Sunday, January 29, 2006

Early (Warning) Signs of Personality

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Chronic Dislocation Syndrome

Church membership either turns you into a servant, or proves to you that you’re not one. Mark Dever

The military lifestyle is a highly mobile one, and I'm convinced this chronic dislocation is more likely to make you a church consumer than a church servant.

Most of our military friends that are Christians are not church members. They can't decide which church they like and so they discontentedly float between large churches for months or even years. Over the last several months, we've invited at least 8 of these families to church with us. All of them have politely turned us down.

It ain't easy being a little church. Tougher still if you're little and Presbyterian. Our church is both those things. It's for servants--not consumers.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Repeating Pilgrim's Progress

Every other year I find my way back to Pilgrim's Progress. I finished it again last night. Each time new characters stand out from the rest and I make better sense of what Christian is saying during some of the longer conversations with Hopeful.

But I wonder, if Christian's descendant, call him Christian the VI, were to enter yonder wicket-gate today who would he meet with on the way? Many of the same misinformed folks and scoundrels, I suspect. But there probably would be some new acquaintances.

Mr. Therapeutic, Mr. Nice, and Messrs. Sweet and Sentimental, all of the town At-Ease, would be traveling along the way. Surely the way must also pass near a great university where Christian, VI would encounter the aged Dr. Higher Criticism and the always youthful Dr. Po-Mo.

Interestingly, Christian today has no need of different friends than his ancestor enjoyed. Evangelist, Faithful, Hopeful, and the refreshment provided by the Lord of the way still supplies all a Pilgrim needs.

Now, reader, I have told my dream to thee,
See if thou canst interpret it to me.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sola Scriptura Requires More than Scripture

The title of this post sounds nonsensical, but I hope the brief words that follow prove it true. This post continues some thoughts on The Democratization of American Christianity.

In an elders' meeting a couple of years ago we were wrestling with several theological issues and there application in our church. I thought it appropriate to recommend we look to church history for assistance, but the senior pastor felt otherwise. He remarked that the problem with creeds, confessions, and the like, is that you don't know which ones to use because they're not infallible. In effect, you have to read the Bible as if it just dropped from the sky and you're the first person in the world to pick it up. To him this is what Sola Scriptura means.

The problem with this approach, which is all too common today, is that we can't escape coming to the Scripture with our own set of prejudices and ideas. We do not possess a "clean slate" for the Bible to write upon.

This problem is not unique to us. The authors of creeds and confessions had the same problem, but since they lived in a different time and culture, their prejudices were in different areas than ours. So here is one reason why creeds and confessions can help us with Scripture interpretation; their blind spots are different than ours.

So for us to approach our faith Sola Scriptura, we must overcome our prejudices. Our fathers in the faith can serve us in that regard. And since the Bible has been honored, interpreted, and applied faithfully by our fathers in the faith, we would be foolish not to take their reflections into account.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The American Devolution

Several folks I respect recommend The Democratization of American Christianity as a way to understand how American Christianity became audience centered, intellectually weak, organizationally fragmented, and popularly led. But don't think the book is one-sided. It also explains why American Christianity maintains a strong presence in our culture, forging moral communities that give meaning to ordinary people. I will limit this post to summarize only a small part of Hatch's impressive scope of research and analysis.

The impression given by the book is that what happened to American religion in the early years of our nation is a case of generally understanding a problem correctly, but reacting with a terrible solution. The problem was found in the form of Calvinism so pervasive at that time. It permitted no means of spiritual release (i.e. no emotion or place for personal experience), was preoccupied with arcane theology and complicated controversies, often endorsed the status quo regarding social classes and slavery, and was full of clergy that couldn't relate to the common man.

The reaction to these problems was much worse than the problem itself. Drunk on dreams of democracy and individualism, American Christians in their passion for religious liberty exalted the individual's judgment over all creeds, catechisms, and confessions. In essence what was attacked was theology and the need for an educated clergy. All the weight of church history and theological argument could not withstand the power of the declaration, "No Creed but the Bible." What we failed to realize is that our aversion to religious authorities and historical underpinnings, and our exaltation of private judgment, only created more and more disunity and discord in the church. Could God be the author of such confusion?

And this has become America's characteristic defect. We possess an unstable compound of religious zeal and private judgment that continues to split churches and create an endless number of denominations. Religious innovators in America have rarely been denied a receptive audience. We are a land of ten thousand Reformers, and each one has his own church.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Strange Lack of Desire for the Future

Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen--at least by some people--as a liability rather than as a source of hope.

Benedict XVI in First Things

Monday, January 16, 2006

Impotent Morality

Ken Myers in volume 77 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal makes a telling remark on morality. Speaking from the perspective of the pragmatists, he says,

We want the morality, but we don't need to worry about any kind of transcedent source for it. We'll just work up some rules to ensure the morality happens.

Those of us who suffer through ethics training know this to be true all too well. The pragmatic approach fails because fallen mankind cannot live up to the ideal. We are regularly hunted by the evidence; rules don't prevent scandals.
Old and Young

Kristin and the children went to a community craft center during homeschool recently. A group of older women were also there, and they repeatedly made it clear that they didn't like children around them. After several rude comments, Kristin and the children decided to come back another time.

We naturally have a bias towards our own demographic. For me, this bias manifests itself in who I seek out after church as well as who I seek to invite to church. This may explain why some churches are filled with young families while others have nothing but the older set, and vice versa.

In my private worship this morning, Zechariah had this to say speaking of the holiest, best days of Jerusalem,
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets. (Zech 8:4-5)

I take this to say that it is marvelous in the Lord's sight (vs 6) when His people, old and young, look beyond their own demographic and enjoy being together with each other.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Good Fences -- Doctrine Defines, and Yes, Divides When Necessary

Christians today seem to think someone is a Christian based on an experience they've had ("I asked Jesus into my heart"), or their morality ("I don't watch Desperate Housewives"). They neglect the role that doctrine should have in defining Christianity. A couple of events from this week reaffirmed to me why we must know what we believe.

I was given an opportunity to explain the Gospel to a Mormon co-worker yesterday on the way back from a luncheon. He felt that Mormons were Christians because he believes he is saved by grace through faith.

I agreed that we have similar salvation language, but the problem is, we have different Gods. He thought I was overemphasizing what is really just semantics about deity. I then explained the need to define what is Christian faith, and used the Nicene Creed to do so. I explained how it says that the Christian God is a triune God and defines what that means. He responded, "then by that definition I am no Christian." Interestingly, he came back to my desk today with a statement from the LDS prophet that says that they do not affirm the Nicene Creed, yet they are Christians. Well, one of us has the wrong definition of Christian! And I hope to continue the discussion.

Another event happened this week to Kristin that also shows that we must know what we believe. She was having dinner with a couple of ladies from our neighborhood who were talking about a Muslim neighbor. One of the ladies, who professes Christ, said that the Islamic lady and her have talked and they can't find any real differences in what they believe.

Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms have been used by the Church for centuries to define what is the historic, orthodox Christian faith. Christians today would be well served to better acquaint themselves with them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Spending Time with Giants

A friend and I met for lunch today to discuss Jonathan Edwards' Unpublished Essay on the Trinity, written sometime in the 1700s. Edwards' main point was that the Word of God teaches us more things concerning the Trinity than have been generally taken notice of. In in a very compact way he goes higher up and further into this most mysterious of divine mysteries. Among other things this is the best teaching on the Person of the Holy Spirit that I've ever read. And his writing is not dry as dust nor highbrow, but instead is richly devotional.

But the Trinity is not my point in this post. This is a lament against modern books. If you've got a few minutes read just the first 100 words or so of Edward's essay and compare that to the same amount of text in a typical theological work of today. Edwards says vastly more in a few paragraphs than modern authors usually convey in whole books. If you want to discover more glorious and exceedingly wonderful things in your reading, make time for the giants of the past.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Epiphany Gifts

Exchanging gifts on Epiphany (6 Jan) is a tradition in our family. Each gift is selected with the intent to help another love Christ more. The children got a new Story Bible. I gave Kristin a sabbatical at a local Bed and Breakfast. Kristin delighted me immensely by getting me a seat at Ligonier Ministries' National Conference in Orlando this March! This year's theme is the church; I can't wait! Are any of you planning to attend?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Plea to Re-think China Adoptions

I'm in Seattle this week for business, but I enjoy talking to Kristin each evening. She tells me we received another urgent phone call from an adoption agency desperately looking for a home for a soon-to-be born baby. Before we took our name off the lists (after adopting Faith) we received several phone calls like this every week!

If I can be less-than-nice for a moment, I know several families who are waiting to adopt from China despite that country's recent decision to delay processing applications for adoption for up to one year. So we have the deplorable situation where families who want to adopt, who have their home study done so they can adopt, are waiting for over a year for a baby from China while the fatherless and needy infants of our own country go without Christian homes!

At this risk of judging motives, I think Christians have too heroic a vision of rescuing babies from China. Indeed, it is in vogue now in parts of the Christian community. But while they wait and wait while China dallies around and takes their money, they are effectively denying Christian homes to many needy children in the States. Adopting domestically, if you look outside the Caucasian race, is ordinarily cheaper, quicker, and easier!

If providentially you know a family who is ready to adopt, and would consider what I've said, have them contact me. The baby we heard about today is due early March, and she doesn't have a home.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

2005 in the Books

Each New Year I post what I read during the year just ended. The last couple of years have been meager ones, mainly due to tending to schoolwork in the evenings or moving. But with a break in Air Force schooling (and moving!), I'm hopeful to cover more (and better) ground in 2006. Anyway, here's a list of the books read in 2005 (not counting the Bible or what I read to my children) with a brief analysis at the end.

- Call Of Duty, the Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee; Steve Wilkins
- The Cross-Centered Life; C.J. Mahaney
- The Spirituality of the Cross (i.e. Lutheranism 101); Gene Edward Veith
- The Foolishness of God (i.e. is the law of non-contradiction biblical?); Siegbert W. Becker
- Age of Opportunity (parenting teenagers); Tedd Tripp
- Against Christianity; Peter Leithart
- Gilead (twice); Marilynne Robinson
- Plowing in Hope, towards a theology of culture; David Hegeman
- To Conquer the Air (bio of Wright Bros); James Tobin
- Reformed Theology in America, a history of its modern development; David Wells, ed.
- Ministries of Mercy; Tim Keller
- Pickwick Papers; Charles Dickins
- Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment; Jeremiah Burroughs
- Confessing Christ (used in new members class at church); Calvin Knox Cummings

Looking at this list overall, I'm pleased that I read several biographical works, that I read some theology outside of my tradition (e.g. two Lutheran works), and that I read quality fiction (i.e. Dickens and Robinson). I'm not satisfied with the amount of reading of books written outside of my time period or outside of the Christian faith. So in 2006 I will try to read more books that are older and also make time for some non-Christian non-fiction (e.g. like Postman, etc).