Review: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Carr can summarize Reformers' lives simply and succintly, maintaining interest while communicating complex issues involved. She covers emotions in revivals, the communion controversy in the Northampton church, his efforts to bring the Gospel to Natives, the freedom and bondage of the depraved will, and the difference between inoculations then and vaccines now.

I wasn't aware of Edwards' ministry to Mohicans.
Or that he was president of Princeton at the end of his life.
Or of how he died.

His letter to his daughter at the very end is wonderful.

I gave it four stars mainly because she (and Edwards) takes the wrong view (I think) of the communion controversy, and takes the time (in a two-sentence summary of the whole thing) to quote 1 Cor. 11 against communion for all the baptized not under church discipline. Blech. Major pet peeve. But the benefits far outweigh that few sentences.

Get this book for your young readers (age 7-14ish)!

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Moses Movie; Gay Counselor at Christian College; a Mormon Christmas; and more!

Wheaton College's gay counselor for ministering to same-sex attracted students.
Can the church distinguish between an orientation and behavior?
Should we discourage remaining same sex oriented by hiring such people?
Would it be unfair to isolate such folks, when they have tried and failed to change their orientation, but remain faithful in sexual behavior?
What is the difference between an attraction orientation and an identity?

The Piano Guys put out great music, but watch out for their theology.
A Mormon Christmas is an oxymoron.

Al Mohler's review of the new Moses movie.
My take: don't patronize distortions of Scripture and lies about God told by unbelievers.
Marvin Olasky's take is much more positive.

The Atlantic has a great piece on Marriage in Jane Austen's work.  I liked the part about Darcy buying lots of books.

"Is it not better to be in the deeps with David, hoping in God's mercy, than up on the mountain-tops, boasting in our own fancied righteousness?" - Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 130.


The Power and Will of God

A summary of John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 16

God is powerful and no one can resist Him.
Gen 18:14; Luke 1:38; Mark 14:36.

GOd can't do illogical, immoral, changeable or God-denying things.  These don't imply lack of power.  Some inability is admirable.
Omnipotence is hard to define.  He can do what Scripture describes Him doing, and more, according to His attributes.  ["God can do all things except immoral, illogical, changeable or God-denying things" seems helpful to me.]
Omnipotence edifies - this characteristic of God drives us to worship, as God acts beyond our expectations.  Sarah gives birth, and Mary; exodus; resurrection.
Omnipotence is often found in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).  Power of God shown in the cross (1 Cor 1:23-25) and in preaching (Rom 1:16).

The will of God is what He decides, what He wants to happen.
God's antecedent will (He generally values things as good) is distinguished from His consequent will (He chooses to enact some of those things).  This can't place God's choices within time, though, nor make His consequent will to save us dependent on our choice to repent and believe.
God's decretive will (He foreordains all that comes to pass) is distinguished from His preceptive will (He values certain morals or states of affairs that men can resist and flout).
So God's will is complex, though not dual or schizophrenic.  Scripture speaks of His will both decretally (Matt 11:26; Gen 50:20) and preceptively (Ezek 18:23; 2 Peter 3:9; Ex 20).
Can God really want all to be saved, though it doesn't happen?  Yes.  Many passages point to this - Deut 5:29; Matt 23:37; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 Tim 2:4.
We shouldn't try to choose God's decrees or precepts as His REAL will.

What about God's will for my life?  This gets too subjective, usually, and people usually discern it through emotions or feelings - a bad idea.  That doesn't mean we cannot discern the will of God for us in a given situation.  We must look to Scripture first, then use wisdom by the Holy Spirit to apply the Word to us.  Often more than one option before us is legitimate Scripturally, but weighing the pros and cons may reveal that we can glorify and obey God better in one option than in another.

A third category of God's will, besides decree and precept, may be useful for this, His vocational will (what He's calling us to do), but this is really part of His preceptive will applied to each person.

These categories fit in Frame's standard tri-perspectival triangle (normative at top, situational at bottom left, existential at bottom right).
God's preceptive will is normative.
God's decretal will is situational (He puts us in circumstances to learn certain things)
God's vocational will is existential


Review: Peter Pan

Peter Pan
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Peter Pan refuses to grow up and refuses his or any mother.
On the surface this is just a lark, to extol the glories of childhood, when you are "innocent, gay and heartless." But heartless, there's the rub. Heartless meaning you have no loyalty to parents or friends, it's just all about your adventure. This causes Wendy grief, and she does grow up in the end. Contrary to popular opinion, the author doesn't put this across as a tragedy. It isn't as though NO ONE should grow up.

Interesting to me was the mother theme. Everyone longs for one, but when you're in Neverland playing make believe, there can be no real mother. A child's play and a mother are mutually exclusive. Peter denies he ever had a mother, and scorns them to the lost boys. But even pirates long for their mother. Fathers and nurses are interchangeable and secondary, but mother is the anchor.

Another theme is appearances. Hook and Mr. Darling are parallels, both craving approval and to be seen in good form. But Hook holds on to it selfishly to his death, while Mr. Darling humbles himself, giving up the chase for reputation, and is thus exalted (in a fashion).

Besides this, there isn't much of redeeming value here. It's a decent story and it doesn't carry a lot of worldview freight. Not every story has to. Neither is there much damaging to the truth, here. Kids DO have an impulse to fly away and have adventures apart from their parents. But nature also says they need their parents.

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Review: Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Awful, yet artistic.

A play from the 1950's. I thought it would be interesting to read it while preparing an advent sermon on our waiting for Christ to come.

I gave it 1 star for its worldview, and an extra one for the ways he asserts ideas through simple and entertaining story. The ideas are all wrong, but they are the ideas our world has largely come to believe, so it's an important book to read.

The wrong ideas:
Life is uncertain.
We are bored with it, resigned to it, sick of it, afraid of it.
God(ot) keeps saying he will show up, but he doesn't. We wait.
There's no meaning. We are born and die and the world turns.
If God doesn't show up, suicide is really the only option. We can't go on like this. We've tried everything to save ourselves. He is our only hope.

Interesting that this last point is actually true. How depressing to believe it, and also believe God isn't coming.

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Review: True and False Worship

True and False Worship
True and False Worship by John Knox

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Knox rails against the Roman Mass.

All worship invented by man is idolatry.
The mass is invented by man.
Thus, the mass is idolatry.

I found as I read this that I am not a strict regulative principle of worship (RPW) guy, like Knox is. I disagree with the first premise above. To have an advent wreath, piano, organ or hymns in worship are not idolatry, as they would be if we affirmed premise one in the strict RPW sense, as Knox teaches it.

The problem isn't doing something the Bible doesn't mention, but doing something that contradicts any Biblical principle (which the Mass does - I agree with Knox, but not how he gets there on this point).

He then asserts that any worship involving a wicked opinion is an abomination. The wicked opinion here is the teaching that doing mass merits favor with God automatically. Here Knox shines, pointing to Hebrews 10, etc., that only the death of Jesus forgives sins. In the Lord's Supper we acknowledge that we owe God; the Roman mass gets God to owe us.

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Review: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert by Bede

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bede was a monk in England and wrote this history in 731. Several themes are prominent, the last two being positive while the rest are more critiques.

1. Bringing the church in the British Isles under Roman customs. Bede was obsessed with the proper celebration of Easter, by the Roman calendar. Some see this positively as a zeal for church unity. It often appeared to me more pursuing a hegemony of the Roman bishop.

2. The power of miracles and relics to prove the faith. Missionaries to a new land would ask for relics from Rome to put in newly built churches (251). A couple times a devout and dead king would be invoked for aid (195). Many miracles connected to relics are related as an apologetic for the Christian faith that converts many.

3. Merit and works earning favor. Self-denying practices like fasting are used to atone for past offenses (161). One would live as a stranger to the world in the monastery, to attain heaven more easily.

4. Asceticism and gnosticism. The body is only a hindrance to spiritual life. Many acts of self-flagellation are lauded as worthy of imitation. At death “his holy soul was released from the prison house of the body” (177).

5. Bringing kings under the rule of Christ. Many letters from popes to the English kings call them "my son." Quite the audacity to write to a king you've never met, far away, and call him your son! Maybe it was a bit overdone, but it is right to seek to convert rulers and have them come under the yoke of Christ themselves (Psalm 2:10-12).

6. Teaching and preaching. Bede often castigates the Irish for their Easter observance, but commends them for their diligence and persistence in sending missionaries to Britain. Right beside the need for relics in the church, he places the need for good teaching. His letter to Egbert at the end of this edition movingly exhorts him to go out and teach the common man, rebukes lazy priests for not doing so, and commends translation of Scripture into the native language. On his deathbed he said, “My soul longs to see Christ my King in all His beauty” (302).

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Strolling the Links

I was delighted to open my Samaritan Ministries newsletter and find the feature article by Doug Wilson on how to celebrate Advent and Christmas well.  The message is getting out!

Randy Booth contrasts boys and men, and how to raise boys to be men.

Related to that is this gem from Josh Gibbs' article over at Circe:
"The wise man will naturally change to meet the responsibilities of every stage of life, though the wise man will not live in such a way that radical change will be required of him in the future. The wise high school student does not say, “When I go to college, I will have to play fewer video games.” The wise college student does not, “When I get married, I will have to drink less.” The wise husband does not say, “When I have children, I’ll need to spend more time around the house.” Ask a room full of high school sophomores, “How many of you have told yourself that you’re going to have to pray and read your Bible more after you leave your parent’s house?” and they’ll all grin sheepishly. Of course, the devil is fond of promises to pursue virtue tomorrow. The student who practices not-praying and not-reading a Bible every day for eighteen years is a genuine pro at it by the time they leave for college and it’s hard to quit doing something you’re good at."

Christmas audio short stories
"When I give in and let my kids have screen time, they are inevitably crankier. But listening to audio stories seems to have a positive effect, stimulating their imagination and play."


Review: One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somewhat helpful.
Great Thanksgiving reading.

Voskamp helpfully connects the spiritual with mundane housekeeping. Start a running list of 1000 things you’re thankful for, and you will inevitably find yourself thanking God for small things. Trivial things that stop being trivial. We see them anew as gifts from God. Not being a woman I wouldn’t know so well, but I get the sense that Voskamp touches the burden of a mother and housewife and ably lifts it from the heart, replacing it with God’s gift, grace and tender touch.

The prose is beautiful and near poetry at times. Other times you feel she is trying too hard, literarily. I never caught on to her style and form of writing, but don’t really see that as a fault.

Here’s a summary:
1 – Awful things happen. We would write the story of life differently. But God is writing it and we need to accept that.
2 – Thanksgiving leads to joy.
3 – We learn gratitude by naming gifts God gives – list 1000!
4 - When we give thanks, we live more fully in the moment. Hurry and harry hinder spiritually.
5. Everything is grace from God, for He can transfigure anything into gift. (Romans 8:28). So give thanks for everything.
6. Looking and beholding is loving. We want to see God.
7. Giving thanks cleans the glass so we can see God more clearly.
8. Giving thanks builds trust in God. It is safe to trust him. He has shown His trustworthiness at the cross. Our fears and anxiety fade when we give thanks.
9. To receive joy one must receive gifts humbly which means giving thanks.
10. Thanking God helps us serve others selflessly, to be a blessing.
11. Communing with God is our highest goal and joy.

There were two possible problems with her message.
She seems to imply that our salvation is up to our thankfulness. That our experience of God is up to us. She never comes right out and says this. But neither does she say that God gives a heart of thankfulness in the first place. It’s kind of implied that it’s up to you, which can be a further burden.

The last chapter is about communion and intimacy with God. Friends warned me about this chapter! It could have done without the first sentence about making love to God. At a couple other points she gets close to the edge of indiscretion, but overall it was okay. The potential problems are anchored with lots of Scripture about the mystical union between Christ and the Church, abiding in God, in Christ, quotes from Calvin, etc. We DO need to appreciate this aspect of our redeemed creatureliness before God, but the teacher needs to tread carefully!

For a more critical review, see here.

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Hearing Critics of Family Integration

I recently listened to a Christ the Center podcast on the Family Integrated Church (FIC) movement, interviewing Sam Waldron.  Here’s a synopsis of assertions made.  I basically agree, and I pastor a church registered on the FIC website!

  • No biblical mandate can be found for homeschooling or for forbidding a nursery at church.  FIC has too much wooden-ness and rigidity on these issues.
  • To say ONLY a parent can or should teach their child lacks appreciation for gifts God has given in the church.
  • Is the Church a "family of families"? Voddie Baucham doesn’t see this as a good way to say it.  It’s trying to be covenantal without the theology.  It doesn’t reflect rightly the jurisdiction between church and family.  The church then loses jurisdiction over wives and children.  This is a hyper-family focus, and ignores singles.
  • We need to distinguish between speakers and leaders of a movement, and those who are leading churches that identify as FIC.
  • FIC bypasses the church and looks to Abraham and Job as our pattern of family life. It downplays or ignores the history of Israel, the New Covenant, and the pastoral epistles as more normative for life together as God’s people.  [Not sure about this one - there are helpful applications in the family, looking at Abraham and Job!]
  • FIC is in danger of holding a messianic view of the family. As if homeschooling and family integration at church are our hope to recover godliness in our souls and families and churches and nation.  Waldron: I have seen this in my own heart. Be careful where you put your trust.  These things are not the gospel; some of FIC’s principles are good applications of the Gospel.
  • FIC Critics are not anti-family.

Ferguson and Our Own Fear of Man - Strolling the links

"Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth."

Tim Challies’ last article in his productivity blog series is on dealing with interruptions.

We tend toward either pride or fear of man, in our sinful hearts.  Pride will make us too RIGID in our schedules while fear of man will makes us too MALLEABLE.


The God of All Knowledge

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 15

Knowledge is more than just propositions.  Knowing God is most important for us.
All our knowledge is learning about God and His world, thinking His thoughts after Him.

God knows all His creation in an owning and covenantal way, as our Lord (Amos 3:2; Isa. 40:12-14). He knows our sins, thoughts, desires.

Calvinists say God foreknows and foreordains everything.
Arminians say God foreknows all but does not foreordain things.
Socinians say God does not foreknow the future, since He doesn't foreordain it.
The open theists of today are in the Socinian category.

Prophecy in Scripture shows that God knows the future.
Many prophecies involve human decisions, which God also must know.

For a human choice to be free, it need not be unpredictable.

Scriptures that seem to show God as ignorant are His judgment beginning (Gen 3:9; 11:5; 18:21), or anthropomorphic appearance, or His testing of us (Gen 22:12; Deut 13:3).  When He remembers, He keeps promises.  It isn't that He calls to mind things He forgot.

God knows not only what is actually true, but also what is possible.  Some argue for a middle knowledge that allows God to know possible free human choices.  He creates a world such that people necessarily make the free choices God ordains.   This is incoherent.  Choices cannot be both free and determined by the world God makes.  No, there is no difference between God knowing all possible worlds, and God knowing the possible choices people could make.

Wisdom is also an attribute of God.  Proverbs 8:22 says God got wisdom when He started to create.  It refers to righteousness, the skill of godly living, the way of salvation.  Christ is the wisdom of God, and He calls out an invitation like wisdom does (Prov 9:1-4; Matt 11:28-30).

God has thoughts and a will that are rational and logical, though He is not bound by fallible human systems of logic.  Several doctrines in Scripture don't seem reconcilable to logic (problem of evil, Trinity), but we should keep trying instead of declaring them beyond us.  Many "problem texts" can be resolved through further study of Scripture.


Time for Clergy to Boycott the Courthouse?

So, some conservative Catholics who I generally respect are advocating pastors no longer act as agents of the state in signing marriage licenses.  Why?  The state they say has so re-defined marriage out of biblical norms that performing marriages would bear an unclear witness to biblical truth.

This is a misguided over-reaction to a real cultural shift occurring.

I am not tainted or being unclear in my testimony to Christ to marry a man and woman and sign a marriage license as a state witness.  If I am forced to not "discriminate" and to marry a same-sex couple, I AM marring my witness.

Marriage does not belong to the church, as Rome believes.  Neither does it "belong" to the state, as most evangelicals seem to think.  Then again, this doesn't mean the church and state are mere agents at a requested wedding.  Both church and state can and should refuse to marry (or divorce), if either is applied for on unbiblical grounds.

There is GREAT confusion on this point, judging by comments I read on Facebook.  "The state should never have been involved in marriage in the first place."  Wrong!  That's an easy out taking the libertarian road.  (Hint: we don't want to be fully libertarian, which would mean the state being neutral on or fine with abortion and other moral wrongs.)

The state must be involved in marriage for legal and property reasons.  There is no need for two separate ceremonies, unless the church's criteria and the state's criteria are contradictory.  Even with a total cultural win for same-sex marriage (which we don't quite have yet), those criteria are not contradictory.  They just aren't the same, anymore.  There may come a day when the state will require all those authorized to perform marriages as its agent not to discriminate and perform a same-sex marriage if requested.  THEN I will stop acting as an agent of the state in performing marriages.

This marriage pledge sets too high a bar of purity to be engaged with the state.  It's another indicator that the church is not coping well with moving into cultural exile in the West - a time more like the first century church than the 17th century.

Gene Veith has a decent and short response, here.


Strolling the Links

Wives at home
This broadens the perspective on women who aren’t employed for pay outside the home.

Want to watch a bowling ball and feather fall at the same speed?
There's a lot of dramatic build-up.  To save time, the two tests are at 1:25 and 2:50.

This touches a nerve for me: insecure moms are relying too much on internet data for parenting, medical and nutritional counsel.  We have cut ourselves off from true community in Christ (read, the Church) and it’s all we have left – a very poor substitute.


Review: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection
The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The only effective way to fight sin and love of the world is with a greater love for a greater object: God Himself. Bare self-denial will not do it, since the heart naturally desires. As nature abhors a vacuum, the heart abhors nothing to desire and will grab lesser things if not enamored with the best things.

The older writing style - long sentences and less-known words - will keep many from reading it, sadly, I fear. Yet its shorter length (sermon) may help. I'm pretty sure this is online for free.

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Review: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not very good.

This series is quite popular, but the first book was not very edifying. Positively, it gets you to hate evil, whether you find it in gods or mortals. The bad guys are really bad. You learn about the Greek gods in an entertaining way. It throws in lots of info about Greek mythology, actually bringing the whole story into modern day New York.

It brings the worldview, too. Gods are just stronger and bigger flawed humans. They fight each other so nothing is for sure in life, with their arbitrary plans always changing. Humans are pawns of the gods.

It's one thing to study this worldview, but another to assume its truth personally while identifying with the main character living it. Maybe helpful in an Ecclesiastes kind of way: experience how chaotic and uncertain life must feel for atheists or polytheistic pagans. No sure anchor.

Nah. Lots of better reading out there.

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The Problem of Evil

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 14

If God is all powerful, He can prevent evil.
If God is good, He wants to prevent evil.
Since evil exists, God is either not all powerful or not good.

This is the problem of evil.

The Bible gives a direct answer to why there is natural evil in the world (earthquakes, floods, etc.) in Romans 8:19-22:  it is because of the entrance of sin.  Moral evil came first, and natural evil is one result of it (Gen 3:17-19).  "God has ordained that the universe resist its human ruler until that ruler stops resisting God."

Since God is sovereign, we can't say He is too weak to prevent evil.  We also know He doesn't take pleasure in evil and that His ways are just.

There are 3 ways to answer the problem:
1. The nature of evil
2. How evil is "good."
3. God's responsibility for evil

1. The nature of evil
One theory is that evil is the lack or privation of being good.  Created-good beings tend toward evil and non-being, and our created-good will falls into evil.  But why can't God prevent such tendency if He is good?  Is there a tendency toward imperfection in the "nature" of created things?  Not necessarily.  And why must we say evil is lack of good and nothing on its own?  Good came before evil, but we don't need to say that evil is nonbeing.  The Bible doesn't use these philosophical categories about sin.  Most important, this doesn't get rid of the problem.  A doughnut maker is still responsible for the hole in the doughnut; God decided what to leave out of His creation, if evil is something "left out."

2. Evil contributes to a greater good.
Look at the bigger picture.  Surgery brings pain, but heals in the long run.  God has a greater purpose in permitting evil than preventing it.  Various greater purposes are suggested: order (God can't suspend gravity for everyone who falls down stairs, we wouldn't know what to expect); maturity (we need discipline and hard knocks to grow up); free will (God wants to let us be free to choose good or evil); revealing more good (compassion and patience would not exist without evil).  God made an orderly world at the beginning with no evil, so that isn't needed.  We'll deal with free will later.  The second option of maturity and God's purpose is the best solution.  "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" Genesis 50:20.  "All things work together for good for those who love God" Romans 8:28.  The greater good is not our comfort or pleasure, but God's glory.  The cross is the greatest example of God bringing good out of evil.  So this answer is legit.  One lingering question though: how is this not an "end justifies the means" argument?  How is it right for God to use morally questionable ways to get to a good purpose?  Frame's answer to this is unsatisfactory, simply asserting that it may not be questionable when God does it.  I land on 2 Corinthians 4:17: "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

3. God's Agency and evil
In some sense God brings evil things to pass, but is not the author of it.  He ordains it but doesn't cause it.  The Reformed confessions all affirm this distinction.  Calling God the more remote cause while Satan, thieves and wind are closer causes of Job's woes may help a little, but you can't totally absolve God of responsibility by this.  Saying God permits evil doesn't help much, because "God's permission is an efficacious permission."  It indicates God ordains sin reluctantly while also hating it.  But permission is a kind of ordination.  A better answer may lie in seeing God as author of a play.  Shakespeare has MacBeth kill Duncan, but Shakespeare should not be punished for murder.  "God is not subject to the ignorant evaluations of his creatures" as we see at the end of Job.  When Romans 9:19-21 comes to the problem of evil, the answer is that God is above us, not at all that He allows us free will.

So God brings a greater good out of allowing evil for now, and He ordains it as an author is not morally responsible for the sin of his character.  We cannot accuse God as He is the potter, the Creator, and we are the clay, His creatures.

God Is Righteous and Holy

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 13

God is the "perfect internal standard of right and wrong."  The moral law is based on His being; not above Him or changeable by Him, but an expression of Him.  So we are to be holy because He is (Lev. 19:2).  We imitate Christ (Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:10).

Righteousness is a forensic word, with a context of law and courtroom.  There are penalties for breaking God's law.

The Bible also speaks of His righteousness as actively bringing salvation to people.  Psalm 9:7-9; Isa. 46:12-13.  He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).  He vindicates the righteous against His enemies (Ps 34:15-22; 72:1-4).  This isn't traditional Liberation Theology, where God always delivers or is on the side of the economically poor.  He gives justice to His people (Luke 18:7).

By the sacrifice of the Righteous One, we become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

Zeal to guard exclusiveness of a relationship.  Scripture always speaks positively of jealousy, and Ex 20:5 is clear that God is jealous.  His zeal is for His name to be hallowed and honored.  Jealousy is an expression of love, not its opposite.  If you shrug at your spouse's infidelity you do not love him/her.

We should love people instead of hate them, but God calls us to hate evil.
God directs hate at sinners sometimes, not just their sin (Psalm 139:21-22; 119:113).
Hatred doesn't always involve hostility, disgust, or seeking the worst for someone.  It can be merely relative priorities (Gen 29:31; Matt 10:37), or opposing one's plans or intentions.  In this sense you can both love and hate the same person.  This is important, or we could not say "God is love" and also affirm that God hates at all.  But "God is the supreme hater of wickedness."
We should pray imprecatory Psalms against God's enemies, calling God to judge them, while also desiring their conversion.  Those God hates at one point in time may be converted later on - we were all under His wrath once (Eph 2:3) but He saved us.  God hated Esau from his birth (Rom 9:11), but this regards historical election.  Paul is using that to explain eternal election, but Esau himself was not necessarily eternal damned.

Though Scripture often warns us against being angry as a sin (Matt 5:21; Gal 5:20), there is also a righteous anger Jesus displayed (John 2:14-17) and that God has in response to sin (Jer 6:11).  The Bible often refers to wrath with no connection to God (Num 1:53; Rom 2:8), but it's implied.  Even the Lamb executes His wrath (Rev 6:16-17), God threatens wrath against Moses (Ex 4:24) and Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:24).  HE is a a consuming fire, and it's fearful to fall into His hands.  We tend to diminish the intensity and frequency of references to this in Scripture.  This may be okay, as Scripture itself does so with brief descriptions of "wrath."
God is slow to anger (Ps 103:8) and flows righteously from His jealousy.  It is "but for a moment" for His people (Ps 30:4-5), but enduring for the unrepentant (Matt:8:12; 25:30).

God is different from us.  Moses stood on holy ground at the burning bush because God was there.  The temple and tabernacle show varying degrees of holy places, not a holy/common dichotomy or a sacred/secular distinction.  Holiness means God's otherness brings us to wonder, awe and fear of Him.  It also reminds us we are undone before Him as sinners.  Both God and sinners draw back from each other because of the ethical difference.  (Think of Peter telling Jesus to "Depart from me.")  But God also draws us to Himself, making us holy and calling us to be holy as He is.  He gives Israel a festal and temple system to enter His holiness, as He gives us Christ to do the same more fully.  Frame says God's holiness moves Him to mercy, appealing to Hosea 11:9 and Ps 22:1-5.  It seems to me that other attributes of God move Him to draw us to Himself more.


Between Exile and Reconstruction

There are basically two camps among reformed theologians regarding eschatology and cultural engagement.  The amillennials like Carl Trueman and Kevin DeYoung and the postmillennials like Gary DeMar and Peter Leithart.

It's a difference in emphasis between victory and faithfulness.

If as a post-millennial you think that a more pessimistic person will be less faithful, then you are putting too much stock in man.  It’s a form of "name it and claim it" to say, “You’ve got to believe we CAN win in order to go out and actually fulfill the Great Commission.”  That’s just not true.  Tolkien was far closer to the truth.  We do NOT know if the Gospel will advance with success in our lifetime, in our country, but we can be faithful pessimists.  (I don’t say we must be pessimists; neither do I believe God forbids it in the short term.)

If as an a-millennial you think others make God's promises too earthly-minded, then you are overly spiritualizing your worldview.  It's a form of Gnosticism, of denigrating the body and earth that God made us with, to imply that God finally just take us away from all this yucky physical stuff that tempts us.  As if there's no mental sins.  Jesus teaches us to pray for His Kingdom to come to earth, not go to heaven.

What brought all this on was an intriguing set of essays by Leithart and Trueman in First Things a few months back.  Leithart asserts that the best of Protestantism is in the future, not the past.  Overcoming division and error should be our vision and is our destiny in Christ.  This is true.

Trueman asserts on the next page that the church should get ready for cultural exile - to be the minority in a society that doesn't take God into account in its lifestyle or policies.  "Today's world is becoming a colder, harder place."  This is also true.

This is a fight we don’t need to have.  Let’s do all we can to advance the gospel in every nation.  We will disagree over how much success we will have, and what we should do, perhaps.  Let each be convinced in his own mind on this, each member contributing differently to the body of Christ.  Triumph is in our future, but so is lament.  Let us fight faithfully and look to Christ for the victory.


Two Kingdoms or One?

Just finished listening to an interview with David VanDrunen, a "Radical Two Kingdoms" guy.

Synopsis of the debate
Luther is the touchstone for Two Kingdoms thought.  The civil state should not meddle with church affairs nor should the church meddle in civil affairs.  The church should not require members to hold specific political views, for instance.  Against this is the view that Christ has one kingdom, and wants His Church to bring the Word of God to bear in the public square as much as anywhere else.  Public policy should be shaped by Scripture, not just natural law.

New thought
This is similar to the separation of church and state discussion in the first amendment.  We want to keep the state from interfering with the free exercise of religion, but a misunderstood strict separation has led to exactly that interference.  Similarly, if you strictly define and separate the two theological kingdoms of church and state, you wind up with a church not able to speak God's Word to the magistrate.   R2K guys discourage pastors from protesting at abortion clinics, as an example.  Why?  To not give the impression that church members MUST do this or face ire or slight from the church.  But this is a baseless fear.  Few in the church have a guilty conscience because of what their pastor does or doesn't do, to begin with.  And the power of example for cultural engagement is more important than a concern for the perception of what you "have to do at this church."  What about pastors writing letters to the editor of local newspapers?  This strict separation silences the church's voice right where it might be most effective.

Where to land
There's a middle way between this strict separation of the R2K view and the Christian Reconstruction view that says every civil government must adopt the Old Testament penal code.  I'm for Kuyper's sphere sovereignty, and the church advocating in the political sphere for the general equity of God's moral law.

On Rushdoony - Again

I think I published this piece here a couple years ago, but thought it could do with seeing it again.

If you don't know who R.J. Rushdoony is, feel free to move along...

Review of Institutes of Biblical Law

I was quite taken aback to begin reading the introduction to the Institutes of Biblical Law and find Calvin’s view of the law dubbed “heretical nonsense” (9). Rushdoony pulls no punches.

Surveying the 10 commandments for 650 pages, and then turning to the use of the law throughout Scripture for another 200, Rushdoony is an insightful cultural critic and decent exegete, but his theological view of the law within the entire scope of Scripture is off kilter.

There is a wealth of information on the Ten Commandments, applied throughout Scripture and today. He helpfully explains the principle behind obscure and bizarre (sounding to moderns) laws. The danger of doing this so well and specifically is inferring too much from the law, and Rushdoony falls into this plenty often, I think. Deuteronomy 22:5 says, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment.” This leads to transvestites, but starts with confusing gender roles. So, men shouldn’t do “woman’s work” (437), he says. It’s good to apply every Word of God specifically, and in every legitimate way possible, but we may not infer too much from a text. Scripture must interpret Scripture. In this example, we note the Proverbs 31 woman makes forays into “man’s work,” but it isn’t her primary activity. A man can help his wife with the dishes without violating Scripture!

Theologically, everything leads back to the paramount law for Rushdoony, whether it is grace, communion, baptism, etc. An example: “The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the renewal of the covenant so that the sacrament itself re-establishes the law" (7). That's just a strange way to put things. Love and covenant relationship is the point, more than the law. The sacraments re-affirm the ongoing relationship IN SPITE of our law breaking. They are sacraments of the covenant of grace. This phrase gives me a queer feeling that for Rushdoony the law is the end all and be all of religion. This often feels like Judaizing, and contrary to Paul’s letters and the book of Hebrews, to which he seldom refers. It feels like it, but it is not. His view of grace cancelling the punishments of the law appears to be orthodox elsewhere, though he places much more emphasis on the use of the law in society. He hammers away at Romans 8:4, that the righteous requirement of the law is meant to be fulfilled in us, and this is needed in our day. He just does it in a way that makes you think the law is the end-all and be-all of Christianity, which it isn’t.

He denies any place for common grace: that the unregenerate can come to some wisdom in governing men and nations. A society is either founded on the Law-Word of God and faithful, or it is looking to the wisdom of man and it is apostate. This is certainly clear, but too either-or. What if states are free to apply the “general equity” of God’s law, as Westminster and Calvin taught? He is quick to throw out the charge of antinomianism, and the church HAS fallen into sin by claiming to be under grace. But Rushdoony charges the mainstream Reformed position, that the state is not held to enforce the whole of Biblical law, as antinomian.

Rushdoony is very influential in my circles. He gives you a clear place to stand (or a way to fight) in a morally degenerating culture: with the law. As the church finds herself increasingly in a “bread and circuses” culture, she is more susceptible to over-responding into the Donatist and ascetic heresies. I’m not calling Rushdoony a Donatist or heretic. But he does make some grandiose claims for how the law can preserve and save a society. I would like to interact positively with his views, especially asking which laws are binding on individuals and on the state today (without facing the charge of antinomianism for even asking the question), while toning down the “silver bullet” expectations that just going back to the law will solve our problems. The law is a real piece of the solution, as is the Church, and especially the Spirit working repentance and grace in the heart.

There is too much for a short review. Insightful exegesis is mixed with off balance theology. This continues in the appendices by Gary North. John Frame sums it up best: “Yes, we must not substitute love for law; but we had better not substitute law for love either. Yes, love may be defined in terms of law; but the requirement of the law is also summarized and defined in the love-commandment…. A bit more “sympathy” with people and a bit less preoccupation with legal rights would greatly improve his treatment of these matters…. Rushdoony has been so preoccupied with the question of the authority of the law that he has missed some very weighty elements of biblical teaching…. he tends to set himself off so sharply from other Reformed thinkers that he is not in a very good position to benefit from their counsel. Nor are they in a good position to benefit from his.”

See here for my previous thoughts on Rushdoony

See here for John Frame’s excellent and more indepth review of this book.


Review: A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin H. Friedman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Insightful about leadership.

This is not a Christian book. It is heavily evolutionary and psychological, but still abounds in wisdom.

Thesis: “The thinking processes that produce a failure of nerve and a quick-fix mentality in contemporary America are the result of a decline in maturity in an anxiously regressed society.”

Leadership is as much emotional as cognitive. It’s keeping your head when others are losing theirs, in Kipling’s phrase. Anxious people naturally sabotage and attack mature leaders, wanting others to join in their anxiety. The solution is for the leader (parent, pastor or president) not to try to FIX the anxious, but to remain calm and mature themselves; not to join the hysteria, but not to detach from it or react against it, either.

Barriers to leadership include (1) being captured by conventional thinking, like cartographers before Columbus, (2) social anxiety shown in blaming, herding, reacting, and craving a quick fix, (3) obsession with data that prevents decisiveness, (4) empathizing with anxious or dysfunctional followers more than taking responsibility as a leader (understanding your people to the detriment of understanding your role as leader), (5) narcissistic or autocratic selfishness instead of a self-integrity that maintains one’s mature sense of self among anxious others (not rejecting or functioning for them).

Leadership is about emotional process as much as about ideas. Some of this is very controversial. Leaders need to focus on themselves (anxiety, responsibilities) more than on their followers! Empathy is often a power tool of the dysfunctional and irresponsible. The unmotivated don’t change by hand-holding and giving them insight. Some of this is very common sense: keep calm and be mature (his word is self-differentiated). A leader has to know where his being and responsibility stops and the group’s begins. You can’t function for the group, but neither can you disconnect from the group. Staying mature yourself and connected to the anxious group will change the group, more than trying harder to empathize, give insight, or just work harder. It's not so much about saying the right thing, but being the right person with others.

I'd recommend this for any leader: parents and pastors and workplace supervisors especially.

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Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


My first Agatha Christie. First murder mystery ever, besides Sherlock Holmes, really.

I don't know if it's fair to compare with Doyle, but the main character detective seemed to lack personality, relative to Sherlock. This is deep detail, who-done-it mystery. The level of detail, then back to the big picture was an interesting move. Don't lose the forest for the trees is part of the message. Who moved where in the car, and when? This needs thinking through, but what's really going on?

There's an interesting ethical dilemma at the end. Vigilante justice is assumed to be permissible, at least in this case. A dangerous precedent, if it is one.

This was a diverting branch-off into something I don't usually read, but I'll stick to theology and kids' books, more, I think.

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Review: The Chocolate Touch

The Chocolate Touch
The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quaint kids' story about the consequences of greed, and the need to think of others.

Good for young readers just starting in chapter books.

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Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I picked it up at the library just before Halloween for fun.
Ghost stories just meant to spook.
I read Sleepy Hollow, Devil and Tom Walker, and Adventure of My Uncle.

Set in New England, these stories are more down-to-earth than they're known for. Sleepy Hollow has a farm feast and rival courtship going on that leads to the headless horseman's ride.

But there's a basically Christian worldview behind it all, especially in "Tom Walker." Greed will get you nowhere. "Never was sinner taken more unawares."

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The Day King James Was Spared

Remember, remember! 
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England's overthrow.
But, by God's providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James's sake!
If you won't give me one,
I'll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

For the Strong's Concordance Folks

This is a helpful shot across the bow for those who want access to the "secret knowledge" of Hebrew and Greek without actually learning the language.

It's also an encouragment that you don't have to learn the languages to really know your Bible!

Doug and Dave on health sharing plans

We recently joined one of these plans, when Obamacare made our insurance cost-prohibitive.
Since we joined, I've heard two D's affirm the choice.

Dave Ramsey said on a podcast last week that they're great, as long as you can swallow that they aren't technically insurance.  There is no legal contract, but everyone with needs is getting helped.

Doug Wilson also encourages them - check from 1:10 at this link for his personal story of losing insurance because of Obamacare.

This is one reason why the midterms went the way they did.

Third Party "Vote Your Conscience" Woes

We'd have a more conservative senator in Virginia if the 3rd party voters would have voted more wisely yesterday.

With 95% of votes in, the democrat won by 12,000 votes (out of over 2 million cast!).

The Libertarian got over 50,000 votes.


Let 'em grow with structure and boundaries

"Nurturing growth always follows two principles.  One is: Stay out of it's way; you cannot "grow" another by will or technique.  But the second is: Do not let it "overgrow" you.  I have continually found that when parents can make the transition in their orientation from focusing on how to grow their children to how to prevent their children from overgrowing them, their children do begin to grow - that is, grow up - and so do the parents."
 - Friedman, Failure of Nerve, pg 144.

In other words, the parent has to enforce responsible boundaries in his own life (not letting the kids run you ragged or drive you to distraction), before he can help the child mature into such responsibility, too.

This is also really helpful in considering "schools" of parenting.  The unschooling homeschooler does great with principle one above, but tends to forget the second one.  The strict and deliberate parent does fine with #2 but often violates #1.  Maintaining both is the key.


God is Joy

God rejoices in the creation and in people....
It is refreshing to know that joy is a divine attribute and that when the Spirit plants joy in us (Gal 5:22), we are becoming more like God.  We should not think of God, or the ideal Christian, as constantly disapproving or dour.

John Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 253.

God's Love

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 12

We move now from knowing God by His acts, to knowing Him by His attributes.  Scripture explicitly tells us what God is like.

We can classify attributes of God in several ways.
Defining attributes are those that would describe God if He never made the world.  Infinity, for example.
Relative attributes relate Him to the world.  Lord, for instance.

Communicable attributes are those that His creatures can share.  Holiness, e.g.
In communicable attributes we cannot share.  His simplicity (no parts or wavering passions as we have)

This is a broad category, but we usually mean moral good, like righteous.  God is good and merciful to all, Ps 145:9, even unbelievers (Matt 5:45).  No one can accuse God of unfairness.

Language - it's better to study the Bible than the Greek lexicon to understand God's love.  Turret in speaks of God's benevolence willing good to us, His beneficence doing good to us, and His complacency enjoying us.

Extent of love - John 3:16 shows that God loved the whole world, though not all are saved by Christ's coming.  We can and should appeal to all people to believe on the Lord Jesus, because God has shown us all His love.

Saving love - saving sinners by the cross of Christ.  The atonement epitomizes God's love for us.  Rom 5:8; John 15:13-14.

Love as lordship - God's love create a new heart in us, changing our desires to be for Him.  He does more than persuade, but less than coerce, us.

Means favor, a positive attitude toward a person.  When God shows favor to men, it is never based on our goodness meriting it, only on His sovereign choice.  Grace is personal and covenantal: He chooses a people to bear His name.  This results in their faith (Acts 11:23; 18:27).  The Jerusalem council clarifies that this comes apart from keeping the law or relying on our own goodness (Acts 15:10-11).  Greetings and benedictions in Paul's letters stress grace upon us.

Common grace
God restrains sin in people, restrains His own wrath, gives rain on just and unjust.  Unsaved people do good, know truth, and experience blessing by the Holy Spirit (Num 22-24; 1 Sam 10:9-11; Heb 6:4-6).  It may be better to call this goodness, rather than grace, since the Bible doesn't use the word grace in this category.  But scripture often speaks of grace without using the word (prodigal son, e.g.).

This is the Hebrew word for God's covenant keeping love.  Ps 136; 1 Chron 16:34; Deut 7:9, 12.  He made promises to Adam, Abraham, Israel, etc., and He will keep them.  David and Jonathan's loyalty to each other, and the institution of marriage are examples.  This differs from love (ahava in Hebrew) that creates covenant or initiates grace.  Hesed keeps and fulfills it, sometimes in response to our repentance or faithfulness.

An attitude, even emotion, of love and concern expressed.  Ex 34:6: Matt 9:6: 1 Pet 3:8.

Other forms of Gods goodness
Gentleness in power that serves, beauty, joy, peace, blessed, satisfied - these all describe God.

Courting in Geneva

Peter Jones, pastor in West Virginia, has done some excellent work culling historical research on courtship and marriage in Calvin's Geneva.

Geneva had a very developed system, assuming parental authority and guidance in match-making, but also forbidding setting up children against their will and other heavy handed parental practices.  Parents couldn't refuse to give their daughter a dowry if she married against dad's wishes, for instance.

One of the ugliest aspects (rare, too) of modern courtship is painting it as such a blessing when a father interviews a young man extensively without the daughter knowing it, and then presents him to his daughter with high expectations.  Her refusal of that man would be ingratitude and rebellion.  Father has provided for daughter; she's supposed to submit to them both, after all!  Calvin's Geneva would have forbidden this, if the daughter didn't want to marry him.

Sometimes we react against recent history, but find help in less recent history.

Peace at the Table

God calls us to peace with Him.  He shows us this at the Lords supper, the New Testament peace offering, where God gives us back part of the sacrificed offering for us to eat in his presence.  Jesus is the fulfillment of this sacrifice.  He made for us our peace with God, and we receive Jesus Himself in this communion.

Let us be careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.  At the family table, you can find all kinds of things to fuss at others about.  But we put aside contention and selfishness.  We do the hard work, the Gospel driven work, the spirit enabling work, of abiding, remaining, staying in the presence of Christ. And in the presence of one another.

Receive and rest on Christ alone today.

Hiding from God with Mountain-Top Experience

Isaiah 1:13-14, 18
      Bring no more vain offerings; 
      incense is an abomination to me. 
                  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— 
      I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 
             Your new moons and your appointed feasts 
      my soul hates; 
                  they have become a burden to me; 
      I am weary of bearing them. 

      “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: 
                  though your sins are like scarlet, 
      they shall be as white as snow; 
                  though they are red like crimson, 
      they shall become like wool. 

This campout has an annual appointed feast for us.  We look forward to it, it’s once a year and unique.  We have fond memories of past campouts.  There is real blessing in this, and some opportunity for sin, as with every good gift from God that sinners receive.  One danger is we have another tool for self-deception.  The nostalgia and joy and sentimental feelings we have about campouts can cast a curtain over sin we aren’t dealing with.  Yes, that’s still stubbornly sitting there, but it can’t be that bad – I mean, look at the great time we’re having this weekend!  And the very thing God means for our joy and good – an annual feast – we turn into a way to hide from Him.

Let us confess the many ways we hide from God and avoid dealing with our sins against Him.

Outdoor Worship - Opening Prayer

Lord, we are considering the heavens and the work of your hands this weekend.    You do care for us, though we seem so insignificant in the vast scale of your creation.  The trees, grass, clouds, rain and sun all praise You.  In the heat and the cold, we remember we are creatures who need your care.  A few degrees up or down and we cry out for care.  Lord, we cry out to you this morning.  For physical needs, yes, but also for forgiveness and favor, mercy and strength.  Hear our cry.  Let it be one of faith, love, trusting a father who is good and kind and compassionate. 



God's Decrees

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 11

God acts in miracles, providence and creation, all with a purpose.  That purpose can be described as His decrees - what He ordains to bring to happen.  Though the word "decree" doesn't appear in Scripture often, these words do:  plan, counsel, purpose, will, pleasure, etc.

God's decrees covering all things shows His Lordship over everything, that He intends everything for a reason.  His interpretation of the facts precedes the facts (Van Til).  In other words, everything is as it is by His design and decree.

God elects a people historical sense and in an eternal sense.
Historically, Israel was and the church is God's people.  This choice was by God's grace, not their merit (Deut 7:7-8).  But people can forsake God and be removed from this historically elect group by their unfaithfulness (Saul, Judas, excommunication, etc.).  We don't have to say they were never elect in the historical sense, as we do in the eternal sense (1 John 2:19).  Not all of this group are eternally elect.  This category is alive and well in the NT, too (Acts 5; Heb 6:4-6; Rev 2-3).  Jesus is the ultimate elect of Israel, the faithful remnant and branch (Jeremiah 23).

Eternally God forgives the sins and writes His law on the hearts of His eternally elect (Jer 31:31-34; Rom 8:29-39).  This does not depend on our ongoing faithfulness, for God keeps these faithful.

These two senses are meant to go together.  We see historical election, and so have a "limited knowledge" of eternal election.

Eternal election implies reprobation.  God choose not to save some. Romans 9 shows this, especially verse 22.  This doesn't mean we aren't responsible and guilty when we reject God ourselves. It doesn't mean we need not offer the Gospel to all men.  It doesn't take away from our assurance, which should come from looking to Christ's promises, not eternal decrees.

The order of God's decrees has prompted lots of debate.  Did God elect His people from their fallen state, or before they were created?  Supralapsarian says "before the Fall."  Infra-lapsarian says "after the Fall."  Frame says we shouldn't take sides, as Scripture doesn't let us into God's priorities and thought processes this minutely.  The infras are right that God chose us out of sin, so the Fall is in view.  The supras are right that God has a plan for His people beyond the Fall and created history.  In my view Ephesians 1:4 answers this question very decisively on the supra side, but the infra concern about the sin context should not be dismissed.


Exodus 33:18-23
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

When Moses asked God to go with Israel and to show him God’s glory, God said yes to both.  Moses couldn’t look God in the face, but God did go with them, and He did show Himself to Moses.

We have this experience even more fully in the Lord Jesus.  God has shone the light of His salvation in our hearts, in the face of Jesus Christ.  He has put us in a place by Him.  We stand on solid ground.  He covers us with His hand so we are safe from the glory that could consume us.  Instead we are brought into fellowship with a gracious God.


The Old Paths

Jeremiah 6:16
"      Thus says the LORD: 
                  “Stand by the roads, and look, 
      and ask for the ancient paths, 
                  where the good way is; and walk in it, 
      and find rest for your souls. 
                  But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

God calls us to stand at the crossroads and compare the paths.  Consider your options.  You could walk in the old paths, the way God designed for us from the beginning.  The way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Or we can choose new ways the world offers: hatred, contention, lewdness, jealousy, selfishness, envy and revelry.  One of these ways offers rest for your soul; the other does not.  And yet, we often deliberately choose the way of satisfying the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life.  Let us turn back from turning our back on God.



Review: RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes

RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes
RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes by Benedict of Nursia

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Benedict (d. 547) was a monk who codified life as a community of monks in a monastery. This rule has had broad appeal in monasteries for 1500 years.

Abbot - the supreme leader in charge of all things.
Authority - the main rule is submission to the authority of the abbot and senior ranking monks. A detailed pecking order based on length of time there and virtue was determined by the abbot.
Discipline - removal of meal privileges, corporal punishment and excommunication
Rations - a pound of bread and half a bottle of wine per day for each monk, along with side dishes at the evening meal. Clothing prescribed, down to the underwear.
Outside - a dangerous place - be sure to report everything you experience to the abbot!
Property - absolutely no private property is allowed. Anything found hidden in your bed brings severe punishment.

Worship - seven times a day, the community prays and chants Scripture together. Tardiness or error in recitation means punishment. All 150 Psalms are sung every week. "Monks who in a week's time say less than the full psalter... betray extreme indolence and lack of devotion in their service. We read, after all, that our holy Father, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day."

Spiritual leadership of the abbot -
- help the monks, not yourself
- hate faults but love the brothers
- don't crush bruised reeds
- "strive to be loved rather than feared"
- "arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from."

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To Imbibe or Not?

While discussing food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8, and who the weaker brother is, we got into the discussion of alcohol usage.  Again!

Some history.
Many doubt the ancients could prevent fermentation of grapes, but I’ve seen quotes from Pliny, Plutarch and such that imply it was done.  I grant the point, and assume there was wine and "grape juice" and some variants of wine diluted with water around.

Some Bible word study.
The argument goes from the original word meanings that new wine was unfermented and the Bible means this when it speaks of blessing in regard to wine.  It talks of mixed wine (or other varieties of fermented drink) as a curse.  The facts don't bear this distinction out at all.  Some examples: Hosea 4:11 refers to new wine as dangerous, too.  Isaiah 25:6 and Psalm 104.15 describe yayin and aged wine as blessings.

Temperance folks argue that "fruit of the vine" means it could be non-alcoholic.  This is possible.  But Herodotus also refers to alcoholic wine with this phrase (Histories, I: 211-212).  When Jesus uses it at Passover to institute the Lord's Supper, some argue that the lack of leaven anywhere in the house means there wouldn't have been yeast in the wine, either.  This is not a logical inference.  There's a difference between ferment and leaven.

The argument is also made that Jesus or the apostles would not have partaken of alcohol at all, two points of biblical data argue against it:  Jesus was accused of being a winebibber in Luke 7:34, which wouldn't make sense if He didn't drink at all.  Paul warned the Corinthians against getting drunk at the Lord's Supper, which wouldn't make sense if they were bringing unfermented drink - 1 Cor. 11:21.

Finally - most controversially - it isn't a good argument that the person who has had trouble with alcohol in the past will fall back into it with just a thimble sized communion cup, or even the smell of wine.  This denies personal responsibility.  I don't deny it is harder for a recovering alcoholic to resist falling back into trouble.  But he has the ability to resist (1 Cor 10:13).  This is not a modern problem that just began since we diagnosed alcoholism as a "disease."  It's been just as hard for some folks, going all the way back to Noah (Genesis 9).  That didn't stop God from inviting us to feast before Him with "strong drink" (Deut 14:26).  It's ironic that evangelicals most insistent on personal responsibility in morals and accepting salvation, also functionally deny that responsibility when it comes to this issue.

What God gives us for a blessing, we turn into a curse by our sin.  The response shouldn't be to remove the blessing, but train ourselves and hold each other accountable in proper usage of the blessing.  It's fine to choose not to drink for the taste, the expense or any number of reasons.  But to lump the substance in with a boozing mentality is a generalization Scripture doesn't allow.  I don't write this to cling to my booze, for instance, but to make sure we don't go beyond Scripture in forbidding what it doesn't forbid (1 Tim 4:1-3; Col 2:16).

I do think until people understand and accept this, it's fine for churches to offer grape juice at Communion to those unconvinced.  They are the weaker brother of 1 Cor 8 and Rom 14.  They are not thus to be despised or considered second class, but neither should the church cater completely to their position.

Paul is directly warning ME in 1 Cor 8:7-13 (Romans 14:21 is actually more relevant to this issue) to be careful not to lead a brother into sin by what I drink.  This is different than them being bothered knowing I drink alcohol.  Scripture does not demand I not drink at all because I know they are bothered by it (they think it is wrong), but to not drink if it will cause them to fall into that sin themselves.

The best book on this subject is "God Gave Wine" by Ken Gentry.

Halloween Gospel


Review: The Path of the King

The Path of the King
The Path of the King by John Buchan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well done.

I'd heard of Buchan years ago (39 Steps), but never came across a copy until recently. The author, an English nobleman, wrote this in 1929. It is a series of short vignettes tracing the descendants of a Viking king down to 1861. Forest Gump-style, each descendant has close relations to a significant historical figure or event (Joan of Arc, St Bartholomew Massacre, Abe Lincoln, etc.) You really have to know your history for it to make sense, though.

This would go well for high schoolers studying Western European history, into the New World.

The theme is really fascinating - kingly traits rise and fall in a lineage over time, sometimes falling into the gutter, other times peaking in a significant person who shapes history.

There is a strong anti-democracy point at the end - that nations and men need leadership from kings. They need leadership, not just a public servant to carry out the will of the people. The last couple chapters culminate in a historical figure I didn't expect - worth the read!

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Review: Duel in the Wilderness

Duel in the Wilderness
Duel in the Wilderness by Karin Clafford Farley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent read for kids or adults on background of George Washington's first significant enterprise that gained him notoriety.

Good writing that conveys the complicated politics and dealings between French, Indian and English with simple prose and dialogue. Also shows the brutality, diplomacy and values of each people. Well worth the read.

There's a mild swear word once or twice, and one description of brutality. Maybe best for 11-14 age range, studying French-Indian War and/or American Revolution background.

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Prayer on Beginning to Worship God

Almighty God, assist us to walk prudently and to fear You, as we assemble before You now.  Order our thoughts and hearts to give You the attention, honor and worship You are due.

We are a distracted people, flitting from one thing to the next.  
Fix our eyes on You, we pray.
We are a multi-tasking people, trying to spin 7 plates in the air at the same time.  
Give us single-hearted devotion to You.

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, so our eyes look to You, Yahweh, our God.

You are the King; command us.
You are the Savior; forgive us.
You are the Shepherd; guide us.
You are the Father; feed us.

Holy God, we draw near to You through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, who lives and reigns with You, 1 God from age to age - Amen.



On Casting Cares and Nurturing Seeds of Peace

Philippians 4:6-7
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

This is one of those commands that we make seem way too easy to follow, sometimes.  Do you really understand how challenging it is to love your enemies?  Or to be anxious for nothing?  We need to cast our cares on the Lord, which means you need to let go of it, to throw it to Him.  We have a strong urge to hang on to it.  We may pray, talk with a friend, go to church, listen close, scrunch up face during Communion, the whole nine yards.  But we haven’t yet laid down the burden in our hearts before Him.  We held it up to show Him, then clutched it close to our breast again.

Do you believe that God is really GOD?  Is your life in His hands, or in yours?  Is He good?  Or do you need a back up plan that causes you to clutch that anxiety back to your heart?  Lay it down and give it to Him.

The Table is a place where anxieties subside for a time.  While you eat, you know you’re getting something you need.  God is sowing seeds of peace in your heart, here.  Gently prying your fingers from that worry, asking you to hand it over.  He will feed You, clothe You, give you all you need.  Later today or this week, don’t grab the burden back.  It may gravitate back to you, and you may need to hand it over to him again.  Keep trusting Him, with a thousand little prayers, throwing that worry back to the Lord.  God plants peace in you here – with His Word and sacrament.  Don’t pull up the plants later.  Isaiah 26: “You will keep him in perfect peace,Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, For in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

This is reworked from Exhortations, Douglas Wilson, page 89.