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March 2005

March 31, 2005

There are times in life where I would love to be American. I love and admire the confidence and patriotism that are such a part of what makes Americans who they are. One recent example of a day I would have been proud to be American is September 11 and the following days and weeks, as the whole nation gathered together to mourn and to rededicate itself to the pursuit of liberty. Watching as an outsider, it was an inspiring reaction to such tragedy.

Today I am proud to not be an American. The nation that professes to value the sanctity of human life above most everything, has turned her back on a person who needed her most. It is a terrible, disturbing, disgusting situation and will surely be a blight on America for a long time to come.

But rather than rant on, I am going to post links to what other Christian bloggers are saying about the situation. I am sure this is a day when many Americans will reflect on the laws of their land and wonder just how this could have happened.

Dead Man Blogging reflects on Judges 20 and says “I’m told that in Nazi Germany there was a Christian church near a train station. That train station was used to load Jews on trains to concentration / death camps. During service, the church was able to sometimes hear the cries of Jews being loaded onto those trains. It became the congregation’s habit to sing very loudly, so as to drown out the desperate cries of the Jews.”

Peter Bogart challenges us not to forsake the gospel in talking about Terri. He also reflects on what he has learned. “So what have we learned? More specifically, the better question is what have I learned? My thoughts on this go beyond the right to life issue. I have no need to state a position that others articulate far better. What I learned from this is that we live in an evil culture.”

Colin “take[s] trust that our Lord is omnipotent and omniscient and will have true justice concerning this situation.”

Adrian Warnock, also an international observer, wonders how many more innocent deaths are to come. “Sadly, Terri’s is not the first case of its kind, nor will it be the last. How long before we start more widespread “mercy killings” of the old and otherwise infirm is anybody’s guess, but you can bet that it is coming. With an aging population, such actions will be seen as economically essential by some.”

Jollyblogger weighs in. “To be sure, over these last few weeks as I have engaged the issues I have seen that the issues surrounding the life and death saga are far more complex than I originally thought.”

Doug at Coffeeswirls tells us that Terri is not the Acid test.

I will add to this list as other bloggers write about Terri.

March 31, 2005

This is the thirty first and final part in this study through the book of Proverbs. The purpose of this study has been to learn wisdom and discernment from God’s Word. Yesterday I learned that limited human wisdom can never compare with God’s unlimited perfect wisdom. I also saw that though nature proclaims that God exists, it is only through His Word that I can really come to know Him. Finally I saw through several examples from nature, that God is able to overcome any weakness through His strength.

The final chapter of Proverbs was written by King Lemuel. We do not know what nation he was king over, though we do know it was not Israel. Lemuel’s writing is unique in that in that it was given by a mother to her son rather than a father as with the rest of this book. This shows that though the father bore primary responsibility for training children in wisdom, the mother also played a crucial role.

After a short introduction, the author provides wisdom about refraining from drunkenness. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted.” Drunkenness is not befitting for one in a position of authority, for they need to be in full control of their senses at all times. Intoxication might prevent a ruler from properly fulfilling his duties and making wise decisions. As we see in verse 6, he must especially not use it as an avenue for escape from the hardships of life. “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart.”

The bulk of this chapter is the well-known description of “the virtuous wife.” The 22 verses are in the form of an acrostic poem, though we do not see this in the English translation. A virtuous woman is one who seeks to live a life of godly wisdom, for we read “she opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” She exhibits qualities of wisdom both with her words and her actions. “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” Though difficult to find, a wife of great virtue is not an impossible dream.

The passage goes on to describe a woman who works hard to support herself and her family. She rises before dawn to provide food for the family and spends her day running various enterprises. She helps the needy and shows shrewdness in all her dealings.

Several verses caught my attention. Verses 11 and 23 show that a wife’s virtue extends beyond her to her family. “The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain.” Because of the wife’s hard work, the husband does not need to worry about poverty overcoming the family. And not only that, but “her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” Her virtue is known to the community and people admire her husband because of her.

We see that despite all this, her great reward is the praise and admiration of her family. “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all.”” Though she may be proud of the work she has done, the money she has earned or the way she has cared for her family, her greatest pride should be in the admiration of her family.

The application for me, as a man, is not to compare my wife with this woman and grumble about the areas she falls short. Rather, I need to rejoice in the qualities she exhibits and ensure that I do call her blessed and praise her for the love and concern she shows for myself and my family. I need to thank God for providing me a woman of virtue.

The Reformation Study Bible has a text note I would like to include here as it beautifully wraps up the book of Proverbs. “The Book of Proverbs ends as it begins: observation of the created order can provide some wisdom and knowledge of God (Rom. 1:20-23), but only the self-relevation of the Creator enables us to know and appreciate the God-centered meaning of reality. True wisdom is seen as the life lived in wholehearted obedience to God’s revelation in His Word, which is “the fear of the Lord.” This trust is the foundation and continuing path of wisdom as it brings us to final perfection in Christ.”

March 30, 2005

National Review online has an interesting article about Michael Shiavo’s lawyer, George Felos. Reading through the article it would be easy to dismiss Felos as a crackpot, but this would be hasty. Instead, we should see Felos’ beliefs as being consistent with the New Spirituality (formerly known as the New Age).

In his 2002 book Litigation as Spiritual Practice, Felos expresses his belief in the “cosmic law of cause and effect,” in which the human mind is not limited by the constraints of reality. More specifically, if one wants a new car, one could make this dream car manifest “out of the ether.”

Felos claims to have used his mental powers to cause a plane he was passenger on to nearly crash. By simply asking himself, “I wonder what it would be like to die right now?” the plane’s autopilot program mysteriously ceased to function and the plane descended into free fall. Felos then observed, “At that instant a clear, distinctly independent and slightly stern voice said to me, ‘Be careful what you think. You are more powerful than you realize.’ In quick succession I was startled, humbled and blessed by God’s admonishment.”

Throughout Litigation as Spiritual Practice, Felos combines tactics on successful litigation with his spiritual adventures. The book’s 30 chapters feature a diversity of selections such as: “Bargaining for the Contingency Fee” alongside others entitled, “Rescued on Dream Wings” and “My Death and Resurrection.”

As Mrs. Browning lay motionless before my gaze, I suddenly heard a loud, deep moan and scream and wondered if the nursing home personnel heard it and would respond to the unfortunate resident. In the next moment, as this cry of pain and torment continued, I realized it was Mrs. Browning.

I felt the midsection of my body open and noticed a strange quality to the light in the room. I sensed her soul in agony. As she screamed I heard her say, in confusion, “Why am I still here … Why am I here?” My soul touched hers and in some way I communicated that she was still locked in her body. I promised I would do everything in my power to gain the release her soul cried for. With that, the screaming immediately stopped. I felt like I was back in my head again, the room resumed its normal appearance, and Mrs. Browning, as she had throughout this experience, lay silent.

Read more here.

(Hat Tip to Chris Regan).

March 30, 2005

Darren, friend and artist extrordinaire, recently sent me a link to some writings of the great puritan pastor and theologian Richard Baxter. Baxter wrote some advice on reading that seems as appropriate for us to learn from today as it was for the men and women of the seventeenth century. Perhaps the advice is even more important today as we have access to far more books and writing than the puritans could ever have imagined. The following is drawn from an article printed in the Banner of Truth (Issue 11, June, 1958). My commentary appears italicized.

“Make careful choice of the books which you read: let the holy scriptures ever have the pre-eminence, and, next to them, those solid, lively, heavenly treatises which best expound and apply the scriptures, and next, credible histories, especially of the Church … but take heed of false teachers who would corrupt your understandings.”

Surely this is solid advice. Devotion to reading must never take pre-eminence over our reading of Scripture. If we spend many hours every day reading but only a brief period of time studying the Scriptures, we need to examine our priorities. When we do read, we need to give priority to good books that increase our knowledge of and love for the Scriptures. Beyond them, it is wise to study the history of the church so we can never lose sight of our roots and seek to avoid the mistakes of the past. And finally, we should avoid submitting ourselves to the writings of false teachers who will corrupt our understanding of the truths of Scripture.

1. As there is a more excellent appearance of the Spirit of God in the holy scripture, than in any other book whatever, so it has more power and fitness to convey the Spirit, and make us spiritual, by imprinting itself upon our hearts. As there is more of God in it, so it will acquaint us more with God, and bring us nearer Him, and make the reader more reverent, serious and divine. Let scripture be first and most in your hearts and hands and other books be used as subservient to it. The endeavours of the devil and papists to keep it from you, doth shew that it is most necessary and desirable to you.

Once again, the Bible must be pre-eminent. The Bible alone is God’s full, inerrant, infallible, authoritative revelation to us and we must treat it accordingly. All other books must take a subservient and complementary role to Scripture.

2. The writings of divines are nothing else but a preaching of the gospel to the eye, as the voice preaches it to the ear. Vocal preaching has the pre-eminence in moving the affections, and being diversified according to the state of the congregation which attend it: this way the milk comes warmest from the breast. But books have the advantage in many other respects: you may read an able preacher when you have but a average one to hear. Every congregation cannot hear the most judicious or powerful preachers: but every single person may read the books of the most powerful and judicious; preachers may be silenced or banished, when books may be at hand: books may be kept at a smaller charge than preachers: we may choose books which treat of that, very subject which we desire to hear of; but we cannot choose what subject the preacher shall treat of. Books we may have at hand every day, and hour; when we can have sermons but seldom, and at set times. If sermons be forgotten, they are gone; but a book we may read over and over, till we remember it: and if we forget it, may again peruse it at our pleasure, or at our leisure. So that good books are a very great mercy to the world: the Holy Ghost chose the way of writing, to preserve His doctrine and laws to the ‘Church, as knowing how easy and sure a way it is of keeping it safe to all generations, in comparison of mere verbal traditions.

Perhaps the greatest reason to read is that it gives us direct access to the God-given wisdom of some of the greatest preachers and theologians of our day and days past. While Charles Spurgeon (and Richard Baxter, for that matter) has long since gone to be with the Lord, we can learn from him as easily as people did in the nineteenth century.

3. You have need of a judicious teacher at hand, to direct you what books to use or to refuse: for among good books there are some very good that are sound and lively; and some good, but mediocre, and weak and somewhat dull; and some are very good in part, but have mixtures of error, or else of incautious, injudicious expressions, fitter to puzzle than edify the weak.

For every good book, there are five or ten (or, more likely, far more) that are fit only for the trash. Much of what is published under the banner of “Christian” is anything but. Be careful what you read, for a book can lead you astray as easily as it can lead you closer to the Lord. Find mature believers who can guide you to books and authors that will edify you. I wrote an article about this last week, which you can read here.

Baxter’s Guide To The Value of a Book

  1. Could I spend this time no better? - Some of the most godly men I know of are (and were) voracious readers. Charles Spurgeon read tens of thousands of books, and in our day I know that John MacArthur and Al Mohler are both examples of men with extensive libraries who read constantly. So Baxter was not downplaying the importance of reading, but merely suggesting that it is not a pre-eminent concern. It must not take priority over all other responsibilities. If I read while watching my elderly neighbours shoveling snow from their driveway, I need to examine whether I have given reading undue importance.
  2. Are there better books that would edify me more? - While reading is a wonderful way to spend time, it is merely a means to an end. It may be that there is a book I can read that will edify me more and prove more valuable.
  3. Are the lovers of such a book as this the greatest lovers of the Book of God and of a holy life? - This is a difficult question. I sometimes read books that are popular, but favored by those who do not hold high the Word of God. While I do believe there is value in reading books for the purposes of research (for example, to understand what 22 million people are reading in The Purpose Driven Life), I need to prioritize good books that are loved by godly men and women.
  4. Does this book increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come? - In other words, does this book complement my reading of the Bible and help me live a life of godliness? Or does it pull me further from God or leave me with feelings of skepticism?

In all things, we must use discernment. As we read books we must continually search the Scriptures to “see if these things are so,” all the while praying to God for wisdom. Baxter’s advice is sound and we would do well to heed it, even hundreds of years after it was written.

March 30, 2005

This is part thirty in my 31-day study through the book of Proverbs. The purpose of this study is to learn wisdom and discernment from God’s Word. Yesterday I learned that I need to keep my mouth and emotions under control lest I be proven foolish by my words or actions. I also saw the importance of maintaining moral purity when in a position of leadership, where political, church or family leadership.

Chapter 30 is one of just two chapters in this book that records the wisdom of someone other than Solomon. The proverbs in this chapter were written by Agur, a man we know nothing about, except that he was probably a foreigner (and the son of Jakeh, as mentioned in the first verse). He begins this passage in a strange way: “Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One.” He begins with a statement that seems to deny his own wisdom. Looking deeper, though, we see that he acknowledges the wisdom of God and these words are merely a comparison of his wisdom with God’s. He is aware that his wisdom is bound and can never be as complete and wondrous as God’s wisdom.

He continues to express God’s wisdom verse four. “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?” His purpose is this verse is to show that we cannot attain knowledge of God merely by observing the world around us. God is so much bigger than His creation, for He controls the winds and the waters. He exists in both the heavens and on the earth, for He is present everywhere.

Verses 5 and 6 express the beauty and power of God’s Word. “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” In words that recall (and actually quote) the Psalms of David, the author provides the answer to the questions he asked in the previous verse. We cannot depend on creation to tell us about God, but must rely on His revelation through Scripture. God’s Word is pure, uncorrupted where creation has suffered so greatly through the fall. He also warns against judging Scripture by our flawed, human standards, saying that if we do so God will rebuke us for our pride.

If there is any single thing I have been learning through the past weeks and months, it is the power of God’s Word. As I come to a deeper understanding of this, my love and respect for the Scriptures increases as well. I am coming to a deeper appreciation of the priceless treasure God has given us in the Bible.

There are four things which are little on the earth,
But they are exceedingly wise:
The ants are a people not strong,
Yet they prepare their food in the summer;
The rock badgers are a feeble folk,
Yet they make their homes in the crags;
The locusts have no king,
Yet they all advance in ranks;
The spider skillfully grasps with its hands,
And it is in kings’ palaces.

This passage speaks on two levels. On one hand it shows that God has created the world with a certain order. Ants, though tiny animals, fulfill God’s purposes for them by working hard and with order. Locusts also live in an orderly manner, despite the fact that they have no king.

At a deeper level, though, we can see that the author speaks about a weakness inherent in each of these animals. Ants, badgers, locusts and spiders are all small, weak animals, yet they are able to fulfill the function God has created them for. They are able to overcome their weaknesses and glorify God. The gifts each of them has is a gift from a wise God.

The application of this passage is clear. Each of us has both gifts and weaknesses. God gives each of us gifts in order to honor Him with them. As one seeking to honor God with my life, I need to trust that the strengths He gives me will be able to overcome whatever weaknesses I may have or perceive in myself.

March 29, 2005

There are many who doubt or downplay the relevance of the Old Testament to our times. Those people have probably never taken the time to read the book of Proverbs. As you may have noticed, I have been working my way through that particular book this month and have been posting a few comments on it. I have been continually amazed at just how relevant this book is. It seems that wisdom is timeless. The lessons David taught Solomon speak to myself and my children as much as they did to the men and women of ancient Israel. The wisdom of God given to Solomon continues to ring loud and clear in my heart.

In the past few days I have read chapters twenty six to twenty nine and have found so many lessons that could apply specifically to people who blog, and who participate in forums, chatrooms and the like. If Solomon were alive today and were asked how to be a responsible member of the blogosphere or a responsible contributor to an online community, here is what he might say.

Count to ten before hitting the “Post” button.

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (29:20).” How many arguments would be avoided and how many relationships saved if people were only a little less hasty with their words? Before posting an article or before replying to one, it is always (always!) a good idea to re-read what you have written and consider if your words accurately express your feelings and if expressing such feelings is necessary and edifying. And while I’m on the topic, a spell-check doesn’t hurt either.

Leave the fool to his folly.

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself (26:4).” There are times when it is best to leave a foolish person to his own devices rather than to try to change him. Sometimes it is best just to leave him alone rather than providing him more ammunition to work with.

Expose folly.

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:5).” Here it is - undeniable proof that the Bible contradicts itself! Are we to answer a fool according to his folly or not? Evidently this “contradiction” is deliberate and is in the Bible to show that there is no absolute law in this situation. There are times when folly must be exposed, either if the fool is one you believe is honestly seeking after wisdom, or if his folly will damage others. If a fool is impacting others, drawing them into his foolishness, he must be exposed for the sake of the church’s health.

Know when to walk away.

“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet (29:9).” There are times when you need to walk away instead of carrying on an argument. Foolish people have no real desire to learn or to be wise. Instead, they only seek opportunities to loudly proclaim the folly. Walk away so you can have peace.

Be careful what you read.

“Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool (26:8).” Be careful whose words you read and whose wisdom you trust. Foolish men may seem wise, but they will still lead others astray. If you give honor to a foolish man by reading and soaking in his words, you are as foolish as a person who binds his stone in a sling, rendering the sling useless and leaving himself defenseless.

Be humble.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips (27:2).” “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (29:23).” Let others praise you. If you never receive praise from anyone, especially from those who are wise, it may be a good time to examine your heart and examine if you are walking in the ways of wisdom. Those who are humble and lowly in spirit will receive honor while the arrogant will be brought low.

Avoid the arrogant.

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him (26:12).” Just as we must be humble, we should be careful not to be too close to those who are foolishly arrogant. There is more hope for a fool than a man who is both foolish and arrogant.

Mind your own business.

“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears (26:17).” If you have ever grabbed a dog by the ears you know it will inevitably bring trouble. Grabbing a strange dog by the ears will bring even more trouble. Stay out of other people’s fights rather than wading into them as if they are your own.

Don’t be a troublemaker.

“Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling (26:27).” Those who exist only to bring trouble to others will pay a price. And unfortunately, on the Internet there are many of these people. Don’t be one!

Examine why you write.

“A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike (27:14).” The proverb speaks of a quarrelsome wife, but it could as easily apply to anyone. If you are writing merely to be quarrelsome or because you enjoy an argument, perhaps it is best to find something else to do.

Be careful what you teach.

“Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, and the blameless will have a godly inheritance (28:10).” Those who choose to teach others accept a grave responsibility, for if they mislead others, they must expect that there will be consequences.

Walk with the Lord.

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (28:26).” And here is the key to everything else. Trust in the Lord rather than in yourself. Walk with the Lord and in the ways of wisdom taught in the pages of the Bible. Be a wise man or woman of the Word, rather than a fool who trusts in his own wisdom (or lack thereof).

March 29, 2005

This is part twenty nine in my 31-day study through the book of Proverbs. The purpose of this study is to learn wisdom and discernment from God’s Word. Yesterday I learned that confession is a critical aspect of having a deep, intimate relationship with God. Failing to confess sin to Him will build barriers in our fellowship. I also saw the value of trusting God to guide me through life rather than depending on myself.

Chapter twenty nine is the final chapter containing Solomon’s proverbs, for chapter thirty was written by Agur and the final chapter by Lemuel. Today’s passage repeats many of the themes we have seen in previous days, so I will try to focus on a couple of other key messages.

Verse nine reads “If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace.” It is generally not wise to have a dispute with a foolish man, for he is incapable of allowing himself to be chastened. He will react either with rage or with scorn, but never with humility. As one seeking wisdom, I need to choose carefully when I will take a stand. If I perceive foolishness in someone who has wronged me or in someone exhibiting foolish behavior, it may be better simply to let the matter pass than to make that person my enemy.

The eleventh verse tells us “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.” The principle exhibited here is that those who are wise will know the value of maintaining control of their emotions. To speak whatever comes to my mind at an emotional moment violates much of the wisdom I have learned through the first twenty eight days of this study. For example, I have learned time and again that often the best display of wisdom is silence, for in some situations anything I say or do will be foolish. I have learned the importance of keeping my emotions in check, whether it be refraining from fighting with fools or from saying something jovial at a moment of sadness.

Similar wisdom is found in verse twenty. “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” In this case we see that not only do I need to keep my emotions in check, but my words as well. If I speak hastily without first applying wisdom to my words, I have less hope in life than a fool. I need to control both my emotions and words.

Verse 24 speaks of the predicament I may find myself in if I am an accomplice in a crime. “Whoever is a partner with a thief hates his own life; He swears to tell the truth, but reveals nothing.” If I help someone commit an evil deed and am found out, I will be forced to testify, but anything I say against him will serve to implicate myself as well. The lesson is clear: avoid putting myself in such situations. I need to live a life of moral purity, adhering to God’s laws.

I will close today with the twelfth verse. It says “If a ruler pays attention to lies, all his servants become wicked.” Societal corruption tends to begin at the top. When the rulers forsake wisdom it seems that it will not be long before their evil begins to pervade society. Certainly there are many examples of this in the Old Testament, for often a king would turn his back on God and begin to honor false gods. Very soon the whole nation would have turned their backs on God. As a modern-day application I thought of Bill Clinton and the way his evil, adulterous deeds came to light. Suddenly the whole nation was using words and phrases that before had been considered taboo. Society immediately began to change its view on what acts and deeds actually constitute sexual relations. Truly corruption at the highest levels affects everyone.

To take this proverb further, we can apply the lessons to any authority structure. Just as God has determined that society demands rulers, so He has placed authority structures into the family and the church. If there is corruption in the leadership of the family or the church, we can expect similar corruption throughout. As a father I need to maintain moral purity so that I may pass purity to my children rather than evil. If my children exhibit folly I need to examine myself to see if I have been corrupted and allowed my corruption to affect them. In a church setting, a pastor must maintain doctrinal purity, for if he turns to false teachings, his church will surely follow.

March 28, 2005

What an incredibly uninspiring and unimaginative title to this article. I hope you will read it regardless.

As you may know, a few weeks ago the cover of Time magazine featured a portrayal of Mary and the words “Hail, Mary: Catholics have long revered her, but now Protestants are finding their own reasons to celebrate the mother of Jesus.” The thrust of the article, written by David Van Biema, is that in our day there is a resurgence of interest in Mary amongst Protestants. He offered a fair bit of proof. Among them:

  • A Presbyterian pastor in Xenia, Ohio, plans to preach on the Annunciation to Mary during his Good Friday service this year, owing to an overlap on the calendar.
  • Beverly Gaventa, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary (also Presbyterian) has written a book on Mary and edited a collection of essays on Mary by feminist biblical scholars.
  • Articles favoring new attention for Mary have appeared in Christianity Today (evangelical Protestant) and The Christian Century (mainline or liberal Protestant).
  • A sermon on Mary was preached in a “mighty pulpit” by John Buchanan, senior pastor of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church.
  • Icons of Mary are showing up on the walls of Protestant divinity schools.

While some of Van Biema’s evidence is weak, it seems that there is truth in what he says - increasing numbers of Protestants are becoming interested in Marian devotion. This may not be as fully-developed as the devotion many Catholics give her, but it is more than what Protestants have traditionally expressed. Van Biema seems to say that there has been a conspiracy to downplay the emphasis the Bible places on the mother of Jesus.

For the past two weeks, Mark Roberts, author and pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California, has been writing a series of articles about this topic. Roberts believes that “those who see some sort of anti-Mary conspiracy among Protestants are overplaying their hand.” He also correctly points out that “we should remember that the emphasis of the New Testament is not upon Mary’s worthiness to be the mother of Jesus, but rather upon God’s grace in choosing her.”

Throughout the series Roberts reveals a sympathy towards Catholicism and devout Catholics that seems atypical for a Presbyterian. For example, he writes about a habit he formed in graduate school of attending mass daily. He says, “I’m quite sure this priest believed more about Mary than I did, and, for that matter, more about the nature of the church than I did, and more about the authority of church tradition than I did. But there was no question in my mind that we shared the same basic faith in God who has made himself know through Jesus Christ. Thus, much to my surprise, I found more common ground with this priest than I expected, even when it came to the way he talked about Mary in a church named in her honor…But what I do know is that what I once perceived to be a vast gulf between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism turned out, in my experience, to be a modest gap that I found surprisingly easy to cross.”

With that as backdrop, Roberts turns to outlining some reasons for the mending of the divide between Catholics and Protestants in America. He suggests that the greater openness of Protestants to Mary is simply one sign of the greater openness among Protestants to Roman Catholicism in general. “What many Protestants, including me [Roberts], once perceived to be a “vast gulf between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism” has turned out to be “a modest gap” that we can easily cross. Or to put it differently, we Protestants sense a deeper unity with our Catholic brothers and sisters than we once felt, and we recognize more clearly than we once did the extent to which we share a common faith in the triune God who has been revealed most plainly in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior. Sure, there are still lots of differences in belief and practice between Protestants and Catholics, but these just don’t seem to be as important as they once seemed.” He briefly outlines some of the changes the Roman Catholic Church instituted in Vatican 2 and then begins a list of other factors which Van Beima overlooked that he believes are critical to understand when examining the closing of the rift between Catholicism and Protestantism.

  • Kennedy’s Patriotism - Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and even had a papal audience while in office, but he became one of America’s most-loved Presidents. Many Protestants who had been concerned about Catholicism, had their fears quelled by Kennedy.
  • The Charismatic Movement - The Charismatic Movement emphasized the experiential over the intellectual. Catholic and Protestant Charismatics found unity amongst themselves.
  • Mother Teresa of Calcutta - A revered figure in Christendom, Mother Teresa was as loved and lauded by Protestants as by Catholics.
  • John Michael Talbot’s Music - A popular Catholic singer and songwriter who has sold millions of albums, many to Protestants who did not realize they may have been listening to the mass set to music.
  • Henri Nouwen’s Writings - Nouwen was a priest and author who has had a profound influence on many Protestants. His writings are widely-read and widely-quoted. (Incidentally, Roberts writes “One of my earthly treasures is a copy of his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which Henri signed and gave to me.)
  • John Paul II’s Christ-Centeredness - Pope John Paul II’s evangelical passion for Christ has done much to bring Catholics and Protestants together.
  • Protestant Rediscovery of Catholic Spirituality - Authors like Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster have brought Catholic mysticism to the Protestant mainstream.
  • Ancient-Future Worship and Perspective - Practices formerly known to be Catholic (passing of the peace, Ash Wednesday services, the use of visual images in worship) have become accepted and celebrated in Protestant churches.
  • The Changing Polarizations of Our World - Many of the old distinctions we used to make have fallen by the wayside. “Christian” now encompasses Protestant and Catholic in a way it did not in the past.
  • The Abortion Debate - Protestants and Catholics have joined forces to fight abortion.

I agree with Roberts in many of these assessments, but I believe he has missed some that are very obvious.

  • John Paul II’s Mary-Centerdness - Pope John Paul II will not be remembered in history for his Christ-Centeredness, but for his devotion to Mary. As the walls have fallen between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism, Protesants have begun to respect the pope and to listen to what he teaches. It was inevitable that his devotion to Mary would impact Protestants.
  • Billy Graham - It is exceedingly odd that Roberts did not mention Billy Graham. Graham’s contributions to ecumenism have been obvious and are now very well-documented. As the “Protestant Pope” for many decades, his influence on Protestantism has been profound. I would suggest Graham’s impact should be very near to the top of the list.
  • Emergent Church - In the past five or ten years, the Emergent Church has carried on the work of tearing down the walls of seperation. It is a movement that is clearly dedicated to ecumenism. For example, in his book A Generous Orthodoxy Brian McLaren (the most respected leader of this movement) writes at-length about his new-found devotion to Mary and his ever-increasing sympathy towards Catholicism. The Emergent Church also teaches the value of labyrinths, contemplative prayer and many other Catholic and mystical practices.
  • Apathy - Perhaps this is the most difficult to quantify and certainly the most tragic of all, but it seems that many Protestants have become apathetic towards the Truth revealed in the Scriptures. Few people care to know the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, and even fewer care to stand for biblical, Protestant distinctives. Unity has become the prime directive in the church and the pressure to simply let go of the old distinctives comes from every side (and even, it would seem, from Roberts). In the end, far too many Protestants have simply stopped caring about the Truth.

Mark Roberts’ series is one for which I held out high hopes, but as it continues my concerns are increasing. Admittedly, I know little about the man, but he is clearly revealing that he places little importance on the giant rift that exists between the Protestant and Catholic beliefs about, for example, justification. To simply shoo away the differences between Protestant and Catholic theology as being “a modest gap that is surprisingly easy to cross” is to deny the clear teaching of the Bible and to betray God Himself. It is to downplay such important doctrines as the authority of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture and justification by faith alone. Roberts surely knows better.