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November 11, 2010

I mentioned in this morning’s A La Carte that my youngest daughter had learned how to sleep (or had taught herself, more properly). Last night she had a nightmare, the first in probably six months, and was wide awake in terror for a long, long time. That meant I was also wide awake (though not in terror). So I am going to use the little bit of awareness I have to share just a few of my favorite moments from this week’s chapter of The Holiness of God as we continue to read the classics together.


This week’s reading was quite a bit different from the ones before it. Chapter 5, “The Insanity of Luther,” is almost a biographical chapter that looks at the struggles of Martin Luther as he came face-to-face with the holiness of God. Luther, even before he came to understand what would be known as Protestant theology, had a profound sense of God’s holiness. And that holiness very nearly drove him crazy. He had a clear assessment of the infinite gap in holiness that existed between himself and his Maker. Sproul points out, “Whatever defense mechanisms normal people have to mute the accusing voice of conscience, Luther was lacking.” He was devastated by every little sin, knowing that each one of them was sufficient to condemn him to hell.

It has been said many times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity and that some people move back and forth across it. Perhaps that was the problem Luther had. He was not crazy. He was a genius. He had a superior understanding of law. Once he applied his astute legal mind to the law of God, he saw things that many people miss.

Luther simply looked to the laws of God, saw how he fell short, and knew that he was a condemned man. This was far more genius than insanity, far more light than darkness.

Luther “realized that if God graded on a curve, He would have to compromise His own holiness. To count on God doing so is supreme arrogance and supreme foolishness as well. God does not lower His own standards to accommodate us.” Luther realized that even our good deeds are none too good.

October 28, 2010

Today, in this effort to read some of the classic works of the Christian faith, we come to chapter three of R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Sproul introduces the chapter this way: “Here we are, already in the third chapter of this book, and I still have not defined what it means to be holy.” So in this week’s reading he tries to move us toward a definition.


But that is not an easy task. In fact, he says:

I wish I could postpone the task even further. The difficulties involved in defining holiness are vast. There is so much to holiness, and it is so foreign to us that the task seems almost impossible. In a very real sense, the word holy is a foreign word. But even when we run up against foreign words, we hope that a foreign language dictionary can rescue us by providing a clear translation. The problem we face, however, is that the word holy is foreign to all languages. No dictionary is adequate to the task.

One of the difficulties is that the word holy is used in different ways throughout Scripture. At times it points toward pure, at other times it points toward separate and at other times it points toward transcendent. “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way.” All of which is to say that there is a mystery to holiness. It is so foreign to us that we cannot fully understand it. We can see glimpses of it, but we cannot wrap our minds around it.

I could not adequately summarize all Sproul says about the deeper meanings of the word, so I will leave you to read that on your own. And seriously, if you aren’t reading the book with us, you should at least pick it up and read it on your own.

October 14, 2010

At long last it is time to read another classic work of the Christian faith, and to read it together. This time around we are reading R.C. Sproul’s book The Holiness of God. Of all the books we’ve read in this Reading Classics program, this is the one that has been written most recently (1985). And yet there is little doubt that it is a classic, even if we must add the word “modern” to the monicker. It’s a modern classic and one destined to stand the test of time, I’m sure.

Over the next 11 weeks we are going to be reading this book together. If you are interested in participating, you are free to do so. All you need to do is find a copy of the book and read (or listen—use coupon code CHALLIES10 to get the audio book for just $2.98) along with us. Check in here every Thursday for your chance to reflect on the book or simply to read the reflections of other participants. It’s that simple.

And away we go…


This week’s reading was chapter 1 which is titled “The Holy Grail.” Sproul begins with a little biographical snippet in which he relates a time in his Christian life when he became aware of God’s holiness. He says that until this time he was a Unitarian of sorts, someone who loved Jesus but who had not yet come to love or appreciate the Father. And yet in a moment he was given a sense of the majestic holiness of God. And his life was forever changed.

In this initial chapter Sproul starts to introduce this God, this Father. He first introduces him as the creator, as the one who existed before anything else existed. He contrasts the beauty and power of God’s creative act with the folly of believing that all that is came out of nothing. “Some modern theorists believe that the world was created by nothing. Note the difference between saying that the world was created from nothing and saying that the universe was created by nothing. In this modern view the rabbit comes out of the hat without a rabbit, a hat, or even a magician. The modern view is far more miraculous than the biblical view. It suggests that nothing created something. More than that, it holds that nothing created everything—quite a feat indeed!”