Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jessica makes her case

A while back I had an idea. I thought it would be interesting to hear from a Christian that's supporting McCain and one that's supporting Obama. I tried to find two people of roughly the same age, church affiliation, background, etc. to make the positive case for their candidate without trashing the other. I tried for two weeks to find a McCain supporter with the time or inclination to participate, but I wasn't successful. Soooo, though I'd prefer to have both sides represented, I think my sister in Christ who took the time to write this essay deserves to be heard. Without further ado here's Jessica making the case for Barack Obama.


Thanks again for asking me to share my views on Senator Obama. I am writing this in a period of campaign “disenchantment,” and let me explain why. One, I have grown tired of the campaign – and have moved past my “honeymoon phase” with Obama – having followed it obsessively since the primaries began. Two, I have grown tired of the low point to which the campaign has sunk. I hope that Obama will rise above the lies and attacks (although I know he needs to confront them) to square himself back on the issues. And three, I have grown tired of having to defend my faith while defending my support of Obama.

Recently, a McCain supporter sputtered the following question at me in disbelief: “But…as a Christian…you don’t have any problem supporting Obama?” My answer then, and my answer now, is no. I am a registered Democrat, but I don’t consider myself to be blue or red. Yes, you can follow Jesus and not vote for a Republican. Based on what I have seen and read in the news, neither party perfectly mirrors the Christian faith. Let it be known that my hope is found in the Kingdom, and not in a president, a party, or a country.

Let me begin by saying that Obama has almost single-handedly invigorated a level of interest in politics like I have never seen before. Some call him a dreamer, an idealist…but I like that. One of the most refreshing things for me about Obama is that he hasn’t been in Washington for decades, like Senator McCain. (Even the McCain campaign has cited this as a plus for Governor Palin.) I am not overly concerned with experience, an argument that has been going back and forth since Clinton was in the race, and has again been revived with the introduction of Palin.

Consider the following point from Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times: “It might seem obvious that long service in Washington is the best preparation for the White House, but on the contrary, one lesson of American history is that length of experience in national politics is an extremely poor predictor of presidential success. Looking at the 19 presidents since 1900, three of the greatest were among those with the fewest years in electoral politics. Teddy Roosevelt had been a governor for two years and vice president for six months; Woodrow Wilson, a governor for just two years; and Franklin Roosevelt, a governor for four years. None ever served in Congress.”

Some would argue that the Bush administration has been one of the most experienced administrations in this nation's history, but they've dug us into a deep, dark hole. For me, qualification trumps experience. I would prefer to have a president with judgment, insight, character, and competence over one with lots of experience and nothing else. One great example of Obama’s sound judgment is this: He is the only candidate who originally voted against the Iraq war. He realized that it was a distraction from the real focus – Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan – and that there was no reasonable basis for invading that country.

If Obama's primary campaign is any indication of how effectively he will run the White House, he gets my vote twice over. He ran an intelligent, strategic, and efficient primary campaign. He has raised historical amounts of money, and has not gone into debt. This, by the way, is the polar opposite of President Bush’s spending habits, and a sore point for Senator Clinton, who had to loan herself $5 million to continue campaigning. This guy is smart – on many levels – and it shows in the way he campaigns, raises money at record levels, and has inspired average citizens to get involved in this election process.

In a time when President Bush and Americans in general are sorely disliked around the world, I want a president who will work to heal our relationships with other countries and restore our image overseas. According to a BBC World Service poll, 22,000 people in 22 countries were polled to find out who they would prefer as our next president. All 22 countries preferred Obama over McCain. In addition to Obama’s own culturally diverse heritage, he has lived overseas, which means he has real cross-cultural experience to bring to the table. Again, I quote Kristof: “Our most serious mistakes in foreign policy, from Vietnam to Iraq, have been a blindness to other people’s nationalism and an inability to see ourselves as others see us. Mr. Obama seems to have absorbed an intuitive sensitivity to that problem. For starters, he understood back in 2002 that American troops would not be greeted in Iraq with flowers.”

I appreciate that Obama wants to talk with leaders from other countries – yes, even enemies – and not ignore them. He wants to talk and not just blindly and stubbornly exercise military power. A friend of mine once reflected, "Because of his background, family and extensive travel, Obama offers us an opportunity to build bridges with the international community that our current president has laughed at and burned. In a global, increasingly fragile economy, we need those bridges."

On the same note, I also want a president who will work to heal divisions within this country. Obama has an enormous cross-party appeal that I haven’t seen with other candidates. A few months ago, after he finished a speech aired on C-SPAN, the network opened its phone lines to callers. It had three numbers to call, one for each major party (Democrat, Republican, and Independent). I was stunned that almost all of the Republican and Independent callers didn’t call in to tear Obama apart, but to express their support for him. One man said that he had voted Republican all his life, but would be voting for Obama in November. It says something when a political figure can appeal so strongly to people from other parties.

Regarding his character, Obama strikes me as being as grounded and real as you can get – not to mention eloquent, classy, inspiring, and even-tempered. The “elitist” argument going around has no credibility for me. He was raised by a single mother and his grandparents, his father wasn’t in the picture, and he just paid off his college loans two years ago. His life story is one with which many in this country can relate. On the flip side, I don’t think McCain really gets where most Americans are in life because he is in a completely different category. There is nothing wrong with wealth, but it is a bit alarming when you can’t remember how many houses you own.

God wants us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I believe he wants us to examine all the facts, ignore the smears, and dig for the truth. After months of scrutinizing the campaign, the debates, the conventions, and the commentary; visiting factcheck.org to debunk rumors; and reading Obama’s “Blueprint for Change” that outlines his plan and his record, I have made what I believe to be a thoughtful and intelligent choice. I look forward to seeing Senator Obama become President Obama after the general election is over!

Don't waste your retirement

The present financial crisis is causing anguish for a lot of people. I was talking to a friend this weekend who's legitimately concerned about losing the modest investment income he needs to support his family of four. Having said that, it occurred to me while listening to the alarming reports on NPR this morning that God may use this situation to wean American Christians away from extra-Biblical ideas about financial security, investment and retirement. I'm preaching to myself here too. What do I mean? I'll let John Piper explain.

Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.

John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life

More in this video:

Sunday, September 28, 2008


And that passage in Gregory of Nazianzus vastly delights me: "I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one." Let us not, then, be led to imagine a trinity of persons that keeps our thoughts distracted and does not at once lead them back to that unity. Indeed, the words "Father", "Son", and "Spirit" imply a real distinction--let no one think that these titles, whereby God is variously designated from his works, are empty--but a distinction, not a division.

John Calvin, Institutes 1.13.17

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman (26 January 1925 - 26 September 2008)

He had class.

Photo by Sam Taylor-Wood

Round one to the sheriff

Putting on my objective hat, I think McCain won last night's debate by a nose. But maybe that's just because I found his performance so entertaining. I burst out laughing at his remark about Putin: "I looked into his eyes and saw three letters...K-G-B". What a great line! I thought Obama started out shakily, even looking a bit rattled at times, but he got stronger as the night wore on and came on strong at the end. I think Obama has a bit of a problem though trying to link McCain to Bush/the last 8 years/etc. because McCain truly isn't the typical Republican. He's right when he says he never won "Miss Congeniality" (shouldn't it be Mr.?) in the Senate. Remember a few short months ago the entire Republican political/media establishment was doing all it could to keep McCain from being the nominee. I suspect if McCain becomes President he'll tick off conservatives as often as he ticks off liberals.

One thing that drives me nuts is their ongoing debate over the Iraq war, because I think they're both partly right and partly wrong. McCain is absolutely right that the surge strategy of Gen. Petraeus is working, and to set a date certain for withdrawal of troops would risk losing the gains we've made. Yes, we must withdraw on our own terms with honor and victory -- "pyrrhic victory" though it may be. But Obama is right that the original decision to invade Iraq was a colossal blunder that distracted us from the front lines of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I won't rehearse all the reasons given back in 2002 to go into Iraq, but I believe history has shown and will continue to show they were false and misleading. Worst of all, we didn't count the cost. Bush, Rumsfeld, et al. thought it would be quick and easy -- a tragic miscalculation in my view.

So Obama correctly says we shouldn't have grabbed hold of this particular tiger's tail in the first place, and McCain rightly says that once you've grabbed it you better hold on for dear life until the tiger's dead.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bailout blues

All week we've been hearing that this 700 billion dollar bailout being debated in Washington is inevitable and necessary to avert an economic meltdown. But what if it isn't? One economist begs to differ. He makes a lot of sense.

Listen here

Dimitri Tiomkin: composer of background music

Studio-Era Hollywood had a distinctly Central and Eastern European character. Scores of talented writers, musicians and actors fled the bloody upheavals that convulsed Europe for the promise of a better life in America. Most headed for New York and it's many opportunities to find work. Some of the more intrepid headed west to the mythic land where names like Warner, Zanuck and Selznick held sway and folks from places with funny names had found fame and fortune. Where Lazar Meir from Minsk could become Louis B. Mayer, titan of the motion picture industry.

Dimitri Zinovich Tiomkin was born 1894 in the village of Kremenchuk in the Ukraine. His odyssey took him first to the hallowed halls of St. Petersburg Conservatory -- where he rubbed elbows with Prokofiev and Glazunov -- then to Berlin, Paris, New York, finally arriving in Hollywood in 1929. This was only two years after Warner Bros. broke the sound barrier with their "talking picture" The Jazz Singer. The young composer fell in love with the novel idea of composing music for film soundtracks ("background music" he wasn't too proud to say), but it wasn't until 1937 that his career took off after a chance meeting with director Frank Capra. The two hit it off and began a long, fruitful partnership -- including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and It's a Wonderful Life (1947).

Dimitri Tiomkin was a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock too, scoring four of his films (only Bernard Hermann scored more). I've been watching Dial M for Murder Hitch's glossy 1954 mystery thriller for Warners starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. Tiomkin's score is a masterful example of underscoring that calls attention to itself sparingly -- for example in the first reveal of Kelly which is accompanied by one of his most soaring themes (you can listen to it here). Some of today's film composers would do well to study his unobtrusive style. Scan Tiomkin's long list of credits and you'll see the majority are Westerns, including two I've discussed this month -- High Noon (with it's oddly effective opening title song featuring Tex Ritter) and Rio Bravo. Tiomkin never shed his thick Russian accent, but his name is forever identified with this genre that's as American as apple pie. Quite a journey. Quite a life.

Dimitri Tiomkin:

Dialogue, of course, is of primary importance in determining the genre of background music. It entails problems that must be overcome, and can be overcome only by certain musical techniques. It is difficult for a layman to realise that speaking voices have astonishing variation in pitch and timbre. It may seem incredible, but many actor's voices, however pleasant in themselves, and regardless of pitch, are incompatible with certain instruments. Clarinets, for instance, get in the way of some voices and magnificently complement others. Further, clarinets may be alien to the spirit of a play, or the characterisation of a part.

Some actors have voices that are easy to write for. Actors like John Wayne impose almost no burdens on the composer. Wayne's voice happily happens to have a pitch and timbre that fits almost any instrumentation. Jimmie Stewart is another actor for whom it is a delight to write music. Paradoxically, his speaking voice is not "musical." But it has a slightly nasal quality and occasionally "cracks" in a way that is easy to complement. Jean Arthur's voice is somewhat similar.

The "crack" in Miss Arthur's and Mr. Stewart's voices is one of those strangely appealing imperfections, like a single strand of rebellious hair on an otherwise impeccable moonlit coiffure. But don't pursue this appeal of imperfect voices too far, or you'll run into Andy Devine. Jean Arthur and James Stewart also illustrate another point; utilising music to "soften" a face, or to give it qualities it does not have inherently. This is not necessary with Stewart or Arthur because both have faces that reflect great sincerity. (Frank Capra, with whom I have had the pleasure of working on a number of pictures, once pointed out to me that unless a player has the sort of face that bespeaks sincerity he is not likely ever to become a great star.) The camera is a merciless, analytical instrument. Even after every artifice of lighting and make-up, the close-up can be cruelly revealing. The composer, by providing pleasant melodic music, can direct attention from what the make-up artist could not hide. And in doing so the composer is surprisingly successful.

To comprehend fully what music does for movies, one should see a picture before the music is added, and again after it has been scored. Not only are all the dramatic effects heightened, but in many instances the faces, voices, and even the personalities of the players are altered by the music.

Dimitri Tiomkin (Copyright 1961 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Inc.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Happy birthday Mr. Faulkner

"My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey."

Making the books

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thus it is written

Luke 24:44-48 shows Jesus giving the Apostles a lesson in interpreting scripture and preaching, or if you want to get fancy, a lesson in hermeneutics and homiletics. Keep in mind that the Scriptures for the disciples was our Old Testament. Jesus claims to be the primary subject and fulfillment of what was written in "the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms." Wow! He then goes on to explain their singular mission (and our's) as proclaiming and bearing witness to "these things".

This month I've read through Isaiah from beginning to end...a first. It's a staggering, mind-boggling (insert your own superlative) book of the Bible. Reading it has made Jesus much more real to me. It's given me a bigger view of the triune God (Father, Son and Spirit are all in it's pages), a bigger view of wrath & judgment, grace & mercy, the horror of sin/idolatry, the wonder of forgiveness, the atoning work of Christ, world missions, the Kingdom (both it's "already" and "not-yet" aspects), hope & Heaven. It's all there. In technicolor. The imagery is, well, inspired.

Read Isaiah and you'll probably come across things that sound familiar. That's because the Apostles, especially John, were constantly quoting or alluding to Isaiah. Where did the New Testament writers get their warrant to do this? Were they hijacking the Jewish scriptures? No, they were simply doing what their risen Lord had taught them. "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, 'Thus it is written...'"

May our minds be opened.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A birthday of note - Trane turns 82

John Coltrane has often been called a "searching" musician. His literally wailing sound--spearing, sharp and resonant creates what might be best described as an ominous atmosphere that seems to suggest (from a purely emotional standpoint) a kind of intense probing into things far off, unknown and mysterious. Admittedly such a description is valid only in a personal way but "searching" remains applicable to Trane in view of actual fact. He is constantly seeking out new ways to extend his form of expression--practicing continually, listening to what other people are doing, adding, rejecting, assimilating--molding a voice that is already one of the most important in modern jazz.

Robert Levin (1957)

Was there ever so gentle a man who impelled people to scream?

Nat Hentoff (1997)

In the beginning...

Last weekend Mark Dever began a months long series on Genesis and John Piper began what will probably be a multi-year journey through The Gospel of John. What a neat "coincidence"! If you're fortunate enough to hear these men in person you are richly blessed, but being able to listen to this kind of Christ-centered expositional preaching online is a rich blessing too. Dever said in his intro that if he could have only two books of the Bible he would take Genesis and one of the gospels, because all the great themes of Scripture can be found there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is this the scariest election we as Christians have ever faced?

It is if you believe a communication that came to me recently with that exact wording. It goes on to urge Christians to spend one minute a day praying because "the United States of America and our citizens need prayer more than ever!!!" Nothing wrong with that. Scripture commands us to pray for our leaders, and not just in an election year. But the rhetoric about scariest election ever suggests a real lack of perspective. For instance, read Hebrews 11 and 12 to see the mindset we're to have. The original readers of Hebrews were facing something far scarier than the prospect of a Democrat (or Republican) in the White House. How about being thrown into prison -- or worse -- turned into a human candle? The church survived Nero and we'll survive this election.

Sixteen years ago the election of the "man from Hope" caused a lot of angst. Remember when that was the scariest election ever? This election year the angst is being caused by another man who talks a lot about hope. On the other side is a candidate who promises to put country first. For citizens of the heavenly kingdom, all the slogans and promises should sound a little hollow to our ears. We shouldn't give in to misplaced fear or misplaced hope. Our victory is assured. Fear not!

In my opinion recovering the Biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms is essential to a balanced Christian approach to politics. Balanced doesn't mean wishy-washy or that our heavenly citizenship won't inform the way we vote -- the two kingdoms are distinct but they're also complementary -- but it does mean that our priorities will be more in line with spiritual realities. I recently heard Sinclair Ferguson ask a revealing question. What gets you more fired up? When something in the Bible is taken out of context, or when something said by your favorite candidate is taken out of context? Michael Horton gives a brief definition of the two kingdoms in his essay Beyond Culture Wars.

In the kingdom of culture--what Augustine called "the city of man"--there are rulers, there are laws, there are customs that are regulated by human wisdom. In the kingdom of Christ--or "the city of God"--there is one ruler, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he advances his kingdom, not through marketing, not through legislation or police force, but by the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of his holy sacraments.

For more on politics and the two kingdoms check out this week's White Horse Inn.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A little leaven . . .

The individual must realize that his hours of aloneness react upon the community. In his solitude he can sunder and besmirch the fellowship, or he can strengthen and hallow it. Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship. On the other hand, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not inflict injury upon the whole fellowship. An element of sickness gets into the body; perhaps nobody knows where it comes from or in what member it has lodged, but the body is infected. This is the proper metaphor for the Christian community. We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (p. 89)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A most agreeable film

Filmmaker Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977) was one of the lions of Hollywood's Golden Age. A tall laconic Midwesterner, his career spanned six decades. Hawks defined a good film as one that had "three good scenes and no bad ones." Hawks was a man's man and his films reflected it. A pilot and sportsman, he was hunting and drinking buddies with William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. The typical Hawksian hero was a professional who did his job well, and did it without complaining, even when the odds were stacked against him. Such was Sheriff John T. Chance (played magnificently by John Wayne) in what turned out to be something of a comeback for Hawks and arguably his last successful film Rio Bravo (1959). Actually, Wayne is overshadowed somewhat by a most atypical co-star -- Dino Crocetti. You might know him better as Dean Martin. Rounding out the cast were Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, and a 19 year old newcomer Angie Dickinson.

Rio Bravo is a reactionary film. Let me explain. Howard Hawks had moved to France after the critical and commercial failure of Land of the Pharaohs -- a 1955 Warner Bros. costume epic about the building of the Great Pyramid. On his return to America he was dismayed by the growing popularity of television versus movies, and TV's penchant for sacrificing characterization in order to keep the plot moving forward. Also, according to film critic and Hawks friend Richard Schickel, he disliked the popular 1957 Western 3:10 to Yuma (remade in 2007) because of it's portrayal of amateurs doing the work of professional lawmen. He hadn't cared much for High Noon, several years earlier, for similar reasons. In many respects Rio Bravo is Hawks' answer to the TV Westerns, and a restatement of his code of ethics and ideas about manhood and professionalism. In one scene Chance pointedly turns down an offer of help from a good citizen because "you're not good enough."

Rio has it's quota of tense standoffs and flying lead, but at 140+ minutes it gives us plenty of time to simply enjoy the company of Chance, Dude, Colorado, Stumpy and Feathers. It's a generic Western, elevated to high art by the natural dialogue, acting and directorial genius of Hawks. Russian composer Dimitri Tiomkin (more on him next Friday) and crack writers Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett deserve much credit as well. Brackett, oddly enough, went on to co-write The Empire Strikes Back. A critic of the time called it an "agreeable" movie. I think I know what that critic was getting at. It's agreeable like an evening reading a book in a well-worn easy chair is agreeable.

After 50 years, Rio Bravo continues to find an admiring audience. Quentin Tarantino, poster boy of postmodern cinematic excess, counts it as one of his favorite films. Say what you want about Quentin, he's a perceptive critic and reverent admirer of great directors of the past. Here he is talking about Hawks and Rio Bravo at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

It's been too long since I quoted Mr. Chesterton...

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News (19 April 1924)

The young John Calvin

Professor of law Cordell Schulten recently finished an interesting series on the emergence of John Calvin as one of the principal leaders of the Reformation. Schulten writes:

In conducting this brief survey, we will first take a passing glance at the historical background for the use of public disputation as a forum for civic and ecclesial dialogue. We will then turn to what I will advance as the principal factors that substantially prepared and prompted Calvin to rise to the question at Lausanne: his legal education and the influence of Guillaume Farel. Finally, we will analyze the rhetoric of Calvin’s two disputation discourses to discover the characteristics of his argumentation that not only won the day at Lausanne but also well advanced, at least in the appraisal of some, the purpose of God in Calvin’s own generation.

Here are the links:

The Forming of Calvin's Analytical Mind -- The Impact of a 16th Century Law School Education

The Forming of Calvin's Theological Mind

If You Survive...You'll Leave Thinking Like a Lawyer - The Influence of Calvin’s Legal Education

Mentors Make the Man - The Influence of Guillaume Farel

The Emergence of a Legally-Trained Mind - Calvin at the Lausanne Disputation

The Emergent Calvin--Concluding Words

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Always a welcome sight

The 24-hour walk-up window at Havana restaurant (Photo by Greg Lovett, Palm Beach Post)

Thinking out loud

Shannon told me our baby might be able to hear sounds outside the womb now. This news inspired me to pull out some of my classical music CDs and play them as loud as I could get away with the last several evenings. I've heard of the "Mozart effect", but frankly I'm no great lover of Mozart so why not the "Chopin effect" or "Beethoven effect"? I did play a little chamber music from Herr Mozart last night, but mostly I've been spinning the Early Romantics...particularly Chopin and Schumann. I wonder, is there some kind of emotional/personality formation taking place that could be impacted by my choice of music? If synapses begin to fire while listening to Chopin, does that mean he'll be a frail melancholy artiste type? Could listening to Schumann turn him into a visionary madman? Playing Wagner could be very risky. I've also started reading aloud to Shannon's belly. I read chapter one of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and some passages from Isaiah. We plan to continue this throughout. BTW Isaiah (meaning "salvation of the Lord" or "the Lord saves") is one of my favored boy names. Shannon isn't so keen on it though. We'll see...

The gospel is for Christians too, Part 4

Quoting again from Tim Keller:

Without a knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform. But without a knowledge of Christ's completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us or move us to deny and repress it. Take away either the knowledge of sin or the knowledge of grace and people's lives are not changed. They will be crushed by the moral law or run from it angrily. So the gospel is not that we go from being irreligious to being religious, but that we realize that our reasons for both our religiosity and our irreligiosity were essentially the same and essentially wrong. We were seeking to be our own Saviors and thereby keep control of our own life. When we trust in Christ as our Redeemer, we turn from trusting either self-determination or self-denial for our salvation--from either moralism or hedonism.

In sum:

All problems, personal or social come from a failure to use the gospel in a radical way, to get "in line with the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14). All pathologies in the church and all its ineffectiveness comes from a failure to use the gospel in a radical way. We believe that if the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will look very unique.

I believe that too. With all my heart. I fall short, but a gospel-oriented life and gospel-oriented church is what I aim for. So how might this work out in practice? Keller has several pages of implications for individuals and churches. Here are but two.

Approach to discouragement. When a person is depressed, the moralist says, "you are breaking the rules--repent." On the other hand, the relativist says, "you just need to love and accept yourself." But (assuming there is no physiological base of the depression) the gospel leads us to examine ourselves and say: "something in my life has become more important than God, a pseudo-savior, a form of works-righteousness." The gospel leads us to repentance, but not to merely setting our will against superficialities. It is without the gospel that superficialities will be addressed instead of the heart. The moralist will work on behavior and the relativist will work on the emotions themselves.

Approach to ministry in the world. Legalism tends to place all the emphasis on the individual human soul. Legalistic religion will insist on converting others to their faith and church, but will ignore social needs of the broader community. On the other hand, "liberalism" will tend to emphasize only amelioration of social conditions and minimize the need for repentance and conversion. The gospel leads to love which in turn moves us to give our neighbor whatever is needed--conversion or a cup of cold water, evangelism and social concern.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
John 3:16-18

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit"
1 Peter 3:18

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain."
1 Corinthians 15:1-2

"Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered."
Psalm 32:1

Previous posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Norbert Kurtz has a story to tell

Picture of calm

The gospel is for Christians too, Part 3

The message of the Bible is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. Those words aren't strong enough for the dark picture it paints of a world under the reign of sin and death, and the totally unexpected message of God's redemptive grace. The gospel delivers the bad news and the good news: "I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe," but in Christ "I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope." Opposed to this message are two ways of living that we're all naturally prone to. Tim Keller uses an analogy of "two thieves" to explain what they are.

The two "thieves" of the gospel.

Since Paul uses a metaphor for being "in line" with the gospel (remember Gal. 2:14), we can consider that gospel renewal occurs when we keep from walking "off-line" either to the right or to the left. The key for thinking out the implications of the gospel is to consider the gospel a "third" way between two mistaken opposites. However, before we start we must realize that the gospel is not a half-way compromise between the two poles--it does not produce "something in the middle", but something different from both. The gospel critiques both religion and irreligion (Matt. 21:31; 22:10).

Tertullian said, "Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors." Tertullian meant that there were two basic false ways of thinking, each of which "steals" the power and the distinctiveness of the gospel from us by pulling us "off the gospel line" to one side or the other. These two errors are very powerful, because they represent the natural tendency of the human heart and mind. (The gospel is "revealed" by God (Rom. 1:17) -- the unaided human mind cannot conceive it.) These "thieves" can be called moralism or legalism on the one hand, and hedonism or relativism on the other hand. Another way to put it is: the gospel opposes both religion and irreligion. On the one hand, "moralism/religion" stresses truth without grace, for it says that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, "relativism/irreligion" stresses grace without truth, for they say that we are accepted by God (if there is a God) and we have to decide what is true for us. But "truth" without grace is not really truth, and "grace" without truth is not really grace. Jesus was "full of grace and truth". Any religion or philosophy of life that de-emphasizes or loses one or the other of these truths, falls into legalism or into license and either way, the joy and power and "release" of the gospel is stolen by one thief or the other.

The moralism-religion thief. How does moralism/religion steal joy and power?

Moralism is the view that you are acceptable (to God, the world, others, yourself) through your attainments. (Moralists do not have to be religious, but often are.) When they are, their religion is pretty conservative and filled with rules. Sometimes moralists have views of God as very holy and just. This view will lead either to a) self-hatred (because you can't live up to the standards), or b) self-inflation (because you think you have lived up to the standards). It is ironic to realize that inferiority and superiority complexes have the very same root. Whether the moralist ends up smug and superior or crushed and guilty just depends on how high the standards are and on a person's natural advantages (such as family, intelligence, looks, willpower). Moralistic people can be deeply religious--but there is no transforming joy or power.

The relativism-irreligion thief. How does relativism steal joy and power?

Relativists are usually irreligious, or else prefer what is called "liberal" religion. On the surface, they are more happy and tolerant than moralist/religious people. Though they may be highly idealistic in some areas (such as politics), they believe that everyone needs to determine what is right and wrong for them. They are not convinced that God is just and must punish sinners. Their beliefs in God will tend to see Him as loving or as an impersonal force. They may talk a great deal about God's love, but since they do not think of themselves as sinners, God's love for us costs him nothing. If God accepts us, it is because he is so welcoming, or because we are not so bad. The concept of God's love in the gospel is far more rich and deep and electrifying.

Tim Keller, The Centrality of the Gospel

Keller goes on to explain how these two ways of living, while seeming so different, are from the viewpoint of the gospel really the same. They're both based on distorted views of God and sin, and both are forms of self-justification. The gospel, however, provides a whole new way of seeing God and seeing life. I hope you'll print it out and read the whole thing for yourself. Tomorrow I'll wrap up with some examples how living "in line with the truth of the gospel" might work out in practice.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The gospel is for Christians too, Part 2

From the time of the apostles up to the present, there's always been the temptation to add to, or try to get beyond the gospel. We live in a gospel plus environment. In Paul's day, it was often the gospel plus circumcision or the gospel plus some secret knowledge/doctrine, i.e., Gnosticism. Some examples today might be the gospel plus tradition, or the gospel plus the victorious life, or the gospel plus social justice. In the church of my youth it was the gospel plus "a second work of grace" or "entire sanctification". Sadly this approach cuts the legs out from under the one thing that empowers Christians to gain victory over sin, engage in sacrificial mercy ministry, and grow in personal holiness. We never outgrow our need for the gospel. We need to hear it Sunday after Sunday. To do otherwise is to risk obscuring, ignoring and taking for granted the only hope for struggling churches, struggling marriages and struggling Christians. Here's Tim Keller with the second implication of the Galatians 2:14 principle.

Implication #2 - The sufficiency of the gospel.
Second, Paul is showing that we never "get beyond the gospel" in our Christian life to something more "advanced". The gospel is not the first "step" in a "stairway" of truths, rather, it is more like the "hub" in a "wheel" of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C's but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col. 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17). It is very common in the church to think as follows. "The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience." But Col. 1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and "hard work" that is not arising from and "in line" with the gospel will not sanctify you--it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them "to the word of his grace, which can build you up." (Acts 20:32)

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not "used" the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people's problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel--a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, "The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine....Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually." (on Gal. 2:14f) The gospel is not easily comprehended. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not "get" it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel--seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.

Tim Keller, The Centrality of the Gospel

I wonder Christian, are you experiencing sanctification or strangulation? Perhaps your joy and power is being stolen by one of two enemies of the gospel: moralism-religion and relativism-irreligion. To be continued...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The gospel is for Christians too, Part 1

Understanding and embracing the truth that the gospel is for Christians too radically changed my life. It's my driving passion. This didn't happen overnight. Much of the credit goes to a PCA church planter who was himself "gripped by the gospel" and introduced me to Tim Keller. In a nutshell "the gospel is not just the A-B-C's, but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom." (Keller) When I talk this way I'm often met with blank stares from long-time Christians. I'm convinced many (most?) of the folks in the pews don't get it, but if they did it would unleash joy and freedom like they've never known. In the next few posts I'm going to share some excerpts from Tim Keller fleshing out this truth, and perhaps add a few personal observations.

In Galatians 2:14, Paul lays down a powerful principle. He deals with Peter's racial pride and cowardice by declaring that he was not living "in line with the truth of the gospel". From this we see that the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life--spiritual, psychological, corporate, social--by thinking, hoping, and living out the "lines" or ramifications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving. The implications and applications of Galatians 2:14 are vast.

Implication #1 - The power of the gospel.
First, Paul is showing us that bringing the gospel truth to bear on every area of life is the way to be changed by the power of God. The gospel is described in the Bible in the most astounding terms. Angels long to look into it all the time (1 Peter 1:12). It does not simply bring us power, but it is the power of God itself, for Paul says I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation." (Rom. 1:16) It is also the blessing of God with benefits, which accrue to everyone who comes near. (1 Cor. 9:23) It is even called the very light of the glory of God itself--"they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ...for God...has made his light shine into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:4, 6)

It has the life of God. Paul said to the Corinthians, "I gave you birth through the gospel"! And then, after it has regenerated us, it is the instrument of all continual growth and spiritual progress after we are converted. "All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth." (Col. 1:6) Here we learn: 1) That the gospel is a living thing (cf. Romans 1:16) which is like a seed or a tree that brings more and more new life--bearing fruit and growing. 2) That the gospel is only "planted" in us so as to bear fruit as we understand its greatness and implications deeply--understood God's grace in all its truth. 3) That the gospel continues to grow in us and renew us throughout our lives--as it has been doing since the day you heard it. This text helps us avoid either an exclusively rationalistic or mystical approach to renewal. On the one hand, the gospel has a content--it is profound doctrine. It is truth, and specifically, it is the truth about God's grace. But on the other hand, this truth is a living power that continually expands its influence in our lives, just as a crop or a tree would grow and spread and dominate more and more of an area with roots and fruit.

Tim Keller, The Centrality of the Gospel

To be continued...

Friday, September 12, 2008

The water is rising...

Ike's 165 miles out but the water is already rising.

The Strand, downtown Galveston

Fire ants seek higher ground

From the Houston Chronicle

A message of hope

Not everyone is pleased though...

From The Globe and Mail

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This is exciting

It took John Piper eight years to preach through Romans. Now he's getting ready to tackle the Gospel of John.

Why a New Sermon Series on the Gospel of John?

The right stuff

They had it.

The Bible and the newspaper

...but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
They set an ambush for their own lives.

Proverbs 1

Theologian Karl Barth famously advised his students to "take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both, but interpret newspapers from your Bible." (Time)

I was reminded of that quote as I read about this WPB crime that transpired a stones throw from million-dollar condos and pricey private schools. "Wisdom cries aloud in the street," but the scoffer still refuses to listen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Purposeful silence

There is an indifferent, or even negative, attitude toward silence which sees in it a disparagement of God's revelation in the Word. This is the view which misinterprets silence as a ceremonial gesture, as a mystical desire to get beyond the Word. This is to miss the essential relationship of silence to the Word. Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God. We are silent before hearing the Word because our thoughts are already directed to the Word, as a child is quiet when he enters his father's room. We are silent after hearing the Word because the Word is still speaking and dwelling within us. We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word belongs to God. We keep silence solely for the sake of the Word, and therefore not in order to show disregard for the Word but rather to honor and receive it.

Silence is nothing else but waiting for God's Word and coming from God's Word with a blessing. But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails. Real silence, real stillness, really holding one's tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Monday, September 8, 2008

The situation in Haiti

Missionary Flights International has a report on the flooding in Haiti...just made worse by the passing of Hurricane Ike.

Now would be a great time to give.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Praying during hurricane season

Reports are starting to come in from the islands in the path of Hurricane Ike, as now it bears down on impoverished Cuba. Reports of 80 percent of homes destroyed, infrastructure wiped out, and more deadly flooding in Haiti. Just a couple of days ago we here in Palm Beach County were reckoning with the possibility of a direct hit from a category 4 hurricane. Instead, on a sunny Lord's Day I sit here counting my blessings that we were spared this one. The high pressure ridge that's causing our beautiful weather is the same ridge that kept Ike moving west through the Caribbean instead of turning northwest into Florida. It's all about the timing.

I've been reflecting on how a Christian should pray when a hurricane threatens. With almost three months left to go in hurricane season, we'd be extremely blessed if Ike was the last one. I offer three possibilities, well actually four. First, pray that it doesn't come here. Second, pray that the storm weakens and goes harmlessly out to sea. Third, thy will be done. I believe all three together are the best response. Personally, I can't in good conscience pray #1 without the other two...especially #3 ("Not my will, but thine" should be the default mode of all prayer). I'm no more deserving of being spared the wrath of a killer storm than someone in Cuba or the Gulf coast. Which leads me to a fourth response that's been impressed on me as I've been reading Isaiah the last few days -- in particular, the first terrifying chapters where Isaiah prophecies God's coming judgment on Judah and the nations. Humble repentance.

For the Lord of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;
against all the cedars of Lebanon,
lofty and lifted up;
and against all the oaks of Bashan;
against all the lofty mountains,
and against all the uplifted hills;
against every high tower,
and against every fortified wall;
against all the ships of Tarshish,
and against all the beautiful craft.
And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
And the idols shall utterly pass away.
And people shall enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.

Isaiah 2:12-19 (ESV)

The prophet was predicting a day that came to pass when God used Assyria and Babylon as his tools to judge Israel and Judah, but he was also looking ahead to The Day when all the nations will be judged. In that day only the righteous, those covered by Christ's blood, will find refuge in the strong tower that is the name of the LORD. The meaning of the prophet's name conveys the blessed hope: the LORD saves. Hurricanes, floods and earthquakes are birth pains (Rom. 8:22). They remind us of a future day when every mouth will be stopped and every knee bow. They're a reminder of how powerless we are. They're a reminder that there's still time.

Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

Isaiah 1:27-28 (ESV)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Who mourns for the David Allen King's of the world?

Some times its the little items in the newspaper that get to me. Like this one from today's Palm Beach County metro report.

ROYAL PALM BEACH - A man walking on a major roadway was struck and killed by a driver Friday morning, according to the sheriff's office. David Allen King, 52, who had no listed address, was walking west in the middle of the northernmost lane of traffic on Okeechobee Boulevard near U.S. 441 at 6:15 a.m., according to a sheriff's report. Lawrence Haupt, 74, of Fort Lauderdale was driving west in the same lane and was unable to see King, who was wearing dark clothing, because it was raining, according to the report. Haupt struck King, who was taken to St. Mary's Medical Center where he later died.

I don't recognize the name, but it's possible I'd recognize the face. No picture was included. From my experience with the David King's of Palm Beach County -- and from the bare facts given -- I can construct a probable profile. Homeless, alcoholic, no immediate family in the area. If he was a few years older I'd guess he was a Vietnam veteran. What a waste.

UPDATED 9/8: Please read the messages left by Mr. King's brother and sister in St. Louis. They're trying to bring him home and would like to hear from anyone that knew him.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Singing school

Do yourself a favor. Turn up the volume, and watch this. Playing for one week only:

Awake, My Soul: The Story Of The Sacred Harp

Top ten Westerns

I've had Westerns on the mind lately, so despite the film noir masthead (can anyone name the movie?), the next few Fridays will be devoted to this quintessentially American genre. It's been said that jazz and the Western are the only art forms completely invented in America. I'm sure that's not true, but the point's well taken. Are there any two 20th-century faces more identified with American culture than Louis Armstrong and John Wayne? At one time they would have been recognized in every corner of the globe. The Western has inspired some of the best filmic storytellers of yesterday (Hawks, Ford, etc.) and today (Eastwood). The stories they've told are nothing less than The American Story, in reality and myth, peopled by cowboys and Indians, lawmen and outlaws, and ambiguous characters like Ethan Edwards in John Ford's American Odyssey -- The Searchers. To get the ball rolling here are my ten favorite Westerns.

1 The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

2 Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992)

3 Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)

4 Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)

5 High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952)

6 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)

7 The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

8 The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)

9 Rio Grande (John Ford, 1950)

10 Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) I realize this is a bit of a cheat, but Scorsese's film feels like a Western to me. Paul Schrader's script appropriates the tropes of the genre and transposes them to an urban setting. Instead of a horse, the hero (Travis) drives a NYC Checker cab. Travis Bickle is "God's lonely man." For all the talk of sidekicks and male bonding, the classic Western hero is often a solitary man...marginalized by the society he helped create. Perhaps Gary Cooper played this archetype best in High Noon. Additionally, Schrader's script features two other elements often found in a Western -- old-fashioned attitudes about women*...and gunplay.

* Hurricane permitting I'll expand on this point next Friday.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

She's one cool cat

Jazz pianist and host of "Piano Jazz" on National Public Radio, 90 year old Marian McPartland performs with students at the University of South Carolina, during a master class in the School of Music

335 Greek words

Mark Dever just finished a 3-week series on Philemon. If you've listened to Dever, you know his sermons are densely packed with historical context, contemporary application and gospel truth. You can listen at the links below or on iTunes.

Grace and Prayer - Philemon 1-7

Repentance - Philemon 8-16

A Friend - Philemon 17-25

Brooks and Mohler on Sarah Palin

I've tried not to let myself be drawn in to the vitriolic back and forth since last week's Democratic convention and McCain's intriguing pick for VP. My "problem" is that I find much to admire in all three men and one woman running for the highest elected offices in the land. Guess I should pick my side and start hurling brickbats at the other. I have a good idea how I'll end up voting in November, but it won't be with relish or a sense of triumphalism. I have friends and family passionately committed to both candidates, so no matter who wins or loses, people I care about will be deeply disappointed. I have been doing a fair amount of reading on Election 2008 while mostly avoiding the endless TV coverage. Here are a couple of highlights.

I linked to David Brooks column on Biden, so in fairness here's his take on the Palin pick. I like Brooks because he's one of the few mainstream columnists that consistently challenges the conventional wisdom on both sides of the spectrum. (HT: Looking Closer)

And here's a thoughtful piece on the Palin family from Al Mohler's blog. (HT: Between Two Worlds)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Looking for a study Bible?

Today I saw that Ligonier is offering the hardcover ESV Reformation Study Bible for the low price of $27. Order it here. This is the Bible I read more than any other and I recommend it highly. I bought it even though I wasn't sold on a hardcover Bible, but I've found it easy to read and handle. The extra weight and rigidity help it lay flat whether you have it open to Genesis or Revelation. The RSB stands in the lineage of the 1560 Geneva Bible -- the first English Bible with verse divisions and study notes -- and the Bible brought to the New World by the Puritans. That legacy combined with the ESV translation is a great combination.