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A very important lesson in grammar

Who Can Baptize?

Kevin DeYoung:

Christians are used to debating the question “Who can be baptized?” But much less ink (digital or otherwise) has been spilled debating the question “Who can baptize?” Should baptism–and the Lord’s Supper for that matter–be administered only by ordained pastors (and possibly elders), or can any church member in good standing preside over the sacraments?

Get The Work of Christ in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Work of Christ by R.C. Sproul (hardcover) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Ultimate Issues teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson (ePub + MOBI)
  • Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde (paperback)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

How to preach with biblical fullness

Ray Ortlund:

My brother pastor, to preach with biblical fullness, rising above ourselves and our biases, let’s just preach through the Bible, passage by passage, letting each passage make its unique contribution, confident that over time the fullness of it all will serve people well with a massive vision of the Triune God.  But let us never force a passage to say what we think it ought to say and, in effect, correct God.

Kill Your Jesus Talisman

Jared C. Wilson:

I can win any slam dunk contest through him who gives me strength. If I will ask God for the ability to do so “in Jesus’ name,” of course.

When I was a kid I had a poster of Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” — with a photo of a guy dunking a basketball. You can bet I thought long and hard about how Jesus was gonna help me dunk on some fools.

Seven Characteristics of the Antichrist

David Murray:

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m only following the Scriptural precedent of describing the characteristics to look out for rather than the Antichrist’s name and address.

But stay with me because you need to know what to look out for and, who knows, maybe someone will read the seven characteristics and think, “Hey I know that guy!” And remember, although THE Antichrist may not yet have arisen, John warns us that there are many antichrists already in the world. So what are we looking for?

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Faithful pastor, you’re not crazy

Ray Ortlund:

A text message came in from a pastor friend.  I’ve known him for decades.  He is the kind of man for whom the adjective “saintly” was invented.  He pastored a thriving church for many years.  Then someone on staff stabbed him in the back and rallied others to get him thrown out.  The objections to his ministry had no substance.  “The issues” were not the real issues.  As Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, said to me once, “Some try to pull down a prominent man, not because they themselves wish to take his place, but because doing so gives them a feeling of power.”

My friend had met with someone from his former church, wishing to reconcile.  But the person blew him off.  All that the meeting accomplished was to re-open an old wound.

So here is what I want to say to my friend:

You’re not crazy.  This has been happening to God’s men since Cain and Abel.  It is one way you identify with Jesus himself.

Are Tongues Real Languages?

Nathan Busenitz begins a new series asking an important question:

Has the church, historically, been right to conclude that the gift of tongues in the New Testament consists of the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages previously unknown to the speaker? Or is the modern charismatic movement right to conclude that the gift of tongues encompasses something other than cognitive foreign languages?

Ridiculously good deals from Westminster Books

Westminster Books has a whole bunch of great titles on sale for up to 70% off, including:

The Cold that Bothers Us

Greg Forster:

The most obvious lesson of Frozen—the one made explicit in the movie—teaches viewers that love is not about how you feel. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. This theme by itself profoundly inverts the old Disney culture; it’s a big win for the Pixar invaders. But Frozen not only makes this point, it also traces some wide-ranging consequences. It shows us why people are investing too much importance in romantic love relative to other kinds of love, like sisterhood. The responsible grown-ups who tell you not to burn down everything else in your life for the sake of “true love” are not your enemies; they’re your friends. They’re the people who really love you.

The Danger of Forgetting How to Read the Bible

Dan Doriani:

In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I’ve been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors.

Once again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I’m liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul’s admonition: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew.

What does the Bible say about religion?

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It’s really popular today to distinguish between religion and Jesus—as though the gospel and religion are diametrically opposed. We love Jesus, but hate religion. Religion says “do,” Jesus says, “done.” And although many of the critiques have their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s a small problem: the way we understand “religion” entirely depends on what we mean by the word. This is a subject I’ve explored in a new paper I’ve written for ExploreGod.com:

Millions of people around the globe consider the Bible an authoritative guidebook on how to live a godly, righteous life. So how does the Bible understand “religion”? What does it say?

The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might like to think. The Bible itself is neither wholly positive nor entirely negative about religion. After all, at the most basic level, a religion is a set of deeply held personal or institutional beliefs or principles. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, by that definition, every human being on earth is deeply religious.

But the issue is not whether we have deeply held beliefs and practices—the issue is to whom those beliefs are devoted. To better understand this, let’s turn to the book of Romans in the Bible.

Keep reading at ExploreGod.com.

(photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc)

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Christians Get Depressed Too Films

David Murray:

This series of films from HeadHeartHand Media presents five Christians with five very different stories of depression and of how God gave them hope and help to recover. Each 35-40 minute episode tells the story of one such Christian. Their reflections are intercut with interview footage from six counselors representing a wide range of Christian knowledge and experience. While the pain of depression is evident, the overall tone is hopeful and practical.

You Are What—And How—You Read

Rosaria Butterfield:

When I started to read the Bible it was to critique it, embarking on a research project on the Religious Right and their hatred against queers, or, at the time, people like me. A neighbor and pastor, Ken Smith, became my friend. He executed the art of dying: turning over the pages of your heart in the shadow of Scripture, giving me a living testimony of the fruit of repentance. He was a good reader—thorough, broad, and committed. Ken taught me that repentance was done unto life, and that abandoning the religion of self-righteousness was step number one. The Holy Spirit equipped me to practice what Ken preached, and one day, my heart started to beat to the tempo of my Lord’s heart. A supernatural imposition, to be sure, but it didn’t stop there.

Preorder Spurgeon’s Calvinism

Stephen McCaskell’s got a new Spurgeon book coming out—Spurgeon’s Calvinism:

Spurgeon’s Calvinism is a Charles Spurgeon book unlike any other, compiling the Prince of Preacher’s teaching on the doctrines which he called a shorthand for the gospel itself. The book will officially launch in April with a foreword from Conrad Mbewe, but I’m making 200 copies available now for $25.

With each purchase, you’ll receive a signed edition of Spurgeon’s Calvinism and you’ll be helping make the upcoming documentary, Through the Eyes of CH Spurgeon!

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Zondervan’s put some excellent resources on a number of topics on sale for $3.99. Get as many as you can:

Also on sale:

Beyond the Page: new review program from Crossway

Book reviewers take note: Crossway’s relaunched their book review program, Beyond the Page. Here are the details:

We created Beyond the Page because we know that good books can shape our thinking, challenge our assumptions, and spur us to action—in every area of life. Our hope is that the books you’re reading and the reviews you’re writing will reach out beyond the page to impact lives for the sake of the gospel.

This digital-only review program is currently open to active bloggers. Participants can request up to 12 e-books per year in exchange for honest reviews posted on their blog and one other website. Reviewers are encouraged to engage with the book’s content and go “beyond the page” with their review, making particular application to their own life and ministry.

Sabbath Texts

Joe Thorn:

I am fairly tech-savvy, but I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of texting. I do it, of course. It’s become a common means to communicate for certain things, so I’m on it. But I don’t have to like it. However, texting began to look different to me as my good friend, Matthew Molesky, started sending me what I call “sabbath texts.”

I Hope My Son’s Life Is in Danger

Trent Hunter:

My son believed God’s Word when he heard it preached from 2 Thessalonians. Like most of us, some things he forgets, some things lodge themselves deep in his soul where they germinate over time, and some things arrest his imagination so that he can’t think about anything else. If for some reason the pastor mentioned volcanoes, for example, he would think about that. If the pastor mentioned a bad guy, he would think about that.

This Sunday there was a bad guy in the text. My son Carson heard it, his imagination went to work, and his response made God’s harder promises more real to our family.

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The False Teachers: Arius

The first part of a new series by Tim Challies:

This morning I am setting out on a new series of articles that will scan the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—and pause to examine some of Christianity’s most notorious false teachers. Along the way we will visit such figures as Pelgius, Servetus, Fosdick, and even a few you might find on television today. We will begin this morning with one of the very first, and certainly one of the most dangerous, false teachers: Arius.

Covenantal Gut Check

Aimee Byrd:

A similar reality check sets in every time we gather as a covenant community for the Lord’s Supper. Here we learn that we are not all that different from one another. Some of our covenant family members may be stronger in the faith than others. Some gather with confident smiles, and others appear a bit forlorn. But we all get hit in the gut when we are before the table.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series by Leland Ryken is on sale for $2.99-$3.99:

Crouching at Your Door

Lore Ferguson:

I don’t know what “mastering” sin feels like, nor do I know what it feels like to be so free of the curse that I am unaware of its damaging effects of my heart, soul, and mind. The truth is that I walk with a constant,and growing, awareness of my sin and need for Christ, and I also walk with a constant, and growing, confidence in the finished work of the cross.

Here

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Rhetoric is a slippery device. Sometimes we use it to obfuscate, sometimes to clarify. Sometimes, however, our attempts to clarify betray us, and we end up obfuscating. For over forty years now Christians have entered into debate on the abortion issue. We brought the wisdom of God’s Word. We brought the latest information from genetics. We brought profound moral philosophers. We wrote learned journal articles, engaged in nuanced debates. We thought we were fighting for life, but is it just possible that the devil was successfully turning our labors into policy conundrums, political fodder, even armchair theologizing? Isn’t it possible that our calm, polite, reasoned discussions have actually hardened the consciences of our opponents, even while soothing our own? It’s true, as we have been saying, that life is sacred, that abortion stops a beating heart, that it creates two victims. But what if those truths don’t end up highlighting but instead cover for this clearer truth—that babies are murdered here.

Faith has learned to set God against all

Richard-Sibbes

One main stop that hinders Christians from rejoicing is, that they give themselves too much liberty to question their grounds of comfort and interest in the promises. This is wonderful, comfortable say they, but what is it to me, the promise belongs not to me? This ariseth from want of giving all ‘diligence to make their calling sure,’ 2 Pet. 1:10, to themselves. In watchfulness and diligence we sooner meet with comfort than in idle complaining. Our care, therefore, should be to get sound evidence of a good estate, and then likewise to keep our evidence clear; wherein we are not to hearken to our own fears and doubts, or the suggestion of our enemy, who studies to falsify our evidence, but to the word, and our own consciences enlightened by the Spirit; and then it is pride and pettishness to stand out against comfort to themselves. Christians should study to corroborate their title. We are never more in heaven, before we come thither, than when we can read our evidences. It makes us converse much with God, it sweetens all conditions, and makes us willing to do and suffer anything. It makes us have comfortable and honourable thoughts of ourselves, as too good for the service of any base lust, and brings confidence in God both in life and death.

But what if our condition be so dark that we cannot read our evidence at all?

Here look up to God’s infinite mercy in Christ, as we did at the first, when we found no goodness in ourselves, and that is the way to recover whatsoever we think we have lost. By honouring God’s mercy in Christ, we come to have the Spirit of Christ; therefore, when the waters of sanctification are troubled and muddy, let us run to the witness of blood. God seems to walk sometimes contrary to himself; he seems to discourage, when secretly he doth encourage, as the ‘woman of Canaan,’ Matt. 15:21–23; but faith can find out these ways of God, and untie these knots, by looking to the free promise and merciful nature of God. Let our sottish and rebellious flesh murmur as much as it will, Who art thou? and what is thy worth? yet a Christian ‘knows whom he believes,’ 2 Tim. 1:12. Faith hath learned to set God against all.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes Vol. 1, p. 124

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These Precious Days

Tim Challies:

One of the most exasperating parts of life in this world is that I must constantly choose the good things not to do. So much of life is not the choice between good and bad, but between good and good. Even in the joy of doing one good thing, there is the sorrow of not being able to do another good thing. Three days spent in Indiana, is three days spent apart from my wife and my children. It is three days away from the people I love; I will never get those days back. I have been given perhaps 7,000 or 8,000 days with my children before they move out to begin life on their own, and in going away, I permanently traded away three of those precious days.

Literally taking the Bible literally

Lyndon Unger:

When I was in high school, I took a class called “Western Civilization” from a teacher who was a Bahhai. He was one of the smartest folks I had ever met up unto that point and was an aggressive skeptic of Christianity…well, he was more of an enemy of Christianity. The class was called “Western Civilization” but was really an “Intro to ‘why Christianity is for idiots’ class”. That class was brutal hard for me, as my teacher waged an assault against Christianity that had me in a flurry to find answers; answers to questions about everything from creation to eschatology. That class is what got me into serious thinking about the scriptures and looking for answers beyond my youth pastor (who was more youth than pastor).

Hearing and Being God

Lore Ferguson:

Since the beginning of December I have been thinking about what it means to “hear” God’s voice. I cut my faith teeth in Charismatic circles, so hearing from God for ten years was commonplace in my life. I have pages full of things people heard from God about on my behalf and I am in Texas today because of a small feeling I had one June morning on my back stoop. He said, “Move to Texas,” and I said, “Hell, no.” But then I did.

I don’t handle His voice lightly, but I think I have handled the hearing of His voice lightly.

Get Life in Christ in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Life in Christ by Jeremy Walker (paperback) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Intimate Marriage teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • Pillars of Grace by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

What Sort of Man Is This?

Barnabas Piper:

This question, on the heels of Jesus calming a storm, rings through the gospel of Matthew. It comes from those who know Him, not from a stranger. What sort of man is he? A good one? A powerful one, certainly. A wizard or a prophet? Self-serving or benevolent? Many of us call ourselves disciples of Jesus, but have we ever been stunned enough at Him to rock back on our heels and ask “What sort of man is this?”

5 Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your Son to Use Pornography

Rick Thomas:

Porn is first and foremost about the theater of the mind, where the young male can enter into his virtual world and be king for a day—or, in this case, king for a few minutes—as he satiates his mind with the risk-free intrigue of the cyber conquest.

And in most cases, the porn addict’s allurement began in the theater of his mind while he was a child. This is a consistent pattern I’ve seen in counseling.

You’ll see in my five sure-fire ways to motivate your child to use porn how any child can be in porn training without his parents realizing it.

Three reasons to keep reading the Old Testament

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The Old Testament causes much consternation among North American evangelicals. Although historically, Christians have embraced the Old Testament as being absolutely essential to the Christian life—I believe the first person to do this was Jesus—somewhere along the way, we got scared of it.

We started reading into the New Testament a kind of sentimental love that isn’t there. We started seeing the actions of God in the Old Testament as harsh and mean. And as our sentimentalism took root, we found ourselves asking, “can’t we just skip this?”

Here are three reasons to keep the Old Testament front and center:

1. To understand God’s actions in the world. To not put too fine a point on it, when you lose the Old Testament, you lose the gospel. Period.

The Old Testament is the historical backdrop for everything we see in the New. The gospel takes place within the framework of the covenants established with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, and fulfills them. If you do not have the Old Testament, you cannot understand why Christ came to die. We lose the foundation for his death and resurrection.

But when you maintain a solid grasp on the Old Testament, you not only keep the gospel’s foundation, you get the fuller picture of God’s actions in the world. The entire Bible tells the story of God’s war against sin—from the first promise of the coming of one who would crush the head of the serpent until the consummation of the new creation, this is what God is doing.

When you lose the Old Testament, you lose the reason for God’s actions in the world. You lose the gospel. So read the Old Testament.

2. To understand the character of God. When we skip the Old Testament, we lose a clear picture of who God is. In his Christianity Today article addressing this very subject, Mark Gignilliat puts it well:

We do no favors for God or ourselves when we lessen his severity, even in our attempts to make him acceptable to non-believers. While many of our worship songs today speak of touching and seeing God, most biblical characters did not line up for such an opportunity. Isaiah knew his life was over after seeing Yahweh. Jacob never walked the same way again. Job asked for a day in court with God and then regretted it.

We cannot understand God’s character without reading the Old Testament. He reveals himself in all his perfection there. His holiness is on display—and his love is magnified more deeply because we understand just how great our offenses are. So read the Old Testament.

3. To avoid becoming a heretic. This might seem ironic considering just yesterday I wrote about our need to not cheapen words like this one. But if you skip over the Old Testament consistently, if you create a false dichotomy in the Bible, you’re going to fall into heresy. Here are two common heresies that stem from rejecting the Old Testament:

Marcionism. A heresy that emerged around the year 144, this is a dualistic view that rejects the Old Testament and the God of Israel as being a tyrannical monster where the God of the New is a God of love and peace. This is the god we see in Rob Bell’s Love Wins, Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christianity, and so many others (whether it’s outright stated or not is another question). But more practically, it’s the god of anyone who says, “I could never believe in a God who…”

Antinomianism. This is the more subtle heresy because it’s harder to spot. In its crassest forms, antinomianism proposes that we don’t need the Old Testament—and more specifically, the Mosaic Law—at all anymore. It has no good purpose or benefit for the Christian. It suggests Jesus obliterated, rather than fulfilled the Law. Yet, this is what Paul warned of in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And his answer, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:2).

But we still need the Law—not as a means of earning salvation (for it was never that to begin with), but to see the perfection of God, to see the requirements of holiness, to see how far we fall short and our desperate need for rescue.

If we lose the Old Testament, we lose all of this. We lose all hope, all joy, and all purpose in the Christian faith. So, Christian, read the Old Testament.

The accidental cheapening of heresy

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There once was a man named Seth. Seth was a popular author, especially among creative and “non-traditional” leadership types. He wrote with an unusual buzzwordiness while sharing many truths and many half-truths about tribes, lynchpins and meatballs on top of sundaes.

He wrote of our desperate need for people unafraid to challenge the establishment and chart their own course for the good of the many.

He called them “heretics.” But we should not.

This week I was reading a very good book on social media that embraced Seth’s “heretic” ideal. Not theological heresy, the author stressed, but ideological—being willing to push the boundaries of comfort in order to reach as many as possible.

But I’ve got to be honest, whenever I see Christian authors use the term “heretic” in this way, I get a little nervous. It’s not because I disagree with the sentiment (I generally don’t)—it’s the danger of cheapening the word “heretic.”

Imagine you’re in a room with no windows and only one door, which is at the farthest point from you. The door opens a little bit and someone throws a grenade in, which promptly explodes (as it is intended to do). This is what calling someone a heretic is like. Or at least, it should be. Churches have split over heresy. Ministries have been destroyed because of it. It’s a big word, and just like a grenade, once you pull the pin, there’s no going back.

So why do we treat it so flippantly?

Why, following along with a popular book, are we redefining a word that carries such weight and power—transforming a profanity into a virtue? Truthfully, I don’t believe it’s of malicious intent. I think it’s simply that we’re careless with words. We don’t give them enough weight; we don’t consider carefully what they mean.

Seth used the word “heretic” intentionally. He knew the power it holds, otherwise he wouldn’t have used it. We, on the other hand, have simply poured ourselves a nice, tall glass of his Kool-Aid.

When we assign foreign meanings to familiar words, we wind up cheapening the concepts they represent as a result. When it comes to a word like “heretic,” we must avoid this at all costs. And this is but one example. We’ve transformed tolerance into something wholly intolerant. We’ve desecrated love, turning it into a mere feeling flitting about with no depth or power. So love becomes preference, disagreement becomes prejudice, truth becomes error… Careless words cheapen powerful truths.

Three reasons to study church history

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I never loved history in school. In fact, I downright hated it. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about history itself—it’s that it was pretty clear my teachers didn’t give a rip about it. This might be because, as Canadians, our history textbooks are notoriously dull (although our history itself isn’t).

Over the last few years, though, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to studying history—specifically church history. The history of Christianity is so rich and so fascinating—whether we’re looking at the shining moments of spectacular faith, or the worst gaffes of the Reformers and their persecutors, there is much to be gained by studying it.

So, with that in mind, here are three reasons why we should all be studying church history:

1. The Bible commands us to.

Over and over again, the Bible commands God’s people to “remember,” to look back on what God has done, to remember His wondrous works (Ex. 13:3; Deut. 5:15; 7:18; 8:1; 8:18; 1 Chron. 16:12; Psalm 105:5). By looking back at what God has done, we can look forward in confidence that He is faithful to keep His promises and fulfill His purposes in this world.

2. The stories of the past help us persevere in the present.

You can’t help but be inspired at the kind of faith that God’s people have shown throughout the years. When you read of the trials of so many men and women in a book like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, you can’t help but be amazed at how God’s people faithfully endured immense suffering and trial over the centuries—and be inspired to persevere in your own difficulties.

3. The past helps us defend the faith in the present.

Studying church history helps us better understand key events and crucial doctrines—how the New Testament canon came to be, or how the doctrine of the Trinity developed, for example. It also helps us to see patterns of thought, particularly when it comes to heresy.

“Heretics, in fact, served the church in an unintended way,” writes Bruce Shelley in  Church History in Plain Language. “Their pioneering attempts to state the truth forced the church to shape ‘good theology’—a rounded, systematic statement of biblical revelation.”

When you have a sense of the issues the Church has faced over the centuries, it helps you better understand the debates of our own day. Right now, there are a number of ancient heresies being promoted by popular authors, including Pelagianism (a rejection of the sinfulness of man), Marcionism (the rejection of God as depicted in the Old Testament—and of Christianity’s necessary connection to Judaism)… even Montanism has made its way back into the spotlight, if Phyllis Tickle is in fact promoting what she appears to be in her recent interview with Jonathan Merritt and in her book, The Age of the Spirit.

But by studying church history, we can see what’s come before and recognize the modern variants today, which better enables us to defend the truth.

Where to start?

The best thing to do is start simple. Read Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, which is both brilliant and comprehensible. Start listening to Stephen Nichol’s Five Minutes in Church History podcast. Read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Take Robert Godfrey’s courses available through Ligonier Connect.

And from there, keep going. Start digging into books like Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context by Everett Ferguson or 2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham. There is no limit to how deep you can go, and there is no limit to the rewards you’ll find in your study.

(Photo credit: Vincent_AF via photopin cc)

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So Much More Than Manners

Julian Freeman:

I want to provide you with my compilation of New Testament texts and teaching on thankfulness. I think the best way to use it is to download the PDF, print it, go through the texts one-by-one and make notes on them. That being said, I know that many of you (a) won’t do that, or, (b) won’t do that without convincing, so I’m going to offer a few highlights here.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And in case you missed them, here are a few from earlier this week:

 When Staff and Lay Elders Collide

Good discussion between two pastors—Richard Phillips and Ryan Kelly—and lay leader Bob Doll:

The Politics of Silence: Questions for Peter Leithart

Matthew Lee Anderson:

It was just over a year ago that Louie Giglio withdrew from participating in President Obama’s second inauguration because of the uproar surrounding his twenty-year-old comments on homosexuality.

Since then, much of substance has changed in America’s culture wars, even if each side’s rhetorical posture has not. Facile cliches about history and bigotry still get tossed about by pro-gay activists, while conservative concern about the steady marginalization of traditional views from the public square reached a new pitch this past December when…well, we all remember that one, don’t we?

Do You Feel Tension in the Christian Life?

Jason Helopoulos:

The Christian life can feel schizophrenic. It isn’t hard to recognize that there are numerous tensions filling the Christian life. Some find this exhilarating. However, many of us find that these tensions are a cause of discouragement, despair, hopelessness, and depression. We look at our lives and they are not what we want them to be.

Your presuppositions shape your response

Bill-Nye-debate

Last night was the big origins debate between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis). And while I’m sure every side is declaring victory over the other, from what I saw an opportunity was lost. Why?

Because the problem with the origins debate is the key point that’s almost always missed: this isn’t a scientific debate. Not really. Instead, we need to recognize it for what it truly is: a philosophical and theological one. 

A year ago, I read a very thoughtful book by Gerald Rau, who is both a Christian and a scientist, called Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (reviewed here)In this book, Rau makes a critical point:

“Our worldview and philosophy shape the way we view that evidence from the first time we hear it… Each scientist is working from the perspective of one particular theory, which affects both data collection and interpretation.” (Kindle locations 189, 202)

Sha-zam.

Rau gets it.

Your worldview—the underlying presuppositions you hold which help you make sense of the world—necessarily affects your observations about the world. So think about it this way:

For the Christian, everything ties back to the truth that God created the universe and everything in it. That he creates and sustains and holds all things together.1 And so the Christian can provide an answer to many questions the naturalist cannot.2

His worldview is begins with a Creator, and the natural response for the Christian is to worship. To give praise to the One who made all things.

For scientists who are Christians, this is what drives so much of their work. It’s not a desire to simply know “what,” but a desire to worship the “Who” behind the “what.” (Does that make sense?)

For the naturalist, though, the answers Christians provide come across as pat or (as my my friend Bill described it), as though you’re trying to counter science with magic, something that’s incredibly frustrating to Christians for whom these answers seem so “obvious.” Why?

Because the naturalist’s underlying presuppositions about how the world works—his worldview—necessarily prevents him from accepting even the idea of God as a possible answer. In order for his worldview to remain coherent, he must reject categorically reject the supernatural, even if it means having to say “I don’t know” to questions Christians can answer.

And because the subject is rarely ever broached, the real debate gets completely missed. It’s like buying a house and spending all your time focused on the flooring, but never investigating the foundation. You might buy something that looks pretty, but is structurally unsound.

This is where our debates need to go—Christians need to stop trying to debate symptoms, and start dealing with causes. The creation vs evolution question is a symptom of competing worldviews crashing into one another.

We must always remember that our presuppositions shape our response to the evidence we see. We always interpret what we experience and what we learn through the lens of our worldview.

So we need to open up the worldview question, and humbly begin to explore its coherence (or lack thereof). When we do this, we may find our debates to be far more fruitful for all.

Links I like

links i like

The Evangelical War on Contraception

Matthew Lee Anderson:

If you haven’t heard, evangelicals are currently campaigning against contraception.

Oh, you haven’t? Well, I can’t blame you. After all, it was only two years ago when a evangelical theologian seriously proposed that churches should give out contraception to single Christians because that supposedly reduces abortions and evangelical attendees responded with a collective, “Um, sure, why not?!”

Desiring God Conference for Pastors

The Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors starts today. If, like me, you’re at home instead of in Minneapolis, you can watch live online at desiringgod.org/live.

Legalistic Relativists

R.C. Sproul Jr:

The appeal of ethical relativism is rather plain to see. If there is no right and wrong then I can’t be convicted of any wrong. Ethical relativism allows me to write my own law, to edit on the fly, to finish “I may do this . . .” with an unassailable “. . . because I want to.” Desire becomes its own justification. My will becomes my law.

This appeal, however, soon enough begins to dissipate if we have any interest at all in being coherent, consistent in our thinking. We quickly turn, “I may do this, because I want to” into “You may not do that, because I want to do this.” Consider, just as an example, sexual perversion. The problem, morally speaking, with sexual perversion is that it is an abomination to God. Ethical relativism, of course, bars God from the conversation. Therefore there is no reason by which we might condemn the practice. There is, to these folks, no transcendent moral standard by which we are all bound. We can do what we want, no matter how perverse. Which means, doesn’t it, that I can call sexual perversion an abomination to God? What, after all, is to stop me?

Free stuff for book lovers

Christian Audio’s free audiobook of the month is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This is well worth the free. Ligonier has also made The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul free until Feb. 28. Finally, the Logos edition of Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence is free until the end of February. Enjoy!

This looks fun!

In April, the next big superhero movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, will be released. Here’s a look:

Beware of Backdoor Legalism

Dan Darling:

Last week, during an apparent display of debauchery at the Grammy’s (I don’t usually watch award shows. It’s just not my thing. Other folks feel that way about NFL football, which I love). This caused award-winning singer, Natalie Grant to walk out. She was, from all accounts, not self-righteous or judgmental about it, but just posted a simple explanation about it on her Facebook page.

Of course, this action provoked conversation online, on Twitter and in blogs. Perhaps the most prominent reaction is Laura Turner, who clearly disagreed, writing in her blog for Religion News: “But reading about her decision to leave early and then publicize that decision sounded to me just like the self-righteousness of those people who couldn’t hear a swear word without their faith being threatened.” Now I respect Turner’s instincts here and I have those same ones myself. Christians have, at times, developed an isolationist bent, a sort of fundamentalism that rejects any thoughtful engagement with the world. This inward inpulse has often put us on the same side as the Pharisees who couldn’t entertain a Savior who hung out with the very people he came to save: the sinners, the needy, the sick.

10 Hot Tips For The Christian Life

Jeff Medders:

There is no secret to Christian growth. Paul actually despises any idea of some hidden, underhanded way of Christianity.… The gospel is an open statement of the truth: We need Jesus and Jesus gives us all that he is by faith in his person and work. No more hot tips, only more of Jesus. “Tips must decrease, he must increase.” The Christian life isn’t that complicated.

Always talking, never doing

One of the great tensions we face in the Christian life—and the Christian faith—is the tension between belief and action. When you see discussion of topics like antinomianism, of the relationship between law and gospel… at the heart of these debates and discussions is this tension.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gives voice to this tension through the meeting of Faithful and Talkative. As his name suggests, Talkative loves to wax eloquent about any number of subjects, but especially that of religion and piety. Indeed, he talks a good game. But his talk isn’t enough. Bunyan writes:

talkative

“…to know is something that pleases talkers and boasters, but to do is that which pleases God. Not that the heart can be good without knowledge, for without knowledge the heart is empty. But there are two kinds of knowledge: the first is alone in its bare speculation of things, and the second is accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.

“The first kind of knowledge will serve the talker. But a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God. ‘Give me understanding, and I shall keep Thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.’”

Talkative protested, “You are trying to trap me again; this is not edifying.”

Many of us have a similar response to the idea of obedience that Talkative does. We don’t like the idea that “a true Christian will not be content until his knowledge results in sincere works that please God.” It’s offensive and doesn’t feel terribly edifying to talk about.

But it shouldn’t be, not really. After all, Jesus Himself said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). In other words, Christ’s people don’t just hear, they obey.

Their belief flows into action—right action that pleases God. Their knowledge is “accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.”

Talkative was content to talk a good game. He could speak truthfully, to be sure—but his lifestyle revealed the truth of his state before God. He was “a man whose religion is only talk and your conduct is at odds with what you profess with your mouth.” In fact, he was one who caused many to stumble by his example.

He professed faith but did not possess faith.

Many of us are not that much different. Our talk is good and right and true, but that’s about as far as it goes.

We are always talking, but never doing.

But we must be about more than talk. We must embrace the tension we perceive in the Christian faith, understanding that, really, there is no tension at all according to Jesus. We must not be one who simply hears and parrots, but one who hears and does.