Monday, May 31, 2010

Song of the Week

One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands:

Pearl Jam: Who You Are

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Has Luke Been Reading Derrida?

Luke has been on this kick of asking "what does __________ mean?" Last night he asked, "what does apple mean?" I don't know. Is it Latin in origin. Greek. Old English? What's the etymology? I just held up a shiny green one from the bowl and said, 'It means this'. He wasn't satisfied. "No, what does it mean?" I give up - just eat.

Reading Vanhoozers Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, I've been thinking more about 'meaning' than ever before. As I understand it, in premodern and modern theories of language, names referred to object (and/or ideas). For Plato, eternal ideas were reflected in things (palely) which were in turn reflected in words. More modern philosophers payed more attention to thoughts, mind and ideas, but still maintained that the "job of language was to formulate true pictures of the world". As I understand the decontructionism of Derrida, he questions the static nature of reality (there is no Platonic Idea of Apple, the unbiased nature of the observer (How you define Apple is perspectival and probably a power thing), and the ability of language to adequately symbolize reality (which is always in flux) because the categories and structure we use are arbitrary (Your categories of fruit and vegetable are arbitrary and leave out data that doesn't fit neatly).

Where does Derrida leave us? Not sure - I've only read the first couple of chapters! It does bring to mind, however, a scene from Revenge of the Nerds II:

Arnold Poindexter: So what you're saying essentially is, is that along with infinite space which extends beyond perpetual bigness there's also infinite smallness?
Harold Wormser: [nods head in agreement]
Arnold Poindexter: How?
Harold Wormser: Easy. Take an asymptotic line and extend it outward.
Arnold Poindexter: Oh.
Stewart: Right, right, right. So perpetual bigness exists simultaneously with perpetual smallness. What was I thinking?
Ogre: What if uh C-A-T really spelled dog?
Arnold Poindexter: Wow.
Harold Wormser: God.
Stewart: Yeah.
Arnold Poindexter: That's heavy Ogre. Dog.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More on Evangelicalism from McGrath (last installment)

I finished McGrath's book a while ago but have been waiting to post on it till after we finished discussing it as a staff, knowing those discussions would bring additional insights.

Again, let me say that I think McGrath's book is really, really good - insightful, hopefully, optimistic and yet critical as well. I tend to pick books apart, even ones I think are good (and this post won't be any different).

McGrath's sixth chapter sounds ominous - 'The Dark Side of Evangelicalism'. Honestly, the title is more daunting than the chapter. It's pretty lightweight, devoted to three 'negative' aspects of evangelicalism. First, "One of the more worrying aspects of some evangelical preaching and counseling is the creation of a sense of guilt, paralysis and self-doubt that results from a deficient understanding of the Reformation doctrine of 'knowledge of sin'" (pg. 140). Really? That makes the list of top three things that we should be worried about? Me guesses it might have something to do with the fact that McGrath coauthored a book Self-Esteem: The Cross and Christian Confidence with his wife. Shameless.

His second point is more legitimate. Evangelicals can be 'intensely dogmatic'. He sees two negative aspects of this intense dogmatism. First, evangelicals place a high premium on assurance and certainty, "making doubt a serious problem for evangelicals" (pg. 143). Christians are taught to conquer (read: suppress) their doubts from an early age. (I'd like to post on the evolution of the doctrine of assurance in the Great Awakenings at some point - it's fascinating and helps us understand a lot about he contemporary evangelical situation). McGrath rightly points out that this is a departure from earliest Reformed thought. Quoting Calvin, "when we stress that faith ought to be certain and secure, we do not have in mind a certainty without doubt, or a security without any anxiety. Rather, we affirm that believers have a perpetual struggle with their own lack of faith, and are far from possessing a peaceful conscience, never interrupted by any disturbance." McGrath offers his commentary that I believe is spot on: "Evangelicals need to rediscover the pastoral consequences of an excessive emphasis on certainty, make the vital distinction between intellectual and existential certitude clearer and realize that people have different outlooks on life that can affect them in different ways" (pg 144). That, I believe is helpful. Interestingly, McGrath also has a book on doubt, Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith.

Unfortunately, his second point regarding dogmatism isn't as helpful. He argues that in the evangelical camp there is a "tendency to become dogmatic over issues of relative rather than absolute importance" (pg. 145). He does acknowledge that there are doctrines and issues we should be dogmatic about, yet goes on to argue that we can ill afford a 'protracted civil war' over nonessential doctrines. He goes on to offer four such 'relative issues': Whether evangelicals should remain in or separate from liberal mainline denominations, the precise nature of the authority of Scripture, the place of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, and the role of women in the church. In theory I think I agree - and I think ECC is a wonderful example of this, choosing to unite around the core of the faith and allowing for liberty in nonessentials. However, reading McGrath you get the sense that to take a stand on any of the issues is to become dogmatic. Honestly, I don't think you can avoid taking a stand on most of them - and whatever position you take will be divisive. Take for example the issue of women in ministry. Its fine to say its nonessential. However, you will either have women on the staff/elders or you won't, and whichever it is you'll alienate people who think your position violates conscience or is too narrow. McGrath offers little guidance in how to handle these nonessential issues other than "Individual evangelicals owe the movement as a whole the responsibility of taking each other seriously, wherever Scripture permits more than one reading, just as they are obliged to defend evangelical truth wherever this seems to be under threat. But it needs to be realized that evangelicals are free to differ on matters of secondary importance" (pg. 148).

McGrath's third main concern is a huge concern of mine also - the evangelical personality cult. With the advent of new media it's a huge problem, although not an entirely new one. Others have pointed out the evangelicalism was, from it's inception, much more reliant on personalities (Whitfield, Finney, Sunday, Moody, Graham, etc.) than were the more mainstream and confessional expressions of Protestantism. McGrath speaks very critically of 'power ministries' which are almost inevitably authoritarian (much like the medieval Roman Catholic church), marginalize Scripture, and 'vulnerable to sinful human exploitation'. To counter this, McGrath advocates a return to the Reformed doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and of the material sufficiency of Scripture. That would divest the 'elites' of their power and authority and would give men and women in the church "both the right and the means to ensure that his or her church and pastors remain faithful to their gospel calling" (pg. 157).

The seventh, and final chapter "Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity" explores the question, "What bearing has the growth of evangelicalism on the future of Christianity itself?"

First, he rightly sees that the future of Christianity depends on evangelism - more so than in centuries past. Even the mainline denominations recognize this, though what gospel they will offer people is questionable. However, McGrath believes it to be essential that the church realize "the proclomation of the good news cannot be restricted to individuals but must include the transformation of the context in which individuals live. A recovery of the biblical notion of the corporate and social aspects of both sin and redemption has led many younger evangelicals to be concerned about the transformation of society as well as of individual lives" (pg 161). I think he's right; however, I don't agree with him that this is necessarily a development that is beneficial. In fact, I'd argue it will prove to be more divisive, distracting, and ultimately detrimental to the witness of the church. McGrath argues, "in faithfulness to Scripture itself, it must be pointed out that the gospel is also 'good news' for society. It is virtually impossible to read the Old Testament without being aware of the social dimensions of the faith" (pg. 165). I honestly expected more nuance from McGrath here. The parallels between the Old Testament and the church in exile is not an apples to apples comparison, and it is intellectually dishonest to imply it is.

I agree that evangelicals should be active in the public sphere, but acting out their committments to the common good, not to Christianize or convert or transform society into the Kingdom of God. We should engage in secular activities recognizing God's common grace in all areas of life, save the profane. That common grace allows us to partner with nonbelievers, working together for the good of the city, not only with Christians seeking to impose Christian values on a pluralistic culture.

Much of McGrath's hope for the future of evangelicalism seems to hang on our ability to find a common vision for public life. He argues that this was set aside in the 1920's and the fundamentalist movement, but has gained new life in recent decades. First, fundamentalists did not set aside a vision for the common good, nor did they cease to be active. This is a myth often told (I've told it myself). Fundamentalists were very active in politics - they were patriotic in the extreme, lobbied for prohibition, lobbied to keep Bible reading and prayer in public schools, were active in inner city rescue missions and in many more endeavors. As DG Hart argues, they were ultra conservative in their activities, but to say they were withdrawn is a total misrepresentation of the facts. Moreover, McGrath overestimates our ability to find common ground in seeking to apply the gospel to today's social ills. We may all agree profound poverty is the result of numerous injustices; yet, we will not likely agree on how best to remedy these injustices. In the end, advocating for a public policy will add yet another layer of things for evangelicals to become dogmatic about and divide over.

McGrath concludes his book with some interesting thoughts on evangelicalism's relationship to the Roman Catholic church, to the mainline churches and to post-Enlightenment culture at large. In each venue, there are many opportunities to take advantage of, as well as dangers to be aware of.

In the end, McGrath's book is a helpful, thought provoking book. In many cases, my hopes run contrary to his, but he is an articulate and thoughtful advocate of a 'transformationalist' approach to Christianity. I feel my understanding of the evangelicalism and it's future is more developed and my own commitments, though different than McGrath's, are keener for having read his work.

Reading List for the Summer

I have a lot of reading to do this summer, mainly for two classes I'm taking, but some just for edification and fun.


1. Disciplining Hermeneutics: Interpretation in Christian Perspective, by Roger Lundin.
2. What Is Narrative Criticism? (Guides to Biblical Scholarship New Testament Series), by Mark Allan Powell.
3. God, Language and Scripture, by Moises Silva.
4. Art of Biblical History, The, by V. Philips Long.
5. Models for Interpretation of Scripture, John Goldingay.
6. Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Landmarks in Christian Scholarship), Kevin Vanhoozer.
7. Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible, Daniel Doriani.

On Evangelicalism:

1. The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (A History of Evangelicalism), Mark Noll.
2. The Expansion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Wilberforce, More, Chalmers and Finney (History of Evangelicalism), John Wolffe.
3. The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon And Moody (History of Evangelicalism), David Bebbington.
4. Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000, Iain Murray.
5. Old Evangelicalism, Iain Murray.
6. Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham, DG Hart.
7. The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards: American Religion and the Evangelical Tradition, DG Hart, et al.

On/By John Williamson Nevin:

1. John Williamson Nevin: High-Church Calvinist (American Reformed Biographies), DG Hart.
2. John Williamson Nevin: American Theologian (Religion in America), Richard Wentz.
3. Catholic and Reformed: Selected Writing of John Williamson Nevin (Pittsburgh Original Texts & Translations Series ; 3)
4. The Anxious Bench, Antichrist & the Sermon Catholic Unity, John Williamson Nevin.
5. The Mystical Presence: A Vindication Of The Reformed Or Calvinistic Doctrine Of The Holy Eucharist (1867), John Williamson Nevin.
6. History and genius of the Heidelberg catechism, John Williamson Nevin.

For Edification:

1. The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, Kevin DeYoung.
2. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, Eugene Peterson.

For Fun:

1. Scarlet (The King Raven, Book 2), Stephen Lawhead
2. Tuck (The King Raven Trilogy, Book 3), Stephen Lawhead

Monday, May 24, 2010

Song of the Week

Ok, just for fun.

Jimmy Buffett, Volcano

Friday, May 21, 2010

Library Bookstore

Just a heads up - if you live in Bloomington you should check out the Bookstore at the Library. The boys and I went over there after school today and got some great books (6 in all) for $4.50. Hardcovers are $1 and paperbacks just $.50. Kids books are even cheaper! The cost goes down tomorrow and on Monday everything left is free. Can't beat free.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

James and Paul on Justification

I've had a bunch of questions sent my way this week (there had been something of a drought over the past few week - maybe it had something to do with finals, etc.). One of the questions that came my way was about Paul's teaching that we are justified by faith and not by works and James teaching that we are justified by works and not by faith alone. Both use Abraham as their test case. Are they disputing with one another? Can these two passages be reconciled?

I don't think they are arguing with each other, though James may be correcting an antinomian misunderstanding/misrepresentation of Paul (I know Romans was written after James by a decade or more; however, Paul had been preaching the gospel of grace for a decade or more before James wrote his letter).

I think the key is to see that Paul and James are using the word 'justify' differently. DA Carson sums up my understanding well: "James is using the verb 'justify' in the sense 'vindicate before men'...and therefore James and Paul are talking about different things...Paul the declaration of our righteousness and James the demonstration of our righteousness."

I think there is good reason from the text to believe this. In Romans 4:1-3 where Paul argues that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works he points to Abraham's belief in God's promises. This belief was reckoned to him as righteousness. That event is recorded in Gen 15.

James says that Abraham was justified by his work of offering up Isaac on the alter (James 2:21). The event he draws upon is recorded in Genesis 22 and happened years after he had been declared righteous by God. In the next verse James writes, "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works". The word completed is telos (ετελειωθη) and has the meaning of completed/perfected - not in adding what was lacking, but in bringing something to its completion/end/goal. So James is saying that Abraham was justified by his works, meaning he was proved to be righteous (not declared to be righteous; something God had already declared decades earlier). Also, James contends that his faith was brought to completion by his works. That accords with Paul's theology expressed in Eph. 2:8-10:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
Faith saves, but the kind of faith that saves will be evident in our good works, works we were created to do in Christ Jesus.

What is Classic Rock?

I got this email from iTunes yesterday:

Are you looking for something in our Classic Rock department? If so, you might be interested in these items.

In this message:
* Use Your Illusion I
* Use Your Illusion II
* G N' R Lies
* Appetite for Destruction
* The Spaghetti Incident?
* Live Era '87-'93
* Greatest Hits
* Use Your Illusion

Please, someone tell iTunes that Guns N Roses isn't Classic Rock (and pass the memo on to Pandora and Classic Rock Magazine). The term Classic Rock needs to be used more sparingly and accurately to denote those great bands like the Stones, Steppenwolf, Steve Miller Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cream, The Doors, Pink Floyd.

So, with that in mind what are the best Classic Rock songs or bands in your collection?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why I Believe In the Gift of Prophecy Today

Is prophecy a gift the ended with the close of the canon? Many of my favorite theologians (B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and most Reformed theologians) have argued so.

I'm not convinced. I believe the gift of prophecy (as well as tongues and other 'sign gifts') continue until Christ returns, though I am skeptical of most modern practitioners - especially the ones who have made a name for themselves as wonder workers.

The passage that is most convincing to me is 1 Corinthians 13:8-10:
"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away."

When will these prophecies cease? And tongues? When the perfect comes. Not till then. So what is the 'perfect'? Cessationists argue that the perfect refers to the close of the canon and the apostolic age. Others argue that it refers the coming of Christ - so, on this view, the gifts will continue until Christ's second advent. Cessationists point out the the Greek word for perfect (τελειον) is in the neuter. Jesus is never referred to in the neuter, so, the argument goes, this couldn't refer to Christ's return.

I agree that 'the perfect' doesn't refer directly to Christ. Instead, it refers to the state of affairs Christ establishes when he returns - full knowledge, seeing face to face, sight instead of faith, the complete sanctification of believers, the return of Paradise, the complete and total victory of God. Until then, the gifts continue.

Another significant line of reasoning has to do with the purpose of the gifts. Cessationists typically argue that the 'sign gifts' were given to authenticate the apostles message. So, once the apostles and their message had been validated and canonized, the sign gifts passed away.

To me, that's an overly narrow understanding of the purpose of the sign gifts. The gifts did have an authenticating function, but it wasn't just to authenticate the message of apostles but also the arrival of the Kingdom of God, albeit a spiritual kingdom that arrived in seed (but will grow). Jesus preached and embodied the kingdom and sends his disciples out to do the same (Luke 9:2; Luke 10:9). Joel 2:28-29 connects the pouring out of the Spirit and prophesying to 'the last days'. This passage is quoted by Peter in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost as he argues the prophesy was being fulfilled in the events of that day. Hence, it is a sure sign we are living in the last days (Heb. 1:2), the days when the kingdom of God advances and the strong man (Satan) has been bound (Mark 3:27, Rev. 20:2?).

Moreover, it's clear from the New Testament that the gifts of healing, tongues and prophecy weren't limited to the apostolic core, but extended to the members of the church. In Acts, Stephen and Philip, two deacons (but not apostles) are said to have performed miraculous signs (Acts 6:8 & Acts 8:6). In this vein see also Galatians 3:5, 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, 28).

Moreover, several other passages deal with the churches responsibility (ongoing) to test prophesy (1 Thess. 5:20, 1 Cor 14:29, 1 John 4:1-3). What I see about prophecy as it is practiced in the church is that is must always be subject to the Word. In the early church it was subject to the words of the apostles - whatever portions of it the church had. In our context, it must be subject to the written Word.

The abuse of the gift of prophecy goes back to the Montanist heresy of the 2nd century (though historically accurate, it's probably an overstatement to call it a heresy). Some have actually referred to the Pentecostal movement as neo-Montanism. The Montanists made claims that the new prophecy was superior to the old, higher than the apostles and even higher than Christ's. Many modern prophets seem to be cut from the same mold - 'so what if Scripture contradicts what I'm saying - I've heard it straight from God'.

This week I learned a cool Latin phrase (thanks to Justin Taylor's blog): abusus usum non tollit (“Abuse does not take away proper use”). Fantastic. Abuse of prophecy doesn't mean proper use of it doesn't exist. In fact, it seems evident from Scripture that prophecy was always abused (how many false prophets were there in Israel? At least a few billion!). That is precisely why the church is called to be discerning, but not dismissive.

Hope that is somewhat helpful.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Amazing Story of God's Sovereignty

Today I read the story of Jehoshaphat and Ahab's battle to take back Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians (2 Chron 18 and 1 Kings 22). I know I've read the story, but it was like reading it for the first time today. Here's a few things to notice:

Judah and Israel had been divided for some time now and had been at war that entire time. Jehoshaphat, who is deemed a good king in Judah makes peace with Ahab the king of Israel. To show that no good deed goes unnoticed, Ahab thought 'Ah, now I've got a military ally that will help me take back to town of Ramoth-gilead.' He proposes the joint venture to Jehoshaphat who agrees, saying, "I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses" (1 Kings 22:4).

But Jehoshaphat, showing why he's a good king, says "Inquire first for the word of the Lord" (1 Kings 22:5). Ahab brings together 400 prophets who tell Ahab and Jehoshaphat, "Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king" (1 Kings 22:6). Something doesn't sit right with Jehoshaphat and he asks Ahab, "Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?" (1 Kings 22:7). I think that's really interesting. What we'll see later in the narrative is that these 400 prophets are not speaking for the Lord but have been deceived by a lying spirit to lead Ahab to his destruction. Jehoshaphat knows something is amiss in his bones - he can sense it. He's able to discern the word of the Lord from a lie.

Ahab replies to Jehoshaphat's request, "There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil" (1 Kings 22:8). Great illustration of the quote from John Thompson! A servant is sent to find Micaiah and bring him to the king(s). As they are about to enter, the servant, named Zedekiah, instructs the prophet to tell the king what he wants to hear, "Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably" (1 Kings 22:13). Micaiah's response is what you would expect from a true man of God, "As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak" (1 Kings 22:14). Micaiah will 'preach the whole counsel of the Lord', not just what Ahab's 'itching ears' want to hear (and it ends up landing him in prison).

Here's where the story gets real good. Micaiah goes in and speaks favorably, though my guess is it was spoken with thick sarcasm. The king says to Micaiah, "How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?" (1 Kings 22:16). Here's the real message from the Lord to Ahab: "And he said, 'I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” (1 Kings 22:17). After a brief interruption from Ahab, Micaiah continues:

"And Micaiah said, 'Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.'”

Wow. Here's a few things I see. First, when the Lord calls court even the evil angels/spirits heed his call. Second, God uses evil, a lying spirit, to accomplish his purposes. Third, the truth of God's word comes to Ahab so he should have known better, known not to go up to Ramoth-gilead.

Ahab doesn't head Micaiah's warning. Instead, he has him thrown into prison and goes to battle anyway, albeit in disguise (maybe God won't recognize me without my kingly robe). As we read the story we are given privy to instructions given by the Syrian king to "Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel" (1 Kings 22:31). When the Syrian army sees Jehoshaphat in his kingly robes they assume he must be the king of Israel. It says, "So they turned to fight against him. And Jehosphaphat cried out. "(1 Kings 22:32), so they turned away from pursuing him.

But..."But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel [Ahab] between the scale armor and the breastplate" (1 Kings 22:34). Ok, so not only are evil spirits under the sovereign control of God, forced to do his bidding, but so are stray arrows 'randomly shot'. The king bleeds out and dies and the charioteer washes out the blood by a pool in Samaria and dogs come and lick up the blood, 'according to the word the Lord had spoken' against Ahab for the killing of Naboth (1 Kings 21:19).

In a world filled with evil, lying spirits, chaos and seemingly random evils, it is encouraging to be reminded God is in control! Oh, no word on what happened to Micaiah after his prophesy was fulfilled.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Great Quote

I ran across this great quote from John Thompson (1690-1753). Don't know him? Either did I. He was an Old Side Presbyterian critic of New Side (pro revival) Presbyterians. History remembers the winners, and the Old Siders, though probably right in much of their critique, were the losers. He writes, "My dear friends, you may assure yourselves of it that you are not most edified or profited when you are most pleased. False Doctrine and mere Amusements do too often please an unskillful Auditory, to their Hurt."

Is there a reset button somewhere?

Have you ever wished you could unlearn or unthink something. I'm there now. A train of thought and study that began over a year ago has left me incredibly uncomfortable in my evangelical skin. It started with one question that led to another, and another, etc. I wish, honestly, there was a reset button, that I'd taken the Blue Pill or that I could be plugged back into the Matrix as if I didn't know there was anything else.

For a several years the question of how the church should engage culture has bothered me. It's a hot topic and has been for a while. On one side you see those who advocate a total withdrawal from culture; on the other side you see those radical theonomists who argue the church should seek to totally transform the culture into a Christian culture, implementing OT laws and the whole nine yards. My tentative conclusion is that the church should not seek the transformation of culture (as the sermon yesterday probably made clear). The kingdom of this world will always be the kingdom of this world - never the kingdom of God. The church is tasked with preaching the good news of the kingdom and should not allow itself to be distracted by vain attempts to Christianize the world. In addition, it really does seem to beg the question "In which direction should we try to transform the culture?" Calvin was willing to admit that while Scripture spoke clearly about the means of salvation, the person and work of Christ, etc, it was remarkably silent on many other things. For example, Scripture isn't clear how society should be governed. A case can be made from Scripture that democracy is the best form of government. However, a good case can be made for a limited monarchy or a more socialist state. Scripture isn't clear. I don't know that there is a particularly Christian form of government or even a particularly Christian way of governing/ordering society. (By particularly Christian I mean way of doing things that is accessible only to Christians through particular revelation as opposed to accessible to all men through general revelation).

That question led to the second - should Christianity effect everything I do? Is there a particularly Christian way of mowing my lawn, or of cooking chili, or of maintaining my truck (it sounds absurd to even ask those questions - but some would argue there is)? Another way to get at it is to ask if everything is really sacred or is there a distinction between sacred and secular (or common). I've come to embrace three domains (as did the Reformers): sacred, secular (or common) and profane. Certainly, Scripture rules out the profane - so it does govern what I watch on TV (Playboy channel is out), what vocations I can choose (pimp is no longer an option), and similar questions. But in the area of secular vocations like law, medicine, magistrate, carpenter, mechanic, teacher, etc., there isn't a particularly Christian way of performing the task. At the ultimate level there is a difference in motivation. As the Catechism states, our chief end is to glorify God. But at the penultimate level, in the details, a house built by a Christian or a non-Christian won't look any different.

So, I have come to question one of the central tenants of pietistic Christianity - that faith makes demands in all areas of life. I agree with DG Hart on this, that such an "application of religion to practical affairs sacralizes things that are common (e.g. exercise, eating and politics) and trivializes things that are sacred (e.g. creed, sacraments and pastoral ministry)" (pg. xxi in The Lost Soul of American Protestanism).

So, having provisionally rejected a transformationalist approach to the church and culture and it's kissing cousin pietism, I wonder where that leaves me in terms of my evangelicalism. Hart and other have argued convincingly that evangelicalism is really just conservative Protestantism mixed with revivalistic pietism. They argue that there is a branch of conservative Protestantism not warmed over by this pietism, calling it Confessional Protestantism and represented in historic denominations like Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian (OPC especially), etc. Do I fit there? In my mind I do, but my heart just isn't there. For now, I am just resolved to be an uncomfortable evangelical. This uncomfortability is honestly sapping a lot of intellectual and emotional energy and I pray that God will allow me to get past my need to neat answers and tidy systems and embrace living in the tension I'm in.

Song(s) of the Week

Having talked about the love of God last night at Connexion (from the story of Hosea), I thought I'd post a song about the love of God. However, I couldn't decide between these two. The first, 'Here is Love' was called the love song of the Welsh Revival of 1904. The first two verses were originally written by William Rees ("Dyma gariad fel y moroedd") and William Williams added the 3rd and 4th verses. It was translated to English by William Edwards (did you notice - three men, four Williams).

The second is my favorite hymn - to be sung at my funeral (just a reminder Lynn). I know I've posted it before, but it's I think we can handle it again. The words were written by Samuel Francis, a Plymouth Brethren open air preacher in London, in 1875.

Here is Love

Oh The Deep Deep Love of Jesus

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hosea - Shane and Shane

I read the book of Hosea this week preparing to speak on the steadfast love of God at Connexion on Sunday night (we're doing a series on the attributes of God as seen in the OT). Anyway, it brought this song to mind from Shane and Shane.

A Bone to Pick with McGrath

I posted earlier on the encouragement I took from Alister McGrath's book Evangelicalism & the Future of Christianity. It was a good read and I'd still recommend the book. It's dated, published in 1995, but I honestly liked that. It provoked good questions/discussion, i.e. 'would McGrath be as positive today? If not, why not?'

I like the book, but the chapter on "A Loss of Vision" I find to be too simplistic and the chapter on "Evangelical Spirituality" I think is wrongheaded and in contradiction with what I love so much about McGrath's earlier chapters.

In discussing the seeming loss of evangelical vision, McGrath writes, "There is a real danger that evangelicalism, sensing the need for a distinct identity, will define itself overprecisely, negatively or reactively" (pg. 115). I'd agree with McGrath that evangelicalism can't be defined too precisely - if it is, it evaporates into nothingness (as D.G. Hart argues). McGrath continues, "diversity within evangelicalism is to be tolerated where a corresponding diversity can be demonstrated within Scripture" (pg. 115). That, in my opinion, is dangerously simplistic. Why? Because most heretics I know of claimed their position could be supported by Scripture (Arians loved Col. 1:15 & Heb. 1:5; Docetics liked the language of Phil. 2). We live in a day and age where everyone's interpretation of Scripture is thought to be valid. We arrived here via a misunderstanding/misapplication of the Reformations mantra of sola Scriptura, an idea McGrath has written an excellent book on, calling it Christianity's Dangerous Idea. The corrective is an appreciation for the church and it's creeds, and a commitment to read the Bible with the church through the ages - something McGrath advocates early in the book, but neglects here. Sola Scripture, when it morphs into "the Bible is our only creed," is a sure gateway to heresy (John Piper does a great job of explaining why biblical truths need to be defended/articulated using nonbiblical language in a bio-sermon on Athanasius from 2005).

The second point of contention has to do with McGrath's critique of evangelical spirituality. He argues that evangelicalism, largely due to its resurgence in the intellectual and academic realms, is in danger of becoming too cerebral. He says it better, "As evangelicalism moves to claim the intellectual high ground in Western Christianity, there is a real danger that it may neglect the needs of the human heart" (pg. 120). He is concerned that there has been little emphasis place on developing a particularly evangelical spirituality (citing JI Packer and Eugene Peterson as notable exceptions), writing that the "lack of a credible, coherent and distinctive spirituality is one of the greatest weaknesses facing evangelicalism today" (pg 122). His sharpest criticism comes a few pages later, "In short, evangelicalism has become spiritually derivative. Instead of falling back on its own distinctive approach to spirituality, evangelicalism has become lazy: it has borrowed other people's" (pg. 126). In the same paragraph he refers to evangelical spirituality as parasitic. That's where I get real frustrated! McGrath, in the opening chapters of this book has gone to great pain to show how evangelicalism is really the standard bearer for orthodox Christianity. If so, why shouldn't we borrow from the deep spiritual resources of the past. Why can't we draw from the wells of Chrysostom, Bede, or Augustine and his Confessions. Moreover, I think he's neglecting many other great spiritual writers in the history of the evangelical movement like John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, as well as some great contemporary spiritual writers like Richard Foster, Donald Whitney, and Ken Boa. Maybe they don't make the cut, but why? Why must evangelicals reinvent the wheel, why do we need a 'distinct evangelical spirituality'? It doesn't seem to make sense given the opening chapters of the book. Worse, it's inconsistent with the next page where McGrath calls upon evangelicals to remember and embrace their roots!

He goes on to argue that evangelicals have not adapted their spirituality to the demands of modern life. He argues that "the classic quiet time is a virtual impossibility for many of my colleagues in the highly stressed worlds of business and medicine, where personal space is a rare and cherished luxury...Christians find themselves being presented with demands [to read the Bible and pray] that prove to be quite unrealistic" (pg 128-129). Really? Even John Stossel knows that we have more free time/leisure time now than ever before (watch the video starting at the 4:00 mark). It's just that we fill it with stuff - going to the gym, baseball/softball leagues, TV, etc. It's there, if we use it.

I really think McGrath misdiagnosis the problem. It's not the evangelical spirituality is shallow and can't provide adequate models of spiritual growth for the modern Christian, it's that evangelicals are shallow and don't care to make time and space for them.

These two chapters are unfortunate (though fortunately short). I'll wrap the rest of the book up next week - I know you can't wait!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Another Song of the Week (cause I can)

I was going to post this song earlier today, but didn't because I didn't like the video. Now, thanks to Beth, I can post it as an audio instead of video. Tricky!

I love the line in this song, 'how can I be lost if I've got no where to go.' (Reminds me of the scene in Alice in Wonderland when Alice asks the cat for directions). There's a theological point to be made here: without direction/design, you can't make evaluations as to goodness or badness of something. Alisdair McIntyre makes the case very well in After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition.

Song of the Week

So Lala will be shutting down in a few weeks and is no longer allowing members to embed audio. Anyone got any other good options for (legally) embedding audio in blogger? For now, I'm stuck with YouTube for my songs of the week. (If I can't come up with another way, I may have to go to something a little more boring, like 'theological word of the week' or 'great quote of the week', maybe 'heretic of the week' or something like that).

Here's one from a long time ago!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Family Pictures

I haven't posted any family pics in a for grandma's and grandpa's, here's a few:

Easter Sunday.

Luke being, well, Luke.

Caleb being goofy. That doesn't happen too often.

Jake lost another tooth.

Caleb had to dress as a favorite character from a book. Guesses?

Jake went on a field trip to Peden Farms.