Friday, February 29, 2008

Wilco for the weekend

Wilco (the band whose bitter melodies turn my orbit around) recently completed a 5-night gig in their hometown. It was something of a rarity in that they played every song in their catalogue.

Joel Berk has a recap complete with photos and audio. Please come to South Florida!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. (24 November 1925 - 27 February 2008)

William F. Buckley, Jr., the "man who stood athwart history and yelled stop" is dead at 82. I was a long-time subscriber to National Review, read God and Man at Yale as a teenager, and have fond memories of watching Buckley joust with his guests on Firing Line. Although I've moved away from the Buckleyesque conservatism of my younger years, I still owe him a lot. R.I.P.

UPDATE 2/28: I just came across this fascinating interview of WFB by Dick Staub. In addition to being a brilliant contender for conservative ideas, Buckley reveals himself in this interview to be a stout defender of Christian orthodoxy.

Sarah Young's story

New Attitude is giving away books. Send them a story about taking the gospel to someone around you and they'll send you a free copy of The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever.

Here's one such story.

unChristian (sheltered)

Last week I introduced unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, and offered some highlights and observations from the first five chapters. The book is up to #226 on Amazon (not bad). I wrote about three of the six main perceptions of Christianity that emerged from The Barna Group's research into the perceptions of 16 to 29-year olds -- Christians are hypocritical, too focused on getting converts and antihomosexual. Instead of covering the last three in one post, I'm going to divide them up, and then offer some closing thoughts.

Perception #4: Christians are sheltered

Jonathan (age 22) says, "Christians enjoy being in their own community. The more they seclude themselves, the less they can function in the real world. So many Christians are caught in the Christian bubble."

In an afterword to this chapter, John Stott writes:

If we belong to Jesus Christ, we have a double calling in relation to the world. On the one hand, we are to live, serve and witness in the world and not try to escape from it. On the other hand, we are to avoid being contaminated by the world. So we have no liberty either to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world or to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world. Escapism and conformism are both forbidden to us. (pp. 150-151)

And therein lies the dilemma. It's nothing new, but Kinnaman and Lyons make the case that today's Christian faces unprecedented challenges in seeking the Biblical path between escapism and conformism. More on that later.

A common complaint heard from outsiders to Christianity is that it's boring and not relevant to their lives. My first reaction is: of course, Christ always seems boring and irrelevant to the unregenerate heart. But I understand their point. Surprisingly, many of them also say Christianity seems disconnected from the supernatural -- surprising, since Christianity uniquely stands or falls based on supernatural events. The authors suggest that part of the problem is we haven't done a good job of conveying the radical, exciting nature of Christian faith and practice. I'd also suggest that the Western church has too often adopted the rationalistic assumptions of the Enlightenment, thus stripping Christianity of it's supernatural element. It's no wonder then that "Christianity is perceived as separated from real spiritual vitality and mystery." Hopefully, churches will appeal to the postmodern yearning for mystery and transcendence by adopting a back to the future approach -- returning to the primacy of Word and Sacrament instead of trying to conjure up mystery with candles and incense.

Kinnaman and Lyons also found that a lot of outsiders view Christianity as anti-intellectual, which further leads to the assumption that it's ill-equipped to deal with a complex, modern world. Of all the criticisms leveled in this chapter, I think this one sticks the most. There are lots of historical reasons one could offer for why this is. A lot of it stems from the fact that evangelical Christians have been playing defense as the culture grows increasingly hostile to our beliefs. 20th-century fundamentalism, while based on a legitimate desire to defend the fundamentals of the faith, unfortunately took on an anti-intellectual, "hunker-down" mentality that made it unable to shape the culture in the way Christians had been able to do for centuries before.

Many outsiders believe Christianity insulates people from thinking. Often young people (including many insiders) doubt that Christianity boosts intellect. We discovered a range of opinions on this, but Christianity is not generally perceived to sanction a thoughtful response to the world. One comment illustrates this image: "Christianity stifles curiosity. People become unwilling to face their doubts and questions. It makes people brain-dead." The vast majority of outsiders reject the idea that Christianity "makes sense" or is "relevant to their life." So part of the sheltered perception is that Christians are not thinkers. (p. 123)

This is surprising and tragic because:

Christianity offers a sophisticated, livable response to the nature of the world and how we "work" as humans. As Christians, we understand that sin is everywhere and attached to everyone. We also know that humans are made in the image of God, capable of creating and doing good. Though a biblical worldview is not simplistic or always easy to understand, it enables us to make sense of creation and ourselves. Mosaics (ages 16-23) and Busters (ages 24-41) inside and outside the church have rarely been exposed to how well this worldview explains life as we know it. (p. 124)

So what are the challenges to getting involved in the lives of young adults and showing them that the gospel is intellectually credible and existentially satisfying?

The authors include a depressing laundry list of indicators which show that "the activities that were on the fringe for Boomers (ages 42-60) now define the lifestyles of Busters." Incidences of violence, casual sex at a young age, drug/alcohol abuse and suicide are dramatically higher in this generation of young adults than previous ones. I was raised in a very sheltered environment, for which I'm thankful. I believe it protected me from most of the things reflected in these statistics. I can sympathize with the desire to shelter ourselves from this cultural onslaught (especially as parents), but the church can't afford to abandon what the authors call these "fractured generations". Not only are families and lives fracturing, but society itself is fragmenting.

America is fragmenting into diverse subcultures. The "mainstream" experience, if there ever was such a thing, has now surrendered virtually all its gravitational pull. These days most Americans take their cues from a unique subculture, deriving meaning, values, heroes, self-expression, identity, and viewpoints from a unique segment of society. When people say that America is a mission field, it would be more accurate to say it is many diverse mission fields. And this phenomenon is particularly true among young people. The world of Mosaics and Busters is splintering into more subcultures than ever before. (p. 134)

The challenges may be new, but the answer isn't. "Missional" is a word used a lot these days. I think a better word is "incarnational". To quote Derek Webb:

Take to the world this love, hope and faith
take to the world this rare, relentless grace
and like the three in one
know you must become what you want to save
‘cause that’s still the way
He takes to the world

The gospel and means of grace mustn't be adapted to fit new circumstances, but the way we as individual Christians engage with the world must adapt. It may involve moving into the "hood" (like my friends Chris and Stephen) so you can minister to inner-city kids from within instead of preaching at them from outside, or it may involve studying at Yale Divinity (like a young woman from our church) even though you're surrounded by people who don't share your evangelical, conservative convictions. As the authors point out, it will mean engaging with people at both ends of the continuum -- the intellectual elites and the overlooked -- and everyone in between. Each of us has a role.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Coen's sandbox

We're very thankful to all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox.
- from Joel Coen's acceptance speech last night

I made it a point not to watch the Super Bowl this year. That's because my overhyped event of choice is the Academy Awards. Each year the connection between what I love about movies and this overblown spectacle is less and less, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't plan on watching again next year when they pass out those golden statuettes.

The highlight this year was seeing Joel and Ethan Coen score an impressive trifecta of wins: best adapted screenplay, best director and best picture. Sadly, their long-time editor Roderick Jaynes couldn't make it 4 for 4. Pretty amazing for a couple of nerdy kids from Minneapolis, who grew up spending the frigid Midwestern winters grooving on classic Hollywood fare from the likes of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra. Despite the "aw shucks" demeanor of Brothers Coen, I'm sure it was a gratifying experience for them and their families (Mrs. Joel Coen a/k/a Frances McDormand looked especially thrilled). For all the cinematic virtuosity and style that makes them particular favorites of film buffs, I think they'd want to be known simply as great storytellers. Which they are. And for one night, at least, the entire sandbox was their's.

I Come to the Garden Alone

Yesterday at church Rev. Owen Stepp preached on the topic "MySpace Jesus" from the text Revelation 1:4-8. His sermon contrasted the Jesus revealed to us in this scripture -- standing astride history and at the begining and end of every human life ("the Alpha and the Omega...who is and who was and who is to come") -- with the subjective "personal Jesus" so much in vogue today.

This week's White Horse Inn broadcast picks up on the theme. Mike Horton and the gang continue their series on "Christless Christianity" by taking on one of the sacred cows of American religion: individualistic, experience-driven belief.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Top 10 shots of 2007

As promised here's Part Two of Kristopher Tapley's top ten shots of 2007. Nicely done! Lists like this are more interesting than the usual end-of-the-year top ten lists and I wholeheartedly agree with his #1.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"What's the most you ever lost in a coin toss?"

He crossed the Pecos River just north of Sheffield Texas and took route 349 south. When he pulled into the filling station at Sheffield it was almost dark. A long red twilight with doves crossing the highway heading south toward some ranch tanks. He got change from the proprietor and made a phone call and filled the tank and went back in and paid.

The proprietor watched him go. Watched him get into the car. The car started and pulled off from the gravel apron onto the highway south. The lights never did come on. He laid the coin on the counter and looked at it. He put both hands on the counter and just stood leaning there with his head bowed.

Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men

Beautiful frames

2007 was a good year for lovers of great cinematography. Films such as Zodiac, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford were full of striking visual beauty. It will be interesting to see which distinguished DP walks off with the Oscar Sunday evening (I'll be rooting for Roger Deakins).

Kristopher Tapley has assembled his Top Ten Shots of 2007. Here's part one. Check back tomorrow for part two.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


A book generating a lot of buzz these days is unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Kinnaman is president of The Barna Group and Gabe Lyons founded The Fermi Project after serving with leadership guru John Maxwell. This is the kind of "must-read" book I approach with skepticism. The front cover promises "groundbreaking research from The Barna Group" on "what a new generation really thinks about Christianity...and why it matters" and the back cover asserts "every Christian should read this." That's overstating it, nevertheless, this is a valuable book and should be widely read. One may not find the contents of this book groundbreaking, but it certainly puts hard numbers to what should already be obvious to any careful observer: the younger generations don't have a good opinion of the institutional church and evangelical Christianity. I've been working my way through the book and offer some observations.

Kinnaman and Lyons studied two age groups that they call Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) and Busters (born between 1965 and 1983) -- but they mostly focus on a demographic segment from ages 16-29 (24 million Americans fall into this category). The book is organized according to six major negative perceptions that emerged from their research. Christians are hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental. This post will discuss only the first three. Incidentally, I found outsiders' positive perceptions of Christianity to be as disturbing as the negative perceptions just listed. One statistic shocked me and points to what I believe is the underlying problem that emerges again and again in this research. The American church desperately needs to recover the Christian gospel!

Here's the shocking statistic -- a whopping 82% of outsiders ages 16 to 29 believe that Christianity "teaches same basic idea as other religions." (p. 28) Yes, even the positive perceptions point to a massive failure. Don't dismiss this as simply the result of not having the opportunity to hear the distinctive message of Christianity. Kinnaman and Lyons write:

Another mistake Christians make is not realizing how much experience and background with the Christian faith most outsiders have. Most outsiders have "been there, done that." America, the vast majority of people (even outsiders) are exposed to the message of Christianity many times throughout their lives--in churches, via media, through their friendships, and so on. For instance, among nonChristians ages sixteen to twenty-nine--that is, atheists, agnostics, those undecided about their faith, and individuals affiliated with other faiths--more than four out of every five have gone to a Christian church at some time in their life (82 percent). Most of these attended for at least three months. And two-thirds of nonChristians (65 percent) said they have had conversations in the last year with a Christian friend about their faith views. More than half (53 percent) said they have been specifically approached in the past few years about becoming a Christian. (p. 74)

Perception #1: Christians are hypocritical

As the findings in this chapter make clear, instead of hearing the Christian gospel, outsiders have heard the gospel of good values, principals and morals. Not only that, they've been exposed to Christians and haven't liked what they've seen. Surprise! Christians often don't live up to the message of morality they preach.

So how did Christians acquire a hypocritical image in America today? Let's start with the most obvious reason: our lives don't match our beliefs. In many ways, our lifestyles and perspectives are no different from those of anyone around us.

In one study conducted by our firm, we explored more than one hundred variables related to values, behaviors, and lifestyles, including both religious and nonreligious areas of life. We compared born-again Christians to non-born-again adults. We discovered that born-agains were distinct on some religious variables, most notably owning more Bibles, going to church more often, and donating money to religious nonprofits (especially a church). However, when it came to nonreligious factors--the substance of people's daily choices, actions and attitudes--there were few meaningful gaps between born-again Christians and non-born-agains. Christians emerged as distinct in the areas people would expect--some religious activities and commitments--but not in other areas of life. (p. 46)
This is driven home by the following finding...another one of the most troubling statistics in the book:

Among young outsiders, 84 percent say they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15 percent thought the lifestyles of those Christ followers were significantly different from the norm. This gap speaks volumes. (p. 48)
There's a lot more here, but I think most of the problem can be fairly summed up by another study. Here Barna surveyed born-again churchgoers on what they thought Christianity was. Over 80% agreed that Christianity "is well described as trying hard to do what God commands." (p. 51) Combine that distortion of the Christian message with the lack of evidence that many professing Christians are, in fact, doing what God commands, and you have a perfect storm of mis-conception about what the gospel is and a pervasive belief among nonChristians that the church doesn't practice what it preaches. The authors remind us that:

Our passion for Jesus should result in God-honoring, moral lifestyles, not the other way around. (p. 51)
Too often the message is backwards. If moral lifestyles and trying hard is all we have to offer, then we might as well stop calling ourselves Christians.

Perception #2: Christians are too focused on getting converts

This perception rings true. If it said Christians were too focused on making disciples, I'd say that was good. But the key word here is converts. Outsiders rightly perceive that Christians are often only interested in them to the extent that they can be convinced/cajoled to pray a prayer or sign a card. Anecdotes are shared from outsiders who've felt used by Christians who befriended them, only to abandon the friendship when the nonChristian didn't respond to evangelization efforts. This is sad. Our desire to share the gospel with others should flow organically out of sincere, loving relationships. We shouldn't love a person only up to the point when we're able to "evangelize" them, then moving on to the next target. Decision-oriented evangelism may have worked well with previous generations, but I don't believe it's going to work well with today's teenagers and young adults.

Again, I see the research here pointing to a deeper problem: the church is too focused on getting converts, but not focused enough on the harder task of discipleship. I touched on this earlier, but the amazing thing is how many young outsiders have had exposure to the church -- even making a personal commitment to Christ at some time in their lives. Kinnaman and Lyons call them the de-churched.

Most teenagers in America enter adulthood considering themselves to be Christians and saying they have made a personal commitment to Christ. But within a decade, most of these young people will have left the church and will have placed emotional connection to Christianity on the shelf. For most of them, their faith was merely skin deep. This leads to the sobering finding that the vast majority of outsiders in this country, particularly among young generations, are actually de-churched individuals. (p. 74)

If you're like me, I bet you know at least several people that fit this category. Barna's research shows that despite two-thirds of young adults having made a "commitment to Jesus" at some point, only 3 percent have a Biblical worldview as measured by eight distinctive elements. It's pretty clear then that the American church needs to recover discipleship along with recovering the gospel.

Perception #3: Christians are antihomosexual

"Antihomosexual" is a term that's problematic. Many confuse tolerance with approval, and some that cry hate, in actuality have a problem with anyone (no matter how humble or compassionate) that articulates a view that says homosexuality is a sin against God and outside his creational order. It is possible to reject the "gay lifestyle" without rejecting gay people. I think the authors could have been more clear on this, but having said that, they provide lots of good evidence for this perception and show how Christianity's rejection of homosexuality is often perceived as disdain for homosexuals as individuals.

91 percent of young outsiders (16-29) perceive Christianity as antihomosexual. The authors bolster this finding with anecdotal evidence from those surveyed i.e. "Christians believe events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are God's judgment on homosexuals", "Christians oppose gays in public office", "Christians use coarse jokes and offensive language to describe homosexuals", some cited the proliferation of "God-hates-gays websites". They then look at the views of Christians to see how they track with the perception. For instance: "more than four out of five evangelicals say that homosexual relations between two consenting adults should be illegal", "two out of every five churchgoers say that school boards ought to have the right to fire teachers who are known homosexuals". Those views may be defensible, but these aren't: "born-again Christians are more likely to disapprove of homosexuality than divorce", only 39% of "born-again believers embrace Jesus's teaching that divorce is a sin except in cases of adultery" but the vast majority (9 out of 10) oppose "same-sex marriage" as sinful, and two out of every five born-again Christians "admitted they have more sympathy for people who have cancer than they do for people with HIV/AIDS". (pp. 94-95)

One can't claim to be concerned about the sanctity of marriage and yet not be troubled by the divorce epidemic. To the outsider it looks like Christians see homosexuality as a super-sized sin and homosexuals as super-sized sinners. In reality, all sexual sin is serious, and according to Jesus, encompasses even our thoughts and attitudes. It's a problem of consistency and proportion. This isn't mentioned in the book, but I recall the controversy surrounding End of the Spear a few years ago, when several Christian groups refused to promote the film because Nate Saint was played by an openly gay actor. A classic case of an often-skewed perspective on homosexuality. The authors write:

The biblical response to homosexuals should be to deal with the fundamental needs that all men and women have. We must acknowledge that everyone has sexual baggage but also has the potential for sexual wholeness. There are major problems across the spectrum of sexuality that the church needs to address. For example, a majority of born-again Busters believe that cohabitation and sexual fantasies are morally acceptable...Being "against" gays and lesbians is not a flag to wave. (p. 104)
unChristian makes the point that evangelicals have too often perceived homosexuals as a threat. "Christians, and particularly evangelicals, have relied primarily on two methods of dealing with the threats they perceive from the homosexual community: preaching and politics." (p. 100) While these responses are sometimes called for, they're inadequate and incomplete. The authors write: "Simply put, Christians think there is a problem but have no idea what to do about it." (p. 101) What's interesting is that while older churchgoers see a threat or a problem, younger people (both inside and outside the church) do not. For instance, if you're a young adult and don't endorse "same-sex marriage", you're in a distinct minority. The authors see the terrain shifting:

The unconventional values of young adults will play an increasingly important role in shaping our society in the years to come, making it much more difficult for those with other views to achieve political traction in this arena. As these new generations begin to make up a larger share of the public, homosexuals will gain greater rights and protections--and widespread acceptance--in our culture. (p. 100)
How will the church respond? More will be called for than simply preaching and politics. We must be able to compassionately "speak the truth in love" to our homosexual friends and neighbors. No more us-versus-them. The authors quote from one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters from prison: "Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don't do, and more in light of what they suffer." They also helpfully suggest that broadening our response will include downgrading evangelical Christianity's current fixation with homosexuality:

Christians need to downgrade the importance of being antihomosexual as a "credential", proving that we are more faithful to God than anyone else is. For example, a young Christian friend we interviewed said she has to be discreet about her attempts to minister to some gay people she has met at work. "If my church friends hear me talk sympathetically about gays, they get bent out of shape about it. It's interesting that our antennae don't go up when people admit to gluttony, lying, using pornography, or getting a divorce, but we seem fixated on homosexuality."

If we don't work at developing meaningful relationships with our co-workers, whether gay or straight, how can we expect them to respect us and our beliefs? When we get to know and love homosexuals because they are people, perhaps they will grow to love and appreciate us and maybe even listen to what we believe. We need to be more concerned about reaching those who need Jesus than "proving" our faith to those who already claim to know Jesus. (pp. 105-106)

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pat Robertson spills the beans

BTW whatever Pat's co-host is getting's not enough!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sam Crabtree on the authority of Jesus

Ever wonder who preaches at Bethlehem Baptist when John Piper's out of town? Sometimes it's Sam Crabtree.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

There was blood

I started reading Leviticus (Latin for "about Levites") yesterday. It's not a book I'd choose to read on my own, but one of the advantages of following a Bible reading plan is that it forces you to read things you wouldn't otherwise. There are some wonderful things in this obscure book of the Bible! A good way to find this out would be to read Leviticus in conjunction with Hebrews. There's a sense in which Hebrews is a commentary on and fulfillment of Leviticus. A word that theologians often use to describe the things found in Leviticus is "typology". For instance, the priestly ministry of Aaron and his sons was a "type" of the ministry of Yeshua, the Great High Priest and Lamb of God. Perhaps more than any other book, Leviticus also shows us something of the holiness of God and the holiness he expects of his people. Also, some might be surprised to know that "The Second Commandment" cited by Jesus is found in Lev. 19:18 ("you shall love your neighbor as yourself"). Jesus quoted often from this book.

Leviticus is graphic and bloody. Despite the wonderful things in it, I thank God I live on this side of the great events it points to. It's here that we get the fullest picture of the system of animal sacrifice handed down by God to Moses at Sinai. It's stomach-turning, but perhaps the ancient Jews had an advantage over us in this way. They must have had a daily, sensory, existential reminder of the horror of sin that we don't have. Some have the misconception that animal sacrifice was only done periodically, and only by priests. Actually, it was a daily part of the life of any God-fearing Israelite. Try to imagine placing your hand on the head of a goat or lamb that your family had raised. Then imagine taking a knife and slitting it's throat, watching the blood and life drain out.

Or try to imagine this particular passage: Lev. 4:4-12. There must have been rivers of blood flowing, and fires burning, night and day. Think of the priest carrying "the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung" on the long walk "outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap" where he would "burn it up on a fire of wood." I picture him carrying the load in a crude wagon or in a large pot with handles. With every step, the stench must have been a reminder of how God perceived sin.

Francis Coppola's 1979 Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now (loosely based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) has an atonement motif running thoughout. In the climactic scene, the mad Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) recounts to Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) the atrocities he's been a part of. Kurtz knows that Willard has been sent upriver to "terminate" his command. Kurtz seemingly offers himself up as a willing victim to Willard, and as he lays dying mutters to no one in particular "the horror, the horror". Meanwhile, outside a bull is ceremonially slaughtered by a group of natives. I'm not sure what exactly Coppola had in mind here, but it shows how the concepts of atonement and blood sacrifice are an inextricably linked part of our primal wiring.

Of course, blood sacrifice seems barbaric and strange to most of us, but the Bible says "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Heb. 9:22) And the primal need for atonement is still there if you dig deeply enough -- part of God's law written on our hearts. (Rom. 2:15) I'm very glad I don't have to seek atonement for sin in the way Leviticus describes! I find the thought of killing an animal (and all that went with it) repulsive and the sight of blood makes me faint. I don't have to because Jesus "entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." (Heb. 9:12) Lord, give me a fresh sense of the horror and costliness of your atonement for my sins!

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Robert Lowry, Nothing but the Blood

Friday, February 15, 2008

Scott Clark on another college shooting

Reacting to the latest mass shooting, Scott Clark has nothing to add to what he wrote after the December shootings in Omaha and Colorado.

What happens when society loses the fear of God and the fear of the magistrate? Hint: it's not a pretty picture.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Not as easy as it used to be" (when you're 65)

My Valentine

" faith has got me bound to your grey blue eyes."

- Dave Matthews

St. Paul called marriage a profound mystery. Perhaps that's because he was never married (as far as we know). Actually, I think he had it right -- it is a profound mystery and it points us to an even greater one (see Ephesians 5). Why is it that when I spot Shannon across a crowded room, or hear her sunny voice on the phone, or simply gaze at her face across the table, I feel a deep sense of completeness and joy? That's not to say we haven't had some agonizingly tense moments when gazing was the last thing we felt like doing. How is it that someone I didn't know existed for most of my life, has now become the most important person in the world? She is. So unlike me, yet bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. So strange, yet so familiar. So unexpected, yet so inevitable.

Oh we get on each other's nerves sometimes, but not as often as one would think considering: I have a mania for neatness, she can tolerate a certain amount of clutter -- I throw things away (often indiscriminately), she saves everything -- I get out of bed "loaded for bear", it can take her a good hour to come fully awake (we've learned not to book early flights). The way I look at it, God knew we were uniquely suited to further each other's sanctification. I wouldn't want it any other way. Happy Valentine's day, darling! Your smile makes my heart sing. So glad you're mine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Man from Issachar on Obama

Writing from the site of one of yesterday's primaries: Pastor Eric Redmond articulates the mixed feelings that some of us have about the Obama candidacy.

HT: Pure Church

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Loving Wisdom

The writer of Proverbs exclaims, "Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding." Proverbs 4:7 (NIV) This urgent imperative motivates Loving Wisdom, the latest book from Christian apologist and philosopher Paul Copan. I have to say, this is probably not a book I would have tackled, but for the fact that Paul is a friend and fellow member of the church Shannon and I are a part of. We're also blessed to have him as one of our Sunday School teachers. Thankfully, I did tackle it, for it's a most rewarding book.

Loving Wisdom is a book that's difficult to summarize, and I gather that was intentional. In groundbeaking fashion, Paul has written an extraordinarily wide-ranging book that's exhaustive enough to serve as a textbook on many subjects within apologetics and philosophy of religion, but concise enough to serve as "a kind of launching pad" to further exploration. This is one of the densest books I've ever read -- dense in ideas not words! Paul can cover a remarkable amount of ground in a relatively few pages. Coming to it as a layman, I found it readable and accessible -- even when comprehension of difficult concepts proved elusive. Although a serious and scholarly treatment of serious topics, Loving Wisdom is never ponderous, mainly because Paul's writing is suffused with his good humor and trademark wit. What also comes through is his charitable and fair treatment of opposing viewpoints, which is in marked contrast to the attitudes that often characterize the "New Atheists" (and the old atheists).

So why should the average Christian believer be concerned with difficult questions and arguments raised by those who don't share our beliefs? Isn't it enough to fall back on bumper-sticker slogans? i.e. God said it, I believe it, that settles it! Why should Christians "do philosophy"? Paul writes:

Unfortunately, some Christians speak disparagingly about philosophy, as though it's always done in an anti-Christian manner. They may cite Paul's caution, "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies" (1 Cor. 8:1), or his warning against "philosophy and empty deception" (Col. 2:8). They may claim to promote a Spirit-given knowledge that seems foolish to the "natural" person (1 Cor. 1-2). While such passages remind us that our thinking shouldn't be detached from God's self-revelation and his Spirit's workings, they hardly undermine the importance of defending our faith in the marketplace of ideas and of engaging in the discipline of philosophy as Christians. (p. 6)

Paul goes on to write that being "reasonably prepared to address important questions non-Christians typically ask" will make our Christian witness vastly more effective. In fact, "good reasons for believing the gospel are part of it's attractiveness." (p. 7) Yes, as fallen creatures our reason is limited, "but we are still endowed by God with the capacity to appreciate good reasons for belief. If Paul reasoned and sought to persuade others in the first century, why think that today God can't use good reasons for belief?" (p. 8)

Loving Wisdom is organized according to the flow of the Biblical narrative: God, Creation, Fall, Redemption and Re-creation (the "triune theodrama"). Difficult concepts and questions that Christian thinkers have been wrestling with for centuries are discussed. For example -- God's relation to time, the relationship between divine omniscience and human freedom, the problem of evil and the Incarnation. Even if one doesn't agree with all of Paul's assertions, they will be provoked (as I was) to think more deeply. And they'll be made to see that just because something can't be rationally explained, this doesn't make belief in it irrational. Writing on the Incarnation:

This doctrine, along with the other great things of the gospel, is glorious and not reducible to logical formulas. But this hardly implies the doctrine is illogical. (p. 155)

One of the strengths of the book is the compelling case Paul makes that the existence of a personal, creator God is by far the best explanation for many of the phenomena we observe. The case is boiled down in a nifty "God vs. Naturalism" chart on pp. 103-104 which is the centerpiece of my favorite chapter in the book "God-The Best Explanation". For instance: a phenomena we recognize/observe is that "the universe began to exist a finite time ago." This makes sense in a theistic context if "a powerful, previously existing God brought the universe into being without any preexisting material. (Here, something comes from something.)" -- but the naturalistic conclusion is that "the universe came into existence from nothing by nothing-or was, perhaps, self-caused. (Here, something comes from nothing.)" Or how about the even more foundational fact that "Personal beings exist." This isn't surprising if "God is a personal Being", but quite surprising if (as the naturalist believes) "the universe was produced by impersonal processes." Who's making the biggest leap of faith here? Which explanation fits the facts?

In closing, what should Christian philosophy look like?

Christian philosophers, lovers of God's wisdom, won't get lost in abstractions, but will attend to the implications of the divine-human interaction--namely, love for God and neighbor, trust, humility, charitability, perseverance, and a host of other virtues necessary for the task. (Preface ix)

If our philosophizing about God fills us with pride and self-sufficiency so that we lose touch with God and have no patience and grace toward others, then we are no longer lovers of wisdom. (p. 8)

Thanks for your example, Paul. May we all be lovers of God's wisdom!

Check out Paul's website.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Machen on the Cross of Christ

I did want to share one more post from Christianity and Liberalism. You can find previous posts in the series here, here, here, here, here and here. These two excerpts are plucked somewhat out of context, nevertheless, I think they tell us what it was (and who it was) that animated J. Gresham Machen.

The Christian doctrine of the atonement, therefore, is altogether rooted in the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ. The reality of an atonement for sin depends altogether upon the New Testament presentation of the Person of Christ. And even the hymns dealing with the Cross which we sing in Church can be placed in an ascending scale according as they are based upon a lower or a higher view of Jesus' Person. At the very bottom of the scale is that familiar hymn:

Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me.

That is a perfectly good hymn. It means that our trials may be a discipline to bring us nearer to God. The thought is not opposed to Christianity; it is found in the New Testament. But many persons have the impression, because the word "cross" is found in the hymn, that there is something specifically Christian about it, and that it has something to do with the gospel. This impression is entirely false. In reality, the cross that is spoken of is not the Cross of Christ, but our own cross; the verse simply means that our own crosses or trials may be a means to bring us nearer to God. It is a perfectly good thought, but certainly it is not the gospel. One can only be sorry that the people on the Titanic could not find a better hymn to use in the last solemn hour of their lives. But there is another hymn in the hymn-book:

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o'er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

That is certainly better. It is here not our own crosses but the Cross of Christ, the actual event that took place on Calvary, that is spoken of, and that event is celebrated as the centre of all history. Certainly the Christian man can sing that hymn. But one misses even there the full Christian sense of the meaning of the Cross; the Cross is celebrated, but it is not understood.

It is well, therefore, that there is another hymn in our hymn-book:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

There at length are heard the accents of true Christian feeling--"the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died." When we come to see that it was no mere man who suffered on Calvary but the Lord of Glory, then we shall be willing to say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is of more value, for our own salvation and for the hope of society, than all the rivers of blood that have flowed upon the battlefields of history.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, pp. 126-128

Such and such a man, it is said, is a brilliant preacher. But what is the content of his preaching? Is his preaching full of the gospel of Christ? The answer is often evasive. The preacher in question, it is said, is of good standing in the Church, and he has never denied the doctrines of grace. Therefore, it is urged, he should be called to the pastorate. But shall we be satisfied with such negative assurances? Shall we be satisfied with preachers who merely "do not deny" the Cross of Christ? God grant that such satisfaction may be broken down! The people are perishing under the ministrations of those who "do not deny" the Cross of Christ. Surely something more than that is needed. God send us ministers who, instead of merely avoiding denial of the Cross shall be on fire with the Cross, whose whole life shall be one burning sacrifice of gratitude to the blessed Saviour who loved them and gave Himself for them!

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, pp. 175-176

I believe that last sentence is an apt description of this great contender for the faith "once for all delivered to the saints."

Here is an excellent biographical portrait of J. Gresham Machen.

Roy Scheider (10 November 1932 - 10 February 2008)

So long, Chief Brody...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Another one of my heroes

Tim Keller

BTW, the article is incorrect that The Reason for God is Keller's first book. That would be the indispensable Ministries of Mercy. Read it!

UPDATE: More on Tim Keller and Newsweek (from Ed Stetzer)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Bicycle Thieves

"It would be no exaggeration to say that Bicycle Thieves is the story of a walk through Rome by a father and his son."
-André Bazin

Veritá e Poesia (truth and poetry) was the battle cry of Italian neorealist cinema, a development forged in the crucible of prostrate post-war Italy. "Life as it is" would replace the idealized and star-driven studio films of the Mussolini years and provide an alternative to imported Hollywood fare. Perhaps the fullest and finest expression of this school is Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves "Ladri di Biciclette", and Criterion has done their usual superb job in making it available on DVD so a new generation of viewers can discover anew it's power and poetry.

Neorealism self-consciously turned the typical action-oriented protagonist on it's head, instead condescending to document the travails of the common man, especially the common man victimized by societal and economic forces beyond his control. European cinema has always been more entangled with politics than it's American cousin. In post-war Italy political parties of the left and right, as well as the Catholic Church, published dueling film journals castigating or praising the latest releases based on their supposed ideological biases. Not surprisingly, neorealism became associated with left-wing politics. The hugely influential French critic André Bazin, writing in 1949, called it "the only valid Communist film of the whole past decade" even though it has no explicit (or even implicit) ideological message.

In fact, it has no explicit plot. Basically nothing happens beyond the seemingly insignificant: Antonio Ricci, a newly employed poster-hanger, has his bicycle stolen and spends a day fruitlessly searching for it with his son Bruno tagging along. Bazin again: "the whole story would not deserve two lines in a stray dog column." Yet, for those with eyes to see there are layers and layers of significance in every frame of this masterpiece. Part of the neorealist's effort to do away with the typical "man of action" was to do away with the convention of star-driven movies in favor of casting untrained actors. The three leads in Bicycle Thieves are played by a factory worker, a journalist, and a boy that De Sica saw walking in the street one day. The only star in this film is Rita Hayworth, who appears on the poster we see Antonio Ricci rather haplessly pasting up just before it all goes wrong.

The naturalness of the actors fit with the naturalistic style -- no studio sets and almost none of the typical moviemaking artifice (De Sica did bring in the fire brigade to manufacture the rain in one famous sequence). These tactics were enormously shocking for audiences of 1948, and later films like The 400 Blows, Breathless and Wings of Desire seem inconceivable without, at least, the stylistic influence of Bicycle Thieves and Italian neorealism in general. Another homage of sorts is Robert Altman's use of Bicycle Thieves in his darkly comedic take on Hollywood, The Player. You may recall that the unfortunate, proletarian writer played by Vincent D'Onofrio spends his last night on Earth taking in a late-night showing of De Sica's anti-Hollywood ode to the common man.

One wonders what happened to Antonio and Bruno. Did they ever recover the bicycle? Will Maria, the longsuffering wife and mother, have to pawn off another valued possession to keep the family afloat? Earlier she pawns the family's bedsheets so Antonio can get the bicycle out of hock in the first place. This is a world where the poor steal from the poor simply to survive, and an item as banal as a bicycle becomes the most important thing in the world. We'll never know. The film ends abruptly, but perfectly, as Bruno takes his father's hand and they trudge down their own Via Dolorosa into filmic immortality.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday meditation

From the The Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery?

Answer: Out of the law of God.

Question 4. What does the law of God require of us?

Answer: Christ teaches us that briefly, Matt. 22:37-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Question 5. Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?

Answer: In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbour.

Question 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?

Answer: By no means; but God created man good, and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him.

Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?

Answer: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?

Answer: Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

Question 9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?

Answer: Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own wilful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

Question 10. Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?

Answer: By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he has declared, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them."

Question 11. Is not God then also merciful?

Answer: God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

Question 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?

Answer: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

Question 89. What is the mortification of the old man?

Answer: It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

Psalm 51, Joel 2:12-17, Mark 1:14-15

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The pastor as father and son

The Desiring God pastor's conference started yesterday. Go here for the latest audio and video. This year's theme is "The Pastor as Father and Son". Both John Piper and D.A. Carson were "preacher's kids" and they'll be giving tributes to their fathers later today. You don't have to be a pastor -- or play one on TV -- to benefit. Carson has just come out with Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson in which he writes eloquently and movingly of his dad:

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people ... testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on the television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side, all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne-room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Thank God for all the "ordinary pastors" who serve faithfully without the world's notice. I suspect they are the backbone of the church.

Monday, February 4, 2008

More on the Gospel Driven Life

Since we had a dual purpose in traveling to St. Augustine for the weekend, we were (sadly) only able to fit in two of the Saturday sessions of The Gospel-Driven Life Conference, but they were both outstanding and I'll share some of what we took away. Hopefully, Westminster will be posting audio so we can listen to the sessions we missed.

Robert Godfrey, president of WSC, spoke on the subject of "Gospel-Driven Hermeneutics: Distinguishing Law and Gospel." Despite the imposing title, it was a clear presentation that didn't require any specialized knowledge to understand. Shannon, who wasn't sure she'd be interested, found it fascinating and commented that she'd love to hear more from Godfrey on this subject. I'll try to summarize the main points from my notes:

- Often people who know a lot of the scriptures don't know how to interpret them. The Pharisees knew the scriptures forwards and backwards (you have to know them backwards in Hebrew haha) yet totally missed the point. Being able to distinguish law from gospel is crucial to correctly interpreting scripture, especially in the Gospels where it seems Jesus is going around preaching nothing but law, law, law. Godfrey said that before he understood this distinction he didn't like the Gospels all that much because "there didn't seem to be much gospel in the Gospels!" Shannon whispered to me that she used to feel the same way.

- Godfrey took as his first text Luke 4:16-21 where Jesus announces that the Year of Jubilee prophesied in Isaiah 61 is now fulfilled, then sits down. In the ancient world the preacher sat down and the hearers stood. In this passage Jesus is communicating the gospel in a summary way. Are you poor? Are you oppressed by sin? Then Jesus comes to bring good news.

- Godfrey made the great point that Jesus was a confrontational figure. He was constantly using irony and sarcasm to break through the self-righteous walls of his hearers. Which leads to one of the most famous and misunderstood stories in the Bible found in Luke 10:25-37. Godfrey spent a good deal of time interpreting this story, where we see and hear Jesus preaching the Law to the "lawyer".

- The phrase "to put him to the test" (Luke 10:25) is the same word used of Satan when he tempts Jesus in the wilderness. This wasn't a sincere question ("what shall I do to inherit eternal life?") but an attempt to embarrass and discredit Jesus. Of course, Jesus turns the tables and ends up embarrassing the lawyer and laying bare the sinful lovelessness of his heart. This lawyer despises Jesus (God) and the Samaritan (his neighbor), to the point where he can't even bring himself to utter the word "Samaritan", instead saying "the one who showed him mercy."

- Here is the Law in it's starkest terms. It's all or nothing. Love God with all of your heart/soul/strength/mind and your neighbor as yourself. 24/7, perfectly. Do this and live. It's as if Jesus is asking "how's it going with you?"

- We usually forget the story that immediately follows this one in Luke 10. It's the story of Martha and Mary. And here is Jesus preaching the Good News in purest form. Martha is actually the Good Samaritan here, but it's Mary who chooses the "good portion", simply to sit (as one who is poor) and receive the riches of Christ.

- Godfrey closed by decrying the church's concern with happiness over holiness, for instance in the way we've mostly lost any sense of Sunday as the Sabbath -- as a day "set apart" for the Lord. We have "more important things to do", like football "if you really love football...repent" (that line got some nervous laughter on the eve of the Super Bowl). But he was quick to remind us that "my holiness will never bring me to God."

I brought back Dr. Godfrey's book An Unexpected Journey: Discovering Reformed Christianity and am particularly looking forward to reading it since we too came to "Reformed Christianity" from the outside -- I was raised Wesleyan/Arminian and Shannon was raised Roman Catholic. God's Providence is often circuitous and always amazing.

The final session we attended was perhaps the most thought-provoking of all: R. Scott Clark speaking on "The Gospel-Driven Life: Union with Christ". I say thought-provoking because even though this doctrine of union with Christ is everywhere in the New Testament, it's not something I've thought a lot about, except perhaps in the abstract. Clark's presentation caused me to see more clearly the reality and centrality of this "essential, Biblical, mystical doctrine". Here are some highlights from his wide-ranging presentation:

- According to some Reformed theologians, one must understand "union with Christ" to understand everything else. That may be overstating it, but it is a "central Reformed doctrine". Louis Berkhof defined union with Christ as "that intimate, vital, and spiritual union between Christ and his people"

- The Bible pictures our union with Christ in many ways: as a branch to a vine, as a wife to her husband, Paul even says in Ephesians that we're seated with Christ "in the heavenly places" (try to wrap your mind around that!) Clark used a very striking phrase: "what is true of Jesus is true of us" and he urged us to study 1 Peter 4 in connection with this.

- Yes, it's mysterious, but this is a real union, not a metaphorical one. Clark went on to explain that the Holy Spirit is the bond that unites us. Calvin spoke of the Holy Spirit as the vinculum "vine" that connects us to Christ.

- Clark further explained the nature of this union by using the examples of Pearl Harbor and 9/11. For instance, when the World Trade Center was attacked, what did that have to do with us in Florida? It's because we in Florida are "federally connected" with New York City that we can truthfully say that when the Twin Towers were attacked, we were attacked.

- Clark branched off to address some charges often made by folks from other theological persuasions about Reformed believers and churches. First, that we have no place for the Holy Spirit. Second, that our theology and worship lack mystery. Third, that we're "cold and dead" and have "a head religion not a heart religion".

- Clark passionately and movingly expounded on the huge view of the Holy Spirit that classical Reformed theology has and the profound mysteries at the heart of our faith...mystery found at the Lord's table, mystery found in our union with Christ, and mystery found in the dual nature of Jesus. Divine, yet so fully human that he had an umbilical cord. Dr. Clark (even though he's not a medical doctor "the kind of doctor that can do you some good") used a lot of biological imagery. Even talking about the time he went down to the basement of the dental school to inspect cadavers and hold a human heart in his hand. This is the picture Paul paints of us when we were dead in our sins, before the creative work of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that hovered over the face of the waters in Genesis 1.

- Clark finished up by spending some time unpacking the implications of Paul's use of the phrase "in Christ" in Ephesians 1:1-5 and Ephesians 2:10.

- How does union with Christ happen? How are we made "alive with Christ"? We can only explain so much to those who haven't experienced it. In the end it's enough to say with the man born blind of John 9, "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

For what it's worth, Dr. Clark is a Mac user. He had his Bible and notes on what looked to be a MacBook.

Special thanks to Ponte Vedra Presbyterian for hosting the conference! They had an army of friendly volunteers keeping everything running smoothly and the music was well-chosen. Opening night hymns included "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing".

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Gospel Driven Life

Shannon and I just returned from a weekend in northeast Florida visiting some dear friends in St. Augustine and attending a big chunk of The Gospel-Driven Life Conference hosted by Westminster Seminary California and Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church. Actually, the full name of the conference was The Gospel-Driven Life: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ. One of the great things about conferences like this are the free goodies and not-so-free goodies...meaning books. I resisted tempation for the most part, but still came back with a sack full of "stuff". Michael Horton and R.C. Sproul led things off on Friday evening. Herewith a few notes...

Mike Horton, who's had a huge influence on my life and thinking through his writing (especially for Modern Reformation magazine) and hosting of the White Horse Inn program, opened by giving us an overview of the conference's theme by presenting an exposition of Genesis 15, especially the theophany of Abram's vision where the LORD himself passes through the severed carcasses revealing himself to be the ultimate promise-keeper and covenant fulfiller...all while Abram sleeps. It's interesting to reflect on how many important events in redemptive history happen while the patriarchs are asleep! Horton challenged our propensity to focus on circumstances instead of promises, and the American church's tendency to confuse the law (often cloaked in therapeutic self-help language as opposed to the older fire and brimstone language) with the gospel. One thing he said stuck out to me: "the law will always make sense and the gospel will always seem strange." It's because "we're wired for law" and the news of the gospel shatters the paradigms that come naturally to us. Incidentally, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Horton briefly and told him how much I loved the program on political temptation (which I posted here last week). He said he got quite a few angry e-mails in response to that one.

For good reason, R.C. Sproul is a legend in Reformed circles. He quipped that he's still surprised when people come up to him at these conferences and ask him to sign their Bible as if he wrote it. He was the general editor of the Reformation Study Bible after all! Interestingly, he said that if he was thrown in prison and could only have one book of the Bible he would choose Hebrews, if only one verse, Genesis 15:17...making a nice segue from Horton's talk. Sproul's topic was "Justification by Faith Alone: The Heart of the Gospel", probably a topic he's spoke on hundreds of times, but you wouldn't have known it, as he spoke passionately (and without notes) -- holding the room spell-bound for 45 minutes as he presented the Biblical and historical foundations of this doctrine that both Luther and Calvin considered the central doctrine of Christianity. More importantly he sent us out into the chilly north Florida night with a song in our hearts for what Christ has done for us and a renewed appreciation for what's at stake for the church if she loses this glorious doctrine -- a doctrine better described as "justification by Christ" rather than "justification by faith", for even the faith is a gift and not something that we can claim for ourselves. It's also the grounds of our righteousness and sanctification, as opposed to the view that says to be justified a person must first be sanctified, or the view that says one must have an inherent righteousness of one's own to get into heaven. This is where the doctrine of Christ's imputed righteousness comes in. Sproul reminded us that the cross only does half the job -- removing the guilt of our sins -- we must also appropriate Christ's perfect fulfillment of the law, thus gaining a righteousness "extra nos" outside of ourselves. To sum's faith alone, not faith and works -- grace alone, not grace and merit -- and Christ alone, not Christ and the sacraments. This is the gospel that saves us and keeps us saved. We never outgrow our need to hear this message preached clearly and often. Thank you Dr. Sproul for your many years of faithful preaching and teaching! It was a thrill to hear you in person.

The Saturday sessions with Robert Godfrey and Scott Clark were terrific and I'll post some thoughts on those later this week.

UPDATE: here are some highlights from Saturday.