Monthly Archives: May 2013

 

May

31

2013

Justin Taylor|1:00 pm CT

Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology: Now Free as an eBook

Thanks to BiblicalTraining.org, Berkhof’s classic theology text is now freely (and legally) available here.

Berkhof (1873-1957) was born in the Netherlands, and his family moved to Grand Rapids when he was 9.

After graduating from Calvin Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary, he returned to Calvin and joined the faculty. For the first two decades he taught biblical studies, and then for almost two decades after that he taught systematic theology. He also became president of the seminary in 1931 and continued so until his retirement in 1944.

His Systematic Theology was published in 1932 and revised in 1938.

Wayne Grudem has said Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is “a great treasure-house of information and analysis . . . probably the most useful . . . systematic theology available from any theological perspective.” Richard Muller calls it “the best modern English-language introduction to doctrinal theology of the Reformed tradition.”

It tends a bit toward proof-texting‚ which is not to say that Scripture is regularly misused but that he does not generally show his exegetical work. Further, the book is not very original or creative. In many ways, it is an English summary of Bavinck and a compendium of mainstream Reformed theology.

But having read every word of this influential work, I have no hesitation in warmly commending it as one of the most useful ways to get an excellent summary of virtually all areas of systematic theology.

 
 

May

30

2013

Justin Taylor|6:54 am CT

Darwin’s Doubt: An Interview with Stephen C. Meyer

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design and director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, has a new book being published June 18 by HarperOne: Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. 

(For the best discount and free shipping, you can pre-order the book here, and they’ll also send you four free eBooks on intelligent design.)

Dr. Meyer argues that the mysterious features of the Cambrian explosion are better explained by intelligent design than purely undirected evolutionary processes. He was kind enough to answer a few questions.

What is the “Cambrian Explosion”? 

The Cambrian explosion is an important event in the history of life where nearly all of the major animal body plans appear abruptly in the fossil record without any apparent evolutionary precursors.

Why is that significant?

What this means, in essence, is that virtually all of the major animal groups (called “phyla”)—vertebrates like fish, to arthropods (e.g., trilobites and shrimplike creatures), to various types of worms (e.g., earthworm-like annelid worms), to mollusks (e.g., shellfish), and many other types of animals—appear in a geological “blink of an eye,” without any direct ancestors in the fossil record. Even Richard Dawkins has observed that the Cambrian animals looked as if “they were just planted there without any evolutionary history.”

Do you believe it was a real event?

Yes, we take the Cambrian explosion to have been a real event. And we aren’t alone in taking that view. Most leading evolutionary paleontologists who are top authorities on the Cambrian period—people like Douglas Erwin, James Valentine, and Simon Conway Morris—agree that the evidence shows the Cambrian explosion was a real event, and is not merely an artifact of the fossil record.

Did Darwin know about the Cambrian explosion? Did he see problems with it?

Darwin himself knew that the abrupt appearance of animals in the ancient fossil record posed a problem for his theory. In his time, it was called the Silurian period, but later it was renamed the Cambrian.

Darwin knew that his theory of evolution by natural selection worked gradually, and required that structures and organs be built by “numerous, successive, slight modifications.”

But the Cambrian explosion contradicted that pattern, since it showed diverse and complex animal body plans appearing abruptly, without any fossil record of their evolution.

Darwin confessed that this was not something his theory could explain. He acknowledged that doubt in Origin of Species, and said it was a “valid argument against the views here entertained.”

Have the last century of fossil discoveries resolved or aggravated Darwin’s doubt?

Fossil discoveries since Darwin’s time have only made the Cambrian explosion problem worse for his theory.

Darwin believed that the fossil record was woefully incomplete, and he predicted that the problem of abrupt appearance of animals in the Cambrian would be alleviated by future discoveries.

But the opposite happened. Scientists have combed the Precambrian strata for the alleged precursors to the Cambrian animals, and they haven’t found the direct evolutionary ancestors that Darwinian theory predicts. Instead, they have made new discoveries which confirmed that the Cambrian explosion was real event—and a worldwide one—and that the animal phyla really did appear abruptly.

The first major Cambrian-era fossil discovery after Darwin’s time took place over a hundred years ago now, in 1909, when Charles Doolittle Walcott (then the head of the Smithsonian Institution) discovered the Burgess Shale Cambrian deposit in the Canadian Rockies. This deposit showed many diverse soft and hard-bodied organisms which were preserved in exquisite detail. They all appeared in the Cambrian, with no clear evolutionary ancestors.

The question remained, however, whether the Burgess Shale Cambrian animals were a lucky isolated event, or evidence of a worldwide pattern. Over the next decades, additional discoveries of Cambrian animals were made in other parts of the world, including Russia, Greenland, and Australia.

But the most spectacular find of all took place in 1984, with the discovery of Cambrian fossils in Chengjiang, China. This deposit confirmed that the Cambrian explosion was a worldwide event, with many of the same creatures found in Canada being present in beautiful detail.

So as more and more fossils have been discovered, we’ve found the same pattern over and over around the world: diverse types of animals appear abruptly in the Cambrian, without clear evolutionary precursors. This has accentuated the “dilemma” that Darwin faced.

How do you respond to the argument that humans can trace their evolutionary ancestry to the Cambrian fish since both share backbones and dorsal nerve cords?

Sure, humans and fish both share backbones and nerve codes. That’s no surprise to anyone. In fact, humans also share genes with bananas and bacteria. That organisms share genes or structural parts does not necessarily reflect common ancestry, because it could indicate that they were built upon a common body plan. After all, it’s a good design principle to re-use parts that work in different designs—this is exactly why mechanical engineers put wheels on both cars and airplanes, or why technology designers put keyboards on both computers and cell phones. That different organisms share some of the same parts could easily reflect common design rather than common descent.

In fact, when evolutionary biologists have tried to construct evolutionary trees (called “phylogenetic trees”) to show how the animal phyla are related, they have encountered great difficulties. An evolutionary tree based on one gene or body part, will sharply conflict with an evolutionary tree based upon another gene or body part. A paper just published in the journal Nature last week acknowledged that the genetic data has caused a lot of problems for those trying to construct a “tree of life.” One of the study’s co-authors, Antonis Rokas of Vanderbilt University, stated: “It has become common for top-notch studies to report genealogies that strongly contradict each other in where certain organisms sprang from, such as the place of sponges on the animal tree or of snails on the tree of mollusks.”


To see how Dr. Meyer connects all of this to intelligent design, check out the book: Darwin’s Doubt.

You can also watch below a trailer for an earlier documentary that began to explore these issues:

 
 

May

29

2013

Justin Taylor|1:49 pm CT

The Difference between Congregational Worship and a Concert

John Piper, writing in 2008:

Thirteen years ago we asked: What should be the defining sound of corporate worship at Bethlehem, besides the voice of biblical preaching?

We meant: Should it be pipe organ, piano, guitar, drums, choir, worship team, orchestra, etc. The answer we gave was “The people of Bethlehem singing.”

Some thought: That’s not much help in deciding which instruments should be used. Perhaps not. But it is massively helpful in clarifying the meaning of those moments.

If Bethlehem is not “singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart,” (Ephesians 5:19), it’s all over. We close up shop. This is no small commitment.

James K. A. Smith, writing last year, made a similar point. While there may be a few exceptions to what he says here, I think he’s exactly right with regard to the main thrust of Christian congregational worship.

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.

Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.

2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.

In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.

3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity—even with the best of intentions—it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.

You can read the whole thing here.

 
 

May

29

2013

 
 

May

28

2013

 
 

May

28

2013

 
 

May

28

2013

Justin Taylor|8:00 am CT

If God Is Sovereign, Why Is My Sanctification So Slow?

If God is sovereign (and he is), and if my sanctification brings him glory (and it does), then why do I continue to struggle so much?

For example, Christians know that communion with God in prayer, faith, and the Word will give us substantive joy. But we often cut it short or skip it all together for trifling things.

Writing to a correspondent in 1776, John Newton described it this way:

Though he knows that communion with God is his highest privilege, he too seldom finds it so; on the contrary, if duty, conscience, and necessity did not compel, he would leave the throne of grace unvisited from day to day. He takes up the Bible, conscious that it is the fountain of life and true comfort; yet perhaps, while he is making the reflection, he feels a secret distaste, which prompts him to lay it down, and give him preference to a newspaper.

Newton then raises the sovereignty problem:

How can these things be, or why are they permitted? Since the Lord hates sin, teaches his people to hate it and cry against it, and has promised to hear their prayers, how is it that they go thus burdened? Surely, if he could not, or would not, over-rule evil for good, he would permit it to continue.

Here is how he answers:

By these exercises he teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part.

His method of salvation is likewise hereby exceedingly endeared to us: we see that it is and must be of grace, wholly of grace; and that the Lord Jesus Christ, and his perfect righteousness, is and must be our all in all.

His power likewise, in maintaining his own work notwithstanding our infirmities, temptations, and enemies, is hereby displayed in the clearest light; his strength is manifested in our weakness.

Satan likewise is more remarkably disappointed and put to shame, when he finds bounds set to his rage and policy, beyond which he cannot pass; and that those in whom he finds so much to work upon, and over whom he so often prevails for a season, escape at last out of his hands. He casts them down, but they are raised again; he wounds them, but they are healed; he obtains his desire to sift them as wheat, but the prayer of their great Advocate prevails for the maintenance of their faith.

Farther, by what believers feel in themselves they learn by degrees how to warn, pity, and bear with others. A soft, patient, and compassionate spirit, and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down, is not perhaps attainable in any other way.

And, lastly, I believe nothing more habitually reconciles a child of God to the thought of death, than the wearisomeness of this warfare. Death is unwelcome to nature;—but then, and not till then, the conflict will cease. Then we shall sin no more. The flesh, with all its attendant evils, will be laid in the grave. Then the soul, which has been partaker of a new and heavenly birth, shall be freed from every incumbrance, and stand perfect perfect in the Redeemer’s righteousness before God in glory.

Newton goes on to answer the question of how such sin can be mitigated or overcome. Here’s a summary of what he recommends:

Faithfulness to light received, and a sincere endeavor to conform to the means prescribed in the word of God, with an humble application to the Blood of sprinkling and the promised Spirit, will undoubtedly be answered by increasing measures of light, faith, strength, and comfort; and we shall know, if we follow on to know the Lord.

Pastors in particular should strongly consider picking up a copy of Letters of John Newton. Let me also recommend (way in advance!) Tony Reinke’s forthcoming book, Newton on the Christian Life. A goldmine of godly counsel awaits those who listen to and learn from Newton.

 
 

May

27

2013

Justin Taylor|7:54 pm CT

A Former Abortion Doctor with 1,200 Killings Describes a Late-Term Abortion

Below is revoltingly detailed congressional testimony from Dr. Anthony Levatino, a pro-life physician in New Mexico who performed 1,200 abortions as an OBGYN, some of them at 20 weeks. After his 5-year-old daughter died in an automobile accident he reevaluated his beliefs and practice and became pro-life. This testimony was delivered May 23, 2013, in support of the proposed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

You can read a transcript of his remarks here.

HT: John Piper, Marvin Olasky

You can watch below Dr. Levatino’s testimony:

 
 

May

27

2013

Justin Taylor|8:00 am CT

When Do You Feel Most Alive?

John Stott’s answer when asked:

 
 

May

26

2013

Justin Taylor|6:24 pm CT

Who Was Charles Hodge?

Andrew Hoffecker, author of Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton, provides an overview:

 
 

May

25

2013

Justin Taylor|7:00 pm CT

A Good Prayer to Pray on Saturday Night or Sunday Morning

From The Valley of Vision, “First Day Morning: Worship“:

We are going to the house of prayer,

pour upon us the spirit of grace and supplication;

We are going to the house of praise,

awaken in us every grateful and cheerful emotion;

We are going to the house of instruction,

give testimony to the Word preached,

and glorify it in the hearts of all who hear;

may it

enlighten the ignorant,

awaken the careless,

reclaim the wandering,

establish the weak,

comfort the feeble-minded,

make ready a people for their Lord.

Be a sanctuary to all who cannot come,

Forget not those who never come,

And do thou bestow upon us

benevolence towards our dependants,

forgiveness towards our enemies,

peaceableness towards our neighbours,

openness towards our fellow-Christians.

 
 

May

25

2013

Justin Taylor|9:30 am CT

When Prevention Fails: A Sexual Abuse Response Policy for Churches

Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling at the Summit Church, writes:

Every church ought to have the best possible sexual abuse prevention policies in their children’s ministry. These should be followed closely and reviewed regularly. But what happens when evil slips through the cracks of even the best policies and procedures? How does the church respond then? How should the church care for the victim, the victim’s parents, the alleged perpetrator, and cooperate with the legal authorities?

What is most frightening is that by the time a child molester gets caught he/she has on average 50-100 victims. How does the church find and care for the other children who have likely been abused? How does the church communicate with its people, community, and media who all want answers when these tragedies occur?

How is the situation different when the sexual abuse is by a minor against a minor instead of by an adult against a minor?

These are sickening questions. Unfortunately, they are so uncomfortable that most churches have not attempted to answer them. These questions go on the list of policies every church needs and no church has.

You can read the whole thing here, including the policy they developed.

 
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May

24

2013

Justin Taylor|6:00 am CT

Why We Have Been Silent about the SGM Lawsuit

A Statement from Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor

Over the past several months we have remained publicly silent about the civil lawsuit filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), which alleged a conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse.

Many have asked why we have not spoken publicly. Is this a conspiracy of silence, a way to whitewash accusations against a friend? Is it a way to stand with the powerful and to make a mockery of the weak? Is it simple cowardice? Why hasn’t more been said?

What We Did Not Intend to Communicate

We recognize that to some, our not speaking up feels like a betrayal, especially to those who have personally experienced abuse. Understandably, people want to hear that Christians categorically deplore and despise sexual abuse. We recognize that on this painful subject inaction can be hurtful and perceived as uncaring.

It needs to be said in no uncertain terms that the actual acts alleged in the lawsuit are utterly evil—an offense against a holy God and an act of hatred against innocent children. They are horrifying and revolting. Apart from repentance, they are damning. There is no excuse, at any time or in any place or for any reason, for the use of children for sexual pleasure. Pastors who learn of such abuses should contact the appropriate authorities immediately, institute church discipline, and apply the whole counsel of God (including both law and gospel). Every church should have a clear child protection policy, and in every situation of abuse the victims must be assured that they are not responsible for the crimes committed against them. Furthermore, pastors are responsible to obey all mandatory reporting laws, alerting law-enforcement officials and fully cooperating with all investigations. This is not an alternative to church discipline and gospel counsel, but a necessary and complementary role of divinely instituted civil authorities.

A Theory of Conspiracy

Over the past several months we often weighed the idea of writing a statement like this. Every time we concluded that caution was the better course. It is generally unwise to make public comments concerning a civil case that is being considered for trial or currently under deliberation. But now that most of the complaints filed in the SGM Ministries civil lawsuit have been dismissed, it seems an appropriate time to explain our silence and some of our thinking behind it.

We have not read the ruling of dismissal from the judge because, to our knowledge, it has not been made public. We do not know whether the plaintiffs’ attorney will file further charges. The legal back and forth may continue for some time. But we have read the explanation offered by the plaintiffs’ attorney regarding the statute of limitations in a civil suit:

We (the victims and the lawyers) all knew about the statute issue at the outset. But fighting for justice means doing so even against known obstacles. We had a conspiracy theory to overcome the statute but the Court rejected it. . . .

This is a revealing comment, as it indicates the legal strategy behind the civil suit. (And note that this was a civil suit, not a criminal complaint. While they certainly believe crimes were committed, this lawsuit itself was only seeking monetary damages.)

The plaintiffs’ counsel in the Sovereign Grace case knew that it could not proceed solely based on the allegations of abuse, given the statute of limitations. (Some of the alleged abuses occurred 25-30 years ago.) The statute of limitations is not a “legal technicality” but rather an important feature of our judicial system. The plaintiffs’ counsel therefore alleged a wide-ranging theory of conspiracy, hoping that this would overcome the legal requirements regarding the time between when the alleged crimes took place and the filing of the civil lawsuit. This is apparently what the judge dismissed, determining that it would not even proceed to a trial. If you listen carefully to the attorneys’ explanations of the case on radio programs and other venues, they essentially acknowledged that they had no proof of a conspiracy. As the motion to dismiss points out, although C. J. Mahaney is named as an individual defendant, “the sole allegation against him in the Complaint is that he founded Sovereign Grace Ministries (“SGM”) and is currently its President. . . . He is not specifically identified or alleged to have performed any other act or omission throughout the 143-paragraph Complaint.”

So the entire legal strategy was dependent on a theory of conspiracy that was more hearsay than anything like reasonable demonstration of culpability. As to the specific matter of C. J. participating in some massive cover-up, the legal evidence was so paltry (more like non-existent) that the judge did not think a trial was even warranted.

Would it have served anyone to take to the blogosphere to express our legal opinion about the conspiracy allegations before the case was decided, much less before it even went to trial? Would it have changed anyone’s mind? Would it have helped the case itself in any way? We deemed it wiser to let an impartial judge rule on whether the case should be considered, making a determination based on all the facts available.

Another reason we have remained silent is because we have detailed charges from one side, but essentially no defense from the other side. Scripture warns us about what often happens in such a situation: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17). Can anyone say with certainty who is innocent and who is guilty in these multiple allegations spanning several decades? This is why we have courts, and why the Bible calls us to prudence. If we must denounce and separate from everyone or every ministry facing serious allegations, any one of us could be publicly ruined in a matter of days by nothing more than accusations. High-profile Christians are sometimes targeted not because they are guilty, but because they are well known. While those who are shown to be guilty should be exposed with rigor and with tears, surely as brothers and sisters in Christ we must understand how much gain there is for those who hate the gospel when Christian leaders are unfairly attacked and diminished. We agree with the Heidelberg Catechism that obeying the ninth commandment requires more than telling the truth; it means we do not “join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.” Instead, “I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name” (Q/A 112).

Please do not hear us saying that we assume all of the plaintiffs are lying. We do not assume all the defendants are innocent, or that they are all guilty. We are not privy to the sort of information necessary to make that determination. Where the allegations are accurate, we have nothing but the deepest sympathy for the victims, desiring that legal justice might prevail and that they might know the Lord’s healing and vindication. And where allegations may be false or misconstrued, we sympathize with those whose reputations have been unfairly tarnished with no public recourse. This is a tangled mess. It is enormously complicated, with multiple allegations at multiple levels over multiple years, with multiple amendments. Which is why if a case were to go to trial, it would involve hundreds of hours of evidence and deliberation by an impartial judge and jury seeking to discern the truth and to bring justice to bear. Discerning the full truth is not always a simple matter, and it does not seem to us that blog posts and tweets are the best medium to serve the cause of truth. In hindsight we still believe restraint has been the wiser path.

The Face of the Lawsuit

There are two other facts that may be germane to this discussion: (1) some have tried to make C. J. Mahaney the “face” of the SGM lawsuit, and (2) we are friends with C.J.

Reports on the lawsuit from Christianity Today and World Magazine (among others) explicitly and repeatedly drew attention to C. J., connecting the suit to recent changes within SGM. He has also been the object of libel and even a Javert-like obsession by some. One of the so-called discernment blogs—often trafficking more in speculation and gossip than edifying discernment—reprinted a comment from a woman who issued this ominous wish, “I hope [this lawsuit] ruins the entire organization [of SGM] and every single perpetrator and co-conspirator financially, mentally and physically.”

We are not ashamed to call C. J. a friend. Our relationship with C. J. is like that with any good friend—full of laughter and sober reflection, encouragement and mutual correction. He has regularly invited—even pursued—correction, and we have given him our perspective when it is warranted. While the admission of friendship may render this entire statement tainted in the eyes of some, we hope most Christians will understand that while friends should never cover for each others’ sins, neither do friends quickly accept the accusations of others when they run counter to everything they have come to see and know about their friend. We are grateful for C. J.’s friendship and his fruitful ministry of the gospel over many decades.

Conclusion

We are not in a place to adjudicate all the charges leveled against Sovereign Grace Ministries or the specific individuals named in the lawsuit. The purpose of this statement is not to render a verdict on the charges, nor in any way to trivialize the sins alleged. We realize some will construe this post as confirmation of their worst suspicions, but we trust most of our brothers and sisters will be able to consider our explanation with an open heart and a fair mind. Our silence was not decided upon lightly; neither was our decision to break this silence. Our prayer is that one day—and please, Lord, soon—all who face injustice of any kind will see the Lord bring forth his righteousness as the light, and his justice as the noonday (Ps. 37:6).

This statement reflects the views of the signatories and does not necessarily speak for other Council members, bloggers, and writers for The Gospel Coalition.

 
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May

23

2013

Justin Taylor|7:29 pm CT

Come Back, Barbara: One Prodigal’s Story

Barbara Miller Juliani—daughter of evangelist and pastor Jack Miller (1928-1996) and sister of Paul Miller (A Praying Life)—shares the story of leaving the Christian faith at the age of 18 and how the Lord drew her back:

Barbara and her father Jack wrote a book together on their story: Come Back, Barbara.

 
 

May

23

2013