Friday, April 25, 2008

Children: Blessing or Curse?

When ministers ignore their duty to preach the gospel, they are inevitably swayed by the latest social trends, and the relevancy of their message caters to the lowest common denominator. Consider the following inane rant from Oliver "Buzz" Thomas:
    In the interest of preserving our planet and our species, shouldn't religious organizations be encouraging smaller families? Do our spiritual leaders need additional divine revelation to realize that our current doctrines -- which threaten to take the entire world down with us -- have become ethically and theologically questionable?

    Population growth hits hardest in the poorest nations, and as poverty increases, public health declines. I am quite certain that God is not the author of human misery, but by preaching against birth control at the same time we are preaching against abortion, it seems that we're making God out as cruel, a buffoon, or both.

    I recognize that religious organizations tend to be conservative institutions. Their continued resistance to equal rights for women and gays is a good example. A woman may be president of Harvard or speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, but in the largest religious organization on the planet, women still can't get ordained as parish priests. It's even worse for gays and lesbians.

    All this is to say that religion often comes late to the party -- sometimes kicking and screaming, as did most Southern churches on slavery and civil rights. Only this time, we can't afford it. Not when the fate of the planet might hang in the balance.

    How should people of faith respond to this gathering environmental storm?

    First, we must stop having so many children. Clergy should consider voicing the difficult truth that having more than two children during such a time is selfish. Dare we say sinful? The average American might not listen to his elected representatives, but he darn sure listens to his pastor. Every week. This will be a hard message for pastors to preach and parishioners to hear, but without it we court disaster.
Contrast that sentiment with Psalm 127:3-5: "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!" Christ himself said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14).

Sorry, Rev. Thomas, but I cannot subscribe to your implication that children are a curse. (And yes, that is exactly what you are implying.) The world needs more children brought up "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4), not less.

This Week in Calvinistm - April 25, 2008

  • Calvinists have the Shepherd's Conference, the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, and Together for the Gospel. Arminians, not wanting to feel left out, are announcing the John 3:16 Conference which hopes "to be a biblical and theological assessment of and response to 5-point Calvinism."

  • Steve Gaines revives the caricatures of Calvinism.

  • Jonathan Perreault concludes, "A key element to this Calvinistic doctrine of Total Inability is the teaching that regeneration by the Holy Spirit must precede personal faith." Well, yes. It's only logical.

  • Rhett believes that "true Calvinism represents a God who is not the Christian God." He would much rather follow a God who isn't in complete control. And he thinks Calvinism is fatalistic?
  • Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    T4G 2008 Downloads

    You can download the lectures and panel discussions from the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference here.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    In Celebration of Earth Day

    Genesis 1:1
    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

    Genesis 1:26
    Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

    Deuteronomy 32:1
    "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth."

    1st Chronicles 16:31
    Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The Lord reigns!"

    Psalm 24:1-2
    The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
    the world and those who dwell therein,
    for he has founded it upon the seas
    and established it upon the rivers.

    Matthew 24:35
    Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

    Romans 8:19-22
    For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

    1st Corinthians 10:25-26
    Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."

    Revelation 21:1
    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    This Week in Calvinistm - April 18, 2008

  • Blogger Turretinfan responds to three common objections to Calvinism.

  • Jason believes in the doctrines of grace, but don't call him a Calvinist.

  • How Calvinism informs evangelism.

  • Pulpit Magazine is running a series entitled "Evangelizing Your Children."

  • Are we guilty of bringing too much Heaven into evangelism?

  • James Swan at AOM critiques a Catholic critique of the doctrine of sola scriptura.

  • Speaking of the Reformation, my thanks to John Bird for the reminder that it was on this day, April 18, in 1521 that Martin Luther stood before the Diet of Worms and uttered those famous words: "Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason -- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other -- my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen."
  • R.C. Sproul on the Difference Between Justification and Salvation

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008

    Christian Statism: Killing for the Gospel?

    "The War Prayer" is a short story that was written during the aftermath of the Philippine-American War by Mark Twain and published after his death. In 2007, Markos Kounalakis, the president of The Washington Monthly, adapted the text for this animated short film.



    This could easily have been written in response to the current "war on terror." We really haven't changed all that much.

    Consider how many churches display the American flag prominently in their pulpits. Is it any wonder why we seem to have such a hard time drawing a distinction between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to country?

    A couple of months ago, I heard a comment that saddened me deeply. In the context of discussing how the brutality of bin Laden and other Muslim thugs may be turning people away from Islam, someone mentioned that it's good for Christianity to have the U.S. military involved in the Middle East, and that having Christian GIs in Iraq will help spread the gospel.

    Oh. Is that why we invaded Iraq and killed hundreds of thousands of people? It was all part of furthering God's kingdom?

    What we did was commit a naked act of aggression against a sovereign nation that neither attacked nor threatened us. Our "liberation" of Iraq has since given rise to terrorist groups that weren't there before and has resulted in a great amount of bloodshed. It has also displaced thousands of Christians who now face violent persecution from militant Muslims. Do American Christians now feel we must justify the actions of our government on the basis that it will help spread the gospel?

    My friend Dave Black asks, "How is that we have allowed the Christian Right to be defined by delusional idealism and religious zeal? How is it that American evangelicals not only approved but actually glamorized the war as a form of Christian 'mission'?"

    As a Christian and a Calvinist, I understand that God controls all things and does ordain evil for good (Genesis 50:20). But we as Christians should never equate the spreading of the gospel with the use of military force. We are fighting a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12-13) and our weapon of choice is the "sword of the spirit" (Ephesians 6:17). We should be prepared to give our own lives for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 16:25, John 12:24-25), not to take the lives of others.

    Sunday, April 13, 2008

    Idol Worship

    Viewers who tuned in last week to American Idol Gives Back saw something you just don't see on TV -- I mean ever:
    Surely this is a positive thing, and we Christians should rejoice!

    Right?

    Well, there are a couple of things to consider. Bob Kauflin explains:
      In the positive column, someone watching "Shout to the Lord" on American Idol might be led by God's Spirit to download the song, or even to start going to church again. They might hear the Gospel and be gloriously converted, all due to hearing "Shout to the Lord" in one of the most unlikely places. For that potential, I praise and thank God. ...

      ... But there’s a dark side. There's something paradoxical about worship songs being sung on prime time TV by people who don't know why Jesus came. Does the world see any difference between what’s taking place on American Idol and what we do on Sunday mornings? Has worship become part of the entertainment culture? It's unsettling when Christian songs or worship leaders are acclaimed by the masses. Jesus said in Luke 6:26, "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." He also said, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" (Matt. 15:8). Both verses temper my unbridled enthusiasm.

      American Idol, for all the good the show is seeking to do, will never be a platform for worshiping a crucified Messiah. The Gospel has to be gutted of a bloody cross to find a place on prime time TV.
    Be sure to check out the rest of his post.

    How Not to Preach on Pain and Suffering

    If you would like to know how not to preach a sermon on pain and suffering, just follow these simple guidelines:
    1. Make your sermon topical rather than expositional. People already know about pain and suffering. They want something applicable with lots of anecdotes and illustrations. They don't need to hear all the details of what God's Word has to say on the subject, but do feel free to throw in some random verses here and there.

    2. When dealing with such a serious topic, it's always good to break the ice with a joke. Say something like this: "When we ask questions like Why does God allow pain in my life? it really has a lot of similar questions that kind of butt up against it. Questions like Why is there suffering in the world? Questions like Why does God allow evil? Why do they sell hot dogs in packs of eight, but rolls in packs of 10? You know, really big questions that really get at the heart of what we're struggling with." Be sure to pause long enough for laughter.

    3. Maintain a man-centered perspective. (The congregation is made up of mere mortals, after all.) Stress the importance of free will. We aren't robots, so don't let your congregation think for even one second that things like evil and suffering may have been ordained by God. Sure, scripture teaches that our salvation was secured in Christ before the foundation of the world, but that doesn't mean God had everything planned ahead of time. Let's just try to stick to the subject at hand, shall we?

    4. Remember, you're coming at this from a man-centered perspective, so stick to three practical implications. God allows pain in our lives: 1) to grow our faith, 2) to focus our hope, and 3) to propel our love.

    5. Whatever you do, do not -- I repeat, do not -- bring up God's sovereignty or his glory. Once you do that, your sermon ceases to be man-centered, and people will tune out because you are no longer making it about them.

    6. Humor is especially effective at driving your points home. A joke about shooting your neighbor because his dog poops on your lawn, and then going to jail for it, can be a very effective way to convey the point that suffering can sometimes be the result of bad choices that we make. (You know, that whole free will thing.)

    7. This is a sermon, so you will want to mention Christ in there somewhere. Tell the people that Christ suffered and died on the cross to overcome the two biggest problems in our lives: sin and death. If you're delivering this sermon around Easter time, make it relevant by saying something like "That's what Easter is all about." Congregations like that kind of thing.
    To hear a sermon that makes great practical use of all these tips, click here.

    Friday, April 11, 2008

    This Week in Calvinistm - April 11, 2008

  • Nick Norelli, a non-Calvinist, likes the logic of Calvinism.

  • Peter Kirk, another non-Calvinist, does not.

  • DesiringGod.org blogger Tia gives us 10 ways to help kids love missions.

  • Rev. James M. Leonard is concerned about Calvinists in Arminian clothing. If you're a Calvinist pastor in a predominately Arminian church, and you say things like "Jesus died for the sins of his people," he will say that kind of language is "nothing but pure obfuscation" and will accuse you of teaching "divergent theology on the sly." His advice to the ignorant (and seemingly easily duped) Arminian congregations who may fall victim to this scheme: Protect yourselves "by requiring a new pastor to enter into a covenantal agreement that would require a resignation if the pastor's theology were to change significantly during the course of the pastorate."

  • Calvinism: The secret to a better you.
  • Tuesday, April 08, 2008

    Calvinists Trapped Behind Enemy Lines

    What do you do if you attend a non-Calvinist church or find yourself in a community where fellowship with other Calvinists is all but impossible? This was a question brought up by one commenter on this blog.

    To be quite honest, I don't know how to answer that. My wife and I were blessed to find a church that has a healthy focus on the doctrines of grace, but I realize that many Calvinist believers out there find themselves alone in churches and communities that can be rather hostile to such doctrines. They have nowhere else to go. What's one to do?

    My initial thought would be to view your situation as an opportunity for God to use you to speak the truth. Spend time in the Word and in prayer. Don't beat people over the head with your Calvinistic beliefs. (New "converts" to Calvinism have a tendency to do that.) Remember that your fellow church members are your brothers and sisters in Christ, so extend to them the grace that you profess to know as a Calvinist.

    One thing you could do is see if there are any Bible studies or Sunday school classes that are covering topics that could be related to Calvinism. There usually are. A study or class covering the book of Romans is an excellent example. That would provide you with the opportunity to raise questions that could get others thinking through their own beliefs. Challenge them in a loving way. Share with them your own struggles with interpreting certain scripture passages. Print off some articles by noted Calvinists that deal with the subject you are covering and ask for the input of other members. Get a dialog started.

    I know that all of this is easier said than done. Perhaps other Calvinists reading this will offer some helpful suggestions.

    Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

    Imagine being in a room that is completely dark. You can't even see your hand in front of your face. You stumble around the room, banging into walls and tripping over furniture. You have no idea where the light switch is or if there is even one in the room at all. You're trapped in total darkness.

    Suddenly...*CLICK*...someone flips on the light switch and you can see.

    Now, it's true that you were able to see immediately when the lights came on. But which came first, your ability to see or the flipping of the light switch?

    Monday, April 07, 2008

    Saturday, April 05, 2008

    Oprah Is a Better Christian Than You

    Because she's a "free-thinking Christian":
    Proof that it's possible to be so open-minded that your brain leaks out.

    The funny thing is that their own New Age theology contradicts itself. They will tell us that our narrow-minded belief that there is only one way to God (John 14:6) is wrong, and that we should allow for the possibility that there are "many paths" to God, or what they refer to as "spiritual freedom." At the same time, they refuse to consider the possibility that they might be wrong. This is the epitome of hypocrisy. By saying, in essence, that they have a monopoly on truth, they end up doing exactly what they accuse us of doing.

    Sorry, Oprah. I'm going to have to pass on this "new spirituality." Call me narrow-minded, but a narrow mind is still better than none.

    Friday, April 04, 2008

    This Week in Calvinism - April 4, 2008

  • Here's a weird quote from Attorney General Michael Mukasey in defense of the extra attention the Justice Department pays to Islamic organizations: "So far as focusing investigations, we investigate where the threat is coming from. The threat is coming from Islamist extremism. It's not coming from Calvinism." Thanks for clearing that up for us.

  • If open theism, as described by Joshua, is to be believed, then we must conclude that God's will is weaker than our own. Sure, Jesus died on the cross, but since we can thwart God's will, there couldn't have been any way of securing the salvation of those for whom Christ died. God can only sit back and wait and hope that people come to him in faith. What an utterly depressing and hopeless theology. Open theists would disagree with that conclusion, but not without betraying their own concept of free will. Perhaps a lesson on the two wills of God is in order.

  • If you're called to be a pastor or missionary, that was predestined. Everything else, including salvation, is left up to you. Never mind what scripture teaches.

  • The odd couple: John Calvin and John Wesley.

  • You might be a Calvinist if...

  • Want to topple the concept of total depravity discussed in Romans 3:10-18? Just throw some random verses at it and ignore other key passages like Romans 14:23, which tells us that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

  • Joel Osteen helps you become a better Calvinist.
  • Thursday, April 03, 2008

    Rapture Letters

    You have no doubt already heard of RaptureLetters.com. It's a "personal ministry" set up by Scott Butcher to help those left behind who may be struggling with trying to figure out "why millions of people have just disappeared."

    It's simple. You enter a loved one's e-mail address into the database, and once that fateful day arrives a letter will be sent out (the process is described on the web site) explaining what has just happened and that there is still hope for salvation. You can read a sample letter here.

    Unfortunately, there is no mention of the unspeakable and unparalleled period of tribulation the person is about to go through. (I guess he'll find out soon enough.) But the biggest problem I can think of is that the unsaved recipient of one of these rapture letters may have his spam filter turned on. What then?

    The Imminent Wrath of God

    I admit that I don't think about Hell as often as I should. Today's Grace Gem, taken from Thomas Vincent's "The Only Deliverer from the Wrath to Come!," was a sobering reminder:
      The punishment of loss -- will consist of the loss of the crown, glory, and happiness of heaven, where the righteous shall be admitted to the immediate vision and full fruition of God the chief good, which will fill them with soul-ravishing, inconceivable, and eternal joy. But from this, all the wicked will be eternally shut out, and wholly denied any share in the least of that happiness which, when they come to understand the worth and excellency of it -- will above all things be most vexing to them

      The punishment of sense -- will consist in the horrible pains and tortures which shall in extreme measure be inflicted upon every part of the bodies of all the wicked, by the most dreadful and unquenchable fire into which they shall be thrown; and the horrible anguish which, through the immediate impressions of God's wrath, shall be inflicted upon every faculty of their souls in hell, where they shall have no ease or release forever" Matthew 25:41, "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" Revelation 14:10-11, "They shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night."
    I don't believe that I should be fixated on Hell, for, like Paul, I "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). It does, however, do me well to ponder the imminent wrath from which I was saved. It should cause me to be evermore thankful that the Father would extend salvation to a depraved wretch like me and spur me on to see others saved as well.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    A Twist on Romans 9

    Have you ever wondered what a lump of clay would say to its potter if it could speak? From TBNN:
      Mr. Burns retired three years ago and opened his own pottery shop near the coast. He enjoys spending his days talking with tourists while he spins his wheel and forms new works of art. His life was moving along uneventfully until last week. That's when a lump of clay spoke to him. According to Mr. Burns, "I pulled out a new lump of clay and was about to toss it onto my spinning wheel. That's when the weird thing happened. It just told me what to do. Its exact words were, 'Make sure you make me for honorable use.' Now that scared me a little bit. But it didn't say anything else, so I just did my best and made a nice vase out of it."

    The Atonement as "Cosmic Child Abuse"

    You have probably heard the argument that the Calvinist view of the atonement amounts to an act of "cosmic child abuse." Those who say such things have a problem with the concept of penal substitution. Steve Chalke, who coined the phrase, had this to say:
      The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse -- a vengeful father, punishing his son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a construct stands in total contradiction to the statement "God is love." If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and refuse to repay evil with evil. The truth is the cross is a symbol of love. It is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus as his son are prepared to go to prove that love. The cross is a vivid statement of the powerlessness of love.
    Quotes like this reveal what a stumbling block the cross really is for some people. That a professing Christian would think that God's holy and just punishment of sin can be considered evil is beyond me. It doesn't go along with what we read in scripture.

    That isn't to say that Christ's suffering was pleasing to God, for if God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), he certainly would take no pleasure in the death of his only Son. No, the focus in scripture is on the removal of God's wrath from sinners: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). That is the joy of the cross.

    Those who subscribe to the view that penal substitution is child abuse don't understand that joy. They also demonstrate a weak understanding of the Trinity. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, was he not? As Timothy Keller writes in his book The Reason for God:
      God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself. Therefore the God of the Bible is not like the primitive deities who demanded our blood for their wrath to be appeased. Rather, this is a God who becomes human and offers his own life-blood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that some day he can destroy all evil without destroying us.
    Sin must be punished, and God lovingly and willingly absorbed the punishment that we rightly deserved. Despite what Steve Chalke and others might think, that isn't the act of some cosmic child abuser.

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