April 30, 2014

Choosing a Church: It's Not about You

In the past four years or so, I've changed churches twice. (Not ideal, I know, but I had many good reasons both theological and practical). I've had opportunity to reflect, then, on what one ought to look for in a church. Here are a few of my thoughts on choosing a church:

  • There is no perfect church. Every congregation has problems. These problems vary in both kind and degree, but there will always, always, always be problems. What, then, can one do? Simple. Pray, trust God, forgive early and often, and do your best, by God's grace, to make sure you're not one of those problems. Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8; cf. Proverbs 10:12; 1 Corinthians 6:7). As one who has been shown so much grace, be quick to show grace to others, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ (Matthew 6:14; Colossians 3:13).
  • Prize truth over personal preferences.  Your church is not really yours. It belongs to God, and it must cater to his preferences rather than yours. There will be things, in even the healthiest congregations, that are not to your liking, but, if your church is truly seeking to be faithful to Scripture, then you ought to learn to overlook these things for the sake of unity in the truth (see Romans 14:10-12; 15:5; Galatians 5:13). 
  • Prize faithfulness to God's Word over personal relationships. When I left behind Pentecostalism, I did so for the health of my own soul. When I left behind Pentecostalism, though, I also left behind family and friends, straining (or even ending) relationships. It was difficult, especially for someone like me, someone who is slow to build new relationships. There were lonely times, but eventually, by God's grace, I forged new friendships with other believers. It took time and work, but it was worth it. The friendships I have now are deeper and more satisfying than those I enjoyed in the past because we are in agreement on so many wonderful truths. I wouldn't trade one friendship nourished by the truth for ten friendships that can only be sustained by downplaying or disregarding the truth. When you lose friends because you have embraced the truth, realize that, most likely, these people were not true friends to begin with. Love God and the truth of His Word enough to leave behind your acquaintances, friends, and, yes, even family when necessary (see Luke 14:26).
  • You have to give in order to get. God has designed the church so that each believer has a part to play—something to contribute (Romans 1:11; 12:5-6; 1 Corinthians 7:7; 12:4; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). It's often those who contribute the least who are least satisfied with their church. This is often because they have a consumeristic mindset. They ask, "What can this congregation do for me?" rather than "What can I do for this congregation?" When we reject this worldly way of thinking and start serving others rather than seeking to be served, we often find that our complaints start to dissipate.

April 28, 2014

On Sarah Palin's Baptism Joke: A Plea for Common Sense

This is the only commonsensical response to Sarah Palin's recent baptism joke that I've found.

Steve Hays:
I don't care for her punchline, but it's not that big a deal. Really.
Amen, brother.

Read the rest here:
"Baptizing terrorists" | Triablogue


Steve Hays on Thomists, Clarkians, and Van Tilians

Hays starts out with an evaluation of Edward Feser then moves on to his take on the current state of Clarkian and Van Tilian apologetics/philosophy.

Read it here.

April 24, 2014

Joe Carter on Civil Religion

Our God is a jealous God and is unlikely to look favorably upon idolatry even when it is put to good service. While we should be as tolerant of civil religion as we are of other beliefs, we should be cautious about submitting to it ourselves. That is not to say that we can't say the Pledge or listen to a non-sectarian prayer and think of the one true God. But we should keep in mind that this fight over ceremonial deism isn't our fight and the "god" of America's civil religion is not the God who died on the Cross.
Read the rest here.

April 23, 2014

Bray Reviews Schreiner; Schreiner Reviews Bray

The new issue of Themelios features a review of Thomas Schreiner's new biblical theology text by systematic theologian Gerald Bray. It also features a review of Gerald Bray's new systematic theology text by biblical theologian Thomas Schreiner.

Bray on Schreiner:
. . . theology cannot be simply a running exposition of the biblical text, in whatever order it is taken. It must penetrate that text and reveal the foundations on which it is built, the principles that underlie the revelation that it contains. This search for meaning is not a departure from the Bible but an exploration of its hidden depths that will enable us to understand it better. Just as we look at how other people behave and try to work out from that what really makes them tick, so we read of the great acts of God among his people in order to understand better who he is and what his purposes are. The end result will be a systematic theology built out of the evidence culled from many different parts of the revelation and not simply an account of that revelation’s contents. It is here I think that biblical scholars need to rethink their discipline, recognize what its limitations are, and accept that not only is a systematic theology necessary, but that it can be constructed only by using the evidence of the narrative and going behind it in ways that do not contradict but illuminate it better. I hope and pray that evangelical biblical scholars will come to appreciate this and that their magnificent efforts in analyzing the Scriptures may bear fruit in a deeper synthesis of what their message and their ultimate purpose is.
Schreiner on Bray:
Bray’s theology reflects not only deep humility but also an ecumenical character. I mean ecumenical in the best sense of the word. Bray writes as an Anglican and one of the virtues of evangelical Anglicanism is its emphasis on “mere Christianity.” When it comes to controversial issues, Bray doesn’t push any particular agenda. He claims that the scriptures aren’t very clear on church government and sees virtues in different arrangements. He presents various views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper but does not strongly endorse any of them. Bray’s theology would be an excellent text for Christians in every part of the world, and it is a good reminder that we must beware of being dogmatic and uncharitable on doctrines and practices that have long been disputed.
Read the rest here and here.

April 22, 2014

The Author of History

Let's say that I'm writing a book. You ask me, "How does your book end?" I answer, "Well, I haven't come up with the ending yet, but . . ." I then proceed to describe, in detail, the last chapter of the book.

This obviously makes no sense. How can I describe the ending when I haven't even come up with it yet, much less written it? I can't because there is no ending to describe. I'm the author, so, until I determine the ending, there isn't one. This illustrates the problem with the popular idea that God has simple or bare foreknowledge (the idea that God knows future events ahead of time but in no way predetermines those events).

The Logos Bible Sense Lexicon offers this definition of foreknow, "to befriend or be acquainted with someone in a familiar way ahead of time or before meeting; implying an exclusivity of choice relative to those not befriended." God's foreknowledge, then, is an active foreknowledge. God foreknows what he foreordains. To say that God foreknows his people is to say that he chooses them beforehand.

This is the only possible explanation because, as the self-existent, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe, God is the author of history. He knows the ending from the beginning because he wrote the ending. He can only foreknow what he foreordains because there is simply nothing for him to know apart from his foreordination.

Until God determines the future, there is no future for him to know.

April 21, 2014

Scriptural Proofs for the Covenant of Redemption

I've been working on compiling a list of the relevant biblical texts relating to some of the more controversial topics in systematic theology (effectual calling, election, the covenant of works; i. e. the kinds of topics not usually covered sufficiently in the standard topical cross reference works). Hopefully, in a few months, I'll post the finished prooftext cheat sheet on the blog.

Here's a preview. This is a list of prooftexts for the covenant of redemption:
  • Psalm 2:7-8
  • Psalm 16:8-10
  • Psalm 22:27-28
  • Psalm 89:3
  • Psalm 110:1
  • Isaiah 42:5-7
  • Isaiah 49
  • Isaiah 53:4-12
  • Isaiah 61
  • Matthew 5:17-18
  • Matthew 28:18
  • Luke 22:29
  • John 3:31-36
  • John 5:30, 36
  • John 6:37-40
  • John 8:28-29
  • John 17:1-6
  • Acts 2:25-28, 33
  • Galatians 3:13
  • Galatians 4:4-5
  • Ephesians 1:4-10, 20-22
  • Philippians 2:6-11
  • 2 Timothy 1:9
  • Hebrews 1:2
  • Hebrews 2:5-17
  • Hebrews 7:14-22
  • Hebrews 10:5-7
  • Hebrews 12:2
  • Hebrews 13:20-21
  • 1 Peter 1:20
  • Revelation 5:9-10

April 18, 2014

Review: Everyone's a Theologian by R. C. Sproul

Sproul, R. C. Everyone's a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Reformation Trust, 2014), 357 pp.

Everyone's a Theologian is R. C. Sproul's popular-level introduction to the discipline of systematic theology. In it, he covers all the major topics of systematics (Prolegomena, Theology Proper, Anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology), and he does so in a way that is consistently clear and concise. The book also includes two indices (subject and Scripture) as well as an appendix containing the ecumenical creeds (Apostles', Nicene, and Chalcedon).

April 17, 2014

R. C. Sproul on Finding God's Will

It is indeed a virtue to desire to know what God wants you to do. He has a secret plan for your life that is absolutely none of your business, but He may lead you and direct your paths. So there is nothing wrong with seeking the illumination of the Holy Spirit, or the leading of God, in our lives, and that is usually what people are concerned with when they ask about God’s will. However, we tend to have an ungodly desire to know the future. We want to know the end from the beginning, which is indeed none of our business. It is God’s business, which is why He is so severe in His warnings in Scripture against those who try to find out the future through illicit means such as Ouija boards, fortune tellers, and tarot cards. Those things are off-limits for Christians. [1]
. . .
We are encouraged by Scripture to learn the will of God for our lives, and we do so by focusing our attention not on the decretive will of God but on the preceptive will of God. If you want to know God’s will for your life, the Bible tells you: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). So when people wonder whether to take a job in Cleveland or in San Francisco, or whether to marry Jane or Martha, they should study closely the preceptive will of God. They should study the law of God to learn the principles by which they are to live their lives from day to day. [2]
. . . 
you cannot be outside the decretive will of God. Second, the only way you are going to know the hidden will of God for you today is to wait until tomorrow, and tomorrow will make it clear to you because you can look back on the past and know that whatever happened in the past is the outworking of the hidden will of God. In other words, we only know God’s hidden will after the fact. We usually want to know the will of God in terms of the future, whereas the emphasis in Scripture is on the will of God for us in the present, and that has to do with His commands. [3]

1. R.C. Sproul, Everyone's a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Reformation Trust, 2014), p. 73.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., p. 74.

David Naugle on Christian Aesthetics

I can’t help but think that God’s own beauty makes beauty itself objective. This would be similar to the way his righteous constitution grounds objective morality. In other words, beauty is not purely subjective in the eye of the beholder. Rather, it is really and truly there in God in a transcendent way. There are aesthetic red lights and aesthetic green lights in the universe. Certainly cultural and personal factors influence our expression, apprehension, and appreciation of beauty. The aesthetically subjective enters in at these and perhaps other levels. 
Of course, we don’t have ten aesthetic or artistic commandments like we have the ten moral commandments. Apparently, the infinitely beautiful God has left it up to us in our cultural undertakings to discern the character of true beauty. What have we come up with in our investigations? Theologically informed Christian thinkers have seized upon the notions of unity, proportion, harmony, order, brightness, clarity, color, and pleasure to describe, if not define, the beautiful as such. [1]
. . .
Unfortunately, sin has severely defaced us as God’s image and as artists. It has darkened our minds, perverted our wills, and put God’s very good creation into eclipse. Our ignorance is pervasive. Our desires have gone haywire. We are bent and broken, and our art follows suit. Can a ready-made object, like a urinal, really be great art? What about crucifixes immersed in beakers of urine? Is slicing one’s self with a razor blade in a performance piece to be admired? 
Art, in other words, frequently conveys the depravity of the human artists who make it.
These considerations raise important questions. Can art be redeemed? Does Jesus’s work of salvation have aesthetic implications? Undoubtedly! Jesus’s work of salvation is comprehensive in scope and encompasses the arts. Indeed, his death and resurrection entail all cultural enterprises, as his grace restores nature—and, yes, art. [2]

1. David K. Naugle, Philosophy: A Student’s Guide (Crossway, 2012), p. 91.
2. Ibid., pp. 92-93.

April 16, 2014

Satanic Republicans

Joe Carter has some provocative thoughts on the naive embrace of Ayn Rand by many Christians and other conservatives.

You can replace the pentagrams of LeVayian Satanism with the dollar sign of the Objectivists without changing much of the substance separating the two. The ideas are largely the same, though the movements’ aesthetics are different. One appeals to, we might say, the Young Objectivists, and the other attracts the Future Wiccans of America. What is harder to understand is why both ideologies appeal to Christians and conservatives.
Read it the rest here.

What's Wrong (and Right) with Van Tillian Presuppositionalism?

Though I appreciate the work of Cornelius Van Til and his followers (particularly John Frame and James Anderson) and have learned much from them, I've always had some reservations about Van Tillian apologetics.

In this article, Phil Fernandes offers an excellent assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Van Tillian presuppositionalism. Read it here: Cornelius Van Til | Institute of Biblical Defense

April 15, 2014

Paul's Politics

Over at The Aquila Report, Mark Hendrickson asks some thought-provoking questions about the intersection between God and government:
What is the proper scope of government? To what extent should Christians “turn the other cheek” and “suffer it to be so now” by accepting the status quo, and when is challenging and changing laws and government justified? Is it possible that Paul’s contributions to the scriptural canon were not essentially conservative, but so profoundly revolutionary on a long-term basis, leavening human thought until, centuries later, Christians’ hearts and minds were filled with the unshakable conviction that it was a human right to throw off unjust governments?
 Read the rest here.

April 14, 2014

Does Total Inability Let Sinners Off the Hook?

As a Calvinist, I believe in the doctrine of total inability, meaning that, apart from God's grace, sinful human beings are completely unable to repent and believe the gospel.

However, many object to this doctrine, believing that this sort of inability gives one an excuse for rejecting God's gracious offer of salvation. "How," it is asked, "can God hold men accountable for what they are unable to do?"

This objection is based on a confusion between two kinds of inability: natural and moral.

Natural inability is like my inability to outrun a speeding bullet or leap tall buildings. No one can rightly expect me to do those things because I'm simply not physically capable of doing them. This is natural inability.

A moral inability, though, is a very different kind of inability. Allow me to illustrate. Imagine a criminal pleading with a judge for leniency. He says, "Please, your honor, go easy on me. Yes, I committed this crime, but I only did it because I wanted to, and I enjoyed it." Does anyone seriously believe that this means the criminal is no longer culpable for his actions? This is moral inability. This is the kind of inability the Calvinist ascribes to unregenerate men.

When we say that fallen sinners, apart from God's grace, are unable to turn from their sin and trust Christ, we simply mean that they love evil and hate good so much that they will never (apart from the effectual calling of God) submit to Christ as Lord (Romans 8:7-8; cf. Romans 3:10-18; Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 2:1-3; 4:17-19; Psalm 14:2-3; Hebrews 11:6).

We are unable because we are unwilling. We can not because we will not. Nothing is stopping us except our twisted, sinful desires. Nothing is stopping us except our darkened hearts, and that is exactly what God changes in order to save us—our hearts. Total inability, as a consequence of original sin and a subset of total depravity, is a condition that we are all born with this side of Eden, and it is a condition that can only be overcome by being born again. This new birth is a mysterious act of God's irresistible, overcoming grace. Grace that overcomes our inability. Grace that creates ability. Grace that causes faith and repentance (John 3:3-8; cf. 1 Peter 1:3; Romans 4:17; Ephesians 2:8; Acts 11:18).

April 07, 2014

Affirmative Action in the Seminary Classroom

The following is a response to this post by Leon Brown: What I Wish I Had Learned in Seminary

I have learned a tremendous amount from those in the reformed tradition. In particular, I am grateful for those American theological giants who helped mold me. Although dead, their words live. B. B. Warfield, Charles and A. A. Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, J. Gresham Machen, and many others were instrumental in my theological outlook both while in seminary and now, but what do these men have in common besides their theology and American citizenship? They are all white. Is that a problem? Absolutely not! Again, I am grateful for these men. They have shaped my understanding of the Bible. In fact, I still read their literature. I wonder, however, if others, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, have contributed to reformed thought in an influential manner much like the men listed above? 
. . . 
The vast majority of the time when an African-American or Latino was highlighted in my theological education, they were associated with liberation theology (of the negative fold). Is that all people of color in America have contributed to theology, or reformed theology more specifically? I would have never questioned this until I graduated from seminary and began reading more broadly. (emphasis mine)

Should we expect professors of historical and systematic theology to give equal time to theologians from ethnic minorities? No.

While there have, of course, been Black and Hispanic theologians who have contributed to Reformed thought, there certainly haven't been any on the level of the theologians Brown mentions. That's to be expected, though. Men like Machen, Warfield, and the Hodges are giants of the Reformed tradition. There have been relatively few men throughout the history of Reformed Protestantism (and church history in general) to have the kind of impact that these men had. The odds of finding comparable figures among any minority group are slim. Take Baptists, for example. Yes, there have been great Baptist theologians in the Reformed tradition. I'm thinking of men like Boyce, Dagg, and, perhaps most notably, Andrew Fuller. But, their greatness was only relative. They stood on the shoulders of men like Charles Hodge and Jonathan Edwards. It makes sense, then, that one would not give these men too much attention when focusing on the broader tradition of which they only represent a subset (Calvinistic Baptists, in this case).

In fact, when focusing on the broader picture, I would probably expect the most notable Baptist contributions to be something negative, like say the heresy of Crawford Toy, the liberalizing tendencies of E. Y. Mullins and A. H. Strong, or the populist, pragmatist, pietist, and revivalist streams so prevalent within the Southern Baptist Convention. The positive aspects of the the Baptist tradition (at least from a Reformed perspective) are mostly unoriginal restatements of the received Calvinistic orthodoxy. In other words, the best representatives of this minority tradition within the broader Reformed tradition were simply building on the more important and original work of men like Hodge and Edwards. It's no wonder, then, that Boyce and Dagg receive so little attention (outside of Baptist circles). I wouldn't expect anything different. I would expect that the same thing could be said of virtually any other minority within the broader Reformed tradition (like Reformed theologians from ethnic minorities, for example).

April 04, 2014

I Love Carl Trueman Despite the Fact That He Is Terribly Wrong On Occasion

First, I want to get this out in the open: I have a man crush on Carl Trueman. I just think he's the bee's knees. But, despite my appreciation for Carl Trueman, I feel the need to point out that this is nonsense.

Can Trueman honestly not see any principled difference between Christian backers pulling support for a parachurch ministry over a hiring policy and the left forcing the resignation of a software company CEO over his political views? Seriously?

Thankfully, I'm not the only one pointing out that the emperor has no clothes (see this post by Steve Hays).

April 01, 2014

Answering Bad Arguments Against Interracial Marriage

Leon Brown's recent article at Reformation 21 got me thinking about interracial marriage. This post is the result.

Maybe it's like this everywhere, or maybe the stereotypes are true, but, living in the South my entire life, I've heard a lot of nonsense about interracial relationships. Before I tear apart a couple of bad arguments against interracial marriage, I want to make it clear that I have no dog in this fight. I am not nor have I ever been in an interracial relationship. I'm just tired of hearing Christians (whether real or nominal) say foolish things which are so clearly out of step with the gospel of grace and the Lordship of Christ.

For instance, I have a friend (a nominal believer) with an irrational aversion to interracial relationships. When asked to justify his position, he said something to the effect of, "That's just the way I was raised." "Oh really?" I wanted to ask, "What if your parents were both serial killers? What if they had raised you to follow in their footsteps and kill people for fun? Would that make it okay?" Now, of course, racism is obviously not on par with murder, but the purpose of an extreme example is to help one look past the particular issue at hand and see the principles at work underneath. In this case, one will hopefully realize that ethics are based something other than one's upbringing. "That's what my parents taught me" is either legitimate or not. If it's legitimate to appeal to this standard in one case, it's legitimate to appeal to it in the other. The difference between the two cases is not one of kind but degree. There is no principled difference between the two.

We all realize that even the best parents are not perfect. They don't get everything right. The very fact that we can judge the rightness or wrongness of our parents' actions means that they are not the ultimate standard of morality. Even if they were, the objection still would not stand, for one could simply say, "My parents taught me to affirm the rightness of interracial relationships." Now we have a standoff. We are not left with this standoff, however, because there is an absolute standard of right and wrong which stands in judgment over us and our parents/upbringing/culture/etc. Sound moral reasoning must appeal to this higher standard. Relativistic appeals to one's upbringing may work for children, but adults are going to have to do better than this.

Thankfully, the other common argument I've heard against interracial marriage isn't quite as childish as the first. It goes something like this, "Children of interracial relationships will be ostracized. They will not be fully accepted by either ethnicity. Therefore, it is irresponsible and unwise to engage in interracial relationships." This one, at a glance, seems more intelligent than the first one, but it actually fails for the same reason: it proves too much. See the similarity? The "think of the children!" argument could be used against virtually any kind of relationship. It could be used to dissuade any minority from having children merely because there is a possibility that the children will be bullied/ostracized/isolated/etc. An example: as a high-functioning autistic, I've been ridiculed my entire life due to the social deficits and behavioral quirks that come with my condition. There is a good chance that any children I have will suffer from some form of autism as well. They will likely experience the same kind of pain and isolation that I have experienced (probably much more than that of a non-autistic, interracial child). Perhaps I shouldn't have children at all.

Are you starting to see the problem with this argument? It could even be used to argue against Christians having children. "You shouldn't get married because, if you have children, you will, as a believer, be required to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. This God-fearing lifestyle will make your children feel alienated and unwelcome in our worldly and sinful culture. Therefore, it is irresponsible and unwise for Christians to get married." What is the principled difference between these two cases? There isn't one. If it's a bad argument in one case, it's a bad argument in the other.

This argument also overlooks the fact that virtually all children are picked on for some reason or other at various times in their lives. This is so obvious that I really don't think I need to develop it any further.

Just like the first argument, the second one proves far too much. If the first argument succeeds, it proves moral relativism. An action is right or wrong for me simply because I was brought up to believe it was right or wrong. There is no higher standard to which one can appeal in order to correct the morality one was taught by one's parents. If the second argument succeeds, it would prove that it is wrong to do anything that could potentially lead to one's hypothetical children possibly being bullied or picked on. This is moral insanity. Since when are believers supposed to be constrained by the social mores of the unbelieving culture around them? Isn't God's Word supposed to be our standard? When we are obedient to Scripture, we will be ostracized. When we teach our children to obey God's Word, they will be ostracized. What, then, follows from this? Are we to rewrite God's moral law, adding to it and subtracting from it at will, forbidding what he allows and allowing what he forbids, until our standard perfectly lines up with that of the unbelievers around us? Certainly not.

The end of the matter is this: God has not forbidden interracial marriage.

Are we wiser than God?

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