Posts belonging to Category Applying God’s Word



How to handle losing

I was reading recently about the only debate I know of that C.S. Lewis ever lost. The year was 1948 and the sparring partner was Christian philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. It had to do with a chapter of his book, Miracles. To say he lost the debate is…debatable (had to do it), depending on who you ask. Not having interviewed anyone who was there, I couldn’t say who won. But I can say that having read about the event, and more importantly what happened after, I am thankful he lost.

For fans of Prof. Lewis, it may be hard to imagine how such a master could lose a debate, but his partner was no slouch. She was one of the most esteemed philosophers of her generation and a pupil of one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century (Ludwig Wittgenstein). She was a professor at Oxford until late in her life (she died in 2001).

I have no desire to get into the subject of the debate, not having a background in philosophy myself, but I want to point out a couple of things we can learn from what happened. After the debate, Prof. Lewis corrected the element of his book Mrs. Anscombe critiqued, while not rewriting the entire chapter. He displayed humility in correcting the flaws she pointed out. He could have dug-in-his-heels and remained adamant but chose to learn from correction, which King Solomon pointed out is the trait of a wise man (Prov. 1:5).

Also we can appreciate the providence of God in this matter. After the debate, Lewis altered the focus and tone of his writing. I’ll not say that he changed his focus entirely, but it was after losing this debate that he began to use a warmer tone in his writing and different means of communicating the truth of Christianity. This could not be entirely because of one debate, but it is significant that afterward, he wrote fewer philosophical works defending Christianity and more personal (Letters to Malcolm, Surprised by Joy) and child-friendly books (The Chronicles of Narnia). It is often that being taken down a few notches is better for us than we realize. Success can bring pride and pride eliminates our usefulness in the Kingdom of God. God loves us too much to let us go without occasional defeats.

Again I am thankful that he was bested by a younger professor in 1948. Had that not happened, we might not have had The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, or some of his other works. And we wouldn’t have seen him pass the test of how a wise man should respond to correction.

It’ll turn you on your head.


The Second Adam and the New Birth by M.F. Sadler

This book finished the job blowing my former paradigms of baptism away. It is solid in its handling of Scripture and assembles an impressive arsenal against the view that baptism is merely symbolic. It is neither Roman Catholic nor baptistic in its view of baptism; rather it treats the doctrine biblically without falling into any particular ditch. My only caveat is that it gives away too much regarding the doctrine of eternal election, which the author states that he believes wholeheartedly.

Would that all clerks were so bold for Christ

Two of my favorite writers, Peter Leithart and Doug Wilson have written about the Kim Davis situation in Kentucky. Pastor Wilson wrote of the importance of viewing this not as a religious vs. secular case, but a religion A or  religion B case. Dr. Leithart wrote about how the case could give a wide degree of religious liberty in time, but too many on the right and the left have been quick to speak against her.

Those articles are worth reading, and for myself I would add that I appreciate Mrs. Davis. There is much misinformation and disinformation about her (such as the fact that she has been married four times, all of which took place before she became a Christian). She is under attack because she is standing for her constitutional rights. Yes I said constitutional rights. The first amendment gives someone the freedom from having to endorse what they believe is wrong, and having your name appear on the bottom of a homosexual marriage license is in her mind (and mine) an endorsement. It is no different than me endorsing a check to a friend that I know he would use to pay for a prostitute. I wouldn’t do that and she should not be forced to either. The question isn’t why did she do it. It is, “Why isn’t any other county clerk willing to do this?” The answer is that we are, by and large, cowards. We can’t imagine doing anything that won’t at least gain us immediate martyr status with “our”crowd.

At this point I am going to suggest something that I’ve not heard anyone say: please pray for Kim Davis. She is the scourge of the left (understandable) and right (crazy!). She needs strength, patience, and continued grace in the face of spiritual and emotional assault. Pray that God would send her encouragement and wisdom (James 1:3-8). Pray that God would raise up many more men and women like Kim Davis in positions of authority who will stand in the power of the Spirit. And finally, pray that God would give us all courage to stand for righteousness in the face of trials.

Biblical wisdom for pastors

The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life (1842)The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life by George Herbert

This is an excellent advice book for young ministers. Written for pastors in the Anglican church, some details may not apply to other denominations, but on the whole, it is full of wisdom. It describes areas from preaching and counseling, to a minister’s humor and how he should govern his household. I plan on reading this many times in the future.

Greek Heroes vs. Hebrew Heroes

These are the notes I made for a presentation to a theological discussion group. They’re raw, but I think you will get the point.

 

Recently I was reading an essay by a historian who said the following, “The Greeks invented hero-based history.” That is to say, to study history by studying great leaders was invented by Herodotus, Plutarch, and Thucydides. That statement floored me. As I am studying through Judges, I wanted to show that Yahweh invented the study of history, and if we’re talking about civilizations, the Greeks likely gained what they learned about this historical method from the Jews.

The book of Judges is a book of heroes; the term “judge” can mean leader in more than a judicial sense. These heroes are great leaders but none can truly lead reformation in Israel (because Reformation begins in the house of God, a.k.a. the Levites).

The word “hero” comes from the Greek word “heros” which means “great warrior, defender, or protector.” The historian Thomas Carlyle developed an entire theory of heroes, saying that great men move events in history. He published a book, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, that listed six types of heroes: The hero as divine, the hero as prophet, the hero as poet, the hero as priest, man of letters, and king. Another book, entitled The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama, by Lord Ragland, listed 22 elements of a hero in ancient literature. Our own good teacher, Dr. Leithart published a book on the subject entitled Heroes in the City of Man, a study in Greek literary heroes.

The main difference I see between the Greek view of heroes and the Hebraic view (if you could even call it a view) is the Greeks view heroes as the makers of their history, whereas the people of Yahweh understand that Yahweh providentially guides history while raising up men and in some cases women to complete His work.  Most of the Greek heroes are men whose strength and power to perform bold exploits. Men like Hercules, Theseus, Achilles, and Odysseus all were warriors, most of whom defeated terrible enemies and protected their people. Alexander the Great held Achilles as one of his primary examples. The Greek heroes are ends in themselves, that is they accomplish their work and things go back to normal. The Hebraic view of heroes is that they work toward the fulfillment of Yahweh’s purposes. There are similarities in the two civilization’s views of heroes, but they are not working toward the same ends. All the heroes in the Old Testament are shadows of the one true warrior and protector of God’s people: Jesus the Messiah. (more…)

Lord Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word – Martin Luther

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

Engaged separation

Most of us are familiar with the warnings from Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Judges that if Israel didn’t remain a separate people in worship and live faithfully unto Him, Yahweh would give them into the hands of their enemies to be oppressed. What I didn’t know was that Jesus reiterated that warning in Matthew 5:13. There Jesus says His disciples are the salt of the earth. Then He says that if the salt loses its savor, it was good for nothing except to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. In other words, if God’s people in the new covenant age didn’t remain separate from the world in worship and obey His commands, they would be oppressed by God’s enemies just like old covenant Israel was oppressed when they were unfaithful.

But total separation is no option. Our standards are separate depending on how far away our civil realm has drifted from the law of God. But we must savor the world; if not we will be the slaves of our enemies.

Why reading Marx might not be a sin

 

It is time I make a confession. I’ve read a little of Karl Marx. What’s more, I’ve appreciated a few things I’ve read by Karl Marx. That’s not to say I agree with him, but he makes several appropriate criticisms of the capitalist economy in the way it currently operates. It might not be as bad since I’m an economics, political science, and history teacher. Nonetheless because we’ve been taught that certain people are wrong no matter what: Hitler, Karl Marx, Rousseau, etc., to admit that you’ve read them brings out an amount of surprise and sometimes scorn. “Why waste your time reading pagans and atheists?” The only thing worse would be to read a Roman Catholic or Arminian. The answer goes like this: Just because they are wrong on many fronts doesn’t mean everything they say is evil. This would likely be admitted, but the response would be along the lines of, “But there are so many better things to read.” And that’s true. But many times our enemies point out problems that are real problems. They may even point to accurate causes of those problems. We must be willing to call the truth the truth. It reminds me of a Doug Wilson saying that went something like this. “Reading liberal commentators can be helpful because they are willing to say exactly what the text means since they don’t feel the need to believe it. A conservative is not willing as often to fully explain a text because he knows he must believe it.”

So how can I in good conscience read Karl Marx or anyone else and even appreciate some of his criticisms? By breaking down books and articles in several parts (modern educators call this analysis; classical educators called it reading). 1.) Explaining the problem, 2.) explaining why that particular happening is a problem, 3.) listing the causes and symptoms of the problem, 4.) giving solutions to the problem, 5.) explaining the end result of applying said solutions, a.k.a. how this would create almost utopia.

When reading a book or article, you can appreciate any one or more of those five points without valuing all of them. I agree with Marx that capitalism as he defined it is a stepping stone to revolution. It erodes tradition, religion, family ties, and intermediary groups that serve as a buffer between man and the state. In other words, I agree in large part with his explanation of the problem (#1) and the symptoms of the problem (#3). But even in his explanation of the problem, I disagree with him. He doesn’t see capitalism as a problem but a stepping stone to revolution, which is part of his solution to the problem. I see the erosion of the tradition, the family, etc. as something that should be stopped; he wants that erosion to continue because it will prepare the world for revolution. In other words, while I agree with him on part of #1 and #3, I disagree sharply with the rest.

So why read him? Because his analysis of the problem is crucial to understanding the why’s and how’s of world revolutions, from the French Revolution until now. People have followed what Marx described even before he described it. Many have been students of his philosophy; but the problem has not been those who agree with his analysis of the problems and their symptoms; it has been with their attempts to put the rest of his plan into practice.

So what does this have to do with reading other authors? It tells you how you can read those outside the faith without falling prey to their solutions. I’ve discovered, just like with Doug Wilson’s comment on commentators, secularists have some good things to offer in the realm of social criticism. Theological writers like N.T. Wright have wonderful books that describe things about the Lord and His Word that can’t be found anywhere else. But sometimes their solutions to the problems are beyond terrible. Does this mean they shouldn’t be read? No. It does mean that all our reading should be with caution. Unless you train yourself to break down what you read into these five areas and analyze each one, you are a sitting duck for false teaching. Even then you should proceed with great caution before reading just anyone. If you stay in a room with the hash smokers, even if you don’t smoke things will get pretty hazy for you too. If you don’t open your mind to the sea breeze of God’s Word and timeless good books (Pilgrim’s Progress, Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Works of Shakespeare, etc.), your thinking will get fuzzy. And having an older brother or sister in Christ who will direct you through these things is helpful as long as you actually listen to him/her.

Is it a sin to read Karl Marx? Not always. Could reading someone like him lead you into a trap? You bet. Therefore in all your reading, read with balance and care.

What’s New Out There?

I’ve been insulated as a Primitive Baptist pastor for the last five-plus years, which certainly has its advantages. There’s been a lot of change in the Evangelical world since then and I’ve just now finding out about it. I’ve noticed it mostly in the area of corporate worship, but that is just one of many areas. Being away for a few years has given me a fresh perspective. A few things come to mind initially and I hope to write a few posts about them.This list includes both Baptist and Presbyterian churches we’ve visited.

First of all, there has been a decline in reverence for worship. Now call me a stick in the mud (a term I’ve started to embrace) but since when did ministers stop wearing ties? Since when did members start dressing like they were going on vacation? I understand someone coming in from working 3rd shift wearing work clothes, but most people aren’t in that position. If this were the only symptom I wouldn’t suspect there was a disease, but it goes deeper than that. Worship in most churches has all the gravity of a kernel of popcorn. And this is in conservative churches. Of course this is not to say all churches are this way. But too many are. And the way people dress (at least in the South) is one indicator of how much priority they put on worship. Does this mean you don’t love God if you don’t wear a tie? Of course not. But when the people at Wal-Mart are better dressed than people in the church, it raises a few questions. (more…)

Co-belligerants with the Devil

I’ve been all over the map when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. Not that I have any question about the sinfulness of marijuana use. When God’s Word says “Be not drunk with wine,” that’s not the only thing it applies to. The effect of drunkenness can be gained with more than just wine. At least the Scripture says that wine can be good when used rightly. Paul never said smoke a little hash for your glaucoma’s sake. There is one main reason for smoking marijuana: to get high. Scripture forbids getting high, therefore smoking marijuana is sin. That’s not legalism, it’s obedience.

But the legalization of marijuana is a different matter. All crimes (as defined by Scripture) are sins but not all sins are crimes (thanks Doug Wilson). In the Old Testament the act of adultery was a crime punishable by stoning (with rocks, that is). Jesus said that lust in the heart was also a type of adultery. Thankfully the latter sin was not a crime. To apply this to the topic, just because smoking marijuana is a sin doesn’t mean there must be a law against it.

Nonetheless there are laws against it. So what’s a Christian to do? In the past I’ve argued that those laws should be removed. It was a part of my “Christian libertarian” platform. After all, isn’t this just another area of the ever-encroaching state dictating what we do? “Down with big brother” I said. But when I look around at the people who are calling for the legalization of marijuana, most of them are, shall we say, on the licentious side. The parades and protests in favor of this drug is made up not of people who have a zeal for the Lord’s Word but a zeal for no brakes. I’ve heard from others and I agree that until I became Reformed I never heard a Christian support legalizing pot. We know the arguments from Romans 14, Colossians 2, and the like. But in our strict, “unless it’s in the text I’m not going to obey it” perspective, we’ve missed a greater command: “Love not the world neither the things that are in the world.”

Part of wisdom means discerning good from evil (Heb. 5:14). Sure it may not be in the text that pot should remain illegal, but it’s time we wake up and take a look at what’s going on. Do we really think our government wants legalized pot because of their respect for godly liberty or is it an even easier way to control the masses (paging Aldous Huxley)? And when you are taking a stand for things, who are you standing with? Is it the godly, albeit rag-tag army of the saints or is it made of orcs, weak-kneed men, and a Saruman or two to make it look respectable (see Tolkien if you’re unsure of those references)? Sure I know about the “guilt-by-association” fallacy, but hear this: if you’re protesting for legalized pot and you’re the only one there whose eyes aren’t half closed, you should really get a clue. The overwhelming majority of people who support this are either in the world (non-Christians) or are moving toward the world (weak Christians). That’s not to say that there aren’t godly men who see it differently, but they are few and far between.

Am I saying that all Christians must rail against legalized marijuana at all times? No. I could foresee a time when laws against it wouldn’t be necessary because everyone understands how stupid it is. But that’s not our time. Our society is made up of immature people who can’t tell light from darkness. Legalization at this  crucial time won’t make that distinction better; it will only make it hazier.