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December 29, 2006

Here are two prayer requests that have come to me via the blogosphere.

Rick Phillips at the Reformation 21 blog asks for prayer for Dr. D. James Kennedy.

Please pray for Dr. D. James Kennedy, his wife and daughter, and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Dr. Kennedy is in grave condition following a heart attack last evening.

Jim’s health has deteriorated markedly in the last several months, and he has manfully continued his ministry to the best of his ability. During all my interactions with him even during this trying time, he has exhibited his characteristic good cheer, charm, and force of mind. Along with being a man with great vision for the kingdom of Christ, Jim Kennedy is a true Christian gentleman. Please pray for God to restore him to full health and give him grace as his situation should require.

And from Albert Mohler’s blog comes another request:

Dr. Albert Mohler is recovering at Louisville’s Baptist East hospital following abdominal surgery. Dr. Mohler was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday after experiencing abdominal pain. During a three-hour procedure, surgeons removed scar tissue from a 1980s operation. Dr. Mohler is expected to be released from the hospital next week and will continue his recovery at home. Dr. Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and Senior VP for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will host The Albert Mohler radio program until he is able to return to the air. Dr. Mohler’s blog and commentary posts will resume as soon as he is able. Please join the Southern Seminary community in praying for Dr. Mohler’s quick and total recovery.
December 26, 2006

I’ve often wondered if children in school continue to read Huckleberry Finn. It is a truly great story by a master storyteller and is a book I enjoyed a great deal when we read it in the eighth grade. I can still remember my teacher, who also happened to be the school’s principal, reading the story aloud to us and helping us understand it. While it is a great story, it is also one that has a certain word appear many times. It’s that word that has only recently, I believe, come to be known as the “n-word.” Just uttering that word these days is enough to end careers and destroy friendships. And yet, even a few decades ago, it was considered acceptable in a story. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Huckleberry Finn is no longer read in schools simply because of that word.

Words come and go. There are thousands of words that have fallen out of use or have had their meanings changed as time has passed and the language has evolved. And, of course, many thousands more have been introduced into the language, some coined to express something very specific (i.e., “metrosexual”) and some to describe a new object or technology. Sometimes it is good for words to pass out of common use, and the “n-word” is one of these words. Hurtful, derogatory and laden with bad memories, there is no benefit to maintaining this word. But there are other words that we need to maintain, we need to keep in our common lexicon.

One of these words, a word we need to hold onto, is “sin.” This word is found only rarely now outside the bounds of the church, and sadly, almost as rarely within. In the past few weeks I’ve read several books which speak of errors, mistakes and bad judgment, but never of sin. All of these books are written by and about Christians. In his autobiography, Shawn Alexander writes about making many mistakes in his life, but never of committing sin. When writing about Joel Osteen, his biographer admits mistakes in Osteen’s life, but never charges him with sin. Dr. Phil’s wife, Robin McGraw, has done many dumb things, but to the point of the book I’ve read, has not sinned. And so on. Humans seem eager to admit mistakes and error, but loathe to admit sin.

There is something about this word, this little “s-word,” that offends people. We are not offended by mistakes. We are offended by sin. The problem is that sin and mistakes are not the same thing.

I’ve thought about this for a while now and it seems to me that the reason we are afraid to admit sin lies in its definition. Where a mistake is something like “a wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention”, according to the Shorter Catechism, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Mistakes are inevitable in this life and, while they may be a product of the Fall, they are not necessarily sinful. I may make a mistake about the time I am to pick my son up from school and arrive fifteen minutes late. This is not sinful, but it is a mistake. I have made a mistake and my son has suffered just a little bit as he had to wait a few minutes. And so I apologize to my son and the situation is over. But when I sin against my son, perhaps by snapping at him when he is inquisitive and I am tired and grumpy, I have not made a mistake; I have sinned. I have offended both my son and God. I have offended my son but have ultimately offended God. David says in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Of course David had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and the whole nation of Israel. And yet he knew that his ultimate sin was against God.

And so it seems that we are afraid to admit sin because it requires that we admit we have offended God. And when we admit to offending God, we admit that we are deserving of His punishment. We are deserving of His wrath. We are deserving of hell. And who wants to admit this? To admit to this is to go against our sinful natures and all that we believe about ourselves.

When we refuse to utter the “s-word,” and worse, when we refuse to view ourselves as sinners, we refuse to admit our need of a Savior. We tacitly suggest that we can remedy our own mistakes rather than relying on the Savior who has paid for sin.

December 23, 2006

The Original Love SongChurchMerch is a new feature here at Challies Dot Com. Under this heading I intend to examine some of the merchandise that is being and will be marketed to Christians. I will expand a little bit beyond merchandise and may also examine movies, television shows and other media targeted at the “faith and values” crowd. As this audience grows, so too does the amount of material intended for it and we will no doubt see the good, the bad and the ugly of ChurchMerch.

Today I will take a brief look at The Original Love Song, a CD recording of the Song of Solomon.

The Original Love Song brings The Song of Solomon to life with a masterful blend of sensuous dialogue and musical imagery… tastefully weaving the most famous love poems of all time into a compelling theatrical style story with an enchanting score by Academy and Golden Reel Award winning film composer, Alan Howarth… Each line of The Original Love Song was hand-picked, word-for-word from six different translations of the Bible, retaining the charm and poetic flow of the old-world vernacular. Every verse is then complimented with its own enchanting musical composition; capturing the message and essence of the spoken word with compelling aural imagery… The Original Love Song makes a perfect wedding gift, a thoughtful anniversary gift, and a wonderful Valentines Day gift… as well as a way to help rekindle romance, share your feelings, or get couples communicating in your marriage ministry.

In other words, The Original Love Song is a recording that attempts to capture a sensuous, erotic feel with both the spoken word and the background music. According to the producers, “The Original Love Song is a moving and sensual interpretation that deals with intimacy and virtue… [that] literally whisks the listener off to a very special place of sensual innocence and spiritual passion; a place so deep and so real, that many come away deeply moved, yet spiritually and romantically invigorated.” The Tampa Tribune says “Couples who want to put a little spiritual spice in the bedroom can get it from a breathy recitation of Song of Solomon, accompanied by mood-setting soundtrack.” The words are spoken in a sultry tone clearly intended to convey sexual desire. The music contributes to this atmosphere.

The CD booklet contains a separate section for men and women, each offering gender-specific advice. For example, for women it suggests “Compliment him often. In tracks 3 and 11 in The Original Love Song, the Shulammite calls Solomon a ‘stag or hart.’ In today’s language, stag means stud. So once or twice a week when your husband comes home from work, say: ‘How are you, Stud?’ He is a stud! He’s the only stud you’ve got. I guarantee you, he’ll like it.”

Like any good ChurchMerch, The Original Love Song is available in multiple versions and with multiple options. The CD is available with two different covers, there is a Wedding Bundle (which includes “an excellent book on spiritual bonding entitled ‘A Marriage After God’s Own Heart’ by noted Christian author Dr. David Clarke” and comes bundled in a royal blue velvet pouch, de-bossed with the ‘One Flesh’ male / female symbol. There are also gift pouches that can be purchased separately.

You can learn all about it www.originallovesong.com. You can read descriptions and reviews, meet the contributors and listen to audio samples. And, of course, you can buy it for yourself.

My opinion of this piece of ChurchMerch is that there is really nothing inherently wrong with it. The Song of Solomon is clearly intended to be a book about love and sexual desire. I don’t see anything unbiblical about setting it to a bit of music and reciting it in a tone that would convey much of the book’s intent. This is not to say that I enjoyed it. The fact is that I found it more than a little corny and certainly could never use it the way it is intended. If you can listen to this without rolling your eyes or giggling with embarrassment, you’re a better man than me. I give it points for originality and for quality of presentation, but little more than that.

If you know of some ChurchMerch I absolutely need to examine, feel free to drop me a note.

December 21, 2006

Last night our church gathered, divided into small groups, and went door-to-door in the neighborhood surrounding the school in which we meet. We went caroling and delivering copies of a book and an invitation to our Christmas Eve service to each of the homes in the immediate area. On the whole our efforts were well-received. While only a fraction of the people were both home and willing to open their doors, those who did seemed genuinely pleased to hear a Christmas carol and to receive a small gift. As we went through the streets I was struck by two thoughts that have been rattling around in my head over the past couple of weeks.

The first of these is one that came to me as I was thinking about the people in our neighborhood and pondering just how much I desire opportunities to be able to reach out to them with the gospel. I was recently praying by name for some of these people and realized that it is entirely possible, likely even, that many of these people have never been prayed for, or not by someone who is actually a Christian (and thus someone whose prayers are heard by God). As I’ve said in the past, we live in a neighborhood (a townhouse development) with around 100 homes in it. As far as we know, and we have met at least half of the people, we are the only Christians. We have never heard anyone else speak of church and have never seen any of them go to church with the exception of a small migration of the few “Christmas and Easter” Catholics on Christmas Eve. In all the years we have lived here we have been approached countless times by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but only once have we had Christians come to our door to invite us to their church. The fact is, Canada is largely a pagan nation. Churches where the gospel is present are few and far between. There are fewer and fewer Christians. And so I wonder who would ever have prayed for people in this neighborhood? Who will pray for them now?

It strikes me as a heartbreaking tragedy that so many people will never have been held up before the throne of grace. It is so sad that so many people have never had anyone to plead for them before the Lord. As we walked through the darkened streets last night, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people have never been brought before God, have never had anyone plead for their salvation. I wonder how many unbelievers live their whole lives without ever once having a Christian ask God to use them to bring these lost souls to Him.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of something which I will share briefly and as an aside in case it interests someone. For a short time there was a man with a gift for evangelism who attended our old church. He would head to the train station many mornings and attempt to sit and talk with people, even if only for a few moments, to share the gospel with them. He was one of these people I admire so much who can evangelize to anyone anywhere and at anytime. At one point he and another man in the church walked through a neighborhood for thirty or forty consecutive days. Every morning they would pause briefly outside each house and pray for the people in that home. At the end of this time they knocked on every door and asked the people to join them for a street party. And when that party came they had an amazing turnout. They had many opportunities to share the gospel with these people. It was brave, unashamed and effective evangelism. I have often wondered how God used their prayers and will continue to use those prayers as these men prayed for individuals who had probably never been prayed for in the past. May God grant me such faith and such courage. And may He continue to burden me to pray for individuals in the homes I can see right now from the window of my office.

There was something else that struck me last night, and this first occurred to me last Saturday when we had many of the people in our neighborhood into our home, the adults just to hang out and talk, and the children to decorate gingerbread houses. We invited people just to come, just to bring themselves, and yet everyone brought something with them, whether a plate of food or a tin of chocolate or even just a card. No one could come empty-handed. And we are the same way. When someone invites us to their home, Aileen’s first question is always “Did you ask them what we can bring?” I typically have to admit that, no, I didn’t ask. I assume that if people are inviting us into their home they are doing so from a desire to extend grace and hospitality to us and that we are not obliged to bring something. Aileen, though, considers it rude to not at least ask if we can bring a salad or dessert or something (anything!).

It seems that humans have a problem with accepting gifts. Humans have a problem with grace. We never want to accept a gift without providing something in return. Last night people would receive the book we gave them and respond by saying, “Are you collecting money? Can we donate to something? Can we at least give you a candy?” So few people were willing to simply accept the gift as a gift, even if it was a gift they did not particularly want. So few could believe that we would give them something and expect nothing in return. They wanted to repay the gift, to repay grace.

And that’s just the way humans are. One of the greatest testaments to the truth of Christianity is in its “otherworldliness.” No human being could conceive of a religion that offered grace and demanded no repayment. No human being could create a religion that was all of grace. Without the work of the Holy Spirit no person can believe, accept and treasure this grace. And even after we have been granted it, so many of us, so often, try to repay grace. We feel that we need to be obedient to God in order to repay Him for the salvation He has given us. But we are not to live lives of obedience in order to repay God. Rather, we live in obedience out of gratitude for his amazing grace. James White writes, “Since faith comes with empty hand, it finds in the grace of God all that it could ever need or want…. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace.” We come to God with empty hands, offering nothing, receiving everything.

From Christ’s fullness “we have all received, grace upon grace.” As those who understand grace and who have received it, Christians ought to give and receive grace in return. Grace should mark us as distinct from others just as it distinguishes Christianity from all of the world’s counterfeit paths to God.

I will close with some wise words from the pen of Charles Spurgeon. “Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved ‘through faith,’ but salvation is ‘by grace.’ Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: ‘By grace are you saved.’ What glad tidings for the undeserving!”

December 20, 2006

Not too long ago my youngest sister began dating a guy who seems to have made her all twitterpated. Shortly after she started seeing him, she drove up to Canada to spend a few days with my family. I took the opportunity to try to impart some big-brotherly wisdom to her. I told her that I have known a great many couples who began dating as Christians and who set strict limits about how far they wanted the physical limits of their relationship to progress before marriage. These couples all wanted to remain pure until their wedding night, avoiding intimate physical contact. And yet, almost unanimously, they failed. Speak to Christian couples today and I’m sure you’ll find that the majority of them will admit regret that they went “too far.” Whatever limits they set for their relationship fell by the wayside at one time or another. This is not to suggest that all Christian couples engage in premarital sex. However, I think most Christian couples begin marriage with some regret, some guilt, that they have exceeded limits they felt would be easy to maintain.

The problem, I explained to my sister, is that, while Christian couples are generally well-intentioned and truly do desire to remain pure, they do not place the proper safeguards in their relationships. They are committed to a noble end, but do not have the same level of commitment to the means that will allow them to achieve that end. They are committed to the end, but not the means. What I told my sister was that she has little hope of avoiding sin if she and her new boyfriend do not take the proper measures now. They must ensure that they are never alone in a home; they must ensure that they do not park their car in some dark and isolated place just to sit and talk; they must have some sort of accountability to their peers and parents. And so on. Without certain safeguards the result is inevitable. They will sin and, if the relationship lasts and they decide to marry, they will enter their marriage with guilt that could so easily have been avoided. If the relationship does not last, they will eventually enter marriage with another person carrying baggage they have no right to carry. Either way, committing to the means and the end will save them from both the actual sin and from its consequences. Committing to the end by committing to the means will safeguard their relationship.

After I spoke with my sister I continued to dwell on this theme of means and ends. I have recently been struck by Proverbs 24:30-34, a passage that hints at how Solomon wrote his famous proverbs.

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

As Solomon looked at the sluggard’s field and received instruction, I looked at relationships I have seen, relationships that have led to sin, guilt and sin’s consequences. “Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.” I received instruction about my own life.

What I came to see is that there are many areas of my life where I am more wholly committed to an end than to the means of achieving that end. I can think of my desire to pursue holiness. It is an end I desire with desperation, and yet one that, when I honestly assess myself, I have to admit that I pursue with only half-hearted determination. I know this because I can look at the means I have put in place to reach the end and see that, without some serious realignment, they will never lead me to the end I desire. The same is true of my desire to be a good husband and a good father. I know what the end is that I desire to achieve, and yet know that I have not dedicated the appropriate attention to the means of reaching that end. I will never be the husband, father or Christian I want to be without giving more attention to the means.

It seems to me that the primary means of achieving all three of these goals - being a better husband, father and Christian (to name just three emphases) - is to begin with a great emphasis on reading the Bible, meditating upon the Scriptures, and spending time with God in prayer. Only by committing myself to pursuing a relationship with God can I be who I want to be and who God created me to be. There are changes I’ve made to my life after talking to my sister and learning something about myself. There are changes that remain. I trust that God will continue to guide me and to challenge me.

It just so happens that a new year is approaching. The start of a new year is a perfect time to examine my efforts in living this life a day at a time, emphasizing the means even more than the end. Perhaps you feel like I do, that you need to focus on the means of attaining godliness. Here are a few resources that may help us as we pursue the end we know God desires of us.

Crossway recently released two great devotional books from D.A. Carson entitled For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word. Here are links to Volume 1 and Volume 2. A new devotional by John Stott called Through the Bible, Through the Year also looks well worth reading, though I have not yet had time to read through it.

If you’d prefer to simply study the Bible without another person’s comments, perhaps an ESV journaling Bible would come in handy. They are available in leather and hardcover. The ESV offers several daily read plans which can be read on the site. Each also has a link to the audio if you prefer to listen to the Bible. They also offers RSS feeds of each of the plans and even offer a daily podcast that for only $19.95 will provide three one year Bible plans over the course of three years. Each day the daily reading will be delivered to your iPod or computer.

And, of course, there are nearly unlimited numbers of resources from days past. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotions are never disappointing. J.C. Ryle’s daily devotions are exceptional. And on and on. As Christians are certainly not lacking in resources to promote godliness.

As 2007 approaches why not spend some time examining whether you have committed not just to ends, but also to the means that will help carry you to those ends. You may just find, as I have, that you are looking too far towards the horizon while ignoring the day-to-day graces that will carry you to the future you desire.

December 19, 2006

“An Indian runner who won a silver medal in the women’s 800-meter run at the Asian Games earlier this month has failed a gender test and is likely to be stripped of her medal, news reports said Monday.” According to many news reports, Santhi Soudarajan, a 25 year-old runner, was made to take a gender test after completing her event and placing second. A panel typically composed of a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, and an internal medicine specialist discovered that she “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman.” You can read a report at FoxNews or most other media outlets.

A couple of years ago I wrote about how this strange society we live in no longer regards gender as something that is absolute, assigned by Creator or nature, but something that depends on the individual. A person with what has traditionally been considered male anatomy may still consider himself [herself?] female and, according to the politically correct rules of our society, we have no right to question this. When I wrote on this topic in the past I did so after reading a tragic article of a young man who hated who he was. At some point in his early teenage years he became convinced that he was actually a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He began to live like a girl; dressing in girl’s clothing and taking estrogen to try to combat his male hormones. As he grew older he began to become promiscuous, engaging in sexual behavior with boys, yet never revealing that he was actually male. Eventually some of the men with whom he had engaged in sexual acts became suspicious and began to think they had figured out his secret. They resolved to find out once and for all, so in a fit of rage tore off his clothes and learned that their behavior had been not only promiscuous, but homosexual. Enraged, they beat him to death and buried him in a shallow grave. One of them later confessed to the crime and they are now (justly) awaiting trial on charges of murder.

I said at the time that this is a perfect but shocking example of evidence that our society no longer believes in absolutes, for now even gender has become relative. The story I read in the newspaper was about a person who was born male - he had male anatomy, male chromosomes and grew up as a little boy - but at some point he allowed his mind to convince himself that he was female. Now common sense tells us that a human being who has male anatomy and male chromosomes in every cell of his body is male! But our confused, politically correct society seems to disagree. Just because every cell in his body cries out that he is male, we should not assume that he is, for his mind may tell him otherwise. And if a boy decides he is actually a girl, we certainly are not to judge her for that decision. We should assume that she is correct and give her full support.”

I mentioned the story of the Indian athlete to my wife today and said that this is undoubtedly only the first of many similar stories we will hear in the coming years. As it becomes increasingly incorrect for us to judge another person’s gender based solely or even primarily on anatomy, there will be increasing confusion about all kinds of issues. For example, should a person with male anatomy who has decided to adopt the identity of a woman use the men’s or women’s bathrooms at a restaurant or the men’s or women’s change room at a swimming pool? Should a male athlete who believes he is female compete against men or women? And really, as time progresses, how are events like the Olympics to differentiate between men and women any longer?

It occurred to me that one organization has already attempted to deal with some of these questions. The Gay Games are the rough equivalent of the Olympics but geared entirely towards people who are gay, transgendered, and so on. Admittedly they are not quite as serious as the Olympics for they are based on the values of “Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best, and promote a supportive environment, free from bigotry, where participants achieve success by their own measure.” The fact is, though, that they have events where participants compete against people of their own gender. And so the Gay Games have adopted a Gender Policy. This policy states that participants will generally be required to compete in the grouping assigned on their birth certificate or passport. However, if this is not the group in which they can compete in the other group providing that they meet two conditions: “1. A letter from a medical practitioner is provided stating that the participant has been actively involved in hormone treatment for a minimum of two full years. 2. Proof of the participant living as the self-identified gender for a minimum of two years.” Persons who satisfy these criteria will be accredited by the Gay Games host organization in accordance with their chosen or self-identified gender in their chosen events.

This sounds ridiculous, does it not? Of course when the standard of success is personal best and success by one’s own measure, the importance of winning and losing is somewhat diminished. But when it comes to the Olympics we are dealing with athletes who have spent their whole lives training and preparing for one thing: to win. These people are driven to do their absolute best, but even better, to beat others.

A few years ago the International Olympic Committee enacted a policy similar to that of the Gay Games allowing transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics provided they met certain criteria such as completing genital reconstructive surgery and at least two years of hormonal therapy. They believe this will remove any advantage a formerly male athlete may have over his female competitors. Others are not so convinced and regard this decision as a complete travesty.

As far as I know, this issue has yet to rear its ugly head in actual Olympic events, even though the policy was in place during the 2004 Olympics. I am not aware of a case of a formerly male athlete (which is to say, of course, an athlete who is still male but is trying to remove all evidence thereof) competing against females in an Olympic event. But it will come. And our society, politically correct as it is, will have no easy answer to a male athlete who uses his superior strength to beat the competition even though he claims to be a woman. And in the same way our society has no answer to a man who wants to change with women at the pool or who wants to exercise in a women’s health club simply because he has decided to be a woman.

As Christians we must not minimize the differences between the genders, but learn to love and celebrate them. God made us in His image, both male and female. This is not a difference we should apologize for or choose to overlook. As Ligon Duncan taught at least year’s Shepherd’s Conference, it is glorious to celebrate the differences between men and women. When we say that the roles of men and women are interchangeable, (or when we say that the identify of men and women are interchangeable) we suppress a truth that God has built into this world. The differences between men and women are a critical aspect of what makes us image bearers of God. We bring Him honor and glory when we imitate Him, and when we seek to honor the image of God as it exists in us, and even when it exists in us differently as men and women.

December 17, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (in theory) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s recipient of the award is the GospelDrivenLife, the blog of Mark Lauterbach (no, I don’t know how to pronounce that last name either). Mark is pastor of Grace Church in San Diego, a church that is associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. He is also author of a book, The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline. Mark’s blog features commentary on a variety of interesting subjects and is marked by both passion and humility. His recent series on Censorious Thoughts (based on the works of Jonathan Edwards) is typical of the quality of article he writes. His site also features an interesting statement requesting accountability and oversight. “All opinions given by GospelDrivenLife are my own. I desire the oversight of my fellow-pastors. Therefore, I reserve the right to recant when they show me I was out of line. PLEASE make comments! Know that I review all comments before they are posted and will get back to you about changes. I want this BLOG to be free from rants and uncharitable judgments. Questioning motives, integrity, or intelligence are not acceptable here. Gospel humility and grace will be the controlling rule.” Humility and grace are evident in what he writes.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Mark’s blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

December 14, 2006

This is the second part of a series I am writing dealing with the doctrines of grace (otherwise known as the five points of Calvinism). I am writing these articles not primarily to rehash the theology of each of the points or to provide an exhaustive apologetic of Calvinism, but to draw some fresh application and to show what these doctrines mean to me as I ponder them and attempt to live in light of them. 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. Still, I will provide a brief explanation of the doctrine before drawing application.

Today we will look at the “U” in TULIP. This doctrine is known as unconditional election, though some theologians have begun using other terms that are a little bit more precise. For example, R.C. Sproul and Steve Lawson speak of sovereign election while Michael Horton chooses to speak of grace before time. But of greater importance than the phrase are the definition and the application. We will turn to those now.

Unconditional election is one of the more contentious doctrines and the one that causes the most difficulty, for it deals with the touchy subjects of election and predestination. It is premised on several of the doctrines of God. Most notably, it is premised on God’s omnipotence and omniscience (which is to say that God is all powerful and knows everything). This doctrine teaches that God’s election of some to salvation and some to reprobation is entirely unconditional. God, in His sovereignty, makes the ultimate choice of who will be saved and who will not.

When we say that God’s choice is without conditions, it does not mean that His choice is random or haphazard but rather, to borrow the words of R.C. Sproul, that there are “no conditions attached, either foreseen or otherwise.” It is this word, unconditional, that distinguishes the Calvinistic understanding of election from other theologies. Because election is made clear in Scripture, every system of theology founded on the Bible must have some concept of it. Most teach that there are conditions to election, and most often, that the condition is God’s ability to foresee a person’s faith. In other words, on the basis of God’s knowledge that a particular person will exercise faith, He then sovereignty elects that person as His own. He knows this person will meet the conditions for election and elects him on that basis.

There are two objections to conditional election. The first is simply that by basing election on foresight we are destroying the very meaning of the word “elect.” As James Boice says, “It actually means that men and women elect themselves, and God is reduced to a bystander who responds to their free choice. Logically and causally, even if not chronologically, God’s choice follows man’s choice.” The second objection is that it would be impossible for God to foresee faith in the heart of a person who is spiritually dead. If people are radically depraved (as we discussed under the “T” in TULIP) it is impossible for them to display any kind of faith without the prior work of God. All God would see in the hearts of humans would be deadness and enmity towards Him.

And so Calvinism teaches that election is unconditional. God foreknows who will be His elect and his choice is based on His decree, plan and purpose. He chooses people for His good pleasure and does not make known to us why He has chosen some and not others. We do not know why He has set His love on only some. But we do know that God’s act of election brings His chosen people, through the Spirit, to a willing acceptance of Christ. They are not forced to love God against their wills, but have their hearts changed and renewed so that they desire God and willingly embrace Him. Those who are not elect never undergo this change of heart and so never truly desire God (and we will have more to say about this under the “I” in TULIP).

There are many facets to this doctrine that merit discussion. Is God just to elect only some? Is God active in reprobation or does God only choose the elect while those who are not elect choose their own fate? Why would God choose some and not others? But because my purpose in these articles is not to provide a thorough defense of the doctrines of grace, I will stop here and turn now to application.

Unconditional Election: The Great Humbler

When discussing the “T” in TULIP I said that it is the “great equalizer” — the doctrine that makes us all equal before God in our depravity. If total depravity is the great equalizer, unconditional election is the great humbler. Ephesians 2:8-9 cautions Christians against using their privilege of being among God’s elect as a point of pride. In fact, it suggests that if salvation were not all of God, we would be filled with pride. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” When we acknowledge that salvation is all of God — He is the one who chose us, who provided the means of salvation through Christ, and who now gives us faith as a gift — we have no possible reason or cause to boast. We are humbled and brought low. We are undone.

And, like the two sides of a balance, as we are brought low, God is brought high. As we understand that salvation is all of God, as we understand that we could not possibly meet any conditions for election, we come to see God in His mercy and sovereignty. We see that God is gracious to those whom He loves and we see how and why we are in need of this grace. We see in unconditional election that the doctrines of grace are systematic theology, each depending on the others. When we look back to our radical depravity, depravity that extends to every aspect of our being, we understand why we are incapable of electing ourselves. When we understand how sinful we are and see that our natural hearts are wholly opposed to God, we realize that for anyone to be saved, He must be chosen and regenerated by God.

And so the doctrine of unconditional election is the great humbler. We are humbled when we see that we must rest not in the person who wills to be saved, but in God who elects and who has the power to save. We remove all trace of pride, all trace of self-confidence, and rest in the sovereignty of God. We allow this humility to filter to all areas of our lives, for only by God and through God are we saved. We lower ourselves and lift God high. We are humbled, so God may be magnified and glorified. And we live in service to God out of gratitude that His amazing grace extends even to sinners like us — sinners who would never and could never have chosen Him, but for His gracious and unfathomable choice.

We will continue this series in the future with a discussion of limited atonement, the “L” in TULIP.

Here are the first two entries in this series: The “T” in TULIP Part 1 and Part 2.

December 13, 2006

Yesterday I began explaining why my wife and I have decided not to homeschool our children (and, hence, why we have decided to place them in public schools). I guess this article struck a nerve since, at last check, there were over 100 comments posted by readers. I received quite a few emails as well. Reaction ranged from “Way to go!” to “You are sacrificing your children to Molech!” You can read the article here. It will provide context for what I will say today.

Before I dive into today’s topic, I want to address a couple of points that arose in the feedback on my first article. A few people pointed out, and some with a bit of anger and/or sarcasm, that I didn’t actual say why my children were in public schools. That is true. But this is a multi-part article. We’ll get to it.

December 12, 2006

For some time now I have been pondering the value of writing about the reasons that wife and I have chosen to have our children educated through the public school system. Public schools are not the only option available to us. We are capable of homeschooling our children—we are both well-educated and each have a university degree. There are homeschooling groups in our town that we could tap into and endless numbers of homeschooling resources available to us. While it would definitely be a huge strain on our finances, (to the point that either my wife or I might have to be willing to take on a part-time job), we could possibly even come up with $10,000 a year to enroll our children in a local Christian school. Practically, though, the options for my family come down to public schools or homeschool. We have chosen to place our children in public schools. And now I am going to tell you why.