Saturday, September 26, 2009

Our Life

Lynn and I saw this tonight and laughed hard - yep, that's about it.

More Videos on Finney

Ok, can you tell I really don't like this guy or his theology! Here's a few more video critiques of his theology/legacy from the guys at White Horse Inn.

Part 1, Part2, Part 3, Part 4

Friday, September 25, 2009

Who was Charles Finney?

Its very understandable that not everyone knows Charles Finney - he has been dead 135 yrs or so. Yet Finney may be one of the most important shapers of modern evangelicalism - and that ain't a good thing. Finney was a minister, a president of a college, the 'Father of Modern Revivalism', one of the key leaders of the 2nd Great Awakening, and a heretic. Big time heretic - not to mention he was one ugly mug!

Finney is famous for implementing 'new measures' in his revival meeting. Some were as benign as public advertisement of revival meetings, others were more malignant, like the anxious bench and manipulative emotional preaching. As he understood it, revival was entirely mans work - God had nothing whatsoever to do with it. He writes, "There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. . . . A revival is as naturally a result of the use of means as a crop is of the use of its appropriate means" [Charles Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion].

Such a view springs from Finney's unbiblical and heretical denial of original sin - a heresy called Pelagianism, dating all the way back to 5th century. Pelagius "taught that people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God. In other words, a person's free will is totally capable of choosing God and/or to do good or bad without the aid of Divine intervention. Pelagianism teaches that man's nature is basically good. Thus it denies original sin, the doctrine that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam. He said that Adam only hurt himself when he fell and all of his descendents were not affected by Adam's sin. Pelagius taught that a person is born with the same purity and moral abilities as Adam was when he was first made by God. He taught that people can choose God by the exercise of their free will and rational thought. God's grace, then, is merely an aid to help individuals come to Him" [CARM article on Pelagianism]. Augustine opposed Pelagius and the heresy was condemned by several church councils (Councils of Carthage in 412, 416 and 418; Council of Ephesus in 431; The Council of Orange in 529) as well as Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic and Anglican Confessions of Faith.

Finney also maintained that justification required perfect obedience to the law. In this I agree. Thank God Christ obeyed for me and imputed his righteousness to me (and accepted the imputation of my debts to him). But Finney discarded imputation as patently false. He writes, "...[Christ's righteousness] could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us ... it was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf." According to Finney, Christ did not die for anyone, but only as an example for how to love and live (moral influence theory). According to Finney, "The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted ... If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless." Certainly Christ's death does provide us an example and a stimulus to change - but from where will the power to change come from? Who will deliver us from our guilt and bondage to sin? Christians throughout the ages - Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, Arminian - have answered, "CHRIST - He will save us." Finney (and Pelagius) answered, "We will save ourselves!"

Following on the heals of rejecting Christ's righteousness for us, Finney continues to assert we must be perfectly righteous to be justified. He argues, "The Christian,therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys or Antinomianism is true ... In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground." Again, "... full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed ... But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not."

I know most who celebrate Finney's revivals would repudiate this theology of Christian perfectionism, Pelagianism and rejection of Christ's substitutionary atonement. Yet many continue to make use of the methods he popularized - methods that rest on this heretical foundation. Why? Because the methods work - sort of. They produce numbers, though I doubt (and most historians doubt) they produced many real converts. Even Finney grew frustrated at the poor quality of his 'converts', and the districts he ran revivals in grew tired of his manipulative methods - that's why western/upstate NY is referred to as the 'burned over' district. In the end, Finney's theology and method have done more damage that all the pagan attacks on belief in God, liberal attacks on the Bible or postmodern attacks on truth. Let's move on already.

Want to read more? Check out the article "The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney" by Michael Horton, the article "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" by Philip Johnson, or watch the 11 minute video by Pastor Mark Kielar of First Baptist of Boyton Beach below.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughts on Calvinists and Arminians

This post is from the DG blog today:

Today, 250 years ago a great pastor was born, Charles Simeon...His greatest influence was probably through sustained biblical preaching for 54 years. This was the central labor of his life. In 1833, he placed into the hands of King William IV the completed 21 volumes of his collected sermons.

He tried to be conciliatory in doctrinal disputes. Here is an example of how he conversed with the elderly John Wesley:

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree. (Moule, 79ff.)

Why aren't the current debates/conversations between Wesleyan/Arminians and Calvinists seasoned with such grace? I have two thoughts. First, many of the neo Calvinist camp wear their Calvinism as a badge of honor. They are contentious and looking for an argument - and at times, I'm one of them. So the neo-Reformed crowd is partly to blame, but so are many contemporary Wesleyan/Arminians. Few are as biblical and God centered as the elderly Wesley. Most [at least here in the States] are closer to the heretic Finney than to Wesley or even Arminius. They are more concerned with their rights, more optimistic about their nature than Wesley or the Bible. There's comes the rub - Calvinists rightly contend against such man-centered Finneyish theology. Yet, we are often quick to assume that all non-Calvinistic theology is as heretical as Finney's was. More grace, more bible, and more listening would certainly yield better results and truer unity.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Song of the Week

Ok, so some of the lyrics seems somewhat nonsensical, but overall, I love this song.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Religious Illiteracy

A friend recommended reading Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't, by Stephen Prothero and I've just begun the book. I loved this paragraph:

"When I first began teaching in the early 1990's I was a follower of Dewey and the Progressives [skill based learning vs. information based]. In high school I had come to see the subject of history as nothing more than the mindless accumulation of names and dates, and I vowed upon entering college in the late 1970's that I would study every subject I could manage except history. Happily, I came across a professor who taught me that the vocation of history is not about memorizing names and dates but about forming judgments and contribution to debates about what happened in the past. So when I finished graduate school and became a professor myself, I told students that I didn't care about facts. I cared about having challenging conversations, and I offed my quiz-free classrooms as places to do just that. I soon found, however, that the challenging conversations I coveted were not possible without some common knowledge - common knowledge my students plainly lacked."

We could spend our energies bemoaning religious illiteracy even in the church (which Prothero does point out). More interestingly, I'm wondering what this means for out work in evangelism. We hope to create an environment that encourages challenging spiritual conversations. We encourage people to initiate spiritual conversations with their friends on campus. But how can these conversations take place if we lack the common knowledge, even the common vocabulary, that is essential to conversation. If you doubt we lack the common knowledge, catch a Jay Walking spot on the Leno Show sometime!

The introduction of the book has reinforced for me the need to do a lot of 'pre-evangelism' before we plunge into evangelism. By pre-evangelism I mean exploring the story of Christianity, explaining key words and their meaning (like sin, grace, hope, etc). My question is, how do we effectively engage people in pre-evangelism. Much effort has been spent on developing evangelistic techniques, but what of the initial phase? If you have ideas or resources, send em my way!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Song of the Week (Update)

It felt like a good bluesy day! I found another service that allows me to embed the whole song! Check out The Derek Trucks Band. I like em alot.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Where Evil Comes From

Ten years ago I wrote a paper, my senior seminary paper. The title of the paper was ridiculous - Evil, a Good God and a Compatibilistic View of Freedom. It was the hardest paper I ever wrote; in fact, I scrapped everything the night before the paper was due and rewrote it. Still, I didn't like it. I remember feeling I did a good job explaining how God ordains evil and isn't responsible for it this side of the fall. Not overly original, but I toed the party (Reformed) line well. Yet, when it came to the origination of evil, I was at a loss. I'm not talking about Adam's sin - after all, there was an outside evil that tempted him. What I couldn't explain then, and can't explain now, is why Lucifer fell - what tempted him? How could an angel living in wonderful communion with God chose to rebel?

As I see it, this isn't just a problem for the Reformed crowd, but for all theologians. This week I read a fresh approach to the problem in Christopher Wrights book The God I Don't Understand. He writes, "If we ask, 'Where did that preexisting evil presence come from?' - we are simply not told. God has given us the Bible, but the Bible doesn't tell us...the Bible compels us to accept the mystery of evil." That's not that new, but he spins this lack of information in a incredibly thoughtful way. He goes on to argue that understanding or explain something means putting it in it's "proper place in the universe, to provide a justified, legimate, and truthful place withing creation..." When we apply our God given reasoning capabilities to the problem of evil we come up short. Why? Because evil doesn't fit. Evil doesn't make sense. Evil has no justified, legitimate, truthful place in God's creation. He writes, "Evil is beyond our understanding because it is not part of the ultimate reality that God in his perfect wisdom and utter truthfulness intends us to understand. So God has withheld its secrets from his own revelation and our research."

I don't know if I agree with his approach yet, but I find it creative, intriguing and new. I like that his final confidence is in the wisdom of God. One again, he writes, "Personally, I have come to accept this as a providentially good thing...[When we ask] 'Where's the sense in that?' It's not that we get no answer. We get silence. And that silence is the answer to our question. There is no sense. And that is a good thing too...Can I understand that? No. Do I want to understand that? Probably not, if God has decided it is better that I don't."

Today more than most we contemplate the nature of evil. We have questions. The questions don't shipwreck our faith. In fact, they come more intensely because of our faith in God, in his goodness. But when what we see in the world doesn't match with what we know about God, we are distressed - we lament. Because we trust and believe God we know that evil doesn't have the last word. We lament it, we long for God to eradicate it.

Free Album

I love free. I love hard rock/indie music. Put the two together and I don't know what to say. Here's a free sampler download from a non-for-profit record label inspired by Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. Check it out.

Thursday, September 03, 2009 (update)

Alright, I couldn't resist. I had to create a blog for the new ACG. Check out I'm hoping others can post and that it'll be a good place for discussion. Check out the list of topics and give me feedback (that is, if you can join us). Or, if you've got ideas for a spring study, let us know.

We're very excited about the ACG.

(Oops. I realized the graphic had the word 'poiema' misspelled.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Lessons from 'Grand Torino'

I think I've said it before, but I love Netflix. I've been waiting months for the movie Grand Torino to become quickly available and the wait came to an end yesterday. I watched it with Lynn last night and I loved it. The language was rough (understatement), but the story was great. At one point, Lynn said, "Crap, that's what you're going to be like when you get old." She's probably right, but without the constant stream of racial slurs (I hope).

I loved the movie because I saw myself and the church in it. Clint Eastwood's character is rough, angry, mean, racist, violent, bitter, rebellious against God and the church. If you looked at the lists of vice of Galatians 5, Eastwood's character epitomized many of them. Yet, there was a stir of goodness in him also. He rescues a young man from a gang, helps him get a job, takes him under his wing, teaches him, gives him tools. He loves this family to the point of laying his life down for his friends in an act of love and courage that redeems a situation that looks to be without hope. He was, as his Hmong friend kept telling him, a good man. In Eastwood, I saw me and my struggle against sin and self (the flesh). Granted, it's all exaggerated in the movie so as to help us see it (in most of us these attitudes lie just below the surface - in the movie the skin of the character was peeled back so his attitudes were observable). dLike Eastwood, I'm a good man. It's not because of anything I've done or am doing. No, it's the Spirit's regenerating, renewing work in my life has made me a child of God, a saint - a good man. He's making me a loving, kind, gentle, peaceful, bold, courageous man of God (I have a long way to go).

Unfortunately, there is still that other aspect of me that clings on and I daily struggle to kill. It shows itself more often than I like to admit. It isn't winning, thank God. But it's frustrating, not only to me but to those around me who feel the brunt of my fleshly impatience, anger or bitterness.

Yet, you also see in this movie that Eastwood is accepted and loved by those around him (not everyone, obviously). He's loved and welcomed into the Hmong family (and the broader Hmong community) despite his rudeness and overt racism. I see this is a beautiful picture for what the church should be. In the church, when it's being the body of Christ, the community of grace it should be, I'm accepted despite myself. I'm surrounded by a group of people that see the Spirit's work in me and encourage it - calling me to be better, not in my own strength, but in the power Christ gives. And, as a part of the body, I'm to be doing the same thing for others. It's easy to get turned off by people's sin and rough exteriors, but as a recipient of grace I'm to extend it to others also, seeing in them the work of the Spirit, affirming it, encouraging it and helping them along as they grow to be the 'good men/women' God is shaping them to be.