Saturday, May 30, 2015

All Around the Web - May 30, 2015

Russell Moore - What I’ve Learned in Twenty Years of Marriage

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About Mental Health

John Stonestreet - Fewer Christians?: Thoughts on the Pew Report

Denny Burk - Coach Dabo Swinney cancels fundraiser after backlash from gay rights groups

Chuck Lawless - 10 Reasons Why Spiritual Disciplines Matter in Church Revitalization

Conversations: Fred Barnes Reminisces

I really enjoy Bill Kristol's podcast Conversations. If you like history and politics, you'll love this podcst. Here is Fred Barnes looking back at the Presidents he has covered from Presidents Gerald Ford to Barack Obama.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why Fantasy is a Good Thing: A Response to John MacArthur

In his sermon from John 11:1-16 entitled A Death for the Glory of God John Macarthur stated the following:
There were no special effects.  How do you compare that with Harry Potter, flying witches, angels, vampires, transformers, aliens who constantly defy natural law, time travelers, people who morph into some other entity, displaying supernatural powers?  So what’s the big deal about a resurrection in a village in Israel 2,000 years ago?  Again, this is Satan’s successful effort at confusing people about the miraculous and confusing them about reality, and Satan is very adept at this.  
He then adds:
By the way, as a footnote, Jesus told stories.  He made up stories.  They’re called parables.  He invented them.  Not one parable Jesus ever created is a fantasy.  It has no components of fantasy. 
All His stories are in the real world, real people, real things, real issues, real relationships.  He never used fantasy to articular a spiritual truth, never.  You’re not going to find things like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in Scripture.  You’re not going to find them in the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus never moved into the world of fantasy, but the closest He came as His depiction of the real world when He talked about the rich man in torment and Lazarus in the presence of God.  But Jesus didn’t use fantasy.  He used reality to communicate reality. 
It is rare that I say this but  I disagree with John MacArthur whole-heartily. As a Christian pastor I regularly encourage members in my church and in my own family to invest in the fantastical writings of men like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

This issue illustrate one main criticism I have for John MacArthur. He is a man who lives in a very black-and-white world even when it comes to minor theology issues. Read enough of his books and listen to enough of his sermons and one will struggle mightily to find much ambiguity.

This has been a source of real strength for him which has allowed him to deal with central theological truths like the gospel (especially in the Lordship Salvation controversy), the Holy Spirit (especially in regards to the charismatic movement), the perspicuity of Scripture (in relation to its attack from the Emergent Church), etc.Yet on lesser issues (like the legitimacy of reading fantasy), MacArthur's strength becomes a real weakness. Is the issue raised above worth the time dedicated in a sermon on the resurrection of Lazarus?

This is not to say that I believe that such fantasy novels ought to replace a regular diet of Scripture. Certainly not. Nor do I believe that such stories are perfect parallels to the biblical narrative. On the contrary, such narratives help our imagination to better understand Scripture.  

Fantasy Can Be Abused

Before defending fantasy, we must be clear that some fantasy can be dangerous. Clearly the two key fantasy writers worth defending are Anglican Clive Staples Lewis and Roman Catholic J. R. R. Tolkien. Both men not only wrote major works of fantasy which remains beloved and influential today, but wrote significant articles on the subject. Most notable is Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories. There he warns:
Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors' own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
Like everything else in the world, fantasy can (and often is) abused. Such forms of fantasy ought to be avoided or at least read with a critical ear. Christians should not defend such literature (whether fantasy, science fiction, or romance). The Christian should always be vigilant to live pure lives discerning what is good, beautiful, and true. Living in a fallen world should make this point assumed.

With that said, let us look at the issue at hand.

Fantasy Illustrates Vividly the Christian Worldview

This past winter, on a cold, snowy night I re-watched the most recent version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005). One often overlooked detail significant to the story regards the change of seasons upon the return of Aslan. Under the White Witches totalitarian thumb, Narnia is stuck in an endless cold winter (and never Christmas). Aslan's work (centered on his death and resurrection) overcomes the Witches winter with a warm spring.

This is a vivid way to summarize what Jesus means when early in Mark's Gospel Jesus states "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'" (Mark 1:14-15). Christ arrives to take back what is his from "the god of this world." Fantasy portrays that in a way that a simple parable cannot.

Another example of the power of fantasy regards evil. Where does evil lie? Watch the typical Disney princess movie and one would think that the ultimate good is to "follow your heart" (I'm looking at you Ariel, Pocahontas, and Merida). In those stories, the protagonist defies her family (usually her father), sides with the antagonist (usually a witch of some sort) in order to follow their heart. The assumption is that evil is primarily external: like parents or any authority that limits personal autonomy.

Lewis and Tolkien tell a very different story. Tolkien is perhaps most illustrative here as the question of evil is a major subject in his fantasy. Evil is external in middle earth. Sauron, Sauronman, and Smaug are external enemies that must be defeated. Yet evil is not exclusively external; it is also internal. The reason no man can (or ever will) destroy the ring is because the ring of power reveals the true nature of the human heart. That is why it is providential that Bilbo found the ring in Gollum's "lair" (Gollum is himself an example of what uncontrolled lust personified in the ring does to us all). Finally, evil is systemic as well. The orcs chop down trees, destroy towns, and murder senselessly. Allies must rise up not just to destroy the ring or to defeat the Dark Lord, but also to overcome corrupt societies.

This is a much more robust (and biblical) understanding of evil in the world. Disney often provides a more simplistic theology of sin. Yet it is fantasy which, strangely enough, more strongly reflects reality. Evil is all around us. It is a good thing Aslan is not a tame lion after all!

It is here we should briefly step away from Lewis and Tolkien and look at another semi-fantasy novel: The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. Perhaps no other book (apart from the Bible itself, of course) has had greater influence on Christianity in the English-speaking world than this classic. No serious study of Charles Spurgeon, for example, can be undertaken without appreciating Bunyan's influence on Spurgeon throughout his ministry. 

Scripture Includes Semi-Fantasy Literature

Consider the following from Judges 9:7-15:
Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and called out. Thus he said to them, “Listen to me, O men of Shechem, that God may listen to you. Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?’ 10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?’ 12 Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’ 14 Finally all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come, reign over us!’ 15 The bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come out from the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon.’
There are fantasy elements in this parable (most obvious is talking trees). MacArthur is right when he suggests that Jesus's parables were exclusively common, everyday experience, but that is not true with the rest of Scripture. The imagery in the prophets and in the apocalyptic passages utilize fantasy-like elements that it is wrong to suggest that Scripture forbids the genre.

Fantasy Reflect Reality

Consider the following from C. S. Lewis:
[The fairy tale] is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infinitely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations. ("On Three Ways of Writing for Children")
As I suggested above, fantasy might include over-worldly characters and events (talking trees, elves, and fawns), good fantasy portrays reality in vivid ways. I agree with Lewis in the above.

Christianity Liberty Permits It

Ultimately, this issue ought to come down to Christianity liberty. I see no reason to condemn or ban fantasy literature as a whole as inappropriate or anti-Christian. MacArthur might be a "stronger" brother on this issue, but preaching against it as he did in the sermon above seems to violate Paul's words in the epistles on Christian liberty issues (like eating meat sacrificed to idols).

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” -CS Lewis,
Though I am in agreement with MacArthur on most of what he has to say, I do believe that Christians are not only free to enjoy good fantasy fiction, but ought to. There is something beautiful about a mother or father sitting at the foot of their child's bedside reading about Narnia - always winter and never Christmas - or the Shire.

All Around the Web - May 28, 2015

National Review - Kermit Gosnell Speaks from Prison

The Gospel Coalition - The Pattern Among Fallen Pastors

Preachers and Preaching - Ministering in Baltimore: One Month after the Riots

Timothy Paul Jones - Apologetics: Early Testimonies about the New Testament Gospels

Trevin Wax - Which Kind of Writer Are You: Microwave, Crockpot, or Stir-Fry?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

From Lewis's Pen: Traitors in Our Midst

From the essay "Men Without Chest" in The Abolition of Man:
We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

All Around the Web - May 27, 2015

Russell Moore  - What Should the Duggar Scandal Teach the Church?

Dallas News -  Tested Under Fire: How George HW Bush Asserted Control in Wake of the Reagan Assassination Attempt 

Thom Rainer - Seven Trends in Worship Service Times

Western Recorder - Google update could decrease churches' web traffic

BBC - Protestant reformer Martin Luther's 16th Century notes found

Some scatological humor:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Faith and Practice

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Introduction 
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The Canonization of Scripture"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The New Hermeneutics
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Faith and Practice

In the second essay of his book Collected Writings on Scripture, Carson surveys "recent developments in the Doctrine of Scripture."* One noteworthy development regards the common suggestion that Scripture is "inerrant" in matters of faith and practice and nothing else - science, astronomy, history, etc.

Carson rightly begins by stating clearly "All sides agree that the Bible is not a textbook on, say, high-energy physics; but those who hold a high view of Scripture argue that wherever Scripture speaks, it speaks truthfully" (67). Inerrantists have always understood that "allowance" must be "made for the genre of any biblical text, generalizing language, phenomenological descriptions, the problem of the hermeneutical circle, and so forth; but there is till i this camp a reasoned defense of the vie that whatever the Scripture says, properly interpreted, is true" (67)

"This reconstruction of history," however "does not appear to stand up very well to close scrutiny" (68) and for the rest of this section, Carson shows why.

First, there is an epistemological reason. Highlighting the third in a series of lectures given by Dr. John Woodbridge, Carson criticizes the bifurcation between religious knowledge and scientific knowledge. The problem with this is made evident with the second reason: history.

Secondly, there is a historical reason to reject this reconstruction. Carson points us to the Middle Ages where "the Bible [was] held the supreme place of honor as the highest source of knowledge" (68). An unexpected example of this is Copernicus. The criticism he face was the result of a fundamental belief that "they thought the Bible flatly contradicted a heliocentric view of the universe - which, of course, presupposes that they believed the Bible could address such scientific issues" (68). Johannes Kepler defended Copernicus by making as much an exegetical defense as a scientific one.

Of course other examples can be given. We should note here that this is not to undermine science itself. Neither Carson nor myself is suggesting that the Bible is primarily a scientific textbook. It isn't. But when it addresses the natural world (as it does the supernatural world) it speaks truth. We should be careful in coming to Scripture to primarily make scientific discoveries, but at the same time, we must not fear science. Science, done without the biases of naturalistic materialism, will concur with the claims of Scripture when all the evidence and proper interpretations are given.

I am reminded at this point the following from Francis Collins book The Language of God
The sense of awe created by these realizations has caused more than a few agnostic scientists to sound downright theological. In God and the Astronomers, the astrophysicist Robert Jastrow wrote this final paragraph: “At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries”.

* Essay originally written in 1986.

All Around the Web - May 26, 2015

Joe Carter - Boy Scouts Presidents Calls for Lifting the Ban on Gay Troop Leaders

The Guardian - Church of England to consider transgender naming ceremony

John Stonestreet - Losing Boys to Screens

Kevin DeYoung - What Does Jude 7 Mean By “Other Flesh”?  

Eric Raymond - Called Out of and Into Something

Monday, May 25, 2015

"A Necessary Grief" by Larry Michael: A Review

Grief over the loss of a loved one can produce a tough emotional situation for an extended period of time. Who will stand in the gap and provide services and support during those crucial days when a person or family is reeling from loss? There s no better group to provide loving ministry than a congregational family. The way that a church reaches out to a family when a loved one dies makes a great impact on the survivors for the rest of their lives. (129)

I am a seminary trained pastor - a fact I am proud of. Yet if I were to identify one weakness of most seminaries it would be its failure to adequately train ministers in grief counseling. At a person and families worst moments is when a pastor is needed the most. I confess that in spite of years of experience ministering to members and non-members alike in moments of crisis and death, I still feel untrained and unprepared. My goal is to communicate the gospel in all situations but in moments of suffering it is difficult where and when to speak.

That is why I recently picked up Dr. Larry J. Michael's helpful book A Necessary Grief: Essential Tools for Leadership in Bereavement Ministry. The author provides the reader with a wonderful introduction to the ministry of grief counseling walking the reader through various kinds of grief, how people mourn, and what the role of the leader should be.

Michael writes from the perspective of a pastor, which I particularly appreciated, sensitive to the needs of the suffering and those called to come alongside them and shepherd them through the valleys. He is sensitive to how grief affects the whole person - physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially, and spiritually.

Perhaps the most beneficial chapter regards his discussion on various myths of grieving. I offer them below with little discussion:
  • You have to stay busy
  • Grief is a Five-Step program
  • Grief is something we need to get over
  • Faith makes grieving easy
  • Those who grieve have a weak faith.
  • Time heals all wounds (we've all heard this one)
  • The goal is to let go and move on
  • Etc.
I have no doubt the reader of this review sees this myths and are interested in knowing more. They are myths and yet they continue to be gospel to many people. One myth worth exploring briefly regard the five-step program. Though many follow a similar pattern (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) it is not universally true. 

The book provides endless practical insight. For example, highlighting how those who had a "unique relationship" with the deceased, he writes:
And then, there are those who had a difficult relationship with the deceased. They grieve not only what the relationship was, but what it might have been. One man told me he grieved more over his mother, with whom his relationship was strained, than over his father with whom he had been very close throughout his lifetime. He was more settled and at peace with his father's passing, but still felt great angst over unresolved issues with his mother. (26)
Different situation require different needs and the author provides a helpful guide in how to meet the needs of those we are called to serve.

My one criticism regards a footnote in which the author reference Harold Krishner's best-selling book Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People. The book is theologically dangerous in which it presents a weak God who would like to prevent suffering but can't.

Overall, however, I highly recommend this book. It is an excellent tool for pastor's who need better training in grieving ministry. I confess my inadequacies and am grateful that books like this exist for pastors like myself.

This book was given to me courtesy of Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review

All Around the Web - May 25, 2015

John Stonestreet - Head for the Hills?

Trevin Wax - Running from a Bad Church Situation May Hinder Your Spiritual Growth

Denny Burk - National Review: For gay marriage and against Christian teaching

Chuck Lawless - Addressing Signs of Leadership Fatigue

Church Law & Tax - Are Ministers Mandatory Child Abuse Reporters?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Which Comes First New Birth or Faith: Thoughts on Spurgen - Part 2

In a previous post, I raised the question of Charles Spurgeon's views on effectual calling (often referred to as Irresistable Grace). Many non-Calvinists use the following quote to argue Spurgeon - a well-established and bold 5-Point Calvinists - denied the "i" in TULIP:
If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinner.
So, according to Spurgeon, which comes first new birth or faith?

Before drawing any conclusions, let us look at some (though certainly not all) of the evidence. Let us consider what Spurgeon said elsewhere regarding the Holy Spirit, faith, regeneration, and Calvinism.

In his sermon entitled The Work of the Holy Spirit Spurgeon said the following:
The first thing, then, that God the Holy Spirit doth in the soul is, to regenerate it. We must always learn to distinguish between regeneration and conversion. A man may be converted a great many times in his life, but regenerated only once. Conversion is a thing which is caused by regeneration, but regeneration is the very first act of God the Spirit in the soul. "What," say you, "does regeneration come before conviction of sin?" most certainly; there could be no conviction in the dead sinner. Now, regeneration quickens the sinner, and makes him live. He is not competent to have true spiritual conviction worked in him until, first of all he has received life. It is true that one of the earliest developments of life is conviction of sin; but before any man can see his need of a Saviour he must be a living man; before he can really, I mean, in a spiritual position, in a saving, effectual manner, understand his own deep depravity, he must have eyes with which to see the depravity, he must have ears with which to hear the sentence of the law, he must have been quickened and made alive; otherwise he could not be capable of feeling, or seeing, or discerning at all. I believe, then, the first thing the Spirit does is this—he finds the sinner dead in sin, just where Adam left him; he breathes into him a divine influence. The sinner knows nothing about how it is done, nor do any of us understand it. "Thou understandest not the wind—it bloweth where it listeth;" but we see its effects. Now, none of us can tell how the Holy Spirit works in men. I doubt not there have been some who have sat in these pews, and in the middle of a sermon or in prayer, or singing—they knew not how it was—the Spirit of God was in their hearts; he had entered into their souls; they were no longer dead in sin, no longer without thought, without hope, without spiritual capacity, but they had begun to live. And I believe this work of regeneration, when it is done effectually—and God the Spirit would not do it without doing it effectually—is done mysteriously, often suddenly, and it is done in divers manners; but still it hath always this mark about it—that the man although he may not understand how it is done, feels that something is done. The what, the how, he doth not know; but he knows that something is done; and he now begins to think thoughts he never thought before; he begins to feel as he never felt before; he is brought into a new state, there is a change wrought in him—as if a dead post standing in the street were on a sudden to find itself possessed of a soul, and did hear the sound of the passing carriages, and listen to the words of the foot-passengers; there is something quite new about it. The fact is, the man has got a spirit; he never had one before; he was nothing but a body and a soul; but now, God has breathed into him the third great principle, the new life, the Spirit, and he has become a spiritual man. Now, he is not only capable of mental exercise, but of spiritual exercise; as, having a soul before, he could repent, he could believe, as a mere mental exercise; he could think thoughts of God, and have some desires after him; but he could not have one spiritual thought, nor one spiritual wish or desire, for he had no powers that could educe these things; but now, in regeneration, he has got something given to him, and being given, you soon see its effects. The man begins to feel that he is a sinner; why did he not feel that before? Ah, my brethren, he could not, he was not in a state to feel; he was a dead sinner; and though he used to tell you, and tell God, by way of compliment, that he was a sinner, he did not know anything about it. He said he was a sinner; yes, but he talked about being a sinner just as the blind man talks about the stars that be has never seen, as he talks about the light, the existence of which he would not know unless he were told of it; but now it is a deep reality. You may laugh at him, ye who have not been regenerated; but now he has got something that really puts him beyond your laughter. He begins to feel the exceeding weight and evil of transgression; his heart trembles, his very flesh quivers—in some cases the whole frame is affected. The man is sick by day and night; his flesh creepeth on his bones for fear; he cannot eat, his appetite fails him. He cannot bear the sound of melody and mirth; all his animal spirits are dried up. He cannot rejoice; he is unhappy, he is miserable. downcast, distressed; in some cases, almost ready to go mad; though in the majority of cases it takes a lighter phase, and there are the gentle whispers of the Spirit; but even then, the pangs and pains caused by regeneration, while the new life discovers the sin and evil of the past condition of the man are things that are not to be well described or mentioned without tears. This is all the work of the Spirit.
A few phrases from the above are worth highlighting. First, Spurgeon's emphasis on the "first work" of the Holy Spirit being regeneration is noteworthy. Secondly, "the phrase before any man can see his need of a Saviour he must be a living man" sounds like effectual call (in the same sentence, he uses the phrase "effectual manner").

Perhaps most notable is the following from above:
Now, he is not only capable of mental exercise, but of spiritual exercise; as, having a soul before, he could repent, he could believe, as a mere mental exercise; he could think thoughts of God, and have some desires after him; but he could not have one spiritual thought, nor one spiritual wish or desire, for he had no powers that could educe these things; but now, in regeneration, he has got something given to him, and being given, you soon see its effects.
This is Calvinism, plain and simple. Spurgeon is arguing that regeneration precedes faith.

Later in the sermon, Spurgeon adds:
And, my brethren, it is quite certain that no man ever begins the new birth himself. The work of salvation never was commenced by any man. God the Holy Spirit must commence it. Now, the reasons why no man ever commenced the work of grace in his own heart, is very plain and palpable. First, because he cannot; secondly, because he won't. The best reason of all is, because he cannot—he is dead. Well the dead may be made alive, but the dead cannot make themselves alive, for the dead can do nothing. Besides, the new thing to be created as yet hath no being. The uncreated cannot create. "Nay," but you say, "that man can create." Yes, can hell create heaven? Then sin may create grace. What! will you tell me that fallen human nature, that has come almost to a level with the brutes, is competent to rival God; that it can emulate the divinity in working as great marvels, and in imparting as divine a life as even God himself can give? It cannot. Besides, it is a creation; we are created anew in Christ Jesus. Let any man create a fly, and afterwards let him create a new heart in himself; until he hath done the less he cannot do the greater. Besides, no man will. If any man could convert himself, there is no man that would. If any man saith he would, if that be true, he is already converted; for the will to be converted is in great part conversion. The will to love God, the desire to be in unison with Christ, is not to be found in any man who hath not already been brought to be reconciled with God through the death of his Son. There may be a false desire, a desire grounded upon a misrepresentation of the truth; but a true desire after true salvation by the true Spirit, is a certain index that the salvation already is there in the germ and in the bud, and only needs time and grace to develope itself. But certain it is, that man neither can nor will, being on the one hand utterly impotent and dead, and on the other hand utterly depraved and unwilling; hating the change when he sees it in others, and most of all despising it in himself. Be certain, therefore, that God the Holy Spirit must begin, since none else can do so.
That last sentence is particularly noteworthy.

In yet another sermon, entitled The New Heart, Spurgeon preached the following:
To sanctify a man is the work of the whole life; but to give a man a new heart is the work of an instant. In one solitary second, swifter than the lightning flash, God can put a new heart into a man, and make him a new creature in Christ Jesus. You may be sitting where you are today as an enemy of God with a wicked heart, hard as a stone, and dead and cold; but if the Lord wills it, the living spark shall drop into your soul, and in that moment you will begin to tremble–begin to feel; you will confess your sin, and fly to Christ for mercy. Other parts of salvation are done gradually but regeneration is the instantaneous work of God’s sovereign, effectual, and irresistible grace.
Again, the last sentence is the language of a Calvinist. He specifically uses the terms divine "sovereignty," "effectual," and "irresistible grace."

The above evidence looks at only two sermons. We have several other resources to survey before drawing a clear conclusion, but no doubt we can already see that it is simply inaccurate to conclude, as many Arminians do, that Spurgeon denied effectual call.

See also
Which Comes First New Birth or Faith: Thoughts on Spurgen - Part 1

All Around the Web - May 21, 2015

New York Times - Presiding at Same-Sex Wedding, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Emphasizes the Word ‘Constitution’

Thom Rainer - Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service

First Things - What is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?

Trevin Wax - 10 Books to Read This Summer

Kevin DeYoung - Monday Morning Machine

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From Lewis's Pen: Brave Knights

From On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature:
Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu [State Police in the USSR] and the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened

All Around the Web - May 20, 2015

Denny Burk - The predominant view of “the least of these” in church history

John Stonestreet -  How Nicholas Sparks Ruins Marriage

Erik Raymond - Questions to Ask When Adding Ministries

Justin Taylor - 10 Ideas Embedded in the Slogan “All Truth Is God’s Truth”

John MacArthur - Calvinism, Prophecy, and Premillennialism

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The New Hermeneutics

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Introduction 
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The Canonization of Scripture
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The New Hermeneutics 

In his first chapter, on the subject of "Approaching the Bible," DA Carson raises the issue of hermeneutics - an intimidating term that simply means interpretation. Most sitting in conservative pews each week might be surprised to discover there is an entire industry on this issue.

In his discussion, Carson divides the "evolution" of hermeneutics in three stages. The first stage considered hermeneutics as both a science and an art. "[S]cience, because there were some important rules and principles that could be applied to the task." (37) This is the role of exegesis, original language studies, lexicons, etc. The exegete, then, was considered to be engaged in science. On the other hand, however, it was believed that hermeneutics is an art "because there were many calls for mature judgment borne of experience and competence." (37) All of this assumes, of course, is the belief that the author meant something and we can discover it - we ought to discover it.

The second stage focused on "an array of literary-critical 'tools'" (37). He has in mind here the various "criticisms": source, form, tradition, redaction, higher, lower, narrative, textual, etc. Carson briefly notes:
Although some gains were made by such approaches, there were also losses: much of the purpose of these techniques was to reconstruct the history and belief-structure of particular believing communities behind the text rather than to listen to the message of the text. (37-38)
Carson's words here remind me of Richard Bauckham who took form criticism to task in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. He writes:
The dominant scholarly picture of the transmission of Jesus traditions i the early church has its origins, some eighty-five years ago, in the methodology for Gospels studies that in generally  known in English as form criticism . . . It is a curious fact that nearly all the contentions of the early form critics have by now been convincingly refuted, but the general picture of the process of oral transmission that the form critics pioneered still governs the way most New Testament scholars think. (242)
Bauckham then goes into a lengthy defense of this thesis concluding with the following:
Even a few of these criticisms would be sufficient to undermine the whole form-critical enterprise. There is no reason to believe that he oral transmission of Jesus traditions in the early church was at all as Bultmann envisaged it. It is remarkable that this is not more widely acknowledged explicitly, though, once one is aware of it, it is not difficult to see that many contemporary Gospels scholars acknowledge it implicitly by ignoring form criticism in its classical form. But what form criticism has bequeathed as a long enduring legacy is the largely unexamined impression that many scholars - ad probably even more students - still entertain: the impression of a long period of creative development of the traditions before they attained written form in the Gospels. The retention of such an impression is not defensible unless it is justified afresh, for the arguments of the form critics no longer hold water. (249)
All of this is to say that the second stage Carson presents has largely been refuted at the academic level even though it remains popular at the popular level.

There is, then, a third stage which Carson defines as the New Hermeneutics. Rooted in postmodern philosophy, the new hermeneutic denies meaning is an impossible science. They argue that our own biases and limitations are too strong and thus the true meaning remains out of reach. Carson readily admits that there is some truth here. We all bring certain baggage to our interpretations. Yet Carson warns against the extremes the New Hermeneutics goes.

The best part of his discussion is the following:
If no single interpretation s right, then either all interpretations are equally meaningless (which leads to the hermeneutical nihilism known as 'deconstructionism') or all are equally 'right' - i.e., all are good or bad insofar as they are satisfying, or meet the needs of a particular person or community or culture,or meet certain arbitrary criteria. In this vein, these proponents of the new hermeneutic foster different "readings" of Scripture: a sub-Saharan Black African reading, a liberation theology reading, a feminist reading, a white Anglo-Saxon male protestant reading, a "gay" reading, and so forth. Aligned with the powerful respect contemporary Western culture assigns to pluralism, this new hermeneutic rules no interpretation invalid except that one which claims it is right and that others are invalid.

The issues surrounding the new hermeneutic are so complex that they cannot satisfactorily be handled here. It is important to recognize that this approach to understanding governs much of the agenda not only in contemporary biblical interpretation but also in the disciplines of history, literature, politics, and much else besides. Despite its many valuable insights, the new hermeneutic must be challenged on many fronts. Intuitively, there is something weak about a theory that propounds the relativity of all knowledge gleaned from reading, while producing countless books that insist on the rightness of this view. To insist that all meaning lies with the knower and not with the text, and then to write text to prove the point, is almost unimaginably self-contradictory. Worse, the theory in this form assumes that the author's intent is not reliably expressed in the text. It erects an impenetrable barrier between the author and the reader and calls it "text." The irony is that these ideas are written by authors who expect their readers to understand what they say, authors who write what they mean and hope that their readers will be persuaded by their reasoning. It is devoutly to be wished that such authors would extend the same courtesy to Moses, Isaiah, and Paul. (38-39)
I'm in agreement with Carson here. Ultimately, the best approach is to accept the good of the second and third stage while embracing the first. The New Hermeneutics philosophically questions the perspicuity of Scripture and that is a doctrinal assumption we stand on. God has condescended himself into human language so that we might hear and understand.

For more:
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
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 5
The Real Divide: Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 6
"The Clarity of Scripture": A Sermon Preached by Kevin DeYoung

All Around the Web - May 19, 2015

Carl Trueman - Marginal Hope in Hard Times

Think Theology - That Little Word “Amen”

The Blaze - Jeb Bush Asked If He’s OK With Christian Business Owners Declining Services That Violate Their Beliefs. Here’s How He Responded.

The Hill - George W. Bush defends religious liberty

Justin Taylor - Al Mohler’s: 10 Books from 2014 that Every Preacher Should Read

Monday, May 18, 2015

"Comeback Churches" by Stetzer and Dodson: A Review

In the 1980s, Ross Perot spoke about the national budget deficit as "the crazy aunt living n the basement that nobody wanted to talk about." We have our own "crazy aunt" - hundreds of thousands of dead or dying churches. Like that "crazy aunt," we love her. We want to treat her with dignity. But, ultimately, we think she is hopeless and best ignored.

According to Leadership Journal, 340,000 churches are in need of church revitalization. Many of us know the statistics, but few of us care enough to engage these churches. Churches need to change in order to reach their communities, and denominations need to help them. (17-18)

Since beginning a new ministry at a different church, I have read more practical works on ministry from leading thinkers and scholars than ever before. So far I have discovered that most of these books are guilty of the same tendencies other genre books. After reading a handful, you've essentially read all the rest. Read enough theology and one will find new ways to express the same ideas. Read enough on business, psychology, politics, and the rest and you've virtually read everything else in that genre.

That is the thought that went through my mind as I read Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson's book Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too. The book is a great survey-driven book that honestly seeks to help the reader (likely a pastor in a sick or plateaued church). The insights and advice it offers are really helpful and I would not hesitate to recommend it to struggling churches and pastors.

With that said, most of the content in this book you will find in other similar books. The key to church revitalization seems to be the following (in no particular order).

First, leadership. The authors make the point repeatedly. They suggest that a large percentage of revitalized churches had a change in staff and leadership. Some of it was in the senior pastor. Some of it was in other staff members.

Secondly, prayer. I appreciate this discussion in this and other books like it. God blesses a praying church.

Thirdly, vision. The people must be led and the leader must cast a vision.

Fourthly, evangelism. This should be obvious, but every church must realize that the lost are not simply going to walk into the church in search for salvation. We must go to them.

Finally, the church must desire to be revitalized as much as the leadership. A pastor can preach and try to lead a church to be revitalized, but unless the church follows and catches that vision, nothing will happen. Too many dying churches are strangely content with death. Some clinch too strongly to their traditions, culture, etc., but it is reality nonetheless.

Overall, this is a helpful book that I will be returning to throughout my ministry. Stetzer is an established expert in this field and will continue to invest in his work. Ultimately we need a revitalized church. We need more healthy churches. Its going to take a lot of hard work, but glorious work.

All Around the Web - May 18, 2015

Russell Moore - Questions and Ethics: How Should I Explain Suicide to a Child?

The Gospel Coalition - Stephen Curry and the Culture of Self-Trust

Kevin DeYoung - 6 Reasons Why Membership Matters

Chuck Lawless - Five Reasons Some Pastors Are Loners—And Why That’s Not Good

Forbes - 5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years

Friday, May 15, 2015

MacDonald: Ages of faith are not marked by “dialogue” but by proclamation

James MacDonald from Vertical Church:
I believe preachers do well when they unfold both the precept and any rationale God has revealed, helping the hearer see the Lord’s heart behind what He forbids and allows. None of this is what I mean by apologizing. By apologizing I mean anything that betrays a greater loyalty to the response of the hearer than to the Author of the Bible. Peter L. Berger (whose list of honorary doctorates and scientific awards is as long as Shaquille O’Neal’s arm) frequently laments apology in the pulpit: Strong eruptions of religious faith have always been marked by the appearance of people with firm, unapologetic, often uncompromising convictions— that is, by types that are the very opposite from those presently engaged in the various relevance; operations.… Put simply: ages of faith are not marked by “dialogue” but by proclamation. Why have so many preachers adopted the tone of Oprah then? The goal of this chapter is to address the biggest leak in the boat of biblical authority during proclamation: apology. How did we come to the place where we think God needs PR? Who is responsible for the constant concern about how culture hears what God has to say? When did we become more anxious about offending people than offending God, and why? Preachers who manufacture content or marginalize what God has said because they are concerned that people will be offended by it or the culture won’t be comfortable may convince themselves they are giving God a leg up, but the one they are really protecting is in the mirror. Trust me on this; God is never watching in appreciation when we make His Word more palatable to pagans. I am not for pulpit ranting, and I don’t believe God is honored in making the Bible complicated where it’s simple. Preaching should not nullify the Word of God through tradition or negate the Word of God by speaking in religious terms the uninitiated can’t access, but Vertical, biblical preaching should never place loyalty to the audience’s sensitivities ahead of loyalty to God and His Word.

All Around the Web - May 15, 2015

Russell Moore - Is Christianity Dying?

The Gospel Coalition - Why You Can Trust Your Bible

Joe Carter - The FAQs: House to Vote on 20-Week Abortion Limit

Eric Metaxas - The New Totalitarians

Independent - Porn and video game addiction leading to 'masculinity crisis', says Stanford psychologist

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It Goes Both Ways: Pastor Leadership and Church Submission

Ministry is like a three legged stool*: pastoring, preaching, and leading. Most pastors are strong on at least one leg and weak on at least one other. It is rare to find a perfectly balanced minister. As such, many feel wobbly at best. To neglect one is to collapse the entire stool. I am guilty of this myself feeling more confident in both my preaching and pastoring. I have a strong sense of calling to publically proclaim "Thus says the Lord," and to hold the hand of the sick and dying bringing gospel-comfort to the suffering.

My weakest point, however, is leadership and it is a subject I have been thinking a lot about lately. I have invested in a number of helpful books (like Albert Mohler's The Conviction to Lead) and sought godly counseling from men who are strong leaders. And now I find myself in a ministry position with staff that requires leadership. My honest weakness is more evident.

Through this process a thought has come to mind worth sharing. The New Testament is clear that pastors must lead (1 Peter 5:1ff) yet equally important, the local church must desire to be led. A pastor's leadership is only as strong as the church's submission to that leadership.

It goes both ways. A pastor must lead; the church must desire leadership.

I readily confess many ministers struggle with leadership like me. I also confess that some are simply incompetent leaders. Yet rarely is a church exhorted to submit to its leaders and encourage them to lead yet this is precisely what Scripture teaches:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. -Hebrews 13:17
In the end, let us realize that a church insincere about the gospel is a church that will devour its pastors. Many pastors might be weak in the area of leadership, but they still understand they are called to lead. Any church that desires to be healthy and strong and desires to keep pastors in order build a lasting legacy and foundation must be one that submits to their pastor.

* Illustration taken from Trevin Wax in his helpful books Counterfeit Gospels which speaks of the gospel as a 3-legged stool.

All Around the Web - May 14, 2015

Russell Moore - Why Islam Grows

Thom Rainer - Eight Common Characteristics of Successful Church Revitalizations

JD Greer - 7 Truths About Hell

Barnabas Piper - 25 Things Yankees Should Know When Moving to the South

Daily Mail - Sexting and online bullying is fuelling teenage depression: Admissions for anxiety up by 50% in just four years

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hump Day Humor: The Tweet Song

HT: Kevin DeYoung

All Around the Web - May 13, 2015

The Federalists - There Is No Right To Same-Sex Marriage: Because every marriage statute discriminates about which relationships to condone, legalizing gay marriage only shifts the discrimination applied.

Doug Wilson - And All God's People Said, "Wut?"

Doug Wilson - Excommunicated Gnats, Ordained Camels

Jason Allen - The Promise and Peril of Online Theological Education

USA Today - Top baby names from 2014 have been revealed

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

All Around the Web - May 12, 2015

The Week -  How Christianity invented children

John Stonestreet - Bruce Jenner, Transgenderism and the Church

Liberate - Inexhaustible Grace for Exhausted Women

The Gospel Coalition - The Problem with Good Advice

The Guardian - 42% of people using dating app Tinder already have a partner, claims report

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The Canonization of Scripture

"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Introduction 
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - The Canonization of Scripture

How did we get the Bible? Inevitably some form of this question will be asked on a regular basis in my ministry. Sometimes it is intrigue that motivates the questioner. Other times it is a lack of certainty. The barrage of fanciful stories (like The Da vinci Code) has caused many evangelicals to become concerned regarding the book they hold to be the Word of God. Why these 66 books and not any others? Why these 66 books? Who made the decision to adopt these books?

In the first chapter of his book Collected Writings on Scripture, Dr. DA Carson offers a few important points regarding the issue of canonization. I offer them below with special emphasis on some and not others.

1. The Council of Jamnia, which took place at the end of the first century AD, did not "approve" of the 39 books of the Old Testament. Rather, it confirmed the already "inherited assumption . . . that the writings in question did indeed belong to the canon, and the point raised was wehter or not this assumption could be sustained." (28)

2. Before Jamnia, the New Testament quotes from, alludes to, and speaks of the Old Testament as "Scripture." Carson begins by pointing us to Jesus in Luke 24:44 who divides the Old Testament into three traditional categories, "the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Furthermore, "the New Testament quotes from every section and most books of the Old Testament and treat such quotations as 'Scripture.'" (29)*

3. One should note that the New Testament itself refers to others writings in the New Testament as "Scripture." See especially 1 Timothy 5:18 and 2 Peter 3:16."

4. "The Son himself is the apex of revelation" according to the New Testament (29). This is made explicitly clear in Hebrews 1:1-2. Carson adds:
Thus, any notion of a new Testament canon immediately becomes tied to its relation to him. Certainly Jesus prepared his small band of apostles for the increased measure of understanding that would come to them in the wake of his resurrection and the descent of the Spirit On. 14:26; 16:12-15). Certainly, too, there is evidence that, although the twelve apostles and Paul could and did make mistakes (e.g. Gal. 2:11-14), they could on occasion be so conscious that what they were writing was nothing less than the Lord's command that even NT prophets who questioned them at that point were to be regarded as beyond the pale (1 Cor. 14:37-38).(29)

5. It is farce to believe that "the early church took an inordinately long time to recognize the authority of the New Testament documents." On the contrary, most of the New Testaments were universally adopted, or at least recognized as Scripture, by the universal church. This is made clear in the countless early writings of the patristics.

6. There were three basic criteria for determining which books were canon. First, apostolic authority directly (such as the writings of Paul) or indirectly (such as the writings of Mark and Luke who were influenced by and closely associated with an apostle). Secondly, it could not contradict the early church creed of orthodoxy commonly referred to as the "rule of faith." Finally, the documents had to universally received as authoritative and divine.

We could add a fourth criteria hinted at by Carson here. Pseudonymous writings were rejected. This of course creates a problem with Hebrews as the writer never identifies himself and there was immediately debate regarding its author. Most of the early church (and Carson clearly disagrees with them here) believed it was written by Paul. Nevertheless, an important distinction needs to be made here. Hebrews is not pseudonymous, it is anonymous. Clearly the author speaks with some apostolic authority and it was adopted as such almost immediately. The author's association with Timothy only sures that up.

7. The adoption of the 27 books of the New Testament was not the result of an "ecclesiastical machinery or hierarchy, akin to the medieval papacy" (30). That is to say that the early church never had an official recognition of which books belong in the New Testament. Of course this contradicts media propaganda common today. Instead, the church, universally, understood these writings were unique and inspired. "the point must be constantly emphasized" (30).

Carson then concludes:
The church, then, did confer a certain status on documents that would otherwise have lacked it, as if the church were an institution with authority independent of the Scriptures or in tandem to the Scriptures. Rather, the new Testament documents were Scripture because of what God had revealed; the church, providentially led, came to wide recognition of what God had done in his climactic self-disclosure in his Son and in the documents that bore witness to and gathered up the strands of the Son-revelation. (31)

Certainly more could be said here, but Carson offers a helpful general overview of the discussion. The argument put forward by Carson above is historically and theologically sound. If you ever question if the media has an agenda in dealing with these issues, remember this discussion. The culture prefers the sensational here because sensational accusations (like the Gnostics were legit) call into question the claims of Christianity.

Ultimately, the Christian should speak with confidence that when Scripture is opened, God is speaking through human authors.

* Compare this with how they non-biblical authors like "Cleanthes in acts 17:28, Menander in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Epimenides in titus 1:12," and "1 Enoch in Jude 14-15." Add to this no clear quotation to the Apocraphya as added emphasis.

For more on canonization:
"How the Bible was Build" by Charles M. Smith & James W. Bennett: A Review
"Perspectives on the Ending of Mark": A Review
"Has God Spoken?" by Hank Hanegraaf: A Review

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seven Men: Resources

Earlier today I posted a review for Eric Metaxas's book Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness. Following the book's publication, the author did a number of interviews and other promotions. I am wanting to take the opportunity to share some of those here.

"Seven Men" by Eric Metaxas: A Review

Young men who spend their time watching violent movies and playing video games aren't' very easily going to become the men they were meant to become. They will drift. They will lose out on the very reason they were brought into this world: to be great, to be heroes themselves. What could be more tragic than that? They won’t understand who they are, and they will have no idea how to relate to women, and they will hurt themselves (and probably some women) along the way. So it is vital that we teach them who they are in God’s view, and it’s vital that we bring back a sense of the heroic. The men in this book are some of my heroes and I am thrilled to be able to share them with others. I hope they will inspire young men to emulate them. (xvii)

I'm a dad given the awesome responsibility of raising a son. The most difficult part, at least so far, is knowing precisely how to raise a young man in an anti-masculine society. Everything - from education to fashion - has been feminized. Men are repeatedly exhorted in "find their feminine side." In light of the world we now live in, to raise him with a biblical worldview means to raise him to be counter cultural. I must, therefore, both model true masculinity while at the same time provide my son with ample other examples of real men especially from those of the past (there difficult to find today).

Enter Eric Metaxas's helpful book Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness. The author is increasingly becoming one of my favorite authors and cultural commentators. He is co-host of BreakPoint which was once the daily two-minute podcast/radio show of the late Charles Colson. I listen to it everyday. Metaxas is best known for his biographies on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce; both men are given a chapter each in this book.

As the title and subtitle suggests, Metaxas surveys modern history for seven men who model real masculinity explaining what makes each of them great. The seven men are as follows:

  1. George Washington
  2. William Wilberforce
  3. Eric Liddell
  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  5. Jackie Robinson
  6. Pope John Paul II
  7. Charles Colson
Right away some names are striking. Most in my generation will not know who Eric Liddell is. At first glance, some might be surprised to see a Protestant include Pope John Paul II to be numbered among these great men. The divisions between Protestant and Catholic are still very real.

It is tempting for me to dedicate this review to whether I would have chosen these seven men if I were writing a book like this. Such a review is clearly subjective and useless. Everyone reading this book would have chosen different men. I have no doubt the author is well aware of it.

Instead, let us take the book as it is. Why these men? What made them great? Some are worth highlighting. To Metaxas, and I agree with him here, what makes our first President great is not his fearlessness in battle, his wisdom in battle planning, or his political wisdom, but in his strength to turn down power. As the first President, George Washington set precedent. He understood this and thus willingly (in spite of intense heat commanding him to do otherwise) stepped down as President after two full terms. In many respects, we still live under a Republic-Democracy because of his strength. Otherwise, we might still live under a monarchy.

Wilberforce, too, is worth highlighting. Metaxas suggests one "could even argue that Wilberforce was more famous" than George Washington. I will let historians debate that point. No doubt he is an immensely important figure. While America fought a bloody Civil War over the issue of slavery, Great Britain abolished it much through Wilberforce's great effort.

The author walks the reader through the world Wilberforce lived in. We would barely recognize it even in a predominatly secular world like ours. At the end of the chapter, Metaxas notes that Wilberforce left his country in a much better place (especially morally) than when he entered politics. But what made him so great? Consider the following:

Perhaps the most obvious sign of Wilberforce's conversion t the Christan faith was that it changed the way he looked at everything. Suddenly he saw what he was blind to before: that God was a God of justice and Righteousness who would judge us for the way we treated others; that every single human being was made in God’s image and therefore worthy of profound respect and kindness; that God was “ no respector of persons” and looked upon the rich and the poor equally.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, of course, stood against an entire nation and prophetic warned of the dangers of Nazism. Jackie Robinson, with great courage, broke the color barrier in American baseball. Pope John Paul II fought against communism. Charles Colson had his eyes opened by the gospel and fought for the spread of both the gospel and a Christian worldview.

In the end, what one thinks of this subjective list is futile. It is what it is and I believe this is a great book especially for dads and young men and boys.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more:
"Bonhoeffer" by Eric Metaxas: A Review
Promoting Bonhoeffer: Eric Metaxas on the Glenn Beck Show
Metaxas and Piper on Bonhoeffer
"The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Review
The Battle Rages On: Metaxas on Abortion at 40

Can It Happen Here? It Already Has: Metaxas on the Threat of Religious Liberty in a Pro-Gay Culture

All Around the Web - May 11, 2015

Thom Rainer - 13 Signs of Leadership Fatigue

Joe Carter - 9 Things You Should Know About Prayer In The Bible

Kevin DeYoung - 13 Tips for Leading the Congregation in Prayer

The Gospel Coalition - 9 Things Adult Daughters Want Their Mothers to Know

Commentary - The “Right Side of History” is Sometimes Wrong

Antarctica from Kalle Ljung on Vimeo.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Did the Exodus Happen? Some Evidence

Christianity is unique among world religions in several ways. One key distinction regards the claim of historicity. Christianity boldly proclaims that God has entered our story. As such, if certain major events in Scripture are proven false, then Christianity falls. At the top of the list is the resurrection of Christ. If an ossuary in Israel is discovered containing the bones of a man (and only a man) named Jesus of Nazareth and it was proven that these bones belong to the biblical character by that name, then Christianity falls. Paul makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

Another key event is the Exodus. What the resurrection is in the New Testament, the Exodus is in the Old Testament. As such, archeological and historic evidence for this event have been ongoing for centuries and many have concluded that there is no evidence of a mass migration of enslaved Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. Therefore, they conclude, it did not happen.

Is that true? Did the Exodus actually happen? Did Moses exist?

In a lengthy article posted at Mosaic, Joshua Berman shows that there is strong evidence to support the Exodus account. Much of it is appealing.

Before looking at some of his specific evidences, let us begin where Berman does. Why is there a lack of evidence of this event? To affirm the historicity of the Exodus is not to deny there is scarcity of archeological evidence. There is, however, good reason for it. He writes:
It is true enough that these records do not contain clear and unambiguous reference to “Hebrews” or “Israelites.” But that is hardly surprising. The Egyptians referred to all of their West-Semitic slaves simply as “Asiatics,” with no distinction among groups—just as slave-holders in the New World never identified their black slaves by their specific provenance in Africa.

More generally, there is a limit to what we can expect from the written record of ancient Egypt. Ninety-nine percent of the papyri produced there during the period in question have been lost, and none whatsoever has survived from the eastern Nile delta, the region where the Torah claims the Hebrew slaves resided. Instead, we have to rely on monumental inscriptions, which, being mainly reports to the gods about royal achievements, are far from complete or reliable as historical records. They are more akin to modern-day résumés, and just as conspicuous for their failure to note setbacks of any kind.
Archeology is not required for an event to be historical. The author goes on to chronicle a number of key historic events we know took place, yet we have little to know archeological evidence to support it. Ultimately, let us keep the above two paragraphs in mind as we contemplate this issue and other historic questions. Much of the evidence we look for have been destroyed and it is rare we find something as richly preserved as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

With all of that said, is there any evidence to support the Exodus. Here are a few of the author's bullet points:
Actually, there is more to be said than that. Many details of the exodus story do strikingly appear to reflect the realities of late-second-millennium Egypt, the period when the exodus would most likely have taken place—and they are the sorts of details that a scribe living centuries later and inventing the story afresh would have been unlikely to know:
  • There is rich evidence that West-Semitic populations lived in the eastern Nile delta—what the Bible calls Goshen—for most of the second millennium. Some were slaves, some were raised in Pharaoh’s court, and some, like Moses, bore Egyptian names.
  • We know today that the great pharaoh Ramesses II, who reigned from 1279 to 1213 BCE, built a huge administrative center out of mudbrick in an area where large Semitic populations had lived for centuries. It was called Pi-Ramesses. Exodus (1:11) specifies that the Hebrew slaves built the cities of Pithom and Ramesses, a possible reference to Pi-Ramesses. The site was abandoned by the pharaohs two centuries later.
  • In the exodus account, pharaohs are simply called “Pharaoh,” whereas in later biblical passages, Egyptian monarchs are referred to by their proper name, as in “Pharaoh Necho” (2 Kings 23:29). This, too, echoes usage in Egypt itself, where, from the middle of the second millennium until the tenth century BCE, the title “Pharaoh” was used alone.
  • The names of various national entities mentioned in the Song at the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18)—Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, et al.—are all found in Egyptian sources shortly before 1200 BCE; about this, the book of Exodus is again correct for the period.
  • The stories of the exodus and the Israelites’ subsequent wanderings in the wilderness reflect sound acquaintance with the geography and natural conditions of the eastern Nile delta, the Sinai peninsula, the Negev, and Transjordan.
  • The book of Exodus (13:17) notes that the Israelites chose not to traverse the Sinai peninsula along the northern, coastal route toward modern-day Gaza because that would have entailed military engagement. The discovery of extensive Egyptian fortifications all along that route from the period in question confirms the accuracy of this observation.
  • Archaeologists have documented hundreds of new settlements in the land of Israel from the late-13th and 12th centuries BCE, congruent with the biblically attested arrival there of the liberated slaves; strikingly, these settlements feature an absence of the pig bones normally found in such places. Major destruction is found at Bethel, Yokne’am, and Hatzor—cities taken by Israel according to the book of Joshua. At Hatzor, archaeologists found mutilated cultic statues, suggesting that they were repugnant to the invaders.
  • The earliest written mention of an entity called “Israel” is found in the victory inscription of the pharaoh Merneptah from 1206 BCE. In it the pharaoh lists the nations defeated by him in the course of a campaign to the southern Levant; among them, “Israel is laid waste and his seed is no more.” “Israel” is written in such a way as to connote a group of people, not an established city or region, the implication being that it was not yet a fully settled entity with contiguous control over an entire region. This jibes with the Bible’s description in Joshua and Judges of a gradual conquest of the land.
Though more evidence is cited, this should be enough to sink your teeth into. I encourage you to read the rest here. I see no reason why, at this point, one should abandon faith in the Exodus account in light of the evidence above and the lack of evidence contrary to the events recorded. Never forget that often scholars are motivated as much by animus toward Scripture as they are driven by answers. That is to say that if you don't want something to be true, you can find plenty of reasons for denying it.

For  more:
"Against the Gods" by John Currid: A Review
"A Commentary on Exodus" by Duane Garrett: A Review
Archeological & Historical Evidence of the Exodus
"Has God Spoken?" by Hank Hanegraaf: A Review