Friday, February 27, 2015

I Don't Think He's Trying Anymore

Once again, John Piper's infamous tweet "Farewell Rob Bell" after the said author's book trailer for Love wins was released has proven prophetic. A recent article reports the following:
"One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness," Rob Bell said. "Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It's central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with."

That statement prompted a question from Oprah: "When is the church going to get that?"
"We're moments away," Rob Bell said. "I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone."

Said Kristen Bell: "There are churches who are moving forward and there are churches who are almost regressing and making it more of a battle." (Source)
 This, of course, was all predictable. Anyone that read Bell's first book Velvet Elvis could have made this prediction. Those who flirt with theological liberalism will eventually become one. Bell used to at least pretend to be orthodox or at least hold on to some residue of it. Those days are over with.

For more:
Can We Now Say, "Farewell, Rob Bell?"
"What We Talk About When We Talk About God" by Rob Bell: A Review
"What We Talk About When We Talk About God" Lecture
Repost | Will the Two Become One?: Emergents Turn to Process Theology
Will This Sort of Love Win?:  Reflections on the Bell Controversy - Part 1

MSNBC Takes on Bell . . . Or At Least Tries Too
What's Wrong With a Feminine God?: Some Quotations 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

From Spurgeon's Pulpit: Science and Infallibility

From his sermon The Infallibility of Scripture:
Again — if, “ The mouth of the Lord has spoken it, ” we have in this utterance the special character of immutable fixedness. Once spoken by God, not only is it so now but it always must be so. The Lord of Hosts has spoken and who shall disannul it? The rock of God’s Word does not shift, like the quicksand of modern scientific theology. One said to his minister, “My dear Sir, surely you ought to adjust your beliefs to the progress of science.” “Yes,” said he, “but I have not had time to do it today, for I have not yet read the morning papers.” One would have need to read the morning papers and take in every new edition to know where scientific theology now stands. For it is always chopping and changing. The only thing that is certain about the false science of this age is that it will be soon disproved. Theories, vaunted today, will be scrapped tomorrow.

The great scientists live by killing those who went before them. They know nothing for certain except that their predecessors were wrong. Even in one short life we have seen system after system — the mushrooms, or rather the toadstools, of thought — rise and perish. We cannot adapt our religious belief to that which is more changeful than the moon. Try it who will — as for me, if “The mouth of the Lord has spoken it,” it is the Truth of God to me in this year of Divine Grace, 1888. And if I stand among you a gray-headed old man, Lord willing, somewhere in 1908, you will find me making no advance upon the Divine ultimatum. If “The mouth of the Lord has spoken it,” we behold in His Revelation a Gospel which is without variableness, revealing “ Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”

All Around the Web - February 26, 2015

Russell Moore - Should We Pray for the Defeat of ISIS, or Their Conversion?

Doug Wils - Bard Still Has an Arrow Left

Eric Raymond - Martin Luther’s Three Lights

Radical - Won’t Our Stance On Cultural Issues Harm Our Witness?

Mental Floss - Martin Luther is the Most Popular Playmobil Figurine Ever

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

James MacDonald on Transcendence

From "Vertical Church":
I experience transcendence when what God has made reminds me how little I am. I stand on the shore of an ocean and realize that there are worlds underneath the waves. I look up from the base of a mountain and am reminded, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” To experience the transcendent is to sense your smallness. By that I don’t mean transcendence makes me feel belittled or self- deprecating. A true encounter with the God of the universe makes me feel gladly small, perfectly puny, and happily so, in my assigned place and actual size! A true experience of eternity leaves us feeling, as C. S. Lewis said, “the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.” Transcendence is a healthy dose of insignificance to a race whose root sin is pride. Transcendence cuts us all down to our proper proportion before an awesome God. That you and I are not significant is a wonderful, freeing discovery, and that’s what church is for. (51)

All Around the Web - February 25, 2015

Reuters - Washington state judge rules against florist who refused gay wedding

The New York Post - Why are jihadis so obsessed with porn?

The Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with Bryan Chapell

Church Tech - 10 Pinterest Ideas for Your Church

MLive - Rob Bell on gay marriage: 'We're moments away' from church embracing it

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 4

The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 4

Luther and His German Bible

Any discussion of Luther’s doctrine of Scripture, and in this case his promotion and defense of its perspicuity, is not complete without at least mentioning Luther’s arduous work of translating the Bible from the original languages to German.  It is no secret that the Catholic Church was vehemently against translations of the Bible in the vernacular.  It cost William Tyndale his life and John Wycliffe was hated for his work in translating the Bible into English by the Catholic Church.  So too Luther’s translation was unwelcomed by Catholic authorities.    Luther wanted nothing more than for his fellow Germans to be able to read the Bible in their own tongue.  So long as the Bible was read exclusively in Latin, the Church would never be fully Reformed.  The Catholic Church kept its stranglehold on the common men by not allowing them to read the Bible for themselves.  If the people could only read the Bible for themselves, Luther’s revolt would be validated and the cause of the Reformation would be complete.  Luther believed that once the Bible was made available to the common person, the abuses of the Church would be made evident and Catholicism would crumble.

It took Luther only eleven weeks to translate the New Testament, [1] and he published it in September 1522 (known as the September Testament).  It would not be until 1534 when Luther would finish the Old Testament and first publish the entire Bible.  Many have commented on the excellence of Luther’s translation which helped shape modern German.  Luther would continue to revise the German Bible until his death.

The Catholic response, predictably, was not positive.  Just as the Church opposed Wycliffe and other translators, the Church stood against the translating of the Bible into German.  It was standard Catholic teaching that Scripture was not clear and to translate the Bible into the vernacular will only cause more confusion.  In 1486, the Archbishop of Mainz had issued an edict
forbidding any unapproved German version in his diocese.  He defended his action on the ground that in his office he was required to guard the purity of the divine Word.  Those who were trying their hand at turning the Bible into German were the most part incapable of doing justice to their task, he thought.  In any case, he added, it is most dangerous to place the Holy Scriptures in the homes of ordinary people, where even women might read, if they could, or at least hear, since they are unable to come to a right judgment about them. [Archbishop] Berhold was giving expression to the general mind of the Church. [2]
Likewise, Johann Geiler from Kaisersburg, though an advocate for Church reform, was against the translation of the Bible into the vernacular.  He argued that
It is a bad thing to print the Bible in German.  It must be understood far differently from the way in which the text sounds.  It is dangerous to put a knife into the hands of children and let them slice their own bread.  They can only wound themselves with it.  So also, the Holy Scriptures, which comprise the bread of God, must be read and interpreted b people who have requisite knowledge and experience and who are able to determine the true sense. [3]
Geiler, here, is echoing the Catholic sentiment of his time. The Church believed that a vernacular Bible in the hands of common people was a dangerous thing.  Like most Catholic leaders at this time, Geiler believed that Scripture’s obscurity meant that only trained theologians could read and interpret the Bible for the laity with the Pope standing as the final interpreter.

Notice that the difference between Luther and the Church was not the authority of Scripture, but its clarity.  Luther held dearly to its perspicuity and thus translating the Bible to the vernacular was only natural.  The Catholic Church, on the other hand, feared that an ignorant people untrained in theology and hermeneutics would come to damnable heresies or at the very least be extremely confused by what they read.

So though on the surface the two sides were debating the merits and necessity of vernacular translations, they were really debating its perspicuity.  The belief in Scripture’s clarity drove Luther to translate the text while the rejection of Scripture’s clarity drove the Church to oppose its publication.

[1]  Luther translated at about 1,500 words per day.  See James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), 175.
[2]  Willem Jan Kooiman, Luther and the Bible, trans. John Schmidt (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 86-87.
[3]  As quoted in Arthur Skeving Wood, Captive to the Word: Martin Luther – Doctor of Sacred Scripture.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969.

All Around the Web - February 24, 2015

The Atlantic - What ISIS Really Wants

Thom Rainer - The Top Ten Most Fiercely Defended Traditions in Churches

The Gospel Coalition - ‘We Are All Messy’: Rosaria Butterfield on Loving Our Gay and Lesbian Friends

Justin Taylor - 6 Meanings of the Word “Evolution”

The Hobbit Blog - Catching up with Peter Jackson

Monday, February 23, 2015

"The A to Z Guide to Bible Signs & Symbols" by Neil Wilson and nancy Ryken Taylor: A Review

There are no Bible codes.

Any attempt to search the Scriptures for hidden messages is a distraction from the real beauty and message of Scripture: the good news of Jesus Christ. The Bible predicts many things, but Shakespeare, Adolf Hitler, and Barack Obama are not among them.

With that said, that does not mean that the Bible avoids using a variety of signs and symbols throughout its pages. Scripture utilizes a variety of literary tools and genres in order to unfold its redemptive drama. This is why I was cautiously interested in the new book The A to Z Guide to Bible Signs and Symbols: Understanding Their meaning and Significance by Neil Wilson and Nancy Ryken Taylor (Baker, 2015). When I started to get serious about the Bible and sensing a real call into ministry, I started to notice certain themes that ran throughout Scripture. Such an understanding has only increased over the years. What I lacked was a resource that expanded my understanding. Wilson and Taylor have provided me with such a book.

The authors offer dozens of what they call "signs" and "symbols" ranging from "Babylon" to "root" to "tower" to "serpent." Each theme is given two pages of text including brief introductory remarks followed by highlights from how Scripture uses it. Each page is colorfully decorated with interesting tidbits throughout.

My obvious concern with the book regarded its interpretations which, in most cases, tend to be over the top on subjects like this. Numbers are a perfect example of this. Some have taken the numbers forty, four, three, six, twelve, and countless others and developed wild theories and secret meanings. For the most part, the authors of this volume avoid any and all of that.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by how disciplined and helpful this book was. Though many of its "chapters" are too brief and over simplified, its goal is not to be exhaustive. For those interested in the countless themes throughout the Bible, you will find this volume very helpful.

All Around the Web - February 23, 2015

Albert Mohler - Fifty Shades of Shame — The Evolution of Pornography

Denny Burk - Wrapping a Lie in the Cloak of Faith

Thom Rainer - Is It Time to Rethink Church Business Meetings?

Observer - Death With Dignity Legislation Inspired by Brittany Maynard Introduced in Albany

The Blazing Center - If All The Bible Translations Had A Dinner Party

Friday, February 20, 2015

Is God Impassible?

In his book Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, Dr. Michael Bird tackles the question of God's impassibility in the affirmative. This attribute has always stumped me as I have swung back and forth between both sides. Considering the brevity of its treatment, Dr. Bird offers a great defense of the doctrine.

He begins by defining what he means by impassibility:
Divine impassibility means that God cannot be affected by anything such as emotions or events that are external to himself. This does not mean that God does not have emotions like love or joy or grief, for he clearly does; indeed they even define his character. More properly, impassibility means that God is not affected or changed by anything outside of himself. The main point is that God is not affected rather than lacking affection! (130) . . .
To quote the venerable J. I. Packer again, historically, what divine impassibility mans is:
Not impassivity, unconcern, and impersonal detachment in the face of the creation. Not inability or unwillingness to empathize with human pain and grief, either. It means simply that God’s experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us. His are foreknown, willed, and chosen by himself, and are not involuntary surprises forced on him from outside, apart form his own decision, in the way that ours regularly are.[1] (131)
Bird then notes how many theologians of the same stripe (Reformed for example) reject this doctrine. He lists, by name, Jurgen Moltmann, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. A. Carson, and John Stott. One could easily include an equal list of reputable scholars and theologians who embrace divine impassibility which is why I have remained on the fence. Both sides make good arguments and represented by great theologians.

However, Bird, referencing Mark Baddeley, sets forth two powerful reasons why one should adopt the doctrine of God's impassibility as defined above. He writes:
Baddeley goes on to argue that impassibility is what makes the gospel good news. First, impassibility proves that God acts out of love and in grace because it is only his own being that motivates him to be so. God is not persuaded to be loving and gracious because of his experience of suffering. Rather, God acts lovingly and graciously toward us because he eternally and unchangeably is so. Second, the incarnation and cross were not simply a manifestation of what was always true, namely, that God suffers and empathizes with human tragedy. No, the incarnation was a fundamentally new event whereby the Son became incarnate and suffered for us. Therefore, things previously not possible for God's Son, such as the experience of suffering and death, became possible when the Son took on flesh and blood. Impassibility establishes that God relates to us in a fully emotional way, grounded in his own nature; accordingly, he is able to act in love and grace toward us. Furthermore, the man Jesus Christ can authentically sympathize with our weakness because only God cannot be emotionally pressed to acting in compassion toward us. (131)
So, does God suffer? Bird says yes, but his suffering is not surprisingly imposed; it does not move him to be something other than he is or to do something other than he intended to. God chooses to be the God who suffers with and for human creatures (131). A totally impassive God, he writes quoting Packer again, would be a horror, and not the God of Calvary at all (131).

I find his presentation of the doctrine attractive. Often in academic studies, debates are often disagreements over definitions. Perhaps what Stott and others means by impassibility is not what Bird means by it. Bird, clearly, does not deny that God suffers. Calvary made that clear as the God-man suffers in a very real sense. Yet, because God is immutable, if I am understanding Bird right, God is not coerced to love because of a change in circumstances. He is love.

Although Bird's argument deserves more thought and treatment, I find it attractive. I can accept what Bird says here, admitting that the issue, for me at least, needs more investigation before becoming more dogmatic. Certainly, however, I do not believe this is a matter of orthodoxy as faithful believers can continue to discuss without any accusation of heterodoxy.

[1] J. I. Packer quote taken from "What Do You mean When You Say God? in Christianity Today, 31.

For more:
Does God Suffer?: Aquinas on Divine Impassibility
The God of the Gospel: A Review of Michael Bird's Theology Proper
The Gospel is From, About, and of God (forthcoming)
Is God Impassible?
Is Karl Barth a Good or Bad Guy (forthcoming)
"Evangelical Theology" by Michael Bird Out Today
The Goal of Theology: To Be Gospelized
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 3 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 5 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 7
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 8
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 10
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 11
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 12
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 13
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 14
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 15
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 16
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 17
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 18
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 19
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 20
The Immutability of God: Its Truth and Relevancy - Introduction
The Immutability of God: Its Truth and Relevancy - Scriptural Foundations
The Immutability of God: Its Truth and Relevancy - Scriptural Challenges 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3

The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3

Perspicuity and the Priesthood of Believers

What Luther establishes in The Bondage of Will is not far from what he argues in some of his famous earlier works that directly apply to his emphasis of perspicuity.  In his diatribe against Erasmus, Luther repeatedly condemns the Catholic Church of exercising authority over Scripture and denying common Christians the right to read and interpret Scripture for themselves. Luther had made this argument before, but in a different context.  Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers applies directly to the clarity of Scripture.  This fundamental doctrine that separated Luther from the Catholic Church is developed more fully in his 1520 treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.  What really separated Luther from the Catholics was not the role in which the Holy Spirit played in interpreting Scripture and determining right doctrine, but where the Holy Spirit plays the role.

The Catholic Church saw the Holy Spirit’s role of interpretation in the Pope, the Church, and her councils.  Luther, on the other hand, saw the role of the Holy Spirit primarily in the local church community, especially through the preaching of the Word from a qualified individual who did proper exegesis and through the individual believer.

The difference could not be greater.  As Luther continued to rebel against Catholic doctrine, the Catholic Church continued to suggest that Luther was fighting against the Holy Spirit who was guiding the Church throughout her history and dogma.  Luther responded by returning to the priesthood of all believers which taught that the Holy Spirit works through the local church community as each member serves the other and the Word of God is preached.

In 1520, Luther published his book To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation and in it he offers his defense of the priesthood of all believers.  The context is important.  The book, as the title suggest, is written to the secular authorities of Germany and Luther is pleading with them to continue the fight against the Pope and her devilish doctrines.

The problem with this is that the Church has set up a number of “walls” to prevent such an event from taking place.  The first wall is the separation between spiritual and temporal authority.  The Church considers herself the sole authority in spiritual matters thus preventing the secular state from ever interfering with spiritual matters.  The second wall regards the authority and interpretation of Scripture.  Since there is no evidence that the Pope has such authority to be the final interpreter of Scripture in Scripture, the Pope then has usurped such authority.  The third wall regards the Church reserving the right to call its own council.  Luther argues that by limiting the calling such a council the Church, the secular authorities had no power to force the Church to reexamine its doctrines of morals.

It is the first two walls that apply directly to perspicuity and the priesthood of believers.  In the first wall, the wall of separation between ecclesiastical and secular powers, Luther laid out his defense of the priesthood of all believers.  Luther argued that nothing separates priests, cardinals, archbishops, or the Pope himself from the common Christian.  After all, have they not all been baptized into the same faith and gospel?  Luther, then, sees no distinction between the spiritual estate and the temporal state because all true Christians belong to the spiritual estate. [1]

Luther sees each individual as part of a community of the believers – the local church – who contribute to God’s kingdom.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that some members are hands and others are eyes.  Different, yes, but not separate.  Luther is not denying the office of priest or preacher (defined as one set apart by the congregation and Church to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments), but instead suggests that the priest or preacher is not above spiritually from others in the congregation.  This means that the Pope is spiritually equal to the peasant farmer. [2]  Luther quipped;
The pope or bishop anoints, shaves heads, ordains, consecrates, and prescribes garb different from that of the laity, but he can never make a man into a Christian or into a spiritual man by so doing.  He might well make a man into a hypocrite or a humbug and blockhead, but never a Christian or a spiritual man . . . The consecration by pope or bishop would never make a priest, and if we had no higher consecration than that which pope or bishop gives, no one could say mass or preach a sermon or give absolution.
Therefore, when a bishop consecrates it is nothing else than that in the place and stead of the whole community, all of whom have like power, he takes a person and charges him to exercise this power on behalf of others. [3]
Luther then goes on to defend his case by using the example of a number of Christian prisoners stranded on an island without a priest or bishop.  If one of them is set apart by the other Christians to exercise the role of priests – to preach, exegete God’s Word, pronounce absolution, etc. – are his actions nullified and in vain since he was not consecrated by the Catholic Church?  Of course not!  But since we are all priests baptized into the same faith and gospel, then we can all serve as priests within the community of believers. [4]

Therefore, Luther concludes, “this first paper wall is overthrown.” [5]  The temporal state is as much spiritual as the ecclesiastical state and thus the secular authorities have the right to exercise their power even to priest, bishops, or even the Pope.

This then leads to the second wall against the church: Papal authority as the only interpreter of Scripture.  Luther is vehement in his rejection of Papal infallibility and argued that there is no Scriptural proof of their position.  They boldly claim that “the Holy Spirit never leaves them,” Luther notes, “no matter how ignorant and wicked they are, they become bold and decree only what they want.”  So angry at this doctrine was Luther that he encouraged the Church to do away with Scripture all together and “be satisfied with the unlearned gentlemen at Rome who posses the Holy Spirit!” [6]

At this point Luther made the clear connection of perspicuity and the priesthood of believers.  Luther notes that the promises of the keys in Matthew 16 were not give to Peter alone (as the “Romanists” claimed) “but to the whole community.”  Furthermore, “if we are all priests . . . and all have one faith, one gospel, one sacrament, why should we not also have the power to test and judge what is right or wrong in matters of faith?” [7]

Therefore, Luther concludes, “it is the duty of every Christian to espouse the cause of the faith, to understand and defend it, and to denounce every error.” [8]  In just a few short pages, Luther undermined the foundation of his opponents.  Since Scripture is clear and every believer (whether Pope, priest, farmer, or blacksmith) is a priest and can exercise such authority within the community of the church.  The Pope has no more authority over the interpretation of Scripture than any other believer.

And thus on the basis of perspicuity of Scripture and the priesthood of believers, Luther has knocked down two of the three walls the Church has established to protect its heresies.  Already, at least in Luther’s mind, the Church was ready to tumble and once again the doctrine Luther was attacking was perspicuity this time in the guise of the priesthood of all believers.  The firm belief and promotion of the priesthood of all believers assumes an acceptance of perspicuity and to reject the priesthood of all believers is to reject perspicuity.

[1]  Luther wrote, “all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office . . . This is because we all have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike; for baptism, gospel, and faith alone make us spiritual and a Christian people.”  Martin Luther, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” in Three Treatises trans. Charles M. Jacobs and rev. James Atkinson, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1970), 12.
[2]  Later Luther adds, “Therefore, just as those who are now called ‘spiritual,’ that is, priests, bishops, or popes, are neither different from other Christians nor superior to them, except that they are charged with the administration of the word of God and the sacraments, which is their work and office, so it is with the temporal authorities.  They bear the sword and rod in their hand to punish the wicked and protect the good.  A cobbler, a smith, a peasant – each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops.  Further, everyone must benefit and serve every other by means of his own work or office so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, just as all the members of the body serve one another [1 Cor. 12:14-26].”  Ibid., 15.  Note the closing sentence.  Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers did not mean every individual was free to do whatever he wanted, but that as priest we must serve one another and contribute to the larger community.  This aspect of Luther’s theology is oftentimes missed.
[3]  Ibid., 12.
[4]  Luther goes on to write, “Through canon law the Romanists have almost destroyed and made unknown the wondrous grace and authority of baptism and justification.  In times gone by Christens used to choose their bishops and priests in this way from among their own number, and they were confirmed in their office by the other bishops without all the fuss that goes on nowadays.  St. Augustine, Ambrose, and Cyprian each became [a bishop in this way].”  Ibid., 13.
[5]  Ibid., 16.
[6]  Ibid., 19.  Luther then adds, “If I had not read [the Epitome of Prierias] with my own eyes, I would not have believed it possible for the devil to have made such stupid claims at Rome, and to have won supporters for them.”  Ibid.
[7]  Ibid., 20, 21.  In true Lutheran fashion, the Reformer remarked, “If God spoke then through an ass against a prophet, why should he not be able even now to speak through a righteous man against the pope?”  Ibid., 22.
[8]  Ibid.

All Around the Web - February 17, 2015

Brian Howard - How Much should You Pay Your Pastor?

Canon and Culture - Is the Gay Rights Movement the Rightful Heir to the Civil Rights Tradition

Thom Rainer - Five Thoughts about Church Memorials

The Gospel Coalition - Why Is the Number of the Beast 666?

Paul Tripp - 23 Things That Love Is

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Coolidge" by Amity Shlaes" A Review

Perhaps the greatest persevering of Calvin Coolidge, the one for which the red-haired president is known best, was his persevering in the very area that plagued Oliver: debt. In his personal life, Coolidge brought saving to a high art. Coolidge was so parsimonious that he did not buy a house in Massachusetts even after he became governor, so careful that the Coolidges owned no car until after he achieved the presidency, so strict about money that his son John never forgot it. Thrifty to the point of harshness, Coolidge rarely relented when it came to money.

Upon learning that Coolidge had become president, acquaintances approached Calvin Jr., his son, who happened to be working in a tobacco field in Hatfield, Massachusetts. The others told Calvin Jr., that they would not work anymore if their fathers were president. “If your father were my father, you would,” the boy replied. It was as president that Coolidge’s saving proved so exceptional. Coolidge hacked away at the federal budget with a discipline tragically missing in his well-intentioned predecessor, Warren G. Harding. Coolidge vetoed 50 bills and turned down new spending, even for projects such as farm subsidies and construction of rural postal roads that would have immensely benefited the region from which he hailed. (5)

My ongoing effort to read a biography on every US President finally brings me to my favorite President of all: Silent Cal - Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was one of the most underestimated politicians of the last century. Though he appeared to be weak and and easy to beat, he proved everyone wrong.

Coolidge's story is a great American story. He came from very humble beginnings and rose to become one of the most popular governors and presidents of his day. Though Coolidge is largely forgotten, his importance should not be overstated. His upbringing of having to count pennies in order to make it was directly applied to government.

What makes Coolidge importance is his discipline. He understood that public money is not his money. Therefore, it ought not to be wasted. From he beginning of his administration, which began after the death of President Hardining, Coolidge met regularly with advisers on how to cut the budget and save money. Given that we now have a $18+ trillion dollard debt, we could really use Coolidge's beliefs.

Ultimately, Coolidge was a limited government politician who stood against the tide of progressivism in favor of federalism.

In regards to Shlaes's biography of our thirtieth President, I suspect that this will be the standard volume on Coolidge for sometime. Shlaes offers a very detail account of Coolidge's life. At times the detail is tedious and almost too much, but for the most part, Shlaes keeps the story moving.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book and hope that Coolidge grows in popularity. It is tragic that his legacy was tarnished by his successors from both parties: Hoover, FDR, and Truman. Coolidge led America throughout the roaring 20s and warned that unless progressive policies were rejected, a crash was about to happen and of course, he proved prophetic. It seems to me that the depth and longevity of the Great Depression would have been less severe if Coolidge's policies had continued to be followed.

For more biographies on the Presidents
President Barack Obama - "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama: A Review
President George W. Bush - "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
President Bill Clinton - "The Natural" by Joe Klein: A Review 
President George H. W. Bush - "41" by George W. Bush: A Review
President Ronald Reagan - "Ronald Reagan" by Dinesh D'Souza 
President Gerald Ford - "Gerald R. Ford" by Douglas Brinkley: A Review
President Richard Nixon - "The Greatest Comeback" by Pat Buchanan: A Review
President John F. Kennedy - "Killing Kennedy" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard: A Review
President Dwight D. Eisenhower - "Ike: An American Hero" by Michael Korda: A Review
President Calvin Coolidge - "Coolidge" by Amity Shlaes" A Review
President Abraham Lincoln - "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage"
"The Preacher and the Presidents" by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy: A Review
"The First Family Detail" by Ronald Kessler: A Review
"Double Down" by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann: A Review

American Experience Documentaries:
Woodrow Wilson: An American Experience
Dwight Eisenhower: An American Experience
Richard Nixon: American Experience
Jimmy Carter: An American Experience
Ronald Reagan: An American Experience
HW Bush: An American Experience  
Clinton: An American Experience

For more:
"Rawhide Down" by Del Quentin Wilber: A Review

Coolidge: Men Do Not Make Laws
"Watergate": A National Geographic Documentary
"Saving Ronald Reagan" Documentary

All Around the Web - February 16, 2015

Radical - Engaging Those Who Experience Same-Sex Attraction

Denny Burk - President Obama’s cynical lie about gay marriage

Thom Rainer - 15 Concerns in Children’s Ministries

Justin Taylor - John Frame: 12 Questions to Ask When Viewing a Film

The Blaze - Millennials Still Living in Their Parents’ Basements Nevertheless Think They’ll Be Millionaires Someday

Friday, February 13, 2015

Alexander Whyte: Lazy Ministers

From Alexander Whyte:
I would have all lazy Ministers drummed out of the assembly. I would have laziness held to be the one unpardonable sin in all our Ministers. We have plenty of time for all our work, did we husband our time and hoard it up aright, were we only sufficiently jealous of every man and everything that comes to steal our time. Oh no, we cannot look seriously in one another’s faces and say it is want of time. It is want of intention. It is want of determination. It is want of method. It is want of conscience. It is want of heart. It is want of anything and everything but time.

All Around the Web - February 13, 2015

Kevin DeYoung - Yeah, Well, What About the Crusades

Denny Burk - Bruce Jenner, the Transgender Revolution, and Loving Our Neighbors

Doug Wilson - Surveying the Text: Ecclesiastes

Ligonier - Getting the Gospel Right: An Interview with R.C. Sproul

New York Times - Why Google Glass Broke

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Spurgeon: Preach Christ to Sinners

From his sermon on The Mysteries of the Brazen (#165):
And let it be remembered, that if the minister doth but preach Christ plainly, that is all he has to do; if with affection and prayer he preaches Christ fully, if there were never a soul saved—which I believe would be impossible—he would have done his work, and his Master would say, "Well done." I have gone away from this hall, after preaching upon divers doctrines, and though many have complimented me, foolishly, I have said to myself, "I can but groan that I had such a subject at all." And at another time, when I have been faltering in my delivery, and committed a thousand blunders in my speech, I have gone away as happy as a prince, because I have said, "I did preach Christ." There was enough for sinners to be saved by; and if all the papers in the world should abuse me, and all the men in the world should say 'cry him down;' he will still live and still breathe as long as he feels in himself, "I have preached to sinners, and Christ has been preached to them, so as they could understand and lay hold on him and be saved."

All Around the Web - February 12, 2015

Owen Strachan - Many Heroes, So Little Heroism

Russell Moore - What Will Matter to Evangelicals in 2016

Denny Burk - A tough critique of transgenderism

Canon and Culture - Vaccination and the Christian Worldview

The Blaze - Alabama Set to Become 37th State Where Same-Sex Couples Can Legally Marry

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

From Lewis's Pen: It is Essential

From The Four Loves:
In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give.  The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation.  It is essential.  Without it we can hardly avoid the conception of what I can only call a ‘managerial’ God; a Being whose function or nature is to ‘run’ the universe, who stands to it as a head-master to a school . . . .  But to be sovereign of the universe is no great matter to God. In himself, at home in ‘the land of the Trinity,’ he is Sovereign of a far greater realm.  We must keep always before our eyes that vision of Lady Julian’s in which God carried in his hand a little object like a nut, and that nut was ‘all that is made.’  God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing—or should we say ‘seeing’? there are no tenses in God—the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and ‘take advantage of’ Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

All Around the Web - February 11, 2015

Denny Burk - Christian baker to be forced into bankruptcy for refusing to participate in same-sex wedding

Russell Moore - Questions & Ethics: How should Christians think about Bill Cosby?

The Gospel Coalition - Advice to Young Pastors from R. C. Sproul, Tom Schreiner, and Carlos Contreras

Practical Theology for Women - Fifty Shades of Genesis 3:16

Eric Metaxas - Self-Esteem, Entitlement, and Violence  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2

The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2

Perspicuity Against Erasmus

Luther’s clearest and most developed argument regarding the perspicuity of Scripture is in his diatribe against the humanist theologian, Desiderius Erasmus, called The Bondage of the Will.  Like many of his other writings and debates, the primary issue does not appear to be the perspicuity of Scripture.  However, in order to defend his doctrine Luther is forced to raise the issue.  Both he and his opponent rightly see that though on the surface they are debating one thing (free will), in reality they are debating another (perspicuity).

The issue at hand between the two theologians regards predestination and the freedom of the will, but the issue of perspicuity continued to appear between the two men’s writings.  Erasmus was not one particularly interested in the free will debate and considered debates over such theological issues not worth his time and energy.  In his book, Discourse on Free Will, Erasmus’ “chief point is that it is not a very significant issue, one way or the other; and his main complaint against Luther is simply that the latter shows a defective sense of proportion in laying so much stress on an opinion which is extreme and importable in itself and relates to a subject which is both obscure and unimportant.” [1]  Therefore, Erasmus defended free will by suggesting that “since Scripture is ultimately obscure concerning a great number of matters, especially the relationship of the divine and human will, it is necessary to plead ignorance as well as appeal to the judgment of the church (and its tradition in late medieval theology) to address the question of sovereignty and freedom.” [2]

In his book, Erasmus suggested that for many doctrines the Bible only confesses particular doctrines, but does not clearly explain them. For example, “Scripture simply confesses the Trinity of God and humanity of Christ and the unforgivable sin, and there is nothing here of obscurity or ambiguity.  But how these things can be, Scripture does not say . . ., nor is it necessary to know.” [3]  Therefore, since Scripture only identifies but does not explain such doctrines, it is necessary for the Church (who holds the keys) to define and lay out those doctrines in a clear and precise way that can be instituted and practiced by all believing Christians. 

This argument applies directly to the issue of free will.  Difficult or obscure doctrines, like the Trinity and free will are not clearly defined or explained in Scripture.  As a result, the Church had wrestled and finally laid out the final dogma of the Church.  For Erasmus, such doctrines were subject to the interpretation of the Church.  Because of Scripture’s obscurity, Erasmus offered, it was necessary for the Church to determine what orthodoxy was when it came to the difficult doctrine of free will.

Luther would have none of this.  He found this to be a fundamental attack on his Reformation and on the gospel itself.  As he stated at Worms, the Church and her councils can err.  To suggest that the Pope stands above the Scriptures sounds closer to heresy than orthodoxy.

Luther in his reply to Erasmus is sarcastic, blunt, and biblical.  Luther has little time for Tradition or medieval theology (except when it benefits his own argument) and instead pummels Erasmus with biblical text after biblical text.  In the middle of his onslaught, Luther attacks Erasmus’ faulty Bibliology and offers his own defense of perspicuity.  To Luther, arguing for Scripture’s obscurity and the Pope’s infallibility as a result was empty and stood against the purpose of the Scripture in the first place.  Erasmus argued that Scripture was not clear enough over the issue of free will and predestination to make final and secure arguments forcing us to side with the interpretations of the Church.  Luther is vehement in his rejection of such theology.

Here the two famous theologians are not arguing over free will or predestination, but over the source of authority and final determination of their theology: a perspicuous Scripture or a  perspicuous Church authority.

By arguing for a perspicuous Scripture, Luther was not suggesting that all texts of Scripture are clear.  Luther admitted that not all of Scripture was immediately clear to understand. Luther’s understanding of human depravity assumed that Scripture would be difficult (but not obscure) to the average, untrained reader. [4] Luther’s doctrine of depravity directly applies to our difficult to understand Scripture.  However, to misunderstand and to wrongly interpret Scripture (as the Catholic Church had done) is not due to obscurity in Scripture, but to the depravity and man.  As a result, Luther emphasized a twofold perspicuity.  The point was to show that everyone, whether Catholic or Protestant, is limited in his interpretation.  The difference here between Luther and Erasmus is that Luther sees the limitation in the interpreter whereas Erasmus places the limitation on the Scriptures.

The first form of perspicuity is an internal perspicuity that “concerns the knowledge of the heart.”  By this, Luther means that without the aide of the Holy Spirit, one cannot see “a jot of what is in the Scriptures.”  In other words, depravity greatly inhibits one’s interpretation of Scripture.  Since Scripture was inspired by the Spirit of God, so too right interpretation is only possible with those who possess the Spirit of God.  As Luther summarized, “The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture.” [5]

The second form of perspicuity is an external perspicuity that “relates to the ministry of the Word.” [6]  Though Luther established that unless one has the Spirit, their depravity prevents them from rightly understand the Word.  This does not mean, however, that the unredeemed cannot understand Scripture at all, but that through means of proper hermeneutics, contexualization, etc., even the unregenerate can have some understanding of the text.  However they will not “have a spiritual understanding,” of the text.  “At best, Scripture is insignificant to him; at worst, it is incredible.” [7]

Taken together, Luther argues that Scripture is clear to both the redeemed and the unredeemed, but without the Spirit, one can only know cognitively.  Either way, Scripture remains perspicuous.

So if both believers and non-believers can understand the clearly written text of Scripture, then “it is unintelligent, and ungodly too, when you know what the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of those few obscure words.” [8]

Luther then goes on to explain to Erasmus how to rightly understand parts of Scripture that appear more obscure or more difficult to understand and interpret.  He suggests interpreting Scripture with Scripture.  “If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another,” he writes.  “But when something stands in broad daylight, and a mass of evidence for it is in broad daylight also, it does not matter whether there is any evidence for it in the dark.” [9]

Later on in the book, Luther returned to the subject of perspicuity reminding us that perspicuity was this is the root doctrine by which the Reformation stood on.  If Scripture was not clear, then no one had any authority to challenge the Catholic Church’s interpretation on anything including justification by faith and depravity.  Therefore, in many of his debates, Luther had to defend the authority of his interpretation based on the assumption that Scripture is clear enough to be interpreted and understood without the aide of the Pope or the Church.

At this later point in the book, Luther lays out the biblical proof of Scripture’s perspicuity.  Though a detailed summation of his argument will not be laid out here, some examples will suffice.  Since Christians have been “so long persuaded” that only the Pope can correctly interpret Scripture, “by that pestilent dictum of the Sophists,” Luther was “compelled to begin by proving this very first principle of ours, by which all else must be proved.” [10]  He begins by looking at Deuteronomy 17:8 where Moses tells the Israelites that if anything was difficult to decide, they were to go to the priests who are to make the final judgment based on the Law of God.  Luther then asks:
how will they thus judge, if the law of the Lord is not, externally, as clear as can be, so that they may be satisfied about it.  Else it would have been enough to say: “according to their own spirit!” . . . how could they be settled if the laws were not perfectly clear, and were truly as lights among the people?  If the laws were equivocal and uncertain, not only would no issues be settled, but no sure standards of conduct would exist.  It is for this very reason that laws are enacted, that conduct may be regulated according to a definite code and disputes may find settlement.” [11]
Luther’s point is well taken.  What is the purpose of the Law if it could never be understood by man?  If Scripture, in this case the Torah, is not clear and understandable, then the Torah itself is superfluous and God remains in the dark.  This then begs the question, if Scripture is obscure or equivocal, why need it have been brought down to us by an act of God?  After all, do we not already “have enough obscurity and uncertainty within ourselves, without our obscurity and uncertainty and darkness being augmented from heaven?” [13]

Luther then goes on to ask what is obscure or so difficult to understand about verses like God creating the world (Genesis 1:1) or Christ becoming “flesh” (John 1:14), “and all the other items which the whole world has received as articles of faith.”  This begs the question then, “Whence were [such doctrines] received?  Surely, from the Scriptures!” [14]

And as a pastor, this issue hits particularly at home to Luther.  For years, Luther had been preaching, not Church dogma, but God’s clear Word.  Preachers, he writes, are to “expound and proclaim the Scriptures.”  Therefore, “if the Scripture they proclaim is obscure, who will assure us that their proclamation is dependable?  Shall there be a further new proclamation to assure us?  But who will make that proclamation?” [15]

Here Luther makes the connection between the perspicuity and ecclesiology.  If Scripture is not clear, then should a pastor preach the doctrines of men or God?  This hits at one of the hardest accusations that Luther throws against the Catholics.  If Scripture is not clear, then the Church must stand above Scripture.  Luther considers such a belief as the most disastrous doctrine imaginable. [16]   

It is of the highest arrogance and devilish attitudes that the Church believes that one man, the Bishop of Rome, can never err in his interpretation.  And because of such devilish doctrines, the gospel of Jesus Christ has been suppressed for centuries.  For Luther the gospel was central to all that mattered, but by declaring Scripture obscure to the average person, and only fully discernable to the Pope, the Church had blinded the minds of Christians thus robbing them of the gospel.  As a result, the Pope propagated false doctrines that led many astray.  Only a rejection of the perspicuity of Scripture can explain the doctrinal tyranny of the Church.

Luther said himself that The Bondage of the Will was one of his most important books and rightly so.  In a diatribe against one of the best known and well-respected Church leaders of his day, Luther made the case against the freedom of the will as propagated by the Catholic Church at that time.  But in it, the heart issue of perspicuity is brought to the forefront.  Nothing that Luther ever wrote, said, preached, or defended would have reasonable or powerful unless Scripture itself was clear apart from a third party (like the Pope) telling believers what Scripture means.

[1]   Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, ed. and trans. J. I. Packer & O. R. Johnston (Ada, MI:  Revell, 1990), 41.
[2]  James Patrick Callahan, The Clarity of Scripture: History, Theology, and Contemporary Literary Studies (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2001), 134.
[3]  As quoted in Ibid., 135.
[4]  Luther wrote, “I certainly grant that many passages in the Scriptures are obscure and hard to elucidate, but that is due, not to the exalted nature of their subject, but to our own linguistic and grammatical ignorance; and it does not in any way prevent our knowing all the contents of Scripture.” Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 71.  Italics original.
[5]  Ibid., 73-74.
[6]  Ibid., 73.
[7]  Larry Pettegrew, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, (2004):  215.
[8]  Luther, The Bondage of the Will., 71.
[9]  Ibid., 71-72.
[10]  Ibid., 125.  Note that Luther refers to Scripture’s perspicuity as the “very first principle of ours.”  This is further proof that perspicuity was the core of all that Luther wrote and believed.  Without it, there would not have been a Reformation.
[11]  Ibid.
[12]  Ibid., 128.
[13]  Ibid., 127.
[14]  Ibid., 127-128.
[15]  Luther wrote, “For by this means ungodly men have exalted themselves above the Scriptures and done what they liked, till the Scriptures were completely trodden down and we could believe and teach nothing but maniacs’ dreams.  In a word, that dictum is no mere human invention; it is poison sent into the world by the inconceivably malevolent prince of all the devils himself!” Ibid., 124.

All Around the Web - February 10, 2015

Denny Burk -  The Girl in the Tuxedo

Thom Rainer - The Most Frequent Burdens Church Staff Face

Lifeway - Planning for Healthy Pastoral Transitions

Crossway - Video: Sam Storms on Eternal Security

Justin Taylor - The Sequel for “To Kill a Mockingbird”—Written in the 1950s—Will Be Published in July 2015

Monday, February 9, 2015

"The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review

“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar. (276)

Leading up to the much anticipated release of the first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movies, I set forth a new personal law: watch the movie before (re)reading the book. This was laid down after my initial frustrations with some of the Narnia Chronicles movies where I would read the book before watching the movie. Since then, this rule has proven fruitful.

Now that I have watched the trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit, I finally sat down to re-read Tolkien's classic. I had not read it for almost ten years dating back to my college days. Thus much of the details were fuzzing at best. With that said, I offer a few words regarding its content.

First, it is imperative for the reader to know that Tolkien is writing to young readers, not adults. The tone and writing style between The Hobbit and later The Lord of the Rings is striking. When I first read Tolkien, I read the trilogy first and then later its prequel. I was surprised by the difference ignorant of the history of the books. The reader should know that going in.

Secondly, Tolkien is a gifted writer regardless of intended audience. I read the first two paragraphs of the novel to my family and both my youngest (3 and 6) and my wife (30) were excited at the prospect of reading it for themselves. Tolkien is clearly gifted and one discovers this from page one.

Thirdly, it has been rightly pointed out that greed and covetousness is a driving moral theme in the book. The most quoted line is from Thorin as he dies, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now." The Dwarves, trolls, orcs, men, and elves are all guilty of greed. It is the spirit of the dragon that lies within all of us. Thus the real enemy in The Hobbit is not just Smaug that hoards the literal gold under the mountain, but the inward dragon that covets it as well.

Fourthly, though a classic the book does deserve some criticism. Some characters are not named (like the "Elven King who is not named except in the Return of the King appendices). Some of the stories are incomplete. For example, what exactly did Gandalf do when he left the dwarves? The explanation given at the end is incomplete and undeveloped. This is one of the reasons why the movies producers made the changes they made. And they were necessary changes.

More could be said, but being that the book is a modern classic, other, more-gifted critiques are easily available. I would highly recommend everyone to read the book and to watch the movies. Anyone can complain about the many changes made in the movie - and there were many - but I cannot recommend its boycott on purist grounds. Furthermore, one must also know that many of the additions are taken from the appendices in The Return of the King.

Read the book. Devour the book. Enjoy the book. And later, read it again.

For more:
A Few Thoughts on The Battle of the Five Armies
"The Fellowship of the Ring" by J. R. R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review
Longing for Eden: Tolkien's Insight into the Longing of Every Human Soul
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence
How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Dramatized Audio
"Beyond The Movie": A National Geographic Documentary on the Lord of the Rings  

All Around the web - February 9, 2015

Trevin Wax - Religion & Politics: Why We’re Always Talking Past One Another

The Gospel Coalition - What Sex Trafficking and Gay Marriage Have in Common

The City of God - Why You Need To Know About The Epistle to Diognetus

Crossway - The Only Solution to World Poverty

Financial Post - The 11 worst money habits of 20-somethings and how to fix them

Friday, February 6, 2015

From Spurgeon's Pulpit: Christianity without Christ is a Strange Thing, Indeed

From his sermon Without Christ, Nothing (#1625):
Christianity without Christ is a strange thing, indeed. And what comes of it where it is held up to the people? Why, by-and-by there are not enough people to support the ministry! Empty benches are plentiful and the thing gets pretty nearly wound up. Blessed be God for it! I am heartily glad that without Christ these pretended ministers cannot prosper! Leave Christ out of the preaching and you shall do nothing. Only advertise it all over London, Mr. Baker, that you are making bread without flour—put it in every paper, “Bread without flour ”—and you may soon shut up your shop, for your customers will hurry off to other bakers!

Somehow there is a strange prejudice in people’s minds in favor of bread made with flour and there is also an unaccountable prejudice in the human mind which makes men think that if there is a Gospel, it must have Christ in it. A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution! However grand the language, it will be merely much ado about nothing if Christ is not there. Yes , and I mean by Christ not merely His example and the ethical precepts of His teaching, but His atoning blood, His wondrous satisfaction made for human sin and the grand doctrine of, “believe and live.” If, “Life for a look at the Crucified One” is obs cured, all is dark! If justification by faith is not set in the very forefront in the full blaze of light, nothing can be accomplished! Without Christ in the doctrine you shall do nothing!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A. W. Pink on Immutability

From his book The Attributes of God:
Herein is solid comfort. Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If He varied as we do, if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if He were controlled by caprice, who could confide in Him? But, all praise to His glorious name, He is ever the same. His purpose is fixed, His will stable, His word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of His promises: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Isaiah 54:10).

All Around the Web - February 4, 2015

The Point -  The Next Step after 'Wrongful Birth'

Doxology and Theology - 15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

LifeWay - 5 Best Books on Spiritual Disciplines

Trevin Wax - John R. Sampey and a Legacy of Christ-Centered Bible Study

Howe Original - The Demise of the iPad Is Greatly Overblown

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1

Sola Scriptura.  It stands as one of the most foundational doctrines of the Reformation that separated the new Protestant movement from the tradition Catholic Church.  Sola Fida defined the gospel for men like German monk Martin Luther, but it was Sola Scriptura that served as its dictionary. One could argue that without Sola Scriptura there would have never been Sola Fida and thus never a Reformation.

However, Sola Scriptura may not be the defining issue over authority as we might think.  Clearly both Protestants and Catholics affirmed Scripture as authoritative.  When pushed, Catholics themselves would have affirmed that Scripture alone was the basis for their doctrine.  It is not the authority of Scripture that separated the two sides, but interpretation.  Whose interpretation (Protestant or Roman Catholic) determined orthodoxy?

In other words, is Scripture clear enough to be understood by the laity or does an authoritative person or entity interpret Scripture for the laity?  This is the question over Scripture’s perspicuity and it is this doctrine that separated Protestants and Catholics.  If Scripture was clear and perspicuous, then Christians would not need the Pope or tradition to serve as authoritative interpreters equal to Scripture.

By rejecting Scripture’s clarity, the Church determined the Pope to be the authority over the meaning of Scripture.  Supported by tradition, precedent, and councils, the Roman Catholic Church taught that only the See of Rome correctly understood what the texts of Scripture meant.  While everyone else saw obscurity, the Pope, through the Spirit’s guidance, saw clarity.  As a result, Catholics were subject to the Pope’s interpretation without the freedom to question official Church dogma.  After all, Scripture’s obscurity prevented any lay person from ever seeing theology clearly.  If only the Pope possessed insight, who are you to question his interpretation?

Luther and the Protestant movement, on the other hand, affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture and considered it to be foundational to their theological movement.  It is under this doctrine that led to the many vernacular translations of the Bible from men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale.  To them, Scripture was clear even for the common Christian and if people could read the Bible themselves, they argued, they could see how stretched the Church’s interpretations really were.  To the Reformers, the Bible in the Christian’s hand was seen as a weapon that the Church could not stop.

Among the Reformers, Martin Luther was among its most vehement supporters who referenced it frequently.  But this foundational divide was not just echoed by Luther.  Many Catholics took note of the seriousness of Luther’s argument for perspicuity.  The Catholic theologian John Eck relished in the heated debate among the Reformers over the Lord’s Supper.  Eck wrote:
By this example, taken from the modern heretics (who reject any other judge than Scripture) is shown how the Lutherans and Oecolampadians and Zwinglians fight over the sacrament of the Eucharist . . . Who among them will be judge?  Who will ever bring them into harmony?  Scripture or the Church?  (Apart from these no other judge can be provided).  It is not indeed upon Scripture, which each contends to be the judge, that they lay their foundation – all the while in their self-same words of Scripture – and thus they do not admit Scripture as judge against their own doctrine but they make themselves judges over Scripture.  Accordingly, the Church will necessarily judge.*
Eck, then argues that at the end of the day someone must judge over the right interpretation of the text.  As a faithful and ardent Catholic, Eck sides with the Church’s historic interpretation.  Since Scripture is not clear, the Church must serve as its interpreter.  Furthermore, as Eck suggests, if Scripture is clear for everyone and Protestants have no central interpreter, then Protestantism will continue to break off and be divided over almost every and any doctrine.  To a certain extent, this accusation has proven true.

This is all to say that what really divided Catholics and Protestants was over the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity and this is perfectly demonstrated within the life of Martin Luther whose battle with the Church was epoch.  Everywhere he turned and whatever doctrine he was debating, the issue almost always came down to perspicuity.  This means that  Luther and the Protestants were not debating justification, but perspicuity; not the Papacy, but perspicuity; not indulgences; but perspicuity; not Church dogma, but perspicuity.  It is perspicuity that was at the heart of the  Reformation debate that revealed itself everywhere the German Reformer went.

*  As quoted in James Patrick Callahan, The Clarity of Scripture: History, Theology, and Contemporary Literary Studies (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2001), 134.

All Around the Web - February 3, 2015

Justin Taylor - Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods

Russell Moore - Questions & Ethics: How should local church leaders respond to a single woman who had a child through IVF?

Justin Taylor - The Foremost: A New Documentary on the Beauty and Power of Grace and Forgiveness

On Faith - The “Rise” of Rapper and Pastor Trip Lee

Wired - How the iPad Went From Massive to ‘Meh’ in 5 Short Years

Monday, February 2, 2015

Free Audio Book: "Everyone' s a Theologian" by RC Sproul

Every month, the good folks at Christian Audio offer a free audiobook. This month, they are offering R. C. Sproul's book Everybody's a Theologian. Though I have not read this book yet, it has been on my "to read" list for some time. You don't want to miss out on this opportunity to snag the audio version for free.

Here is the book's description:
Many people react negatively to the word theology, believing that it involves dry, fruitless arguments about minute points of doctrine. Yet as Dr. R.C. Sproul argues,everyone is a theologian. Any time we think about a teaching of the Bible and strive to understand it, we are engaging in theology. Therefore, it is important that we put the Bible's varied teachings together in a systematic fashion, using proper, time-tested methods of interpretation so as to arrive at a theology that is founded on truth. That is precisely what Dr. Sproul does in Everyone's a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. This book is anything but a dry discussion of minute points of doctrine. Dr. Sproul, demonstrating his trademark ability to make complex subjects easy to understand, surveys the basic truths of the Christian faith, reminding us once more of what God is like and of what He has done for His people in this world and the next.

You can order the print copy here.

"Counterfeit Gospels' by Trevin Wax: A Review

The heartbeat of all of Jesus' preaching was the kingdom of God. Put simply, the kingdom of God is the reign of God. It's God working to fix this world and make everything right, pushing back the effects of our rebellion and offering us His forgiveness. Jesus comes to establish this reign. His life shouts, "God is fulfilling His promises! God is acting on behalf of His people! God is making all things new!" And the startling claim that accompanies this message is, "God is doing all of this through Me!" Jesus is the Messiah King, the divine Son of God who has come to earth as a servant and through whom God is restoring His world.

C. S. Lewis captured this theme in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The world of Narnia is suffering under the terrible curse of the White Witch. It is always winter, but never Christmas. But once the lion Aslan, the rightful king of Narnia, returns to his world, everything begins to change. "Aslan is on the move!" Then Father Christmas arrives, handing out presents and wishing all a merry Christmas. the long winter of Narnia is coming to an end. The snow begins to melt. Flowers begin to bloom. The signs of spring appear, announcing that the King is returning to restore his world.

In a similar way, Jesus' life demonstrates the arrival of God's kingdom. When a furious tempest threatens to overturn the disciples' boat, Jesus calms the storm. The effects of the curse on the crated order are temporarily removed as He takes control.

When people are blind and lame, Jesus restores their sight and their mobility. They are healed because in God's kingdom, wholeness - not sickness - is the rule.

When Jesus feeds people in the wilderness, he is demonstrating that in God's kingdom, no one goes hungry.

When Jesus raises people from the dead, He is saying that even death itself is no match for the kingdom of God. Over and over again, in His actions and words, Jesus shows us who He is (God in human flesh) and what His kingdom is like. (91-92)

A pastor should read not just to learn new information but also to learn a new way to articulate old information. Without a doubt, Christianity stands and falls on the gospel. Christian ministry, thus, stands and falls on the gospel. Thus it is imperative that Christians in general and pastor in particular regularly grow in the gospel and become more familiar with it. For some time, I have sought books that I knew would help me learn to better understand, apply, and articulate the gospel.

That is why Trevin Wax's book Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good news in a World of False Hope has been on my to-read list for some time. Wax is one of my favorite author's and bloggers and I have followed his work for years now. Of all of his books, this one peaked my interests the most.

The structure of Wax's book is simple. He likens the gospel to a stool which stands on three legs. These three legs include Story, Announcement, and Community. With each stool, Wax highlights two counterfeit gospels that contradict one of these points. "Each counterfeit," he writes "is like a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of the stool and therefore toppling the stool and damaging the other components as well" (17).

Ask any believer what the gospel is and you will likely here one of the above three mentioned. But the gospel is much bigger than that.  The gospel story tells of God's grand-narrative of reclaiming a fallen world. The gospel announcement tells us how we can be reconciled to God by means of His Son's death and resurrection. The gospel community draws us to the church where the invisible Kingdom is made visible.

The six counterfeits are:
  1. The Therapeutic Gospel
  2. The Judgmentless Gospel
  3. The Moralist Gospel
  4. The Quietest Gospel
  5. The Activist Gospel
  6. The Churchless Gospel
Each of these counterfeit's contradicts one of the three stools. For example, the therapeutic gospel contradicts the gospel story while the churchless gospel contradicts the gospel community.

Overall, there was little I learned from this book. But that was not why I cracked its spine. Rather, I read its pages in order to better articulate the gospel that Wax and I both affirm. This is the real strength of the book. Wax is a good writer who is gifted with speaking clearly. Therefore, I would highly recommend this book to anyone new to the gospel or desiring to grow deeper in it. There are many idols and counterfeits that war for our hearts. Wax guards us from falling prey to them all the while pointing us to the beauty of the pure and undefiled gospel. “Counterfeit Gospels” ~ An Interview with Trevin Wax from christianitydotcom on GodTube.

For more:
"Clear Winter Nights" by Trevin Wax: A Review
"No Longer Just a Hobby": An Interview With Trevin Wax
Spurgeon: You Were Giving Yourself a Horse
We Are Called to Love: Wax on the Difference Between Tolerance & Love
We Enjoy Sex Too Little
Rival Eschatologies: NT Wright on Christianity and the Enlightenment
The Secular vs. the Sacred: Wax on the Lordship of Christ