Monthly Archives: March 2010

 

Mar

18

2010

Trevin Wax|3:22 am CT

Trials are Fiery Windows: A Personal Update

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may already know that my wife’s father has been diagnosed with cancer. His situation is serious, and he will begin radiation treatment this week. Corina and our 21-month-0ld daughter Julia left for Romania yesterday to spend a couple weeks with her family. Timothy and I are sticking it out at home for now.

We’ve always known that we could wind up with ailing parents in the U.S. while we are in Romania or with ailing parents in Romania while we are in the States. People with international marriages face this kind of trial often.

What we didn’t expect was for Corina’s dad to get a bad diagnosis so soon. He’s only 60 and has been in good health all his life.

Reflecting on the difficulties of this present moment for us, I am beginning to see trials as “fiery windows.”

Why windows? Because they reveal to us the faith we have (or too often, our lack of faith!).

Why fiery? Because they not only reveal our faith, but they refine our faith as well.

So I’m up against a windowsill that’s burning, and this is what I see:

  • I see that we have too often assumed that we are in control. We think we are in charge, and it shows in the way we make decisions and map out our future.
  • I see that we take for granted our health and relationships. We’ve always thought that since there’s longevity in our genes, we wouldn’t have to worry about death snatching a loved one for at least another couple of decades. But God is in charge of our future, not our genes.
  • I see that our prayer life is not what it should be. We pray, but too often without a sense of holy desperation.
  • I see that we desperately need God’s wisdom in making good choices.

Here’s a sampling of some of the tough questions we’ve wrestled with and for which we needed wisdom:

  • Do we try to bring Corina’s father here, hoping he might have better medical care?
  • If he comes here and takes a turn for the worst, how do we get him back home? Would he want to end his life away from home and from his friends and family?
  • If our whole family goes to Romania, what would that communicate? Would he assume that our visit means his situation is so grave that it’s not worth fighting for life?
  • Should Corina go now, while he is still relatively strong? Or wait until he’s worse and go later?

There are no easy answers. There are no quick solutions. What’s needed in a case like this is not the discovery of what is right or wrong, but the need for God-given wisdom to make the best choice out of a number of options.

  • I see the beauty of God’s people. Last Saturday, Corina and I were in tears most of the day at the thought of her being away for two weeks. But we spent time with my family on Saturday night and then with our church family on Sunday. We came away feeling refreshed, renewed, supported, and strengthened by God’s people. We’ve already received cards and gifts. A number of ladies in the church want to bring me and Timothy food while Corina is away. It has been wonderful to sense the arms of God around us through the actual arms of people in our congregation.

This trial has been fiery, and it is only beginning. But through this time, Corina and I have begun to sense our need for renewed dependence upon the Lord. We are in God’s hands. “We’re all terminal,” as my mother would say.

My father-in-law has been an example of faith. He believes God can heal him. He believes in God even if he stays sick. “If God wants me home, no doctor can keep me here. If God wants me here, no disease can overtake me.”

Our biggest prayer through all of this is that we will come out the other side looking more like Jesus. It hurts. We ache. We worry. We cry. But the arms of God are strong, and that’s what keeps us going.

 
 

Mar

18

2010

Trevin Wax|2:11 am CT

Worth a Look 3.18.10

Romanian Baptists are embroiled in a controversy over whether or not to accept government funding:

Refusing funds would not doom churches but may scuttle certain projects, said Paul Negrut. “Just follow the future development of those churches that have accepted money to see which is doing better in witness, integrity, and impact. Western Europe speaks volumes.”

In the meantime, Danut Manastireanu said, “Some think there is nothing wrong with state subsidies. Others see this as getting the first finger; then the state will want to control matters of faith and church life.”

15 noteworthy websites that changed the internet:

There are millions of websites out there. Many of them are unique, either in small ways or in large ones. But the individual impact of any particular site on the overall Internet is generally negligible, if there’s any impact at all. Not so with the fifteen sites here. These sites changed the Internet, mostly for good, in substantial ways…

Speaking of websites, what happens to your social media if you die?

Today, many of us keep our profiles, blog posts, and musings entirely online, leaving family, friends, and service providers stuck trying to figure out what to do with a deceased user’s digital bits.

Author Tim Stafford offers these predictions for the future of publishing:

It’s all changing. It’s exciting and aggravating—especially to us small-holders who try to make a living from it. For what it’s worth, here are my predictions of the future…

 
 

Mar

17

2010

Trevin Wax|3:37 am CT

Learning from the Great Theologians: An Interview with Gerald McDermott

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Gerald McDermott, professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. His new book is The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (see my review here). He is also the author of Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment and God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church.

Trevin Wax: Your new book profiles eleven theologians throughout Christian history. Why are these theologians (many who lived more than a thousand years ago) relevant to the Christian today?

Gerald McDermott: Let me try to answer that question with an illustration.

Suppose you know there is a great woman of God in your church who has read the Bible and theology for forty years. She not only has deep knowledge of Scripture and how to interpret it for life and culture, but she also walks a holy life. People often remark on her humility and love.

What if you were to take the attitude, “I’m going to construct my own theology (which, remember, is your view of God) on my own, simply reading the Bible and theology books by myself.”

Wouldn’t that be odd, when you have a godly theologian in your midst? In fact, doesn’t this seem to illustrate sinful pride? It calls to mind the warning of Proverbs: “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7b).

To ignore the great and godly minds of the church who have been ruminating on God for thousands of years—when now we have them at our fingertips through books and even the Internet—seems to be a kind of arrogance and presumption. It ignores the biblical reminder that there is wisdom in “the multitude of counselors” (Prov 11:14).

It also forgets another biblical observation that learning from other godly minds and comparing our thoughts with theirs is like “iron sharpening iron” (Prov 27:17), making our thinking about God sharper and clearer. The result will be deeper knowledge of God, which Jesus said is “eternal life” (John 17:3).

Trevin Wax: Why did you choose these particular theologians?

Gerald McDermott: Generally, these are the eleven whom I consider to have had the most influence on the history of Christian thought.

  • Origen’s way of reading shaped Bible interpretation for the next 1500 years.
  • Athanasius saved the church from degenerating into a little sect of Greek philosophy.
  • Augustine was perhaps the most influential of all theologians—East or West—teaching us all, for instance, the meaning of grace.
  • Thomas Aquinas was declared by the Catholic Church to be its foremost Doctor (teacher), and showed us all how faith relates to reason and the meaning of “sacrament.”
  • Luther’s efforts to reform the Catholic Church were the principal stimulus to the rise of Protestantism.
  • Calvin was the first and greatest teacher of that second great Protestant tradition, the Reformed movement.
  • Edwards was the greatest religious thinker to grace the American continent and also the premier Christian thinker about how God relates to beauty.
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher was the father of liberal theology.
  • John Henry Newman was the great reformer of the Church of England who famously became a Catholic and showed us how doctrine develops through time.
  • Barth was the most influential of all 20th-century theologians.
  • Von Balthasar, a contemporary of Barth, is fast becoming the most important Catholic theologian for this new century.

Trevin Wax: I’m curious as to the reasoning behind some of your picks, particularly John Henry Newman and Hans Urs von Balthasar, when I would probably have put the Basil the Great or Irenaeus first.

Gerald McDermott: Basil and Irenaeus are both great minds and had enormous influence on our thinking. But, as I say in the Introduction to the book, I wanted to keep the list to ten or so, and I wanted to limit myself to those with the greatest influence.

Balthasar is a rising star in Catholic theology, and is becoming the most influential among Catholic 20th-century thinkers. Newman is a personal favorite, not only because he was Anglican (as I am) but also because of his journey from evangelicalism to high church. I also find that I never cease to learn from him, unlike so many others who seem to repeat what has already been said.

Trevin Wax: How do we learn from the strengths of each of these theologians while avoiding their weaknesses?

Gerald McDermott: By reading more than just one or two. This is the glory of the Great Tradition. By reading it over the centuries, and not limiting ourselves to one or two thinkers, or one or two periods (such as today and the Reformation), our knowledge and wisdom become more balanced. We see the weaknesses of one period by comparing with other periods.

Trevin Wax: Of the eleven you picked, which one is your personal favorite?

Gerald McDermott: Edwards.

Trevin Wax: Why?

Gerald McDermott: I have spent the better part of my scholarly life reading and writing about him (I am writing my 5th book devoted to his corpus). Better than anyone in America and perhaps ever, he combined keenness of intellect with passion for God.

Trevin Wax: One of the messages that comes through very clearly in your book is that theology has consequences, both positive and negative. Each of these great theologians had their weaknesses. What are some of the unfortunate consequences from their weaknesses?

Gerald McDermott: Well, I’ll start with Edwards, who opposed the slave trade yet had slaves himself. He reminds us that no theologian gets it all right. While his own son and top disciple (Samuel Hopkins) were leaders in the abolitionist movement, he himself couldn’t quite see it.

Then there were major negative influencers such as Schleiermacher. I include him, the father of liberal theology, because orthodox Christians need to learn what to watch out for. He is a lesson in how not to do theology.

Trevin Wax: How can we be good theologians?

Gerald McDermott: By being steeped in the Great Tradition. We need to be humble, and learn from the great minds and hearts that have spent thousands of years (collectively) meditating on God’s Word, listening to God’s voice, and learning from one another. If we proudly think we can do it on our own, or simply with the latest books by contemporary writers, we will inevitably go astray.

 
 

Mar

17

2010

Trevin Wax|2:56 am CT

Worth a Look 3.17.10

More on Peter Hitchens’ (brother of atheist author Christopher Hitchens) extraordinary conversion to Christianity:

Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law.

The one reliable force that restrains the hand of the man of power. In an age of powerworship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power.

Professionalism in ministry and the need for equippers:

The way to fix a church suffering with professionalism is not to do away with the gifted, well-trained, and experienced ministers but channel their ministry in a different way.  This is the genius of the early church leaders.  They understood their calling not as ministers but equippers.  Their end goal was to have apprentices who can duplicate their life, work, and calling so that as the church continues to grow and multiply, there are new laborers and competent leaders for the mission.

C-Span archives are like YouTube for political junkies. I wonder how video tape will help future historians do their task.

Albert Mohler’s 10 books every preacher should read in 2010.

 
 

Mar

16

2010

Trevin Wax|3:50 am CT

The Evidence for Life After Death

Most people affirm the idea of life after death. But could it be that this idea is merely a persistent legend? A comforting thought that has no basis in reality?

In Life After Death: The Evidence (Regnery, 2009), Dinesh D’Souza builds a scientific and rational case for the reality of the afterlife. When I realized what D’Souza was attempting to do here (prove the afterlife without appealing to faith or revelation), I doubted it could be done effectively. And while “prove” might be too strong a word, D’Souza definitely makes belief in the afterlife intellectually reasonable, and even compelling.

Life After Death engages atheists and materialists on their own terms. That’s why D’Souza cannot limit himself to speaking only about the afterlife. He first makes the case for the existence of God by showing how naturalism is biased in favor of atheism. D’Souza pokes holes in the atheist’s argument, in order to bring the atheist down to the same level as the theist. Interestingly enough, he accomplishes this feat while advocating epistemological humility!

D’Souza points to a variety of facts that bolster his view of the afterlife, including the near universality of this belief. He writes a fascinating chapter on near-death experiences, in which he gleans pertinent evidence for life after death without succumbing to a naive gullibility regarding all of these testimonies.

In another chapter, D’Souza delves into the “physics” of immortality, using intelligent design to make “space” (pun intended) for the concept of the afterlife. At one point, he uses the theory of evolution as evidence for the existence of the mind (soul) after physical death.

In the first half of the book, D’Souza makes the idea of the afterlife (in many forms, including reincarnation) possible. The second half makes it reasonable. D’Souza is willing to mount evidence from any source that helps his cause, even an atheistic philosopher. Here is D’Souza’s presuppoisitional argument for life after death:

Unlike material objects and all other living creatures, we humans inhabit two domains: the way things are, and the way things ought to be. We are moral animals who recognize that just as there are natural laws that govern every object in the universe, there are also moral laws that govern the behavior of one special object in the universe, namely us.

While the universe is externally moved by ‘facts,’ we are internally moved also by ‘values.’ Yet these values defy natural and scientific explanation because physical laws, as discovered by science, concern only the way things are and not the way they ought to be. Moreover, the essence of morality is to curtail and contradict the powerful engine of human self-interest, giving morality an undeniable anti-evolutionary thrust.

So how do we explain the existence of moral values that stand athwart our animal nature? The presupposition of cosmic justice, achieved not in this life but in another life beyond the grave, is by far the best and in some respects the only explanation. This presupposition fully explains why humans continue to espouse goodness and justice even when the world is evil and unjust.” (166-7)

The book works out D’Souza’s argument by appealing to science, philosophy and morality:

  • Modern physics demonstrates the possibility of realms beyond the universe.
  • Modern biology shows that evolution transitions from matter to mind.
  • Neuroscience shows that the mind cannot be reduced to the brain.
  • Philosophy makes a distinction between experience and reality.
  • Morality is understood because of cosmic justice.
  • There are practical benefits to believing in the afterlife.

Readers may find some of D’Souza’s argumentation perplexing. At one point, he says that early Jews did not believe in the afterlife. (Yet, Jesus quoted from Exodus and established the idea of resurrection in the Torah itself.) He also uses evolution as evidence for life after death, though it’s clear he believes in intelligent design.

But Life After Death concludes with the Christian view of the afterlife, specifically the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. D’Souza then pleads with people to believe in Christ. In all, this book offers good arguments for the afterlife and should provide great conversation with those who wonder what happens when we die.

 
 

Mar

16

2010

Trevin Wax|2:48 am CT

Worth a Look 3.16.10

Albert Mohler on Glenn Beck’s recent suggestion for Christians to flee churches that talk about social justice:

The church is not to adopt a social reform platform as its message, but the faithful church, wherever it is found, is itself a social reform movement precisely because it is populated by redeemed sinners who are called to faithfulness in following Christ. The Gospel is not a message of social salvation, but it does have social implications.

Faithful Christians can debate the proper and most effective means of organizing the political structure and the economic markets. Bringing all these things into submission to Christ is no easy task, and Gospel must not be tied to any political system, regime, or platform. Justice is our concern because it is God’s concern, but it is no easy task to know how best to seek justice in this fallen world.

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is now online!

The Jonathan Edwards Center is a ministry of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Located on the campus of TEDS (Deerfield, Illinois), it exists to promote and serve the conversation unfolding onJonathan Edwards, America’s preeminent pastor, theologian, and philosopher.  It has a special burden to engage the life of the church, though it is engaged on multiple levels with scholarly study of Edwards and his world.

Celebrating 25 years of dot.com domains:

But there was hardly a ripple when Symbolics Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., maker of computer systems and software based on research done at MIT, signed up the first .com with Network Solutions, the domain registration firm that was acquired by VeriSign in 2000.

Herman Bavinck on the new creation:

“Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the ‘bondage to decay.’”

Jerry Rankin with an apology and a post on the landmines of blogging:

I am as vulnerable as anyone, perhaps even more, of expressing an opinion without realizing how it is perceived by others. It is good to be reminded that communication is not what one says, but what the reader or hearer understand you to be saying. I’ve also learned that it is not necessary, and, in fact, is inappropriate to use individuals to make your point.

 
 

Mar

15

2010

Trevin Wax|3:19 am CT

"Is it Me, Lord?" Humility at the Table of Grace

In the Gospel of Mark, each time Jesus predicts his suffering, the disciples demonstrate their pride and weakness.  The scenes are sadly comical. Jesus talks about going to the cross, and the disciples begin trying to one-up each other for glory in the kingdom.

But there is one scene that stands out. At the table during the Last Supper, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him. Based upon everything we know of the disciples, we might expect them to begin looking around at each other, trying to figure out who is the villain.

Maybe it’s Peter. He thinks he’s so devoted…

I bet it’s John. He loses his temper and can’t control himself. Maybe he’s mad at Jesus…

It’s probably Simon. Jesus isn’t a Zealot, and Simon might be wanting to go back to his old life…

Maybe it’s Levi. The money from the tax booth is calling him again…

We expect to see the disciples looking suspiciously at one another, trying to figure out who might be the betrayer. We expect them to point the finger and say, “Is it him?” Instead, they point the finger back at themselves and say, “Is it me?”

If there’s any encouragement in this passage, it’s that the disciples immediately start looking at themselves and their own hearts. They don’t immediately judge the others.

Whenever we see someone fall into sin, our temptation is to puff up and think, “I’m glad I’m stronger than that.” Often, when we hear a sermon that should step on our toes, we think, “I hope so and so is taking notes. They really need to hear that!”

We excel at finding faults with others when we should be finding faults in ourselves.

Next time you hear of someone failing the Lord, look inside your own heart and say, “Lord, don’t let that be me! I don’t want to be the one who lets you down! Shower me with your grace again and remind me of my weakness.”

Lent is a time to reflect. And it’s a time to ask: “Is it me, Lord? Is it me?”

 
 

Mar

15

2010

Trevin Wax|2:16 am CT

Worth a Look 3.15.10

Dostoevksy in the context of Eastern Orthodoxy:

By considering the context of Eastern Orthodoxy in which Dostoevsky wrote, Williams enables the reader to look more perceptively into the depictions that emerge from Dostoevsky’s literary and religious imagination. While Dostoevsky’s writing does not offer the direct gaze of the Orthodox icon, neither does it mime the askance view of Holbein’s dead Christ. Instead, it is “a sort of icon,” a genuinely searching and demanding literature that is deeply indebted to the Christian faith.

Did Jim Sikes’ Prius actually have an accelerator problem? The rest of the story:

Now here’s the potential smoking gun: Sikes told the reporters that “I was reaching down and trying to pull up on the gas pedal. It didn’t move at all; it was stationary.” That’s awfully daring for somebody who insisted he didn’t even want to take a hand off his steering wheel, notwithstanding that he did so to hold his phone. …

Have we arrived at the end of the road for pro-life Democrats?

What are Democratic leaders saying? “If you pass the Stupak amendment, more children will be born, and therefore it will cost us millions more. That’s one of the arguments I’ve been hearing,” Stupak says. “Money is their hang-up. Is this how we now value life in America? If money is the issue — come on, we can find room in the budget. This is life we’re talking about.”

CJ Mahaney: “Hard Thoughts about God – in Parenting”

You have the privilege of introducing them to God the Father and describing the ways in which he is different from you, different from all sinful fathers, and how in any way you are like him it’s only because of grace that you reflect him. See Luke 11:11-13.

Your honest confession of your sin to your children will protect them from having hard thoughts about you or God.

 
 

Mar

14

2010

Trevin Wax|3:22 am CT

Praying for Michael Spencer

I am deeply saddened to hear that Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) has been told that his cancer is too aggressive and advanced to expect any remission. (See his wife Denise’s update here.) Michael has encouraged me on a number of occasions, regarding blogging, writing, and ministry.

My father-in-law has recently received a cancer diagnosis. There are several people in my church who are battling cancer right now. Let’s take a few moments to pray for Michael and for others who are struggling during this time. This prayer comes from the guys at the Boars Head Tavern. It’s specifically about Michael, but you can also use these words to lift up others who are suffering.

Our Father,

First of all we acknowledge You as our God, our Maker, and our Saviour. We are awed by Your majesty. We are comforted by Your presence. We are grateful for every good and perfect gift from Your hand.

We are also sad and upset. Our friend Michael is sick. The news concerning him is not what we want to hear, not what we hoped to hear. We love him. Our hearts are heavy.

Lord, You know and love Michael so much more and better than we do. You know his frame, You know his mind, You know his heart, You know the burden he carries. Please be with him. Work in his life. Comfort his heart with the gospel. Heal his body. Lift his burdens.

Give him sweet sleep, a growing appetite and happy days of physical strength, mental keenness, emotional well-being, spiritual vitality, and Christian hope rooted in the resurrection of Your Son, Jesus.

Lord, we pray for our sister Denise. Strengthen her with your grace, give her hope, and grant her the joy of serving Michael now, as she has for many years. Grant them both that “joy unspeakable and full of glory” as they face these days together.

We pray for Noel and for Clay and their spouses. May they be comforted by You and able to minister to their dad and mom with the comfort they receive from You.

Finally (though certainly not least), Father, we thank You for the Good News. For that Gospel that Michael loves so much, that Gospel that he writes of and teaches with such joyful confidence and humility. Thank You that Your Son Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has gone before Michael in the place where he is now, in the valley of the shadow of death. Thank You that Jesus has been in the jaws of death itself and come out victorious. We trust in this Good News. We trust Jesus. We praise and thank You that Michael is trusting You as well. What a comfort and a blessing this is.

All these prayers and concerns and joys and sadness we bring to You, Father, in the words that Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen

+

 
 

Mar

13

2010

Trevin Wax|3:18 am CT

The Beauty of Jesus' Love

“The sacrificial, costly love of Jesus changes us. When we see the beauty of what he has done for us, it attracts our hearts to him. We realize that the love, the greatness, the consolation, and the honor we have been seeking in other things is here. The beauty also eliminates our fear. If the Lord of the universe loves us enough to experience this for us, what are we afraid of?

- Tim Keller