Saturday, September 29, 2007


This is a special weekend at our church. Tomorrow morning we'll be celebrating our pastor's 25 years of ministry at Memorial. One of his sons, also a Presbyterian minister, will be preaching the sermon. Tomorrow evening two more of his sons, who grew up at Memorial, will be ordained and sent out to calls at churches in Florida and Texas. What a legacy!

Also happening this weekend is the Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis. Among the speakers are John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church for 38 years -- Helen Roseveare, missionary to the Congo for 21 years -- and of course Piper, who's been at Bethlehem Baptist for a mere 27 years. Appropriately, the theme is Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints. You can listen and watch, almost instantaneously, here.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Friday, September 28, 2007

"The Office" top 10

The season premiere of The Office certainly got off to a bang (or a thump)! Was that a remarkably life-like Meredith mannequin bouncing off the hood of Michael's car, or is Kate Flannery doing her own stunt work? Last night had it's moments, but I didn't find the writing and acting to be as spot-on as it normally is. Perhaps they'll hit their stride in the weeks ahead. We'll be watching...

In the spirit of Letterman, here are my ten favorite things about watching The Office:

10. Party planning politics

9. Vance Refrigeration

8. Jim's "I can't believe this is happening" look

7. Michael's "deer in the headlights" look

6. Obscure Scranton references (it's my wife's hometown)

5. Stanley's casual disdain

4. "Dunder-Mifflin, this is Pam"

3. Dwight's Machiavellian conniving

2. Creed!!!


1. The sound of my wife's laughter

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Frame's pattern

I've been auditing John Frame's History of Philosophy and Christian Thought at RTS Orlando. No, I haven't been hopping in my car and driving up the Florida Turnpike to attend his class. One doesn't have to. It's available absolutely free at RTS on iTunes U (I'd like to hug the genius at Apple who came up with this idea)!

Historical patterns are fascinating. Dr. Frame sees a pattern in Christian thought that made me say "wow". I'll try to explain. It goes something like this. In the early centuries of the church we had Origen (185-254). Origen was a brilliant thinker and fundamentally loyal to the faith, but he was a SYNTHESIZER. In other words he sought to integrate Christianity with the paganism of his day, which was Greek philosophy. His synthesis was widely accepted in the church, but it led to Arius (250-336) the HERETIC, who taught that Christ was a creature. Arius provoked the REFORMER, Athanasius (293-373), who almost single-handedly defeated the Arians. Now this reformer wasn't necessarily a great intellect, but he was a tenacious defender of the basics (in this case the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the trinity as decided by the Council of Nicea). Finally, Athanasius' reforms cut the root of the Christian/pagan synthesis and made it possible for the CONSOLIDATOR Augustine (354-430), who was a towering intellect, to come in and rethink everything from the ground up into a more Biblical consensus. So, the SYNTHESIZER led to the HERETIC who provoked the REFORMER who paved the way for the CONSOLIDATOR. What's interesting is that this pattern repeats itself in the Reformation period.

First we have the brilliant SYNTHESIZER Aquinas (1225-1274), a faithful Christian, but someone who brings a lot of pagan ideas into his thought, creating a Christian/pagan synthesis which becomes widely accepted in the medieval church. Eventually this leads to the abuses epitomized by the HERETIC Tetzel (1465-1519), who preaches that you basically buy your salvation via indulgences. Tetzel provokes the REFORMER Luther (1483-1546) who courageously confronts Rome and launches the Protestant Reformation. Coming on the heels of Luther, is the brilliant CONSOLIDATOR Calvin (1509-1564) who thinks through and works out all the implications of Luther's reforms creating, once again, a more Biblical consensus.

One wonders if that pattern will repeat itself. Where is the 21st-century church on that continuum? Is there a Christian/pagan synthesis creeping in that will eventually lead to heresy? Or are we already at that point? I don't know, but it's interesting to think about. If nothing else history should teach us to continually run to texts like Romans 12:2 and ask God to guard us from the subtle influences of the paganisms of this age.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Eastern Promises


David Cronenberg focuses on the Russian mafia in Eastern Promises

Tattoos are hip and easy to get for anyone so inclined. But in the world of the vory v zakone, brought to life in Eastern Promises -- the latest film from Canadian auteur David Cronenberg -- they are earned in blood. In the words of the film's tagline (a clever and perhaps unwitting nod to Biblical teaching) "every sin leaves a mark". With this film and 2005's A History of Violence, Cronenberg is becoming almost a mainstream director, but many themes and preoccupations from his earlier cult classics of cerebral horror are still there. Cronenberg is a highly intellectual director and a master of his craft. Nothing is wasted in Eastern Promises. Not the superb performances of his four leads (especially the amazing Naomi Watts) or the fascinating script from Steven Wright. Some Oscar nominations should be forthcoming. It's a taut 100-minute thriller with a strong moral sense. It's dark and as relevant as today's headlines -- sex trafficking and exploitation of young women by the Russian mafia is a reality -- but hope is not wholly overcome by the darkness.

This brings me to the most fascinating aspect of the film for this viewer. Eastern Promises begins with the birth of a child on Christmas Day and ends on New Year's Day with that child becoming a source of new hope and possible redemption for three of the main characters. Taking it further, the Apostle John said that "the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil". By movie's end this child has become the means of destroying the devil of this story, the grandfatherly crime boss Semyon (Mueller-Stahl). Well, one dares not take this any further and I don't want to give too much of the plot away. There isn't a virgin birth in Eastern Promises, and the child is a daughter not a son -- Christine "because it sounds like Christmas" -- but I found this film to be surprisingly hopeful and richly metaphoric of "the myth that came true" that Christians will be celebrating three months from tomorrow.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Driscoll unplugged

Collin Hansen has a piece on Mark Driscoll in this month's Christianity Today. It's a good read and reinforces my view that Driscoll is a visionary leader with a compelling message that the church needs to hear. Still, one prays that the edginess and provocative persona are accompanied by wisdom and humility in the life of this young pastor.

Trending Huckabee

Once again a group of Republican primary voters had a chance to take a close look at Mike Huckabee and once again he came out on top. Yes, Ron Paul came in a strong second and someone named Hugh Cort received 7 votes, calling into question the significance of this vote, but there does seem to be a trend here. The more I see of Huckabee the more I like him, so if the Florida primary was today he'd have my vote. I wish more Christians in the public square showed as much wisdom and creativity as he did in responding to the ridiculous Wolf Blitzer on the question of evolution in one of the CNN debates. He talked about that exchange with the only slightly less ridiculous Bill Maher last month.

I've written elsewhere of my attraction to Barack Obama, and that if it wasn't for his position on a couple of crucial issues I'd be likely to back him. Well, if he gets the Democratic nomination and goes up against one of the Republican establishment candidates of expedience, then the whole equation will change -- for me and a lot of other younger voters who don't fit neatly into Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative labels. Mitt, Rudy and Fred just aren't doin' it for me...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dever on the "reformed revival"

Growing up I didn't have a clue about Calvinism. Oh, I heard Calvinists denounced from the pulpit and had a vague notion that Calvinists were Baptist and Baptists were the ones who believed in "eternal security". I later learned that not all Baptists are Calvinist by a long shot (alas!) and describing the doctrine of God's preservation of the saints as eternal security is like describing prime rib by producing a McDonald's hamburger! I hasten to add that there are "hypers" on all sides who are eager to denounce and caricature those of other doctrinal persuasions. Perhaps there are folks who grew up in hyper-Calvinist environs hearing Methodists and Wesleyans denounced as less than Christian. I say all that to say it's quite surprising that I ended up finding a home within Reformed theology. Surprising, but not uncommon it seems.

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church recently completed a fascinating 10-part series on the factors behind the resurgence of Calvinism among 20 and 30-something evangelicals called Where'd All These Calvinists Come From?...not theological factors, but historical and sociological factors. It makes for interesting reading and ironies abound. The generational shift is hard to miss. 50 years ago there was nary a prominent evangelical who would claim the label Calvinist and many were openly anti-Calvinist. How things have changed! Reading Dever's series I recognized many of the signposts encountered on my own "journey to Geneva" i.e. the role of the PCA, the writing of J.I. Packer, Charles Spurgeon and the Puritans, the teaching of R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur, and above all, the mind-blowing, soul-stirring influence of the Pastor for Preaching of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Yet even before I'd ever heard of any of these men the Holy Spirit began to open my eyes to the glorious doctrines of grace thru a personal study of Romans, interestingly enough, undertaken along with a young lady I was romantically interested in at the time. It was one of those deals where we each read a chapter and then journaled our thoughts and impressions. I remember my excitement the morning after studying and gaining a dawning realization of the implications of Romans 3 and 4. Shortly thereafter I came across
Modern Reformation magazine and the die was cast. This is my home, but I recognize also my debt to many that don't fit the Reformed/Calvinist label -- men like C.S. Lewis, the Wesley's, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Richard Foster, even the English Catholic Evelyn Waugh -- whose novels helped keep the flickering flame burning during some dark years. Truly "God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform" (William Cowper). If someone reading this is inspired to pick up a book by J.I. Packer or listen to a sermon by Martyn Lloyd-Jones or John Piper I'll be happy. Most of all -- search the scriptures! Perhaps you'll find (in the words of Spurgeon) that Calvinism is simply a nickname for the "gospel and nothing else", and "that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Still "the most segregated hour in America"

I recently read I Shall Not Be Moved: Racial Separation in Christian Worship by Terriel Byrd. Dr. Byrd is formerly pastor of an inner-city church in Cincinnati and is currently director of Urban Ministries Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University. I've known and admired him from a distance, having heard him preach several times. I take the title of Byrd's book to be an ironic twist on the old civil rights song -- in this case, it's from their comfortable pews that white and black worshipers "shall not be moved". It's a provocative little book. Byrd attempts to answer the question of how and why -- even after the incredible gains of the civil rights movement -- that in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. "Eleven o'clock Sunday morning is still America's most segregated hour, and the Sunday school is the most segregated school of the week."

He compellingly lays out the history of racial separation in the American Church starting from colonial times. I was surprised to learn that early on in the colonies it was common for blacks and whites to worship together. It was only as slavery became entrenched that a distinct "white church" and "black church" arose. Byrd writes:

Slavery, it's shameful facts, its historical, social and economic inequalities, its damaging impact on the souls and on the psyches of black people, gave birth to the independent black church. Each of these influences was a dominant factor in the rise of sustained institutionalized separate worship communities.

It's a shameful fact that many of our denominational histories can be traced back to the evil of slavery. Yet the separation by and large continues, and as Byrd points out, most Christians have come to accept it as the norm. In the chapter Sacred, Secular or Merely Sinful, he makes the argument that it's not normal and in fact is a scandal on the church's witness to the world.

Unless the epochal distinction of black Christian and white Christian is buried, and with it the racial strife that has permeated the history of the Church in America, the light of Christ's life and the suffering of His cross will continue to be obscured, buried with each service that is gathered in his name. To do anything less would be neither sacred, nor secular; it would be, merely sinful.

One of the most interesting parts was his recounting of a classroom project where he sent students on "field trips" to worship services outside their own racial context. The experiences were overwhelmingly positive, yet none of the students seriously considered making it a regular practice. Last year when my wife and I were looking for a new church home, we worshiped several times at a local church where we were virtually the only white people in attendance. We were welcomed with open arms and loved the service, yet like those students, never seriously considered joining that church. Perhaps it just seemed like too radical and strange a thing to do for a young, white couple to join a predominantly African-American church. But maybe it's going to take radical forays outside our comfort zones to break down barriers too long left unchallenged.

If I have one criticism of Byrd's book, it's that it lacks many concrete recommendations for overcoming this separation in worship. Perhaps that will be coming in a future book. In fact, he seems to pull back a bit from earlier assertions when he writes in the last chapter:

My work, however, neither expects nor recommends nor thinks it possible or feasible to eradicate the black church or the white church.

Why not? I ask. It's probably not possible to do in a generation (or even two), but might we not take intentional actions toward that end? Byrd quotes L. Venchal Booth, founder of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, "the white church needs to become more black and the black church needs to become more white. That's the simple way to put it." Indeed! May this excellent book start many conversations on how we do that.

Create International

Reading and listening to John Piper has ignited an interest in fulfilling the Great Commission among the unreached people groups of the world. A brief definition of an unreached people group would be: any distinct ethno-linguistic group that has no indigenous evangelizing church of it's own. I've been educating myself, praying and seeking to make my church more globally minded. It's often easy to focus missionary energies on places that already have a significant Christian presence and ignore the hard places. This morning I was reading from the Global Prayer Digest (a great tool!) and learned about Create International, an organization using technology and cultural contextualization of the gospel in remarkably innovative ways. For instance, by sending a team trekking through the Himalayas passing out native-style art and storytelling booklets in the Tibetan tradition! Check out this 5-minute promo video...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Inspired by Chesterton

After putting it off and putting it off I've finally decided to "graduate" to a more respectable form of blogging. Yes, now that I've finally mastered the weird intricacies of blogging on MySpace I'm going to tackle Blogger -- glutton for punishment that I am. Hopefully a few of my loyal readers there will follow me here and I'll meet some new folks along the way.

The title Frightfully Pleased is inspired by G.K. Chesterton of whom I've waited far too long to read. In the opening paragraph of the chapter titled "The Eternal Revolution" in Orthodoxy Chesterton writes.

The following propositions have been urged: First, that some faith in our life is required even to improve it; second, that some dissatisfaction with things as they are is necessary even in order to be satisfied; third, that to have this necessary content and necessary discontent it is not sufficient to have the obvious equilibrium of the Stoic. For mere resignation has neither the gigantic levity of pleasure nor the superb intolerance of pain. There is a vital objection to the advice merely to grin and bear it. The objection is that if you merely bear it, you do not grin. Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do--because they are Christian. And when a Christian is pleased, he is (in the most exact sense) frightfully pleased; his pleasure is frightful. Christ prophesied the whole of Gothic architecture in that hour when nervous and respectable people (such people as now object to barrel organs) objected to the shouting of the gutter-snipes of Jerusalem. He said, "If these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Under the impulse of His spirit arose like a clamorous chorus the facades of the mediaeval cathedrals, thronged with shouting faces and open mouths. The prophecy has fulfilled itself: the very stones cry out.

As with so many of Chesterton's formulations, one just marvels at the sheer brilliance. It's an audacious sort of a book. He's rather like a baseball slugger who's always swinging for the fences -- he strikes out occasionally, but more often than not hits his opponent's arguments out of the park. If you've never read Orthodoxy then you're in for a treat. I don't think any writer is better at fleshing out the glorious paradox and romance inherent in Christianity -- that "superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other."

Be warned my fellow Calvinists, he does take some potshots at the doctrines of Calvin (at least as they are understood by Mr. Chesterton), so if you're Reformed and lacking a sense of humor you may take umbrage. As for me, I thank God for this merry, grand contender for the essential tenets of my faith as spelled out in the Apostles' Creed. He knew better than most that (in his words) "joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian."