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The Christian Mindset: Proverbs 3 Study

November 24, 2020 Leave a comment

When Christians think of the term ‘worldview’ or ‘mindset,’ it’s common to associate this with the objective truths of the gospel, of a set of Christian truths and their application — possibly encompassing apologetics, a Christian “worldview” conference, or a church class on the errors of CRT or other false teachings infiltrating the evangelical church.  But there is another way to think of this, not in terms of the objective, external doctrines of Scripture, but the inner life, the “orthopraxy” that is manifested outwardly from the inner heart attitude, the fruit of biblical wisdom. 

The general, national evangelical scene of recent years, and the trials that the country and world have faced, have revealed a disconnect, with widespread shallow thinking and lack of discernment among many in professing Christendom. In response to this, the current local church recently taught a 12-part Wednesday night series on “The Christian Mindset.”: a study in Proverbs 3:1-12 and its five key teachings, as a helpful study to improve one’s biblical focus and discernment.

These 12 verses in Proverbs 3 start with an introduction (verses 1-2), the setting of Solomon teaching his son, imploring his son to remember his father’s teaching, for the benefit of keeping his commandments:  long life and peace.  Then, verses 3 through 12 come in five sets, or stanzas, key ideas, such that this scripture passage can be seen as a meta-narrative on the Christian life.

  • REMEMBER God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (verses 3-4)
  • Trust in the LORD, acknowledge God (verses 5-6)
  • Humility:  Fear the LORD, turn from evil, do not be wise in your own eyes (verses 7-8)
  • Honor the LORD with your wealth (verses 9-10)
  • “Kiss the rod” and submit to the LORD’s chastening and pruning (verses 11-12)

Several lessons emphasized the foundation, the significance and importance of remembering God’s great steadfast love (Hesed) and Faithfulness (Emet) to us.  These terms appear in scripture, and frequently together, throughout the Old Testament.  Hesed, which translates to seven different English words including the words mercy and steadfast love, occurs about 250 times total and over 100 times in the Psalms.  God’s love is also compared to a rock — rock-like stability and protection to His people — such as in Deuteronomy 32:4.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Love, Ahove, is the term that describes sentimental love, from one person to another, also referring to the human love of things, such as Esau’s food that Isaac loved.  Yet steadfast love is a different word with a much deeper and stronger meaning.  

Other Old Testament texts expand the picture of what is taught in Proverbs 3:3-4, such as the importance of remembering what God has done, as shown in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  The Israelites were to rehearse before the priest their history and what God had done for them. and to praise God for His goodness and the bounty that God has given—the land flowing with milk and honey. 

The next two verses (5-6) about trusting in the LORD:  additional verses include Isaiah 12:2, Psalm 112:7, and Psalm 125; Those who trust in the Lord are like mount Zion, which cannot be moved.  The study here also referenced John Piper’s “Future Grace” teaching:  gratitude works for past events, but “malfunctions” as a motivator for the future.  Thus, our primary motivation for living Christian life, is confidence in future grace.  Cross-reference also James 4:13-16, “if the Lord wills,” along with “lean not on your own understanding.”

Verses 7 and 8 , on humility: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking about yourself less. There is a proper fear of the LORD, and even a proper dread (see Isaiah 8:13), as we are to fear God, the one who has power to throw both body and soul into hell.

Then comes the part about money and stewardship, verses 9-10:  honor the LORD with your money.  It’s not a particular quantity or percentage, but the heart attitude and sacrificial giving.  Again, Proverbs 3 is supplemented with many other scripture texts:  1 Timothy 6 about the love of money, Jesus’ words that we cannot serve two masters.  It’s about honoring the LORD in this way, and here we can also reference 1 Samuel 2:30, the LORD’s words to Eli the priest:   for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

The fifth, last stanza is the topic of discipline, also referred to as discipline, chastening, or pruning, a topic I recently explored in this recent post, a look at a Charles Spurgeon devotional and Hebrews 12:7-8.  This truth is likewise addressed in many places, including here in the Proverbs 3 “summary statement.”

The full “hymn” here in Proverbs 3 is a great summary of these five key emphases that we should all aim at in our daily Christian walk, as the Christian mindset.

Transgenderism, and Christian Resources

December 30, 2019 3 comments

Fred Butler at the Hip and Thigh blog recently shared a link to a set of recent messages from Don Green, done at his church on the topic of Transgenderism.  The full set of audio files as well as transcripts are available at this link.  It’s an informative set of seven lectures on this topic, dealing with worldview issues, scripture, and the medical news.

As several others have noted, the ‘next stage’ of cultural decline, transgenderism, has become prominent in the national news in just the last few years, accelerating quickly to the point where it’s even impacting women’s sports.  Another recent resource I’ve appreciated is the Mortification of Spin’s recent podcast on this issue.

Though transgenderism has come to the national level recently, as many probably realize it has been building up for many years.  Don Green’s first lecture notes the overall ‘macro level’ historic trends, from the enlightenment era through modernism and post-modernism.  At another point he mentions the people with signs about ‘break the binary’.  Reference also this previous post, from Dr. Peter Jones’ conference lectures (at the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology) on binary thinking versus paganism (and paganism’s connections to homosexuality and transgenderism).

I recall the late S. Lewis Johnson, in the early 1980s, commenting on what was then showing up in society, the early days of homosexuality being openly discussed.  He noted that many people (at that time) were saying that judgment must soon be coming because of this; no, he said, the fact that we’re seeing this—this itself IS the judgment.  Romans 1 describes the progression from bad to worse, and God’s removal of the restraints when people continue down this path.  Almost 40 years later, we are seeing the further downward spiral of the culture.

Related specifically to transgenderism, in the mid-1980s I saw the college Sociology textbooks that praised the then apparently successful “John/Joan” case of gender reassignment, a story that turned out quite differently from what was then being promoted; this link is one of several articles regarding the aftermath of that experiment, and the sad ending to that young man’s life.

The 2011 news story about the couple raising “Baby Storm” as a gender-neutral child (reference this article and this one) mentioned the couple’s inspiration for their parenting method– a book published in 1978 with that very theme of a child named “X” and how the child was raised without anyone knowing its gender (with a very positive ending to the story).  This brought back my elementary-school memories; a short-story version of what would later become that 1978 published book, was read to my 5th grade public school class in the mid-1970s.

I also came across a young cross-dresser, and one adult “transgendered woman” (born a man) in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Denver area.  So, as noted, the transgender issue has been there for many decades now, gradually building, but now suddenly gaining great prominence in the national news.  It is sad to see the trend continue to the point it has, but it is good to see more resources becoming available, to address the issue from the Christian worldview.

What Scripture Has to Say About the Nations

October 1, 2019 2 comments

Old Testament / New Testament Continuity is a topic I’m always interested in, especially in response to the confusion and errors so common in our day, such as the extreme discontinuity of classic dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology, and the error in the anti-confessional, Biblicist, minimalist doctrine view.  Associated with these errors is a simplistic and perhaps lazy attitude toward God’s word, that neglects the majority of the Bible and would generalize scripture down to a few basic concepts, sometimes “justified” with the use of allegorical/spiritualizing that ignores the actual content of scripture in favor of a simple, “broad brush” understanding that God is sovereign and He takes care of everything– a low view of scripture that does not really see the necessity of all of God’s word for all of life, where scripture is limited and boxed in, not something that truly transforms every aspect of our lives (a strong Christian worldview).

A recent example I’ve come across concerns the issue of nations:  the idea that Israel as a nation is meaningless and “not the point” of anything in God’s Word, even within the Old Testament context.  Instead, Israel was just a symbol of the reality of God and individuals and salvation for all of us generally; further, that the Bible is irrelevant concerning nations (Israel or any other), and so we shouldn’t get sidetracked into any Bible discussions about the nations, Israel or other.

This minimalist approach again shows a low view of scripture–and ignorance of what the Bible really does have to say about nations.  Even from the extreme discontinuity perspective that would “unhitch” from all of the Old Testament (see this article about Andy Stanley), the New Testament (even excluding the gospels!) has several things to say here, as for example:

  • Acts 17:26, in Paul’s speech at Athens: God’s purpose for mankind in the nations – and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation
  • Romans 3:1-2, where Paul describes the benefits to Israel as a nation: Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
  • All of Romans 9, 10, and 11, concerning Israel as a nation, and the Gentiles
  • Revelation 21:12-14, which alludes to and expands on Ezekiel 47, including everything from Ezekiel 47:

It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

  • Followed by the explicit reference to nations later in the same chapter, Revelation 21:24-26

24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it

These are just examples of what is explicit in the New Testament, and the point has been well made, and quite often, against the Marcionitish idea that would just ditch the Old Testament.  For the first century believers during Jesus’ day, and later during the early church, the Old Testament was their Bible; the later NT revelation does not replace the majority of the Bible.  The NT texts cited above, from Romans and Revelation, demonstrate the continuity, as these texts are not in isolation, totally new words, but reference what had already been said in the Old Testament.

Further, if the Bible is really just about God and individuals, and how we can be saved, then sermon preaching would be extremely limited.  Unfortunately there have been such pastors and preaching, which only deals with the individual’s salvation and God’s sovereignty – but the preaching range is indeed very limited, and contrary to the gospel imperative, that preachers and teachers are to expound the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).  Then too, lest anyone think that the above is the whole counsel of God, it is also very interesting that the apostle Paul spent only about three weeks in Thessalonica (reference Acts 17) and yet later was discussing the details of eschatology including the future man of lawlessness/sin and Christ’s return with the Thessalonian believers (1 and 2 Thessalonians).

If the point of the Bible is only about individual salvation, nothing about nations, then why all the content (Old, and again in the New Testament) about God’s judgment of nations?  God’s judgment of nations is a reality, a somber one that the people in those nations should be made aware of, from preaching the whole counsel of God.  Here I also recall some observations from Charles Spurgeon, from sermon #257  (The Scales of Judgment):

THERE IS A WEIGHING TIME for kings and emperors, and all the monarchs of earth, albeit some of them have exalted themselves to a position in which they appear to be irresponsible to man. Though they escape the scales on earth, they must surely be tried at the bar of God. For nations there is a weighing time. National sins demand national punishments. The whole history of God’s dealings with mankind proves that though a nation may go on in wickedness it may multiply its oppressions; it may abound in bloodshed, tyranny, and war, but an hour of retribution draweth nigh. When it shall have filled up its measure of iniquity, then shall the angel of vengeance execute its doom. There cannot be an eternal damnation for nations as nations; the destruction of men at last will be that of individuals, and at the bar of God each man must be tried for himself. The punishment, therefore, of nations, is national. The guilt they incur must receive its awful recompense in this present time state.

So yes, the nations – Israel specifically, as well as the many other nations – are important to God.  Though “the nations are as a drop in a bucket” to God (Isaiah 40:15), still He has much to say about them.  As noted in many online sermons I’ve listened to, and books I’ve read, it may seem strange to us that God would care about material, “unspiritual” things such as nations, and yet it is so.  Our God reveals Himself to us in scripture, the God who is involved in everything: the big things, the small things, and (even) the nations.

Worldview Study: Understanding the Times (review)

December 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Nearing the end of the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, I recently read a lengthy worldview book (from a frequent Kindle deal), Jeff Noebels’ “Understanding the Times:  A Survey of Competing Worldviews.”

The writing style is for laypeople, straightforward, though at over 500 pages it requires commitment to stick with it.  The first chapters seem to cover more general material common to any discussion about apologetics and other worldviews, as the book gets into describing several of the major worldviews:  Secularism, Marxism, post-modernism, Islam, New Spiritualism – and Christianity.  Of the non-Christian views, I have been most familiar with Secularism and New Spiritualism (which is a catch-all label for Hinduism, “New Age” and transcendental meditation), plus acquaintance with post-modernism and Islam.  Understanding the Times does not attempt an exhaustive look at all the different religious ideas or various cults, but interacts with the major ideas that Christians are likely to come across; modern-day Judaism is a smaller worldview; Buddhism and Hinduism have their differences, and have their differences from westernized “New Age,” but that would be the topic for other books – such as Marvin Olasky’s The Religions Next Door.  Marxism seems an odd choice to include, as an idea that enjoyed more popularity up through the mid-20th century, but the authors make the case for including this worldview which, unfortunately, has contributed in far greater measure to overall human misery and death in the last century, than other ideologies.

Where this book gets interesting is the chapters that consider several basic disciplines that are at the foundation of life in this world, and each of the worldview’s viewpoint (if any) at each of these points: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.  I particularly liked the chapters on ethics, politics, economics, and history, as well as the overall use of illustrations and quotes from popular literature (such as Les Miserables and Lord of the Rings, among others) as examples to help compare and contrast different worldviews on specific issues.

As an introduction to ethics, Understanding the Times notes the types of ethical theories:

  • Theories about ends (teleology): judging actions as right or wrong, based on the end goals desired. What is the good life?  How might the good life be secured for as many people as possible?  This is the ever-pragmatic “the ends justifies the means” approach.  This was the view of, for example, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Nietzsche, and John Dewey.
  • Theories about duty (deontology): What ought we to do? Whether we like it or not, we “ought” to do what is right merely because right is right.  Philosophers of this view include Immanuel Kant and Rene Descartes.

Christianity does not fit neatly into either of these categories, but resolves the limitations of each view.  Addressing the problem of secularism (atheism) and morality, this book observes:

Christians can applaud that biblical morality is being upheld, and it is to (their) credit that they know a good idea when they see one.  What Secularists fail to address, however, is why these values are worth defending as moral declarations.  Cornelius Van Til’s assessment is apt:  they are sitting in God’s lap in order to slap him in the face.  In other words, secularists draw on truths explained only by God’s existence and form them into arguments to deny His existence altogether.

A (brief) summary of five Christian views regarding political involvement:

  1. Christians shouldn’t be involved. – religion and the intellect occupy different domains. An example here is Henry Ward Beecher,
  2. Society isn’t worth redeeming – late 1800s, early 1900s. The view of D.L. Moody.
  3. Political structures can’t change the human heart
  4. Christianity is only about the institution of the church and is not relevant to civil government: “Two-kingdoms theology.”  Michael Horton is noted as an example of this view.
  5. Christians should be involved, and they should try to take over

Overall this is another interesting book on the basics of worldview study, with a good survey overview of many of the common non-Christian views–and what the Christian worldview proclaims, by contrast.  It has often been a Kindle sale deal, and is worth reading.

Reviewing Hugh Ross: A New Blog Series from Fred Butler at ‘Hip and Thigh’

November 1, 2016 1 comment

While I’m still working on other blog posts (with too little time generally nowadays), here is the start of an interesting series from Fred Butler:  His review and response to Hugh Ross’s book “Navigating Genesis,” beginning with this post.

This is an issue I also feel very strongly about, after so many years.  As one who came to Christianity from a secular atheist, evolution old-earth modernist background – there simply is no excuse for Hugh Ross’s basic reasoning that the Genesis age question is somehow any type of stumbling block to Christians, and that to attract evolution-minded unbelievers to the truth of Christianity means that they need this apologetic, his “reasons to believe” with an old-earth version of Christianity.

Indeed it all really does come down to presuppositions, and the “two books” idea (or the 67th book), the book of nature, is laughable.  The same physical evidence can be viewed in different ways, based on one’s presuppositions: uniformitarianism, or the global flood (catastrophism).  And once this issue of presuppositions is rightly understood, the same physical evidence gives even greater proof of a recent creation, rather than the long, slow gradual uniformitarian processes of evolution/old-earth.

Listed here, some of my past blog posts on the doctrine of creation:

 

 

 

 

Christian Worldview: J.R. R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings

October 14, 2016 3 comments

Both the Deuteronomy and the 1689 Confession study series are at a halt, pending any new lessons yet to be posted online,  and so I am taking a break and revisiting an old love, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  (I consider myself a book purist, and do not particularly care for Peter Jackson’s movie variations.) I first read Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis, in my early Christian years about 25 years ago.  Tolkien’s LOTR endures through the years, good and fresh for many re-readings; it ranks as number four in the top ten of all-time most read books.  Online articles that mention Tolkien and Lord of the Rings abound to this day, with several such articles in the past few months (note this recent post from Justin Taylor, remembering what happened 85 years ago), and more over just the last few years.  The Gospel Coalition blog alone features several articles, including the aspect of “reading for worldview,” and this good observation:

Those who dismiss The Lord of the Rings as simply Harry Potter for grown-ups, or as a source of bumper sticker material for aging hippies to put on their Volvos (“Not all those who wander are lost”) have really missed the central prophetic vision of the books—a prophetic stance taken against modernity . . . or perhaps what we might want to call mordornity. This is the prophetic element that makes Tolkien’s vision a fundamentally Christian one. There are places where I prefer Lewis’s Protestant take to Tolkien’s Catholicism, obviously, but on this issue Tolkien reflects the ethical perspective of the entire Christian tradition. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Also, from the introductory “Reading for Worldviews” article:

Oddly, many modern readers are not only drawn to books that reflect their own personal worldview, but also to those that present them with a radically different worldview. On the one hand, they want to see the values they hold dear acted out on a fictional stage, partly so that they may study, and be challenged by, the decisions made by the hero. On the other hand, they want to explore realities that stand outside their normal experience and thus carry with them a sense of danger that is strangely appealing.

Thus, Christian readers are drawn to The Lord of the Rings because they encounter within its pages a world that affirms Judeo-Christian concepts of good and evil, virtue and vice. And yet, at the same time, Tolkien’s epic fantasy has attracted tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of atheist and agnostic readers intrigued by a world that privileges many of the things they reject: absolute standards of right and wrong; hierarchy and kingship; the reality of a supernatural realm that impinges upon the natural; the existence of a higher purpose that chooses us rather than us choosing it.

Yet at least some Christians continue to dismiss LOTR and lump it into the same category of “problematic/evil reading” along with Harry Potter and all fairy tale stories.  The following article Harry Potter vs Gandalf – a rather lengthy essay that may take more than one reading session  — (the author is knowledgeable regarding the literature of Tolkien, Lewis, and J.K. Rowling) takes a detailed look at how “magic” is used in different literature, noting seven literary “hedges” that Tolkien and Lewis employed to “fence off” magic from the reader in this world, hedges which are not present in the Harry Potter novels:

  1. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to wholly imaginary realms, with place-names like Middle-earth and Narnia — worlds that cannot be located either in time or in space with reference to our own world, and which stand outside Judeo-Christian salvation history and divine revelation. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a fictionalized version of our own world that is recognizable in time and space, in a country called England (which is at least nominally a Christian nation), in a timeframe of our own era.
  2. Reinforcing the above point, in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s fictional worlds where magic is practiced, the existence of magic is an openly known reality of which the inhabitants of those worlds are as aware as we are of rocket science — even if most of them might have as little chance of actually encountering magic as most of us would of riding in the space shuttle. By contrast, Harry Potter lives in a world in which magic is a secret, hidden reality acknowledged openly only among a magical elite, a world in which (as in our world) most people apparently believe there is no such thing as magic.
  3. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are numbered among the supporting cast, not the protagonists with whom the reader is primarily to identify. By contrast, Harry Potter, a student of wizardry, is the title character and hero of his novels.
  4. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis include cautionary threads in which exposure to magical forces proves to be a corrupting influence on their protagonists: Frodo is almost consumed by the great Ring; Lucy and Digory succumb to temptation and use magic in ways they shouldn’t. By contrast, the practice of magic is Harry Potter’s salvation from his horrible relatives and from virtually every adversity he must overcome.
  5. Tolkien and Lewis confine the pursuit of magic as a safe and lawful occupation to characters who are not in fact human beings (for although Gandalf and Coriakin are human in appearance, we are in fact told that they are, respectively, a semi-incarnate angelic being and an earthbound star.) In Harry Potter’s world, by contrast, while some human beings (called “Muggles”) lack the capacity for magic, others (including Harry’s true parents and of course Harry himself) do not.
  6. Reinforcing the above point, Tolkien and Lewis emphasize the pursuit of magic as the safe and lawful occupation of characters who, in appearance, stature, behavior, and role, embody a certain wizard archetype — white-haired old men with beards and robes and staffs, mysterious, remote, unapproachable, who serve to guide and mentor the heroes. Harry Potter, by contrast, is a wizard-in-training who is in many crucial respects the peer of many of his avid young readers, a boy with the same problems and interests that they have.
  7. Finally, Tolkien and Lewis devote no narrative space to the process by which their magical specialists acquire their magical prowess. Although study may be assumed as part of the back story, the wizard appears as a finished product with powers in place, and the reader is not in the least encouraged to think about or dwell on the process of acquiring prowess in magic. In the Harry Potter books, by contrast, Harry’s acquisition of mastery over magical forces at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft is a central organizing principle in the story-arc of the series as a whole.

A few more links to some interesting posts about the Lord of the Rings, from Christian blogs:

A final thought, excerpted from the above-linked “Tolkien on Fairy Stories”

Perhaps the most persistent (and nastiest!) critique leveled against Tolkien is that his work is “escapist,” that it draws its readers away from the rigors of the “real world.” Tolkien gives the lie to this critique by reminding his readers of something so obvious it is often overlooked: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

Tolkien is not thinking here of a killer or rapist confined to a jail cell for the protection of society, but of a political or military prisoner who has been captured by the enemy. In the latter case, the prisoner who escapes is neither naïve nor juvenile. Indeed, he is both practical and realistic. Far from donning rose-colored classes or acting like a cock-eyed optimist, he bravely and maturely refuses to define himself by the artificial boundaries around him and yearns for the free open air that he knows exists outside his prison walls.

Bilbo, Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn, and Faramir are all escapists, for they risk their lives to free the world of Middle-earth from the control of forces (Smaug, Sauron, Saruman, Shelob) that would steal life, kill joy, and destroy the earth. They do not accept the creeping darkness that relativizes, existentializes, and uglifies. Rather, in the face of this onslaught, they uphold a counter-vision of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.

Concluding Thoughts on Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression”

September 30, 2016 1 comment

A follow-up to this previous post, now that I have completed reading this classic work, with some observations.  As Dan Phillips noted, Charles Spurgeon from the previous century was also helpful and said many of the same things; MLJ’s contribution is the full work as a series on the issue, material compiled together in one place, ideas that with Spurgeon are found in various places while reading his sermons.

Lloyd Jones’ content is arranged in chronological progression of the believer’s walk and maturity, beginning with the basics of having correct doctrine, and Lloyd Jones here gives “the benefit of the doubt” by positively regarding such individuals as really being saved, just confused.  Some of the earlier chapters relate to stages from my early Christian years, things that I “figured out” over time, in the very way here described: study the Bible, work out for yourself what you believe, understand it.

The later chapters in particular are helpful for the mature believer, in dealing with trials, chastening/discipline, and general perseverance and keeping on as life continues.  Along the way are many excellent points about the importance of rational, active thinking as contrasted with mere sentiment and a passive approach to faith and the Christian life.  He notes the idea we tend to have, that faith somehow acts automatically, like setting a thermostat and faith will just automatically work when needed:

Faith, however, is not something that acts magically or automatically.  If it did, these men would never have been in trouble, faith would have come into operation and they would have been calm and quiet and all would have been well.  But faith is not like that and those are utter fallacies with respect to it.

He similarly addressed the idea of the “sentimental approach” to God’s word:

There is nothing that I so dislike and abominate as a sentimental way of reading the Scriptures. There are many people who read the Scriptures in a purely sentimental manner. They are in trouble and they do not know what to do. They say, ‘I will read a Psalm. It is so soothing—“the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”.’ They make of it a kind of incantation and take the Psalms as another person takes a drug. That is not the way to read the Scriptures. ‘The word of exhortation reasons with you’, argues with you. And we must follow the logic of it, and bring intelligence to the Scriptures. We can never bring too much intelligence to our reading of them, they are not meant merely to give general comfort and soothing—follow the argument; let them reason it out with you.

How we deal with life experiences always involves our reasoning out what we believe, and “talking/preaching to ourselves.”  As Lloyd Jones notes, this is what we have to work out individually – not Christ working through the “I” (self) as a passive vehicle:  The Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all things through Christ’.

I find Lloyd-Jones’ work also keeps the right perspective on the believing individual, in contrast with the present-day Reformed emphasis on the corporate worship service as the most important thing.  Certainly this idea (corporate emphasis) has come out as a reaction to our extremely individualistic evangelical society, the need to point out the importance of the Christian worship as a group, a church body.  But when one’s personal circumstances force one to have local fellowship in a less-than-ideal church, one that does not provide the depth in theological teaching and its application to the Christian life, the individual does need additional help which cannot be provided through the local assembly.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ work on this topic is a great help in terms of actual life and how to deal with the many things that come against us, externally and internally, and how to work out our ‘own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12), the ongoing work of progressive sanctification.

A few more excerpts of special note, regarding Christian contentment:

Can I be abased without feeling a sense of grudge, or without being worried, or without being anxious? .. can I be abased in my profession or office or work, can I somehow or another be put down and still remain in spirit exactly as I was before! What a difficult thing this is, to take a second place, to be hurt, to be insulted, to see others suffering in the same way, to suffer physical need or pain—to know how to be abased, how to be hungry, how to suffer in some respect. One of the greatest tasks in life is to discover how to suffer any or all of those things without feeling a sense of grudge, without complaint or annoyance or bitterness of spirit, to discover how not to be worried or anxious. Paul tells us that he has learned how to do that. He had experienced every kind of trial and tribulation and yet he is unaffected by them.” – commentary on Philippians 4:10-14

and regarding our uncertain world and ‘International Politics.’  Here, MLJ’s reference point was the generation that experienced two world wars; ours is an age of even greater need, one in which the world situation is far less stable than then, a time when even the recent world power (the U.S.) has wicked leaders and is quickly experiencing the later stages of national destruction:

The business of Christian preaching is to put this to the people: In this uncertain world, where we have already experienced two world wars within a quarter of a century, and where we may have to face yet another and things that are even worse, here is the question—How are you going to face it all, how can you meet it all? For me to give my views on international politics will not help anybody; but thank God there is something I can do. I can tell you of something, I can tell you of a way which, if you but practice and follow it, will enable you, with the Apostle Paul to say: ‘I am strong, I am able for anything that may happen to me, whether it be peace or war, whether it be freedom or slavery, whether it be the kind of life we have known for so long or whether it be entirely different, I am ready for it.’  It does not mean, I must repeat, a passive, negative acquiescence in that which is wrong.  Not at all – but it does mean that whatever may come, you are ready for it.

 

Christian Worldview Conference: Worldview of Human Identity (David Murray)

September 20, 2016 1 comment

From my recent podcast feed, an interesting audio series:  the annual Puritan Conference held at the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, a series of 11 lectures on the theme of the Christian Worldview, with each message titled “A Christian Worldview of (topic)”.  The speakers include faculty staff, including one on the Worldview of the Old Testament from author Michael Barrett (see previous post about him here).  So far I’ve listened to the first five, which include some basic overview including the doctrine of the Trinity and its significance in relationships.  I especially like the fourth lecture, from David Murray of the Head, Heart, and Hand Blog, on the Christian Worldview of Human Identity.  His Scottish accent takes some getting used to, but the message is a good one, on a theme that comes up often at his blog, the issue of counseling and depression.  The following is a summary of it.

Murray suggests making a list of words that describe yourself.  As for example, words such as Christian, sinner, wife, computer programmer, introvert, learner, blogger, insecure, anxious, and so forth.  Then come eight steps to recover and rebuild our true Christian identity.

  1. Reset Priorities

First, my spiritual condition: am I a Christian or not?  Next, my spiritual character: what graces have I received from the Lord.  The third priority is our relationships with others; work and other social relationships in our daily lives comes here, after the higher priorities.

  1. Expand what is incomplete: Expand on number 1 above– what scriptures says about us: justified, forgiven, sanctified, and so forth.  Ephesians 1 is especially good here.
  2. Fill in the gaps – admit our weaknesses, such as being pessimistic, depressed, discouraged. Here reference 1 Cor. 15:9-10, Paul’s description of himself pre- and post- conversion.  Filling in the gaps also means acknowledging our strengths – as gifts from God.
  3. Prosecute falsehoods—“hunt down” and prosecute, and put an end to the lies, things we tell ourselves that aren’t true.  Murray’s example of this was his years of recent illness; now he is better, but was still depressed about it and thinking of himself as really old and ill.
  4. Add balance: I am a sinner.  Also to the other side, that we are now dead to sin. Here reference 2 Cor. 6:9-10.
  5. Re-frame failure, with a gold frame. God sovereignly overrules our failures and brings good about.
  6. Accept change. Our identity is not static. We change; our circumstances, and God’s providence for our lives, change—God-ordained changes. Stop being envious of others.
  7. Anticipate the future.  Instead of thinking about the supposed “glory days” of the past, remember that for us Christians, our best days are ahead.  Reference 1 John 3:1-2.

Confession of Sin, Illustrated from Court Cases

May 17, 2016 3 comments

Understanding the Christian worldview through looking at contemporary events is often helpful, providing good application of Bible truth to the “real world”– as observed from time to time in Christian blog topics.  While reading a recent Spurgeon sermon, number 641 (from July 1865), I was reminded of a Pyromaniacs blog post on this same topic a few years ago:  relating “real world” news events to Christian doctrine, through a look at high profile news cases of criminals and their confessions.  The Pyromaniacs post considered a few issues in reference to the rape/murder confession of John Gardner III in California a few years ago.  Spurgeon in 1865 included two news events of criminal cases in a sermon that contrasted the two very different confessions as “types” of two types of people in their attitude of repentance and confession before God.

The first example noted by Spurgeon is the type we usually see (how human nature is the same in every age!), the criminal that — in spite of the overwhelming evidence and strong case for the charges (and popular opinion, from following the news events, also generally affirms that the person did this crime) — puts forth the plea of “not guilty” and shows no repentance or remorse for his or her actions.  Spurgeon well noted this type of confession in reference to unbelievers, the damned who refuse to repent and refuse to confess their sins before God (though as scripture tells us, one day every knee will bow and confess that Christ is Lord, and this includes the ungodly).

The second part of the sermon, about a young woman named Constance Kent, featured the relatively rare event of someone who freely confesses to a crime, with no reservations, exceptions or excuses for the deed.  As Spurgeon related the story then still in progress, we can note one key difference in our criminal justice system as compared to Spurgeon’s day.  At that time even criminals who confessed to a crime did not automatically get a change in sentence, a reprieve from the death penalty of hanging in the gallows — a stark contrast from the current day confession of John Gardner, where entering a guilty plea meant saving his life, accepting a life-term prison sentence instead of death row.  Yet Constance’s case, as Spurgeon describes, does (and did then) bring forth sympathy from others for her honesty and willingness to suffer the consequences of her action.  The full story of the crime is now available in our online encyclopedias, such as this article about Constance Kent:  she was not executed after all, but served twenty years in prison, later moved to Australia, and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1944.

Spurgeon’s focus was a point-by-point type correspondence between aspects of Constance’s confession and the repentant sinner before God.  A sampling of Spurgeon’s teaching here:

though the question is repeated and time is given her to retract, her reply is still the one self-condemning word, “GUILTY!” Even so before the Lord, whenever we come to confess, we must approach Him with this cry, “Guilty. Guilty!  Lord, I cannot say anything else. If hell is my eternal portion for it, I dare say no other. The stones in the streets would cry out against me if I denied my guilt.  . . .

Constance Kent was anxious to free all others from the blame of her sin.  … This is well spoken. I know nothing of this young woman’s heart, but using her as an illustration rather than an example, we are safe in saying that it is a very blessed sign of true repentance when the sinner cries out with David, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” There will be, in a gracious penitent, no attempt to lay the blame upon the tempter, or upon providence; no dwelling upon circumstances, the suddenness of the temptation, or the hastiness of one’s temper.  . . .

The unhappy young woman now condemned to die needed no witness to come forward to prove her guilt and assure her conviction. No one saw the deed; it was done so secretly that the most expert detectives were not able to find a satisfactory clue to the mystery. … It will never suffice for us merely to confess to the Lord what other people have seen, and to feel guilty because we know that the case is reported in the neighborhood. Many people who have fallen into sin, have felt very penitent because they knew they would damage their names, or lose their employment; but to have your private sin brought before you by conscience, and voluntarily, without any pressure but the burden of sin itself and the work of the Holy Spirit, to come before God and say, “Lord, You know in this matter I have offended, and though none saw me except Your eyes and mine; yet Your eyes might well flash with anger at me, while mine shall be wet with many a tear of penitence on account of it”—that is what you need.  . . .

She confessed all. It was a solemn moment when the judge said, “I must repeat to you, that you are charged with having willfully, intentionally, and with malice killed and murdered your brother. Are you guilty or not guilty?” Yes, she was guilty, just as the judge had put it. She did not object to those words which made the case come out so black. The willfulness?—yes, she acknowledged that. The intention, the malice?—yes, all that. The killing, the murdering—was it just murder?—was it nothing less? No, nothing else. Not a word of extenuation. She acknowledges all, just as the judge puts it. She is guilty in very deed of the whole charge. Sinner, will you confess sin as God puts it? Many will confess sin after their own fashion, but will you confess it as God puts it? Are you brought to see sin as God sees it? As far as mortal eye could bear that dreadful sight, and do you confess now just what God lays at your door—that you have been His enemy, a traitor, full of evil, covered with iniquity? Will you confess that you have crucified His dear Son, and have in all ways deserved His hottest wrath and displeasure—will you plead guilty to that? If not, you shall have no pardon; but if you will do this, He is merciful and just to forgive you your sins through Jesus the great atoning sacrifice.  . . .

She had not, nor had her counsel for her, a single word to say by way of excuse. … Her counsel might have said she was very young—it was hoped that her youth might plead for her. Being young, she might be readily led astray by an evil passion—might not that excuse her? It was long ago, and her confession was her own; she had brought herself there into that dock—might not this be a reason for mercy? Nothing of the kind; the judge might think so if he pleased, but there was nothing said for her about that, nor did she desire that it should be suggested. She might secretly hope, but her confession was so thorough, that there was not a single word to sully its clear stream. So, sinner, if you come before God, you must not say, “Lord, I am to be excused because of my position—I was in poverty, and I was tempted to steal.” Or, “I had been in bad company, and so I learned to blaspheme.” Or, “I had a hard employer, and so I was driven to sin to find some pleasure there.” No; if you are really penitent, you will find no reason whatever why you should have sinned, except the evil of your own heart—and that you will plead as an aggravation, not as an excuse. “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! I am, O God, before Your face, guilty; I offer no excuse, no extenuation. You must deal with me upon pure mercy, if You do save me, for justice can only award me my well-deserved doom.”

 

 

The Church and the World: Post-Modern Responses to Modernism

April 13, 2015 5 comments

As I near the end of an RTS iTunes University course, a few thoughts on the material presented.  The later lectures include topics such as Liberation Theology, and the development of post-modernism and several ideas within post-modernism: post-liberal theology, radical orthodoxy, and post-evangelicalism. I had a basic understanding of post-modernism, but was unfamiliar with the particular names of the three latter movements.

Error takes on many varieties, yet all have the common root of unbelief, and rejection of the doctrine of inerrancy.  All of these “alternatives” to conservative evangelical Christianity (broadly defined as the basics of Christianity, everything from Reformed Theology to Arminian fundamentalism) are selective with the Bible, choosing certain favored doctrines while rejecting others, along with contextualizing and “accommodating” the Bible to our modern world.  Non-modernist philosophy and Barthian influence are also common themes.

Liberation theology, which cherry picks the Bible theme of liberation from slavery and expands the idea into a political ideology, was apparently the first idea that emphasized Bible contextualization for certain cultures, beginning among Catholics working in Latin America in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Another cultural variation of Black Liberation theology developed independently at about the same time.

The other ideas come from the post-modern worldview, as reactions against modernism.

Post-liberal theology sounds like an idea I heard of as a young Christian in the late 1980s, when the local Sunday School teacher referenced a then-recently published book (Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth) which taught that Christianity was nice as stories or myth, but it didn’t matter if the story was true or not, just the story itself mattered. Post-liberalism focuses on “the narrative” and theme of stories in the Bible, but apart from any basis in objective truth outside of the story. As the professor observed, why not just as easily pick “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” as your narrative story to live by?

Radical orthodoxy has been a recent movement at least in England – a post-modern view that supposedly goes back to Augustinian, pre-modern theology, in reaction to modernism: but with the knowledge of modernism and our world today, thus a post-modern approach, embracing also neo-platonism (which did also influence Augustine). Similar to other ideas, it rejects mainstream Christianity’s response to modernism including classical or evidentialist apologetics. (The liberal alternatives to Christianity are generally unaware of presuppositional apologetics.)

Post-evangelicalism is a reaction against mainstream evangelicalism, with a description rather similar to today’s relativistic culture of no absolutes and multi-culturalism. It seems to be mainly known by its rejection of evangelical ideas (or at least what it perceives of evangelicals) such as certainty of doctrine, emphasis on having correct doctrine; for some it means a move toward Anglicanism or Catholicism with their emphasis on liturgy.

This RTS course has been interesting and informative, and sometimes quite detailed — and some of the ideas, especially earlier lectures about Christian existentialism, difficult for me to completely grasp and understand. The professor himself occasionally noted such difficulties, that with some of this stuff, if you are normal, you are probably not going to “get it” and not going to see it as so wonderful as those who espouse it. As part of the teaching approach, after presenting each view, the professor often asks “where have we seen this before?” – and previous liberal ideas are mentioned again, showing how later liberals are influenced by earlier thinkers. Also, to consider the “positive” points in each of these ideas; false ideas usually get a few things correct, but they tend to put even correct ideas out of balance with other orthodox teaching plus mixing in non-biblical ideas.

I recommend this course, as a type of worldview, apologetics and history course with good information.  I am also looking forward to starting another RTS series soon, probably the topic of early church history.