Monthly Archives: July 2011

Give Us Grace to Guard Ourselves from Idols

Father, we thank you for your Word,
which is sober but not without hope.
Jesus has reformed his true people into his own image
on the basis of his own person, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit,
and he wants us to trust him and not be idol worshippers.

And so Lord,
cause us to revere you so we resemble you
and are blessed and restored to you,
and not ruined.
Give us eyes to see and ears to hear your truth
and give “us understanding so that we might know him who is true”
and to abide “in him who is true,
in his Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God and eternal life.”

Give us grace to guard ourselves from idols.
Be with us to this end for your glory.

In Christ’s name,
Amen.

– G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 311.

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To Speak the Vital Sentence

When Jesus came to Jordan
to be baptized by John,
He did not come for pardon,
but as His Father’s Son.
He came to share repentance
for all who mourn their sins,
to speak the vital sentence
with which good news begins. 

-Frederick Pratt Green

HT: Mike Neglia

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Weekend Links

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The Idols We Worship

Guest Blogger: Joel is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and is preparing for ordination in the Presbyterian Church of America. His ministry focus is the Arabic-speaking world, and he writes about life, the gospel, and the books he’s reading at http://joelws.com.

“Everyone looks for an area into which he can throw himself completely, in which what is unique in his life can come to its own” (Johan Herman Bavinck, The Riddle of Life, 58).

Johan Herman Bavinck was a Dutch missionary to Indonesia who lived from 1895-1964. After his 20-year missionary career, he returned to the Netherlands to teach theology, but throughout both of those aspects of his ministry, he constantly reflected on how it is that people simultaneously are surrounded by God’s revelation and yet rebel against it. What is perhaps surprising is that when we see his diagnosis of the problems of the human heart in his own day—a century ago—we may recognize something of the problems that afflict the human heart in our own times.

He wrote The Riddle of Life to address exactly that issue. In chapters 9-11 he addresses the idols of the human heart. He begins his discussion of that topic with the quote above, which argues that built into the human heart is the desire to serve something, to “throw himself completely” into something. I realized the truth of this when I found myself screaming—sometimes in anger, sometimes in frustration, sometimes with joy—at my television as I watched my team play …

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Worth a Look 7.28.11

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011)

To those who know and meet him, respect and affection go hand in hand. The world-figure is lost in personal friendship, disarming interest, unfeigned humility—and a dash of mischievous humour and charm. By contrast, he thinks of himself, as all Christians should but few of us achieve, as simply a beloved child of a heavenly Father; an unworthy servant of his friend and master, Jesus Christ; a sinner saved by grace to the glory and praise of God.

WSJ, The Delicate Art of Fixing a Broken Friendship

A good friend is an emotional safe haven, providing support, guidance and laughter. When someone like that is suddenly gone from your life, it can be heart-wrenching. But how do you go about rebuilding a friendship that has splintered? When do you reach out? What do you say, and what if your former friend doesn’t want to hear it? Texting “I’m sorry” probably won’t cut it.

When Parents Don’t Have a Clue

Parents that rely on a thre-minute, “How was your day?” conversation each day might be surprised one day and receive a text much worse than the one I received yesterday.

Does Modern Slavery Start at Home?

What kind of culture is producing so many men who are eager to buy women and children for sex, contributing to a $32 billion annual human trafficking industry? The same culture that produces and perpetuates a $100 billion per year pornography industry.

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Don't Use a Catechism Like This

This post is contributed by Alex Crain, editor of Christianity.com.

cat·e·chism [kat-i-kiz-uhm], noun: a summary of the principles of the Christian religion, especially as maintained by a particular church, in the form of questions and answers.

I’m no champion for the idea that catechism is the silver bullet. Maybe it’s not the one indispensible thing the church has to recover to be faithful to its task. But I have gotten pretty enthusiastic about it. Like others who grew up around evangelical churches in the 1980s and ’90s, I viewed catechism with suspicion, seeing it as a dull, dry ritual most likely used only by dull, dry churches. But several years ago, I heard a pastor named Bob Bixby talk about whole-church catechism at a conference. I started to see catechism for what it’s supposed to be—a unifying theological soundtrack for the local church.

Our statement of faith sits on the church website, but what we really want is for that doctrine to be alive in the hearts of people. We want people to “commune with God in the doctrines they say they espouse” (to paraphrase John Owen). Catechism offers a historic, unifying way to pass along the basics of the Christian faith across generations. And when taught and utilized in the context of ongoing relationships (not just occasional ‘confirmation classes’), catechism can help disconnected people move toward becoming a gospel-centered community sharing a common theological vocabulary.

Rather than repeat what others have written elsewhere about family worship and the history and 

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Worth a Look 7.27.11

Ben Myers, On Catechesis and Catastrophe.

In our eagerness to make sure everybody is included, to reassure inquirers that the Christian faith is indeed an easygoing undemanding thing, we are looking only at the dimples and batted eyelashes. We are forgetting the longer view, the screech of tyres and the shriek of twisted steel and the long split-second when a windscreen becomes a million tiny diamonds in the sky. We blame the new converts if after some time they make a wreck of their faith.

Timothy Dalrymple, Was Anders Breivik Really a Christian?

What do we do with the fact that Anders Behring Breivik — the perpetrator of a terrorist attack in downtown Oslo and the mass murder of children on the nearby island of Utoya — identifies himself as a Christian?  How do we make sense of the fact that he refers three times in his “European Declaration of Independence” to the “Lord Jesus Christ”?

New York Times, Left-Leaning Tower

Why are conservatives such a minority at so many graduate schools? Conservatives like to blame liberal bias. Liberals like other explanations.

John Johnson, What Ministry Can Learn from Starbucks

Here’s what I sometimes wonder—how is it an entrepreneur can take something so basic (be it coffee beans or running shoes) and make it a powerful part of culture, and we in the church can take the greatest message in the world and make it so domestic?

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5 Early Warning Signs Your Shields Should Be Up

This post is contributed by Marc Cortez, Th.M. program director and academic dean at Western Seminary in Portland, OR and blogger at Scientia et Sapientia.

Jean Luc Picard frustrates me. Not only do women find him more attractive than me despite the fact that he’s old, bald, and has a pointy nose, but he also has one really annoying habit: He never puts the shields up in time! If you’ve seen many Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, you know what I’m talking about. Faced with a terrifyingly dangerous situation, the Enterprise will be sitting there with it’s shields still down. Only after some alien vessel has actually blown a hole in the side of the Enterprise, will Picard finally yell, “Shields up!” And, it always leaves me thinking, “Um, couldn’t you have done that a bit earlier? You know, before people started getting killed.”

Having your shields down at the wrong moment can be very dangerous. The same is true in theology.

5 EARLY WARNING SIGNS THAT YOUR SHIELDS SHOULD BE UP

Sometimes you need to have your theological shields up. These are situations when you should be on high alert. Some of these are obvious. If someone is trying to convince you of an idea that is obviously contrary to God’s word (more on this in a moment) or immoral, go ahead and raise the shields. You don’t need me to tell you that. You can even yell, “Red alert!”, if it will make you happy. It might be worth it just …

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Worth a Look 7.26.11

New York Times, The Masters as the New Bachelors

Call it credential inflation. Once derided as the consolation prize for failing to finish a Ph.D. or just a way to kill time waiting out economic downturns, the master’s is now the fastest-growing degree.

The Irish Times, The Fearful Fathers

Angry, isolated, paranoid and ageing, many of Ireland’s ‘ordinary’ Catholic priests feel failed and abandoned by the church hierarchy. But where were the ‘good priests’ when they were needed

Bill Mounce, Apollumi, “destroy,” and Annihilationism

In what sense will people “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction (olethros), away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess 1:9)? The semantic range of a word gives you the possible meanings. Context — both literary and theological — picks the right stick out of the bundle.

Wired, In Praise of Vagueness

Vagueness is hard to defend. To be vague is to be imprecise, unclear, ambiguous. In an age that worships precise information, vagueness feels like willfull laziness.

And yet, as William James pointed out, vagueness is not without virtues. Sometimes, precision is dangerous, a closed door keeping us from imagining new possibilities. Vagueness is that door flung wide open, a reminder that we don’t yet know the answer, that we might still get better, that we have yet to fail

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Reading When You Can't Afford Books

When I was in seminary, I had an insatiable desire to read and learn and read some more. It was difficult to find time to read.

But even more difficult than finding time to read was finding money to buy books! It took all the spare cash I had to buy the books required for school. Looking at the new books at the seminary’s LifeWay, I sometimes thought to myself: If someone were willing to donate to me all of the books I really want to read, I’d write a 5-page review of each one – just to show them their money didn’t go to waste!

In some ways, that wish has come true. I now receive new books from publishers. The books that come from publishers then turn into lots of book reviews on the blog. But I still remember the feeling that I’m sure many readers of this blog have: you want to read more, but you can’t afford the books. I’ve been there. Yes, cost can be prohibitive.

Here are a few suggestions for how to be a reader when you can’t afford books:

1. Read good book reviews.

There is nothing more frustrating then spending your precious few dollars on a book that winds up being a disappointment. The more book reviews you read, the better you will understand which books are worth picking up.

Book reviews also give you information about the theological conversations taking place in the book world. Check out Discerning Reader. Or the book reviews in the back of Theology Journals. Most of them are now online. TGC also reviews books. As does …

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