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Tim Challies

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September 01, 2005

The past twenty-four or forty-eight hours have been the most successful in the history of my company Websonix, at least in terms of sales. I have been literally inundated with work. Of course I am not complaining! Far from it, I am very thankful for the work that has come my way. It has meant, though, that my blogging time has been somewhat reduced as I have several imminent deadlines. I thought of posting an as-yet unfinished article, but wanted to be sure I did it justice. So instead of rushing something to “print,” I thought I’d post an article written by a reader (who also happens to be my sister) who pondered what I wrote about sex and intimacy and subsequently wrote down her thoughts. From here on out you’re reading Susanna’s words.

I am writing this article as a result of much time spent pondering over my brother’s most recent post at his web site, www.challies.com. There, Tim has written about sex and intimacy, both how it is abused in our culture and how it is intended to be biblically. Tim cites Songs of Solomon as the best place to find an obvious show of intense marital love, desire and commitment in the bible.

Now, I have a confession to make. Songs of Solomon as a book can rather intimidate me. what do I mean by that? Well, the exchange between Solomon and his young Shulammite lover are simply bathed in such a pure and beautiful, reckless desire that knows none of the negativity or criticism that I find can so easily impede such constant romance in a courtship or marriage. Movies such as “Life is Beautiful” or “The Notebook” run through my head as I read this chapter of the bible, an automatic response, I suppose, of a romantic who has a finely tuned knowledge of what true love is in films, but not neccessarily always in real life; who can give up everything for a few hours to a screen writer’s fantasy. To use that energy instead twoards reality…to surrender my feelings of love for Rick so unabashedly…feelings which grow daily as we near our anniversary, and tell him such truths on a regular basis as, “How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming!” or “You have stolen my heart, my (husband), my (groom); you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” Would not that kind of intimacy and transparency be an awesome addition to any marriage?

On the other hand, artist Bruce Springsteen declares in his song “The Secret Garden”, that there is a secret garden within a woman, a place locked up which will never be openned to a man no matter how close their relationship may get emotionally and physically. He sings, “She’s got a secret garden/ Where everything you want/ Where everything you need/ Will stay a million miles away.” Fortunately, there is a strikingly different message apparent in Songs of Solomon. Though the lovers wisely control their undeniable desires to give themselves over to each other physically, thus keeping their desires “locked up” metaphorically until marriage, they do not deny each other the awesome experience of knowing one other emotionally and spiritually. They know that they are intended for each other, proclaiming with fervency, “My lover is mine and I am his,”and thus see no reason to hide their feelings and thoughts as they have found a secure refuge in each other. In short, they know that true, everlasting love encompasses a tender weaving together of the whole self, given wisely, yet totally surrendered to the other person. Like a stick of peppermints, continually peeled away to get at another candy, our surrendered selves will always carry unchartered crevices of course, yet it is these things, shared with a mate, which can heighten the elements of discovery through out the years together.

After contemplating this debated book, which baffles as well as bothers many for its place in the bible, I no longer feel intimidated but rather inspired…inspired to ditch assumptions and instead verbalize my love and desire for Rick whenever I can. I have been blessed with a beautiful man, inside and out, who follows after God faithfully and passionately declares his admiration for his bride on a regular basis, which, put together, is everything. Together the passions will also intensify our relationship with Christ, the ultimate king who will come gather us all, his underserving people, in a beautiful culmination at the end of this earthly kingdom. Until then, all creation sings in admiration and exaltation to the author of beauty, of love, of passion, and of desire.

*Verses taken from NIV study bible

August 31, 2005

In yesterday’s article we built a framework in which to understand sex from a biblical perspective. We saw that sex is: a Gift From God; intended only for marriage; for giving and receiving pleasure; a means of building intimacy; intended for procreation. Today we will continue this discussion to encompass autoeroticism, the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself.

Blindness, Baldness and Hairy Palms

I suspect my childhood is typical in that I heard many rumors about the physical effects of autoeroticism. I was told that people who did it went blind, lost their hair, grew hair on their palms or went crazy. But as James Dobson says, “If it did [cause such afflictions], the entire male population and about half of females would be blind, weak, simpleminded and sick. Between 95 and 98 percent of all boys engage in this practice — and the rest have been known to lie.” My parents certainly never told me such lies and neither did any of my teachers or youth leaders. Yet these rumors were passed from boy-to-boy on the playground, usually long before any of us had ever given serious consideration to sexuality. We did not know what the act was, but we did know the supposed repercussions.

While these rumors are clearly unfounded, they continue to be told simply because autoeroticism is a topic that breeds guilt and shame. It encourages worry that a person will be found out. Yet there is no physical reason to deny oneself this sexual pleasure. There can, however, be a mental and spiritual toll as many people struggle with feelings of guilt, remorse and shame because of their habits. This may be a convincing reason for some people to avoid participating, but for many it is not.

Purity of Mind

The most common reason given why people should not engage in autoeroticism is that it pollutes the mind. Sexual gratification is not merely a physical act, but one that engages the mind. In speaking with men who struggle with this sin, one will find that the act brings far less guilt than the accompanying fantasies. These fantasies run rampant during acts of autoeroticism. This type of fantasy can be dangerous in two ways.

First, as most adults have learned the hard way, reality is rarely as wonderful as fantasy. Many people create expectations for sex in their minds that the reality cannot meet. I dare say that rarely has a teenage boy created a fantasy in which his partner gently and lovingly rebuffs his advances because she is too tired. Neither has he concocted a fantasy in which she declines participation in a particular act because she finds it uncomfortable or distasteful. The fact is that fantasy can create unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of sex.

Second, fantasy will rarely involve legitimate sexual partners. A teenage girl has no legitimate reason to pursue sexual fantasy, for she has no God-given partner with whom she can consumate such desire. While it is perfectly legitimate for a husband to dream of a sexual encounter with his wife, autoeroticism may encourage him to fill his mind with thoughts of other women, or even to gaze at pornographic material to fuel his mind.

Fantasy is dangerous when left unchecked. Autoeroticism is wrong when it violates the Lord’s teaching about moral purity. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Fantasy can also be dangerous when it creates unrealistic expectation.

Some will protest that when they engage in autoeroticism it is merely a physical act and one they do to relieve stress or boredom. They will insist that they do not succumb to thinking inappropriate thoughts. In his book When Good Men Are Tempted, Bill Perkins writes, “It appears to me that masturbation is amoral. Under some circumstances it’s acceptable behavior. On other occasions it’s clearly wrong” (page 122). He goes on to provide three tests which will gauge whether a particular instance is right or wrong: the thought test (whether the act is accompanied by inappropriate fantasies), the self-control test (whether the act becomes obsessive) and the love test (whether autoeroticism leads to a person failing to fulfill the needs of his or her spouse). I found it interesting that in a book about sexual purity this topic was covered in only two pages and that the pages were at the very end of the book, almost as if this topic was an afterthought. Millions of men will tell you that it is far more than an afterthought.

James Dobson teaches a similar view of autoeroticism being amoral. When I was young my parents gave me his book Preparing for Adolescence and I remember this teaching well. He believes that every boy (and most girls) try it and that the guilt brought about by the act destroys many children. Thus he believes parents should rarely speak to their children about it, and if they do, to reassure their children that such practices are normal.

Like Perkins, Dobson does not engage in a biblical examination of this particular topic. Like Perkins he concludes that autoeroticism is amoral because there is no specific bible passage that allows or condemns the practice.

Yet, as we will see, the Bible is not silent.

God’s Purpose in Sexuality

Yesterday we learned that the ultimate purpose of sex is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings. A close examination of the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality will uncover no reason to believe that God ever intended sex to be a private pursuit. The heart and soul of sexuality is the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure. Sex is intended to be a means of mutual fulfillment where a husband thinks foremost of his wife, and the wife things foremost of her husband. As they fulfill each other’s needs, they have their own fulfilled. It is a beautiful picture of intimacy!

“Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). This deprivation can refer not only to time but to activity. A man should no more deprive his wife over a period of time than he should deprive her by private sexual activity.

And this, the mutual giving and receiving which lies at the heart of God’s purpose for sexuality, is exactly what autoeroticism cannot provide. It strips sexuality of its divine purpose of mutual fulfillment. It takes an act God intends to build relationship and makes it an act of selfish isolation.

I remind you again of the passage we looked at yesterday. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). A man’s body does not belong to himself, but to his present or future wife, and ultimately to God. A wife’s body belongs to her husband (and to God). Neither spouse has the right to express sexuality apart from the other. When the Bible tells a man that he is to express his sexuality exclusively with his wife, why do so many interpret this to mean that he can express his sexuality with his wife or by himself?

Tithing to Oneself

Perhaps it would be helpful to interrupt for a moment to provide an analogy.

Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in church on a Sunday morning. One of the deacons (the one who always seems to have bits of breakfast caught in his moustache) has just prayed to thank the Lord for His gracious gifts. The offering baskets are being passed up-and-down the rows of seats. You have just stuffed your check into the little offering envelope that is too small to fit the check without folding it, but far too large for a folded check, when you glance over at the gentleman sitting beside you. He has just completed writing a check and now proceeds to tear it from his checkbook, fold it and place it in an envelope. You are surprised to see that he proceeds to place the envelope in his pocket, close his eyes and whisper a short prayer. Intruiged, you lean toward him and ask why he has put the check in his pocket. Not at all annoyed he replies, “I tithe to myself.” “What,” you say, “Why would you do that?” “I need the money as much as anyone,” he replies.

It is a ridiculous scenario, is it not? But I believe the principle can be extended to our discussion of autoeroticism. If a man were to earn a living and tithe his ten percent to himself, we could consider him selfish, for he is missing the very purpose for which God tells us to give our gifts to the church. Similarly, if a man engages in autoeroticism he is perverting God’s design for sexuality, taking something that is supposed to bring blessing to another and making it selfish so it serves only himself.

Not A Selfish Pursuit

Do you see, then, how autoeroticism denies the very purpose for which God created sex? Sex was not meant to be a selfish pursuit. It was not intended to focus a person’s thoughts on himself and his own needs. Rather, sex was designed as a means of fulfilling the Lord’s command to esteem another higher than oneself. The pleasure of sex is not meant to be enjoyed in isolation, but to be enjoyed while providing that same pleasure to another. Autoeroticism cannot fulfill God’s design for sexuality, and thus has no place in the life of one who calls himself a Christian.

August 30, 2005

I am not aware of a large number of children that read this site, but despite that I’d like to begin this article with a quick warning. What I am writing about in this short series deals with a subject that is best-suited for adults. So if you are still young, I’d prefer you had your mom or dad read it first and decide if this is something they would like you to read. Fair enough?

And by now the rest of you are probably curious. Today I would like to write about a subject I didn’t ever anticipate I would research and post about on this site. It is a controversial subject and one that is often avoided within Christian circles. The most people hear about this subject from within the church is, “Christians don’t do that!” So in this article and the one that follows I would like to bring a biblical perspective to autoeroticism, or the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself. I am deliberately avoiding the “m-word” associated with this activity simply because, based on the vast amount of junk mail I receive, it seems to be a favored word for spammers and people who wish to share their perversions with the world through email, trackbacks and so on.

The Bible is silent on explicit discussion of the subject of autoeroticism. There is no place in Scripture where we will find a clear statement allowing or condemning the practice. Thus we have to begin our study by attempting to come to a biblical understanding of sexuality - God’s purpose and design in human sexuality. Once we understand this we will have a foundation upon which we can build an understanding of autoeroticism.

God’s Design for Sex

We will begin by providing the groundwork for a theology of sex. This is a topic that could consume as much time and space as we chose to give it, so we will discuss it only briefly. Consider this nothing more than a framework. Much of the following was drawn from Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney. Much of that book is available as a chapter in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor.

A Gift From God

Andy Warhol said, “Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” Andy Warhol was dead wrong. Sex is a gift of God and it is good because the God who gave us sex is good. We glorify God when we use this gift in the way God intends and when we use it to His glory. In Genesis 2 we read about the creation of a woman. After God gave Eve to Adam the Bible tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is God who designed sex and who gave it to us. It is a good gift and one that must be used as the Creator intends.

For Marriage

When God gave sex to humans, He also provided a restriction. Sex is to be enjoyed only within marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). God gave us this restriction not to be burdensome, but to increase the pleasure and intimacy found in God-glorifying sex.

For Our Pleasure

God created sex to be pleasurable. What more evidence do we need than the clitoris, a part of the body that has only one function - to receive and transmit sexual pleasure. And not only is sex pleasurable, but it is mutually pleasurable, allowing the husband and wife to give and receive pleasure at the same time. This leads to mutual sexual fulfillment. A servant’s mindset is crucial in the marriage bed so each partner primarily seeks after the interests of the other. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).

For Intimacy

Humans are not entirely capable of comprehending the depth of intimacy brought about by sexual union. The word “know” is often used in Scripture to speak of the deep, intimate knowledge brought about by sex. God also speaks of the husband and wife being of “one flesh” through this act. Carolyn Mahaney writes, “Marital sex is the pinnacle of human bonding. It is the highest form of the communication of love - a language that expresses love without words. It calls forth the deepest, most powerful emotions. It creates intimacy within marriage like nothing else. In fact, as we give and receive the gift of lovemaking, this intimacy will grow stronger and more precious as they eyars go by. Each encounter will lead us to a deeper ‘knowing’ of the one we love” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 107).

For Procreation

Sex is a means of pleasure and intimacy, but also has the purpose of procreation. Through the joyful act of sex he also works through us in creating new life.

These five points provide a framework for a biblical understanding of sex.

Culture and Sex

Our culture often promotes a view of sex diametrically opposed to what Scripture teaches. This is a view that makes sex appear as little more than a biological function. Men have a sexual appetite they must fulfill and hence they hunt around much like a male dog seeks out a female who is in heat. Like a dog, a man can barely even help himself from fulfilling his craving. Television and movies now portray women in a similar light - as sexual creatures who are able to seperate love and marriage from the act of sex. Yet biblical sexuality is far different.

Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 brings wisdom that reads more like a commentary on this passage than a translation of it. “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one.’ Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never ‘become one.’ There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for ‘becoming one’ with another.” And not only do we violate our own bodies, but the bodies of those with whom we have sex. Sex outside of marriage is a perversion of God’s intent.

Perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on sexuality is found in the Song of Solomon. This book portrays a man and woman who are desperately in love with each other. “These two desperately desire to be together, but not simply so they can experience sexual gratification. They want to be together because they are in love, and the sex they enjoy with one another is an expression of that love. Their mutual attraction is not primarily hormonal. It is primarily relational” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 85). The sex that is so beautifully depicted in Song of Solomon, (the great sex!), is founded primarily on relationship, not technique or the mere fulfillment of animal urges. The consumation of the sexual act is only one place on a long continuum filled with relationship, loving words, expressions of desire and finally physical intimacy. If we were to read Song of Solomon as a textbook on how to have sex we would misread Solomon’s intent. The book is a guide on how to build a loving, intimate relationship.

The ultimate purpose of sex, then, is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings, and this is a large part of what makes marriage so unique.

In our next article we will build upon this theology of sex and discuss autoeroticism.

August 29, 2005

An old version, that is…

It’s quite a long and boring story, but if you have an old version of Adobe Photoshop hanging around your bookshelves I’d be quite interested in purchasing it from you. Contact me if you’re interested…

August 29, 2005
I am beginning to wonder if the recent upgrade to Movabletype 3.2 has caused trouble with my RSS output. For those of you who read this site via RSS, can you let me know if the feed is working properly for you?
August 29, 2005

This is the third article in a series that examines various doctrinal and societal challenges the Evangelical church must face early in the 21st Century. Previously we examined Relativism and the dangerous doctrine of Open Theism. Today we will examine pragmatism, which has become a dominant force in both the world and the church. I want to take a brief look at the history of pragmatism and then show how it has influenced the church.

A History

Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that arose in the late nineteenth century in the United States. It is rooted in the teachings of men like John Stuart Mill who had a great formative influence in philosophers such as John Dewey who applied pragmatism to education and William James who applied it to religion. These men taught that the way to determine truth was to examine practical results. Having been founded by philosophers, pragmatism was cemented into the Western mindset by the Industrial Revolution. Pragmatism in industry has changed the way we live. James Boice says “The goal is to find the fastest, least expensive way of producing products and getting things done. Pragmatism has improved living standards for millions who now enjoy the benefits of home ownership, adequate clothing, indoor plumbing…and abundant food.” (Whatever Happened To The Gospel of Grace p.50) This mass production has been achieved, of course, at the cost of quality and craftsmanship.

Wikipedia says the following of pragmatism (emphasis added):

Pragmatism is characterized by the insistence on consequences, utility and practicality as vital components of truth. Pragmatism objects to the view that human concepts and intellect represent reality, and therefore stands in opposition to both formalist and rationalist schools of philosophy…Pragmatism does not hold, however, that just anything that is useful or practical should be regarded as true, or anything that helps us to survive merely in the short-term; pragmatists argue that what should be taken as true is that which most contributes to the most human good over the longest course. In practice, this means that for pragmatists, theoretical claims should be tied to verification practices—i.e., that one should be able to make predictions and test them—and that ultimately the needs of humankind should guide the path of human inquiry.

Few of us would object to the many benefits pragamtism has brought us. When we visit the local big box store to purchase second-rate furniture and cheap electronic goods for only a fraction of what it would cost to hire an expert to build them for us, we are experiencing the benefits of industrial pragmatism. The philosophy of pragmatism is deeply-rooted in our Western mindset.

A Definition

Pragmatism is defined by Webster’s as “the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value.” In short, truth is determined by consequences. Whether something is right or wrong, good or bad is primarily dependent on results.

A Challenge

Since the time of the Reformation, Protestants have affirmed the doctrine of Sola Scriptura which teaches that the Bible alone is to be our standard of morality and truth. This standard is rooted in the early church and, of course, in the Bible. It has always been a fundamental teaching of Protestantism. Sola Scriptura was the foundational doctrine of the Reformation - the doctrine upon which every other doctrine was built.

Pragmatism and Sola Scriptura must stand in opposition as each claims to be the key to determining truth. As Christians we need to decide if we are going to depend upon Scripture as the absolute standard of truth or if we will determine truth by consequences. Though we would be hard pressed to find a Christian who says “I believe in pragmatism” the philosophy manifests itself in the Christian world in many different ways. Though people affirm Sola Scriptura with their mouths (or doctrinal statements) they often deny it with their actions.

A Case Study

In order to understand how pragmatism can affect a church, let’s look at a fictional case study which compares two churches.

Oakville Community Church

A church of 250 people has been offered the opportunity to have a popular female minister preach in their church in a few weeks. Though the church believes that having a woman preach is unscriptural, they see the benefit of allowing her to preach just this one Sunday (no matter your feelings on women preachers, for the sake of this fictional story you’ll have to at least pretend you do not approve of women in teaching ministry). They share the news with the congregation and the people are electrified. They hold meetings to determine how they can best leverage this amazing opportunity. Eventually they decide they will spend a good portion of their advertising budget for that year on advertising this event. Each person is given cards to hand out to their friends and posters to hang in the work places. Prayer teams form to pray about this event and teams are trained to help respond to those who may wish to make commitments to Christ through the event.

As the big day approaches the excitement mounts. The morning of the service the members of the church arrive early, anticipating a great day in the history of their church. They are thrilled to see many of their friends and co-workers arrive. They are even more thrilled to see many strangers. By the time the service gets underway the church is packed. Literally hundreds of guests fill the seats that morning.

The service goes off without a hitch. The worship band plays songs that honor God and lead people to worship Him. The guest minister preaches an evangelistic sermon that shares the gospel message. By the end of the service many people are in tears and the prayer room at the back of the church is filled with people praying and making commitments to Christ. The congregation is overjoyed to see twenty five people come to the Lord.

In the aftermath of this service the twenty five people who made commitments to Christ all join the church and become active members. They grow in the Lord, becoming strong, committed Christians and even leading others to Christ. The church experiences a time of growth.

Second Baptist Church of Oakville

A church of 250 people has been offered the opportunity to have a popular female minister preach in their church in a few weeks. The leaders gather the congregation together to speak about the opportunity and after prayer and discussion they decide to affirm their belief that the Bible does not allow for female preachers. Though they acknowledge that his opportunity could help their church grow and lead people to the Lord they politely decline the invitation.

Several weeks later on the day the guest minister would have been there, the church has 250 people in attendance. There are two or three guests, conspicuous by their hand-written name tags. The pastor continues in his message series which is a 10-part exposition of Ephesians. He preaches a good sermon. At the end of the service no one goes to the prayer room and no one sheds a tear.

In the aftermath of this service the church continues its slow growth.

Which Is Right?

Now please, do not be distracted by the issue of women preachers, or you will be missing the point of the case study. Feel free to replace that example with any contentious issue. What we need to determine is which of these two churches was most faithful.

From our human perspective we would see no reason to doubt that the first church was faithful in using an open door provided by God. They took a step of faith and God blessed them richly. He also furthered His kingdom as twenty five people became believers that day. We have to acknowledge, though, that our human perspective means little if it does not agree with God’s perspective.

What would God say? God, above anything else, desires obedience. More than sacrifice, more than excellence, more than results, God wants obedience. By studying Scripture we can learn that in eternity when all is made clear, God will tell the second church that they were the ones that did His will. Results simply cannot excuse disobedience. God may choose to use our disobedience to further his purposes, but this does not give us license to ignore the clear teaching of the Word.

Evidently the first church was the pragmatic one. They foresaw wonderful results but ignored the Bible. The second church was the obedient one, also foreseeing the potential for wonderful results, but choosing to heed the Bible. The point is clear: either the Bible or the results need to be our standard. And as believers we must hold to the primacy of Scripture. The results, no matter how wild, cannot make up for disobedience.

Where You Might Find It

Pragmatism has reared its ugly head throughout the Christian world. It is found in statements about evangelistic techniques such as “if it only reaches one person it is worth it.” It is found especially in the Church Growth Movement. In Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church, a textbook for church growth, he writes “Never criticize any method that God is blessing.” He also says “We must be willing to adjust our worship practices when unbelievers are present. God tells us to be sensitive to the hang-ups of unbelievers in our services.” These ideas are not Biblical; they are rooted in the perceived consequences. We saw pragmatism at work before and after the release of The Passion of the Christ when far more emphasis was placed on the potential results of the movie than whether it was doctrinally-sound. Pragmatism is found wherever Christians run to join programs and hurry to change their worship services because of what they expect to see happen because of the changes they make. In short, it is found anywhere the emphasis is removed from what Scripture says and where the emphasis is placed on the expected results. Sadly, this means that it is found throughout the Evangelical world.


We are far too human. We are limited in our perception and understanding. We are prone to believe that good results are necessarily indicative of faithfulness to Scripture. But this is simply not true. God sometimes chooses to use us despite our disobedience.

Similarly, God does not always provide the results we would like to see. There are missionaries that have spent many years laboring in the mission field and have seen very few hearts and lives changed. Does this necessarily mean that their technique is flawed? Does it necessarily mean that they are not doing God’s will? By no means! God sometimes chooses to provide results and other times He does not. Even Jesus experienced varied results when He ministered. In some towns the people listened and trusted in Him while other towns rejected Him. This does not mean that Jesus’’ technique was flawed or that He was being disobedient.

The obvious danger of pragmatism in the church is that we lose our focus on the absolute standard God has given us in His Word. When we lose that focus the church is on the slippery slope to becoming like the world. When we discard God’s standards we must depend on our own deeply flawed standards. We begin to trust in ourselves and lose our trust in God.

More than anything else God desires and expects obedience of His children. Pragmatism has no answer to the question of how we determine obedience, for obedience can only be determined through Scripture. Therefore pragmatism cannot be reconciled with Scripture and must be set aside in favor of faithfulness to God’s Word.


Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur

Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace

August 26, 2005

I’m doing it now.

So if you get errors, just hang tight.

August 26, 2005

Today we will look at Canadian use of the English language. We have already looked extensively at that little word “eh?” so today we will turn to other words.

Canadians employ an eclectic mixture of British and American spellings. Consider the term “Tire Centre” - a place you might visit to buy new tires for a car. Consistency would dictate that we should refer to it as a Tyre Centre (using British spelling) or “Tire Center” (using American). Instead we strike the happy median, taking one word from each.

Take a look at the following quote, which I have once more taken from How To Be A Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson, paying attention to the use of words. “Canadians write cheques for their colour TVs. They turn off the tap, eat porridge, put jam on their toast and gas in their trucks, and munch potato chips as they relax on their chesterfields.”

British English: cheque, colour, tap, porridge and jam (in the US it would be check, color, faucet, oatmeal and jelly).

American English: TV, gas, truck and potato chips (in Britain it would be telly, petrol, lorry and crisps).

Some difficulty arises with words that employ the letters “ou,” such as “colour” or “neighbour.” In formal writing, such as essays in high school or university, Canadians are instructed to maintain the British spelling rather than casting aside the “u” as do our American neighbours (or are they neighbors?). Similarly, Canadians are expected to employ the spelling “re” rather than “er” in words such as “centre.” In informal writing, Canadians tend to adopt an either/or approach. I generally use the American spelling of “ou” words simply to avoid spellchecker annoyances.

The Fergusons provide the following paragraph as a test for Canadian citizenship. Only a Canadian would be able to decipher most of the following:

Last night, I cashed my pogey and went to buy a mickey of C.C. at the beer parlour, but my skidoo got stuck in the muskeg on my way back to the duplex. I was trying to deke out a deer, you see. Stupid chinook, melted everything. And then a Mountie snuck up behind me in a ghost car and gave me an impaired. I was sitting there dressed only in my Stanfields and a toque at the time. And the Mountie, he’s all chippy and everything.

Here are definitions of the terms from the preceding paragraph as well as others you are likely to encounter in Canada:

2-4 (two four): a case of 24 beers.
bachelor apartment: a one room apartment with a small kitchen and a bathroom. Mostly just referred to as “a bachelor.”
back bacon: elsewhere called “Canadian bacon.”
Blochead: a member of the Bloc Quebecois.
brown bread: whole wheat bread.
butter tart: a single serving, sweet pie, often with raisins.
chesterfield: a sofa, couch, or loveseat.
chinook: an unseasonably warm wind that melts snow on the prairies.
chippy: aggressive or angry.
college: refers to either a post-secondary technical or vocational institutions, or to the colleges that exist as individual institutions within some Canadian universities. Most often, “college” is a community college, not a university.
deke: to fool. It is used especially in hockey to refer to a player who dodges around another.
donut: a cake snack with a hole in centre (ie doughnut). Also refers to spinning a car in circles as a recreational activity.
double-double: A cup of coffee with two creams and two sugars.
draught: beer that comes out of a tap instead of a bottle or can.
duplex: a building with two apartments.
garburator: a garbage disposal unit located beneath the drain of a kitchen sink.
ghost car: an unmarked police car.
Grit: a member or supporter of one of the federal or provincial Liberal parties (but not the Qu�bec Liberal Party).
homo milk: whole (homogenized) milk.
hoser: idiot.
impaired: an infraction for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Joe job: a low-status, low-skill task.
keener: an enthusiastic student, not necessarily a positive term.
Kraft dinner: Often shortened to “KD”, known elsewhere as “Kraft macaroni and cheese.”
loonie and toonie: Canadian one- and two-dollar coins.
may two four: the Victoria Day weekend which is celebrated the Monday of or following May 24th.
Mountie: a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (who are only very rarely mounted these days).
mickey: a small bottle of alcohol.
muskeg: a bog characterized by scattered and stunted evergreens.
Nanaimo bar: a confection named for the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia.
parkade: parking garage.
pencil crayon: elsewhere called a “coloured (or colored) pencil.”
pogey: unemployment insurance (the government recently changed this to “employment insurance.”).
Robertson: a Canadian square-headed screw or screwdriver. It is used in other countries, but is much more common in Canada.
skidoo: a brand name now used generically to refer to any snowmobile. Can also be used as a verb.
snowbird: a Canadian, probably retired, who spends the winter in the States (usually Florida).
Stanfields: men’s underwear. Used only rarely these days (the word, that is. Most Canadians still wear underwear, especially in the winter).
Timbits: a brand name of doughnut holes made by Tim Hortons that has become a generic term.
toque: a knit hat.
trousseau tea: a reception held by the mother of a bride, for neighbours not invited to the wedding.
washroom : bathroom, restroom. Bathroom is used only occasionally and refers to a facility that has a bathtub or shower.
whitener: powdered non-dairy additive for coffee or tea.
yogourt: a unique spelling of yoghurt which is used in both English- and French-Canada.
zed: the final letter of the alphabet.

There are a few distinctively Canadian swear words, as well, which I will mostly spare you. I did not realize that most of these words were used only (or primarily) by Canadians until I began to research this topic. The one that was often used to refer to myself and my friends as children was “s—t disturber.” Obviously this refers back to the days when people used outhouses. Mischevious children would sometimes “stir the pot” which would create a nearly-unbearable stench. They would often do this at outhouses outside of schools or churches. Today this terms retains some of its original meaning, referring to mischevious people (and children, in particular).

One difference between Canada and the US that is often noted in television programs concerns education. Americans tend to refer to “10th grade” whereas Canadians speak of “grade 10.” The terms freshman, sophmore, junior and senior are used only very rarely in both high school and university. A third year university student is more likely to say, “I’m in third year” than “I’m a junior.” Canadians rarely speak of “middle school” and are more likely to speak of “junior high” which includes grades 7 and 8. And Canadians do not care about cheerleaders or captains of the football team. High schools and universities are not likely to celebrate homecoming or prom. Instead, there are dances, formals and semi-formals. In general, Americans are far more serious about education than Canadians.

That is a brief introduction to some of the language you may hear when you visit Canada. Canadians employ a strange mixture of American, British words, along with a selection of words that are distinctively Canadian. Put it all together, and Canadians have a language all their own. It’s a fact, eh?

Other Facts:

Oh Canada

August 24, 2005

This is the third article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here and the second here. Today we are looking at the fourth chapter which is entitled, “Elvis in Eden” and deals with culture. Do note that because of his use of proper nouns Driscoll was forced to properly capitalize this chapter heading. That must have been very disappointing.

“People live in culture as naturally as fish live in water and tornados hit trailer parks. But most people are as unaware of their cultural assumptions as they are of their bad breath, because it is so familiar to them” (page 93). What this means for the Christian on reformission is that he must be particularly aware of the culture he lives in and other cultures he encounters. He cannot presuppose that every culture is like his or that what is effective in his culture will be effective in others.

To help the reader better understand this, Driscoll provides four different ways to evaluate a culture.

Thoughts, values and experiences. In short, this involves studying the people in a culture to see what they do. We can examine how people think and arrive at their beliefs, the values that are so widely assumed they are usually unspoken, and the experiences that have shaped them (both experiences they have chosen and those that have been forced upon them). “To be faithful in reformission we must embed ourselves in a culture and develop friendships with lost people so that we can be informed and avoid making erroneous judgments. Non-Christian friends actually help to disciple us in culture as we evangelize them in Christ” (page 97). When we evanglize, we need to be aware of these thoughts, values and experiences of a culture because these provide both opportunities and obstacles for the gospel. The more we know about the culture the more we will be able to avoid the pitfalls while reaching out in ways that are effective.

High, folk and pop. Another way to evaluate culture is through the forms of high, folk and pop. High culture is connected to the past and requires great training, reflection and tradition. Examples are ballet and opera. Folk culture emerges from a community as their own creation and is highly valued by these people because it becomes part of who they are. This can include certain black spiritual songs, as well as folk music and some punk rock. Pop culture is unsophisticated and intended for a mass market. While it is very accessible, it is also shallow, faddish and trite. “While each of these cultural forms can mediate the gospel … this fact is often overlooked because people tend to attach a moral value to the cultural form they prefer” (page 99). This is evident in the “worship wars” that continue to rage in many churches in which members of a culture believe strongly that their form is superior to all others. Driscoll goes on to ask, “Do you spot the cultural issue for reformission churches? Our challenge is to determine whether the cultural form that dominates how we do life when gathered for worship and scattered for mission is best suited for evangelizing the people in our community…Reformission Christians and churches exist to perpetuate the gospel and should be swift to change their cultural forms if they are not the most beneficial for achieving that goal…Reformission churches have to continually examine and adjust their musical styles, websites, aesthetics, acoustics, programming, and just about everything but their Bible in an effort to effectively communicate the gospel to as many people as possible in the cultures around them” (page 100).

Waves. The third way of examining culture is through understanding waves of change. Western culture has gone from the agricultural age to the industrial age and we have now arrived in the technological age. Many Christian institutions and denominations have failed to make the transition, and Driscoll notes that organizations that began in earlier ages are finding it increasingly difficult to survive because of their refusal to change.

Sins and sin. The fourth way to examine culture is by examining the universal and particular sins common in that culture. Universal sins are the sins that the Bible forbids for all people of all time. Particular sins are offenses that are sinful for some people some of the time under some circumstances. “Christians are also commanded by God to avoid sins that are particular to them, without unfairly condemning or restricting the freedoms of fellow Christians who involve themselves differently in controversial cultural matters” (page 102). We need to resist our freedoms in some areas because of our weaknesses, but can use Christian liberty in areas in which we are strong. “Reformission recognizes that Christians will have differing personal convictions in matters of culture and welcomes those differences that are not sinful, because what pleases God is unity, not uniformity” (page 103). It may be helpful to list a few of the activities Driscoll feels are not forbidden. They include: listening to certain musical styles, getting tattoos, watching movies, smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol and body piercing. Driscoll goes on to list a few pointers for cultural decision-making.

After providing the example of Jonah and speculating on whether Jonah eventually came to love the people of Nineveh, Driscoll begins to discuss how we, as reformissional Christians, can change a culture. “Our faith rests in Jesus alone, who redeems people and their cultures…our ultimate hope rests in God, not in human goverments, programs, or institutions” (page 108). The first step to changing a culture is to change the people within a culture. Our sin comes from deep within. To change people we musn’t focus on the symptoms of their sin, but on the root cause. Second, we must define what a “good person” is. If we hold up Jesus as our example, we must encourage people to continually compare themselves to Him in order to see their sin.


Driscoll’s main purpose in this chapter is to make the reader aware of the different cultures without our society (or subcultures within our culture). The key to changing culture is not to launch an all-out offensive on the culture itself, but to bring the gospel to the people within that culture and allow it to be changed from the inside out. I agree entirely that we need to focus on individuals and not entire cultures. Our hope is not in the government or in programs, but in the power of God working in and through individuals. Early in the chapter Driscoll talks about a leader in their church who dresses in gothic fashion (face painted white, hair dyed black, dark clothing). But she dressed that way not because she was a depressed, ungodly woman, but because it was her personal sense of style and presumably because she was beginning to redeem a particular (gothic) culture.

Here are a few points I would like to make about this chapter:

Legalism and license” - We are all prone to love legalism. I would probably find it helpful if Driscoll drew up a list of “50 things you cannot do.” I realize, though, that this would be a poor and ineffective tactic. However, I feel that Driscoll may not have given enough attention to how we define what is Christian freedom and what is mere license. As humans we are prone to stretch our boundaries in any way we can. Some teaching on this would have been welcome. Perhaps it will follow in a later chapter.

Elements and circumstances - Driscoll says, “Our challenge [as local churches] is to determine whether the cultural form that dominates how we do life when gathered for worship and scattered for mission is best suited for evangelizing the people in our community.” I am not sure that I agree with the easy, clean line Driscoll has drawn between form and function. He neatly seperates the cultural form from the element of worship, whether that be music, preaching or other aspects of the worship service. But he provides little compelling evidence for this. In a previous chapter he wrote about having artists expressing themselves in worship through painting during the service. Driscoll would consider this cultural form, but Reformed believers, especially those who hold strongest to the Regulative Principle, would consider it a forbidden element of worship. This principle distinguishes between elements and circumstances. The elements permitted in a worship service are only those expressly permitted in Scripture. The circumstances are the “how” of worship surrounding those elements. Because of this conflict I do not feel that Driscoll’s teaching on the worship service is wholly compatible with traditionally Reformed worship. (For more, read this and this.)

Consistent with Calvinism? - I’d like to turn again to the same quote. “Our challenge [as local churches] is to determine whether the cultural form that dominates how we do life when gathered for worship and scattered for mission is best suited for evangelizing the people in our community.” Driscoll seems to deny elements of the Calvinist understanding of evangelism and the sovereignty of God and in this way seems little different from the Church Growth crowd. I am not convinced that he shows a sound understanding of the Spirit’s ability to work in the ways God has decreed. There are times when Christianity must be countercultural in order to be faithful to Scripture. I often refer to a church I sometimes visit in Ottawa that eschews most of these cultural forms but has still made a great impact on the city. They sing only Psalms and do so with no instrumentation whatsoever. Their programming is traditional (they have “Sabbath school” before church, for example), their website is awful. But their church attracts homosexuals, transvestites, yuppies and country bumpkins. In short, the church is filled with all manner of sinners who are attracted not to cultural form, but to the message.

In, but not of - I am not entirely convinced that Driscoll’s reformission will produce Christians who are in, but not of the world. His gothic church leader is an example. There are some cultures which are incompatible with a Spirit-filled person. While I know little about it, it seems that the death-obsessed gothic culture may be one of these.

In conclusion, I have to say that while this chapter began with promise, I found it quite disappointing. I do believe in the importance of understanding culture and understanding just how much we, as Christians, live in our own little culture. Yet I do not feel that culture is as neutral as Driscoll would have us believe.

We will move on to the next chapter in the coming days.

August 23, 2005

Battle For The BeginningSeeing John MacArthur on Larry King Live tonight reminded me that the very first book review I ever wrote for this site (and to post at Amazon) was for his book Battle for the Beginning. I still count it as one of my favorite MacArthur books. It was a formative influence in my belief in young earth Creationism. What follows is my review, posted a little over two years ago.

John MacArthur wrote Battle For The Beginning primarily to address the world’s origins from a Biblical viewpoint. The book is aimed at a Christian audience and is not so much a defense of creationism as it is a defense of a literal six-day creation. This is not a book that primarily focuses on convincing unbelieving evolutionists of creationism, but rather it focuses on convincing Christians who believe that in some form of evolution (such as old-earth creationism or the Gap Theory) that the only valid reading of Genesis one and two is a literal reading. MacArthur bases much of the book on the view that Evolution is itself a religion that is completely opposed to Christianity. Creationism and Evolution, therefore, can never be mixed. We must believe in either one or the other.

After giving many reasons why Evolutionism is antithetical to God and His design, the book spends a chapter on each of the days of creation. In each chapter the author shows why anything other than a literal six-day creation is impossible. In so doing he gives many wonderful examples of the wonders and marvels of creation. Much of the book is focused on refuting the arguments of Hugh Ross, the most prominent of the theistic evolutionists.

I would highly recommend this book to any believer that is struggling with the conflict between creationism and evolutionism. MacArthur’s ability to accurately draw teaching from scripture and using God’s word as the ultimate teaching tool makes this one of the best books I have read on the subject.