Fair Warning

Are you praying to become more like Jesus in 2011? Good. Me too. But don’t be surprised if it happens like this.

“I Asked The Lord”
John Newton (I like Emily DeLoach’s version)

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried
“Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“Tis in this way,” the Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

May God set us free from self and pride this year, even if he must break our schemes of earthly joy in the process.

Understanding how prayer works

Trying to dissect how prayer works is like using a magnifying glass to try to figure out why a woman is beautiful. If you turn God into an object, he has a way of disappearing…

The only way to know how prayer works is to have complete knowledge and control of the past, present, and future. In other words, you can figure out how prayer works if you are God. (Miller, A Praying Life, 128)

Piper: Why are Calvinists so negative?

I just stumbled across John Piper’s answer to this question, and it’s predictably excellent. Some of the points he makes:

  • The intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of person, who doesn’t tend to be the warm fuzzy type.
  • When people come to believe in the doctrines of grace, they’re often amazed that they missed them for so long, and sometimes angry that their churches haven’t been teaching them.
  • Calvinists do want to convince others of the truth of these doctrines. At best this is not out of elitism, but it sometimes comes across that way because of our sin.

Piper does a good job of acknowledging that this stereotype exists, admitting that it’s often accurate, and explaining why it is often inaccurate. It’s a much better answer than a cliche like “A proud Calvinist is an oxymoron.”

Hip social action and apologizing for Christians isn’t the Gospel.

Kevin DeYoung (coauthor of Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church, both highly recommended) has a great post today: The Gospel Old and New. He outlines the typical presentation of what he calls the New Gospel (my summary):

  1. Start with an apology for how terrible all [other] Christians are.
  2. Appeal to “God as love,” with no reference to his wrath.
  3. Give an invitation to “join God’s mission,” defined as working for peace and justice on earth.
  4. Close with a “studied ambivalence” on eternity: Is there a hell? Who am I to say? But let’s work for the here and now.

His conclusion:

This is no small issue. And it is not just a matter of emphasis. The New Gospel will not sustain the church. It cannot change the heart. And it does not save.

Read the whole thing.

Hitchens to believers: Man up!

Christopher Hitchens on his debates with Douglas Wilson:

Wilson isn’t one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just “metaphors.” He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn’t waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he “allows” it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing. (Incidentally, just when is President Barack Obama going to decide which church he attends?)

Sometimes Christians are embarrassed of or afraid to defend what we believe, so we pussyfoot and equivocate, thinking maybe then unbelievers will like us. Hitchens’ take here suggests otherwise. If you’re going to believe something the world hates (and they will), might as well man up and really believe it. They may think we’re stupid, but at least they won’t think we’re irrelevant.

“He is not after those three points. He is after that woman’s job.”

In his talk at DG’s Calvin conference, Doug Wilson gives a great illustration of Calvin’s doctrine of the supremacy and self-authentication of Scripture.

One day, the schoolmarm in the one-room schoolhouse of modernity gave a test to all the little kids in her class. The schoolmarm’s name was Mrs. Enlightenment, and one kid was named the Bhagavad Gita, and there were the Vedas, and there was the Koran, and another was the Book of Mormon. And of course the test was also given to the best student in the class, the Holy Bible.

When the tests were graded and returned, it turned out that the Bhagavad Gita scored a 38, the Koran a 52, the Book of Mormon a 17… and our Scriptures, our Bible, scored an impressive 97.

What does this make all of us want to do? It makes us want to get up to the teacher’s desk pronto, and argue for the three points, that’s what! We have fallen for the trap of thinking that inerrancy requires us to be grade nerds: always the best student in the class, but one who cannot abide making a mistake and who will argue with the teacher over every last point.

But something is more fundamentally wrong with this picture than that unfair grading process. The problem is that the Bible never enrolled in that class to begin with, and never agreed to be tested by any Mrs. Enlightenment. The Scriptures do not take these tests; the Scriptures administer tests. The Bible is not that which meets the standard; the Bible is that which sets the standard.

So would Calvin have agreed that the Bible is like silver refined sevenfold, as in Psalm 12:6? Yes, certainly. Would he have agreed with a score of 97? Of course not. The Scriptures are not a possession of ours which we may put into the world’s balances to be weighed. Rather, the Scriptures are God’s scales, in which he places the entire world, and all the nations of men.

…[series of Calvin quotes and explanation]…

[Calvin] would have no trouble showing that the three points were rightfully ours. But he would also have no trouble showing Mrs. Enlightenment that unbelief ought not to be teaching that class or grading the papers. He is not after those three points. He is after that woman’s job.

Listen to the whole thing. (Don’t just read it; it’s not a full manuscript and some of the best parts are off-the-cuff.)

DeYoung: Church critics and their inconsistency

From Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s Why We Love the Church, as quoted by JT:

But then again, consistency is not a postmodern virtue. And nowhere is this more aptly displayed than in the barrage of criticisms leveled against the church.

The church-is-lame crowd hates Constantine and notions of Christendom, but they want the church to be a patron of the arts, and run after-school programs, and bring the world together in peace and love.

They bemoan the over-programmed church, but then think of a hundred complex, resource-hungry things the church should be doing.

They don’t like the church because it is too hierarchical, but then hate it when it has poor leadership.

They wish the church could be more diverse, but then leave to meet in a coffee shop with other well-educated thirtysomethings who are into film festivals, NPR, and carbon offsets.

They want more of a family spirit, but too much family and they’ll complain that the church is ‘inbred.’

They want the church to know that its reputation with outsiders is terrible, but then are critical when the church is too concerned with appearances.

They chide the church for not doing more to address social problems, but then complain when the church gets too political.

They want church unity and decry all our denominations, but fail to see the irony in the fact that they have left to do their own thing because they can’t find a single church that can satisfy them.

They are critical of the lack of community in the church, but then want services that allow for individualized worship experiences.

They want leaders with vision, but don’t want anyone to tell them what to do or how to think.

They want a church where the people really know each other and care for each other, but then they complain the church today is an isolated country club, only interested in catering to its own members.

They want to be connected to history, but are sick of the same prayers and same style every week.

They call for not judging “the spiritual path of other believers who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people,” and then they blast the traditional church in the harshest, most unflattering terms.

Why invoking Nazism is bad (for both Left and Right)

Michael Gerson:

Nazism is not a useful symbol for everything that makes us angry, from Iraq to abortion. It is a historical movement, unique in the ambitions of its cruelty…  Nazism was the “beard game,” in which the beards and sidelocks of Jews were pulled off or set afire before audiences of cheering soldiers. It was the practice of making elderly Jews dance around a fire of burning Torah scrolls. It was whole orphanages deported to death camps, and pits full of corpses, and ancient communities erased from human memory, and death factories issuing a thick smoke of souls, and a mother trading her gold ring for a glass of water to give her dying child.

Read the whole thing.

Piper on Drama and Movies in Worship

John Piper:

I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching.

Read the whole thing. Not only because he’s right, but because he distinguishes well between biblical command and personal practice.

Ultimately right, proximately stupid.

President Obama this morning:

The future does not belong to those who gather armies on a field of battle or bury missiles in the ground.

One day that will be proven right. It will not be because of Obama’s brilliance.