Friday, August 26, 2016

"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 5

It is clear that religious liberty is being lost in America. As such, I want to pass along a number of helpful resources of previous generations defending and promoting religious liberty from noted Christians. To begin, let us look at Isaac Backus essay An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppression of the Present Day published in 1773.

"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part1
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 2
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 3
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 4
"An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppressions of the Present Day" by Isaac Backus - Part 5


And now our dear countrymen, we beseech you seriously to consider of these things. The great importance of a general union through this country, in order to the preservation of our liberties, has often been pleaded for with propriety; but how can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed? Yea, how can any reasonably expect that he who has the hearts of kings in his hand, will turn the heart of our earthly sovereign to hear the pleas for liberty, of those who will not hear the cries of their fellow-subjects, under their oppressions? Has it not been plainly proved, that so far as any man gratifies his own inclinations, without regard to the universal law of equity, so far he is in bondage? so that it is impossible for any one to tyranize over others, without thereby becoming a miserable slave himself: a slave to raging lusts, and a slave to guilty fears of what will be the consequence. We are told that the father of Cyrus, tho' a heathen,
"Had often taught him to consider, that the prudence of men is very short, and their views very limited; that they cannot penetrate into futurity; and that many times what they think must needs turn to their advantage proves their ruin; whereas the gods being eternal, know all things, future as well as past, and inspire those that love them to undertake what is most expedient for them; which is a favor and protection they owe to no man, and grant only to those that invoke and consult them."
And we are told by the same author, of another wise heathen, who said, "'Tis observable, that those that fear the Deity most, are least afraid of man." And shall not christians awake to a most hearty reverence of him who has said (and will ever make good his word), With what measure ye meet, it shall be measured to you again.
Suffer us a little to expostulate with our fathers and brethren, who inhabit the land to which our ancestors fled for religious liberty. You have lately been accused with being disorderly and rebellious, by men in power, who profess a great regard for order and the public good; and why don't you believe them, and rest easy under their administrations? You tell us you cannot, because you are taxed where you are not represented; and is it not really so with us? You do not deny the right of the British parliament to impose taxes within her own realm; only complain that she extends her taxing power beyond her proper limits; and have we not as good right to say you do the same thing? and so that wherein you judge others you condemn your selves? Can three thousand miles possibly fix such limits to taxing power, as the difference between civil and sacred matters has already done? One is only a distance of space, the other is so great a difference in the nature of things, as there is between sacrifices to God, and the ordinances of men. This we trust has been fully proved.
If we ask why have you not been easy and thankful since the parliament has taken off so many of the taxes that they had laid upon us? you answer that they still claim a power to tax us, when, and as much as they please; and is not that the very difficulty before us? In the year 1747, our legislature passed an act to free the baptists in general from ministerial taxes for ten years: yet because they increased considerably, when that time was about half expired, they broke in upon the liberty they had granted, and made a new act, wherein no baptist church nor minister was allowed to have any such exemption, till they had first obtained certificates from three other churches. By which the late Mr. John Procter observed (in a remonstrance that he drew, and which was presented to our court) that they had as far as in them lay,
"disfranchised, unchurched and usurped an illegal power over all the religious societies of the people in said act called anabaptists throughout this province:--For where is it possible for the poor anabaptists to find the first three authenticated ministers and churches to authenticate the first three!"
So we have now related a case, in which a number of our brethren were put to new cost for copies to notify others, with hope of relief to themselves, and yet in the same session of court, they had a worse burden laid upon them than before; and their repeated cries, and then the petition of our united churches, were all rejected.
A very great grievance which our country has justly complained of is, that by some late proceedings a man's house or locks cannot secure either his person or his property, from oppressive officers. Pray then consider what our brethren have suffered at Ashfleld.
Many think it hard to be frowned upon only for pleading for their rights, and laying open particular acts of encroachment thereon; but what frowns have we met with for no other crime? and as the present contest between Great-Britain and America, is not so much about the greatness of the taxes already laid, as about a submission to their taxing power; so (though what we have already suffered is far from being a trifle, yet) our greatest difficulty at present concerns the submitting to a taxing power in ecclesiastical affairs. It is supposed by many that we are exempted from such taxes, but they are greatly mistaken, for all know that paper is a money article; and writing upon it is labour, and this tax we must pay every year, as a token of submission to their power, or else they will lay a heavier tax upon us. And we have one difficulty in submitting to this power, which our countrymen have not in the other case: that is, our case affects the conscience, as their's does not: and equal liberty of conscience is one essential article in our charter, which constitutes this government, and describes the extent of our rulers authority, and what are the rights and liberties of the people. And in the confession of faith which our rulers and their ministers have published to the world, they say,
"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing contrary to his word; or not contained in it; so that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also."
And a most famous historian of their's, after mentioning some former violations of that liberty, says,
"The great noise that hath been made in the world about the persecution made in New-England, I will now stop with only transcribing the words uttered in the sermon to the first great and general assembly of the Massachusetts-Bay, after the two colonies of Massachusetts and Plymouth were by royal charter united. (from 2 Chron. 12. 12.)"
Things will go well, when magistrates are great promoters of the thing that good is, and what the Lord requireth of them. I do not mean that it would be well for the civil magistrate, with civil penalty to compel men to this or that way of worship, which they are conscientiously indisposed unto. He is most properly the officer of human society, and a christian by non-conformity to this or that imposed way of worship, does not break the terms on which he is to enjoy the benefits of human society. A man has a right unto his life, his estate, his liberty, and his family, although he should not come up unto these and those blessed institutions of our Lord. Violences may bring the erroneous to be hypocrites, but they will never bring them to be believers; no, they naturally prejudice men's minds against the cause, which is therein pretended for, as being a weak, a wrong, an evil cause.
These things were then delivered and were received with the thanks of the house of representatives, and ten years after were spread by the historian thro' the nation, with the express design of stoping any further complaints about New-England's persecutions. But if the constitution of this government, gives the magistrate no other authority than what belongs to civil society, we desire to know how he ever came to impose any particular way of worship, upon any town or precinct whatsoever? And if a man has a right to his estate, his liberty and his family, notwithstanding his non-conformity to the magistrates way of worship, by what authority has any man had his goods spoiled, his land sold, or his person imprisoned, and thereby deprived of the enjoyment both of his liberty and his family, for no crime at all against the peace or welfare of the state, but only because he refused to conform to, or to support an imposed way of worship, or an imposed minister.
In a celebrated oration for liberty, published last spring in Boston, a maxim was recited which carries it's own evidence with it, which is this, no man can give that which is another's. Yet have not our legislature from time to time, made acts to empower the major part of the inhabitants in towns and precincts, to give away their neighbours estates to what ministers they please! And can we submit to such doctrines and commandments of men, and not betray true liberty of conscience! Every person is or ought to be, benefited by civil government, and therefore they owe rulers honor and a tribute on that account; but the like cannot be truly said of an imposed minister; for as the gospel ministry is an ordinance of God and not of man, so the obligation that any person or people are under to obey and support any man as a minister of Christ, arises from the consideration of his appearing to them to resemble his Master in doctrine and conversation, and from the benefit which people receive under their ministrations. From whence the law of equity makes the free communications of our carnal things to Christ's ministers, to be a matter that as really concerns the exercise of a good conscience toward God, as prayer and praise do; for they are both called sacrifices to him in the same chapter. Heb. 13. 15, 16.
Thus we have laid before the public a brief view of our sentiments concerning liberty of conscience, and a little sketch of our sufferings on that account. If any can show us that we have made any mistakes, either about principles or facts, we would lie open to conviction: But we hope none will violate the forecited article of faith so much, as to require us to yield a blind obedience to them, or to expect that spoiling of goods or imprisonment can move us to betray the cause of true liberty.
A late writer in the Boston papers, has taken much pains to prove, that some other colonies have imposed upon people in such affairs worse than New-England has; and to prove it he informs us, that an act for ministers maintenance, was passed in New-York near eighty years ago, which succeeding rulers have turned to support a denomination that had very few representatives in court when the act was made, while the denomination who made it, have been denied any benefit from it. If so, how loud is the call to every man that is a friend to liberty, and who regards the, good of posterity, to rise and exert all his influence, to demolish the engine which has done so much mischief in all ages! We are far from trying to represent the fathers of New-England as the worst of the colonists; We believe the contrary. But our veneration for their memory, is so far from reconciling us to, that it fills us with greater detestation of, that mystery of iniquity, which carried them into such acts or imposition and persecution as have left a great blemish upon their character. And since these are tedious things to dwell upon, we shall close with this remark.
The Massachusetts ministers, in their letter to governor Jencks and other baptists in Providence, said, We hope and pray that ancient matters that had acrimony unhappily in them may be buried in oblivion. Now we are told that acrimony signifies that quality in one body whereby it corrodes, eats up or destroys another, This eating destroying quality is truly unhappy: but how can it be buried before it is dead? The worst of criminals are to be executed before they are buried. Therefore let this cruel man-eater be fairly executed, and we are ready to join heart and hand to bury him, and not to have a bone of him left for contention in all the land. If it be so hard to our opponents to hear of these matters, what has it been to those who have felt their eating and destroying influence for these hundred and forty years? And how can any person lift up his head before God or man, and say he hopes to have these things buried, if he at the same time holds fast, and tries hard to keep alive the procuring cause of them!
The foregoing appeal, having been examined and approved by many of his brethren, is presented to the public, by their humble servant,
Isaac Backus


Since the above was written, I have received direct accounts, that at Montague (whose case is mentioned p. [349].) they continue from time to time, to make distress upon the principal members of the baptist church there, whom the law directs to sign their certificates, while they let the rest of the society alone. Also that William White a regular member of the baptist church in Ashfield, who lives in Chesterfield, and has had his standing in said church certified according to law; yet had a cow taken from him on August 25, 1773, and sold the 30th, for the pedobaptist ministers rate; and that in both of these places, the civil charges of the town, and the ministers salary are all blended in one tax (contrary as I am informed to the law of our province) so that our brethren who would readily pay their civil tax, yet cannot do it, without paying the ministers also! Now the grand pretence that is made for the use of the secular arm to support ministers is, that thereby equality is established among the people; but what religion, equality or equity can there be in the above proceedings!

All Around the Web - August 26, 2016

WORLD - Christian judge fights to keep job
WORLD - Dodging a bullet

Trevin Wax - The 3 Minor Prophets Who Wrecked Me

Denny Burk - Asking the Right Questions about Intersex Athletes — Part 1

Evangelical History - The Faith of Woodrow Wilson: An Interview with Barry Hankins

Sam Storms - Is It Ever OK for a Christian to Lie?

Jared Wilson - 5 Words of Advice for Young Seminarians

Kevin DeYoung - Pastoral Anxiety

Chuck Lawless - Preaching to the Unchurched: 3 Adjustments I’ve Made

Sunday Mag - 10 Ideas for Using Snapchat at Your Church

BibleX - How Long Is the Average Sermon Series?

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break - Part 2

Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break - Part 1
Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break - Part 2

The Meaning

Writing about the Jewish slaves in the Exodus narrative, George Morrison said, “It took one night to Israel out of Egypt, but forty years to take Egypt out of Israel.”[1] Freedom is not a matter of location or title or legal declaration. Freedom is not something we can give ourselves, but can only be found in Christ. Though the writers of Prison Break never went that far, they came close.

All of the characters of the story are in prison whether they find themselves behind literally bars or not. Michael Scoffield, for example, is a prisoner to wanting to be a savior. Once he discovers his brother is innocent, he goes to the extreme of imprisoning himself in order to break his brother out. In each season, Michael feels guilty for his failures. The victims of "T-bag," he feels, are on his hands. He, personally, did not save those victims. He is to blame. Had he figured out a way to prevent Bagwell from breakout with him, they would still be alive. Likewise, when Michael and Lincoln finally arrive in Panama, Sara is on trial and he plots how he might save her. He is a slave to this. Early in the series we discover that Michael suffers from low latent inhibition which feeds his empathy towards those who suffer.

Lincoln is no different. From the time he was a child he acted rashly and without thought. He was in constant trouble and prison. This created a fractured relationship between him and Michael. While Michael always had a plan, Lincoln is quick to act. He is more of a bull in a china shop than a thinker. Yet Lincoln is no killer until season 3 as his character becomes very dark and non-remorseful. Lincoln is a man who is never in control. Though he is strong, he controls nothing. The one time he is innocent, he is declared guilty. He involvement in the case was due to his need to pay off mounting debts. Lincoln is portrayed as being strong enough to fight five men at one time, yet he cannot win a single fight. He, even as a free man, is a prisoner.

Sara Tancredi is also a prisoner. At first she is portrayed as a sacrificial, empathetic doctor who is the daughter of the Illinois governor who works at a local prison out of the kindness of her heart. Yet we discover she is a drug addict. She has used her position as a doctor to steal drugs for herself. The escape of the "Fox River Six" fuels her drug addiction until Michael wins her heart again. Her love for Michael does not cure her addition, it replaces it. Her affection for the escaped convict with questionable morals causes her to make poor and dangerous decisions herself. She is the Harley Quinn of the story and she too is a prisoner who cannot escape.

All of the other characters are the same. Theodore Bagwell was sexually abused by his father and pursues true love only to revert to violence when women do not return the favor. There is a brief moment of redemption for him when he refuses to murder his "true love" and her family and instead lets them go free. In season 4, Bagwell summarizes this overarching theme when he states (as a free man), "We are captives of our own identities living in prisons of our own creation."

Bagwell eventually takes on the persona of Cole Pfeiffer, one of the best salesmen for Gate. After it all falls apart, Bagwell asks an undercover FBI agent if such a lifestyle fit him. Bagwell was starting to believe that he could move away from crime, yet in the end he doesn't. Its a fantasy for the murderer to believe he could ever be free. He, as he said himself, is a captive of his own identity. Cole Pfeiffer was a myth.

Alexander Mahone is another great example. He is introduced in season 2 as a self-confident FBI agent assigned to catch the fugitives. Yet as his story unfolds, we discover he is a man riddled with guilt. He is a workaholic who obsesses with each case. A previous case proved to be detrimental to his mental, emotional, and spiritual health. One fugitive proved impossible to capture until finally Mahone secretly murdered the man and literally buried him in his own back yard. That guilt ruined his marriage and explains his involvement with the Company who organized his role as the lead investigator to capture the Fox River fugitives. Mahone, a free man, "manages" his guilt by taking strong, addictive pills to numb the pain. He eventually lands himself in Sona, a dangerous prison, where he must take even stronger drugs.

John Abruzzi, eventually killed in season 2, is a prisoner to his pride and power as a mob boss. Even as an escapee he insists on taking revenge on the man who turned him in. His wife protests yet he refuses and his stubborness leads to his death. Brad Bellick is a prisoner to wealth who cons prisoners while working at Fox River. When fired he chases the escaped convicts in pursuit of the $5 million. Through his entire narrative, he proves himself to be a man without a moral compass willing to sell anyone out for security and personal benefit.

The same could be said for virtually all of the major characters. Whatever side of the prison bars they are on, they are in chains. This does not imply, however, there is no redemption in the show, it is to say that imprisonment defines us all.

Regarding redemption, there are two ultimate options the show offers and neither are the right answer. The first is death. Both the deaths of Abruzzi and Haywire, the mentally disturbed escapee, are portrayed as liberating. Haywire was in pursuit of Holland and is told by Mahone that jumping to his death will get him there. His suicide is portrayed as liberating. While the rest of the convicts are running, Haywire is resting. C-Note, too, tries to commit suicide in order to protect his family though he ultimately fails. Such an act is viewed as heroic. Bellick's death is also heroic because of its sacrificial nature. In each of these cases, the characters do not find freedom until they find death.

The second source of redemption is hope rested in a faith in mysterious chance. Over and over again when their backs are up against the wall, the brothers tell each other that they "gotta have faith." At best, their faith is in luck which continues to be on their side. There is no God in the worldview of Prison Break. He is rarely mentioned and never a serious part of the narrative. So when the brothers mention "faith," they are not speaking of providence, but are trusting in a faceless and nameless force. There is no real freedom, let alone hope, in that.

This is why there is no real resolution to the story in the end. Yes the convicts and other characters are "justified" (to borrow a Christian term) when Scylla is finally recovered and the Company distroyed. Even with their acquittal, the show had established that they are prisoners even without the threat of imprisonment. Michael, the main character, is the closest thing the story has to a savior and even he falls short as he remains in bondage all the way to the end. Even his sacrificial death is not that of a spotless lamb. Perhaps this is why there must be a Season 5.

In the end, however, Prison Break puts a mirror up to human nature. We are all in bondage regardless of our "rap sheet." The only hope to freedom we have is a savior - a real one - that is not, himself, in chains. Michael Scoffield is not that Savior. Jesus is who, though like us in every way, was without sin, without bondage and therefore, can alone set us free.
You know we spend so much of our lives not saying the things we want to say . . . The things we should say. We speak in code, we send little messages; origami. So now, plainly, simply, I want to say that I love you both. Very much. And I want you to promise me, that you're gonna tell my child . . . that you're gonna tell my child how much they're loved everyday. And remind them how lucky they are . . . to be free, because we are. We're free now, finally. We're free.
-Michael Scoffield, final words

For more:
Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break - Part 1
Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break - Part 2
Christianity and the Small Screen: The West Wing
Christianity on the Small Screen: The Office
Christianity and the Small Screen: "Smallville"
Christianity and the Small Screen: Fox's "House, M. D."
Christianity and the Small Screen: NBC's "Crisis"
Christianity and the Small Screen: FBI Files   

All Around the Web - August 25, 2016

Happy birthday to my wife!

Joe Carter - Danger to California’s Christian Colleges Has Been Avoided—For Now

Albert Mohler - What Became of the Christian Intellectuals? There is More to the Story

Chuck Lawless - 10 Simple Ways to Increase Your Church’s Attendance This Weekend

Tim Challies - The Bestsellers: The Love Dare

Thom Rainer - Four Types of Churches That Will Soon Die

Eric Metaxas -  Faith at the Olympics

RC Sproul - Can the Devil Read My Mind?

Denny Burk - Hillbilly Elegy lives up to the hype

Chuck Lawless - 8 Experiences All Church Leaders Need

George Guthrie - 4 Interesting Facts about the Production of the King James Translation

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

From Spurgeon's Pulpit: Dust on Our Bible's

From his devotion Reading the Scriptures:
If this be the Word of God, what will become of some of you who have not read it for the last month? "Month, sir! I have not read it for this year." Ay, there are some of you who have not read it at all. Most people treat the Bible very politely. They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief around it, and carry it to their places of worship. When they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets int he way of an airing. That is your style of entertaining this Heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write "damnation" with your fingers.

All Around the Web - August 24, 2016

The Federalists - Pressed By Common Core And LGBT Agenda, More Families Homeschool

Russell Moore - Signposts: Why Christians Must Keep Christianity Strange

Sam Storms - Is it ever OK for a Christian to take an Oath?

Evangelical History - Where Did the Footprints Poem Come From?

Managing Your Church - Who Should Know What People Give?

Crossway - Why Study the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah?

Chuck Lawless - 9 Values of a Church Staff Retreat

Cold-Case Christianity - The Apostles Wrote the Gospels as Eyewitness Accounts

Bible Gateway - The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: The Tower of Babel

Deadline - TriStar, Mark Gordon & eOne Revive ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia’ With ‘The Silver Chair’

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - One-Volume Systematic Theologies

Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Introduction to Theology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - One-Volume Systematic Theologies

Some time ago I came across a list of 25 theological books composed by Bruce Ashford he believes young theologians should read and invest in. I share my enthusiasm for most on his list and would recommend his post (you can read it here) but felt that for those brand new to the study of theology, many of the writings would be overwhelming and perhaps not the best place to start. For example, Augustine's City of God is a classic but is also an academic work that is over 1,000 pages with a unique historic context. I would not recommend a new theologian to begin there.

With that in mind, I want to compose my list of books for young theologians in various categories of theology of mostly modern books for young, budding theologians that I believe may be easier to understand. They are not classics, but I do believe they will be helpful resources to sink your teeth into.

In this second installment, here is a list of helpful one-volume systematic theologies.

  • Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology - This is the most helpful introduction one-volume resource to systematic, historic, dogmatic, and biblical theology I have come across. I would highly recommend young theologians invest in it and read it.
  • Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine - This is, I assume, the best selling one-volume systematic theology in recent years. It was the textbook of the college and seminary I attended. It is a helpful book. Grudem is a five-point Calvinists with soft charismatic tendencies.
  • Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology:A Biblical and Systematic Approach - I like a lot that Bird does in this volume, though I do not like everything about it. The best part of this book is its emphasis on the gospel. That alone makes it worth your investment. Bird is an Anglican.
  • Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth - This is perhaps the simpliest of books in this category and worth having on your bookshelf. Ryrie is Arminian and dispensational.
  • Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe - Although Driscoll's ministry has fallen on hard times in recent years, I still consider this as his best work. Driscll and Breshear offers a systematic theology written in a biblical theology approach. I find this book to be a really helpful introduction to theology and the writers are engaging and insightful. They write from a Calvinist perspective with soft charismatic leanings.
  • RC Sproul, Everyone's a Theologian - This is, in essence, a introductory systematic theology by Sproul. He walks the reader through the various loci of theology. Sproul is a well-known presbyterian Calvinist and writes from that perspective. He is also an accomplished philosopher and uses those skills. 
  • James P. Boyce, Abstract of Theology - Though written over 150 years ago, I still enjoy the founder of Southern Seminary's systematic theology. I wouldn't recommend it as the first systematic theology to read, but it is worth having on your shelf.