Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top 15 Posts for 2012

Below are the Top 15 Posts of 2012 from this blog in order by traffic volume (# of unique views). Granted, I don't get a tremendous amount of traffic here (about 3000 visitors per month), but I still thought it would be interesting to see what is popular here.
Which one(s) did you like best or least? Feel free to comment.

15. Why We Don't Burn Down Things When Jesus is Mocked
14. Tragedy at Newtown from RZIM
10. Borrowed Light: Rend Your Hearts Not Your Garment
9. The Hunger Games: Appetite and Identity / Chick-fil A Redux
8. Killing Calvinism?
5. Gospel-Powered Humility -
2. Welcome to the Christian Carnival
1. He is Risen!

Here are the highest volume posts (>1000 pageviews) from previous years, in order of popularity, that continue to draw visitors:
  1. Caroling Chins, Taking Your Requests (2008)
  2. The Christmas Gift Exchange (2011)
  3. Tim Keller, John Meacham Discuss "Post-Christian"America (2009)
  4. Scripture focus: Ephesians 2: 1-10 (2006)
  5. Thanksgiving and Praise - Psalm 100 (2007)
  6. Inception: Analogous to Life without Christ (2010)

The Day Heaven Kissed Earth

The Day Heaven Kissed Earth

Christmas is the day heaven kissed earth.

The Eternal Word, the golden son of heaven, humbly and willingly took up our comparatively lowly humanity, without ceasing to be God, and entered into the created realm, coming to earth as one of us.
And it wasn’t some kind of circus stunt, for mere show, but for our sake. The Great Move was all of grace and for our rescue. It is history’s climactic expression of love and favor.

Heaven kissed earth.

This way of talking about the incarnation comes from Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680), Puritan preacher, theologian, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and member of the Westminster Assembly. Goodwin described the wonder of what happened at that first Christmas like this: “Heaven and earth met and kissed one another, namely, God and man” (Works, 4:439).

Jesus Is No Superman

But don’t misunderstand this Great Kiss, and mistake the matchless God-man for someone from Krypton. Superman can’t hold a candle to the hypostatic union — that utterly unique uniting of two complete natures in Jesus’s one person.
Heaven’s sweet kissing of earth in the incarnation didn’t produce a third kind of being or some mixture between the divine and human. Jesus is no superhuman, not quite God and not quite man. Rather, he is fully both — wholly God and wholly man.
There is a tendency in our minds to think of Christ as a “superman.” That is, we fail to believe adequately that he is ‘very God of very God’ (autotheos — God of himself), equal in every way with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Viewing Christ as a sort of ‘superman’ also prevents us from appreciating his true humanity. (Mark Jones, Pocket Guide to Jesus, page 5)

The Uncomfortable Truth of Christmas

Superman would be more palatable to both the theologically liberal and to conservative tastes. The liberal typically feels discomfort with his full divinity, restless that this Jesus might justly claim to have all authority in heaven and on earth and rightly demand our allegiance and spoil our perceived autonomy.

Meanwhile, the evangelical uneasiness is often with his full humanity. Something sinister in us prefers our Jesus sanitized, fully God but kept at arm’s length from our earthiness. Laid in a manger, really? We’re prone to squirm because it speaks such a clear word about the direness of our condition, about how bad things really are for us apart from Immanuel, about the extent to which he had to go to, about the moral distance he had to travel to reach the muck of our planet and give us God’s redeeming kiss.

Jesus is more than a baby in the manger, but as prickly as it is, he’s nothing less. It’s uncomfortable to sinners to face so squarely the gravity of our situation apart from heaven’s rescue. But it’s also deeply comforting for sinners who have reckoned with the decisiveness and power of his salvation and given him their full embrace.

Christmas for Our Benefit

Christmas, then, is for our benefit. It’s no birthday party for a tribal deity, but the celebration of the king of the universe who has come to save us. “You shall call his name Jesus,” the angel says to Joseph, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). From its very beginning, the incarnation is about saving. Good Friday is always in view.

Christmas is God’s D-Day against our sin and against Satan himself. What a surprise strategy it was when God established his first beachhead against the Enemy in an animal feeding trough in the little town of Bethlehem. Christmas doesn’t merely mark the birth of our religious leader, but the saving of sinners who believe. It is ever on a trajectory toward Golgotha. It’s for good reason, in a song so seemingly sweet as “What Child Is This?” that we sing at Christmas,
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
The meaning of Christmas is not just that he is born among us, but that he has come to die for us. He has come to secure for us eternal saving benefits. But there’s more.

What’s Better Than His Benefits

The “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) is more than just his birth and life. And it’s more than just his death, and what saving means he obtains for us. The best news is who his saving gets us — namely, himself and his Father. “This is eternal life,” Jesus prays on the eve of his crucifixion, “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Which is as relevant at Christmas as it is any day.

Pastor Mark Jones quotes Goodwin to this effect.
In Goodwin’s view, the benefits procured by Christ “are all far inferior to the gift of his person unto us, and much more the glory of his person itself. His person is of infinite more worth than they all can be of.” Therefore, God’s “chief end was not to bring Christ into the world for us, but us for Christ . . . and God contrived all things that do fall out, and even redemption itself, for the setting forth of Christ’s glory, more than our salvation.” (Pocket Guide to Jesus Christ, page 3)
Deeper than the Christmas narrative of his first coming, and the world-transforming Good Friday explanation about what his death accomplished, is the mindboggling truth that it’s ultimately we who came into the world for him — for his glory — rather than his coming for us. In the decisive Christmas tally, it is not finally his coming that makes much of us, but our creation and redemption that is designed to make much of him.

Fellow Puritan Stephen Charnock sees it the same way. There is “something in Christ more excellent and comely than the office of a Savior; the greatness of his person is more excellent, than the salvation procured by his death” (Jones, Pocket Guide, page 3).
The deepest significance of Christmas isn’t just that he came to save us, but that he is who he is. The Great Treasure isn’t what the magi bring, but the one hidden in a manger. He is the Pearl of Great Price given without money and without cost. The surpassing value of Christmas isn’t finally knowing ourselves saved, but knowing the Jesus who saves us.

Made for the God-man

The God-man in Christmas’s manger — two full natures in one unique person — is then one focal point for our worship. Only in this one God-man do we find, as Jonathan Edwards preached, the truest “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” It is only this Jesus who is both Lion of Judah and Lamb who was slain. He is meekly incarnate infant in Bethlehem and triumphantly glorified Almighty God at his Father’s right hand. Only he is divinely and humanly tough and tender. Both God and man.

Because of this utterly unique union of God and man in one person, Jesus exhibits an unparalleled magnificence to the born-again human soul. No one person satisfies the complex longings of the human heart like the one God-man.

God has made the human heart in such a way that it will never be eternally content with that which is only human. Finitude can’t slake our thirst for the infinite. And yet, in our finite humanity, we were created for a point of correspondence with the divine. Yes, God was glorious long before he became man in Jesus, but we are human, and unincarnate deity doesn’t connect with us in the same way as the God who became human. The conception of a god who never became man will not satisfy the human soul like the God who did. The human soul was not just made for God, but for the God-man.

So Jesus is not just our substitute, but our eternal satisfaction. He not only satisfies just divine wrath against us, but satisfies the human soul forever. His resurrection is essential not only so that we can be joined to him for saving, but most importantly so that we can enjoy him with unsurpassed delight forever. Heaven’s kiss is the only one that will be eternally satisfying.

Jesus is not like the lifeguard at the beach who saves us for our friends and family, but whom we never see again. Jesus saves us for himself.

The deepest meaning of Christmas is not just that the God-man was born, and not just that he died, but that he ever lives to be our eternal joy. Jesus is Pleasures Forevermore at God’s right hand. We were made for him.
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for John Piper and Desiring God, and elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He and his wife Megan have twin sons (Carson and Coleman) and live in Minneapolis. David is editor of Thinking, Loving, Doing and Finish the Mission (most recently).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tragedy at Newtown from RZIM

Tragedy at Newtown by Ravi Zacharias
"Murder began in the first family when a brother could not stand the success of his sibling. The entire history of the Middle East–five millennia–is a tale of two brothers. Centuries of killing has not settled the score. Maybe in Adam Lanza’s case we will find a deep psychological reason behind what he did. But that does not diminish the reality that there lurks many a killer whose moment will come and the nation will be brought to tears again. We can almost be certain of that. Yes, we can discuss all the symptomatic issues—security, gun control, early detection signs, and so on. These are all worthy of discussion. But it’s always easier to deal with the symptoms rather than with the cause.
"I wish to share what I think we must address or we head down the slope to a precipitous edge of brutality. The fiscal cliff is tame by comparison to the moral devastation ahead if we do not recognize the malady for what it is. Hate is the precursor to murder. Jesus made that very clear. Playing God is the dangerous second step where we feel we are the ultimate judge of all things and that we have the right to level the score."
Read the entire piece here >>> 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Top 12 Reads for 2012 (+)

I've got quite a few top reads to share this year. Thanks to Kindle promotions and sites like Ligonier that have made older titles more accessible, I picked up a dozen or so excellent reads that weren't published in 2012. Those titles are listed at the end of the list. First, I want to get to this year's best of the best, a few honorable mentions and a couple of "passes" from my library. Enjoy!

Top 12 in '12
Here are my top reads published in 2012:

·         A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, by Beeke, Joel R and Jones, Mark.  (2012, Reformed Heritage Books, Hardcover).

·         A Theology of Mark: The Dynamic Between Christology and Discipleship, Hans F. Bayer, (2012 P&R Publishing, Softcover; Explorations in Biblical Theology Series).

·         Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work, by Keller, Tim. (2012, Dutton: The Penguin Group, Hardcover).

·         Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture, by DeWitt, Stephen. (2012, Credo House Publishers.)

·         Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Phil Ryken, (2012, Crossway Publishing).

·         The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness , by DeYoung, Kevin. (2012, Crossway Publishing).

·         Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, by Reeves, Michael. (2012, IVP Academic).

·         The Life of GOD in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship, by Anyabwile, Thabiti, (Christian Focus Publications, Softcover; 9 Marks Ministry).

·         The Joy of Calvinism: Knowing God's Personal, Unconditional, Irresistible, Unbreakable Love, by Forester, Greg (2012 Crossway Publishing).

·         Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside, by Greg Dutcher. (2012, Cruciform Press).

Two more tops, make it an even 12 for 2012. To end this year's top list, I'll share some thoughts on a book considered ground-breaking and extremely valuable. It's one that I would recommend to all readers:

·         The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith, by Butterfield, Rosario Champagne. (2012, Crown and Covenant Publishing).

I, like many other bloggers, simply could not put this one down. Butterfield's autobiography was well-written, Biblical and hopefully eye-opening to those who are involved in ministry. The one key point that I thought she made throughout the book was that when she discusses her salvation, the best metaphor she had to describe it was: A Train Wreck.  I do believe that is true for many people whose lives are completely transformed by the power of the Gospel , the preaching of the Word and the fellowship of the Saints.

To bookend this review, I would like to list my #12  and final favorite book of this year, which is:

·         Wrecked: When A Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, by Goins, Jeff. 2012,

Mr. Goins thinks that comfortable church people need to be wrecked just as much as the unconverted people, like Rosario Butterfield was so many years ago. And in my experience, this has been 100% true. Mr. Goins challenge to those of us who, after many comfortable years in the safety net of the Church, have perhaps plateau'd in our faith. His challenge is to allow ourselves to be wrecked by ministering to the broken world that surrounds us - the homeless, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the widow, the prostitute, etc.. To stretch ourselves and make our faith real, he exhorts to go out and get involved with outreaches and missions that are doing ministry to the least of these and watch how God completely "wrecks" our own sinful complacency, and simultaneously grows and strengthens our faith. A quick read and a necessary journey for comfortable pew sitters, like myself.


My Honorable Mentions for 2012:

The Meaning of Marriage, by Keller, Tim (kindle version). This book contained an awesome amount of theology and g-rated application, which is what I wanted. As a single person, my immediate interest was somewhat muted, but I was also able to glean quite a bit of helpful doctrine here.

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture , by Williams, Michael (Kindle Version). This is number three of the "How to Read the Bible" series from Zondervan. I read the book in one day, so it is not nearly as in-depth as most of the material that I have found myself being drawn toward in terms of Biblical Theology these days (Vos, Beale, et al..). It's a solid read, but I didn't put in my favorites only because I prefer a little more depth.

And My Pass or Read with Care List for 2012:

The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson, (2012, Crossway Publishing). I wanted to like this one and wanted to have it listed in my top 12, alas, I just couldn't get past the heavy, heavy YRR/Resurgence influence. The title alone is a turn off for me. My 21 year nephew, who is a non-believer, is disappointed when his Itunes songs don't have the "Explicit" warning posted next to the title in his Iphone. Why do YRR guys feel like they've always got to shock jock everyone to pay attention to them? Don't me wrong, I love what both Matt and Jared are doing in their ministries. However, this book 1-is not very well-written from a literary or academic perspective, 2- is not a very pleasant read due to the presence of slang and immaturity throughout, 3- comingles the Gospel with non-Gospel issues, making the Gospel message contingent upon several secondary and tertiary issues, and 4) is highly and unnecessarily polemic without the appropriate level of winsomeness or persuasion. In sum, I'm a bit jaded over the YRR use of written media and this book unfortunately exemplifies too much of what I try to avoid. Pass.

Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants. As a Presbyterian, I knew going into this book that there would be certain aspects of the content with which I would not agree. However, I wanted to give it a hearing, since I do believe that sometimes we Presbyterians are limited by our Covenant position in terms of our missional focus. All in all, I found that the majority of the approach in this book was helpful and in line with reformed thought generally. Unfortunately, in the brief areas of disagreement, particularly in terms of the visible and invisible church and baptism, I don't believe those portions were well argued. Too many assumptions from the Baptistic view were just presumed and taken for granted. I don't know anyone who has been Presbyterian for a while who would have been persuaded by those areas of the book. I'm glad I purchased the book, but I'm also grateful to Mr. John Samson at for taking the time to clearly delineate his issues with their theological approach. Read with care (or pass).


Other Highly Recommended Books  read by me in 2012, but not published in 2012

Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, Geerhardus Vos. (1975.). - I haven't finished this yet, but it is amazing! Absolutely fantastic. If anyone ever wonders what cloth guys like Clowney, Poythress, Keller, Robertson, Carson (and perhaps to a small degree even Beale), were cut out of: here he is! Excellent.

John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology by Various Contributors Hardcover. (2008, Reformation Trust Publishing). Amen and amen!

Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God. By R.C. Sproul(Author), Thabiti Anyabwile (Author), Alistair Begg (Author), D.A. Carson (Author), Sinclair B. Ferguson (Author), W. Robert Godfrey (Author), Steven J. Lawson (Author), R.C. Sproul Jr. (Author), Derek W.H. Thomas (Author), (2010 Ligonier)

Excellent reader. Short writings by many gifted men. An incredible joy to read, point us to the one True and living God.


From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology, by Alexander, T. Desmond. (2008 Kregel Academic and Professional). I haven't finished this one completely (about 50%), but so far, I've benefited immensely. My resolutions list will including finishing this - ASAP.

God's Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children  by Sproul, R. C. (Kindle Version) Classic Christian Series. Excellent and classic. Rock solid teaching and foundation for the Love of God. I actually liked this better than Carson's "Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" - just as a matter of preference. Got it on Kindle special for only $2.

Histories and Fallacies by Trueman, Carl R. (Kindle Version), 2010 Crossway. Entertaining and informative, as always from Mr. Truemen! Great read - recommended, especially for students.

The Kingdom and the Church: A Zondervan Digital Short , by Horton, Michael S. (Kindle Version). Very good piece. I read it right around the time I received Kingdom Thru Covenant and consider it an excellent supplement for that tome. Appreciated reading both close together, as many of the ideas interacted with one another.

Union with Christ: in Scripture, History, and Theology, by Robert Leatham (2011 P&R Publishing, Paperback). I bought this last year, but didn't actually start reading it until the summer of 2012. Very well written, with a few sticking points for me. I found:

Union with Christ: A Zondervan Digital Short , by Horton, Michael S. (Kindle Version) to be an excellent read aside with Leatham's approach. The two taken together were an excellent balance.

The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith, by Christopher Wright (2008, Zondervan, Hardcover). This book was a welcome surprise! It popped up in my recommendations, based on my history, but at first I was really put off by the title. I just assumed it was some post-modern attempt to show how we are incapable of "understanding" God and that we all be happier if just give up trying. Please forgive me, Mr. Wright. Praise God that I've been taught that "Contempt Prior to Investigation" is an unreasonable and therefore insane presumption -- especially after glancing at a few of the endorsers of his book. So, I investigated and previewed the book's table of contents and first pages in Amazon's feature. After purchasing and reading this book, I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who deals with unbelievers, doubters and skeptics. Mr. Wright addresses MANY of the toughest questions that literally EVERYONE seems to have about the Bible and Christian faith. The methodology by which he handles these questions is hands-down, one of the best, most thorough, most logical and most respectful approaches I've seen. Recommend!

When Grace Comes Alive: Living Through the Lord's Prayer, by Johnson, Terry L. (2003, Christian Focus Publications). So far, so good. I have not finished it yet; however, what I have read is awesome. Pastor Johnson was the preaching pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Savannah, where I visited a several times when I was stationed in Georgia as an officer in the Army. I had so many books begging for my attention, that I had to put this one on the back burner for the time being. Looking forward to getting back into it soon.

Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, by Wax, Trevin. (2010, Crossway). Well-written, timeless truths that I personally need to be reminded of regularly. Trevin's blog is a joy. I frequently read and enjoy his posts and many of his links.

Gospel-Powered Humility. by Farley, William, (2011, P&R Publishing). Humility is the essential virtue and pride is a root sin for many other expressions of unbelief. Mr. Farley does a powerful job of helping the reader see the problem and to see the Lord who has given us the freedom from self that we so desperately need. Excellent! Seriously, Tim Challies compares what Mr. Farley has written here about humility with with what R.C. Sproul did with the holiness of God. I don't think he is exaggerating. No where else have a found such a straightforward, biblical presentation of this absolutely core doctrine. Please don't miss this one, if you have the chance.

 Finally, here are a few that I'm planning to read and looking forward to:
  • True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia, by Bridges, Jerry, (Kindle Version).
  • Pillars of Grace (A Long Line of Godly Men), by Steven J. Lawson (Kindle Version)
  • New International Greek Testament Commentary: Book of Revelation (NIGTC), Beale, Dr. Gregory. (1999, Eerdmans Publishing Company).

 The end! (for this year..)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Living out the doctrines of grace we profess

I love how Dr. (and pastor) Tim Keller writes about the issue of controversy in a letter he wrote to the PCA General Assembly in June 2010. In particular, I appreciated this section where he refers to John Newton's approach:
In a classic letter by John Newton on controversy, he states that major theological controversy nearly always consists of two parts‐‐partly of a concern for truth, and partly of a concern for ‘self.’ He writes: “Whatever… makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self‐righteous spirit.” He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompanies our arguments, it is a sign that, “the doctrines of grace” are not operating in our life “as mere notions and speculations” with “no salutary influence upon [our] conduct.” Finally, Newton delivers his most devastating blow:
Self‐righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.”
Newton grounds his exhortation in texts such as 2 Timothy 2:24‐26. “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance…”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Should I Celebrate Christmas?

(Answer by RC Sproul, Jr.) Excerpt from
"You have heard it said, and rightly so, that it’s rather important to define our terms. Here is a case in point. There are at least three ways we use the phrase “celebrate Christmas.” The first is as the celebration Mass of the birth of Christ, that is, as Rome has celebrated it for centuries. Our fathers objected to this, and rightly so. If by celebrating Christmas we mean attending Roman Catholic mass, most assuredly we should not. When I was a college student one Sunday I went with some friends to Mass. I knew enough to know that I should not participate, and so went as a student, studying the mass. My sister was concerned (okay, more likely delighted) that my dad would be angry with me. I thought she didn’t quite grasp what a careful scholar I already was. So I told him what I had done, laughing off the notion that he would be upset. He replied, 'Why would I be upset? You wanted to go and watch as Jesus was being crucified again? Where’s the harm?' That was the last time I went to Mass, during Advent or any time of year.

"A second definition would be more broadly cultural. Here what we mean by celebrating Christmas is decorations, Santa, the Grinch, egg nog, Rudolph, chestnuts roasting on open fires, Frosty, bells on bob tails, Charlie Brown, Texas death matches over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo, second mortgages for the latest game consol, and everything Americans equate with the holiday. And no, this is not such a good idea either. Without much work one could rather quickly connect each of these Christmas traditions with breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments. At best this kind of Christmas is a deeply troubling distraction from where our hearts ought to be, at worst it is an evil, false, civil religion.

"What though, if we mean something else by 'celebrating Christmas?' What if we ask the question this way- is it wrong to remember the incarnation? Is it a sin to devote some time to rejoicing over the coming of the Messiah? Can we in our celebration feast with our loved ones, even giving them gifts? Can we sing of that little town of Bethlehem? Can we preach on the glorious gospel truth that God took on flesh and dwelt among us?

"Some would argue that doing this third thing wraps us up in doing the first or the second. Some suggest that God has already given us one glorious holiday, that comes not once a year, but fifty-two times a year.  Some believe that we are not only entering into the sin of our modern culture, and entering into Romish heresy, but that we are entering into the pagan holy day of Saturnalia. I’m sympathetic to these concerns. But I answer them this way. We do not re-crucify Christ at Christmas, nor do we re-advent Him. But we do remember our fathers’ longing, and we do long for His return. We do not have to buy ourselves into debt, or tell stories to our children about a jolly old elf. But we do feast, and bless our children because we are His blessed children.

"That He has given us 52 holidays a year does not mean that we cannot rejoice over His grace on Monday, and Tuesday, or any day- even December 25.  That others before us celebrated the same day as us, for wicked reasons cannot mean that we cannot do what we will do in eternity for godly reasons- rejoice over the coming of the Messiah. That others tell their children stories about Santa is no reason for us to not tell true stories to our children about Jesus, and to laugh with joy as we do so.  May Christians celebrate Christmas?" -- R.C. Sproul, Jr.  

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s”  (Romans 14:5-8).

Killing Calvinism?

Below is a collection of quotes from Greg Dutcher’s book Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside (Cruciform Press, June, 2012). The impetus for sharing these quotes is an exchange between myself and one of the Reformation21 editors. R21 is a web magazine published by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which I read regularly and have linked to quite a bit here at my blog. I have been a member of the Alliance ever since I joined the PCA over a dozen years ago. I've been blessed by their very strict standards of association and their unwillingness to compromise core doctrines. Unfortunately, the increasing influences of the Neo-Calvinist movement in the USA have begun to infiltrate the discernment of this group of otherwise well-respected men.

In particular, the most concerning issue at stake is what Mr. Dutcher's book directly addresses about how Calvinism is being destroyed from the inside. The Alliance has been extremely careful in its associations with outside organizations, but just recently has thrown in with a particular group of bloggers who call themselves "Triablogue". The lead blogger of this group, Mr. Steve Hays, is not an active partipating member of an Evangelical church and has no oversight or accountability of his writing ministry. In addition, his engagement into many Calvinist discussions and apologetic endeavors have brought great discredit and ill-repute upon the name of Jesus Christ.  Many reformed bloggers have been the recipients of his destructive and uncharitable internet interactions (Lane Keister, Reed DePace, James White, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, Collin HansenMichael Spencer,  to name a few).  In addition, many non-Reformed bloggers have found Mr. Hays' defense of Calvinism weak and uncharitable and Mr. Hays' lack of accountability and ties to church authority disconcerting. There's no doubt that someone can be intellectually brilliant, yet heart-hardened against people, made in the image of God, and toward the life-changing message of the gospel. We must hold one another accountable for our words and deeds (praxis), not merely our theological positions. If our theology doesn't translate into doxology and a faithful witness, then something is not correct in our theology.

The purpose of this article is to call attention to the wonderful and beneficial work of Mr. Greg Dutcher, in which he clearly cites how such Neo-Calvinists are destroying Calvinism from within. I do hope that leaders of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals will take seriously their responsibility to vett their authors and ministry partners better, for the Gospel truly is at stake. Consider a few quotes from Mr. Dutcher's book:

I am concerned that many Calvinists today do little more than celebrate how wonderfully clear their theological windshield is. But like a windshield, Reformed theology is not an end in itself. It is simply a window to the awe-inspiring universe of God’s truth, filled with glory, beauty, and grace. Do we need something like a metaphorical windshield of clear, biblical truth to look through as we hope to marvel at God’s glory? Absolutely. But we must make sure that we know the difference between staring at a windshield and staring through one.” (14)

[Quoting Kevin DeYoung:] “Here are the two most important things you need to know about the rise of the New Calvinism: it’s not new and it’s not about Calvin. Of course, some of the conferences are new. The John Piper–packed iPods are new. The neo-reformed blog blitz is new. The ideas, however, are not. ‘Please God, don’t let the young, restless, and reformed movement be another historically ignorant, self-absorbed, cooler-than-thou fad.’” (16)

“‘Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!’ (Romans 11:33). When Paul reflected on the doctrines that make up what we call Calvinism, he was moved to rejoice in God. This is the key to not killing off today’s Calvinist upsurge. When we read our books, attend our conferences, and ‘Piperup’ our iPods, the primary goal must not be to gain a better understanding of 16th- and 17th-century doctrine. It must be to be blown out of the water by the God who has chosen us in infinite mercy and wisdom.” (18)

The best Calvinists that history has given to us were using Reformed theology to get a clearer hold on the majesty of God, the wonder of the gospel, and the exhilaration of Christian living. By God’s grace — yes, his sovereign grace — may we do the same.” (20)

[From a written prayer:] “May I never be more enamored with the theology that helps me see these things clearly than with seeing you.” (21)

We cross a line when we are more focused on mastering theology than on being mastered by Christ.” (25)

Jesus is not impressed with our Calvin, Edwards, or Machen when we cannot grow into people of kindness and self-control. It is simply time to grow up. We need to stop killing our Calvinism.” (30)

Our Calvinism should lead us to an overpowering sense that our lives are not our own.” (32)

This world desperately needs to see a robust, healthy Calvinism that celebrates the fullness of God’s ways and works — not a lopsided Christian who cannot get off of the hobbyhorse of God’s sovereignty.” (43)

“Here was the leading author of the New Testament [Paul] and a man who arguably had more insight into the character and ways of God than you or I ever will, and if we need proof that he could believe 100 percent in predestination and 100 percent in evangelism, here it is: ‘I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory’ (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul paid a high personal price, suffering hardship and spending himself to bring the gospel and preach the gospel to people who were already certain to be saved!” (55)

[From a written prayer:] “Would you convict me every time I pervert your sovereignty into an excuse for my self-indulgence.” (57)

I believe that if I do not pause and thank God for all of the people he has brought into my life, I am killing Calvinism in the worst way. God has so ordained and orchestrated my life, down to the finest detail, that to refuse to see God’s hand in bringing many wonderful non-Calvinists into my life would be a rejection of Reformed theology.” (66)

God does not need us to be his spin-doctors. When we feel compelled to make sure that his sacred Word does not give the ‘wrong impression,’ we are really demonstrating a tremendous lack of confidence in the clarity and authority of Scripture. . . . When we refuse to let our theology dictate Scripture, we are free to live with large doses of paradox. We are not afraid of passages that emphasize the need for good works. We do not feel awkward about verses that call on everyone to make a choice and take a stand for the Lord. Instead, we are free to put all of our hope in our sovereign God while striving to follow everything he has commanded us to do and be.” (74–75)

[From a written prayer:] “Just one sentence from you would have been a great gift, but you have given me a waterfall of truth in the pages of sacred Scripture.” (77)

I believe with all my heart that Calvinism is a treasure. It beautifully summarizes and systematizes the truths concerning our salvation revealed in Scripture. But treasure in the hands of fools is a frightening prospect, and nothing fuels a fool more than pride. I pray that my fellow Calvinists would join me in hunting down every vestige of pride in our hearts, right down to the last lingering impulse of arrogance.” (82)

[Quoting John Piper:] “I love the doctrines of grace with all my heart, and I think they are pride-shattering, humbling, and love-producing doctrines. But I think there is an attractiveness about them to some people, in large matter, because of their intellectual rigor. They are powerfully coherent doctrines, and certain kinds of minds are drawn to that. And those kinds of minds tend to be argumentative.” (88)

[In speaking to our daily devotional routines:] “Let Calvinism devastate you to the core and bring you to tears. . . . Every day I ask God to show me just how lost I would be without him.” (90–91)

Let’s accept the fact that Calvinism’s reputation has been falsely tainted and that few of the Christians who oppose it actually understand its tenets. Let’s accept the reality that our efforts will meet with opposition. If we believe that the heart of Calvinism is simply an accurate restatement of the gospel, then opposition based on misunderstanding should not surprise us — distortion of the gospel has been a principal goal of the enemy from the beginning.” (101–102)

I have great remorse about the number of people that might say that they were at some point afraid to talk about predestination and election with me. If people did not feel at ease in my presence then I have done a great disservice. Let me say it more bluntly: I have sinned. May God grant me and every Calvinist who falters in this area the grace to commend Calvinism with a gentle, merciful spirit.” (103)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Total Depravity & Believers (part II)

Dr. Ligon Duncan has jumped into the discussion on the doctrine of Total Depravity and how it relates to regenerate believers in his latest post at First Presbyterian Church Jackson. Here is an excerpt in which Ligon summarizes his post:
"In sum, the perfectionist tends to deny continuing depravity in the believer, while the antinomian implicitly denies the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification to be an essential component of our salvation. Of total depravity in the believer’s life, the perfectionist says (of the ‘victorious Christian’) “it no longer exists,” while the antinomian says (of the ‘carnal Christian’) “it doesn’t matter.” Over against both these mistakes, the Bible teaches that when a person becomes a Christian the dominion of sin is broken, but the presence of sin is never abolished in this life (see Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life [Banner of Truth, 1987], 125ff)."
He goes on to elaborate on four principles that are tied to the doctrine and its implications for believers. The article is well worthwhile in terms of the working out of the following four principles:
  1. Believers are still sinners
  2. Believers must, by the Spirit, strive against sin
  3. Believers are no longer under the dominion of sin
  4. Christian life is characterized by growth and holiness, but not perfection
Read the article here>>