Wednesday, October 31, 2007

John Piper praises God for fundamentalists

This caught my eye...

What I want to say about Fundamentalism is that its great gift to the church is precisely the backbone to resist compromise and to make standing for truth and principle a means of love rather than an alternative to it. I am helped by the call for biblical separation, because almost no evangelicals even think about the doctrine.

I'm reminded of J. Gresham Machen's answer when someone asked him if he minded being lumped in with the fundamentalists of his day.

Do you suppose that I do regret my being called by a term that I greatly dislike, a "Fundamentalist"? Most certainly I do. But in the presence of a great common foe, I have little time to be attacking my brethren who stand with me in defense of the Word of God.

Piper and Machen remind us to focus on what unites, instead of fixating on what we don't like about a particular "ism" within the church.

The Darjeeling Limited

American filmmaker Wes Anderson is one of my cinematic heroes. If you like his previous films, then you'll probably like his latest, if you don't, then you probably won't. I opined after The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou that Anderson had reached an artistic cul-de-sac and that opinion hasn't changed after seeing The Darjeeling Limited, but when you do something so well maybe it doesn't make sense to stop drawing from the same well of inspiration. Like his characters, Anderson's films inhabit a remarkably self-contained world, and that's part of their magic for his fans. Contributing to this is his repeated use of the same collaborators to create something of an Anderson stock company.

The Darjeeling Limited reminded me most of The Royal Tenenbaums. There you had three self-obsessed, angst-ridden siblings trying to come to terms with parental abandonment and broken relationships, here we have three self-obsessed, angst-ridden siblings trying to come to terms with parental abandonment and broken relationships. In Darjeeling, brothers Francis, Peter and Jack (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) set out on a "spiritual journey" across India after the death of their father. Much of the fun comes in seeing their hapless attempts to find meaning in a culture so alien from the self-obsessed West. A visit to a temple turns into farce and they eventually get kicked off the brightly-colored train that gives the movie it's title.

Emotions are finely pitched in Anderson's cinema, the line between tragedy and satire is never quite clear and isn't meant to be. Music is huge for Anderson and is always used in a masterful way. There are always several songs that you're never quite sure if you've heard before that create the perfect mood for the scene. If I could describe Anderson's cinema in two words they would be nostalgia and pastiche -- favorite post-modern concepts. Nothing much gets resolved and the significance is found in the journey not the destination. Again...favorite post-modern concepts. Sounds kind of like the emergent church. It's a cinema of painstaking detail too. Anderson is the sort who will obsess over finding the exact shade of wallpaper for a set that appears for 30 seconds, a characteristic that was brilliantly spoofed in an American Express ad.

Nostalgist that he is, Anderson created a 13-minute film to be shown before the feature. It used to be standard practice to show short films before the main attraction. Hotel Chevalier stars Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman and serves as a stylish prologue to The Darjeeling Limited. It introduces the character of Jack, but perhaps more importantly in a Wes Anderson film, acquaints us with one of those lovely, obscure pop songs that reappears later on.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Two interviews with John Frame

Twoth - Dr. John Frame Interview

An Interview with John Frame By Marco Gonzalez

Reformation Day 2007

Today at work we're having an early Halloween party. It's a chance for the kids to come in, show off their costumes and "trick or treat".'s just an excuse for the big kids to knock off early and eat some cake! Every year lots of energy is spent debating whether Christian parents should let their children participate in Halloween. I'm agnostic on the question. I don't have kids so I'm not going to tell parents what they should or shouldn't do (my wife has fond childhood memories of carving pumpkins, etc. so I have an inkling which way we'll lean when we're faced with the decision). I think it's possible to separate the wheat from the chaff, but I don't think parents that don't let their kids participate in Halloween are narrow-minded wackos. There's a good case to be made against it. In my opinion there's a stronger Biblical case to be made in favor of a prohibitionist stance on Halloween than there is in favor of a prohibitionist stance on drinking alcohol. Just my opinion.

Bottom line? Use spiritual discernment. Albert Mohler reminds us in an article from 2003 that, "The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity." Read the article

Tomorrow is also Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517 an obscure monk nailed an invitation to debate the practice of selling indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, which became known to history as Martin Luther's 95 Theses. Luther wasn't engaging in an act of vandalism. In medieval times the church door was like the classified ads. If you wanted to make an announcement, that's where you posted it. Still, Luther couldn't have known what he was starting. He was a remarkably humble and simple man til the day he died. Legend has it that the last words he wrote on a scrap of paper were, "We are beggars: this is true." Even if only legend, his life and writings bear witness that he would say with Paul, "by the grace of God I am what I am."

Is the Protestant Reformation even relevant to the American church of the 21st century? Have the issues the Reformers were debating with Rome been forever settled? Michael Horton and Co. discuss those questions on this week's edition of The White Horse Inn. I'd say yes it's relevant, and no the issues haven't been settled. Why celebrate Reformation Day? One good reason is we wouldn't have a copy of the Bible in our own language if not for the Reformers. At that time Bibles were chained to the lecterns of the churches. Even if a layman could get his hands on a Bible, he wouldn't be able to understand it because it was in Latin. Being able to study the Scriptures on our own is just one of the many sweet fruits of the Reformation. Here are some suggestions for celebrating Reformation Day 2007.

- Sing a hymn

- Buy the ESV Reformation Study Bible for $15.17

- Learn about Luther's favorite beverage

Semper Reformanda!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Wow! I don't know if The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, hereafter TAOJJBTCRF, is one of the best American films of recent years or just an ambitious exercise in style. It will take a second viewing to decide. Even if the latter it's pretty amazing. TAOJJBTCRF is based on a historical novel about the last legendary days of Jesse James and his equally legendary death at the hands of Robert Ford. Critics have noted the literary quality of the film, and after seeing it I see their point. It's hard to describe, but the way scenes played out and were strung together felt like pages turning. I know nothing about writer/director Andrew Dominik. Is this the astonishing debut of a late-blooming cinematic genius? Who knows. I do know that D.P. Roger Deakins is a genius, and this movie has one arresting image after another. I'm sure this project never would have gotten made without the star power and producing muscle of Brad Pitt. Pitt is quite astounding in his mastery of James' facial tics and mannerisms. But the revelation is Casey Affleck, proving to be the most talented actor in the family, by turns pitiable and contemptible. Much of the acting by the two male leads is done with the eyes and subtle nuances of speech. The violence is sparing, but uncomfortably jarring when it happens. One gunshot made me literally jump in my seat. There are some electric moments and the film opens with an adrenaline-pumping set piece, but the action definitely drags at times. This could be an example of a great 100-minute film lurking within the 160-minute running time. However TAOJJBTCRF never lost my interest, but several people walked out muttering well before the final credits rolled when I saw it earlier this evening. The cast is full of fine young actors, including some of my favorites like Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell, and it was great fun to see a weathered Sam Shepard playing Jesse's big brother Frank James. Casting Shepard links TAOJJBTCRF to it's 70's pretensions. Yes, Malick and Days of Heaven (coincidentally) must have been a huge influence. I'm reminded again of how much of a self-referential art form cinema is. There's an example of stunt casting too. That's when someone shows up in a film that distracts more than enhances. You know the moment when you look at the person next to you and say, "hey, isn't that .....?!" Here it's James Carville playing Missouri Governor Crittenden. Yes, that James Carville.

So what does it mean? I've read several interesting takes on that from better writers than myself. Here's one by Barbara Nicolosi


Writing in your Bible

I've never been one to write, mark or highlight in my Bible. I don't find it helpful and writing in books just doesn't feel right. I know many Christians do find it helpful though, including my pastor. Last night I got a look at his well-worn Bible and almost every page is a kaleidoscope of reds, greens and yellows. For those of you who do write in your Bible, blogger Jesus Saenz gives some helpful advice on what to use. I found it interesting even though I don't.

Another concept that saints throuhgout the ages have found helpful, and which I may try some day, is the interleaved Bible. You can buy them now, but in the old days people had to make their own. I'm reading God's Passion for His Glory and in it John Piper has a fascinating aside about encountering Jonathan Edwards's interleaved Bible.

I visited Yale's Beinecke Library where most of Edwards's unpublished works are stored. A friend took me down to the lower level into a little room where two or three men were working on old manuscripts with microscopes and special lighting. I was allowed to see some of Edwards's sermon manuscripts (including "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") and his catalogue of reading, and his interleaved Bible.

The interleaved Bible he had evidently made himself. He had taken a large Bible apart page by page and inserted a blank sheet of paper between each page and then resewn the book together. Then he drew a line down the center of each blank page in order to make two columns for notes. On page after page in even the remotest parts of Scripture there were extensive notes and reflections in his tiny, almost illegible, handwriting.

Thus there is good reason to believe that Edwards really did follow through on his 28th resolution: "Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Days of Heaven (on Criterion)

Oh happy day! One of my favorite films has gotten the Criterion treatment. For the uninitiated, getting the "Criterion Treatment" is like getting the white glove treatment. Criterion is the gold standard of DVDs for film buffs and collectors alike. Days of Heaven is the 1978 American masterpiece from filmmaker Terrence Malick. The title is probably a reference to Deuteronomy 11:21 (I say probably because Malick is notoriously close-mouthed about the meaning of his films), while the film itself is filled with echoes of themes and allusions to stories from the Old Testament. Stories of Eden, the Fall, the sin of Cain and an Exodus -- there's even a plague of locusts brought on by the deception of a wayfaring pilgrim passing off his lover as his sister. It's Genesis transposed to the Texas Panhandle, with an existential overlay. Malick studied philosophy at Harvard and Oxford, and published a translation of Heidegger. All of Malick's films can be seen as meditations on the implications of a paradise lost. What Days of Heaven is most celebrated for is it's gorgeous cinematography. It has to be listed among the handful of most visually beautiful films ever made. The folks at Criterion had the help of Malick himself in ensuring that this digital transfer is as close as possible to his original vision. Days of Heaven is a film I've watched many times on the old Paramount DVD -- which is pretty decent -- but I can't wait to rediscover it's poetry and terrible beauty in this new and improved version. I'll probably never get to see it on the big screen, but having it on Criterion is the next best thing.

Richard Gere (Bill) and Brooke Adams (Abby)

Entering the farm

Sam Shepard (The farmer)

One of many beautiful close-ups

Robert J. Wilke (The farm foreman)

Frames courtesy of DVD Beaver

Man born blind

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent , certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’

C.S. Lewis - A Grief Observed

This has been a tough couple of weeks for Shannon and I. A couple of weeks where God seems silent, and when the thing prayed so earnestly not to happen, in fact did happen. A time when one is tempted to say, "here is an instance of pointless, arbitrary suffering." This morning I read John 9. Here we see Jesus responding to the disciples' speculations about the reason for a man being born to a lifetime of suffering as a blind beggar. They understandably ask, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him..."

Like the disciples we're prone to speculate and ask questions like "Rabbi, who sinned, us or our parents, that this happened?", "Rabbi, what could we have done to prevent this?" or most pointedly, "Rabbi, why didn't YOU prevent this?" I think this story points us to a possible answer, "that the works of God might be displayed". Yes. Jesus chose to heal this man of his blindness, but sometimes he chooses to display the works of God by not healing us of our physical pain or by not preventing us from experiencing profound loss, because his ultimate aims are worked out in far different ways than we would desire. Even though Jesus healed the man's blindness, this was not his ultimate aim. His ultimate aim becomes apparent later in the chapter as he uses the miracle of restoring physical sight to expose the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees, and then grants spiritual sight to the man. In reply to Jesus's question, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?", the man born blind affirms, "Lord, I believe". At this point John simply writes, "and he worshiped him". The Son of God has granted to this man the spiritual sight that he would not grant to the unbelieving Pharisees. This is the far more profound miracle of John 9.

Jesus ultimate aim is to create worshipers, not to deliver us from temporal suffering. Like the disciples we often miss this point. Jesus healed a number of blind folks in Palestine, but he is the Light of the World, he turned the water into wine in Cana, but more importantly he is the Living Water, he fed thousands with a few loaves and fish, but he is the everlasting Bread of Life, he raised Lazarus from the dead, but more spectacularly he makes new creations ex nihilo of people dead in their sins. Thankfully, God often does heal us and spare us from suffering, but the child of God has the sweet promise that even when he doesn't take away the cancer, restore the broken relationship or heal the broken heart, these sufferings are "preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Paul even goes so far as to call these earthly afflictions "light" and "momentary". Even when God is silent, and the best thing one can say is "I don't know", we can affirm that there is a point and that it just might be that the works of God are being displayed in us at the point when he seems farthest away.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Brooks on Huckabee

I'm a little late to this. As a recovering news junkie, more and more I agree with C.S. Lewis (as quoted in George Sayer's marvelous biography Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis) that "you don't need to read the news. If anything important happens, far too many people are sure to tell you about it."

Be that as it may David Brooks of the New York Times writes perceptively on the candidacy of Mike Huckabee. He's perhaps the first to perceive that Huckabee is a harbinger of a new kind of evangelical engagement with American politics -- one less dominated by the fundamentalism of an older generation of evangelical leaders. It's a trend I welcome and one of the reasons I'll be enthusiastically voting for Mike on January 29.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Osteen on 60 Minutes

Just watched Byron Pitt's 60 Minutes report on Joel Osteen. Nicely done by the interviewer and Osteen acquitted himself reasonably well I thought. I believe his emotion toward the end was sincere and I don't doubt he's helped some people. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. I wouldn't go so far as to say, as Michael Horton did, that he's teaching heresy. Frankly, I don't think I could stand reading enough of his books or watching enough of his sermons to make that assertion. I do wish Pitts would have asked him what he does with the millions in royalties from his book sales, etc. I suspect la familia Osteen is getting very, very wealthy. Say what you want about Rick Warren, he gives all his away to advance the kingdom (as does John Piper).

My biggest problem with Osteen is not that he may be getting wildly wealthy by preaching a different gospel -- (2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6-7) -- it's with calling what he leads a church. Joel may be a member of the invisible church universal, but by any broad historical standard taken from scripture, and confessions and creeds throughout the ages, Lakewood Church doesn't fit the definition of a visible New Testament church. One which is more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.* Given the choice between worshiping at the Catholic church down the street or Lakewood, I'd choose St. Ann's in a heartbeat. It wouldn't be as inspiring or have that aura of success that Americans love, but at least something recognizable of historic Christianity would be present.

*The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

UPDATE: Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study by Michael Horton (PDF)

"doing your duty can be destructive of your soul"

The Iraq War has now gone on longer than World War II, so in addition to the slew of movies coming out on the war there are also more and more soldier's memoirs hitting the shelves. Usually the ones by enlisted men and junior officers are more revealing and make for better reading than the ones by the generals. Going back to the American Civil War, books like Co. Aytch by Sam Watkins and All for the Union by Elisha Hunt Rhodes are minor masterpieces compared to the self-serving memoirs of generals like McClellan and Longstreet. That's still the case according to this story from Morning Edition. Some of the excerpts are astoundingly good.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In Rainbows

Radiohead decided that they would let the public decide how much to pay for the privilege of downloading their new album In Rainbows. Not wanting to be a freeloader I voluntarily plunked down £5, which resulted in a charge of approx. $11 on my credit card. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning an e-mail arrived directing me to my exclusive download. This was the strangest way I've ever purchased music....

The file was made up of 10 MP3s. I worried that the sound quality would be inferior, but it wasn't. I burned them onto a CD, listened on some decent Bose speakers last night and couldn't discern any difference in dynamic range from the usual. As for the album itself. Radiohead continues to go from strength to strength. One could go on and on trying to figure out influences and comparing them to this band or that. Suffice it to say they continue to take wildly divergent influences and yet create something wholly their own.

I'm not sure why Radiohead became my favorite band. I only discovered them after they'd been a big deal for a while (about the time they released Kid A). I guess something about them resonated with my personality and sensibilities. I relate to their music in different ways than at first, but it continues to fascinate. Like the symphonies of Sibelius, the films of Kubrick, or the poems of Eliot, every one of their albums (except the first) is a polished diamond that takes me to an interesting place each time I listen. In Rainbows promises to do the same.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A family in the ministry

His mother, now a spirited woman of 94, has a favorite ritual each morning at the breakfast table of her Mississippi home. She lifts her palms to the sky and recites Verse 24 of Psalm 118:

"This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Amy Stepp ends her morning prayer with this plea:

"Lord, give me something to do for somebody today."

Decades ago, Dr. William "Bill" Stepp made his mother's morning verses his own, and he has been transformed by them.

His daily devotionals and Bible meditations set him on a path of service that has spanned more than 40 years. They landed the pastor at Memorial Presbyterian Church in West Palm Beach 25 years ago. Plucked from a well-creased Bible, they have comforted the sick, encouraged the downtrodden and reinforced the faithful at the redbrick church on Olive Avenue.


Getting to know the Puritans cont'd.

I was discussing the Puritans with a friend yesterday. He asked me what it was that defined a Puritan and if there were any Puritans today. I answered as best I could, but in an effort to better answer his questions found this helpful summary by a Mark S. Ritchie. It's helpful because it gives a brief history of the English Puritans as an ecclesiastical and political movement and places them within the context of church history up until today. J.I. Packer points out that the story of the Puritans is one of failure. They failed to achieve their goals and by 1700 had pretty much died out as a distinct movement. Yet, their influence lives on due to their writings and patterns of Christian living and ministry. Moral of the story? The most lasting legacies are often born out of what seems like failure.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

In the Valley of Elah

Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

1 Samuel 17:19

Halfway through In the Valley of Elah, the latest film from writer/director Paul Haggis, Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) retells the story of David and Goliath in his gravelly drawl. How Haggis intends for his audience to relate this most famous Bible story to this movie's story of the investigation into the murder of a returned Iraq War veteran is ambiguous. In the Valley of Elah is "inspired" by actual events. I wasn't familiar with the events behind the film, so the outcome of the investigation kept me guessing til the final scenes.

Paul Haggis has become one of the best contemporary writers for the screen, with a string of screenplays reminiscent of the best work of Paul Schrader, among them Million Dollar Baby, Crash and Flags of our Fathers, all of them characterized by moral seriousness and beauty. Pretty good for a guy who once wrote an episode of Walker Texas Ranger. He's a pretty good director too as he proved with Crash and now here.

The war in Iraq has been going on long enough that we're about to be treated to a string of films on the subject. This one may turn out to be one of the best. It doesn't deal with the rightness or wrongness of the policies behind the war, but explores the consequences once our soldiers return home. I do some volunteer work with an organization that serves the homeless, and it's surprising how many chronically homeless men are Vietnam veterans. What's going to happen once the thousands of troops now in Iraq return home? Are stories like the one dramatized in this film a sign of things to come?

Clint Eastwood turned down the part played by Tommy Lee Jones. I could easily imagine Eastwood in the role, but Jones is perfect. His craggy face often shot in close-up, he's able to convey deep emotion without saying a word. For the first time, I was totally won over by Charlize Theron, hardly recognizable in mannish clothes and short brown hair. She, in my opinion, is the moral center of this film. Roger Deakin's washed-out cinematography and Mark Isham's elegiac score are crucial elements to the success of the film. "An elegy" may be the best way to describe In the Valley of Elah. Some may view it simply as an anti-war polemic from liberal Hollywood, but I saw it as a call to realistically count the cost of sending teenagers off to this war (or any war).


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Getting to know the Puritans

This has been the year I met the Puritans. Not the Puritans of myth and fiction, but the real honest-to-goodness pastors, theologians and laypeople who formed the backbone of the English Reformation from the middle of the 16th century to the late 17th century. They weren't perfect of course, and they had doctrinal and cultural blind spots, but I agree with J.I. Packer that the English Puritans (and Jonathan Edwards) are "the redwoods" of church history. I've been immersing myself in their world thru the writings of such as John Owen and by learning from contemporary authorities like Mark Dever and Packer. Listening to Packer one would think he's read everything the Puritans ever wrote. Ironic, since he's an Anglican!

The biggest obstacles a modern person must overcome in meeting the Puritans are the caricatured, incomplete portraits passed down to us in fiction from Shakespeare to Hawthorne to Arthur Miller. Keep in mind that The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible are dealing with Puritanism in America. I believe Packer when he says that the Puritans who came to America were of a generally lesser quality than those who stayed behind and ushered in what is sometimes called the "Puritan Century" in England (roughly 1560 to 1660). The myth of Puritans as fanatical killjoys is hard to shake. What comes to mind when you hear the terms "puritannical" or "puritanism"?

What was a typical Puritan really like? Leland Ryken writes in Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were:

If we had worked beside [the] typical Puritan or been a neighbor, he or she would have impressed us as being religious but not odd. He or she would not have been distinguished by outward appearance… The typical Puritan dressed as other members of the same social class did. Conversation would have turned much of the time to topics of Christian belief and experience. Overall, the typical Puritan would have impressed us as hardworking, thrifty, serious, moderate, practical in outlook, doctrinaire in religious and political matters, well-informed about the latest political and ecclesiastical developments, argumentative, well-educated, and thoroughly familiar with the content of the Bible.

That last characteristic is one of the things that most attracts me to the Puritans, along with their relentless pursuit of personal holiness and commitment to precise truth. In fact they were called derisively "precisionists". Packer tells the story of Puritan pastor Richard Rogers who was chided for the Puritans' penchant for precision, "Mr. Rogers, I like you and your company very well, but you are so precise." Rogers reply was perfect, "O Sir, I serve a precise God." Their doctrinal precision, passion for discipline and commitment to holiness didn't mean an absence of joy and pleasure in the good things of life. I especially like the portrait of Puritan marriage that Mark Dever paints (see below). While Rome saw marriage as a necessary evil for the primary purpose of procreation, the Reformers (led by Luther) took back marriage as a positive good in itself and saw forced priestly celibacy as evil. The Puritans focused especially on the Genesis 2:18 aspect of marriage. Companionship. I love how Thomas Gataker (1574-1654) describes it.

There is no society more near, more entire, more needful, more kindly, more delightful, more comfortable, more constant, more continual, than the society of a man and wife, the main root, source, and original of all other societies.

It's amazing how many things that are common in contemporary church and Christian life were originated by the Puritans of England. Here are a few:

- Family devotions

- Journaling as part of private devotions

- Accountability groups (they called it "bosom friendship")

- Evangelistic tracts and booklets

And most importantly, Puritan pastors gave us a model of pastoral ministry that's basically the model we still recognize today. I'm about to start reading Richard Baxter's classic The Reformed Pastor, so I'm sure to learn much more about this. Innovations such as one-on-one counseling, visitation of the sick and small catechism classes all came from them. Incidentally, we might say with truth that Richard Baxter pastored one of the first recognizable "mega-churches". His church in Kidderminster numbered around 1,000. They had to build balconies to accommodate the growth of the congregation. Sound familiar?

The Puritans were not separatists, although they had a remarkable vision of Heaven as their true home. They were fully engaged in the political, intellectual and spiritual life of England. They were advisors to kings and served in Parliament. John Owen was one of the greatest minds England ever produced and John Bunyan wrote one of the best-selling books of all time.

It's a good thing to become acquainted with the Puritans, it's a better thing to be improved by the acquaintance. I give this as an example of how studying the Puritans has caused personal examination of my approach to one aspect of the Christian life. The Puritans had a high view of the Lord's Day. They took the fourth commandment more seriously than the average contemporary Christian does. They didn't have the view that because they were New Covenant/New Testament Christians the Old Testament command to keep the Sabbath holy was no longer applicable. Once the Christian is dismissed from church is he then free to spend the rest of the day doing whatever he wishes? The Puritan would answer no. The Puritan would go on to say that preparation for Sunday morning public worship begins on Saturday evening, especially if one was to attend the Lord's Table. To the Puritan, Sunday was the "market-day of the soul". One spent the entire day taking in spiritual provisions through public worship and private spiritual pursuits. Doing good deeds such as visiting the sick was consistent with keeping the day holy, but spending one's time in unreflective leisure or unspiritual pursuits was not. If this sounds legalistic to modern ears, perhaps it's because we've swung so far in the opposite direction away from a Biblical view of the Sabbath?


Richard Baxter as a Contemporary Model for Local Church Pastors by Reggie Weems (pdf)

The Joy of the Puritans by Alan C. Clifford (pdf)

Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes? The Puritans on Sex by Mark Dever (pdf 233-258)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Free Radiohead

Monday evening a cryptic e-mail from my all-time favorite band slipped past the spam filter:

This is just a quick note to let you know that Radiohead have made an album. It is called In Rainbows and it is now available to pre-order exclusively from

I was puzzled. Was this some kind of joke? Consider the source after all...

Turns out it's not a joke and may hasten the demise of the traditional way of distributing music. Basically, Radiohead is offering their new album for free exlusively on their website (fans can choose how much they want to pay for the download)! Shane Richmond of the Telegraph blogs on the implications of Radiohead's bold move. They aren't the first to do something like this, but they are the biggest. Derek Webb, another visionary artist, did the same thing with his Free Derek Webb campaign.

I still appreciate the experience of going to a great record store (like this one) and purchasing an actual CD, but if the record labels and retailers continue to gouge consumers, then perhaps they deserve to go the way of the dinosaur.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Getting married (to the church)

Yesterday I was able to witness something great: the ordination of not one, but two Ministers of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church. The occasion was doubly special since the candidates were spiritual sons of our church and actual sons of our pastor, Dr. Bill Stepp. There was lots of tears and laughter. Being there made me appreciate even more the heritage of our particular church, and the historic nature of our denomination, flawed as it is. My wife remarked how like a wedding the service was, starting with a procession of pomp and ceremony, replete with hymns and the receiving of solemn vows, ending with the presentation of the new ministers. Come to think of it, getting ordained is a bit like getting married. One plights his troth to the Bride of Christ, for better or worse.

As more than one speaker pointed out, the highest allegiance of the minister's call belongs not to their flock, nor to the Presbyterian Church(USA), but it belongs to Jesus Christ. In light of the growing rift within the PCUSA on issues relating to the authority of scripture and standards for ordination, this was a timely reminder. It's impossible to know what the future holds, but I was encouraged by seeing two men ordained into our denomination that everyone knows will stand firm on the authority of scripture no matter what. That's a legacy that's been passed down to them by their dad, who's done so as pastor of our church for 25 years.

Another remarkable aspect of yesterday, was that Ruffin and Andrew join their brothers Owen and John in the ministry. Owen brought the second sermon of the evening. Preaching on Isaiah 6, he spoke of how he's had cause to reflect on the nature of his own call to the ministry (the church he served at recently left the PCUSA). He remarked on what a strange time it is to be going into ministry -- a time marked by turmoil and triviality. Whereas Isaiah's time was defined by the death of King Uzziah, our time is defined by "the year that Paris Hilton went to jail". He said what the American church needs now more than ever are not "caretakers of the memories", but radically God-centered prophets, gripped by Isaiah's vision of a holy God, and the atonement achieved at the cross for unclean/undone people like us. This may not be a popular message, but the call remains to preach the word "in season and out of season."

As the church grows by leaps and bounds elsewhere, the American church is plateauing or in decline. This is especially true of mainline Protestant denominations like ours. Christianity is moving south and east. There are probably more Christians now in China than the U.S. Is there still life in these bones? Can these bones live? Seeing God's miraculous call on display yesterday tells me that they can. I've been reading about J. Gresham Machen. Machen fought brilliantly against the Protestant liberalism of the early 20th century. We can learn a lot from him. I don't think the battles he fought are very much different than what the church faces today. It's encouraging to see that the spirit of Machen lives on today in a remnant who take their vows to Christ and his Word seriously!