Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

April 03, 2006

There’s a sucker born every minute. Bob Ross thinks I’m one of them. Last week I posted an article defending the need for Christians to prepare themselves for the Da Vinci Code movie, but for their own sake and for the sake of their neighbors. Bob responded to this:

There is some dispute about whether P. T. Barnum or someone else said “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but there seems to be little doubt as to the validity of the remark.

And those men and women out there who refer to themselves as “Apologists” are glad to have the suckers keep coming, for they “make a good living” off of them. I like to refer to the “apologists” as the “APPALLINGISTS,” for most of them are godawful appalling and need to make some apologies.

He goes on to draw a rather ridiculous parallel between Da Vinci Code and Y2K before turning to the “Bible Code.”

Awhile back it was the hidden, secret “Bible Code.” Now it is the “Da Vinci Code” that the Appallingists are using to take advantage of the naive suckers.

These entrepreneurs thrive off of selling products to those whom they persuade need to be “equipped” and “prepared.” Or, if they themselves don’t need to be “equipped” and “prepared,” surely they know some needy believer who is apt to be terribly deceived — so they can be a Good Samaritan and order the cassettes, videos, booklets, books, and other useful “tools” to help arm the weaker brethren to offset and overcome the horrible Da Vinci Code — especially the movie.

Yesterday I was referred to the CHILLIES.COM blogstie by one of my readers where they were trying to “fry” me over what I had said about the item on James White’s website pertaining to being “prepared” for the Da Vincd Code movie – a piece of fiction based on a piece of fiction based on a Roman Catholic fictional painting of a few hundred years ago.

The email goes on for a while. The one thing Ross forgets to do is to interact with what I wrote. His thesis (and I use that term loosely, as most rants are devoid of any clear thesis) seems to be that preparing for Da Vinci will only put money in the hands of Christian hucksters and send even more Christians to the cinemas to watch the film.

“Now, if you want to join the suckers and “spend your money for that which is not bread,” you are free to do so. It’s still a free country. Otherwise, I suggest you keep your hand on your billfold when you hear some of the Appallingists palabberating about all the evils, dangers, and other devilish attributes of which you are in danger if you don’t get ‘eqipped’ and ‘prepared’ by sending for whatever the Appallingist has to sell you for a ‘gift donation.’”

It seems to me that this is a terribly naive attitude. I wonder if Ross would also object to Scripture’s admonition to “be prepared (uh oh, there’s that word) to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” One does not have to look far within Scripture to find great emphasis on both equipping and preparation.

You will note that my article said nothing about supporting Purpose Driven or any of the other ministries that are releasing books and DVDs and other material dealing with the film. Nor did I suggest that we go and view the movie in order to be able to dialogue with our friends about it. I merely suggested that we be able to have an answer to the lies that this movie puts forth as truth. Doing this will guard our hearts but may also make us more effective witnesses to those who have serious questions about the Bible’s claims. Bob’s rant has failed to convince me that this is a bad thing.

March 31, 2006

A few months ago I signed up for Bob Ross’ email updates. I don’t know much about the guy, but I believe it was Phil Johnson who recommended his writings. Phil wrote, “He’s a prolific writer of passionate commentary on just about everything, ranging from serious theological aberrations to little things that just get under his skin. He’s a kind of fundamentalist Andy Rooney.” But rather than complaining about the ingredients in Girl Guide cookies, Bob Ross complains about James White. A lot. He also complains about just about anything else under the banner of Calvinism. It gets old pretty quickly. Still, he seems like a nice enough guy and I think that he and I would see eye-to-eye on most matters.

Today he sent out a little missive mocking, once again, James White.

I got a chuckle from James White’s blog today where he says the following;

Da Vinci Debunked in Tabletalk

This month’s Tabletalk magazine from Ligonier Ministries focuses on preparing believers to handle the release of The Da Vinci Code film this month. In order as they appear, the first feature article is by R.C. Sproul, “The Da Vinci Conspiracy.” Then my article appears, titled, “The Fool’s Folly Uncovered.” Then R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s article “Historical Propaganda,” followed by Peter R. Jones’ work, “The Pagan Agenda of the Code.” If you don’t subscribe to Tabletalk, you may still want to pick up this issue, or better yet, subscribe!

What sort of “believer” needs to be “prepared” for a movie tale relating to a Roman Catholic painting by a 15th - 16th century Roman Catholic painter which supposedly has a significant “code” in it?

Give me a good ole “Charlie Chan” black-and-white movie mystery any day over this! Or even an old Don Adams’ “Get Smart” TV program — or better still, a Three Stooges “Horse Collars” or “Restless Knights” movie short. If we need to be “prepared” for comedy, then at least let’s have something worthwhile in the field of comedy!

“Tabletalk” is Presbyterian pedobaptist R. C. Sproul’s magazine, and I can think of several things more significant for “preparing” believers than this movie — such as, for instance, Dr. Sproul’s Hybrid Calvinism theory which fantasizes that one is “born again before faith.” Also, the pedobaptist idea that the infants born to pedobaptists are “regenerated” either before, at, or shortly after baptism.

I think those erroneous teachings are much more important to believers than their being “prepared” for the Da Vinci code movie. If believers need that kind of preparation about a fictional tale, it may be a result of their having been told that they were “regenerated” as babies or “before” they believed on Christ for salvation. — Bob L. Ross

I have to assume that his final sentence is really meant to be a lighthearted slap at paedobaptists. Bob somehow wanders from White to Sproul and then to strange beliefs about paedobaptism. I suppose he is Rooney-like in that way. Anyways, Ross’ article got me a little hot under the collar because I happen to believe that Christians ought to be prepared for the Da Vinci Code movie. Here is why:

First, many who attend evangelical churches are woefully poorly taught when it comes to matters dealing with the believer’s confidence in the Scriptures. The Da Vinci Code is a direct, frontal attack on this confidence. While the book will be found in the fiction section of a bookstore, many people are only too willing to believe that it is built around a solid core of truth that calls into question the very fundamentals of the faith. I have met people who believe it all, and unlike Bob, they do not feel that it is a comedy. The author, Dan Brown, has been anything but forthcoming with what he feels is truth and what is merely the product of his imagination. He clearly believes that much of what lies behind the fictional story is true. And so this movie, like the book, will undoubtedly cause a lot of Christians, and a lot of people who consider themselves Christian, to doubt the authenticity of the Scriptural account of Jesus and the intentions of those who worked to define and protect the canon of Scripture.

Second, this film will have a very wide reach. While the book has sold millions of copies, far more people will watch the film than have read the book. Dan Brown’s outright lies will be presented to tens of millions of people in a whole new format. Teenagers who may not have cared to read the book will swarm to the theatres to see what promises to be an exciting, fast-paced movie.

In short, the lies of this film, which are presented as truth to a gullible culture, will spread far and wide.

What does this mean? It means that Christians must be prepared. They must have confidence in their understanding of Scripture so that they are not left grasping and stuttering when challenged by their friends, family members or co-workers who have embraced the lies. They must have confidence in the Bible and confidence in the biblical account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They must know that there is far more proof for the biblical account of Jesus’ life than for anything Dan Brown has imagined.

Also, Christians should be prepared to challenge their friends with facts and questions. “What do you think is fact and what is fiction?” “Is there any evidence that Jesus was never crucified?” “How do we know that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had an affair?” “Is it true that Jesus’ followers did not understand Him to be God?” Just as when The Passion of the Christ was released, Jesus’ name will be everywhere in conversation and his face will be on the news and in magazines. Christians will have the opportunity to talk about Him and to challenge others with what is true and what is false.

It seems to me, then, that a little bit of preparation would be very helpful as Christians prepare to deal with a film that seeks to undermine our faith.

March 30, 2006

Every March I read Proverbs. I’m not sure how this tradition came about, but I always look forward to it. Over the past few days I have been finishing up the book, reading those meaty chapters near the end. I was struck by the constant, ongoing, application to my own life. I began to think of all the applications I could make towards blogging, both as a person who publishes a blog and as one who reads and participates in other blogs as a commenter. As I sat and pondered these things, I began to feel a since of deja vu, and it didn’t take me too long to realize that I had had these same thoughts last year. And, as I tend to do, I had written down many of them. It turns out that many of the verses I pulled out from this year’s reading were among the verses that had struck me last year. I love it when that happens!

So I am returning to this list of wisdom from Solomon, and adding to it what I have learned this past year. Here is the wisdom of Solomon as it might apply to something as simple as blogging.

Think before posting.

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (29:20).” How many arguments would be avoided and how many relationships saved if people were only a little less hasty with their words? Before posting an article or before replying to one, it is always (always!) a good idea to re-read what you have written and consider if your words accurately express your feelings and if expressing such feelings is necessary and edifying. Remember also that online communication, because it is not face-to-face, and the recipient cannot see facial expression and bodily expression, can often cause confusion. Sarcasm is often lost and adding a little emoticon smiley face does not necessarily mean that a person will understand your intent. And while I’m on the topic, a spell-check doesn’t hurt either.

Avoid the foolish.

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself (26:4).” There are times when it is best to leave a foolish person to his own devices rather than to try to change him. Sometimes it is best just to leave him alone rather than providing him more ammunition to work with. There are some bloggers and some commenters that are simply not worth responding to. When you tangle with them, you are more likely to fall into foolishness than they are to grow in wisdom.

Help the foolish.

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:5).” Here it is - undeniable proof that the Bible contradicts itself! Are we to answer a fool according to his folly or not? Evidently this “contradiction” is deliberate and is in the Bible to show that there is no absolute law in this situation. There are times when folly must be exposed, either if the fool is one you believe is honestly seeking after wisdom, or if his folly will damage others. If a fool is impacting others, drawing them into his foolishness, he must be exposed for the sake of the church’s health. It takes wisdom and discernment (and sometimes outside counsel) to know when a person is one with whom you should communicate or one you should leave to his own devices.

Know when to walk away.

“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet (29:9).” There are times when you need to walk away instead of carrying on an argument. Foolish people have no real desire to learn or to be wise. Instead, they only seek opportunities to loudly proclaim the folly. Walk away so you can have peace. It is not worth having to deal with a prescription for high blood pressure based on ongoing arguments with a complete fool.

Watch what you read.

“Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool (26:8).” Be careful whose words you read and whose wisdom you trust. Foolish men may seem wise, but they will still lead others astray. If you give honor to a foolish man by reading and heeding his words, you are as foolish as a person who binds his stone in a sling, rendering the sling useless and leaving himself defenseless. If you are uncertain about whether a particular site is worth reading on an ongoing basis, it may be worth seeking the counsel of another Christian or two.

Be humble.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips (27:2).” “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (29:23).” Let others praise you. If you never receive praise from anyone, especially from those who are wise, it may be a good time to examine your heart and examine if you are walking in the ways of wisdom. Those who are humble and lowly in spirit will receive honor while the arrogant will be brought low. If you are a blogger, this may mean re-examining the list of endorsements and words of praise you’ve posted on the main page of your site.

Avoid the arrogant.

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him (26:12).” Just as we must be humble, we should be careful not to be too close to those who are foolishly arrogant. There is more hope for a fool than a man who is both foolish and arrogant. Seek to learn from people who display a wise and humble heart.

Mind your own business.

“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears (26:17).” If you have ever grabbed a dog by the ears you know it will inevitably bring trouble. Grabbing a strange dog by the ears will bring even more trouble. Stay out of other people’s fights rather than wading into them as if they are your own. Avoid quarrels that are not your business and will only expose you to trouble and to foolishness. After all, it is the prudent who “sees danger and hides himself, but the simple [who] go on and suffer for it” (27:12).

Don’t be a troublemaker.

“Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling (26:27).” Those who exist only to bring trouble to others will pay a price. And unfortunately, on the Internet there are many of these people. Don’t be one! Seek to edify others and to bring glory to God, whether you publish a blog of your own or whether you prefer to comment on other peoples’ sites.

Examine why you write.

“A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike (27:14).” The proverb speaks of a quarrelsome wife, but it could as easily apply to anyone. If you are writing merely to be quarrelsome or because you enjoy an argument, perhaps it is best to find something else to do. There is already enough negativity in the world and on the Internet. If you find yourself continually depressed by what you write, it may be best to find a more uplifting hobby. “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Just as bad news can push a person down, so joyful words can uplift.

Be careful what you teach.

“Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, and the blameless will have a godly inheritance (28:10).” Those who choose to teach others accept a grave responsibility, for if they mislead others, they must expect that there will be consequences. So be careful that what you write and what you teach is in accordance with Scripture. Continaully pray for God’s wisdom.

Be a friend.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (27:6). When a person you know and trust expresses something that goes against Scripture, humbly but firmly correct that person. Do so in a spirit of love, peace and patience.

Meditate upon what you write.

“As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (27:19). It is a good practice to review what you write on a weekly or monthly basis. What you write is likely an accurate reflection of your heart. If your words are filled with anger and bitterness, the same may be true of your heart. If your words are seasoned, measured and joyful, so is your heart.

Walk with the Lord.

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (28:26).” And here is the key to everything else. Trust in the Lord rather than in yourself. Walk with the Lord and in the ways of wisdom taught in the pages of the Bible. Be a wise man or woman of the Word, rather than a fool who trusts in his own wisdom (or lack thereof).

March 27, 2006

This little devotional, which I wrote partially a couple of years ago and finished this morning, was primarily for my own benefit. It was inspired initially, as I recall, by reading John Piper’s book Desiring God.

I can almost never bring myself to buy greeting cards. When it is Aileen’s birthday, I either tell her how I feel or I buy a blank card and fill it with my own words. For some reason it just seems too fake to give her a card with a little poetic inscription written by someone else - someone who has never met her and knows nothing about her. It seems that a card like that really means nothing to me, and I would rather give her a card that has come from my heart instead of someone else’s. I prefer to invest the time and affection in expressing myself for her benefit.

Have you ever stopped to consider what it must be like to work for Hallmark or another of the companies that create greeting cards? Imagine spending your whole day attempting to come up with wonderful statements of deep feeling – love, remorse, sympathy - yet without feeling any of the emotions. Imagine having to write words that express sympathy, yet not feeling any sympathy yourself. Or imagine having to write words that can express the deep, passionate love a man has for his wife as they celebrate fifty years of marriage, but without having ever experienced that sort of love yourself. It must be unspeakably difficult to spend the whole day writing words of love and passion but then return alone to an empty home and a life lived alone.

I fear that all too often we, as Christians, worship God in just this way. So often we sing songs with the most wonderful lyrics. We sing “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” But when we sing those words, so often it is as if we are single men writing a greeting card to celebrate a fiftieth anniversary – though the words may sound wonderful, they are devoid of any true meaning to us. When we sing “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” do we even try to understand just how amazing God’s grace is? Have we experienced that grace and allowed it to transform our lives? Do we know that the very grace we sing about is the only thing keeping us from an eternity of separation from God? Do we feel deep love and affection to the giver of Grace? Or do we merely speak the words?

True worship relies on both feeling and understanding, or as Jesus said, on spirit and truth. Worship that is devoid of feeling and emotion will be dead worship, for the God we serve is worthy of feelings that express His worth. It is the very height of hypocrisy to pay lip-service to God when we do not truly feel affection for Him. At the same time worship needs to be thoughtful. While it engages our feelings it must also engage our minds. Our feelings must have their basis in what we know about God so that the more we know about Him the greater will be our feelings of affection for Him.

Before I married my wife I heard time and again from the wonderful older couples in our church that after forty, fifty or even sixty years of marriage, they continued to love each other more deeply and more intimately. I marveled that this could be true, yet through the first years of my marriage I have already seen that it is not only possible but it is the way God intended marriage to be. I love my wife in a deeper way now than I did the day we exchanged vows. In the ensuing eight years we have faced trials together and have spent countless thousands of hours talking, laughing and crying together. The more I learn about Aileen and the more time I spend with her the greater my feelings of affection for her. To know her is to love her, and to know her more is to love her more.

Great knowledge of God must produce great feelings of affection for Him. These feelings of affection give me the burning desire to worship Him. I long to express my feelings, not as a means to some devious or selfish end, but simply as an expression of the affection I have for Him. As such, worship is not a means to an end, but it is an end in itself.

March 20, 2006

I love, respect and appreciate the ministry of John Piper. I have learned a great deal through his teaching and am convinced that I will continue to do so in the years ahead. Much of what Piper has taught has resounded deeply within my soul and has helped shape and mold my faith. Yet despite all of this, I find his books difficult to read and truthfully, often finding reading them to be something of a chore. I don’t really understand it. Still, because I have always benefitted from reading his books, I do try to read new ones as they are released.

Yesterday, after seeing it on my shelf for the better part of a year (first in pre-release and now in a printed copy), I decided I would read God Is The Gospel (perhaps because we are moving this week and it is one of the few books that has escaped my wife’s attempt to corral and contain my entire library in cardboard boxes). I was only a few pages into the book when I found a passage, a question, that left me nearly undone. Piper is discussing the gospel and the full message it contains. He asks about heaven:

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?

That question led me to put down the book and to spend a few moments in self-examination. I had to admit, to my great shame, that there are many times in my life where I feel that I could be perfectly content to consider a Christless heaven—a heaven that did not include the one who purchased my redemption so that I could be there in the first place.

This took me back to the very first page of God Is The Gospel. There Piper, having challenged the reader to understand that “The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ,” says, “In place of this, we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delight in many lesser things, especially the delight in our being made much of.” Of all the gifts God offers, I continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but Himself. I have a faulty understanding of what it means to be loved. “Our fatal error is believing that wanting to be happy means wanting to be made much of. It feels so good to be affirmed. But the good feeling is finally rooted in the worth of self, not the worth of God. This path to happiness is an illusion.”

And he is right. And so we return to the question: If I could have a heaven that was built around all I wanted and all I loved and all I desired at my weaker moments, would this satisfy me? I know in my heart of hearts that it would not, for I know that it would not be heaven if Christ were not present. But in my day-to-day life, I know that I often consider heaven as being a place where what is most important to me is what is most important to me here on earth. This would be true, if only Christ were always foremost in my thoughts here and now.

Piper challenges Christian leaders:

Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding No? How do we understand the gospel and the love of God? Have we shifted with the world from God’s love as the gift of himself to God’s love as the gift of a mirror in which we like what we see? Have we presented the gospel in such a way that the gift of the glory of God in the face of Christ is marginal rather than central and ultimate?

In heaven it will be Christ Himself, not His gifts, that are the supreme pleasure. This makes our culture’s obsession with heaven all the more ridiculous. Surveys of North Americans continue to show that most people want to go to heaven and most feel that they indeed will go to heaven. Yet the vast majority of those surveyed are not Christians. Why would a person want to go to heaven if the ultimate pleasure of heaven is a person they hate or deny? What happiness would be found in such a place? What joys could there be for one who has refused to take joy in Christ while sojourning here on earth? Maybe the most difficult question to face is whether this misunderstanding of heaven is one that exists only outside the church, or whether we, as those who profess Christ, have made heaven out to be a place that exists primarily for our pleasure—a place that substitutes something other than Christ as the great and final gift.

Piper closes this short section with a reflection. “Nothing fits a person to be more useful on earth than to be more ready for heaven. This is true because readiness for heaven means taking pleasure in beholding the Lord Jesus, and beholding the glory of the Lord means being changed into his likeness.”

I wrote this article this morning after spending some quiet time with God. I can’t express the longing that I felt in this time to desire Christ above all else. I can’t describe just how much I wanted to long to be with Christ and to desire Him as the great and final gift of heaven and earth. How I wanted to know Him in that way here and now, and not to have to wait for heaven to delight in the Savior in such a way that He is what I want above all else. Oh, that I would desire Christ above health and friends and food and leisure and beauty and and pleasure and all manner of earthly satisfaction!

March 19, 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 (or so) 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 King for a Week is The Rebelution, the blog of Alex and Brett Harris, “homeschooled Christian teenagers from Oregon, have grown up in the stimulating environment of a ministry household.” They are the kid brothers of Josh Harris. Yes, that Josh Harris. Alex and Brett are committed to speaking out for God to their generation. The Rebelution allows them to apply their gifts to the challenge of calling young adults to use their teenage years to prepare themselves for all of life to the glory of God. So what is a Rebelution, you might ask? According to Alex and Brett, it is “a widespread teenage rebellion against the low expectations of an ungodly culture.” Hey, that sounds good to me! I could have used a little bit of that kind of rebellion when I was in my teens.

For the next few days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from The Rebelution in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to 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 by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

March 16, 2006

While I currently work as a web designer, and despite receiving training in another area of the computer field (network administration, for those who may be interested), my most significant training was in history. It was history that I studied while in college and it is, in many ways, still my first love. In the eight or ten years since I completed college I have continued to read in history, and in particular, in church history. Over the past few days I have been working my way through the first volume of The Baker History of the Church. It is a little bit intimidating to find myself only a few chapters into a five-volume set and this has caused me to step back and consider the importance of the study of history.

This morning, as I read about the first-century church, I was struck by the blessedness of living in our generation. As I study the very early Christians I begin to see again just what a legacy we have as Christ followers. The faith as we know it today was not simply handed to us, but was developed over hundreds and thousands of years. The Scriptures have been studied again and again and again, and the general pattern has been incremental steps forward and often larger steps backward. Sometimes God sees fit to allow the church to take a giant step forward, as in the days of the Reformation, but more often the church has slowly and deliberately developed doctrine that accords to Scripture. Today we have unprecedented access to the Scripture and to resources dealing with the Bible. For this we ought to be profoundly grateful.

Here, then, are some of the reasons that I believe we need to engage in the study of history:

God Tells Us To: The Bible continually exhorts believers to search out and remember the past. The Old Testament in particular is filled with references to God commanding the Israelites to remember His deeds of the past. He instituted ceremony after ceremony, festival after festival, that caused His people to look to what He had done in the past. Veiled in many of these ceremonies and festivals was a glimpse of what would happen in the future. And so, when we look to the past, we may also glimpse just a little bit of what God promises us in the future.

“For inquire, please, of bygone ages,
and consider what the fathers have searched out.
For we are but of yesterday and know nothing,
for our days on earth are a shadow.
Will they not teach you and tell you
and utter words out of their understanding?”
(Job 8:8-10)

To Understand The Present Climate: Because so much of the history and theology of the church is defined in terms related to error and great difficulty, we should study the past to understand the present. The study of history, when done right, is always a humbling experience. It allows us to understand and sympathize with the plight of those who came before us. It helps us understand the blessings we enjoy today that were not always enjoyed by our brothers and sisters in days past. It also prevents us from developing a view of the faith that is irrationally focused on our day and ignores the long, storied history of the church.

To Understand the Future: History is not just a study of the past in an attempt to understand the present, but is also an attempt to understand the future. When we see the patterns of days gone by, we can begin to formulate ideas about where current trends will lead. By understanding the past we begin to understand the future.

To Understand Providence: As Christians we are often guilty of dwelling in the present and looking eagerly to the future while forgetting all about the past. But to do this is to lose sight of the valuable teaching of the past. In past days God revealed Himself in mighty ways, continually providing for His people through trial and persecution. When we study the past, we can see many of the ways in which God’s providence has been already displayed. This can serve as a valuable teaching tool as we prepare to face trials or persecution in our day. It can and should spur us to greater love and appreciation of God and give us greater confidence in His promises. As He has been faithful to men and women of days gone by, He will be faithful to us and to our children. This assurance gives us great stability in our faith.

To Understand Error: In many ways the history of the church is a history of action and reaction. Much of Christian theology has been developed and strengthened in reaction to error and heresy. When we visit the past we can see how error has arisen in the church and we can see which errors have already arisen and have been decided by a consensus of the church. This can be valuable as we face the inevitable error in our own day. Many Christians engage anew in battles over doctrine for which they could receive a great deal of guidance from great theologians of days past. By studying what has happened, we can avoid future errors and even the patterns that precede error.

To Understand People: We all enjoy considering who we would choose to sit for a meal with, were we able to select from all the people who are living or have lived in the past. The reality, of course, is that we cannot speak with our heroes who have lived before us. Yet by studying history we can come to know and understand them. We can come to see the parts of their lives that brought glory to God and the parts that brought Him dishonor. We can see what led to their rise to prominence within the church and perhaps the character flaws that led to their downfall. We can learn much not just from history, but from specific people who lived in a period of history.

To Understand Endurance: Since Christ left the earth, Christians have lived in anticipation of His return. Those who lived in the first century expected that this event would be imminent. And yet, two millenia later, we continue to wait. As we look to history we arm ourselves with the knowledge that Christ’s return may still be far off. As we see how men and women have persevered throughout the history of the church, we are strengthened with endurance, knowing that we, too, shall be witnesses to Christ’s return when the Father sees fit.

March 15, 2006

I recently read David Kupelian’s The Marketing of Evil, a book which disusses how so many of the social ills we see in our society have not merely happened, but have been actively marketed and promoted by men and women with specific, unbiblical agendas (you can read my review of this book here). One pearl of wisdom which Kupelian repeats throughout the book is that the person who frames the terms of a debate almost always wins that debate. In other words, the person who is allowed to set the language in a debate over a particular social issue, will almost always be able to prevail in winning that debate. While we could choose any number of examples to support this, perhaps the most obvious is in the debate over abortion.

The right to abortion was not fought over the right of a mother to kill her child. No lawyer marched into court and demanded that a mother have the right to allow a doctor to probe her womb for a helpless baby and dismember the fetus. And today, as debate rages over partial birth abortion, no one demands that a woman be able to give birth to a premature baby and have the doctor crush that child’s skull. The child has been left out of the equation altogether. Instead, the debate always has been and seemingly always will be over a woman’s right to choose. It was never presented an issue of life or death, but an issue of choice. And who, in a free and democratic culture, could deny a person the right of free choice? The debate was over and won before it began. It was over when the abortionists framed the terms of the debate. Kupelian says, “In one of the most successful marketing campaigns in modern political history, the “abortion rights” movement—with all of its emotionally compelling catchphrases and powerful political slogans—has succeeded in turning what once was a crime into a fiercely defended constitutional right.”

This battle was won with catchphrases such as:

  • “Women must have control over their own bodies.”
  • “Safe and legal abortion is every woman’s right.”
  • “Who decides? You decide!”
  • “Abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her doctor.”
  • “Freedom of choice—a basic American right.”

Interestingly, feminists are now turning against choice. Choice, it seems, has come to haunt feminists. Why? Quite simply, far too many women, in the opinion of these feminists, are choosing to forsake their careers in favor of full-time motherhood. Choice has spilled over the from the abortion debate and has impacted all of feminism. Some women, it seems, are not using their right to choose in a way that pleases the more radical feminists.

In the final days of 2005, Linda Hirshman wrote a harsh critique of such women in a much-discussed article entitled “Homeward Bound.” “ ‘Choice feminism’ claims that staying home with the kids is just one more feminist option. Funny that most men rarely make the same ‘choice.’ Exactly what kind of choice is that?” She documents the failure of “choice feminism” and proposes that the word “choice” be removed as the hallmark of the feminist agenda. She proposes that, rather than offering women choice, society must offer women solutions they can enact on their own. She further proposes three rules that women must follow: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry. Appended to the three rules is just one more: a woman should never have more than one child. “A second kid pressures the mother’s organizational skills, doubles the demands for appointments, wildly raises the cost of education and housing, and drives the family to the suburbs. But cities, with their Chinese carryouts and all, are better for working mothers.” In short, a second child requires a greater committment and increases the likelihood that a mother will enact her right to choose and elect to stay home with the children.

Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists.com, discusses some of the impact of this move away from choice in the future of feminism:

On abortion. The words choice and pro-choice will be de-emphasized. Instead, stress will be placed on weighing the rights and health of the woman against those of the unborn with the clear message that the woman takes precedence.

On sexual harassment. The argument will not change because it has proven successful but the approach will be broadened to include male victims, especially boys. For example, the latest survey from the American Association of University Women on school and campus harassment reports on male victims.

On domestic violence. The argument will not change and the approach will not be broadened significantly. In gender feminist theory, domestic violence is key to establishing that traditional marriage is a dangerous place for women.

McElroy, in disagreement with Hirshman, tell her readers what she feels is the best “feminist line” for our new century. “Your peaceful choices are yours alone and no one else’s business. Be a housewife, love your children without a time schedule…or dive into a 24/7 job that you get on merit. Live your own dream. Be your own woman.”

It is clear that a shift is occuring within feminism. Whether a rift grows along the “choice” fault line or along another, change is afoot. If there is a lesson that Christians ought to have learned from the first few decades of feminism, it is exactly what Kupelian sought to make clear in The Marketing of Evil: the person who frames the debate will win the debate. We, as Christians, need to keep abreast of these changes and, if and when possible, seek to have a voice in the framing of this debate and so many others. Once the terms have been set in stone, the debate may well have already been lost.

March 14, 2006

It was a good couple of months ago that a little article on an obscure web site caught my eye. For some reason, that now escapes my mind, I found myself at the web site of The Peninsula, which describes itself as “Qatar’s Leading English Daily.” I hadn’t been there before and I haven’t been there since, except to read this particular article.

The title of the article is, “400 sheep fall off cliff in Turkey.” Perhaps it was just a slow day for news, or perhaps something about the story tickled the fancy of an editor. But for some reason the publication decided to provide a small article about something that had happened in Istanbul. Here is the complete text of the article:

ISTANBUL: Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 metres to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived, newspaper reports said yesterday. Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the Radikal daily said. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.

I laughed as I read the story. We have all heard of lemmings and their renowed but mythological plunges into the sea. As I child, and especially as a teenager, I was often exhorted not to be a lemming. “If your friends all jumped off of a cliff, would you?,” my parents or teachers would ask. At times I probably would have. But lemmings don’t really plunge into the sea in suicidal droves. That legend was created and supported by a Walt Disney movie filmed in 1958. Lemmings are too intelligent to kill themselves en masse.

Sheep don’t commit suicide, or not knowingly at any rate. The problem with sheep is that they are dumb. Really dumb. Far more dumb than lemmings. They are committed to a leader, and so committed that they will follow this leader even at the cost of their safety. When the leader wanders off a cliff, so do the rest of the sheep. This is both sad and comical. And in this little article we see this kind of leader. He led his entire flock over a cliff. When he fell to his death he was quickly followed by hundreds and then thousands of the flock. They were soon piled so deep that the ones at the bottom were crushed and the ones on top were able to survive, their fall cushioned by the mass of bodies below. After a while it must have been like jumping onto a giant pile of wool.

Can’t you picture the shepherds, their eyes bulging as sheep after sheep disappears in the distance, careening off the edge of the cliff? Can’t you see them running towards the flock, yelling, shouting, drying desperately to distract the sheep from following their leader? Can’t you picture their shame as they look at the mass of writhing, broken bodies, and then look back at their breakfast, now forgotten?

This isn’t really the fault of the sheep is it? It was the fault of the shepherds who had neglected their flock in order to indulge in a meal. They knew their sheep and they knew that sheep are not intelligent creatures. While these men filled their stomachs, they neglected their sheep and hundreds of them were killed, falling to their deaths in a mad, blind rush off the edge of a cliff.

This story could almost be a parable, couldn’t it? I can almost picture Jesus standing on the side of a hill in Galilee sharing this story with his disciples as they sat before him. “A man had a flock of sheep and entrusted them to shepherds. The shepherds, growing weary, allowed the sheep to wander as they ate their meal…”

I sometimes wonder if God doesn’t allow things like this to happen just to provide us with something to chew on, to mull over in our minds. I thought of concluding this article with some exhortations or applications, but I am not sure that I need to. I will say only this: Jesus calls us sheep. Reading a story like this, I am not so sure that he means this as a compliment.

March 11, 2006

Over the past few days, I have been reading J.P. Moreland’s book, Love Your God With All Your Mind. It is a good book; deeply challenging. Moreland says many of the same things Nancy Pearecy did several years later in the much-lauded Total Truth. Like Pearcey, Moreland is concerned with the intellectual environment within Evangelicalism, and increasingly worried about the presence of the sacred/secular dichotomy that exists within the church as much as without.

While several of Moreland’s points have stood out to me, there is one that I thought would make for interesting discussion. In a chapter in which he seeks to sketch a biblical portrait of the life of the mind, he discusses the importance of biblical revelation in developing a Christian mind. He challenges Christians to consider how the Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible. What he believes on this issue is significantly different than what the average Evangelical believes and practices. Here is what he says:

Because of the Bible’s nature, serious study is needed to grasp what it says. Of course, the Scripture contains easily grasped portions that are fairly straightforward. But some of it is very difficult, intellectually speaking. In fact, Peter once said that some of Paul’s writings were intellectually challenging, hard to understand, and easily distorted by untaught (that is, uneducated in Christian theology) and unstable people (2 Peter 3:16). Anyone who has tried to grasp the theological depths of Romans or Ephesians will say “Amen!” to that. The more a person develops the mind and the understanding of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Scriptures), the more he or she will be able to understand the meaning and significance of the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, many today apparently think that hard intellectual work is not needed to understand God’s propositional revelation to us. Instead, they believe that the Holy Spirit will simply make known the meaning of a text if implored to do so. Tragically, this represents a misunderstanding of the Spirit’s role in understanding the Scriptures. In my view, the Spirit does not help the believer understand the meaning of Scripture. Rather, He speaks to the believer’s soul, convicting, comforting, opening up applications of His truth through His promptings.

Moreland goes on to say that there are three passages used to justify this idea that the Spirit helps us understand the meaning of a scriptural text: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, John 14:26, and 1 John 2:27. He spends a paragraph or two on each of these passages in order to show that they do not teach that the Spirit actually helps us bypass the difficult work of discovering what a passage means.

“I fear,” he says, “that our inaccurate emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s role in understanding Scripture has become an easy shortcut to the hard work of building a personal library of study tools and using them. As Gallup poll after Gallup poll has shown, the result of our inaccurate emphasis on Spirit, along with our intellectual laziness, is that modern Christians are largely illiterate about the content of their own religion and feel inadequate because of it.”

And here, in brief, is Moreland’s solution. “We need local churches dedicated to the task of training believers to think theologically and biblically. We must develop intelligent Christians; that is, Christians who have the mental training to see issues clearly, make important distinctions carefully, and weigh various factors appropriately. If we are not planning to see this happen, then at the end of the day, what we are really saying is that a deep understanding of the Scripture, creeds, and theology of Christianity just doesn’t matter that much.”

While I doubt that many readers of this site would argue with Moreland’s proposed solution (increased intellectual training within the church) I do wonder how many would disagree with his understanding of the Spirit’s role in helping us understand the Bible. And so I appeal to you. Do you believe that the Spirit’s primary role in helping us understand Scripture is making known to us the meaning of a text? Or is it, as Moreland says, primarily in helping us apply what we have learned through diligent study of the Scripture, aided by the resources available to us? Or should we take a middle ground, suggesting that the Spirit is inexorably involved in both of these activities?

Pages