Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Once Again, Kemper Christmas!

Check your local PBS station listings, they may be playing on your station. Also, for more info, look here:

Monday, November 17, 2008

State of The Church

My friend Ken posted this on his blog. I thought is was important to post here.

Too sad!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What I'm listening to Today

In the first light of a new day
no one knew he had arrived
Things continued as they had been
while a newborn softly cried
But the heavens wrapped in wonder
knew the meaning of his birth
In the weakness of a baby
they knew God had come to earth

As his mother held him closely
it was hard to understand
That her baby, not yet speaking,
was the word of God to man
He would tell them of his kingdom
but their hearts would not believe
They would hate him and in anger
they would nail him to a tree

But the sadness would be broken
as the song of life arose
And the firstborn of creation
would ascend and take his throne
He had left it to redeem us
but before his life began
He knew he’d come back,
not as a baby,
but as the Lord of every man

Hear the angels
as they’re singing
on the morning of his birth
But how much greater
will our song be
when he comes again to earth

Hear the angels
as they’re singing
on the morning of his birth
But how much greater
will our song be
when he comes to rule the earth!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Trapped in Neverland

---by Carl Trueman

Growing up, I adored my grandfather. He was probably the funniest man I ever knew, with a razor sharp wit, absurdism and satire running through his veins, and an imagination that seemed to know no bounds. His letters to me were mini-masterpieces of surreal satire, and he knew how to have fun, how to puncture pomposity, and how to provoke people to think. Yet he was, by today's standards, uneducated. He had left school at thirteen to work in a factory; he was a union man; he lived through the General Strike and the Depression; he knew what it was like to tramp the streets, looking for work but knowing there was no work to be found; and, a psychological victim of the British class system, he never came to see my mum play sport for her school lest he cause her embarrassment. I loved him dearly and when he died, it was as if my own world came to an end.

I hated the system that had treated my grandfather like dirt and kept him tugging his forelock at those whose only virtue was to have been born to wealthier families; I hated the system that had worked him so hard and broken his health so that he could never really enjoy his retirement; and I hated the system that had made him believe all this was part of his proper place in the world and had even persuaded him that it would be less embarrassing for all if he did not come to the touchline to watch his daughter play sport for her school. Indeed, one of the reasons I wanted so desperately to get in to Cambridge was to show him, and myself, and the chinless public school (in the British sense) wonders who epitomized the system, that the system could be beaten, that someone from my family could push their way in to the very heart of the establishment by sheer hard work and natural talent, rather than by money, 'breeding,' and possession of no chin and an old school tie. The day I was accepted, he told my mum that he could not believe that the family had risen from being nothing to being represented at Cambridge. But in my eyes we hadn't risen at all, we had simply made a necessary point: we could do it too; we could get to where 'they' were. My grandfather was not nothing; he was -and still is -- one of the greatest men I have ever known. What could that great mind have done, if only it had been given the privilege and leisure of study?

Now, there's quite a contrast between the world in which my grandfather grew up and the world of today. By age fifteen, he had done two years of hard work; had he not done so, the result would have been simple - he would have starved. By age twenty, he knew what responsibility was; by age thirty he had spent over half his life in the workplace. Indeed, he did not become an adult when he married and had children; he had already been an adult since before he had really needed to shave.

Today is so different. If the poverty and hard work of my grandfather's era left men middle-aged at thirty, the ease and trivia of today's society seems to leave us trapped in a permanent Neverland where we all, like so many Peter (and Patty) Pans, live lives of eternal youth. Where my grandfather spent his day hard at work, trying - sometimes desperately - to make enough money to put bread on the table and shoes on his children's feet, today many have time to play X-Box and video games, or warble on and on incessantly in that narcissistic echo-chamber that is the blogosphere. The world of my grandfather was evil because it made him grow up too fast; the world of today is evil because it prevents many from ever growing up at all.

In some ways, today's world is the very antithesis of earlier ages. I always found sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings of children to be somewhat creepy: adult heads on tiny, immature bodies, as if the artists had no real concept of youth and childhood that allowed them to depict faces as such. Strange, isn't it, that the airbrushing techniques so often used in today's glossy magazines seem designed to have precisely the opposite effect: to place young heads on bodies that we know are much older. The concept of old age is perhaps slowly but surely being airbrushed out of representations in the popular media.

Numerous incidents over recent years have brought the sad effect of all this home to me. As a professor at university and seminary, I have had too many run-ins with students who act like five year olds and, when held to account, express all the pouting resentment that one comes to expect from a generation that demands respect but refuses to put in the time and effort to earn it. You see them on the blogs, screaming their abuse and demanding to be heard, carrying on their tirades long after the threshold of Godwin's Law and any semblance of decency or credibility has been passed for the umpteenth time. They have achieved nothing - but they demand that you respect them!

The inept Islamic suicide bombers in Britain are just the most extreme, pestiferous example of this immaturity: incompetent, spotty juveniles who make portentous suicide videos and then fail to blow anything up because they forgot their car keys, or bought the wrong ingredients for bomb making from the local store, or were amazed that putting in an order for two-hundred bottles of peroxide aroused suspicion at the local hair salon who contacted the local police: `I see, madam, and can I assume that Mr. Mohammed is not actually a natural blond.....?'. These thugs demand respect in the most extreme ways; but their behavior inspires less horror than it does simple derision and mockery.

But it gets more disturbing than simply finding people in their twenties and thirties acting like spoiled children. Parents are becoming increasingly involved as well. With two sons in travel football (that's soccer to any American readers), I have stood on too many touchlines where parents act like frustrated two years olds as the game does not develop as they would like; and, again, as a professor, I have had unpleasant experiences with parents too. Being told by a parent that their child is ‘young and immature’ works for my wife - she teaches at a church nursery, dealing with three year olds - but it wears a bit thin when the problem child is eighteen, nineteen, twenty....thirty.... And that this kind of stuff seems more common in the church than in the secular world is disturbing. It does not inspire much confidence about the future and, if anything, provides anecdotal confirmation to those who see religion in general and Christianity in particular, as a refuge for the emotionally retarded.

So what are we to do? I am tempted to say: “return to the world of my grandfather,” but that would be foolish. I hated that world for what it did to him. Yes, he grew up fast and took responsibility for himself and his family, but at what cost? Indeed, I hate that world as much as I despise the glib talk of ‘the dignity of manual labor’ that drips from the lips of the chardonnay-sipping chatterati for whom manual labor is not scrubbing floors to make ends meet, as it was for my grandmother, but pruning the roses and putting out the recycle bin once a week -- no doubt full of empty bottles of Bolly and Krug.

The answer, then, is not a naïve, nostalgic hankering for a return to an era of poverty and cruel hardship. Rather it is surely obvious: we need to put aside childish things and start acting like adults. Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself. When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people - even the people to whom we are close - then something has gone badly wrong. The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth. My grandfather was lucky in this one thing: he did not have time to be immature because he did not have the surplus income that would have granted him that luxury. That is not to exalt the virtue of poverty - poverty is an evil - but it is to underscore the dangers that come with wealth in abundance.

Second, we need to stop idolizing our children. At twenty seven, I had a wife, a child, a Ph.D. and a monograph from Oxford University Press. I looked for all the world like an adult. Then I got myself into a bit of financial difficulty, to the tune of about two-hundred pounds, a small sum but not when you are at the bottom of the British academic pay scale and a one-income family to boot. I phoned my father for help. He read me the riot act about financial irresponsibility, helped me get out of the immediate fix, and told me that he never, ever wanted me to call and tell him I was in such a fix again. He loved me but he did not idolize me; he knew it was time for me to stand on my own two feet. I loved my dad, but he scared the daylights out of me with that talk. Yet, looking back, that was one of the moments which was the making of me: look, son, you're big boy now; look after yourself and don't come crying to me every time you screw up. A sobering, critical moment in the relationship between father and son; but, in my dealings with others, it finds increasingly few parallels. Touch the child, even the one with the beard, the wisdom teeth, and the warm fuzzy memories of the time when “New Kids On The Block” were all the rage in High School, and you touch the sacred idol; you can expect the parents to come a-calling.

You are, of course, what you worship, as Psalm 115 reminds us, and thus, as long as we idolize our children and the culture of youth, we can expect to - well, be just like them: pouting, irresponsible, hormonal, unpleasant and, frankly, as creepy as those sixteenth century portraits of little children with adult faces. Trapped in Neverland - with no hope of escape.

Carl Trueman is a professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In the American Church

--by Douglas Wilson

So then, how has American Christianity come to this spot. To answer the question, we have to remember what R.L. Dabney once said, ". . . it is essential to your own future that you shall learn the history of the past truly." As we seek to pass on a legacy to our children, we keep getting tripped up by what we think happened to our fathers. So as we finish this very short thumbnail sketch of the history of Christ's Church, we must always take care to remember that it is His church, and He will care for her throughout all history, as He has to this point.

"Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature" (1 Cor. 14:20).

We need to have tender hearts and tough minds. In the course of his discourse on spiritual gifts, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to grow up intellectually. He attaches one warning to this -- they were to remain child-like in the area of malice. Their demeanor was to be that of babes; their doctrinal understanding was to be grown up. We must take the caution completely to heart. We must treat one another with kindness, gentleness, and tender mercies. This is the true uniform of the elect of God -- tender mercies (Col. 3:12). In the next place, we must realize that we do not have to choose between gentleness and doctrinal maturity. The flesh wants to confuse and muddle them, but Paul tells us that we do not have to choose between the two. Indeed, he requires both. And third, as we come down to the present, seeking to understand where we are, we must remember this is impossible unless we understand where we have been. In that understanding, seek maturity. You must seek it before you will find it.

Although we addressed George Whitefield (1714-1770) in the previous post, a few more things should be said about him, and about the general impact of the Great Awakening. Whitefield preached for thirty years, and preached somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 sermons. He was consumed for the sake of the kingdom of God. He preached in a culture shaped by the Puritans -- both here and in England. Positively, he was used to bring many thousands of people into a vibrant relationship with God through Christ, and he did this in the years just prior to the War for Independence. Without the first GW (Whitefield), there would have been no place for the second GW (Washington). Negatively, one of the results of his catholic and open air proclamation was a general cultural disparagement of the role of the Church. We are still dealing with the results of that today. But though this was a negative consequence, we ought not to lay the central blame for it on the evangelical preachers. Whitefield and the Wesleys were Anglican priests who were denied the use of church pulpits. It is always a suspicious criticism when the establishment kicks you out and then blames you for being out. We should take a skeptical stance when the burst wineskins chide the wine for being there on the floor.
But negative consequences are still negative, and new wine on the floor doesn't stay new wine.

The Second Great Awakening, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was markedly less doctrinal than the first had been, and the stage was set for revivalism to replace true revivals.

Charles Finney (1792-1875) was a lawyer who was suddenly converted in 1821, and then ordained in 1824. He labored for many years as a revival preacher. His impact historically was almost entirely negative. Doctrinally, he was a rationalist and a pragmatist, and he departed radically from the Reformed faith. His doctrine of the will had a practical impact also; he instituted "the anxious bench," which is where our common practice of "going forward" came from. Finney taught that revival was something we could necessarily bring about through utilizing the right "methods." This can-do pragmatism has thoroughly devastated the modern church.

The War Between the States (1861-1865) was a horrible conflict that was a judgment of God on our entire nation, North and South together, and we are still suffering under the consequences of this judgment today. For our purposes here it is important to note that it was also a clash between two cultures. Unitarian theology was very influential in the North; Southern leadership was dominated by orthodox Christianity. God used the forces of unbelief in the North to chastize and humble the more orthodox but no less disobedient South. As we consider this horrific time in our history, we should acknowledge this as a time of judgment -- our French Revolution.

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) was a champion of educated orthodoxy, and led the fight against the rising theological liberalism in the Presbyterian church. He was removed from the church, and was instrumental in founding the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Machen also distinguished himself in his opposition to Prohibition. The latter distinguishes him as much as the former. The Bible is our authority, not wowserism.

Following defeat in the mainstream denominations, conservative theology became reactionary, and retreated from any significant interaction with American culture. Earning the label fundamentalism, it stayed this way until the early 70's, when they were roused by Francis Schaeffer. But when conservative Christians took up arms again for the culture wars, they found them badly rusted through lack of use.

Modern American evangelicalism can be identified with D.L. Moody in the last century ("I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it"), and Billy Graham (1918- ) in this century. Evangelicalism can be described as a theological attempt to split the difference between reactionary fundamentalism on the one hand, and Reformed orthodoxy on the other. For the most part, this attempt has been unsuccessful, though it has made some significant contributions to the Church generally. The modern ecclesiastical scene is a circus, and the only real cohesion evangelicalism has is found in individuals, not doctrine or liturgy. And this is our ailment; this is our disease. The Church must stand or fall by what she believes and does, and not by her personalities or, as they have now become, our celebrities.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Thumbnail Sketch of Church History

Consolidation, Expansion & Revival (1600-1800)

Recovering truth is one thing. Preserving it is quite another. In the Reformation, the great truths of justification by faith and a gospel of sovereign grace were wonderfully recovered. In the centuries that followed, these truths were consolidated, expanded, and, in many cases, set on fire. In other instances, unfortunately, they were dried like pressed flowers and put into a glass case.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind . . . For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself (Phil. 3:13-21).

The issue is always the gospel. The apostle Paul makes clear that as far as he is concerned, the issue is Christ and His cross. But as we shall see, enemies of this message are subtle -- like the serpent. As God grants us wisdom as individuals, an important part of our sanctification is to avoid regression. Sin can certainly be seen in going from righteousness to sin. But it can also be seen in going from maturity to immaturity. As Paul puts it here, we must live up to what we have attained.

The same thing is true of the Church. We can tell if we have unwittingly adopted evolutionary assumptions if we think that we are automatically "more advanced" than our fathers. This is quite simply false. In our culture as Christians, we have not lived up to what we have attained. Our fathers understood many things which we have forgotten. May God show us mercy once again.

Here are some important figures and events from this period. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) was a Reformed pastor in the Netherlands who came to doubt certain key elements of the Reformed faith. He urged a national synod be called where he could articulate his views. In the midst of that controversy, he became ill and died. In the following year, his followers presented a five point remonstrance, asking to have their views accepted. The Synod of Dordt met and wound up condemning these views in 1618.

The five points of Arminianism were these: 1. Human ability (free will) -- The Fall affected human nature, but not so much that man is completely helpless. Every sinner has free will, and his salvation depends upon how he uses it. 2. Conditional Election -- God's choice of individuals to salvation was based upon His foresight of their response to His calling. 3. General Atonement -- Christ's work on the cross made it possible that anyone could be saved. 4. Resistible Grace -- The Holy Spirit does not regenerate a sinner until he believes, and if he refuses to believe the Spirit's work is thwarted. 5. Possible Loss of Salvation -- Disagreement exists between Arminians on this point, but the more consistent Arminians hold that a true Christian can fall away and be damned.

It is important to emphasize that what many people have come to understand as the ultimate characteristic of the Reformed faith (the five points of Calvinism) were actually a particular response in a particular controversy to the five points of Arminianism. The Reformed faith extends far beyond all this -- but though it is more than this, it is certainly not less than this.

Over against the Arminians, the Reformed affirmed: 1. Total Inability -- The fall of mankind in Adam made it impossible for men to save themselves, prepare themselves to be saved, or cooperate in being saved. They must be regenerated by God first. 2. Unconditional Election -- Before the foundation of the world, God chose His elect and passed by the others, and the reasons for this are to be found in His good pleasure, and not in us. 3. Particular Redemption -- Christ's work on the cross made it certain that the elect would be saved. 4. Resurrecting Grace -- When the Holy Spirit regenerates a man, He moves in a sovereign way, brings the man to life, and then as a result he believes. 5. Preservation & Perseverance of the Saints -- One who is numbered among the elect cannot fall under the final condemnation of God.

One of the apparent ironies of history is that wherever this "grim" and "predestinarian" creed has gone, it has brought civil liberties in its train. This is because if God is ultimately sovereign, no human agency is. And if God has left any gaps in His sovereignty, certain human rulers (civil or ecclesiastical) take it as an invitation to try to fill that gap. This history of how this worked out over the centuries is quite fascinating.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was one key figure in the English-speaking world. Because of the struggle between the Puritans and Anglo-Catholics, England was plunged into Civil War. A young parliamentarian named Cromwell excelled as a military man, and eventually became Lord Protector. Cromwell reluctantly agreed to the execution of Charles I. Cromwell was sincere and incorruptible -- and at the same time misguided and destructive. The saints have often found themselves ruling before they were quite ready for prime time. This happened in the time of Constantine, and also in the time of Cromwell. Nevertheless, the results were good in both instances. The three major factions in England at this time were Independents, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. The most common mistake that is made is that of lumping the Presbyterians and the Independents since both were Calvinistic. But the Presbyterians were Puritans who objected strongly to the execution of the king.

The Westminster Assembly (1643-1647) met during this time. Convened by Parliament, this assembly of theologians has had a monumental impact on the history of the evangelical church -- all denominations -- since that time. The Westminster teaching on baptism, for example, is ignored by evangelical Presbyterians down to the present.

Another important figure was George Whitefield (1714-1770). As a result of the turmoil of the previous century, the state of religion in England was at a low ebb in the 18th century. The "nonconformist" churches were dying. The God who raises the dead moved in an unlikely place -- the Church of England -- by converting a young priest named Whitefield and making him one of the greatest evangelistic preachers the world has ever known. He was a thorough-going Calvinist -- in 1743 John Wesley broke with him over the issue. He was the force behind the Great Awakening in America, and the Evangelical Awakening in England

Whitefield persuaded another priest to join him in open-air preaching, a young man named John Wesley (1703-1791). Wesley was an untiring worker, organizing genius, not too scrupulous, and the organizer of modern day Methodism. The founder of the "Methodist" club at Oxford was Charles Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement was Whitefield, and the founder of the denomination was John. Breaking with Whitefield on Calvinism, the Wesleys developed a position which we may call "evangelical Arminianism." Most evangelicalism today is descended in some fashion or other from the Wesleyan revivals.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Cruelest of All Delusions

---by George Grant

"People will be lovers of SELF" -- 2 Timothy 3:2

The passions of discontent, pride, and envy--exert themselves in each of us. We are fallen into a state of gross idolatry--and SELF is the idol we worship! The principle of SELF is deep-rooted in every heart, and is the spring of every action--until grace infuses a new principle, and SELF, like Dagon, falls before the Lord Almighty! --John Newton

We are prone to think of God--when we think of Him at all--as wonderful. We are less likely to see Him as willful. Certainly He is both, but the overwhelming emphasis of Scripture is upon the will rather than the wonder. It is upon the exercise of God's prerogative rather than the expiation of our pleasure. The difference is probably a matter of slights rather than slanders. Nevertheless, it is a difference that makes for rather dramatic consequences.

Thus, to some of us God is little more than a cosmic vending machine in the sky, designed to dispense our every want and whim. To others of us He is a grandfatherly sage who lives to patiently offer us certain therapeutic benefits and baubles from His largess. To still others He is a kind of Santa figure--jolly, unflappable, and determined to bestow goodies upon incognizant masses. Invariably though, we moderns tend to see God in terms of ourselves--in terms of our wants, our needs, our preferences, and our desires. We have apparently, as Voltaire accused, "made God in our own image."

But, according to psychologist Paul Vitz, such a conception is not knowledge of God at all, but a form of "self-worship." According to J.C. Ryle, it is "the cruelest of all delusions" because "by it men think they have come to a knowledge God when in fact they have done nothing of the sort." Thus, Joseph Aulen has argued that "the vast proportion of modern Christians have a vastly mistaken knowledge of the person and work of the Almighty."

According to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "because men do not know God or the nature of God--particularly those who claim to be Christians--all of the problems of life and culture are amplified even more." Andrew Murray asserts that it is due to the fact that Christians do not "properly entertain a knowledge of God" that "societies fall into such disarray as we have in the modern world." And A.W. Tozer has said that "a lack of a true knowledge of God's attributes and character" is the "root of the indecisiveness, imbalance, and ineffectiveness" of the contemporary church.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008