Dluxe's World

Tuesday, May 30

Newsflash! Nothing happened.

Thanks to MLF for reminding me...

In case you hadn't noticed, the tragic events predicted for 5/25/06 never happened. Eric Julien has explained the matter on his website.

I posted the following comment on the end of my original post shortly after the non-event. It pretty much sums up my feelings:

After two days in the bunker, we emerged. You can't imagine how bittersweet that moment was for us... The cool air and bright sun on our faces, and yet the heavy hearts within us.

It was strange that we knew the world was now so different after the disaster, and yet it seemed so normal. People driving by in their cars, kids fishing, and joggers running down the street... Didn't people care about the tragedy that had befallen the world?

I raced into the house and was surprised to find that internet access was still available. Thank goodness that the infrastructure was built to be so robust.

Racing to the news sites, I was shocked to find that there was no mention of the horrors that I knew must've taken place. What is wrong with us? Is our capacity to ignore the plight of others really so massive?

But wait. Nothing. Really! Nothing? No comet, no tsunami, no world-defining event? What happened?

Huh. I guess you really can't believe everything you read on the internet.

Do you suppose I have to mow my lawn now?

And no rousing speech from Bill Pullman, either. That's tragic.

Monday, May 29

Where valor led.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

"In Flanders Fields", John McCrae
(final stanza added by Moina Michael)

Wednesday, May 24

"I believe the children are our future..."

If you're the around same age I am, you have the screeching stylings of Whitney Houston singing "Greatest Love of All" burned somewhere into the recesses of your brain. You've tried to bury it, but it's there.

Candy-pop though it was, there was a part of that song that spoke to us. The opening line was about us: "I believe the children are our future..." We were those kids and the world was our oyster. Back in high school, however, it seemed like we were always waiting for our time to arrive. We weren't particularly oriented towards activism - especially since I don't think we held many opinions (besides the cultural need for more BugleBoy jeans) strongly enough to care. Even in college, people my age seemed to talk a lot but the bluster never translated to action. Now, we're increasingly aged adults with mortgages, cell phones, and who just want a nice lawn for Pete's sake!

My friends know I'm someone with regrets about largely frittering away the 8 years between sixteen and twenty-four. We've got the truck outta the ditch and are making progress, but I can't help feeling that we're behind schedule sometimes.

With all that background, you can imagine my respect for youth today who are jumping into the pool and making a difference. I stumbled across The Rebelution this past fall in the midst of the Noah Riner hullabaloo here at the office. The posts from Alex, Brett, and their guests are always challenging and well-written. The maturity in their convictions and writing makes it easy to forget their youth.

If you're reading this post and you're a teen, you should join up. If you're a parent (like Eva and me), let's accept the challenge to build in our children a deep, radical devotion to Christ that will overflow into culture-confronting behavior. If you're none of the above, let's applaud and support these young men and women who really are the future.

"Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." Eph 5:8b-11, ESV

Tuesday, May 23

PSA: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...

Just a public service announcement from your ol' friend Dluxe

The world as we know it will end in 2 days. Seriously. I read it on teh intarweb. You can too.

That is all.

UPDATED!! I just saw that Brian McLaren is supposed to be participating in this live telecast at 8pm on Thursday. Given that the cataclysm is slated for mid-afternoon and given my anti-McLaren bent and given the other looney tune ideas likely to be trumpeted in said telecast, I can now say definitively that something good will come out of the impending disaster.

Monday, May 22

Wrap-up: Confessions of a Reformission Rev (Driscoll)

As I mentioned on Friday, I don't feel fit to dip my toes into the whirlpool of conversation that's started re: Mark Driscoll's book Confessions of a Reformission Rev. If you're here looking for a real, eloquent review and analysis, you might want to just browse this article and click on the links to other smart people.

Still, I've committed to summing up the books I read (for my own journaling purposes) and so I can't skip this either.

Mark Driscoll planted and pastors the upstart Mars Hill Church is Seattle, WA. Mars Hill has grown by leaps and bounds, and its pastor has become something of a lightning rod in the evangelical world. More on that later. Confessions is a honest, vulnerable chronicle, part church-biography and autobiography, of the steps and mis-steps in the growth of Mars Hill Church.

The most likely audience for this book are young, bright-eyed, potential church-planters. For these people, I think this book has a tremendous amount to offer. The issues that have confronted Mars Hill are certainly not atypical and prospective pastors do well to wrestle with them now. I think that there is a 'blissful ignorance' that could easily surround people diving into ministry (speaking of myself, here) and it's nice to have your eyes shocked open to the truth. At one early point, a particularly troubling encounter in a Mars Hill service led to this:
I called our people to join in our mission to follow Jesus into war for the heart of our city and closed in prayer. I wept in front of my church for the first time as the magnitude of what we were doing hit me at a level deeper than ever before. I had never opened my eyes while I prayed before our church, and for the first time, I prayed with my eyes open... My people had their heads bowed in silence, and it absolutely broke me to know that these people were entrusted to my leadership and care. (p87)

In his T4G address (that I've raved about previously), John Piper reminded the assembled pastors that the mantle of preaching "is soaked in the Blood of Christ and singed in the fires of Hell". Are pastors, elders, or church planters wearing that mantle? Driscoll writes honestly about the increasing sense of that weight in his development as a pastor... Such sobering realism is sorely needed.

Driscoll also speaks with great conviction re: his committment to the authority of the Bible and the necessity of Biblical preaching. Given Driscoll's visability in evagelicalism and respect from emerging/emergent types, it is encouraging to see these embattled doctrines championed loudly and clearly.
In the end, I decided not to back off from a preaching monologue [in favor of discussion, as some members has suggested] but instead to work hard at becoming a solid long-winded, old-school Bible preacher that focused on Jesus. My people needed to hear from God's Word and not from each other in collective ignorance like some dumb chat room. (p.77)

Two other particularly helpful points: First, Driscoll devotes a large number of pages to outlining the defining of Mars Hill's elder-driven ecclesiology. Obviously, I also admire Driscoll's sense of the church mission. Driscoll mentions that he "decided to never view our church as a church but rather always ... like a church planter with a core group launching out to reach the city" (p.147). While we must focus on building into those who sit inside our four walls every Sunday, we mustn't forget the mission for which they need to be equipped. If we forget the world outside our 'holy huddle', we are not serving Christ.

As someone who has considered church-planting, I found Confessions to be challenging and enlightening. Though the chapters essentially follow Mars Hill's growth, it's apparent that considering many of Mar Hill's later challenges earlier would save a lot of headaches.

Now, just a couple words about the swirling controversy re: Driscoll's acerbic wit and vocabulary... First, I'm certainly not the right person to define the dividing line between acceptable, though 'shocking', language and full-blown vulgarity. After all, I went to a state college, was in a fraternity, and worked as a musician. Similar to Ralphie's dad in A Christmas Story, "[I] worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was [my] true medium..." I can remember mouthing off about various four-letter things in Denny's and thinking nothing of it.

When I hear kids around talking that way now, I cringe... not particularly because the speech offends me, but because I see now how immature and crass we must've sounded back then. Similarly, I don't find myself offended at the vast majority of what Driscoll says, but his choice of words certainly seems to reflect a degree of immaturity and sophomoric humor could reflect poorly on him and on the Gospel. Driscoll seems to get this and has repented and apologized for his mouth in the past. I wonder how many of us would be so vulnerable and honest re: our sin?

I grew up in a generation of kids who used 'the f-word' as a substitute for periods in our grammar. I know many people continue that pattern of speech in adulthood. While that might be normative or accepted in society, we as Christians are called to be holy - separate and distinctive from the world around us. Some argue that talking like everyone else gets us a 'better hearing'. While that may be true, such a presentation ensures there's no way to avoid the message being clouded.

God is pure and holy. Our speech, likewise, should be above reproach.

All that said, we must be careful that we don't necessarily allow our shock at a choice of words to brand it as profane. One person commented that they were 'appalled' that Piper used the word 'asinine' in a sermon. I think that's a level of sensitivity that's as over the top (though in another direction) as Driscoll's unruly tongue.

So, if you're looking to get a real picture of the struggles of a new church with a young pastor I can honestly say this book delivers. However, be aware that there are sections that will make you shake your head... "Man, I wish he hadn't taken it that far..."


Saturday, May 20

Review: Worship God Live (Sovereign Grace)

It seems that I'm constantly blogging about stuff which is entirely out of my area of expertise. That's at least partly due to the fact that I can only speak with authority on three things: Eating, Sleeping, and Music.

So, for once I'm playing from strength and posting a review of a CD.

Our church has been using music from the people at Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) since 2001ish. Their songwriting is marked with musical interest and theologically compelling text. In a musical landscape that can often lack depth, the SGM team are huge blessings! (The same could be said for the I-Grace folks, too!)

Therefore I was excited to to receive a copy of SGM's latest project, Worship God Live, which was recorded at Covenant Life Church over a couple evenings in early 2005.

Short summary: Those of you who know me will know that musical compliments are not easily wrenched from my lips. So when I say that the CD is fantastic, that should ring as high praise. Lemme breakdown my comments (briefly) into 4 areas:

Lyrical Content/Beauty: I approach worship theologically (and honestly think you should, too). I want to hear and sing things that preach to my heart about the God I am worshipping. The songwriting challenge is to write meaningful lyrics which remain both 'attainable' for the congregant and musically sensible. The tunes on this CD all balance that tipsy scale beautifully.

Here's a couple examples, just to give you a flavor of what I mean. First, check out this opening lyric from the song "Grace Unmeasured".
Grace unmeasured vast and free
That knew me from eternity,
That called me out before my birth
To bring You glory on this earth...

Grace amazing pure and deep
That saw me in my misery,
That took my curse and owned my blame
So I could bear Your righteous name.

The chorus which follows is, to me, one of those shivery, sublime musical moments... But that's another section of the review. Another wonderful lyric is the opening verse and chorus of the anthem-atic "Perfect Lamb of God":
The light of day was cloaked by night
And heaven closed its eyes
Wrath unspared for countless sins
The guiltless crucified
Hands of kindness driven through
Back on splintered beam
The holy curtain torn in two
Atonement made for me.

Hail the perfect Lamb of God
A kingly ransom paid
When You, my Lord, were slain
Love unrivaled, here displayed
Calls my heart to praise
The perfect Lamb of God

Just... Beautiful... I've walked into the office with red eyes more than a couple times because I was just singing that song in the car.

Music Performance/Musicianship: One fun memory of college was recording demo cuts for music company arrangements aimed at junior and senior high music programs. I learned that a good band can make even mediocre/simple music sounds pretty good. Excellent musicians almost always make excellent records.

In this regard, the teams Sovereign Grace recorded really are something. It's obvious that CovLife has drawn some very individually talented players. Yet the musicians each understand the specific role they have to play in the ensemble and execute it wonderfully. This maturity, displayed in serving musically rather than showing off, is an encouragement and makes for a wonderful recording.

Musical Composition: I spent a fair amount of time praising the lyrics of these tunes, but the melodies and arrangements are wonderful. Every melody is singable, catchy, and elevates the lyric (which is the whole point, according to Russell Murray*). The two songs I mentioned previously, "Grace Unmeasured" and "Perfect Lamb of God", are standouts in this regard. Another highlight is a resetting of "O God Our Help in Ages Past" by Mark Altrogge.

I would also urge you to check out the wonderful string arranging in "Surrender All" as well as a absolutely sublime female vocal lead. You can click here for samples of all these tunes!

Production: It's nice to have a worship album that's not over-produced... The production work here is tasteful and simple. Each part has a voice in the mix and the assembled whole is clear, clean, and relatively even.

One of the things that makes Sovereign Grace so cool is their servant hearts... All the sheet music for the songs (lead and piano sheets) are available for free download from the store. As I mentioned before, they've also posted song snippets that play a full verse and chorus. What an awesome service to the 'rest of us'... especially for prepping for rehearsal!

I could find a couple things to gripe about if pressed, though I'd really be nitpicking. In the interest of being 'fair and balanced', I'll throw 'em out there: In one tune, the backup vocal fills are a little overdone for my taste, though your mileage may vary. There's also a couple spots with exposed vocals where it sounds like they tried fix something (tuning, perhaps?) in post and the result is a 'warble-y' sound. Because of the otherwise sharp production, these jump out to the ear.

Nitpicking aside, I would highly and eagerly recommend this CD to anyone who wants a little worship music in their library. For a church worship leader who's looking to add some meaningful news songs to their book, this CD will provide plenty of tunes for the future. We've been listening since early March and have already added 4 of the tunes to our set lists. And I'm confident that three or four more will be added in short order.

Congratulations to Bob and the Sovereign Grace team on such a beautiful offering! And thanks to them for blessing us with the fruits of their ministry!

*Russell Murray taught my first music history class in college and was a great friend... I remember at least a week's worth of lectures on text painting and the relation of music to text. Given the rarity of music blogging on here, I thought the shout-out was appropriate. So, here's to you 'remurray'!


Friday, May 19

I'll be fashionably late, I suppose...

Well, the balance of our book order from Amazon arrived the other day (thanks to MLF for his procurement services). I shifted gears and decided to jump into Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev right away.

Even though I'll prolly wrap the book up by Sunday, I don't know how much value posting a review will be. It seems like the book is all over the place right now. Earlier this week, Michael Spencer (aka iMonk) posted his positive review of Driscoll's latest. In announcing the review on the BHT gangblog, iMonk 'whismically' entitled his post "Don't Let Challies Near This One".

As if on cue, Tim Challies has posted a rather mixed review over here.

I certainly won't have much to add to the discussion, nor will I say any of it as well as these people (who actually write with proper spelling and grammar). Regardless, the book makes you think and so I'll post my thoughts. Besides, everyone else is doing it and I must keep this blog trendy for all my peeps.

Also, Bob Kauflin recently ran gave away some copies of Sovereign Grace's Worship God Live CD in exchange for reviews. I got a copy of the CD some time ago, but I figured I'd post a review since Bob was asking... Look for that sometime this weekend, with Confessions landing early next week.

Wednesday, May 17

Wacky WWWednesday

Well, I came across a couple things recenltly that tickled me, so I thought I'd share them. You know, you have to kick it on the 'not so serious' tip once in a while.

First, I found this video on Julie's blog... It made me LOL. A lot.

Second, I was stuck at the office very late Monday night waiting for a ride. Since there's only so much work one can do before the brain turns to mush, I found this site. And I spent way too much time playing this game for some reason.

Third, I wanted to share some amusing search results that have come in recently:
  • I imagine that the person looking for ""stained glass windows seen on tbn network channel" was really disappointed when they found out my thoughts on viewing TBN.
  • It seems that I know a little something about ""cessationism or cessationist or cessationists or charismatics or charismata or continuationist or continuationism or charistmatic". Then again, given all those 'or' statements, I imagine google just returned the whole web.
  • Someday, I might give an "exposition of isaiah 55", but not today.
  • And, thanks to my recent T4G post, I was the top date-sorted hit for "T4G" and any of the following: "John Piper", "Mark Dever", "Al Mohler" for a 24hour period. I'm sure their publicists are horrified to know that.


Monday, May 15

Wrap-up: Revolution in World Missions (Yohannon)

One of the nice things about my reading list is that I assembled it from the 'favorites' lists of several great people (in particular, the T4G guys, thanks to a thread on their blog). As a result, I suppose I'll have only good things to say about most of the books I read. This book, added to the list through a more 'organic' process, was an awesome surprise!

Sometime this past winter, I noticed Revolution in World Missions sitting on our kitchen table. I asked Eva how it came into our possession and discovered that it just appeared in the mail. If I recall correctly, it came as a gift from Samaritan's Purse.

I set the book aside and determined to take a peek at it later. Over the next couple months, I predictably noticed the little paperback gracing the shelves and tables of several other families from VBC.

With my reading program in full swing, I decided it was time to crack the cover on this book. It proved to be a quick, fascinating, and convicting read.

KP Yohannan was born and raised in India. He came to Christ and worked with several native evangelistic teams before coming to the west for schooling. While in the US, KP developed a vision for increasing the mobilization of native missionaries using the vast support 'power' of the west. For an American to go to do missions work in India, $30,000+ of annual support might have to be raised. On the other hand, a native (Indian) evangelist could be equipped and easily supported for less than a third of that amount.

In addition to the increased impact 'per dollar' that native missions offer, it also removes the various cultural barriers that often hinder the spread of the Gospel. The native has no language that must be learned, no cultural norms to assimilate, and benefits from an immediate credibility with the target peoples. In an era where 'white' westerners are increasingly distrusted or barred from entry to many nations, native missionaries seem to be the wave of the future (and a superior tool, at that).

There are a couple things, in particular, that really got into my head through reading this book.
  1. A deep sense of our overwhelming affluence. Most people in the United States live a life of complete excess... Think about it: The amount of calories we get from a single, frivilous, after-church meal at Chili's likely represents a weekly amount of food for people in many parts of the world - if not more! This sense of 'being rich' rightly comes anytime you seriously dwell on missions.
  2. As an extension of that, I struck again by the futility of the 'American Dream'. We scurry and run, always going but never arriving. Always imagining that the next car, the next house, the next something will define/complete our 'happiness'. I'll come back to this in a second...
  3. I find it interesting how foreign missions seem to often be more deeply connected to the working of the Holy Spirit 'with power'. As someone who has stopped to consider charismaticism and cessationism (yes, I'm a nerd), I find the many accounts of miraculous happenings in the mission field interesting. Why do we, in the west, not see similar manifestations (healings, deliverances from demons, etc) in our churches? Is it that there is some special dispensation, a la the Book of Acts, for those ministering in largely pagan contexts? Are these signs actually something nefarious - the presence of unholy influences on Christianity? Or, as I suspect, are we westerners simply less reliant upon the leading and power the Spirit in our lives? I suspect our comfort - in #1 and #2 above - has made us largely apathetic.
I was talking to my mother on the phone last night regarding the sale of our house. My mother was sad that we had to let go of our current home to 'downsize' into something more affordable. In the past two years, I've been moving to the point that I don't feel that bad about it. Moreover, the extent to which I do feel bad is actually, in my opinion, a sign that I have something to work on.

We have friends in the missions field in Kijabe, Kenya. The money I make per year, after taxes, is equal to roughly 100 times the income of a Kenyan family. Our home represents more walled-in space than several families occupy in Haiti, where our church supports several mission efforts. Is losing a yard and some privacy really that big of a deal?

I increasingly recognize how as a young man I never really valued the right things. Around the time our son was born, I started to go through a period of change. What is really important to me? Answer: My God and my family. If that's really true, am I living in a way that would reflect that? If my hope is outside of this world, does my lifestyle reflect that or am I simply moving in the current of a world gone wrong?

I don't want to live a life that is comfortable but eternally insiginificant. I don't want to live so I can get old and become increasingly useless. I don't want to stand before God one day and point to a earthly mansion as the symbol of my life's work.

I want to live a life that sacrifices much to love much. I want to live a life that displays a hope in what's coming, not what's here. I want to live a live that cries out that "to live is Christ, and to die is gain". I want a crown for my King's glory, not a nice lawn for my own.

Well, all this is only loosely tied to KP Yohannon's book. So, I'll try to bring us back up the rabbit hole... Pray for those preaching the gospel, both here and abroad - though especially for those being persecuted. If you feel you have only a little to offer financially, consider giving that to a native mission support agency like Yohannon's Gospel for Asia where your pocket change will go far to change lives.

I'd urge you to read this book... And I'll be glad to loan you my copy if you'll take the $5.95 you save and put it to good use.


Wednesday, May 10

Reflections of a T4G non-attendee

There was a point in late-March where I was sitting at my desk staring at the T4G registration page. I was running through numbers in my head, trying to figure out if I could justify the cash-out to attend the conference. Well, I couldn't. So, I didn't.

Thankfully, the conference audio was posted for download (for a modest fee) by the organizers... I've spent all my listening hours for since late last week listening to all the messages. All have gotten at least two listens, some have had many more. I thought I'd take a minute to post some highlights. If you find these little tidbits interesting, I'd urge you to peek in the SGM store and treat yourself to some good iPod-fodder (iFodder?)...

The thing that is most fascinating about all the addresses at the conference is the sense of fraternity and vulnerability... There is an honesty and emotion as these pastors exhort their brethren to embrace the high calling of God and their office. To be honest, that sense of intimacy is almost uncomfortable at times - making you feel like you've peered in on a private exchange between family members.

For me, that intimacy was most evident in John MacArthur's address, "Forty Years of Gospel Ministry". MacArthur is always emotional and instructive, but somehow this was different. In a very real way, his address feels like the admonitions of a loving father to his children. Opening with reflections on the heritage of faith he received from his father and grandfather, MacArthur launches into a wide-ranging and deeply touching exhortation to the next generation of pastors.
If you want to have a church that really knows what it is to love, that is going to be driven by a common affection for the Word of God. A collection of people who will say with David, "O, how I love your law!". And that affection arises out of a conviction that it's true. And that conviction arises out of clarity - they understand it. And that clarity comes from the preacher because the preacher is certain that he is speaking the Word of God and the Gospel of God. Therein lies the mandate for the discipline of getting it right.
Your sort of join the Bereans, right? You are really leading your people in a search [for/through biblical truth] so that you all arrive at the 'Eureka!' moment together. That's the fun of it!
You have to go down if you're going to lead your people up. Transcendent worship experience is directly related to the depth of comprehension of divine truth... Most churches live in the flatland: The preacher nevers goes deep so they never go high. So what you have to have is some kind of clown up there whipping up some kind of artificial thing calling [it] worship when it's really just emotion.

And many more... Hearing MacArthur speak personally about the deep relationship with his church, built on 37 years of ministry fellowship, was just awesome.

I initially bought the set of mp3s because of the rave reviews circulating on the net for John Piper's talk. I've been on something of a Piper kick lately, thanks to my readings and some classic DG broadcasts. Piper's address, "Why Expositional Preaching is Particularly Glorifying to God", didn't disappoint in any way.

Everyone, not just recovering pentecostals like me, has had those experiences where some message or moment seems especially anointed by the Holy Spirit. Something makes the speaker and the words come alive in a way that transcends every 'normal' experience. Even listening via recording, you get that real sense with this speech. Perhaps part of this is simply emotion - Piper's health issues and the brush with mortality that brings, combined with our admiration and love for him. Whatever it was, it was awesome. Ligon Duncan is quoted as having said, "After tonight, I wondered if I ever preached a sermon before." I think that speaks both to Lig's honest and humble service as a pastor and to the passionate, convicting oratory from Piper.

I'll quote some brief standouts here, though I would only use them to encourage you to download the source file. Piper's note, which serve as a loose transcript, can be found here.
God planned for his Son to be crucified and for hell to be terrible so that we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when we preach. What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with fire of hell. Are you wearing that mantle? That’s the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers. Yet tragically some of the most prominent so-called 'evangelical' voices today diminish the horror of the cross and the horror of hell—the cross being stripped of its power to bear our punishment that is coming, and hell demythologized into self-dehumanization and the social miseries of this world.
Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. This is God’s way of changing people. And if you say to me, "Doesn't work!" then I think you should keep on doing it anyway... People are changed the way God wants them to change, not the way you want them to change. Suppose you do find another way that works, have you produced what God wants - namely, glory-seeing driven change? And if you produce another kind of change, He may not be interested... There are people in the category of the perishing who will never see. Are you going to let your failure with them alter your method?
Woe to us, brothers, if we [preach] without exultation over the Word. If we open our Bibles, put it on the pulpit, and engage now to explain these glories and our face and our tone and our demeanor and our life is dull, we LIE about the Gospel. I don't care how many true sentences come out of our mouths. We betray the value of the Gospel, and the value of the Gospel is as important of the truth of Gospel! If you do not value the Gospel, you perish - no matter how many right thoughts you think about God and His Gospel.

This post has gone on too long already... So I don't have room to pull highlights out of the great talks given by Mark Dever and C.J. Mahaney. I'll simply tell you that I loved them and commend them to your listening pleasure.

I'll also recommend that we all register for the 2008 T4G conference as soon as the link goes live.

Saturday, May 6

Wrap-up: Religious Life of Theological Students (Warfield)

This wonderful, short book (only 15 pages!) recounts an address B.B. Warfield delivered to a group of Princeton Seminary students in 1911. I thought this would be worth a read as I embark on this little 'personal study adventure'.

Boy, am I glad I did!

Warfield speaks eloquently and passionately regarding the lofty goals and significant challenges that face any theology student. Warfield first tackles the issue of 'vocation' to remind the seminary student that the call on their life is different than, but not 'superior' to, others. Warfield says:
'Vocation' - it is the call of God, addressed to every man, whoever he may be, to lay upon him a particular work, no matter what. And the calls, and therefore also the called, stand on a complete equality with one another... Certainly, every man who aspires to be a religious man must begin by doing his duty. (p. 4)

Even so, the difference here is plain. The student of theology must recognize the role of worship in the pursuit of knowledge and study because he "is brought by his daily tasking into the presence of God, and is kept there." (p. 5) The ongoing challenge for students is the tendency towards routine. The study of God easily becomes commonplace in the mind of the student. It's too easy for the passion to melt away in the midst of the stream of work. Worse yet, the pursuit of knowledge can become an idol - with the student building a library of facts that are effectively detached from the God who is their focus.

The passionate pursuit of God must be the focus of theological study. This is especially true when the task of a preacher is considered. Warfield exhort the students:
In a time like this, it is perhaps not strange that careful observers of the life of our Theological Seminaries tell us that the most noticeable thing about it is a certain falling off from the intense seriousness of outlook by which students ... were formerly characterized... Think of the greatness of the minister's calling; the greatness of the issues which hang on your worthiness or your unworthiness for its high functions; and determine once and for all that with God's help you will be worthy. (p. 13)

Warfield certainly is not implying that activity is the goal. Instead, he specifically reminds the reader that no amount of good work will make up for a lack of genuine devotion to and affection for Christ. The work, all of it, must be motivated by the desire to respond to God's call on your life and glorify Him alone.

This is a fantastic little read. It balances well the clear, sobering reminder of the important call to biblical eldership with the fatherly exhortation to make the gospel come alive to others through its living in you. I thought Warfield's closing thoughts were especially poignant... Recalling a Cotton Mather book, he writes:
The angels preparing to sound the trumpets. That is what Cotton Mather calls you, students for the ministry: the angels, preparing to sound the trumpets! Take the name to yourselves, and live up to it. Give your days and nights to living up to it! And then, perhaps, when you come to sound the trumpets the note will be pure and clear and strong, and perchance may even pierce even to the grave and wake the dead. (p. 15)


Wrap-up: Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form (Cobb)

After finishing my last book, I was stuck in a bit of a lull. The uber-order that we had placed wasn't here yet, and I was officially between titles. A quick email to coramdeo solved the problem and landed me a loaned copy of Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form.

I found this book to be a really cool read. We're presented with Thomas Atherton, a young seminary student out on a pastoral internship at a local university. While working, he notices that his supervising pastor, Janet Levovsky, seems to believe in a different Christ than he does. How should he handle this? Report her to the denomination? Tough it out? Thomas decides to speak to her directly before making any decision for action. The conversation sets the rest of the book in motion:
"So the deity of Jesus and the atonement and the resurrection haven't been important to you?" Thomas asked.

"I'm afraid my position is more extreme than that, Thomas. I think they are important, but they seem more like important obstacles that prevent people from following Jesus than like important aspects of faith itself."

Thomas was moved but he was even more troubled than when he first came in. "But then what do you believe?" he cried.

"I believe lots of things, Thomas," [Levovsky] replied gently...(p.13)

Levovsky goes onto express her wacky, but passionately held beliefs. Thomas is shaken, and embarks on a sort of quest to help him determine his proper response. Meetings and chats follow with the other Korean pastoral intern, the campus priest, a younger seminary couple, the campus Buddhists, the Christian eastern religions prof, a feminist theologian, the universalist pastor, and a man driven by a radical works ideology.

As the camera fades to black, Thomas makes the following statement to his wife:
"Yes," Thomas finally answered. "Jesus Christ is my personal Lord and Savior. That may not mean quite the same thing to me it once did. But I think it means more, not less. Now I see that Jesus saves me from the need to cling to a particular theology, that he frees me to be open to new ideas - to truth wherever it is. I'm excited by that... I don't need to defend Christianity anymore. Its truth will win the day and the chaff, of which there has been so much, will blow away." (p.83)

Cobb does a fantastic job of presenting compelling arguments/pleas advocating for the various, non-orthodox Christologies mentioned in the book. I'm sure any Christian in a secular university would immediately recognize each of these conversations. As Thomas is pushed and pulled through so many different 'takes' on Christianity, the reader sees how 'good' many of these positions sound. In the book, everyone holding a particular view is well-read, highly intelligent, and presents a robust defense of their particular Christology.

The real question is whether or not Thomas' closing statement above is a positive evolution? The answer is a resounding "NO!".

I think it's interesting that I started reading this book the evening after I made my previous post re: the Emergent statement of faith (or, more correctly, the lack thereof). The danger of Thomas's endpoint is the same as what the Emergent people face. Thomas, early in the book, seems to know and affirm basic Christological truths of orthodox Christianity. By the end of the book, all that has happened is that those truths have been set aside in favor of what seems emotionally or logically compelling.

All Thomas has managed to do is build a foundation in the sand. This is the same thing that's happening with the Emergents... The signposts that have traditionally kept us on the road of 'genuine Christianity' are slowly being ripped up in the interest of self-revelation and expression. While this potentially makes us 'feel alive', all we've really done is trump Christ's own revelation of his identity with a variation of our own (sinful) design.

This book is short - I read it in an evening - and highly entertaining. If you get a chance to pick it up, or borrow it, I would encourage you to do so.


Thursday, May 4

If we told you, we'd have to kill you...

The Emergent Church believes stuff. They just can't tell you what... I'm not sure if it's so they don't rob you of the joy of discovery or because their beliefs are actually closely tied to US nuclear secrets.

The Emergent conversation seems to have decided not to issue a statement of faith for guiding their affiliated whatever-they-call-'ems. In the post on the Emergent-US blog, we find the following rationale:
Jesus did not have a "statement of faith." He called others into faithful relation to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness... The very idea of a "statement of faith" is mired in modernist assumptions and driven by modernist anxieties...

Interesting. While Christ was on the earth, we had the physical presence of Divine Truth here with us, speaking to and teaching the disciples. We have a written record of those teachings in Scripture. I would think it's safe to assume there's some statements that are important enough to affirm in those texts.

More to the point, people managed to take those things Christ taught and start to distort them through our sins just after His left this world. Left strictly to our own devices, we will end up one place: LOST.

I'm not a big church history person, but I seem to recall learning that the early creeds were formulated to help establish 'foundational' truth and refute error. The emergent point seems to be that formalized, over-analytical, microscopic statements might 'cramp' the style of members of the so-called 'conversation' (and that, potentially, is true). But I am confident there are some truths that are absolute in our faith. Thinking specifically of the early creeds - Don't they provide a sufficiently open framework for 'free discourse' while at least providing some bedrock?
Various communities throughout church history have often developed new creeds and confessions in order to express the Gospel in their cultural context, but the early modern use of linguistic formulations as "statements" that allegedly capture the truth about God with certainty for all cultures and contexts is deeply problematic for at least two reasons...

I would disagree that the driving issue was cultural context. Tell me the specifical cultural context within the Apostle's Creed, for example? It's about defining foundational TRUTH which can be a measure for error. We ignore those basic statements of faith at our peril. By setting no groundrules (e.g. Trinity, Divinity of Christ, Atonement of the Cross, etc), we might as well holler "Pull!", throw everything in the air, and shoot at 'em.
The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.

True: We can't capture God's fullness in words. But what other means do we have to communicate truth to one another over time? If we take our words as the complete, perfected revelation of God, we're plainly too proud of ourselves. Nonetheless, I don't know many people who teach without some use of human language. Should we scrap everything we've ever read about God simply because it was in print?

More disturbing: If words are not effective, are we left to our own subjective, inner experience alone? Perhaps the inference is that other mediums, such as interpretive dance, might serve us better in expressing theological profundities.

Blech! Of course we're incapable of expressing all of God's manifest glory - no matter what tool we have available to us. Still, I know of no statement of faith that claims to have done so. Instead, the purpose is to provide a framework of theological absolutes that allow us to process/discuss other issues. Without that framework, we're swimming in tub of Jell-O.
Emergent aims to facilitate a conversation among persons committed to living out faithfully the call to participate in the reconciling mission of the biblical God. Whether it appears in the by-laws of a congregation or in the catalog of an educational institution, a "statement of faith" tends to stop conversation. Such statements can also easily become tools for manipulating or excluding people from the community. Too often they create an environment in which real conversation is avoided out of fear that critical reflection on one or more of the sacred propositions will lead to excommunication from the community.

Oh, please. Though postmoderns might disagree, conversations need boundaries. How do they propose to call balls 'in play' or 'foul'? Using the logic above, everyone can pull up a chair and just say whatever they feel. There can be no controls except personal conviction or some passive majority rule. There's no way that's what Christ advocated.

Come to think of it, that atmosphere sounds a whole lot like the Boar Head Tavern, don't it?

Isn't it hubris to assume that our awesome, postmodern processes will actually ever get us to the right conclusion? The testimony of Scripture is that God is shouting at us with His creation and yet we willingly stick our fingers in our ears out of rebellion (Romans 1). Is the candlelight and incense of the 'conversation' supposed to somehow get us past that limitation?

I don't think so. Completely irresponsible.
This does not mean, as some critics will assume, that Emergent does not care about belief or that there is no role at all for propositions. Any good conversation includes propositions, but they should serve the process of inquiry rather than shut it down. Emergent is dynamic rather than static, which means that its ongoing intentionality is (and may it ever be) shaped less by an anxiety about finalizing state-ments than it is by an eager attention to the dynamism of the Spirit’s disturbing and comforting presence, which is always reforming us by calling us into an ever-intensifying participation in the Son’s welcoming of others into the faithful embrace of God.

"Don't think we dislike propositional truth... We just don't want to state them."

Ahhh... I get it now! It's so much easier to allow things to just flow, like a beautiful river, than restrict ourselves with 'facts' and 'truths' and 'rules'. I mean, after all, we've done perfectly well getting it right up 'til now, right?

This is such bunk... We do need to honestly think about and wrestle with the 'tough issues' in life, but we need to do so with a safety net. Our enemy and our own nature will absolutely drive us as far away from the truth as we can be driven. The only way to guard against that is to affirm some groundrules that we hold sacred and pray that the Holy Spirit illuminate our hearts and minds.

Try playing baseball without the rules... Tell me if you think it was productive.

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Tuesday, May 2

Wrap-up: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Piper)

Well, the reading program is now underway... If you've been watching the list, you'll note that it has evolved a bit thanks to recommendations from some of you! A major-league order has been placed from Amazon in conjunction with Mixxy-Mike...

I wrapped up reading Piper's book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals a few nights ago. This books was graciously sent to me by the cool people at Desiring God Ministries in re: an email I sent. So, many thanks to them for their generosity.

Piper's thesis in the book is that pastors have put being professional above being pastoral. Driven by human desires for acceptance, material success, or simply more time on the golf course, pastors have emasculated the ministry and God's particular call on the pastorate. Piper says:
"There is no professional childlikeness (Matt 18:3), there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph 4:32), there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1)... I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world. We are fools for Christ's sake, but professionals are wise. We are weak, but professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute... [W]e have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor 4:9-13). Or have we?" (p.2)

The remaining chapters in the book serve to focus this call to 'unprofessional', radical ministry on specific aspects of a pastor's life. Some chapters are plainly theological, exhorting pastors to cling to and proclaim critical points of our faith (God's passion for His glory, substitutionary atonement, justification by faith alone). Others highlight practical concerns (wrestling with original laguages, building a robust devotional/study lilfe) and cultural issues (abortion, racism) which are always confronting the church. If you were to read any chapter in isolation, you'd know immediately that Piper's the author... The book drips with the passionate devotion to truth and exhortation that defines his writing and ministry.

My take on the book is likely different than most. As someone just setting out on the road into pastoral ministry, I was using this book more as an early guidepost versus an exhortation to return to the core of my calling. With that in mind, this jumped off the page:
I was amazed once to hear a seminary graduate say how adequate he felt for the ministry after his years of schooling... The reason this amazed me is that the gretest theologian and missionary and pastor who ever lived cried out, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:16). Not because he was a bungler, but because the awful calling of emitting the fragrance of eternal life for some and eternal death for others was a weight he could scarcely bear...

[B]rothers, the proper goals of the life of a pastor are unquestionably beyond our reach. The changes we long for in the hearts of our people can happen only by a sovereign work of grace. (p.54, emphasis mine)

It's nice to be reminded of your place once in a while... How many of us really consider the implications that our life in ministry brings? And I'm not speaking strictly of 'preachers'... Any of us who step up to the plate to disciple or teach others take on a similar role. That alone should drive us to our knees.

In another chapter, Piper addresses the tension many people feel balancing unscripted 'passion' and more carefully planned, crafted words in ministry. He alludes to the almost painstaking construction of Lamentations ("This seems to be the most formally crafted book in the Old Testament."). After outlining the careful selection of words, images, and acrostics, Piper says:
Now what do these ... observations imply? First, they imply that genuine, heartfelt expression of our deepest emotions does not require spontaneity. Just think of all the mental work involved in finding all the right words to construct four alphabetical acrostics! What constraint, what limitation, what submission to form! Yet what passion and power and heart! There is no necessary contradiction between form and fire... If the heart is aflame, no form will quench it. (p.147, author's emphasis)

It is interesting how we have an unusual idea surrounding prepared prayers, sermons, etc. At times we seem to value the emotionalism of being 'in the moment' above the clarity and impact of the message. Obviously, the two don't need to be separated (spontaneous words can be eloquent and powerful). Yet, I can see in myself some degree of disdain for pastors who use scripted prayers... And I feel convicted over that. After all, I approach the printed word of Scripture expecting it to come alive and be active. Is there really any reason to expect the Holy Spirit to cease operating if someone else is reading their reflections?

The one downside to the book is the same downside I've found with almost every Piper book I've read except Desiring God. The books seem to be front-loaded with content. The thesis is clear and supported well in the early chapters. As the book moves on, there's a "more of the same" mood that settles in... There's certainly great stuff, but the underlining and page marking seems to diminish further into the book.

If you're considering an entry into ministry, I think that this book would serve you well. If you've read much of Piper's stuff, it might not be the 'freshest' read that you've ever had... Still, there's enough gold in there to be worth the price. I also think that pastors who are adrift or in need of a recharge would find this book encouraging and correcting.
Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord. (p.4)


Monday, May 1

There is no spoon...

You scored as Neo, the "One". Neo is the computer hacker-turned-Messiah of the Matrix. He leads a small group of human rebels against the technology that controls them. Neo doubts his ability to lead but doesn't want to disappoint his friends. His goal is for a world where all men know the Truth and are free from the bonds of the Matrix.

Neo, the One >> 92%
Maximus >> 79%
Batman, the Dark Knight >> 75%
The Terminator >> 71%
Indiana Jones >> 50%

Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
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