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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


October 23, 2005

In my reading of early church history this past week I came upon a passage from Justin’s First Apology in which he describes the worship of the early church.

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

“Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

“And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”

I was struck both by the similarities and the differences between worship today. Nick Needham points out that the three primary ingredients of the early worship services were the reading and expounding of Scripture, prayer, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Noticeably absent, of course, is music and singing. While we do know, even from other accounts written from Justin, that music was a part of the services, it was clearly not as central to the services as we make it today. Conserversely, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was a more important part of the service, or at least than the service of most of today’s Protestant churches.

It is interesting to note as well that during the early history of the church, and in fact until the 14th century, Christian worshipped while standing. Pews (and stackable, cushioned seats) are quite a late development. Those who were tired or infirm would be able to sit around the outside edge of the church while others stood. Standing was also considered the proper posture for prayer. Generally those who prayed would keep their eyes open looking towards heaven, and their arms outstretched.

One thing Justin does not make clear, but which seems clear from other documents, is that the service was divided into two components. The first, the service of the word, which included singing, reading of the Scripture and the sermon was open to everyone. The second part, the prayers and Lord’s Supper, were open only to baptized believers. Everyone else had to leave.

Corporate worship was an important time for believers and they worshipped, at least initially, very simply.

October 20, 2005

My morning reading today took me to the fourth chapter of Ephesians. This is a chapter that deals primarily with the topic of unity within the body of Christ. Through the first three chapters of the book Paul has been laying the theological framework for the life of good works he describes in the final three chapters. The first topic he discusses in this regard is unity. He encourages believers to live together in humility and patience, bearing with one another and maintaining the unity of the Spirit. The word “one” appears seven times in only three verses, emphasizing the oneness the Lord expects of us. Having discussed the importance of unity, Paul goes on to show how this unity will be built and maintained.

Unity is a common theme in the New Testament. Paul, for example, also spoke of it in 1 Corinthians 1:10 where we read, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Among Jesus’ final words to His apostles was a beautiful, powerful prayer for unity which is recorded for us in John 17. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17: 20-23). Peter and other biblical writers discuss the subject as well. Clearly unity is an important component to the Chrisitan life.

Perhaps the most clear example of this type of unity is shown to us in the book of Acts. We read in Acts 5, “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…” (Acts 5:12-14). This unity was based on unity of doctrine, and that asserted itself in practice. In the previous chapter Luke writes, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32-35).

Of course there are two types of unity. There is the unity from one Christian to another and there is unity from one group of professing Christians to another. While it seems clear that the biblical writers were speaking primarily of interpersonal relationships their words are surely valid as well to larger relationships between groups. Baptist and Presbyterian denominations can learn as much from Paul’s words in their relationships to each other as can two individual members of a local church who are experiencing conflict in their relationship.

Sadly in our day it seems that unity, and especially unity from one group of professed Christians to another, often comes at the cost of theology. Earlier this year I read Iain Murray’s masterpiece Evangelicalism Divided. Here is a relevant quote from that book. “The ecumenical call [in the mid-20th century] was not for truth and salt; it was supremely for oneness: the greater the unity of ‘the Church’, it was confidently asserted, the stronger would be the impression made upon the world; and to attain that end churches should be inclusive and tolerant. But it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world. At no point in church history has the mere unity of numbers ever made a transforming spiritual impression upon others. On the contrary, it was the very period known as ‘the dark ages’ that the Papacy could claim her greatest unity in western Europe” (Evangelicalism Divided, Iain Murray, page 291).

The ecumenical movement of our day continues to downplay theology. Of course none of the major players in the movement would admit this, but if we are to have unity with the Roman Catholic Church we must be willing to let go of those pesky little solas that so often get in the way. If we are to have unity with Mormons we must be willing to allow some leeway on the divinity of Jesus. And so on. But the unity that Christ prays for us to attain and that Paul exhorts us to model is not a unity based on forsaking doctrinal differences so that we can meet at the lowest common denominator. It is not a unity based on mixing “churches” with one another. The unity Christ pleaded for on our behalf is a unity of people who know and trust Christ. It is a unity in the truths of the Scripture, truths despised by the world, but loved and treasured by believers. It is a unity which, as Murray says, “binds his [Christ’s] members together in love” (Evangelicalism Divided, page 291). This truth became particularly clear to me this morning as I read Ephesians 4. In verses eleven to sixteen Paul describes the means of attaining unity. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

And this morning I realize that the teaching ministry, carried on today by the pastors of local churches, is a ministry of unity. As if the pastoral ministry was not already difficult enough! Pastors are to teach their people sound doctrine which in turn will inspire unity among true believers. The solid foundation of sound doctrine will prevent people from being tossed to and fro and being carried about by every wind of doctrine. It is a lack of doctrine that promotes false unity and a strong, biblical theology that promotes true unity. Our pastors are called to help us “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” It is from Christ that the body is joined, knit together in true unity.

So if we would have unity, we must have theology. We are to share, profess and enjoy unity with other believers, even those who do not share certain “lesser” doctrines. This is not to imply that any doctrine is unimportant, yet some are more important than others. J.C. Ryle wisely observed that believers should “keep the walls of separation as low as possible, and shake hands over them as often as you can.” But there are times when we must reject unity because of the higher importance of truth and sound doctrine. To repeat Murray’s words, “it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world.” Nor will it ever be.

October 18, 2005

When Doug McHone and I were chatting (something we did an awful lot of) at the Desiring God Conference, he swore that he would not discuss Halloween this year. I made no such promise to him, and today would like to discuss it, even if only briefly. In my further defense, I believe this is the first time I will have written about this subject. I discuss this topic primarily because my wife and I struggle with it, to some extent, every year. Our children are understandly eager to trick-or-treat and, like many Christians, we are both attracted to and repulsed by the idea.

This topic has been discussed over the past couple of days on the Reformed Baptist Discussion List. One member of the list posted a couple of responses to Halloween provided by John MacArthur in an informal question and answer setting. MacArthur was asked, “Is there anything wrong with children going out ‘Trick or Treating’, like Halloween, and if so, what specifically is bad in it, and what do the MacArthur kids do? And, should Grace get involved in any alternatives?” His response was as follows:

“I think, it’s not a wise thing to have children go out trick or treating. I mean, I think it’s kind of dumb for Christian kids to dress up like ghosts and witches and weird things, and devil suits, and trouble-makers, and all that. I think, for example, you know, the whole thing of All Saints Day or All Hallows Eve has connotations, first of all of Roman Catholic tradition. It has connotations of demons and spirits. Plus the fact that little kids are exposed to screwballs as well as to cars, and all kinds of other things…What we do in our family is we have an alternative. Like you said, we do an alternative thing. We do something fun for the whole family. It varies from year to year, and our church has always done that, too, for the kids. Have parties and socials and things.”

Of course I’m sure it has been a few years since the MacArthur children asked to dress up for Halloween. I post MacArthur’s response because I feel it is quite typical of the Christian attitude towards Halloween. He feels the day holds too many negative connotations and that Christians should find a more sacred alternative.

I acknowledge this as a difficult issue. My conviction is that it is a very poor witness to have the house of believers blacked out on Halloween. Halloween presents a great opportunity to interact with neighbors, to meet their children and to prove that we are part of the community – not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends. At the same time I despise how evil Halloween is. Already our neighborhood has ghosts hanging from trees and evil plastic figurines stuck into lawns. One section of houses nearby always feels the need to go the extra step, putting on scary music, dressing in occult costumes and generally glorying in evil. To this time we have allowed our children to go out trick-or-treating, provided they do not wear evil or occult costumes. It is a compromise, and admittedly not one I am entirely comfortable with. Over the past several years our church has offered an alternative to Halloween with a “harvest party.” This is a party in a nearby community center that allows children to dress up and get their fill of candy in a less-pagan environment. This year the church has decided not to hold a harvest party but to encourage families to be present in their homes, to greet their neighbours and to look for opportunities to interact with them. A couple of the pastors are going so far as to hold neighbourhood barbeques before dark and inviting people to come and share a meal with them. I fully support this decision.

Perhaps the greatest fallacy Christians believe about Halloween is that by refusing to participate in the day we are somehow taking a stand against Satan. And second to that, is that participation in the day is an endorsement of Satan and his evil holidays. The truth is that Halloween is not much different from any other day in this world where, at least for the time being, every day is Satan’s day and a celebration of him and his power. Another member of the Discussion List wrote the following. “Yeah… I’ve heard all of the ‘pagan’ reasons Christians should avoid Halloween. The question is whether we are actually particpating in Samhain when we participate in Halloween? Who or what makes the ‘Witch’s League of Public Awareness’ the definers of what Halloween is, either now or historically? Such a connection between Samhain and my daughter as a ladybug or my son as a Bengals Boy is highly dubious.”

I am guessing my neighbourhood is all-too-typical in that most people arrive home from work and immediately drive their cars into the garage. More often than not they do not emerge again until the next morning when they leave for work once more. It would be a terrible breach of Canadian social etiquette for me to knock on a person’s door and ask them for a small gift or even just to say “hello” to them. Yet on Halloween this barriers all come down. I have the opportunity to greet every person in the neighbourhood. I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the family who moved in just down the street a few weeks ago and to greet some other people I have not seen for weeks or months. At the same time, those people’s children will come knocking on my door. We have two possible responses. We can turn the lights out and sit inside, seeking to shelter ourselves from the pagan influence of the little Harry Potters, Batmans and ballerinas, or we can greet them, gush over them, and make them feel welcome. We can prove ourselves to be the family who genuinelly cares about our neighbours, or we can be the family who shows that we want to interact with them only on our terms.

The same contributor to the Reformed Baptist Discussion List concluded his defense of participating in Halloween with these words: “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.”

The truth is that I have several convictions regarding Halloween. I despise the pagan aspects of it. I am convicted that my children should not dress as little devils or ghosts or monsters. But I am also convicted that there could be no worse witness to the neighbours than having a dark house, especially in a neighbourhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We have nothing to fear from our neighbours or from their children. So my children will dress up (my son as a knight and my daughter as a princess) and we will visit each of our neighbours. Either my wife or I will remain at home, greeting people at our door with a smile and a handful of something tasty. If the kids are deemed too old to trick-or-treat, they’ll be forced to sing a song to merit any handouts. Our door will be open and the light will be on. And we hope that the Light will shine brightly.

October 17, 2005

As you may have heard, and definitely have heard if you read this site with any consistency, the band Petra has decided to retire. “After 33 years of music and ministry, Christian rock pioneer PETRA will come to a close. December 2005 will mark the end to a ministry that has boldly and consistently proclaimed the gospel in the United States and abroad. The decision to retire the band was mutual by all members. The band has impacted generations of musicians and fans alike over the years with over seven million CDs sold, four Grammy Awards, 10 Dove Awards and an induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. PETRA, initially formed in 1972 by Hartman on vocals and guitars, paved the way for the rock genre perhaps more than any other in the Christian music industry. Though a rotating cast of musicians comprised PETRA’s lineup over the years, the band is closing 2005 strong with over 20 albums to its credit, the latest being the 2003 Grammy-nominated Jekyll & Hyde.”

Petra truly was a ground-breaking band. I have often heard stories of their first albums being sold behind the counter of Christian bookstores because mixing Christian lyrics with rock music was considered exceedingly controversial in the early 1970’s. One does not have to look far to find stories of people who have been positively impacted by the ministry of Petra. And I am one of them. I have often written about the profound impact Petra had on my life while I was just a teenager. What is particularly inspiring about Petra is that the focus of the band was always on ministry. The songs and concerts were always God-centered, seeking to take the attention away from the band and to focus it on God.

But, it seems, all good things must come to and end. After many years of sliding sales and reduced popularity the band has decided to retire. While I am sorry to see them go, I do agree that the time is right for them to make their exit.

I think it would be fitting for us to honor Petra for the impact they have had on the lives of so many. Thus I would like to declare December 30, 2005, the day of their final concert, “Petra Appreciation Day” across the blogosphere. Of course I have no authority to declare such a day, but I am hoping that other bloggers will participate by posting their memories of the men and ministry of Petra. If you would like to participate, either by posting on your own blog or by posting some other way (perhaps by posting in the forums on this site or another), please let me know either by sending me an email or by replying to this thread. I hope that together we can honor a band who dedicated thirty-three years to honoring God through their music.

October 16, 2005

As you may know, Richard Abanes was in town on Friday on a whirlwind promotional tour for his new book, Harry Potter, Narnia, And The Lord Of The Rings. The book, which I have not read, is a comparison and examination of the magic (and magick) in the Harry Potter, Narnia and Lord of the Rings series of books. I caught a few minutes of Abanes’ interview on the local Christian television station and quite agreed with his conclusions about the difference between the magic used by Rowling and that used by Lewis and Tolkien. But perhaps I’ll discuss that another day.

Abanes had a couple of hours of free time in the middle of the day so asked if I’d be interested in having lunch with him. Of course I’m always happy to meet new people (and especially if I know I’ll get some stimulating discussion out of the deal) so I agreed and went to meet him at his hotel. We found a restaurant close by and, well, ate lunch. Of course our primary topic of discussion was Rick Warren and all things Purpose Driven.

First off, as I’m sure you’d expect, Richard is a friendly and personable guy, so we had no trouble getting along just fine. What surprised me a little bit more was that on the whole he agrees, at least on some level, with many of my criticisms of Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Life. I told him my top three concerns which I hope will form a topic of discussion on this site later this week and he did not reject them out-of-hand as I might have expected based on his reaction in the various forums and web sites where we have interacted. The difference between us is not so much in our understanding or interpretation of the facts but in what we do with those facts. In the end I feel that the bad begins to outweigh the good and that we need to be particularly suspicious or wary of Rick Warren and his teachings. Richard feels the good by far outweighs the bad.

One excellent point Richard raised, which in my mind does little to exonerate Warren, but which does make some sense, is that much of what comes out under the name of Rick Warren is not from the mind or pen of Rick Warren. In other words, Warren has become so big, so popular, that much of what comes out under the banner of Rick Warren and Purpose Driven is written by other people. Thus it becomes difficult to know what Warren actually believes. I guess it is may be best to rely more fully on those things that we know come directly from Rick, things such as The Purpose Driven Life than those that could be ghost-written. Having said that, if Warren really does disagree with much of what comes out under his name, he should take the obvious and necessary prevantive steps to protect his name and reputation. That he has not done this would seem to indicate that he is not actually concerned about this.

So while Richard and I found much common ground in our disagreements, particularly in the area of Bible translations, we departed amiably, but still disagreeing about the real effects of Warren’s ministry. It was a useful and profitable discussion and one I’m glad I made time for. It is always easy to hide behind a keyboard and discuss this type of disagreement, but it is helpful to put a real face and a real person in place of that computer screen. It was good to meet Richard and see a more personable and (I suppose) rational side of him than I’ve seen online. I am particularly glad to see that he is generally moving on from his defense of Rick Warren and is writing about other topics where more people are bound to agree with him and where he will do more good than harm. Unlike a guy like Dave Hunt, whom I feel made a terrible mistake in his attacks on Calvinism, and who has since done nothing but renew those attacks time and again, Richard is at least moving on from Warren. I hope and trust that his future ministry will be more useful to the body of Christ than it was last year when he released Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him. I believe Abanes has a lot to offer the church - just not in the area of Rick Warren.

October 15, 2005

Last night Aileen and I left our children in the care of my in-laws and we travelled across Toronto, braving rush-hour traffic through the heart of the city, to see Petra play their final Toronto show. They have played Toronto five times and I saw them four of those times. In fact, I was the one who promoted their last show some seven years ago. As you may know, Petra is currently in the midst of their Farewell Tour, so this could well be the last time we see them play.

The show kicked off with a local band called Black Talon. They were primarily loud. The style of music seemed a little out-of-place for a crowd that was predominantly thirty and older. It’s not that the band was bad, but just that they did not seem to fit all that well. It was an odd choice.

After Black Talon played a short set, Bread of Stone, a band from Iowa took the stage and played three or four songs. The band was quite talented and the lead vocalist was especially good. Apart from an odd story about visions and broken pottery, it was a good set.

The final opening band was Farewell June from Springfield, Missouri. They got off to a slow start but once the lead vocalist picked up his fiddle the band took off. They are an amazingly talented band whom I suspect I would enjoy far more live than on CD. I absolutely love the combination of fiddle with rock and roll, so I could be a little biased.

And then, after a short break, Petra hit the stage. Now different people have different ideas of what the ideal Petra lineup is. I have always been partial to the John Schlitt, Louie Weaver, Bob Hartman, Ronnie Cates, John Lawry combination from the “Beyond Belief” days. Two of those five were present last night in the persons of Schlitt and Hartman. They are a little older than the first time I saw them, and perhaps a pound or two heavier, but they can still play! Bob can shred that guitar just as well as ever he could and John’s vocals don’t seem to have faded a bit through the years. The two young guys backing them were also exceptionally good.

But, of course, the focus of Petra’s ministry has always been the message behind the music. The focal-point of the show was two medleys, one of the favorite faster songs, and another with the ballads. And so, for one last time, we got to sing out “I am on the rock” and “It must feel just like, just like Judas’ kiss!” And then we got to sing, “No doubt it will all work out, with God it will all work together for good,” and “It’s not too late for Annie, she could be next to you…” And of course they played the full length versions of many of their classics, including “Dance,” “Beyond Belief,” “Creed,” and many others. While they played a few songs from “Jekyll & Hyde,” the primary focus was on the classics. I was particularly glad to see that they sang “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered,” one of my all-time favorites, and one of the most biblical songs Bob Hartman ever wrote.

He came alone into the battle
He knew nobody else could face His foe
He left His throne, He left His glory
He knew nobody else could ever go
He called the bluff, He took the challenge
He came into this world to seek and save
No one could know, no one could fathom
The way to win was only through the grave
They laid Him in His tomb
They thought they’d sealed His doom
But He rose
He rose!

He came, He saw, He conquered death and hell
He came, He saw, He is alive and well
He was, He is, and only He forgives
He died, He rose, He lives
He came, He saw, He conquered!

The concert concluded with a great little talk by Bob where he discussed the plan of salvation. As always, it was biblically-based and hard-hitting. He even went so far as to say, “salvation is by grace through faith.” I don’t know of too many bands who would lay it out quite so clearly. The final song was “Show Your Power.” As Petra has always done, they ended in a time of worship, not going out with drum solos and flashing lights, but in a time of quiet worship. The lights and song faded and the band was gone, leaving the emphasis on God.

Your Gospel, oh, Lord is the hope for our nation
You are the Lord
It’s the power of God for our salvation
You are the Lord

Show Your power
Oh, Lord, our God
Show Your power
Oh, Lord, our God
Oh, Lord, our God

All-in-all it was a great evening and while I enjoyed the concert a great deal, it was with some sadness that I saw them walk off the stage for the final time. Petra played a pivotal role in my life and I will always feel a little bit indebted to them. I am grateful for their ministry and look forward to seeing what God does in and through them in the years to come.

Now I have just noticed that they are playing their final show near Atlanta on December 30. There is a good chance that I will be in Atlanta at the time, so perhaps I’ll get one more opportunity to see them.

October 14, 2005

Just a couple of days ago World Magazine reported that the Duggar family of Arkansas has celebrated the birth of their sixteenth child, Johannah Faith. The Duggars have become somewhat famous for their procreative abilities and it seems that they make an appearance in the national newspapers each time a new child is born. Jim Bob Duggar, a former state representative who sells real estate and has had an unsuccessful bid for election to the U.S. Senate. He intends to run again in the next election.

World reports that “[t]he Learning Channel is doing another show about the family’s construction project, a 7,000-square foot house that should be finished before Christmas. The home, which the family from the northwest Arkansas town of Rogers has been building for two years, will have nine bathrooms, dormitory-style bedrooms for the girls and boys, a commercial kitchen, four washing machines and four dryers.”

The names and ages of the Duggar’s children, and you’ll notice a pattern with their names, are: Joshua, 17; John David, 15; Janna, 15; Jill, 14; Jessa, 12; Jinger, 11; Joseph, 10; Josiah, 9; Joy-Anna, 8; Jeremiah, 6; Jedidiah, 6; Jason, 5; James, 4; Justin, 2; Jackson Levi, 1;Johannah, newborn.

The last time the Duggar’s had a child I wrote a little article entitled “How Fruitful is Too Fruitful?” I did some research on the family and found that they seem to be a godly (and extremely busy), Southern Baptist family that is completely committed to raising children to glorify God. They sound extremely conservative (ie the girls all wear dresses exclusively and they wear wetsuits at the beach) but one that is not completely “out there.” For example, the father does not take the opportunity to rail against modern swimwear - he just says that it is a decision each of the children will have to make when they get older. It’s quite refreshing to see someone who seems to find the spirit of the law while avoiding legalism.

While many people see the Duggar’s as a model family, who put their faith into practice by trusting that God will provide for their every need, there are others who mock them and even express disgust at such a large family. Last year my wife and I talked this through and arrived at the conclusion that it is not necessarily wrong to have such a large family. Here is our logic:

  1. Be fruitful and multiply - God created us and as one of our primary roles told us to “be fruitful and multiply.” He gave no conditions. He did not say “multiply up to and including eight children at which point you must stop.” At the same time He did not say “be fruitful and multiply until you have exceeded five children.” So there seem to be no hard and fast rules about how many children are appropriate in God’s eyes. Presumably, then, we are able to decide ourselves how many we would like to have. We can assume we should have at least one, but beyond that the Bible is silent. We hear hints that God approves of large families. For example, Psalm 127 says “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” However, it is probably safe to assume that within the bounds of Christian freedom we are allowed to decide how many children we would like to have. Of course there are limitations based on motive, but I will not get into that today.
  2. Do not deny each other - God tells us not to withhold from having sex with our spouse. Paul says that we are able to do so for a short time if it becomes necessary, but as a rule, abstinence within marriage is wrong. Therefore, it is God’s plan that there is always the possibility that a woman may become pregnant as long as she is physically able to bear children.
  3. No God-given birth control - God has not given humans the innate ability to enjoy sexual relations while absolutely avoiding pregnancy. In other words, when a man and woman have sex there is always the possibility of a pregnancy unless they use some “artificial” method of birth control or one of them is infertile or beyond childbearing years.
  4. No command to use birth control - Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must use birth control at any stage in their marriage. Though I do not believe using birth control is wrong, I do not find that the Bible ever commands it.
  5. God opens the womb - God is absolutely sovereign. He has foreordained every pregnancy that has ever happened and that will ever happen. Whether a woman has one children or sixteen, God has decreed the beginning and end of each pregnancy.
  6. God will provide - God tells us time and again throughout Scripture that He will provide for us. When we faithfully follow Him, He promises that He will provide for all our needs. We are to have confidence that no matter how impossible our needs may seem, He will provide.

Based on this logic, I do find that Christians can rationally say that having sixteen (or three or thirty) children is wrong. For us to say that it is inherently wrong to have a certain number of children we would also have to say that God commands us to use birth control at some point in our marriages. I simply do not find that is the case.

Now this is an argument that presents some difficulties. For example, what are we to do about women who have just given birth? We know that there may be serious health problems if a woman becomes pregnant immediately after having another child, especially if this happens repeatedly. It would seem to be a safe assumption that using birth control for the first months or years after a pregnancy is a wise decision. But is it wrong not to?

In short, while I do not intend to have sixteen children, I would be the last person to criticize the Duggars for continuing to bear children.

October 11, 2005

It was just about two years ago that I came to a rather disappointing realization. After much reflection and soul-searching I came to realize that much of what I believed as a Christian was mere cliché. I wrote about this last year and said “I believe it is important that we investigate words we frequently use that may no longer evoke interest or any genuine meaning because they have been so overused. As the original meaning of the word “trite,” a synonym for “cliché” indicates, they have become frayed and worn out by constant use. A cliché is often used when a speaker (or writer) cannot think of an original way to express an idea. It may also be that there is no easy way to present the idea other than to use a cliché. The danger of never investigating such words and discerning their true meaning is that eventually they become little more than tradition. As Christians we are told not to use “vain repetitions” but perhaps that is what many of these phrases have become.”

I defined two terms: “cliché” and “trite.”


  1. A trite or overused expression or idea: “Even while the phrase was degenerating to cliché in ordinary public use… scholars were giving it increasing attention” (Anthony Brandt).
  2. A person or character whose behavior is predictable or superficial: “There is a young explorer… who turns out not to be quite the cliché expected” (John Crowley).


  1. Lacking power to evoke interest through overuse or repetition; hackneyed (overfamiliar through overuse)
  2. Archaic. Frayed or worn out by use.

I’m sure you can see how these definitions apply to some of the words you use. You may really have no idea of the meaning behind some of the words you use – it could be that you learned them in a church context and may have been using them for years without really grasping what they mean. Or perhaps you have used the words so many times that you have lost sight of their meaning and significance, allowing them to become worn out.

I thought about some clichéd expressions I use or hear all the time and will list a few of them.

To do with prayer I thought of:

  • The word “amen.”
  • The phrase “Dear God.”
  • The word and concept of “forgiveness”.
  • The word and concept of “bless.”
  • The phrase “in Jesus’ name.”

In regards to the Christian Life I thought of:

  • The word and concept of “miracles.”
  • The word and concept of “sin.”
  • The word “worship.”
  • The word and concept of “the cross.”
  • The concept of “personal relationship.”
  • The word “gospel.”

I’m sure I could go on…and on…and on. The point is that I believe that we often live a type of clichéd Christianity. We use clichéd words to worship a clichéd God. When we allow ourselves to only experience God on the basis of cliché, we will become as tired of Him as we are tired of the words we use to describe Him. But when we take the time to examine the words we use to speak to God and to speak about God, I believe we will allow God to be more real to our minds and to our hearts.

Through some writing I did at that time I began to formulate an understanding of one of the apparent shortcomings of evangelicalism. What was a nagging suspicion was made startingly clear in the last year as we watched the tsunami devastate the East and in recent months, hurricanes devastate parts of America. And then this weekend John Piper quoted David Wells who said approximately the same thing: evangelicalism is simply inequipped to deal in a satisfactory way with the really difficult issues.

What follows are a few paragraphs of several pages of reflections I penned while flying home from the conference last weekend:

The shallowness of evangelicalism leaves it largely inequipped to deal with the difficult issues. If we are to be a people that brings hope to the hopeless, purpose to the purposeless and joy to those who know only sorrow, we must be prepared to give answers that are biblically-based and Scripturally-satisfying. To do this we must wrestle with the difficult doctrines of sin, love, sorrow and suffering. We must be prepared not only to give an answer for the hope that lives within us, but for the suffering that causes us to draw upon that hope and to take our refuge in Christ Jesus, the One whose death gives us hope for now and for eternity.

I am writing this while returning from a conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I gaze down at the ground some 29,000 feet below, looking at the thousands upon thousands of houses, knowing that each house represents one, two, three or more people, each of which could surely share stories of suffering. From birth to death we all suffer in terrible and savage ways. To be born is to suffer for both mother and child, and we soon come to understand that suffering is to respector of persons. Live long enough and you will surely know pain and sorrow. No one is immune. Neither is there any innoculation or protection that can ward off the effects of living in so sinful a world.

And what I have come to realize is that we have so little to offer to the family who home has been blown flat by the storm or to the man who has just watched his child succumb to an illness. We have so little true comfort to offer, for we ourselves have not wrestled with God about the truly difficult issues. When we see people approach their Ford of Jabbok, where like Jacob they will have to grapple with God Himself, we can give them little more than platitudes and cliché. We tell them that Jesus loves them and that He works all things for the good of those who love Him. But they want to know why. Why, God, do you allow me to suffer in this way? Why do you torment me? Why?

And we have no answer. We answer with cliché, but without true conviction.

This weekend helped me conclude, even more firmly, that we must wrestle with the difficult issues. We must be prepared to give an answer to death and pain and suffering. We must answer in such a way that we acknowledge God’s supremacy and sovereignty in all things and in a such a way that we do not let God off the hook, for as Mark Talbot taught on Saturday, God does not want to be let off the hook. In the first speech of the Desiring God Conference, John Piper expressed that the tragedy and suffering of 9/11 and Katrina has shown the church to be shallow and unable to deal with such serious evil. Evangelicalism is simply not very serious anymore. Against the weight and seriousness of the Bible, the church is choosing to become more shallow and light and therefore more unable to respond properly to pain and suffering. His desire for the conference was that God would show Christ’s supremacy even in suffering. My desire is that we, as Christians, can dig deeper into these issues to uncover God in the storm, God in the pain and God in the suffering.

October 06, 2005

I cut my teeth on this site by discussing controversial topics. Of course when I began I really had little idea that these topics were controversial. I just began to write about The Purpose Driven Life, The Passion of the Christ and authors like John Eldredge without realizing that anyone other than myself really cared about them. I have now fallen into the somewhat difficult predicament of being expected to discuss ongoing updates to these stories. Of course I rarely mind doing so because I do find this topics interesting. Thus I am going to make a few comments on the appearance of Ashley Smith and Rick Warren on the Larry King Show last night. Incidentally, the transcript is available here.

Larry King made it clear that he wanted to primarily discuss two things: methamphetamines and The Purpose Driven Life. On the whole the interview and discussion was quite unremarkable. Here are a few important points:

  • It seems that Ashley Smith is going to become the poster child for Celebrate Recovery, Saddleback’s addiction recovery program (even though she has not yet participated in the program). Warren said, “She’s going to be a poster child for Celebrate Recover. Celebrate Recover is the fastest growing recovery movement in the world. It started at Saddleback and now is in 16 state prison systems and tens of thousands of churches all around the world: Ukraine, Russia, South Africa.” Smith is also on an extensive book tour and can be heard speaking at churches around the country.
  • It was easy to note Smith’s absolute reverence for Rick Warren and her ability to “talk like an evangelical.” She has all the Christian lingo down pat now, though she did not seem to use it when the events actually occured. When discussing Nichols she said, “I pray for him every night and hope that he finds his purpose.” When discussing the drugs she said, “He [Nichols] said, ‘You’re not going to do it with me’? And, I said no. Immediately it was — and a calm came over me immediately and I heard God say ‘You can do it now and I’m going to bring you home because you can’t — you can’t beat this addiction without me or you can trust me to take control of the situation right now and I’ll let you live and you can no to it for good.’ And that’s how the whole ‘Purpose-Driven Life’ began.”
  • Smith does not claim to be a new believer, but one who was converted when she was eleven and has been off the path since that time. She made no real mention of sin or repentance but spoke more of mistakes and bad choices.
  • Warren said, “Larry, this is a story of two redemptions. It’s Ashley’s redemption and it’s Brian’s redemption.” Of course I don’t understand how Brian was redeemed, as he subsequently converted to Islam.

There was on exchange that I found particularly intriguing and I would like to discuss it in some length because of its importance. Warren discussed a topic that I hear time and again these days in the aftermath of terrorist strikes and national disasters. Larry King began to ask about whether God was in the room with Ashley Smith while she dealt with Brian Nichols. Here is the subsequent exchange between Warren and King.

WARREN: Well, there are three or four truths. God works through people. We’ve talked about this, Larry, lots of time, like where was God in Katrina?

KING: Yes.

WARREN: Well, God was in the people who were helping them out of Katrina. That’s where he was. He’s in the…

KING: Where was he when the wind came?

WARREN: Exactly, well we know that…

KING: Why did the wind come?

WARREN: Well, we know that the world is a broken place. This isn’t heaven. That’s why we’re to pray thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven because God’s will is not always done on earth.

KING: So, he gets mad and sends wind?

WARREN: Well, no, no, no. I don’t blame — if I get drunk and I go out and I hit a woman in a car with a pregnant daughter with a baby and she dies, that’s not God’s will. That’s evil. And there is evil in the world.

KING: But the wind whose will is that?

WARREN: Well, because there’s evil in the world there are consequences about it and the Bible, I don’t want to get into theology on this but the Bible does say the world is broken.

Now there were two things in this brief exchange that grabbed my attention. The first was Warren’s insistence that Katrina was not God’s will. Warren says that God’s will is not always done on earth, suggesting that these things somehow happen outside of His will. That position is biblically indefensible. Of course Warren attempts to prove it from Scripture, stating that we need to pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” so that God’s will can be done here and now. But this is not at all a satisfactory explanation of the meaning of those verses. What do the verses mean? Here is what others have to say about them:

This is from Lord’s Day 49, question and answer 124, of the Heidelberg Catechism:

“that is, grant that we and all men may renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey thy will, which is only good; that every one may attend to, and perform the duties of his station and calling, as willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven.”

Matthew Henry, in his commentary of the Bible, says:

We pray that God’s kingdom being come, we and others may be brought into obedience to all the laws and ordinances of it. We make Christ but a titular Prince, if we call him King, and do not do his will: having prayed that he may rule us, we pray that we may in every thing be ruled by him. Observe, (1.) The thing prayed for, thy will be done; “Lord, do what thou pleasest with me and mine; 1 Sam. iii. 18. I refer myself to thee, and am well satisfied that all thy counsel concerning me should be performed.” In this sense Christ prayed, not my will, but thine be done. “Enable me to do what is pleasing to thee; give me that grace that is necessary to the right knowledge of thy will, and an acceptable obedience to it. Let thy will be done conscientiously by me and others, not our own will, the will of the flesh, or the mind, not the will of men (1 Pet. iv. 2), much less Satan’s will (John viii. 44), that we may neither displease God in any thing we do (ut nihil nostrum displiceat Deo), nor be displeased at any thing God does” (ut nihil Dei displiceat nobis). (2.) The pattern of it, that it might be done on earth, in this place of our trial and probation (where our work must be done, or it never will be done), as it is done in heaven, that place of rest and joy. We pray that earth may be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will (this earth, which, through the prevalency of Satan’s will, has become so near akin to hell), and that saints may be made more like the holy angels in their devotion and obedience. We are on earth, blessed be God, not yet under the earth; we pray for the living only, not for the dead that have gone down into silence.

William Hendrickson, in his commentary on Matthew, says, “It is the ardent desire of the person who sincerely breathes the Lord’s Prayer that the Father’s will shall be obeyed as completely, heartily and immediately on earth as this is constantly being done by all the inhabitants of heaven.”

When we pray, “thy will be done,” we are not praying that God would somehow not allow evil to happen and that He would overrule the laws on nature which are attempting to smite us with storm and devastation. Rather, we are praying that God would bring us into obedience to His will. We are admitting as individuals that we are evil, sinful, broken creatures who desire to do everything but God’s will. We are petitioning Him to help us renounce our own claims over our lives and give them fully to God, so that we can attend to our duties as Christians as perfectly as the angels do in heaven.

So is there purpose to the storms and seemingly senseless devastation in our world? Listen to what John Sanders says, and do realize that he is a chief proponent of Open Theism:

The overarching structures of creation are purposed by God, but not every single detail that occurs within them. Within general providence it makes sense to say that God intends an overall purpose for the creation and that God does not specifically intend each and every action within the creation. Thus God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurence of evil. The “greater good” of establishing the conditions of fellowship between God and creatures does not mean that gratuitous evil has a point. Rather, the possibility of gratuitous evil has a point but its actuality does not. … When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. .. God does not have a specific purpose in mind of these occurences.

This seems remarkably similar to what Warren says, does it not?

In the aftermath of September 11, Tom Ascol wrote an excellent sermon in which he points those who are suffering to the cross. He says that if God was fully present in the greatest act of suffering the world has ever know, the crucifixion of His Son, He is also present in other suffering.

Was the crucifixion of Jesus the will of God? He was the only righteous man who has ever lived. He was innocent not only before His murderers but also before God. His death was the most heinous crime in human history. Did God have anything to do with it? Where was God when His Son was hanging on the cross? Could He have stopped it? Why didn’t He?

God was there, and not merely as a casual bystander. He was the Master of Ceremonies at the crucifixion. Jesus Himself told His disciples as much as He prepared them for His coming death. After the fact, the Apostle Peter spelled it out clearly in his sermon at Pentecost. Of Jesus he said, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;” (Acts 2:23). God was sovereign: they were responsible.

In that wicked, tragic death, God was doing His deepest work of love and mercy. He was reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). The crucifixion reveals to us the depth of both the wisdom and power of God. It shows us His love and goodness. It reassures those who have come to know Him through faith in Jesus that He is God and is “for us.” It guarantees us that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

In times of sorrow and when confronted with horrific evil, God’s children should resist the temptation to rest in rationalizations, whether on the right (Islam) or the left (open theism). Rather, we should run to the crucified, risen Savior. Let faith be renewed at the foot of the cross. The certainties revealed there give strength to face the mysteries of life without despair.

And here is the crux of the matter. When tragedy strikes it is always a tempation to proclaim that God had nothing to do with it. Yet God is present in suffering. We know from Scripture that God is not the author of evil. We also know that He has full control over everything that happens in the world. How do we reconcile this? We turn again to Ascol. “Some truth is beyond our abilities to rationalize. That does not mean that it is irrational, but rather that it is supra-rational. It is above reason. We can know it because it has been revealed. We cannot explain it because our minds are affected by the fall.” We will find no better statement than that made in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

The truth is, we don’t really know how or why God allows and even decrees that these things will happen. But we do not need to “let God off the hook” in order to make ourselves or unbelievers feel better. Let God be God and take comfort not in our supposed explanations of how and why He acts, but in the fact that He is always present with us, whether in times of joy or sorrow.

October 05, 2005

Yesterday, listening to the radio, I heard the song “Be My Escape” by RelientK. While I have heard the song many times in the past, there was one particular line that caught my attention this time around. The song is quite biblical as these things go and is something of a cry for redemption. I’ll provide a brief excerpt:

I’m giving up on doing this alone now
Cause I’ve failed and I’m ready to be shown how
He’s told me the way and I’m trying to get there
And this life sentence that I’m serving
I admit that I’m every bit deserving
But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair

The line that stood out to me was “the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” I thought about that line for a while trying to discern its meaning. I am not always so good at unravelling the meaning of poetry and songs but I believe what the songwriter is suggesting is that there is something a little bit unfair about grace. And so I also wondered if this is true. I have often heard this type of definition so the guys from RelientK are not alone in feeling that there is something unfair about grace. But I’m not so sure there is.


As is so often the case, definitions are half the battle. Let’s define “grace” and “unfair.”

Grace - We can define grace as the free and unmerited favor or beneficence of God. Or to provide Wikipedia’s definition, “Divine grace is a Christian term for gifts granted to humanity by God, that God is under no need or obligation to grant. Most broadly, grace describes all of God’s gifts to humankind, including our life, creation, and salvation, which God gives to us freely. More narrowly but more commonly, grace describes the means by which humans are saved from original sin and granted salvation.” The most important concept to grasp is that grace implies a favor that is unmerited and undeserved, yet given freely by a loving God.

Unfair - Unfair can be defined as follows: “Marked by injustice or partiality or deception; ‘used unfair methods’; ‘it was an unfair trial’; ‘took an unfair advantage’.” The American Heritage Dictionary adds, “Not just or evenhanded; biased: an unfair call by an umpire” and a secondary definition of “Contrary to laws or conventions, especially in commerce; unethical: unfair trading.”

Grace and Unfairness

Grace, as we have seen, is unmerited favor. In a theological sense grace is seen when God grants a gift to people who are in every way undeserving. Theologians speak of two broad categories of grace. The first is common grace which God extends in varying measure to every person in the world. Were God to withdraw His common grace, the world would quickly crumble and decay as God’s restraining hand allowed everyone to become exactly as evil as they could be. Theologian Charles Hodge defines common grace in this way: “The Bible therefore teaches that the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, of holiness, and of life in all its forms, is present with every human mind, enforcing truth, restraining from evil, exciting to good, and imparting wisdom or strength, when, where, and in what measure seemeth to Him good. In this sphere also He divides ‘to every man severally as He will.’ (1 Cor. 12:11.) This is what in theology is called common grace.” John Murray provides an even better definition stating that common grace includes, “every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” This grace includes restraint upon sin, restraint upon the consequences of sin and temporary restraint upon the Divine wrath against sin. Conversely, it also includes the bestowal of good and the excitation to do good.

The second type of grace is special, saving or salvific grace and this is the grace that God extends to those who are His people. Exactly when and how God extends this grace is a point of dispute between Calvinist and Arminian, but both agree that a special measure of God’s grace is given, and indeed must be given, to those who are saved. And so we see that God’s grace is evident all around us, in the good gifts we enjoy, in the restraint of our evil natures, and in the salvation He grants to those who are His own. Because we are evil, God-hating creatures, every measure of grace is entirely undeserved.

Now we are left with “unfair.” Is there anything unfair about the manner in which God dispenses His grace? To this I have to answer with an emphatic “no!” There is nothing unjust or unfair about God’s dispensation of grace. There is certainly nothing unethical about it. You see, the word unfair suggests duplicity or unfairness. But because grace is, by its very definition, a free gift, it cannot be given in a way that is unfair.

Consider, for a moment, an example. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina we were all moved by the absolute devastation and perhaps moved to tears when we saw people’s homes and livelihoods destroyed. But out of the chaos came some wonderful stories of compassion and grace. For example, many people in inland areas whose houses safely weathered the storm, opened their homes to refugees (or “displaced persons” as I hear the news channels report as the new politically correct term). Of course no single person could open his home to more than a few refugees. So was it in any way unfair that a particular person chose to extend grace to only a few people? Of course it was not. His act of grace was unmerited, so no one would dare complain that this person was unfair to refuse to open his doors to every person escaping the storm.

This analogy, while being as weak as most analogies are, does show an example of undeserved merit. I could also speak of homeless people. If I were to come across an intersection in which there was a homeless person on each corner, I would be in no way unjust to single out one of them and invite him to share lunch with me. This would not show unfairness or injustice towards the other. My invitation and the subsequent gift of lunch stands as unmerited favor.

Now assuming that we are discussing saving grace in particular, I believe we have left one important concept out of our equation. The basis of God’s grace is the sacrifice of Jesus. The grace that is extended to those who would believe is composed of two factors. A simple equation is grace equals justice plus mercy. Our very natures tell us that a crime deserves punishment. We have committed an infinitely grave crime in forsaking the Creator and this is a crime that deserves an infinite punishment. God’s justice requires satisfaction. But thanks be to God, He, through His mercy, provided satisfaction in His Son. So He fulfills the requirements of justice and mercy so that we can receive grace. The lyric for the song we considered earlier, then, takes into consideration the undeservedness of grace, but then suggests an element of unfairness that has no part in grace.

Is Grace Unfair?

So is grace unfair? No, not at all. Grace cannot, by definition, be unfair. Were it in any way unfair, it would cease to be grace! The undeservedness of grace does not imply or necessitate unfairness or injustice. Grace is built upon the foundations of the merciful satisfaction of justice. It is undeserved, but not unfair.

Answering Critics

Having shown, I hope, that grace is not unfair, I would like to answer the critics of Calvinists and our understanding of God’s saving grace. But I will do so in the future.