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September 2005

September 20, 2005

Is the Reformation Over?“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, clearly shows the emphasis Jesus places on unity within the church. His desire is that the church show forth the same unity expressed in the relationship between the members of the Trinity - a unity that is perfect and beautiful to behold. This prayer has two dimensions to it: a future fulfillment where the unity among believers will be as perfect as that displayed among the members of the Trinity, and a present fulfillment where believers enjoy unity, albiet imperfect unity, with one another. To be faithful to our Lord we must work towards that present unity while looking forward to the final unity, that the body of Christ may not be fractured.

September 19, 2005

Last week I shared an article about my friend Mike. I though I would update the situation. This morning I received the following, long-awaited email. I have modified it very slightly to protect the family’s privacy.

…it is with a heavy heart that I inform you all that Mike passed away peacefully on Saturday morning September 17th at 6:15 am at Princess Margaret Hospital. Mike’s mom and I were with him when he went and held his hand and told him how much we loved him and that he would be missed, and that he was incredibly brave for all that he has been through this past year…

…I told the girls today about their daddy, and [Older Daughter, age 5] was just devastated and [Younger Daughter] who is only 3 took care of [Older Daughter] and I by giving us Kleenex and water and told us we would be ok - typical of my nurturing 3 year old, she is wise beyond her years but also does not understand I am sure what I have told her at such a young age. I told them we are girls and girls are strong, therefore we will be ok and they liked that.

Thank you again for your love and support.

The funeral will be held this Sunday afternoon. I would ask for your prayers for Mike’s wife and daughters, that somehow God would bring some some sense of peace and meaning through this. Pray that he would use this to pull them to His arms. It is a bit ironic, I suppose, that Mike’s wife is a counsellor who has no-doubt counselled hundreds or thousands of grieving people. I can’t help but wonder how all her training and experience are holding up now that she is the one looking for answers and trying to fill a great void in her life.

And pray that I would have opportunities to speak with her and to other people effected by Mike’s death. The funeral will be held at an Anglican church and I pray the the pastor, whom I do not know, challenges those in attendance to examine their own lives in the light of eternity.

And finally, pray that we, you and I, would never, ever get over the death of an unsaved loved one.

September 19, 2005

I thought for the September giveaway I would mix things up a little and allow the winners to pick their own prizes. As always, two equal prizes will be awarded based on a random drawing from all entries received.

Each winner will be able to select one Bible and one book from a selection of available options. The selection of Bibles includes the Compact TruGrip ESV Bible (available in four styles) OR ESV Bible, Compact TruTone Edition (Cranberry, Filigree Design, Red Letter).

The selection of books includes titles written by R.C. Sproul, C.J. Mahaney, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Horton and others. Some of these books are autographed, others are not. The complete list will provided to winners at the close of the giveaway. The first winner whose name is drawn will have first selection of available books.

Once again I would like to thank Monergism Books for sponsoring this giveaway. Please be sure to visit this store and check out the wide range of reading material (along with music and DVD’s). By visiting the site you are supporting these giveaways!

And now, go ahead and Enter the Draw.

September 19, 2005

John Calvin is a man loved and respected by some, despised and reviled by others. Those who dislike Calvin and his theology are likely to protest on many grounds, but the most common are his view of predestination and an understanding of Calvin as something of a dictator over the town of Geneva. It is not unusual to find people who villify Calvin as nothing short of tyrannical - a despot who let no one and nothing stand in his way. Calvin is most notorious for the situation regarding Servetus, a man who was found guilty of heresy and executed for this belief. Here are a few quotes I found regarding Servetus:

  • “On October 27, 1553 John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, had Michael Servetus, the Spanish physician, burned at the stake just outside of Geneva for his doctrinal heresies!”
  • “He was seized the day after his arrival, condemned as a heretic when he refused to recant, and burned in 1553 with the apparent tacit approval of Calvin.” [Do note that this is taken from the same article as the first quote. I’m not sure how the author reconciles his assertion that Calvin had Servetus burned at the stake with his second assertion that Calvin merely gave tacit approval!]
  • “Calvin had him [Servetus] arrested as a heretic. Convicted and burned to death.”
  • “Calvin killed Servetus because he disagreed with him.”

In speaking to people about the doctrines of grace I have often had to address their assertions, usually made without any real understanding of the situation, that John Calvin was a heartless dictator. So today I would like to address the Servetus problem.

Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus was a Spanish theologian and physician who lived from 1511-1553. In his early years he came into contact with many leading Reformers and while he broke with the Roman Catholic Church and became at least nominally Protestant, he adopted a particularly heretical belief, denying that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He also denied paedo-baptism, a belief which further alienated him from Protestant and Catholic alike. His books on Christian doctrine were read and examined by the Catholic Church and he was condemned as a heretic. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to death, but managed to escape from his captors. He fled towards Italy, but for an unknown reason decided to pass through Geneva.

Geneva, of course, was the home of John Calvin and the very center of Reformed doctrine. Servetus’ decision to stop in Geneva was in no way innocent. Some have suggested that he arrived in Geneva almost by accident, but this is not true. He was clearly hoping to exert influence over Calvin and to convert him to his errant understanding of the Trinity. It seems that Servetus was a strange combination of genius and lunatic.

Servetus’ reputation preceded him and Calvin and the other Reformers knew of his heresies. Calvin had earlier written a now infamous letter to Farel, dated February 13th, 1546, where he said, “Servetus wrote to me a short time ago, and sent a huge volume of his dreamings and pompous triflings with his letter. I was to find among them wonderful things, and such as I had never before seen; and if I wished, he would himself come. But I am by no means inclined to be responsible for him; and if he come, I will never allow him, supposing my influence worth anything, to depart alive.” When Servetus, at last, arrived in the city, Calvin was left with the unenviable position of having to decide whether to allow the heretic to continue his teaching in Geneva, which would inevitably lead people to believe that the Reformed church was lenient towards heresy (softer even that the Roman Catholic Church that had already condemned this man to death), or to attempt to take action.

Calvin found that he had little choice but to ask the civil authorities to intervene. Historian Francis Higman correctly says “there was a sort of horrid inevitability about the whole thing.” Calvin had no political authority whatsoever, and was not even a citizen of Geneva until six years later. Calvin did what he could, which was to ask the civil authorities to investigate the matter and to take action. They consulted churches in Geneva and elsewhere in Switzerland and found that this was a matter worthy of trial. The trial was lengthy and deliberate. Servetus was eventually found guilty and was condemned to be burned at the stake, despite Calvin’s request that he be executed painlessly by being beheaded. Michael Servetus was put to death on October 27, 1553. Several months later the Catholic Inquisition in France executed him once more, this time in effigy.

Answering the Critics

Here are several pointers you may wish to consider when answering critics.

  • Motives - Some non-Reformed Christians hail Servetus almost as a hero, for no other reason than he casts a shadow over John Calvin. They would do well to remember, though, that Servetus was a heretic who denied a doctrine of absolute foundational importance. There can be no salvation for one who denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We must ensure that people are researching Servetus out of pure motives and not merely in an attempt to villify Calvin.
  • Historical Context - Do remember that we are not dealing here with modern day Western nations where there was a clear separation between church and state. Religion was inseperable from politics. Church and state were mingled and both rulers and the common man felt that a common religion was absolutely critical to the maintenance of order. In the sixteenth century heresy was a common charge and heresy of the magnitude expressed by Michael Servetus was almost always punishable by death. It may be helpful to draw people’s attention to the Old Testament where God not only approved of, but commanded, the destruction of entire nations. Surely this would seem atrocious to modern readers, and surely God would no longer command it today, yet at the time it happened it was common practice. The times change. We see evidence of this as well in the New and Old Testaments where believers owned slaves, another practice we would consider abominable and unfitting for Christians.

    Paul Henry, a notable historian, writes: “Calvin here appears in his real character; and a nearer consideration of the proceeding, examined from the point of view furnished by the age in which he lived, will completely exonerate him from all blame. His conduct was not determined by personal feeling; it was the consequence of a struggle which this great man had carried on for years against tendencies to a corruption of doctrine which threatened the church with ruin. Every age must be judged according to its prevailing laws; and Calvin cannot be fairly accused of any greater offence than that with which we may be charged for punishing certain crimes with death.” Calvin was right to take action. The horrid inevitability was that in this time and place heresy was a civil offense and one punishable by death.

  • Calvin’s Authority - Critics of John Calvin like to suggest that John Calvin ordered the execution and that he murdered Servetus. Remember the quotes from the beginning of this article. It is important to note that John Calvin had no authority in the town of Geneva. He was not even a citizen until six years after this happened! Those who would have us believe that Calvin had the authority to have this man murdered would do well to note that he did not have the power to lessen the sentence. Calvin requested action and testified at Servertus’ trial, but it was the civil courts that sentenced the man to death.
  • Calvin’s Compassion - Calvin’s critics have often suggested that Calvin delighted in the death of Servetus. This is difficult, and likely impossible, to prove. It should be noted that Calvin was the only person who suggested a lighter sentence, asking the court to allow Servetus to die painlessly by beheading. Calvin prayed with and for Servetus and earlier in his life had sent Servetus a copy of his Institutes. Interestingly, Servetus returned the book with many abusive and insulting comments written in the margins. Despite this offense, Calvin showed clear pastoral concern for this man’s soul. But Servetus died clinging to his heretical beliefs.
  • Expiation - Three hundred and fifty years after the death of Servetus, a monument of expiation was erected at the place where Servetus was executed. On one side of this monument are recorded the dates of the birth and death of Servetus. On the opposite side is this inscription:

    “Dutiful and grateful followers of Calvin our great Reformer, yet condemning an error which was that of his age, and strongly attached to liberty of conscience, according to the true principles of the Reformation and of the Gospel, we have erected this expiatory monument. October 27th, 1903.”

    While such a monument can hardly atone for the death of a man, it does express a post-Reformation understanding that such an act was unacceptable and an unfortunate product of the times.


Perhaps it is also helpful to note that while Calvinists are called after John Calvin, they identify more with his theology than with the man himself. Many, and no doubt most Calvinists have never read a word of John Calvin. Instead they reluctantly call themselves Calvinists because they feel John Calvin was gifted by God to understand and interpret the Scriptures and that he restored to the church doctrine that had been lost for hundreds of years. His gift to the church was not himself, but the doctrines of grace illumined to him by the Holy Spirit. The death of Servetus, and the role played by John Calvin, stand as proof that he was in no way perfect and was as much in need of grace as any of us.

September 18, 2005

Are there cool ones?

The following dialogue took place a couple of evenings ago:

Tim: “Hey, Bob! What’s up?”

Bob: “Not much. Just washing the truck.”

[Miscellaneous smalltalk]

Bob: “Hey, want to see a cool extension cord?”

Tim [Not sure if Bob is serious or not]: “Um…sure. Is there such a thing?”

Bob [Pulls flourescent pink extension cord from the back of his truck]: “Check it out!”

Tim: “Um…cool?”

September 18, 2005

It seems that “theological novels” are becoming increasingly popular. Of course English literature began with a theological novel in the form of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. In more recent years we have seen a series by Richard Belcher that has been quite popular in Reformed circles and Brian McLaren’s somewhat notorious series, popular in Emerging Church circles, that began with A New Kind of Christian. A recent addition to this list is Common Grounds written by Glenn Lucke and Ben Young.

Ben Young is a Southern Baptist who is associate pastor of worship at the inconceivably huge Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Glenn Lucke is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and leads Docent Communications Group. Their relationship and a common concern about the lack of theological understanding in the young people they interacted with, led them to write a book presenting the basics of the faith. As they began to write the book evolved into its current narrative format.

September 17, 2005

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition (2002) defines the proverb “every dog has his day” as meaning, “Even the lowest of us enjoys a moment of glory.” In our culture we often hear about people enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame. What few people realize is that it was none other than Andy Warhol who coined this phrase (or the basis for this phrase) when he said in 1968, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Later, in 1979 he declared that his prediction had come true: “…my prediction from the sixties finally came true: ‘In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.’”

Wikipedia defines “fifteen minutes of fame” as follows: “In popular culture, 15 minutes of fame refers to a sudden state of celebrity that is believed unlikely to continue long enough to affect the new celebrity’s life for the better.” Reality television provides bountiful opportunities for fifteen minutes of fame. People are raised to the status of instant celebrity, but after they show wraps up, and after their brief appearance on Letterman, they go back to stock shelves in the local grocery store. Fame is fleeting.

“Get to the point!” I can already hear you screaming. I’ll do that. My fifteen minutes of fame have arrived. I harbor no illusions that this will effect my life for the better. However, I do consider this a great honor. The following is taken from the introduction to the upcoming Total Truth: Study Guide Edition, the second edition of Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth.

My Fifteen Minutes

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank the little people…

But seriously, I have had the manuscript sitting on my shelf for several weeks now and noticed that introduction when someone pointed it out to me. It is amusing to note that in the version I have, which I believe is older than the one I posted here, my name is listed before Al Mohler. But placing Mohler first is definitely the more natural order of things!

September 16, 2005

What's the Deal with Wicca?Wicca, and witchcraft in general, have seen a great resurgence in interest over the past few years. There are several factors that have contributed to this, not the least of which is the success of the Harry Potter books and movies. Witchcraft is widely-regarded as “just another religion” - one that is not much different from any other. But what sets Wicca apart from the alternative systems of religion is the attraction it has to young people, and young girls in particular. Teens are turning to witchcraft in droves, proudly adopting a system of religion that they feel allows them great freedom.