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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’


Confession: I have a love-hate relationship with the culture war.

I’m torn in two. I have strong convictions on some things that I think are important. But I’m weary of how we as a culture, including the church, discuss these matters. I’m becoming more concerned with ministering to struggling people than trying to be right. I do want to explore nuances on some issues.

The subtitle of one of Scott Sauls’ books interested me. That book is Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. Sauls is a PCA pastor in Nashville who used to work with Tim Keller in NYC. In many ways he is like Keller, making distinctions and exploring nuance. He tends to tick off both the left and the right. If the Bible is true, Keller notes, it will critique every culture and every person. That means that everyone will be annoyed by something it says. The same will be true for faithful pastors. The left thinks you are too right and the right that you are too left.

In his introduction Sauls puts it this way:

“Are we known by what we are for instead of what we are against? Are we less concerned about defending our rights- for Jesus laid down his rights- and more concerned about joining Jesus in his mission of loving people, places, and things to life?”

While we believe in truth, we also believe in grace and peace. This means a Christian should be pursuing all of them, not just one. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he calls them to end what we’d call their tribalism in light of the fact they’ve been baptized into Christ. Their union with Him and one another takes precedence over the divides that kept people apart in their culture. In light of this we keep truth and love together, as Paul notes in Ephesians 4. Sauls wants us to see beyond the polarization to affirm what is true about each side of an argument in the process of finding the truth in the middle so we can love both sides and hopefully bring them together.

The book is divided into two main sections. The first addresses issues between the various “Christian tribes”. The second addresses some of the issues that polarize the church and the world.

The first issue he addresses could be in both sections of the book: politics. Reflecting Keller he argues that no political system or party is fully aligned with Jesus and therefore subject to critique. Politics is like a religion in America. There seems to be no middle ground.

God has instituted government, and raises up and casts down leaders. Those governments and leaders don’t serve Jesus. In our own context the two parties grab hold of part of what Jesus says. As Christians we can think they have the whole (or none in the case of THEM). We each have agendas and choose the candidate or party that best represent them. And one of those agendas tends to be political power. It is not just the evangelical right that courts earthly power, as the evangelical left would have you believe. Both sides have made compromises to gain cultural power so the current dust ups are largely disingenuous to me.

“Kingdom politics reject the world’s methods of misusing power and manipulating the truth.”

As we consider politics we should recognize that Christians should be involved in terms of voting and also holding office. Yet we should do this understanding the limitations involved. No candidate or platform is perfect. We are not electing pastors, and being a Christian doesn’t necessarily make one wise or beyond corruption. This is another way of saying that politics is not a means to usher in the kingdom of God. It is, however, a means to help human flourishing so the work of the kingdom can take place in and through the church.

Sauls notes that Christianity tends to be healthier when it is part of the minority, not the majority. As the minority we are generally less conformed to the world, and less likely to trample other groups. As the majority we tend to cling to power and can abuse it. We are fallen humans after all.

He also notes that “Christianity embraces both conservative and progressive values.” It is neither. Christianity teaches that women are made in the image of God. As such it should embrace equality for women. Christians have long had a prevailing ethic of life contrary to many an earthly government and culture. If we treat women well, the pro-life movement is not assumed to be a war on women.

I don’t want to spend as much time on the other polarizing viewpoints. But in discussing politics with some from the evangelical left recently I’ve heard the accusation that I’m actually pro-birth and don’t care about the poor. That’s a nice talking point, and the second chapter: For the unborn or the poor? Oddly, I’ve found many conservatives at the forefront of care for the poor through groups like the Salvation Army, Compassion International and through funding soup kitchens, pantries and homeless shelters.

It is difficult to discuss this topic without getting back into red state-blue state. But the question is not a new one: who should care for the poor, the church or the state? Calvin argued that church should, and Luther thought it was the state. We have a similar divide between the evangelical right and left. It isn’t really about whether to care for the poor but who and how. Our problem is we tend to see the other side not caring because they don’t do it the way we think it should be done.

Sauls brings us back to the reality of both the unborn and the poor bearing the image of God. This should lead us to have a comprehensive ethic of life. Mine would go something like this: The state should protect the unborn while the church/Christians should provide for the unborn and the poor. The state should protect the living by bearing the sword against the wicked who forfeit their lives for certain heinous crimes.

The section also addresses personal faith or institutional church, money guilt or money greed, racially the same or racially diverse, and him or her. These are important issues that we tend to take extreme positions on and fight about in the church. These, of course, are false dilemmas for the most part. We should value both personal faith and the institutional church. One tends to be dead without the other. Sauls notes that the early church was FAR from perfect, so the problems of our churches shouldn’t mean we reject “organized religion”. Rather, the church is a place where we learn to love people who are very different from ourselves. As he argues, we need the church and the church needs us.

In discussing money he reminds us that the underlying issue is contentment. Most people are not content with their wealth. This can manifest itself in either hoarding or spending. We inevitably have to see the God-man who was rich but became poor to enrich others. As we consider Him He makes us people who also enrich others.

Racial questions are difficult because we have such a hard time moving beyond our experience. We tend to normalize our experiences and can’t see other people’s experience (especially minorities) as valid or true. People in the majority need to begin listening to minorities. Privilege, I’ve found, doesn’t have to do with having an easy go of things so much as there are things you never have to think about. For instance, when I get in my car I never wonder if I’m going to get pulled over by the police. Many blacks and Hispanics do, and that is because they are pulled over far more frequently than me. When I get pulled over I don’t think that I’d better record it just in case things go south. I’ve always been treated with respect by the police. But many blacks and Hispanics are viewed with more suspicion by police than I am. Their experience is so different than mine. There are negatives I don’t experience due to my race, social status or both.

The same is true regarding men and women. I don’t go for a jog (when I used to) and wonder if I’ll get jumped and raped. I don’t pay attention to the cars on my walk to see if the same one keeps going by. I don’t pay more for a car or repairs because of my sex. Studies show that women are often taken advantage of by sales and repair men.

Where Sauls goes is inequality in the church in both chapters. Minorities often feel forced to fit in with the white culture of a church. They feel like a token instead of someone who has a seat at the table with decision-making power. Women also have decisions made for them without seeking their wisdom and counsel. God gifts women for ministry too. They don’t have to hold office to exercise those gifts like egalitarians think. Some complementarians need to remember that this is true and not unnecessarily restrict the ministry of women.

In the second section he discusses affirmation or critique, accountability or compassion, hypocrite or work in progress, chastity or sexual freedom, hope or realism, self-esteem or God-esteem and then provides some quick pointers on living outside the lines in the epilogue.

He spends time discussing our need for affirmation and encouragement. He also distinguishes critique and criticism helpfully.

“Because an affirming critique always comes from the motive of restoring and building up, unlike criticism, which aims to harm and tear down.”

We all been victims of criticism. You feel worthless, humiliated and exposed. Critique is not focused on fault-finding and assigning blame. It is concerned with how we can do better. Affirmation should not be devoid of critique, but it should be devoid of criticism. In this context he shared a story of a bad relationship with another pastor that brought out the worst in each of them, and how it turned the corner into a healthier relationship when they considered how God was sanctifying each thru the other.

He invites to consider both the justice and compassion of God that is revealed in the cross of Christ, as well as the final judgment. This is not a book whose message is “can’t we just get along.” It brings us often to the gospel while reminding us that divine truth is not simplistic. Our positions may have elements of the truth but not the whole truth. As we interact with people of differing opinions we may discover they have some of the truth too. Sauls is not selling relativism, but is reminding us that the truth can be more complex than we want to make it in our quest to be right. Seriously, who wants to be wrong?

There is much to make you think and move beyond the false dilemmas we find in life. There are also some great stories. I loved the story about Doug and how Scott struggled with a competitive spirit with a man he hadn’t been in contact with for over a decade. Scott is vulnerable in this book. He’s not the hero who has it all together. He comes across to me as a guy who’s trying to figure all this out and shares a few of the things he’s learned. See this as critique instead of criticism and you’ll benefit from the book. See it as criticism and you’ll just get ticked and retreat to your own tribe within the lines. It might feel safer, but then so is a prison cell sometimes.

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The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set) Newton, John cover imageI’m moving toward the end of The Works of John Newton. There are a few items in the 4th volume I want to address separately. The one that seems pertinent to me existentially is Thoughts on the Government of the Tongue.

We are in the midst of political polarization as a nation. As a denomination, we are in the midst of theological polarization. As I think about my own words they are not always what they should be. I also feel kicked around, misunderstood and attacked at other times. I’m beginning to make more use of the FB snooze function. However, I am not looking forward to 2020 because this election looks to be even more polarizing and spiteful than 2016 was.

Newton begins his thoughts this way:

There is perhaps no one test or proof of the reality of a work of grace upon the heart, more simple, clear, and infallible, than the general tenor of our language and conversations; …”

He is applying James 3 in light of Jesus’ words “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” James warns us of the danger of the tongue. It can burn down families, churches and nations. We can build up or tear down with our kids, spouses or friends.

The last year or so has been an exercise in holding my tongue. Some people may not believe it, but they didn’t hear all that is in my heart because I don’t want to damage relationship in my anger. James warns that the one who can’t bridle his tongue has vain religion.

“It is not the restraint of the heart, the apostle requires.”

While it is our duty to watch and mortify the sinful desires of our hearts. But “he supposes that the grace of God in a true believer will check the evils of the heart, and prevent them from breaking out by the tongue.” This means that a husband won’t light into his wife (or a wife her husband) when they disagree. This means that you don’t attack your neighbor who votes differently than you but perhaps seek to understand their perspective. We note the hatred and anger arising in our hearts and refuse to give vent to them.

Newton notes that restraining our tongues is not to be taken so strictly that we think a Christian never speaks unadvisedly. We see godly men like Job and Jeremiah cursing the day they were born. While godly people frequently restrain their tongues, James also notes that we all sin in many ways, including our speech. This is part of the sanctification process.

I don’t know if Trump is a genuine Christian. Taken strictly, one would be tempted to say “No way, Jose.” But if his reported conversion a few years is genuine, we should not be surprised if it takes time for a man who used speech sinfully in many ways to begin to restrain his tongue (and his tweets). If grace is in his heart, “it will so regulate and control the tongue, that it shall not customarily offend.” People need time to change, and it is frequently incremental. This should give most of us hope. We see change, but long for more (if we are honest).

But the counterfeit Christian cannot bridle his tongue because there is no grace in his heart. He may learn theology, help out around the church but the tongue will persist in gossip, slander, unwholesome speech and verbal assault.

Newton moves to what it means to bridle the tongue. One aspect is their language toward God.

“So likewise the hearts of believers teach their mouths to speak honorably of God under all their afflictions and crosses, acknowledging the wisdom and mercy of his dispensations; and if an impatient word escapes them, it grieves and humbles them…”

In affliction the sinful heart wants to curse God, blame God. The Spirit of grace works to restrain that sinful desire. When we do accuse or curse, the Spirit of grace convicts us so we are grieved.

It also restrains our prideful speech of ourselves. That tendency we have to assert we alone are right and good, and those who disagree with us are singularly evil, stupid or blind. We speak as though we have all the answers. Instead, the Spirit moves us to speak of ourselves as unworthy, needy creatures.

“In what they say of or to others, the tongues of believers are bridled by a heartfelt regard to truth, love and purity.”

Not just truth. Not just love. Our tongues are bridled by truth and love. And purity. Truth and love restrain our tongues so we don’t speak falsehood or hatefully. We begin to have an internal restrain, which is the key. That restraint is truth, love and purity. It isn’t fear.

Newton recognizes that we can unwittingly speak untruths. We can speak from ignorance, forgetfulness. We aren’t speaking to deceive. But we are wrong. Sometimes your opponent is just plain wrong, not lying. Keep that in mind as the election draws near.

The tongue is bridled by truth because God is the God of truth. Jesus is the truth. It is bridled by love because God is love. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. As a result we are restrained by purity. We are holy because He is holy.

“… though true believers may, on some occasions, speak rashly, and have great cause for humiliation, watchfulness, and prayer, with respect to the government of their tongues…”

Yes, we have a goal and a motive but we have not arrived. This is cause for humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand. This is cause for watchfulness when in disagreement with another. This is cause for prayer that God will guard our mouths and tongues.

Newton provides us with some helpful, edifying thoughts and direction for governing our tongues as manifestation of grace. It is well worth heeding as we move into an election year, as we continue in denominational debate and engage in everyday conflict.

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Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

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The subtitle to Bavinck on the Christian Life is Following Jesus in Faithful Service. In part 1 John Bolt laid the foundations of creation, law and union with Christ. In part 2 he framed it with imitation of Christ and worldview. In the third and final section of this book, The Practice of Christian Discipleship, Bolt gets to the areas where we follow Jesus in light of a Christian worldview.

For lack of a better term, I’ll use spheres. They could be called vocations, the places were are called. As Christians Bavinck stresses that our faith is not simply lived out in prayer closets and on Sunday mornings. We are to follow Jesus in our marriage, family, work, culture, education and civil service (politics).

In the historical context, Bavinck was often dealing with “the revolution.” It was a time of incredible instability in Europe. The impact of Rousseau and Marx were shaking the foundations of Europe. There were challenges and changes looming  in nearly every arena, sphere or vocation. As a result he was not writing in an Edenic setting or ivory tower. He was not only a theologian and churchman, but also a statesman. In many ways it is a situation that reflects our contemporary situation. Faith does not retreat from cultural challenges, but seeks to imitate Jesus by serving in the midst of such changes. But it always seeks to follow Jesus, not simply embracing change or preserving human tradition. For instance, women’s suffrage was a good thing, a good change reflecting their equal status as made in God’s image in civil society.

As Bavinck wrestled with these changes he doesn’t simply analyze the proposed solution, he brings them back to the real problem. For instance, “inequality” was looked at as the great cultural sin (sounds familiar, right?). He brings us to God’s providence to recognize that inequality is not intrinsically wrong. For instance, God has not distributed resources equally. Some geographic locations are rich in natural resources, and others lack. God has placed each of us in a particular place, to a particular family (with its own resources, or lack thereof).

But this is not the only, final word on inequality. We have to see it in light of the creation mandate as well. We are not to sit fatalistically with our lot in life. If we believe we are called to “subdue and rule” we will seek to maximize the resources and opportunities that do exist. (Either Bavinck or Bolt does not spell this out as clearly as I would have liked.)

Bavinck also brings inequality to sin. Some are motivated by self-love rather than love for God and neighbor. Therefore they oppress, exploit and steal. Some are lazy and refuse to maximize anything at their disposal but live for the present, not the future. There is no eschatalogical pull for them, no deferred gratification for something far greater.

Therefore, the pull toward socialism or the massive re-distribution of wealth doesn’t fix the problem. It fails to address sin (note the gross inequalities in every Communist country we’ve seen). Rather, ways must be found to eliminate oppression, exploitation, theft, laziness and entitlement not “inequality”. Inequality isn’t the problem.

Bolt applies Bavinck’s creational norm to the question of sexuality as well. Marriage is meant to be a reflection of the trinity- unity in diversity. One of the creational realities that must remain in marriage is procreation, unless providentially hindered. In other words, many of our supreme court justices, as well as citizens, don’t really understand the meaning of marriage. The gospel “restores” nature rather than overthrowing nature. It is sin which seeks to corrupt, destroy and overthrow nature.

Because our fundamental problem is sin, Bavinck focused not on social solutions to our problems, but brought us back to the gospel first (not only). People need to be restored to fellowship with God before they can see the real problems in society and apply God’s law to create an increasingly just society (as defined by God’s law which reflects His character). As a result, we must humbly accept the fact that there will be no perfectly just society until the return of Jesus because sin remains. Again, this does not mean fatalism but realistic expectations. It does mean we seek to address the real issues, not just the symptoms.

Bolt ends the book with Bavinck’s only printed sermon “The World Conquering Power of Faith”. This sermon ties a number of these things together. We cannot fix the world with the world’s means precisely because they are part of the world which is in rebellion against God. By faith we are able to “conquer” the world, but only because our faith is in the One who has overcome the world and is currently at work to make His enemies His footstool.

As a result, the Christian life of following Jesus in faithful service often looks foolish to the world. It often feels foolish. It seems so powerless, and the needs presented by the world seem so great: oppression, slavery (sexual & economic), mental illness, terrorism and violence, government corruption, sexual abuse, domestic violence …

People must be united to Christ by faith, seeking to walk in light of the law (justice) and the creation mandate (subdue & rule). This is how Bavinck views the Christian life.

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I’ve only read one book by Herman Bavinck. That book was The Doctrine of God, and I read it thanks to Doug Kelly while in seminary. I enjoyed the book and found it helpful, but until recently not much was available in English. I’ve got a copy of a biography on him, but I haven’t read it yet.

His influence, despite this handicap, is evidenced as I read the first few chapters of Bavinck on the Christian Life by John Bolt. I have been greatly influenced by people who have been greatly influenced by Bavinck. I saw much of my personal theology on display in those chapters, much of which is reflected in my approach to marriage in my forth-coming book.

For those who aren’t familiar with Bavinck, he was a Dutch theologian alive in the 19th and 20th centuries. He was a bit younger than his contemporary, the more well known Abraham Kuyper. The book begins with a brief biographical sketch.

Bolt begins the meat of the book with Foundations for Christian Living. The three chapters there cover Bavinck’s theological process so to speak. The first is about creation, Created in God’s Image. We can’t understand the Christian life if we don’t understand ourselves as created in God’s image. Redemption makes us whole humans, not into something altogether different. Bavinck takes a “trinitarian” approach to what it means to be in God’s image: creation, sin & redemption, and eschatology. Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 figure prominently in Bavinck’s thought: Adam as a type of Christ. They are the two covenant heads that govern humanity. As a result, Bavinck affirmed the “covenant of works” as vital to Christian theology. He saw this as “a divinely imposed relationship between God and humanity, a relationship under sanctions: obedience leads to blessing; disobedience results in death. (pp. 43)” And so “we are Christian in order to become truly human, not the other way around. (pp. 43)”

“This theological insight implies that in a Reformed understanding of Christian discipleship the creational, natural vocation of human beings is basic and primary.”

This this point, Bolt provides a critique of the more “radical” approaches to discipleship from Bavinck’s prospective. If he were alive today, Bolt (rightly I think) imagines Bavinck having something to say to people like Claiborne and Platt. He would affirm Christian discipleship in the ordinary callings. Some today sharply criticize the ordinary (creational!) and produce unnecessary and unproductive guilt. There is no hierarchy of callings so that one is better than another. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 7, serve God where you are whether rich or poor, slave or free, male or female. Your vocation- butcher, baker, candlestick maker or household engineer- is the context of your discipleship. It is not to be seen as a hindrance to it. The creation mandate is not opposed to the great commission (see pg. 44-45 in particular).

Bolt then brings us into common grace. He notes that the term is often misunderstood, and should not be used to excuse worldliness in Christians. It “is the confession that God continues to providentally watch over creation and fallen humanity and that this care is not restricted but extends beyond the elect. (pp. 48)” Bavinck, like Calvin, distinguishes between a grace common to all humanity, and special or saving grace. Common grace provides the stage for saving grace. His continuing to uphold the creation despite our sin & rebellion is gracious.

Bolt then moves to The Law and the Duty of Christian Obedience. The law is understood within the context of covenant. Our discipleship, occurring within the context of creation also occurs within the context of the law which guides us in a life which pleases God. Bavinck follows the Reformed confessions and catechisms in this expression of grateful obedience.

Bolt spends more time discussing the covenant of works (pp. 56-63) particularly since some prominent Reformed theologians are critical of the doctrine. He notes some of those criticisms, but brings us back to Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 again. We see that their roles as covenant heads are revealed matters. For Bavinck, religion is a revealed matter. Apart from revelation we don’t have true religion. Bolt notes the temptations of moralism and legalism. The law is intended to be kept within the context of covenant. The Ten Commandments are given in the context of redemption. They are to obey because they have been redeemed, not to gain salvation. The enjoyment of that salvation, and remaining in the land, hinged upon obedience (and repentance when they disobeyed) while looking forward to the greater Redeemer who would obey perfectly for us, and work in us by the Spirit to grow in obedience and restore the image of God. For Bavinck “covenant is the essence of true religion. (pp. 60)” It is intended to guide our discipleship as the words of a father are to guide the life of a son. We are to submit to the “living covenantal God with whom we are in fellowship. (pp. 61-2)” Our submission is not simply a matter of His Lordship, but also our love in response to His love toward us.

This means that God does not coerce us, but counsels us thru “admonition, warning, invitation, petition. (pp. 63)” This also takes place in the context of community. Not simply alone, or as a couple, but the whole of humanity (or the new man in Christ) is the fully developed image of God (see pp. 65). We also find that the reality of progressive revelation implies the reality of progressive understanding.

One of the interesting applications that Bolt makes is politics. As imitators of God, “we are always to conduct ourselves in way that enhance our neighbor’s liberty and responsibility (pp. 67)”

“And it suggests that Christians evaluate public social policy in terms of the same principles. It also implies, finally, that when it comes to matters of social policy and political actions, Christians have an obligation to respect each other’s freedom on matters that either are adiaphora (things indifferent) or require application of agreed upon moral principle. The example of poverty and poverty relief come to mind. The Bible is quite clear about the responsibility of God’s children to help those who are poor and needy. Whether or not this commitment to the poor demands support for higher taxes or greater government welfare is quite another matter. It is a mistake for Christians to treat their policy preferences as self-evident applications of biblical principle. Christians need to respect the liberty of those who take their Christian responsibilities in directions that are different from their own.”

Bolt then quotes an interesting section from the 1891 Christian Social Congress on general principles. “Therefore, it is entirely in keeping with Holy Scripture to: … oppose the accumulation of capital and landed property. (pp.68)” Not exactly where I would go with applying Scripture, but in Israel there were limits to wealth accumulation.

Bolt then moves to the third foundation: Union with Christ. This is the longest and most complex chapter, as Bolt confesses. But our redemption is “in Christ” and this concept must be understood. It plays, obviously, a big role in Bavinck’s understanding of Christianity.

Here Bolt talks about Bavinck’s dualities, not the same a dualism. He doesn’t operate with a dialectic: thesis, antithesis and synthesis. But two realities, held in a kind of tension: “earthly calling and eternal destiny; general revelation and particular revelation; common grace and saving grace. (pp. 69)” They are not to be set against one another: we experience both. We are pulled by competing, legitimate longings. These tensions don’t disappear, and we shouldn’t try to eliminate them. But … often we do.

Bavinck’s understanding of union is more than redemptive. Christ is the mediator of creation, a common theme in Bavinck. He “bridges the ontological distance between humanity and God.” We not only have the moral obstacle of sin to deal with, but the metaphysical obstacle to fellowship or communion with God. In light of this he speaks of accommodation like Calvin does. All revelation is tied to the work of Christ, whether pre or post-incarnate.

“He has brought creation, redemption, and eschatology all into the doctrine of Christ without in any way blurring the distinction between nature and grace or sacrificing the gracious character and preeminence of Christ as our Redeemer.”

Bolt then discusses the two dangers of discussing union. The elevation of humanity to divinity or bringing God down to us and losing all sense of transcendence. Bavinck warned about shifting back and forth between deism and pantheism. The former is helpful as we think about moralistic, therapeutic deism. The other is helpful as we think about theosis, and avoid the dangers of divinization and neo-Platonism. (pp. 78-80).

Bolt, in light of all this, discusses what the Chalcedonian formula did and did not do. It marked out boundaries for our contemplation of the hypostatic union. It didn’t really define it. He brings this into the disagreement between the Reformers and Roman Church on justification. Rome emphasizes union through sacraments. The Reformers emphasized a covenantal union.

Bolt then gets into Dutch Reformed church history with Arminius and the two seceding groups connected with Kuyper and Bavinck that eventually united. Some in Kuyper’s group held to presumptive regeneration. Bavinck argued that ordinarily the Spirit used appointed means for regeneration, though the Spirit can regenerate someone directly. We should recognize that as extra-ordinary, not ordinary. Therefore, the presumption regeneration regarding our children, as immediate and extra-ordinary, should not be affirmed.

In terms of our union itself, Bavinck joined together “the covenantal, legal and forensic dimensions of justification with the believer’s mystical union in Christ” (pp. 91). Bavinck also takes us to the “covenant of redemption” between the Trinity. Our union with Christ is built on the work of all three members: the Father electing, the Son providing redemption, and the Spirit applying it in union with Christ. Our union is not something considered apart from Christ’s objective work of redemption. The latter is the basis of the former. We receive the benefits of redemption in our union, particularly justification and sanctification. With regard to the latter, Bavinck notes it is both the passive gift of God, and our active responsibility. While not mentioned, this is helpful to keep in mind in the recent sanctification debates within the Reformed community.

Bolt did a great job laying the theological foundation by which we must understand Bavinck’s view of the Christian life. Without grasping creation, law and union with Christ, there is really no proper understanding of the Christian life.

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Devotional books can be funny things. The author can have a sense of an overall purpose and flow which can be lost on the reader. Or perhaps the author doesn’t have a flow. John Piper has put together a few devotional books over the years and I have appreciated the ones I’ve read, particularly Life as a Vapor.

His latest, culled from various writings in other places is A Godward Heart: Treasuring the God Who Loves You. The stated theme is cultivating a Godward heart. It is tough to put pre-existing material into a book and expect it to fit a theme. In this case, I’m not sure the theme holds. Don’t get me wrong. There is some great material in this volume. It just doesn’t feel cohesive (yes, that is quite subjective.

The book begins in startling fashion with The Morning I Heard the Voice of God. At first you think he’s having some sort of charismatic experience (well, he is charismatic) but he’s talking about “hearing” God speak in the Scriptures (Ps. 66 in particular). It seems unnecessarily provocative, maybe. Piper wants to remind us that the real power to change us, the real words that should move us, are the Scriptures as the Spirit works in us to apply what Christ has done for us. A Godward heart is one that loves the Scriptures.

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As I previously mentioned, I would be going through John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life in accordance with the sections of the book. The second section of the book is an examination of Non-Christian Ethics. This section of the book is extremely helpful for understanding politics, not just ethics, since politics is often a large scale expression of ethics.

As one should expect, Frame utilizes both his understanding of Lordship attributes and triperspectivalism to analyze the numerous ways that non-Christians have done ethics. He starts with the biblical tension between transcendence and immanence. The biblical concept of transcendence includes God’s control and authority. Immanence focuses on God’s presence. Since God is Lord, he is present, in control and has full authority.

Non-Christians (and some poor theologians), obviously, in rejecting the testimony of Scripture separate them and emphasize one over the other. Or completely ignore one. Deism, for instance, rejects the immanence of God. He is not present in creation but set it in motion. Rabbi Kushner embraces God’s presence but rejects his control and authority. Shirley McClaine is even more radical in stressing God’s immanence by thinking she is part of God.

Politically, an unbiblical transcendence makes the State god who determines right and wrong as well as dispensing rights (as well as taking them away according to who is in power). An unbiblical immanence places all the power in the self and gives rise to forms of libertarianism that reject external authority, like Ayn Rand.

Frame does the same thing with irrationalism and rationalism. We are rational beings, being made in the image of God. Yet, being finite, our knowing is not autonomous. We admit that there are things we cannot understand as a result of our finitude and our sinfulness. We see our irrationalism as a function of the Creator-Creature distinction.

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Someone, somewhere, has proclaimed this Free Speech Pulpit Freedom Sunday (see what happens when you blog after getting up at 3 am- this was the least of my worries). People do that- declare a Sunday for their causes. It can be good to move us to focus prayer on particular issues like abortion, adoption, and the persecuted church.

Free Speech Sunday is a new one, at least to me. Sometimes I feel like I live in a cave. You’d think I wasn’t connected to the internet by an umbilical cord.

The purpose, as I understand it, of Free Speech Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to recognize what the IRS says a church can and cannot say. My understanding of the tax code (I am not an accountant, and getting one’s opinion on the tax code is about as helpful as asking a roomful of theologians a question) is that churches can address political issues, but not lobby for particular candidates. That this law is not fairly applied, from my opinion, is not the point. Actually, it is the point in terms of the intention of the day. Some use this fear of removing 501(c)3 status from conservative churches to silence them. But churches can talk politics, according to the law. We can say if a candidate’s position on abortion or marriage is immoral. We can say if the candidates break the 9th commandment (oh, boy do they do that early and often). We are on less solid ground when discussing the economic theory of the candidates (I have strong opinions on this matter, having a degree in economics, but that is not the same as comparing someone to a biblical standard on truth-telling in campaigning, or killing babies.

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The new presidential election cycle has begun, and I’m already weary of the whole thing.  Perhaps you find this whole thing painful too.  I’ve been thinking about a way to make this less painful, and more effective.  This is the CavProposal, and it is far more rational than the Occupy Wall Street Movement (I won’t even dignify it with a link). Similar reforms could be made for Congress.

Here we go:

  • The time to file your candidacy is limited to a few months. My proposal would be February-March of the election year. This mean incumbants, or elected officials who seeking the Presidency would minimize their time away from the reason we elected them in the first place.
  • There would be no campaigning.  Only ads that report your platform would be permitted.  No attack ads! This can help create an even playing field when it comes to financial resources.  Websites can be used to lay out policies in coherent fashion.  It will also save our sanity.
  • (more…)

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Just wanted to let people know about some good books that are currently on Clearance at WTS Bookstore.

I’ve just started reading Baptism: Three Views.  Burned out on baptism books after years of studying this topic, I was drawn to the fact that Sinclair Ferguson is one of the contributors.  So far I have read Bruce Ware’s defense of first baptism by immersion and secondly credobaptism.  The pages are filled with red ink as I took exception to some really lousy arguments by someone I otherwise respect.  Ferguson’s response to his essay exposed some serious flaws in this thinking and his inconsistency with his own denomination’s definition of baptism.  But all of that is for another day.  This book is only $3.20.

The Prince’s Poison Cup (Audio book) is only $5.  This is one of the children’s books by R.C. Sproul.

Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification, edited by K. Scott Oliphint is only$5.70.  Contributors include Sinclair Ferguson, Richard Gaffin, John Murray and Carl Trueman.

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Talking about justice in practice takes us into the complexity of politics (broadly used).  We must inevitably work with people in a pluralistic culture.  Sometimes we will share the same views, but for different reasons.  Other times we will have divergent views.  In his 7th chapter of Generous Justice, Tim Keller risks entering the dark room to switch the light on for us.

The Justice Card

Keller shares a story of staff members for a nonprofit deciding who should represent the agency at a conference.  Some lobbied for a senior staff member who was a female.  Others a younger man who had less experience but was particularly gifted in such situations.  Somehow, those who thought the woman should go claimed it was “a justice issue.”  It brought dialogue to an abrupt end.  The woman was chosen, but reluctantly by those who didn’t want to be called unjust.  They weren’t unjust, but this story reveals that “justice” can be person relative.

By that Keller means that people often have very different understandings of justice.  Often people on both sides of debates (abortion, tax rates, war etc.) claim they are being just and the other side unjust.  Presuppositions are at work to support these very different understandings of justice in that situation.

“Democrats think of it more in collective terms. … Republicans think of justice more individualistically.”

Our debates on issues exist because fundamentally we can’t agree on what justice is.  Many of the terms used to define justice, like “freedom” and “equality”, are equally vague.  We go chasing shadows.  Think about “harm” regarding abortion.  Pro-choice people don’t want harm to come to the woman.  This is their concern, forgetting there are other people involved in this (yes, people!).  Pro-life people don’t want harm to come to the child, the mother, the father and other people.

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After considering the idea of justice, Tim Keller moves to the topic of Justice and the Old Testament in his 2nd chapter of Generous Justice.  This chapter is about how to interpret the Old Testament law with justice as the example.  I think that best summarizes it.  Keller does this to answer the question of whether or not the laws of the Old Testament are binding on Christians today.

This is a thorny issue, and your answer reflects your method of interpretation.  Dispensationalists, Covenant, and New Covenant theology answer this question differently.  Keller comes from a Covenant Theology perspective.  He recognizes the differences between moral, ceremonial and case/civil law in the Old Testament.  The New Testament is pretty clear that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law in a way that means it is not binding on us any more.  We are ceremonially clean in Christ, and He is our Sacrifice which brings pardon and fellowship.

“So the coming of Christ changes the way in which Christians exhibit their holiness and offer their sacrifices, yet the basic principles remain valid.”

Keller brings a concept from Craig Bloomberg into the mix.  “Every command reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians.”  So, Christians need to be ceremonially clean, have a sacrifice for sin etc.  The Christian looks to Christ for all this and more, however.  The need still exists, but the reality is in Christ.  Romans 12 teaches us that additionally we offer our whole lives in view of this great mercy.  We offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews), not the blood of animals or food offerings.

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Yesterday I went to a pastor’s seminar sponsored by Phoenix Seminary, the Alliance Defense Fund and the Center for Arizona Policy.  One of the speakers was Wayne Grudem, relating material from his new tome Politics According to the Bible.  I say tome because it is a mammoth 600 pages.  But it looks good.

The first chapter covers some of the errors people make in thinking about politics and Christianity.  It was interesting to see who Gregory Boyd gets farther and farther from a biblical worldview (Shane Clairborn’s Jesus for President seems to have been influenced by his governments are satanic error).

Grudem’s basic argument is that God’s people (in Scripture) have often influenced governments.  Joseph had a profound influence on Egypt, Daniel was instrumental in Babylon, Esther changed policy under Xerxes, and Nehemiah served as governor under the Persians.  Paul dialogued with Felix about faith and righteousness.  So, Grudem’s view in light of Scripture and our particular circumstances here in America is one of Christians influencing government as one way in which we do good works and love our neighbors.  He then goes on to examine particular issues pertinent to our circumstances today: economics, health care, environmental issues etc.  Here is a sermon of his, Biblical Principles Concerning Government.

Since we are in an election cycle, the issue of politics is a hot topic.  Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist recently preached Jesus Paid Taxes from Mark 12 (which Grudem referenced yesterday).  Collin Hansen thinks it is the best sermon on politics he’s heard.

Justin Taylor also has a few posts (here and here) on another book that is about to be released called City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era.  Tim Keller has written the forward.  One author, Michael Gerson lectured on The City of God at the Kuyper series for the Center for Public Justice.

Carl Trueman has a new book on the subject out as well called Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative.  There are some sample pages available.

Politics are important since we do live in the world.  I think these are books and sermons that will help us think biblically politics and our relationship to the state as individual Christians and churches.

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In chapter 4 of The Radical Disciple, John Stott moves into our responsibility beyond ourselves.  I think he does well to address the issue of creation care.  I just think he didn’t address it well.

The creation mandate reveals our relationship to creation as God’s stewards of creation.  We were meant to subdue it, make it productive and habitable.  Man was meant to imitate God in his creative wisdom.  As his image, were to represent his rule to the rest of creation.

Adam’s disobedience changed a few things.  Our task was made more difficult.  The creation was subject to frustration.  It produces weeds and thistles, and we have to work very hard to produce fruit, veggies and grain.

But something else happened.  We moved in two extremes.  First, some began to worship created things and/or creation (Romans 1).  Abram, before his conversion, was most likely a worshiper of Sin, the Mesopotamian sun god.  The Egyptians, whom the original audience of Genesis was well aware, worshiped many gods of created things.  The Lord proved his superiority (and the vanity of their idolatry) in the plagues.  He whooped up on their gods!

Second, some exploit creation.  They utilize the resources in a destructive way, like strip mining.  We see both of these sinful tendencies in Avatar.  The Navi had a pantheistic world in which all was part of god.  The humans exploited Pandora, just as they had exploited the earth.  Sadly, there are no real heroes in that story.

That’s the basic biblical framework in which Christians should ponder creation care as we follow Jesus who created and sustains all that is (John 1, Colossians 1) and will renew creation at the consummation (Romans 8, Revelation 21-22).  Salvation has cosmic, not just individual, aspects.  We must realize that, but without going to either of the 2 extremes.

“But we can surely say that just as our understanding of the final destiny of our resurrection bodies should affect how we think of and treat our bodies we have at present, so our knowledge of the new heaven and earth should affect and increase the respect with which we treat it now.”

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Before vacation I got a flyer for a seminar by Wayne Grudem about his book Politics According to the Bible.  For going to the seminar, I’ll be getting a free copy.  Unless you live here in southern AZ, you can’t.  But, for the next week, WTS Bookstore has the book 40% off ($23.99).

The book looks at 5 positions on Christians and politics, and rejects them.  They are:

    ‘compel religion,’
    ‘exclude religion,’
    ‘all government is demonic,’
    ‘do evangelism, not politics,’
    ‘do politics, not evangelism.’

He proposes “significant Christian involvement in politics”.  Whether or not you agree with him, it is probably worth the read.

Here are some endorsements:

“Dr. Grudem has written a sweeping, and inspiring, guide to politics and government in the new century, a comprehensive but extremely readable and easy-to-use primer on how a Christian guided by Scripture should think about all of the many issues facing a citizen today. Politics According to the Bible will be on the desk next to the microphone in my radio studio and on the bookshelf of every Christian –left, right or center– who wants to know –really wants to know– what God has said about what man ought to do and how he ought to live today.”
– Hugh Hewitt, professor of law, Chapman University, and nationally syndicated radio talk show host

“Wayne Grudem is one of the outstanding biblical scholars in America. He’s going to handle very well any subject he tackles. I particularly appreciate his work in this area, because he looks at the relationship between religion and politics through a biblical lens. Too often we confuse ideology with revealed truth. There are sections of this book that are uncannily timely, particularly on medical ethics, the rule of the courts, and the purpose of government. This can be a wonderful resource as we face growing tensions from an ever more powerful state.”
– Chuck Colson, Founder, Prison Fellowship

“Wayne Grudem’s call for men and women of faith to be engaged in the public life of our great country is precisely and exactly the call the rising generation needs to hear. Our duty as Christians is to recognize the vital differences between the city of God and the city of man, and to be involved in the public life of our great country.”
– Timothy Goeglein, Vice President, External Relations, Focus on the Family

“If you read this year only one Christian book on politics, read Politics—According to the Bible. Wayne Grudem shows how we should approach more than fifty specific issues. His biblically-based good sense overwhelms the nostrums of Jim Wallis and the evangelical left. Wayne also shows why those seeking a vacation from politics need to rise up and go to work.”
– Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief, World, and provost, The King’s College, New York City

“Conservative and hard-hitting both biblically and culturally, Grudem’s treatise is essentially a giant tract for the times, covering the whole waterfront of America’s political debate with shrewd insight and strong argument. This book will be a valued resource for years to come, and right now no Christian can afford to ignore it. An outstanding achievement!”
– J. I. Packer, Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver

Other books they currently have on sale include:

The Family Tree of Reformed Biblical Theology: Vos and Owen by Richard Barcellos.  Vos and Owen, this has got to be heady stuff, but I’m intrigued.

The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life by Dale Ralph Davis.  The book looks at Psalms 1-12, and the title alone is enough to suck me in.

Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Attack on the Mind, Morals and Meaning by Nancy Pearcy.  The title says it all.

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I left The Letters of John Newton home while on vacation.  It is one of the reasons I’m glad to be back home (there are many).  I’ve missed John.  This morning I read one of his letters to Mrs. Place, whom he met while she visited Olney for health concerns.  It appears her spiritual health improved significantly after meeting Rev. Newton.  He writes to her on the eve of the American Revolution (a prayer service had been added, he says, upon learning of the hostilities there), apparently in response to a question about politics.  Since we have mid-term elections coming up, here we go.

“I meddle not with the disputes of party, nor concern myself with any political maxims, but such as are laid down in Scripture.  There I read, that righteousness exalts a nation, and that sin is the reproach, and if persisted in, the ruin of any people.  Some people are startled at the enormous sum of our national debt: they who understand spiritual arithmetic, may well be startled if they sit down and compute the debt of national sin.”

I found that an interesting parallel to our current day.  We have a startlingly enormous national debt that keeps getting bigger.  Funny how many people who complained about it under Bush are not complaining about the incredible increases in debt under Obama.  Most conservatives criticized Bush for the deficits, so they are not inconsistent in criticizing Obama’s expansion beyond measure.  But the people who were merely playing politics have largely been silent in the face of unprecedented growth in debt. (more…)

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Now that the date of my exam is set, what better way to celebrate than post some more of my study notes.  Today we’re covering the chapters on the Civil Magistrate and Marriage.

Chapter XXIII: Of The Civil Magistrate

222. From whom does the civil magistrate derive his authority?  God.

223. What is the purpose which the civil magistrate is called to serve?  To defend and encourage the good and punish evil (Rom. 13).

224.What is meant by separation of church and state? The state is not to determine what the church must believe or how it may worship, nor appoint its officers. The church does have a prophetic message for the government, but only where the Word of God is clear.  It is not to dictate policy to the civil magistrate beyond this prophetic message and the power of the vote.

225.What are the implications of your view for the following:

War (just war / women combat)  Governments have a responsibility to defend the helpless against aggressive, greedy nations.  Women in combat is not a hot button issue for me.  Women have been killed in combat, and killed others in combat for thousands of years.  I am distressed at the loss of femininity that accompanies the practice, but I’m not sure the church should be dictating policy to the civil magistrate.

Political involvement – Christians are to be good citizens and use godly wisdom in voting for representatives.  Christians can and should run for office.  Christians should be concerned about a variety of issues, and need not vote only for other Christians.

Patriotism in worship – worship is to honor and worship God.  You can thank God for the many privileges we enjoy in a particular nation, but since our primary citizenship is in heaven I find patriotism in worship inappropriate, particularly since we are ‘idol factories’ and often make idols of our nationality.

226. Under what circumstances is it right for a Christian to disobey the civil authorities?  It is right to disobey the civil authorities when they either prohibit the Christian from obeying God or try to force him to break God’s law.  We are to do so in humility, and willing to suffer the consequences even as we declare how unjust the government is in the matter.

Chapter XXIV: Of Marriage and Divorce

227. Demonstrate from Scripture that marriage is a divine institution. Marriage is instituted in Genesis 2 that humankind may fulfill the Creation Mandate given to us.  In Ephesians 5 we see that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Jesus also affirms the divine institution of marriage in his teaching on marriage and divorce (Mt. 19).

228. Why is marriage not a sacrament?  It is not a sign and seal of our salvation, nor does it convey grace. It is not commanded of all Christians, which a sacrament is.

229. Should a Christian and an unbeliever marry? Should a Christian marry a Papist?  No, we are to marry in the Lord lest we be led astray to worship idols.

230. What are the legitimate reasons for divorce? Adultery (Mt. 5, 19) and abandonment (1 Cor. 7)

231. Under what conditions may the divorced remarry?  They may remarry if they were divorced for legitimate reasons, and may only be equally yoked.  If a person converts to Christianity after an illegitimate divorce (and their spouse has remarried) they may remarry.

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I really appreciated the perspective on leadership presented in Roger Parrott’s book The Longview.  I found it helpful to better understand my role as a leader and to avoid many of the traps that undermine leaders or waste their time with unnecessary work.

The B&B Media Group provided me with a copy of the book.  And they just provided a brief interview with the author about the book.  Here you go:

Many of today’s ministries suffer from a near-sighted vision.  Too often leaders choose easy solutions over principled, long-term strategies.  The results can be devastating, as ignored issues become full-blown crises, and small problems become big challenges.

The Longview (David C Cook, October 2009) is a fresh approach to leadership that will transform how readers make decisions and address problems.  Author Dr. Roger Parrott offers proven, practical principles drawn from scripture and his renowned career in educational leadership.  Parrott issues readers a timely challenge: Defy the trends of short-sighted goal-making for quick returns by learning to lead for long-term significance.

Do we have a leadership void today?

The problem is not that we don’t have great leaders, in fact, we’ve probably never had more educationally well prepared leaders than we have today.  The problem is that leaders are caught in an ever tightening vice grip of unrealistic expectations that pressure them into valuing turn-around over transformation. Today’s leaders are expected to find simple solutions to complex problems, and because these quick-fixes only hold for a short time, leaders from presidents to pastors disappoint those they are leading.

I believe this pattern started in American culture in the 1980s with the quest to get rich quick from junk bonds and buy outs, through the dot.coms in the 1990s, and the explosion of “want it now” credit card debt and built into the real-estate frenzy created by leveraged speculators in the past decide.  So leaders have been reared, tutored, and equipped to operate in a world that prizes immediate results over lasting significance.

For three decades skyrocketing incentives have been the norm for all manner of short-term producers—from stockbrokers to college coaches—as leaders at every level have indoctrinated us to believe immediate gains trump long-term consequences. This nearsightedness is eroding the foundational underpinnings of organizational quality and severely handicapping the effectiveness of leaders who are robbing the future to pay for today.

How did the Church become caught up on a short view approach and what are the consequences?

As we often do in the Church, we’ve followed the pattern of the world – in this case, the best of business and organizational teaching – but in mimicking the leadership patters of business and politics, we’ve strayed from the Longview leadership model given to us by Jesus.  Because this short view corporate culture has so permeated the church today, we in ministry have loosened our grip on the biblical model for leadership. We have grown to expect and even demand an ever-increasing cycle of measureable and immediate results from our leaders.

Our theology and our ministry passion draw us to talk about Longview outcomes as our heart’s desire, but we have been duped into fostering a generation of leaders, board members, employees, and constituencies who value short-term gain over Longview significance. Ministry leaders believe it and act accordingly—hiring and rewarding people who can promote Band-Aid fixes as monumental solutions, creating plans that promise the moon and always come up short, raising funds from unrealistically compressed donor relationships, and touting those results that can most easily be measured and applauded.

Why do you believe rising leaders are the generation who will value a Longview approach to leadership?

For three reasons I’m convinced this new generation of leaders are ready to embrace Longview leadership:

1.      They know the short view doesn’t work. This is likely to be the first generation that has not had a quality of life better than their parents.  And they know the reason is we are not dealing with Longview solutions in the macro problems of health care, terrorism, energy, and the economy. And they will be the ones to pay the price for patchwork fixes.

2.      They are connected to huge networks of real people through social networking, and listen to them rather than public relations messages – and they know from their peers that sugarcoating a problem doesn’t make it go away.

3.      This new generation of leaders is much more focused on mission significance and problem solving than on organizational stature and position climbing. They want to make a difference in the world, and they are willing to dig into problems to find lasting solutions.

The challenge for younger leaders is that they have never been given the tools to lead in a Longview pattern.  So the book is not just a call to Longview leadership, but mostly is deals with the everyday nitty-gritty issues of leadership from a Longview perspective.

Stay tuned for more….

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I assume most of you just went “who?”.  No, he’s not a theologian or a sports figure.  He’s a Florida politician who is gunning for Mel Martinez’ (who was a bit of a disappointment as a Senator) vacated Senate seat.  FL. Gov. Charlie Crist has set his sights on that same seat.  They are in the same party.  One is clear about where he stands, the other has a record of standing in too many places on too many issues.

Rubio has begun to gain name recognition in Florida.  And beyond.  He is a real conservative option for the mid-term elections.  Unlike Crist, he really is a conservative politician.  Here is an interview from the American Spectator.

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I’ve been wanting to read Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 since hearing Marcus talk about it on the Glenn Beck show one day while doing hospital visitation.  It is a moving, and powerful story that I enjoyed greatly.  I recommend people read it to gain a better understanding of how crazy our Rules of Engagement are.  This is the underlying message of Marcus’ account.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about: Operation Redwing was an attempt to capture or kill a high ranking Taliban leader in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2005.  A Seal team of 4 men were dropped into the mountains to locate and attempt to capture him.  They were discovered by some goat herders.  Militarily, you can’t be sure they are not connected with the Taliban and make your presence known so that a much larger force drops on you like a ton of bricks.  With the strange ROE in this War on Terror- terrorists don’t wear uniforms, and may not be holding a rifle- they knew they could face criminal charges while at least being crucified in the press if they killed the goat herders.  They set them free … and only Marcus lived to regret it.  These 4 men took on 150-200+ Taliban soldiers for 90-120 minutes.  Seal Team 10 and a Rapid Response team answered their call of distress, but the helicopter was shot down and all were killed.  Badly wounded, Marcus was able to escape until finally taken in by a village elder who swore to protect him.

It was a very good book and interesting read, but here is what I’d change (as if anyone cared):

  • Move the material about ROE and the press to a separate chapter.  Since it is interspersed as part of the narrative, it loses some of its rhetorical power to more of a soap box feel.
  • Double check the material on the training.  I was confused with varying accounts of how many guys dropped out when and how long various things took place.  I thought they might be errors, but I’m not sure.

This does not diminish what Marcus is doing here.  It is a book that needs to be written, and read.  Prior to getting to the ill fated mission you hear about Marcus’ background and how he and his twin brother were preparing to become Seals even as a teens.  You gain a better understanding of how difficult it is to become a Seal- the most elite fighting force in the world.  And you learn about how the press bungled the post-battle coverage.  You learn about the mammoth vigil that took place spontaneously at his parents’ ranch, and the generosity of so many fellow Texans.

In describing the battle itself, I wondered if this Texan was telling some tall tales.  It just seemed incredible to read what these 4 men did, and persevered despite serious injuries.  But it all makes sense when you take into account their training which identifies and selects men who can’t give up.  Their bravery and perseverance humbles me.  If you have half a heart, you too will weep when he is finally rescued, says ‘goodbye’ to his friends and comrades in arms, and is reunited with his distraught family.  You also get a taste of Seal culture, for better or worse (yes, lots of bad language and what I would consider blaspheme from the mouths of men who are Christians).  But you also gain a better understanding of how politics and the mainstream media make the task we ask these soldiers to perform most difficult, put their safety and our in unnecessary jeopardy.

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