Unhealthy Churches // Average Churches // Trump, Again

Signs of an unhealthy church - Kevin DeYoung - very good!

Don't be embarrassed by your small and ordinary church.
Excellent - Erik Raymond

Doug Wilson is good on Trump's relationship with the GOP.


Theology Q & A: The Bible as Inspired Rule

Thoughts on Westminster Confession of Faith, article I.2-3, which you can find here.

Where do we find God’s written revelation?

The words God gave us from Him are in the Old and New Testament of the Christian Bible.  For now, the confession just asserts this.  Later it will get into the “Who says?” question.

The Bible is inspired by God.  That means it says what God meant it to say.  Every word is from Him.  Jesus spoke of every jot and tittle standing firm (Matthew 5:19).  While God let the personalities of human authors speak, He did not let erroneous assumptions or customs slip into the text.  We want to think that when the Bible says something we don’t like.  Moses didn’t know about the age of the earth, or he wouldn’t have written about six-day creation.  He didn’t know about political freedom and equality or he wouldn’t have written about a form of slavery being okay.  Paul didn’t know about gender equality or he wouldn’t have written about wives submitting to husbands.  Paul didn’t know about loving and committed homosexual relationships or he wouldn’t have written of same sex behavior as a perversion.  All these assume God let mistakes slip into the Scriptures.  He did not.

The Old Testament claims inspiration for itself at many points: “Thus saith the Lord.”  “And God spoke all these words.”  The New Testament puts itself on the same level as the Old in 2 Peter 3:16 and 1 Timothy 5:18.  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”  (2 Timothy 3:16).

By what standard are we to judge truth?  These 66 books – what we call the canon (measuring rod) of Scripture.  The Apocrypha is not a part of this authoritative standard, as has been claimed by some.  Some of it is edifying, some is good history, and some of it is rather silly.  But there is no apostolic or prophetic claim or assumption to be God’s Word in it.

So the Bible is our rule of faith and life.  We find there what we must believe about God and how we must live before God.  This follows if the Bible is God’s inspired communication to us.  It isn’t advice or helpful stories; our Creator has spoken to His people with a redeeming and saving purpose.


Theological Q & A: General and Special Revelation

Thoughts on Westminster Confession of Faith, article I.1, which you can find here.

If you’re going to start talking about God, where do you start?  These days most people seem to start with their feelings or their faith experience.  “To me, God is…”  is common.  For the men who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith, you have to start with the Bible.  Before you can assert anything about God, you have to have a reliable source.  Each person deceived in his sin and error believes he is a reliable source, but no human being is.  We had better find truth outside of ourselves, for the “divine spark” within each person isn’t cutting it.

Before we delve into the Bible, you have to back up one more step and ask, “Is there anywhere else God has revealed Himself?”  And there is.  Everything we see in the world is a revealing of God in some way.  People are made in His image (Genesis 1:27).  “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).  The mountains, clouds and galaxies show His power and majesty.  The beehives and bacteria show His complex and intricate designs.  Without any Bible at all, we have no excuse for rejecting God as our Creator on the basis of this information.  And we do reject Him.  We stand condemned before the Bible even comes into the picture.

But God wanted to redeem and save us, so He spoke again.

He spoke in various ways in the past (Hebrews 1:1-3) – through prophets, dreams, visions and writers like Moses, Samuel and the Chronicler.

He wanted to reveal Himself.  Knowledge of God was obscured and even lost from Adam’s generation on.  Men called on God by His name Yahweh in the third generation (Genesis 4:26), but when Israel was in Egypt it seems they did not know God by this name (Exodus 6:3).  God wanted to make Himself known, and what He did for the people He was saving (Exodus 3:13-14).  Especially what He has done in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the complete and final revealing of God.  Words and dreams that came before don’t hold a candle to seeing God in the face of Jesus.

God wanted to declare His will to His people.  As the Creator, He wanted to tell His creation how things were supposed to go in the world.  We lost this when we sinned, and got crazy ideas in our heads about how we could live, instead.  We need to be told how to live, or we go off the rails.  The Bible gives us clear instructions.  This preserves the truth when we would forget and neglect it.  It is a pillar against our corruption, and a comfort when we are unsure or lost.

So after Jesus came, God committed His revelation to writing, and stopped using other means.  This emphasized the importance of Jesus, and of the apostles who recorded His life and work.  Scripture is necessary for salvation, for it reveals who and what we are to believe.  It is a light shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19).

So creation and nature reveals God on one level.  It is enough to condemn us, so that there is no innocent native anywhere who has never heard the Gospel or seen a Bible.  Creation doesn’t give us enough to go on to believe in.  So we need the Bible.

A.A. Hodge points to three errors refuted by this.
1.  Rationalism – the assertion that there is no revelation of God we have to go on.  It’s up to us to assemble truth ourselves from our own resources.
2.  Deism – God may be there, and set up the world, but we figure out the rest on our own.  This is almost the same problem as the first one.
3.  Biblicism – the assertion that only the Bible gives us knowledge of God.  What we see in nature is too obscure to be of any use.

If we don’t start with the Bible, our whole study of God is on the wrong track from the start.


Theology Q & A: the Authority of Scripture

Thoughts on Westminster Confession of Faith, article I.4-5, which you can find here.

The Bible doesn’t get its authority from man’s proofs or the church’s authority, but from God who authored it.  There are all kinds of dangers here.  When our favorite online preacher becomes too big in our influence, we might believe the Bible because of his assuring tone and words.  If we are history buffs, we might believe the Bible because an archaeological find confirms Hezekiah really existed.  The confession has an eye on the Roman Catholic assertion that the Church gives the Bible its authority, by its declaration that these texts are Scripture.  No, it’s the other way around.  The Bible gives the Church its authority to speak.  When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” John was not giving Jesus his authority.  John only recognized Jesus as already having authority, apart from him.  So it is with the Church pointing to the Bible.

There is plenty of evidence right in the Bible of its truth and authority.
The unity of design by 40 different authors writing over a span of 1500 years.
The heavenliness of matter and majesty of style (see Genesis 1 and Isaiah 40 for examples).
What it teaches is self-evidently true (see Romans 1-2).

But only the Holy Spirit can fully persuade us of the Bible’s truth and authority (1 Corinthians 2:10, 14).  The book of Acts gives us a glimpse of this a few times – that the Lord opens hearts to receive truth (Acts 16:14; 13:48).

This isn’t to endorse a “just me and my Bible” approach to the Christian life.  This attitude says, why listen to anyone, if the Spirit is the ultimate source?  No, we need the church’s witness and teaching about the Bible to grow in the Lord.  Proofs and evidence further reinforce the authority of Scripture.  But they are not the foundation of its authority.


Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Two Gentlemen of VeronaThe Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of Shakespeare's earliest plays, it covers lots of themes he stuck with throughout his career.

The tension between friendship and love is shown at the very beginning, as friends part so one can go pursue his love. Switches of identity, the crazy things love makes you do, and getting through obstacles to obtain your love, also play major roles.

The climactic scene shows a lover protecting his beloved from a threatening friend, but then forgiving that penitent friend. His protection also changes the father's resistance to him.

A classic love tale and good introduction to Shakespeare.

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Aunts Aren't Gentlemen

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (Jeeves, #15)Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read Wodehouse in a while, and he doesn’t disappoint. The fools and schemers that clutter Bertie Wooster’s life constantly implicate him, and require his resourceful valet Jeeves to extricate him.

In this episode, a bit unique in how full it is of physical and violent threatenings (or I'd just forgotten), Bertie’s Aunt schemes to fix a horse race by stealing a cat and hiding it at Bertie’s cottage.

The way Wodehouse weaves colorful metaphors, Biblical and literary allusions into sentences referring to the most banal of events is truly magical. He delights the reader and instructs the writer throughout.

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Killer Angels

The Killer AngelsThe Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read very few Civil War re-tellings, historical or fictionalized. Shaara gets inside the head of various military leaders on both sides. In this way he vividly describes battles, and the choices made personally that shaped the battle of Gettysburg. Shaara’s terse writing style was a bit overdone, but fits the “men-of-action-thinking” theme.

The theme in the title comes as two union soldiers consider the meaning of this warfare. Man is a killer angel. He has the dignity of being made in the image of God, yet wreaks such havoc and devastation on the earth as seen at Gettysburg. Chamberlain, the northern colonel, is a post-Christian, Enlightenment college professor, who ruminates existientially on the clash of his transcendental ideals with the combat he has seen. General Lee prays to God for his men and their families. As a good historian, Shaara doesn’t keep it simple like that, though. Another southern general has become bitter toward God after the death of his children, for example.

I enjoyed most the depictions of Lee (weary, decisive, knows his generals), and the few spots where each side says why they are fighting. Confederate prisoners tell Union soldiers they fight for their “rats.” The misunderstanding of the dialect signifies a greater misunderstanding – the north doesn’t get this at all. The south is violating black rights – how can they be concerned for their own? The north is fighting to put down rebellion, preserve the union, and to a limited point to free slaves. But the north’s treatment of a black man they come across is highly significant: they are kind and treat him medically, but then have nowhere to send him and nothing to give him - they just abandon him.

There are several themes of contrast between north and south like that. One more is how each relates to the soil. Lee reaches down and touches the ground and thinks of it as Pennsylvanian and foreign. He is now the invader. When Chamberlain considers Pennsylvania ground, it’s no different to him than Maine – war and man are the same anywhere. He is an industrial and modern man, not of the Old World, provincial and rural south.

Shaara evenly shows the strength and weakness of each side of the army. The North is strong and shows courage at times in Chamberlain’s bayonet charge. But they are inept and not as motivated as the South. The Confederacy is highly motivated to preserve their way of life from the invader, but their flamboyant generals don’t coordinate well after Stonewall Jackson passes from the scene.

Overall, an excellent read to understand both the military maneuvers and motivations of the men.

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Perelandra (Space Trilogy, #2)Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What would it be like to visit another planet created by God that had experienced no fall and knew nothing of sin? Perelandra is a marvelous tale that tries to imagine this. Lewis explores what it is like to be tempted but not sin. Weston, the devil character, has moved from being a humanist progressivist in the first book of the series, to more of a nihilist in this one. Satan appears to possess him off and on, to tempt the first lady of the planet, while Ransom tries to help her resist him. This is the heart of the book. Lewis is incorporating some Screwtape Letters themes here. Part of temptation is imagining sinning without consequence.


Ransom was sent to Perelandra to ward off evil, and he succeeds in his mission. The final scene of angels, mankind and creatures all gathered together is glorious – one of Lewis’ best passages anywhere. Lewis asserts standard Medieval hierarchy throughout, and especially here at the end. The lady of the planet is greater than he is, the king greater than her. At the end Ransom kneels before them and says,

“Do not move away, do not raise me up. I have never before seen a man or a woman. I have lived all my life among shadows and broken images. Oh, my Father and my Mother, my Lord and my Lady, do not move, do not answer me yet. My own father and mother I have never seen. Take me for your son. We have been alone in my world for a great time.”

The book is full of landscape description, which I found tedious reading aloud to my kids. I saw an interview with Michael Ward explaining this. Giving the distinct atmosphere of the place is part of what makes the literary work. It still seemed Lewis doesn’t do scenery as well – kind of clunky. But it’s worth it for all the insight Lewis gives into the nature of evil, humanity, ransom, and creation.

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The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the ShrewThe Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”
Proverbs 31:30.

I’ve set myself the crazy task of reading all of Shakespeare’s works in 2016.
This was the second play I read. I’m also making sense of it using Peter Leithart’s “Brightest Heaven of Invention.”

How do we change? The introduction of the play suggests one way. People treat us a certain way, and we begin to act that way, even if it isn’t us on the inside. The clothes make the man. We rise to the occasion people present to us. Hortensio gives us a second way we change, in how he woos Bianca. He uses soft and soothing words. Study and work as it’s agreeable to your stomach. Don’t beat yourself up, but study using the method that feels helpful. Petruchio’s treatment of Kate is the third method of change. He is stern and full of round rebukes. He shows her her own abuse of others by mistreating her. He gives her no food unless she says thank you for it. The stomach is made to serve virtue, instead of hoping virtue arises as you give the stomach what it wants.

Shakespeare advocates the third approach. It is the way to tame the shrew of sin in all of us (mortification). You can’t be tame with the subtle serpent. Treat him roughly, kill him and be done with it.

At the end, there is an Esther scene which proves this third approach works best. At a banquet, three men bet on whose wife will come from the other room when they call. Only Kate comes obediently, and then she gets the others to come, too. We realize that fair Bianca, whose virtue looked great next to Kate’s shrew-ness at the beginning, has always been rather selfish on the inside.

The last speech by Kate is a marvel. She lectures the other two wives on how their husbands are their lords. They need to be submissive for all the work they do for them. She offers to put her hand under Petruchio’s foot, but he calls for her to kiss him instead. Submission leads to peace and exaltation.

I’m sure The Taming of the Shrew is highly uncomfortable to modern ears. Who would treat a wife this way, or let a husband treat her like this? I think this is meant as part of the literary shock and fun. Shakespeare is pointing to the jarring realities of husbands and wives disagreeing strongly with each other, and sinning against each other, but still having to live together for the rest of their lives. And he is using the sensitive areas of courtship and marriage as a display case for showing how people are best “tamed.” The shock of a husband withholding food from a wife, as a parent would from a child, makes the point that selfish shrews will make marriage a hell on earth if it isn’t fixed. Kate should have been tamed earlier in life.

But better late than never, right?

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Theology Q & A: Monergism

What is Monergism?

Monergism is a word that comes straight from Greek, and means "one working," as opposed to more than one contributing to doing something.  The beginning of our salvation, our coming alive spiritually, usually called regeneration, is monergistic.  God revives us by His Spirit.  We do not contribute to this in any way.  When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, Lazarus wasn't pushing on the door trying to get out.  God alone worked life into him by that call.  Because of this, God gets all the glory in our salvation.

Justification can also be described as monergistic.  God provides the righteousness and sacrifice of Jesus as the ground for our forgiving our sins, grants us faith to trust Jesus, and then declares us righteous in His sight.

After this beginning, there is synergistic activity - both God and us working.  The work we must do is to believe in Jesus, accept the truth about sinful ourselves as shown in the Bible, and strive to live a godly life from then on.

Many evangelicals want to bring our work of believing at the beginning of the process.  "Believe and you will be born again," they say.  They usually do this out of a good motive to emphasize the importance of our acting, our believing and committing our life to Christ.  But it's still putting faith in the wrong place.  You can't believe until you're alive, and we are spiritually dead before God makes us live.

Again, we need to affirm this so God gets all the glory in saving us.  If it's my decision that makes the difference, then I can claim credit for being saved.  Even though you're trusting Jesus to do all the saving, you can compare yourself favorably with unbelievers.  And your decision is the difference, not God's grace.  Monergism keeps us away from this.  Any gift we have, including our faith in Jesus, is because of God graciously giving it to us.


Theology Q & A: Justification

What does it mean to be justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone?

This saying is attributed to Martin Luther, and both halves of it are true.  But usually folks lean one way or another on this, causing no end of theological controversy.  In one camp are the “faith alone” folks and in the other camp are the “faith isn’t alone” folks.

Faith alone
God justifies us, declares us righteous in His sight, without considering our works at all.  Like the thief on the cross, or Mary Magdalene, you never have to worry that awful things you have done, or good things you’ve not done, jeopardize your salvation, as long as you are trusting Jesus Christ to atone for your sins at the cross.  God doesn’t care how much damage you’ve done by your sins, if you are truly trusting His provided sacrifice to pay for your sins.  Works do not enter the equation in any way.  To call your faithfulness your faith in this justification equation is dangerous and starts to sound like justification by works.  In this regard, we want to keep a strict separation between our trust, however faltering, and our life which remains sinful.  Do not put any trust or hope in your life of integrity.  Any obedience you have is downstream from God justifying and changing you before.

Faith isn’t alone
The way we and others see our faith is by our works.  This is the point in James 2:14 and following.  We show our faith by our works, but we don’t earn our justification by our works.  We should be diligent to make our calling and election sure, to do good works which God created us before to do.  If we say we believe, but never act like a Christian, it’s a hollow profession that will not justify.  We can reach a point where we are so unfaithful in the present, that it discredits our profession of faith before God.  God makes this determination at the end of your life, as shown in Matthew 7:21-23.  You can’t rely on a profession of faith in the past or present to save you, if your heart is far from God and you are living as you want without regard for God.

Suspicion abounds; affirm the truth

Both of the above paragraphs are true.  But some will emphasize the first and suspect the “faith isn’t alone” camp of legalism.  Others stress the second and suspect the “faith alone” camp of antinomianism.  If you are worried about this in someone, just check that they believe both sides.  If they do, don’t sweat it too much that they emphasize the other camp.  Teachers should hit both of these about equally in their teaching.


Liar, Lunatic, ???, Lord // Teachable Teachers // Perseverance

Justin Taylor examines the "Liar, Lunatic or Lord" argument.  Turns out there's another (wrong) option....

Justin Taylor photo

RC Sproul reminds teachers to be teachable.  Great reminder, personally!

Doug Wilson asserts that we can have the gift now, of persevering in the future.
Solid bulwark for assurance of faith, and doctrinal tendencies to reject the perseverance of the saints.

Image result for Douglas Wilson


Cage-Stage Calvinism // Good Music // Menial but Meaningful

This is a funny short article about "cage-stage" Calvinism.
Folks recently persuaded of the doctrines of sovereign grace need to read this!

Country music criticized 600 years ago, already.
"Music am I, who grieve, weeping, 
to see my sweet perfect workings abandoned
In favor of country songs by amorous minds,
because ignorance is a vice common to all men
good is cast aside and froth seized upon."
Francesco Landini (1397)

Give a listen, here.

On being faithful in the menial day-to-day stuff.
Only 2 screens long.
"Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God." (Jim Elliot)

Image result for image washing dishes


Thoughts on Trump

An open letter to the GOP

This has gone on long enough.

Seeing Trump speak at Liberty University, compared to Jesus by its politically pandering president, was the last straw.  Trump actually said his book was the best book ever written, except for the Bible.  And no one boo-ed him.  He wasn’t run out of town on a rail.

I guess we’ve just gotten used to demagoguery and spectacle and bald-faced lies, exaggerations and braggadocio in our political discourse.  Trump is the logical outcome of talk radio's extreme rhetoric and straw-man arguments, on either side of the aisle.

But we have a country to run.  It’s a serious job.  Trump was entertaining for a while, but are we seriously considering this?  Just because he has enough money to buy an audience?

His moral convictions are non-existent.
His brash talk makes “the bombing starts in 5 minutes” look like child’s play.

Some folks are starting to reconcile themselves to the real possibility of Trump as the GOP candidate.  I never will.

This day has been coming for a while.

With our culture sliding farther from its Biblical anchor, the day was on its way when no major presidential contender supports Biblical values.  Trump pretends to, at Liberty, but its weak and a transparent pander.  It’s obvious he doesn’t believe what he’s saying, as he says it.  It would do Christians well to pause and consider, apart from the Trumpery, how do we lobby and vote when the major parties and polls refuse to advance candidates with biblical values?  I understand the argument to vote (in the hypothetical or future situation) for the pro-choice guy instead of the forced sterilization guy, but I'm not sure I buy it.  Does the Bible obligate us to cast a defensive vote for the “lesser of two evils,” if that candidate won’t do anything to act for the unborn and other biblical values?  The difference between Romney and Trump is stark.

In the past I have been very strong against voting third party, because it just throws support to the Democrat.  But in the case of Trump, at this point, I WILL “throw my vote away” rather than give it to the GOP.  If Trump is actually the nominee, I’m sure a decent third-party conservative candidate will emerge outside the GOP, if the rules allow it.  As Doug Wilson said, I think I'll vote for Donald Duck before Donald Trump.  The GOP should notice that wing of the base, and not just the big audiences and bank of cash Trump displays.

At this point I’m hoping for a Cruz-Fiorina ticket, or something like it.

Wake up, GOP rulers, and give us a serious candidate.
Don’t let money do all the talking.

One thing I’ve noticed.  The GOP usually has a hard time communicating a clear and winsome message in their national campaigns.  With Trump it’s even worse.  Almost makes me wonder if he’s doing his friend Hillary Clinton a favor, sucking all the oxygen out of the GOP’s room, into his narcissistic big head.  Jamming our communications so the other side has free reign.

Loving Talk // Worship Shapes You // Nikabrik's Man, Trump

Joel Beeke writes well about how we should lovingly communicate as parents to children.
It applies in many other relationships, too.

John Witvliet gives an excellent overview of how worship shapes your life with God.
" Just as the people of Israel met in solemn assembly to renew their covenantal vows to God (see, for example, Joshua 24 and Ezra 8–9), so too, we meet in public worship to renew the covenant God has established with the church in Christ."
"I say all of this because of the temptation we musicians face to engineer holy moments....   On the other hand, we also can be tempted to squelch holy moments, to lead liturgy in such a way that communicates that we expect nothing will really happen there. It is as if we plan ahead of time not to be inspired, comforted, or challenged."

Trump is the candidate for Nikabrik.  Any power to beat the liberals?  No!!
"This is how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly. As one wag on Twitter pointed out, “If elected, Donald Trump will be the first US president to own a strip club,” and yet he has the support of Christians who fervently believe that this country needs to clean up its morals."