Showing posts with label Them's Fightin Words. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Them's Fightin Words. Show all posts

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Greg Bahnsen & John Locke's Political Philosophy

Toward the beginning of his lengthy lectures on British Empiricism, Dr. Greg Bahnsen expresses some crucial philosophical distinctions about political philosophy. Commenting on John Locke's political philosophy and its relevance for American Christians today, Bahnsen said:
What would have been abhorrent for Locke is taken for granted in our day, that the majority have the right to vote in a State that will tax people to redistribute their wealth. 
I’m just taking one example of many: Locke would have thought that as abhorrent. That he didn’t, you see, take account of that is because Lock could count on the general Christian or protestant morality of England in his day. It’s just -- nobody would ever think that the [democratic] State could be used as an indirect way of thievery. You know, the majority getting in so that they could put their hands into the pockets of all the citizens to take their money. But we have now moved into a day where we have to reexamine much of what Locke had to say because the kind of freedom that he granted to the State, and the kind of freedom he granted to citizens in forming their State, assumed something of which we no longer have.
Now I’m not saying we should not have that view of the State.
What I’m saying is, well, to take another example: If you try to take Locke’s view of the democratic State to Somalia today, hey, good luck! -- Because Somalia is a warlord society. It does not have a Christian ethic, a Christian worldview--I mean, even in the broadest perspective. And, I would argue that worldviews hang together. Locke’s was not a perfect one by any means, but the only reason his political theory is so good is because it operated within a general Christian worldview. And he could assume that in a general sense, in terms of the values of his fellow citizens. But when you don’t have that--when you have ethical anarchy--then having the State being run by the majority may not prove to be the State that brings welfare to the people.
So now I’m going to say something that is going to be rather controversial, and I want you to reflect on it:
My sympathies are Puritan. My sympathies are Presbyterian. They are so much so that I criticize Cromwell, the Puritan general, because he re-introduced basically another monarchy that tyrannized the people toward the end of the puritan revolution. So you know where my sympathies are.
However, in terms of political theory, I would have to say, I would rather have a King that enforces the Law of God, than a majority that kills babies. Now the reason I’m saying this is because I have a great respect for Locke and what he has bequeathed to us, but don’t ever think that the form and administration of the State is more important than the morality of the State.
And so, I don’t want a king because I know that men tend to absolutize their power and tyrannize others. I want a parliamentary or a congressional or a democratic form of government--like Lock would have said, I want separation of powers. I don’t want concentration of power. I really prefer that. But that is a subordinate preference. I would prefer a King who did the righteous thing to a Congress that will not do righteousness.1 

1.  Greg Bahnsen, History of Western Philosophy: Renaissance & Enlightenment [Lectures on British Empiricism]. Bahnsen's lectures on philosophy are available together at  
Individual lectures from his series on Renaissance & Enlightenment can be found here:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bart Ehrman: Lost Scriptures

Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like I said in another review, Ehrman doesn't pretend to be Christian. He's not a Christian. But that shouldn't stop Christians from seeing how ludicrous (and even humorous) some of the alleged "lost scriptures" were. I really enjoyed this book even though I don't trust Ehrman's "professional" opinions at all. 

Ehrman implicitly shows how desperate unbelievers (like him) are to present convincing evidence against the Canon of Scripture. There are obvious, self-evident reasons for judging these "lost scriptures" as uninspired, non-canonical, and non-authoritative. The most memorable references come from the alleged "lost" Apocalypse of Paul, which claims that, in Hell, people who "break their fast before the appointed hour" are tortured and hung for all eternity "over a channel of water, and their tongues were very dry, and many fruits were placed in their sight, and they were not permitted to take of them." (p. 295). Also, allegedly, some pastors who do not perform their ministry well are tortured in hell "by Tartaruchian angels, having in their hands an iron instrument with three hooks" with which they pierce the pastor's bowels (p. 294). Other pastors get off easier, and are simply pushed into a pit of fire up to their knees and stoned in the face by angels. 

Similar examples are found in the alleged Apocalypse of Peter, which claims that in hell there is a very deep pit reserved for those who cause premature births, and that pit is filled with "all manner of torment, foulness, and excrement." Opposite to that pit is a place where children sit and shoot lightning bolts from their eyes at fornicators within the pit (see p. 284). Hell also, allegedly, contains places where liars have their lips cut off, people who lust with their eyes get their eyes burned out with red-hot irons, idolaters are chased by demons up and down "high places" for all eternity, and people hang from their eyebrows (!) for all eternity in order to "unceasingly pay the proper penalties" (p. 296).

Almost every one of these "lost scriptures" is just as ludicrous as the examples above. I am grateful that a popular unbelieving critic of Christianity took the time to publish this pathetic attempt to combat the inspired Scriptures of God.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Calvin & Baptism of the Roman Church

In Peter Lillback's insightful and challenging book, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology, he notes a unique illustration which John Calvin used to connect the covenant-sign of baptism with "general election," along with it's consequential idea of falling away from such "general election" because of covenant-breaking. Calvin's illustration is of those baptized into the Roman Catholic church. He writes:
The same thing that the Prophet brought against the Israelites may be also brought against the Papists; for as soon as infants are born among them, the Lord signs them with the sacred symbol of baptism; they are therefore in some sense the people of God. We see, at the same time, how gross and abominable are the superstitions which prevail among them: there are none more stupid than they are. Even the Turks and the Saracenes are wise when compared with them. How great, then, and how shameful is this baseness, that the Papists, who boast themselves to be the people of God, should go astray after their own mad follies!1

1.  Peter A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 224, f.n. 53. Italics mine.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Obedience of Faith

"What is special about Paul's work is that Gentiles, through faith in Jesus and the reception of the Spirit, are changed from disobedient Gentiles into obedient nations."1

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Paul: Pioneer for Israel's Messiah [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005], p. 204 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

If only they had Tic Tacs back then

Martin Luther began one of his sermons on 1 Peter 1:15-16 with an illustration of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. I couldn't resist sharing his wisdom in this matter:
Saint Bernard...denied his body so much that his breath stank and he could not associate with people. Later, however, he came to his senses... He realized that he had made himself unable to serve his brothers. ...St. Peter [also] demands no more than that we be sober, that is, that we stint the body as long as we feel that it is still too lascivious. He does not prescribe any definite length of time for fasting as the pope has done; but he leaves it to everyone's discretion to fast in such a way that he always remains sober and does not burden the body with gluttony. He must remain reasonable and sensible, and he must see to what extent it is necessary for him to mortify the body. It does no good at all to impose a command about this on a whole crowd or community, since we are so different from one another.1

1.  Martin Luther, Christian Freedom: Faith working through love [St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2011] p. 98 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fallen from God's favor, part 2

In my last post I discussed at length the biblical notion of falling away from God's favor. That post can be read here. At the end of that post I mentioned my own personal opinion that through John Calvin's exegesis of God's Word, his understanding of covenant theology offers a satisfactory solution to this apparent paradox of Christians who can fall away from God's favor. Over the next few posts I intend on listing numerous citations from the works of John Calvin in order to support this view which I'm claiming he believed and taught. This isn't to say that John Calvin is or should be the final word on this subject. God's Word is the final word on this subject. And so, obviously, I am asking the reader to keep in mind that John Calvin could be mistaken. He could be. That doesn't automatically mean that he was, in fact, mistaken. But because this is a serious and controversial topic to discuss, my hope is that the reader will remain prayerful concerning his or her understanding of God's Word, praying earnestly that God would keep you from stumbling into sinful thoughts about His abilities, His motives, His character, and the integrity of His Word. 

With all of that said, I want to mention that there is one tremendous resource in which many of the following citations in this blog post can be found. That resource is Peter Lillback's book, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant TheologyI studied this book two years ago while I was on vacation and it revolutionized the way I understood Calvin's Covenant theology. But, in all honesty, if the reader were to study that book for the purpose of learning more about this subject of falling away from God's favor, they may become very disappointed because Dr. Lillback's book was not about that particular subject. It included a small portion about it, but the majority of the book was about the historical development of Covenant Theology, and the ways in which John Calvin influenced it during the time of the Great Protestant Reformation.

I think one more thing needs to be mentioned before diving into Calvin's thoughts. After studying Lillback's book, Calvin's perspective of covenant theology helped clarify a lot of my own presumptions and misunderstandings. Even though I don't agree with Calvin on a number of things, I still consider Calvin to be a very thorough and thoughtful exegete of God's Word, which, I think, should be respected among all professing Christians. And so, by quoting extensively from John Calvin's own works (as meticulously documented by Lillback), my hope is that from those quotations below, Calvin's own meditations on covenant theology will illuminate our understanding of the apparent paradox of falling away from God's covenant favor.

First things first. According to Calvin's exegesis of the Scriptures, salvation is always--without exception--made freely offered to man in terms of a covenant. That is to say, God assures mankind that He dwells among them as their God through means of a covenant. Calvin comments:
All men adopted by God into the company of his people since the beginning of the world were covenanted to him by the same law by the bond of the same doctrine [of grace] as obtains among us. It is very important to make this point.1

Calvin further describes this act of covenanting as the source and spring of salvation itself. Commenting on Psalm 67:1-2, (which says, "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations") Calvin continues this same thought:
By the way of God is meant his covenant, which is the source and spring of salvation, and by which he discovered himself in the character of a Father to his ancient people, and afterwards more clearly under the Gospel, when the Spirit of adoption was shed abroad in greater abundance.2

Accordingly, when God sovereignly places himself in a covenant relationship with people, He binds himself to them in order to highlight his grace:
For if God only demanded his due, we should still be required to cling to him and to confine ourselves to his commandments. Moreover, when it pleases him by his infinite goodness to enter into a common treaty, and when he mutually binds himself to us without having to do so, when he enumerates that treaty article by article, when he chooses to be our father and Savior, when he receives us as his flock and his inheritance, let us abide under his protection, filled with its eternal life for us. When all of those things are done, is it proper that our hearts become mollified even if they were at one time stone? When creatures see that the living God humbles himself to that extent, that he wills to enter into covenant that he might say: "Let us consider our situation. It is true that there is an infinite distance between you and me and that I should be able to command of you whatever seems good to me without having anything in common with you, for you are not worthy to approach me and have any dealings with whoever can command of you what he wills, with no further declarations to you except: 'That is what I will and conceive.' But behold, I set aside my right. I come here to present myself to you as your guide and savior. I want to govern you. You are like my little family. And if you are satisfied with my Word, I will be your King. Furthermore, do not think that the covenant which I made with your fathers was intended to take anything from you. For I have no need, nor am I indigent in anything. And what could you do for me anyway? But I procure your well-being and your salvation. Therefore, on my part, I am prepared to enter into covenant, article by article, and to pledge myself to you."3 

But Calvin's understanding of God's covenant relationships with man are not limited merely to some revelation of His gracious character in binding himself to us. For Calvin, God does not merely bind himself to us. He binds us to himself:
From what foundation may righteousness better arise than from the Scriptural warning that we must be made holy because our God is holy? Indeed, though we had been dispersed like stray sheep and scattered through labyrinths of the world, he has gathered us together again to join us with himself. When we hear mention of our union with God, let us remember that holiness must be its bond; not because we came into communion with him by virtue of our holiness! Rather, we ought first to cleave unto him so that, infused with his holiness, we may follow whither he calls.4

As Lillback notes, "because of this mutual binding between God and man, the covenant places the believer under 'obligation' and 'duty' toward his God." He cites Calvin numerous times, and in one of them Calvin says:
Indeed, in all covenants of his mercy, the Lord requires of his servants in return uprightness and sanctity of life, lest his goodness be mocked or someone, puffed up with empty exultation on that account, bless his own soul, walking meanwhile in the wickedness of his own heart. Consequently, in this way he wills to keep in their duty those admitted to the fellowship of the covenant; nonetheless the covenant is at the outset drawn up as a free agreement, and perpetually remains such.5

This gracious covenantal binding, Calvin contends, is absolutely unconditional from God's sovereign vantage point:
This is also what he [God] means by the mercies of David [Isa. 55:3], but by this phrase he declares that it was a covenant of free grace; for it was founded on nothing else than the absolute goodness of God. Whenever, therefore, the word "covenant" occurs in Scripture, we ought at the same time to call to remembrance the word "grace." By calling them "the faithful mercies of David," he declares that he will be faithful in it, and at the same time states indirectly that he is faithful and steadfast, and cannot be accused of falsehood, as if he had broken his covenant.6

However, Calvin's view of that same sovereign covenantal binding is most definitely not unconditional from man's vantage point. From man's vantage point, God binds us to himself through means of a covenant which is conditional. Commenting on Psalm 132:12, Calvin writes:
For though that kingdom was for a time destroyed, it was restored again, and had its everlasting establishment in Christ. Here the question occurs -- Did the continuance of the kingdom rest upon good conduct, or human merit? For the terms of this agreement would seem to suggest that God's covenant would not be made good, unless men faithfully performed their part, and that thus the effect of the grace promised was suspended upon obedience. We must remember, in the first place, that the covenant was perfectly gratuitous, so far as  it related to God's promise of sending a Savior and Redeemer, because this stood connected with the original adoption of those to whom the promise was made, which was itself free. Indeed the treachery and rebellion of the nation did not prevent God from sending forth his Son, and this was a public proof that he was not influenced by the consideration of their good conduct.... This may serve to show in what sense the covenant was not conditional; but as there were other things which were accessories to the covenant, a condition was appended, to the effect that God would bless them if they obeyed his commandments. The Jews, for declining from this obedience, were removed into exile. God seemed at that time "to make void or profane his covenant," as we have seen elsewhere. The dispersion was a kind of breaking of the covenant, but only in part and to appearance.... In this case would we not have said that the covenant of God was abolished? And yet, as the Redeemer came forth from the very source predicted, it is plain that it stood firm and stable.... The Prophet, we say, might seem to strike directly against the covenant made by God, when he speaks of the crown begin taken away, and yet what he adds in the subsequent part of the sentence, proves that covenant, in so far as it was gratuitous, to have been everlasting and inviolable, since he holds out the promise of the Redeemer, notwithstanding the conduct of the Jews, which was such as to exclude them temporarily from the divine favor. God, on the one hand, took vengeance upon the people for their ingratitude, so as to show that the terms of the covenant did not run conditionally to no purpose; while on the other, at the coming of Christ there was a free performance of what had been freely promised, the crown being set upon Christ's head. The obedience which God demands is particularly stated to be the obedience of his covenant, to teach us that we must not serve him by human inventions, but confine ourselves within the prescription of his word.7

Commenting on Hosea 5, Calvin writes again concerning the covenant of grace from man's vantage point:
[Hosea] says that they had acted perfidiously with God, for they had violated his covenant. We must bear in mind what I have said before of the mutual faith which God stipulates with us, when he binds himself to us. God then covenants with us on this condition, that he will be our Father and Husband; but he requires from us such obedience as a son ought to render to his father; he requires from us that chastity which a wife owes to her husband. The Prophet now charges the people with unfaithfulness, because they had despised the true God, and prostituted themselves to idols.8 

It's interesting to note that Calvin saw an analogy between the requirement of Christ's faithful obedience to his Father and all those adopted as children into fellowship with him. In Calvin's mind, that included the people of Israel and "us" Christians today. But Christ, according to Calvin, actually accomplished that which no other man had done or would ever do, and he accomplished it according to God's covenant promise of unconditional faithfulness; and so the crown was "set on his head" as a result. In other words, it was because of God's covenant faithfulness that Jesus, the man, accomplished what God had promised; yet God's promise to His own Son did not take away or violate Jesus' requirement to remain faithfully obedient to the end of his life. 

If this seems paradoxical, it is. However, Calvin did not consider God's eternal knowledge and decree of a thing promised to be contradictory with man's responsibility and accountability to God as promised. This could not be contradictory, in Calvin's mind, because God had revealed both to be true. They were paradoxical, but not contradictory. They are indeed limited to man's finite mind and abilities, but not limited to God's infinite knowledge and ability. And so, according to Calvin, if God had revealed a binding of himself to people through a covenant, and likewise He bound His incarnate Son to the same requirements of faithful obedience, how much more would he require faithful obedience from all others bound to Him in that same covenant? One subtle implication of this view is that the covenant faithfulness/obedience of all those adopted into fellowship with God must appeal to the One who was crowned in their place as promised, especially if God had also revealed that their sinful nature limits their ability to live up to all it's terms. Hence, by implication, Calvin's view of salvation magnifies the grace of God in Jesus Christ above all other things, by maintaining that true spiritual union with him is more essential to covenant faithfulness than mere outward, objective signs and seals of the covenant (a distinction which I'll discuss more about in a following post).

Dr. Lillback carefully summarizes these views of Calvin, by saying that "God's plans and promises in His covenant are not dependent upon man and are consequently unconditional. Nevertheless, at any given point in human history, God's blessings are to be responded to in human responsibility by obedience to the covenant. Without such obedience, the blessings of God shall be removed in divine judgment. From man's temporal standpoint, the covenant is conditional. From God's eternal perspective it is unconditional. God will never fail to keep His word, but if the covenant people fail to keep their word, they shall lose the covenant blessings."9

Ultimately this means that covenant breaking is a reality for sinners in covenant with God. God is not a sinner, so He will remain faithful to the terms of the Covenant with which He binds himself to us. He will not break the covenant obligations with which he bound himself graciously to undeserving sinners. But because Christians remain sinners in this life, there must be some sense in which the biblical language of "falling away" and losing God's covenant blessings is true (not merely rhetorical or hypothetical). As I noted carefully in the previous post, God's own Word seems to describe a covenantally-bound sinner's ability to break the covenant in which God has placed him.

To be sure, this doesn't answer every question related to the apparent paradox of falling away from God's favor. However, it does expose the modern "Calvinist" misconceptions about living in a covenant relationship with God, as though once someone believes they have been saved by grace, God no longer truly holds them accountable to faithfully obey His Word.

Is it true that God has chosen a peculiar people for himself, adopting them in time and history, and that from God's vantage point, every one of them to whom He has bound himself for eternal life will receive it? I believe the answer is, most assuredly, yes. John Calvin believed that too. 

But is it also true that God has chosen a peculiar people for himself, adopting them in time and history, and that from man's vantage point, those "bound to God" within that same covenant can "fall away from God's favor" by despising and breaking the covenant in which God had placed them? John Calvin certainly believed so. But that is because John Calvin did not hold to a completely unilateral view of God's covenant of grace. For Calvin, God's covenant of grace was unilateral in origin, but bilateral in it's fulfillment.10 "As a result of this approach, the warnings of Scripture take on deep seriousness, and signal the importance of self-examination for all who belong to the covenant of grace."11 

Keep in mind that along with this view of sovereignly initiated covenant relationships, Calvin also held to a monergistic view of regeneration,12 a comprehensive view of predestination and genuine human free will,13 as well as a firm conviction concerning God's unchangeable, eternal decree. 

In the next post I will provide some more citations from Calvin concerning God's sovereign election and adoption, and my hope in the end is that we will all see that these views of his did not conflict with his firm belief in monergistic regeneration, God's sovereignty, or even man's free will.

1.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 134, fn 30.
2.  Ibid.
3.  Ibid. pp. 137-8
4.  Ibid. p. 166
5.  Ibid. pp. 167-8
6.  Ibid. p. 169. Parentheses mine.
7.  Ibid. pp. 169-170
8.  Ibid. p. 172
9.  Ibid. p. 170
10.  Ibid. p. 25. Lillback points out that other scholars have noted this bilateral aspect in Calvin's theology. He specifically points the reader to study certain works of W. Vanden Bergh, W.H. Van der Vegt, Anthony A. Hoekema, and Elton M. Eenigenburg [Ibid. p. 23].
11. Ibid.
13. Monergism is the view that the regeneration of an individual's spiritual ability (i.e. man's "heart") is the work of God through the Holy Spirit alone, as opposed to synergism, which, essentially argues that God has provided some small, but nevertheless significant, ability within spiritually dead men to cooperate with God's grace in order to become regenerated. 
14. "Free will" is to be understood in the sense of "volition" according to one's spiritual condition. That is to say, Calvin understood the notion of human "free" will in the sense that man is free to make genuine choices according to his spiritual nature. Spiritually dead men make genuine choices and spiritually alive men make genuine choices. However, prior to regeneration, man is spiritually dead and therefore unable to please God. After regeneration, man is able to do things which please God, but because he remains a sinner, he is also able to do things which displease God. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Martin Luther and his naiveté

Many protestants will be surprised to learn that Martin Luther, who is most famous for jump-starting the "Great Protestant Reformation" by nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Saxony, was convinced that the Pope (at that time, Leo X1) was morally innocent in the following threat of excommunication against him. Instead, Luther honestly thought that the Roman Curia2 was the real problem. 

The Chronology of these events is actually quite simple, but they're important for grasping the significance of Luther's responsive letter to Pope Leo's threat. In 1517 Luther posted his "Ninety-five Theses" (or so they're called3). The next year, 1518, Pope Leo X ordered the Augustinians to control Luther and his teaching. Two years after that, on June 12th, 1520, Leo issued his papal bull Exsurge Domine ("Rise up, O Lord"), threatening Luther with excommunication from the Church, which Luther received in October. Under the threat of excommunication, Luther heeded some council of the Augustinians, who wanted Luther to write a letter to Leo explaining that he never intended to attack him personally. Below is a series of excerpts from his letter to Pope Leo X:

   In the midst of the monsters of the present time, with whom the affair and controversy surrounding me has now entered its third year, I am compelled from time to time to look also to you and be mindful of you, most blessed father Leo. 
   ...As far as I am aware, whenever it has been necessary to mention your person, I have said nothing but the best and most splendid things about you. If indeed I had done otherwise, I myself could by no means have approved it and would have supported wholeheartedly the judgment of those men concerning me. Nothing would have been more pleasing than to recant such rashness and godlessness on my part. I have called you Daniel in Babylon, and every reader knows quite well with what exceptional zeal I defended your well-known innocence against your slanderer Sylvester.
   ...Wherefore, most excellent Leo, I beg of you to allow that by this letter I have been cleared of all charges, and to persuade yourself that I have never thought any evil concerning your person; furthermore, that I am such a one as to wish the best things to befall you for eternity, and that I have no dispute with any man concerning morals, but only concerning the Word of truth. In all other things, I will yield to anyone, but I am neither able nor willing to forsake and deny the Word. He who thinks otherwise of me, or has imbibed my words in another sense, does not think rightly, and has not imbibed the truth.
   Your See, however, I have of course denounced the institution that is called the Roman Curia. Neither you nor any man can deny it to be more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom. As far as I can tell, it has that kind of deplorable, desperate, and lamentable unrighteousness. I have been filled with indignation that the people of Christ should be deceived under your name and the pretext of the Roman Church, and so I have resisted, and will resist, as long as the spirit of faith lives within me. Not that I am striving after impossibilities, or hoping that any good can be accomplished in that most disorderly Babylon by my work alone, with the fury of so many flatterers standing against me; rather, that I recognize myself to be a debtor to my Roman brethren. In their interest, it is necessary for me to consider in what way fewer of them may be ruined, or how they may be less ruined, by the Roman plagues. For nothing else from Rome has flooded the world for many years now---of which you yourself are not ignorant---than the laying waste of goods, of bodies, of souls, and the worst examples of all the worst things. For these things are clearer than light to everyone. From the Roman Church---at one time the most holy church of all---there has been fashioned the most lawless den of thieves, the most shameless brothel of all, a kingdom of sin, death, and hell, so that not even Antichrist, if he should come, would be able to think of anything to add to its wickedness. 
   Meanwhile you, Leo, are sitting like a lamb in the midst of wolves, like Daniel in the midst of lions. You dwell with Ezekiel among scorpions. What can you alone do against these monsters? ...Is it not true that there is nothing under the vast heavens more corrupt, more pestilential, more hateful, than the Roman Curia? For she incomparably surpasses the impiety of the Turks. So, in actuality, she who was once the gate of heaven is now lying open as a sort of mouth of hell. She is such a mouth as cannot be blocked up. Due to the pressing wrath of God, one course alone is left to us pitiable men: to call back and save some few, if we can, from that Roman abyss, as I have called it. 
   Behold, Leo my father, with what intent, with what cause I have raged against that seat of pestilence. I am far from having raged against your person. I even hoped that I would win favor and establish your safety, if I were to strike energetically and sharply at that prison of yours, or rather at your hell. For whatever assault contrived by any gifted men that can be mounted against the confusion of this godless Curia will be beneficial to you and to your safety, and to many others with you. They do their duty to you who do harm to her. They glorify Christ who in every way curse her. In short, they are Christians who are not Romans.4 

1.  Giovanni de' Medici of the famous Florentine Medicis
2.  The Roman Curia was the council of cardinals and officials upon whom the Pope depended for making plans and implementing decisions for the bishops, abbots, parish priests and laity.
3.  The real name of the "Ninety-five Theses" was Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
4.  Martin Luther, Christian Freedom: Faith Working Through Love [St Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2011] selections from pp. 27-32

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Christian Political Witness: Peter Leithart's Lecture on "Violence"

Ask and you shall receive. Wheaton College has posted all of the audio and video from their 2013 Theology Conference, "Christian Political Witness." You can check out all of the audio and video from that conference here

The audio from Peter Leithart's lecture on "Violence" can be found here

The video recording of that same lecture can be found here

A link to the audio and video of a separate panel discussion with Peter Leithart, George Kalantzis, Mark Noll, David Gushee, and Jana Bennett can be found here and here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

One of the most violated principles

In his 26 hour long audio course in Biblical Hermeneutics & Exegesis, Dr. Greg Bahnsen cites a book on exegesis by Gordon Fee, followed by some brief comments of his own:

"Before one can say 'I disagree' one must be able to say 'I understand.' It is axiomatic that before you level criticism you should be able to state an author's position in terms that he or she would find acceptable." That is, I think, one of the most violated principles in all of Christian scholarship in our day.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Render unto God the things that are God's

"200k professing evangelicals a year render unto butchers that which bears Caesar's image in order to render unto Moloch those who bear God's."
-- R. C. Sproul Jr.   (from a Twitter post on April 12, 2013)

Friday, April 12, 2013

N.T. Wright on Weather Forecasting

When we read an Old Testament text which says 'the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood and the stars will be falling from heaven,' we ought to know as a matter of literary genre that the next line is not going to be that the rest of the country is going to have scattered showers and sunny intervals. This is not a primitive weather forecast.
-- N.T. Wright, speaking in a panel discussion at the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference

Charles Spurgeon on "Violence"

Commenting on Matthew 10:23, which reads, "But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another," Charles Spurgeon writes:
It is to the last degree foolish to attempt to force religion upon men: it advances by gentleness, and not by violence. ...Persecution has often been a spur to the church. Let us be diligent in our holy calling, and preach the Gospel while we can do so in peace.1

1.  Charles Spurgeon, The King Has Come [Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company; 1987] pp. 124-125 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hypocritical American Ideals

In his book, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, Os Guinness concludes his thoughts about America under judgment:
   As I said and will say again, America stands before the world today under the judgment of her own ideals. Again and again it is Montesquieu and Madison, rather than Marx and Muhammad, whose principles boomerang back on America in world reactions to America's superpower actions. As I have heard argued by foreign admirers of the U.S. Constitution at universities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, it is hypocritical for Americans to pride themselves on checks and balances at home but to ride roughshod over international opinion, institutions, laws and other checks and balances abroad, or to talk of free-market capitalism and impose it on others in a coerced, lopsided manner favorable only to American corporations and investors.

   ...Ironically, American liberals and radicals who attack American aggression abroad often espouse the same negative view of freedom at home that they deplore abroad. In fact, what unites an otherwise disparate group that would include most liberals, almost all libertarians and most postmodern radicals is that freedom is largely a question of escaping the power of others over them. It is all about dismantling the structures of oppression and liberating the victim. 
  ...But then we are back to the core conundrum of freedom. Freedom requires a framework of order, which means restraint, yet the only restraint proper to freedom is self-restraint, which freedom undermines. 
   Whatever positions we take on such issues, these old debates about freedom are a valuable corrective to naivety and utopianism. The passion for freedom is simple and strong, but freedom itself is subtle, complex and demanding. Its defense is never simple and easy, never a matter of arms alone. While the world still turns and the boot of the powerful still grinds into the faces of the weak and poor, the human cry for freedom will never be silenced and the bell of freedom will always ring out along with the cries of suffering and anger. 
   Equally, cries for justice and for order will always blend with cries for freedom, and it will always be harder to be free than not to be free. Freedom's work is never alone and never done, which is why the founders' confidence in the prospect of a freedom that could remain free forever is so audacious and so deserving of greater attention than it is given by a free people grown complacent through the privileges of freedom.1

1.  Os Guinness, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2012] pp. 67-68

Two Concepts of Liberty

Commenting on Isaiah Berlin's four famous essays on liberty, but particularly his 1958 lecture titled "Two Concepts of Liberty," Os Guinness makes a few interesting observations:

Negative freedom, as Berlin defines it, is freedom from--in essence, freedom from interference and constraint. Positive freedom is freedom for--in essence, freedom for excellence according to whatever vision and ideals define that excellence. 
...[I]n reality the choice between the two freedoms in never either/or. Negative and positive freedoms can be distinguished in theory, but if true freedom is to flourish, they must never be divorced in practice. Indeed, one of the most difficult challenges of the modern world is to create societies that allow diverse faiths and ideologies to have the maximum of both positive and negative freedoms for each faith and ideology. No nation has so far achieved full success in this test, though some have done better than others.  
For one thing, neither positive nor negative freedom is complete without the other. They each describe complementary sides of the same full freedom, which always rests on two conditions: the complete absence of any abuse of power, which is the essence of positive freedom. In a free society understood in this way, free citizens are neither prevented from doing what they should (the denial of positive freedom) no forced to do what they shouldn't (the denial of negative freedom).1

1.  Os Guinness, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2012] pp. 61-61

Friday, April 5, 2013

Peter Leithart on "Violence"

Peter Leithart ended his lecture on "Violence" at the 2013 Theology Conference (Wheaton College) with these words:
"The Church is called to be the community that is at war with violence. But in many ways we have, ourselves, as christians become complicit with violence.  How many churches oppose U.S. military action ever? How many churches, instead, support the U.S. military and the troops as if it were a sacred duty?   ...We have to ask the uncomfortable and alarming question. Have we become the violent ones and so set ourselves in opposition to the God who hates violence?" 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

America's Nihilism

I recently started reading Os Guinness' new book, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, and so far it is outstanding. Below are some clips from the first chapter which caught my eye:
"...freedom always faces a fundamental moral challenge. Freedom requires order and therefore restraint, yet the only restraint that does not contradict freedom is self-restraint, which is the very thing that freedom undermines when it flourishes. Thus the heart of the problem of freedom is the problem of the heart, because free societies are characterized by restlessness at their core."1 
"America's nihilism of untrammeled freedom has so far been a soft and banal nihilism that flowers and fades harmlessly within the confines of the consumer paradise of the shopping mall, the online catalog, and the video game. ... no one is fully consistent to his or her own philosophy, and there is always a long stretch of the downhill slope from the adolescent stage of soft nihilism to the delinquent and then to the decadent. But such ideas in such a society will always have consequences, and when the causes of disordered freedom also spread to such vital spheres of American society as the government, the economy, law, education, medicine, science and technology, the consequences will at some point become lethal and unstoppable. The gap between the lightning and the thunder may be delayed, but such disordered freedom will one day prove disastrous when taken to the very end. It is literally irrational and irresponsible, for untrammeled freedom has no need to justify itself either by rational criteria or by any moral standard outside itself. It just is, an untrammeled will to power that is self-evident, self-justifying and self-destructive, and a mortal menace to the society that harbors it. The conclusion for American freedom is inescapable. It is not enough to espouse freedom as the essence of America and to keep mouthing its matchless benefits. Freedom must be guarded vigilantly against internal as well as external dangers. However soft and however banal it is, unbounded freedom simply cannot restrain itself by itself..."2

1.  Os Guinness, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future [Downers Grove, Il: IVP Books; 2012], p. 20
2.  Ibid., p. 23

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fathers, may I have your attention?

Fathers, may I have your attention?  

Now that I have your attention, you need to know that there is a book you need to get. The book is called Father Hunger, and it's author is Douglas Wilson. Get this book in paperback, e-book, or Mp3 audiobook, but make sure you get it somehow. Then after you get it, read it multiple times. Take it with you wherever you go for the first few weeks and read a portion of it at every break until it's text is tattooed in your mind. "What's the urgency?," you might be asking. Well, if you're a father, and you have not already read this book, you wouldn't be asking that question. And so, just to tease you a bit, read and re-read an excerpt from that book which I have provided below. Afterward, get this book. The excerpt below is under the heading, "Loving the Standard":

    If you cannot get the kids to love the standard, then lower the standard. I am not talking about God's commandments (His standards), which we have no authority to lower, but rather addressing the questions that surround what might be called house rules. Lower the standard to the point where everyone in the family can pitch in together. This is not actually lowering the standards, but rather raising the parental standard, which is the real reason we don't like it. Fathers must embrace the task of communicating, in a contagious way, love for the standard. 
    Some parents might protest that this is impossible. But what does this example teach the young people in the home?  It teaches them that nobody around here has to do "impossible" things, and since the requirement to make your bed, or to comb your hair, or to stop texting so much, are all clearly impossible, then they don't have to be done. If you want your children to be obedient, then show them how. Giving up when it seems "impossible" is not showing them how it is done. Apart from a context of love and loyalty, fatherly discipline is just clobbering a kid. And since clobbering a kid is not what God said to do, the child is learning the fundamental lesson that, in this house, we don't have to do what God says to do. Instead, we learn to be sneaky enough to not get clobbered. 
    Each member of the family is supposed to understand that the whole family is a unit. All the members are on the same team. If a family has drifted into an adversarial set of roles, then the parents have to do something to stop the game or maybe change the rules. They have to do something that works. Let us suppose the whole family is flunking high school calculus. Wouldn't it be far better to all go back to sixth grade and pass that grade together? We have to remember that the standard set in the above passages from Proverbs1 is not an impossible standard. That was not written for angels in heaven. It was written for us. These things are set before us now. There will be more on loving the standard in a subsequent chapter. 
    The hardest thing to maintain in this unbalanced world is balance. We react, we pull away, we lurch, and we tumble. We do this in many ways. And, having heard the exhortation that we should teach our children to love the standard, but if they don't then we should lower the standard, what temptation will confront us? The temptation will be to think that laziness and apathy are grace, and that defensiveness when confronted is zeal for the law of God. But loving God with all your mind, soul, heart, and strength is a love with balance. 
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:1-4)
    Here are some of the basics of Christian living within the family. We begin with the duty of obedience. When children are young and living at home, honor entails obedience, necessarily. When children are grown and out on their own, the duty of honor remains, but it is rendered differently (Mark 7:10-13). This is obedience rendered by children in the Lord. The word for obedience could be rendered literally as "listen under" -- or, as we might put it, "listen up." This attentiveness to what parents say is described here by Paul as a form of honor, and he goes on to describe how much of a blessing it will be to the children who are taught by their parents how to behave in this way. This commandment, to honor parents, is the first commandment with a promise. The promise from God Himself is that things will go well for you throughout your long life on the earth (Eph. 6:3). And then fathers are presented with an alternative -- one thing is prohibited and another is enjoined. Fathers are told not to exasperate their children to the point of wrath or anger, and instead are told to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Note that they are not told to provoke their children to anger with the nurture and admonition of the Lord -- one excludes the other. 
    One of the things fathers can stop doing (that provokes children) is to stop experimenting on them. In construction work, one of the good things about a concrete pour is that, no matter what, a couple hours later, you're all done. This is also one of the really bad things about it. You don't want to start out with a long foundation wall and wind up with a patio. Kids are a concrete pour. The time they will spend in your home goes by a lot faster than you initially thought it would. Fathers are tasked with the responsibility of bringing them up in the Lord, which means that fathers are tasked with the responsibility of working in harmony with the nature of the child. It is, of course, debated what that nature is actually like, and so how are parents to deal with this?
    Too many Christian parents are like that old joke about the Harvard man. "You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much." Because we have successfully established the principle that parents have true authority in the home, many foolish parents have concluded that this means that anything they may happen to think about child rearing, or education, or nutrition, or training, or courtship standards, is therefore automatically blessed by God. But fathers are told not to provoke their children, because in this fallen world, this is a very easy thing to do. This is a very easy thing for Christian fathers to do. If it had not been an easy temptation for Ephesian fathers, Paul could have saved his advice for the occasional dad who really needed it. Paul does not make the mistake of thinking that authority makes folly impossible -- he cautions against authoritative folly.
    The hallmark of whether or not a father is experimenting on his kids, as opposed to bringing them up in obedience, is how open he is to the idea of someone else actually measuring what he is doing. How open is he to true accountability?  "Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding" (2 Cor. 10:12). Note that phrase "without understanding." How can you tell if parents have undertaken their solemn responsibilities as parents with a demeanor of humble confidence? "Let a righteous man strike me -- it is a kindness; let him rebuke me -- it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it" (Ps. 141:5). The question can be easily answered. How open is he to outside accountability? If he wants his children to have high levels of accountability, while he himself has virtually none, then this is the way to a bad family disaster.
    The Christian faith is a road, sure enough. But it is also a way. This means that how we walk is as important as where we walk.  If someone has questions about what a man is doing, it does not answer the concern to point at the road. It does not answer to bring out various books and websites that argue for this particular kind of asphalt. That's as may be, but there is something else going on. How does a father conjugate the verb firm? Does he say, I am firm, you are stubborn, he is pig-headed? If he does this easily, then he has wandered from the way, whatever road he is on.2

1. A few pages earlier, he referenced Proverbs 1:8-9, 3:1-4, 21-22, and 6:20-22.
2.  Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men To Love And Lead Their Families [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson 2012] pp. 168-172