31 May 2012

Review: Francis Schaeffer the Early Years/the Later Years

I just finished listening to two courses available through the Worldwide Classroom through Covenant Seminary.  As a background, Covenant Seminary has made available 24 courses through iTunesU and also through their website.  This is a wonderful resource for those interested in going deeper in certain topics. (It is worth noting that Reformed Theological Seminary also has many free courses available).

The two courses I have finished listening two were Francis Schaeffer: The Early Years and Francis Schaeffer: The Later Years, both taught by Jerram Baars.  Baars is a theologian who learned under Schaffer at L'Abri, prior to Schaeffer's death, so he was well poised for this teaching. These 48 lectures were engaging and informative.

I wanted to learn more about Schaeffer because he was deeply influential on several people who have influenced me deeply--Chuck Colson, Nancy Pearcey, and Greg Koukl, to name a few.  Schaeffer was committed to the truth of Scripture, but he seemed equally committed to loving people well, answering tough questions humbly, and depending deeply upon prayer and the Holy Spirit. He had a finger on the pulse of culture and could look ahead and see what was coming.  Believers and unbelievers alike were drawn to him and I think his approach to loving people is worth emulating. 

30 May 2012

Book Review: Thinking About God

I first heard of Greg Ganssle's Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy (2004) on Stand to Reason several months ago.  When I signed up as an STR Ambassador, they sent me this book.  I read it on the trip to Haiti last week. 

When I was there, a young Haitian man named Ricardo asked me about the book and if I was a Christian. I told him that I was, and explained that it was a wonderful introduction to asking questions about God, origins, and the philosophy of religion. When I finished reading it, I gave the book to him. Before I left, he had read the first chapter and he said to me, "this book will encourage me to think about God and think about the world."  "Yes!" I said. 

That is a reasonably good summary of the book.  Ganssle sets out to introduce the reader to how to ask good questions about God, origins, and other issues relevant to the philosophy or religion.  He admits within the first chapter or two that he is a Christian, but works hard to look at the issues in an objective way.  It is a very readable introduction and relevant to anyone interested in apologetics.  He uses concrete examples to flesh out abstract concepts. 

I will definitely have to buy another copy. 

Random Musings on Haiti-Trip 2

Just over a week ago, we traveled to Haiti to see Yoldine and Vladimy.  We met them in February for the first time when Heather, Grace and I went to Port-au-Prince. We returned so quickly because this May trip was seven days rather than five and, frankly, because we miss them.

Much like last time, we flew out of Chicago.  We saved a lot of money by flying out of O'Hare and when purchasing five tickets (Ian and Tessa joined us this time), it was worth the five hour drive. The drive to Chicago was rather uneventful.  We then flew to Miami where we spent Sunday night.  By the end of the day, we were all on our last nerve.  The kids were weepy and whiny.  I was short.  We just needed to get to bed.  We slept fast, arising at 3:45 to head to the Miami airport where we reconnected with friends met the last time around.

We arrived in PAP mid-morning. The airport/customs was not quite as crazy as I remember from the last time.  We initially had some trouble locating our bags, but we found them and were on our way.  There is a man, who is called "Big", who helps us transport our luggage and this time he met us at the door, making the long walk to the parking lot much smoother from the outset. Ian, my child of routine, handled the chaos like a trooper.  Thank you to those of you who prayed for him as he did not seem nervous at all.

We drove to the hotel and dropped our bags.  They still have not fixed the roads in Haiti.  Parenthetically, if someone wants a great ministry in Haiti, figure out how to fix the roads.  We stayed in the same room that we did last time, though they charged us quite a bit more than they did the last time.  Such is life in Haiti.

Next, we went to the orphanage to pick up the kids.  It was wonderful to see them both again and not only them, all the other kids as well.  Yoldine grabbed Tessa's hand and walked her to the courtyard to introduce her to all of her friends.  It was beautiful to see.  I walked Ian to the boys room and he was mobbed.  Ian then said to them, in English, "I am stronger than all of you."  Classic little boy, but I told him that I wouldn't be too sure about that.

We then spent most of the week at the hotel.  It was in the mid 90's most of the week.  We spent much of our time in the pool--morning, afternoon, and evening.  When we weren't swimming, the kids were playing small games or watching Ella Enchanted--over and over.

Vladimy seemed much calmer this time.  He had one major tantrum, but otherwise he was very well behaved.  He is a big-hearted, kind little guy who talks constantly.  He does not even necessarily talk about anything.  If he is not sleeping, he is moving.  He also seemed to have fewer food issues this time around.  We (and by we I mean Heather) will clearly need to work on some bathroom hygiene issues with him. 

Yoldine again loved the water.  She seems particularly drawn to Grace.  She is much quieter than her little brother.  She had a few tough days.  When we talked about moving to the U.S., Heather pointed out that she would have our last name and that seemed to rock her world.  She became very tearful and despondent.  We think she realized that this time at Habitation Hatt was not just a vacation but that she would eventually leave Haiti.

We ate at the restaurant for most meals.  Ian at french toast for every breakfast and chicken for every lunch and dinner we were there.  (He's a creature of routine, remember?).  The rest of us also ate a lot of french toast, beans and rice, and Haitian coffee.  It was wonderful.

We were able to visit with Maxo, a vendor outside of the gates.  His wife roasts some wonderful coffee.  We brought a supply home for the upcoming months.  When I saw him, he hugged me tightly and said, "how are you my brother."  It left me wondering, why do to clerks at Walmart not hug me?

Grace was loved by all.  She brought about a dozen dresses she had made for the little girls which were very well received.  She received monetary gifts to make many more.  When we were flying out of Haiti, I asked her if she was ready to go home, and she replied "this is home."

Ian did very well.  There was much less whining about boredom on the whole than there normally is.  He enjoyed wrestling with Vlad.  He enjoyed watching movies with him.  We have to get him to the point where he does not refer to Vlad as his "little brother".  They are only eight month apart, even if they are much different in size. 

Much like in the U.S., people in Haiti were drawn to Tessa.  She was very good at making friends with everyone.  The little girls adopted her quickly into their group.  She also hung out with all of the other adopting parents and if we couldn't quickly find her, there was a good chance she was sitting on someones lap.  She also loved the water.  We had her in a life jacket and she would just float for hours like a neglected pool toy.  On the last day we were there, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say she floated alone for six hours. 

On Wednesday, we volunteered at the orphanage.  I painted some bunk beds. Grace helped sort clothes.  Heather rocked babies.  About midway through the day, our children's birth mother arrived and we were able to meet her for the first time.  It was wonderful to make that connection and see how Yoldine and Vladimy responded to her and to us while we were there.  We were able to ask her questions and she was able to ask questions of us.  I think this was an important milestone.

On Sunday, our final day, Jude and James arrived.  We are acquainted with these young men through friends from church.  Jude and James were at Servants of All Ministries, an orphanage in Grand Goave Haiti until they reached a certain age.  Now, Jude lives with some friends in Grand Goave and James lives in Petionville with his brother.  Jude was in the U.S. earlier this year receiving treatment for lymphoma.  Heather and the kids were able to meet him then.  Jude is dealing with a lot of back pain, so if you could be praying for him, that would be very much appreciated. They stayed the night with us.  Our friend Tom had sent some things with us for them, and we also filled Jude's backpack with food and medicine we had brought.

Another interesting even occurred.  I had been reading the book "Thinking About God" by Gregory Ganssle over the week.  I set it on the counter when I went to purchase a soda and the desk clerk, a young man named Ricardo, asked about the book and if I was a Christian.  I told him that I am a Christian and told him a little about the book.  He asked if he could review it before I left.  I gave it to him and before we left he had read the first chapter and discussed it with me.  As much as I want that book on my shelf, I wanted him to have the opportunity to read more about God.

The return to the U.S. was pretty much a comedy of errors.  When we arrived at the airport, as always, there are people offering to help with bags...for a fee.  One man insisted that he worked with our driver, Jackson, and that he was an employee of the airport.  He then carried 2 bags 20 feet and insisted I give him $20.  I was irritated, to say the least.  We got our tickets and our bag caught on the pants of an employee.  I think they must have ripped.  We flew back in to Miami and while Heather and Grace were getting some food, we almost missed our boarding, but we made it.  Then, flying back into Chicago, Heather threw up on the plane and then Tessa did too--all over her self and her plane seat.  We landed, got Heather's wheelchair (she broke her leg about a month before our trip) and went to collect our bags.  Ian dropped a can of soda that exploded all over the floor and the woman pushing the wheelchair.  We got our stuff, got to the hotel and crashed.  Yesterday, we drove back to Eau Claire.  About 10 minutes outside of town, Ian asked "how much longer, because I really have to pee."  I explained that it was about 10 minutes to home.  That was fine, but about 2 miles from home he said "never mind."  I asked, "did you pee?" He responded, "a lot."  I couldn't stop laughing.

And so we are back from trip two.  I pray that Yoldine and Vladimy are on the return trip next time, but I don't know what God's plans are.  Be praying with us.

19 May 2012

How to backslide

Tim Challies reflects on John Bunyan, showing how to backslide in the Christian life in just 9 steps. 

Step 1: Stop meditating on the gospel. “They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.”

Read the rest here.

18 May 2012

Joseph's Reunion

I have been thinking a lot about Joseph.  In my personal devotions, I just finished Genesis this morning, so I read about him and his family every day. We also just finished walking through this story in our family devotions, so it has been doubly-considered.

You probably know the story.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was accused of a crime he did not commit and was sent to prison. He was released when he interpreted Pharaoh's dreams. In fact, Pharaoh promoted him right to second-from-the-top in the kingdom. Famine started as Joseph had predicted.  Joseph's brothers, 10 of them anyway, heard there was food in Egypt, so they went to see if they could get something to feed their families. Joseph recognized them, but did not reveal himself. He gave them food and sent them on their way. He wanted his whole family together.  Eventually, a reluctant Joseph (Genesis 46:2-4) agrees to go down to Egypt with the rest of his family to meet with Joseph. 

So Israel takes all of his family and goes to Egypt. "He (Israel) had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while.” (Genesis 46:28-29). Joseph's family had been broken for years. Each member of the family went on and yet they were incomplete.  Now, by God's sovereign hand, they were all together again and Joseph wept cried tears of joy. 

Sometimes, as life's circumstances change, I understand Scripture on a deeper level.  Scripture interprets me differently. I have undoubtedly read this passage many times, and this was the first time I was struck by the emotion wrapped up in reunion.  In less than three days, my whole family will be together for the first time. We will have all five children under one roof.  I don't know that I will weep, but I have become emotional just thinking about it. I have a sense of Joseph's feelings.

We live in a world marred by sin.  Churches are broken. Families are broken. Individuals are broken.  Christ came to repair the brokenness and at the end of days, all will be restored. 

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed"-Revelation 21:9-12

An Ethical Paedia, Not an Ethics Manual

Peter Leithart writing at First Things writes, "Treating Scripture as a directory of moral lessons or compendium of moral rules assumes a constricted view of moral practice and reasoning. We don’t pursue virtue simply by applying general principles to particular situations, and true morality is never simply obedience to commandments. Practical morality requires the ability to assess situations accurately, memory of our own past patterns of action and of others’ inspiring examples, and enough moral imagination to see how a potential tragedy might become the birthplace of unforeseen comedy.

"Scripture is ethical paedeia, not an ethics manual. All Scripture is practical because God breathed all of it to form people, both individuals and community. God tells stories to stock our memory with a common moral past that projects his people into the future. God’s word expands our imagination to grasp more of what’s really there and to envision what might be there in the future. The Bible is useful because it opens our eyes, and because it’s highly impractical to walk through life with our eyes closed."

May we all learn to understand Scripture from a historical-redemptive viewpoint, rather than a series of unrelated tales of adventure teaching us how to be better people.

Read the rest here

17 May 2012

Race and Routine Traffic Stops

Ken Jones, who is a regular on The White Horse Inn, a radio show that I love, recently observed a traffic stop outside of his church. A car was directed into the parking lot and a young African-American man was taken from the car and patted down. The police man searched the young man's car. Pastor Jones went outside to take a closer look. He asked the officer if everything was alright and the officer told him that yes, everything was fine and that it was just a "routine" traffic stop. 

As a young man, I was pulled over many times for many stupid behaviors. I was never patted down.  My car was never searched.  Routine means different things to me and this young man.

Jones writes, "In far too many instances when young black males are involved this is 'the routine.' I recalled incidents from my youth in South Central Los Angeles, where standing on the street with two or three friends would prompt a U-turn from law enforcement passing by. We would be told by these officers of the law that we were gang members (when we weren’t); that we matched the description of perpetrators of some crime in the area, or they were sure we were on our way to no good. That was 'routine.' It was also routine, when I started driving, to be pulled over and detained for up to an hour. When my son came of age it was also routine for him to be detained on his way home from his university job for similar periods of time. There seems to be something suspicious about young African males that warrants re-defining 'routine' when dealing with them."

Raising sons is hard.  Soon, I will have two sons--one white, one black. I pray for wisdom to help my sons navigate these difficult waters. 

Read the rest here

16 May 2012

Don't Judge Me

I think that Matthew 7:1--Judge not that ye not be judged--is one of the most misused, misunderstood passages in all of Scripture. It seems to be the verse that nonbelievers know best.  I don't think they understand what it means. I don't think many Christians fully understand either, myself included. I found Joel Onyshuk's statement, "Almost every time someone tries to use Matthew 7:1, it is usually in defense of a clearly sinful act" to be very true in my experience hearing the verse.

Joel Onyshuk writes, "The apologist missionary preacher, Paul Washer, makes the bold statement in response to those who wrongly utilize this passage, saying, 'Twist not Scripture lest ye be like the devil.' Whoa. Is he taking that too far? Or is he on to something?

"Let me be very clear: Matthew 7:1 does not support, in any way, the idea that Christians are not allowed to make any sort of judgments as to the rightness or wrongness of an act or circumstance. Ironically enough, merely saying that it is wrong to pass judgment on someone else is itself an act of judgment!"

"So what did Jesus really mean, then? How can we know what he meant by such a strong command?" 
Read the rest here.  Also, I would be curious what your reactions are to this.  Have you heard this verse used before? 

Doubt, Skepticism, and Questions

Barnabas Piper, writing for World Magazine, differentiates between doubt and skepticism.

He writes, "For many Christians, someone who questions everything is already a skeptic. Questioning is seen as a mark of unbelief. There’s a fine line, though, between being someone who questions and being someone who refuses to believe any answers—a true skeptic.

"In fact, I don’t think many skeptics actually question anything. They may phrase their challenges as questions, but their heart is set on rejection and disproving, not asking. To truly question something is to query it and to ask about it for the sake of greater and deeper understanding. This may lead to evidence that disproves or to propositions worthy of rejecting, but the heart behind it is to learn, to know."

Read the rest here.  

15 May 2012

Praying the Scriptures

Scotty Smith writes about praying the Scriptures.  He writes,

Praying the Scriptures requires us first to be in the Scriptures regularly, preferably daily. A “diligent use of the means of grace” doesn’t earn us anything, but it profits us in every way. We can’t hide the Word in our hearts if we’re not lingering in the Bible’s pages. Personally, the best time for me to meet with God in an unrushed, expectant way is early in the morning, but we’re all wired differently.

Jack Miller, my spiritual dad and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, taught me the importance of reading through the whole Bible while at the same time having a smaller portion of Scripture read me. If we aren’t careful, we can read the Scriptures for information and inspiration while playing dodgeball with our calling to transformation. Having the Scriptures “read me” deepens my prayer life because it exposes my sin, reveals Jesus, and makes me hunger and thirst for more of the gospel.

As Martin Luther said, we need the gospel every day because we forget the gospel every day. There’s nothing like knowing our need for Jesus to cure us of gospel amnesia. Nothing will so enflame our hearts like a fresh experience of God’s grace for our current needs. Reading the Bible and having the Bible read me constantly convinces me of this: there’s nothing more than the gospel, there’s just more of the gospel.

Read the Scriptures every day and allow the Scriptures to read you.

I would commend the whole thing here

14 May 2012

12 Signs of the Truly Repentant

Jared Wilson shares 12 signs of someone who is truly repentant. 

1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it, and further, we demonstrate “godly sorrow,” which is to say, a grief chiefly about the sin itself, not just a grief about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of sin.

2. We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.  (I would add on this one that I believe there are occasions when a person can be repentant even after having been "caught" as it were). 

3. If found out, we confess immediately or very soon after and “come clean,” rather than having to have the full truth pulled from us. Real repentance is typically accompanied by transparency.

4. We have a willingness and eagerness to make amends. We will do whatever it takes to make things right and to demonstrate we have changed.

5. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized, spending as much time as is required listening to them without jumping to defend ourselves.

6. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized as they process their hurt, and we don’t pressure them or “guilt” them into forgiving us.

7. We are willing to confess our sin even in the face of serious consequences (including undergoing church discipline, having to go to jail, or having a spouse leave us).

8. We may grieve the consequences of our sin but we do not bristle under them or resent them. We understand that sometimes our sin causes great damage to others that is not healed in the short term (or perhaps ever).

9. If our sin involves addiction or a pattern of behavior, we do not neglect to seek help with a counselor, a solid twelve-step program, or even a rehabilitation center.

10. We don’t resent accountability, pastoral rebuke, or church discipline.

11. We seek our comfort in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not simply in being free of the consequences of our sin.

12. We are humble and teachable.

Read the rest here: How Do You Know When Someone Is Repentant?: 12 Signs

Adoption: The New Math

(-2)+2 = a fraction of the whole

In a week, we are returning to Haiti for the second time in three months. When we went in February, Heather and I took Grace with us, but Ian and Tessa stayed behind. Though meeting Yoldine and Vladimy brought me joy, it was still not quite right.  Trading time with two of our children for time with two others left me feeling incomplete. On this trip, we are all going.

7 + 7 + 7 = 1 + 1 + 1

In 7 days 7 people--Papa and Mama, Laura Grace, Yoldine, Ian, Vladimy, and Tessa Faith--will be together for 7 days.

1 Family in 1 Place at 1 Time.

We will be able to play together, read together, eat together, rest together, swim together, and pray together. In other words, we get to be a family together--a glimpse of the future when they finally come home.  

Rearranging Chairs on an Upsidedown Ship

It used to be okay to discuss matters of significant, even ultimate, consequence.  It was even encouraged. People in all stages of life would ardently defend their beliefs about Truth. People sharpened one another with argument.  Though they may have had hobbies and individual interests, these were secondary to topics of real concern. 

Postmodern relativism and tolerance have turned this upside down. Now, it is acceptable, even encouraged, to hold strong positions about inconsequential matters.  People now become animated over the best football team, American Idol performer, or television show.  Men cry when their favorite soccer team loses, but they lose little sleep over matters of eternal consequence.  At a marriage conference this weekend, one of the speakers told us that when the Packers lose, the incidence of domestic violence increases markedly in Green Bay.

But people do not discuss issues of eternal consequence, at least not in any truly thoughtful matter.  When unbelievers are challenged to examine Christianity, they show a feigned indifference or outright discomfort, trying to figure out the quickest way to stop discussing religion.  GK Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." I would take it a step further in today's society. Christianity has not even been found because people are not looking for it. To quote another British thinker, Winston Churchill said, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened."

I find this trend curious. It will not ultimately matter in 100 years who wins the next presidential election, who wins American Idol, or which team wins the World Series this year. The question posed by Jesus, "who do you say that I am?" (potentially--I say potentially for the sake of this argument) has eternal significance. 

Isn't it worth at least exploring? 

12 May 2012

We come dirty

A few times recently, I have been struck by how badly my son Ian smells.  He is an active little boy who really doesn't like to shower unless forced, so I should not be surprised. With considerable goading, I can eventually convince him that he needs to get clean, but even then, he must be reminded that he actually needs to use the soap on his body, that it doesn't transfer to him by osmosis or wishful thinking.  He does not know he is dirty so he sees no need to be cleaned.

But I am his dad. I desire better for him. Because I love him, I want what is best. Part of parental training is showing a better way.  To be clear, I do not love him because he cleans up, I help him to clean up because I love him.

The Christian faith is in many regards the same way. 1 John 1:5-2:1 reads, "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

We are like Ian before coming to Christ. We do not know how dirty we are.  Unfortunately, some Christians and churches downplay sin.  They do not boldly proclaim what God's word actually says.  They do not want to offend people, so they do not talk about things like sin and disobedience.  They preach an anti-gospel that says, "you don't need to change. Life is about you. Whatever tastes, wishes, and desires you might possess are true and good and right. God would never judge you."  They never talk about sin, so people see no need for a Savior.

Don't be mistaken, the opposite approach is similarly problematic.  There are some Christians and some churches that downplay grace. All they seem to talk about is sin, without ever walking people to the cross.  They expect people to clean themselves up before they are allowed through the doors.  The message seems to be "we want perfect people and if you are not perfect, we (i.e., us and God) don't want you."  Even though they always talk about sin, their view of the cross is too small.

The Old and New Testaments specifically name dozens, perhaps hundreds of specific sins--sexual immorality, covetousness, homosexuality, lying, slander, theft, pride--and many, many more.  At their core, they all come down to placing ourselves on the throne instead of God. We live out the lie that the universe revolves around us rather than Him.  All of us, ALL OF US, have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Michael Horton wrote yesterday, "Paul’s point in Romans 1-3 is to sweep the whole world—Jew and Gentile—into a heap, condemned under the law, in order to announce that Christ is the Savior of all, Jew and Gentile, and justifies the ungodly who trust in him. We are all called to repent—lifelong repentance, in fact. In this, as in everything, we fall short; our imperfect repentance would be enough to condemn us if we weren’t clothed in Christ’s righteousness. However, to repent is to acknowledge that God is right and we are wrong—on the specifics of precisely where we want to assert our sovereignty."

We are all dirty right down to the core of our being.  But we cannot be cleansed unless we know that we are dirty.  Jesus came to clean the dirty. "For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins." (Leviticus 16:30)

11 May 2012

Aesop's Fable Approach to the Bible

I don't do much with regard to student ministry, but I am interested in how younger people approach the church and Christianity.  Alvin Reid at Between the Times writes in some detail about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a term popularized by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. 

Reid writes, "Unfortunately, many churches have taught the Bible to children and youth not as a book with one central, redemptive message, but as a collection of stories and morals with the gospel as the key story. Moralistic therapeutic deism is 'moralistic,' because its focus is behavior modification. Acting right subtly becomes more important than believing right. It is 'therapeutic,' for it focuses on surface change, turning the Bible into a counseling manual more than the revelation of God. It is 'deistic,' because it does not require a God who is intimately involved in all of Creation and in all aspects of our lives, but who generally exists to bring us happiness and most specifically in our spiritual lives.

"I call it the Aesop’s Fable approach to the Bible. It is ironically a 'moral failure,' for by focusing on morality too much we actually hinder students from seeing the lifelong, holistic implications of their faith. Motivation for serving God stems more from changing our behavior than from living a life of radical faith. Such extrinsic motivation will actually work on the short term: show students how sex before marriage will lead to guilt and disease, for instance, or show them how lying will cost them friendships, and they will abstain from these sins, at least for a season. But if moral change becomes the primary focus of our faith, the long-term obedience we seek may actually be the one thing we will not see." 

Later, he follows with, "The practical result of turning the Bible into a series of moral truths is to assume the gospel and to minimize its role in our lives. We move the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the category of 'lost person only,' so that the gospel is for unbelievers, not believers. So we have our mega-youth events and we share the gospel (or often tack it on at the end) at these, but we do not teach the impact of the gospel for the believer and the redemptive story of God in all of the Bible and thus its impact on all of life. Thus, students grow up in church, learn a lot of stories, and are destroyed in one semester of Intro to Philosophy when they go off to college. They never got the border of the puzzle of life by understanding the mission of God; they simply got practical stories on how to deal with certain felt needs, and they got their eternal destiny taken care of, or so they think. Many become the dechurched—those who grow up in the church but walk away when away from the familiar (family, home church, etc). Others limp their way through life spiritually, never getting the great plan of God for creation and for their lives."

We cannot afford to give our children a weak or inaccurate Gospel.  Read the rest here

10 May 2012

Wisdom before piling on

I read a lot.  I follow more than a hundred blogs on a daily basis, most loosely related to theology, but some related to other topics such as weight loss or humor or weight loss and humor.  Every morning, after my quiet time, I skim through about 40 articles.  I do that again over my lunch hour and in the evening.  All told, I probably read (i.e., skim) between 150 and 200 articles every day.  Perhaps 5-10% of them I read in greater depth.  I also read a book or two a week and listen to a few hours of lectures/podcasts most weeks.  On the whole, I believe these resources serve for my edification.  Yet, I have discovered dangers as well.  I have learned that I need to not inappropriately elevate the status of someone I am reading and also to take with a grain of of salt what they share. 

One of the dangers is a tendency to put writers on a pedestal whom I do not really know.  I may be edified by their seemingly fine teaching, but I know nothing of their lives. Though the qualifications for an overseer mandate the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3), there are also several requirements that I could not know about without knowing these teachers personally. For example, overseers are not to be quarrelsome.  They are not to be puffed up with conceit.  I could not truly know these things only from reading their blog posts or books.  I spend a lot of time with the elders in my church.  I know in a much richer way how their lives match up with these qualifications.

A tangentially related danger is that some leaders and churches come under attack on these blogs.  These publicly aired criticisms then lead to a pile on effect with people who have no knowledge of the person or situation adding fuel to the flame.  Doubtless, I have participated in the criticisms. At least two fairly visible churches that I know of on the national level have, in the past year, been accused by former members of abusive practices.  I honestly don't know the truth of what happened in either of these situations.  What I do know is that in at least one case, a former member of a well known church was facing discipline and used his blog as a pulpit.  The story was picked up by the national media and the church has come under attack as fundamentalist and abusive.  From what I know of the church, they are most assuredly not fundamentalist, but that is a defense they will need to mount. 

I don't know the details of what happened in these situations.  I also don't know what happens in countless others around the country who do not hit the national spot light.  I do know that I need to confess my tendency to jump on the bandwagon in the past.  Too often, when I read these stories, I develop a critical spirit.  The typical pattern that will happen is as follows:  1) I read something on a blog about some Christian leader who may have said something off base or seemingly heretical, 2) I ask my pastors what they make of said questionable behavior, 3) my pastors respond with "it is really hard to know what Accused Pastor really meant or said without talking to him", and finally 4) I feel foolish.  Why do I feel foolish?  Because I don't personally know the men who are being accused of some thing or another. Nor do I know the writer who brought the concern to light. 

There are so many details that take place in cases of church discipline or disagreements within local bodies that people on the outside know nothing about.  As I have reflected on this, I have wondered how often I have judged church leaders and pastors that I do not know based on a handful of unconfirmed facts.  How often have I judged those who may have been abused by churches where I do not know the details? 

I think we can learn a lot from writers outside of our local church bodies.  I think teachers we will never meet this side of heaven can edify us and encourage us with their writings.  But we always need to remember that we don't know them in the same way that we know the people we go to church with.  It is akin to thinking you are actually close friends with everybody who follows you on Twitter or Facebook.  When individuals we don't know offer criticisms of others, we need to be especially careful because we do not have all of the facts.  Proverbs 18:17 says, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." In other words, when people or groups share directly or indirectly all of the wrong perpetuated upon them by others, do not rush to judgment. In fact, if you do not know the accused, it is best to stay judgment indefinitely.

Walking into an adult bookstore

Jared Wilson writes today about walking into an adult bookstore--of walking deeper into sexual sin--for the first time.  His description is so unbelievably accurate, I almost shiver.  I agree with every word he writes. 

He begins,

Is it an orientation? Or a choice?

I remember walking into an adult bookstore for the first time. (This was before high speed internet connections were common and you could get the crack delivered to your home in 5 seconds or less.) I wanted to be there; and yet I didn’t. I was trembling inside and a little bit outside. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it. I was driven there by a compulsion — to see things I shouldn’t see, to get things I shouldn’t have, to know things I shouldn’t know. There are sections inside an adult video store; I hope you didn’t know that. Some repulsed me. Can you imagine that? Walking around a porno store and avoiding the “gross” stuff? As if it wasn’t all disgusting? I knew I should not have been there but I wanted to be. Everything inside of me said it was wrong, and everything inside of me said it would be okay. Just push through, get what you want, and get out.

Before you become numb to this battle and stop fighting it you must go through it. Was I in that store by my orientation? Absolutely. Was I in that store by my choice? Yes.

You can read the rest here, if you wish. 

Do you live in an intellectual ghost town?

"While the vast majority of Americans believe in a God, few have well-articulated worldviews. This is revealed in poll after poll showing that high percentages of Americans both (1) believe in God and (2) are moral relativists. This means that God, the ultimate reality in any theistic worldview, has nothing to say about the conduct of one's life. This mass of Christian worldview underachievers includes professing evangelical Christians. A 2003 Barna poll (often the harbinger of grim news, it seems) reported that only 12 percent of evangelicals knew what a worldview is or could provide a proper definition for one. A scant 4 percent said they should know anything about the concept. Added to this are repeated polls indicating massive biblical illiteracy, which may at least partially account for the dearth of evangelical influence in the world of ideas. Many Christians live in an intellectual ghost town and possess ghost minds. They may know something of a rich (but lost) intellectual heritage and be able to point to a few intellectuals "on our side" (like C.S. Lewis), but they have not attuned themselves to the cultivation of their inner map of reality." -Doug Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, pages 77-78.

Based upon my experiences in talking with people, this seems to be an accurate statement.  Many believers, even those beyond nominal faith, lack the ability to clearly articulate and ardently defend a consistent worldview, in some ways because they eschew deep thinking as unnecessary and they don't know what their Bibles say. 

07 May 2012

Vomit in my hair

Once you get the uncontrolled giggles out of the way regarding my lack of hair, please read on.  

So many of us clean ourselves up for public showing.  We hide who we really are because we are embarrassed, or afraid of being judged by others.  I have done so many things in my life that I am mortified about.  I have sinned deeply against my wife and children, even long after becoming a Christian.  Even in those times when I have tell myself I should have it together, I have been a moral wreck.  I get too angry with my family.  My thoughts and actions have too often been impure. I judge others even when wallowing in my own sinfulness. I try to pull myself up by my bootstraps, only to slip and fall again. 

C. Michael Patton has a great post today, one that in many regards mirrors my recent feelings. Near the beginning, he quotes Chuck Swindoll, "If you really knew me, you would not listen to me. But don’t worry. If I really knew you, I would not let you in this church.” He goes on to talk about this tendency to want to present ourselves favorably, to cover up our messiness.  He discusses a scene from the TV show Breaking Bad when a father, who had cancer, broke down in front of his son apologizing for the way he was the previous night.  He had vomit in his hair.  His son said, "No. I want to remember you exactly the way you were last night. It was the first time you were real."

May we all be like the tax collector in Jesus' story about the Pharisee and the tax collector.  May our cry be "God have mercy on me a sinner" and not "God I thank you that I am not like other men." (Luke 18:10-14).

God forgives those who sin.  He really does.  But first, you need to admit you are a sinner.

Book Review: The Cross of Christ

John Stott, one of the statesman of evangelicalism, died last year. His classic work, The Cross of Christ (1986/2006) had been sitting on my shelf for a while.  I thought it was probably time to read this book, which is invariably considered a classic among most who have read it. 

The book is a wide ranging, yet theological rich treatment of the Cross.  Stott begins by addressing why the Cross is central to Christianity.  Indeed, it strikes many as odd that an instrument of execution and torture would be the central symbol of Christendom.  But the Cross of Christ is so much more than simply an instrument of torture.

You see, Christ accomplished much on the cross.  He was not just a great example or moral leader (moral influence theory), at his crucifixion, Christ actually died for us.  When he died, he bore the wrath that we deserve so that we might have his righteousness imputed to us--the great exchange. 

I could spend time delving into each of the nuances of the book, but let me simply state that if you have questions about the Cross, this book will almost certainly provide an answer. 

05 May 2012

Book Review: If There is a God, Why Are There Atheists?

In 1974, RC Sproul wrote If There's a God, Why Are There Atheists?  In this book, he set out to address the modernist question of whether modern man has outgrown religion.  He examines the arguments of several thinkers, specifically: Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Sproul begins by defining terms as any good philosopher would do. He demonstrates that humans are incurably religious, but that during the enlightenment, several intellectual trends tried to kill God. He moves on to discuss "reasons for disagreement about objective truth", which include epistimological errors, formal errors in reasoning, factual errors in empirical reasoning, and psychological prejudice that distorts conclusions. I have argued in the past that one of the failings of the modern academy is a lack of sophistication in logic.  I confess that my own doctoral training was woefully inadequate in this regard.  Unfortunately, this lack of philosophical sophistication is combined with a strong scientism and academic arrogance among many today, leading to faulty conclusions about the way things are.  Therefore, a discussion of these potential errors is welcomed in this book. I think psychological prejudices are particularly worth discussing because so many moderns assume others may be prejudiced in their viewpoints while they remain aloof in their objectivity. 

He then briefly lays out the arguments against religion put forward by Freud, Marx, Feuerbach, and Nietzsche as well as addresses their limitations even more briefly.  All of this provides a grounding for the second part of the book that addresses the psychology of unbelief. This second part of the book is where the reader really begins to understand the "psychology of unbelief".  Sproul first discusses the psychology of Romans 1. He notes, "the New Testament maintains that unbelief is generated not so much by intellectual causes as by moral and psychological ones" (p. 57). Using more Freudian concepts, Sproul demonstrates that it is human nature to engage in repression of God and substitution of God with idols.

According to Sproul, humans are incapable of bearing God's holiness, so our tendency is to flee from his presence.  He shows this through several biblical examples--Peter and Isaiah for example. He also discusses the concept of nakedness and how we seek to avoid revealing ourselves to others and to God.  However, I think the argument regarding the human quest for autonomy was the most compelling. Humans do not want to submit to anyone or anything else, yet they fail to realize that they are always slaves to something.  Nietzsche, who was one the strongest proponents for rejecting the Christian God in favor of complete freedom ended up insane.

On the whole, this is a useful, albeit brief, treatment of the psychology of unbelief.  Sproul demonstrates the human defenses that contribute to our rejection of God.  At the end, he writes, "There is no dispute with Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx on the issue of man's ability to create a god according to his own psychological desire or need. This is precisely what biblical Christianity asserts is the case." Yet, will these creations arrive at the God of Christianity?" 

10 most read books

Justin Taylor posted an infographic of the top 10 most read books in the world. First, a qualification--this list comprises the 10 most purchased books over the past 50 years.  We can presume that books purchased correlates with number of books read, but certainly not perfectly so.  For example, I know many people who have purchased a Bible, but many who have never read it (you should, if you have not).  I confess my surprise at some exclusions from the list.  I would have anticipated that the Qur'an and the Bhagavad Gita would have been on the list. I also confess my disgust that The DaVinci Code and the Twilight Saga are on the list. 

If you are interested in my list of must read books, look on the right banner of my blog. 

04 May 2012

Happy Star Wars Day!


Happy Star Wars Day. 

(HT: Koinonia)

Cohabiting associated with higher divorce rates

I have been regularly flummoxed when I hear young people say that they want to live together to make sure that they are compatible.  It runs along the same lines as parents who (unfortunately) tell their children that they should try out several sexual partners to make sure that they are "compatible."  This is frankly not supported. 

In an interesting article in the NY Times, The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage, clinical psychologist Meg Jay discusses "the cohabitation effect".  She writes, "But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect."

Unfortunately, though she hints at caution in cohabitation, she does not suggest people avoid it altogether. Clearly, this article also does not rest upon a covenental view of marriage, which likely strengthens bonds as well.

I would commend the full article to you.  

Staring at the sun

If, at midday, we either look down to the ground, or on surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the earth, is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus, too, it happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect on what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness, will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom, will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy, will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.

-John Calvin, Institutes, 1:38-39

03 May 2012

Book Review: Total Truth

Read this book. 

I wanted to make sure that this important message did not get lost in the remainder of my review, so let me say it again--read this book.  Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey (2004) is an excellent, broad-sweeping, intellectual rich treatment of understanding Christian worldview.  Pearcey has clearly been influenced by Francis Schaeffer, a former mentor of hers, as she discusses philosophy, science, and culture (though influences of Kuyper are present as well).  She employs Schaeffer's upper story/lower story model for understanding culture.  Although I was beginning to understand this information when I read Schaeffer's trilogy, I seem to understand it more deeply after reading Total Truth

Pearcey sets out to encourage Christians to step outside of their private faith and to engage with all of culture.  She rightly points out that a fault of modern evangelicalism is the idea that we focus almost exclusively upon individual souls rather than also seeking to transform culture.  Too often, in the modern Christian church, the Great Commission is about getting people to accept Christ without recognizing that the call to "make disciples" may involve more than indvidual assent to the truths of Christianity. 

Unfortunately, we are losing our young people in the process.  In her introduction, Pearcey writes, "If all we give them is a 'heart' religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a 'brain' religion--training in worldview and apologetics--to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home" (p. 19).  Without a doubt, young people are leaving the church.  Without a doubt, parents often feel ill-equipped to answer tough questions about the relevance of Christianity for the modern world.  Yet I still discover that when I talk with fellow believers about the importance of developing the Christian mind, too many assume it will be too difficult or worse that it is unnecessary. 

Pearcey spends her time showing her readers how our views of science, religion, philosophy, and humanity have gradually morphed.  Both theists and non-theists seem unaware of how subtle historic shifts are often the impetus for the culture we currently see.  Her twelfth chapter, "How Women Started the Culture War" is an excellent example of how this change has taken place.  She unfolds how during colonial times, families worked together.  Fathers were involved in child rearing and mothers were involved in the family business.  With the advent of the industrial revolution, things gradually began to change in the church and in the home.  She identifies the root causes of the feminization of Christianity and the impact it has had upon men in the church.  In other words, there are fewer and fewer men because of these 18th and 19th century culture shifts.  She writes, "the truth is that men will be drawn back into family life only when they are convinced that being a good husband and father is a manly thing to do; that parental duty and sacrifice are masculine virtues; that marital love and fidelity are not female standards imposed upon men externally, but an integral part of the male character--something inherent and original, created by God" (p. 343).  The way she presents this chapter does not degrade men or women, but seems to call us back to more of what God had intended.

On the whole, I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.  She addresses science, evolution, education, and a host of other topics with intellectual rigor and engaging prose.  Everyone should read this book.  5 stars. 

02 May 2012

Hearing the voice of God

I have recently been dialoging with someone who is trying to make a decision and she is getting mixed advice from genuine Christians. One piece of advice that seems to be regularly offered is that she should not act unless she hears the voice of God or receives a clear message of direction from Him. She feels frozen. 

I have regularly disagreed with that viewpoint. I do not believe it is normative for the Christian to hear the voice of God when facing a decision. Indeed, I believe there are some Christians who will go through their entire lives without one of these clearly supernatural messages. Yet we need to continue to make decisions as Christians.  How do we do so? 

I generally agree with what Greg Koukl and Kevin DeYoung teach on this issue.  God can, and occasionally, does seem to speak in supernatural ways, but that the normative way of action for the Christian is to use the wisdom model. We seek to know Scripture and apply it to our lives as we make decisions rather than waiting for God's "still, small voice." 

Greg Koukl received a note from a listener asking him to respond to the notion of hearing God's voice.  You can read the whole thing here, and I would encourage you to do so, but I want to draw your attention to this section.  Greg writes,

Here is my view. Does the Bible teach that we must learn to discern the voice of the Lord individually for ourselves to live optimal Christian lives? Does the Bible teach we must learn to discern the voice of the Lord individually for ourselves in order to live optimally as Christians? The answer is no it does not teach that. So when someone teaches that you hear the voice of the Lord individually for yourself for optimal Christian living as a Christian discipline, this is not a Biblical discipline, ladies and gentlemen. It is not in there. Are there incidents of God speaking? Yes, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the discipline of learning to discern the voice of the Lord for myself to live optimally as a Christian. It's not there.

Does the Bible teach that we are to seek this kind of guidance? The answer is no. It does not teach that we are seek this kind of guidance. Does the Bible teach that we are to expect this kind of guidance? Again the answer is no. And since the Bible doesn't teach that we have to learn this skill, since it doesn't teach that we are to seek this kind of guidance, since it doesn't teach that we are to expect this kind of guidance, then I don't know what all the folderol is about. Well, yes I do. 

This teaching that God will whisper in your ear all kind of particulars that pertain to you and His will for your life is very appealing to Christians. Even though when you look at the Scriptures, the specialized directions are rare. They are unusual. They are usually unsought. And they are always crystal clear. None of this "I think the Lord is telling me" business. People are still gravitating to the suggestion that we can develop a sixth sense that can tie us into a hotline to God so that we can have certitude about the things of life and the decisions we ought to make. Why is this appealing? Because it's easy. It's easy. You know Americans are given to quick fixes and this is the American Christian quick fix. We are also given to individualism and this is the American individualistic view of Christianity--guidance decision making. It fits the American mentality, not the Biblical mentality, not the Christian mentality, the American mentality. And that's why this point of view is distinctly American. It's a quick fix. It's an easy way out. It's kind of like Cliff Notes, only worse. 

This is a hard area for many Christians. If this is an area you struggle with, I would encourage you to get Koukl's teaching on this issue here.  Or buy Kevin DeYoung's book, Just Do Something, here.