Month: December 2007

Assorted Blog Stuff

I’ve been away from the blog the past few weeks, so here’s a roundup of interesting posts and news from around the web:

Denny Burk has posted his top 10 You Tube’s of 2007.

Dr. Al Mohler has a new book due out January 15th: Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth (Today’s Critical Concerns)

Jeff Brewer passes along suggested daily devotional readings from Eric Liddell’s The Disciplines of the Christian Life (which is out of print). Also, Ligon Duncan has some great wisdom on family worship times. {HT:JT}

Lance of The Scrawney Pulpit fame is starting up a new blog for 2008: Solid Food for Fellow Pilgrims. Here’s what he has to say:

“In November, 2007, I started to wonder how intriguing it might be if there were a daily devotional where each day’s verse corresponded to the date, and if each book of the Bible were featured at least once.

So I got to work compiling 366 verses.

In choosing the best possible verses, I tried to focus on those that could take us deep—-the “solid food” of Scripture, if you will. Therefore, I think you’ll find that most themes are off the beaten path of the usual, over-the-counter devotional. They are not meant to give us instant, warm feelings inside, but to “train us for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7-8), stretching and toning our spiritual muscles.

My prayer is that our daily journey will satisfy and nourish our souls for some solid growth as the year unfolds.

I invite your comments, especially when you pick up something I may have missed, and/or when the day’s discussion has helped you to see God and/or humanity in a clearer light.”

Be sure to check it out!

John MacArthur weighs in on “Hebrews 6 and the Loss of Salvation“.

The Westminster Bookstore is still offering their English Standard Version Bibles {ESV} for 45% off! This is the version that I use to preach from, in case some of you in the congregation at CBC were wondering. I highly recommend the ESV!

I found this great quote at the Buzzard Blog:
“Basically I am convinced that men who do not make praying their first priority in life and ministry should not preach or pastor. As preachers they will be confusing models of a Christian man, and as shepherds they will not show willingness to die for the sheep…As we seek faith and pray together, the power will be in the preaching, and other matters such as style will begin to take their own course.”
-Jack Miller

A Common Word Between Us and You

I wanted to alert your attention to something that I have heard virtually nothing of in the news, blogs, etc, although am surprised that it has flown under the radar. Here it is:

On October 13, 2007, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter “to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere.” The signatories to that letter, titled “A Common Word Between Us and You“, include top leaders from around the world representing every major school of Islamic thought. The text of “A Common Word Between Us and You” appears at www.acommonword.com

Essentially, these Muslims leaders were proposing the coming together of Muslims, Christians and Jews to find common ground based on the commands to love God and neighbor as found in the Old Testament, New Testament and the Qu’ran.

True, all these texts do include the love of God and neighbor as being the fundamental core of each of these religions. My problem is not with the extension out to Christians by the Muslim leaders, but lies with the response by Christian leaders to the Muslims.

But at the outset, let me say that I may be misinterpreting the response by these Christian leaders. That is why I am bringing this to your attention, so that we may read this together in community {both locally through the church, through the internet, and through the lens of Scripture and church history}. I want to understand the heart of their response, but I honestly struggle with it.

Please read the Muslim text “A Common Word Between Us and You” and then read this: “In the name of the Infinitely Good God whom we should love with all our being- Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You.

My problem with the Christian response is that not only is it signed by some “conservative” Christian leaders, but that the language they use appears to synthesize the idea of “God” that Christians and Muslims adhere to. While I am thoroughly open to a dialogue between Muslims and Christians, I do not believe there is “common ground” between the two groups, if you are arguing that God, or loving God is the common ground. I say this because the 2 groups worship 2 different gods. You can’t roll them into one.

What is lacking in the Christian response is what separates Christianity from every other religion: we serve a Trinitarian God, namely the Father, Son, and Spirit. The language used by the Christian response is lacking Trinitarian language. In fact, the Spirit is never mentioned. Of course, they may counter that when they use the term “God,” they are implying the Trinitarian God, but I find this to be lacking.

If I were to engage with a Muslim, I would say at the outset that when I mention “God” I mean precisely and distinctly the Triune God of the Christian faith: The Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. I cannot use the term “God” in the same way that the Muslims do. Allah and Yahweh are 2 different gods. Yes, Christians believe in one God, but this God is Trinitarian in nature: Three distinct persons, one essence or nature.

Or, as Dr. Bruce Ware defines it in his book “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance“:

“The Christian faith affirms that there is one and only one God, eternally existing and fully expressed in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God–not three gods but three Persons of the one Godhead. Each Person is equal in essence as each possesses fully the identically same, eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of the one undivided divine nature” {p.43.}

See also the Council of Nicea [A.D. 325] and the Council of Constantinople [A.D. 381] from church history, where this doctrine was vigorously defended.

So, when we engage in dialogue with Muslims, we must choose our words carefully and yet be very explicit as to what those words mean and convey, namely that when we say “God” we mean precisely and definitively the Triune God: the Father, Son, and Spirit.

We must also convey that the Triune God has appeared physically in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man {Philippians 2:5-11}. We must affirm that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell {Colossians 1:19}. This must be stated explicitly in our evangelism and preaching and should not be assumed.

Especially because Muslims hold that “There is no god but God, He alone, He hath no associate, His is the sovereignty and His is the praise and He hath power over all things…” {this quote is taken from Muhammed in their document and is a combination of several phrases from passages in the Qu’ran}. The phrase “no associate” in Islamic thought includes that any consideration that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God the Son is wrong.

My problem with the Christian response lies with these statements:

“Abandoning all ‘hatred and strife,’ we must engage in interfaith dialogue as those who seek each other’s good {I’M OKAY WITH THIS SENTENCE UP TO THIS POINT}, for the one God unceasingly seeks our good.”

I think the response should have been more clear: the Triune God seeks our good {for those who have trusted in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as the payment for man’s sins and satisfier of the Father’s wrath and those indwelt by His Spirit Romans 8:28-30}.

Another sentence needs addressing:

“…and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communitites and our nations {AGAIN, I’M OKAY WITH THIS SENTENCE SO FAR} so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.”

My problem lies in that Muslims and Christians do not have a “common love” for God because each religion’s idea of God is diametrically opposed. I cannot say that I share a common love for God with a Muslim. We worship 2 different gods!

Please read both documents and then comment. I truly hope that I am misunderstanding what I am reading. But we must never cease to be explicitly Trinitarian in our worship, preaching, discipleship, and evangelism. For when we have a distorted doctrine of God, then it will pervert our worship and even have an effect on what we do between the sheets of our beds {read Romans 1:18-32}.

The Golden Compass

the_golden_compass.jpg

Al Mohler weighs in on The Golden Compass movie. Here’s what he says:

The release of The Golden Compass as a major motion picture represents a new challenge for Christians — especially parents. The release of a popular film with major actors that presents a message directly subversive of Christianity is something new. It is not likely to be the last.

Having seen the movie at an advance viewing and having read all three books of His Dark Materials, I can assure Christians that we face a real challenge — one that will require careful thinking and intellectual engagement.

Why is this movie such a challenge?

First of all, The Golden Compass is an extremely attractive movie. Like the book on which it is based, the movie is a very sophisticated story that is very well told. The casting was excellent. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (the latest James Bond actor) are joined by others including Sam Elliott and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards, who plays the central role of 11-year-old Lyra Belacqua. Kidman is chilling as the beautiful but evil Marisa Coulter and Craig is perfect as Lord Asriel. Actor Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) is the voice of Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear.

The movie is very well done and will be very attractive to audiences of all ages. The special effects are superior to any previous movie of the type, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy (also released by New Line Cinema). Everything is in place for this to be a blockbuster at the box office.

Second, the movie is based in a story that is captivating, sophisticated, and truly interesting. Philip Pullman is a skilled writer and teller of tales. His invented worlds of The Golden Compass and the entire His Dark Materials trilogy are about as good as the fantasy genre can offer. His characters are believable and the dialogue is constant — largely due to Pullman’s brilliant invention of a companion for each character — a “daemon.”

The bottom line is that these books and this movie will attract a lot of attention and will captivate many readers and viewers.

So, what’s the problem?

This is not just any fantasy trilogy or film project. Philip Pullman has an agenda — an agenda about as subtle as an army tank. His agenda is nothing less than to expose what he believes is the tyranny of the Christian faith and the Christian church. His hatred of the biblical storyline is clear. He is an atheist whose most important literary project is intended to offer a moral narrative that will reverse the biblical account of the fall and provide a liberating mythology for a new secular age.

The great enemy of humanity in the three books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (together known as His Dark Materials) is the Christian church, identified as the evil Magisterium. The Magisterium, representing church authority, is afraid of human freedom and seeks to repress human sexuality.

The Magisterium uses the biblical narrative of the Fall and the doctrine of original sin to repress humanity. It is both violent and vile and it will stop at nothing to protect its own interests and to preserve its power.

Pullman’s attack on biblical Christianity is direct and undeniable. He once questioned why his books attracted little controversy even as the Harry Potter books attracted so much. He told an Australian newspaper that what he is “saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”

Will viewers of the movie see all this?

The direct attack on Christianity and God is toned down in the movie. But any informed person will recognize the Magisterium as representing the Church and Christianity. Of course, in our world the Magisterium is the authoritative leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. In Pullman’s world it represents Christianity as a whole.

Indeed, Pullman’s tale tells of John Calvin assuming the papacy and moving the headquarters to Geneva, thus combining the Catholic and Reformation traditions into one. In the movie, the Magisterium appears to be located in London. In any event, the point is not subtle.

The most direct attacks upon Christianity and God do not appear until the last book, The Amber Spyglass, in which Lyra and Will (a boy her age who first appears in the second book) eventually kill God, who turns out to be a decrepit and feeble old imposter who was hardly worth the killing.

Is Pullman’s attack on Christianity exaggerated by his critics?

No — his attack is neither hidden nor subtle. The entire premise of the trilogy is that Lyra is the child foretold by prophecy who will reverse the curse of the Fall and free humanity from the lie of original sin. Whereas in Christian theology it is Jesus Christ who reverses the curse through His work of atonement on the Cross, Pullman presents his own theology of sorts in which the Fall is reversed through the defiance of these children. As Pullman insists, Eve and Adam were right to eat the forbidden fruit and God was a tyrant to forbid them the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The supernatural element of Pullman’s story is “Dust,” which is seen by the Magisterium as original sin but is presented by Pullman as the essence of life itself. In The Golden Compass, Lyra is given an “alethiometer” or “golden compass” which is filled with Dust and tells the truth to one qualified to operate it. Readers are told that a great battle is coming in which forces fighting for human freedom and happiness will confront (and destroy) the Magisterium and God.

In the last volume of the trilogy, a character known as Dr. Mary Malone explains her discovery to Lyra and Will: “I used to be a nun, you see. I thought physics could be done to the glory of God, till I saw there wasn’t any God at all and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.”

Is there more to the larger story?

Yes, and it has to do with sex. Surprisingly graphic and explicit sex. Pullman believes that the Christian church is horribly repressive about sex and that this is rooted in the idea of the Fall. As he told Hanna Rosin of the Atlantic Monthly, “Why the Christian Church has spent 2,000 years condemning this glorious moment, well, that’s a mystery. I want to confront that, I suppose, by telling a story that the so-called original sin is anything but. It’s the thing that makes us fully human.”

Puberty is a big part of Pullman’s concern. Coming-of-age stories are one of the most common forms of fiction, but Pullman’s packs a punch that readers cannot miss. He wants to celebrate the adolescent’s arrival at sexual awareness. Remember that the child’s daemon can change forms until puberty. At that point it is fixed as a single creature that reflects the personality and character of the young adult.

Puberty means the coming of sexual feelings. The Magisterium would prefer that children grow up without experiencing sexual temptation, so it is conducting an experiment in order to separate children from their daemons before puberty, when their daemon can no longer change. This procedure, known as “intercision” makes the child a “severed child” who has no daemon — and thus no soul. The Magisterium has assigned Mrs. Coulter the job of abducting the children and taking them to the North for this experiment.

As Mrs. Coulter explains to Lyra (who is revealed to be her own daughter) in the first book: “All that happens is a little cut, and then everything’s peaceful. Forever! You see, your daemon’s a wonderful friend and companion when you are young, but at the age we call puberty, the age you’re coming to very soon, darling, daemons bring all sorts of troublesome thoughts and feelings, and that’s what lets Dust in. A quick little operation before that, and you’re never troubled again.”

In The Golden Compass, Lyra and her companions free the children held at this experimental station in the North and destroy it. In The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Will reverse the story of the Edenic Fall by consummating a sexual act in the garden.

Again, Pullman is not subtle. Keep in mind that this is a series of books marketed to children and adolescents. Lyra puts a red fruit to Will’s lips and Will “knew at once what she meant, and that he was too joyful to speak.” Within moments, the 13-year olds are involved in some kind of unspecified sexual act.

“The word love set his nerves ablaze,” Pullman writes of Will. “All his body thrilled with it, and he answered her in the same words, kissing her hot face over and over again, drinking in with adoration the scent of her body and her warm, honey-fragrant hair and her sweet, moist mouth that tasted of the little red fruit.”

Just a few pages later, Will and Lyra will dare to touch each other’s daemon. That passage is even more sexually charged and explicit than the first. The adolescents now know “that neither daemon would change now, having felt a lover’s hands on them. These were their shapes for life: they would want no other.”

What is it about Pullman and C. S. Lewis?

Put simply, Pullman hates C. S. Lewis’s work The Chronicles of Narnia. He told Hannah Rosin that Lewis’s famous work is “morally loathsome” and “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I ever read.” Narnia, he said, “is the Christian one . . . . And mine is the non-Christian.”

When the first Narnia film was released in 2005, Pullman described the books as “a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice.”

Indeed, Pullman’s His Dark Materials is intended as an answer to Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. What Lewis (and J. R. R. Tolkein) did for Christianity, Pullman wants to do for atheism.

So, what should Christians do?

A good first step would be to take a deep breath. The Christian faith is not about to be toppled by a film, nor by a series of fantasy books. Pullman has an agenda that is clear, and Christians need to inform themselves of what this agenda is and what it means. At the same time, nothing would serve his agenda better than to have Christians speaking recklessly or unintelligently about the film or the books.

This is about the battle of ideas and worldviews. While Christians will not celebrate the release of this film, we should recognize the mixture of challenge and opportunity that comes with millions of persons watching this film and talking about the issues it raises. When the movie is mentioned in the workplace, in school, on the playground, or in the college campus, this is a great opportunity to show that Christians are not afraid of the battle of ideas.

We should recognize that the Christian Church has some very embarrassing moments in its history – moments when it has failed to represent the truth of the Gospel and the love of Christ. Authors like Philip Pullman take advantage of these failures in order to paint the entire Christian Church as a conspiracy against human happiness and freedom. Of course, that charge will not stand close scrutiny, and we can face it head-on with a thoughtful response.

Some Christians have also held very unhelpful views of human sexuality. These, we must admit, would include figures as great and influential as Augustine and, alas, C. S. Lewis. But these figures, rightly influential in other areas of the faith, are not representative in this case of biblical sexuality. We can set the record straight.

Should we be concerned that people, young and old, will be confused by this movie? Of course. But I do not believe that a boycott will dissuade the general public from seeing the film. I am very concerned when I think of so many people being entertained by such a subversive message delivered by such a seductive medium. We are responsible to show them, in so far as we are able, that the Magisterium of The Golden Compass is not a fair or accurate representation of the Christian Church.

I can only wonder how many parents and grandparents will allow children and young people to see the movie and then buy them the books — blissfully unaware of what is coming in books two and three.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has enemies; this we know. Christian parents must be informed about His Dark Materials and inform others. We must take the responsibility to use interest in this film to teach our own children to think biblically and to be discerning in their engagement with the media in all forms. We should arm our children to be able to talk about this project with their classmates without fear or rancor.

Philip Pullman has an agenda, but so do we. Our agenda is the Gospel of Christ — a message infinitely more powerful than that of The Golden Compass. Pullman’s worldview of unrestricted human autonomy would be nightmarish if ever achieved. His story promises liberation but would enslave human beings to themselves and destroy all transcendent value.

The biblical story of the Fall is true, after all, and our only rescue is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The curse of sin was not reversed by adolescents playing at sex in a garden, but by the Son of God shedding His blood on a cross.

So let’s get our bearings straight as we think and talk about The Golden Compass. This movie does represent a great challenge, but a challenge that Christians should always be ready to meet.

__________________

Gravity

My friend Ross has re-named and re-designed his blog. Check out Gravity…He has great things to say. He emailed me these words the other day:

You ask me what my hope is; it is, that Christ died for my sins, in my stead, in my place, and therefore I can enter into life eternal. You ask Paul what his hope was. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” This is the hope in which died all the glorious martyrs of old, in which all who have entered heaven’s gate have found their only comfort. Take that doctrine of substitution out of the Bible, and my hope is lost. With the law, without Christ, we are all undone. The law we have broken, and it can only hang over our head the sharp sword of justice. Even if we could keep it from this moment, there remains the unforgiven past. “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” He only is safe for eternity who is sheltered behind the finished work of Christ.

D. L. Moody

And my sweet wife emailed me these:

The Ministry:Actually a Perilous Profession

For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony Revelation 12:10, 11

THE CLERGYMAN IS CONSIDERED one of the best actuarial risks any insurance company can handle-from the standpoint of physical hazard.

Yet, the ministry is one of the most perilous of professions!

The devil hates the Spirit-filled minister with an intensity second only to that which he feels for Christ Himself. The source of this hatred is not difficult to discover. An effective, Christlike minister is a constant embarrassment to the devil, a threat to his dominion, a rebuttal of his best arguments and a dogged reminder of his coming overthrow. No wonder he hates him!

Satan knows that the downfall of a prophet of God is a strategic victory for him, so he rests not day or night devising hidden snares and deadfalls for the ministry. Perhaps a better figure would be the poison dart that only paralyzes its victim, for I think that Satan has little interest in killing the preacher outright.

An ineffective, half-alive minister is a better advertisement for hell than a good man dead!

So, the preacher’s dangers are likely to be spiritual rather than physical, though sometimes the enemy works through bodily weakness to get to the preacher’s soul!

A.W.Tozer

How To Leave A Church

Mark Dever offers these tips on how to leave a church {from his book “What Is A Healthy Church?”}-

Quick Tips: If You’re Thinking about Leaving a church . . .
Before You Decide to Leave
1. Pray.
2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.
3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?
4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.
5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matt. 7:3–5).
6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).

If You Go
1. Don’t divide the body.
2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).
3. Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically.
4. If there has been hurt, then forgive—even as you have been forgiven.

{HT: JT}