Friday, November 30, 2007

Treasuring the Name of the Lord

In Psalm 113, the psalmist calls upon the servants of the Lord with these words:
Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!

The attributes and actions of our God, represented by his name, deserve nothing less than absolute, unceasing praise. Yet how often do we esteem his name with the honor, love, respect, and value that it deserves? This is precisely what the 3rd commandment deals with. We must not take the name of the Lord in vain. This Sunday, we will both practice and study what it means to worship the Lord with the honor due to his name.

I Sing the Mighty Power of God (#19)
The Spacious Firmament on High (#50)
How Sad Our State (#333)
Remember Not, O God
O Come, O Come Emmanuel (#87)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 119:65-80

The Command to Worship the Lord with Honor, or the Command to Treasure the Name of the Lord
Deuteronomy 5:11

The Lord's Supper

Did God Create in Six Days?

It seems that a growing number of Christians are embracing a framework hypothesis, which basically says that Genesis 1 is to be interpreted as a literary/theological framework describing God's creative work, not as actual history. In this way they attempt to hold on to both the authority of Scripture and the authority of contemporary scientific theories. If you have wondered about this at all, check out Dr. Bob McCabe's recent blog post on this topic and the links that he provides.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 12)

Rejecting All False Gods and Loving the Lord Alone

The first step toward building a culture of faithfulness instead of a Tower of Babel is to reject all false gods. The Bible is relentless in its attacks upon idolatry. This is because at bottom there are only two alternatives in this universe. We will either love the one true and living God, or we will serve idols (see Appendix A: Two Basic Worldviews). The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example, launched eloquent and devastating attacks upon idolatry (Jer 10:1-16; Isa 40:18-20; 41:7; 44:9-20; 46:5-7).

What is the remedy? It must begin with our hearts. Listen carefully to the ancient “pledge of allegiance” for Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5).

So, what are the idols of our time and place in American history? We have an eclectic pantheon of idols, which fits with our fundamental idea of freedom as personal autonomy. Each person is free to choose which idols suit him best, as long as he doesn’t reject all of these idols for the one living and true God.

Many of the lesser gods in this pantheon relate to materialism or hedonism, which is why we live in a culture of consumption – retirement, vacations, bigger houses, more stuff, debt, constant entertainment, health, physical fitness, sports, therapy, and psychological wellness (self esteem, good feelings). Also included would be perpetual talk of personal rights and a fascination with sexuality coupled with a refusal to put any parameters on it.

But as we move up Olympus to the bigger gods, we find stark testimony that the creature is attempting to replace the Creator, just as Romans 1 describes. This humanism is revealed in many ways: Democracy with a capital D (our current war on terror has provided an opportunity to make this explicit, with multiple references to making the world safe through democracy); Equality defined in egalitarian terms; Freedom defined as self-autonomy or self-fulfillment. This is why there is such a deep attachment to positive law and such a desperate commitment to education and science as a savior. This also factors into the cult of youth and the youth culture which dominates the public arena.

In the public political arguments of our time, these idolatries underlie both what Gelernter calls Americanism (“A”) and what we might call Anti-Americanism (“AA”), in the sense that it rejects the classical and theistic roots of Americanism. Both of these positions present themselves as upholding and defending true liberty, equality, and democracy. A is the general position of the Republican party, and AA is the general position of the Democratic party. AA would be called liberalism in common parlance, although it has little to do with classical liberalism. Most Christians readily and rightly dismiss AA for its obvious rejection of biblical morality. But we also must not be fooled by A, which often co-opts biblical or Christian names, forms, or terminology without the truly Christian content. This is why Gelernter can call A a “biblical religion” even though it is nothing of the sort. Men like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. are primary examples of A, and neither of them were biblical thinkers even though both appealed often to the Bible. Our nation may very well have been worse off without the contributions of these men. Nevertheless, they took many biblical ideas and used them in ways contrary to true Christianity because they divorced them from the whole biblical context, true salvation, and the Lordship of Christ. As Christians, we can be truly loyal citizens without buying into nationalism or anti-nationalism.

From a sociological perspective, Christian Smith has described the pervasive presence of “moralistic, therapeutic deism” as the de facto religion of many American young people. He summarizes this approach to life with these basic beliefs:

1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die.[i]

Once again, this fits well with the idolatries listed above. Generic god-talk is perfectly acceptable, and even praiseworthy, in a society of polytheistic naturalists. This kind of a god bows to our desires and works to make us happy and eternally blessed. And so we are right back to exalting pagan Man with his false ideas of freedom.

If we as Christians put our trust in democracy, equality, and freedom, or seek for our happiness in consumption and self-fulfillment, then we are following the society around us in its idolatry. This is the antithesis of loving the Lord our God alone. But merely rejecting idols is insufficient to build a culture of faithfulness. We must not only put off the practices of the old man, we must put on the practices of the new.

[i] Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 162-63.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Too Many People Go To College

So says Thomas Sowell.

I completely agree, and this goes for Christian colleges, too. I think Christian colleges would do Christianity a favor if they would stop marketing themselves as the ideal place for all Christian young adults. I also think churches would do Christianity a favor if they would stop trusting in Christian colleges to make the next generation into an army of Christian soldiers. Christian colleges have their place, to be sure, but like their secular counterparts, too often they forget what their place is.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 18 - The Assurance of Grace and Salvation

18.1 ALTHOUGH temporary believers and other unregenerate persons may be deceived by erroneous, self-engendered notions into thinking that they are in God's favor and in a state of salvation-false and perishable hopes indeed!-yet all who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to conduct themselves in all good conscience according to His will, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace. They may rejoice in hope of the glory of God, knowing that such a hope will never put them to shame. Job 8:13,14; Matt. 7:22,23; Rom. 5:2,5; 1 John 2:3; 3:14,18,19,21,24; 5:13.

18.2 The certainty of salvation enjoyed by the saints of God is not mere conjecture and probability based upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith based upon the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the gospel. It also results from the inward evidences of the graces of the Holy Spirit, for to those graces God speaks promises. Then again, it is based upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of adoption, for He bears His witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. Such witness results in the keeping of our hearts both humble and holy. Rom. 8:15,16; Heb. 6:11,17-19; 2 Pet. 1:4,5,10,11; 1 John 3:1-3.

Legally Defining Personhood

Here is an important effort - Colorado for Equal Rights.

From their website: Colorado for Equal Rights is sponsoring a ballot initiative for Colorado’s 2008 election. This proposed constitutional amendment will define a person in Colorado as a human being from the moment of fertilization, the moment when life begins. This amendment will establish a cornerstone for protecting human life in our society... and we all know this is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More on Christian Charity

Chuck Bumgardner has another good post on some background to the NT practice of Christian love and Christian hospitality. You will enjoy reading this in light of what we are going to discuss on Wednesday.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Worshiping the Lord Spiritually

I trust your time of giving thanks to the Lord this past week has stirred up your hearts to desire to worship him in spirit and truth with your fellow believers this Sunday. In our sermon we will be concluding our study of the 2nd commandment, the command to worship the Lord spiritually. Last week we learned that this requires us to have integrity, that is to say, our whole persons must respond to God as he reveals himself. This means that our minds must be engaged, grasping truth. But that is not all. Having integrity in our worship also requires that our emotions and wills must be engaged. This is why Jonathan Edwards argued in his classic work, The Religious Affections, that true religion consists largely in our affections. Love, delight, desire, joy...over and over again the Scriptures call us to engage with God with our affections. I trust that you will come to worship the Lord tomorrow with all your heart!

Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee (#27)
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)
More Love to Thee (#477)
My Jesus, I Love Thee (#384)
Let Us Love (#483)
Take Thou Our Minds, Dear Lord (#551)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 119:49-64

The Command to Worship the Lord Spiritually (Part 4)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 11)

Man-centered vs. God-centered Thinking

We now live in demotic times, according to historian Jacques Barzun, and thus we live in a civilization that has lost its confidence and has degenerated into populism. The naturalistic religion of America makes man the measure of all things, whether it is man collectively (i.e. socialism) or man individually (i.e. individualism).[i] Christianity should reject both of these options in favor of biblical, trinitarian, covenant thinking. In short, we must be God-centered rather than man-centered.

The Sixties

The events of the 1960’s are often seen as the cause of the current culture wars in American society. In reality, the infamous “sixties,” which basically include from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1970’s, represent the natural culmination of the naturalistic trends we have briefly observed. For example, the so-called baby boomers represent the maturing of the youth culture that had emerged in American history. Emancipated from family identity, separated from the adult world by the school system, many of them reared in meaningless mainstream American Protestantism or nominal Catholicism, influenced by powerful and ubiquitous media, and with growing wealth, free time, and transportation, they lived out the ideals of self-realization. Thus, American pop culture takes its cue from the young and novel, rather than from the wisdom of the aged. In some ways, the sixties illustrate well the seeming paradox of contemporary society – a paradox that the world has no way of solving.

On the one hand, the sixties were the decade of personal liberation from all social restrictions and taboos. God was “dead” and so was his morality. Formality was rejected in favor of just being “natural.” The feminist movement kicked into high gear with strong Marxist undertones, and marriage began to crumble as a social institution. The civil rights movement appealed to the rights of the individual. Elvis Presley and the Beatles brought the new “rock music” to the mainstream, and Woodstock became the icon of the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll culture. Supposedly all authority was viewed with suspicion, but in reality it was just any authority that seemed to stand in the way of personal autonomy. Walt Disney capitalized on the culture of self-fulfillment by building the largest entertainment empire the world had ever seen, and sports continued their ascendancy into the stratosphere of public importance.[ii] Of course, the majority of Americans appeared to continue on in life without the huge change noted in intellectual and popular culture; there were not too many Allen Ginsbergs or Jane Fondas. Nevertheless, the underlying ethos American society was deeply changed. Self-realization, or “freedom,” was the order of the day.

The art and architecture of the day reflected this loss of any overarching sense of truth, goodness, and beauty. Twentieth century “art” music had become so intentionally fragmented, difficult, meaningless, and detached from reality that it ceased to attract all but the dedicated elites of the art world. Painting, too, had turned into the absurd or the juvenile – highly skilled absurdity, at times, but absurdity nonetheless. Architecture, which is “the mirror in which a civilization views itself” according to Roger Scruton, showed the same trend. The modernist architecture of the twentieth century was a direct repudiation of the classical ideas of beauty and truth. Of course, modernist architecture has now been largely rejected, but there is no accepted coherent alternative to it. Thus contemporary high culture has abandoned its inheritance, which was shot through with Christian ideas, and has become a pretense, whether in its modern or post-modern expressions.

On a popular level, rock music reflected the triumph of personal autonomy and self-expression (often in libidinous forms).[iii] It served to transmute the personality of its performers into the embodiment of the desires of its listeners and so both expressed and built celebrity culture. So-called Christian pop music emerged as the aural equivalent of a cheerleading squad – it is ear candy to get people excited, but one would not seek wisdom from the blondes there. It is aesthetic fast food, or even a commercial for the fast food. Rap music has now taken the degeneration to a new level. It is the “music” of the lowest level of personal self-expression. It is gut level music, incapable of developing rich judgments and affections, which are inseparably intertwined. Freedom is self-expression, no matter how vulgar.

Technology made this freedom seem possible. A new medium of entertainment and “news,” the television, transformed public discourse and helped to project larger-than-life human idols.[iv] The advent of the PC and the Internet brought seemingly unlimited power and knowledge to our fingertips. Medical science provided “the pill,” supporting the social drive to free physical relationships from marriage and child-bearing, and now genetic engineering and stem cell therapies are promising seemingly unlimited control over human life from conception to the grave. The interstate highway system and jet airliners provided the freedom to travel easily, and space travel conquered new frontiers. Thus modern Americans often trust in technology to provide freedom and make them happy.

The changes were not only taking place in popular culture, but also in law. As Michael Sandel says, “The central idea of the public philosophy by which we live is that freedom consists in our capacity to choose our ends for ourselves.” This “aspiration to neutrality,” he says, “finds prominent expression in our politics and law.”[v] Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy more recently wrote, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This is human autonomy at its most brazen and at its most insane. Highlights of this trend, in varying degrees and ways, include removing prayer from public school, passing the Civil Rights Act, adopting no fault divorce, and legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade.

Yet on the other hand, the sixties marked an explosive growth in government regulation and domestic spending, such as with LBJ’s Great Society. Even though Marxism, per se, in our nation probably reached its high water mark in the 1960’s and 1970’s and has declined since, government regulation and domestic spending has continued to enlarge at a rapid pace. This becomes painfully clear when we consider that from the mid 1970’s to the mid 1990’s was the first time in American history that the federal budget deficit increased during a time of peace, in spite of record federal revenues. This deficit emerged primarily because of entitlement spending. By 2006, entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (excluding net interest) consumed 53% of all program spending and a record 10.8% of the GDP.[vi] Americans, more than any other point in our history, now expect the federal government to provide for them.[vii]

The irony of all this is that as Americans became more emancipated than ever before, they also became more dependent and more regulated than ever before. Mark Steyn put the point in his usual sarcastic but pointed way: “A citizen of an advanced democracy expects to be able to choose from dozens of breakfast cereals at the supermarket, hundreds of movies at the video store, and millions of porno sites on the Internet, but when it comes to life-or-death decisions about his own body he's happy to have the choice taken out of his hands and given to the government”.[viii] This appears to be a paradox, but in reality it is simply the natural result of man-centered thinking. The pursuit of a false freedom corresponds with the enslavement of a false security.

The point of all of the above is not to say that all the changes in American society were negative or that the technological advances were necessarily detrimental. There have been many beneficial effects of improvements in areas such as medicine and agriculture. The problems resulted from the refusal to do all this to the glory of God and in keeping with his revelation.

Christianity in Contemporary America

It would be wonderful if we could report that the people of God in America had the wisdom to chart a straight course through these trends. On the whole, however, Christianity in America represents a mixed bag. The mainline Protestant churches effectively capitulated to the spirit of the age over 100 years ago, leading to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. It is my personal opinion that the loss of true Christianity among America’s mainline Protestant denominations is severely underappreciated by many scholars when they attempt to explain the historical factors that have shaped contemporary American society. The fundamentalists were the conservatives who wanted to maintain the authority of the Word of God. By the grace of God, the fundamentalists preserved the true gospel and upheld the absolute authority of the Word of God. We can thank God today for our forefathers in the faith who were willing to earnestly contend for the faith.[ix]

Yet the conservatives (both fundamentalists and new evangelicals, although new evangelicalism has become so broad that it can hardly be called conservative anymore) themselves have struggled with whether to adopt, adapt, or reject the changes in American society. Truth be told, the fragmented state of the churches in America probably rendered it impossible for conservative Christians to develop and live out a coherent alternative. Although they have had a reputation of rejecting the surrounding culture, this is not really accurate. They did at times reject certain features that were common in American society (the stereotypical movies, dancing, drinking, and card games), but for the most part they dressed, worked, ate, lived, and thought like Americans. Conservatives have, in fact, often been in the forefront of new technological and marketing trends in American religion. While rejecting the explicit tenets of the Enlightenment and of naturalism (for the most part), they have not always been good at discerning the ramifications of such thinking for their ministries in their churches, their family lives, their economic pursuits, their entertainment choices, etc. Much of this comes from a doctrinal shallowness and/or a love affair with the world. The churches and church leaders have contributed to this conformism to American culture. The headlong pursuit of relevance has made many a Christian and many a ministry the tail on the world’s dog – flopping around in servile imitation of the latest popular trend, hoping for a pet of approval.

The evangelistic crusades of Billy Graham present a famous example of how conservative American Christianity is thoroughly saturated with American ideals. Although fundamentalists scorned Graham’s decisions to become more theologically inclusive in his campaigns, it is significant that even fundamentalists expressed little concern with the mode and method of Graham’s operation. This is because Graham’s approach rose directly out of the American fundamentalist, revivalist approach stretching back to the Second Great Awakening. Hardly a voice was raised against the inherent problems of “evangelism incorporated” and the Finneyism of Graham’s approach. Even when Graham made statements that contradicted the gospel and included people in his campaigns who denied the gospel, Graham’s popularity was considered indispensable to evangelicalism as a movement, revealing once again how populist American Christianity tends to be.

The adaptation of American Christianity to America’s cultural norms is also exemplified in the contemporary Christian music movement. The explosion of Pentecostal/ charismatic ideas about worship and relationship to God, combined with the ingrained tendency of American evangelicals toward effective marketing, found a perfect mode of expression in the popular music of the 1960’s and onward. The Jesus People, for example, brought their brand of supposed authenticity, and their music, into more established conservative Protestant churches. Much of CCM promises immediate emotional access to God without a deep grasp of truth and the long, hard work of forming that truth into life, which is character.[x] Nowadays, “passion” of any kind is considered almost the highest virtue, with no ability to distinguish good passion from bad passion or higher passion from lower. Sadly, fundamentalist churches, with their “Father Abraham” and “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” type choruses, are not exempt from these trends.

The question that most naturally arises then is, where do we go from here? How do we build a culture of faithfulness to God and to the glory of his Son? How can we be God-centered rather than man-centered?

[i] There are those social conservatives who practice something of a hybrid position with respect to Christianity and naturalism. That is, Christian principles influence their thinking, yet they still look to man for the foundations of their morality and philosophy. An example would be the former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, in his fine book It Takes a Family.

[ii] Sports have assumed a place in American society which is obscenely out of proportion with their eternal value. When tax money is used to build immense stadiums, stars are paid tens of millions of dollars, and the laity spend gobs of time reenacting the appropriate rituals with their young, it is quite clear that we have collective idol worship going on. Christians should be able to enjoy a good game with a healthy sense of enjoyment and a healthy sense of the relatively limited value of it all (1 Tim 4:8). I long for the day when the corporate worship of God’s people will both surpass the collective immolations of fans at a football stadium and be different in kind from the fans at a football stadium.

[iii] “…Parents [of the 1950’s] made no mistake in identifying the subversive sexual charge in the music. Although it was criticized, softened, and censored in the service of the status quo, rock ’n’ roll was pivotal in a reassessment of sexual attitudes and behavior that only seemed to spring out of nowhere in the 1960s” (Glenn C. Altschuler, All Shook Up [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], 68). “In all its many phases and styles, modern pop music’s enduring message, conveyed by the aphrodisiac of a pulsing bass beat, was as simple as it was subversive: surrender to the pleasures of the body” (Brink Lindsey, The Age of Abundance, 188). I believe Lindsey’s statement, while saying something true, is simplistic. Rock music (which influences most forms of pop music now) is not simply an aural aphrodisiac, although it lends itself easily to that and some users of this music do take it that way. Rather, it is music which does not know how to inspire and build the soul with anything other than animal passions. It is incapable of training and refining the soul because it cannot sustain musical thought and dialogue. It relies on an artificially accentuated beat to make up for its lack of the “true movement of music which arises from its inner life” (Roger Scruton, Culture Counts [New York: Encounter, 2007], 65). Modern pop music does many times accurately reflect or express the inner lives of Americans, from the jaded or sad to the silly or excited, but it offers them no way build a new way of thinking and feeling so that they can escape perpetual adolescence and learn to value what is eternally weighty.

[iv] In the 1920’s the flapper era bore similarities to the sixties, but in the sixties television provided a new way to export that ideal to the masses which the twenties did not enjoy. We have come so far that we now even call shows things like “American Idol.”

[v] Public Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 9. Sandel would not share our Christian worldview, but I cite him to demonstrate that even he recognizes the huge impact our ideas of freedom have had on our laws. Robert Bork writes of the 1960’s, “It is not too surprising…that a mood of radical autonomy or, if you will, moral relativism began to appear in the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court…. But the rise of moral relativism – perhaps a better term would be moral chaos – drove constitutional law in a new but no more respectable or rational direction” (“Olympians on the March” in Lengthened Shadows, ed. Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer [San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004], 198).

[vi] Brian M. Riedl, “Federal Spending – By the Numbers,” The Heritage Foundation, March 8, 2007. Before leaving his post as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan predicted that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would account for 13% of the GDP by 2030. This much increase would, according to Greenspan, “make current fiscal policy unsustainable” (Available at /speeches/2005/20051202/default.htm; accessed 16 August 2007).

[vii] Witness, for example, the fiasco in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Two years after the devastating storm, 127 billion dollars of federal money had been spent on the area, yet the city was nowhere near back in order.

[viii] America Alone (Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 2006), 45.

[ix] Controversy within the fundamentalist camp later led to the emergence of two general groups known as fundamentalists and new evangelicals. For a concise history and evaluation of this time, see Earnest D. Pickering, The Tragedy of Compromise (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 1994). A very informative account of the same events from a British perspective can be found in Evangelicalism Divided by Ian Murray (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000). The classic critique of the liberal departure from the faith is by J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, originally published in 1923 and still in print. A substantive theological critique of the “new evangelicalism” can be found in Promise Unfulfilled by Rolland McCune (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald, 2004).

[x] Ephesians 4:15 says that growing up into Christ requires the continual process of avlhqeu,ontej evn avga,ph, “dealing truthfully in love.” Our musical choices must meet this same requirement. I would like to add one caution here to those of us who are conservatively minded in music. We should learn a lesson from the so-called high culture of the twentieth century. High culture became so kitschophobic that its greatest aim was to produce anything anti bourgeoisie. This phobia turned art music into inhumane and bizarre junk, unpalatable to human ears, unresponsive to the human heart. So in Christian circles we must not react so strongly to “cheap” Christian music that we end up producing a strained or forced kind of “high” music that is unintelligible to the average believer. Good and enduring music does not flow from a reactionary mindset. It flows from a heart that is at home in its cultural/religious environment and creatively explores and responds to life in that environment. The Christian musician knows that this environment is from, through, and to God (Rom 11:36). This generically Christian worldview has informed our Western musical heritage, which explains in part why our folk music traditions and the Western classical tradition have produced works of such beauty that still resonate with the heart of man.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Christian Charity

In light of our Wednesday evening discussions on hospitality, I thought this post by Chuck Bumgardner on Christian charity was timely.

The Monstrous Regiment of Women

The famous words in the title of this post come from John Knox, the 16th century Scottish reformer. His biblically based views on this subject need resurrection in our day, so I am happy to see that the Gunn Brothers have produced a documentary with this title which, as they say, extols femininity and blasts feminism. Check it out.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 17 - The Perseverance of the Saints

17.1 THE saints are those whom God has accepted in Christ the Beloved, and effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit. To them He has given the precious faith that pertains to all His elect. The persons to whom such blessings have been imparted can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but they shall certainly persevere in grace to the end and be eternally saved, for God will never repent of having called them and made gifts to them. Consequently He continues to beget and to nourish in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit that issue in immortality. Many storms and floods may arise and beat upon them, yet they can never be moved from the foundation and rock on which by faith they are firmly established. Even if unbelief and Satan's temptations cause them for a time to lose the sight and comfort of the light and love of God, yet the unchanging God remains their God, and He will certainly keep and save them by His power until they come to the enjoyment of their purchased possession; for they are engraven on the palms of His hands, and their names have been written in the book of life from all eternity. Ps. 89:31,32; Mal. 3:6; John 10:28,29; 1 Cor. 11:32; Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 2:19; 1 John 2:19.

17.2 It is on no free will of their own that the saints' perseverance depends, but on the immutability of the decree of election, which in its turn depends upon the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, the efficacious merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and the saints' union with Him, the oath of God, the abiding character of the Spirit's indwelling of the saints, the divine nature of which they are partakers and, lastly, [God's plan of salvation]. All these factors guarantee the certainty and infallibility of the saints' perseverance. Jer. 32:40; John 14:19; Rom. 5:9,10; 8:30; 9:11,16; Heb. 6:17,18; 1 John 3:9.

17.3 In various ways-the temptations of Satan and of the world, the striving of indwelling sin to get the upper hand, the neglect of the means appointed for their preservation-saints may fall into fearful sins, and may even continue in them for a time. In this way they incur God's displeasure, grieve His Holy Spirit, do injury to their graces, diminish their comforts, experience hardness of heart and accusations of conscience, hurt and scandalize others, and bring God's chastisements on themselves. Yet being saints their repentance will be renewed, and through faith they will be preserved in Christ Jesus to the end. 2 Sam. 12:14; Ps. 32:3,4; 51:10,12; Isa. 64:5,9; Matt. 26:70,72,74; Luke 22:32,61,62; Eph. 4:30.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Testimony of Grace

Over at the blog SharperIron, Colleen Tronson shares her wonderful testimony of her journey from the bondage of abortion to freedom in Christ. Please read it!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanks for Your Prayers

Just a word to all of our church family who have been praying for us on this unexpected trip....

Thank you so much for praying. The doctors have determined that my wife's grandfather has had multiple strokes. Considering the fact that he is 95 years old, he is doing amazingly well. He is still aware of what is going on and who we are. However, from any reasonable human perspective, his days are numbered.

It truly is a blessing to face these kinds of situations with a family that is confident in the Lord. In Christ, hope pervades everything.

We would appreciate your prayers for our return trip, as well. We plan to leave tomorrow morning. Hopefully, the weather will be conducive to traveling. As I write this, I am looking out the window of the Kalamazoo Public Library at gently falling snow.

See you on Sunday!

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 10)

Darwinian Naturalism for All of Life

"It is amazing how unquestioningly and enthusiastically American Protestants embraced Darwinism. This ought to tell us something about the shallowness of their religious beliefs, together with their belief in the progress of democracy."

John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his seminal work On the Origin of Species. It purported to explain how life arose on Earth in all of the expressions which we see today. A few years earlier, in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had published The Communist Manifesto. Darwin became a celebrity, Marx died in obscurity, but the two of them became perhaps the two most influential thinkers for people in the twentieth century (in competition with Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Freud). Their thinking actually fit together very well, for both of them assumed a naturalistic world. There had been naturalism around before Darwin; indeed, it has been around since not long after the Garden of Eden. But Darwin provided naturalistic thinkers with a key mechanism that seemed to unlock the door to a world in which no supernatural deity was needed, at least certainly not the God of the Bible. Darwin’s ideas of gradual evolution through natural selection and survival of the fittest dealt with biology. But it was not long until they were applied across the board to all fields of human thinking.[i]

In science, biological evolution and geological evolution took over the field, which had been well plowed by Enlightenment thinking. Even though today’s scientists for the most part no longer hold to Darwin’s ideas precisely as he articulated them, these ideas still form the unquestionable foundation of thought for most scientific endeavor. Listen, for example, to the effusive praise of Edward O. Wilson, writing an introduction to a reprint of four of Darwin’s works: “Great scientific discoveries are like sunrises. They illuminate first the steeples of the unknown, then its dark hollows. Such expansive influence has been enjoyed by the scientific writings of Charles Darwin. For over 150 years his books…have spread light on the living world and the human condition. They have not lost their freshness: more than any other work in history’s scientific canon, they are both timeless and persistently inspirational” [ii] In the early part of the twentieth century, many Christians actually went along with Darwinism to some degree, but in recent years a creationist movement has helped to alert Christians to this danger and to teach the truth of a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2.

However, many Christians are not so aware of the impact of Darwinian naturalism in our government, law, and economics. Politically, secular humanists tend to push for globalism and Marxists believe in a coming new world order. Their whole concept of justice, freedom, the role of government, and more is framed in terms of their ethical relativism and belief in self-realization. The twentieth century provides grizzly examples of what happens when these ideas are carried out consistently; one only need look at Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-dong, and Pol Pot. Marxism in the political realm always ends up with centralized control of everything and a program to eliminate all opposition.[iii]

In America, our institutions, traditions, and Christian influence have limited the amount of influence that thorough-going Marxists or secular humanists have been able to exert on our government. Nonetheless, the U.S. government is much more statist and socialistic today than it was 100 years ago, in large measure because of Darwinian naturalism. In his introduction to the fiftieth anniversary edition of F. A. Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom, Milton Friedman accurately observed what was happening in the latter part of the twentieth century.

“Unfortunately, the check to collectivism did not check the growth of government; rather, it diverted its growth to a different channel. The emphasis shifted from governmentally administered production activities to indirect regulation of supposedly private enterprises and even more to governmental transfer programs, involving extracting taxes from some in order to make grants to others – all in the name of equality and the eradication of poverty but in practice producing an erratic and contradictory mélange of subsidies to special interest groups. As a result, the fraction of the national income being spent by governments has continued to mount.”

He concluded, “On both sides of the Atlantic, it is only a little overstated to say that we preach individualism and competitive capitalism, and practice socialism.”[iv]

In the realm of law, naturalism leads to a belief in positive law. Since everything is evolving, there is no fixed order, no fixed standard of justice (such as the Ten Commandments), no eternal Law Giver (such as God), and not even any natural law. The law is what we make it. Crime becomes the fault of society, and criminals must be re-educated, which explains why prisons are now labeled “correctional facilities.” This also leads to the centralization of power in the state, for the state is the instrument used to make and enforce laws.

Economically, naturalism often proceeds to socialism or communism. Notice what the Communist Manifesto promotes:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c., &c.

As can be seen from this list, Marxism also has ramifications for society and the family. The same could be said for any naturalistic system. Marx’s collaborator Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. In this work, he described how to do away with monogamy and advance a “return” to group marriage. He basically described four steps to be taken:

1. Put all women into outside labor. “The emancipation of women is primarily dependent on the reintroduction of the whole female sex into the public industries.”

2. Socialize property. “With the transformation of the means of production into collective property the monogamous family ceases to be the economic unit of society. The private household changes to a social industry. The care and education of children becomes a social matter.”

3. Institute free love. “Will not this be sufficient cause for…a more unconventional intercourse of the sexes and a more lenient public opinion regarding virgin honor and female shame?”

4. And start with ‘no fault’ divorce. “If marriage founded on love is alone moral, then it follows that marriage is moral only as long as love lasts.”[v]

Thankfully, our country did not succumb to a Marxist form of government and society. However, the ideas of Darwinian naturalism have percolated and spread to become ubiquitous. And, in fact, the major public alternative to socialism in America is libertarianism or individualism, which is also rooted in naturalism. This thinking says that personal autonomy is the ultimate good; therefore, morality must conform. Moral discussions in our country now debate not what is right and wrong per se, but what is right for me and wrong for me. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do in my own private life?” is the common refrain. Therefore, for example, we can legally justify murdering millions of unborn babies in the name of personal choice. Such evidence points clearly to the fact that America is effectively naturalistic in its form of government and society, even though we reject Marxism.

The major engine for the spread of these ideas has been the public school system. As children of the Reformation in Europe, American Christians from the very beginning have stressed education. Thus most evangelicals supported public schooling in America in its initial stages, without recognizing that it was, in effect, the social replacement for the disestablished churches. It was the institution which was to transmit and inculcate the vision of life which would unify the nation. Public education of necessity sought to incorporate generic moral principles stripped of their doctrinal foundations. D. G. Hart is correct that that this “generic religion dissolved fairly rapidly the vestiges of Christendom….”[vi] Yet some far sighted American Christians recognized this problem long before most people. A. A. Hodge lectured on this in the 1880’s:

I am sure as I am of the fact of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.[vii]

Other theologians like R. L. Dabney and J. Gresham Machen saw equally clearly the threat.

It is virtually impossible to overestimate the impact these ideas have had on our society. As Phillip Johnson says, “What has really happened is that a new established religious philosophy has replaced the old one. Like the old philosophy, the new one is tolerant only up to a point, specifically the point where its own right to rule the public square is threatened. When I want a long and fully descriptive name for it, I call the established religious philosophy of late-twentieth-century America ‘scientific naturalism and liberal rationalism.’”[viii] This is really just another way of saying that America believes in pagan Man, especially as he is expressed in liberty, equality, and democracy.

Roaring Twenties, Depression, and War

The established religious philosophy of late twentieth century America spread its roots deeply in the early twentieth century. The mainline Protestant denominations no longer provided spiritual truth to the nation. Their social gospel had gutted the real gospel, and thus they led the way into the meaningless moralism of which Prohibition was the biggest example. The “roaring twenties” gave a true taste of the moral sensibilities of Americans who had money to burn. The freewheeling exuberance came to a crashing halt with the Great Depression, but the moral sensibilities were not permanently altered. Fischer accurately states, “In the 1930s, Hollywood promoted a vision of liberty and freedom as sensual gratification.”[ix] The crisis of the depression induced Americans to complete the project which had been building since the Civil War and abandon federalism. They put their trust in the federal government to deliver them. President Roosevelt, a genuine leader and skillful politician, truly believed in collectivism, and along with other progressives he was able to centralize the control of federal government. He promised “greater freedom, greater security,” including even freedom from want and freedom from fear. That any human government would promise all of its citizens freedom from all want is arrogant in the extreme, but Roosevelt was able to convince many Americans to transfer their loyalties to the federal government above families and local communities. His New Deal and other policies actually prolonged the great depression,[x] but the detrimental effects were partially obscured by the great war which followed.

The American victory in World War II was certainly one of the high points of our nation’s history. The unprecedented mobilization of the entire nation for the war effort and the sacrifice of millions of Americans who defeated the evil Axis powers stand as high tribute to the courage and character of the American people. Sadly, however, the war also became the entry point for more permanent expansion of government powers, such as withholding income tax from wages. The amazing economic progress which followed the war cemented in many American minds the materialist dream of happiness through consumption.

[i] David Noebel discusses the ramifications of this kind of thinking for 10 areas of study: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history (Understanding the Times [Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1991]). Other areas, such as education and art, could also profitably be examined. On this score, Julian Huxley wrote, “The concept of evolution was soon extended into other than biological fields. Inorganic subjects such as the life-history of the stars and the formation of the chemical elements on the one hand, and on the other hand subject like linguistics, social anthropology, and comparative law and religion, began to be studied from an evolutionary angle, until today we are enabled to see evolution as a universal and all-pervading process” (cited in Henry Morris, The Long War Against God [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989], 19). He put these ideas into practice as the first Director-General of UNESCO.

[ii] From So Simple a Beginning [New York: W. W. Norton, 2006], 11.

[iii] It is estimated that over 100 million people have been put to death by Communist regimes since the Bolshevik revolution.

[iv] I would like to note that from a biblical perspective, Hayek and Friedman’s ideas of freedom need correction. Nevertheless, their critique of socialism is penetrating.

[v] Outlined by Allan Carlson, “Two Becoming One Flesh: Marriage as a Sexual and Economic Union,” Intercollegiate Review 40:1 (Fall/Winter 2004), 15.

[vi] A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006), 81.

[vii] “The Dangers Inherent in Public Education” in James W. Deuink, ed., A Fresh Look at Christian Education (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1988), 37.

[viii] Reason in the Balance (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 37.

[ix] Liberty and Freedom, 510. Of course, this vision was promoted by others besides Hollywood. Literati like Earnest Hemmingway and Edna St. Vincent Millay lived out the ideals of sensual gratification.

[x] See Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).

Why Join a Church

Scott Aniol posts on this important topic at his blog, Religious Affections.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Having Trouble Remembering Lately?

If you have ever had a day in which you seem to forget everything, check out this story. When I read it, I had to laugh, but not in a mocking way. I'm too much like this sometimes myself!

Just something on the lighter side....

Friday, November 09, 2007

Church and Culture

Given that we have been talking about building a culture of faithfulness, I would like to draw your attention to the latest edition of the 9Marks eJournal. 9Marks posed this question, "Does God call the church to transform the culture?" and got a variety of pastors and theologians to respond. I would particularly draw your attention to what I felt were the best contributions to the discussion.

"Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex" by Michael Horton.

"What Does Scripture Say about the Poor?" by Steve Boyer and the Capitol Hill Baptist Church elders.

"Countering Ageism" by Owen Strachan.

Worshiping the Lord Spiritually

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the Father is seeking worshipers who worship in spirit and truth. This is virtually the 2nd commandment in New Testament form, and it gives us truckloads of instruction on what true worship is. It is difficult to think of anything more relevant than this. There are so-called "worship wars" going on right now, and for good reason. Worship is at the heart of everything. Worship drives missions and our evangelistic efforts. Worship drives culture in all of its manifold expressions. Worship drives the economy. Worship is at the heart of everything. Therefore, it is very important that we understand not only who we worship, but also how we worship. This is exactly what the 2nd commandment deals with. Join us as we strive to worship in spirit and truth!

Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
O Worship the King (#46)
O God Our Help in Ages Past (#49)
Praise Ye Jehovah (#4)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (#22)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)

Scripture Reading
Jesus and the Samaritan Woman - John 4:1-42

The Command to Worship the Lord Spiritually (Part 2)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 9)

The Civil War and Its Aftermath

I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;

They have builded him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I have read his righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;

His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows of steel,

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;”

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.

Julia Ward Howe, 1861

“…a song that transformed an idea of freedom into a vision of divine purpose….” David Hackett Fischer[i]

If the War for Independence laid the foundations for American identity, the Civil War was a deciding factor in shaping what would become modern America. Just the effects on human life of the military actions alone would have been nation changing – 620,000 soldiers killed, 1,094,453 total military casualties.[ii] But even more profound changes were both expressed by and influenced by this terrible conflict – changes in the attitudes and ideals of Americans.

We will probably never sort out all of the ramifications of such a world-altering event. Nevertheless, some things do seem clear. One important ramification was that the Northern idea of democracy became the national idea after the war. The preservation of the Union meant that the United States would emerge in the 20th century as a major player on the world scene. In fact, by the end of the century, she would be the dominant nation in the world economically and militarily, and thus the Northern idea of democracy would spread to the world.

Of course, one of the primary issues at stake in the Civil War was the issue of slavery. If it was not the only cause of the war, it was at least the most prominent battleground in the clash of visions between the North and the South. It provided the most tangible example of the ideologies which were used to justify war on such a massive scale. Many Christians today are not aware of what a theological battle American slavery was. Godly, brilliant Southern theologians and preachers, such as James Henry Thornwell and R. L. Dabney, supported slavery, while Northern theologians decried it. Ironically, southern expressions of Christianity were often more orthodox than northern Christianity. The slavery conflict was an impasse that only a war would put to rest.

In this theological conflict, both sides made mistakes which have had a degrading effect in America’s history. Southern Christians tended to be blinded by racism. Over a century of struggle to eliminate racism followed the Civil War. Christians could have had (and sometimes did have) a prophetic voice and a powerful example of refusing to engage in racism, but for many years they were complicit in a deep seated view that blacks were innately and always inferior to whites.

On the other hand, Northern Christians picked up and used democratic ideas about equality that were not necessarily biblical, either. Unlike ideas about racism, which today are roundly denounced on all sides (even though implicitly practiced by some of the loudest of their detractors), these ideas are not challenged in our society. Rather, they are considered perfectly normal and right. The error often espoused by Northerners was a natural one, given America’s founding ideas. It held that equality demanded the abolition of any kind of hierarchy within humanity. The only power that one man could justly exercise over another man must be freely granted and approved by the one under authority. At its core, this idea held that ultimate moral rights and responsibilities resided in the individual. Freedom, then, was the power of self-determination.

This unbiblical (and unworkable) idea has born bitter fruit in our country. It was expressed in the women’s rights movements from the 1840’s to the present. The same logic was picked up and used in the civil rights movement. Most recently, the same idea has been successfully used in the movement for homosexual rights.

One other effect of the Civil War, both North and South, was to forge a kind of civil religion in which the aims and goals of America became virtually the aims and goals of God. Patriotism (or, more accurately, nationalism) became a sacred duty. But Christians who think biblically should be able to see beyond these ideas. We should be able to see America as a nation truly blessed by God, but with no sacred status any more than any other nation.

[i] Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideals (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 332.

[ii] It is also estimated that there were approximately 50,000 civilian war-related deaths in the South.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 16 - Good Works

16.6 Nevertheless, since believers as to their persons are accepted by God through Christ, their works also are accepted as being wrought in Christ. Not as though they were, during this life, beyond reproach and unreprovable in the sight of God, but that, as He looks upon them in His Son, He is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, even though it is accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections. Matt. 25:21,23; Eph. 1:6; Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 2:5.

16.7 As for works done by unregenerate men, even though God may have commanded them, and they may be highly useful both to themselves and to others, yet they remain sinful works for the following reasons: they do not originate in a heart purified by faith; they are not done in the right manner prescribed in Scripture; and they are not directed to the glory of God as the only right end. Hence they cannot please God, nor can they make a man fit for the reception of grace. Yet the neglect of such works is more sinful and more displeasing to God than is the performance of them. Gen. 4:5; 1 Kings 21:27,29; 2 Kings 10:30; Job 21:14,15; Amos 5:21,22; Matt. 6:2,5; 25:41-43; Rom. 9:16; 1 Cor. 13:1; Titus 3:5; Heb. 11:4,6.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Observations on Peer Pressure and Home Schooling

In the October issue of Teacher to Teacher, a small publication for educators put out by BJU Press, there is an insightful little article on peer pressure by Dr. Dan Olinger. It is entitled "The Joys of Peer Pressure." Peer pressure is not inherently bad, writes Olinger. In fact, we can see from scripture that it can be used quite constructively.

I would just like to post a portion of one point that Olinger makes as a means of encouraging those of you who are currently home schooling. He observes that it is a myth that teens are unusually susceptible to peer pressure. He writes, "...I think we've done things to make it appear that teens are more sensitive than others to the influences of their friends." This is intriguing. Could it be that the way we rear our children actually pushes them toward being negatively influenced by peer pressure?

Before he gets to answering that questions, Dr. Olinger says, "Human nature craves acceptance and respect. That's true of everyone. Do you really care less about what your colleagues think of you than your students do? In my experience, most people who proclaim most loudly that they 'don't care what anybody thinks' are whistling past the graveyard; they're looking for respect by telling anyone who will listen that they're rugged individualists. If they really don't care, then why are they telling everybody? We all face peer pressure, and we all find ourselves being influenced by it."

But now to the main point. Olinger writes, "...We've done things in the way we raise our children that virtually guarantee that by the time they are teens, they will be driven by the pressures that other teens put on them. The most obvious contributor to that is that we put virtually all of the children in the country into a room full of people exactly their age, and we leave them there until they graduate from college. We used to do that starting at age 6, then at age 5, and now pretty much as soon as they're born, thanks to the thriving day-care industry in this country. So after 10 to 15 years surrounded by their peers pretty much exclusively, they care a lot about what their peers think. What did we expect to happen?"

He goes on to relate two scenarios he observed which significantly altered this pattern. The first was a multigrade classroom approach he worked with in the mid 1980s. The second scenario was homeschooling. Olinger says, "We saw it again in the mid 90s when homeschooling began growing rapidly in popularity. Homeschooled students tend not to be as susceptible to peer pressure as their traditionally schooled counterparts. Why not? Because we don't educate them in peer-pressure factories."

Though there is much more that could be said, I think Dr. Olinger's observations are accurate. At HCBC, we are attempting to incorporate the multi-generational vision encapsulated by the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." Home schooling and age integrated church services are means of doing this. When that honor is in the hearts of children, they will care a whole lot more about what their parents and grandparents think than they will about what some juvenile thinks. That is as it should be.

Giving the Gospel to Children

Pulpit Magazine has a helpful article about explaining the gospel to children.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Who Is Anti-Intellectual?

In his new book Faith in the Halls of Power, sociologist D. Michael Lindsay makes an assessment which is astute, on the one hand, yet needs clarification, on the other. He writes,

The purpose of higher education has always been to train young leaders to assume the mantle of public responsibility. For most of history, that training was done by the churches. In the United States, the earliest colleges (including most of the Ivy League) were established for clergy formation. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, theological conservatives wedded rigorous academic scholarship to a religious view of the world. They did so not at second-rate institutions but at places like Harvard and Princeton. But the tide was turning. An alternative vision for higher education - one that emphasized academic freedom, skepticism, and the importance of independent learning - began to take root. Out of such convictions, the modern research university was born.... Theological conservatives - then called "fundamentalists" - became increasingly uneasy. They began to mobilize against the rise of biblical criticism at places like Princeton Seminary and the teaching of evolution in public schools. They were not, however, inherently anti-intellectual. In fact, even today, fundamentalism relies on a form of tight logic; much of the genre of Christian apologetics depends on reason. But its notion of truth had become so fixed that its proponents began to resent anything that appeared to be counter-evidence. Hence, fundamentalist anti-intellectualism is really an opposition to and resentment of academic intellectualism, especially as practiced in the modern research university. It is grounded in the fear that scholarship will chip away at the fundamentalist edifice that has become increasingly calcified and brittle. Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism came to a head at the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, and the tensions have never been resolved. As a result, many conservative Christians keep their distance from academic life.

Yes and no. As a fundamentalist myself, I think Lindsay is correct in his observations, but incorrect in his interpretations. He is correct that fundamentalism is not anti-intellectual, and I appreciate him saying so. "Anti-intellectualism" is a charge against fundamentalism that has been repeated ad naseum, but it has never been an accurate description of the core principles of the movement. Rather, fundamentalists have always been in opposition to atheistic intellectualism. That would be the term I would substitute for Lindsay's "academic." Fundamentalism actually modeled a great deal of their training of young people on the academic model, starting scores of Bible institutes and Bible colleges. I believe this shows that fundamentalists, rightly or wrongly, believed very much in the academic model. They could have chosen other ways to train young leaders to assume the mantle of public responsibility, but by and large they did not.

Fundamentalists were really against a kind of intellectualism that ignores God and his revelation and arrogantly supposes that man can build his own systems of thinking from his own autonomous reason. Fundamentalism is very clear about its fundamental starting point for everything - the Triune God has revealed himself infallibly in the self-attesting Bible. The fundamental starting point for knowledge in the modern research university is anything but that. The tensions have never been resolved simply because these two positions are mutually exclusive. The first commandment states, "You shall have no other gods before me." Fundamentalists believe that, and therefore they say to the modern research university (speaking as a whole of its underlying philosophy, not of each individual faculty member per se), "You are worshiping a false god."

Thus, the fundamentalist position is definitely not grounded in "fear that scholarship will chip away at the fundamentalist edifice." But Lindsay is right about one thing. It is grounded in fear - the fear of the Lord. Fundamentalism at its best eschews the fear of man and operates by faith in the Lord. And in that way fundamentalism carries on what is at the heart of what genuine Christians have always believed - that faith is the foundation of all knowledge. Anselm said, "I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that 'unless I believe, I shall not understand.'" From the fundamentalist perspective, it is the modern research universities that are anti-intellectual.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Godly Men Are Not Cultural Cowards

One thing my father taught me and taught me well was to honor my mother. I did not dare to disrespect her in any way, lest I face his wrath. But even more than that, he modeled for me what it was to love and honor my mother. By extension, he taught me what it looks like to honor all women as women. So you will understand my reaction to what I read this morning...

Amen! Amen! Amen!

That's what my heart was saying as I read a newly released little article by John Piper entitled "Co-ed Combat and Cultural Cowardice."

We live in a military community and many of you are in the military yourselves. That fact makes us on the front lines of this issue. What issue, you ask? The issue of women in combat. Here is how Piper begins: If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women. How true. Any man with a speck of God-given decency in his soul would rather die than let a woman go into danger.

Consider the closing lines by Piper: What cowardly men do we thank for this collapse of chivalry? Browne suggests, “There are a lot of military people who think women in combat is a horrible idea, but it’s career suicide to say it.” In other words, let the women die. I still have my career. May God restore sanity and courage once again to our leading national defenders. And may he give you a voice.

This is a challenge directly for us, HCBC. If we don't have the manliness to address this issue, who will? Godly men are not cultural cowards.

Religious Affections

This morning I downloaded a free audio book, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. I originally read this work 10 years ago, and I have gone back to it over and over. Now I will have it to listen to while I drive or do other menial tasks.

This work is a true classic, so if you do not have it or have not read it, go to and download the free audiobook of the month, The Religious Affections. It will challenge your thinking and stir your walk with God.

The Command to Worship the Lord Spiritually

My time studying the ten commandments has been simply stunning. Every time I come back to them I find profoundly relevant instruction and insights. I hope that even a portion of the benefit I have received will overflow to you through the sermon on Sunday morning.
This Sunday we will consider the second command - the command to worship the Lord spiritually. It has so much good application to our day that we may have to deal with it over the course of two Sundays. How ever long it takes, I pray that the power of the Spirit will be at work to transform us to be those who worship God spiritually!

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
Rejoice, Ye Pure In Heart (#65)
Joy to the World (#92)
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (#23)

Scripture Reading
Mark 14:12-25

Lord's Supper

Deuteronomy 5:8-10

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 8)

Economics and Family, Politics and Church in the Age of Jackson

In the early nineteenth century the new United States experienced rapid and profound changes economically, socially, politically, and religiously.

Economically, in Western society, the ideas of Adam Smith took hold along with the blossoming of new industrial technology to produce the Industrial Revolution. This produced an unparalleled increase in the supply of goods. But it also produced deep social changes that impacted the family greatly, especially in the growing urban areas. Production was gradually separated from the home and family. This did not immediately occur in America to the extent that it took place in England. At this time, America still remained a largely rural society, and even the new factories in New England were rather pristine compared to their European counterparts.

Yet the type of production implanted at this time in America did eventually bear fruit in family struggles. Brink Lindsey is correct in his assessment that “the transformation of the family from a unit of production to one of consumption had enormous consequences.”[i] The home began to be looked at as a refuge from the rough, work-a-day world outside. Women were sometimes viewed as the more naturally religious sex who were to maintain virtue in the home. But, contrary to what many historians assert, I do not believe that the economic changes of the Industrial Revolution forced these changes in the family, although they certainly facilitated them. What really changed throughout this time were Americans’ ideals, which were closely related to Americans’ religious beliefs. We now turn to that subject.

This time in America’s religious history is known as the Second Great Awakening. In many ways there was a powerful work of God’s Spirit during this time. Some soundly orthodox preachers, such as Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844), were greatly used of God. Lyman Beecher was a well-known leader at this time, although he drifted theologically in his later years (his well-known descendants departed from the faith completely). The Methodist and Baptist denominations began explosive growth during this time.

Yet there were serious spiritual flaws in much of the Awakening movement. There is a reason that a leading history of American religion calls this time period “The Golden Day of Democratic Evangelicalism.” The key word here is “democratic.” Older conceptions of religion and Christianity were thrown out, and the individual became supreme in determining for himself his relationship with God. The Calvinism of the Puritan founders of New England and of the first Great Awakening (e.g. Jonathan Edwards) was rejected in favor of a man-centered (Arminian, if not outright Pelagian) conception of salvation and the church. Many “restorationist” movements developed, all claiming to restore pure NT Christianity, which rejected prior creeds, confessions, and practices of churches. The irony of these movements is that by claiming to interpret the Bible for themselves, they embraced an epistemology that was not found in the Bible, and many of them taught false doctrine.

The most influential figure who embodied and promoted most of the worst traits of this movement was Charles Grandison Finney. He combined rationalism with elements of Christianity and promoted it with a powerful, direct preaching style. He basically believed that conversion and revival were the result of simple, humanly-achievable steps. For example, he declared, “Revival is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical [i.e. scientific] result of the right use of the constituted means.”[ii] This kind of unbiblical thinking was woven into the fabric of American Christianity, and it has had tremendous impact even to our day.

Many Americans of that day formed their religion to fit their American ideology, and American ideology reflected the triumph of democratic, not republican, ideals. The election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency epitomized the triumph of democracy. Historian James Truslow Adams wrote, “Democracy was seating itself in the saddle, and in 1828 it rode hard.”[iii] This was in contrast to what some founding fathers, like George Washington and John Adams, believed. They believed in a republican ideology that would keep the masses in check. They did not believe in direct rule by the people. As Sean Wilentz writes of the founders, “Philosophically, the assumption prevailed that democracy, although an essential feature of any well-ordered government, was also dangerous and ought to be kept strictly within bounds.”[iv] But America was moving away from these assumptions, and the religious expressions of the new country reflected that fact.[v]

The Second Great Awakening did much to preserve American Christianity from the problems overtaking New England theology. It also helped to spread Christianity throughout the rapidly expanding American frontier. It is one of the great reasons why Christianity in America did not fade away during the modern period like Christianity in Europe did. Yet the Second Great Awakening also bequeathed problems to American Christianity which we still have to this day – activist, doctrinally shallow, individualistic Christianity with no organic connection to the church and with no ability to prophetically withstand the whims and fancies of each new generation.

[i] The Age of Abundance (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 67. He goes on to quote Edward Filene, “Since the head of the family is no longer in control of the economic process through which the family gets its living, he must be relieved of many ancient responsibilities and therefore many of his prerogatives.” Lindsey then adds, “The toppling of the old paterfamilias could be seen in the ongoing elimination of legal disabilities for women, culminating in 1920 with the extension of suffrage under the 19th Amendment. With increasing female independence came a loosening of the marital bond: between 1870 and the 1920s, the divorce rate climbed over 30 percent per decade.” Cf. also pp. 106-112.

[ii] Cited by Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 460.

[iii] The March of Democracy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933), 2:161.

[iv] The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005), 7.

[v] Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote, “Jacksonianism thus assisted the growing secularization of society. Its substantial effect was to divert the church toward what many in this century believe its true function: to lead the individual soul to salvation, not to interfere in politics. Religion, the Jacksonians felt, could best serve itself by ending its entangling alliances with political reaction” (The Age of Jackson [Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950], 360). If we recognize that “secularization” is itself a religious position, then I believe that Schlesinger’s first sentence is accurate. Jacksonianism was a move toward a pagan dualism. The church did need to end its entanglement with the state, and Massachusetts was the last state to finally do this in 1833. Unfortunately, however, it seems to have been done on pagan principles, not on Christian ones.