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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.

October 23, 2006

Halloween is fast approaching, and I am beginning to see articles on this always-popular topic in the blogosphere. I wrote about this for the first time last year and thought I would follow that article with a similar one, but one that is hopefully a little more developed as I’ve had another year to think about this issue. This topic was been discussed last year on an email discussion list in which I participate. One member of the list posted a couple of responses to Halloween provided by John MacArthur in an informal question and answer setting. MacArthur was asked, “Is there anything wrong with children going out ‘Trick or Treating’, like Halloween, and if so, what specifically is bad in it, and what do the MacArthur kids do? And, should Grace get involved in any alternatives?” His response was as follows:

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

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

I acknowledge this as a difficult issue and that it is, in many ways, an issue of conscience. I do not believe there is absolute right and wrong here. Each person much examine his conscience and decide what he believes. The Bible says nothing about Halloween, though certainly there are principles we can find that will help guide us. But ultimately I believe we have to trust our consciences and our sanctified reasoning to guide us. Let me share where this has led me.

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

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

I am guessing my neighbourhood is all-too-typical in that people typically arrive home from work and immediately drive their cars into the garage. More often than not they do not emerge again until the next morning when they leave for work once more. We are private, reclusive people who delight in our privacy. We rarely see our neighbors and rarely communicate with them. It would be a terrible breach of Canadian social etiquette for me to knock on a person’s door and ask them for a small gift or even just to say “hello” to them. In the six years we have been living in this area, we have never once had a neighbor come to the door to ask for anything (except for this time). Yet on Halloween these barriers all come down. I have the opportunity to greet every person in the neighbourhood. I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the family who moved in just down the row a few weeks ago and to greet some other people I have not seen for weeks or months. At the same time, those people’s children will come knocking on my door. We have two possible responses. We can turn the lights out and sit inside, seeking to shelter ourselves from the pagan influence of the little Harry Potters, Batmans and ballerinas, or we can greet them, gush over them, and make them feel welcome. We can prove ourselves to be the family who genuinely cares about our neighbours, or we can be the family who shows that we want to interact with them only on our terms. Most of our neighbors know of our faith and of our supposed concern for them. This is a chance to prove our love for them.

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

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

My encouragement to you today is to think and pray about this issue. I do not see Halloween as a great evangelistic occasion. I do not foresee it as a time when the people coming to your door are likely to be saved. But I do think it is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Halloween may serve as a bridge to the hearts of those who live around you who so desperately need a Savior.

October 22, 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 Historia ecclesiastica, the blog of Dr. Michael Haykin. A highly-regarded church historian, Dr. Haykin is Principal of Toronto Baptist Seinary and author of far too many books to list. His blog is “An ecclesioblog, that is, a blog mostly on the history of the Church: ‘Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,” for ‘the words of the wise are like…nails firmly fixed.’ So ‘remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God.’” The posts tend to focus on the history of the church and prominent men of faith. While Dr. Haykin does not post on a daily basis, he does post regularly and posts content that is well worth reading. I commend his blog and his books to you (and his seminary, at that…).

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.

October 21, 2006

I was talking with my father this morning, and the conversation turned to John Eldredge. I told dad about Eldredge’s newest book (it has, after all, recently hit store shelves and I had just copied my rather negative review to Amazon.), The Way of the Wild Heart and how Eldredge seems to be heading to new heights in his strange theologies. I mentioned that Eldredge is now convinced that God is sending him love notes in the shape of hearts. God apparently woos him by sending him heart-shaped stones and heart-shaped clouds. These are God’s expressions of love given specifically to him.

“How has God been wooing you? What has stirred your heart over the years? God has been bringing hearts to me for a long, long time. It’s one of our intimacies. He gave me a rock in the shape of a heart again yesterday, as a reminder. And as I was praying early this morning, I looked out my window and the cloud before me was in the shape of a heart. God has many such gifts for you, particular to you, and now that you have this stage of the Lover to watch for, eyes to look for the Romance, you’ll begin to see them, too.”

That quote turns my stomach just a little bit. I don’t want God to romance me. I don’t want God to be my lover. I don’t need a boyfriend. I want God to be a Father—to be my Father. And after all, isn’t this exactly how He reveals Himself in the Bible? Like many an ancient mystical nun, Eldredge seems to find strange, romantic, pseudo-sexual qualities in God’s love. But when I look at the Bible, I just don’t see this. I see God as a Father or as a shepherd. I see God as one who loves gently and patiently, but not romantically. God loves me as my father loves me (though certainly more completely and more perfectly), but I don’t expect either one of them to send me little love notes. If either one did, I don’t quite know how I’d react, but I can only imagine that I’d be distinctly uncomfortable.

What I just cannot figure out is who reads and enjoys this aspect of Eldredge’s books. I’ll admit that there is a lot in his books that appeal to men. There is even a quality to his books that really challenge me to be a better father to my children. He tells his readers to head outdoors and to act like real men, going fly fishing, climbing mountains, shooting things, and so on. He gives hope to those of us who sit endlessly in the city, tapping away at little keyboards. But then when he gets to the wilderness he looks for heart-shaped love notes from God and wants to talk to other men about his feelings. It’s just downright weird. He really seems to want God to be his boyfriend. Or girlfriend. Or something. I don’t understand. And I don’t want anything to do with it.

As I learn more about God from studying the Scripture, I see in greater clarity the paternal qualities of God. And I love to find these. I love to learn more about God as Father, about God as one who loves and who loves completely. And I see little to convince me that God wants to woo me, to romance me, or to act the part of a lover. And I like it this way.

October 19, 2006

This review is appearing in the current edition of the Journal of Modern Ministry (edited by Dr. Jay Adams). You can view the Journal’s site here.

Though I am still relatively young, I am old enough to remember libraries that relied upon card catalogs. In the days before computers were used to index and organize nearly everything, research was often quite difficult. The primary difficulty researchers faced was finding sufficient resources, often a long and onerous task that involved flipping through endless drawers filled with little paper cards. How times have changed. Experience shows that the greater difficulty today is in managing the vast quantities of information so readily available to us. I have often heard it said that an average, weekday edition of a major newspaper such as the New York Times contains more information than an eighteenth-century American would have encountered in a lifetime. I am inclined to believe this. This massive influx of information is surely not bad, but it does pose a unique challenge to a researcher, or a pastor for that matter.

Bible software has proven exceedingly beneficial to pastors and scholars as they engage in their work of studying, interpreting and expositing Scripture. There is a wide and diverse variety of such software available today, ranging from scaled-down packages resting on the shelves of Wal-Mart, to full-featured, high-priced packages available only online. There are at least two variables that must be considered when evaluating such software. The first variable relates to the contents - the quantity, quality, diversity and relevance of the resources included with the software. A package that contains many excellent resources relevant to the task of a pastor will clearly hold the edge over a package that contains fewer resources and ones that are of lesser quality. The second variable relates to the software’s usability - the ease with which the software can organize and display this content. If a pastor is unable to easily and adequately access resources, no matter how varied and excellent, they are of little use to him.

Among the leaders in this industry is Logos Bible Software (web site) which has recently introduced the latest generation of their Bible software, Logos Bible Software 3. Created to be faster and easier to use than ever before, it is built upon the Libronix Digital Library System, a technology developed by Logos to integrate and organize digital libraries of books and interactive study tools. It is important here to note that Logos Bible Software is more than simply Bible study software, but is a tool for managing and organizing a collection of digital resources. The software’s capabilities, as we will soon see, go far beyond Bible study tools.

There are seven packages available in the new line, ranging from the Christian Home Library, which retails for $149 and is intended primarily for personal Bible study, all the way to the Scholar’s Library: Gold, which costs almost ten times as much and contains a vast array of resources sure to please even the most serious student of the Bible’s original languages. As is true with most hardware or software purchases, it is best for a prospective buyer to purchase the highest package he can afford, for with each successive package the number of resources increases exponentially. The various packages differ not in the program at the heart of Logos, but in the tools and resources included. While the Leader’s Library was compiled to meet the specific requirements of pastors, the Scholar’s Library: Silver, which weighs in at just under $1000, has proven to be the most popular option for those in the ministry. It is this software that I would like to review under the two variables already discussed.

Contents

The Scholar’s Library: Silver, which will form the basis for this review, contains more than 520 titles - far too many to list. It includes multitudes of English and interlinear translations of the Bible, among them the NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV, NET, HCSB, ASV, RSV, NRSV, NCV, NKJV, and several editions of the KJV. It even includes the excellent new ESV English-Greek and English-Hebrew reverse interlinears which, at the time of writing this review, are not yet available in printed format. Packaged with these are a long list of commentaries, Bible dictionaries, lexicons and grammars. Among the more notable commentary sets are Keil & Delitzsch (10 volumes), Matthew Henry (Complete & Unabridged), The Pulpit Commentary (77 volumes), New American Commentary (31 volumes) and Wiersbe’s Bible Exposition Commentary (23 volumes). And, of course, it contains many books and reference tools designed specifically for the studious pastor. There are 37 volumes of the translated writings of the Early Church Fathers, Strong’s and Hodge’s systematic theologies, books of illustrations and quotations, maps, Bible study training, devotionals and resources for small groups. Resources for studying and interacting with the original languages are many and varied, ranging from Van Voorst’s Building Your New Testament Greek Vocabulary to phrase marker analysis and a Glossary of Morpho-Syntatic Database Terminology. The list is impressive and represents the foundation of a solid study library, though unfortunately the package does not appear to contain a thorough, Reformed commentary set (such as Baker’s New Testament Commentary set by Kistemaker and Hendriksen). That set, or another like it, would no doubt be a worthwhile additional expenditure. Still, the library included in Scholar’s Library: Silver would cost many thousands of dollars and require several bookcases were they to be purchased in printed form.

Beyond the books included with this package is a vast number of others available for purchase individually or in packages, both from Logos and from third-party vendors. For example, the MacArthur Lifeworks and commentary package, including 20 commentaries along with books, study guides and the MacArthur Study Bible is available for $230, far less than it would cost to purchase these items individually in printed format. Kistemaker and Hendriksen can be had for under $100, significantly less than in printed format, and Boice’s 27 volumes of Expositional Commentaries are available for $350. One can purchase the works of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Pink, Sproul, Adams and almost any other notable pastor or theologian. The Theological Journal Library Volumes, including the complete catalog of many of the best theological journals (Master’s Seminary Journal, Westminster Theological Journal, Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, etc), is an incredible value at under $100. Any book or series that garners sufficient interest on the Logos web site will be considered for addition to the library. There are many themed packages available, such as the 30 volume Biblical Counseling Library or the 18 volume Preaching & Leadership Collection. New products are added constantly, ensuring that there will be no end to the quantity, quality, diversity and relevance of materials available. With the new Personal Book Builder, a community of Logos users have begun to freely distribute other excellent resources, such as the works of Jonathan Edwards and other prominent theologians. It is widely accepted that Logos has no equal when it comes to the availability of content. This is important, for individual users will find that their experience with this product becomes increasingly positive as they add resources to it.

Usability

As I have indicated, the primary challenge of the information age is not collecting resources as much as it is searching and bringing order to those resources. A program needs to be able to search a vast amount of data and then present information in a way that is both simple and organized. A piece of software that merely collects information is of little use if it cannot present it in a useful, intuitive way. This is no small task. Thankfully, the creators of Logos, responding to mountains of feedback from its users, have made great strides in this area.

After opening the software, the user will be presented with a screen, Google-like in its simplicity, offering three options: Study Passage, Study Word and Study Topic. These three searches encapsulate the great majority of searches a person would care to make and serve as a quick and simple way of working progressively into the great volume of resources and information available. A search in any of these areas presents common and highly-relevant feedback with the option to search far beyond the surface. Tucked beneath these primary options are several expandable secondary options which include daily devotionals, a prayer journal, and quick access to the user’s library.

Entering a book, chapter or verse in the Study Passage area will provide an immediate dropdown list representing major themes from that passage. For example, typing “Romans 5” results in a dropdown list providing quick links to “Peace with God Through Faith (Romans 5:1-11),” “Death in Adam, Life in Christ (Romans 5:12-21)” and so on. A search in any of the areas sends the software immediately sorting through the available resources. In only a few moments the user will be presented with a screen displaying links to information in a short list of favored Scripture translations, commentaries and dictionaries. In-depth searches through the entire library are only one click away. Languages can be toggled between English and the original with the click of a button while differences between English translations can be glimpsed immediately and visually in cluster diagrams. A sentence diagramming utility is available for those who are serious about mining the depths of the original languages while a helpful graphic compares the passage in several translations and charts the variations, immediately identifying those areas which have generated the greatest amount of variance. Literary typing, cross references, a list of important words, relevant hymns, maps and topics round out the report.

Entering a word in the Word Study area provides a dictionary definition, and a list of keylinks to dictionaries, lexicons and word study resources. It also presents an exceedingly helpful diagram of the words roots in both Greek and Hebrew and a list of the word’s usage in a concordance. As always, deeper searches are only a click away. Of course a person could also enter a Greek word in the Word Study area. Doing so provides an exceptionally useful report presenting links to a variety of dictionaries and lexicons, a list of grammatical relationships, a diagram plotting how the word has been translated, a list of the uses of that word in the New Testament, and a list of the uses of that word in the Septuagint. There is even an audio guide available which will pronounce the word. Many more options are available by clicking the links that are always present.

Entering a term in the Study Topic area leads to a quick list of related entries taken from a variety of Bible dictionaries. A search through the rest of the library will lead to a list of references to the topic from any of the other resources, whether commentaries, reference titles or books.

The user interface within Logos is highly customizable. A Bible can be quickly and easily linked to a commentary on one side of the screen so it will scroll automatically as a person reads through a section of Scripture. Many windows can be opened concurrently, with simple tabs available to cycle through them. Text can be easily copied and pasted from Logos into a word processor. The user can define collections of books and resources and set the program to search only particular collections. He can take notes on any passage of the Bible, can highlight as much or as little as he wishes, and even insert visual markings in the text. There are too many options to list.

For a program boasting such volume of information and with so many options available, Logos is surprisingly easy to use. Still, because the software can seem intimidating, Logos includes a brief but helpful video tutorial that will guide a user through the basic tasks. Further training, either through a Camp Logos seminar or through Morris Proctor video seminars, can prove highly beneficial in ensuring that a user is able to access and enjoy the advanced features of the program. While even a novice can use the program to great effect, a little training will surely go a long way. I would recommend pursuing at least some education, either formal or with the help of someone familiar with the software.

While Logos does not require a state-of-the-art computer, it is a beefy program and will require a system with at least a high-end Pentium III processor and 128 megabytes of memory. Practically, though, a system significantly more powerful than the minimum specifications will be required to run advanced searches in a timely fashion. The speed of the processor and the availability of RAM will prove the most important factors in increasing performance. Because plenty of hard drive space will be required, especially for some of the more advanced packages, a user will want to count on setting aside at least 3 gigabytes on the hard drive. A screen with a resolution of 1024 x 768 will make for easy reading, especially if it is 17 inches or larger.

Overall, I was impressed with the advances Logos has made since even Series X, the prior version of the software. The feedback of those who use the software has clearly proven invaluable in streamlining workflow, in making searches more relevant and useful, and in ensuring the workspace is free of clutter.

Conclusion

Not every pastor can adapt to the digital age and not every pastor wishes to. Pastors have been effective at their calling for many centuries without the benefit of software libraries. Those who have been in the ministry for many years and who have accumulated a significant research library will no doubt find themselves lost without their favorite commentary sets and their well-worn concordances. Others will be unable to read significant texts from the glare of a computer screen. For these people, a software solution may prove confusing or ineffective. And this is no cause for shame, for ultimately, the decision to transition a library to electronic format will be a matter of personal preference.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of software solutions will be to those who are still building their libraries or those who wish to reduce their libraries. In writing this review I spoke to students who have relied on Logos to help them create excellent, cost-effective pastoral libraries. I spoke also to a pastor who has purchased electronic copies of several commentary sets so he can send his printed copies to other pastors whose libraries were lost in Hurricane Katrina. For such people it seems that it is becoming increasingly important and beneficial to invest in this type of software. There are a host of benefits in doing so. A digital library such as Logos allows resources to be searched with far greater speed and in far greater depth than with printed books. New resources can be added easily, regularly and for less than the cost of printed material. Resources offer a level of interactivity that simply cannot be duplicated in the printed word, for a single click of a mouse can instantaneously take a person from a Bible to a commentary, dictionary, or lexicon. A library containing hundreds or thousands of volumes can be transported as easily as a laptop computer. But surely the greatest benefit is in the ability to instantly search a vast number of resources and be presented with a clean, effective and intuitive results. Imagine if you could instantly search for a single Bible verse in the hundreds or thousands of books on your bookshelves. Such a task would represent a monumental undertaking. But with Logos, this is but a few clicks and a few seconds away. Logos likens their product to a research assistant who has both read and memorized every book in your library and who is always available to compile a detailed report on any word, topic or passage, with sticky notes to mark the page and paragraph in dozens of varied volumes containing information relevant to any query. Such a metaphor is not too far off the mark.

Bible software is an excellent means to maximizing a pastor’s study library and study time. Logos offers incredible value in both content and functionality. While not an insignificant investment, it will surely prove a valuable one.

In a later review I hope to examine some of the resources available to Logos users and show how these resources can prove valuable to any pastor.

October 17, 2006

October 31, just two weeks from now, will mark the 489th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg. In so doing he struck a match, beginning a fire that quickly spread throughout Europe and throughout the world. Having become increasingly disillusioned with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular the sale of indulgences, Luther wrote his Theses to try to begin the process of reform. While he was unable to bring reform to the church, he did trigger the Protestant Reformation by rediscovering the Gospel - the good news of salvation by grace through faith. The Reformation had profound influence in politics, art, literature and theology - while it was at its heart a Christian movement, it impacted all areas of society. That seemingly insignificant act is, in reality, one of the defining points of history. It is a shame that the day has largely been forgotten in favor of what is now the year’s most popular day, Halloween (Halloween is, after all, one of the few holidays that our society can celebrate without shame and without feeling politically incorrect).

Last year, Jollyblogger reflected on the day, saying:

But even the vast majority of those from protestant traditions, who believe that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, have little, if any, appreciation for the Reformation. Here in America these same folks will celebrate national holidays like the 4th of July or Memorial Day or Veterans Day with the gusto they deserve while neglecting to remember the Reformation. This is a shame because the things that transpired at the time of the Reformation were world shaping events, whereas the national holidays that people from countries around the world usually have particular significance to particular nations and peoples. The Reformation has a significance that transcends national concerns.

But more importantly, the Reformation has a spiritual significance which transcends these lesser matters of life, like the affairs of nations. This is because the Reformation marked the recovery of the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. It marked the recovery of the gospel. While it is true that these things are taught in the Scriptures and that no reformer or other human being should be given credit for the doctrines themselves, it is also true that these precious truths had been all but lost before the time of the Reformation. In His providence, God chose certain men at a certain time in history to recover the very gospel itself. It is this gospel by which we are saved. And we who confess the evangelical faith in our day are remiss in forgetting this important aspect of our history.

We all ought to be exceedingly grateful that we were born in a time where the gospel is freely preached, freely shared, and freely heeded. It was not always this way. For the better part of a millennium, the gospel was largely forgotten. Let us not forget that, but for the grace of God, we may have been born in those dark ages, where the Bible was almost unknown, and when the church had little to offer but senseless, gospel-free tradition and superstition.

In recognition of the significance of this day, I would like to suggest that Christian bloggers mark October 31 with reflections on Reformation Day. You may want to reflect on a person, an event, or a particular point of theology. The topic is wide open, so long as it somehow ties in to Reformation Day. And remember, you do not need to be Reformed to appreciate the Reformation and all it stood for. If you do not have a blog of your own, but would still like to participate, why not ask another blogger if you can “guest” on his site that day (which is not to say that I am offering my blog for this purpose!).

I will gladly allow my site to serve as a repository for whatever links are provided to me. So, if you write an article, send me the link on October 31 and I will list it on my site.

In an attempt to make things even more interesting, I’ll kick in a prize to the article that is determined to be “best” (as judged by myself and likely a couple of other judges, and based on whatever subjective criteria we come up with).

For a prize I’ll offer:

So start thinking, start writing, and prepare to post your articles on October 31.

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