Tuesday, September 27, 2011

God's Strength of Character

God has strength of character.

That's the wonderful impression I gained this morning during my prayer time as I read two seemingly independent verses.

First I landed on Psalm 117:2: "... great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever."  (NRSV)

Great is his love.  It's not stingy.  It's not merely adequate or satisfactory.  It's abundant!  It's lavish!  It's overflowing! 

His great love is directed toward us.  Because of that love, I flourish.  Because that love is great, I flourish greatly (and will increasingly do so the more I remain in his love).

His love is steadfast.  It doesn't lack endurance.  It doesn't lack foundation.  It doesn't lack sustainability or resource.  It's not characterized by fluctuations or wavering or dips.

His faithfulness endures forever.  He will never leave me.  He will never forsake me.  He will never tire of me.  He will never ignore me.  His faithfulness is unconquerable, undiminishing.

Then I moved over to Ephesians 2:4: "But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us" (NRSV).

Again, the great love.

The new element here is his mercy is rich.  Again, not stingy in his mercy, not merely adequate, not merely to get us to a point and then go on its merry way.  But it is lavish and inundating.  It's not like a rain where you're debating about whether to take an umbrella.  It's like a rain where you are willing to be late because you are staying right where you are, umbrella or no, because within seconds you will be drenched.  His mercy is rich and abundant.

Does God do anything halfway?!  What strength of character!  How can we lose?  How can we be lost?  Even though we deserve to; even though we deserve to be.  His love toward us is great and steadfast.  His faithfulness toward us endures forever.  His mercy toward us is rich.  This does not sound like the picture of God as someone waiting to zap us every time we sin, taking great delight in making our lives miserable.

Praise the Lord!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book on Puritan Theology Worth the Struggle of Reading It

Theology is about life.  Those who disdain theology and doctrine because of its perceived irrelevance doom their followers to true irrelevance.  Theology informs attitude, thought, and behavior and determines lifestyle.  What you believe about God shapes how you relate or don't relate to him.  What you believe about Christ shapes how you cling to or ignore him.

It follows, therefore, that the better one's theology, the better one's life; or, the truer one's theology, the truer one's life.

That being the case, how can I not but recommend J. I. Packer's A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life ((C)1990).  It is essentially J. I. Packer teaching Puritan theology.  It's not set up like a typical theology book, but it is divided into 5 broad subjects.  After a section on the Puritans themselves, there follows sections on the Bible, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Christian Life, and Ministry.

Packer asks a question at the outset: Why do we need the Puritans?  And he answers with one word: maturity.  The book reflects the truth of his answer: These guys were deep!  But they weren't deep for the sake of being intellectual.  They dwelt much on the things of God and preached them to their people to elevate the living of their people.  Their goals in theology were always practical.  As Puritan William Perkins put it, theology is the science of living blessedly forever. 

A Quest for Godliness is a treasure-trove, a chest full of the spiritual gold that comes from mining deep into the Scriptures.  On a tour of Mammoth Cave recently, our guide led us to and highlighted the its wonders.  In a similar way the Puritans lead us to and highlight the wonders of Scripture.  In so doing they, through Packer, enrich our understanding, swell our hearts with wonder and love for God, and multiply our gratitude toward God.

That's not to imply that this is an easy book to read.  It takes time and thought to process the thinking of the Puritans, but it is definitely worth it.

There were many highlights for me along the way in this book, including sections on communion with God, the importance of preaching, marriage and family, worship, and revival.  The one chapter I disagreed with was the chapter 8, which would have been better titled, "Against the Heresy of Arminianism."  (I have vented on that chapter here and here.)

My rating (out of 5): 4 3/4

I close with a couple quotations from the book (to give you a taste):

[Answering the question why Scripture isn’t better organized—Scripture is written to make us godly, not to make us smart, Puritan John Owen says:]  The principal end of Scripture is … to beget in the minds of men faith, fear, obedience, and reverence of God—to make them holy and righteous….  Unto this end every truth is disposed of in the Scripture as it ought to be.  If any expect that the Scripture should be written with respect unto opinions, notions, and speculations, to render men skillful and cunning in them, able to talk and dispute … they are mistaken.  It is given to make us humble, holy, wise in spiritual things; to direct us in our duties, to relieve us in our temptations, to comfort us under troubles, to make us to love God and to live unto him….  Unto this end there is a more glorious power and efficacy in one epistle, one psalm, one chapter, than in all the writings of men…. sometimes an occasional passage in a story, a word or expressions, shall contribute more to excite faith and love in our souls than a volume of learned disputations….  (pp. 94-95)

[J. I. Packer comments on one Puritan's teaching regarding our friendship with God:]
Thomas Goodwin dwells on the love of Christ, who, when we had fallen into sin and enmity against God, died to make us his friends again—though ‘he could have created new ones cheaper’—and develops powerfully the thought that friendship is not a means to an end, but an end in itself, and that true friendship is expressed in the cultivation of our friend’s company for its own sake:
‘Mutual communion is the soul of all true friendship and a familiar converse with a friend hath the greatest sweetness in it … [so] besides the common tribute of daily worship you owe to [God], take occasion to come into his presence on purpose to have communion with him.  This is truly friendly, for friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits; and these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business … they are, the more friendly they are….  We use to check our friends with this upbraiding, You still [always] come when you have some business, but when will you come to see me? …  When thou comest into his presence, be telling him still how well thou lovest him; labour to abound in expressions of that kind, than which … there is nothing more taking with the heart of any friend….  (208)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

President Lincoln Who?

History involves selection.  Ask your wife (or husband) her day, and you are hoping that selection is part of the oral history recounted to you.  What’s more, you are hoping that the selection is smart; that is, that you are getting the highlights, the important parts, of her day. 

American history textbooks have to be selective (and mercifully so).  The problem is, modern editions appear not to be smart in their selection. 

In a recent email Micah Clark, director of Indiana American Family Association, shared the content of a 3rd grade American history textbook, Our American Heritage, published by McGraw Hill. 

There is but one sentence devoted to the Bill of Rights. It reads, "These rights [of citizens] are listed in the part of the U.S. Constitution called the Bill of Rights."
  • Two pages cover the Declaration of Independence
  • Two pages describe the Constitution, all of which are devoted to the three branches of government and separation of powers
  • No pages are devoted to James Madison and the authors of the Constitution; there is no mention of federalism
  • Six pages are spent describing the background of Paul Revere
  • Ten pages are devoted to the history of democracy in ancient Greece.
  • George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are mentioned only in passing, almost as if they are immaterial scenery on the road to diversity and social Utopia.

In the section entitled "America's Freedom Fighters":

  • Eight pages are spent covering the life of Frederick Douglass
  • Five pages on Susan B. Anthony
  • Six pages on Mary McLeod Bethune, (a black educator an adviser to FDR)
  • Zero pages are devoted to the life of Abraham Lincoln 

In fact, the entire Civil War is described only as a backdrop to the lives of Frederick Douglas and Mary McLeod Bethune.

In the section entitled "The Fight for Freedom Continues":

  • Seven pages are spent on praise for FDR
  • Six pages on Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Six pages are devoted to Thurgood Marshall
  • Six pages are spent on LBJ's life and the wondrous effects of "Great Society"
  • Six pages are spent on Cesar Chavez and the lionization of the labor movement

There is no list of American Presidents in the children’s textbook.

What?!  No mention of Al Gore?!

My own American history education was obviously deficient.  I've never heard of Mary McLeod Bethune. 

Praise for the Rooster

A couple years I read--and was stunned by--Wally Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow.  Today I came across this praise for it.  (You can read my own post on the book here.)

“A book that nearly defies categorization—equal parts Watership Down, Lord of the Rings, Animal Farm . . . and The Canterbury Tales. It’s the story of Chauntecleer the rooster, Lord of all he surveys, until the twisted and evil Cockatrice sets his eye and his armies upon the land. In the end Chaunticleer and his farmland subjects must stand together in the face of the destruction of the earth and the wakening of Wyrm. It’s a story that’s both intimate and epic, horrifying and humorous, dreadful and hopeful. I’ve never read anything else quite like it. Certainly one of my top 10 favorite books of all time. Has to be read to be believed.”
—Pete Peterson

All this to say, you should read the book.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pony Up for Tony

As Tony Bennett celebrates his 85th birthday, Barnes & Noble is selling all his music on--get this--73 CDs and 3 DVDs.  You can buy the whole collection for a penny short of $400.

I'm amazed.  Who will buy this?  No doubt there are many Tony Bennett fans with disposable income who would like to have every single Bennett song recorded at their fingertips.  But wow!  Will any owner of this collection actually listen to every CD?  I can't think of any artist I would want 73 CDs of.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Everybody has their favorite doctrines, and, by implication, everyone has their not-so-favorite doctrines.  For me, eschatology--the doctrine of last things, or the end times--falls into both categories.

My soul and leans hard in hope on the general, clear truths of eschatology: Jesus is coming back to finish off evil and establish his kingdom.  And "the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever" (Daniel 7:18 NIV).  In that sense, eschatology is a doctrine I revel in and bank on and love to witness to in my teaching.  I look forward to the return of Christ, my establishment in righteousness and glory, finally dwelling in the new heavens and new earth.

But when it comes to the details of eschatology and the battle lines drawn between the various millennial positions and, within premillennialism, between the various tribulation positions, my eyes develop a glassy condition that is hard to shake.

As a result, my eschatology is fuzzy in the details.  In an effort to bring more clarity, I've been reading some books on eschatology.  One of the them is A Case for Historic Premillennialism, a compilation of addresses delivered by primarily Denver Seminary profs. and edited by two of them, Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung.

First question: What is "historic premillennialism"?  It is the post-trib, premillennial view.  I.e., Jesus will come back after the tribulation (not before, as popularized by the Left Behind series), and will reign for a thousand years on this earth before the final consummation of all things.

Big question: Does A Case make the case?  Let me ask you this: in the presidential debates you watch, which candidates, in your opinion, normally win--your party's candidates, or the other party's?  I suspect that for you, as for me, and for most, your guy would have to be as stoned as Ozzy Osbourne always appears to be before you would admit he lost the debate.

Since I classify myself as a post-trib premillennialist--I've now admitted what my dear father has suspected for a long time--I think A Case makes the case, but I don't think it will convince Tim LaHaye fans.

To see the chapter headings, click here, and then click on "Table of Contents." 

The chapter most disappointing for me was Blomberg's (ch. 4), where I expected a stellar defense of the post-trib position.  I didn't get that.  But I plan to re-read it.  Fascinating was Richard Hess's chapter (ch. 2), where he detailed the OT pattern in the prophets, where 1) God's people would be judged and condemned, 2) the nations would be judged and trounced, 3) God would save and bless his people.  He suggests that pattern holds true throughout the whole of the Bible and history.

Clarifying is Don Payne's chapter (ch. 5) on theological method, where he demonstrates, for instance, that post-tribbers assign theological weight to the NT as the interpretive lens for the OT, and pre-tribbers do just the opposite.

Donald Fairbairn's chapter (ch. 6), my favorite one, was more for me what I thought Blomberg's was going to be.  His interaction with the Early Church fathers was fascinating and provided a helpful defense of the post-trib position. 

My least favorite chapter was the last one (ch. 8), which I didn't even finish.  I'm sure Oscar Campos is a brilliant man, but when you routinely encounter sentences like--

"Since this essay has focused on the nonholistic missiology of dispensational evangelicalism due to its futuristic view of the eschatological kingdom of God, it is only fair to at least mention some of the work of progressive dispensationalism in the last twenty years and its different stance on the issues of the kingdom of God and, consequently, holistic missiology" --

it takes all the fun out of reading.

Interested in the topic?  Get the book and read chs. 2, 5, and 6.  Probably 4, too.  I suspect a second reading of that chapter will yield more fruit.  Feel free to skip chs. 3, 7, and 8.

My rating (out of 5): 3

Saturday, September 10, 2011

There; I've Posted

Someone told me I kind of petered out on blogging.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Days' Wonder Improbable and Fun

Continuing in our tradition of me reading to Sara, we recently enjoyed Ten Days' Wonder, by Ellery Queen.  Ellery Queen is the main character, a novelist with an uncommon mind and ability to solve mysteries in his head (similar in some ways to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot).  Ellery Queen is also the pen name of 2 cousins who collaborated together on several mysteries.

Written and set in the 1940s, Ellery is drawn to a mansion by, Howard Van Horn, an acquaintance who is suffering amnesic attacks and is very concerned about what he does during these episodes.  Howard, an aspiring sculptor, lives there with his step-mom (who is his age), his insipid uncle, and his magisterial father, Diedrich Van Horn.

The amnesic episodes recede a bit in the background when other troubling dynamics come to the fore and Ellery himself is implicated in a crime against the manor.  But even that recedes some when a murder is committed.

Ellery is Freudian in his thinking, and the plot, especially the whole scheme conceived by the murderer, is improbable.  But we enjoyed it, nonetheless.  Despite it's improbability, the story is not banal.  We read this one together rather quickly.

The book is filled with biblical allusions, and these become more obvious as Ellery begins to solve the mysteries of the Van Horn home.  I suspect a second read-through would find even more.  I say this because as I re-read the first line of the novel, I notice how it mimics the first verses of the Bible.  And the description of Diedrich Van Horn when Ellery first meets him (ch. 2) could almost be written by a devout theologian of God himself.

One other note: the vocabulary is delightful.  About half-way through the book, I started jotting down the words I didn't know.  Here's my list:

The vocab anomalies weren't really a challenge to reading the novel, but it did remind us of the 1940s setting.

First line: "In the beginning it was without form, a darkness that kept shifting like dancers."

Last line: "But he set his feet on the Van Horn driveway and began the long night walk into Wrightsville."

My rating (out of 5): 3 1/2

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Congregational Singing ... to Build Up One Another

One of the complaints I have heard levelled against hymns is that they are about God and addressed to others as opposed to being addressed to God.

Two problems.

1) That's not true of all hymns by a long shot.  There's a good mix of both 2nd person and 3rd person hymns, just as there's a mixture in contemporary worship songs.  (See an older post on the subject.)

2) Even if it were true, so what?  Aren't we commanded to sing to one another?

18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs ... (Ephesians 5, ESV).

The occasion of this post is Justin Taylor and Greg Gilbert's post on the subject.  I recommend reading it.