Sunday, September 30, 2012

ongoing rapport

"In the Scriptures God daily comes to his people, not from afar but nearby. In it he reveals himself, from day to day, to believers in the fullness of his truth and grace. Through it he works his miracles of compassion and faithfulness. Scripture is the ongoing rapport between heaven and earth, between Christ and his church, between God and his children. It does not just tie us to the past; it binds us to the living Lord in the heavens. It is the living voice of God."

(Herman Bavinck)

Thursday, September 27, 2012


R. C. Sproul writes, 

About thirty years ago, I shared a taxi cab in St. Louis with Francis Schaeffer. I had known Dr. Schaeffer for many years, and he had been instrumental in helping us begin our ministry in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, in 1971. Since our time together in St. Louis was during the twilight of Schaeffer’s career, I posed this question to him: “Dr. Schaeffer, what is your biggest concern for the future of the church in America?” Without hesitation, Dr. Schaeffer turned to me and spoke one word: “Statism.” Schaeffer’s biggest concern at that point in his life was that the citizens of the United States were beginning to invest their country with supreme authority, such that the free nation of America would become one that would be dominated by a philosophy of the supremacy of the state.

(From "Statism" by R. C. Sproul, 2008)

I think Dr. Schaeffer was prescient to see our path to statism.  When truth, and the quest for truth, is abandoned, all that remains is power.  And the state -- like Pilate knowing power but not truth -- will fill the void left by banished truth.

In academia today it is popular to say that all truth claims are power plays.  To exalt any one truth over others is a way to oppress people and subject them to our power.  So there is empirical truth -- truth that can be measured or seen -- and moral, transcendental truth which is solely subjective.  There is an irreconcilable separation between what is called science and what is deemed religion. 

We live in a culture where truth, in any objective sense, refers only to that which is observable and measurable.  All other truth claims, whether moral or spiritual, are seen as merely subjective.  They are beliefs, or personal values.  My truth is my truth, and your truth is your truth, and what right do you have to enforce your truth and judge mine? So truth becomes personal preference.  Interestingly, a person takes that position by faith, because it is assumed, not proven, that there is no higher moral truth out there.

You can't justify such a separation empirically.  It's taken by faith -- faith that science alone has all the important answers.  For example, moral integrity (truthfulness) is expected in scientific research, but why?  There are no moral grounds for that expectation within a naturalistic worldview. We get that value (a moral truth) from outside of us, or above us.  Such a strict separation of empirical truth and moral truth becomes in essence a banishment of any transcendental truth from the public good.  

Students should seriously question what is taught in many liberal arts classes.  When a history or religion professor presents his or her re-interpretation of a past event, we really do have the right to say, "Why do you say that?  Do you know that as fact?  Aren't you just rewriting history just like you said others did, because it reinforces your position and keeps you in power? How can you say that all other viewpoints are subjective, and biased, and oppressive, and that yours isn't?  Aren't you just doing the same with your version of the truth?"  Of course few students will actually say something like this because the professor has the power to give them a failing grade, which I think just proves the point.

If there is no moral accountability higher than ourselves, then all we have left is what the majority or the most powerful in our society want.  There will be an interest only in numbers, in polls, in popular influence, and in displays of power.  The power may be in the majority, or it may be in violence, but power will determine what's accepted and what's not. If there is no truth for us to discuss, then all we are left with is power.   

And that's where the State steps in. 

Ultimately the state -- as final arbiter -- will decide what's right and wrong and enforce it, since there is nothing above the state.  There are many who desire the government to be the supreme authority, for it is the collective will and power of the people... or at least, of the most powerful segment of the people.  

And it will use its power, while respecting only power.  So if the polls say a majority of voters want a redefinition of marriage, then that is the direction legislators will go to, to appease power and to keep power.  Truth will not enter in to the discussion. If a religious group is offended and starts burning things down and killing people, then our leaders will seek to appease those forces, rather than deal with truth. 

“Statism.”  That's what Schaeffer said was his biggest concern for the citizens of America.  And if this is where we are headed, then it is because we have not only rejected the truth, but have rejected even the possibility of knowing any moral or metaphysical truth outside (or above) ourselves.  

Abandon truth -- and the quest for truth -- and all you're left with is power.  

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."  (Romans 1:18 ESV)

the remarkable paradox

I appreciate the ministry of Ray Stedman, former pastor at Peninsula Bible Church (Palo Alto, CA), now deceased.  Was privileged to hear him at DTS many years ago.  This was taken from the daily devotion by email today:

"For I am not in the least inferior to the super apostles, even though I am nothing." (2 Corinthians 12:11b)

Hidden in verse 11 is a remarkable paradox that is possible only for those who are true servants of Christ. Notice how Paul puts it: I am not in the least inferior, he says; and then in the next phrase, even though I am nothing. One statement is, I am the equal of anybody; I am not inferior at all to these superlative apostles; I have everything they have and more, while at the same time he can say, yet I am nothing. That is the mark of a true servant of Christ: the ability to say both of those things and for both of them to be equally true. When Paul says, I am not inferior, he means, Everything I am in Christ, everything that Christ can do through me, makes me equal to anything they can do.

This is the attitude that all Christians ought to come to about themselves: I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). If God tells me to do something, I can do it. I can obey His word, I can follow His precepts. I can do what He asks. There is a ringing note of confidence because you are not relying on yourself, but on Christ. At the same time the apostle could add, Relying on myself, I am nothing. All my abilities, my gifts, and my natural talents won't get me anywhere in God's sight. They are impressive to other people, and I could fool a lot of people this way, but they are not at all impressive in the eyes of God. 

I wish I could get a lot more Christians talking this way today, willing to say, if Christ tells me to do something or to be something, then there is no limit to my ability to do or be it, because He will provide the power. But in myself, trying to do anything depending on my gifts, I will accomplish nothing of any value in God's sight. Now that is the mark of a true servant of Christ! One of the ways you can test the false apostles of our day is to listen carefully to what they say about themselves. Do they claim anything is coming from them? Do they claim to be remarkable people of remarkable ability, or are they talking about the power coming from Christ? That is the big difference. By this, these Corinthians should have recognized Paul. 

Lord, thank You that even though I am nothing, I can do all things through Christ. 

Life Application: Do we have growing confidence in the power and Presence of Christ in us, so that self-esteem is becoming a non-issue? 

Related Message: This daily devotion was inspired by one of Ray's messages, "The Signs of an Apostle." 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

canonical bookends

The structure of the history of redemption forms a narrative chiasm.  This chiasm is further evidence of the completion of the Biblical canon.  Taken from Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited:

The seven days of creation are the archetypal foundation for all of Scripture, governing mankind’s own seven-day workweek, and demonstrating the sense of completeness and wholeness to God’s creative activity. The number seven is also foundational to the book of Revelation. Not only is the book itself divided into seven sections, but there are seven churches, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven plagues, and so on.  Thus, in effect, the first and last books of the canon form an inclusio of sevens, functioning as appropriate bookends to the overall sevenfold canonical structure—with Revelation as an appropriate “sabbath.”  The connections between Genesis and Revelation, and thus the existence of this macro inclusio, could be developed even further.  Genesis begins with the creation of the “heavens and earth” (1:1ff.); Revelation ends with re-creation and the new “heaven and earth” (21:1). Genesis begins with the theme of paradise in the garden (2:8ff.); Revelation ends with the paradise of heaven (21:4). Genesis begins with the theme of marriage (2:8); Revelation ends with the great wedding of the Lamb (21:9). Genesis begins with a focus on the serpent’s deception (3:1ff.); Revelation ends with the serpent’s destruction (20:10). Genesis begins with the curse being put upon the world (3:14ff.); Revelation ends with the curse being lifted (22:3). Genesis begins by describing the creation of day, night, and the oceans (1:3, 10, 14); Revelation ends with no more need for day (sun), or night, or oceans (21:1; 22:5). Genesis begins with the “tree of life” among the people of God (2:9); Revelation ends with the “tree of life” among the people of God (22:2). Genesis begins with God dwelling with his people (2:8; 3:8); Revelation ends with God finally dwelling with his people again (21:3).

The degree to which Genesis and Revelation provide appropriate canonical bookends is enhanced when it is recognized that they form the ends of a larger narrative chiasm centered upon Jerusalem. The narrative of the Old Testament canon clearly moves from the broad, overall creation in Genesis to a focus on a single city (Jerusalem) and a single person (the Davidic king) in the book of Chronicles. The New Testament narrative picks up where the Old left off—focused on the Davidic kingship returning to Jerusalem—but it does not stay in Jerusalem. Instead it begins to fan out into Samaria, Judea, and Asia Minor, and ultimately ends with a focus on all creation, Jews and Gentiles together (Acts 1:8; 8:4–5; Col. 1:23). Indeed, in the book of Revelation, the global focus is complete as we see people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9) joined together in God’s ultimate re-creation. This macro chiasm shows that the New Testament canon is the reverse structure of the Old Testament and thereby forms its proper conclusion.

From Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Michael J. Kruger (Crossway, 2012)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

the gods we choose

"So much of what draws us to our personal gods has to do with where our needs are, where we hurt, why we hurt, and how we desire that pain to be satiated. It also has to do with our culture and what is promoted to us. In my experience standing in front of the towering stone sphinx, I wasn’t moved to worship, mostly because my Western culture hasn’t sold that to me. I’d be more tempted by a giant ice-cream cone. Preferably one with peanut- butter chunks."

--Kelly Minter, in No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols.

Here's Tim Keller on what's an idol...

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give… [T]he human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them… An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.   

--Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (Dutton, 2009)

Friday, September 14, 2012

communion liturgy

Was especially blessed by this section of a Kenyan communion liturgy when we attended an Anglican service.  May use this to close my message on Sunday...

"It is right and our delight to give you thanks and praise, 
Holy Father, living God, supreme over the world, 
Creator, Provider, Savior and Giver. 
From a wandering nomad (Abraham) you created your family; 
for a burdened people you raised up a leader (Moses); 
for a confused nation you chose a king (David); 
for a rebellious crowd you sent your prophets. 
In these last days you have sent us your Son, 
your perfect image, 
bringing your kingdom, revealing your will,
dying, rising, reigning, remaking your people for yourself. 
Through him you have poured out your Holy Spirit, 
filling us with light and life. 
Therefore with angels, archangels, and all in heaven, 
we proclaim your great and glorious name." 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

certainty and doubt

"Only the truth satisfies and answers to the need of the spirit.  There it finds rest. Certainty is rest, peace, blessedness, while doubt, surmise and opinion always involve a certain degree of discomfort and uneasiness. Certainty is the normal and natural condition of the spirit as health is of the body.

"Therefore, even the search for truth is beautiful and a precious gift. But even more beautiful and precious is finding it, enjoying it and walking in its light. Doubt, on the other hand, is never the true condition of man, but is abnormal, like disease.  Sometimes, due to the error and lies that beset our lives, doubt is necessary, just as a fever may be good for the body and a thunderstorm good for the atmosphere. But in itself it is always a painful evil. He who doubts is like a wave on the sea, but he who believes is like a rock."

--Herman Bavinck, in The Certainty of Faith

Photo above courtesy Jet Propulsion Labs at NASA

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

the NT canon revisited

"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

In my opinion Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger is a landmark work on the New Testament canon.  It's not a book-by-book analysis, but a treatise on canonical method.  Kruger masterfully defines and defends the self-authenticating model, in contrast with the community-determined and the historically-determined models.

Here's a highlight, from "The Divine Qualities of the Canon", on why we should be careful not to link the NT canon to current critical assessments of the New Testament...

It is here, then, that we come to the crux of the matter. Should Christians abandon their commitment to the canon’s authority because biblical critics, who view scriptural interpretation as merely a human enterprise, claim to have discovered theological incongruities? No, because Christians have no grounds for thinking that those without the Spirit can rightly discern such things—indeed, Christians have good grounds for thinking they cannot. One might as well ask whether Joshua Bell, world-renowned violinist, should abandon his musical career because his concert in a Washington, DC metro station (on a 3.5-million-dollar Stradivarius) was met with disinterest and boredom.* The answer depends on whether we have reason to think that the average pedestrians in the DC metro station can identify musical genius when they hear it.  Apparently they cannot. When all was done, Bell had not drawn a crowd, was never given a single instance of applause, and left with a paltry $32.17. 

At this point, the critic of the New Testament might respond by saying that this whole affair sounds suspiciously circular. After all, it is no surprise that Christians “conclude” that the New Testament is harmonious— they already believe in the truth of the New Testament from the outset! Therefore, it is not proper (it is argued) to allow those who believe the New Testament to be the final judges of its theological harmony.  However, this argument cuts both ways. If the Christian assumes the truth of the New Testament while arguing for its unity, then it is clear that the non-Christian assumes the falsity of the New Testament while arguing for its disunity. He assumes that (at least) 1 Corinthians 2:14 is mistaken and that New Testament theology can be understood rightly by those without the Spirit. Thus, one could ask why we should allow those who have already rejected the New Testament to be the final judges of its theological harmony? Again, keeping with the music analogy, that would be like allowing a person who is tone-deaf (and thus rejects this whole concept of being “on key”) to judge a singing contest. If the tone-deaf person were kept from judging, he might object and claim that this whole “on key” thing is a sham run by musical insiders who claim to have a special ability to hear such things. But despite all the protests, the truth of the matter would remain: there is such a thing as being on key whether the tone-deaf person hears it or not.

*For this true story, see Gene Weingarten, “Pearls Before Breakfast,” Washington Post, April 8, 2007.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

handful of articles

Here are some recent notable articles I've read:

Church and the College Years.  "Love for the 'universal' church necessitates love for and commitment to the 'local' church. So our local churches seek to manifest the universal church as a part of the body of Christ we can love, see, touch, struggle with, give to, and serve." 

Why Mormon theology is not Christian (Ben Witherington).  "What I would say is that they are deceived about what the Bible really teaches about the nature of God, of Christ, of salvation, and of true humanity, not to mention the nature of the Scriptures which are indeed the sufficient rule of faith and practice for all true Christians and do not require supplements or corrections from Joseph Smith’s works."

Making an idol of family.  "This stuff of many women's fantasies includes an adoring, faithful spouse; attractive, obedient kids; people who depend on you, love you, give you a reason to get out of bed, regularly stand up and sing your praises. And it is idolatry, just like money, power, and fame. It's the thing that causes the mom in your women's Bible study to post the 67th picture of her daughter's birthday party on Facebook. It's the reason for the magazine-quality family pictures all over the house. It's why the mother-of-the-bride obsesses about her daughter's wedding and treats it like a part- time job. It's (at least in part) why Christmas letters get sent and then end up making their recipients feel mad and competitive."

Finally, inclusivity doesn't include everyone.  "Jon Stewart knows the Democratic Party is super tolerant and sent his news team to the convention to find out just how inclusive and tolerant they really are last night on The Daily Show. The result: Democrats want to include everybody! Except for people in big corporations, people with guns, and rednecks, of course."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

junk DNA not really junk

We constantly need to be reminded that scientific conclusions (or opinions) at any given time really only represent "current thinking" on the subject. 

In a remarkable about-face the federally-funded Encode project has come up with a startling find (though for proponents of Intelligent Design, this is no surprise)...

Now scientists have discovered a vital clue to unraveling these riddles. The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as “junk” but that turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches...

There also is a sort of DNA wiring system that is almost inconceivably intricate...

The big surprise was not only that almost all of the DNA is used but also that a large proportion of it is gene switches. Before Encode, said Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, a University of Washington scientist who was part of the project, “if you had said half of the genome and probably more has instructions for turning genes on and off, I don’t think people would have believed you.”

Previously "junk" DNA was put forth by atheists as evidence that our genetic make-up is the result of a long, randomless, purposeless process.

Read the NYTimes article here.  


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD)

In 2005 two sociologists, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, published a book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, reprinted 2009). They conducted a comprehensive study of religion and teenagers, and discovered a newly dominant creed that they called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager's life. 

They lay out five points of MTD:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. 
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die. 

See the Wikipedia entry here.  

This helps us in working with teens, to realize the larger context of the civil religion of American youth in general.  Then we can hopefully be able to teach a more biblical view of the gospel and life to our young adults.  

Some assessments worth reading: 

Ross Douthat calls MTD "the Oprahfication of Christianity". 

Here's CNN on MTD:  "If this is the God they're seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust. Churches don't give them enough to be passionate about."

And finally, Albert Mohler: "The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, 'I believe there is a God and stuff,' this hardly represents a profound theological commitment."