Monday, October 31, 2016

"Visit the Sick" by Brian Croft: A Review

Here is a pattern that has been helpful for me to follow. I begin by asking the person about themselves and about their condition and the kind of treatment they are getting. Then I ask about their family, specifically about who has been caring for them during this time. Then in some way I try to turn the conversation to topics of a spiritual nature. A helpful way to this is to ask how you can pray for them. The Holy Spirit will often open an opportunity through this question and allow you to talk about eternal issues. Ask them who they are struggling. How are they relating to God through all of this? The most important theological question to ask, if appropriate, is, "Are you ready to die and stand before God?" We ask questions so we can better learn about their situation and how they are handling it. This helps us to better know how to care for them both physically and spiritually. Good, thoughtful questions should lead us to talk about God and the hope we have - a hope that is only found in Christ. This is a hope we share together, both those who are sick and those who are healthy. Our questions should be sensitive to circumstances, but they should be God honoring and gospel driven in content. (30-31)

As a pastor I find myself in many rooms, hospitals, and houses visiting the sick and even dying. It is one of the major responsibilities of every pastor and one we should all take seriously. From my perspective, pastoral ministry is preaching done one-on-one; an opportunity to show in real life why Sunday's sermon mattered to them.

The ministry of visiting the sick is a constant reminder we live in a broken, fallen world. As such I am always in need of refining my skills on how to better serve those in our church and community as I seek to minister the gospel to them. Therefore I recently turned to Brian Croft's book Visit the Sick: Ministering God's Grace in Times of Illness.

Croft offers a simple and insightful guide for pastors in the art of visiting the sick providing both a theological and practical guide on how to do it well. I must confess that I have not really considered the theology behind a visiting ministry. I presume many pastors, including myself, visit because there is an expectation they should visit and because it contributes to the health of the congregation. Visiting allows the pastor to develop and build relationships. Croft offers a robust, though brief, theology of pastoral visiting.

In regards to practical advice on visiting, I suspect this is why most will tolle lege. Croft does not disappoint here. He recommends helpful passages for various circumstances to read. Such resources are a must for all pastors to have. He also walks the reader through how to visit, what to watch for, when to know you should leave, how to enter a room, how to engage the sick, the family, etc. An example of this is available above.

Overall, Croft offers a helpful book that is valuable tool for all pastors. I have been in ministry for over a decade and gained some real insight into visiting and have sought to put much of it into practice. I highly recommend it. It is brief (could be read in one sitting) and easy to read.

All Around the Web - October 31, 2016

Denny Burk - Russell Moore’s Erasmus Lecture

Crossway - 5 Images of a Gospel-Centered Leader (and the Need to Hold It All Together)

Practical Shepherding - How do I encourage my pastor?

Chuck Lawless - 10 Ways to Improve Announcements

Doug Wilson - 7 Encouraging Words in Case 2016 Has Got You Down

Sam Storms - Halloween or Reformation Day? The Significance of October 31, 1517

Timothy Paul Jones - Church History: Martin Luther and the Ninety-Five Theses

NAMB - Why I Engage in the SBC: D.A. Horton

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Clement of Alexandria on Transgenderism in Ancient Rome

In an age of gender dysphoria, it is tempting for many Christians to assume that we are living in unexplored waters. We are not. The Bible addresses gender confusion and the early Christians were thrust into a sexually confused society much like ours. Consider the following passage from Clement of Alexandria taken from his book Paedegogos:
But for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them, how womanly! And, in truth, unless you saw them naked, you would suppose them to be women. For although not allowed to wear gold, yet out of effeminate desire they enwreath their latches and fringes with leaves of gold; or, getting certain spherical figures of the same metal made, they fasten them to their ankles, and hang them from their necks. This is a device of enervated men, who are dragged to the women's apartments, amphibious and lecherous beasts. For this is a meretricious and impious form of snare. For God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood, with shaggy breasts—a sign this of strength and rule. So also cocks, which fight in defence of the hens, he has decked with combs, as it were helmets; and so high a value does God set on these locks, that He orders them to make their appearance on men simultaneously with discretion, and delighted with a venerable look, has honoured gravity of countenance with grey hairs. But wisdom, and discriminating judgments that are hoary with wisdom, attain maturity with time, and by the vigour of long experience give strength to old age, producing grey hairs, the admirable flower of venerable wisdom, conciliating confidence. This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen to be a man, is older than Eve, and is the token of the superior nature. In this God deemed it right that he should excel, and dispersed hair over man's whole body. Whatever smoothness and softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage, his help in household management, while he (for he had parted with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man. And to him has been assigned action, as to her suffering; for what is shaggy is drier and warmer than what is smooth. Wherefore males have both more hair and more heat than females, animals that are entire than the emasculated, perfect than imperfect. It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness. But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word), if it is to attract men, is the act of an effeminate person,— if to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society. "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered," says the Lord; Matthew 10:30 those on the chin, too, are numbered, and those on the whole body. There must be therefore no plucking out, contrary to God's appointment, which has counted them in according to His will. "Do you not know yourselves," says the apostle, "that Christ Jesus is in you?" 2 Corinthians 13:5 Whom, had we known as dwelling in us, I know not how we could have dared to dishonour. But the using of pitch to pluck out hair (I shrink from even mentioning the shamelessness connected with this process), and in the act of bending back and bending down, the violence done to nature's modesty by stepping out and bending backwards in shameful postures, yet the doers not ashamed of themselves, but conducting themselves without shame in the midst of the youth, and in the gymnasium, where the prowess of man is tried; the following of this unnatural practice, is it not the extreme of licentiousness? For those who engage in such practices in public will scarcely behave with modesty to any at home. Their want of shame in public attests their unbridled licentiousness in private. For he who in the light of day denies his manhood, will prove himself manifestly a woman by night. "There shall not be," said the Word by Moses, "a harlot of the daughters of Israel; there shall not be a fornicator of the sons of Israel." Deuteronomy 23:17

But the pitch does good, it is said. Nay, it defames, say I. No one who entertains right sentiments would wish to appear a fornicator, were he not the victim of that vice, and study to defame the beauty of his form. No one would, I say, voluntarily choose to do this. "For if God foreknew those who are called, according to His purpose, to be conformed to the image of His Son," for whose sake, according to the blessed apostle, He has appointed "Him to be the first-born among many brethren," Romans 8:28-29 are they not godless who treat with indignity the body which is of like form with the Lord?

The man, who would be beautiful, must adorn that which is the most beautiful thing in man, his mind, which every day he ought to exhibit in greater comeliness; and should pluck out not hairs, but lusts. I pity the boys possessed by the slave-dealers, that are decked for dishonour. But they are not treated with ignominy by themselves, but by command the wretches are adorned for base gain. But how disgusting are those who willingly practice the things to which, if compelled, they would, if they were men, die rather than do?

But life has reached this pitch of licentiousness through the wantonness of wickedness, and lasciviousness is diffused over the cities, having become law. Beside them women stand in the stews, offering their own flesh for hire for lewd pleasure, and boys, taught to deny their sex, act the part of women.

Luxury has deranged all things; it has disgraced man. A luxurious niceness seeks everything, attempts everything, forces everything, coerces nature. Men play the part of women, and women that of men, contrary to nature; women are at once wives and husbands: no passage is closed against libidinousness; and their promiscuous lechery is a public institution, and luxury is domesticated. O miserable spectacle! Horrible conduct! Such are the trophies of your social licentiousness which are exhibited: the evidence of these deeds are the prostitutes. Alas for such wickedness! Besides, the wretches know not how many tragedies the uncertainty of intercourse produces. For fathers, unmindful of children of theirs that have been exposed, often without their knowledge, have intercourse with a son that has debauched himself, and daughters that are prostitutes; and licence in lust shows them to be the men that have begotten them. These things your wise laws allow: people may sin legally; and the execrable indulgence in pleasure they call a thing indifferent. They who commit adultery against nature think themselves free from adultery. Avenging justice follows their audacious deeds, and, dragging on themselves inevitable calamity, they purchase death for a small sum of money. The miserable dealers in these wares sail, bringing a cargo of fornication, like wine or oil; and others, far more wretched, traffic in pleasures as they do in bread and sauce, not heeding the words of Moses, "Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a whore, lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness." Leviticus 19:29

Such was predicted of old, and the result is notorious: the whole earth has now become full of fornication and wickedness. I admire the ancient legislators of the Romans: these detested effeminacy of conduct; and the giving of the body to feminine purposes, contrary to the law of nature, they judged worthy of the extremest penalty, according to the righteousness of the law.

For it is not lawful to pluck out the beard, man's natural and noble ornament.

"A youth with his first beard: for with this, youth is most graceful."

By and by he is anointed, delighting in the beard "on which descended" the prophetic "ointment" with which Aaron was honoured.

And it becomes him who is rightly trained, on whom peace has pitched its tent, to preserve peace also with his hair.

What, then, will not women with strong propensities to lust practice, when they look on men perpetrating such enormities? Rather we ought not to call such as these men, but lewd wretches (βατάλοι), and effeminate (γύνιδες), whose voices are feeble, and whose clothes are womanish both in feel and dye. And such creatures are manifestly shown to be what they are from their external appearance, their clothes, shoes, form, walk, cut of their hair, look. "For from his look shall a man be known," says the Scripture, "from meeting a man the man is known: the dress of a man, the step of his foot, the laugh of his teeth, tell tales of him." Sirach 19:29-30

For these, for the most part, plucking out the rest of their hair, only dress that on the head, all but binding their locks with fillets like women. Lions glory in their shaggy hair, but are armed by their hair in the fight; and boars even are made imposing by their mane; the hunters are afraid of them when they see them bristling their hair. (3.3.16, 21)

All Around the Web - October 27, 2016

Rod Drehrer - The Religious Right: A Eulogy

Russell Moore - Can the Religious Right Be Saved?

SBTS - Does the Bible Predict the Coming of Muhammad?

Chuck Lawless - 10 Ways to Fight Becoming an Arrogant Leader

Sean McDowell - What Are the Two Most Important Christian Virtues Today?

Thom Rainer - Five Ways to Stop the Decline in Your Church 

Grace to You - High Crimes Against God

The Gospel Coalition - How to Live Your Faith in a Digital Age

Tim Challies - Death to Clickbait!

NBC News - Internet Outage Shows How Sophisticated Attacks Can Target Your Home

Babylon Bee - Join Me, Christians. I Promise To Grant Your Religious Liberty A Quick, Clean Death.

Denny Burk - Meet the baby born twice

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

From Spurgeon's Pulpit: A Real Gospel Sermon

From his sermon Adorning the Gospel:
"None but Jesus, none but Jesus, Can do helpless sinners good" and, therefore, to this Gospel we must adhere with all our hearts! It is the Doctrine of God our Savior, for He is the substance of it!

Yet again it is the Doctrine of God our Savior because He is the object of it—it all points to Him. If you hear a real Gospel sermon, it directs you to look to Jesus Christ. That teaching which leads you to think of the priest and to think of the church, whatever there may be about them that is good, is not "the doctrine of God our Savior." "To Him give all the Prophets witness," to Him the Gospel continually points and this is the preacher's one cry, "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world."

All Around the Web - October 26, 2016

Beth Moore - The Scandal of Election 2016

Joe Carter - What You Should Know About the Constitution Party Platform

Chuck Lawless - 10 Warning Signs that Your Pastor’s Getting Burned Out

The Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with Tim Challies

Eric Metaxas - Chinese Government Urges People to Make Babies

Sam Storms - 10 Things You should Know about Interpreting the Bible

BreakPoint - Remaking Lewis

The Gospel Coalition - Is Your Church Ready for the Future?

Christianity Today - Died: Jack Chick, Cartoonist Whose Controversial Tracts Became Cult Hits

Arc Mag - What I Have Learned From Photographing 400 Towns in Iowa

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Ecclesiology

Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Introduction to Theology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - One-Volume Systematic Theologies
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Bibliology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Theology Proper
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Christology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Soteriology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Atonement
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Ecclesiology

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

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

In this eighth installment, here is a list of helpful ecclesiastical books.
From my experience, the best place for works on ecclesiology is 9Marks. Before taking the full plunge though, one must know up front that 9Marks is very Calvinistic and believes in congregationalism, baptism by emersion, and elder rule. Nevertheless, they continue to offer some of the best material on the church and have done so for years.

All Around the Web - October 25, 2016

Russell Moore - Signposts: How to Talk to Children About Their Adoption Story

WORLD - Six factors in overturning Roe v. Wade

AP - Attacks on the internet keep getting bigger and nastier

Erik Raymond - That Sunday Morning My Sermon Notes Disappeared

Chuck Lawless - 10 Things to Say to Your Pastor This Weekend

Thom Rainer - Six Reasons Congregational Singing Is Waning

Desiring God - Why Christians Love Books

the Gospel Coalition - 3 Ways to Respond When Slandered

Telegraph - Christian bakers lose pro-gay marriage cake discrimination ruling challenge

Babylon Bee - Unrepentant Hedonist Really Banking On Sinner’s Prayer He Recited At Age 7

Monday, October 17, 2016

Free eBooks: RC Sprul's Crucial Questions Series Books

The good folks at Ligionier and Reformation Trust Publishing are offering RC Sproul's "Crucial Questions Series" of short book for free as a digital Kindle download. You can find the links to each book below:
Who Is Jesus? (Crucial Questions Series Book 1)
Can I Trust the Bible? (Crucial Questions Series Book 2)
Does Prayer Change Things? (Crucial Questions Series Book 3)
Can I Know God's Will? (Crucial Questions Series Book 4)
How Should I Live in This World? (Crucial Questions Series Book 5) 

What Does It Mean to Be Born Again? (Crucial Questions Series Book 6)
Can I Be Sure I'm Saved? (Crucial Questions Series Book 7)
What Is Faith? (Crucial Questions Series Book 8)
What Can I Do With My Guilt? (Crucial Questions Series Book 9)
What is the Trinity? (Crucial Questions Series Book 10)
What is Baptism? (Crucial Questions Series Book 11)

Can I Have Joy in My Life (Crucial Questions Series Book 12)
Who is the Holy Spirit? (Crucial Questions Series Book 13)
Does God Control Everything? (Crucial Questions Series Book 14) 

How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience? (Crucial Questions Series Book 15)
What is The Lord's Supper? (Crucial Questions Series Book 16)
What is The Church? (Crucial Questions Series Book 17)

What Is Repentance? (Crucial Questions Book 18)
What Is the Relationship between Church and State? (Crucial Questions Series Book 19)
Are These the Last Days? (Crucial Questions Book 20)
What is the Great Commission? (Crucial Questions Book 21)
Can I Lose My Salvation? (Crucial Questions Book 22) How Should I Think about Money? (Crucial Questions Book 23)
How Can I Be Blessed? (Crucial Questions Book 24)
Are People Basically Good? (Crucial Questions Book 25)

All Around the Web - Octobe 17, 2016

Russell Moore - Signposts: How Churches Can Minister to the Divorced

The Resurgent - Three Judge Panel Upholds Terrible California Law Forcing Pro-Lifers To Promote Abortion

The Gospel Coalition - Why It Matters that the Reformers Were Pastors

Chuck Lawless - 10 Causes of Pastor/Staff Conflict

Christianity Today - Why Millennials Won't Build the Kinds of Churches their Parents Built

Thom Rainer - 6 Thoughts on Bulletin Inserts

The Gospel Coalition - 5 Reasons to Teach Your Kids About the Reformation

Washington Post - A curious student dug through a box in the archives — and unearthed a centuries-old Geneva Bible

WORLD - Serious laughter

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Mirror of Our Time: Doug Wilson on the Hillary-Trump Race

I strongly encourage you to read Doug Wilson's take on the Hillary-Trump fiasco of a Presidential campaign especially in light of recent revelations from both Wikileaks and leaked audio from 2005 and what it says about our society.

First, on Trump lewd remarks:
The third layer of hypocrisy is the monumental one. We have met the enemy, and he is us. Donald J. Trump is in big trouble (we think) because he acts like an accurate representative of the nation he is seeking to lead. I have said several times that Trump is a boorish pig, but that fits right in, because he is running for the presidency of what has pretty much become a sty.

The third group of hypocrites is that large bundle that we call the American public—simultaneously indignant and titillated. This is what it has come down to. We all pretend to be shocked, shocked, by something that we have allowed to become an acceptable mainstream standard. “I am sick of that reprehensible Trump on the news every night. What’s on HBO?”

I am not talking about the presence of double-standards—those have always been with us. That was the world that Trump tried to evoke when he said that this tape was “locker room banter.” There was a day when boors and pigs snuck off to certain designated places in order to talk the way boors and pigs like to do. That was a time when such hypocrisy was possible. You could go off and talk that way with your friends, and then go home and talk with your mother with that same mouth. But you had to pretend in order to be able to do it. You had to live a double life to do it. You had to keep two sets of books.

But that wall—let us call it the wall of public decency—has long since been battered down. Did we really think we could outlaw decency, and yet somehow still have decency? Did we really think that we could routinely entertain ourselves on the kind of vice-ridden fare that Hollywood churns out, and not have it make us vice-ridden? Did we really believe we could blow a hole in the hull of decent discourse and still have the ship stay on the surface?

This is the point where, once again, C.S. Lewis provides the much needed prophetic voice.
“And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." [Men Without Chests]

So Trump bragged about abusing his position as a man of power and influence, and said that he could just “grab them by the *****” and they would let him get away with it because he was a star. A pretty grimy star, but a star. And the society that has for decades been hell-bent on glorifying just this kind of thing, all together now, puts on its shocked face.
. . .

So it turns out that when we finally get God out of the public square, the end result is not a quiet academic seminar moderated by John Stuart Mill. When we get Christ banished from all public consideration, the end result is not a multi-ethnic and diverse crowd holding hands and singing, imagining there’s no heaven. When we banish the ten standards that God graciously wrote for us in stone, the end result is not a bunch of cheerful people looking out on us from a warm and accepting United Colors of Benetton ad. I hate to break it to you, but that’s not what happens. What happens is . . .  what is happening.
No, what we get is a vile woman running against a vile man, and we must choose between them, God says, because we are a vile people. We get a presidential campaign between a corruptocrat and a clown, and this is because God has now narrowed our choice down to what would best represent this stiff-necked generation.
 Regarding Hillary, he adds:
A couple hours after the Entirely Predictable dropped, Wikileaks released some of Hillary’s musings behind closed bank doors. She has, and I quote, “both a public and a private position” on her coziness with the banks. I bring this up, not as an instance of her being a hypocrite, although she is, but to point out that we the people are doing exactly the same thing. We, the American people, have a private position on morality and a public position on morality, and we are just now starting to notice that the two together are incoherent.

We want a private position on sex and sexuality, where your private wishes dictate what pronouns may be applied to you, and where rappers can brag about slapping their ******* all they want, and alpha CEOs can grab what they want, and at the same time we want a public position where the marble colonnades of Washington retain all their Augustan shine, polished with that special kind of bright marble wax made out of integrity, honor, and core values. Of course, integrity, honor and core values are not backed by gold anymore, but rather are pegged to the wild fluctuations of the world currency markets. Today’s integrity might not look very much like your grandfather’s integrity. Today’s integrity might want to grab some *****.

There is no God. Or, if there is, He may not be invoked in any matter involving the public square. You demanded it—and so now you have it. God’s existence, if there is such existence, gives us no direction whatever on the differences that may exist between Donald Trump and Lil Wayne. We have to figure that out for ourselves, which means that we are entirely nonplussed.

Why is Trump in our doghouse when Lil Wayne is in our playlists? The answer is that this presidential election is our dumpster fire. Hypocrisy is flammable, and this is what it smells like when burning.
You can read the entire article here.

Wilson's point is a prophetic one. We are a nation of hypocrites. We love double standards because double-standards create headlines, sell newspapers, and generate wall-to-wall coverage on 24 hour news channels all the while the rest of us live double lives ourselves. We are all guilty of this. This election season appears to be God's way of putting before us a mirror by which we look at ourselves. One the hand we have become corrupt hypocrites who talk out of both sides of our mouths and can't tell the difference between the truth and the lie anymore. And on the other we have become an unrepentant people who believe the only crime here is that you believe we are guilty of doing wrong.

Hillary and Trump perfectly illustrate our society and I believe only the church, faithful to the gospel, can save us now. But that is part of the problem. This race has shown that those same evangelicals we must rely on are looking in the same mirror and seeing the same hypocritical corrupt selves as the rest of society.

God help us! Maranatha!!

All Around the Web - October 14, 2016

Marvin Olasky - Unfit for power

Albert Mohler - 12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics

Trevin Wax - Churches Reaching Millennials: Causes for Celebration and Concern 

Thom Rainer - The Top Ten Worst Church Guest Experiences

Chuck Lawless - 10 Ways a Local Church Can Help a Missionary

Evangelical History - Was Billy Graham the Father of the Religious Right?

Spurgeon Center - 4 Reasons Spurgeon Died Poor

Ligonier - The State of Theology: Does Even the Smallest Sin Deserve Eternal Damnation?

Baptist21 - Should We Pull Back from Politics?

Club 31 Women - Why It’s Pivotal to Make Room for Reading

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Old Testament and Holy War

One of the common apologetic questions regarding the Bible, especially the Old Testament, regards the numerous wars most of which are ordered by God. Recently while preparing for a sermon on the battle against the Amalekites in Exodus 17:8ff, I came across Douglas Stuart's brief excursion on the issue of the Old Testament and holy war that was helpful. I offer his twelve points only in brief. For a fuller treatment, pick up his Exodus commentary (pages 395-397)

1. No standing army was allowed.

2. No pay for soldiers was permitted.

3. No personal spoil/plunder could be taken

4. Holy war could be fought only for the conquest or defense of the promised land. Israel had no right to any other land or to warfare for any other purpose.

5. Only at Yahweh's call could holy war be launched.

6. Solely through a prophet could hat divine call come. . . . Neither priest nor king nor nobles nor tribal leaders nor any other authorities except a prophet were in a position to declare a holy war.

7. Yahweh did the real fighting in holy war because the war was always his.

8. Holy war was a religious undertaking, involving fasting, abstinence from sex, and/or other forms of self denial. it was an act of obedience to God and not of national pride or military strategy.

9. A goal of holy war was the total annihilation of an evil culture (the enemy, the Canaanites).

10. the violator of the rules of holy war became an enemy.

11 Exceptions and mutations were possible, especially in the case of combat with those who were not original inhabitants of the promised land, and therefore who were not automatically to be exterminated.

12. Decisive, rapid victory characterized faithful holy war.

All Around the Web - Octber 13, 2016

Ed Stetzer - What Is Going On Inside Trump's Religious Advisory Panel? James MacDonald Speaks Out

Joe Carter - Why Are So Many Evangelicals Condoning Sexual Assault?

The Gospel Coalition - 5 Ways Persecution in Iran Has Backfired

Sean McDowell - How Did Christianity Prevail in Ancient Rome and What Can We Learn from It?

John Stonestreet - A Suicidal Ballot in Colorado: Will the Right to Die Become a Duty to Die?

Kevin DeYoung - Give Him a Break

Chuck Lawless - 8 Reasons Pastoral Tenure Matters

Andy Naselli - Tim Keller: 6 Principles for How to Argue When You Disagree

Sam Storms - What’s New about the “New” Commandment?

Tim Challies - 10 Reasons I'm Thankful To Be a Dad

Monday, October 10, 2016

"Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell: A Review

‘We may be together for another six months — a year — there’s no knowing. At the end we’re certain to be apart. Do you realize how utterly alone we shall be? When once they get hold of us there will be nothing, literally nothing, that either of us can do for the other. If I confess, they’ll shoot you, and if I refuse to confess, they’ll shoot you just the same. Nothing that I can do or say, or stop myself from saying, will put off your death for as much as five minutes. Neither of us will even know whether the other is alive or dead. We shall be utterly without power of any kind. The one thing that matters is that we shouldn’t betray one another, although even that can’t make the slightest difference.’

‘If you mean confessing,’ she said, ‘we shall do that, right enough. Everybody always confesses. You can’t help it. They torture you.’

‘I don’t mean confessing. Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn’t matter: only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you — that would be the real betrayal.’

She thought it over. ‘They can’t do that,’ she said finally. ‘It’s the one thing they can’t do. They can make you say anything — ANYTHING— but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.’

‘No,’ he said a little more hopefully, ‘no; that’s quite true. They can’t get inside you. If you can FEEL that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.’

He thought of the telescreen with its never-sleeping ear. They could spy upon you night and day, but if you kept your head you could still outwit them. With all their cleverness they had never mastered the secret of finding out what another human being was thinking. Perhaps that was less true when you were actually in their hands. One did not know what happened inside the Ministry of Love, but it was possible to guess: tortures, drugs, delicate instruments that registered your nervous reactions, gradual wearing-down by sleeplessness and solitude and persistent questioning. Facts, at any rate, could not be kept hidden. They could be tracked down by enquiry, they could be squeezed out of you by torture. But if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make? They could not alter your feelings: for that matter you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to. They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.

There is perhaps no better known dystopian novel published in the 20th century than George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published in 1949, it prophetically warns of an omnipresent state ominously referred to as "Big Brother" that has taken over the fictional nation of Oceania. Big Brother has the power (and authority) to regulate every thought, every word, every belief, every vocation, and every citizens schedule and desires. In short, Orwell describes the fear of every citizen of an ever-increasing and empowered state.

The story introduces us to Winston Smith who lives in this dystopian world dominated by Big Brother who hates the all-seeing power of the state - a belief he cannot tell anyone at the risk of his own life. Orwell goes through great pains to slowly introduce the reader to this dangerous worldview of telescreens that allow the state to monitor every word and deed of each citizen, various government-run "ministries" which allow them to reshape history, limit the freedom and scope of language, and control the lives of Oceania citizens. Winston is an employee of such a "ministry."

As a reader, one is looking for a turning point that moves the depressing world so vividly described by the author to a world of hope and freedom. It comes briefly in the person of Julia who, like Winson, hates Big Brother. Yet unlike Winston, Julia is more open in her hatred and is willing to rebel against the oppressive state. For her, sexual liberation is the answer; a disappointing solution to say the least. To Winston, "love" is a relief, but a vain one. Winston knows that only a violent revolution will do. Big Brother must be thrown down and he begins the process of joining the resistance which only betrays him in the end.

That is all the light the book offers. Constantly Winston is looking over his shoulder and the one moment he allows himself to be vulnerable results in his arrest and torture. The story ends in despair as opposed to the expect "happily ever after." There is no good news to be found here. As Orwell argues, what sets Big Brother apart from other powerful states, like the Nazis and the Communists of his day, is that most gain power in the name of vain benevolence. Big Brother, on the other hand, simply wants power and will do anything - anything - to maintain it. Winston is too powerless to stand against such a machine.

As a reader in 2016, there are clear parallels between the world Orwell describes and our own. Whether that was Orwell's purpose or not I will let the scholar's decide. However, if one is expecting a perfect parallel between Oceania and our world, they will be disappointed. We are, after all, reading fiction. Nevertheless, there are some start parallels between Orwell's world and ours.

First, Orwell's description of newspeak is what we would today refer to as political correctness. Newspeak is Big Brother's way of controlling human language. In so doing, the citizens of Oceania are limited to pre-approved words and, therefore, concepts that reflect the philosophy and worldview of the state. Big Brother even goes so far as to public a newspeak dictionary and regularly updates removing words, adding words, and merging others. As described by Orwell, the English language is dumbed down. Syme is a character who explains this system to Winston (and thus to the reader). In one section he says:
It's a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn't only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word, which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better, because it's an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there'll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words – in reality, only one word. Don't you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.'s idea originally, of course," he added as an afterthought.
The parallel between newspeak and political correctness, I believe, is clear. Those who do not speak the correct language pre-approved by our secular do-gooders are labeled various types of bigots because they do not conform to the worldview and philosophy of secular society. Political correctness is nothing more than the left's effort to undermine the freedom of speech itself. It is self-censorship.

Related to that is Orwell's "doublespeak" which describes Big Brother's method of saying and promoting two contradicting things. Most prevalent in the book is the slogan: "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength." In 2016, the liberal doublespeak promoted today would read, "Murder is Resurrection; Gender is Fluid."

Put together, newspeak and doublespeak is our Big Brother's way of controlling society robbing its citizens of liberty in the name of benevolence. There is no freedom of thought, religion, or press in Oceania and increasing it is being lost in ours. I do not believe America will become the extreme of Oceania, yet one cannot deny that government, by its very nature, is destructive of personal liberty, driven by a lust of power and control, by nature bent toward totalitarianism, and in the end dehumanizes its citizens in the process.

It is for this reason I enjoyed Orwell's novel. He utilizes, powerfully, narrative as a means to warn the reader of the danger of the state. I do not know what the political philosophy of the author is, but as one who is personally leery of state power, I am sympathetic to its criticism of statism. As a novel, it has its weakness. For example, Orwell is forced to dedicate most of the book describing the world of Oceania thus slowing the narrative. This prevents the characters from being explored in any detail. Perhaps the worse sin regards his use of a book to explain the worldview of Big Brother. This drastically slows the narrative down. The reader is forced to read a book while reading a book in order to better understand the antagonist of the novel which looms large over the world. This is unfortunate storytelling. Here he fails to show us and instead chooses to just tell us.

Nevertheless, I would recommend this political dystopian. For sure, there is no good news to be found here and that is Orwell's point. As a Christian, I am reminded of the words of the Psalmists, "Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God." (Psalm 20:7)

All Around the Web - October 10, 2016

Happy birthday to my son!

Trevin Wax - Intervarsity and the Revisionist Hope For a Place at the Table

GetReligion - Opening up some legends: Mormons reveal founder Joseph Smith's 'theocracy' plans

Denny Burk - Is Trump accelerating evangelical break with the GOP?

Russell Moore - Signposts: Why I’m a Baptist

Chuck Lawless - 10 Reasons to Pray More as You Prepare to Preach this Weekend

Gospel Coalition - God’s Spirit or Human Hysteria? My Time Among the Charismatics

Gospel Coalition - How I Learned to Separate Meat from Bone in the Charismatic Tradition

Manage Your Church -  What Would Repealing the Johnson Amendment Actually Mean for Churches?

New York Times - An ‘Evolving’ Episcopal Church Invites Back a Controversial Sculpture

Justin Taylor - Lying about Hitler: An Interview with Historian Richard Evans

Independent - Children inherit their intelligence from their mother not their father, say scientists

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Atonement

Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Introduction to Theology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - One-Volume Systematic Theologies
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Bibliology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Theology Proper
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Christology
Where to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - SoteriologyWhere to Begin: Books for Budding Theologians - Atonement

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

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

In this seventh installment, here is a list of helpful atonement books.