing, but thoughtful, books. He categorizes them as “dark realism”—Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories, The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Conrad, he said, can see straight into the pit of human darkness, and writes with an unalleviated cynicism. Checkov is equally pessimistic but with a degree of common grace and palpable love and respect in the way he presents the characters. Each of these authors value honesty, an honesty pastors can learn from.
I both love and hate the suburbs -- and I think this is healthy and necessary. Finding stuff to love and embrace in one’s culture can be difficult, at least for some. Some are so focused on the present evil and corruption that any good has been pushed beyond their peripheral vision. On the other hand some are so in love with (idolize) their culture they ignore all that is wrong with it.See more at the sub*text site, which is devoted to "the gospel in the suburban context."
Right now it’s cool to love the city and loathe the suburbs, but I do not believe this reflects the heart of God. I believe God has a love/hate relationship with this culture. My culture. And I’m working hard to maintain that balance in my own heart.
"I just don't get it." That's a phrase I hear pretty often when people get honest with me about what they think about modern or contemporary art. I've spent quite a lot of time in the last year contemplating what it means to "get it." I think when most people use the phrase in relation to contemporary art, they think that there is some secret message that the artist is trying to convey to them and if only they knew the secret code, the viewer could crack the riddle and "get it." Well folks, there's no secret code to understanding contemporary art, but there are ways to become familiarized with the themes, techniques, and motivations of working artists.You can watch the whole series online for free at Hulu.
The Art 21 TV series by PBS is probably the best user-friendly introduction into appreciating and understanding contemporary art. Seeing these artists work and hearing them talk about their work is really exciting for me and gets my brain going a million directions at once. Considering the show from a Christian understanding of the world, there are so many entry points to thinking deeper about our relationship to the earth, other people, and ultimately God and the nature of reality.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
John Piper pays personal tribute here.
Piper also links to this video:
"The problem," Galli writes, "is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age."
Mark closes by proposing a more biblical injunction: "Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always."
Ida is not a "missing link" – at least not between anthropoids and more primitive primates. Further study may reveal her to be a missing link between other species of Eocene adapiforms, but this hardly solidifies her status as the "eighth wonder of the world".Read the whole thing.
Instead, Ida is a remarkably complete specimen that promises to teach us a great deal about the biology of some of the earliest and least human-like of all known primates, the Eocene adapiforms. For this, we can all celebrate her discovery as a real advance for science.
With reference to the article “Priorities” in the last NTJ (Winter 2009), the editors unreservedly apologize for implying that there is any tension between the position of Carl Trueman and Richard Gaffin on the matter of justification regarding the bounds of confessional orthodoxy; we also apologize for the fact that Dr. Gaffin was quoted out of context in the article in a manner that distorted his views, and we affirm that his recent response to John Fesko in Ordained Servant (March 2009) represents a satisfactory clarification of the comment we misquoted; we further apologize for implying that Dr. Gaffin’s views are contrary to the Protestant confessional consensus on justification and for writing that they constitute “a new perspective on Paul,” which uses eschatology to overturn the consensus of the Reformers and the Reformed creeds; and we acknowledge that the biblical notion of union with Christ does not contradict or contravene, directly or impliedly, anything taught in the Westminster Standards.
And now Max McLean has taken the production to a new level, performing it in Chicago at the Mercury Theater. The reviews by the secular press have been very encouraging. The show has been extended until June (and in fact, they are just now running a buy-one, get-one-free offer for those who want to attend the show).
I was recently able to talk to Max about the show--and also about memorizing Scripture and reading it publicly, how Screwtape Letters came about, whether they'll ever take the show on the road, what Lewis works they might do next, etc. At the end of the interview is a YouTube clip of a couple of excerpts from the show.
Can you tell us a little bit about your show, “Mark’s Gospel”--what is it, where it's playing?
Mark’s Gospel is a dramatic, highly theatrical retelling of the Gospel according to Mark told word for word from the NIV Bible. It is now playing at the Mercury Theater near Wrigley Field in Chicago through June 28, 2009. That’s the same theater where we produced C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
How long did it take to memorize it?
About 16 months. The memory work wasn’t the difficult part. The difficult part was knowing it so well so that it became second nature. It was only then that I could commit my body, soul, and mind to telling it with the energy, passion, and conviction that the story demands.
What effect do you think it has on the audience hearing the entire Gospel in one sitting and presented in this way?
It is a very demanding and brilliant piece of writing. I think seeing it on stage brings out that aspect of the Gospel a bit more than what we usually get. Our familiarity with the story goes away and the gospel becomes something new, fresh, powerful, and different. It’s almost as if you find yourself hearing the story for the first time. The true heroic nature of Jesus becomes almost overwhelming.
Sometimes I think our emphasis on dissecting each verse for pedagogical reasons can drain the gospel of its power as story and narrative. When we look at our own conversion many of us first fell in love with Jesus because we discovered who he is through the Gospels and then we were motivated to follow him. Hearing Mark’s Gospel told as narrative in one sitting can re-capture that effect for some people.
How is the Chicago show different from the DVD presentation you did a few years ago?
This is the first time we have given Mark’s Gospel a full theatrical production with set, sound, and lighting designs to help bring audiences into the world of the play. We have also added a projection design that includes digital maps to highlight locations where Jesus traveled and performed so many of his miraculous deeds. I think the Chicago Tribune captured its purpose when they said that the projection design helped to convey that this “earth-shattering life” took place in a very small area. A big movement like Christianity had its origins in a remote land away from the power centers of the ancient world.
The video you are describing was produced in 1996. It was simple and basic. One of the objectives of the theatrical production at the Mercury Theater was to produce a new video.
I also know the story better, and my ability to get it across to an audience has improved a bit over the years. I believe that telling the story orally in one sitting is probably the closest experience to how the first Christians received the gospel. By the way, it’s almost impossible for video to capture the powerful essence of a collective mind engaged in live performance. Video can’t break through. It can only serve to show folks what is possible and serves mostly as a memory piece.
We have a piece of video on our website from our dress rehearsal [JT: see below at the end of this interview]. I never know if it helps or hurts. Most people in the theater world know that the final dress rehearsal with all tech in place is one of the lowest points in the process of making theater. It is the final element to tech week, which is as much about endurance and patience as it is creativity. It is a necessary part of the creative purpose. Doubts begin to emerge about whether or not our creative choices really work. You don’t know until you are in front of a live audience. In this case I believe we made good choices.
Do you have any counsel for those who want to grow in their ability to memorize Scripture and to retell it with integrity and creativity?
That’s an interesting question because my friend Warren Bird and I have written a book entitled, Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture, that will be published by Zondervan this fall. It does not deal with my major theatrical productions but how churches can elevate the scripture reading to a central moment in the worship experience. Of course integrity and creativity are key elements of the process.
As for memorizing scripture, it works best for me if memorization is a byproduct of meditation. Certainly it is an objective to memorize the text. But the act of memorizing the text can be hollow if it is not a result of deep meditation. When I actively interact and engage with a text there is a conversation going on between the words I’m looking at on a page and my heart and soul. Of course that is the primary way the Holy Spirit works in our lives. The result is that the text starts speaking to me. As a result I find myself knowing the words of the text and how they fit together very well. The final act of memorizing becomes much easier.
Of course to keep it in your heart and head requires that you revisit that text regularly or you might lose it. When I’m doing a presentation and I go "dry" or forget my place, I usually stop and say to the audience something like, "You know when you hide God’s word in your heart, sometimes you can’t find it!" I usually get a pretty big laugh after that. They start to think, “Oh, he’s human after all.”
Can you tell us a bit about how the production of The Screwtape Letters came about?
For the past three years our concentration has been a trial-and-error process of making The Screwtape Letters as strong as possible. We’ve done four productions of it. The first one wasn’t very good. The second was a major improvement, and the third was even better. It must be said that our failures in the first production led directly to the show’s later success. We had to take a step back and look at the production with a clear eye and work to fix them one by one. This required a new design team, recasting a central character, and going back to the script to make sure we were telling a good story really well.
When you do theater from a Christian worldview, the stigma is so pronounced, in the mainstream theater and also with many in the church community, that you have to be intensely self critical in every aspect of how you execute; from the designs to the stagecraft to the performances and marketing. Otherwise the work will not get a fair hearing in the cultural marketplace.
I really like where Screwtape is now in terms of theatrical execution and how close it is to Lewis's vision. We knew that if we trusted Lewis’s language and supported it theatrically that it would do really well. People think there isn’t a story in the book. That’s not true. There is a journey. Screwtape has a dramatic arc that is satisfying to the audience and they walk away from the show much different than when they came in.
The surprise to us is how well it did as a mainstream, commercial theater event. It has always exceeded our expectations. It played in a 170-seat theater in NYC and to a 100% capacity for four months. In DC it ran in a 500-seat space and played to standing-room-only audiences for five weeks at the Shakespeare Theatre. Screwtape ran for six months at the Mercury Theater in Chicago when it was originally scheduled for six weeks. We also are negotiating for a sit-down invitation at the Pasadena Playhouse near LA for Spring 2010. The artistic director flew out to see the Chicago show and wants to find a slot in their schedule. This has little to do with any commitment to the Christian worldview, although there is an openness to worldview diversity as long as the gatekeepers think the product has artistic merit (i.e., they won’t be embarrassed) and that the product will attract an audience.
So what led you to do Mark's Gospel next?
Doing Screwtape is what gave me the impulse to do Mark’s Gospel. I believe it was the Holy Spirit. The purpose of doing Screwtape was to show how formidable the enemy of our soul really is. He is a roaring lion seeking whom he will devour. Yes its engaging and entertaining as all good theater has to be.
Mark’s Gospel reinforces that powerful truth that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Of course it has to be entertaining and engaging. I’m very pleased how seriously the Chicago theater community has taken Mark. I believe it was because of the credibility we established with Screwtape that they were willing to give Mark’s Gospel a fair hearing. The Chicago Tribune made it a Critic’s Choice and it was recommended by the Chicago Sun-Times. We are very happy about that.
Have you ever thought about "taking the show on the road"?
We are making an effort to build a touring production of both Screwtape and Mark that can travel and set up very easily while still maintaining about 80% of the production values. This will be useful in mid to smaller markets where we can go for one night or for a weekend. The idea is to arrive on say a Friday morning, set up, do a quick cue-to-cue rehearsal and present a show that evening. That’s the goal, anyway, and we’d like to test that in one or two markets this fall.
Do you plan to perform any other biblical books on stage?
We’d like to do a new production from the book of Genesis. I did one about 12 years--but like Mark's Gospel, I think we can execute it better now than we did then (although I did like that show very much). We also have a few more people and resources around us now that we didn’t have then. So I think we have more capability to do a better job now. The last production was certainly a good foundation.
Will you be adapting any more works by Lewis?
We are looking closely at three Lewis books that we have asked for the rights to adapt. They are The Great Divorce, for obvious reasons, Perelandra, though I’m not sure we are up to the task on that one, and finally and, I think, surprisingly, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. I love that book. I think it is poignant and at times very funny. If Screwtape were converted this is the book he would write! We would have to find the story arc and build it much as we did Screwtape. Still, it’s very early in a long process.
I know you've done an audio CD, performing Martin Luther's famous "Here I Stand" speech. Have you ever thought about doing anything with Luther's life?
My colleague Jeff Fiske, who directs our show, has had a long love affair with Luther. This is most likely our next major project. Luther is a character of truly Shakespearean size that lived a dramatic life in an intensely dramatic historical moment. Again I’m not sure we are up to the task, but it is certainly worth trying and failing. Developing plays for the stage is a long, long process with a lot of trial and mostly errors. In many ways the journey is as important as the result.
We have to prioritize where we are going to put our limited resources first and then make slow, incremental process. All of this should keep us busy for a few years. In the meantime, the LORD may take me home, and he will bring in someone else to take it over.
Many thanks to Max McLean for taking the time out of a very busy schedule to talk about these things. You can go to their site for more information on the Fellowship of Performing Arts or to donate to the effort.
Here are some clips from Mark's Gospel at the Mercury Theater:
I want to recommend an incredible documentary movie that is out at the theatres right now.The trailer is below:
It's called "Brothers at War." It is a moving portrait of three brothers, two who are soldiers in the Iraq war, and one who went to find out why. You will not see anything like this in your diet of mainstream media. It honors our soldiers, gets inside their families and their humanity, as well as their love for their country and our freedom, without denying their personal struggles. It is fascinating and enlightening, and entertaining.
Unfortunately it is extremely limited in release. And it is out RIGHT NOW, or coming soon to your town, and will not last long. So please try to go see it this week if you can.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
It’s terrible. Biblically terrible. Possibly the worst new car money can buy. It’s the first car I’ve ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn’t have to drive it any more.There's more.
. . . And the sound is worse. The Honda’s petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else’s crying baby on an airliner. It’s worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you’d have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.
So you’re sitting there with the engine screaming its head off, and your ears bleeding, and you’re doing only 23mph because that’s about the top speed, and you’re thinking things can’t get any worse, and then they do because you run over a small piece of grit.. . . The nickel for the battery has to come from somewhere. Canada, usually. It has to be shipped to Japan, not on a sailing boat, I presume. And then it must be converted, not in a tree house, into a battery, and then that battery must be transported, not on an ox cart, to the Insight production plant in Suzuka. And then the finished car has to be shipped, not by Thor Heyerdahl, to Britain, where it can be transported, not by wind, to the home of a man with a beard who thinks he’s doing the world a favour.
(HT: Iain Murray--no, not the Iain Murray)
* Full disclosure: Perhaps also the first car review I've ever read. But still....
Kevin attacks both the jerk problem ("Hell hath no fury like a scorned blogger with too much free time") but also the nice problem ("It is possible to be too nice, especially when eternal truth is at stake").
Here, then, a little advice for the tough guys: Save the big guns for the big issues. Don’t try to die on every hill; the hills are crowded already and you only have so many lives to lose. Be courteous wherever possible (Col. 4:6). Drop the rhetorical bombs and launch the satire missiles only as a last resort. Be patient with those who really want to understand (2 Tim. 2:25). And remember, it’s ok to have an unarticulated thought (Prov. 18:2).Read the whole thing. And may all of our blogging, commenting, tweating, Facebookin', etc. reflect this wise and biblical counsel.
And for the tender ones: Dare to not qualify. Don’t pad your criticisms with fluff praise (Gal. 1:10). If you have affirmations of substances, go for it. But don’t be a self-protective flatterer. Don’t be afraid to be misunderstood. Don’t soften a needed jab of logic. And when you get an ad hominen right hook, don’t take it personally (1 Cor. 4:3–4).
And for everyone: please, please argue with actual arguments. Don’t just emote or dismiss the other side with labels. Explain why your side makes more sense. Try more persuasion, less pouting (2 Cor. 5:11). Give reasons, not just reactions (Acts 18:19).
"If You Want to Understand the State of American Religion, You Need to Understand Why So Many People Love Dan Brown"
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
There is a whole other side to this question besides what is set out in the posting and that is the issue of whether the consequences of such public confession are not more grave than that of not confessing in public.
Somewhere in his Systematic Theology Charles Hodge sets out the principle that public sins ought to be publicly confessed whereas private sins are best confessed in private.
To some, such a distinction will seem overly fastidious. I disagree. Think back to the reports from a decade or more ago about student revivals on various Christian campuses. Students were lined up at microphones to "confess" before whole auditoriums of people a lot of things that were very lurid and not in keeping with the cautions of Ephesians 5.3,4. What is there about the confession of sin that requires private shameful acts to be confessed before audiences of both genders, not bound by close relationship to the one confessing? That smacks of the courtroom, not Christian fellowship.
Or to think of another scenario: many of us have heard of congregations which try to take church discipline seriously by requiring not-yet-married couples,discovered to be promiscuous, to make open confession before the whole congregation with which they have been associated. Again, I ask--where is the fitness of making private sin this public? Surely there is a confession of sin, behind closed doors to the appropriate spiritual leaders, which accomplishes all the same good. [Having said this, I would add that the old practice of private confession to a priest--now making something of a comeback among Catholics--was so beset with priestly indiscretions that it became one of the best arguments for clerical marriage. All this to say that private confession is not trouble-free].
Surely confession of sin to another implies some clear relationship to exist which makes it especially appropriate for the one hearing the confession to hear it. Call it an accountability relationship if you will. I do not agree that the magazine editor wanting to book a photo shoot (even as a believer) is a person with which such an accountability relationship must be reckoned to occur. Wouldn't it have been sufficient simply to have declined tactfully? (This is not to say that some great principle was violated by what JP did under the circumstances). I find it hard to question Charles Hodges' wisdom on this point.