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November 08, 2006

Those who had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel Conference, or who listened to the audio recordings (available here in MP3 or CD format), no doubt remember C.J. Mahaney’s plenary session which was entitled “Watch Your Life and Doctrine.” He took as his text 1 Timothy 4:16 which reads: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” He taught that, through God-appointed means, the preservation of a pastor and his congregation is at stake in his obedience to this verse. Faithful, pastoral ministry could not be more important and the implications could not be more important, for they are eternal. I know of a great many pastors who were both challenged and encouraged by this session.

As you may know, the sessions from the conference are being compiled into Preaching the Cross, a book that will be published by Crossway in 2007. In the days following the scandal involving Ted Haggard, it seemed appropriate to provide this chapter to others. Though the book has not yet been edited and published, Crossway was kind enough to provide special permission to Justin Taylor and myself to post this chapter. It is Copyright © 2006 by Crossway (used by permission; all rights reserved) and will be available here for only a limited time. While you are free to link to this post from your web site or to download the document for personal use or, we ask that no one else upload the file to their own web server.

So here is your first glance at the forthcoming title Preaching the Cross. The chapter written by C.J. Mahaney is entitled “The Pastor’s Priorities: Watch Your Life and Doctrine.” We strongly urge you to consider making this chapter available to your pastor and leaders, either by forwarding the link or printing a copy. The wisdom of Paul, relayed through C.J., is timeless, but seems especially timely today.

The chapter headings include:

  • Our Two-Fold Task
  • Watch Your Life
  • Sound Doctrine Is Not Enough
  • The Consequences of Neglect
  • The War Within Never Ends
  • We Can’t Fight the War Alone
  • A Model for Your Consideration
  • Watch Your Doctrine
  • Watch the Savior Work

Here is a brief excerpt from the document:

The Consequences of Neglect

Sound doctrine is not enough, because according to Scripture, the fundamental qualification for pastoral ministry is godly character. Neither skill, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, nor reputation, nor personality, nor apparent fruitfulness of public ministry will suffice. Scan 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and you will encounter a profile of personal piety.

Yes, the pastor must be able to teach. Certainly, he must handle the Word of truth accurately and skillfully. But the foundational assumption of Scripture—both for appointment to or continuation in ministry—is that the pastor provide a godly example. Not a perfect example, but an authentic example. As Spurgeon exhorted his students in “The Minister’s Self-Watch,” “Our characters must be more persuasive than our speech.”

If we neglect the command of 1 Timothy 4:16—if we fail to watch our life closely, carefully, and uncompromisingly—negative consequences are inevitable, for ourselves, our family, our pastoral team, and our church. A marked or prolonged inattention to personal holiness in a pastor is a grave matter that must be addressed.

In Sovereign Grace Ministries, here is how we have sought to apply this passage in relation to the pastors of our local churches.

We believe that the biblical requirement for a pastor is not flawless character but mature character. We are all progressively growing in godliness. A pastor who recognizes an area of immaturity, and takes specific action towards change, demonstrates close attention to his life and doctrine. Likewise, if a particular instance of non-disqualifying sin occurs in a pastor’s life, but he genuinely repents before God and the appropriate individuals, this also honors the passage we are examining.

There are, of course, some sins that are particularly serious, both in the effect they have upon others and what they reveal about the condition of the heart. Even a single instance of such sins—sexual immorality, financial impropriety, violent behavior, etc.—would automatically disqualify a man from pastoral ministry. Beyond such grave instances of sin, however, a serious ongoing pattern of disobedient deviation from biblical requirements in the life of a pastor can also be disqualifying.

For example, a single lustful look, quickly confessed and repented of is part of growing maturity. However, a pattern of pornography could be disqualifying. Similarly, an isolated instance of lying speech, promptly brought into the light, is evidence of ongoing sanctification. Repeated examples of deceptive behavior, on the other hand, call into question a pastor’s trustworthiness. Likewise, an outburst of irritation, immediately regretted and repented of is proof the Holy Spirit is at work. But a reputation for anger is not consistent with the biblical requirements for a pastor.

Where such patterns of sin exist, we believe that genuine care for a pastor and church involves a corrective process. Of course, this must be administered with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Occasions requiring the loving confrontation of a pastor in sin have been among the most difficult and painful of my ministry experience. But in the end, the corrective process has normally produced God-glorifying and fruitful outcomes in a pastor’s life, family, and church.

The document is available is PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format. You can download it here.

November 07, 2006

As I read Marsden’s biography of Jonthan Edwards last week, I was stopped short several times by Edwards’ wisdom. Constantly surrounded by conflict, and often facing people who sought to undermine his ministry, Edwards had every opportunity to reflect on the task of a minister. During his ministry, one conflict involved whether sermons should primarily enlighten the mind or whether they should primarily stir the affections. Charles Chauncy, his opponent in this debate, believed that “an enlightened mind, and not raised affections, ought always be the guide of those who call themselves men; and this, in the affairs of religion, as well as other things.” Chauncy, as with many men of his day, believed that the affections were closely related to the passions of one’s animal nature and needed to be restrained by the higher faculty of reason.

Edwards disagreed, teaching that one could not neatly separate the affections from the will. Both the intellect and affections are fallible and unreliable, but both are given by God and ought to be exercised.

And then Marsden points out an application of this. “Critics of the awakenings alleged that when people heard many sermons in one week they would not be able to remember much of what they had heard. Edwards countered, ‘The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.’” Marsden concludes, “Preaching, in other words, must first of all touch the affections” (Page 282).

I found this a great encouragement. Like every other Christian, I have often sat enraptured in church, having my mind filled and my affections stirred. But sometimes after arriving home I can barely remember a word that was said. The same is sometimes true of books, Bible studies and conferences. What was so meaningful at the time may be nearly forgotten only a short time later, leaving me to question if it was really so important in the first place. This is not to say that nothing sticks in my mind. Certainly I do remember a lot of what I hear and what I read. But when I consider a 500-page book or a series of 8 speeches and compare what I read or what I heard to what I now remember, it can be awfully frustrating. It can be discouraging.

But, according to Edwards, if I were to worry in this way I would be placing too great an emphasis on intellect and downplaying the importance of affections. I independently reached a similar conclusion to this not so long ago, though unlike Edwards, my conclusions were based on necessity rather than being argued from Scripture. With the amount of conferences I attend and the number of books I read, I have had to have faith that God is working through them, even if I cannot remember the intimate details of a book or conference even only three short weeks after the fact. I’ve had to trust that the effort is not wasted, even if so much seems to fade away so quickly. I’ve had to trust that the Holy Spirit is at work behind the scenes, doing His work, even when I cannot easily measure any benefit. I’ve had to trust, and this has been a useful exercise to me.

The words of Edwards gave me confidence that the benefit of a book cannot be measured simply by how much I remember a week or two weeks or a month after reading it. The benefit of a sermon may be greater during the hearing of it than in the later reflections upon it. The benefit of a conference may be more in the hearing than in the recounting of it. God uses books, Bible studies, conferences and sermons not just to fill my mind, but also (and perhaps even primarily) to stir my affections, even if a frustrating amount of the benefit seems to fade away far too quickly.

I ran Edwards’ quote through Google and found that others have discussed these words as well. I found one article particularly beneficial. Paul at Expository Thoughts applies them to taking notes during church. He also quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote of Edwards, “The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently…. It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

God was good to allow me to encounter these words. I trust that, at the very least, they will continue to resound in my heart so I may have confidence that the Spirit is at work when my affections are stirred and my heart longs for Him.

November 06, 2006

By now you have heard of the scandal involving Ted Haggard. Reaction to the news has ranged from sympathy to disgust, from support to condemnation. The media has dedicated a lot of attention to this story, though they seem to be writing about it as just another news story rather than something that is somehow bigger or more significant than any other story. Watchbloggers are out in force, like homeschool moms at a book sale, swarming and trampling. To this point I have refrained from mentioning the issue for reasons related primarily to my own lack of sanctification. But I feel now that I can speak out with some legitimacy.

Until this week I knew very little about Ted Haggard. I had heard his name a few times and even received a book of his from a publisher not too long ago (though I chose not to read it). Here in Canada we receive little news coverage of evangelical churches and leaders and I’m quite sure that, until this week, his name has never been mentioned in the Canadian media. Even now, the main pages of Canadian news sites have no mention of the story. And yet I realize that he is obviously an important individual who founded what has become a huge and important church and led an organization representing millions of Americans. Of greatest consequence, Haggard is a brother in Christ.

Like many of you, when I first heard the news of this scandal I wanted to know more. I wanted to know details and to have the whole story of his immorality printed before me. I wanted the lurid and gossipy details. Some sick and depraved part of me wanted to know it all, no doubt so I could compare myself to him and account myself somehow superior to him. Thankfully, this was but my first instinct and was obviously the desires of the “old man,” the part of me that delights in all that is evil and contrary to God. God was good to show me that I should not long after such things.

What I felt next was little better. I felt pity. This was not true sympathy, but pity that Haggard could be such a sinner; such a depraved individual. I felt sorry for a guy who could desire something so base, so sinful. Who would want to use meth? Who could feel that type of homosexual desire? I don’t understand such urges! I felt comfortable in my moral superiority and in my greater sanctification. I felt proud that I was not one of those guys whose life was such a far cry from his profession of faith.

And then I watched the video of Haggard being interviewed in front of his home. I’d encourage you to watch the video too, focusing on Haggard, watching his eyes, watching his face. You can find the link here. Remember as you watch that this is not a film and he is not an actor. This is a real man with a real life, a real soul, and real emotions. And now watch it again, but this time watch his wife, sitting immediately beside him. And not only that, but consider that sitting behind him are three of his children. The children sit silently while the reporter asks dad if he has done meth and if he has ever had sex with a man.

And then realize that, as we explored earlier this week in a discussion about total depravity, there is really no difference between you and Haggard or between myself and Haggard. We are all totally depraved with our sin extending to every aspect of our being. There but for the grace of God go I. There but for the grace of God go you. While I would not expect a reporter to approach me if I were to fall into similar sin, I can only imagine the pain of having to sit in front of my children, my wife, and answer questions about whether or not I have had sex with a man or admitting that I purchased illegal drugs. It’s horrible. It’s terrifying. That could be my wife, wondering how I could do this to her, wondering if she can ever trust me again, wondering if she can ever love me again. Those could be my kids, hearing the lurid details of dad’s depravity. Those could be my kids, trying bravely not to cry as they walk into school on Monday morning, knowing that everyone knows, knowing that life will never be the same.

I went from wanting to know details, to feeling pity to feeling terror to pleading with God to continue to extend His grace to me that I would not fall. Jonathan Edwards, in his most famous sermon, spoke about God’s sovereignty and how, at any given moment, it is only the sovereign grace of God that keeps Him from ending a person’s life. Marsden writes, “The subject of the sermon is that at this very moment God is holding sinners in his hands, delaying the awful destruction that their rebellion deserves.” Edwards said, “You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his price: and yet ‘tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment: ‘tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night…but that God’s hand has held you up: there is no other reason to be given why you han’t gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don’t this very moment drop down into hell. Oh sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in.” What is true of eternity, is equally true of the temporal. Just as nothing but God’s hand keeps both Christian and non-Christian from death at any given moment, the same hand is all that restrains any of us from falling into sin as dreadful as Haggard’s, or sin that is far worse.

Paul’s exhortation of 1 Corinthians 10:12 has been much on my mind this weekend. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Oh, that God would keep me from relying more on my effort and less on His grace. I pray and beg and plead that His grace would continue to extended to me that I would take heed, that I would continue to fill my heart with His Words of life.

There are some who are seeking to make this issue into something almost prophetic, as if it is indicative of the state of evangelicalism. “The Reformed Gadfly,” whose post was endorsed by Slice of Laodicea writes, “I’m sick and tired of being associated with a ‘Christianity’ that does not seem to care one whit about holiness or obedience to God’s Word. Let me say this as perfectly clear as I can: I believe that ‘Christianity’ in America is nearly totally apostate. Why? We have abandoned the vision of the Holiness and Fear of God. We’ve built a false god that will cater to our flesh and meet our ‘felt needs’. Our real need? Repentance. But we don’t want to go there. We live in Laodicea. No apologies. Cut and dried. Stuff like this can only happen because contemporary Christianity is rotten to the core.”

No, no, no! Stuff like this happens because we are rotten to the core! Stuff like this happens because I am rotten to the core. Oh, that we would all take heed! How can we be sick and tired of being associated with other sinners? I am the greatest sinner I know and can only delight to be in the presence of other sinners, others with whom I can share God’s grace and from whom I can learn more about God’s grace. The Christian I am most sick and tired of being associated with me, for my sin is before me always! Every day I have to peer into my dark heart and beg God for forgiveness. Every day I see again how my heart is dark and black and awful and filled with emnity towards God. Every day I see in my heart that I am no different than Ted Haggard. But for the grace of God I would do so much more and so much worse. Take heed. I sit here and weep for Haggard and his family and his church, but selfishly, I weep even more for myself, knowing that I, too, could be in such a situation. What is in Haggard is in me. What is in me is in you. But for the grace of God…

Despite all the darkness and the grief, this situation gives me some hope and some cause to rejoice. New Life Church seems to have handled this situation very well. I know nothing of the church beyond what has appeared in the news and what Phillip Ryken wrote of it at the Reformation21 blog. “I visited New Life Church when it was in its popular ascendancy about a decade ago. The strongest impression I had on that particular Sunday was a palpable absence of the gospel — lots of feel-good worship and moralistic exhortation to lead a good life, but little in the way of a biblical message of repentance for sin and grace in Christ. Yet this is the only gospel that can save any of us who are guilty of scandalous sins.” They have certainly moved quickly and decisively in this situation, examining the evidence and taking swift action in removing Haggard from his position of authority. This seems like the right thing to do based on their conclusion that “Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.” This was good to see and bodes well for the church. I hope this situation strengthens the church, causing its members to look long and hard at their own lives.

But there is more reason to hope. Bill Kinnon pointed out to me the subject of Haggard’s sermon just one week ago. Haggard preached “from 1 Samuel 16 on God’s preparation for the removal of one King, Saul, with his replacement, David. An interesting passage to cover in a church where the leadership model more closely resembled Kings and Chronicles, than that of New Testament leadership. The preacher was speaking about the forthcoming US midterm elections. Talking about how God removes some leaders and replaces them with others. One might see the preaching as prophetic for the events in the last week.” Mere seconds into the sermon, Haggard prayed that lies and deception would be exposed. “Father, we pray that lies would be exposed. We pray that deception would be exposed.” I can but hope that Haggard’s prayer was sincere and that God took him at his word, answering his prayer. I can only hope that Haggard realizes this and turns to God in full repentance.

And I can only hope that, when you and I ask God to answer our prayers and to save us from our sin, to unmask the sin that haunts us, that He will be so swift to answer. I sometimes hesitate to ask God that he will deal with the sin in my life in whatever way He deems necessary to get me to actually change my ways. And yet, in my best moments, I ask Him to do anything necessary, no matter how difficult, no matter how humiliating, to draw me closer to Him and to mold me ever more into His image. If I’ve been intimidated before, I will be even more so now. And yet I see that He can and will answer.

If we look to Ted Haggard as a representative of all that is wrong in Evangelicalism, I think we miss the most important lesson. The lesson we need to learn is that we are every bit as sinful and fallible and willful and depraved as Haggard; perhaps more so. It is only the grace of God that, like a spider being held over the flame by a nearly-invisible web, prevents me from giving in to all the sin that is in me and being dragged down by it. Oh, that He would continue to extend this grace! And oh, that I would take heed lest I, too, fall, for what is in Haggard is in me.

November 05, 2006

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

This week’s recipient of the award is Expository Thoughts, a blog the features the writing of five men, all of whom are pastors (though it seems that one of these, Paul Lamey, does the vast majority of the writing). The authors say, “There’s no greater task under the Sun than to proclaim the Word of God. However, preaching has become an endangered species whereby anything and everything is called ‘preaching’. It was P. T. Forsyth who reminded us of preaching’s crucial nature when he said, ‘It is, perhaps, an overbold beginning, but I will venture to say that with its preaching Christianity stands or falls.’ Expository Thoughts is dedicated to the expository ministry of the Christian Scriptures (it’s recovery, sharpening, and systematic proclamation). It is our aim to provide encouragement, resources, and general discussion related to the preaching ministry.” While the site’s primary audience is pastors and church leaders, there is plenty at the site to benefit any Christian.

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

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

November 02, 2006

I read and review a lot of books. You already know this. I have been pleased to find that other Christians able to benefit from my love of reading through these reviews. I’ve received a lot of encouragement from people who have purchased books based on my recommendation and have been blessed by them. It has always been my purpose to help put good books in the hands of believers while helping them avoid ones that just aren’t worth reading. It is great to see this happen!

On occasion I’ve been told that people have difficulty navigating the large number of reviews on my blog (there are, after all, several hundred reviews now). To alleviate that problem, I have created a mini-site in which I have categorized and listed the reviews of books I recommend. Do note that in this section I have listed only books that I recommend (and hence I will not list books I do not recommend). Each book has a link to Amazon.com and a link to my review of that title. I hope and trust you will find this beneficial. I intend to make regular updates to this section, so please check back regularly.

If you are looking for a wider variety of reviews written by more people than just me, consider visiting another of my sites, Discerning Reader.

Because Christmas is coming and many people buy books for others, I have created a couple of lists of Christmas suggestions you may find helpful (books for non-readers and books for unbelievers).

You can visit the mini-site at www.challies.com/booklist/.

November 01, 2006

This is the second article in a series dealing with the Five Points of Calvinism and attempting to draw some fresh application from them. I anticipate that each of the five points will merit two articles.

The first article dealing with the T in TULIP can be found here. Today we will seek personal application for this doctrine.

Total Depravity: The Great Equalizer

I often feel that I have a boring or even uninspiring testimony. Like most believers, I have sat through (and sometimes endured) courses, seminars and Bible studies that have taught the value of a good testimony in evangelizing the lost. Many of these have taught evangelistic techniques that begin and end with a riveting testimony, as if God can only save through such a testimony. Of course, like any long-time believer, I have heard some incredible and inspiring testimonies. I have heard about women who were prostitutes giving their lives to the Lord and becoming active in ministry to women. I have met men who were drug dealers, living lives that would cause the most hardened of us to pale, but who were convicted of their sin and, through God’s grace, were saved. Compared to these, my testimony seems bland. It seems boring.

My testimony goes something like this: I was born into a Christian home. I was a pretty good kid and never got into any real trouble. Sure I lied a little bit and stole some pocket change from my mother on occasion, but I never did anything really bad. At some point during my teenage years I became a Christian. I do not have a crystal-clear idea of when this happened, but I do know that by the time I graduated high school I was a committed Christian. The end. Not surprisingly, no one has ever offered me a book deal or a spot on the speaking circuit to share that testimony with others.

Rebecca of “Rebecca Writes” fame, once expressed a similar sentiment in an article on her blog. “I came to Christ when I was very young. For almost as long as I can remember, I have been a crooked arrow being made straight rather than a crooked arrow spinning wildly. My testimony doesn’t start with ‘I was a teenaged prostitute drug-dealing felon, but God saved me.’ Nope. ‘I was a naughty five-year-old’ is about the worst I can do.”

In the article Rebecca expresses a belief that I share - Total Depravity is the great equalizer of believers before God. Even when we compare the most sinful man to the young boy who was saved long before he even knew how to get into serious trouble, we see that all men are equal before this law. After all, the Scriptures teach that we are not sinners merely because of the degree of our depravity, but because of the extent. As we saw in the first article on this topic, if we were to speak of a person who was totally depraved in degree, we would mean that the person was exactly as sinful as he could possibly be. Every thought of his heart and every action he undertook would be wholly, completely evil. Clearly there are some people in the world who are more depraved in degree than others and thus the degree of human depravity varies from person to person. This is why we need to distinguish between degree and extent. When we speak of a person who is totally depraved in extent, we mean that every part of that person has been affected by sin. His mind, body, spirit, motives, and thoughts are all corrupt and imperfect. In this measure, all men are equal.

The extent of my depravity is just as great as that of the worst sinner the world has ever known. The thoughts of his heart were continually evil, and so were mine. He hated God, and so did I. I had little opportunity to express this hatred and resentment, yet the Bible teaches that it was there all along. Titus 3:3 tells us that “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” These words are as true of a child as they are of an adult. Even a young child passes her days in foolishness, disobedience and malice towards both God and men. There are none who are truly innocent before God.

Ephesians 2:1-3 reads, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Rebecca writes, “Yep, there I was, in the evil band of those marching along the wrong path. I looked innocent enough, with my ringlets and ruffly dress and patent leather shoes, but what you couldn’t see is that I, too, was being energized by a spirit ruled by the prince of the power of the air. Yet God, in his mercy, reached down and plucked me from the power of darkness and transferred me to the kingdom of the Son.”

Were it not for Scripture’s clear teaching on Total Depravity, I may have cause to boast or to consider myself somehow more innocent than a person who instigated and endured much pain and suffering before being drawn to the Lord. Yet the Bible teaches me that my depravity, even as a child, was as great in extent as anyone’s. It was only His grace that kept me from being as corrupt in degree. If God delights in saving us, who are depraved in extent, we know also that God can save anyone despite the degree of his sin. If I compare myself to another and find him more in need of a Savior than I, I have made the mistake of comparing my sin to his, instead of comparing my sin to God’s perfection. God does not judge us by comparing one to the other, but against His perfect Law.

Before I close, I want to return briefly to those of us with what we perceive to be boring testimonies. It is amazing - shocking really - that the miracle of being delivered from death to life can be considered bland by myself or anyone else. Yet we all love a good story, and my story does not seem particularly exciting. But in reality, I think the testimony of a person, raised in a Christian home, who was saved in childhood is the most exciting testimony we can be privileged to hear. Is it not immeasurably beautiful that God is, indeed, faithful from one generation to the next? He promised the Israelites that He would show “steadfast love to thousands [of generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6). Perhaps this is best-expressed (as the footnote in the ESV says) as “showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation” of those who love Him. When the child of believing parents is given the gift of eternal life, we can marvel in God’s faithfulness to His promises. We can marvel also in His grace, that there are some whom He so blesses so that they do not need to experience such a degree of sin. Truly God is merciful. I pray and plead that He will extend such grace to my children, that they, too, may have testimonies of being drawn to Him while they are still young.

Total Depravity is not mere doctrine, but is truth that should and must impact the believer’s life. This truth is the great equalizer, for it shows that the best and worst of men are all equally corrupt in light of God’s perfect standard. “The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23) Rebecca writes, “Total depravity is both the nastiest and loveliest of truths, because it’s only by seeing exactly what I was that I can understand what has been done for me. Knowing the depth of God’s love comes only as I fathom how far he had to stoop to grasp me.” God had to stoop just as far to grab me as He did the lowliest criminal, for we were equally dead, equally depraved and equally in need of His grace, His life. We are equal as we fall to our faces before the cross.

We will continue this discussion in the future, as we move to the “U” in TULIP.

October 31, 2006

Today is Reformation Day, the day we celebrate the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. October 31 stands as the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Luther, when he did this, surely had no apprehension of just how significant an event this would be. And yet this act now stands as a defining moment in history, a moment which marked a point of no return. With the luxury of hindsight we can see that Luther was now committed to Reformation. There would be no turning back. The true church would rise from the false, the gospel would finally shine forth once more.

Protestantism is not a doctrine or a dogma. It is not a nation or an organization. Protestantism is a principle. J.A. Wylie says the following:

The History of Protestantism … is no mere history of dogmas. The teachings of Christ are the seeds; the modern Christendom, with its new life, is the goodly tree which has sprung from them. We shall speak of the seed and then of the tree, so small at its beginning, but destined one day to cover the earth.

Viewed thus – and any narrower view would be untrue alike to philosophy and to fact – the History of Protestantism is the record of one of the grandest dramas of all time. It is true, no doubt, that Protestantism, strictly viewed, is simply a principle. It is not a policy. It is not an empire, having its fleets and armies, its officers and tribunals, wherewith to extend its dominion and make its authority be obeyed. It is not even a Church with its hierarchies, and synods and edicts; it is simply a principle. But it is the greatest of all principles. It is a creative power. Its plastic influence is all-embracing. It penetrates into the heart and renews the individual. It goes down to the depths and, by its omnipotent but noiseless energy, vivifies and regenerates society. It thus becomes the creator of all that is true, and lovely, and great; the founder of free kingdoms, and the mother of pure churches. The globe itself it claims as a stage not too wide for the manifestation of its beneficent action; and the whole domain of terrestrial affairs it deems a sphere not too vast to fill with its spirit, and rule by its law.

Protestantism is not solely the outcome of human progress; it is no mere principle of perfectibility inherent in humanity, and ranking as one of its native powers, in virtue of which when society becomes corrupt it can purify itself, and when it is arrested in its course by some external force, or stops from exhaustion, it can recruit its energies and set forward anew on its path. It is neither the product of the individual reason, nor the result of the joint thought and energies of the species. Protestantism is a principle which has its origin outside human society: it is a Divine graft on the intellectual and moral nature of man, whereby new vitalities and forces are introduced into it, and the human stem yields henceforth a nobler fruit. It is the descent of a heaven-born influence which allies itself with all the instincts and powers of the individual, with all the laws and cravings of society, and which, quickening both the individual and the social being into a new life, and directing their efforts to nobler objects, permits the highest development of which humanity is capable, and the fullest possible accomplishment of all its grand ends. In a word, Protestantism is revived Christianity.

Today I dedicate space on this site to this Protestant principle—to revived Christianity. I have invited anyone with a blog to send a link to their Reformation Day reflections and have compiled those links here. I will add more articles to the list as they become available. I hope and pray they will be a blessing to all of us.

Symposium

Final Update

Don Elborne, who lives in the area destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, writes about “Sola Fida and the Storm.”

At Wyclif.net they discuss how “Hugh Latimer and his colleague Nicholas Ridley received the grace to seal their testimony of God with the blood of martyrdom.”

Aspiring PolyMathis has a multi-part series dealing with the Reformation’s impact on the world.

The discussion at SixSteps deals with the Reformation and Harmartiology. “If you are a Christian and know very little about the Reformation, I encourage you to read up on this pivotal moment in church history.”

From Ray Van Neste come the words of that beautiful hymn, “For All the Saints.”

Against Heresies discusses (what else?) Luther on heresy. “Martin Luther was charged with heresy for his new found view of justification by faith alone. He was urged to recant but refused. After the Diet of Worms in 1521, Charles V issued a letter referring to Luther as ‘that notorious heretic.’”

Tony Reinke was unable to take his mind off Reformation Day yesterday, so contributed a short post.

Nick Srader points out that, even on the day we celebrate as the first Reformation Day, “the greatest Reformation Day in Luther’s life hadn’t taken place yet.”

Fundy Reformed discusses Ulrich Zwingli under the heading of “Reformation Day and Unity.”

Alex Chediak points in the direction of a new book that is relevant to the theology of the Reformation.

Carolyn McCulley looks forward as well as backing, saying her “celebration of Reformation Day is not a look back in history, but rather a celebration of a growing reformation taking place in this generation.”

Updates at 1:30 PM EST

Luke Wood asks “As someone who has only recently come to an awareness of Reformation Day itself, I have been asking the question “why should I celebrate it?” (at the same time as being thankful for a natural diversion from the utter pointlessness of Halloween).”

Rebecca of Rebecca Writes fame marks the day by “posting a reflection on one of the slogans of the Reformation: Solus Christus, or by Christ alone.”

Travis says “Happy Reformation Day, World.” “How much has the Reformation affected my life? Probably more than I’ll ever know. This is because the Reformation was not about politics or power. It was about the gospel. It was about truth.”

At This Fire and the Rose, Nigel breaks out into a humorous song sung to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious.”

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian!
 Oh…

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Jason Furtak says “Today, Reformation Day, is an opportunity for every Christian to reflect on his or her foundational and core beliefs.”

Heather, following a theme that seems to be appearing more and more, asks “How is that after twelve years of Christian education, thirteen if you want to count kindergarten, I managed to never remember hearing anything about this historical holiday?”

Ed Goode says “Martin’s gone to change the world” and provides “some reasons why i believe that the Reformation is not only still boneshakingly important today, but also why i believe it is the second most significant moment in history not recorded in Scripture.”

Chris Hamer-Hodges. "This revival, for revival it was, was not so much a revival of power, but of truth. Revealing the eternal truth in God's word is just as much the activity of the Spirit of God as the manifestations of power."

At I See Daylight, Frank shares why he fights for the gospel.

Paul Huxley wonders "Do we need a reformation today similar to those of Zephaniah and Luther?"

Peter Bogert says that "teaching through the five Solas of the Reformation last year made me realize several things afresh, and these have continued to motivate my ministry this year."

Mark Horne writes "What Hath Madonna to do with Geneva? Thoughts for Reformation Day."

Original Entries

Ligonier Ministries is offering Max McLean's recording of Martin Luther's "Here I Stand" speech on their web site. It includes both the speech and a historical setting and is well worth the 26-minute commitment. You can access it by visiting ligonier.org and clicking the Audio button, or by clicking here for a direct link.

Thabiti Anyabwile reflects on the meaning of Reformation Day for an African American ministering in a small, international Caribbean island: "If there had been no recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ--the grand promise of justification in the sight of God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone--I and most African-Americans and Caribbean peoples would likely be utterly and eternally lost today...The greatest miracle of the Reformation is that enslaved Africans heard, above the din of rattling chains and the back-slashing crack of whips, the free Gospel call at the hands of slave traders and many less-than-heroic gospel preachers in the plantation south. That untutored Africans, imprisoned in a foreign land and surrounded by hostile wilderness, heard with clarity the learned oracles of Christ, were spiritually set free, and found the glorious banks of Zion is astounding!"

Thomas from Doctrine Matters discusses Reformation principles and the importance of the day. "On Reformation Day, may we all (as we should) glorify God for what He accomplished in 16th century Germany through Martin Luther and the other reformers - the recovery of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith for Christ's sake."

Carla Rolfe wonders what would happen if we had a second Reformation. "The more I thought about praying for another reformation, the more I wondered what that would really look like? While it's easy to say 'we need another reformation', it's a completely different matter to find yourself on your knees earnestly petitioning our Heavenly Father for it in our homes, churches, cities and countries."

Andrew Hong asks what the Reformation principle of sola scriptura has to do with contemporary Chinese churches. "Chinese culture has a great love for the past. In contrast to the Western worldview which looks forward and values new things, Chinese culture looks back and values old things. And so tradition is greatly prized in Chinese culture. While the Chinese have travelled to many lands and set up restaurants everywhere, adapting themselves superficially to many foreign places, their culture and traditions do not change very much." He offers up a couple of subsequent articles on the same theme.

Anthony at Justified Sinner encourages Christians to follow the example of Martin Luther and love boldly. "In reflection of this historical event and its many implications, I often find myself musing over a couple of matters: my personal straying from the gospel of Christ; and the need for boldness in speaking and living the truth, notwithstanding the risk of controversy or division."

Jeff, who writes at Spiritual Kung Fu (he'd surely win if the prize went to the most unique blog name) prepared a short video tribute entitled "Fathers of the Reformation."

Steve Weaver posted the text of a sermon he preached on Reformation Sunday. He examines the "Reformation slogan of 'Grace Alone' by looking at the past, present and future of believers in Ephesians 2:1-10. It is all of God's grace that He has made us members of this wonderful body called the church. We who were dead in trespasses and sins have been made alive through Christ in order that we might forever show God's greatness! God's purpose for us in this world is that we show forth His greatness to all of creation. Therefore, salvation does not rest upon human merit, but upon the grace of God alone."

John Samson asks if the Holy Spirit has moved on since the Reformation. "I don't believe the Holy Spirit has moved on from the central truths of the Reformation. In fact, I believe He is calling His Church back to the proclamation of these doctrines that once shook the world."

C.R. Biggs discusses "Reformed Righteousness." He exhorts Christians to remember the Reformation: "Look to Christ and discover anew the Reformation of the 16th Century in your own heart of hearts. Remember the vital importance of Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone!"

John Divito posts half of a project recently completed for his Systematic Theology III class dealing with the difference between Roman Catholicism and Martin Luther on the doctrine of justification.

Josh Rives looks at the Prequel to the Reformation claiming rightly that "John Wycliffe and John Huss set the stage for the cultural shift known as the Protestant Reformation."

From Kim from Hiraeth who "read quite a bit yesterday about Luther and the 95 Theses and the Reformation and was struck yet again with an awesome awareness of God's providential Hand in the affairs of men."

Steve Adkins reflects on the recent death of his mother. "The disease of sin ravaged her, even to her end. She had no savior. Her hope lived with man" and ties this personal tragedy into Reformation Day.

Cap Stewart adds a mock news story to the mix. "Halloween is upon us again and 13-year-old Knoxville native Martin Erasmus Hinn is in turmoil."

Brad Smith who blogs at Godsong Music uses Reformation Day as an opportunity to draw people's attention to the writings of John Owen, especially as "modernized" by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic.

J.D. Wetterling finally takes a day off and realizes that “what rocks my skull the most on this Reformation Day entered not through my ears but through my eyes in one of my long-time favorite daily devotional readings in the midst of all this sensory overload.”

The ladies of titus2talk write about Katie Luther: a Proverbs 31 woman. “This October 31st, when so many others are celebrating Halloween, let’s thank God for the legacy of the Reformation and for the example that Katie Luther is to Christian women nearly 500 years later.”

Dave, who blogs at The Blue Fish Project looks at the Old Testament and concludes “Whilst we are moored much more tightly we too can drift just like Israel and we must be always reforming. Not for reformation’s sake but that we would stay close to Jesus.”

Joel Tuininga says that the “doctrine of predestination is not at all unique to Calvinism. It was clearly taught by both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologians claimed by the Roman Catholic Church.” He goes on to show that the Reformation was not about predestination but about justification by faith alone.

Keith of The Schooley Files reflects on the successes and failures of the Reformation, bemoaning the lack of unity in the church after the Reformation. Perhaps overstating things he writes, “The great failure of the Reformation was simply that it didn’t actually reform anything. It created something new, in which people who believed something different could have a place to exercise that belief. But it didn’t create the opportunity for people who have differing doctrinal convictions to be able to work through those convictions, perhaps come to a mediating position, and perhaps find unity and continue to worship together.”

The Legacy of the Reformation (access to the Bible) is Eddie Beal’s topic. “But if there is going to be a new Reformation, we are going to have to be more passionate about the Bible than we are about football. or Oprah. or even the internet.”

Brian at Voice of the Sheep offers some “Reformation Day Reflections. “I must say that I am in awe of what one little Augustinian monk could do against an all-powerful church and empire with only one thing on his side: the TRUTH.”

Stepping Heavenward wishes everyone a Happy Reformation Day and offers a hymn appropriate to the day.

Matthew Perry, pastor at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, offers two Reformation Day sermons he preached in 2004 (How to Get Right With God) and 2005 (“The Five Solas” for the 21st Century).

From the White Horse Inn comes a Google fight between Cramner and Tyndale.

Eternally Significant the blog of Fellowship Bible Church, writes about climbing the uneven steps of the church tower at Wittenberg. “Luther knew about climbing uneven steps. He realized eventually from God’s Word that the higher you get climbing the spiritual steps of works and ritual, the more dangerous it becomes. Luther quit climbing. He started trusting. We need not climb either.”

Phillip Way offers “Always Reforming - Selected Scriptures.”

The Aspiring Theologian offers some “Reformation Reflections.” “On October 31st, when others are thinking about demons, witches, and ghouls on a holiday that has origins in the Roman Catholic church, turn your thoughts to the Reformation. Turn your thoughts to the day, hundreds of years ago on October 31st, when a monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the doors of the church in Wittenberg.”

Candy in Sierra writes about the printing press, which she calls “The Mechanical Engine of the Reformation.” “Present day. We are rapidly descending into a new abyss of image based experiences in the Church at the expense of the written word. Video images, song and dance, feel-good messages and little study of the Word of God has taken over the Church. We desperately need a new Reformation.”

John Kivell guest posts at New Lumps. “How marvellous is God’s plan of salvation - a plan that could have been written by no human hand or imagined by no human intellect. How wonderful is this truth, even if it may seem to from time to time have been forgotten; buried in the mists of time, or tradition, or fashion, or ignored in favour of some formula of human invention that transfers sovereignty from God to man.”

A Woman Who Fears The Lord ponders the doctrine of justification by faith alone and says “In a way, we would sometimes prefer if it was the other way round. It somehow seems fairer that way. Good people do more and get more. I have one Muslim friend whose biggest objection to Christianity is that it doesn’t depend on what you do and that it doesn’t seem fair that ‘all you need to do is believe in Jesus.’”

From Sweet Tea & Theology comes more Reformation Day Reflections. “The struggle today is similar to that of Luther’s day in that it is internal though not necessarily against Rome. Oh, there is still a battle with Rome, but few people in the pews even know the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The battle is so far off the radar and in some areas truly is non-existent so no one notices.”

Rey from The Bible Archive also reflects, writing about some of the dark days of the Reformation. “It’s easy to forget through the tinted glass of time and prosperity and unfortunately its something that we believers can get into right now, today—tearing down our brothers and sisters with our tongues instead of swords, devouring each other in our disagreements and in some cases outright condemning believers as anathema.”

At Under Sovereign Grace Mathew Sims recaps the significance of the day and asks “Why Celebrate Reformation Day?”

John Dekker states “a significant aspect of the Reformation was the recovery of the Biblical view of sainthood - as Paul indicates in Ephesians 1:1, every true Christian is a saint.”

Eternal Weight of Glory offers a Reformation Day podcast in the latest entry in “On the Poddy with Dave & Dan.”

Brent at Colossians Three Sixteen writes about “The Doctrine Heard ‘Round the World.” “In light of today being Reformation Day, I want to briefly examine the lasting effects that the Protestant Reformation has had on Christianity as we know it.”

Vine and Fig seems to think that the Roman Catholic Church has responded better to Reformation than have the Protestant churches.

Such Small Hands offers “Reformation Day: The Greatest Treasure.” “Instead of being puffed up, I hope that remembering the Reformation humbles us today. I pray that we grow in our appreciation of God’s grace toward us. And that we treat the Gospel as the treasure that it is. Even though we are just simple jars of clay, may our awareness of God’s grace be a powerful witness to those around us.”

Annette of Fish and Cans looks at both Reformation Day and Halloween and mentions her stance on these days.

Paul Shirley discusses the light in the darkness. “In today’s culture there is a darkness that pervades the day. It is a darkness that stems from a lack of moral clarity, a lack of biblical knowledge, and an overall distain for the Creator. The darkness, which is indisputably heavy, seems to be overwhelming at times. One wonders how the Church can possibly deal with this darkness.”

William Dicks says the church needs Reformation again. “In this day and age we do not only need one Martin Luther. We need hundreds. Also of Calvin and Zwingli and other Reformers. We need someone to stand on the pinnacle of the church’s ‘rooftop’ and cry for reformation in the church.”

Darryl Dash asks “What will we nail to the door today?”

October 30, 2006

Yesterday morning my pastor preached on Romans 12-13 under the heading of “Cross-Centered Authenticity.” Though I missed much of the first half of the sermon walking the halls with a fussy baby, I returned in time to hear the end of the first (and longest) point and the final four points. I am glad I heard at least the summary of the first point, for it is a critical one. The pastor spoke of how the cross is the great leveller. “All of us have the same disease. All of us have the same problem. So I say the cross levels us. It makes us all equal. We all come to Christ dead in sin; no one is in less need of grace than anybody else and if we feel a kind of clinical detachment from other sinners…then I say to you that you don’t understand your own sin.”

This fit well with something I have been pondering in recent days. I have felt the desire to write a short series of articles on the Five Points of Calvinism (also known as TULIP), not primarily to rehash the theology of each of the points or to provide an apologetic of Calvinism, but to draw some fresh application as well. I hope to show that these doctrines of grace are more than “mere theology,” but can be integral in living out the Christian faith. I am assuming that my readers are, by and large, familiar with the Points of Calvinism. If this proves not to be the case, I will gladly step back and defend them from Scripture. But for now, we will assume at least some knowledge of them.

So let’s begin this series (which, unlike several other series I’ve embarked upon, I hope to actually complete) by discussing Total Depravity, the T of TULIP.

The term “total depravity” has fallen out of favor in recent days, in large part because “total” seems to be a word that confuses, rather than clarifies the doctrine. James Boice and Philip Ryken suggest “Radical Depravity,” as does Steve Lawson; R.C. Sproul suggests “Radical Corruption” and Michael Horton goes with “Rebels Without A Cause.” Regardless of the terms used, the doctrine reads something like this:

“Total Depravity is a theological term primarily associated with Calvinism, which interprets the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. In other words, a person is not by nature inclined to love God with his heart or mind or strength, rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor. Put another way, even with all circumstances in his favor a man without God can do nothing but work for his own destruction; and even his religion and philanthropy are destructive, to the extent that these originate from his own imagination, passions and will” (Wikipedia).

There is a sense in which Total Depravity undergirds the doctrines which follow it (Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). Without Total Depravity, for example, it is possible for God to base election on the condition of a free will choice, thus rendering Unconditional Election invalid.

There is a bounty of biblical support for this doctrine. Genesis 6:5 tells us that “God saw that the intent of every heart was only continual evil.” Just two chapters later we read of man that “The intent of every heart is evil from its youth” (Genesis 8:21). Romans 3:10-18 tells us that there is none righteous. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. Other passages include Isaiah 64:6-7, Jeremiah 17:9, John 3:19, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Ephesians 2:1-3 and 2 Timothy 2:25 and 26. Because the purpose of this article is not to defend this doctrine, I will make no further comment by way of defense.

When we say that mankind fell in Adam, we affirm that as our federal head, Adam’s sin was passed on to all of us. Adam represented the human race, and when he decided to forsake God, he did so on behalf of all of us. This is similar to a head of state declaring war on another nation – his declaration means that each person within his nation, each person that he represents, is now at war with the foreign country. Job laments “Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) No one who has been born of man can escape this radically sinful nature. Nature tells us that like begets like; a dog can only give birth to dogs, not to cats or frogs or birds. Similarly a sinful person can only bring forth other sinful people.

Another affirmation we make in the Christian view of the fall is that there is a sense in which the first sin is ours in the same way in which it was Adam’s. While we did not actually take the piece of fruit and eat it, God foreordained our relationship to Adam long before Adam fell so that from the moment of our conception we are sinful. We are not innocent until we commit our first sin, but are condemned, sinful people from the moment our lives begin. Psalm 58:3 tells us that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” Before we are even born we are already sinful, and deliberately go astray as soon as we are able.

And so it is that humans are sinful from the moment life begins. But how sinful are they? We will turn to this now.

As we have seen, many Calvinists are uncomfortable with the term “Total Depravity.” Like others, I am convinced that a term such as Radical Depravity or Radical Corruption is superior. I believe these issues contribute to clarifying the matter, for by total depravity we do not mean that people are as depraved as they could possibly be—they are totally corrupt in some ways but not in others. It is here that it is helpful to distinguish between extent and degree.

When we say humans are totally depraved in extent, we mean that their depravity has reached every part of their being. It extends to every part of them – their mind, body and spirit are all corrupt. When we speak of a total degree of depravity, we indicate that something is exactly as bad as it could possibly be so that there is not even a tiny bit of good left.

Consider the illustration of three glasses of water. The first glass contains clean, pure water and represents Adam in his perfect state before the Fall. Now consider a second glass which contains this same clean, pure water. We can put one drop of deadly poison in that glass and it renders that entire glass poisonous so that if you were to drink it, you would quickly drop dead. That one drop extended to every part of the glass even though the entire vessel is not filled with poison. This represents humans after the Fall. While they are not wholly corrupt, the corruption they do have extends to every part. And finally consider a third glass which is filled entirely with poison. From top to bottom there is nothing but deadly poison. This represents Satan, who the Bible portrays as being absolutely corrupt so there is no good left whatsoever, but this does not represent humans here on earth. Humans are not as depraved as they could possibly be. We must note that sinful men who have been cast into hell will also be in this state where they are wholly depraved.

One might ask, then, why God has allowed men who are corrupt in extent not to be corrupt in degree. The reason we find in Scripture is simply that God is merciful. Had He not intervened every human would indeed be corrupt in both extent and degree. If every person in the world were as filled with sin as he could be, the world would be uninhabitable, filled with murderers, thieves and all manner of evil. Thankfully God has allowed even sinful men to avoid being wholly corrupt. There are several means He has given to do this.

Conscience – Every human being has been given a conscience, an inner working which helps restrain the desire to do evil. Paul writes in Romans 2 “…their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” (verse 15)

Government – God has put civil authorities in place to restrain men from evil. Furthermore, He has given them the authority to dispense justice and punishment. Romans 13 verses 1 through 5 speak to this. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”

Fear of Death – Humans have a natural fear of death. Every man-made religion emphasizes the necessity of doing good so that we can store up a treasure of good deeds to supposedly sustain us in the life after death. Hebrews 2:14-15 reads “[Jesus] likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Society – People are also restrained by the desire to appear good before their friends, families and society in general. Doing good is generally valued highly enough that people seek to attain to some degree of goodness.

That is the Christian view on depravity. All humans are corrupt in extent – every part of us testifies to our imperfection, but thanks be to God, not in degree. And before us lies a decision. God tells us that when we die we can anticipate either becoming perfected, so once again we will be like that glass of water that is crystal clear, free from any poison of corruption or being cast out of His presence where we will become like that glass of poison, as corrupt and evil and filled with hate as we could possibly be.

In our next article, I’d like to make an application for this doctrine.

October 25, 2006

In the last few days, a good number of bloggers have chosen to discuss the always-difficult topic of the Christian response to Halloween. Because I jumped the gun a little and posted about this topic earlier this week, I thought I would, in my best imitation of Phil Johnson, and using Google’s Blog Search feature, do a Halloween Blogspotting, linking back to those who linked my article on the subject. I’m sure others have discussed Halloween as well, but I wouldn’t know how to find them. This may just provide a slice of the Christian blogosphere’s attitude on the topic.

Dale at Silent Matters says, “As Halloween quickly approaches and stores begin to stock up on costumes, candy, and decorations, I begin to feeling very much ‘alienated’ from society because my family and I do not celebrate this holiday. Television and movie theatres quickly turn to blood and gore to entertain the masses. Everywhere I go, I can see signs of celebration of death and dying. That has been a part of this society for as long as I can remember…” He celebrates an alternative to Halloween: “There is nothing wrong with playing dress-up, but Tonja and I prefer the dressing-up to be educational and edifying to our children and other children. We heard of a homeschool group celebrate Reformation Day (which happens to fall on Oct 31 as well) in which the children dress as 16th century Christians, give skits, do Reformation artwork, and such. This is what I talked with the SFC staff about and we are considering that for next year but this year proved too soon to organize.”

David, a.k.a. Thirsty Theologian gives out candy to the neighbors but does not allow his kids to trick-or-treat (which, admittedly, is better than some our neighbors, who send their kids out but do not give out candy). “Our kids do not trick-or-treat, and we do not have Halloween parties, for the reasons stated in the second paragraph of this article. The axiom ‘no harm, no foul’ does not apply in our home. It is a matter of principle. However, while we can choose not to actively participate, we do not have the option of ignoring Halloween. Let’s consider a few of our options…” He goes on to do just that.

Duzins at Question Everything says something that interests me, as I’ve often wondered if there is a link between homeschooling and a lack of participation in Halloween. I know few homeschoolers who trick-or-treat and few kids going to public school that do not trick-or-treat. “This year, for the first time, we are considering ‘doing’ Halloween. My oldest daughter (9) went from homeschool to ‘real’ school last year, and this is our first Halloween spent in a school. Subsequently we are actually coming into contact again with a great deal of unbelievers. It’s very sad to me that we’ve been so out of the world for so long.” I loved to read this: “I know I’m not going to lead anyone to Jesus on October 31. However, the people 2 doors down that we’ve never met, though we’ve lived here for 5 years, will get to see those ‘believers across the street with four kids’ on that night in a relaxed and cordial atmosphere. Will we touch their lives on Halloween? possibly, but probably not; However, we will open a door that has been closed for 5 years and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to plant a seed in the near future.”

Richard Campeau at Boarsheadtavern seems to agree with me. Then again, I never can tell when those tavern guys are being sarcastic. Matt Redmond at Discerning the Times seems to agree as well. Jeremy Floyd who blogs at Theology is Practical just wants to talk about the issue rather than study Hebrew. No one talked about it, so I guess he went back to Hebrew. It’s probably better that way. Vince, who is a Pot Calling the Kettle, also just excerpts the article without much comment. Funny how that happens.

David Miers at Eternal Weight of Glory complains about Starbucks’ Halloween coffee. “In Australia, Halloween is a non-event. Each year we would get maybe one or two visits from some punk kids who already have missing teeth from their sugar habit! So Christians in Australia don’t have to think through the same issues as North American Christians.” Danielle at Dance by the Light agrees that Halloween is a matter of conscience. Bob Hyatt says my article shows some “good missional thinking… from a self-proclaimed fundamentalist!” I choose to take that as a compliment.

Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds fame, links to my article as he did last year, thus establishing a tradition. Alex Chediak just linked. So did Heather at Prone to Wander.

October 25, 2006

As I read books, I tend to jot down interesting or important quotes. I realized that I had collected a few of these recently and thought it would be interesting to share them with you. So here are four quotes from four books that caught my attention.

The first quote is from God’s Bestseller, a biography of William Tyndale written by Brian Moynahan. The author, comments about Thomas More’s bloodlust when considering heretics. More thought that, for too long, heretics (i.e. Protestants) had been “mollycoddled, allowed to escape through recantation and faggot-carrying, and in this the bishops and the church officers were ‘almost more than lawful, in that they admitted him to such an abjuration as they did, and that they did not rather leave him to the secular arm.’” He goes to explain this curious phrase.

The little phrase, ‘leave him to the secular arm’ is very much less innocent than it seems. In legal terms, a prisoner was ‘relaxed’ after the Church had found him guilty of heresy. This did not involve a period of rest and relaxation for the unfortunate, of course, far from it. It meant that the Church authorities ‘relaxed’ their hold on him by transferring him to the secular authorities for execution. The ritual handing over was designed to preserve the principle that Ecclesia non novit sanguinem, the Church does not shed blood. It provided an ecclesiastical fig leaf, since laymen carried out the actual burning, but it was a singularly transparent one. No churchman exonerated the Pharisees for the death of Christ on the grounds that they had merely handed Jesus to Pilate for sentencing, and that Roman soldiers had performed the crucifixion.

The second quote is taken from Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, a book that is intended to be “a measured refutation of the beliefs that form the core of fundamentalist Christianity.”

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 12 percent of Americans believe that life on earth has evolved through a natural process, without the interference of a deity. Thirty-one percent believe that evolution has been “guided by God.” If our worldview were put to a vote, notions of “intelligent” design would defeat the science of biology by nearly three to one. This is troubling, as nature offers no compelling evidence for an intelligent designer and countless examples of unintelligent design. But the current controversy over “intelligent design” should not blind us to the true scope of our religious bewilderment at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The same Gallup poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans are actually creationists. This means that despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect our presidents and congressmen—and many who themselves get elected—believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah’s ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the earth, and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, but the hand of an invisible God.

Among developed nations, America stands alone in these convictions. Our country now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one’s friends.

Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen—the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves—socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency. The book you are about to read is my response to this emergency…

The third quote is only brief, but profound. It is drawn from David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs.

This moment of tragedy and evil [the events of September 11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.

And finally, a quote from John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini’s new book Can We Rock the Gospel, which attempts to expose rock music’s impact on worship and evangelism. The book is premised on the view that rock music is dividing the church, destroying local congregations and turning Christian against Christian in arguments about musical styles. They ask, given rock music’s well-earned “worldly reputation…”

Why do worship leaders, evangelists or church musicians work so hard to perfect the use of it? To accommodate this inconsistency, Christian rock apologists have had to construct a new faith system to offer religious cover to those who do so. This system requires adherence to one or more of the following credos:
  • God created all music—therefore rock music was inspired by him.
  • Although rock may have been corrupted by bad people, we have the power to redeem it for God.
  • Music itself is neutral and amoral, and only the lyrics matter. Therefore, there is no such thing as “evil” or “good” music.
  • The end justifies the means—if it brings someone to Christ, God can use it. If it brings me into God’s presence during worship, it must be from God.

The lyrics of Christian rock songs may in and of themselves be respectful of God and Christian principles, but can anyone honestly say that these Christians have created a “new” song, or that their music compositions are inspired by God rather than by men? The evidence suggests otherwise and leads us to believe that Christian rockers are simply copying and imitating a music style that was created and inspired by men who in their lust for freedom—for sex, freedom to get high on drugs anytime they please, freedom to seek a god of some sort through altered states of consciousness, and freedom from any kind of authority—have rejected the God of the Bible.

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