America in Black and White: Why Do So Many of Us Respond to Ferguson So Differently?

Aug 22, 2014 | Justin Taylor

american-flag-black-and-whiteOne of the confusing things about the fallout from the shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, is the differing perspectives of many blacks and whites, even those who are united in the gospel and share the same theology.

There seems to me to be four basic positions one could take—and have been taken—at this point:

  1. We know that the shooting of Michael Brown was morally unjustified (i.e., murder).
  2. We know that the shooting of Michael Brown was morally justified (i.e., self-defense).
  3. We do not know whether the shooting of Michael Brown was morally justified or unjustified because we do not yet have enough clear and official information to form any settled conclusions with confidence.
  4. Whether positions 1, 2, or 3 are the correct positions to take at this time, Christians should be concerned with the larger systemic pattern of injustice in America that occurs when a predominately white law enforcement interacts with African Americans in particular, as borne out by similar cases and by social science studies.

There are African American brothers like Thabiti Anyabwile who want to focus upon #4, while he is being understood to say (incorrectly, it turns out) that he holds to #1.

Many white evangelicals, on the other hand, want to focus upon #3 before it can be determined if this is actually an illustration that substantiates #4.

I do not know all of the answers. At times I don’t even know how to ask questions or attempt answers for fear of misunderstanding or being misunderstood. There is an enormously complex constellation of presuppositions, history, psychology, inclinations, suspicions at play here.

What I do know is that we all can learn from one another on this, and that interacting without understanding is counterproductive.

It would be the height of folly to pretend these can be sorted out in a blog post. But let me point to one factor as illustrative of others, well expressed by Pastor Bob Bixby:

Whites are confused by the outcry of blacks from all over the country when a black boy is killed. This is because whites do not value their white collective in the same way that blacks value their black collective. The black culture values the black community. They value the black collective. It was through community that the blacks prevailed through the Civil Rights Era. In fact, it is through community that African Americans survive still. They feel much more dependent on community than we whites do.

Whites, on the other hand, simply do not see themselves as a collective. We are the proverbial fish in the water that sincerely asks, “What is water?” We see ourselves as Missourians, Bears fans, cowboys, motorcyclists, Democrats, evangelicals, and countless other possibilities, but we do not feel ourselves to be part of a white collective. Thus, when our black friends feel the impact of Ferguson even though they are three states away we scratch our heads and wonder how in the world this whole affair became a white/black thing when it just happened to be a white office that killed a black youth while in the line of duty. How, we wonder, can this be so visceral to them? As one black pastor friend said, he was vicariously traumatized. Honestly, I was not similarly traumatized. I went to bed that night without the feeling that one of us had killed one of them because as a white I don’t even get the feeling of a white us. In the same week a white teenage girl was shot and killed by the police three blocks away from my home. Naturally there were questions about the police procedures and an investigation is taking place, but no white person felt like one of us had been eliminated by a large impersonal other. It wasn’t until I consciously chose to respect the understanding and interpretation of black Christians that I sorrowfully recognized my slowness to sympathize with them.

White Christians trust too much their initial feelings, not realizing that feelings are shaped by understanding. I do not say that black Christians do not have the same temptation. I am speaking, however, as a white Christian preacher, trying to model ambassadorial effort. We have to understand that our instincts and knee-jerk analyses are products of our culture.

The reason for this is in the question of value. The fact that trumps all other facts emotionally in the culture that values the black collective as a minority community is that there is one less black boy of an already too-few number, dead at the hands of a white system that seemingly does not share that value. This assumption that a white system does not value black life seems proven when the force seems more trigger happy when the black youth is the target or when the force leaves his body on the street for hours before picking it up. As the value of a child would call up from deep within me a visceral, passionate, death-defying lurch toward the street in the flash of an eye, in the same way the devaluing of a chicken fails to to call up the visceral reaction in my soul and body to do something about it. In the same way, the black community senses from whites who calmly munch on their sandwich and say, “We don’t have all the facts yet” a devaluation of a black life. They do not see what whites think they are conveying, a calm deliberation that waits for due process and accepts the rule of justice. Instead, they hear from our inability to sympathize, “It’s just another black thug with sagging pants that wasn’t respecting authority.”

White evangelicals need to learn that it is not enough to have a black friend or to love a black person. One must love the black community. We who are white have grown up in a world where blacks must learn to live with us but where we have never had to learn to live with them. We love to go to a black church as tourists, but we do not want to go there as members. One must love the community that an individual comes from to truly love that individual, especially if the culture of that community places such a high value on its community.

That this is just one presupposition at play here illustrates the messiness and complexity of understanding one another.

Let me add one more encouragement (to myself as much as to anyone). In his book Bloodlines John Piper addresses a common the temptation in these difficult discussions:

Of all the moral issues that challenge the church from decade to decade, this one we are tempted to abandon more often, because in this battle we get more quickly and deeply wounded along the way. If you have thin skin, or if you have a bigger sense of rights you are owed than mercies you need, or if you have small faith in God’s preserving grace, you will set out on the road of racial harmony and then quit. Because you are going to be criticized. You will try to say something or do something that you thought was helpful, and the first thing you hear is: you said it wrong, or you should have said it a long time ago, or you should have also said such and such, or it was not the time to say anything. . . .

Will we “stay on the table”? Stay on the road? That is what the doctrine of perseverance is for—to keep us faithful in the kind of obedience that is sustained by the foretastes of heaven and leads to the glory of heaven. Christ has purchased our perseverance. The Holy Spirit applies the purchase. None of us will persevere perfectly. But getting up when you are knocked down is a mark of Christ’s followers. We know life is short and eternity is long. This eternal perspective does not take us out of the world. It gives us freedom from self-pity. We are about to inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). We don’t need to have it now, or the ease and comfort that go with it. We can work at this till we drop. For our labor is not in vain in the Lord.

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Why Can’t All Historians Write Like This?

Aug 22, 2014 | Justin Taylor

From the opening pages of David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 3-4.

* * *

In our mind’s eye we tend to see Paul Revere at a distance, mounted on horseback, galloping through the dark of night. Often we see him in silhouette. His head is turned away from us, and his features are hidden beneath a large cocked hat. Sometimes even his body is lost in the billowing folds of an old fashioned riding coat. The image is familiar, but strangely indistinct.


Those who actually knew Paul Revere remembered him in a very different way, as a distinctive individual of strong character and vibrant personality. We might meet the man of their acquaintance in a portrait by his fellow townsman John Singleton Copley.


The canvas introduces us to Paul Revere at about the age of thirty-five, circa 1770. The painter has caught him in an unbuttoned moment, sitting in his shirt sleeves, concentrating on his work. Scattered before him are the specialized tools of an 18th-century silversmith: two etching burins, a steel engraving needle, and a hammering pillow beneath his arm. With one hand he holds an unfinished silver teapot of elegant proportions. With the other he rubs his chin as he contemplates the completion of his work.

The portrait is the image of an artisan, but no ordinary artisan. His shirt is plain and simple, but it is handsomely cut from fine linen. His open vest is relaxed and practical, but it is tailored in bottle-green velvet and its buttons of solid gold. His work table is functional and unadorned, but its top is walnut or perhaps mahogany, and it is polished to a mirror finish. He is a mechanic in the 18th-century sense of a man who makes things with his hands, but no ordinary things. From raw lumps of metal he creates immortal works of art.

The man himself is of middling height, neither tall nor short. He is strong and stocky, with broad shoulders, a thick neck, muscular arms and powerful wrists. In his middle thirties, he is beginning to put on weight. The face is round and fleshy, but there is a sense of seriousness in his high forehead and strength in his prominent chin. His dark hair is neatly dressed in the austere, old-fashioned style that gave his English Puritan ancestors the name of Roundheads, but his features have a sensual air that calls to mind his French forebears. The eyes are deep chestnut brown, and their high-arched brows give the face a permanently quizzical expression. The gaze is clear and very direct. It is the searching look of an intelligent observer who sees much and misses little; the steady look of an independent man.

On its surface the painting creates an image of simplicity. But as we begin to study it, the surface turns into mirrors and what seems at first sight to be a simple likeness becomes a reflective composition of surprising complexity. The polished table picks up the image of the workman. The gleaming tea pot mirrors the gifted fingers that made it. We look more closely, and discover that the silver bowel reflects a bright rectangular window that opens outward on the town of Boston. The artisan looks distantly toward that window and his community in a “reflective” mood, even as he himself is reflected in his work. As we stand before the painting, its glossy surface begins to reflect us as well. It throws back at us the lights and shadows of our own world.

To learn more about Paul Revere is to discover that the artist has brilliantly captured his subject in that complex web of reflections. . . .

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Liturgy and Culture

Aug 20, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Frank Senn:

The liturgy is transcultural in that it includes orders and symbols that witness to the church as a worldwide communio.

It is contextual in that it always admits the use of natural or cultural elements in worship in each locality.

It is countercultural in that the gospel it proclaims and celebrates always holds out the vision of an alternative worldview and lifestyle.

It is cross-cultural in that it uses expressions from different cultures.

—Frank C. Senn, Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997),  678.

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A Daughter Posthumously Completes Her Mother’s Plan to Write Poetry for All 150 Psalms

Aug 11, 2014 | Justin Taylor

harpsVicki Anderson, writing in the preface to the book Harps Unhung: Praising God in the Midst of Captivity

This poetry project was the vision of my mother, Eileen. She began work in 1992; her first poem being “Psalm 100.” I am not entirely sure what first triggered her idea to write an entire collection of poetry; though a letter in her writing files seem to indicate that a poetry contest planted, perhaps, the initial seed.

She spoke of her psalm poem project often, frequently texting or emailing me to tell me when she had completed another, how many she had completed, and how many she had left to write. Through the years, her number of completed poems went from one in 1992 to seventy-five in 2013.

A Stage 3B ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2008 did little to slow her down. She continued to joyfully hope and dream and bring her vision of these poems into fruition through eighty-plus rounds of chemo, forty-plus rounds of radiation, five surgeries, countless hospital stays, various tests and procedures, and round-the-clock chronic pain.

The last week of her life, she lay in bed (many times passed out from the strong pain meds she was on) unable to write, but gripping a pen in her hand, fast asleep, with her Bible and poetry notebook on her lap. Two or three days before she died, her sister-in-law (my aunt) asked her, “Are you anxious to be free of this world?”

Mom replied, “No, I want to live. I have things left to do. I want to finish my psalm poems.”

The Lord had other plans.

After the funeral, I brought Mom’s (extremely organized!) poetry files home with me and began to pray over the possibility of completing the project. It sounded very romantic—a daughter taking up the mantle of her deceased mother and finishing her manuscript—but was I up for such a task? The Lord had given this vision to her, not me, and while I considered myself to be a writer, I never considered myself to be a poet, and attempting to write my first psalm poem in April 2013 only further evidenced that I was not! After two poems, I shelved the project, believing it was not my calling, but I prayed and said, “Lord, if you want me to finish this project, equip me to do so.”

About a month passed, and my joyful, independent life began to crumble. One night, I cried out aloud to the Lord, “God, what is happening? What are you doing?” And the still, small voice in my head replied with perfect ease and calm, “I am making you a psalmist.”

In the wake of my mom’s death, I also lost my job, my apartment, and several dear friends. With each new loss, I would grab my pen and pour out all of the agonizing emotions of loss, hopelessness, despair, anxiety, and abysmal loneliness—writing psalm poems at the exact moments that my heart was shattering.

Every single poem contained in this volume was written with the ink of cancer, chemo, radiation, fear, physical pain, loss, death, and heartache. Even at this very moment, penning this preface, many of the heartaches of the last year have not been resolved—no “silver lining” has appeared to ease the sorrow of all of the losses or to answer the question, “Why?”  But I do have this one consolation: through it all, by the grace of God, I did not hang up my harp.

By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-3)

Mom did not hang up her harp, either. Even up to the last week of her life, she kept reaching for her psalm poem notebook. In words like Job, I heard her tell many people in her last days, “The Lord gave me sixty-two years of joy and prosperity; will I curse him if the last five years are hard?” Even once exiled to the Babylon of cancer and death, the strains of her harp could be heard—indeed, can still be heard in the pages of this book.

Our vision for this poetry project was not ultimately to rewrite the psalms, to find 150 poetry forms, or even to get a book published. Our vision for this book of poetry is that hurting, hopeless saints, in the very midst of the furnace of affliction, would, despite all perceived silence from God and feelings abandonment, believe that just above their heads, seen only by the eyes of faith, is an unfurled banner, flapping wildly in the storms of heartache and suffering, its embroidered letters spelling out, “Love! My banner over you is LOVE!”

Or, in Mom’s own words, “When my husband and I lost our first daughter, the psalms comforted me. When three more babies miscarried, the psalms healed my broken heart. When our second daughter was born with massive birth defects, the psalms encouraged me to live a holy life despite disappointments. When our grown son turned to drugs and a dissolute lifestyle, the psalms modeled how to dispel fear when life spins out of control. As I read, meditate, and memorize the psalms, my needs are met, and I am led to worship a loving and merciful Lord. It is my keen desire to help other hurting and hungry people discover the beauty and wisdom waiting for them in the psalms.”

John Piper writes:

Two things mark out this book as unique and compelling.

First, each of the biblical Psalms is cast into a poetic form that is different from the others. This is astonishing and significant.

Astonishing because of the skill involved.

It is significant because the river of emotion flows deepest when confined in the banks of form.

Second, a mother (who has died) and a daughter (who has suffered through more surgeries than she has years) wrote this as one voice. I know of nothing like it.

Add to that amazing uniqueness this: they both held fast to the goodness and the sovereignty of God through it all. That makes this book not only unique but profoundly helpful for all who struggle.

I thank God for Eileen and Vicki.

Amen. It is worth picking up this book for your soul or for those you love.

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J. I. Packer’s Critique of Harold Lindsell on Inerrancy and Interpretation

Aug 07, 2014 | Justin Taylor

I recently came across a review written by J. I. Packer in 1979 of Harold Lindsell’s The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), which was a sequel to The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976).

Packer, as usual, is clear and perceptive. After summarizing the book, he provides this evaluation:

1. Is inerrancy a revealed truth belonging to the catholic Christian heritage?

YES—but . . . the questions of inerrancy and interpretation must be kept separate. Acknowledging that whatever biblical writers communicate on any subject is God-given truth does not commit you in advance to any one method or school of interpretation, nor to any one way of relating Scripture to science, not to any one set of proposed harmonizations of inconsistent-looking texts. All it commits you to is a purpose of taking as from God all that Scripture, rightly interpreted (as you judge), proves to say.

Mediaevals allegorized, Reformers interpreted literally, but both maintained inerrancy.

Covenant theologians and dispensationalists, Calvinists and evangelical Arminians have significantly different hermeneutics (it’s true, and we may as well admit it), but all may agree on inerrancy—as indeed they did at the Chicago conference of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in October 1978.

Some find in Scripture wonderful anticipations of modern mathematics, physics, geology, medicine and all kinds of technology, whiles on grounds of philosophy, method and technique deny that “science” in our sense appears in Scripture at all; Lindsell thinks Peter denied Christ six times, and John Wenham thinks the problem here is textual (New Testament Studies, July 1979, pp. 523-25); but all can join hands in affirming inerrancy, for these are differences about interpretation only.

But Lindsell almost (not quite) implies that you don’t believe in inerrancy unless you interpret all Scriptures as he does, and that seems to me an expository weakness.

One wishes he had somewhere highlighted that in all the communications which made up the history of revelation God accommodated himself to the historical and cultural situation of the human speaker and hearers—a situation which he, of course, had himself shaped up in readiness for each revelatory events.

This does not mean that what God said was culture-bound in the sense of not applying universally, but that in applying it cultural and historical differences must be borne in mind, and no interpretation unrelated to what was being conveyed to the first addressees can be right. To say this would guide interpretation, and guard against blind reaction. For, reacting against affirmations of inerrancy that overlook accommodation, some have recently taken the position that affirming accommodation means denying inerrancy.

2. Is inerrancy really a touchstone, watershed and rallying point for evangelicals, and did Lindsell do well to raise his voice about it?

YES—but . . . his arguments in both books would gain much by re-angling.

For (a) what is centrally and basically at stake in this debate, and has been ever since it began two centuries ago, is the functioning of Scripture as our authority, the medium of God’s authority, for faith and life. Inerrancy is basic to authority, inasmuch as what is not true cannot claim authority in any respectable sense. But it is a further expository weakness that Lindswell nowhere focuses on biblical authority as that for the sake of which he fights the inerrancy battle.

For (b) lacking this reference-point, he makes himself appear as an evangelical (or should I say, fundamentalist) scholastic, doing theology as it were by numbers, concerned only to maintain frozen finality of some traditional formulations of the doctrine of the nature of Scripture—and that is to make this whole discussion seem a great deal less important than it really is. Indeed, some evangelical wiseacres have written it off as trivial already; but that is not really a very discerning position.

Thank you, Harold Lindsell, for having the guts to do what you have done. To have the inerrancy question out in the open, where your writing has set it, is clarifying and catalytic.

But now it really is important that we inerrantists move on to crystallize an a posteriori hermeneutic which does full justice to the character and content of the infallible written word as communication, life-embracing and divinely authoritative. Other we could win “the battle for the Bible” and still lose the greater battle for the knowledge of Christ and of God in our churches, and in men’s hearts.

—J. I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible (Westchester, IL: Cornerstone Books, 1980), 144-46; originally published in Crux, the Regent College journal.

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Keep Calm and Carry On—In Faith

Aug 06, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Joe Rigney:

When the church is under assault, one of the central temptations is to complain, murmur and shriek about our plight, as though we could bring down the gates of Hades by our shrillness. Fighting the good fight is essential, particularly when it comes to defending the unborn and preserving the family for the good of children. What’s more, when an onerous and overbearing state insists that we trample our consciences and join them in their hell-bound handbasket, we ought to quote Peter’s words about obeying God and not men and then use every legitimate means to demolish strongholds, topple lofty thoughts and expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness.

But we must always endeavor to winsomely wage culture war, to fight as those whose feet are firmly planted on a Rock that is unshaken by Gallup polls, HHS mandates, or Supreme Court decisions. Fighting from fear and anxiety, besides being tacky, is ineffective. Instead, when we take stock of the present situation and see all of those slopes getting slipped, we remember that we are standing on a mountain that the prophet Daniel says will grow until it fills the whole earth. Which means we are free to gladly and cheerfully sacrifice our time, treasure, and reputations (and some day soon, perhaps, more than that) for the good of fellow believers and for the salvation of the lost and perishing in the world.

In all of this, we must remember that our responsibility, whether at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission or in our churches, is not to singlehandedly change the culture. Instead God is calling us to be faithful at our post, to be faithful where God has planted us. When confronted with the depravity and brokenness that is endemic and multiplying in God’s world, the main question that you should ask is this: What is God requiring of me now? What is right in front of my face that God is calling me to do?

The centrality of faithfulness in little cannot be overstated. Too often, my concern for the advancement of the gospel in the world turns into an attempt to coordinate heavenly troop movements, to treat the culture war like it’s a game of Risk and I’m perched on a balcony on one of Saturn’s moons. In short, it’s easy to try and usurp Christ’s place as the reigning King who is subduing his enemies under his feet (and ours). But the burden of running the cosmos does not fall on my shoulders. The burden of managing my household well does. The crying need of the hour is for millions of Christians to realize that their primary contribution in the culture war may be reading bedtime stories to their children, dating their spouse, and looking for opportunities to cheerfully, sacrificially, and practically love their neighbors. It’s almost impossible to quantify the potency of simple faith and obedience, but let’s just say that it was that sort of thing that has brought more than one godless culture to its knees.

You can read the whole thing here.

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9 Reasons We Can Be Confident Christians Won’t Be Raptured Before the Tribulation

Aug 05, 2014 | Justin Taylor

With the new Left Behind movie trailer now online (starring Nicholas Cage), this might be a helpful time to explain why many of us do not believe the idea of Christians be “raptured” to heaven while others are “left behind” is a biblical teaching.

Here is a summary of the arguments from John Piper:

1. The word for “meeting” the Lord in the air in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (apantesin) is used in two other places in the New Testament: Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15. In both places it refers to a meeting in which people go out to meet a dignitary and then accompany him in to the place from which they came out. One of these,Matthew 25:6, is even a parable of the second coming and so a strong argument that this is the sense of the meeting here in 1 Thess. 4:17—that we rise to meet the Lord in the air and then welcome him to earth as king.

2. The wording of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7, when read carefully, shows that Paul expects to attain rest from suffering at the same time and in the same event that he expects the unbelievers to receive punishment, namely, at the revelation of Jesus with mighty angels in flaming fire. This revelation is not the pre-tribulational rapture but the glorious second coming. Which means that Paul did not expect an event at which he and the other believers would be given rest seven years before the glorious appearing of Christ in flaming fire. Vengeance on unbelievers and rest for the persecuted church come on the same day in the same event.

3. The wording of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 suggests that the “assembling to meet him” is the same as “the day of the Lord” about which they are confused. But the assembling is the “rapture” and “the day of the Lord” is the glorious second coming. They appear to be one event.

Supporting this is the reference to “gathering” the elect in Matthew 24:31. Here there is a gathering (same word) but it is clearly a post-tribulational context. So there is no need to see the gathering and the day of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians as separate events.

4. If Paul were a pre-tribulationist why did he not simply say in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that the Christians don’t need to worry that the day of the Lord is here because all the Christians are still here? Instead he talks just the way you would expect a post-tribulational person to do. He tells them that they should not think that the day of the Lord is here because the apostasy and the man of lawlessness have not appeared. . . .

5. When you read Matthew 24 or Mark 13 or Luke 21, which are Jesus’ descriptions of the end times, there is no mention of a rapture removing believers from the events of the end. A normal reading gives no impression of a departure. On the contrary, he talks as if the believing listeners and then the readers would or could experience the things he mentions. See Mt. 24:49152325f33, etc.

6. Going through tribulation, even when it is appointed by God, is not contrary to Biblical teaching. See especially 1 Peter 4:172 Thessalonians 1:3-10Hebrews 12:3-11. But even so, Revelation 9:4 suggests that the saints will be in some measure protected in the time of distress by the seal of God.

7. The commands to “watch” do not lose their meaning if the second coming is not an any-moment one. See Matt. 25:1-13 where all ten maidens are asleep when the Lord returns. Yet the lesson at the end of the parable is, “Watch!” The point is that watching is not gazing up for an any-moment-return of the Lord; it is the moral vigilance that keeps you ready at all times doing your duty—the wise maidens had full lanterns! They were watchful!

Nor does the teaching that the second coming will be unexpected lose its force if post-tribulationism is true. See Luke 12:46 where the point is that if a servant gets drunk thinking that his master is delayed and will not catch him-that very servant will be surprised and taken off guard. But as 1 Thess. 5:1-5 says, “You (believers) are not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief.” We still teach that great moral vigilance and watchfulness is necessary lest we be lulled asleep and fall prey to the deceits of the last days and be overtaken in the judgment.

8. The strongest pre-tribulational text, Rev. 3:10, is open to another interpretation without any twisting. It says, “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.” But to “be kept for the hour of testing” is not necessarily to be taken out of the world during this hour, and thus spared suffering. Compare Gal. 1:4 and Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17:15where to “keep from” does not mean physical removal. And notice the inevitability of martyrdom in Rev. 6:9-11. The promise is to be guarded from the hour in the sense of being guarded from the demoralizing forces of that hour.

9. The second coming does not lose its moral power in post-tribulationism. New Testament moral incentive is not that we should fear being caught doing evil, but that we should so love the appearing of the Lord that we want to be pure as the Lord is pure, for whom we hope, as 1 John 3:1-3 says.

With regard to the language of being “left behind,” see Benjamin L. Merkle’s article, “Who Will Be Left Behind? Rethinking the Meaning of Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35,” WTJ 72 (2010): 169-79. He argues, “Although many assume that those taken in Matt 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35 are taken to be with Jesus and those left behind are left for judgment, this interpretation should be rejected.”

His conclusion summarizes his arguments:

[1] Throughout the context of these passages Jesus uses judgment language reminiscent of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of its inhabitants. Those who were taken away were the ones judged by God whereas those left behind were the remnant who received grace.

[2] Furthermore, the teaching of Jesus confirms this thesis. In the Parable of the Weeds the Son of Man sends his angels to gather out the children of the devil and throw them in the fiery furnace whereas the wheat is left behind (Matt 13:36-43).

[3] The context of Matt 24 and Luke 17 also suggests Jesus is intentionally using judgment and remnant language. Such language naturally brings up images of the former destruction of Jerusalem where the enemy came and “took away” (i.e., killed) those in the city.

[4] Finally, the parallel with Noah and the flood in the preceding verses strongly confirms our thesis. Just as in the days of Noah the people were taken away by the great flood, so those who are not prepared will be taken away when the Son of Man returns.

You can read his arguments in more detail here.

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How to Criticize (and Appreciate) Evangelicalism

Aug 05, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Alastair Roberts:

If blame were to be assigned, much would fall upon the shoulders of pastors, other church leaders and teachers, and evangelical schools and seminaries.

However, in the often febrile atmosphere of evangelicalism on the ground, many of the ideas that circulate do so entirely independent of actual church leadership. There is a sort of evangelical folk religion, much of which is completely unauthorized by pastors or elders, a folk religion driven by such things as TV preachers, purity movements, uninformed theological speculations in democratic Bible studies, Chick tracts, that teenage kid who led the dorm prayer meeting on summer camp, Christian kitsch, Kirk Cameron movies, Left Behind books, VeggieTales, Focus on the Family literature, blogs, CCM, Answers in Genesis, sappy mass-produced devotional literature, study Bible notes, etc., etc. As people often fail mentally to footnote their beliefs, many attribute the bulk of the weird and wacky things that swam in the rich theological soup of their evangelical upbringing to their church, presuming that it all received the imprimatur of Evangelical Central Headquarters. Parents are probably the persons with the most to answer for here. Most of the pedagogy of young evangelicals is received from sources other than their pastors.

Where those who leave evangelical Christianity can be to blame is in making blanket judgments upon evangelicalism on the basis of their limited experience of it, in presuming that their experience is the measure of the movement, or that their experience is universal. It is quite possible to leave one theological tradition for another in which one’s faith can find a deeper root without making unfair judgments about what one left beyond.

. . . All of the weirdness, goofiness, craziness, kitschiness, ignorance, reactivity, and even the abuse: it’s all evangelicalism. However, it is by no means all of evangelicalism. And that is the point.

Also, while it can be tempting to look back upon the evangelicalism of our upbringing with a jaundiced vision, I think that it is important to recognize its goodness too. There is a poisonous cynicism and bitterness in many who have left evangelicalism, which blinds them to the devoted godliness of many within it, to many evangelicals’ desire to be whole-heartedly committed to God’s truth, to their radical and self-sacrificial Christian service.

I saw plenty of weirdness in my evangelical upbringing. However, every morning when I got up, I also saw my mother on her knees praying for our family. I saw my father devoting himself to continual and intense study of Scripture and theology (amassing almost 10,000 books from a range of theological positions in the process), to rigorous questioning of himself and God’s truth and to developing his understanding. I saw my father dedicate his time to getting Christians reading widely and thinking deeply, engaging with different and opposing positions first hand and at their best in order to sharpen their minds. I saw my parents welcoming homeless people off the streets into our home, for months at a time. I saw them working with drug addicts and prostitutes, providing a refuge to families facing vendettas. I saw an intense love of Jesus reflected in the lives and behaviour of the people in my church. I saw commitment to trust and obey him at any personal cost. I saw astounding acts of forgiveness and remarkable transformations in families. I saw the reality of holy lives that still humbles me as I think of them. I saw a depth of biblical knowledge that I have seldom encountered elsewhere. I saw the passion of preachers who lived what they preached. All of this is evangelicalism too.

I can quite understand why people would leave evangelicalism. I’m more Anglican than evangelical now myself and have moved some distance away from the baptistic evangelicalism of my upbringing. I am relatively ambivalent about identifying as an evangelical (save perhaps as the term modifies ‘Anglican’ and, even then, my approach to the sacraments and liturgy is relatively high church) and have written extensively and fairly critically about the nature of the movement. All of this said, I find much of the wholesale dismissal and bad-mouthing of evangelicals (and fundamentalists) quite shameful and will speak up for evangelicalism and against its critics on such occasions. I have no problem with more carefully targeted criticisms.

. . . In recognizing the failures of our own and other movements, rather than settling for mere tu quoque rejections of criticism, I think that we can appreciate the fact that most problems of ideological and discursive form and dynamics tend to replicate themselves fairly predictably in the contexts of many sharply varying belief systems and institutions. With the recognition that these are shared problems, I think that we can start to get somewhere. The most important result of this recognition is that it enables us to draw a measure of a distinction between an ideology’s principles and beliefs and their discursive and institutional expressions. This distinction can reveal unrealized potential and strength in an ideology’s principles, absolve them of much of the blame for the dysfunctional dynamics of the discourses and institutions within which they are currently vested, and imagine ways in which they could rise to a fuller stature. All of this frees us to believe better of opposing points of view.

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Reading the Psalms with Four Questions and Four Different Colored Markers

Aug 05, 2014 | Justin Taylor

pssDavid Powlison’s booklet on Recovering from Child Abuse is posted online in two parts.

As Powlison walks through the issues of recovering from abuse, he suggests turning to Psalms 55, 56, and 57, using four different colored markers to mark four different strands. Here’s an excerpt:

You are not alone.

David wrote these psalms, and he went through an experience similar to yours.

You are not alone.

Jesus made the psalms the voice of his own experience. Jesus said these words. Jesus felt these things. He’s been there with you.

You are not alone.

To make these Psalms into your own prayer, start by getting four different colored markers. You are going to follow four strands through each psalm; strands that will help you express and redefine your experience.

1. What happened to you?

Take the first marker, and underline all the phrases in each psalm that express the sort of thing that happened to you as a child. You will find phrases like “the stares of the wicked…they bring down suffering upon me…my companion attacks his friends” (Psalm 55:3, 20), “men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack…many are attacking me…they conspire, they lurk; they watch my steps’ (Psalm 56:1, 2, 6), “they spread a net for my feet…they dug a pit in my path” (Psalm 57:6).

2. What does it feel like?

Now take the second marker and underline all the phrases that express how you felt—your anguish, your fear, your terror. Look at phrases like these, “I am distraught…my heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me; fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, ‘Oh that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest…’ (Psalm 55:2, 4-6), “When I am afraid…my lament…my tears” (Psalm 56:3, 8), “I am in the midst of lions…I was bowed down in my distress” (Psalm 57:4, 6).

3. What is said about God?

Use the third marker to underline what the psalms say about God and what he is doing. Start with some of these phrases, “the Lord saves me…he hears my voice…He ransoms me unharmed…he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:16-18, 22), “For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from stumbling,” (Psalm 56:13), “He sends from heaven and saves me; rebuking those who hotly pursue me…for great is your love reaching to the heavens, your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:3, 10).

4. What does faith say?

Use the fourth marker to underline all the phrases that are cries of faith. “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me…but I call to God and the Lord saves me…but as for me, I trust in you” (Psalm 55:1, 2, 16, 23), “Be merciful to me, O God…when I am afraid, I will trust in you…in God I trust: I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me…Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll…God is for me” (Psalm 56:1, 3, 4, 8, 9), “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed…I cry out to God Most High…My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;” (Psalm 57:1- 2, 7).

Take the phrases you underlined and rewrite them, in your words, as a prayer.

Now find a place—the woods, your car, your bedroom—where you are comfortable making some noise to God, and say these prayers out loud to him.

Remember, you are talking to the Lord who loves you, who hears you, who is going to act to save you, and who will redeem your soul in peace. Praying out loud helps you realize that God is right there, listening to you.

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The Folly and Hubris of Richard Dawkins

Aug 04, 2014 | Justin Taylor

richard dawkinsEleanor Robertson, writing at The Guardian:

Dawkins’ narrowmindedness, his unshakeable belief that the entire history of human intellectual achievement was just a prelude to the codification of scientific inquiry, leads him to dismiss the insights offered not only by theology, but philosophy, history and art as well.

To him, the humanities are expendable window-dressing, and the consciousness and emotions of his fellow human beings are byproducts of natural selection that frequently hobble his pursuit and dissemination of cold, hard facts. His orientation toward the world is the product of a classic category mistake, but because he’s nestled inside it so snugly he perceives complex concepts outside of his understanding as meaningless dribble. If he can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist, and anyone trying to describe it to him is delusional and possibly dangerous.

You can read the whole thing here.

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If All You Know about the Scopes Trial Is from “Inherit the Wind,” You Don’t Know the True Story

Aug 04, 2014 | Justin Taylor

If all you know about the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial”—decided 89 years ago this summer in July 1925—is from the play or movie Inherit the Wind, then you have substituted a fanciful fictional account for the historical reality. (The play was never intended to be historical.)

Here is a convenient summary of the differences.

You can also read Joe Carter’s 9 Things post on the trial, outlined here:

  1. Inherit the Wind was an anti-anti-communist play.
  2. The trial was a publicity stunt.
  3. Scopes wasn’t a martyr—he was a co-conspirator.
  4. Darrow wasn’t the first choice.
  5. Bryan wasn’t the lead prosecutor—and he knew the defendant.
  6. The prosecution’s “Bible expert” believed in the day-age theory.
  7. Teaching evolution . . . and eugenics.
  8. The defense wanted to lose the case. 
  9. The ruling was reversed, but no one wanted to retry the case.

The book to read is Edward J. Larson’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning history, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion.

The PBS American Experience documentary (below) is helpful and fairly balanced. It has the added bonus of being able to hear from a woman who was a Dayton resident, whose brother had Scopes for a football coach, and who had a front-row seat to the court proceedings and the town and church meetings.

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We Are All Vulnerable to This Toxic Drug

Aug 04, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Robert P. George, in his Advice to Young Scholars:

Although it is natural and, in itself, good to desire and even seek affirmation, do not fall in love with applause. It is a drug. When you get some of it, you crave more. It can easily deflect you from your mission and vocation. In the end, what matters is not winning approval or gaining celebrity. Your mission and vocation is to seek the truth and to speak the truth as God gives you to grasp it.

There is a particular danger for those who dissent from the reigning orthodoxies of a prevailing intellectual culture. You may be tempted to suppose that your willingness to defy the career-making (and potential career-breaking) mandarins of elite opinion immunizes you from addiction to affirmation and applause and guarantees your personal authenticity and intellectual integrity. It doesn’t. We are all vulnerable to the drug. The vulnerability never completely disappears. And the drug is toxic to the activity of thinking (and thus to the cause of truth-seeking).

Similarly, D. A. Carson warns that Christian conservatives are not immune to the drug of approval and applause:

[S]eductive applause may come [from] the conservative constituency of your friends, a narrower peer group but one that, for some people, is equally ensnaring. Scholarship is then for sale: you constantly work on things to bolster the self-identity of your group, to show they are right, to answer all who disagree with them. Some scholars who are very indignant with colleagues who, in their estimation, are far too attracted by the applause of unbelieving academic peers, remain blissfully unaware of how much they have become addicted to the applause of conservative bastions that egg them on.

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A New Interactive Bible Study Curriculum for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Jul 31, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Paul Miller and his wife, Jill, have put together a study on the person of Christ for those with intellectual disabilities. The folks at WTS Books are so encouraged by what they’ve put together that they are offering a $5 coupon off anything in their store if you simply take the time to watch the video introducing it.

I was recently able to sit down with Paul to ask him about the curriculum, how it came about and how it can be used:

Here is some encouragement from Joni Eareckson Tada about the series:

“The Word of God should be-must be-accessible to all, and people with intellectual disabilities, young and old, are no exception. This is why I’m so excited that my friend Jill Miller has developed a robust Bible curriculum that engages the student in real Bible study. Jill and her team have gone to great pains to ensure that this curriculum is interactive and appealing to students, and I highly applaud her efforts. The Bethesda Series is a ‘must’ for every church that desires to make Christ’s Gospel accessible to all, and the best place to start is Unit 1, Compassion. Thank you, Jill, for a job well done!”
– Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

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The Gospels and Mythical Legend

Jul 22, 2014 | Justin Taylor

C. S. Lewis:

I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. . . .

These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.

—C. S. Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” or “Fern-Seeds and Elephants” (1959).

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