Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Swans Are Not Silent

From Ligonier: "When Augustine handed over the leadership of his church in AD 426, his successor [Eraclius] was so overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy that he declared, '[The cricket chirps.] The swan is silent,' fearing the spiritual giant's voice would be lost in time. But for 1,600 years, Augustine has not been silent—and neither have the men who faithfully trumpeted the cause of Christ after him. Their lives have inspired every generation of believers and should compel us to a greater passion for God."

John Piper has a series of six (so far) books, all of them free as ebooks, on great Christian minds of the past. Here is Piper explaining the series:

Two areas of improvement for this series are, first, to include women who have done great things for God, and second, to cover some Christians from the medieval period. Peter Leithart and others have pointed out that if we believe that the Holy Spirit did not take a break for 1,000 years, we need to pay more attention to what God was doing during the so-called "Dark Ages."

Here are the men in this series (notice the thousand-year gap between Augustine and Luther):
Athanasius (296-373)
Augustine (354-430)
Luther (1483-1546)
Tyndale (c1494-1536)
Calvin (1509-1564)
Herbert (1593-1633)
Owen (1616-1683)
Bunyan (1628-1688)
Whitefield (1714-1770)
Brainerd (1718-1747)
Newton (1725-1807)
Cowper (1731-1800)
Wilberforce (1759-1833)
Simeon (1759-1836)
Judson (1788-1850)
Paton (1824-1907)
Machen (1881-1937)
Lewis (1898-1963)

Click on the links below to download the free ebooks. I have read the sixth book and gave it 5 (of 5) stars on GoodReads.

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God's Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin

The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd

The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce

Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton

Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully: The Power of Poetic Effort in the Work of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C.S. Lewis

Saturday, October 18, 2014

WORLD update (October 2014)

Oct. 4
Darwin on the rocks: "DNA and Cambrian fossils, says Stephen Meyer, make macroevolutionary theory increasingly untenable."

Beautiful words: "A look at three men and the 'power of poetic effort.'" Olasky reviews Piper's book Seeing Beauty. See here for a free copy and a quote about the wolf-skin of Calvinism.

Oct. 18
Don't waste your rhyme: "Christian rapper Lecrae Moore's album Anomaly hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, selling 88,000 copies in the first week. The artist—who also appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—has used his music to lament hip-hop music's focus on drugs and sex, and has named one of his songs after a John Piper book: Don't Waste Your Life."

Transparent sinner: "Christ alone, says author Elyse Fitzpatrick, is the answer for those burdened by 'bricks and fluff.'" There is some good stuff in this interview, although Fitzpatrick (and others like her, such as Duguid and Tchividjian) dance close to the antinomian line. That's why they have to include qualifiers like the one offered in this interview: "Not that we encourage each other to sin." My review of Extravagant Grace touches on these issues a little.

The Writer Who Stayed: New book by William Zinsser.

Staring at the void: "Even amid great resistance, with God there's still hope for a despairing friend."

Glory and battle: "The persistence of war suggests it isn't always for 'absolutely nothin'.'" Andrew Peterson's book is mentioned.
Our cynical age scoffs at such glory-talk: reckless romanticism, the kind of drivel that corporations and governments use to lure young men into sacrificing themselves for "absolutely nothin'." But the theme runs too deep to be dismissed. While most wars are wasteful and pointless, some are not. And ugly and terrifying as it is, battle seems to have an almost primeval appeal, especially to men. It's as if they are called to find out what's in them: savagery or heroism, unspeakable cruelty or self-sacrifice, the best or the worst. War brought out the best in Louis Zamperini, real-life hero of Unbroken, and eventually led him to Christ. Others can tell a similar story.
We rightly pray that our sons (and daughters) will never have to go to war. But the way we see things is not necessarily the way God sees them. War persists for a reason, and those reasons have a lot to do with our fall—but also perhaps with our redemption.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Charles Taylor's attack on a Reformed view of vocation

I'm enjoying reading through Taylor's A Secular Age, but his Catholicism is annoying at times, especially when he bashes the Reformation with scanty (or no) support. Here are some sections that complain about the supposed direct link between a Reformed view of vocation and contemporary exclusive humanism (bolding mine):
One of its [the Reformation's] principal talking points from the very beginning was the refusal to accept special vocations and counsels of perfection. There were not to be any more ordinary Christians and super-Christians. The renunciative vocations were abolished. All Christians alike were to be totally dedicated. . . . [T]he Reformation is known as an engine of disenchantment. . . . We can see the immense energy behind the denial of the sacred, if we look at Calvin. (77)
To put it in the Reformed variant, if we are going to reject the Catholic idea that there are some higher vocations, to the celibate or monastic life, following "counsels of perfection", if one claims that all Christians must be 100 percent Christian, that one can be so in any vocation, then one must claim that ordinary life, the life that the vast majority cannot help leading, the life of production and the family, work and sex, is as hallowed as any other. Indeed, more so than monastic celibacy, because this is based on the vain and prideful claim to have found a higher way. This is the basis for that sanctification of ordinary life, which I want to claim has had a tremendous formative effect on our civilization, spilling beyond the original religious variant into a myriad of secular forms. . . . (179)
The shift to Deism was also justified by arguments which are central to the Christian tradition, often those which had been used by the Reformers. Take this matter of abjuring false heroics for our ordinary, self-loving nature. This parallels closely the Reformers' defense of ordinary life, and the vocations of work and family, against the supposedly exceptional vocations of celibacy. . . . Even the more radical idea, espoused later by exclusive humanism, the rehabilitation of ordinary, even sensuous, desire as good, against the "calumnies" of orthodox religion; even this, although directed against mainline Protestants as much as Catholics, took up and transposed one of the main themes of the Reformation. This claimed to liberate the Christian from the weight of a gratuitous, and presumptuous, asceticism. (230)
[The] rejection of mystery carried further a line of criticism levied by the Reformers against the Catholic Church. The attacks on the Church's sacred, and in particular on the Mass, made light of the claim that there was a mystery here. How could a piece of bread be the body of Christ? These mysteries were branded as an excuse for what we would call today mystification, with the aim of holding Christians in thrall to a usurped power. The ordinary Christian could read the Scripture and grasp its plain sense. He had no need of this authority. What Calvin did to the mysteries of the Catholic Church, Toland did to mystery as such. (231)
There is another way of putting my point about the relation between Reform and what we today call "secularization" . . . . (264)
The second [vector] comes with the Protestant Reformation, and is a frontal attack on the dualism [sacred vs. secular] itself. It not only rejects the notion that the "spiritual" vocations of monks are higher than the lay ones. It rejects these as utterly invalid. You cannot be a proper Christian by stepping out of the saeculum. This ascetic withdrawal reflects only spiritual pride, and the false belief that you can win salvation by your own efforts. All valid Christian vocations are those of ordinary life, or production and reproduction in the world. The crucial issue is how you live these vocations. The who spheres are collapsed into each other. Monastic rules disappear, but ordinary lay life is now under more stringent demands. Some of the ascetic norms of monastic life are not transferred to the secular. . . . Third, all branches of Reform push towards disenchantment, Protestants in a more radical fashion. . . . (266)
The defense of ordinary human desire against the demands of the supposedly superior renunciative vocations, which was undertaken by the Reformers, seems to reach its final end and logical conclusion in materialism. (362)
So far in my reading Taylor sounds no different from Brad Gregory, whose The Unintended Reformation simply has a narrower scope than A Secular Age.

There's lots more Reformation bashing (165, 233, 262, 364), including this gem:
[T]he Reformation played a role in the disenchantment of the world, and the creation of an exclusive humanism . . . (85).
In addition, Taylor claims in numerous places that Calvinism means that only a few lucky ones are saved, but he never provides evidence or citations (78-79, 84, 105, 122, 262, 274). Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, and Doug Wilson are several Calvinists who don't believe that.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield: Opposition and Friendship

C.S. Lewis was part of a group that called themselves the Inklings. One of the lesser-known Inklings was a man named Owen Barfield. At Baylor on Thursday, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio spoke on Barfield and his friendship with Lewis, and Myers pointed out that Barfield dedicated his book Poetic Diction to Lewis. The epigraph of the dedication is a quotation by William Blake: "Opposition is true friendship."

The point of Blake's aphorism is that friends should not merely confirm everything about their friends. Friends should sharpen each other in the manner of Prov. 27:17—that is, in the way that iron makes sparks fly off more iron, not in the way that one pillow might sit next to another pillow. Barfield and Lewis went back and forth on the nature of imagination and truth, but their friendship allowed them to disagree strongly without writing off the other person. Their opposition in a certain area actually contributed to a meaningful conversation.

On Friday, Alan Noble let me publish something on mockery in the new issue of Christ and Pop Culture, and in one place I praised a source that Alan would not go out of his way to praise. I appreciate the opportunity that Alan gave me, even though he has some strong reservations about a certain source. One day Alan and I will talk more about mockery and how people use it, but in the meantime, his opposition did not get in the way of meaningful conversation. If fact, it contributed to it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The wolf-skin of Calvinism

From Piper's Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully (53), which quotes Gene Edward Veith's Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert (131-32):
[George] Herbert is a lamb clothed in the wolf-skin of Calvinism. . . . Calvinism [as Coleridge says] "is cruel in the phrases," with its dreadful language of depravity and reprobation; Arminianism has gentle phrases (free will, universal atonement), but it is cruel "in the doctrine." Coleridge, [addicted to opium and] perhaps faced with the incapacity of his own will, saw the consolation in a theology that based salvation not on the contingency of human will and efforts, but on the omnipotent will and unceasing effort of God.
This is what Coleridge himself said:
If ever a book was calculated to drive men to despair, it is Bishop Jeremy Taylor's On Repentance. It first opened my eyes to Arminianism, and that Calvinism is practically a far more soothing and consoling system. . . . Calvinism (Archbishop Leighton's for example) compared with Taylor's Arminianism, is the lamb in wolf's skin to the wolf in the lamb's skin: the one is cruel in the phrases, the other in the doctrine.

Monday, September 15, 2014

WORLD update (September 2014)

Philosophical inoculation: "The best defense for children against bad ideas, says Jay Richards, is measured exposure."

Groundhog reform day: "Back to school 2014 finds American education in the midst of yet another expensive revolution."

The great escape: "Marvin Olasky’s column about how Christians should be saboteurs in 'enemy-occupied territory' reminded me of Oscar Cullmann's metaphor: We are living between D-Day and V-Day. We know Who has won, but we are still involved in a massive mop-up operation. Only royal children can have such optimism."

Notable books: On Alister McGrath's new book, If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life: "McGrath, who recently wrote a biography of C.S. Lewis, says this book grew out of a request by his students at the University of London to learn not just about Lewis, but from him. Describing each chapter as a lunch date, McGrath explores Lewis' ideas about friendship, apologetics, suffering, and much more with quotes, summaries, and stories from Lewis' personal life. For young readers as well as older ones who want to become more familiar with Lewis and his thought, McGrath's presentation is a lively, intriguing introduction to one of the 20th century's greatest Christian thinkers and writers."

Pain and gain: "Experience, including tragic experience, has made Rick Warren a different man and a different pastor."

Barely fighting Irish: "Did Notre Dame, one of the only major Catholic universities to sue over the Obamacare contraceptive mandate (and so far lose), derail its own case?"

Missing children: "With dashed hopes and dreams, infertile couples embark on an often misunderstood journey."

Goal keeper: "Ryan Hollingshead put pro soccer on hold to pursue his dream of helping his brother plant a church."

Ad: New book by BJU's new president, Steve Pettit.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

David Read on Christian activity in this world

David H.C. Read published The Christian Faith in 1956. Read was a Scottish Presbyterian who served as the chaplain of the University of Edinburgh and of Queen Elizabeth II. The following is from his final chapter, "The Destiny of Man" (168-73, bolding mine):
The dynamic conception of human destiny implied in Christianity has been given two very different emphases.
(1) There are those whose eyes are resolutely fixed on Christian achievement in the present world-order. They take their inspiration from the words of Jesus about the Kingdom of God growing like the mustard-seed, and the teaching of the apostles about service to humanity. *With an optimism that is sometimes blind to the realities of human sin they set no limit to what can be achieved by the power of the Spirit of Christ within history. In the first flush of reaction to a barren orthodoxy which concentrated on the eternal world and consigned the present order to the devil, they proclaimed the transforming dynamic of contemporary Christianity.
"Rise up, O men of God!
His Kingdom tarries long;
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong."
The mood was impatient; the faith simple. With God's help men of goodwill could reach the Kingdom of God on earth.
(2) In our own day the wheel has turned again, and the current reaction against this optimism is as strong as its original impulse. Two world-wars, plus a return to the total witness of Scripture, have led Christians to revise their ideas of the extent to which the Kingdom of God can be realized in this era. Attention has again been turned to the eschatological element in the Gospel, and particularly on the Continent of Europe, where the experience of war was grimmest. Under stress it is natural for men to place their hopes for the future in a divine intervention rather than in a process of human evolution towards the Kingdom of God. Thus the elements in Scripture which refer to a return to Christ at "the end of the ages," and the theology of a transcendent Kingdom belonging to a sphere beyond the present, have replaced in men's minds the hopes of winning the world for Christ and his Gospel. The mood of the twelfth-century hymn is in some ways nearer to us than that of the one just quoted:
"O come, O come Immanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourn in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear."
Is it the Christian view that this world is a "lonely exile," or is it a place where men of God can rise up and bring in the Kingdom? Have we a hope that the Spirit of Christ operating in the lives of men can banish all evil, or are we to expect evil still to flourish until Christ returns in triumph? Is the primary duty of the Christian to "let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works" or is it to "watch and pray"? Is the dynamic of the Christian message operative in the redeeming work and service of the Church, or is it a hidden power to be revealed at the end of time?
Such a belief [in Christ's return] means for the Christian not pious resignation but resolute action. A great number of the parables were spoken to this very situation. The bridegroom was coming: therefore the wise virgins took their lamps and went out to meet him, while the foolish slumbered and slept. The master was returning: therefore the talents had to be used, and not hidden in the earth. The Son of man is coming in his glory: therefore we have to feed, clothe, and tend the miserable for "inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Nothing could be farther from the New Testament teaching on the Christian life than the theory that because we believe in the return of Christ therefore there is no duty laid upon us now to do his will and mitigate the evils of the world. To give a concrete instance: a Christian may devote himself to the United Nations Association, not because he believes that a successful UNO would usher in the Kingdom of God, but because he believes that this is one of the ways in which he can act in response to that love which redeemed the world on Calvary and will claim it at the end of time. The second coming of Christ is a terminal point for Christian thinking about this world, and it is in the light of this climax that Christian service is carried through.
An illustration of the power of this eschatological hope could be taken from the life of a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. British troops who had been captured during the Battle of France lived from some five years in the hope of a victorious liberation. But two attitudes could be taken towards that hope. Either they could say: a liberating army is going to arrive from outside; therefore there is nothing for us to do but wait and pass the time away. Or else they could say: a liberating army is going to arrive from outside; therefore we shall prepare ourselves for it, and keep as fit in mind and body as we possibly can. When the "eschatological moment" did arrive and the camps were freed it was noticeable that it was those who had adopted the second attitude who were able to take real advantage of their liberation. In the New Testament the final Christian hope is described in such a way as to stimulate an active response to the needs of this world.
*Of course, if blindness "to the realities of human sin" is a problem, so also, surely, is blindness to the truth that Christ has been given all authority (over sin, death, Hell, Satan, and everything else), and we are to go, therefore, in that authority and disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20).

Friday, August 22, 2014

God Reigns: Divine Sovereignty

From the Reformation Study Bible:
The assertion of God's absolute sovereignty in creation, providence, and salvation is basic to biblical belief and biblical praise. The vision of God reigning from His throne is recurrent (1 Kin. 22:19; Is. 6:1; Ezek. 1:26; Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:2; cf. Ps. 11:4; 45:6; 47:8, 9; Heb. 12:2; Rev. 3:21). We are constantly told in explicit terms that the Lord (Yahweh) reigns as king, exercising dominion over great and small alike (Ex. 15:18; Ps. 47; 93; 96:10; 97; 99:1-5; 146:10; Prov. 16:33; 21:1; Is. 24:23; 52:7; Dan. 4:34, 35; 5:21-28; 6:26; Matt. 10:29-31). God's dominion is total: He wills as He chooses, and carries out all that He wills, and none can stay His hand, or thwart His plans. He exercises His rule in the normal course of life, as well as in more remarkable interventions or miracles.
God's rational creatures, angelic and human, have free agency, that is, the power of personal decision as to what they will do. We would not be moral beings, answerable to God the Judge, if it were not so. Nor would it be possible to distinguish, as Scripture does, between the bad purposes of human agents and the good purposes of God, who sovereignly overrules human action as a planned means to His own goals (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 13:26-39). Yet the fact of free agency confronts us with mystery. God's control over our free actions, actions chosen by ourselves, is as complete as it is over anything else; but how this can be we do not know. Despite this control, God is not, and cannot be, the author of sin. God has conferred responsibility on moral agents for their thoughts, words, and deeds, according to His justice.
Ps. 93 teaches that God's sovereign rule (a) guarantees the stability of the world against all the forces of chaos (vv. 1-4), (b) confirms the trustworthiness of all God's utterances and directives (v. 5), and (c) calls for the worship of His people (v. 5). The whole psalm expresses joy, hope, and confidence in the Almighty.
See more on the will of God here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Wisdom and Will of God

From the Reformation Study Bible:
Wisdom in Scripture means choosing the best and noblest end at which to aim, along with the most appropriate and effective means of achieving that end. Old Testament wisdom literature, including Job, . . . Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and certain of the Psalms (Ps. 19; 37; 104; 107; 147; 148), dealt not only with the life of worship or religious exercise in the restricted sense, but also with everyday moral behavior in family, social, and business concerns. In the New Testament the letter of James might also be considered "wisdom literature" in its plain-spoken description of practical Christian living. In light of the wisdom literature of Scripture, Christian wisdom means making the "fear of God"—reverent worship and service of Him—the goal of life (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Eccl. 12:13).
God's wisdom is seen in His works of creation, preservation, and redemption: it is His choice of His own glory as His goal (Ps. 46:10; Is. 42:8; 48:11), and His decision to achieve it first by creating a marvelous variety of things and people (Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19, 20), second by kindly providence of all sorts (Ps. 145:13-16; Acts 14:17), and third by the redemptive "wisdom" of Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) and the resulting Christian church in the world (Eph. 3:10).
The outworking of God's wisdom involves the expression of His will in two different senses. In the first sense, God's will is "His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 7). This "eternal purpose" is God's decreed will, referred to in Eph. 1:11. In the second sense, the will of God is His command, that is, His instruction given in Scripture, concerning how people should believe and behave. This is sometimes called His "preceptive will," and is spoken of in Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:17; Col. 1:9; 1 Thess. 4:3-6. Some of its requirements are rooted in His holy character, which we are to imitate: such are the two great commandments (Ex. 20:1-17; Matt. 22:37-40; cf. Eph. 4:32-5:2). Some of its requirements spring simply from the divine institution. Such were circumcision and the sacrificial and purity laws of the Old Testament, and such are baptism and the Lord's Supper today. But all, in their respective times, bind the conscience, and God's plan of events (His "eternal purpose") already includes the "good works" of obedience that those who believe will perform (Eph. 2:10).
It is sometimes difficult, even impossible, for mortal humans to understand how obedience, putting us at a disadvantage in the world, is part of a predestined plan of furthering both God's glory and our good (Rom. 8:28). But we glorify God by believing that it is so, because He who cannot lie has said it. One day we will see it to be so, because His wisdom is perfect and never fails.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WORLD update (August 9, 2014)—children's books

Save the children (from bad books): Marvin Olasky lists his top-10 picture books for kids, and he reminds readers of an earlier issue that listed 50 great twentieth-centure children's books.

Kickstarter classic: "WORLD's Children’s Book of the Year took an unusual path to the publishing house." Andrew Peterson's book, The Warden and the Wolf King, was a Kickstarter project that "became the most successful fiction campaign in Kickstarter's history."

Books to remember: "WORLD staffers pick their childhood favorites." Not surprisingly, the authors are C.S. Lewis, Dr. Seuss, Robert Heinlein, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

For future grown-ups: "Some well-known authors have written very good preschool books." Authors include people such as Joni Earekson Tada, Tony Dungy, R.C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, Eric Metaxas, Francis Chan, Max Lucado, Janette Oke, and Randy Alcorn.

Pink and blue and read all over: "Children's publishing has become a battlefield in the gender wars."

Hello, darkness: "Teenagers and the literature of hopelessness and suicide."

Notable picture books: "Four picture book biographies."