Friday, March 31, 2006

Alistair Begg on Amos

Alistair Begg just wrapped up a series on Amos – good stuff. Listen to his last message on Amos, if nothing else. I think his second-last message (Dark Days and Shaved Heads) is even better. Very sobering. In his last message he made some points that you don’t hear everyday in Christian media; you’d almost think the guy was amillennial. He doesn’t use the labels in the pulpit (nor do I), but he’s barking up the right tree.

On our big family odyssey in 2004 (I should post about that some day), we went to Parkside Church in Cleveland and heard Alistair preach. He spoke on the temple described at the end of Ezekiel and made it very clear that the prophet was not writing about some future, physical temple.

I am very sympathetic to amillennial eschatology. Though I don’t think any one ‘system’ has it down completely, amillennialism is a label I’m comfortable to wear (even though the label itself is a misnomer).

Regarding other views, the more I learn about ‘Princeton postmillennialism’ (to differentiate it from the caricatures) the more I understand the appeal, particularly after reading Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope. I also have great respect for several premillennialists as well – James Boice, Albert Mohler and C.H. Spurgeon come to mind! What I don’t have a lot of time for is popular dispensationalism (think Hal Lindsay and the Left Behind series).

There. My eschatology cards are on the table. I probably just lost half of my readers. I’ll miss both of you! Go listen to Alistair Begg, anyway!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Normally I’d say that butterflies are for girls and sissies,
but this is cool.

Speaking of butterflies, my Dr. has this poster in his office:

It's amazing what you can find with Google.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Lost in Translation

I was poking around on EBay for a USB adaptor for my Laptop and came across this, uh, interesting description of a ‘produce.’ If you don’t want to link away from this page, here’s a sample:
PC Special Remote is self-contained digitally amusement project of PC console. You can expediently operate DVD/VCD/CD?MP3 of multi software play by our produce. The interface operate too easily .You can sit on the sofa,to watching and Playing . Also you ca optional choosing and repeated playing music or chapter what's your like. Through using this product you can perform the operting program of mouse and keyboard too. Let you full azimuth to operate computer in your spare time (insert one big SIC here).

I’m sure this person is a fine EBay citizen (lots of sales, great feedback), but he or she needs an English proof writer.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Jesus, I Come

1. Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,Jesus, I come; Jesus I come.
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my wanting and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,Jesus, I come to Thee.

2. Out of my shameful failure and loss,Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross, Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress into jubilant psalm, Jesus, I come to Thee.

3. Out of unrest and arrogant pride, Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into Thy blessed will to abide, Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love, Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward forever on wings like a dove, Jesus, I come to Thee.

4. Out of the fear and dread of the tomb, Jesus, I come; Jesus, I come.
Into the joy and light of Thy home, Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold, Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold, Jesus, I come to Thee.

© 2000 Greg Thompson Music. Lyrics by William Sleeper

We hope to teach this hymn to our congregation in the near future. If you want to hear the tune, an MP3 sample is available at the website for Indelible Grace Music.


Assurance of Salvation

For many years he had known and believed the truth, but his views of Christ had been rather sought in the reflection of the inward work of the Holy Spirit in his heart than in the contemplation of the finished righteousness of Christ, and he had neither peace nor joy in believing …At last, to use his own earnest words in a remarkable letter published by John Newton, “The cloud which covered the mercy-seat fled away, Jesus appeared as he is! My eyes were not turned inward, but outward, The Gospel was the glass in which I beheld him …. I now stand upon a shore of comparative rest. Believing, I rejoice. When in search of comfort, I resort to the testimony of God; this is the field which contains the pearl of great price. Frames and feelings are, like other created comforts, passing away. What an unutterable source of consolation it is that the foundation of our faith and hope, is ever immutably the same! – the sacrifice of Jesus as acceptable and pleasing to the Father as ever it was! … Formerly the major part of my thoughts centred either upon the darkness I felt or the light I enjoyed. Now they are mainly directed to Jesus, what he hath done, suffered, and promised.”
[From Alexander Haldane, Lives of Robert and James Haldane, speaking of a testimony given by and Edinburgh merchant by the name of John Campbell. Quoted in Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism, p. 191).

The Old Clutz Strikes (the ice) Again

It’s 1:20 am and I’m sitting up on the couch. The time relates to when the ibuprofen wore off. Yep. I was playing hockey again.

On Monday, I went with my kids to the homeschool skate at our local arena, as is my custom. I jumped into a gentle game of pick-up hockey. About 8 weeks ago, I took a flying leap and tore a bicep muscle. This week, I fell on my back and hurt my ribs and neck muscles. I would trade this injury for the last one – at least I could sleep with my hurt arm (after the first night). I’m just too clumsy to play hockey.

Ooo – I just sneezed! The first time since Monday. Did that ever hurt. Aaargh!

Sorry for being such a whiner, but if you’ve ever had a rib injury, I’m sure you can relate. I haven’t seen a doctor yet – it didn’t seem so bad when I did it, but it is getting worse as the days go by. I booked an appointment for Monday to get my BP checked, so I’ll ask my Dr. to have a look then.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Car Stories 2 – My First Car

I bought my first car when I was 16 – that would’ve been 1981. It was so cool. It was a 1971 Chevelle Malibu Convertible and it only cost $500.00. I had grand dreams for that car. It only had the little V8 – a 307 – and a bench seat up front (best for dates, anyway). All I saw was possibilities.

Of course, it was a little rough. I was taking automotives in high school, so I could fix it up. No problem. I took it to school and brought my shop teacher over to inspect it, my buttons bursting with pride. He gave it a quick once over and said, “It’s pretty rusty. I figure the body panels alone will set you back about $3000.00 – let alone the labour and paint work.” What a downer.

I took the car back home, parked it in the storage compound (my parents lived in a big trailer park in Ft. McMurray, AB), and started getting the wording together for a classified ad.

Right after my classified came out, four big guys came to look at the car. I was a little nervous, but I grabbed the keys and we walked out to the compound. They all hopped in right away without even looking the car over, fired it up, floored it and did about three, wild, sideways laps around the gravel compound – dirt-track style. The driver came to a sliding start in front of me and hopped out. He said, “What do you want for this?” I said, “$500.00.” He said, “We’ll take it,” pulled out a wad of cash and handed it to me. I had a bill of sale ready. He put in the minimum information, they piled in and off they roared – spitting gravel all the way. The car didn’t have plates or – obviously – insurance.

I never saw that car again. Thankfully, I never saw those guys again, either.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Waiting for Spring

It is March 20th - Spring is here! I took this picture a few minutes ago just outside our front door. Do you see the daffodils? The green grass? The tree buds? Sigh.

I shouldn't complain, Edmonton (2 hours East) set a new March snowfall record yesterday: 22cm (8.7 inches). We only had a few cms.

We've had a very mild winter - January and February were amazing. March, however, is making up for it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Hymn for Sunday Morning

Some other bloggers that I respect post hymns on their blogs from time-to-time. That’s a good idea – I think I’ll steal it. I’ll draw from the well of Indelible Grace Music, mostly, and, like most of my blogging themes, it’ll be hit and miss.

I love Indelible Grace Music. If you haven’t heard of them, I encourage you to cruise over to their website and listen to some clips. These folks are doing a great service by making old hymns available. They have a rich treasury of music resources on their site. We are planning to use more of their music in our services in the future. You may have heard some of these hymns, but many of them were new to me.

Here is rich, old hymn from their first CD. You’ll see the inspiration for the name
Indelible Grace in verse three:

A Debtor to Mercy Alone

1. A debtor to mercy alone, Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on, My person and offering to bring.
The terrors of law and of God With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood, Hide all my transgressions from view


2. The work which His goodness began, The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen, And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now, Not all things below nor above
Can make Him His purpose forego, Or sever my soul from His love.

3. My name from the palms of His hands, Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure, As sure as the earnest is given
More happy, but not more secure, The glorified spirits in heaven.


©1998, Kevin Twit Music. Lyrics by Augustus Toplady (1740-1778)

Blogger’s Back (?)

For the last couple of days Blogger has been doing strange things to my blog – you may have noticed. I have been poking around, trying to make it normal again. This is akin to the average bloke taking a big screwdriver and messing around inside the ‘black box’ under the hood of his new car when his check engine light comes on. My wise wife told me to leave it alone, but, of course, I didn’t do that.

If – perchance – you have this blog on a feed, I apologize for multiple posts that were really non-posts over the past few days. In all my ‘fixing,’ I ended up with worse formatting on a couple of posts than I would have had if I had left things alone.

I can’t speak for Blogger’s problems, but I’m thankful for all the nifty template-comment-picture-sidebar-whatnot doodads that they give me for free to do this blog, so I’ll stop complaining now.

Anyway, I’ve wasted enough time this morning – I have to go finish my sermon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Car Stories # 1

I’ve been posting some pretty heavy stuff around here lately – I haven’t even taken the time to find old Leadership cartoons. It’s time to lighten up a bit. This post won’t please my 11 year-old daughter who has been bugging me to post something interesting, but I don’t know anything about horses, art or the violin (I could do something on a Lord of the Rings theme sometime, I suppose). Some of you out there might like car stories, however.

I like cars and this is my blog, after all. From time to time I may show off a picture of one of the gems that I’ve owned. People know me as a car guy around here. In fact, a fellow from our church came by to show off his new wheels this morning. I gave my approval. He went home happy. You’ll know why my judgment is held in high regard after this post. Scroll down and take a look at the beauty in the post below (this is what they call a ‘stock photo,’ I never did get a picture of mine, but this one’s pretty much the same, though my car was a gunmetal blue-gray. Car guys drool when they see a Volkswagen 411).

My 1971 411 was a serendipitous acquisition (that means that a persuasive college buddy needed some cash in a hurry).  Unfortunately, my friend’s dad died soon after he did a partial restoration on the VW – new paint, engine rebuild, new gas heater, etc. It was in excellent condition. I bought it in about March, 1986 and sold it in September. I went through a lot of cars when I was in school – buy in the spring to get around and earn some money, sell in the fall to pay tuition. I only paid $900 for this treasure and sold it for the same amount to a fellow from Korea who was also a student at NBTC. Cheap car, right? People just don’t appreciate rolling art.

Apart from its undeniable beauty, what’s so great about a VW 411? Well, it has a nice big interior – mine had the upgrade MB Tex vinyl interior (MB Tex is Mercedes Benz speak, don’t you know). The interior also had adjustable bucket seats, a fold-down armrest in the back seat, and big storage well behind the back seat for the 6th passenger, if they were small and didn’t mind lying down under the back window.  

It had an 85 hp, 2.0 l fuel-injected, air-cooled flat 4 – in the back, of course – and a 4-speed manual. The motor was pretty much the same as what came with a Porsche 914 2.0, apparently. It would cruise at 85 mph, as I found out when I let my roommate’s brother drive from Edmonton to Calgary on the way back to Vancouver from Ft. McMurray. It had one of the smoothest rides of any car I’ve driven – it just swallowed up speed bumps. Once I found the reset button for the gas heater (soon before I sold it), it would get toasty warm inside right away – no waiting for coolant to heat up. It also had a sunroof – a metal panel that slid back with a crank. I lived in Maple Ridge, B.C. at the time and I loved to open the roof, crank my stereo and drive up to the mountains at Golden Ears Park (when it wasn’t raining – now that I think of it, I may have only done that trip once).

If you think I’m a bit daft to lavish affection on this old dog, let me say this in my defense: At least I never sold Ladas to poor, naïve penny pinchers looking for a good new car.  

Coming up in future ‘Car Stories’ posts: a 1971 Chevelle convertible, a 1968 Chevy 4x4 and a remarkable 1987 Toyota Camry wagon. I have pictures of the real machines that I owned for these posts.

She's a gem.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Word of the … oh, whatever: It's about Tolerance

This was supposed to be a word of the week feature, but I’ve only posted two (or was it three?) ‘word’ posts in about five months. I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, so I’ll fire it off now and make no promises about my rambling, annotated dictionary for the future. Isn’t the blog world, uh, unpredictable!

The word ‘tolerance’ has evolved over the years. This will not come as a surprise to anyone over the age of 40. It has morphed into its current meaning in popular usage over the past 20 years or so – maybe less.

I looked this word up in three dictionaries. One of them was good old Webster (part of my E-Sword package). The newest reference was from dictionary.com online. The third was from a 1980 Oxford American Dictionary that I have in actual book form (imagine that!). The later two dictionaries give more than one definition. I’m sticking with the first one in each. Let the scientific and medical bloggers deal with the alternatives. Let’s look at the definitions:

Webster, from 1828
The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring.

Webster says that this word is ‘rare,’ though the word ‘intolerance’ is more common. Interesting, no?

Oxford American, 1980
  1. willingness or ability to tolerate a person or thing

Since that is not very helpful on its own, here is how they define ‘tolerate:”
  1. to permit without protest or interference

On to 2006, www.dictionary.com (I admit, I don’t know when they last updated this entry).
  1. The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others
The understanding of the word ‘tolerance’ has changed a bit, hasn’t it? Maybe I’m reading in here, but more seems to be expected of the person doing the tolerating in the latest version.
I’m going to bring in a big gun to make my commentary here. In his book, The Gagging of God, Dr. D.A. Carson explains the change that has come over this word ‘tolerance’:
In a relatively free and open society, the best forms of tolerance are those that are open to and tolerant of people, even when there are strong disagreements with their ideas. This robust toleration for people, if not always their ideas, engenders a measure of civility in public discourse while still fostering spirited debate over the relative merits of this or that idea. Today, however, tolerance in many Western societies focuses on ideas, not people.
The result of adopting this new brand of tolerance is less discussion of the merits of competing ideas – and less civility. There is less discussion because toleration of diverse ideas demands that we avoid criticizing the opinions of others; in addition, there is almost no discussion where the ideas at issue are of the religious sort that claim to be valid for everyone everywhere: that sort of notion is right outside the modern ‘plausibility structure’ (to use Peter Berger’s term), and has to be trashed. There is less civility because there is no inherent demand, in this new practice of tolerance, to be tolerant of people, and it is especially difficult to be tolerant of those people whose views are so far outside the accepted ‘plausibility structures’ that they think your brand of tolerance is muddleheaded.
In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying new religions. No matter how wacky, no matter how flimsy their intellectual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centered, no matter how obviously their gods have been manufactured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure the other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up: pluralism (in the third sense) has been challenged. Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated. Correspondingly, proselytism is a dirty word. One cannot fail to observe a crushing irony: the gospel of relativistic tolerance is perhaps the most ‘evangelistic’ movement in the Western culture at the moment, demanding assent and brooking no rivals. (D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, pp. 32-33)
Can we strongly disagree with ideas without offending one another? Can we state that certain things in the realm of religion, philosophy and morality are right and wrong without being branded as ‘intolerant’? These are sobering questions. Do we have the courage to be misunderstood in order to communicate God’s truth to a world that doesn’t want to hear it?
This ‘Tolerance’ with a capital ‘T’ has made serious inroads into the church. It is not a new phenomenon, either. It goes hand-in-hand with what we used to call ‘secular humanism’ (maybe we don’t use that handle much anymore because for so much of evangelicalism, ‘Secular Humanism R Us’).
We should be aware of how words have changed, but we should not lose sleep about being branded ‘intolerant’ if what the world – and even those criticizing from inside the church – are simply reacting against the truth of God’s Word proclaimed with confidence.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Composite Societies - Part IV - Conclusion

Why does knowing the difference between Composite and Unitary Sacral Societies matter for Christians today?

Understanding the difference between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God is essential for understanding the purpose of the church in the world. Equating any one empire or nation with the church is not consistent with sound, biblical thinking. We don’t need to know much history to know that when the church has forgotten that God’s Kingdom is not coextensive with any earthly kingdom the results are catastrophic.

An extension of this theological thinking brings us back to the Christian worldview that under girds the composite model. This model has historically had a distrust of human nature and a realistic understanding of the human condition.

Western democracies were not founded upon the pillars of a Composite philosophy because our forefathers were convinced that the masses knew best, but rather because they knew that power corrupts. For the good of the people, the leaders in any society need checks and balances to keep them honest. No king, queen nor small group of elite leaders will be Benevolent Dictators for long, even if they do start that way. The electorate must remember that the option to ‘kick the bums out’ every few years is a good corrective to fallen human nature. It is a blessing to be able to do so in our Western democracies. The Composite Model should keep us humble if we reflect upon how it is supposed to work.

Beyond the important philosophical and theological considerations, being able to explain the Composite model is practical. First, Christians can be the conscience of democratic societies by knowing how good government and good society is supposed to work. We need to take back the culture, not by ‘Christianizing’ our institutions, but by being better at our jobs and smarter at educating our children. This particularly applies to politicians, journalists, civil servants and educators, but this biblical pattern of excellence – for the glory of God - must extend to every vocation.  We are strangers and aliens here, but this is our Father’s World. He made it, and we have His revelation to help us be productive and wise citizens.

The Composite model will help us in the sphere of intentional Christian ministry as well. Defending an ‘in the world, not of it’ pattern of Christian participation in the power structures of our world will help our evangelistic efforts. One of the major stumbling blocks that non-believers have in our day is the conception of a politicized church. Jesus is not white, middle-class and Conservative. He is not the product of modern, Western culture. Nor does Hollywood, Madison Avenue or Toronto reflect the Christian worldview. People looking at the West from within USS type systems will equate our ‘national religion’ with the products of our culture, from Wal-Mart and McDonalds to internet pornography. If they assume we are a Christian country, then how do we account for all the problems that our culture causes? We know that these things are not Christian, but does the rest of the world know that?

When we see, hear and read attacks against Christianity and Christian morality, we should not have a knee-jerk, hot under the collar reaction (though I did as recently as last Friday regarding the CBC, though I contained it to the privacy of my van. I’ll post on that later).  We ought to expect ignorance and even persecution. These enemies of the cross are speaking their native language. Remember, as Christians we are told to love our enemies. We should take these opportunities of ignorance to point out what Christianity is really all about and how it is supposed to relate to the world with words full of grace, seasoned with salt.

We need to live and act more like strangers and aliens – pilgrims, dissenters, non-conformists and a ‘peculiar’ people. Christians have been chosen by God, called together in the church out of the world as ‘outposts of Heaven.’ We don’t belong here, and the world does not own us. We should not be surprised that the world hates us, but we should not give them cause either – other than the offense of the cross.

If people protest that Christianity is a religion that has a long history of oppression and abuse, how will we answer them? Though this line of reasoning is often a smoke-screen for unbelief and willful ignorance of Christianity, we have to admit there have been terrible times of abuse in the history of the institutional church. Call them power failures of church history.  These are not consistent with New Testament teaching. If we can express the difference between a ‘pilgrim path’ of discipleship (see Diognetus for an example) and express the wisdom of a Composite Society, we can go a long way to diffusing these objections. For many people today around the world, ‘Christian’ means oppressive colonialism, Western greed and profligate immorality.

If the distinction between Christianity and a godless culture continues to disappear, who is to blame but the church herself? Christ’s Church will not fail – He will build it and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. However, many, many individual churches and whole associations of churches have taken the path of apostasy. As Christians, we must hold our pastors and leaders accountable to have distinctly Christian, particularly biblical, Gospel-centered local churches. The church will grow and influence the culture best when local churches are cross-centered and exclusively Christ exalting and known for their love and holiness as a community and in the world. There is power in the Gospel. God will use His Word to change one heart at a time if we trust His means of saving the world. Nothing else will produce lasting influence in our decaying Western cultures.

We need to pray for thinking Christians who are involved in every area of our culture, including government, education, entertainment and the media. As a word of caution, let me state that having Christians in power in Ottawa or Washington D.C., or Hollywood, for that matter, will not necessarily make any real difference. What was it that Luther said? Something like, “I’d rather be governed by a wise Turk than a stupid Christian.” Amen to that. However, having Christians of integrity in leadership in key areas because they do their work with wisdom and excellence will make a difference in the long run (teach your children well!).

In conclusion, if we are concerned about the marginalization of Christianity in our culture, the best thing that we can do is pray for reformation and revival. God knows what we need and what we will face in the years to come. Christians need to understand the times and work wisely and diligently – for the night is coming.

End of post VI, end of the Composite Society Series.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Incredible Sidewalk Chalk Art

This is a link worth seeing: 3D Sidewalk Art

Scroll down the page to see the ‘tricks’ used for the incredible 3D effects.

H/T Justin Taylor (who H/Ts Michelle Malkin)

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Composite Society - Part V

What advantages do we have in our Western Democratic societies as Christians? Like a fish in an aquarium, we have a hard time evaluating our environment. It’s all we know. Hopefully, we thank God for the freedom that we have to gather to worship, to make our voice heard to government and in the media, and to persuade others to consider the claims of Christ. These freedoms are rights in Canada and the United States. For now.

I was going to do a total of five posts on the Composite Society vs. Unitary Sacral Society issue, but I can’t condense my conclusions very well. I will do at least one more post after this one. Since I have not been very speedy in getting this line of thought up on my blog, here are the first four posts for review, if you wish: Post 1; Post 2; Post 3 and Post 4. If you don’t want to take the time to read these, let me just briefly review some of the argument in point form:
  • Most civil societies in history have been a marriage of one official religion with the civil government, what I’ve called Unitary Sacral Societies. What this looks like in practice is that there is one ‘body’ (the country or empire) that has two heads, the high priest to act as the spiritual head and the King (or emperor, queen, etc.) to rule the civil aspect of the realm. In most instances, the chief civil official rules supreme (e.g. the Pharaohs in Egypt or Caesars in the Roman Empire).

  • The Bible points to a division between the kingdoms of man and the Kingdom of God. The seeds for the alternative were sown in Scripture, particularly the New Testament. This alternative is the Composite Society in which there is freedom of religion, that is, the government has no mandate to impose a religion upon the people (contrary to modern conceptions of separation of church and state that read that constitutional provision to mean that the state should be free from religion).

  • Christians must wake up to the fact that this Composite model is the foundation for our freedom. It is an exception in history, and quite recent in its development in the context of history. If we do not understand and protect this Composite Society that we now enjoy, we are going to lose it. This model is built upon the borrowed capital of the Christian worldview. If Christians do not fight to keep it alive, who will?

What are the current threats to the Composite Society and the freedoms that it brings to Western democracies?

First, we must consider secularism. Secularism is that which has to do with this world as opposed to the sacred (that which is transcendental) separate from the natural order. What cannot be verified with the senses is not real or at least not ‘scientific.’

In the 60s and 70s, Christian apologists spent most of their time battling secular humanism with its naturalistic atheism (think National Geographic). At least then the enemy was somewhat obvious. Presenting arguments for the existence of God, the legitimacy of the supernatural and evidence of the resurrection were central to the defense of Christianity. Today, secular people will respond to these arguments with, “If that works for you, that’s fine. I have my own beliefs.” When spirituality is disconnected from the implications of divine revelation for the ‘real world,’ secularism triumphs by default.

Of course, spirituality is big business these days. Popular spirituality, however, is a distinctly secular spirituality. It is of this world, not revealed from God; personal, not corporate; peripheral, not central – in other words, secular, not sacred.  No matter what fancy words are used, most spirituality today doesn’t get beyond the consciousness of the individual. This may seem to lend itself to the support of a composite society, but if secularism becomes ‘she who must be obeyed,’ we find ourselves back in the USS tyranny.

What is the danger to Christians in this secular triumph? We already seeing the censorship of truth claims as ‘intolerant’ or ‘hate speech.’ The last remaining heresy is to confess that there is such a thing as heresy. To say that faith in Christ is the only way to be reconciled to God is unacceptable to a Unitary Sacral Society where the State Religion is secularism. I’ve mentioned this book before, but to get a glimpse of the frightening results of a consistent application of a naturalistic, secular worldview, see Phillip E. ‘Not a Pyromaniac’ Johnson’s book, Reason in the Balance. For modern reading on this topic, the works of Francis Schaeffer, David Wells and D.A. Carson regarding the philosophical changes in the culture that are shaping evangelicalism should be considered essential reading for Christian leaders. Following C.S. Lewis’ advice, we should be reading old books as well to clear our heads so that we can understand the mistakes we are making as believers today.

Another threat to our Composite model is Islam. This religion does not have a theology that lends itself to a Composite model of society. Of course there are Muslim moderates in Western society who appreciate the Composite model, but they do not have their ‘Book’ on the side of this paradigm in the same way that Christians do with the New Testament. This is more of an immediate problem for Western Europe, as we on this side of the Atlantic are somewhat insulated by a more diverse, multi-ethnic population. I’m certainly no expert on any of this, but consider, for example, this article by Mark Steyn on the impact of Demographics and the spread of Islam. I think it’s worth talking about among thinking Christians.

My purpose in writing this series on the Composite society is to remind us of the unique situation that we find ourselves in today in Canada and the United States particularly. We dare not forget that the freedom and prosperity that we have did not come cheap. Wars have been waged to protect our democratic freedoms and convictions. What would people fight for today? We must remember that in order for democracies to work, we must not blindly trust our leaders and the ‘experts.’ History has proven that the powerful tend to favor the more efficient unitary model.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Grace Machine

I love the doctrines of grace, also known as Reformed Theology and Calvinism. The doctrines of election and predestination, once a confusing embarrassment to me are now a precious comfort. I’ve spent enough time on the other side of the fence on these doctrines earlier in my life that I have a lot of time for people that struggle with them. I don’t preach topical messages on these doctrines, and I try not to use the ‘hot button words’ in my sermons. I don’t shy from the doctrines when they come up texts that I’m preaching. I won’t compromise these biblical convictions even if people walk away from our church over my stand. However, I don't want them to leave without an honest discussion of the biblical foundation of these doctrines. A high view of God’s sovereignty in salvation is a non-negotiable for my ministry.

I’m currently reading The Old Evangelicalism by Iain Murray. Great book, but his chapter ‘The Cross – The Pulpit of God’s Love’ is brilliant. It is a great corrective to the harsh, bitter brand of Calvinism that I have encountered and gives Reformed Theology a bad name. When I know that an enquirer knows the categories of Calvinism and Arminianism, I have been known to respond to the question, “Are you a Calvinist” with the line, “Yes, but I try not to be a jerk about it.” That unfortunately solicits knowing chuckles.

Iain Murray includes a quote from a preacher named William Roberts in the context of a doctrinal controversy among Calvinistic Methodists in Wales many years ago. Unity among mostly like-minded preachers was being disrupted over precise applications of the Calvinistic doctrine. The title of the section in the chapter is, ‘Discussion of the doctrines of grace becomes dangerous when interest in them is more theoretical than practical.’

Asked if anyone was sufficient to the task of preaching on election, Roberts said:

I do not know who of us – if any – is such … But should you ever attempt it, strive to view it yourself, and to so present it to your listeners, in the relationships in which you find it in God’s Book. Particularly, do not keep it afar off in eternity; it will do no good to anyone there, Bring it down to the chapel, down to the midst of the people. There it will save. It is in its operation that we will understand election, if we will ever understand it.

Consider a large, complex machine, with its various wheels, pipes, hooks and chains, all interweaving and interlocking with one another. It is the engineer who understands its design and can explain it, in and of itself, its various parts, and the relationships of each part with the others so as to make one engine. But I can see it in operation. And an ordinary, illiterate man, knowing nothing of the laws of Mechanics and ignorant of the names which the engineer has for the various parts of the machine, he can make use of it and work with it to achieve the end that was in view when it was designed and built. And it would be ludicrous to see those ignorant workers proceeding to argue amongst themselves as to the composition of the machine, rather than using it to purpose.

When you preach election, preach of it at work. Beware of speculating boldly and investigating in detail into the workings of the internal parts of the machine, and avoid bringing your listeners into the same temptation. Show the worth and glory of the machine by demonstrating it at work. Show the worth of the election of grace by depicting it as saving those who cannot save themselves. That is the view of it given in the Bible, and that, as far as I know, is the only worth it holds for the sinner. If this were not so I do not think the Gospel would acknowledge any relationship to it. But, on the contrary, upon understanding election properly, we find that it not only belongs to the Gospel but that it is one of the sweetest parts of it … it is life itself for such a dull helpless, stubborn creature as myself that God has a provision, in his infinite grace, that meets my condition, and that he will never see in me anything that could turn out a disappointment to him, for he knew my whole history long before I knew anything of it myself.

-- Ian Murray, The Old Evangelicalism, Banner of Truth, 2005, pp. 125-126. Note: The first ellipsis is mine, the second is Murray’s

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Reading the Church Fathers

Dr. Michael Haykin has posted helpful advice on where to begin reading the Church Fathers. He mentions Diognetus, a fascinating, very early document. I have posted a little teaser below in my previous post.

You don’t have to go to a big library to find these documents. You can find them online at www.ccel.org or even download some of them for E-Sword (look for Ante-Nicene Fathers).

What C.S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery’ has infected the church, big-time. I must admit that I am influenced by the ‘new is better’ bug and tend to discount things that are old more than I would care to admit. This is silly, and if I think about it, I know that it is not true. For needed perspective, I go and re-read C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius on the Incarnation once in a while (also published as an essay, On the Reading of Old Books). If you haven’t read this piece of wisdom, click on the link and read it ASAP.

So many books, so little time. We ought to read the classics that have withstood the test of time (I’m preaching to myself again). However, we must first treasure time in God’s Word above all other reading.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

THE EPISTLE OF MATHETES TO DIOGNETUS

This is an insightful chapter from a brief defense of Christianity written by an unknown Christian to a pagan in the Roman Empire. From approximately 115 AD.

CHAPTER V. - THE MANNERS OF THE CHRISTIANS.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring.  They have a common table, but not a common bed They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Composite Society - Part IV: The Enlightenment and Modernism

Pre-modern times were God-centered. That is to say, our ancestors were oriented around the idea of God (or god, or the gods, depending on the culture). Of course, unbelief and disobedience abounded – heightened by the hypocrisy of official state religions. There were, of course, secularists and naturalists, in ancient civilizations, but in the ‘Christian West,’ theism reigned supreme. From the time of Constantine (4th century) to modern times, Christianity was the religion of the Western world.

If you take a quick glance at our culture, you might say that not much has changed. Most people believe in God. Spirituality – in its incredibly diverse forms – is popular again. Evangelicalism seems to have a voice at the table with the power brokers in our culture. Even Intelligent Design seems to be making some headway in scientific quarters. What’s the problem?

If we take a step back and look at the development of our Western democratic society, we find some significant turning points. A seismic shift is now marked by historians via the famous dictum of René Descartes (1596-1650) “I think, therefore I am.” No matter how misused, clichéd and oversimplified this quote has become (guilty of all charges in this post), this is still a handy starting point for this next phase of my attempt to ground our composite society in its historical context.

Following Descartes’ starting point – man’s consciousness of himself – philosophers began to reevaluate the center of Western philosophy. If you want to think in terms of Copernican revolutions, the sun shifted from being God to man. This ushered in the period of history known as the Enlightenment, the modern era. In a nutshell, investigation and reason replaced revelation from God as the source of truth concerning ‘the way things are.’ The philosopher and the scientist replaced the priest and the theologian as the ‘go-to’ guys for ‘real’ truth.
The trajectory of the Enlightenment eventually led to the rejection of any notion of the supernatural or intervention of God in history. If God existed, he was only watching ‘from a distance.’ He may have been the watchmaker, but he was long since irrelevant to history. Secular humanism grew on the foundation of man’s reason and naturalism (i.e. the observable, physical world is all that exists). Today, in spite of the enormous popularity of spirituality in its various forms, secular humanism still appears to reign in all the ‘serious’ centers of our culture – universities, government research departments, scientific laboratories, documentary television, science and nature magazines, and public schools.

This gap between naturalism and spirituality is a part of the air we breathe in our Western world. Religion and spirituality has been relegated to the private and subjective part of life. To call someone else’s beliefs ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is bad form. It is seen as a major faux pas to consider spiritual belief to be something that can be categorized or evaluated critically (some other time I may post on Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher – signifcant early players in this false dichotomy between faith and science).

As I have presented in other posts, I believe that our Composite Society is a good thing. The alternative is a church/state marriage that enforces a system of belief upon all citizens and destroys the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of man. We as Christians need to remember that we are strangers and pilgrims here. Our power is not that of the sword or even the ballot box – our power is the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. However, our adversary, Satan, is no fool. He knew that if he could not ruin the church by eliminating it, he could make it impotent by marginalizing it. Convincing people that Christianity is private and personal could remove it from its role of influencing and reforming societies. This is a big issue. Francis Schaeffer was brilliant at seeing and explaining this reality and pointing to a Gospel-centered way out. Today, David Wells is doing excellent work in evaluating the weightlessness of evangelicalism.

The fact that modern philosophy and science is built upon the foundation of borrowed capital from the Christian worldview is not lost on some modern / postmodern philosophers. Modernity makes claims based on the universal truths, order, and predictability of a designed universe. Logically, God, as revealed in His Word, is necessary to keep this world view of Enlightenment rationalism alive.  If space, time, matter and chance are all that exists, then chaos theory is all that we are left with for a worldview (see Phillip E. Johnson’s Reason in the Balance for some of the chilling logical conclusions of this worldview).

Even though we are pilgrims and strangers, thankfully endorsing a Composite Society, Christians have a God-given responsibility to think, to challenge the foolish thinking of our times and promote a Christian vision of how things ought to be. Christians must be actively involved in politics, journalism, the arts and education. Retreating from the culture – either through physical separation (think Amish) or via building a parallel ‘Christian’ culture and hiding in the resulting ghetto is not the right response to our Composite society (ghetto = take something secular, put a fish on it and pronounce it fit for evangelical consumption).

The freedom and prosperity of our times are an opportunity for Christians. Yes, there are threatening aspects, but let us understand the times make hay while the sun shines! Let us claim the apparent threats to our ‘way of life’ as gifts from God to work for His Kingdom. The popularity of spirituality gives us a foothold to speak. We must present the exclusive, universal, powerful Gospel of Christ to those who will listen, believing in the power of God’s Word to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55). We must make the most of the missionary opportunities presented to us in the multicultural composition of our neighborhoods – the nations are coming to us! We must teach our children to understand history, worldviews and different forms of government as well as the Word of God. Most of all, we must remember and believe that this is our Father’s World. He is sovereign, and His plan for the church cannot be thwarted.