Saturday, December 30

On Saddam, Hanging, and Death

As I explained this unforgettable scene to my children, conflicting emotions flooded through me. In one sense, joy accompanies justice. In another sense, there is no joy in death--even the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). Explaining these conflicting emotions to my children was a difficult and arduous task.

I am tempted to construct a piece detailing the biblical response to Saddam's hanging, but I most certainly could not improve upon the writing of Steve Camp and Tim Challies.

So for a thoroughly biblical response to the entire Saddam saga, check out these two posts:

The Death of Saddam Hussein: The Satisfaction of Justice and the Sobriety of Judgment by Steve Camp

The Death of a Tyrant by Tim Challies
May the Lord remind us of the truth He taught in Luke 13:5 (ESV), "... unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Friday, December 29

Pray For Al Mohler

The following statement was just released via Mohler's website:

Dr. Mohler recovering following surgery

Posted: Friday, December 29, 2006 at 4:59 pm ET

Dr. Albert Mohler is recovering at Louisville's Baptist East hospital following abdominal surgery. Dr. Mohler was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday after experiencing abdominal pain. During a three-hour procedure, surgeons removed scar tissue from a 1980s operation. Dr. Mohler is expected to be released from the hospital next week and will continue his recovery at home. Dr. Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and Senior VP for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will host The Albert Mohler radio program until he is able to return to the air. Dr. Mohler's blog and commentary posts will resume as soon as he is able. Please join the Southern Seminary community in praying for Dr. Mohler's quick and total recovery.

Spurgeon on the After-Christmas Blahs: Part 1

Today's guest blogger needs no introduction. He's been a regular around here in our first year. His first name is Charles. His middle name is Haddon. And you know the rest of the story.

Here is the first installment of the Prince of Preachers' offer of help for the after-Christmas blahs. His text is Romans 8:22-23 (ESV). Okay, Spurgeon did not preach from the English Superior Version, but we all know he would have--if Crossway had published the Superior Version in the 19th century (what took them so long?)!

Here is some help for those who may be struggling with the after-Christmas blahs ... or for that matter, any other kind of blahs! This sermon was preached on January 5, 1868, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Newington.

Romans 8:22-23, "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

MY venerable friend, who, on the first Sabbath of the year, always sends me a text to preach from, has on this occasion selected one which it is very far from easy to handle. The more I have read it, the more certainly have I come to the conclusion that this is one of the things in Paul's epistles to which Peter referred when he said, "Wherein are some things hard to be understood." However, dear friends, we have often found that the nuts which are hardest to crack have the sweetest kernels, and when the bone seems as if it could never be broken, the richest marrow has been found within. So it may by possibility be this morning; so it will be if the Spirit of God shall be our instructor, and fulfil his gracious promise to "lead us into all truth."

The whole creation is fair and beautiful even in its present condition. I have no sort of sympathy with those who cannot enjoy the beauties of nature. Climbing the lofty Alps, or wandering through the charming valley, skimming the blue sea, or traversing the verdant forest, we have felt that this world, however desecrated by sin, was evidently built to be a temple of God, and the grandeur and the glory of it plainly declare that "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." Like the marvellous structures of Palmyra of Baalbek, in the far off east, the earth in ruins reveals a magnificence which betokens a royal founder, and an extraordinary purpose.

Creation glows with a thousand beauties, even in its present fallen condition; yet clearly enough it is not as when it came from the Maker's hand--the slime of the serpent is on it all--this is not the world which God pronounced to be "very good." We hear of tornadoes, of earthquakes, of tempests, of volcanoes, of avalanches, and of the sea which devoureth its thousands: there is sorrow on the sea, and there is misery on the land; and into the highest palaces as well as the poorest cottages, death, the insatiable, is shooting his arrows, while his quiver is still full to bursting with future woes.

It is a sad, sad world. The curse has fallen on it since the fall, and thorns and thistles it bringeth forth, not from its soil alone, but from all that comes of it. Earth wears upon her brow, like Cain of old, the brand of transgression. Sad would it be to our thoughts if it were always to be so. If there were no future to this world as well as to ourselves, we might be glad to escape from it, counting it to be nothing better than a huge penal colony, from which it would be a thousand mercies for both body and soul to be emancipated.

At this present time, the groaning and travailing which are general throughout creation, are deeply felt among the sons of men. The dreariest thing you can read is the newspaper. I heard of one who sat up at the end of last year to groan last year out; it was ill done, but in truth it was a year of groaning, and the present one opens amid turbulence and distress. We heard of abundant harvests, but we soon discovered that they were all a dream, and that there would be scant in the worker's cottage. And now, what with strifes between men and masters, which are banishing trade from England, and what with political convulsions, which unhinge everything, the vessel of the state is drifting fast to the shallows. May God in mercy put his hand to the helm of the ship, and steer her safely. There is a general wail among nations and peoples. You can hear it in the streets of the city. The Lord reigneth, or we might lament right bitterly.

The apostle tells us that not only is there a groan from creation, but this is shared in by God's people. We shall notice in our text, first, whereunto the saints have already attained; secondly, wherein we are deficient; and thirdly, what is the state of mind of the saints in regard to the whole of the matter.


More to come ...

Thursday, December 28

Help for the After-Christmas Blahs

The wrapping paper is strewn across the floor. The once-filled toy boxes are empty, torn into what seems like a thousand pieces. The tree that a few days ago seemed to glow with anticipation has lost its luster.

All that planning ... all that work ... all that anticipation and expectation. And now, it's done. Over. Another Christmas has come ... and gone. It all happens so quickly. The family gets together ... and then, in the blink of an eye, they too are gone.

This is what they call the after-Christmas blahs.

These are the days I wish I wasn't so stinkin' sentimental. Christmases past have raced through my memory these past few weeks. Christmas was an event in our family. Not just an event ... the event. It wasn't an over-commercialized version, either. Christmas in our home was a Christ-centered event. Christmas morning was saturated in Scripture and song.

Back then, Christmas seemed to last for a few weeks ... now it seems to last for a few hours. You spend months preparing for a few hours' celebration. And then it's over. The older I become, the more this reality sets in.

And while some of you may be worried about my psyche, I'm not sure the after-Christmas blahs is a bad thing to have. Why? Because we weren't created for temporary, once-a-year celebrations. God never intended for our earthly holiday celebrations to quiet that groaning in our hearts--the groaning for something more; something real; something eternal. Something that lives up to and exceeds our wildest expectations. Something that completely and eternally satisfies our deepest longings.

Christmas celebrations come and go--I've now lived through thirty-five of them. But for the child of God there is coming a celebration that will never end. The One whose birth we celebrate on December 25th will one day be the One in whose presence we dwell eternally. There won't be any gift wrapping, cookie baking, or tree decorating. And there won't be any after-Christmas blahs.

Heaven is a place that is increasingly satisfying (eternally increasingly satisfying!). Unfulfilled expectations will never haunt its citizens. Disappointment will never grip its inhabitants. Joy, inexpressible joy, will fill each heart with its increasing pleasures each day from the moment we step across its threshold.

We weren't created for trees or decorations or celebrations. We were created for Christ (Colossians 1:16). It is only in His presence that our groanings will be forever quieted (John 6:35; Revelation 21:6).

And so, while we celebrate His birth, we understand that the lights and cookies and gifts can never satisfy our groaning souls. Yet the unfulfillment we feel inside is evidence that a greater reality awaits us. For the unbeliever, temporary celebrations are as good as it gets. But for the one who knows Jesus Christ by faith, the best of these celebrations is intended to whet our appetite for the greatest celebration of all--dwelling in the all-satisfying presence of our King Jesus!

Revelation 21:3-7 (ESV)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

To help with the after-Christmas blahs I will be posting Spurgeon's sermon "Creation's Groans and Saints' Sighs" beginning tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 27

Men: We Can Learn From John Piper

Although we spend much time lamenting
Another pastor's fall,
Perhaps we should spend more time celebrating
Pastors who fulfill their call.

A poet I am not, yet I think the point is clear.
Pastors who remain faithful
Are the men we celebrate here.

And so if a pastor friend you are,
Please feel free to share
In that honor and thanks we give today,
For faithful pastors everywhere.

May John Piper's words to his wife of thirty-eight years encourage us all to remain faithful to our love and to our Lord. [For the full transcript of this Taste And See article, click HERE.]

December 27 is Noël Piper’s birthday. In this open letter, her husband John celebrates the gift of her support.

Dear Noël,

Happy birthday, Noël. Your name bears your time. You were born two days after Christmas. When your father got the telegram halfway around the world in the Navy in 1947 that Noël Frances Henry had been born, he telegrammed back: “Boy or girl?”

From the first time I saw you in the summer of 1966, I never had that question. Everything in me said, Girl! Now, having just celebrated 38 years of marriage (December 21), I am deeply thankful that you were and are wonderfully female.

That was the first criterion I had for a wife—female. The second was: She treasures Jesus Christ. The third was that she like me. The fourth was that she be willing to go wherever God calls us. (Remember the conversation on the couch in your apartment that first summer when I named the hardest places I could think of, and you and said, Yes? I had not even asked you to marry me yet.)

In fact one of the things I love about you to this day is your commitment to go anywhere and do anything under any circumstances, as long Christ is in the lead. One of your most famous lines around Bethlehem is from the time I was so discouraged, I put my face in my hands and said after church on Sunday afternoon, “I think we should move to Africa.” You said, without hesitation, from the bedroom, “Tell me when to pack.” Awesome!

What a gift you are to me! I hope you don’t mind my glorying in getting gifts on your birthday. All Christian Hedonists know that when I exult in you as a gift on your birthday you get the honor! I am happy to have it so ...

When we were together in Red Wing on our anniversary a few days ago, I said to you, and meant it (a statement you have always trusted): In all our years together and now, I only have eyes for you—even in my head. You said, “That’s a good anniversary gift.” I have turned it into a poem. It is a renewed pledge: Only you, Noël. Only you, till death do us part. I love you.


For None But You

December, 2006

Before his boils made him unable to
Feel anything but pain,
Job made a covenant: “I will be true,”
He pledged. “If I should gain

Or lose the world, I will not use my eyes
To look upon a maid,
Nor let my mind spy or pursue a prize
By which you are betrayed.”

And thus he loved his wife with all his heart.
And I have done the same,
But not to imitate, as though the art
Of such obsession came

By wanting more, and saying No to this.
It has not been that way,
Though tearing out the eye is good, the bliss
Of eyes that will not stray

Is best. Nor do I mean such bliss that breaks
Beneath the weight of pain,
But ever holds like steel and never shakes
Beneath a world of strain.

This is the deep allegiance of my eyes
And of my mind and heart.
It is not wrought by pow’r of will that tries
With effort to depart

From foreign fire. It is a gift to me
And you. I will be true,
So help me God. These eyes will never be
For anyone but you.

Sunday, December 24

We Beheld His Glory: A Christmas Eve Meditation

"We Beheld His Glory:" A Christmas Eve Meditation

John 1:14

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Because we weren’t there in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, everything we know about the events of our Savior’s birth comes through the eyes of others. For some … apart from seeing there is no believing … but for those of us who have come to Christ by faith, we view our Savior’s birth through the inspired writings of Matthew and Luke. And by faith, we are convinced that what the Scripture says is true …

That the child she was carrying was none other than the promised Messiah, the Son of God.

That Mary, a sinner, gave birth to an impeccable Savior.

That God, in His providence, brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to pay their taxes … and to give birth to His Son … just as the Scriptures had promised back in Micah 5:2.

That the angels proclaimed the Savior’s birth to shepherds who were “keeping watch over their flocks by night” on the outskirts of that little town called Bethlehem.

That these common shepherds made their way through the crowded and bustling streets to a borrowed stable, where this newborn King had been laid in a feeding trough.

That upon finding Jesus, the Shepherds bowed in worship before their King, and returned to Bethlehem’s streets with word that the long promised Messiah had arrived.

These are the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. But the birth of Christ was much more than just another important historical event. This birth—the birth of Jesus Christ—was significant because it was so distinctly unique. Its uniqueness isn’t due to where or when Jesus was born—there have probably been lots of babies born in a stable … and lots of babies, like myself, have been born at night.

So what makes this birth so historically significant and unique? So unique in fact that we gather to worship Him on Christmas Eve some 2,000 years later? The Apostle John reveals the reasons Christ’s birth was so distinctively unique in John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

In Bethlehem’s borrowed stable, God took on human flesh … and dwelt among us. This is what we call the incarnation. Jesus is God with skin on (fully God and fully man, two natures in one being). And in becoming man, and enduring the same temptations and suffering we face … and doing so without sin – He is qualified to be the sacrifice for our sins … the just for the unjust … that He might bring us to God. God came to sinners so that sinners could come to Him.

In Bethlehem’s borrowed stable, God unveiled His glory so that we could understand what He is like. When Mary looked into the eyes of her newborn son, she was looking into the eyes of the eternal God. Through the life and death of Jesus, God would reveal His glory to mankind. A glory only the Son of God could reveal through His supernatural miracles, His sacrificial death, and His sin-defeating resurrection.

In Bethlehem’s borrowed stable, God revealed His grace and truth. Jesus did not come merely to teach about grace and truth, He came to show us grace and truth. He is grace. He is truth. Perfectly blended and balanced. And when the Pharisees dragged an adulterous woman to His feet, He responded with grace and truth. The humble and broken woman was at the mercy of the One who was truth … he knew everything about her. But rather than condemn her for her sin, He showed her grace, forgiving her sins with the words, “neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” Her hypocritical accusers, on the other hand, came face to face with the Truth, and left in shame and disgrace.

This grace and truth is evidenced in Jesus' interaction with Mary and Martha at Lazarus' tomb. When Jesus came to the tomb of His friend, He groaned within Himself and wept. That's grace. Turning to Martha, He reveals His grace and truth with these words:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, ESV)

And as Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead, all who were present beheld His glory (John 11: 40).

Our minds return to Bethlehem’s stable this morning, where we see grace and truth embodied. Jesus was born in a common town to a common couple. His birth was announced to common shepherds who were watching common sheep on common hillsides. This is grace … He was born for common people. But His birth also speaks of His perfect truth … for when the common shepherds found Him … they bowed in worship. They knelt before “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Thirty-three years later, Pilate asked the condemned man standing before him, "What is truth?" Pilate was blinded to the fact that Truth and Grace were standing before him ... in the person of Jesus.

Condemned to die, Jesus was nailed to a cross. As the Son of God died a common criminal’s death, saving grace flowed as freely as the blood from His wounds. The innocent would die in the place of the guilty, the Savior for the sinner, bearing their sin, and absorbing the wrath of a holy God. This is grace. This is truth. Yet many who celebrate His birth have failed to recognize its significance. Bethlehem’s stable finds its significance in a bloodstained cross and an empty tomb. Jesus is the Son of God, and apart from knowing Him by faith, there is no way, there is no truth, and there is no life (John 14:6; Galatians 3:26) . Take the time to Read His Story and Behold His Glory!


I was privileged to share this meditation with our congregation at this morning's Christmas Eve service. May God grant you and your family a blessed and joyous Christmas as you behold His glory!

Grace and Peace,


Friday, December 22

A Note To Our Friends ...

Here is your copy of our annual Christmas letter. I count all of our readers as dear friends--even those who regularly disagree with our (correct) conclusions!!! Here at The World From Our Window, we do not take you, the reader, for granted.

You are the one who makes this blogging community come alive. I could write all day long, but if you weren't willing to read and participate in this community, I would be writing a plethora of monologues. You have made blogging such an enjoyable experience. For that, I thank you.

In the words of that little and lovable A Christmas Carol character, "God bless us ... one and all!"

December 2006

Dear Family and Friends,

It is our prayer that this year-end Christmas letter finds you all doing well, and rejoicing in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2006 has passed in a flash, with the children growing up so very quickly. Here is a quick attempt to catch everyone up on the Fields’ household happenings.

On Labor Day weekend, the Lord preserved our family’s lives in a quite frightening car accident. To avoid an oncoming vehicle in our lane, we were forced off the road, causing us to veer back across the highway and strike an embankment at 50 mph, totaling our Chevy Venture minivan. Elizabeth sustained a few abrasions and contusions on her head, and Joanna and I sustained several contusions along with minor back and neck injuries. Following a four-hour visit to the ER, we were given a clean bill of health, and released. This event, like no other in our family’s history, has caused us to consider the preciousness of each moment and the brevity of life.

Elizabeth will turn ten next month. She is quickly growing into a beautiful and talented young woman. She continues to take piano lessons from Nana (Joanna’s mom), and frequently plays the piano and sings specials in church. Elizabeth continues to be a voracious reader, and has caught up with her mother’s shoe size! Daddy is still holding out hope that she will reach six feet tall, and play basketball!

Noah is now seven, and has become enamored with sports. He plays baseball and soccer, and was thrilled when his St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series. He also enjoys watching the Rams and Chiefs play football. Noah is developing some impressive artistic talents—which perplexes his Daddy (who has no artistic ability). Noah is just beginning piano lessons, and has learned to play “Jingle Bells.”

Hannah turned six in November, and is enjoying kindergarten. She is quickly learning to read, and enjoys math. Hannah is into animals, and has already begun practicing her veterinary talents on our blind dog and four cats (by the way, Rudy was blind prior to us adopting him)! She is a happy young lady, and keeps her parents on their toes with her unpredictability!

Joanna continues to home school each of the children, and is heavily involved in our church ministry. She is constantly opening our home to our church family and young people, and is a gifted interior decorator, cook, and “stamper.” In fact, the card accompanying this letter was designed and created by none other than Joanna, herself. We celebrated twelve years of marriage this past June, and are anticipating many happy years ahead.

I continue to be the Associate Pastor at Delhi Baptist Church in Jerseyville. In October, we began our fifth year of ministry there. It has been a special blessing to work with our church’s young people, and to see the vast majority of them continue living for God in their post-high school years. I continue to be overwhelmed by God’s mercy in allowing me the supreme privilege of preaching and teaching His unchanging and life-changing Word.

May the Lord bless you and keep you in the year ahead, and may you find in Him an indescribable joy and indestructible peace—the same joy and peace proclaimed by the angels at Jesus’ birth: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ … And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10-11, 13: ESV)

Grace And Peace,

The (Ken) Fields Family

Blogger Problems: 666

For those of you who tried in vain to visit this morning and were so rudely turned away by Blogger ... thanks for your patience.

After becoming aware of the problem, I spent a good amount of time getting to the bottom of the issue. You won't believe what I found ... our total number of posts was stuck on 666, which was evidently contributing to the problem. NO KIDDING!

I'm not sure what this means, or if it is just a coincidence.

Anyway, welcome back ... and praise God for His sovereignty over blogger and 666!

Thursday, December 21

My Christmas Wish List (Or, What To Get My Fundy Friends For Christmas)

Frequent trips over to the fundamentalist forum, SharperIron, have inspired this post. Before I share some purposefully tongue-in-cheek (and some not-so-tongue-in-cheek) Christmas gifts for my fundy friends, I offer up a necessary qualifier:

I am a fundamentalist ... if a fundamentalist is defined as "one who subscribes to the fundamentals of the Christian faith and separates from those who fail to do so." I am not a fighting fundamentalist in the strictest sense of the term. Fightin' fundies are known primarily for their in-fighting over peripheral issues. While many of the classic fundies fought for inspiration and inerrancy, today's fightin' fundies are known for what they fight against (pants, movies, evil music, Calvinism, and new age Bible translations). Peripheral issues seem to be hijacking historic fundamentalism, and this Christmas wish list is my not-so-subtle attempt at calling fundies back to their historic roots ...

With that in mind, here is my 2006 Christmas Wish List.

For Christmas 2006, I wish to purchase each of my fundy friends a copy of the following books:

The Gospel of Grace (James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken): Reading this book could very well lead to a re-discovery of the original fundamentals of the faith so eloquently defined by the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria.

Lord & Christ (Ernest C. Reisinger): This book exposes the false gospel of easy-believism, while embracing a pure and true Gospel -- the same Gospel Jesus and Paul and Peter preached. To deny Christ's Lordship over my life while expressing faith in His Lordship over the universe is pure balderdash. And contrary to popular fundie lore, a so-called Lordship Gospel adds nothing to grace and faith ... it demands that grace and faith result in something: Fruit (Ephesians 2:10).

[Warning: If fundies will take this message to heart, our pastors would quit pronouncing (in some priest-like way) people Christians simply because they repeated a canned prayer, and our churches would practice biblical church discipline regularly.]

Made In Our Image (Steven J. Lawson): Are you tired of hearing about a God who's impressed with your church's soul-winning efforts (like a self-sufficient God is ever impressed by anything His creation does), booming bus ministry, and growing "decisions for Christ?" If so, read this book, and you will be presented with a balanced and accurate portrayal of God. A God who loves and hates. A God who saves and judges. A God who is holy and forgiving. In an age of a user-friendly God, the church needs to hear the message that God is to be feared and revered ... a message that will save your church's pulpit from becoming a place of gospel gimmicks and holy hobbyhorses.

Christ-Centered Preaching (Bryan Chappel): Where has Christ gone? Why is His work of redemption so mysteriously absent from most fundie preaching? The Bible is not a story about Joseph or Moses or David or Paul. The Bible is about Jesus (John 5:39 & Luke 24:27). It's His story. This book will encourage you to preach it that way -- redemptively.

The Supremacy of God in Preaching (John Piper): This book reminds us that the goal of preaching is the glory of God ... the ground of preaching is the cross of Christ ... and the gift of preaching is the power of the Holy Spirit. Too often we preach for buildings and budgets and bodies. Too often we preach something other than the cross. And too often we preach in our own power ... and end up doing our own thing. Powerless preaching produces a spiritually anemic church -- a church that can be full of programs and people, but empty of Spirit-filled vitality and life.

Ashamed of the Gospel (John MacArthur): This is for the fundie history buff. This book highlights the Downgrade Controversy, and calls pastors and people to embrace historic fundamentalism anew. Detailing Spurgeon's stand for the Gospel, MacArthur warns today's fundy of the inherent dangers in a "user-friendly" ministry. This book also contains an appendix entitled, "Charles Finney and American Evangelical Pragmatism," which is worth the price of the book.

Holiness By Grace (Bryan Chappel): If you're fed up with the "do this and this and this and you will grow, grow, grow" fundie sanctification mentality, this book is for you! Sanctifying grace is just as great a biblical reality as saving grace! So rather than pulling yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps and trying harder tomorrow than you did today, "work out your own salvation ... because God is working in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). Human effort has never saved or sanctified anyone!

The Doctrines of Grace (James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken): This book, as you guessed, defines and describes the doctrines of grace (Calvinism). From personal experience, embracing the doctrines of grace has transformed my preaching and teaching ministry, encouraging me to boldly proclaim the truths of the Gospel, and leave the results up to God. If God is sovereign, completely and absolutely sovereign, conversions are not the inevitable result of a great sermon, but the sovereign work of an omnipotent God.

For Christmas 2006, I wish to subscribe my fundy friends to the following podcasts:

Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philly, and the preaching of Philip Graham Ryken and Aaron Messner.

Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities, and the preaching of John Piper.

The White Horse Inn radio program, hosted by Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger.

Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll (you may not always agree with Mark [I don't], but you will be challenged in your walk with Christ).

Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and the preaching of Mark Dever.

First Presbyterian Church, and the preaching of Ligon Duncan.

For Christmas 2006, I wish to purchase my fundy friends some quality Christ-centered contemporary music:

Anything by Bach or Handel or Mendelssohn

Aaron Shust

Caedmon's Call

Fernando Ortega

GLAD (word is they have recorded their final album)

Sovereign Grace Ministries

Reformed Praise

Greater Vision & Legacy Five (Southern Gospel)

In hopes of God granting this 2006 Christmas Fundy Wish List, I offer this Fundy Serenity Prayer:

"Lord, grant us the serenity to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong about the peripherals like music and movies and pants, Bible versions, and dispensationalism.

"Lord, grant us the courage to fearlessly (but graciously) fight for the purity of the Gospel, standing strong against any and all who desire to transform it into a man-contrived, man-centered message. Therefore, let us not prolong or pressurize our "invitations," or proclaim an aberrant "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" Gospel. Let us depend upon the promise of Your Spirit to convict, challenge, and sanctify your people. And let us turn away from the false gospel of easy-believism, that any who pray a prayer, raise a hand, or walk an aisle are instantaneously and eternally saved from the damning fires of hell. Let us rather proclaim Jesus' words in Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Let us proclaim that sinners are saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that saving faith is always accompanied by repentance and evidence (fruit). Let us not pervert your Gospel, but proclaim it in all its saving and sanctifying power.

Finally, Lord, grant us the discernment and wisdom to know the difference between the negotiables and non-negotiables. In the fight for the Gospel, grant us the fearless courage of our fundamentalist predecessors. When it comes to our preferences, grant that our speech be seasoned with grace, and our stand tempered with humility. May we never project an elitist attitude, always being careful "not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (Romans 12:3, ESV). Let us not sacrifice the truth on the altar of love, but let us never speak truth apart from love.

Make this our aim and our goal for 2007; I pray in the name of our Lord, and Savior, and King, Amen.

Wednesday, December 20

A Reply to Arminian Theology: The Linchpin of Calvinism-God's Sovereignty and Covenant Love | Part 1

Olson argues in his book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities that the linchpin for Calvinism is God's sovereignty and for Arminianism God's love. I agree and I disagree. His statement is spot on Calvinism--we do stress God's sovereignty, but we do not neglect the fact of God's love. What we stress is a different type of love.

In the OT, the ESV translated this type of love "steadfast love" and in the KJV "loving kindness" or "mercy." The word is hesed in Hebrew or covenant love. There are two reasons why Calvinism fits better with the Biblical evidence in its stress on both God's sovereignty and God's covenant love.

God's Wrath and Justice on Unbelievers

I want to present two lines of argument which I have alluded to earlier. First, making God's love indiscriminate diminishes his wrath on sinners and his justice. "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:35-36). Therefore those who are in a state of unbelief are under the wrath of God. Even the elect before salvation are under that wrath. However, the elect are assured "For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him" (I Thessalonians 5:9-10).

Thus God's love cannot be the same for believers and unbelievers. For those under his wrath are not also receiving the covenant love which believers experience. In Ephesians 5, Paul says, "Christ loved the church" and died for her. There is a very special way which He loves his bride. This brings me to my second point.

A Biblical Theology of His Covenant Love

Making God's love indiscriminate diminishes his covenant love (hesed) for his bride. I have heard some preachers and scholars argue (and I agree) that God's covenant love is the major theme that holds the entire OT and NT together. A description of this covenant love is apparent from the beginning. Adam and Eve partake in God's covenant love with the promise of the seed. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). Then Adam says, "Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD' (Genesis 4:1). That last sentence could also be translated, "I have gotten a man, Jehovah"--which suggest Adam is expecting a fulfillment of the gospel promise.

Second, God establishes a covenant with Noah (6:18). God says, "Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD" (6:8). It was not because of Noah was self-righteous. What I mean is his righteousness did not come from himself, but from God's favor (i.e., grace). Third, Abraham partakes of God's covenant love. Explicitly in Genesis 24, Abraham's servant pleads for God to show covenant love toward his master 24:12, 14, 27). When God calls Abram, listen to what God says,

Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed' (Genesis 12:1-3).
Later when speaking to the people of Israel, God explains this covenant and its progression:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)

The only reason God gives for choosing Abram out of all the other "nations" was his own love for Abram. Then of course you have God's love for Jacob who was a rascal (Genesis 32:10; Romans 9:6-13 [cf. Malachi 1:1-3]) and for Joseph (39:12) and for Moses (Exodus 3).

When Moses then is giving the children of Israel the law, he states, "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:5-6) Further on he again says,

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 34:6-7)

This statement is found time upon time in the OT (cf. Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3). This steadfast love can be seen in the way God treated David and his descendants and by the way David pleaded for forgiveness. After committing adultery and murder, David cannot rightly cry out for help from God on the basis of his own righteousness, but notice what he pleads. "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions" (Psalm 51:1).

This covenant love does not end with the changing of administration from the OT to the New, but continues as it always did. This love has always been available for those who would believe, for those who were elect before the foundation of the world. Paul explains this to the Ephesians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

How did he predestine us? in love. There is no Greek equivalent to the Hebrew's hesed, but, on the basis of the context, I would suggest that is exactly what is in view. There is a glaring omission, namely any mention of our response or good deeds or anything having to do with us. The focus is we were chosen "in him" and "in love" and "to the praise of his glorious grace." Why are we saved? for God's glory and no other reason (cf. Romans 9:14-24).

Also, Paul later on in Ephesians gives directives for husbands and wives and uses as his foundation the covenant love Christ demonstrated his bride.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32).

So is God's sovereignty the linchpin of Calvinism? I would say it's a linchpin. Without God's covenant love, God's sovereignty is meaningless to sinners. If it were not for his gracious choice and redemption done in love, then we would be dead in our sins and under the very wrath of God. Praise God he is sovereign and loving.

Psalm 136: Praise for God's Steadfast Love

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and killed mighty kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
a heritage to Israel his servant,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Soli Deo Gloria

Book Review: The Beauty of Holiness: A Guide to Biblical Worship

My seminary's president Dr. Michael P.V. Barrett just finished his fourth book--The Beauty of Holiness: A Guide to Biblical Worship. He does not set forth to try to answer all the specific application questions of today's worship wars, but he does provide a Biblical framework for answering those questions. He rightly begins by observing:

Advocates of contemporary methods charge traditionalists with dead formalism, and traditionalists accuse those who use modern methods with appealing to the flesh. Unhappily, the whole controversy about worship style has degenerated into arguments based on personal preference (1).
Of course, his presuppositions are Reformed and he develops the Regulative Principle through out. His chapters are as follows:
  1. The Danger of Worship
  2. The Object of Worship
  3. The Subject of Worship
  4. The Liturgy of Worship
  5. Aids for Worship
  6. Examples of Worship
  7. Paradigms for Worship
He then offers a variety of helps in the form of an appendices--ranging on topics from music to head coverings to women's role in the church. In chapter one, he expounds some key passages having to do with worship. He rightly states:
God has never been and will never be satisfied with heartless worship
Men tend to form their opinions of God from their estimations of themselves. Because they satisfy themselves with outward acts of ritual, they assume that God must be satisfied as well (10)
In The Liturgy of Worship, Dr. Barrett expounds the necessary components for worship--reading Scripture, prayer, singing (hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs), preaching, and the sacraments. Many modern day churches at least fail in regard to making reading Scripture a part of their weekly service and fail to incorporate enough or any at all Psalms in their song selections. In my opinion, this is one glaring problem in a lot of churches. They have all but rejected the divinely inspired Psalms in favor of good but surely not inspired songs. I firmly believe Psalms should be sung in every service. He says
Singing the Psalms, the divinely inspired hymnbook, is singing what God wants sung. Even the hymns we sing ought to follow the pattern and themes suggested in the Psalms; that's what paradigms are for. I would suggest that singing Psalms is a safeguard against singing inappropriate hymns and spiritual songs. Singing the Psalm and using them as a pattern for singing other things will insure the proper kind of worship (175)
Also, related to Scripture reading Barrett notes:
Too frequently in modern worship services the use of the Scripture is minimized. Preachers either apologize for reading extended texts, or "for the sake of time" they condense the reading to a fraction of the portion from which they are going to preach. Such practice conveys the message, even if unintentionally, that man's words and thoughts are more important than God's (81)
Another highly debated topic among modern Christians is whether we should keep the Sabbath. Barrett argues we should (and I agree). He hits the heart in his exposition of Isaiah 58 particularly verses 13-14 which read:
If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
He then explains:
There are a couple of legitimate ways to translate this opening conditional statement, both of which lead to the same bottom line. One translation enjoins the recommended behavior: "If you turn your foot because of the Sabbath from doing your pleasure on my holy day . . . and call the sabbath a delight . . . . " Turning away the foot is an expression of cautious reverence. The Preacher used similar imagery when he said to keep the foot when entering God's house (Ecclesiastes 5:1). So, because the Sabbath is a holy day, it requires guarded behavior. As Moses removed his shoes when standing on holy ground, so must we when stepping into the Sabbaths. The other translation contrasts the breach of the sabbath with what ought to be the proper behavior: "If you turn your foot away from the Sabbath by doing your pleasure . . . but rather call the Sabbath a delight . . . " In other words, doing your own thing on the Sabbath equates with ignoring the day. In contrast, keeping the day should be a delightful experience. But as I've indicated, the bottom line is clear: the Sabbath is day that must be treated differently from every other day (114)
Also, he makes a point which all Protestants affirm. The sacraments must observed with preaching and never apart from preaching (117). I think Scripture warrants having the Lord's Meal once a week. Some Protestants are wary of this because of the Roman Catholics practice of once a week Mass. However, I have found that when churches who only observe the Lord's Meal once a month or even quarterly do partake, the Meal usually becomes the primary focus of the service.

Two very helpful sections include one in The Examples of Worship where he goes through the Tabernacle and its parts and sacrifices and shows the reality which they express in the Gospel. And also in the last chapter Paradigms of Worship he uses the Psalm to map out proper worship to God.

He ties it all together in his conclusion--making important observations which are foundational for developing a biblical theology for corporate worship. Here are the quotations with little to no commentary:

"To the darkness and deadness of medieval Romanism, Reformation worship was
a contemporary perversion of what had become tradition" (177).

With reference to Dr. David Burggraff lecture entitled "Contemporary Worship and the Next Generation of Fundamentalist Leaders": "[M]uch of what passes for traditional worship in many fundamentalists [and evangelical] churches today is the consequence of having brought the evangelistic tent-meeting of a hundred fity years ago inside the church . . . As a result, the focus of the church services shifted from worship to motivational message invariably concluding with altar calls for immediate decisions. So traditional has this become to some that even to alter the altar call is to be suspected of disobedience to the Great Commission" (178).

"If I have proposed any overarching rule to follow, it is that worship is all about God" (180).

"Again I emphasize that worship is not a spectator activity; all present must be engaged. That's one reason biblical worship does not include drama or concerts" (182).

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday Webgems: The Christmas Edition

The Christmas countdown has officially begun ...

Christmas (the most wonderful time of the year) will be upon us in exactly 4 days, 12 hours, 0 minutes, and 0 seconds at the time of this post (click HERE to see the down-to-the-second countdown time). Here is some helpful reading in anticipation of that wonderful day.

Al Mohler writes a great piece (have I ever mentioned he's the brightest mind in contemporary conservative evangelicalism ... which makes him a Calvinist ;-) chronicling the current trends in little girl toys: "Kids Growing Older Younger: The Message of Barbie and the Bratz."

Don Whitney (author and professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville) gives some practical Christmas fodder with "Ten Questions To Ask At A Christmas Gathering," and "Ten Questions To Ask At The Start Of A New Year Or On Your Birthday." [HT: Justin Taylor]

I'm beginning to see a pattern with Whitney--we are currently reading his book "Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health" in one of our adult Sunday School classes. If you are looking for a theologically sound and practical book for your husband or wife ... buy them this book. Now.

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, explains why the gospel is a necessity for even the most mature believer. Could any message be more apra po appropriate for the Christmas season?

We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.” The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s of Christianity, but it is the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom 1:16-17).

It is very common in the church to think as follows: “The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.” But Colossians 1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you—it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32).

The main problem, then, in the Christian life I that we have not thought out the deep implication of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel—a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says (on Gal. 2:14), “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine… Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.” The gospel is not easily comprehended. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not “get” it.

So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel—seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.

[Rant Warning]

By the way, in the words of that over-used but appropriate cliché, I am sick and tired of hearing Christians say something like this: "Pastor, we're beyond all this gospel and grace stuff ... give us the real meat of the Word."

I am so sick of that nonsensical logic. Let me translate what they are saying: "We got over (a long time ago) what Jesus did for us on the cross. The cross and Christ's substitutionary work has relatively little impact on our daily lives because we are consumed with the more important and weighty doctrines of Scripture."

In my brief pastoral experience, these individuals have been most divisive, ungracious, and immature in their attitudes and actions. Their lack of cross and gospel-centered thinking and living leads them to develop a critical spirit, and a tendency to harbor sin. Those who find the preaching of the cross to be redundant (and therefore, repugnant) seem to find personal confession of their own sin needlessly redundant (and repugnant), too.

If the cross was ever to be anything less than central and supreme in our lives, why did Jesus Himself institute the Lord's Table? God help us all to understand the gospel's centrality to all we are and all we do -- see 1 Timothy 1:12-17!

[Rant Complete]

Bob Kauflin, over at his Worship Matters blog, gives some great Thoughts On Christmas, (taken from from Mark Dever's commentary on the New Testament, Promises Kept) including: [I have added a few personal comments in brackets]
1. Christmas isn't about whose been naughty or nice. [It's about the One whose chooses to be nice to those who are naughty -- see 1 Peter 3:18.]

2. Christmas isn't merely about feelings. [It's really truth -- "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of hte only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14]

3. Christmas is only one part of a greater story. [Redemption of sinners -- Matthew 20:28]
Coming Soon ... My Christmas Wish List: What I Wish I Could Buy My Fundy Friends (or What To Get Your Fundy Hubby) For Christmas.

Feel free to offer your suggestions!

Tuesday, December 19

You Tube Tuesday (Encore): Check Out These Christmas Lights!!!

Now that's Christmas spirit!

Special thanks to the Trans Siberian Orchestra!

You Tube Tuesday: MacArthur vs. Osteen ... Who Gets The Gospel?

You be the judge (sorry, in the spirit of one of our contestants, I want to be overtly and happily inclusivistic) ... let me try that again ... you ... you ... okay, just take a non-judgmental, everybody's-happy, the-whole-world's-going-to-heaven because of their sincerity (if Joel could just pronounce "sincerity" correctly) ... we're just one big happy inclusivistic family ... okay, just take a look at these clips ... and then with a big grin on your face, answer this question:

"Who gets THE Gospel? And who preaches A gospel?"

That was Joel ... here's Johnny ...

and more of Johnny ...

And which one is labeled as "Evangelicalism's Rising Star?"

Very, very, very interesting.

Monday, December 18

Music, Worldliness, And The Appearance Of Evil

There is one reason I rarely address the issue of music on this blog (although Don seems to find the topic quite amusing, and therefore enjoys posting about it). A recent music discussion (a tireless and endless fundamentalist discussion) over at SharperIron has instigated this post.

Before I dive into the music conversation, here are a few qualifiers:

1) I am the Associate Pastor of a church that sings (almost) exclusively from the hymnal. We are traditional traditionalists when it comes to the congregational singing. We may occasionally insert a contemporary hymn or two via a bulletin insert, but we are a hymn and gospel song only church. And I'm okay with that.

In fact, the older I become, the more enamoured I am with the high church style of worship. I enjoy singing the old hymns. Honestly, I wish we would sing more of the very old hymns (the ones you still find in the Presbyterian and Lutheran hymnals). But I'm not sure that will ever happen since Baptists didn't begin writing hymns gospel songs until the early 1900's.

2) I am conservative when it comes to my own personal music tastes. I do enjoy a good bit of Christ-centered contemporary music (i.e., Caedmon's Call, Sovereign Grace, Aaron Shust, Chris Tomlin, among others), as well as good Southern Gospel music (Legacy Five, Gold City, Greater Vision). I also have fallen in love with the baroque-era classical composers (Bach, Handel, Vivaldi) and Beethoven, and will be attending, Lord-willing, a Bach Society of St. Louis Christmas Concert tomorrow evening (highlights from The Messiah and a traditional Carols by Candlelight sing).

I had planned on mentioning something about my love affair with Christmas music, and that I begin listening to it in August; but in light of Don's recent posts I will forego mentioning how much I appreciate Bing Crosby, The Rat Pack, and Amy Grant (great Christmas albums) for awakening my Christmas spirit!

3) I have determined that my ministry will not be defined by a reaction against (or an embracing of) issues. In other words, I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ, not a music watchdog. Some pastors and evangelists seem to build an entire ministry on issues (see Billy Sunday's infatuation with alcohol) rather than the Gospel. God forbid that our churches know the technical "inherently evil" music terminology (i.e., back beat, syncopation, g-u-i-t-a-r) while they are unable to accurately articulate the Gospel apart from the aberrant "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" lingo.

With those qualifiers in mind, here is my one-word reasoning for rarely posting on the topic of music: SUBJECTIVITY. The rightness and wrongness of music and musical style is so very inherently subjective -- even within the ultra-conservative ranks. Southern Gospel is an acceptable form of worship in the South, while it is not-so-widely accepted up North (I've heard even fundamental fortresses like BJU and Pensacola Christian College disagree on this one).

Apart from lyrical content, many determine the wrongness of music in cultural terms. If it's culturally affirmed, it's wrong. If it's counter-cultural, it's right. And those who hold to such views often cite the following verses as Scriptural proof that what the culture embraces musically should have no part in the Christian's life:

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV), "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

1 John 2:15-16 (ESV), "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world."

1 Thessalonians 5:22 (ESV), "Abstain from every form of evil." (KJV -- "abstain from all appearance of evil.")
There are three problems with using these verses as evidence that cultural acceptability is inherently opposed to Scriptural acceptability:

1) Cultural acceptance can be a good thing. For example, it is not culturally acceptable to walk around without clothes on. It's not culturally acceptable to run over people with your vehicle. Therefore, Scripture cannot be equating cultural acceptance with worldliness.

2) Many have misunderstood (and misinterpreted) 1 Thessalonians 5:22 as the King James translators did. The verse reads rightly in the ESV: it's not "abstain from every appearance of evil" but "abstain from every form of evil."

But, for the sake of amusement, let's assume the KJV translators were correct. And let's assume that the presence of a guitar and trap set on a church's platform screams vulgarity and evil -- or at least the appearance thereof (according to this SharperIron thread and this blog post), okay? Let's think through the implications of "abstaining from every appearance of evil."
I cannot walk out of a convenience store carrying a brown paper bag.

I cannot walk into a convenience store that sells liquor or tobacco or smutty magazines.

I cannot walk into a shopping mall that houses a cineplex.

I cannot allow my child to learn how to play the guitar because KISS and Metallica play guitars.

I cannot own a piano or allow my children to take piano lessons (and I definitely cannot play the piano in church). Chuck Berry and Elton John play the piano, and Chuck Berry boogied, and Elton John ... well ... never mind. By the way, Mozart played the piano, too. And we all know what kind of lifestyle he led.

I cannot own a gun. Guns kill people.

I cannot own a car. Cars kill more people than guns do.

I cannot walk through the lingerie section of Wal-Mart. Perverts hang out there.
Quite ridiculous, eh? Not if your world (and ministry) is built upon 1 Thessalonians 5:22.

3) Scripture never defines worldliness in terms what's culturally acceptable or popular. Rather, Scripture defines worldliness in 1 John 2:16 as misdirected desires and affections (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life).

Worldliness is SO often misunderstood in fundamental circles -- resulting in a misrepresentation of worldliness being anything our culture embraces (i.e., dress, hairstyle, music, movies, etc.).

If we could come to an agreement on the definition of worldliness, many of these peripheral issues would become non-issues, and our focus would be turned to what John describes as misplaced and misdirected desires and affections!

God is not so trivial that he defines sin in the context of contemporary culture (which would necessitate the standard of right and wrong being in continual flux). Rather, He defines sin as anything that demeans His infinite beauty and glory (which supersedes culture). Worldliness, whether we want to admit it or not, goes much deeper than what is culturally acceptable; worldliness goes to the heart of the issue ... our hearts.

It is much easier to label what culture embraces as inherently sinful than it is to confront the misplaced affections and misdirected desires of our own hearts -- which may explain why some shy away from a biblical definition of culture and worldliness. And rather than bemoaning others' perceived ministry and life inconsistencies, we are confronted with our own.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: My good friend and occasional blogmate, Mike Hess, has posted a worthy article on this issue HERE. Check it out!

Do You Have The Christmas Demon Spirit?

Okay, I admit it, this title is a little over the top, but it did get your attention didn't it? I feel like a fundamentalist preacher who chooses outrageous titles just to make people curious enough to come back to church the next week. This is another "holiday" vent, but what better place to vent than on a blog? But if you stick with me I hope you will be able to find a little nugget of truth to apply to your own life. Well, here goes nothing.

How many times have you been asked if you had the "Christmas spirit"? How many times have you asked others the same question? How many times have made a comment or heard a comment about this ever-present and yet elusive "Christmas spirit"? This December I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about this "Christmas spirit". Probably because I have yet to be inhabited by him/her/it this year. Although my wife accused me of having it just yesterday morning. What was the reason for her accusation, you ask? I was in a good mood and merrily singing a traditional Christmas Carol (The Ukrainian Bell Carol) on our way to church.

All this thinking has led me to believe that we talk a lot about something that has no concrete meaning. What in the world are we talking about when we mention the "Christmas spirit"? Is him/her/it in any way connected to the spirit of Christmas Past, Present or Future? Might the world be unwittingly making reference to the Holy Spirit? Might it be a subliminal wish for "peace on earth, good will toward men"? Could it possibly be a conspiracy by the alcoholic beverage producers to get us to purchase some Christmas spirits? [Here is one poetical, yet not very theological, suggestion.] We have no idea what we are talking about. We are just repeating some nonsensical phrase that has become common in our culture. [I've done some half-hearted searching for the origination of this phrase, but as of yet have not found anything. If you could shed some light on this subject I would appreciate it.]

I have come to the conclusion that the "Christmas spirit" would be better referred to as the "Christmas mood". The "Christmas mood" is that ooey-gooey, warm and fuzzy, romantic feeling we get in December. It is best induced by mildly cold weather (just cold enough to produce gently falling snow), Bing Crosby singing, watching It's A Wonderful Life and Christmas decorations, especially Christmas trees and lights. It is a mood that causes us to reminisce of Christmas's past and long for the simpler days of our childhood. It also causes us to be kinder and more generous. It is supposed to cause us to think of others less fortunate than ourselves and wish for nice things like the end of poverty, disease and war. Generally speaking, the "Christmas mood" just makes us happier people.

Now I come to my main point. As Christians we should always have the "Christmas mood". We shouldn't need snow, romantic music, or decorations. We should always have the "joy of the season" because the real "reason for the season" is Jesus Christ and we are to celebrate Him all year long! In fact, as Christians, we are to gather together weekly to celebrate Jesus Christ! So I have decided to put all desires for an "artificial happiness" aside and just spend more time reflecting on Jesus Christ and the reason for His birth, His life, and His death. My grumpyness due to a mishandling of the stress in my life won't be cured by some infusion of the "Christmas spirit". I will only have true joy through a reorientation to what God created me for - worship of Him and Him alone. I leave you with a rarely sung Christmas hymn that helps us with that very thing.

Emily Elliott (1864)

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word,
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

When the heav'ns shall ring, and her choirs shall sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying "Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee."

My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.

Saturday, December 16

Book Review: Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

Olson, Roger. Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Olson's book on Arminianism has created a lot of stir. Tim Challies read and reviewed this book in contrast to statements made in Steve Lawson's Foundations of Grace. And Phil Johnson and the Pyromaniacs invited Gary L.W. Johnson to review this book as a guest blogger. His review is a must read (Pyromaniacs: "Calvinists in the Hands of an Angry Arminian Part 1, 2, 3"). Johnson may have found more to disagree about with Olson than I would have, but too many people read into his title more than was there. I personally thought Johnson's pun on Edward's sermon was brilliant.

Olson states these as commonly agreed points against Arminianism:

Myth 1: Arminian Theology Is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology
Myth 2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism Is Possible
Myth 3: Arminianism Is Not an Orthodox Evangelical Option
Myth 4: The Heart of Arminianism Is Belief in Free Will
Myth 5: Arminian Theology Denies the Sovereignty of God
Myth 6: Arminianism Is a Human-Centered Theology
Myth 7: Arminianism Is Not a Theology of Grace
Myth 8: Arminians Do Not Believe in Predestination
Myth 9: Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone
Myth 10: All Arminians Believe in the Governmental Theory of the Atonement

I am not going to say a lot about these right now. What I plan on doing is over the next month or two going through some important (in my mind) statements Olson made and offering my critique and the Reformed counter point. I really appreciate the way Olson starts off: "I believe in turning to history for correct definitions and not allowing popular usage to redefine good theological terms" (10).

For any type of meaningful dialogue in theology (no matter what the topic is) this point is invaluable. If you want proof, look at the conversation James White and Tom Ascol tried to have with the Caner bros. If one side decides he/she is not going to debate theology with the accepted and historical definition of terms than debate is futile.

One crucial point for Olson is:

The Arminianism under consideration is an Arminianism of the heart as opposed to Arminianism of the head. . . . Arminianism of the head is an Enlightenment-based emphasis on free will that it is most found in liberal Protestant circles (even among liberalized Reformed people). Its hallmark is an optimistic anthropology that denies total depravity and the absolute necessity of supernatural grace for salvation. . . . Arminianism of the heart--the subject of this book--is the original Arminianism of Arminius, Wesley and their evangelical heirs. Arminianism of the heart emphatically do not deny total depravity (even if they prefer another term to denote human spiritual helplessness) or the absolute necessity of supernatural grace for even the first exercise of a good will toward God. (17)

This point hinges Olson's whole argument. If this point stands, his book stands; if not, then it fails to make its point. In my opinion, he does have a point. However, Olson provides evidence which in some way contradicts this point. In almost every section, his standard lot of Arminian theologians provides evidence which disapproves this crucial point. So in this way I applaud Olson for providing all the evidence even when it weakens his own point. What he does prove, I think, is that some Arminians are evangelical (contrary to what some Calvinists say), while some fail miserably to grasp the gospel at all. No stream of church is free from this problem, but it does seem a lot of prominent Arminian churches/pastors/books do promote some sort of aberrant gospel.

Another point which disturbed me was:

Few Arminians are willing to denounce their open theists brothers and sisters as
heretics, but most are unwilling at present to give up their belief in absolute divine foreknowledge, because the Bible seems to assume it everywhere. (198)
This is very unfortunate, not only is open theism unbiblical, it's a matter which concerns the very character of God and therefore is false teaching. Most conservative Calvinists I have come into contact with have no problem calling their hyper-Calvinists kin on their bluff and so I would encourage our evangelical Arminians counterparts to do the same.

Also, the chapter everyone should read (and when I say everyone I mean everyone) is "Myth 2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism Is Possible." I have heard countless times, "I am not Arminian or Calvinists." Or "We need to be balanced"--as if one side or the other is not. Olson makes the claim which I would also confirm:

Calvinist author W. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminary California, rejects [a hybrid of Arminianism and Calvinism--Calminianism]:
Some try to split the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism. They say something like, 'I want to be 75% Calvinists and 25% Arminian.' If they mean that literately, then they are 100% Arminian since giving any determinative place to human will is Arminian. Usually they mean that they want to stress the grace of God and human responsibility. If that is what they mean, then they can be 100% Calvinist for Calvinism does teach both that God's grace is entirely the cause of salvation and that man is responsible before God to hear and heed the call to repentance and faith.
Consistent classical Arminians agree with Godfrey that their system of belief is incompatible with Calvinism and would argue that most people who declare themselves Calminians or 75 percent Calvinist and 25 percent Arminian are actually Arminian! (67).

I know. I know. Those who take this label (i.e., Calminian or my personal favorite Biblicist) say they don't follow the teaching of any man. I don't either. I know. You can say your belief don't fall into any "system," but when what you teach lines up with the historical strain of theology then accept it. You are what you are. It does happen thought that men through out history have taught what I believe (and probably what you believe). When they agree with Scripture, I embrace their theology and thoughts. When they don't I reject their teaching.

Here's one test according to Olson: What's the controling element in your interpretation of Scripture--God as Love or as Sovereign? Arminians follow the former and Calvinist the latter according to Olson. In my opinion that is 90% accurate. I will have more to say about that in an upcoming post.

Overall I would say all of my Calvinist friends would benefit from reading Olson's Arminian Theology. It would help refine their own position and their argumentation against the Arminian position. Plus Olson offers a fair, historical, and scholarly description of Arminianism.

Soli Deo Gloria