Friday, January 30, 2009

McDonald's gives Emergents the smack-down

Totally funny. Many of us view the emergent church as little more than the mannequin of an Ivy-league-wannabe, blue-collar despising, quasi-educated, pampered 20-something snob that dresses himself in "incarnational" clothing. It seems McDonald's has noticed the same thing about its secular version.




HT: DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Review: Whiter than Snow


Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, by Paul David Tripp.

Josh Gelatt’s Review: Psalm 51 is powerfully provocative. In it we experience, via David's poetic transparency, the soul-damaging aftermath of sin and the deep-hunger for mercy by one of God's wayward children...[read more at The Christian Bookshelf].


JG

Friday, January 16, 2009

FAITH QUESTIONS: Are we Living in the Last Days?


Are we living in the last days?

I have asked some fellow pastors to share their answers to the many questions I am receiving. Their responses, therefore, do not necessarily reflect my own views. The following answer comes from Pastor Jeremy Lee of Twinning Baptist Church. Pastor Lee is a frequent contributor to the NE Michigan Reformation Society blog. Readers should note that Pastor Lee is answering this question from a Dispensational Premillenialist point of view.
____________________________________

Pastor Lee's answer:
The Bible answers this question decisively in Hebrews 1:2, 1 Peter 1:21, and 1 John 2:18. In each of these texts, it is clear that the last days began at Christ’s first coming. However, this is not the answer most people want. Most people want to know if Jesus 2nd Coming, specifically the Rapture, will happen in their lifetime.

While the Bible answers the first question decisively, the second question cannot be answered with any certainty in spite of the attempts of many so-called prophecy experts. The reason this question cannot be answered with certainty is because Jesus never revealed the timing of his coming. In fact, Jesus stated that as a man he did not know when he would return (Matt. 24:36). When his Apostles questioned him on the timing of his return, he told them the duration of time was not their concern. Rather, they were to concern themselves with the proclamation of the gospel (Acts 1:7, 8). Since Jesus did not reveal the timing of his coming himself or through his official spokesmen, the apostles, we have no answer as to the timing of his coming.


Some attempt to argue that while Jesus did not give us a date for his return, one can know the general time period by looking for signs. Usually the supposed signs come from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, but if one analyzes the passage, he will find that Jesus does not reveal signs pointing to the time of the Rapture. He specifically states that these signs are only the beginning and the end is not yet. These signs (Matthew 24:4-14) do not point to some time immediately prior to the Rapture but to the character of the entire Church Age.


Jesus does point out the sign of the Abomination of Desolation, which happens in the middle of the tribulation. From that sign, one could predict when the 2nd Coming will occur, but one would need to know when the Rapture happens and the Tribulation begins. However, the time of these events is unknown; therefore, one cannot yet predict when the 2nd Coming will occur.


The other sign that is normally pointed out is related to the Parable of the Fig Tree in Matthew 24:32-35. Many commentators argue that the fig tree is symbolic of the nation of Israel and that the sign was fulfilled in 1948 when Israel became an independent nation again. However, there is no reason biblically to assume that the fig tree symbolizes Israel. Jesus is probably just using a natural illustration.


Another contentious issue in the above passage is the meaning of the word generation. Bertrand Russell even uses this passage to show that Jesus gave a false prophecy because that generation did not see all the things Jesus predicted. Some expositors argue that generation means race referring to the Jewish race. While this is a possibility, Matthew Henry’s explanation is the best. Henry believes that generation means what it normally means – all those born or alive during one time. The key to understanding this passage is the antecedent of “these things” (Matt. 24:33). Henry argues that “these things” refers only to the destruction of Jerusalem, which Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:2 and disciples asked about saying “when will these things happen?” Therefore, the Parable of the Fig Tree means that after the destruction of Jerusalem (This occurred in AD 70) Jesus could return at anytime.


The believer in Christ need not worry about the timing of Christ’s coming or the events of the end times as long as he is living a holy life. If he does this, he will have no reason to be ashamed at his coming whenever it happens.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homeschooling is on the rise

A December 2008 report issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics (a division of the US Dept. of Education) suggests that homeschooling continues to gain popularity across the nation. In 1999 the NCES estimated that over 850,000 students were being home-schooled (1.7% of all school-aged children). This number grew to an estimated 1.1 million in 2003 (2.2%), and the 2008 report suggests that number now exceeds 1.5 million students (2.9%).

This report is significant for two reasons. First, it clearly demonstrates the increasing popularity of homeschooling. While some states have taken an aggressive stance against this movement, such as the recent California court fiasco, the movement nevertheless appears to be growing stronger.

Second, and perhaps most surprising, is that it shows three primary reasons for choosing to homeschool. Once considered something only for "right wing, fundamentalist families", the report concluded that 88% of homeschooling families claimed "concern about the school environment" as being one of the chief factors in their decision. Likewise, 73% of families noted a "dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other [public & private] schools". The public educational system has been scrambling for decades in its (noble) attempt to provide basic education to children. However, with an ever increasing willingness to abandon traditional learning models, these bureaucratic entities have demonstrated a reoccurring tendency to implement the latest (and unproven) pedagogical theories. Despite this, when compared to the rest of the industrial world test scores continue to plummet. In response, both Christian and non-Christian families are increasingly losing confidence in the public school's ability to provide a safe learning environment or sound academic instruction.

Certainly moral and religious issue remain a primary reason. In 2003 only 73% of families cited a "desire to provide religious or moral instruction" as being an important factor in their decision. In 2007 this figure rose to 83%. In fact, 36% of families cited this as their number one reason for homeschooling. However, the data strongly suggests that parents are becoming increasingly concerned about other issues, including academics.

Research repeatedly suggests that homeschooling works. On average, homeschooling students generally score slightly higher on standardized tests, such as the ACT. One study back in 2000 found the average composite score of public school students was 21, whereas home-schooled teens scored 22.8 (on the scale of 36). Other studies indicate even higher levels of achievement by home-educated students.

As with all studies, we must be tentative with our conclusions. Some parents are concerned with increasing levels of crime in public schools. Others abhor the moral cease-pool found in both the hallways and classrooms. Still others reject the relativistic postmodern methods of education that strip children of critical-thinking abilities necessary for a successful future. However, we must remember that many public schools are getting the job done.

The current educational crisis is producing at least one good result: an increasing number of parents are becoming interested and taking an active part in their children's education. As parents continue to become informed, many will necessarily exit the public system. Others will choose to stay, though seeking to take ownership over their child's education. In either scenario, the child wins.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another ESV change to add to the list

A new ESV change: A few days back I posted on a textual variant my family discovered while reading the ESV during family devotions.

After contacting Crossway, I was informed that they are (and will be) occasionally performing minor corrections/revisions as needed.

Kind readers pointed me towards two sites (here and here) that outline the known revisions Crossway has made to new editions of the ESV. However, in this evenings family devotions we discovered another variant that does not appear in the above lists.

The text is found in Romans 3:9.

Our "first generation" ESV reads: "...For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin."

The new ESV's read: "For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin." [The words "the power of" having been deleted].

Suffice to say, this is a better (or at least more literal) rendering of the Greek text. But to those of you who like to make lists about such changes to the ESV, here is one more to add.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Advice on building a pastoral library

I recently came across the following (the site also includes other recommendations for building a pastoral library, as well as a list of over 800 essentials):

Almost a hundred years ago John Fletcher Hurst described the deplorable condition of the average preacher's library. His perceptive comments are still relevant:

That the average library of the Christian layman and of the minister of the Gospel is poor beyond words, is a lamentable fact. Many of the books are of such inferior authorship as to unfit them for even storage in any home of people either intelligent or hoping to be intelligent. Such books have drifted in because they are radiant with glaring and realistic pictures, or are bound in captivating sheep or calf, or are presented by well meaning friends, or have been bought in lot at auction under the hallucination of cheapness, or because of some other apology for the existence of the trash. If two thirds of the shelves of the typical domestic library were emptied of their burden, and choice books put in their stead, there would be reformation in intelligence and throughout the civilized world. A poor book is dear, and a good one cheap, at any cost. One's best book is that which treats best the subject on which one most needs light, and which one can get only by planning, by seeking, and often by sacrificing.

. . . It is a friend for all seasons, and remains true to the eighties, and beyond, if they come. Better one shelf of such treasures than a shipload of literary driftings from the dead pyramids of publishers who sell slowly and of authors who fail quickly.

In contrast, a sound study-library is a carefully selected and assembled collection of materials that an expository preacher needs to do his work. Every expositor should take time to identify, use, and obtain those items that will directly support his ministry and meet his specific needs in anticipation of a life of exposition, at the same time avoiding "excess baggage" that he will never use. As one preacher has written,

My books are my tools, and I use them. I cannot afford to be a book collector; neither the budget nor the diminishing shelf space . . . permits such a luxury. . . . I enjoy my library. Each book is a friend that converses with and teaches me. Better to have fewer of the best books than to clutter your shelves with volumes that cannot serve you well. Above all, love your books, use them, and dedicate all you learn to the service of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The ESV is changing!

The ESV is changing! Okay, not really. But it is going through some minor textual variations. During our evening family devotions a few nights ago my kids noticed a textual variant. It is our practice to take turns reading a portion of the Bible, and as truly faithful "Young, Restless, and Reformed" folk, each member of my family uses an ESV. As my eight-year old was reading out loud from Romans 1, my eleven-year old stopped him at verse 23 and exclaimed, "that's not right, your reading it wrong!"

His ESV had the following: "and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." However, her ESV had this: "and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."

Obviously not a huge change, but it did spark my curiosity. Are their other changes? Is this the nefarious work of some secret liberal who is silently sabotaging ESV Bibles at Crossway? Does this mean ESV will drop the word "Standard" and become the English Adjustable Version (EAV)? Will I be able to sell the "reptile variant" on E-bay?

So, I decided to e-mail Crossway and find out. Specifically, I ask the following three questions:

1. How many changes have been made?
2. What is the rationale of the changes
2. Is this a practice that will occur in the future?

To my great surprise, I received a speedy reply (posted below):

We have begun to implement a limited number of changes, similar to what most other translations have done a few years after they were first released for publication. The number of changes that we are implementing is likely quite a bit less than typically is the case, and the vast majority are minor changes in grammar, punctuation, and footnotes. In early 2007 we began to incorporate these changes in new editions of the ESV, and we are continuing as we reprint the editions that are already in print. Editions that feature the minor textual updates read “ESV Text Edition: 2007” just below the copyright notice at the top of the copyright page.

We have not published a list of the changes, but the updated text is available on our website at http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/browse/

It's still a great gift to the church, even if they won't quit tinkering with it.

JG

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Blog



Any blog dedicated to books and reading is a good thing! A new blog has been started that reviews and recommends books, all from a Christian perspective. Most of the reviewed works are Christian books, but they will be reviewing non-Christian works as well. Check it out at www.thechristianbookshelf.blogspot.com.

The site is also looking for book reviewers. Individuals should be pastors or well-read laypersons who are deeply committed to Christ. E-mail me if you are interested.

JG

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Anger of Atheism

The Anger of Atheism

Rick Warren once noted that "A lot of atheists hide behind rationalism; when you start probing, you find their reactions are quite emotional. In fact, I've never met an atheist who wasn't angry." And it seems they are taking their anger public, with some atheists exhibiting an almost missionary fervor for their faith - in the worst sort of way. Take for example the Blasphemy Challenge, which urged individuals to verbally curse the Holy Spirit in an (misguided and misinformed) attempt to commit the unforgivable sin. Writers such as Dawkins and Harris openly decry religion as 'stupid' and 'ignorant'.

Atheists haven't always been this way. In 1948 BBC Radio aired the famous debate on the existence of God between Father Frederick C. Copleston (Jesuit Catholic priest) and Bertrand Russell (agnostic philosopher). The exchange was sharp, and yet very cordial. Both men respected the intellect of the other and did not make the exchange personal. But the tone has turned sour as the contemporary atheist authors have resorted to ridicule rather than reason.

In a penetrating article back in earlier 2007, Sam Schulman of the Wall Street Journal discusses this new generation of 'angry atheist'. The sub-caption reads "Modern atheists don't have any new arguments and they lack their forbearers charms."

He writes "For the new atheists believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable....that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by blunt materialism. Most of all they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it....The faith that the new atheists describe is a simple-minded parody. It is impossible to see within it what might have preoccupied great artists and thinkers like Homer, Milton, Michelangelo, Newton, and Spinoza-- let alone Aquinas, Dr Johnson, Kierkegaard, Goya, Cardinal Newman, Reinhold Neibuhr or, for that matter, Albert Einstein. But to pass over this deeper faith-- the kind that engaged the great minds of Western history-- is to diminish the loss of faith too. The new atheists are separated from the old ones by their shallowness."

In essence, Schulman is accusing the new atheists of unimaginative intellectual laziness. For a group claiming to be rationalists and free thinkers, he observes how they are "remarkably incurious". Religious belief is ruled out a priori, and anyone holding to spiritual beliefs are immediately dismissed as ignorant. Thus, the new atheism is a combination of intellectual laziness and dogmatic fascism. In the article, these dogmatic disbelievers are described as "rigid, indifferent, and puzzled by thought". For example, when Anthony Flew, the famous atheist apologist, announced belief in an ambiguous form of theism, Richard Dawkins publicly mocked this decision as being a product of Flew's "old age". Though several of his works against religion are currently in print and regularly used in secular universities, and even though he was perhaps the greatest single atheist philosopher of the prior century, the moment he expressed openness to theism he was dismissed as a quack.

In response to the mean-spirited remark, Flew noted that Dawkins (and others like him) were little more than "secular bigots". Flew went on to define a bigot as an "an obstinate or intolerant adherent of a point of view". All who disagree with them are written off as dangerous and ignorant enemies of free thought who must be silenced. And it appears they are not simply letting out steam. Schulman writes, "For them, belief in God is beyond childish, it is unsuitable for children. Today's atheists are particularly disgusted by the religious training of young people -- which Dr. Dawkins calls "a form of child abuse." He even floats the idea that the state should intervene to protect children from their parents' religious beliefs." This is the atheist version of jihad. Destroy the enemy, outlaw his beliefs, punish him if he persists.

Schulman continues, "The new atheists fail too often simply for want of charm or skill. Twenty-first century atheism hasn't found its H.G. Wells or its George Bernard Shaw, men who flattered their audiences, excited them and persuaded them by making them feel intelligent. Here is Sam Harris, for instance, addressing those who wonder if destroying human embryos in the process of stem cell research might be morally dicey: "Your qualms...are obscene."

The new atheists are angry at the very presence of Christianity. Our love is obscene to them. Our morals are abhorred and our teachings are viewed as subversive. The agenda of the old atheism was to build a Utopian society. Using rhetorical skill, logical precision, and personal warmth, they tried to convince a culture of the beauty of secularism. By contrast, the new atheism lacks its predecessors skill, precision, and warmth. Whether or not utopia is ever achieved their primary goal is the destruction of religion. They stand for freedom--just as long as you think like they do!

The new atheists are angry and they are shouting. They shout because they have nothing to say of substance.

Book Review: For These Tough Times


For These Tough Times
Max Lucado

Josh Gelatt’s Review: Max Lucado serves as Senior Minister for Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. A popular best-selling author, Lucado's writings dominate the Evangelical landscape. I have always appreciated...for full review click here.


JG

Pray for Obama


This January 20th (Inauguration Day) Max Lucado is calling on Christians to live out 1 Timothy 2:2. This passage states, "Pray for rulers and for all who have authority so that we can have quiet and peaceful lives full of worship and respect for God."

Lucado has also published online a helpful pdf prayer guide.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Spurgeon: "Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats"



[Note: Although Spurgeon is not actually a Puritan, and certainly didn't live in the 16th or 17th century, his biblical and theological convictions makes him a trusted son of the Puritan movement. The comments below are completely from Spurgeon, and I simply republish them without annotation. However, see Note 1 at the bottom for a personal clarification]


Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats? [See Note 2]
by C. H. Spurgeon [See Note 3]

An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years, it has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.
From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if he had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him.

Then again, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers ... for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the church to the world? “Ye are the salt” (Matt. 5:13), not the sugar candy—something the world will spit out, not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22). He was in awful earnestness!

Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of his teaching. I do not hear him say, “Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter, we must get the people somehow.” Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.

In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of the gospel of amusement. Their message is, “Come out, keep out, keep clean out!” Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.

After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the church had a prayer meeting, but they did not pray, “Lord grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.” If they ceased not for preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). That is the only difference! Lord, clear the church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.

Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment had been God's link in the chain of the conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today's ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.

___________________________________
Note 1: I personally think Spurgeon goes too far in his reaction against "entertainment". It seems the Scriptural record legitimizes all expressions of emotion. Our churches should be places where people experience profound joy. Also, while fellowship should not be equated with "fun", should it not be one of the elements of true fellowhship? Perhaps Spurgeon could have lightened up a little, but I firmly believe his criticism needs to be heard. Joy is needed today. But I am afraid we have settled for mindless & lifeless "hap
piness" instead of the profound and life-changing joy offered through Christ. Perhaps Spurgeon can point the way forward.

Note 2: Reprinted from New Horizons
, March 2001.

Note 3: Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was the best-known preacher in Victorian England. In 1854, at the age of 20, he became pastor of London's famed New Park Street Church (formerly pastored by the Baptist theologian John Gill). The congregation quickly outgrew their building, moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000. In 1861 the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed Metropolitan Tabernacle.




Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

The new year has decided to greet me with a major computer crash. That notwithstanding, I am looking forward to the next twelve months. Tomorrow I will post some of my "resolutions", among other things. But, I won't be back into the full swing of things until I get my laptop back and set up again.

Blessings to all!