The idea of our identity with Christ is an important topic in my class on spiritual formation. We spend several class sessions looking at Colossians 3:1-17 from a variety of angles and often return to thinking about how our identity with Christ is foundational for our spiritual life and maturity (the students also memorize Colossians 3:1-17 over the course of the semester). The capstone to this section of the class is an assignment helping the students to reflect on their own identity. Here are the instructions ...
by Kirk Spencer
It was an amazing thing… holding something so fresh from heaven, only a few hours after her arrival—my first grandbaby—Aberdeen Alexandra. It was very different from holding my first child—the one who handed her to me, now all grown up. And, when I saw the fear on his face, I understood why holding this baby was different: With grandbabies you don’t bear the overwhelming primary responsibility of such a little life. No… with grandbabies you can be philosophical.
Life always weaves our hearts together, always. For good or bad, we become part of each other’s life as we share each other’s lives. With newborns, especially when you hold them, the weaving process seems palpable. Perhaps the “weaving beam” is so small with little ones that the weaving process can be felt. There is just something really mysterious about really small things. Physicists are convinced that physics becomes metaphysics when we look into the world of the very, very small (brace yourself… I am about to get really physic-al and metaphysical). As we get smaller, really small, like atom-small, our realistic deterministic world becomes a ground-state of chaotic possibilities and indeterministic physical discontinuities. It is a world of intrinsic uncertainty in a haze of contingent probabilities. It is that strange place where causality dies and free will is born. It is where “our respective wave functions become entangled, where we cease to exist as a completely independent entity (quantum entanglement),” where two separate things, as completely separate things, can combine in one reality (duality)—like waves and particles, or body and soul, or God and man, or you and me—where we share existence—where our “hearts” are woven together.
Communication in the realm of the very small is very fast… faster than light (superluminal). If physicists are right, and time stops at the speed of light, than anything faster is beyond time. Thus, in the very small, time stops and eternity opens. It is the place where Time (and maybe matter) emerges as the crystallization of potential contingencies into determined realities. And, if heaven is really near in the very small, then we should not be surprised if our great Creator enters His creation through this very small door. Not as a baby—not originally—but as something even smaller, much smaller; far beyond even what the eye can see, beyond sight, but not faith. God entered the world as a singularity, the fullness of the divine confined to one single cell—a fertilized ovum, not with a Big Bang but silence… and then, nine months later, a still small voice—a baby’s cry. God’s grace entered our world through the door of the very small—not as an idea, but as Life itself.
“…the Highest and the Holiest entering in at the Lowliest door.”
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
 Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand any of this… I don’t either. But it is very poetic and it is exactly the kind of things that physicists say about the world of the very small.
 The two primary definitions of a singularity are opposites. One illustrates the singleness of all things (the state, fact, quality, or condition of being singular) and the other illustrates the unity of all things as they approach infinity when all things are crunched together in singleness. It is widely believed (and taught) that scientific evidence points to the possibility, that our universe actually did have a beginning (as in the Bible) and that in this beginning, all of space and time and mass and energy was confined into an infinitely dense (and energetic, and short, and tiny) thing much smaller than the smallest atom—a singularity—which expanded in the “big bang,” from its existence in the realm of the very small, into all that is.
Although the name George Whitefield is not readily associated with Christian hymnody, he left his own mark on one of the most famous Christmas carols, penned by his friend and contemporary, Charles Wesley.
The Wesleys had an enduring friendship and connection with Whitefield, beginning with their Oxford “Holy Club,” followed by separate missionary journeys to America, and a call to open-air field preaching in England. During the earlier years of that association, the Wesleys published some of their most enduring poetry, especially in the first edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). This collection included “And can it be” — deeply inspired by Charles’ conversion in 1738 — “Christ the Lord is risen today,” “Commit thou all thy griefs,” “Jesus, thy boundless love to me,” and a Christmas hymn with a curious text:
Hark how all the Welkin rings
Glory to the King of Kings.
A modern reader might see the words “welkin rings” and immediately gravitate to something out of J.R.R. Tolkien. “Welkin” actually means “sky” or “heavens” — it was a common term in English poetry in that era. Wesley may have been inspired specifically by a poem of William Somerville about fox hunting, called “The Chase” (1735):
The welkin rings, Men, Dogs, Hills, Rock, and Woods
In the full consort join.
Hymn scholar J.R. Watson explains:
To have altered Somerville’s lines would have been in keeping with Wesley’s habit of appropriating images from other poems and using them to proclaim the gospel. Here the cries of the huntsmen and hounds become the sounds of the multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest.”1
As clever as Wesley’s lines may have been, they failed to resonate with some worshipers, including his friend Whitefield. In 1753, the same year Whitefield began construction on the Tabernacle church, he compiled his own hymnal, Hymns for Social Worship. It included 21 hymns from the Wesleys, including the Christmas hymn, but with a significant alteration:
Hark! the Herald Angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Whether Whitefield had permission to make that change or if he consulted with the Wesleys is unclear, but it stuck. In fact, the Wesleys incorporated the change back into their own collections, starting with A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780).
Over time, the hymn has absorbed other alterations, but Whitefield’s is the most recognizable. In 1904, the editors of Hymns Ancient & Modern (one of the most influential hymnals in England) somewhat infamously changed the text back to “welkin rings;” they were so soundly ridiculed that the next edition returned to “herald angels.”2
If Whitefield had avoided altering the poetry of Charles Wesley, perhaps more English speakers today would recognize the word “welkin,” or perhaps equally as likely, our churches would have passed over this Christmas carol long ago and let it fade into obscurity. We’ll never know, but God be praised for Wesley, Whitefield, and tunesmith Felix Mendelssohn, who have crafted a hymn of incarnation worthy to be declared from decades past through decades to come.
The staff of the Archives and Special Collections in the James P. Boyce Centennial Library can advise those interested in further access to resources related to Whitefield, the Wesleys, and hymnology.
This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig
I'm writing from Sweden so I hope you can understand the meaning of my questions even if it is not in perfectly good english. I should start by saying that I am a non-Christian ... Some months ago I started thinking about life, in a way that I had not done before. I started asking myself the big questions. What is the meaning of my life? What is the reason we are here? What makes me important? Sadly I couldn't find the answers to these questions and the more I thought about them, the harder it became to live my day to day life ... Is the only reason to live life as a Christian to tell others about God? Is that the meaning of life? And finally, why why why should people who believe in God but lives here on earth under terrible circumstances (poverty, depression, sickness, war) still continue there lives here? Wouldn't it be better to just die and go to heaven?
A few evenings ago, we hosted a delightful group of ten Biola students at our house for dinner. During dessert, we launched into a lively discussion about how we should celebrate Christmas as Christians. We discussed various sub-topics under this broader question, but we spent the largest portion of our time talking about how Christians should—and should not—talk to their children about Santa Claus.
by Joe Wooddell
Christmas reminds us of baby Jesus, of course, but we also think of his mother Mary. One character we sometimes forget, however, is Jesus’ earthly father Joseph, but we do so to our detriment. There is much we can learn from his example in Matthew 1 and 2.
In Matthew 1 we read how Joseph is both righteous and compassionate. He’s already engaged, and Mary turns up pregnant! What would you do if you knew the baby wasn’t yours? He’s righteous, so he can’t marry her and bring shame to himself, admitting guilt when he wasn’t really guilty. But he’s also compassionate – he doesn’t want to disgrace her and cause her more trouble than necessary. So he decides to “send her away secretly” (v.19; NASB). Doing so will protect his righteous name (Prov. 22:1, “a good name is more desirable than great riches”; NIV), but it will also give Mary a chance to live! Joseph, like his Son later in John 8, will not cast the first stone.
What else do we learn about Joseph in these Christmas passages? Joseph is not only righteous and compassionate, but obedient. When he finds out God is the one responsible for Mary’s pregnancy, and when God tells Joseph to marry her, Joseph obeys. There is no indication of struggle or hesitation; he simply and quickly obeys. Imagine what this could cost him and his family over a lifetime? Time, effort, money, reputation. Remember, Mary goes to visit her relative, Elizabeth, and comes back three months later and pregnant! People are going to “talk.” In fact, those with whom Jesus is conversing in John 8:41 declare, “we are not born of fornication” (NASB; emphasis added), implying perhaps that Jesus was. Joseph’s reputation, as well as his family’s, is pretty much ruined, but Joseph is obedient nonetheless. His obedience also cost him the time, money, and effort it took to escape to Egypt, then come back to Israel, then move from Judea to Galilee (ultimately Nazareth) to avoid Archelaus’ harsh rulership. Joseph was obedient in spite of all this hassle.
Not only was he obedient, but he also was self-controlled. Matthew 1:25 says he kept her a virgin until after Jesus was born. For whatever reason God chose to have His Son be born of a virgin (perhaps so His Son would not be tainted with original sin, but regardless of the reason this is what God chose). And Joseph did his part, keeping her a virgin till after Jesus’ birth.
Two more character traits before we finish: Joseph was both prudent and consistent. I already mentioned Archelaus’ harsh rulership. Joseph was afraid to go where Archelaus reigned. Doubtless Joseph prayed about it, and God warned Joseph to follow his instincts and move north instead. But what of Joseph’s consistency? How do we know this about him? Looking at Luke 2:41 we see that Jesus’ parents “went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover” (NASB; emphasis added). This, like all the moving around with the family, must have cost time, effort, and money, but Joseph led his family in this consistent habit nonetheless. I bet he also consistently obeyed Deuteronomy 6:4-9 also, talking about God’s law at every opportunity, and posting it at various locations for easy reference. The result was that Jesus “kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2;52 NASB).
These are just six of Joseph’s character traits we should mimic. Believers ought to strive to be righteous, compassionate, obedient, self-controlled, prudent, and consistent. Sometimes we completely overlook Joseph’s role at Christmas time, but we ought not to. The relatively scant references to his life and character ought to encourage and challenge us, and we ought to thank God for providing such a faithful earthly father for His Son. Of all the families on earth, God chose this one to raise and guide His Son, and there is much we can learn from such a family.
Last month Ryan Kelly and Kevin DeYoung posted an essay on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) blog (that originally appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Affinity) defending the existence of interdenominational or extra-ecclesial partnerships. Though the essay addresses a few different examples of these kinds of partnerships, the main focus is on TGC. After a quick historical look (that, oddly, focuses primarily on state-sponsored efforts) they briefly discuss Together for the Gospel before providing a quick synopsis of TGC and then attempt to answer several criticisms that have been leveled against TGC. Whether or not they are successful at understanding and answering these criticisms is not under consideration here. Instead, I’d like to consider an interesting statement about TGC and Dispensationalists.
In the midst of defending TGC against the charge of being either too narrow and exclusive or too broad or ambiguous in its doctrinal stance, they discuss the nature of TGC’s Founding Documents:
“TGC circumscribes certain doctrinal positions and not others, because some are central to the preaching of the gospel (for example, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, eternality of hell); some differences evince deep hermeneutical differences, and are practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism); and some so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that they must be made explicit (Reformed soteriology)….TGC’s Confessional Statement falls within the broader Reformed tradition, and, as noted earlier, it is particular regarding monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification; yet it is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like. The Foundational Documents could not be fully embraced by hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals. However, among the council there are Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopalian/Anglican, Baptist, Free Church, and nondenominational, all of which must agree with what is contained in the Foundation Documents. At a little more than 2,300 words, the confessional statement is not aiming for the kind of doctrinal specificity found in the Westminster Confession of Faith or The Second Helvetic Confession. The points of doctrinal specificity in TGC’s documents are intentional, as are the areas of silence.”
Though I’m not certain what they mean by “hard-line dispensationalists,” I find the listing of four categories of “Christians” who could not fully embrace the Foundational Documents interesting: “hard-line dispensationalists, Lutherans, emergents, or mainline liberals.” The latter two would not be able to embrace the documents because they do not affirm things like inerrancy, penal substitution, the uniqueness of Christ, etc. In other words, they could not be part of TGC because they effectively deny the gospel. I’m not certain why Lutherans would be excluded (perhaps this is a reference to the controversy of the Lutheran view of sanctification espoused by former TGC blogger Tullian Tchividjian), but it seems odd that they and “hard-line dispensationalists” would be excluded along with those who have practically rejected the gospel.
So why would “hard-line dispensationalists” be excluded? Dispensationalism has no distinct teaching on areas related to “monergistic soteriology, complementarianism, inerrancy, a historical Adam, and double imputation in justification.” Many Dispensationalists—from a variety of flavors of Dispensationalism—would affirm all of those things. Where Dispensationalism offers a unique understanding in theology centers first of all in ecclesiology (e.g., what is the church, when did it start, what is its relationship to Israel) and secondarily in eschatology (e.g., when will the rapture occur, what is the nature of the kingdom, etc.) Those two areas seem to be matters where these authors claim TGC has remained silent: “[TGC’s confession] is unspecific as to eschatology, church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like.”
Why are “hard-line dispensationalists” excluded then? My guess is that, despite Kelly and DeYoung’s claims, TGC has taken a stand on eschatology. As Kevin Bauder has noted, most traditional dispensationalists (perhaps this is what is meant by “hard-line”) do not believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated, while TGC’s Founding Documents explicitly claim that it has.
My question: why include a specific statement on the kingdom of God in the confessional statement but not specific statements on things like “church polity, sacraments, miraculous gifts, and the like”? Where does an inaugurated form of the kingdom fit in their explanation for what doctrinal specifics are included? Is it “central to the preaching of the gospel”? Is it a difference that “evince[s] deep hermeneutical differences, and [is] practically necessary for something like a preaching conference (complementarianism)”? Does it “so affect our understanding of God’s glory and grace that [it] must be made explicit”? I don’t see how it fits in any of those areas. So why include a statement in a confession designed to unite believers around the gospel that excludes a large number of believers who fully embrace the gospel?
In December of 2001, I was playing trumpet at a Christmas concert with my high school jazz band. The song was “Silent Night,” which featured a lengthy trombone solo. We played a lot of trombone features, as our band boasted an exceptionally talented trombonist. As a high schooler, this guy subbed with the Minnesota Orchestra. He went on to Juilliard, playing in award-winning brass groups and rubbing shoulders with the big wigs. But that night in 2001 ended up more silent than he planned. He froze up, hardly able to piece the melody together. And he was devastated.
He was devastated for the same reason so many musicians and artists sail or sink with their work: music was not just something he did, it was an extension of himself. The quality of his playing said something about him.
That’s part of the reason musicians can be funny people, including those who lead in the church. They often possess a combination of confidence and insecurity, obstinacy and fragility, fighting off discouragement when things go poorly while simultaneously surprised that everybody isn’t requesting an autograph.
Related: The prayers of a worship leader - Matt Boswell
This is dangerous thinking for worship leaders and worship pastors. If you serve in that sort of role, you’re familiar with the temptation to evaluate and interpret a Sunday morning gathering in light of how it reflects on you. You must crucify that temptation. You don’t want to be the sort of person who, as Jim Hamilton said in a recent sermon, makes yourself the central reference point in every situation, considering “how this reflects on us, and how this makes us look, and how this makes us feel, and what this means about us. … We want to be people who, in every situation we find ourselves in, our central reference point is Jesus and other people.”
As a worship leader or worship pastor, you must look past yourself and remember that you serve Christ and his church.
Serving God’s people by leading them as they address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord” is a weighty and wonderful task, and one that demands pastoral care and sensitivity (Eph 5:19). You don’t serve your preferences or tastes, or your need to appear up-to-date in your song selection, or your need to have your talent affirmed, or your need for artistic expression.
It’s tempting to let these things determine the form of your ministry, and to evaluate your Sunday morning gatherings by whether or not these things happened. But that’s not what it’s about. Not even close. Remember, you sing not yourself, but Christ Jesus as Lord for the sake of his people (2 Cor 4:5). How you evaluate your ministry and your weekly gathering should reflect that reality: did we exalt Christ? Were his people edified?
Related: Learn about our degree options through the Department of Biblical Worship
As it turns out, the temptation for music leaders to make themselves the central point of their ministry isn’t new. Charles Spurgeon cared deeply about the music ministry at Metropolitan Tabernacle, and he wanted his song leader to lay aside his own interests in deference to the people he led:
“The people come together not to see you as a songster, but to praise the Lord in the beauty of Holiness … None should be defrauded of their part in the worship because of the exclusive taste of the leader.” (quoted in Tom Nettles’ Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
God’s people gather to praise the Lord, not to marvel at your gifts. And the “success” of your Sunday mornings has nothing to do with whether or not your people perceived your giftedness. Over time, the priorities of your ministry will make clear whose glory you seek.
If you’re looking for a good example of this kind of God-and-others-centeredness, look no further than the Word made flesh. Christ came on unfavorable terms: he laid aside glory, knew sorrow, embraced those who would reject him, and died. So let your ministry take a Christ-ian shape. Pick up your cross. Love God. Serve his people.
Matt Damico is an M.Div graduate of Southern Seminary and is currently serving as the pastor of worship at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. You can follow Matt on twitter at: @mattpdamico or at MattDamico.wordpress.com. This article was originally published on the Southern Blog on December 2, 2013.
We are pleased to announce that Josh Peglow of Silverdale, WA is the winner of our recent book giveaway. The books will go in the mail today. Thanks to all who entered.
Since I had several December pregnancies, I found myself frequently thinking of Mary, the first Christmas Mother. As I thought of my troubles and fears with my pregnancy—nothing unusual, just what is common to woman: morning sickness, fatigue, aches, and concerns about the safety of the delivery of the child—I remembered that she was quite possibly, the bravest mother who ever lived. She faced obstacles on every hand but she faced them with courage. Her life was full and good, but it was not at all what she imagined her life and her motherhood would be.
The Jesuits are responsible for the quote, “Give me the child . . . and I will give you the man.” The idea is simple, our childhood influences have a profound impact on who we become as adults. The impressionable season of childhood is a landscape paved with worldview risks and opportunities.
That’s why the “world’s most celebrated atheist,” Richard Dawkins, author of the The God Delusion, has turned his attention to writing for a younger audience. In his children’s book The Magic of Reality, published in 2011, he set out to dispel myths about the world. In an interview about the book Dawkins said, “I care that children are being misled by those stupid people,” referring to those who believe the Genesis account of the origins of the universe and of human life.
A recent article in the New Republic provided a good context for interpreting Richard Dawkins just in the title of the article alone, “The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins: His Atheism is its Own Kind of Narrow Religion.” But despite a growing recognition that the aging New Atheists are far less open minded than their PR projections of themselves, there is no shortage of college students moving in lock step with their godless campaign. Many college students, all statistics aside, have abandoned the Christian faith for a worldview devoid of deity.
They’ve exchanged one story for another. Every person has a worldview and every worldview is a story. The secular worldview is based on a belief that the cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be. It’s a story that started by chance, is governed by nothing, and is heading nowhere.
On the other hand, the Christian narrative begins with the belief summarized in John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word became flesh.” The Christian story is simply better, and to borrow a pet phrase from Henry Kissinger, “it has the added advantage of being true.”
Like Dawkins, I think explaining fundamental concepts about the nature of reality to children is a must. But I have a very different worldview than Dawkins. I think that reality is best explained by a God who is there and who is not silent: a Creator who has revealed himself in human history.
Dan DeWitt serves as dean of Boyce College. He is the author of the forthcoming book Jesus or Nothing, and editor of A Guide to Evangelism. You can connect with DeWitt through his website or on twitter.
The Owlings is a worldview adventure for readers young and old alike about a young boy named Josiah who discovered an important lesson from some unlikely visitors. Gilbert, a talking owl, is joined by three of his friends to explain the greatest truth in all of the world—that the world is not all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.
You can learn more about The Owlings at theowlings.org.
Order a copy at Amazon.com.
Language is incredibly powerful, especially when it is ambiguous. Most of us learn that ambiguity is bad from an early age, but that’s because most of the people who influence us confuse it with vagueness. Poets cram expansive meaning into minuscule phrases through ambiguity. So do sloganeers.
A little while back key leaders from every part of Criswell College sat around a table and looked for a phrase to catch and communicate our deep-seated commitment to following Jesus, educating students, mentoring disciples, serving churches, and impacting the community and culture around us. After our goldilocks committee had tasted and rejected every too-long, too-hot, too-narrow, too-cold, and too-already-taken option set before us, we found one that works: “Engaging Minds. Transforming Culture.”
Being a relaxed (in my opinion) grammar maven, I suspect it is not obvious to everyone why this participially weighted slogan is just right for us. Participles provide one of the simplest ways to add ambiguity to a phrase. They have two meanings prima facie; that is, as adjectives and as verbs. (Of course, given the right context, a participial form might even be more; for instance, a gerund.) Having a lot to say and very little space to say it, as in a slogan, just begs for a participle with ambiguity. What does that mean for Criswell’s slogan? Glad you asked.
When I began as a student at Criswell ages ago, I was stricken by the high level of intellectual engagement in the classroom. Contrary opinions were welcomed and responses, while just as vigorous as the challenges, were courteous and winsome rather than forced. I was challenged (read, required) to read authors with whom I know my professors agreed, and just as many with whom I know they disagreed. It was…invigorating. Similarly, since I began serving on faculty at Criswell over a decade ago I have found discussions at lunch, in public forums, and in meetings to raise the level at which I have to think and function. Indeed, I still find the theological or philosophical question a student raises in the hallway enough to drive me to re-examine important ideas. The point is simple: Criswell College is filled with engaging minds—those of alumni, students, faculty, and staff—connecting on topics of the deepest significance, but, believe it or not, with kindness and even for fun. It is one of the main reasons people love being part of the school.
But “engaging” also serves as a verb. When God sends a student to Criswell, we see it as our job to do more than indoctrinate. Now, we are a confessional school, and our professors sign our statement of faith every year. Each and every one of us is committed to producing leaders who care about the broad strokes and the details of that confession. But the essence of our existence as a school is about more than persuading or controlling. It is about educating—engaging minds in a fearless and rigorous pursuit of truth, understanding that “wherever truth may be found, it belongs to its master.” We challenge the naïve to travel all the way around the skeptic and back to a much more grounded faith. We drive the stubbornly mature to realize that for a believer neither learning nor growing should cease in this lifetime.
Again, adjectives first. Criswell College is a transformative place. We hear all the time that some of the most important relationships of a lifetime begin on campus at Criswell. Lives are impacted by a lecture in class, prayer in an office, service on a mission trip or during a practicum, or a discussion in the coffee shop or on the parking lot after chapel or before class. The point of all of those relationships, ideas, and activities at Criswell College is faith–specifically faith to follow Jesus. Our people, curricula, events, plans, and hopes are all wrapped up in following Him. We cling to that faith so that every person we influence can be transformed by its object–by Jesus. To be univocal rather than ambiguous for a moment, Criswell College is a transformative culture.
But verbs still matter. And so does the culture around us. We want the faith culture of the school to impact students as much as we want the faith of our graduates to impact the culture in which they will live and work.
When Criswell College began, our denomination was on the doctrinal skids. The purpose of the school was to produce and equip leaders who could reverse that decline–and it worked. Obviously, our school was not alone in that reversal, but we were instrumental if not downright essential. And I do mean “we” literally; some of the most influential professors from that time are still producing leaders today. The nature of that work demanded the best of biblical studies, theology, and ministry training. Neither that need nor our commitment to meet it will decline in any way as we continue to educate men and women to lead in the context of churches and ministries.
But what we see now is an entire culture in decline. The West’s rise in material prosperity is matched only by its decline in spiritual awareness. For the time being, it appears that the most influential leaders among us are content to exchange virtue’s birthright for a pot of money. That’s why we are committed at Criswell College over the next few years to provide the same grounding in scripture, theology, and vocational ministry that restored our denomination, but also to add to that content specialized training in disciplines which can influence business, government, education, and media. By grounding students in at least a major’s worth of biblical Christianity, then providing them professors who are not only at the top of their academic disciplines but also ardently committed to our statement of faith, we believe we can produce the kind of leaders this culture needs in order to be turned from its current trajectory.
Ridiculously ambitious? Well, yes. But, if the Lord tarries and we don’t, there is time and real potential. If a brief phrase can mean more than its words, then it seems likely a small community can move more than its parts. We don’t just think God sends us students so we can influence them. We believe God sends the college students so He can send the culture leaders.
The season of Advent is one in which the Church anticipates, prepares for, and celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ into our midst. As I thought about waiting expectantly for the presence of Jesus, I started wondering what exactly I am waiting for. What is it I expect from his coming? Am I waiting for him to come and fix my circumstances or get me out of a tight place? Do I just want him to ease my suffering and pain, to bring comfort and solace?
Last week, Pope Francis made headlines by announcing in his weekly address that we will be able to see our pets in heaven. Specifically, he pontificated, “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.” Since this statement is sure to set the theological world abuzz, I thought I would use this week’s blog post to help delineate some key theological implications of this statement:
(1) Since Paradise is only “open to” all of God’s creatures, it is clear that the Pope is not advocating Pet Universalism, but something on the order of Hypothetical Pet Universalism or possibly Pet Amyraldism. It seems unlikely, however, based on the Pope’s track record, that he affirms the dread doctrine of Limited Pet Atonement.
(2) As such, we must conclude that some pets do not meet the criteria for regeneration. Based on other Roman Catholic materials, it seems fairly clear that baptism is a critical piece of the puzzle. I am convinced that it is theologically necessary to conclude that while most dogs will go to heaven, cats universally go to Purgatory and thence to hell. This is because all cats refuse to submit to baptism—especially baptism by immersion. In my former life as a catvangelist, I found this to be consistently true.
(3) The foregoing suggests that cats have been “given over” to a reprobate mind (Rom 1:24). Paul’s words later in the chapter are particularly instructive: while dogs do sin, they always look guilty afterward and seek forgiveness. Cats, on the other hand, “knowing that those who do unrighteous deeds deserve death, not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them.” Cats definitively prove the doctrine of total depravity.
I could go on, but I thought the blogosphere would be the perfect place to collect additional materials toward a theology of pets. When you’re all done, I will collect all of your responses and forward them to the Vatican.
Nothing serious, please—any responses that are not at least a little bit funny will be snagged and summarily deleted by our blog enforcer.
Friendly fire is a devastating reality of war. In the velocity of action and unrelenting conflict battlefield weapons can be redirected toward the wrong target with unforgiving consequences. The trauma and scars of physical combat are compounded for everyone involved when the source is someone wearing the same uniform.
What takes place in that regrettable scene on a battlefield is sadly a reality in the church as well. Despite the obvious differences in force of action, there is also a difference in motive. Friendly fire on a battlefield is right intentions in the wrong direction. Friendly fire in the church is wrong intentions in the wrong direction.
When Christians default to sinful assaults on another believers, the glory of Christ is dismantled and everyone gets hit. Hugh Hewitt recently challenged a room full of leaders to “expect to get hit from behind.” Anticipate that your most scathing, personal assaults will often come from those you partner with in ministry. Those you learn from, recruit, hire, mentor, lead, and serve. It’s not the attacks from unbelievers in the community or even from believers on the periphery of the ministry. It is assaults from those who have direct access to your heart, who for whatever reason, use their access and knowledge to launch accusations, spread gossip and advance slander. Similar to the volley of war, it is anything by friendly.
Seminary can prepare a man for ministry in many ways, but classroom lectures did not warn us to expect false accusations, slander and unfair criticism from fellow alumni, pastors and other ministry leaders with whom we would one day partner. The warnings about ministry perils postured attacks as coming from the outside bloggers or a faceless liberal that might have clandestinely crept into the church. Though by no means am I a seasoned
veteran in ministry, the past 12 years have proven Proverbs 19:10, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.”
No New Testament pastor had his character assaulted and sabotaged more than Paul. Time after time, those he sacrificially, served attacked him, accusing him of being in ministry for impure, self serving reasons. It
goes with the territory of ministry. When you find yourself in those crosshairs, here is a simple strategy for responding to and recovering from personal attacks:
1. Be humble. Dump defensiveness. We have sin in areas we do not even consider. Though we may be guilty of anything to provoke the sharp assault of others, sin is nonetheless in us. God often uses these situations,
including our reaction to unearth pride from which we must repent.
2. Examine your conscience. The sting of attacks can often blind us from our true faults. Take even exaggerated accusations as an opportunity to examine our heart before God. Invite the candid input of honest
sources of biblical feedback. Cultivate a sensitivity to the Spirit’s conviction under the Scripture’s diagnosis.
3. Repent where you did sin. Repent of any sin that has been revealed. It may not be the subject on which you were attacked; however regardless of what it is, sin must be repented of and forsaken.
4. Respond immediately. Let your critic know you are humbly considering their words. If something is found from your internal introspection and consultation with others, then confess it immediately. This clears
you out of the way and prepares you for the next step.
5. Confront the source. Cowardly Pharisees love to launch verbal grenades. If you are innocent in what you’ve been slandered, then with the boldness of a lion, confront them. Head on. Failure here only allows sin
to flourish. In a loving, direct way, go directly to the source and follow the pathway of Matthew 18.
6. Forgive, even if reconciliation is improbable. Remember, some critics only want chaos, not biblical unity. Even if biblically reconciling is complicated and unlikely, we can have a genuine heart of forgiveness. That
releases me from continuing to grow bitter and vindictive. When you forgive, keep your promise. Have a short memory for others’ failures even on this front. Leave a road back, remembering the kindness of God and his
grace with you.
7. Pray for them. Jesus tells us to do this in Matthew 5. That’s not there simply as a nice thought, it is a critical prevention from bitterness and revenge. If conversations of your attackers arrive in your home, be sure to
lead those family members in prayer for the situation. Never assume everyone in your home processes your attackers in the same way. Many “pastor’s kids” have grown up hating their father’s verbal assailants without
being taught how to entrust these things to God.
8. Rest in God’s defense. One pastor recently reminded me that “one day all wrongs will be made right, it just may not be in my lifetime.” Vindication on earth is often rare. To the greatest extent possible, abide as Paul
exhorted being at peace with all men. One day, on that day, God will make all wrongs right. Rest. Don’t replay the conversations with your confidants and shadow box your accuser. Entrust it to God and get back to work.
If you are walking in righteousness before our holy God, do not be surprised when false accusations, unfair criticism and slander flowing your way. It’s part of leadership, it’s part of ministry. Don’t flinch but endure in the
same manner as Christ did with his disciples, Paul did with the early church leaders and countless godly servants of Christ continue today. Press on.
Jim Stitzinger serves as the associate vice president of Institutional Advancement and director of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization at Southern Seminary. Previously he has served as a church planter and pastor in SW Florida and as the pastor of local outreach and evangelism at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, CA. He completed his M.Div at The Master’s Seminary in 2002, contributed to Evangelism in the John MacArthur Pastoral Library Series and edited the Grace Evangelism training curriculum. In addition, Jim served as adjunct professor of evangelism for The Master’s Seminary and as chaplain at multiple police departments and hospitals.
In the spirit of the season, we’ll be giving away a couple of books to one of our readers very soon. Here are the books:
Christians in an Age of Wealth by Craig Blomberg
Workbook in Romans by Kenneth Berding
If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, just leave a comment below mentioning one book you’ve read this year. The entry period will end at 5 pm EST, Tuesday, December 16, 2014. We’re planning to announce the winner sometime on Wednesday.
This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear, Dr. Craig,
My daughter died a little over a month ago. She would of been three January 18th.I loved her more then anything. She was born with a rare neurological disease. My question is... How could an all loving God, who loves his children and who has such great "power" would allow this to happen. How come everything that happens good to a believer confirms faith and the bad is considered a test or a cliquiest " God is mysterious" explanation. If he is so great and so good, then why he take my daughter from me?! ...
Readers of this blog may be interested in the short article I have written over at Reformation 21. The gist of my claim is that the person of Jesus Christ shapes our primary ethical response to torture and our attitude to its perpetration by our authorities. Person, that is, over procedure, particularly over fear based consequentialist reasoning that might allow in extremis the ends of security to justify the means of torture. I very minimally offer that the health of our moral imaginations as Christian citizens is attested to in our habits of corporate prayer.
In the context of acute and radical moral change, we now face an inevitable conflict of liberties that is excruciating, immense, and eminent. The conflict of liberties means that the new moral regime, with the backing of the courts and the regulatory state, will prioritize erotic liberty over religious liberty.
Over the course of the last several decades, we have seen this revolution coming. Erotic liberty has been elevated as a right more fundamental than religious liberty. Erotic liberty, foreign to the founders of this nation, now marginalizes, subverts, and neutralizes religious liberty — a liberty highly prized by the builders of this nation and its constitutional order. We must remember that the framers of the Constitution did not believe they were creating rights within the Constitution, but rather acknowledging rights given to all humanity by “nature and nature’s God.”
Erotic liberty emerges directly from arguments made in opinions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice William O. Douglas’ “finding” of the right to privacy, and thus a right to contraceptives within the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, laid much of the groundwork for the advancement of erotic liberty. As Douglas acknowledged, this right is by no means explicit or even present in the text of the Constitution but is drawn from “penumbras” emanating from the Constitution.
Similarly, in the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey decision on abortion in 1992, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter declared, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
A direct line can be drawn from Casey to the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down all laws against sodomy. In his majority opinion, Kennedy said, quoting from Casey:
These matters [personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education], involving those most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
Kennedy added, “Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do.”
In the Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry) and Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor) cases in 2013, the line was extended to advancing the momentum toward the total normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage. In Windsor, Justice Antonin Scalia announced that the imposition of legalized same-sex marriage coast-to-coast was now inevitable. He accused Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, and his colleagues of failing in their willingness to state this boldly. As Scalia anticipated, all we are waiting for now is for the other shoe to drop.
On Oct. 6, 2014, that shoe effectively has dropped. This day in U.S. legal history will be remembered for many years to come as a landmark day toward same-sex marriage. It was the day the nation’s highest court took one of the lowest paths of least resistance. It now seeks to maintain its prestige by avoiding the backlash the Court experienced in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade in 1973. It wants to have its victory without taking further risks to its reputation.
Consistent throughout all of these legal arguments is the assumption that erotic liberty is central to the project of defining “one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” as Kennedy found in Casey.
The use of that language demonstrates how erotic liberty typifies the freedom most cherished by the culture and most respected by the courts in the context of the secular age. A liberty that did not even exist when the Constitution was written now supersedes protections that are explicit in the Constitution. This explains the trajectory of court decisions and developments in the law and, at the same time, reveals the trajectory we can expect in the future.
In his withering dissent in Lawrence, Scalia argued that Kennedy set the stage for the legalization of same-sex marriage, which Kennedy denied. Scalia clearly found no joy in being right when the Windsor decision struck down the federal government’s law defining marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman.
Otherwise prescient in his analysis of the law, Scalia was incorrect about one matter. Scalia argued the succession of cases representing the progress of the gay liberation movement effectively meant the end of all morals legislation.
But it does not. The present trajectory of the courts only means the end of all morals legislation recognizable to American society just a matter of decades ago. Indeed, we can anticipate new morals legislation put into place that will reinforce the significant gains made by the sexual liberationists. Christians and other religious citizens will have to pay careful attention as these new laws are established, for religious liberty will be at stake and at risk in each of them.
The “take no prisoners” approach now demanded by the moral liberationists and increasingly accepted by the courts means that any exceptions are likely to be tenuous and very narrow, even when laws and regulations supposedly allow “religious exceptions.” We have already seen this in the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Obama administration authorities spoke of religious exemption only in terms of “houses of worship,” demonstrating the determination to narrow even allowed exceptions.
The aftermath of the Supreme Court decision siding with Hobby Lobby against the contraception mandate — an important exception to the rule of erotic liberty trumping religious liberty — nevertheless demonstrated that large sectors of American society and American political life have shifted their position in the contest of liberties.
Just two decades ago, legislation known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was put in place. That act required the federal government to respect religious liberty by demanding that all laws or restrictive regulations serve a legitimate and rational social purpose and be crafted so as to avoid conflict with the religious conscience of every citizen. That law, co-sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Orrin Hatch and Edward Kennedy, passed in the House of Representatives without a single dissenting vote and with 97 votes in the Senate. The fact that a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat co-sponsored the legislation indicated the comprehensive support for RFRA represented at the time.
In the Hobby Lobby decision, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, cited RFRA to show that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties had a religious liberty right that trumped the contraception mandate. In response, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, advocated legislation, supported by a large number of Democratic senators, to repeal RFRA or amend it so that it no longer had any legal teeth.
The challenge we now face consigns every believer, every congregation, and every religious institution to an arena of conflict where erotic liberty and religious liberty now clash. This poses no danger to theological liberals and their churches and denominations, which have accommodated themselves to the new morality and find themselves quite comfortable within the context of the new moral regime. Furthermore, some of these liberal denominations and churches style themselves as defenders of the new morality and actually advocate legal modifications that restrict the religious liberty rights of more conservative churches and denominations.
The arenas of conflict are already numerous and multiplying. Christian colleges and universities will face the immediate threat of being further marginalized in the larger culture. Some will be threatened with the denial of accreditation and labeled outlaws simply because they remain true to historic Christian conviction and biblical accountability. Given the fact that accrediting agencies and organizations such as the NCAA are identified as voluntary associations, they can make a legal claim to discriminate on that basis. But the “voluntary” nature of organizations such as regional accrediting agencies is undermined by the fact that, in many jurisdictions, colleges and universities are required to have such accreditation in order to have legal authority to conduct their programs.
The church’s freedom is not only the freedom to preach and teach within the confines of its worship service. Even as there are those now arguing to restrict or sanction speech by preachers, the more pressing threat is that the ministry of the church will be constricted by means of other regulations and discriminatory policies. Christians in the business world must watch very carefully as legislation such as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act comes into view. Without protection for religious liberty and Christian conscience, these laws will be used in a way that requires many Christians in business to decide between compromising conviction or going out of business.
Employees and executives in many corporations and American institutions already face this threat. They must either endorse the new moral regime or get out of the way. Christian humanitarian organizations face being cut off from access to ministry, unless they endorse the new sexual morality and operate by its precepts. Students in public schools face the denial of religious liberty rights, free association rights, and religious liberty rights as speech, thought, and conduct are increasingly defined in accordance with the new sexual morality. Christian couples may well face severe headwinds as they attempt to adopt children. As the revolution continues, they may find a host of secular family experts threatening to invade the sanctity of family life by asserting a moral authority contrary to that of the parents.
These are not idle threats or issues of hypothetical concern. Every one of these threats is rooted in arguments already made in the public square or political and legal processes already in play.
Interestingly, one of the early advocates of gay marriage warned his fellow moral revolutionaries that they must be careful lest they trample upon the conscience rights of their adversaries. In his book, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Jonathan Rauch said:
Today, I fear that many people on my side of the gay-equality question are forgetting our debt to the system that freed us. Some gay people — not all, not even most, but quite a few — want to expunge discriminatory views. “Discrimination is discrimination and bigotry is bigotry,” they say, “and they are intolerable whether or not they happen to be someone’s religion or moral creed.”
Rauch counters: “I hope that when gay people — and non-gay people — encounter hateful or discriminatory opinions, we respond not by trying to silence or punish them but by trying to correct them.” Very few signs, however, are signaling that Rauch’s hope is being heard.
A review of the religious liberty challenges already confronting the conscience, conduct, and belief rights of convictional Christians shows us how daunting all this really is. We can be sure this is not the end of our struggle. It is only the beginning.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is the 9th president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Aftermath: Life, Love, and Liberty in the Wake of a Sexual Revolution (Bethany House, September 2015). You can connect with Dr. Mohler on Twitter at @albertmohler, on Facebook or at AlbertMohler.com. This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.
In the latest issue of the Michigan Daily, the campus newspaper of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Claire Bryan runs an intriguing article, “Born to Believe?” The basic thrust of the article is that part of the human tendency toward “being religious” stems from the presence of a particular gene in our DNA sequence, viz., VMAT2. Those who have this gene have an elevated sense of “self-transcendence,” or “the interest people have in searching for something greater in this world, beyond their own personal experience,” usually reflected in a “desire for things like compassion, art, creativity, expression, spirituality.”
The author does not deny the influence of cultural background in individual expressions of religion, but affirms that “accepting this environmentally molded spirituality that is taught to you may be affected by the way you were born and the genes you have.” She concludes, “‘Being religious’ may not be in my control entirely. It may be the biological science of my body and beyond some of my own means.”
Of course the person who wrote this little article is theologically challenged (retarded is the word that came immediately to mind, but that word is not political expedient any more). All people, being endowed by their Creator with the imago dei, are born with lively and true religious impulses that we suppress or exchange for lies due to sin (Rom 1:18ff). So Ms. Bryan is flat-out wrong in her assessment.
But what I found particularly intriguing in this article is how it surfaces the great tension of the Aristotelian worldview held by many in the university community. For these, nothing is attributed to chance, much less to God, because everything about me is the product of biological, physical, chemical, and genetic patterns in combination. In such a system, no one can be culpable for who he is, because he can’t help it! And so we must allow left-handed people to be left-handed, allow vegans to be vegans, and allow homosexuals to be homosexuals. To suggest that any of these recessive traits should be “corrected” is the height of arrogance and intolerance: a denial of the liberty of authenticity. “People must be allowed to be themselves,” is the mantra of our day.
But no one can live with the implications of such a worldview. It might work on a limited scale, but surely not on a universal one. We don’t, for instance, appeal to genetic predispositions in allowing murderers to kill, pedophiles to abuse, or kleptomaniacs to steal; instead, we build correctional facilities to remediate such people. Nor do we shrug our shoulders upon meeting alcoholics, chain smokers, and compulsive gamblers and say, “Oh well, it can’t be helped. That’s just the way they are!” Instead, we offer means of correcting destructive behaviors and changing the way people are. And, ironically, it is unlikely that this university newspaper, which has ostensibly discovered that religious people can’t help being religious, will dissuade its own professors from attempting to “correct” the religion of their religious students or even attempting to disabuse them of their religious proclivities entirely.
No worldview save the Christian worldview is demonstrably free of such inconsistencies. And so let us promote it enthusiastically.