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March 07, 2008

Chuck Colson has begun a blog tour to support his new book, The Faith (and interestingly, this blog tour is actually modeled on the one I put together with the publicity team at Crossway after the release of my book). I was asked to participate in this tour and agreed to do so because I wanted to ask a question that would really get to the heart of this book. And while I had Colson’s ear, I wanted to ask a question that I’ve often struggled with as I’ve considered Christians who pursue greater unity with the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a question I would ask Colson if he and I were standing face-to-face. Here is my question and Colson’s response.

Protestants have traditionally held that justification by grace alone through faith alone is at the heart of the Christian faith and thus a non-negotiable doctrine for anyone who considers himself a Christian. Yet this is anathema within the Roman Catholic Church. This would seem to be an unbridgeable divide when seeking communion between the two traditions. Is justification by grace alone through faith alone a doctrine fundamental to the faith? What theological distinctives are non-negotiable in determining who belongs to the Body of Jesus Christ?

It is true that Protestants have traditionally believed that justification by grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone (sola fide) is at the heart of the Christian faith, the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. It was also true that the Roman Catholic Church in Trent anathemized this position. This has been an unbridgeable divide.

In 1992, an informal group of Catholic and evangelical scholars began to meet in New York under the co-chairmanship of Richard Neuhaus and I. One of the items taken up in our consultation was justification by faith alone. And in 1997 we issued a document called “The Gift of Salvation.” You will find it referenced on page 113 of The Faith. It is a remarkable document in which both confessions agreed that we can now affirm what the Reformers meant by sola fide or faith alone.

Admittedly, this was an informal consultation; but Cardinal Cassidy from the Vatican took part in our final discussions, approved the document, and took it back to Rome where it was taught to the bishops in the synods prior to the millennium. Significantly, in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogues, similar agreements were reached, although not quite as explicitly tied to the Reformation. There is an historic shift taking place.

Simply because of its structure, the Roman Catholic Church moves much more slowly than evangelicals do. It will take a generation for these kinds of changes to be reflected in the Catholic catechism. But more and more Catholics are embracing the very doctrine that was at the heart of the Reformation.

Do not be misled here; there are many fundamental differences in how we view the church, methods of worship, baptism, the Eucharist, etc. We’re a long way from having unanimity of belief. We may never achieve it. But, the point of The Faith is that we can agree on the fundamentals laid out in the Nicene Creed, and as we work together and seek unity in a spirit of charity towards one another, it’s amazing how much genuine progress we can make, which eliminates some of the great barriers to the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17.

At some point I would like to respond to this. But not today!

Here is where this blog tour has gone and is going…

March 5 - Acton Institute PowerBlog

March 5 - The Dawn Treader

March 6 - Reasoned Audacity

March 7 - Challies.com

March 10 - Adrian Warnock

March 11 - Tall Skinny Kiwi

March 12 - Mark D. Roberts

March 13 - Rebecca Writes

March 14 - Jolly Blogger

October 01, 2007

Last week I went to Ottawa to enjoy my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful, classy, simple wedding. While the service was great from beginning to end, I particularly enjoyed the brief sermon which drew a startling contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God; between the love of the world and the love of God.

The pastor began by discussing a marriage contract drawn up by Albert Einstein. With his marriage disintegrating and already participating in extra-marital affairs, Einstein made a last-ditch effort to keep his marriage somewhat intact, even if only for the sake of the children. This is the contract he sent to his wife:

A. You will make sure

  1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;

  2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;

  3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, you will forego

  1. my sitting at home with you;

  2. my going out of traveling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

  1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;

  2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;

  3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.

His wife eventually agreed to them terms. When he received her response, “Einstein insisted on writing to her again ‘so that you are completely clear about the situation.’ He was prepared to live together again ‘because I don’t want to lose the children and I don’t want them to lose me.’ It was out of the question that he would have a ‘friendly’ relationship with her, but he would aim for a ‘businesslike’ one. ‘The personal aspects much be reduced to a tiny remnant,’ he said. ‘In return, I assure you of proper comportment on my part, such as I would exercise to any woman as a stranger.”

This comes from the pen (and from the heart!) of one of the brightest men the world has ever known. It’s a contract just shocking for its boldness and its polite disgust; its undertones of anger. Just imagine the state of the heart that would write such a thing.

What a contrast to the wisdom of the Bible. What a contrast to Colossians 3:5-17:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God!

I’m on my way down to Mobile, Alabama where I am going to bring a few reports from the Expositors’ Conference featuring Dr. Steve Lawson and Dr. John MacArthur. I hope to check in a bit later today…

January 17, 2005

Yesterday afternoon I wrote about discernment and the importance of walking with the wise. If a Christian wants to gain discernment, he must seek wisdom, and to find wisdom he must walk with the wise. Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song called “Walk with the Wise” which contained these words: “I’ve learned to look for answers in those born before my time / As I listen to them tell me what they’ve learned in their lives / I talk to friends with understanding much deeper than my own / And gain wisdom beyond measure I could never find alone.”

With that in mind, I would invite you to read a column recently written by Steve Camp. To be truthful, he did not write the column as much as he compiled it from the writings of A.W. Tozer. Tozer, as you may know, died in 1963 after a lifetime of ministry in Chicago, Toronto and around the world. He was known as a 20th century prophet and that title has become more meaningful in the years after his death. The mark of one who truly understands the Word of God is that his words remain true long after his death. Tozer’s words ring as true today as they did fifty years ago. Reading his sermons, books and articles, you could be excused for thinking that he wrote them just yesterday after looking at the average evangelical church. Listen to some of his words:

Then there are some among us these days who have to depend upon truckloads of gadgets to get their religion going, and I am tempted to ask: What will they do when they don’t have the help of the trappings and gadgets? The truck can’t come along where they are going!

The Tozer Pulpit, Book 8, p. 50

This church ought to be a place that is lighted by the light of the world shed forth by the Holy Spirit. It is where we gather at intervals to eat of the bread of life, not only on communion Sunday, but all the time, every Sunday. It ought to be where the altar of incense sends up its sweet spirals of fragrant perfume sweet to God and pleasant in His nostrils, and the sound of prayer pleasant in His ear and the sight of enlightened people gathered together pleasant to His eyes.

This is the only kind of church that I’m interested in. I’m not interested when you have to go out and bring somebody in from the outside and say, “Will you come and perform for us?” Can you imagine a priest bringing a clown and saying to the clown, “Now come, clown into the holy place. Be reverent and do it for Jesus’ sake.” And when that clown came in there was light, the light that lighted every man, light that never was on land or sea. “And here is the bread. Reverently we may eat and live forever. Here is the altar of incense where we can send up our prayers to the ears of God, and now the clown will do his part.”

Sermon #24 on Hebrews, Toronto

The reason evangelical Christianity has so many cowbells and handsaws and shows and films and funny gadgets and celebrated men and women to stir them up is because they don’t have the joy of the Lord. A happy man doesn’t need very much else.

Sermon, “Fruit of the Spirit,” Chicago

If you would like to read more (and I recommend that you do!) visit A1 Ministries.

August 06, 2004

I had planned on writing something about procrastination but decided I’d do it later.

I’m funny.

Anyways, I was thinking today about some similarities between The Passion of the Christ and September 11. That’s a strange duo, I can’t deny, but hear me out.

After the Western world was shaken by the events of September 11, many Christians became convinced that this sort of event would drive people back to the church. And sure enough, in the weeks immediately following the event it seemed to be true as pews were more full than they had been in many years. People were shaken to the core and returned to their roots - family roots and often spiritual roots. But it took only a month or two before the people who had drifted in drifted right back out. At the one year anniversary of the attacks, Barna released a study which showed that very few people credited the attacks with having any impact on their religious beliefs. Bible reading, prayer, church attendance and small group attendance remained largely static. Many Christians found this surprising.

The Passion of the Christ was regarded by many as the greatest opportunity for evangelism since Pentecost. Data gathered in the months subsequent to the release of the movie prove that it made no significant impact either on Christians or on unbelievers. In the end it was near-total failure as a tool for evangelism and churches across North America bear this out.

Rather than critiquing these events as means for evangelism or leading people into the church, I believe our response should be to acknowledge anew that God does not adhere to human wisdom. On our own these are the types of events we might assume God would use. But God has ordained that He will use means that seem simple and that seem foolish to bring people into His church. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” God does not save lives through movies or through tragedies; He works now as He always has - by the faithful preaching of the gospel to those who are perishing. God’s wisdom uses foolish people to preaching a foolish message in a foolish way. God’s foolishness is so much greater than our wisdom. If we as a church could just learn this lesson we would not be swayed by every program and opportunity that comes our way. We would remain faithful preachers of the Word which contains the power of God to save lives.

February 29, 2004

This has been a long and somewhat difficult week. I spent the first part of the week stressing about The Passion of the Christ, wondering what the movie was going to be like and wondering if I should even see it. Finally Wednesday rolled around and against my better judgment I went to see it. I chronicled my disappointment and concerns in four rather long articles. I was gratified to see that there are many people who share my concerns with this movie. Many of these people took the time to post their concerns or to email me with comments and suggestions. The overwhelmingly majority were positive but there were few that were very challenging and led me to ask myself some important questions. I appreciate these as much as the positive comments provided they are posed in a constructive manner.

This week I hope to begin a new series that I am very excited about. Many times lately my thoughts and prayers have turned to a desire for wisdom and discernment – discernment to see what is right and what is wrong and wisdom to know what to do about it. I considered going to the Christian bookstore to look for a book that would teach me about discernment, but soon realized that God has given me the ultimate book on just that topic. Read the words that begin the book of Proverbs:

1The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

So through the month of March I hope to do a 31-day study of the 31 chapters of Proverbs. Though I will continue to post about other topics, this study will be the major focus of my site for the month. I am excited to learn what God has to teach me about wisdom and discernment.