March 31, 2009
March 29, 2009
“I thought the old sun shone brighter than it ever had before. I thought it was just smiling upon me. Do you know I fell in love with the birds? I had never cared for them before. It seemed to me I was in love with all creation.”
That’s Dwight L. Moody on his conversion. And here is an excerpt from his sermon, “The Work of the Holy Ghost,” on love:
Now the work of the Holy Ghost is also to impart love. Just turn to Romans 5:5: “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” The real fruit that we look for in a young convert is love…. Go into a society of young converts. If you could have been in our meeting last night you would have seen love and joy in every face, except a few inquiring ones. They all tell the same story. They were of different nationalities, perhaps, but they had only one story to relate. They loved every one, and told how much love and pity they felt for all. And if a man gets up and talks bitterly against any one, and professes to be a young convert, you may believe it is a spurious conversion. It is counterfeit. It has not got the ring of heaven in it, because a man when he is converted will love every one. Not only that, but I have noticed this, that when a man is full of the Holy Ghost he is the very last man to be complaining of other people. He loves everybody too tenderly. He loves even a cold church, and is anxious to lift them up and bring them to a kinder feeling and sympathy.
And I want to say here that I think a good many people have gotten into this habit of coldness. A man told me the other day that he felt it to be his duty to go up to a certain church and open on them when he got a chance for their lukewarmness, and I thought if he could just get a look at these young converts here he would feel differently. For when a man is himself cold he looks upon everybody else as cold too. When a man is himself warm he will talk about everybody else in the same view as of himself; he will talk about the love of God that is in our hearts, and that is what we want. If we only just felt filled with love, how easy it would be to reach man! All these barriers between us would be broken down. If you can only convince the greatest blasphemer and infidel in New York that you really love him you can reach him. What we want, therefore, is this love, and that is the work of the Holy Ghost to impart; and let us pray today that the love of God may be shed abroad in all our hearts.
A Treasury of Evangelical Writings, edited by David Otis Fuller, pp. 415, 419.
March 29, 2009
“To quote Dr. Kirk Hadaway: ‘The age structure of The Episcopal Church suggests an average of forty thousand deaths and twenty-one thousand births, or a natural decline of 19,000 members per year,’ a population larger than most dioceses. The advanced—and still advancing—age of our membership, combined with our low birth rate, means that we lose the equivalent of one diocese per year.”
That’s about as dire as it gets. On top of that, the net loss in active membership each year over the last several years has been about 35,000 to 40,000 persons. So, if 19,000 of this is due to “natural decline,” the rest — about half — are people just leaving.
The good news is that some pretty churches will soon be available for purchase.
March 26, 2009
In the first part, Forsyth is dealing with the contradictions (paradoxes) in 1 John, to wit, he who abides in Christ does not sin, yet we continue to sin and require daily confession (as also taught by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer). Now, Forsyth finds the solution to the contradictions in the two types of sin briefly mentioned in chapter 5. These are classic proof texts for the Catholic doctrine of mortal sin, which is not entirely discounted by Forsyth’s presentation. As per usual, Forsyth is in top form in his biblical exposition, and this is far better than anything you will find in the current academic commentaries on the Johannine epistles.
March 24, 2009
Books & Culture has posted a book review of Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. The review is insightful, and the book seems to be very fascinating. Roose is a student at Brown, who decided to spend a semester at Liberty, the Baptist university founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell. Coming from a run-of-the-mill liberal Northeast household, Roose was curious to understand the “other side.” Thankfully, he is generous, open-minded, and objective (something that typically eludes the average “liberal” inquirer into evangelical faith and culture). Check out his YouTube trailer for the book.
The greatest testament to Liberty is his overwhelmingly positive impression of the students, their embodiment of the love of Christ. I’m not too surprised. I was raised in a Baptist church and school that was pretty much Liberty University in microcosm. The students from my school that went to Liberty, or similar colleges, were among the most devoted to Christ, insofar as these things can be surmised. We can, and should, criticize continuing remnants of fundamentalism at Liberty, but the most important thing — as God will judge us — is our faith in Christ, our trust in Him, and the love from this fount that extends to our neighbor. Higher education, typically, knows nothing of holiness as an academic telos.
March 23, 2009
Can the Christian — the elect and regenerate — sin? Do sins make him or her un-Christian — debaptized? If you think these are silly questions, then you haven’t read Paul, Hebrews, James, or 1 John. There is a wide range of options in the Church for dealing with the issue of the Christian’s relation to continuing sin. The Holiness option claims that the Christian does not sin, or, at least, this can be achieved. The Reformed option claims that the Christian sins, but it does not affect his salvation. The Catholic option claims that the Christian can sin, and, under conditions of clarity and type of sin, he can lose his salvation (though not a certain “indelible mark” of baptism). There are more options, and within these major options there are critical qualifications. The difficulty is largely thanks to scripture itself. The early fathers didn’t know what to make of it, as reflected in contradictory baptismal beliefs and understandings of penance. Eventually a more or less coherent and systematic tradition developed in the Medieval West, challenged by the Reformers, resulting in the confessions of the 16th century — Reformed, Lutheran, and Tridentine — which, of course, are still authoritative for confessional Protestants and Catholics. The Free Church of subsequent centuries has likewise offered a range in confessional response.
So, it is refreshing that P. T. Forsyth, Scottish Congregationalist minister-theologian, settled the matter for us in his 1899 essay, “Christian Perfection.” Okay, maybe that is an overstatement, but I love this essay. I am reproducing much of it here, in parts. The essay is a treatment of 1 John. The second part will brilliantly deal with the vexing issue of “sin that leadeth unto death,” while the first part (below) deals with the foundational matter of sin for those who have faith. Here it is:
March 16, 2009
Halden has pointed us to a very poignant reflection on homosexuality by Wesley Hill, asking the question, “Will the Church be the Church for homosexual Christians?” You should read it before you read my meager considerations below.
Hill is a committed Christian and “non-practicing” homosexual. Perhaps “non-practicing” is a curious way to put it; as is clear, he does not, and cannot, partition his male-attraction to a latent and unaffective part of his brain. It is constitutive of his experience and longings in the world, as he tries to make sense of Christ’s call to a moral order in a disordered reality. In his case, he is more aware than others that the disorder is not “out there.” It cuts across the deepest parts of our personality, with wounds that endure, despite the sincere intentions of a superficial faith (“I’m trading my sorrows”) or a creative reworking of God’s order (the liberal project). In the latter, we literally become the creators — usurpers of God’s creative holiness; in the former, we dismiss a creation that doesn’t really need to be redeemed.
Submitting to the Creator is all the more difficult when the disorder is not of our making, when we find ourselves (our very self) with desires, not in-themselves sinful, but nonetheless, if acted upon and made real in our relations, contribute to a subversion of God’s order. This is a hard truth, to say the least. Our longings — what we believe are proper objects of fulfillment — do not necessarily partake of the beauty and goodness which inheres in God. The sources of the disorder in these longings are not easily located, i.e., “why am I made this way” does not always have an answer, other than the classic Pauline-Augustinian answer: the Fall.
It is fundamental to secular anthropology that morality can be read off of nature, under conditions of “fulfillment” given from humanity itself; it is fundamental to Christian anthropology that morality must re-create nature, under conditions of “fulfillment” given by God. The secular and Christian hermeneutics are irreconcilable here. It is futile for Christians to argue against the sanctioning of homosexual practice using the secular presuppositions of an anthropology “from below.” The Christian theorists of “natural law” must be tempered by this point. However, this is not to say that Christian morality “condemns nature” per se; rather, it “fulfills nature” as it is intended by its Creator. This is part of the larger fact that Christ did not come into the world to condemn it, but to bring it to holiness (by way of His sacrifice and our repentance).
So, the homosexual has an especially difficult cross to bear — a cross given in his creation as this particular human being, a homosexual human being. And if all of us were more honest about how deeply we are fallen, we would discover similar “creation-constituted” crosses, and probably many that are sexual and relational. Yet, our hope is found in a Cross that is neither taken away (Jesus was tortured and executed) nor sanctioned (Jesus conquered death). Our life in Christ is, thus, both a sickness unto death and a healing unto life. Our disorders must be borne and taken to our grave, so our faith can be revealed in the glory of a new creation. With this as our foundation, the necessary and fulfilling relations with homosexuals in the Church, that Hill eloquently pleads for, can be nurtured.
March 14, 2009
Paul Jewett has a helpful, short discussion of Process theology in his God, Creation, and Revelation (Eerdmans, 1991 or Wipf & Stock, 2000, pp. 281-3). For those interested in what excited the intellectual energies of 20th century theologians, here is an excerpt, with reference to Berkhof, Barth, and Brunner:
Hendrikus Berkhof, who offers no treatment as such of the doctrine of the Trinity in his Christian Faith, ends his discussion of Christology with a section entitled “The Covenant as Tri-(u)nity.” Here he observes that the three names “Father-Son-Spirit, or, with equal validity, of Father-Spirit-Son, proves to be the summarizing description of the covenantal event, both as to its historical and its existential aspect….With the term ‘Trinity’ we point to a continuing and open event, directed to man,” an event in which we participate as we are conformed to the image of the Son through the Spirit. Thus we see how God has “made himself changeable. Together with us he is involved in a process, which also does something to him because as Father it enriches him with sons and daughters” (Christian Faith, Eerdmans, 1986, pp. 335-7). Thus in Berkhof’s theology the triune God of the Creed becomes a triune event; rather than ruling over history, God is enriched by history. His name is not “I AM WHO I AM,” but “I am becoming who I hope to be.”
Barth’s thought that God’s being is “being as event” reflects, we might note, an entirely different agenda from that of Process thought. Barth is interested in the contrast between Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover and the Christian God. The latter, he argues, is a trinitarion fellowship and this fellowship is an event, internal to himself, an event that is the ontological ground of the external event of historical revelation. (See also E. Jüngel, The Doctrine of the Trinity, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.) Along the same lines Brunner observes that while God, in contrast to the Platonic deity, hears prayer and so enters into the human event, such an accompanying (mitgehen) of our temporal order does not mean that God is subject to that order.
“His accompanying a temporal event by no means signifies that favored notion of moderns: the becoming God. The concept of a becoming God is a mythological game. Were God himself one who becomes, all would sink in the morass of relativism….A changing God is no God to whom we can pray, but a mythical being who provokes our sympathy.” (Dogmatik, I, p. 275)
I love that quote from Brunner. Jewett does a great job of succinctly culling from the broader scholarship on any given topic, which makes his systematics rather helpful as a refresher (or upper-level introduction).
March 13, 2009
I have to say I was rather surprised to see this: Time magazine has named Calvinism as one of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”
As far as the mainstream press goes, it does a pretty good job. It is very heartening, and strange, to see a movement generated by theology in the media. I’ve had my share of criticisms of aspects of this “new Calvinism,” but it comes as an internal critic who genuinely wants the best in Reformed theology to leaven the Church.
I especially like that the article mentions the influence of this Calvinism in contemporary worship. Time cites David Crowder. You could also add everyone else involved with Passion (Charlie Hall, Chris Tomlin, Steve Fee, etc.) which has been heavily influenced by John Piper and like-minded ministers. Most of these worship artists are not full-fledged Calvinists, but the influence is obvious and very welcome.
March 13, 2009
James White has offered his own comments on Spencer’s “Evangelical Collapse” piece. White says what we all should have said by now. He writes:
“I agree with many of his predictions, and with a large portion of his identification of the problems with much of evangelicalism. But what is missing in Spencer’s commentary is rather glaring: the wrath of God upon Western Society as a whole. The reason more and more people are godless and religionless and in love with secular humanism is not merely due to a ‘failure’ of evangelicalism. Let’s face it: America follows Europe’s lead, and as God has blessed the USA greatly with material blessings, we have become more and more hardened in our thanklessness. We focus upon ourselves, our needs, and revel in our sins. Yes, of course the church has failed to clearly preach the gospel, clearly call for repentance, choosing a man-friendly version of “preaching” that allows you to avoid the scandal of the gospel. But a healthy, thriving church is a blessing on any nation, and the fact is, a nation in love with itself and at war with God does not deserve the blessing of a sound church. The two are intertwined. I truly believe that what we are seeing today with the perversion of marriage, the exaltation of deviancy, etc., is not what will bring the wrath of God, it is the wrath of God.”