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December 2009

December 31, 2009

Today we continue our readings in John Murray’s classic book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. We are in the second section of the book which deals with the application of the atonement to God’s elect. We’ve looked at effectual calling and regeneration and turn now to faith and repentance.

Summary
Regeneration, which we looked at last week, is inseparable from its effects, one of which is faith. “Without regeneration,” says Murray, “it is morally and spiritually impossible for a person to believe in Christ, but when a person is regenerated it is morally and spiritually impossible for that person not to believe.” Regeneration is God’s renewing of the heart and mind and, once renewed, the heart and mind must act in accordance with their new nature.

Looking first to faith Murray examines both the warrant and nature of faith which he defines as “a whole-souled movement of self-commitment to Christ for salvation from sin and its consequences.”

He offers two facts which together constitute the warrant of faith. The first of these is the universal offer of the gospel. This charge is “invested with the authority and majesty of his sovereignty as Lord of all. The sovereign imperative of God is brought to bear upon the overture of grace. And that is the end of all contention.” The second is the all-sufficiency and suitability of the Savior presented. On the basis of his person and work, Christ is the suitable and sufficient Savior. Murray pauses to point out some crucial correctives about the faith he is discussing. “The faith of which we are now speaking is not the belief that we have been saved but trust in Christ in order that we may be saved. … It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to him but as lost sinners. We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved.”

He turns next to the nature of the gospel, pointing out that there are three things that need to be said about faith: that it is knowledge, conviction and trust. Faith cannot be a vacuum of knowledge (as many try to present it). Instead, there must be a certain knowledge of facts. But, of course, facts are not enough; there must also be conviction about these facts. And third, there must be trust. “Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation.” He says also, “Faith … is not belief of propositions of truth respecting the Savior, however essential an ingredient of faith such belief is. Faith is trust in a person, the person of Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the lost. It is entrustment of ourselves to him. It is not simply believing him; it is believing in him and on him.”

Murray turns next to repentance. He shows that there is no real priority in order between faith and repentance for “the faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance.” The essence of repentance is a change of heart and mind and will. This change principally respects four things: “a change of mind respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting sin, and respecting righteousness.” It is a radical change that strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe about all of life. “The test of repentance,” says Murray, “is the genuineness and resoluteness of our repentance in respect of our own sins, sins characterized by the aggravations which are peculiar to our own selves.” He concludes this section with pointing the reader to the cross: “It is at the cross of Christ that repentance has its beginning; it is at the cross of Christ that it must continue to pour out its heart in the tears of confession and contrition. The way of sanctification is the way of contrition for the sin of the past and of the present. The Lord forgives our sins and forgiveness is sealed by the light of his countenance, but we do not forgive ourselves.”

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter—“Justification.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

December 31, 2009
How Protestant Pastors Spend Their Time
Ed Stetzer writes, “A new study coming out of Lifeway Research shows that ‘Protestant pastors in America are working long hours, sometimes at the expense of relationships with church members, prospects, family and even the Lord.’”
Sand Drawing
“Kseniya Simonova is a Ukrainian artist who just won Ukraine’s version of ‘America’s Got Talent.’ She uses a giant light box, dramatic music, imagination and ‘sand painting’ skills to interpret Germany’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII.’” It is really an amazing video.
Counseling Solutions
This site, run by Rick Thomas, offers some good articles dealing with tough topics. “The Counseling Solutions Group is a worldwide non-profit organization helping people who are in situational difficulties. This is accomplished by using Christian principles to train leaders to competently counsel as well as by providing practical and compassionate counseling to individuals in need.”
What You See
What you see isn’t always what you get. This video highlights some surprising uses of green screen technology in television and movies.
December 30, 2009

If you’ve read this blog for a while, I guess you know that I’m a fan of The Lord of the Rings. I’m not one of those Tolkien fanboys who is going to react with offense when you get a fact wrong. Rather, I’m a fan of a good story and it’s beyond dispute, I think, that in The Lord of the Rings Tolkien has crafted an epic story. I mentioned recently that I’ve been reading the book with my family and that as I’ve been doing so, certain components of the story have been jumping out at me. Today I want to point to one more of these.

One thing that sets The Lord of the Rings apart from just about every other fantasy series I’ve ever tried reading is that it does not confuse good with evil. It never glamorizes evil. Tolkien carefully separates the good from the evil and avoids blurring distinctions between the two. It is always fascinating to keep an eye on Tolkien’s portrayal of these the two opposing forces.

One aspect of this that has stood out to me recently is the inability of evil to understand good and, conversely, good’s ability to understand evil. Here Tolkien has tapped into a crucial reality about good and evil.

As I’m sure you know, the whole book is based on a long and dangerous quest to destroy the Ring of Power. Many years before the commencement of the story, Sauron had created a ring and into this ring he had invested much of his strength and will. This ring was his greatest strength and potentially his greatest weakness. With it he was nearly unapproachable in his power; without it he was weakened; if it were to be destroyed, he too would be destroyed. Through a series of unlikely events the ring has ended up in the hands of Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, who has now been given the task of venturing to Mount Doom to destroy this ring. All the forces of evil are arrayed against him as he does this. And yet, somehow, he succeeds (sorry to give away the ending, but I’m sure you already know all of this). How then does Frodo succeed in so unlikely a quest?

He succeeds because Sauron, powerful though he may be, never understands what Frodo plans to do. Sauron sees good through the lens of evil. He cannot conceive of anyone actually destroying something as powerful as his ring. He assumes that everyone would do what he would do—use the ring to rule over others. Had he understood good, he would have known that the forces of good would destroy the ring and, in so doing, destroy him. He could simply then have surrounded Mount Doom with his armies and intercepted anyone who approached. But instead he projected his evil thoughts onto the forces of good and determined that they must be doing what he would do—using the ring as a means of power. And thus his actions, his attempts to find and retrieve the ring, were all wrong. In his evil he completely misunderstood good. And really, this is the way it had to be. How can evil understand good?

Here Tolkien has displayed in fictional form an important reality. Evil cannot understand good. When I communicate with an unbeliever, as I’ve been doing in my letters to Luke (another of which is coming soon) I can have confidence that I understand him better than he understands me. Why? Because I have been brought from darkness into light, from evil into good. I’ve known evil and now know good. Through the Bible I am given God’s eyes to see evil as he sees it and to understand it as he understands it. This gives me a whole new clarity. But one who has never turned to Christ has known only evil. He can see what is good but can understand it only through that lens of evil. I know what it is to be lost in a way that he cannot know what it is to be saved. Tolkien got this one right.

December 30, 2009
Flying High
Christopher Hitchens on the latest terrorist attempt: “It’s getting to the point where the twin news stories more or less write themselves. No sooner is the fanatical and homicidal Muslim arrested than it turns out that he (it won’t be long until it is also she) has been known to the authorities for a long time. But somehow the watch list, the tipoff, the many worried reports from colleagues and relatives, the placing of the name on a “central repository of information” don’t prevent the suspect from boarding a plane, changing planes, or bringing whatever he cares to bring onto a plane.”
Voyage
Christine Dente, formerly of Out of the Grey, has just released a new album that is based on The Valley of Vision. Though it looks intriguing, I haven’t been able to find it at iTunes (it is supposed to show up there in January).
The Joy of the Reformed
Anthony Selvaggio: “I did my own assessment of my Reformed experience and, I must admit, I had to agree that ‘joyful’ was not one of the first adjectives that came to my mind to describe it. Then I began to contemplate why the Reformed church seems to be lacking in the joy department.”
How To Destroy the Book
In this article Cory Doctorow writes about new realities confronting readers as books increasingly become digital. I loved this bit of it: “If you’re making a short film, and you want to illustrate a society that’s falling into tyranny, you can just cut away to a scene of a pile of books burning, and everyone will know exactly what you meant. If you want to indicate that a character in a book is very sympathetic, and you mention how much she loves reading and going to the library, then your readers will immediately show sympathy for her. Books have this penumbra of virtues, they ooze virtue, and it’s long beyond anything rational or reasonable, because all of you who are people of the book know that there are many books that are absolutely unworthy of that virtue, and yet—and yet—when I worked in a bookstore and had to strip paperbacks to send them back, it was painful to tear the covers off of books. I can barely bring myself to recycle the phone book every year.”
Virtually Divorced from Reality
From the Courant: “There are plenty of assaults on marriages these days, but the attack from cyberspace is rapidly widening. And as the prevalence of Internet obsession grows, it is turning up more and more as a factor in divorce cases.”
Deal of the Day: Sproul Commentaries
RHB has R.C. Sproul’s two new commentaries (John and Romans) at 50% off. They aren’t likely to last long at that price…
December 29, 2009

Do you remember learning to do long division back when you were in grade school? It was probably fourth or fifth grade when we learned to do it. It was a long and laborious process and one that, even in my day, seemed irrelevant. After all, we all had calculators and we knew that they could do it quickly and easily. With the tapping of a few buttons we could get our solution and it would be correct every time. Kids today can probably make an even better argument that division is best handled by computers or calculators. I’ve little doubt that once most of them are out of school they never do long division again.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a good step-by-step example of long division in operation (drawn from Wikipedia).

950 divided by 4:

1. The dividend and divisor are written in the long division tableau:

Now instead of dividing the whole dividend (950) by the divisor (4) we will simply divide each digit of the dividend by the divisor, one at a time, starting from the most significant (leftmost) digit:

2.The first number to be divided by the divisor (4) is the leftmost digit (9) of the dividend. Ignoring any remainder, we write the integer part of the result (2) above the division bar over the leftmost digit of the dividend.

Since we ignored the remainder, though, we have not accounted for the leftmost place entirely. That is to say: 4 × 2 is merely 8, and the relevant digit of the dividend was 9. Thus we subtract 8 from 9, yielding the remainder 1, to tell us how much of the leftmost place remains unaccounted for.

3. We “bring down” this unaccounted-for remainder from the leftmost place (1) then bring down the next digit of the dividend (5) and place it to the right of the remainder to create a new bottom number (15).

4. Next we repeat steps 2 and 3, using the newly created bottom number (15) as the active part of the dividend, dividing it by the divisor (4) and writing the results as before above and under the next digit of the dividend.

5. We repeat step 4 until there are no digits remaining in the dividend. The number written above the bar (237) is the quotient, and the result of the last subtraction is the remainder for the entire problem (2).

The answer to the above example is expressed as 237 with remainder 2. Alternatively, one can continue the above procedure to produce a decimal answer. We continue the process by adding a decimal and zeroes as necessary to the right of the dividend, treating each zero as another digit of the dividend. Thus the next step in such a calculation would give the following:

I’m sure you remember this kind of problem and solution. You probably remember hating having to go through all the bother. You probably remember, as I do, trying to get out of it. The argument my teachers made, and the argument I’m sure teachers continue to make today, is that doing the onerous task of long division not only teaches us how to do it on our own for those rare occasions that a computer or calculator or cell phone isn’t handy, but it also teaches how division works. By going through each step we see how it works—we learn not only the solution, but we also learn the process of solving it. It isn’t fun, but neither is it meant to be. It’s an educational process.

Since the release of my book I’ve done all kinds of written and radio interviews and I’ve spoken to many people about the book face-to-face. A question that gets asked often is what I hope people will take from the book—what are one or two things that I really want people to learn. And this is where the parallel to long division comes in. If there is just one thing I want people to take away from the book it’s the categories of discernment. If Christians can read the book and begin to think in the black and white terms of discernment, I’ll be well pleased. Just knowing that discernment is an expectation for all of us is valuable knowledge and something many Christians really do not understand.

And second to that, I want people to realize that discernment is something we are responsible for as individuals. We cannot simply leave discernment to the experts. Rather, we each need to learn to discern and we each need to grow in the skill of discernment. Like using a calculator for division, we can rely on others to give us the bottom line. But like doing long division, it is far better to do the work ourselves and to ensure we understand how to discern. The theological equivalent of using a calculator may be just Googling what John Piper or John MacArthur says about a certain topic and taking that word as law. It may be asking a parent or pastor and accepting what they say without further thought. We are all prone to want to get to the final tally without going through the intervening steps.

But like the kid who cheats by using a calculator, we cheat ourselves if we do not do the difficult work of discernment. As we discern what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong, we train ourselves to think as Christians and we train ourselves to really understand what discernment is. We make sure that we understand the difficult business of discernment—not only the end result but the process of getting there.

December 29, 2009
The Wonder of Apple’s Tablet
You can tell that I’m excited by this product. MG Siegler has an article explaining why the tablet is such an intriguing product and why you shouldn’t immediately write it off.
Top Theology Stories of 2009
Collin Hansen offers up his top ten theology-related stories of 2009.
Where Have All the Evangelicals Gone?
There is an interview with Guinness over at Evangel. “This foundational member of the Evangelical Manifesto was gracious enough to talk about what it truly means to be an Evangelical, the future of the church, and why styling oneself a ‘post-evangelical’ is ‘absolutely ludicrous.’”
Tintinabulation
The Times has an article about Herge, the man who created the Tintin books.
December 28, 2009

Today, the second to last day of my vacation, I offer this little reflection on Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology. It is a massive book and more than a little intimidating, but still very much worth the read.

After six introductory chapters, Waltke turns to Old Testament theology proper in a chapter entitled “The Gift of the Cosmos” and here, as we might expect, he discusses God’s work as creator. He argues here that it is critically important that we read the opening chapters of Genesis properly, acknowledging the author’s intended literary genre. Though he eventually argues that this section is meant to be read as “ancient near eastern cosmogony,” which in turns leads to supporting his views on theistic evolution (a view I do not support) I found something very useful in this section. He explains how a wrong reading of the creation account leads to further and deeper problems. He shows how culture’s refusal to acknowledge the creator necessarily leads to the anti-God worldview so apparent in society around us. “Christians now live on a mission field with worldviews that besiege the message of ethical monotheism.” He says that this new paganism has six faces, each of which proceeds from the one before it.

1. The common worldview of the Western world since the time of the enlightenment has been materialism. This philosophy says that matter and its motions constitute the entire universe. Everything in the universe has to be regarded as due to material causes.

2. There is an implication to materialism. Since everything is material, ideally and theoretically, everything is subject to empiricism. Here he quotes Alan Reynolds who says, “empiricism, which insists that all knowledge is based on observation, experimentation, and verification, has led to belief in a self-sufficient universe that can be understood on its own terms, without any need of the transcendent or of God.”

3. Together materialism and empiricism entail a belief in an inherent coherence within nature between cause and effect. This, in turn, has led to belief in determinism, which understands reality as mechanical and without inherent value. Life’s origins and the nature of humanity have natural rather than divine causation.

4. Secularism is a political or social philosophy that embraces each of these “-isms”—materialism, empiricism and determinism. It embraces natural causation and and rejects religious faith and worship in the public square. Nature, society, and government become instruments dedicating only to fulfilling our material desires which masquerade as “rights.” This is fast becoming the dominant worldview among Western intellectual elites.

5. Secular humanism is a system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values and dignity are predominant. This leads to a kind of intense pragmatism that calculates everything in terms of its benefit to humanity. There is no acknowledgment of God and his rule of the created order.

6. Post-modernism or New Ageism marks what is really a return to old-fashioned paganism, though with a distinctly modern twist to it. New Ageism takes distinctives of Eastern religion and distorts them with Western concepts. Post-modernism replaces the objective reality of God as revealed in special revelation with subjective deifications of individual expressions of spirituality. Waltke says, “it rejects the notion of a revealed moral code and instead tests truth by its therapeutic value.” In this worldviews there are no better or worse cultures but merely differences between them.

When you see these six faces of the new paganism you see how important it is that we get Genesis right! The irony, I suppose, is that I am not at all convinced that Waltke is correct in his views on creation. Still, he acknowledges the Creator, of course, and acknowledging God as He reveals Himself in the Bible is a safeguard against the post-modern, secular humanistic viewpoint that pervades society. Those in our society who refuse to admit the existence of this God are soon left with materialism and from there empiricism and all that these -isms entail.

December 28, 2009
Climategate and Wikipedia
Gene Veith offers good reason to use Wikipedia only with some hesitation: “This also raises questions about the nature of Wikipedia. Yes, it assembles a vast amount of information and makes it easily accessible. But since virtually anyone can change that information, unreliability is built in. (Let all students beware.) I understand the theory behind it, how it is self-correcting by drawing on collective knowledge. But isn’t it really predicated on the assumption that knowledge is a social construction, conveniently giving a platform for that to happen?”
2010: The Year of Digital Distraction
Writing for CNN Pete Cashmore asks “Between Facebook status updates, Tweets and new mobile applications that deliver breaking news on our phones, will we be driven to distraction in 2010? ”
iTablet
This little bit of satire and silliness actually raises some good points about Apple’s (supposedly) forthcoming tablet device. “You aren’t going to be buying a ‘book’ on the iTunes store. You’re going to be buying a ‘story’ one chapter at a time, whether it’s Wind in the Willows or Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, everything is going to be just a chapter in a story.” Sounds crazy…but isn’t that how we buy music today?
Snowy Scenes
Another great photo essay from Boston.com.
Monergism Year-End Sale
Monergism Books is having a year-end sale. You can get 10% off your order until Tuesday, December 29th. Place at least $30.00 in cart, type the word - end2009 - in the coupon box and click apply.