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Tim Challies

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May 2006

May 31, 2006

Christian Books Distributors is offering an incredible pre-order price on a classic series of books: Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, an 8-volume set examining the history of the church from the time of Christ all the way until after the time of the Reformation. The series usually sells for approximately $250, but for a limited time CBD is selling it for $49.99. I am assuming that they are being straight with us when they say that this price will not last. This is a great series for any library (and it looks great on the shelves too)! Here is the detailed description from CBD:

“Philip Schaff (1819-1893) was a German Reformed church historian, born in Switzerland. He was educated at Tubingen, Halle, and Berlin, and later took a position as Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary, New York. Schaff bases his work on the premise that church history in order to be valid and valuable must deal with three factors: 1) God through Christ, 2) man as a responsible moral creature, and 3) Satan as a real being employing the Anti-Christ as his agent at the end of time. Schaff begins his history with an examination of the preparation for Christianity in Judaism and the heathen world and the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The 8 volume series concludes with a general introduction to modern church history and a thorough analysis of the productive period of the Reformation, tracing the Protestant movement in Germany and Switzerland to the close of the 16th century. There are footnotes, charts, maps and each volume contains its own alphabetical index. Schaff taught church history at German Reformed Seminary in Mercersburg, Penn., and Union Theological Seminary in New York. He was involved in the formation of the Evangelical Alliance, the revision of the English Bible (the Revised Version), and the Alliance of the Reformed Churches. Schaff was founder of the American Society of Church History.”

If you’d like to order it, here is the information you need:

3196X: History of the Christian Church, 8 volumes History of the Christian Church, 8 volumes
By Philip Schaff
May 31, 2006

Michaela is four weeks old today. Last night was the first time since her birth that I experienced the combination of a bad sleep followed by an early awakening. She and I sat in the way-too-hot living room (we’re in the midst of an early heat wave) for a few hours this morning as she tried to sleep and I tried to find something worth watching since my eyes were far too heavy to read the systematic theology book I’m working my way through. Needless to say, there are slim pickings in the early morning hours, but I did find some interesting religious programming. Here are a few mostly cynical lessons I learned this morning while watching the religious programming available to me (something I have not had opportunity to do since my three-year old was about Michaela’s age):

  • Beth Moore has the biggest, most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen. Her eyes are like dinner plates and are constantly changing with her always-impassioned preaching teaching. I think Moore is perceived to have more credibility than many other teachers because she uses terms like “the present participle.” She digs into the Greek and tries to do some level of exegesis on her texts. Unfortunately, as others have pointed out (see an excellent review of one of her books at Modern Reformation) and as I’ve seen in my brief experiences of reading her books and curricula, she tends towards the mystical and experiential. “Basically she says, don’t let theology and doctrine confuse you when you can figure it out with God for yourself in a way that works for you.” There are far worse teachers out there, but there are also better ones. And of course there’s the issue of her being a female preacher teacher.
  • When a church is composed almost entirely of white people, the cameras will continually zoom in on the one or two black people in the congregation. When a church is composed almost entirely of black people, the cameras will continually zoom in one the one or two white people in the congregation. And speaking of cameras, if you’ve ever been at a church where they record footage of the congregation, you’ll know how difficult it is to worship God while a camera is pointed in your direction.
  • The hosts of “Lifeline” affirmed that it is an evil generation that seeks for a sign, yet they spent their entire program asking some young preacher all about the signs he has experienced. There was no mention of the message he preaches. They spoke only about signs and wonders, often insisting that these have all been verified and documented. As they spoke to him, gold dust began appearing on his clothes. Apparently this is a common occurrence for him. A university in Scotland once tested this gold dust and found it was purer than 24 karat gold. However, it is a heavenly substance so although it usually looks like gold, it is often a different substance altogether, so don’t try testing it on your own. He also has emerald dust appear on or around him and this portends a financial miracle. Jewels falling from the sky (which don’t hurt when they hit your head) are also a common sign from God. God once even turned a cup of hotel water into “wine” which is actually a heavenly beverage he can only barely describe, though he did provide a photograph. And, of course, everything he does is directly commanded by the voice of God.
  • Some self-styled prophets think nothing of reading passages from their own books and concluding with “this is the word of God.” The mere thought of reading my own writing and announcing “this is the word of God” terrifies me! And well it should.
  • The King James Version of the Bible is the refuge of many of the most heretical teachers. It seems odd, but I suppose they feel this version lends a certain credibility to their ministry. I have a feeling that a person who sells gives away “miracle olive oil soap” has really worked his way through the issues surrounding the biblical texts and has determined that the King James is superior to other translations.
  • Joyce Meyer has reinvented herself. She no longer storms across a stage barking at the audience about their failures. She now sits sedately discussing issues of health and wellness.

I had to conclude that “Christian” television is no better now than it was three years ago even in the absence of Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton.

I was speaking with my sister this morning and were talking about having our daughters, both of whom are three, begin to send each other letters. They both love to dig the mail from our mailboxes, but there is never any mail addressed to them. Maryanne mentioned that she never gets personal letters anymore, and truth be told, neither do I. In fact, the only personal letters I ever receive are ones from long-lost friends asking me to support their most recent ministry venture. Email is a pretty poor substitute for a good old fashioned letter, especially when every letter I receive just asks me for money.

Denny Burk, who serves as assistant professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, has an excellent article at BP News. He writes about Brian McLaren’s statement about Da Vinci Code. McLaren said, “Frankly, I don’t think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels.” Burk responds: “The more I hear from emerging church leader Brian McLaren, the more I fear he is not competent to be a leader of God’s people…The problem with what McLaren says here is that he cannot (or will not) distinguish what is malignant from what is benign. No one goes to hell merely for believing dispensational premillenialism, a theology of the end times that is portrayed in the ‘Left Behind’ novels. Yet anyone who denies the deity of Jesus most certainly will, and this is precisely what is argued in ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ You don’t have to like dispensational premillenialism to see that its teachings about the end times do not come anywhere close to the damning heresy reflected in ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ Any pastor that cannot (or will not) see that isn’t competent to hold the office.” You can read the article here.

Finally, I apologize to those of you who do not enjoy book reviews. My wife pointed out to me that I have posted quite a few lately. That is true and yet I have a couple more to do. I’ve been reading a lot lately and have accumulated a list of books that I need to review while I can still remember what they are about!

May 31, 2006

Wednesday May 31, 2006

Conference: Adrian has collected a good number of choice quotes from the New Attitude Conference. A personal favorite: “Dwell where the cries of Calvary can be heard.”

Conference Bonus: And while we’re on the topic of the New Attitude Conference, Sovereign Grace Ministries has the audio recordings of all of the general sessions for sale in their store.

Blogs: The official web site for this year’s GodBlogCon has finally been opened. I am still trying to decide whether or not I will attend this event, though it’s looking like it may not be entirely practical.

Technology: Microsoft has released the beta version of Office 2007. I’ve had it for a couple of days now and am quite taken with it. Unfortunately it cannot coexist with previous versions so to install this you must uninstall your older programs.

May 30, 2006

artforgodssake.gifI am the worst artist in the world. I’m sure there are some who would contest that claim, but if you were to ask me to draw something (anything!) I think you’d quickly agree that I am about as bad as a person can get. It is strange that I am such a terribly poor artist as I come from a long line of very capable artists. Yet somehow, when the various family genes were combined to form me, all of those artistic genes fled.

May 30, 2006

withonevoice.jpgSome experts estimate that in Western nations as much as 50 percent of the adult population is now single. That is a statistic with tremendous significance for our nations, culture and churches. It is surely a statistic that is without historical precedent. Of course the decline of marriage coincides with increased sexual activity, showing that people like to enjoy many of the benefits and securities of marriage, but without the commitment. The Christian response to this new cultural landscape will prove interesting and will tell us much about the church’s commitment to hard truths.

May 30, 2006

Tuesday May 30, 2006

Emergent: Steve Camp chimes in on the Mark Driscoll controversy. His comments and critiques are measured and biblical.

LiveBlog: Carolyn McCulley is doing a great job of liveblogging the New Attitude Conference. She is apparently learning a new respect for the art of live-blogging.

Quote: “Advice is like castor oil, easy enough to give but dreadful uneasy to take.” (Josh Billings)

Outrageous: A high school in Texas, after deciding to use a picture of a nickel on the yearbook cover, removed the words “In God We Trust,” lest it prove offensive to any unbelievers. FoxNews reports. “The intention, according to a school spokesman, was to ‘make sure all faiths were respected.’”

May 29, 2006

Tony Jones, one of the more prominent leaders within the Emergent church movement has recently posted a pair of articles at the “Out of Ur” blog responding to the charge that Emergent is the new Christian left. “[I]s Emergent a new camp for Christian liberalism? In this post Tony Jones, the national coordinator for Emergent, responds to critics by championing Emergent’s conversational purpose and celebrating the group’s diversity.”

There are three things that struck me in these articles. First, these two articles highlight some of the ways in which any meaningful discussion with the Emergent leaders is little more than an exercise in frustration and futility. Second, they also highlight just how far some leaders within the Emergent conversation have gone in abandoning truth. And third, they highlight the mixed-messages sent out from the leadership of this conversation.

Like many participants in this Emergent “conversation,” Jones feigns surprise and ignorance at the outcry against the Emergent church. He presents this movement as a simple, innocuous friendship, for who could possibly criticize a friendship? Here is how Jones describes Emergent Village: “And some of those blogs are deeply critical of Emergent Village, a decade-old friendship that has, after my family, become home to my most important relationships.” Further along in the same article he describes the people who inhabit this harmless village. “Within Emergent are Texas Baptists who don’t allow women to preach and New England lesbian Episcopal priests. We have Southern California YWAMers and Midwest Lutherans. We have those who hold to biblical inerrancy, and others trying to demythologize the scripture. We have environmental, peacenik lefties, ‘crunchy cons,’ and right wing hawks.”

Surely those who are leery of the Emergent church would not waste so much effort discussing what this movement is accomplishing if it were nothing more than a decade-old friendship. And surely Jones and others would not bother to participate in such a conversation if they felt that it had no hope of accomplishing anything. Jones presents something in harmless terms that, in reality, has the potential to bring about a great change within the church. Thus it is ridiculous to feign surprise that people react in alarm to such a movement.

What continues to surprised Jones is “how dangerous some people consider this friendship I’m in to be. If you take some of these blogs (and books) seriously, those of us who make up the Emergent Village are a great threat to the Christian church-we have undermined doctrine, truth, and church life. The fact that we’re discussing theological items that have been previously deemed ‘undiscussable’ is considered grounds for labels like ‘heretic’ and ‘apostate.’” That is a ridiculous and irrational statement. The fact that this Emergent conversation discusses doctrine and theology that has long been considered heretical or apostate is surely not grounds to label those who discuss it with those terms. After all, every seminary student discusses heresy and apostasy and learns both true doctrine and false. The true objection, or the most common objection, against the Emergent church is that these doctrines, long-since deemed heretical, are often given equal footing and are discussed as if they had never been deemed harmful in the past—as if the church had never formulated a biblical consensus as to where these doctrines deviate from Scripture. We can see the fruit of this in the very fact that the conversation includes people whose beliefs are, in theory at least, diametrically opposed to each other (ie. “Texas Baptists who don’t allow women to preach and New England lesbian Episcopal priests”). There is nothing that is undiscussable, but there are doctrines that are clear and settled and do not merit being placed on equal footing which what Scripture clearly presents as true.

Jones eventually stoops just about as low as one can go in an argument, arguing that those who disagree with the Emergent church simply misunderstand it. “Honestly, I care little about these critiques. They come from those who either have no idea what Emergent is all about and/or could not possibly be persuaded from their position anyway.” Even though some world-class scholars and committed Christians have expressed concern about the Emergent church, Jones simply states that these people either do not understand Emergent or are hardened in their ignorance.

In the second article, Jones turns his attention in particular to Chuck Colson who has become a vocal critic of the Emergent church (of course it is difficult to know if it is Chuck Colson or Anne Morse, his writer, who is truly most concerned). Colson’s latest missive against Emergent says that “truth is truth”—something Jones says is a “ ‘self-referential argument,’ or a ‘circular reference’ and it’s non-sensical.” He also turns his guns on the phrase “true truth” (a term most often associated with Francis Schaeffer). And this is where Jones’ argument gets very interesting and he reveals just how far he has slipped into the postmodern mindset.

But if I can try to surmise Colson’s meaning from the subtitle of the essay [Jesus is the Truth Whether We Experience Him or Not], he means to indicate that we in the emerging church have placed too much weight on “relational” or “experiential” theories of truth. The gospel is true, Colson seems to be saying, regardless of your human experience of that truth.

But philosophically, the obvious follow-up question is, Why? What makes the gospel true, especially if those of us in the world have no experience of its truthfulness? Is it true because Chuck Colson says so? Because Augustine said so? Because Paul said so? Is it true because, as Karl Barth might say, God’s revelatory action that breaks into our space-time continuum? But isn’t even that subject to our interpretation of the event?

Jones then states his agreement with “postmodernist extraordinaire” Stanley Fish “argues that truth comes to be known in and among and on the basis of ‘the authority of interpretive communities.’” Jones goes on to say, “We are subjective human beings, trapped in our own skins and inevitably influenced by the communities in which we find ourselves. And isn’t this what the church is, or at least should be: an authoritative community of interpretation? Indeed, isn’t this just what Colson did when he converted to Christianity in prison many years ago: placed himself under the authority of the church of Jesus Christ?”

He concludes as follows:

What I was trying to get at in my blog post earlier this week is that Emergent Village endeavors to be a catalyst of conversation, community, and, ultimately, interpretation. We want the church to reclaim its place as the authoritative community of interpretation of scripture, culture, and human existence. We want Christians to be engaged politically and culturally, and we want to provoke robust and respectful dialogue around issues that matter. Many of us think that the polemical nature of the church today precludes just this kind of necessary conversation. So, we’re going ahead and doing it, with or without the imprimatur of evangelical elites like Colson and Carson.

If that’s a compelling vision for you, then jump on board, we’re glad to have you. If, however, you’d like to first see our doctrinal statement on penal substitution or read a position paper on homosexuality, then Emergent Village isn’t for you.

Jones has taken the Emergent church from being a mere conversation between friends to “a catalyst of conversation, community, and, ultimately, interpretation.” Can he still feign surprise when Christians express concern that such a varied group of people, many of whom reject the authority of Scripture and other fundamental doctrines, intend to be a catalyst of conversation, community and interpretation?

Jones clearly struggles with the concept of truth. What makes the gospel true is not experience of those who hold to it. It is not because Augustine or Paul says so. It is true because God says so. The gospel is true because God tells us it is true. God, the source of truth, God who is truth, tells us that the gospel is true. We need no other authority to tell us this and to assure us of this. If God is who He says He is, the gospel must be true. An argument about truth is, in reality, argument about the very nature and character of God. Jones and other Emergent leaders are treading on some very dangerous ground when they begin to question or abandon or relativize truth.

Here are the articles I have referenced:

Second Article
First Article

May 29, 2006

Monday May 29, 2006

Books: “Christianity Today” has released their list of Book Award recipients for 2006. I read 120 books last year and did not manage to read a single one of the titles they awarded! So the question is, what have I been reading all this time?

Humor: Allan, a commenter at this site, upon learning that John Piper believes he will be greeted in heaven by his dog asks: “I knew a dog that had SEVEN good masters. - Now WHICH will masterwill he greet in the resurrection!!!!????”

Sports: Canada is the new Australia: a place for criminals and cast-offs. We even attract the banned football players such as Ricky Williams who will play this year for the Toronto Argonauts. The good news for Ricky is that his pot habit will only cost him a ticket up here!

Audio: Aaron Shafovaloff has linked to some John Piper audio files that you have probably not heard in the past.