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January 12, 2014

I am in the midst of a series of articles on the seven ecumenical councils of the early church. These councils commenced with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and concluded with the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Between these two events were five more, each of which attempted to understand and establish a unified Christian theology.

In this series we are taking a brief look at each of the seven councils. For each one we are considering the setting and purpose, the major characters, the nature of the conflict, and then the results and lasting significance. We continue today with the the fourth council, the Council of Chalcedon.

Setting & Purpose

In 449, a Second Council of Ephesus was convened because of the excommunication of a monk named Eutyches, who taught that Christ, after his incarnation, had only one nature. The council itself devolved into drama when those who supported Eutychus, led by Dioscorus and supported by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, unilaterally and forcefully asserted their doctrine over against those who held the orthodox view that Christ has two natures—one fully human and one fully divine—which exist in hypostasis in one person. When news of the council reached Rome, Pope Leo immediately termed it Latrocinium (a “robber council”).

When Marcian, an orthodox Christian, became emperor, he wished to convene another council in order to resolve the turmoil that the Second Council of Ephesus had stirred up. That council met from October 8 to November 1, 451, in Chalcedon, now a district of modern-day Istanbul. It was held here rather than in Italy because of the pressing threat to the Roman Empire from Attila and his Huns.

Major Characters & Conflict

Of the 350 to 500 bishops present, two stand out as the major characters: Eutyches and Dioscorus. Eutyches was an aged and influential monk from Constantinople. Because of his unorthodox teachings about Christ he had already been condemned as a heretic in 448 by a local synod in Constantinople. Dioscorus became Bishop of Alexandria after Cyril died in 444. When Eutyches was initially excommunicated, Dioscorus came to his defense. Eventually he would preside over the Second Council of Ephesus where he strong-armed the assembly to restore Eutyches and depose those who had excommunicated him.

January 09, 2014

Nestled on a remote hillside overlooking Axe Valley in Devonshire, England, is a small, nondescript church building. A few weatherworn gravestones surround it, many of them nearly toppled over. The roof has been thatched again and again, its walls have been repaired repeatedly through its many years. The Loughwood Meeting House has stood here since the late 1600’s and it represents one of the oldest surviving Baptist meeting houses in all the world. In this series which looks at The History of Christianity in 25 Objects, the Loughwood Meeting House points us to the existence and the rise of the earliest Baptists.

When the Protestant Reformation swept Europe and reached the British Isles, it was a Reformation of Christians we would recognize today as Lutheran, Anglican, Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian. It would take some time before we would begin to see a distinctly baptistic movement.

The earliest Baptist church was founded in Holland in 1608 or 1609 by an English pastor named John Smyth. Smyth had been ordained as an Anglican clergyman in 1594, but soon found himself at odds with the church hierarchy. His zeal and his refusal to conform to Anglican doctrine and practice landed him in prison, marked as a Separatist.

When it became clear that he could no longer continue in Anglican fellowship, he relocated to Holland and it was here that he and his fellow congregants became convinced that believer’s baptism, as opposed to infant baptism, was the biblical mandate for Christians. Together they founded the first Baptist congregation and Smyth immediately baptized himself and the rest of his congregants. Smyth’s views would continue to evolve over the course of his life so they soon became almost unrecognizable as either Baptist or Anglican, but he did make at least two significant contributions to the history of the church: He led the way in introducing and practicing believer’s baptism and he introduced the model of having only two offices in the church—elder and deacon—which contrasted with both Catholic and Reformed practice.

Baptist beliefs soon spread far beyond Holland and it was not long before Baptists became a significant presence in England so that the first English Baptist church was founded by Thomas Helwys in 1612. We must note two important milestones in the development of Baptist doctrine.

January 06, 2014

I’m kind of a jerk. For as long as I’ve been able to think about myself, my heart, my life, I’ve known that I’m a sinful person. I’ve never doubted the reality of my depravity. And if there ever had been any doubt, being married and having children and immersing myself in a local church has provided all the proof I, and they, need.

But lately I’ve been considering one simple and disturbing aspect of this sin: I’m better than you. At least, this is what I believe in most of life’s situations. I’m just plain better than you. Somewhere deep inside I believe it’s true and too often I live and act like it’s true.

This is the old sin of pride, I suppose, the one we talk about so often but deal with so seldom, the one many people put at the root of all sin. And it’s amazing to me how much of my sin comes down to it. I think I’m better than you. Too often I’m just plain convinced of it.

When you choose to go left, my heart judges and condemns you because I am convinced it would have been better to go right. I don’t have nearly all the information you have, and probably only half the wisdom, yet in my heart I am convinced you would have made a far better decision if only you would have asked me to guide you.

When you lead your ministry, I have trouble following because I see all the things you are doing wrong, all the ignorant decisions you are making. I don’t know much about children’s ministry or music ministry or evangelism ministry or whatever else it is you lead, but I still have it all figured out. Come chat and I’ll be glad to set you straight.

When you are given a privilege or responsibility, something that puts you in a position of trust or authority, I am certain that the privilege should have gone to me. I suppose you will do okay, but I think we all know I would have done better. After all, I’m better than you.

January 05, 2014

I am in the midst of a series of articles on the seven ecumenical councils of the early church. These councils commenced with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and concluded with the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Between these two events were five more, each of which attempted to understand and establish a unified Christian theology.

In this series we are taking a brief look at each of the seven councils. For each one we are considering the setting and purpose, the major characters, the nature of the conflict, and then the results and lasting significance. We continue today with the Council of Ephesus.

Setting & Purpose

The Council of Ephesus was convened in 431 by Theodosius II, emperor of the eastern half of the Roman empire, and he did so at the request of Nestorius. Nestorius’ teaching about the nature of Christ was generating a great deal of controversy in the church, and he requested a council in the hopes of being able to prove his orthodoxy and silence his detractors. While Theodosius did not attend, he sent the head of his imperial palace guard, Count Candidian, to represent him. The council met in Ephesus, near present day Selcuk in Turkey with between 200 and 250 bishops in attendance.

This council came at time of conflict over authority within the church. The First Council of Constantinople had established the bishop of Constantinople as second in authority following Rome, whose bishop carried the title of Pope and who claimed his authority from the line of Peter. Alexandria and Antioch were also powerful bishoprics and their schools of Christology historically came from different positions. Leo Davis explains: “Just as all philosophers are said to be basically either Aristotelian or Platonist, so, roughly speaking, all theologians are in Christology either Antiochene, beginning with the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and attempting to explain how this man is also God, or Alexandrian, beginning with the Word of John’s Prologue and attempting to understand the implications of the Logos taking flesh.” This council would further expose the rift between the two schools of Christology.

Major Characters

Though he would not actually be present, the dominant personality at the Council of Ephesus was Nestorius who was originally from Antioch in Syria. Nestorious was a gifted speaker who had been appointed by Theodosius II as Archbishop of Constantinople. The second major character was Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria. The two men would represent the two sides in a conflict with profound implications to the Christian faith.

The Conflict

Once in Constantinople, Nestorius found himself caught between two factions: one faction insisted on calling Mary Theotokos (“God-bearer”) while the other rejected the title because they held that an eternal being could not be born. (Theotokos was an ancient title for Mary that had been in use since the 3rd century, used by such men as Origen, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nazianzus.) In an attempt to mediate the dispute, Nestorius suggested calling Mary Christotokos (“Christ-bearer”). He wanted to affirm that Christ had a fully human nature rather than a nature mixed with his Deity. He also wanted to affirm the full reality of his Deity, which Nestorius believed could not involve change or suffering. By calling Mary Christotokos, Nestorius was suggesting that she gave birth to Christ, which was the prosopon (lit. in Greek “face” or “mask”) of the Son—the single perceived object of the Son, but internally consisting of two distinct natures, one human and the other divine.

December 26, 2013

The end of the year brings a million reflections and round-ups to the Web, collections of what was most popular and most important in the year that was. Among the most important and most shocking year-end roundups I read this week concerned pornography. (I read about the report at a major news site but will risk charges of plagiarism and not link to it since it, in turn, links to porn sites.)

Here is the statistic you and I need to think about: 52% of pornography consumed in the United States this year was consumed on mobile devices; a further 10% was consumed on tablets. This means that almost two thirds of pornography is now being viewed on devices other than desktop computers.

Why is this significant? For at least two reasons.

Did you buy your children an iPod or iPhone or other mobile device for Christmas? You just bought them the major porn-consumption device. So what are you going to do to protect them from it? One of the most popular articles I wrote in 2013 concerned The Porn-Free Family. I will be returning to the subject in the new year, but for now, I want to point out an important fact: Most of our attempts to block pornography and to use accountability software are effective only or primarily on desktop devices. Covenant Eyes is an effective solution on my desktop or laptop, but a rather ineffective solution on my mobile phone. This is the first major takeaway from these new statistics: Your filtering and accountability solution has to account for mobile devices if it is going to be at all effective.

The second one is this: The adoption of mobile devices, and therefore the consumption of pornography through mobile devices, probably trends toward younger people. This is based on an educated guess more than statistics, but I am quite sure it will prove true. The younger you are, the greater the likelihood that you enjoy the privacy and portability afforded by your mobile device when you look at porn. The statistics released by this company conveniently skip all mention of age, but we all know the popularity of pornography among teens—teens who are increasingly in possession of mobile devices. Putting a desktop computer in a public place within the home and installing Covenant Eyes is still a good idea, but it hardly matters if your children carry unsecured iPods with them all the time. That’s like securing your home by locking the front door while leaving all the windows wide open.

Again, I will say more about this in the new year as I attempt to put together an effective plan to guard against pornography and other online dangers. But for the time being, do think and think carefully about the dangerous collision between mobility and pornography.

December 25, 2013

It is Christmas morning as I write these words, and this year we are away down south in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We are here to spend the holidays with my parents and siblings. All-told I guess there will be twenty-four of us gathered around the tree and the table a bit later on—that’s my parents, my four siblings, their spouses, and a growing number of kids who range from 13-years-old down to ten months. We’ve already opened stockings and gifts as individual families, but later on will pass presents between families.

I was raised in a Christian tradition that saw Christmas as a family day, but not a religious holiday. Though we never did the Santa thing, Christmas was still the biggest holiday on our family calendar—a day to gather as family, to enjoy exchanging gifts, to enjoy time together. Even today, all these years later, making Christmas all about the birth of Jesus still feels a little bit unfamiliar, a little bit forbidden. And yet we are still sure to acknowledge the best gift of all, to thank God for sending his Son. That is worth acknowledging and celebrating today and every day.

No matter how you mark the day, thank you for reading, and from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2013

Tis the season for year-end round-ups, and it is a good time for such business matters because readership always plunges dramatically during the holiday season. I took some time to look back at my statistics from the year that was, and here are the articles that got the greatest number of readers in 2013:

10. The Art and Science of the Humblebrag - This tongue-in-cheek article was about social media and the humblebrag.

9. In the Crosshairs of the Discernment Bloggers - This article is about my experience of being in the crosshairs of the discernment bloggers.

8. Lessons Learned at Strange Fire - These were my reflections on the Strange Fire conference and book.

7. Thinking Biblically About C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries - This was an attempt to share my own thinking on the news about C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.

6. 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Wife - This was a follow-up for the article that takes the #1 spot below.

5. Jesus Calling - This has been on the “most popular” lists for three years now. Sarah Young’s books continue to sell and continue to generate controversy.

4. Stopping An Affair Before It Begins - This was a simple word on how to protect a marriage from sexual sin.

3. The Porn-Free Family - The popularity of this article shows me just how helpless parents feel in the face of all the electronic temptations that face our families today.

2. John MacArthur Answers His Critics - This one comes as no great surprise. This was the first part of an interview with MacArthur that followed his Strange Fire conference.

1. 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Kids - This one took me rather by surprise and quickly became not only the most popular article of 2013, but the most popular (non-book review) article I’ve ever written.

December 23, 2013

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This was one of Paul’s parting commands to Timothy. Paul had nearly come to the end of his life and wrote Timothy to tell him that he had to think beyond himself and his own generation. Timothy was to think about the future and plan for it with care and diligence.

The pastor is to select some—and only some—of the men in his care to receive special attention and training because these are the men to whom he will entrust the gospel and the future of the Christian faith. But how will a pastor know what kind of man to choose? There’s an acronym I have found helpful. You may well have run into it before; I came across it most recently in a sermon from Steven Cole. The pastor must focus his attention on those men who are FAT:

Faithful. These are men whose great ambition is the glory of God, who long to care for souls, and who long to see God’s kingdom advance. Calvin says such men are to be chosen not on account of the existence of their faith, since all Christians have faith, but on the pre-eminence of their faith. Some men have an extra measure of desire and ability to labor in preserving and spreading Christian faith and practice. Faithful men will not lose, neglect or falsify the gospel but will, conversely, handle it with great care. These are the ones who are to be the special object of the pastor’s attention.

Available. The pastor must entrust the gospel to men who are available: who desire this ministry for pure motives and who are willing to take it upon themselves. There will inevitably be some who will want to be chosen on the basis of personal ambition, jealousy, pride or even outright deception; these men must be avoided. There are some who will be unwilling because of apathy or by fear of consequences; these men must be given time to mature. There are some who are simply not able to because of other responsibilities or their current stage of life; these men must be allowed to carry on without shame or guilt. The pastor is to seek out men who have made themselves available in terms of time, effort and character.

December 22, 2013

Last week I began a new series of articles on the seven ecumenical councils of the early church. These councils commenced with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and concluded with the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Between these two events were five more, each of which attempted to understand and establish a unified Christian theology.

In this series we will take a look at each of the seven councils. For each one we will consider the setting and purpose, the major characters, the nature of the conflict, and then the results and lasting significance. We continue today with the First Council of Constantinople.

Setting & Purpose

The First Council of Constantinople was held in Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, Turkey. It was convened by Theodosius I who at that time was Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. The council met from May to July, 381.

The council was convened to try to unite a church that remained divided over the issue of Christ’s nature and his relationship with the Father. Though the First Council of Nicaea had already attempted to reach consensus, Arianism and other heterodox understandings remained a battleground in every region of the empire.

Major Characters

There were 150 Eastern bishops present at the council and among them were a handful of notable characters.

Meletius, bishop of Antioch served as the first president of the council, but died shortly after it began.

Gregory of Nazianzus was elected bishop of Constantinople at the start of the council and, after the death of Meletius, took over as president. However, shortly thereafter, the legality of his election was challenged based on a canon from the Council of Nicaea that bishops cannot be transferred from see to see (Gregory had previously been bishop in Sasima). This dispute prompted Gregory to resign from the bishopric and presidency.

Nectarius was a civil official who was quickly baptized so he could take over as bishop of Constantinople and president of the council when Gregory stepped down.

December 19, 2013

Well isn’t this the most self-serving thing you’ll read all day? But I’d like you to hear me out. It was just over two years ago that Zondervan published my book The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion. This was a book that came out of my own explorations on the nature and purpose of technology—not only digital technology, but all human technology.

I think you should read it, if you haven’t already. Or you should at least consider it.

It is not only a book for techies, for technophiles, for people who watched Star Trek and who live and breathe computer languages. It is not only a book for people who always need to buy the next great thing. It is a book for all of us since. If you are reading these words, the book necessarily applies to you.

Just a few days ago I took the book down from my shelf for the first time in a while and ran through it. It was interesting to see how much it speaks to today’s challenges and even to today’s current events. Obviously I would not have written the book if hadn’t believed that it was important. Still, it was still comforting to see that it really has made a significant difference in my life and that in many ways I really am thinking differently and living differently because of what I discovered along the way.

Let me give you five reasons I think you should consider reading The Next Story.

Read it to learn why you are surrounded by technology. Our functional understanding of technology is “anything that was invented after I was born.” But in reality, everything around us is technology, something that has been invented to make our lives better or easier or more comfortable or more productive. This is as true of the book and the television and the automobile as it is of the iPhone or the web browser. Because you are surrounded at all times by technology, it would be wise for you to understand what technology is and how it functions in this world.

Read it to learn what God thinks about technology. We tend to understand technology as something that exists in the realm of science or science fiction, but there is a deeply theological component to technology. Our ability to create flows out of the fact that we are created in the image of a creative God; our desire to create flows out of our mandate to subdue this world and exercise dominion over it; our motive to create flows out of our purpose in this world, to glorify and enjoy God. We must learn to think Christianly about our technology.

Read it to learn about the connection between technology and idolatry. Perhaps the most important insight I learned when preparing the book was the deep connection between technology and idolatry. Because our technologies always promise more productivity, more comfort, more wealth, more good things—because they always promise to deliver more of what we like the best—we are never far from idolatry when we embrace technology. This has implications all over life and will transform the way you think about the next great device or idea.

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