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August 2008

August 21, 2008

This morning brings us to our sixth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we had a rather long reading of the first sign of authentic affections—the first chapter where we really get to the heart of the book.

Summary

This week’s reading dealt with the first authentic affection. Here is what Edwards sought to prove: “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.” It took him forty pages to do so!

Discussion

This chapter surprised me a little bit. While this was to be the first of the “positive signs” and the first to follow the section dealing with the many “signs of nothing,” the chapter had a clear negative tone to it. It seemed that Edwards proved “something” primarily by disproving “nothing.” That may not make much sense but perhaps you see what I’m getting at. He proved his point by spending page after page disproving other things. It seems that the back story for this chapter involves people in Edwards’ day attempting to prove they were true Christians by stating that God had given them such knowledge, through feelings or through Scripture or through any other means. He responds by showing that such means can be brought about even in unregenerate men. Thus true affections can only be brought about by truly spiritual, supernatural and divine operations.

Edwards distinguishes here between the spiritual man and the natural man. Those who are spiritual are those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; all other men are natural. The Holy Spirit may influence them in various ways and even work certain things in their hearts and minds, but they are not men who have undergone that supernatural act of regeneration. This is a good distinction to make in our day as we live at a time when anyone who acknowledges some kind of a deity or who has some kind of faith is called spiritual. Oprah Winfrey is as “spiritual” a person as you’ll find, but she utterly rejects Christianity. Edwards reminds us that no one can be spiritual unless he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence we can acknowledge other people as religious, but, when we look to Scripture, must deny that they can be spiritual; there is no Spirit in them.

This is not to say that the Spirit is unable to influence people who are unregenerate. “The Spirit of God, in all His operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle.” In other words, He can work even in natural men by using natural means. “He only assists natural principles to do the same work to a greater degree which they do of themselves by nature.” This was something I had never really considered in the past and I found it valuable to think about.

Now maybe I missed something in this chapter—maybe my mind was mush by the end, but I found few points of application. Perhaps it is that I have never really encountered people in life whose claim to Christianity is some inward voice or the fact that verses of Scripture have come to their minds. But somehow I struggled with really applying this portion of the book to my own life. I am hoping that someone can leave a comment offering a few points of application.

Next Time

For next week we will read the second distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is quite a bit shorter than this week’s reading, so should not pose quite as much of a challenge. In my book it comes out at only fourteen pages.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.

August 21, 2008
Thursday August 21, 2008 Brian McLaren Endorses Obama
In this commercial religious leaders Brian McLaren, Pastors Kirbyjon and Suzette Caldwell and Catholic theologian Lisa Cahill discuss Senator’s Obama’s faith and commitment to families.
Meanwhile…
Meanwhile, this video exposes the dark side of a piece of legislation Obama endorsed. It’s worth watching with the caveats Denny provides. You can see Obama’s real commitment to family here.
That Obituary
Some wondered if that obituary I linked to a couple of days ago was genuine. Snopes went digging and found it was true.
The Truth About Healer
An article exposes the truth behind the song Healer. “Michael Guglielmucci, who inspired hundreds of thousands of young Christians with his terminal cancer “battle”, has been exposed as a fraud.”
The Kind of Leader America Needs
After hosting the discussion with McCain and Obama, Rick Warren preached a sermon dealing with ‘The Kind of Leader America Needs.’
August 20, 2008

I made my children cry. A short time ago my son and daughter came to me and Abby, representing both of them, I suppose, asked the kind of question little girls ask. It was a question they must have been thinking, or perhaps arguing, about. “Daddy, who do you love more, Mommy or us?” I thought for just a moment and told them the truth. They cried.

The fact is, I love their mother more than I love them and I told them as much. I did so gently and lovingly but with confidence that I am right to feel this way. I love my children desperately. I love them with the kind of love that wants only the best for them and which seeks to protect them from the pain and anger and evil that are so prevalent in this world. I pray for them continually, asking that God would protect them even from me and from my ineptitude and sin and ignorance. I never chose to love my children. From the moment Aileen and I learned that they were growing inside her, I loved them. I spoke to them and sang to them and prayed for them before they were born; I walked the house with them night after night when they were tiny; I love them fiercely and love to spend time with them. And still their mother has first place in my heart.

There are undoubtedly different kinds of love and we cannot necessary equate the passionate, romantic love I have for my wife with the parental love I have for my children. Where I never chose to love my children, I did choose to love Aileen, or I did as much as anyone can exercise his will in such matters of the heart. There came a time when I set my heart on her and committed myself to loving her for better or for worse.

When my children asked me who I loved more, I explained to them that the primacy of my love for their mother is a good thing that will give stability to all of our lives. They may be too young to really understand this, but some day it will make sense to them. If I were to love my children more than my wife, I might allow them to stand between me and her; were I to love them more, I might allow them to disrupt my relationship with my wife and divide our family. I have seen that happen in too many families. Because mom and dad are not first and foremost committed to each other, a child can stand between them and divide them. Too many family have been torn apart in exactly this way. Mom chooses daughter over dad and the family is ripped apart.

But I am not going to allow this to happen in my family. Because Aileen is my first love, I will not allow anyone or anything to stand between us—even people we love as much as our very own children. Our love for each other does not enter us into some kind of competition with our children; rather, it is an expression of our love and concern for them. It is exactly what they need most to grow up in a stable home where mom and dad will remain together, committed under God to each other and to them. And I pray that some day they will find loving spouses whom they love more than us and more than anyone else.

So tell me. Would you have answered the question as I did? Or is it really the kind of question which, because it crosses categories, should not be answered at all?

August 20, 2008
Wednesday August 20, 2008 7 Reasons to Say ‘God Willing’
Julian offers seven good reasons Christians should be intentional and deliberate to refer to future plans with the caveat, ‘God willing’ (or ‘if the Lord wills,’ or something variant).
An Obituary
This obituary was apparently printed in the Times Herald. What a horrifying way to be remembered!
Ten Things He Thinks
Jollyblogger offers a list of ten things he thinks about the spirit world and spiritual warfare.
Typos as Variant Spellings
This fits perfectly with a postmodern society. “BBC reported on the 7th of this month that Ken Smith from Bucks New University is advocating the acceptance of commonly misspelled words as ‘variant spellings.’” Fool’s Gold has more.
August 19, 2008

Pollution and the Death of ManIn the past weeks I have spent some time wrestling with issues related to the environment and creation care. I have been seeking distinctly Christian wisdom on this issue, seeking to learn how we, as Christians, are to understand this world and our role in its care and protection. Last week I turned to Francis Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man hoping and even expecting that it would answer some of my deepest questions.

Schaeffer acknowledges from the beginning of this book what our society’s secular humanists cannot—that mankind has been called by God to exercise dominion over the earth. But like everything else in this world, man’s ability to exercise such dominion has been affected by the Fall. No longer do we tend the world always in love, but instead we ravage and pillage it. Though we may not believe in all of the dire claims being made about the world today, we must at least acknowledge that we have not cared for the world as God has called us to.

August 19, 2008
Tuesday August 19, 2008 Backtrack to Saddleback
Dr. Mohler: “With the press pushing the event as a “new face” for American evangelicals, I was not overly hopeful. Given the hype, I was positively unhopeful. But … the event turned to be quite worthwhile after all.”
Evangelical Gullibility
Ed Stetzer comments on the Lakeland Revival and Todd Bentley.
Why She Walked out of Church
WORLD’s recent cover story on NextGen worship inspired Julie R. Neidlinger, a single, 34-year-old writer/artist from North Dakota, to write an interesting post. WORLD has details.
Best Commentaries
This site looks worthy of a bookmark.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Kirk Wellum has a brief but interesting post on the role of the Holy Spirit. “The holy Trinity is not the Father, the Son and the Holy Scriptures, but rather, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
August 18, 2008

The Westminister Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” Many of us know the answer. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created primarily to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end, the overwhelming purpose, of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling. And as John Piper has told us repeatedly in his books and teaching ministry, we do so by enjoying Him forever. “The great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would have to disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. I believe many evangelical churches would have to say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord.

Before I continue I will affirm that I place great value in evangelism and regard it as a Christian duty and privilege. A church that does not care to evangelize cannot be a healthy church and likewise, a Christian who never shares his faith is, in all likelihood, spiritually ill. Evangelism is a privilege and an honor and I admire those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the good news with others.

But, having said all of that, I do not believe that evangelism should be our highest goal.

A few years ago I spoke to a pastor of a small church that had been formed largely on the basis of Purpose Driven principles. I asked what their discipleship process involved. I was shocked when the pastor told me, without any remorse, that “if you are really looking to grow as a Christian this isn’t the church for you.” He went on to explain that his church was geared almost entirely towards evangelism. The Sunday morning services were stripped of almost anything that might offend: congregational prayer, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and so on. The music was done in the style of what was most popular in the town (or what had been most popular in that town in the 80’s) and the preaching always presupposed almost no knowledge of biblical principles. There was a small amount of discipleship training, but only on a very basic level. In other words, this church was driven by unbelievers. Their tastes, their likes and dislikes and their desires were considered the foundation for all the church was and did.

A church I used to attend used the motif of a journey to describe the Christian life. The journey begins somewhere and ends somewhere and along the way there should be continual growth. But according to the pastor I spoke to, he would lead people into the fledgling stages of this Christian life and then abandon them in order to focus on people who were still on the other side of that starting line. He would lovingly take people from point 0 to point 1, but then turn his back on them to look for others. This pastor showed that, in his opinion, there was nothing greater than evangelism. He could not honor God more than if he was leading people to recite a sinner’s prayer. Not surprisingly, the back door of that church was as wide open as the front door. Many of those who were saved through that church’s ministry quickly left to look for a church where they could be better fed.

A person like this pastor tends to interpret everything in the Christian life through this false assumption of man’s chief end and applies guilt to those who do not constantly evangelize. He may regard theology as something evil—something that detracts from the ability to witness. I have often had discussions with people who feel that theology is actually opposed to evangelism. If we are learning theology, they might say, we are missing opportunities to evangelize.

I believe that, to a great extent, this belief is based on an unbiblical assumption—that we are ultimately responsible for the spiritual state of our fellow man. It fits well with the oft-repeated warning that “there are people in hell right now who are there because you did not preach to them.” It assumes too much of our responsibility and our ability (and the ability of the one who hears). It speaks too little to the work of God in predestining some to eternal life and certainly speaks too little to the fact that until the Spirit opens hearts, every person is blind. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). It ignores the fact that no one can hear and accept the message accept those who have been so privileged by God.

[An interesting note: as I got this far in the article a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses dropped by to evangelize me. They seemed nice enough and said they’d come back once I’ve had time to read their Watchtower. This edition is all about global warming.]

Theology, if it is an end in itself, can be bad. It sounds strange but it is true. Theology is not intended to be an end in itself. Rather, our theology should drive and motivate our lives. Our theology informs our evangelism. I have little doubt that, having studied theology over the past couple of years, I am better equipped to evangelize now than I was two years ago. I know more of God, more of His character and more of His Word. I have come to see the mistakes I used to make when I evangelized and know how to correct them in the future.

In speaking to people like the aforementioned pastor I have often been told, implicitly at least, that God holds a giant clipboard on which he takes notes on the amount of time we spend learning about Him and compares it to the amount of time we spend teaching others about Him. If we do not maintain the proper balance (as defined by these people) God is displeased with us. I have come to realize that this is simply not the case. We are responsible to take opportunities presented to us in which to evangelize and are even responsible to work towards creating such opportunities, but I see no biblical evidence that these need to be equal pursuits in terms of time and attention. Our primary responsibility is to ensure that we are bringing glory to God through our lives as we use the gifts and talents God has given us and that we constantly submit our time and our talents to Him.

August 18, 2008
Monday August 18, 2008 Apres Lewis
David Skeel, in an editorial at WSJ, wonders why, even after 55 years, there is still no successor to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
On Discarded Things
An interesting little article from a med student whose blog I read. “After my first patient died, I remember getting this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw the janitor role down the corridor. I looked across the hall at a nurse who simultaneously shuddered and looked away. We could not watch as his living things were bagged and tossed away—as his room was raped.”
Snuggling a Mannequin
“Recently I came across one of the saddest passages I’ve ever read. Writer Augusten Burroughs writes in his new book, The Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father, about growing up with his distant, neglectful father. One part, in particular, was so raw as to make me almost cringe as I read it.”
Religion Out of Medicine
This is a chilling possibility in my province of Ontario. “Ontario physicians could be stripped of their right to exercise religious or moral conscience if a new set of guidelines is accepted by their regulating body next month, critics say.”