Learning to be a better friend

The Wind in the WillowsThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I had wanted to read this book for a long time and I finally did this summer. It was written for children, but it is a delightful tale for adults as well, as least those who have an imagination. The chapters are well written and the story is reminiscent of Thorton Burgess, except the animals in this book have much more similarity to humans than in Burgess’s works.

This book illustrates Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” The friendship among the four main characters, Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad is warm and sharpening (even transforming for one of them). The author teaches us that being a friend isn’t just lending a shoulder to cry on but sometimes means taking a stand against your friend even when it hurts, which happens more than once. All friendships have ups and downs, but true friends don’t let those ups and downs erode the relationship.   This is no empty children’s story but one that teaches what real friendship looks like. And learning what it means to be a friend is timeless, no matter how old you are.

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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.

The Eternal and Sovereign God – Isaac Watts

      The Lord Jehovah reigns,
      And royal state maintains,
         His head with awful glories crowned;
      Arrayed in robes of light,
      Begirt with sov'reign might,
         And rays of majesty around.

      Upheld by thy commands,
      The world securely stands;
         And skies and stars obey thy word:
      Thy throne was fixed on high
      Before the starry sky;
         Eternal is thy kingdom, Lord.

      In vain the noisy crowd,
      Like billows fierce and loud,
         Against thine empire rage and roar;
      In vain, with angry spite,
      The surly nations fight,
         And dash like waves against tile shore.

      Let floods and nations rage,
      And all their powers engage;
         Let swelling tides assault the sky;
      The terrors of thy frown
      Shall beat their madness down:
         Thy throne forever stands on high.

      Thy promises are true,
      Thy grace is ever new;
         There fixed, thy church shall ne'er remove;
      Thy saints with holy fear
      Shall in thy courts appear,
         And sing thine everlasting love.

Essays on the most ecumenical books in America

Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: Hymnody in the History of North American Protestantism
by Edith L. Blumhofer

Collections of essays have a reputation for being forced and uneven; this book contributes to that reputation. While some of these essays were quite good, others were forced and unnecessary.

My favorite essays were by Stephen Marini (on the history of Evangelical hymnody as a whole) and Darryl Hart (on American Presbyterian hymnody), but the entire book presents a tapestry of hymn traditions from various denominations. I was disapointed that there was no essay on the sacred harp tradition in the American South, a vitally important element of Southern Appalacian hymnody until the 1940’s. There was only one essay on Baptist hymnody and it was on Jesse Mercer and the influence of minorities (African-Americans, women, and Native Americans) upon his hymnal. This could harly be called an essay on Southern Baptist hymns as a whole. Seeing as how Southern Baptists make up the largest Protestant denomination in North America, it doesn’t stand to reason that their influence on the book’s subject would be neglected. There is an essay given to Latino-Pentecostal influence on hymns, and another on German-Mennonite hymnals. These are interesting but don’t contribute as much to the overall study of the book.

The best part of the book was how many authors come back to the same theme: hymnody changed as the religious views of people changed. You can document the loosening of doctrinal integrity by looking at the hymns printed in various hymnals. This was made by several authors in several essays. From the colonial days until now, there as a distinct change from God-exalting hymns to shallow me-and-Jesus gospel songs. It doesn’t take much imagination to finish the historical journey and guess how we went from gospel songs in worship to the praise choruses of today.

This would primarily interest those who enjoy church or music history, but it is written at a level that most of us can understand.

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Nice irony here

Most people who keep up with modern justification controversies are familiar with N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham of the Church of England. He published a book on justification that was poorly received by many in the Reformed camp because it introduces some doesn’t fully embrace the traditional explanation of the topic.

I have been making my way through the four volume set of books known as The Fundamentals, written in the early 1900’s as a conservative response to the ascending liberalism within Protestant Christianity. When I came to the chapter on justification by faith (one which does take the traditional Reformed teaching on the topic), who should be the author but H.C. G. Moule. The name meant little to me until I read that he was at the time of publication Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. This is a nice twist to the justication discussion, don’t you think?

Wrestling with new beliefs

It has been a rocky trip over the last year as I have changed my views on baptism. Having been a life-long Baptist, I didn’t think I would change, except for the nagging feeling at times that I was inconsistent in my Reformed beliefs. Oh well, Spurgeon had no problem admitting he was inconsistent so I didn’t think I should either. But then I started studying covenant theology and boy did it make sense. I already believed covenant theology in a Baptist sense but as I read more about it, things really fell into place. But I still didn’t have a problem being inconsistent; wasn’t everybody to some extent? (By the way the answer is yes, we all are to a point. The key is recognizing and acknowledging those inconsistencies rather than pretending they aren’t there.)

Then some things happened which I can’t speak of here. Suffice to say I was suprised by several things I witnessed in ministry that opened me up to paedobaptism. I believed the Lord wanted something else from me than I had been willing to give. I prayed about what those areas might be and came to the conclusion that paedobaptism might be it. I studied the subject heavily over several months. I read many books and articles by Baptists and some by paedobaptists; the number of the former dwarfed the latter. I didn’t want to leave my heritage lightly and I wanted to expose myself to the best arguments that Baptists had. But I will confess, there was a draw to paedobaptism. It seemed more consistent with a reading of Old and New Testament, rather than just consistency with the New Testament.

I’ve told people before, the disagreement between Baptists and paedobaptists comes down to your understanding of the Old and New Covenants. If you see greater discontinuity between the Old and New covenants, you will hold to believer’s-only baptism. If you see greater continuity between the two covenants, you will hold to paedobaptism.

Even though I had deep respect for reformed theology, I would never have considered paedobaptism without the Lord opening me up to it. When He opened my heart to it I stopped studying the subject and started wrestling with it. I’m convinced that most Baptists never truly wrestle with paedobaptism, nor do paedobaptists wrestle with believer’s-only baptism. Not that wrestling is for everyone. Most are perfectly content to remain in their beliefs without questioning them. And it’s impossible to wrestle with everything. There was a time when I wrestled with Roman Catholicism in my early twenties. The Lord preserved me from that belief system and I’m thankful. I have no plans on wrestling with the beliefs of Islam; I will study them and attempt to refute them to evangelize Muslims but I will not contemplate that Islam is true. The same is the case for Eastern Orthodoxy. Having said that, why do I think Baptists and paedobaptists should wrestle with different baptism beliefs?

Perhaps I should define what I mean by wrestle. To wrestle with a belief is to open oneself up to the possibility that it might be true and deal with all the facets of the issue, all the while being willing to change if you are convinced it is true. It requires making yourself vulnerable and having the courage to change if you become convinced that it is true. Consider Jack, a young man who watches professional wrestling. His favorite wrestler, Mr. Wonderful is about to face William the Giant, a seven-foot-tall, four-hundred pound brute who flosses with barbed wire. While watching his beloved Mr. Wonderful receive the worst of a pounding, Jack says, “All he has to do it put the Giant in a choke slam and it would be over.” We observe here a disconnect with reality. On paper a choke slam would probably do the trick, but in this case neither Jack nor Mr. Wonderful is able to put the theoretical into practical use.

It is easy to listen to others make arguments against paedobaptism. It’s even easier when you interact with straw men, and I admit that building straw-men is something both sides do in the discussion. Because I’ve had a long-time goal of being faithful to the entirety of God’s Word, once He “put me in the ring” on this subject (to borrow from the earlier metaphor), I discovered that my theoretical Baptist arguments couldn’t hold under the weight of studying God’s covenant promises to man.

“That’s great for you,” you might say. Why write about it? For this reason: everyone faces transition points in his or her life. You have to decide whether to continue as you have before or open yourself up to new possibilities. When you arrive at one of those points, think carefully yet openly about it. You might just grow in the process.

Too many similarities

“We don’t see humanists bowing down to their gods, we but we do see them studying them, lecutring about them, writing books about them. and we don’t see Christians bowing down to the Lord either, but we do see them studying Him, preaching about Him, and writing books about Him.

Thus, there is indeed a big difference between ancient religions and modern ones. Ancient man primarily worshiped his gods, while modern man primarily studies his. This is true both of pagans and of conservative, orthodox Christians.” – James Jordan, Judges, God’s War Against Humanism, p. 35

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.

Understanding America

The Patriot's Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of AmericansThe Patriot’s Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of Americans by George Grant

It’s hard to be excessively great or terrible when compiling essays on American history. Primary source essays and speeches are useful for many purposes, research being just one. But they can go further than that. If compiled properly, primary sources can paint a picture of history. There are many books that appear as a grab-bag of essays and speeches with no apparent rhyme or reason.

This book, edited by George Grant, is no such grab-bag. It combines poems, essays, speeches, and quotes from Americans throughout our history. Continue Reading »