Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Love Lustres at Calvary, from Valley of Vision

MY FATHER,
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips,
supply words that proclaim ‘Love lustres at Calvary.’

There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son,

made a transgressor, a curse,
and sin for me;

There the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;

There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,

cast off that I might be brought in,

trodden down as an enemy
that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst
that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed,

wounded that I might be healed,

athirst that I might drink,

tormented that I might be comforted,

made a shame that I might inherit glory
,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,

endured all pain that I might have unfading health,

bore a thornèd crown that I might have a
glory-diadem (crown),
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on
unclouded brightness,
expired that I might forever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,

All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;

Help me to adore thee by lips and life.

O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,

my every step buoyant with delight,
as I see
my enemies crushed,
Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,

sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,

hell’s gates closed, heaven’s portal open.

Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross,
mighty to subdue, comfort and save.

Interesting Interview with D.G. Hart

I really appreciate D.G. Hart. I don't always agree with him. Sometimes I don't even understand him. But he always makes me think - think about my assumptions about God, about salvation and about the church especially. His books The Lost Soul of American Protestantism and Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham are thought provoking and require at least one read if not two or three. This interview by Mark Dever of D.G. Hart is really interesting - in particular Hart's discussion of conversion (is it necessary?), evangelicalism ("If American Protestants had been more confessional than Pietist, their temporary home may have turned more quickly secular, but their churches may also have remained more noticeably religious"), as well as John Nevin/Philip Schaaf and the Mercersburg Theology (a topic I'll be writing a paper on him May/June. I think there's interesting connections between Nevin and paleo-orthodoxy of Oden as well as the theonomy movement. Cant' wait to listen now, can you?).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Particular Atonement is Precious

How our ideas shift is often amusing. I remember writing my personal doctrinal statement heading into seminary and writing that the doctrine of a 'limited atonement' (the doctrine that Christ died for the elect and only the elect) was repugnant. Now, I find it precious. Precious, not because it's limited, but because it's particular and efficacious in a way that an unlimited atonement is not, in fact, cannot be. (I do hope this post is received not as an attempt to criticize those who disagree, but as a celebration of something I find precious).

The doctrine of particular redemption or limited atonement (the 'L' in TULIP) is sometimes misconstrued. As someone who believes that Christ died for the church (and only the church) I still believe Christ's sacrifice would have been enough to cover ever single soul that has ever or will ever live, if it had been intended to. There is no limitation of the sufficiency of Christ's cross work. Moreover, I do believe that while only the elect benefit salvifically from the death of Christ, even the nonelect benefit in non-salvific ways. Robert Reymond in his A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith 2nd Edition - Revised And Updated lists two such benefits, 1) by virtue of its universal saving sufficiency, [Christ's atoning death] grounds the legitimacy of preaching the gospel to every man, woman, and child without discrimination", and 2) quoting Roger Nicole, "It has justified the long forbearance of God with mankind and therefore given perhaps a new impetus for this forbearance. There is a reprieve for mankind at large which is the result of the work of Jesus Christ."

Let me explain the logic of why I love the doctrine of particular redemption, and I'll try to throw in some historical quotes as well. First, I love it because it preserves the justice of God. Second, I love it because I know it's effective, not just potential (or another way to say it, I love it because it's less limited than the 'unlimited atonement' of Arminius and Wesley). Third, I love it because it preserves the beautiful harmony of the Godhead. Fourth, I love it because I believe it to be biblical.

My first is ably articulated by the Puritan John Owen. He writes:

“God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either:

1. All the sins of all men, or
2. All the sins of some men, or
3. Some sins of all men"

Position one is the position of most who hold to a universal/unlimited atonement. Owen unpacks what that means:

"If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?" (Ps. 130:3).

If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not [die for that sin of unbelief], then he did not die for all their sins.” (The Works of John Owen: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: Book 1, Chapter 3, Originally published in 1650).

As Owen points out, option one, that Christ died for "all the sins of all men," is fine if you are a universalist. But, if you believe that some will suffer the consequences of their sin in hell, you must ask and answer 'Why?'. Didn't Jesus already suffer for their sins? Is it just for God to punish the same sins twice - once in his Son on the cross and again for eternity in hell? Some may argue, as Owen anticipated, that the gift of forgiveness and redemption must be received. Owen would answer, "Is rejecting the gift a sin? If so, is it covered by the blood of Christ or not? If so, than why would the person who rejects the gift be punished? If not, then Christ did not die for all the sins of all the people, merely some of the sins of all the people. Where is hope then?"

Second, I love it because I know that my purchase/redemption was effective, not just potential. As C.H. Spurgeon preached, "I would rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than a universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of men be added to it." (Charles Spurgeon, Sermons, Vol. 4, p. 70). As Spurgeon points out, an unlimited atonement may be unlimited in scope but it is very limited as to efficacy. In the end, it becomes entirely dependent upon man's decision, so that man would have something to boast in. In the end, an 'unlimited atonement' ends up being much more limited.

"We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it, we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, "No, certainly not." We ask them the next question-Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They say, "No." They are obliged to admit this if they are consistent. They say, "No; Christ has died so that any man may be saved if"-and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say then, we will just go back to the old statement-Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say "No;" you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why you... We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ's death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it." (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon 181, New Park Street Pulpit, IV, p. 135)

So I love the doctrine of a particular redemption because it really means 'God saves', period. God's salvation is not just potential, but actual (1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:23).

Third, I love it because it preserves the beautiful harmony of the Godhead. Robert Reymond writes,

"It is unthinkable, because of the essential and teleological unity of the Godhead, to suppose that Christ's sacrificial work would conflict with the overall salvific intention of the Father in any way. Christ himself declared that he had come to do the will of the Father (Mat. 26:39; John 6:38; Heb. 10:7)...[Scripture] expressly represent the Father's salvific will and work (for example, foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifiying, glorifying) as particular and definite with regard to their objects (see the many passages which declare that God the Father, before the foundation of the world, chose certain persons in Christ unto salvation, such as Rom. 8:28-33; Rom. 9:11-23; Rom. 11:6-7, 28; Eph. 1:4-5, 11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9)."

If, as I believe, God has chosen to save a particular group (the elect), but Christ came and died to save all men universally, then the purposes of the Father and Son would be at odds with each other. That seems to me to be wholly unacceptable. To preserve the unity of the Godhead, and accepting that God has chosen to save a particular group called the elect, it follows that Jesus died then to save the same group. Again, that's not to limit the sufficiency of his sacrifice. Instead it speaks to the intent of it. The Father purposed to save the elect and so sent his Son; the Son accomplished his Father's will and died an atoning death for the elect; the Spirit applies that work to the elect and they are saved!

Fourth, I love the doctrine of the particular atonement because I believe it to be biblical. There are many passages that speak of Jesus dying 'for many' (Matthew 20:28; Isaiah 53:11-12, etc.), as well as those that speak of Jesus dying 'for the church' (Eph 5:23-26) and 'the elect' (Rom 8:32-34). Admittedly, there are those passages that speak of 'the world' or 'all'. The key isn't picking one strand of texts, but of coming to a interpretation that accommodates both lines. For me, I believe the passages that refer to 'the world' or 'all', mean 'all kinds of people' or 'peoples from the world over', not just Jews, but Gentiles as well. Not just kings, but slaves too. Not just men, but also women, etc.

Of all the passages that support the limited intent of Christ's dying work, I think two really stand out. First, John 10 and Jesus words that he would "
lay down my life for the sheep." Reymond writes, "But how does it come about that one is his sheep? By believing on him? Not at all. Jesus said to the Jews, not (as it is often represented): "You are not my sheep because you do not believe," but: "You do not belive because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to [believe] my voice; I know them, and they follow me."

Second, Jesus High Priestly prayer in John 17 is important. He says, "
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours" (John 17:9). Again, in John 17:20, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word." In the words of Reymond, "It is highly unlikely that Christ's high-priestly work of sacrifice and intercession, two parts of one harmonious work, would be carried out with different objects in view."

I leave Edwards with the last word. It may clarify, it may actually confuse. I think it is edifying:

"Universal redemption must be denied in the very sense of Calvinists themselves, whether predestination is acknowledged or no, if we acknowledge that Christ knows all things. For if Christ certainly knows all things to come, he certainly knew, when he died, that there were such and such men that would never be the better for his death. And therefore, it was impossible that he should die with an intent to make them (particular persons) happy. For it is a right-down contradiction [to say that] he died with an intent to make them happy, when at the same time he knew they would not be happy-Predestination or no predestination, it is all one for that. This is all that Calvinists mean when they say that Christ did not die for all, that he did not die intending and designing that such and such particular persons should be the better for it; and that is evident to a demonstration. Now Arminians, when [they] say that Christ died for all, cannot mean, with any sense, that he died for all any otherwise than to give all an opportunity to be saved; and that, Calvinists themselves never denied. He did die for all in this sense; ’tis past all contradiction."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Questions on God's Anger/Wrath

Just before Spring Break I spoke on God's Anger/Wrath at Cru. I was handed a couple of really good questions yesterday from that talk. The student was paying close attention, raised some good questions, and even caught me in what I'd consider a theological misstatement. They gave me permission to post my email response here. Thanks.

First, you asked "If God doesn't change, how can He not be wrathful before and wrathful now (sin was there before us in Lucifer? I am assuming that is a question brought on by my comments that God has not always been nor will he always be wrathful. Wrath/Anger is an expression of his holiness in response to sin. I agree that God has been wrathful as long as sin has been a part of the equation - but sin is not eternal, nor is Lucifer. God existed in perfect, wonderful, blissful, and eternal community with himself before he created anything at all. There was no anger or wrath in this relationship. Lucifer, as a fallen angel, is not eternal but created. Prior to his existence, rather, prior to his sin and fall, there was no reason to be angry or wrathful (and I don't think either of us would want to say that God was angry without reason).

You comment "To say God changes says He could stop loving. That's wrong." I agree with you, that to say God could stop loving is wrong. He has always been loving, will always be loving. Yet, how that love is expressed changes. Again, before sin entered into the equation, God never needed to express his love in mercy. There was no need for mercy before sin, before he created. Did the eternal Son need mercy? Or the Holy Spirit?
What I'm trying to get at is that your impulse is absolutely correct - God's character does not change. He is loving, sovereign and holy. Yet, how these 'core' attributes are expressed changes appropriately given the situation. Will God be angry with me in heaven? No, because I'll be free of sin, having been delivered by the blood of Jesus. Is he angry with me now? At times, when I choose sin over him and spurn the blood of Jesus. That's all I meant.

You comment also on the everlasting nature of hell and make a logical connection between the everlasting of God's anger against those in hell. I think I said something like "God has not always been wrathful, not will he always be wrathful. When sin is eradicated, God's wrath will come to an end." Honestly, I misspoke. We all do that sometimes - that's why I invite people to question me when they don't agree! Sometimes we talk about hell as separation from God. I think that is a mistake. It is separation from God's blessings, kindness, etc. However, the problem for those in hell is that God will be very present, in the fullness of His divine wrath. Sorry to have confused.

Your second question is also a very good one. I said that I don't believe Jesus literally descended into hell between his death and resurrection; instead, I follow those interpreters that understand the phrase in the apostles' creed to refer to his suffering on the cross. Jesus suffered hell for us. Remember above you ably pointed out that hell is about God's wrath. Jesus suffered the wrath of God against sin, having become sin for us.

You say, "I know Jesus did not die a symbolic death to give us symbolic life." Yes and Amen! I fully agree. Jesus death was a real, atoning death, satisfying the wrath of God for all those who are 'in Christ'. The Bible word 'propitiation' is stunning and
sweet. It means he Jesus was a sacrifice that didn't just turn away God's wrath, but a sacrifice that absorbed it on our behalf. The great agony of the cross wasn't the pain of the nails or the spear, it was the pain of God's wrath (something movies like the 'Passion' can never capture). You can hear it when Jesus cries, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" = "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me."

On the same topic you ask, "if he didn't actually go into hell, how did he get the keys?" Another good question. On this, I would remind you that God has always had the keys to heaven and hell. Satan is the 'god' of hell, as though it is his sovereign domain. God is sovereign there - Satan is prisoner. Satan did build the pit, God did. So the keys didn't have to be stolen out of hell, they've always been in the King's hand.

Finally, on this, I would point out that there is little if any evidence that from Scripture that compels us to believe that Jesus spent Saturday in hell. There is a couple of verses in 1 Peter (3:18-20 & 4:4-6) that people have taken to mean that, but I don't think it's good exegesis of the passages (there's a
short article on that by John Piper). The actual phrase "descended into hell" did not appear in any form of the creed until 390AD, and then only in a copy made by Rufinus (and not the one he preserved as official). Even then, it is doubtful Rufinus believed that Jesus descended into hell like we use the phrase, but into the grave (the word Hades can mean hell or grave). It did not again appear in a copy of the creed until 650AD. I hope that helps.

If there are any follow up questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Luther on Christ's Work

This week, in addition to other posts, I'll add a quote/reflection on the cross and it's meaning to help (me) prepare for Good Friday. This is from Luther's Small Catechism. I love the personal nature of it:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

Song(s) of the Week

I think I stumbled upon the Dropkick Murphy's on Pandora, listening to my Rise Against Station. The Dropkick Murphys are an "Irish American Celtic punk/hardcore punk band" and I desperately want to go see them in concert. Roadtrip anyone?



And here's a version of Amazing Grace you'll never hear in church:

Friday, March 26, 2010

The New Karate Kid

Oh, I can't wait to take the boys to this one. I remember seeing the first one with my family. We went home and practiced our karate in the living room. Then I kicked my brother through the window! It wasn't all that dramatic - he didn't go flying through it, but he did break it with his arss and we had to call mom and dad to help him get out (he was stuck half in and half out). Lesson: don't mess with Dan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

abortion: bizarre logic and a long history

The abortion issue has been on the nations mind more recently as a result of the Health Care Bill. I'm glad it's something we are talking about again (doesn't seem we have much since the election). Here's a couple of recent posts on it (followed by some thought from Olasky's Abortion Rites).

I will be the first to admit that I am now completely lost, dazed, and confused when it comes to the Health Care Bill and the political wrangling in Congress (as a disclaimer, I like the idea of universal health care even if my taxes skyrocket. If it's right, do it). The post Final FAQ on Health Care and Abortion, by Matthew Lee Anderson on the First Things website, was helpful in sorting some of it out. Here's his concluding thoughts

"As I’ve argued, the bill as it is funds abortions.

Which is why it’s so disappointing to hear facile Christian endorsements of this bill without a single acknowledgement that we have increased abortion funding significantly, overnight. Endorsing the bill without repudiating not what might be pragmatically or economically inefficient, but what is morally wrong, is simply to turn a blind eye to the substance and effect of the legislation.

And as much as we want health-care for all—and health care for all is a good—it is deeply inconsistent to claim a pro-life ethic while endorsing a bill without qualification that directly funds the intentional killing of human persons."

Recently, Piper has commented on the "Tea Parties" conscious decision not to discuss the abortion issue, claiming that we can 'ill afford' such distracting conversations in the midst of far greater concerns for the nation, like the overwhelming debt we'll be passing on to the next generations. He summarizes the bizzare logic, "Let me see if I understand this term “ill afford”. Is this it? Enormous debt will hurt our children and grandchildren. Therefore don’t talk about the lawfulness of whether they can be killed."

I've been reading Marvin Olaky's book Abortion Rites. It's eye opening. I'm reading slow because I'm reading so many other good books at the same time, but I'm sure I'll comment on it regularly here. From the preface, "Professor Olasky makes a compelling argument for employing the strategy of containment as a first step to rollback. He challenges pro-life leaders to tailor their approach to rel-world realities, to content themselves with small victories, to provide women with positive, pro-life alternatives to abortion, and to continue to fight for laws restricting abortion while not making laws their primary focus."

I had no idea our nation had such a long history (guilt) with regards to abortion. In the first chapter, Olasky examines court records (yes, people were tried for abortion, and more typically, infanticide) from the colonial and Revolutionary period. Abortion was a dangerous deal. Surgical abortion was almost always a "double killer"; therefore, most women relied on chemical abortions. This also was a tricky business. The woman would need to take enough of the poison (like Tansy Oil) to kill the child, but not so much to kill her. It shouldn't be surprising that infanticide was more common as it was by far more safe - unless you were caught and convicted.

Most of the killings were of illegitimate children. Olasky writes, "Only 2% of all Massachusetts children during the colonial period were illegitimate; 90% percent of neonates legally found to have been murdered were." Certainly many more children were conceived out of wedlock than the 2% number indicates. However, there was tremendous societal pressure for a man to legitimate the child by marrying the mother. If that did not happen, the woman could rely on the courts to enforce substantial support payments.

While 90% of the victims of abortion/infanticide were illegitimate, that total number is remarkably low because of the societal pressures (only 2% of all births in the colonial period vs. 40% in 2007). Most women wouldn't have feared financial desperation and didn't need to fear their children would have been shunned. "Colonists were," according to historian Daniel Smith, "unwilling to punish children for the sins of the parents." Olasky writes, "Repeatedly the women involved in the crimes were not only unwed but among the minority of the pregnant unmarried who fell outside the informal and legal society safety nets." Unfortunately the number of "isolated women" dramatically increased with the urbanization of the early nineteenth century, and the societal pressures waned and have all but disappeared.

As a society, we have moved not applied that pressure to fathers to legitimize and support their children. There is often the attitude that "two bad decision (to have sex before marriage and then to marry someone you don't necessarily love) don't make a right." I do not follow that, for the reasons above. The lack of such societal pressure leads to many single mothers who, in desperation, will seek abortions. Here is one non-legal way Christians can begin to reshape it's culture in ways that will reduce the numbers of abortions - call upon men to do the right thing and use the arm of church discipline when they refuse.

The second chapter of Olasky's book explores the connection between prostitution and abortion. Obviously, in an era where contraceptives were unavailable and ineffective, prostitutes would find themselves pregnant fairly often. In addition, it's easy to see why pregnancies and children weren't acceptable options for prostitutes working in the brothels. Many of the children born to prostitutes would be very ill or deformed due to the untreated syphilis ("[30% of unborn children infected with syphilis] die before birth, and only one-fourth of those who make it to birth are healthy"). Olasky computes, taking into account many factors, that the average prostitute had 1.8 abortions per year. Using well researched estimates of sixty thousand prostitutes nationwide, he suggests that "there may have been at least one hundred thousand prostitution related abortions annually in the United States on the eve of the Civil War." Olasky quotes from The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, "There seems to be no diminution of the evil, notwithstanding the terrors which the law holds up to the view of the criminal. The murder of unborn children is fearfully common everywhere, if the great number of half-grown infant found floating in boxes upon the water, dropped in vaults, or otherwise brought to light is any evidence of the fact. Both women and men abound, in all our large cities, who have a decided and acknowledged reputation for performing the murderous operation." Add to this the words of New York police detective John Warren, "Social rimes like infanticide, that were once place on the same level as murder, are now not only looked upon with complacency but overlooked altogether, but are are defended on principle by certain theorists..."

What were Christians doing? Honestly, I don't know. Where they reaching out to prostitutes, trying to help them find a way out of that dangerous lifestyle (estimates are that a women survived for only four years as a prostitute before angry patrons, disease, drugs or the dangers of abortion took their life). Where they offering help to the pregnant prostitutes? To what degree do these statistics apply to today? Are prostitutes and women of the porn industry more likely to seek abortions? If so, is there an opportunity there for Christians to work to help the women get out of those lifestyles or to provide options other than abortion.

We think a lot about the legal aspect of the abortion debate, but clearly, as history shows, even with laws on the books criminalizing the killing of unborn children, women still sought abortions. What more can be done?

Note: I am just clarifying on this that I am writing as an individual and this blog isn't tied to ECC or the college ministry of ECC. My views, while always correct, don't necessarily represent the views of the church or all it's member.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Great Books on Edwards (update)

This coming Sunday I'm teaching on Revivals and Revivalism in the American church. I've been reminded how much I love Jonathan Edwards and thought I'd pass on my favorite Edwards books (by Edwards or on Edwards):

1. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, by Iain Murray. It's pretty long, but pretty awesome too! This was my first Edwards book and my favorite still. The only beef is that it's probably a little to rosy.

2. A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, by John Piper and Justin Taylor. Great look at Edwards life, theology and piety. Great chapters include "Sarah Edwards" (his wife), "Pursuing a Passion for God Through the Spiritual Disciplines", and "Trusting the Theology of a Slave Owner" (honesty!). Oh, and does the title sound familiar?

3.God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (With the Complete Text of The End for Which God Created the World), by John Piper. This book is half Piper's interpretation and explanation of Edwards and half Edwards "The End for which God Created the World". Incredible exposition of the truth that all God does he does for his glory.

4. Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology (John Gerstner (1914-1996)), by John Gerstner. Great introduction to Edwards theology, including his theology of man, sin, atonement, the trinity, salvation (regeneration, justification, salvation) and his eschatology (kingdom, heaven, hell). Missing is much biography - and he was so interesting.

5. Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions: And Advice to Young Converts, edited by Stephen Nichols. Wonderful. Gives you insight into how serious Edwards was, and how serious about joy and Christ. I love this short (40pgs) book.

6. The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards. Hard read, but worth it. The major sections include "the Nature of the affections and their importance in religion" (a great defense of heart religion), "showing what are no certain signs that religious affections are truly gracious, or that they are not" (discussion on what doesn't necessarily mean your affections are holy), "showing what are distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections" (discussion on signs that your affections are truly holy).

7. JONATHAN EDWARDS 1703 - 2003 REFLECTIONS on JONATHAN EDWARDS 300 YEARS LATER, by Desiring God. Too brief, to if you want a short introduction to Edwards (45pgs), it may be worth checking out.

8. The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, edited by Kimnach, Minkema and Sweeney. I am a huge fan of Edwards sermons - much more than his writings. Includes a few of my favorites, like "God Glorified in the Work of Redemption", "The Excellency of Christ", and "Heaven is a World of Love" (also "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God").

9. Altogether Lovely (Great Awakening Writings (1725-1760)), edited by Don Kistler with foreword by RC Sproul. More great sermons, including "Christ Exalted", and "God the Best Portion of the Christian".

10. Praying Together for True Revival (Edwards, Jonathan, Jonathan Edwards for Today's Reader.), edited by TM Moore. Good call to prayer, but his postmillenialism makes it a little hard.

Books I haven't read, but look forward to!

1. Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought, by Stephen Nichols. I've become a huge fan of Nichols and look forward to reading this soon.

2. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. I've had this for years, but haven't found the time yet. It's more than 600pgs, but Marsden is one of the best historians on Christianity in America. It'll be good, when I get to it.

3. The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today, by Josh Moody.

4. More sermon collections: The Glory and Honor of God, and The Blessing of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, and The Salvation of Souls: Nine Previously Unpublished Sermons on the Call of Ministry and the Gospel by Jonathan Edwards.

5. Oops, I forgot all about the volumes just out, The Essential Edwards Collection: Set of 5 Books and one by Doug Sweeney, my American Church History prof at TEDS, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought.

Pick something and Enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Song of the Week

I mentioned this song in my small group Thursday night and know one had ever heard of it. I love it - I think it speaks to a deep longing many of us have: to be a hero.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Inner Struggle and Pilgrim's Progress

This morning I preached from Romans 7:14-25 on the struggle Christians have between the inner renewed man and the sinful nature that clings to us. This afternoon, I read from The Pilgrim's Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come to the boys. It was pure coincidence that I read the following (wish i had read it on Saturday - it would have found its way into the sermon for sure):

[At the home of Charity, Prudence and Piety]

Then Prudence thought good to ask him a few questions, and desired his answer to them.

Prudence: Do you not think sometimes of the country from whence you came?

Christian: Yea, but with much shame and detestation. Truly, if I had been mindful of that country from whence I came out, I might have had opportunity to have returned; but now I desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Heb. 11:15,16.

Prudence: Do you not yet bear away with you some of the things that then you were conversant withal?

Christian: Yes, but greatly against my will; especially my inward and carnal cogitations, with which all my countrymen, as well as myself, were delighted. But now all those things are my grief; and might I but choose mine own things, I would choose never to think of those things more: but when I would be a doing that which is best, that which is worst is with me. Rom. 7:15, 21.

Prudence: Do you not find sometimes as if those things were vanquished, which at other times are your perplexity?

Christian: Yes, but that is but seldom; but they are to me golden hours in which such things happen to me.

Prudence: Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances at times as if they were vanquished?

Christian: Yes: when I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it; and when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it; and when I look into the roll that I carry in my bosom, that will do it; and when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.

Prudence: And what is it that makes you so desirous to go to Mount Zion?

Christian: Why, there I hope to see Him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me: there they say there is no death, Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4; and there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you the truth, I love Him because I was by Him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, Holy, holy, holy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sometimes Older is Better

This week I've been working on a sermon on Romans 7:14-25. I've poured through three relatively newer commentaries on Romans. They were good and helpful, but the biggest help was the fourth - an old commentary by Charles Hodge first published in 1835! Clear, pastoral, not overly dense, wonderful.

I've had a reading project in mind for some time now - read nothing but dead theologians, commentators, churchmen for a whole year. I like the new guys - some of them at least. But there is something about those old stale churchmen that keeps drawing me back! I want to read more of Edwards sermons, Calvin's Institutes, Luther's Bondage of the Will, Augustine's City of God, more Puritans like Owen and Boston and Baxter. Oh, and I'd love to study the old Confessions, especially the Heidelberg Confession. Any other suggestions to add to my list of dead theologians?

It would be awesome, but I don't know when I'll get to it - after all my coursework is completed I guess.

Is a sexual past a deal breaker?

Last week I posted a link to and several quotes from an blog post by Dr. Russell Moore, "How much do I need to know about my potential spouses' sexual past?" Moore argues, basically, that virginity is a good thing; however, to make someone's sexual past a deal breaker reveals a lack of grace and willingness to forgive. He cautions, "You are not “owed” a virgin because you are. Your sexual purity wasn’t part of a quid pro quo in which God would guarantee you a sexually unbroken man."

The article sparked a healthy (maybe heated is a better word) debate on it in his comments section and I was asked to comment on the argument. I'll try to represent both sides adequately and then chime in myself.

One comment states, "It is one thing to forgive a potential partner for past indescretions, it is another thing to consider that person a candidate for marriage. I’m not suggesting that sexual past is a determining factor, at least not by itself. But sexual past will have an impact on overall compatibility and will either contribute to equal yoking or non-equal yoking." The person offering the comment and others who agree with him see the desire for a virgin spouse to be a pure and noble desire, one that should be encouraged, not dismissed lightly.

On the other side of the argument are those who see the desire for a virgin spouse to be a possible sign of pride and unforgiveness. I'm oversimplifying both sides here. They point out that we all bring past sins into our marriage, whether they be greed, anger, lust, alcohol abuse, etc. They rightly point out that virgin spouses will have there own sins that will need to be forgiven/overlooked. It is somewhat hypocritical to refuse to do the same for a potential spouse who has a sexual past.

I could go on and I haven't really done the two sides justice. If this is something you are concerned about, I'd recommend reading the comments (there are, at the time of this post, 86 of them!). My take is that there is truth on both sides, dangers on both sides, and that both sides are talking past each other instead of to each other (happens a lot in online, blog debates).

First, I want to affirm sexual purity and virginity are important things. God has called us to be chaste until marriage, and that is a virtue that should be honored. We owe God our purity - which is much more important than saying we owe our future spouse our purity. Sexual sin, especially our own, should not be taken lightly. And please don't neglect that most sexual sin is committed in our minds, not with another person (Matt. 5:27-28).

Second, I do not believe that this is a matter of being equally yoked, as the comment quoted above suggested. We are commanded not to be unequally yoked to unbelievers in marriage (2 Cor 6:14). It is an abuse of this passage to suggest that someone's past sins make them an unbeliever or a less passionate/committed follower of Jesus in the present.

Third, I do think that a refusal to consider a non-virgin as a potential spouse is a possible sign of pride and a flawed understanding of grace and even the gospel. I would suggest trying to understand someone's attitudes towards their past sins. That seems to me to be crucial. If I were in the dating game, I'd be more much more reluctant to consider someone who took a flippant attitude towards sexual sin (even if they were a virgin) than someone who was grieved by their sexual sin, had repented of it, and were committed to staying sexual pure in the future.

I don't want to come down as hard on those who have made virginity a deal breaker (some of the commentors are overly harsh), but I think virginity can easily become an idol. Idols are almost always good things that become too important. Moreover, I would caution any who think God owes them a virgin spouse because they have been sexually pure. That is a dangerous attitude. Finally, I think the story of Hosea is interesting. I have no idea if Hosea was sexually pure (just being a prophet doesn't guarantee it). I doubt he was a whore though, and yet God called him to marry one. Why? To demonstrate God's loving kindness and grace - a loving kindness and grace we are called to emulate.

Hope those brief thoughts are helpful.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

First Infant Baptism

This past Sunday was important for me. Honestly, they are all important, but this past Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing an infant for the first time. I have had the privilege of baptizing many adults, each one special (though baptizing my wife Lynn 10 years ago and my oldest son Caleb this year was especially special). This past Sunday's baptism marked a fairly significant shift for me theologically. It's been a shift going on for years, close to fifteen years actually.

Interestingly, though I embrace infant baptism fully, none of my children were baptized as infants. There's several reasons for that, chief among them being that I was still in transition (ten years ago I was a Calvinist, but not really Reformed). The other big reason is that I was on staff at a Baptist church when my first two children were born, and they just don't do that.

Anyway, I thought a post on what convinced me that paedobaptism was Biblical would be helpful, since we don't offer such explanations on a Sunday morning (not a full defense or a full explanation. I'll post some good links at the bottom for more reading).

To begin, let me say that I believe an adult convert who has never been baptized should be. There is a misconception that those who advocating infant baptism wouldn't baptize adult converts. I would. I have. I will. Though, if they had been baptized as an infant I would discourage it.

The first reason that I've come to embrace infant baptism is really a hermeneutical one. I see the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament much more profoundly now than I used to. I used to see the discontinuity more prominently. Both continuity and discontinuity are there, it's a matter of priority. As I've studied the development of the covenants, I have come to appreciate the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, without discounting the discontinuity. Both the Old Covenant (Mosaic Covenant) and the New Covenant are administrations (or arrangements or dispensations) of the Covenant of Grace, a covenant the has been in operation since Adam's sin and Abraham's call.

Second, seeing the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New, I appreciate now the continuity between the Old Testament practice of circumcision and the New Testament practice of baptism (and the continuity between the Passover and the Lord's Supper). These sacraments were/are signs of the covenant that exists between God and his people. Colossians 2:11-12 make the connection between circumcision and baptism explicit. R. Scott Clark summarizes the connection, "For Paul, in the New covenant, our union with Christ is our circumcision. In baptism, we are identified with Christ's baptism/circumcision, as it were, on the cross. Neither baptism nor circumcision effects this union (ex opere operato), rather God the Spirit unites us to Christ, makes us alive and gives us faith. The point not to be missed is that, in Paul's mind, baptism and circumcision are both signs and seals of Christ's baptism/circumcision on the cross for us."

Beyond this, I believe it is likely that infants were among those 'households' that were baptized by the apostles (cf. Acts 16, Acts 18, 1 Cor 1:16). Moreover, Peter preaches that "the promise is for you and for your children" (Acts 2:39). In addition, because I believe the stress should be on the continuity between the Old and New Covenants, we should expect that the signs of the covenant would continue to be offered to children. It was offered to them in the Old as a sign of inclusion in the covenant community, it should be in the New also. If not, we would expect clear instruction to the contrary.

Let me clarify something here - being a part of the covenant community doesn't necessarily imply that the member will experience God's salvation. Many circumcised Jews did not. Many baptized Christians will not (even the faith of those baptized as adults may prove spurious). If it doesn't prove salvific, why do it? Again, it is a sign of their inclusion to the blessing of the covenant community. I believe, as a visible sermon, it is yet another tool in the hand of God that he uses to elicit faith. In the act of baptism God says, "You are mine." The child will one day need to respond, "Lord I am yours. I offer myself to you in faith and obedience."

Lastly, the testimony from church history is that the church practiced infant baptism at a very early stage in it's history. Origin was certainly baptized, according to the historical accounts, as an infant in 180AD, only 80 years after the last apostle had died. Was it controversial? There is no indication that infant baptism was controversial, appearing instead to have been the common, accepted practice in the church. As Schaeffer points out, "Those who would teach that the practice of the early Church was not infant baptism should be able to show in Church History when it started. There is no such break recorded." The assumption in some circles that infant baptism began in the Roman Catholic Church is clearly incorrect.

Those are some of the arguments that pushed me over the line. I understand the baptism debate can be divisive and love the position of ECC, leaving it to the conscience of the parents whether they will baptize or dedicate their children.

Here's a few of good links:
- ThirdMill Ministries Q&A about infant baptism.
- A Contemporary Reformed Defense of Infant Baptism, R. Scott Clark
- Why Does the OPC Baptize Infants, Larry Wilson
- Baptism, by Francis Schaeffer

Monday, March 15, 2010

Song of the Week

I heard rumors recently that one of the best hard rock bands of all time might be ending a 12 year hiatus. Hers a great b-side track from Soundgarden.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Praise the God of Wrath

This past Thursday I spoke at Cru. The topic I was given was the wrath of God. I was actually really excited when they gave me that topic. Why?

Let me explain by telling you a little about Lynn and me. We met 16yrs ago. We dated for two years and then were engaged for a year. During that time, we saw things in each that confirmed we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I saw her strength and her compassion. I saw a love for God that was humbling. I hope she saw similar things in me. At the same time, if we're being honest, we saw things in each other that gave us slight pause. For example, the way Lynn chews gum is enough to drive me crazy (what did it ever do to her that made her so mad). More seriously, I know my anger and bad temper gave her pause, rightly so. I remember she came to watch me play basketball once (intramural mind you). I got mad at the ref, cussed him out, got tossed out of the game. As if that weren't bad enough, when I left the gym I punched a cinder block wall and broke my hand. And Lynn saw it all. My anger/temper was a significant character flaw, but thankfully Lynn chose to love me despite it.

Here's the thing: we put the anger/wrath of God into the same category as my anger, as something we'll choose to love God despite. Instead, I believe it is something that should cause us to love and worship him more. We've put it in the wrong category, as something we'll reluctantly accept (or maybe something that keeps us from loving God). Yet, I believe we should come to see it as yet another expression of his perfections - always good, always worthy of praise.

Certainly, if you read the Bible you can't read far without running into expressions of God's anger. Theologian Arthur Pink wrote that there are more references in the Bible to God's anger, fury, and wrath than to his love and tenderness. The biblical writers attitudes towards God's anger is markedly different than our own - they were never embarrassed or shy when talking about it.

In the Old Testament we see God's wrath manifest in historical judgments. Think Noah (Gen. 6), the Red Sea (Ex. 14), etc. Don't forget the ground opening up to swallow Korah after his insurrection (Num. 16:32). And the sad story of Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:6-7). When we move on the the New Testament, the expressions of God's wrath are more subtle (though lets not forget Ananias and Saphira, Acts 5:1-5). There is a popular notion, wholly wrong, that God mellowed out by the time you get to the Old Testament. Again, this is wholly wrong. God's wrath is currently being revealed against mankind in their sin. God hands people over to their sin as punishment for their hardheartedness (Rom. 1:18-25). In addition, in the New Testament we see the eternal nature of God's anger much more clearly than in the Old. And, contrary to popular sentimental images of Jesus, most of the talk of hell in the Bible comes from his lips. So if we accept the Bible as God's self revelation, we must come to grips with God's anger.

Actually, we need to do more than come to grips with it, we must learn to love it. His anger, unlike ours, is always appropriate, always in proportion to the offense, and always good. In other words, it's very unlike ours. I get bent out of shape when I get cut off in traffic, when the movie has a crappy ending, when the Indians trade away all their good players, when the Yankees win. Silly stuff. But, not always. A while ago I saw a documentary on children in Africa kidnapped and forced to serve as soldiers, to kill or be killed. I got angry. It was appropriate. If we were walking down the street and saw a group of teenage boys terrorizing an elderly woman, what would you think of me if I didn't get angry? You would think there was something wrong with my moral compass, my sense of good. Anger is sometimes proper, sometimes warranted, sometimes necessary.

God's anger is always, not just sometimes, always proper and warranted. It is an expression of his holiness. When we speak of his holiness we are usually referring to his moral purity - that nothing evil, sinful or impure can be charged to his character. We have a derived holiness - it comes from God and burns like a candle. God's is un-derived and burns like a thousand suns. We get angry at injustice and other evils in proportion to our holiness. God in proportion to his. So the psalmist writes, "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you" (Ps. 5:4). The prophet Habakkuk says, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrong" (Habakkuk 1:13).

God's anger is also an expression of his justice - it is always judicial. While I want to affirm an emotive response on God's part to evil (over against some radical ideas of God's impassibility), God's wrath is still always judicial. In other words, God as the Great Judge finds sinners guilty of violating his holy law and character, passes and executes judgment. He never gives more punishment than is deserved.

In addition, God's anger is also an expression of his love. When we love something, we hate what threatens or destroys the object of our affection. God loves us, and hates what sin and what it does to us - breaking fellowship, robbing us of joy, tarnishing his reputation and glory.

So God's anger is an expression of his holiness, justice and love. I think the word 'expression' is important because I do not believe that his anger is an essential characteristic of God. In other words, God hasn't always been angry or wrathful. God has always been loving, even before creation his love found expression in the Trinity. He has always been holy. But God was not angry till sin entered the world. The same thing could be said of his patience. Was God patient before he created? Well, what need was there to be? What God angry before sin? Angry at what?

Yet in this world, at this time when sin is very much a part of our reality, God is an angry and wrathful, and rightly so. Some question the goodness of a God who is wrathful. Again, I think this is backwards. If God wasn't angry upon seeing rape, torture, oppression, injustice, greed, etc., then his character would be open to questioning. If he didn't punish the wicked for their actions, if there was not final accountability, then we would wonder how he could be a just God.

I think most of us are ok with God's anger when it's reserved for those horrible people like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, George Steinbrenner (just kidding). We think they deserve all God gives them, and then some more. The rub comes when we read that God's wrath hangs over all mankind, including us (apart from Christ), our nice neighbors, our wonderful grandparents, etc. Yet again, we must let the Word have the final word, and it is remarkably consistent. In the middle of Solomon's prayer of dedication for the temple, he says, “If they sin against you for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near... if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies...then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you" (1 Kings 8:46-50). The 'if' of this statement is really a 'when' because Solomon acknowledges that "there is no one who does not sin". If your heart and mind are coming to your defense and saying you don't really sin, at least not awful sins, remember the prophet Jeremiah's words, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). And don't forget Paul's testimony that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23) and "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). The truth is we deserve the awful justice of the angry God.

There has only been one person in the whole scope of human history who hasn't deserved it, hasn't deserved hell. And the great irony is that this one person is the one who suffered it most intensely. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, suffered hell. The Apostles Creed refers to Jesus descending into hell. Rather than seeing that as an event subsequent to the crucifixion, I think it is best to see this as an expression of the horror of the cross (which is also it's glory). Jesus was a propitiation for our sins - a sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God (1 John 2:2, 4:10; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17). Jesus, becoming our sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), bore the just punishment for our sin (Isaiah 53:4-6) and redeemed us from the curse by becoming the curse for us (Gal. 3:13). I love talking about the wrath of God because it brings me over and over again to the cross - the greatest expression of God's wrath in the Bible. Apart from God's anger towards sinful humanity and just wrath, the cross makes no sense. It wasn't just Jesus giving us an example to follow. It was Christ suffering God's wrath for us sinners, whom he loved.

How should we respond to the Bible's teaching on the wrath of God? First, we should accept his terms of peace. Paul implores us, "be reconciled to God" through Jesus (2 Cor. 5:20) , reminding us that "now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2).

Second, as we have received grace and been reconciled, we are to extend grace and become ministers of reconciliation. Paul calls us "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor 5:20), arguing that God makes his appeal to sinful humanity through us.

Third, we ought to hate our sin. I'll speak for myself - I don't hate my sin nearly enough. I treat it as a pet, ignoring the sting and poison. I try to tame it, take it for a walk every once and a while. But when we consider the just wrath of God, as we consider the cross, we see how much God hates sin. He hates it so much that he sent his Son to die to put an end to it and deliver us from it's power. Christ hates sin so much that he was willing to die for us to redeem us from it's grasp. We shouldn't treat sin as a pet, but as a poisonous menace in our house that we'd kill before it kills us (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5). The psalmist writes, "O you who love the Lord, hate evil!" (Ps. 97:10). The book of Proverbs says, "The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil" (Prov. 8:10). The prophet Amos commands, "Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate" (Amos 5:15).

Lastly, we should worship. The Psalms are filled with praise for God's holiness expressed in anger and wrath towards sin and sinners. For example, "God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day" (Ps. 7:11). And it isn't just vindictive Israelites who love God's wrath - it's the saints in heaven also: "After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.' Once more they cried out, 'Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.'” (Rev. 19:1-4). We can praise God's anger and wrath because it is an expression of his perfection. Certainly, there should also be an element of grief when we see the wicked destroyed - that is true of God also (Ezek. 33:11). But this grief should not lead us to question God's anger or turn away from him because of it. As an expression of his holiness, justice and love it should elicit from us adoration, love and gratitude (that we have been spared from it)

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Much Do I Need to Know About My Potential Spouse

There is a great post on Dr. Moore's website about dealing with a potential spouses sexual past. Here's a few highlights:

"I’ve seen several budding relationships wrecked by a “DTR” (”define the relationship” talk) about such matters that formed, prematurely, an inappropriate emotional intimacy."

"On the one hand, a man who glibly dismisses his past immorality is dangerous, for your future marriage and your future children. On the other hand, your dismissing him automatically on the basis of immorality is also dangerous."

"You are not “owed” a virgin because you are."

"Jesus was a virgin. His Bride wasn’t. He loved us anyway."

Read the whole thing: How Much Do I Need to Know About My Potential Spouse’s Sexual Past? My Response

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Great Quote


I had heard this quote before, but never knew where it came from:

"Let pious Calvinists preach like Arminians, and pious Arminians pray like Calvinists"

- Philip Schaff, quoted in "Eternally True, Variably Useful: How Confessions Worked in Some American Reformed Churches", by James Bratt, in Holding on to the Faith: Confessional Traditions in American Christianity, pg. 80.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Jesus Made in America, part 3

I'll wrap up this summary/review of Stephen Nichols Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ in this post, covering briefly four whole chapter. You could call this section "Jesus in Nashville, Hollywood, Branson, and Washington"

Chapter Five traces the developments of the Christian music industry from a movement of 'burned-out hippies' for Jesus to the 'multibillion dollar market force known as CCM". The history of the movement beginning in the 1960's with figures like Lonnie Frisbee and the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa is well told. Nichols summarizes, "The Jesus People would eventually exchange their hippie ways for more settled lifestyles, but as they came into evangelical churches and even formed new denominations or affiliation, such as Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard movement, they brought something with them, namely, their music and their very warm, personal, experience-based relationship with Jesus...One thing the certainly did for American evangelical Christology was to focus on the love of Jesus" (pg 127).

Beyond the new 'praise and worship movement', there was the growing Christian Rock movement also. Interestingly, Nichols notes, as the movement grew, the focus shifted from outreach through music to offering Christian youth a 'wholesome, positive alternative' to secular rock and roll. Christian youth could listen to cool music without being exposed the unholy lyrics of secular rockers. You can clearly see this in the 'Christapaloozas' all over the nation that draw thousand, likely few from the ranks of the unchurched. This 'ghettoization' was resisted by many of the early pioneers of the movement like Larry Norman, who bemoan the shallow lyrics and lack of outreach in the new Christian Rock. The success of the Christian recording industry had its effect - millions or albums were sold; however, it also lead to the "loss of specific religious identity to the homogenizing effects of mass culture" (pg132). This is seem most acutely in those 'cross over artists' like Michael W Smith, Amy Grant, Six Pence None the Richer (whose song Kiss Me was sung by a contestant on American Idol Last week). Nichols asks, 'what happened to Jesus in this process?' He allows recording artist Steve Camp to answer, "Christian music, originally called Jesus Music, once fearlessly sang clearly about the gospel. Now it yodels of a Christ-less, watered down, pabulum-based, positive alternative, aura-fluff, cream of wheat, mush-kind-of-syrupy, God-as-my-girlfriend kind of thing" (quoted pg. 133).

Nichols doesn't hide his opinion. He quotes approvingly Hank Hill, of King of the Hill, "You aren't making Christianity better, you're just making rock and roll worse" (quoted pg. 135). More seriously, he writes, "One problem that arises, however, is what CCM communicates in general about evangelicalism's ambivalence to culture. While the early days of Jesus music had an edge, arising as it did from the streets, CCM today has dulled the edge, producing music that is safe, not all that complex and artistically ranking a little below the songs on pop albums that don't make it into radio circulation" (pg 135). In addition, Nichols is highly critical of the version of Jesus that is actually taught (yes, songs have a strong didactic force) by much Christian music. Much of it has a romantic, even erotic, experiential base to it.

Nichols concludes that "CCM is a microcosm of American evangelicalism...Evangelical tend to get their theology from popular novels...they also get their theology from popular music...This raises concerns about the type of theology CCM teaches. More specifically, what type of Christology does CCM teach?" (pg 143). In essence, it teaches that Jesus will be that friend (boyfriend/girlfriend?) that will stick with you through life's storm. Not necessarily wrong (open to debate), but shallow and limited in scope.

Traveling west from Nashville to Hollywood, Nichols helps the reader think about how Jesus on film has shaped American Evangelical Christology. I had no idea how many Jesus moves there have been, stretching all the way back to the era of the silent movie. Nichols, predictably, raises a few concerns regarding the portrayal of Jesus on film, questioning if it is something that can possibly be done well. The thesis of the chapter is clear, "[Jesus] doesn't shoot well. He's not a very good celluloid savior...This is not to suggest that nothing can be gained from the etnerprise of converting the Gospel accounts into film...This is especially true of the 1979 Jesus film and the Jesus Film Project, which occurs mostly out of the arena of commercial venues...But putting Christ on the silver screen involves tradeoffs - many things can be lost in translation" (pg. 152).

One of Nichols chief concerns is the "temptation facing all would-be cinema-tographers of Jesus: going beyond the biblical account" (pg. 149). "The medium almost demands departure from the biblical text" (pg 157). One of the most common elements of imagination is Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene. She appears repeatedly in Jesus movies, though the Bible tells us little about her. This leads Nichols to comment, "What is it about Mary that has brought all this on? The better question might be what is it about contemporary culture that has brought all this on? Perhaps the answer is as simple as the notion that in order for it to be a truly good story it has to have romance" (pg 161). That leads to Nichols second concern, namely that these Jesus movies often tell us more about the movie maker and his culture than the historical Jesus. Sometimes it's Jesus and the romantic interest with Mary, sometimes its' Jesus as the radical revolutionary. Thirdly, "Jesus films have difficulty, almost by definition, depicting the hypostatic union, Christ as the God-man" (pg 157). The humanity of Jesus inevitably swallows up his divinity. He correctly contends, "The Passion can portray the violence of the crucifixion, but it can't portray the break in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, the break in the divine union between the Father and the Son as the Son bore the wrath of God for the sin of humanity. It's not Gibson's fault. NO director can pull it off" (pg 168).

Given the limitation, why were evangelicals so quick to jump on the The Passion bandwagon, touting it as the greatest evangelistic opportunity in centuries? It is odd since it had an R rating and an abundance of graphic violence. Nichols offers a complex answer, but central to it is the appeal it makes to the experiential. Nichols quotes Leslie Smith, "The people with whom I spoke gauged the Passion's [biblical] accuracy not by measures of specific historicity but rather by the emotions the film evoked in the viewer and the extent to which it could lead to a conversion experience" (pg 149). Cynically, he also argues that evangelical leaders endorsed the movie so enthusiastically because they were seduced by the limelight, enjoyed their position on center stage, and because they craved "the legitimacy that it granted both their group and their message" (pg 149).

Chapter six conclude with Nichols arguing that Jesus and film just don't mix well. Yet, Nichols still sees great potential in Hollywood. He argues, "we don't need a full-fledged Jesus film to launch an evangelistic campaign. In fact, given some of the problems with putting Jesus on the big screen, Christ-figure films and redemptive films might actually be the better way for telling the story of the good news" (pg 170).

I will spend little time on chapter seven, which is essentially about Jesus junk. Jesus junk has a long, and disturbing history, dating at least to the Victorian era (a case could be made that it dates back to Medieval selling of relics). The chapter is both amusing and depressing, as Nichols describes witness golf balls, "Jesus is homeboy" tshirts, videos (which criticize the commercialism of 'StuffMart', while at the same time selling themselves to consumer at 'StuffMart'), Christian Yellow Pages.

Special attention is given to the Precious Moments Chapel in Missouri and Nichols recalls Michael Horton's words upon visiting the chapel, "I had my own precious moment, and epiphany...Like the exaggerated features of the Precious Moment Angels - calculated to evoke particular emotions of intimacy and sweetness - popular American religion in general has become increasingly captive to false gods" (quoted, pg 179). He argues that the chapel is yet another proof that we have become captive to the 'cult of sentimentality'. In addition, Nichols contends that the 'commodification of Jesus', which is often justified on evangelistic grounds, has turned evangelicals into a laughing stock. "American evangelicals, it seems, have a hard time recognizing the comic caricature that they have become. More tragic, American evangelicals have allowed Christ to become a comic caricature. And even more tragic still, American evangelicals can't even seem to realize that Christ has become a comic caricature" (pg 181). He assert, "The true message of the cross, it seems, is getting lost in a sea of commerce. The commercials are too loud" (pg 189). Finally, Nichols concludes, "The commodification of Christianity not only exploits and subjects the faith to the cultural form of consumer captialism, but it also sentimentalizes and trivializes the faith" (pg 196).

Despite the title of chapter eight, "Jesus on the Right Wing", Nichols displays a deep concern for how both the right wing and the left wing of American politics have hijacked Jesus for their cause. Nichols seems to align himself softly with those who advocate a two kingdom approach Christian involvement in culture and politics, citing approvingly DG Hart's teaching on the 'otherworldly' nature of Christianity. He writes, "Hart concludes, 'Attempts to employ the sacred and eternal for common and temporal end up trivializing faith, which is the certain fate of religion in the public sphere.' Co-opting Christianity for the cause of politics does not serve to elevate but reduce Christianity, to relegate it to a place it does not deserve" (pg 215). Nichols sounds a call to return to notions of common grace, natural law and common morality (Edwardsian concept) over against special grace, revealed law and true virtue. These three wider concepts allow Christians to have a voice in the public, pluralistic sphere without cheapening or hijacking Jesus to fit their political agenda.

Nichols epilogue tells the reader what we already now know - Jesus hasn't faired to well in American evangelicalism. The way forward, Nichols argues, is to listen again tot he Jesus of the historic church, of Nicea and Chalcedon. Nichols anticipates the reply, "ah, the framers of these creeds were also conditioned by their cultures." He responds, "It may be very well prudent, however, to ask, How can the church improve on declaring, as those bishops did, that Christ is fully God and fully human, with tow natures united perfectly in one person...These creeds and the biblical tests they are fashioned from provide the church with its perennial theology, which the church in any country in any century simply cannot afford to live without" (pg 224). We have, in our pragmatism, shrunk away from complexity and opted for simplicity time and time again - Just Give Me Jesus. Yet, in the area of Christology, simplicity doesn't cut it. "Jesus comes to us primarily in complexity" (pg 226). If we cannot embrace the complexity of Jesus, or are unwilling to, Nichols doesn't see much hope for the evangelical movement in America.

While I may not agree with ever jot and tittle of Nichols argument, the overall case is sadly compelling. Again, I'll commend the entire book to you and pray the church will hear Nichols well.