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October 2006

October 31, 2006

Today is Reformation Day, the day we celebrate the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. October 31 stands as the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Luther, when he did this, surely had no apprehension of just how significant an event this would be. And yet this act now stands as a defining moment in history, a moment which marked a point of no return. With the luxury of hindsight we can see that Luther was now committed to Reformation. There would be no turning back. The true church would rise from the false, the gospel would finally shine forth once more.

Protestantism is not a doctrine or a dogma. It is not a nation or an organization. Protestantism is a principle. J.A. Wylie says the following:

The History of Protestantism … is no mere history of dogmas. The teachings of Christ are the seeds; the modern Christendom, with its new life, is the goodly tree which has sprung from them. We shall speak of the seed and then of the tree, so small at its beginning, but destined one day to cover the earth.

Viewed thus – and any narrower view would be untrue alike to philosophy and to fact – the History of Protestantism is the record of one of the grandest dramas of all time. It is true, no doubt, that Protestantism, strictly viewed, is simply a principle. It is not a policy. It is not an empire, having its fleets and armies, its officers and tribunals, wherewith to extend its dominion and make its authority be obeyed. It is not even a Church with its hierarchies, and synods and edicts; it is simply a principle. But it is the greatest of all principles. It is a creative power. Its plastic influence is all-embracing. It penetrates into the heart and renews the individual. It goes down to the depths and, by its omnipotent but noiseless energy, vivifies and regenerates society. It thus becomes the creator of all that is true, and lovely, and great; the founder of free kingdoms, and the mother of pure churches. The globe itself it claims as a stage not too wide for the manifestation of its beneficent action; and the whole domain of terrestrial affairs it deems a sphere not too vast to fill with its spirit, and rule by its law.

Protestantism is not solely the outcome of human progress; it is no mere principle of perfectibility inherent in humanity, and ranking as one of its native powers, in virtue of which when society becomes corrupt it can purify itself, and when it is arrested in its course by some external force, or stops from exhaustion, it can recruit its energies and set forward anew on its path. It is neither the product of the individual reason, nor the result of the joint thought and energies of the species. Protestantism is a principle which has its origin outside human society: it is a Divine graft on the intellectual and moral nature of man, whereby new vitalities and forces are introduced into it, and the human stem yields henceforth a nobler fruit. It is the descent of a heaven-born influence which allies itself with all the instincts and powers of the individual, with all the laws and cravings of society, and which, quickening both the individual and the social being into a new life, and directing their efforts to nobler objects, permits the highest development of which humanity is capable, and the fullest possible accomplishment of all its grand ends. In a word, Protestantism is revived Christianity.

Today I dedicate space on this site to this Protestant principle—to revived Christianity. I have invited anyone with a blog to send a link to their Reformation Day reflections and have compiled those links here. I will add more articles to the list as they become available. I hope and pray they will be a blessing to all of us.

Symposium

Final Update

Don Elborne, who lives in the area destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, writes about “Sola Fida and the Storm.”

At Wyclif.net they discuss how “Hugh Latimer and his colleague Nicholas Ridley received the grace to seal their testimony of God with the blood of martyrdom.”

Aspiring PolyMathis has a multi-part series dealing with the Reformation’s impact on the world.

The discussion at SixSteps deals with the Reformation and Harmartiology. “If you are a Christian and know very little about the Reformation, I encourage you to read up on this pivotal moment in church history.”

From Ray Van Neste come the words of that beautiful hymn, “For All the Saints.”

Against Heresies discusses (what else?) Luther on heresy. “Martin Luther was charged with heresy for his new found view of justification by faith alone. He was urged to recant but refused. After the Diet of Worms in 1521, Charles V issued a letter referring to Luther as ‘that notorious heretic.’”

Tony Reinke was unable to take his mind off Reformation Day yesterday, so contributed a short post.

Nick Srader points out that, even on the day we celebrate as the first Reformation Day, “the greatest Reformation Day in Luther’s life hadn’t taken place yet.”

Fundy Reformed discusses Ulrich Zwingli under the heading of “Reformation Day and Unity.”

Alex Chediak points in the direction of a new book that is relevant to the theology of the Reformation.

Carolyn McCulley looks forward as well as backing, saying her “celebration of Reformation Day is not a look back in history, but rather a celebration of a growing reformation taking place in this generation.”

Updates at 1:30 PM EST

Luke Wood asks “As someone who has only recently come to an awareness of Reformation Day itself, I have been asking the question “why should I celebrate it?” (at the same time as being thankful for a natural diversion from the utter pointlessness of Halloween).”

Rebecca of Rebecca Writes fame marks the day by “posting a reflection on one of the slogans of the Reformation: Solus Christus, or by Christ alone.”

Travis says “Happy Reformation Day, World.” “How much has the Reformation affected my life? Probably more than I’ll ever know. This is because the Reformation was not about politics or power. It was about the gospel. It was about truth.”

At This Fire and the Rose, Nigel breaks out into a humorous song sung to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious.”

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian!
 Oh…

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Jason Furtak says “Today, Reformation Day, is an opportunity for every Christian to reflect on his or her foundational and core beliefs.”

Heather, following a theme that seems to be appearing more and more, asks “How is that after twelve years of Christian education, thirteen if you want to count kindergarten, I managed to never remember hearing anything about this historical holiday?”

Ed Goode says “Martin’s gone to change the world” and provides “some reasons why i believe that the Reformation is not only still boneshakingly important today, but also why i believe it is the second most significant moment in history not recorded in Scripture.”

Chris Hamer-Hodges. "This revival, for revival it was, was not so much a revival of power, but of truth. Revealing the eternal truth in God's word is just as much the activity of the Spirit of God as the manifestations of power."

At I See Daylight, Frank shares why he fights for the gospel.

Paul Huxley wonders "Do we need a reformation today similar to those of Zephaniah and Luther?"

Peter Bogert says that "teaching through the five Solas of the Reformation last year made me realize several things afresh, and these have continued to motivate my ministry this year."

Mark Horne writes "What Hath Madonna to do with Geneva? Thoughts for Reformation Day."

Original Entries

Ligonier Ministries is offering Max McLean's recording of Martin Luther's "Here I Stand" speech on their web site. It includes both the speech and a historical setting and is well worth the 26-minute commitment. You can access it by visiting ligonier.org and clicking the Audio button, or by clicking here for a direct link.

Thabiti Anyabwile reflects on the meaning of Reformation Day for an African American ministering in a small, international Caribbean island: "If there had been no recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--the grand promise of justification in the sight of God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone--I and most African-Americans and Caribbean peoples would likely be utterly and eternally lost today...The greatest miracle of the Reformation is that enslaved Africans heard, above the din of rattling chains and the back-slashing crack of whips, the free Gospel call at the hands of slave traders and many less-than-heroic gospel preachers in the plantation south. That untutored Africans, imprisoned in a foreign land and surrounded by hostile wilderness, heard with clarity the learned oracles of Christ, were spiritually set free, and found the glorious banks of Zion is astounding!"

Thomas from Doctrine Matters discusses Reformation principles and the importance of the day. "On Reformation Day, may we all (as we should) glorify God for what He accomplished in 16th century Germany through Martin Luther and the other reformers - the recovery of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith for Christ's sake."

Carla Rolfe wonders what would happen if we had a second Reformation. "The more I thought about praying for another reformation, the more I wondered what that would really look like? While it's easy to say 'we need another reformation', it's a completely different matter to find yourself on your knees earnestly petitioning our Heavenly Father for it in our homes, churches, cities and countries."

Andrew Hong asks what the Reformation principle of sola scriptura has to do with contemporary Chinese churches. "Chinese culture has a great love for the past. In contrast to the Western worldview which looks forward and values new things, Chinese culture looks back and values old things. And so tradition is greatly prized in Chinese culture. While the Chinese have travelled to many lands and set up restaurants everywhere, adapting themselves superficially to many foreign places, their culture and traditions do not change very much." He offers up a couple of subsequent articles on the same theme.

Anthony at Justified Sinner encourages Christians to follow the example of Martin Luther and love boldly. "In reflection of this historical event and its many implications, I often find myself musing over a couple of matters: my personal straying from the gospel of Christ; and the need for boldness in speaking and living the truth, notwithstanding the risk of controversy or division."

Jeff, who writes at Spiritual Kung Fu (he'd surely win if the prize went to the most unique blog name) prepared a short video tribute entitled "Fathers of the Reformation."

Steve Weaver posted the text of a sermon he preached on Reformation Sunday. He examines the "Reformation slogan of 'Grace Alone' by looking at the past, present and future of believers in Ephesians 2:1-10. It is all of God's grace that He has made us members of this wonderful body called the church. We who were dead in trespasses and sins have been made alive through Christ in order that we might forever show God's greatness! God's purpose for us in this world is that we show forth His greatness to all of creation. Therefore, salvation does not rest upon human merit, but upon the grace of God alone."

John Samson asks if the Holy Spirit has moved on since the Reformation. "I don't believe the Holy Spirit has moved on from the central truths of the Reformation. In fact, I believe He is calling His Church back to the proclamation of these doctrines that once shook the world."

C.R. Biggs discusses "Reformed Righteousness." He exhorts Christians to remember the Reformation: "Look to Christ and discover anew the Reformation of the 16th Century in your own heart of hearts. Remember the vital importance of Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone!"

John Divito posts half of a project recently completed for his Systematic Theology III class dealing with the difference between Roman Catholicism and Martin Luther on the doctrine of justification.

Josh Rives looks at the Prequel to the Reformation claiming rightly that "John Wycliffe and John Huss set the stage for the cultural shift known as the Protestant Reformation."

From Kim from Hiraeth who "read quite a bit yesterday about Luther and the 95 Theses and the Reformation and was struck yet again with an awesome awareness of God's providential Hand in the affairs of men."

Steve Adkins reflects on the recent death of his mother. "The disease of sin ravaged her, even to her end. She had no savior. Her hope lived with man" and ties this personal tragedy into Reformation Day.

Cap Stewart adds a mock news story to the mix. "Halloween is upon us again and 13-year-old Knoxville native Martin Erasmus Hinn is in turmoil."

Brad Smith who blogs at Godsong Music uses Reformation Day as an opportunity to draw people's attention to the writings of John Owen, especially as "modernized" by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic.

J.D. Wetterling finally takes a day off and realizes that “what rocks my skull the most on this Reformation Day entered not through my ears but through my eyes in one of my long-time favorite daily devotional readings in the midst of all this sensory overload.”

The ladies of titus2talk write about Katie Luther: a Proverbs 31 woman. “This October 31st, when so many others are celebrating Halloween, let’s thank God for the legacy of the Reformation and for the example that Katie Luther is to Christian women nearly 500 years later.”

Dave, who blogs at The Blue Fish Project looks at the Old Testament and concludes “Whilst we are moored much more tightly we too can drift just like Israel and we must be always reforming. Not for reformation’s sake but that we would stay close to Jesus.”

Joel Tuininga says that the “doctrine of predestination is not at all unique to Calvinism. It was clearly taught by both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologians claimed by the Roman Catholic Church.” He goes on to show that the Reformation was not about predestination but about justification by faith alone.

Keith of The Schooley Files reflects on the successes and failures of the Reformation, bemoaning the lack of unity in the church after the Reformation. Perhaps overstating things he writes, “The great failure of the Reformation was simply that it didn’t actually reform anything. It created something new, in which people who believed something different could have a place to exercise that belief. But it didn’t create the opportunity for people who have differing doctrinal convictions to be able to work through those convictions, perhaps come to a mediating position, and perhaps find unity and continue to worship together.”

The Legacy of the Reformation (access to the Bible) is Eddie Beal’s topic. “But if there is going to be a new Reformation, we are going to have to be more passionate about the Bible than we are about football. or Oprah. or even the internet.”

Brian at Voice of the Sheep offers some “Reformation Day Reflections. “I must say that I am in awe of what one little Augustinian monk could do against an all-powerful church and empire with only one thing on his side: the TRUTH.”

Stepping Heavenward wishes everyone a Happy Reformation Day and offers a hymn appropriate to the day.

Matthew Perry, pastor at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, offers two Reformation Day sermons he preached in 2004 (How to Get Right With God) and 2005 (“The Five Solas” for the 21st Century).

From the White Horse Inn comes a Google fight between Cramner and Tyndale.

Eternally Significant the blog of Fellowship Bible Church, writes about climbing the uneven steps of the church tower at Wittenberg. “Luther knew about climbing uneven steps. He realized eventually from God’s Word that the higher you get climbing the spiritual steps of works and ritual, the more dangerous it becomes. Luther quit climbing. He started trusting. We need not climb either.”

Phillip Way offers “Always Reforming - Selected Scriptures.”

The Aspiring Theologian offers some “Reformation Reflections.” “On October 31st, when others are thinking about demons, witches, and ghouls on a holiday that has origins in the Roman Catholic church, turn your thoughts to the Reformation. Turn your thoughts to the day, hundreds of years ago on October 31st, when a monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the doors of the church in Wittenberg.”

Candy in Sierra writes about the printing press, which she calls “The Mechanical Engine of the Reformation.” “Present day. We are rapidly descending into a new abyss of image based experiences in the Church at the expense of the written word. Video images, song and dance, feel-good messages and little study of the Word of God has taken over the Church. We desperately need a new Reformation.”

John Kivell guest posts at New Lumps. “How marvellous is God’s plan of salvation - a plan that could have been written by no human hand or imagined by no human intellect. How wonderful is this truth, even if it may seem to from time to time have been forgotten; buried in the mists of time, or tradition, or fashion, or ignored in favour of some formula of human invention that transfers sovereignty from God to man.”

A Woman Who Fears The Lord ponders the doctrine of justification by faith alone and says “In a way, we would sometimes prefer if it was the other way round. It somehow seems fairer that way. Good people do more and get more. I have one Muslim friend whose biggest objection to Christianity is that it doesn’t depend on what you do and that it doesn’t seem fair that ‘all you need to do is believe in Jesus.’”

From Sweet Tea & Theology comes more Reformation Day Reflections. “The struggle today is similar to that of Luther’s day in that it is internal though not necessarily against Rome. Oh, there is still a battle with Rome, but few people in the pews even know the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The battle is so far off the radar and in some areas truly is non-existent so no one notices.”

Rey from The Bible Archive also reflects, writing about some of the dark days of the Reformation. “It’s easy to forget through the tinted glass of time and prosperity and unfortunately its something that we believers can get into right now, today—tearing down our brothers and sisters with our tongues instead of swords, devouring each other in our disagreements and in some cases outright condemning believers as anathema.”

At Under Sovereign Grace Mathew Sims recaps the significance of the day and asks “Why Celebrate Reformation Day?”

John Dekker states “a significant aspect of the Reformation was the recovery of the Biblical view of sainthood - as Paul indicates in Ephesians 1:1, every true Christian is a saint.”

Eternal Weight of Glory offers a Reformation Day podcast in the latest entry in “On the Poddy with Dave & Dan.”

Brent at Colossians Three Sixteen writes about “The Doctrine Heard ‘Round the World.” “In light of today being Reformation Day, I want to briefly examine the lasting effects that the Protestant Reformation has had on Christianity as we know it.”

Vine and Fig seems to think that the Roman Catholic Church has responded better to Reformation than have the Protestant churches.

Such Small Hands offers “Reformation Day: The Greatest Treasure.” “Instead of being puffed up, I hope that remembering the Reformation humbles us today. I pray that we grow in our appreciation of God’s grace toward us. And that we treat the Gospel as the treasure that it is. Even though we are just simple jars of clay, may our awareness of God’s grace be a powerful witness to those around us.”

Annette of Fish and Cans looks at both Reformation Day and Halloween and mentions her stance on these days.

Paul Shirley discusses the light in the darkness. “In today’s culture there is a darkness that pervades the day. It is a darkness that stems from a lack of moral clarity, a lack of biblical knowledge, and an overall distain for the Creator. The darkness, which is indisputably heavy, seems to be overwhelming at times. One wonders how the Church can possibly deal with this darkness.”

William Dicks says the church needs Reformation again. “In this day and age we do not only need one Martin Luther. We need hundreds. Also of Calvin and Zwingli and other Reformers. We need someone to stand on the pinnacle of the church’s ‘rooftop’ and cry for reformation in the church.”

Darryl Dash asks “What will we nail to the door today?”

October 31, 2006

Tuesday October 31, 2006

Books: BookMooch is a “community for exchanging used books.” It looks like a good way of swapping books you don’t read for those you’d like to read.

Humor: The Sacred Sandwich has released the latest edition. They have also unveiled their new motto: “While the World Zigs, We Zag.” Be sure to look at the ads for Barbie’s Dream Church and the new Ergun Caner talking doll.

Du Jour: Ingrid from Slice of Laodicea shares a stirring story of “Pure Religion on a Cold, Wet Night.” “Sometimes in our busy lives it is easy to miss ministry opportunities that are really the most important kind of all. Jesus said that to care for the fatherless and the widow, all those who are hurting, is pure religion and undefiled.”

Conferences: I just updated the list of Reformed Conferences, adding a couple of new ones and updating several others. Click here to see what conferences will be in your area next year.

People: JD Wetterling reflects on Candy Man: “He ran the candy stand for summer campers here at Ridge Haven for a generation of covenant children. He heard, ‘Hey, Candy Man,’ in some surprising places in his travels when former young customers spied his unforgettable face. “

October 30, 2006

Yesterday morning my pastor preached on Romans 12-13 under the heading of “Cross-Centered Authenticity.” Though I missed much of the first half of the sermon walking the halls with a fussy baby, I returned in time to hear the end of the first (and longest) point and the final four points. I am glad I heard at least the summary of the first point, for it is a critical one. The pastor spoke of how the cross is the great leveller. “All of us have the same disease. All of us have the same problem. So I say the cross levels us. It makes us all equal. We all come to Christ dead in sin; no one is in less need of grace than anybody else and if we feel a kind of clinical detachment from other sinners…then I say to you that you don’t understand your own sin.”

This fit well with something I have been pondering in recent days. I have felt the desire to write a short series of articles on the Five Points of Calvinism (also known as TULIP), not primarily to rehash the theology of each of the points or to provide an apologetic of Calvinism, but to draw some fresh application as well. I hope to show that these doctrines of grace are more than “mere theology,” but can be integral in living out the Christian faith. I am assuming that my readers are, by and large, familiar with the Points of Calvinism. If this proves not to be the case, I will gladly step back and defend them from Scripture. But for now, we will assume at least some knowledge of them.

So let’s begin this series (which, unlike several other series I’ve embarked upon, I hope to actually complete) by discussing Total Depravity, the T of TULIP.

The term “total depravity” has fallen out of favor in recent days, in large part because “total” seems to be a word that confuses, rather than clarifies the doctrine. James Boice and Philip Ryken suggest “Radical Depravity,” as does Steve Lawson; R.C. Sproul suggests “Radical Corruption” and Michael Horton goes with “Rebels Without A Cause.” Regardless of the terms used, the doctrine reads something like this:

“Total Depravity is a theological term primarily associated with Calvinism, which interprets the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. In other words, a person is not by nature inclined to love God with his heart or mind or strength, rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor. Put another way, even with all circumstances in his favor a man without God can do nothing but work for his own destruction; and even his religion and philanthropy are destructive, to the extent that these originate from his own imagination, passions and will” (Wikipedia).

There is a sense in which Total Depravity undergirds the doctrines which follow it (Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). Without Total Depravity, for example, it is possible for God to base election on the condition of a free will choice, thus rendering Unconditional Election invalid.

There is a bounty of biblical support for this doctrine. Genesis 6:5 tells us that “God saw that the intent of every heart was only continual evil.” Just two chapters later we read of man that “The intent of every heart is evil from its youth” (Genesis 8:21). Romans 3:10-18 tells us that there is none righteous. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. Other passages include Isaiah 64:6-7, Jeremiah 17:9, John 3:19, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Ephesians 2:1-3 and 2 Timothy 2:25 and 26. Because the purpose of this article is not to defend this doctrine, I will make no further comment by way of defense.

When we say that mankind fell in Adam, we affirm that as our federal head, Adam’s sin was passed on to all of us. Adam represented the human race, and when he decided to forsake God, he did so on behalf of all of us. This is similar to a head of state declaring war on another nation – his declaration means that each person within his nation, each person that he represents, is now at war with the foreign country. Job laments “Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) No one who has been born of man can escape this radically sinful nature. Nature tells us that like begets like; a dog can only give birth to dogs, not to cats or frogs or birds. Similarly a sinful person can only bring forth other sinful people.

Another affirmation we make in the Christian view of the fall is that there is a sense in which the first sin is ours in the same way in which it was Adam’s. While we did not actually take the piece of fruit and eat it, God foreordained our relationship to Adam long before Adam fell so that from the moment of our conception we are sinful. We are not innocent until we commit our first sin, but are condemned, sinful people from the moment our lives begin. Psalm 58:3 tells us that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” Before we are even born we are already sinful, and deliberately go astray as soon as we are able.

And so it is that humans are sinful from the moment life begins. But how sinful are they? We will turn to this now.

As we have seen, many Calvinists are uncomfortable with the term “Total Depravity.” Like others, I am convinced that a term such as Radical Depravity or Radical Corruption is superior. I believe these issues contribute to clarifying the matter, for by total depravity we do not mean that people are as depraved as they could possibly be—they are totally corrupt in some ways but not in others. It is here that it is helpful to distinguish between extent and degree.

When we say humans are totally depraved in extent, we mean that their depravity has reached every part of their being. It extends to every part of them – their mind, body and spirit are all corrupt. When we speak of a total degree of depravity, we indicate that something is exactly as bad as it could possibly be so that there is not even a tiny bit of good left.

Consider the illustration of three glasses of water. The first glass contains clean, pure water and represents Adam in his perfect state before the Fall. Now consider a second glass which contains this same clean, pure water. We can put one drop of deadly poison in that glass and it renders that entire glass poisonous so that if you were to drink it, you would quickly drop dead. That one drop extended to every part of the glass even though the entire vessel is not filled with poison. This represents humans after the Fall. While they are not wholly corrupt, the corruption they do have extends to every part. And finally consider a third glass which is filled entirely with poison. From top to bottom there is nothing but deadly poison. This represents Satan, who the Bible portrays as being absolutely corrupt so there is no good left whatsoever, but this does not represent humans here on earth. Humans are not as depraved as they could possibly be. We must note that sinful men who have been cast into hell will also be in this state where they are wholly depraved.

One might ask, then, why God has allowed men who are corrupt in extent not to be corrupt in degree. The reason we find in Scripture is simply that God is merciful. Had He not intervened every human would indeed be corrupt in both extent and degree. If every person in the world were as filled with sin as he could be, the world would be uninhabitable, filled with murderers, thieves and all manner of evil. Thankfully God has allowed even sinful men to avoid being wholly corrupt. There are several means He has given to do this.

Conscience – Every human being has been given a conscience, an inner working which helps restrain the desire to do evil. Paul writes in Romans 2 “…their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” (verse 15)

Government – God has put civil authorities in place to restrain men from evil. Furthermore, He has given them the authority to dispense justice and punishment. Romans 13 verses 1 through 5 speak to this. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”

Fear of Death – Humans have a natural fear of death. Every man-made religion emphasizes the necessity of doing good so that we can store up a treasure of good deeds to supposedly sustain us in the life after death. Hebrews 2:14-15 reads “[Jesus] likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Society – People are also restrained by the desire to appear good before their friends, families and society in general. Doing good is generally valued highly enough that people seek to attain to some degree of goodness.

That is the Christian view on depravity. All humans are corrupt in extent – every part of us testifies to our imperfection, but thanks be to God, not in degree. And before us lies a decision. God tells us that when we die we can anticipate either becoming perfected, so once again we will be like that glass of water that is crystal clear, free from any poison of corruption or being cast out of His presence where we will become like that glass of poison, as corrupt and evil and filled with hate as we could possibly be.

In our next article, I’d like to make an application for this doctrine.

October 30, 2006

Monday October 30, 2006

Reformation Day: If you are a blogger, don’t forget about the Reformation Day Symposium. Entries are due by tomorrow. Get details here.

Music: The wonderfully eclectic Sufjan Stevens has a series of Christmas albums coming out and they are available for pre-order beginning tomorrow from this site. “Having an inherent aversion to the standard Christmas carol, Sufjan indulged in the project initially as an exercise to make himself ‘appreciate’ Christmas more. It was a tough childhood, but you can’t be a Christmas Curmudgeon forever, can you? What he discovered, for better or for worse, was a fascinating canon of Yuletide hits, some emotionally rewarding, some painfully cliche.”

Book: Tyndale House is collecting stories for a new book. They are asking for people to submit stories of how their life verse changed their life. My life verse is that one that commands us to have a life verse. Where is that one again?

Blogs: A new service from Google allows you to create alerts for particular subjects being discussed in the blogosphere. Check it out here.

October 29, 2006

Some time ago, my pastor posted on his blog asking if anyone could identify the author of a song called “Teach Me To Love What You Say.” We sang the song in church this morning and I noted that it is still marked with “Author and copyright information unknown.” So I guess he never tracked it down. It is a sweet song and one the children seem to enjoy singing a great deal. Do you happen to know who wrote it?

Teach Me to Live What You Say
Teach me to live what You say,
Make me a child who’ll obey;
Holy in all that I do,
May I bring glory to You.

My life is all Yours to shape as You will
I’ll be the glove for Your hand to fill;
I want to be pleasing, to You may it be,
That You might be glorified somehow in me.

To be more like Jesus with each passing day;
More like the Master in every way,
A servant who’s yielded his heart to the One,
Who gives life and says to His servant, “Well done!”

October 28, 2006

The John Bunyan StoryThe Torchlighters video series is a series of animated DVD’s dedicated to “Highlighting the honor, integrity and life-changing experiences of those well-known and little-known Christian men, women and children who in response to God’s call, dedicated their lives to a life of whole-hearted commitment and passionate service to Jesus.” It is a production of Christian History Institute along with International Films and Voice of the Martyrs. The first in this series was The Jim Elliot Story (my review) and this was followed by The William Tyndale Story (my review).

The third installment of the series is The John Bunyan Story and it traces the life of this great servant of the Lord who is best know, of course, for writing The Pilgrim’s Progress. “John Bunyan’s life was filled with challenges and victories. No matter what his circumstances, this ‘torchlighter’ followed God to the fullest. Like the main character in his book, Bunyan used all his gifts and resources to press on through thick and thin. His message still rings true today.” The film focuses on Bunyan’s youth, presenting him as a naughty, sinful child, and then fast forwards to his arrest and imprisonment during which he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The series is targeted primarily at children between the ages of eight and twelve. While this film has a few scary moments, it is somewhat less intense than the previous two films where the main characters were actually killed. There is nothing too graphic in this episode beyond an encounter between Apollyon and Christian in a brief animated excerpt from Bunyan’s greatest book. My children, having seen the first two installments in the series, were convinced that Bunyan would die and were grateful that he lived to a good age and died a natural death.

Included with the film is a study guide suitable for children that includes a leader’s guide and reproducible student worksheets. There is also a 40-minute documentary on Bunyan’s life that is suitable for both children or adults (though it is intended primarily for adults). A John Bunyan board game is available for free at the Torchlighters web site. These add significant value to what is already a strong presentation. They will encourage your children to become Torchlighters: “One who commits to serving God and passing on the light of the Gospel, even when the going gets tough…”

We watched this film as a family and enjoyed it together. It is well worth watching and discussing together. We are looking forward to the fourth episode, due next year, which will focus on one of my heroes, Eric Liddell.

To learn more about the series, visit the Torchlighters site. You can view trailers for the series or the individual films here. And finally, the video can be purchased from Vision Video.

October 27, 2006

085234628X.gifThe thesis of this book is made abundantly clear on the cover. A young man, jamming on an (unplugged) electric guitar, towers over a Bible which lies face-down, trampled and forgotten underfoot. Can We Rock the Gospel? According to the John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini, no, we cannot. “The authors make no secret of the fact that we count ourselves among those who are offended by rock music in God’s service and are truly perplexed that so many other Christians go to such great lengths to defend their use of it in both worship and evangelism. We are also concerned at the way in which some leaders, from their positions of power within the church, have forced it upon the rest of us.” So the authors adopt the position that rock music is always and objectively wrong. Period. While the emphasis of the book is clearly that rock music is wrong for worship and evangelism, they make it clear that it is wrong at any time and in any situation. This is hardly a unique position but one that, in my view, would depend on clearly an unequivocally defining exactly what constitutes rock music. Unfortunately, the authors do not do this. They make a brief attempt in the third chapter, presenting the following three principles as being true of rock music:

  • Constant repetition. This repetition is dangerous because of the potential hypnotic effect of repetitive music. “Any medium of presentation that induces any loss of self-control or awareness and makes the listener unusually susceptible to whatever suggestions are made by the lyrics is clearly dangerous, and will almost certainly encourage a response that will be largely psychological instead of that which God requires, which is that we should worship him ‘in spirit and truth.’”
  • A driving beat. “The backbeat dominates in most rock music songs, hard, soft or otherwise.” These beats can become hypnotic and lead people to become almost drunk on music. “The element of relentless beat and repetition in rock music increases the danger of a shallow, emotional, unthinking response, made at the wrong level and for the wrong reasons.”
  • Volume. “We need not waste time proving that volume is an important element in rock music.” The emphasis on volume makes rock music unsuitable for worship or evangelism where the emphasis must be on the words of the songs. “Any method or medium … which makes the Word of God more difficult ot hear, and therefore to be understood, is not serving the cause of God but actually hindering it.”

Strangely, this is as much of a definition as the authors provide. They do point to a wide variety of forms of music they would associate with the moniker “rock music,” and these range from folk and pop all the way to death metal and gangster rap. They quote lyrics and describe artists who barely brush the keys of pianos alongside those who tear relentlessly at distorted and amplified electric guitars. They discuss the Hymns category of Christian music “where you can find Jars of Clay rocking out on ‘It is Well With My Soul.’” So clearly even this song, which I believe has only acoustic guitar, bass and subtle drums, is categorized as rock music (you can hear a short sample of the song B0007TFHHA>here). Essentially, it seems that, in the authors’ minds, all popular music must be categorized as rock. If rock can be acoustic guitar, drums and bass, even played quietly and well “under” the lyrics, it seems that almost everything is rock.

So here are the premises of this book: all popular music is rock and all rock is bad. If Jars of Clay’s rendition of “It is Well With My Soul” is rock, and thus wrong, so must be most of the songs we sing on Sunday mornings. The music of Sovereign Grace must be wrong. The modern renditions of hymns produced by Indelible Grace must be wrong. And so on.

The authors build this case by pointing time and again to secular rock artists, and usually the absolute worst of this music, and then apply the negative conclusions to all rock music, a term they define, as we have seen, far too loosely to be helpful. While some of their arguments are sound, others are almost embarrassing. Rock music (like “It is Well With My Soul”), it seems, makes people move, and this movement mimics sexual movements, thus encouraging people to act out the movements with illicit sex. As with many similar books, this one commonly leans upon strange European death metal bands no one has ever heard of and bands from the seventies that no one listens to anymore. While this may not change the facts, it does make the case seem somehow less than well-researched (especially when compared to a presentation such as Hells Bells 2 which focuses more on bands that are popular today). It is easy to quote George Harrison from the sixties saying that rock music appeals only to the youth, but this was 40 years ago. The youth of the sixties are no longer young, and many generations now embrace popular music. It is no longer foreign music to the majority of believers. And so on. Time would fail me to address all of the arguments presented.

Now the book is not all bad. The authors make some important points. They point out, rightly, I believe, that there is really no such thing as Christian rock. There are Christian words, but no Christian music. There is good music and bad music, music that reflects the glory of God and music that does not. But there is no music that is truly Christian. They emphasize as well that the emphasis of preaching, teaching and evangelism must be on the clear presentation of the gospel. Pastors and evangelists must ensure that music does not interfere with this. They show as well that the rock and roll lifestyle is one largely opposed to God and one that can be difficult to reconcile with a commitment to Christ. They follow on the heels of Steve Camp in pointing out some of the hypocrisies in the Christian music industry, not the least of which is tours emphasizing worship sponsored by secular companies. All of these are good and worthwhile emphases. Yet it seems to me that they simply cannot defend their case.

One statement I found particular telling came in the authors’ discussion of rock’s “red flags.” They discuss worship and write “worship is characterized by reverence, modesty and humility, and has nothing that even remotely aims at our pleasure and entertainment.” I would disagree emphatically with an aspect of this statement! I believe that worship should be pleasurable to both ourselves and to God. It may not be entertaining, but surely it should be pleasurable! They even go so far as to suggest that some music is simply too good for church, as music that is truly brilliant will distract people by its quality. As much as they claim to love music, it almost seems that the authors are intimidated by it and are unnaturally suspicious of it. They want to find clear guidance in Scripture as to the styles of music and disregard any kind of personal or cultural preference. I don’t think Scripture offers us that level of guidance in this situation.

Near the beginning of the book the authors state “rock music is dividing the church.” They present a handful of letters from concerned readers to back this claim. It is true that the church has recently battled through “the worship wars,” but it seems to me this is now a decade or two behind us. Of course there will always be disagreement about styles of worship. There will always be some who prefer one style of music over another and there is nothing wrong with this. But I think this book comes too late. Even many conservative churches have already made the move to worship led by guitar. It seems that, according to the authors, this must qualify as rock music. These churches will not revert to organ or a capella anytime soon. I appreciate the concerns of these authors, but most pastors and leaders have already worked through these issues and are comfortable with the choices they have made. I can’t help but feel the more important issue today focuses more on the lyrics of the songs we sing and the hearts of those who sing them. We can focus on the assembly of instruments at the front of the room, but I think it must be more important to worry about what we sing and how we sing it.

The authors of Can We Rock the Gospel? assemble a case depending on cliches and build it upon a loose definition of rock music. After they have torn down this house of cards, they make no alternate suggestions. How are we then to worship? What musical options are left? They are long on diagnosing the condition, but short on proposing any kind of alternative. As much as I had hoped I would enjoy this book, I simply found it a mess. I was disappointed.

October 27, 2006

Friday October 27, 2006

Music: If you’re into rap music, you may like to know that Voice’s latest album “The Crucible” has been released. It may have been out for ages but I only just noticed. You can hear samples here and buy it (CD or download) here.

Halloween: A writer at the Boundless blog reacted to my article on Halloween and says he will have “An Unapologetically Dark House on Halloween.”

Blog titus2talk looks like it will be an interesting and informative blog for women. It strikes me as being similar to a UK-based GirlTalk blog.