The January 25, 2016 issue of the Weekly Standard profiles “The Religion of Trump: Will evangelicals balk at pulling the lever for him?” In this article, Weekly Standard executive editor Terry Eastman reports that Trump calls himself a Presbyterian, appealing to his family’s long-time association with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Eastman reveals, however, that Trump personally attends Marble Collegiate Church every Christmas, Easter and “whenever he can.” Marble Collegiate is a congregation of the Dutch Reformed communion known as the Reformed Church in America (RCA).For 52 years, it was pastored by a man who had become a household name during my childhood in the 70’s, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
Peale’s claim to fame was his best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking (Prentice Hall Press, 1952; Touchstone, 2003). In 1945, Peale co-founded Guideposts Magazine with his wife Ruth Stafford Peale, a well-known magazine that is still in circulation and online. Fellow RCA minister, the late Dr. Robert H. Schuller, whose services at the Crystal Cathedral (now Christ Cathedral Catholic Church) were televised for decades on The Hour of Power, took the baton from Norman Vincent Peale to build his own ministry-empire on the power of positive thinking. In 1992, Dr. Schuller was interviewed on The White Horse Inn radio show, in which he had what proved to be a revealing and therefore necessarily contentious exchange with Dr. Michael S. Horton, a minister is the conservative Dutch Reformed denomination called the United Reformed Church of North America, on why he preaches positivity like Jesus did, rather than a negative message against sin the way Paul did (read excerpts here).
This positive-thinking distortion to the Reformed Faith is appreciated and affirmed by the infamous “prosperity gospel” televangelists in the Word of Faith movement like Paula White, who, along with a group of fellow televangelists laid hands on Trump, “believing for” success for his campaign. While the prosperity gospel of the Word of Faith movement descends from charismatic faith healer Kenneth Hagin (see A Different Gospel) through Kenneth Copeland to more popular and less obnoxiously money-fixated speakers like Joel Osteen, John Hagee, T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer, the Word of Faith movement bears an unmistakable family resemblance to the mainline positive thinking doctrines of Peale and Schuller. I used to watch the love fest between Robert Schuller and Trinity Broadcasting Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch on a regular basis in the late 1980’s.
In those days, Bible believing Christians used to affirm their orthodoxy, or at least their fundamentalism, and disassociate themselves from the American-made heresy of positive thinking with a play on words coined by Adlai Stevenson in 1952 in response to Peale’s criticism of his bid for President (HT: David Stokes): “I find Paul appealing, and Peale appalling!” This slogan calls for a modern re-popularization among Christians, in light of the candidacy of Donald Trump. The problem is that today, so many who consider themselves “Bible believers” are too biblically illiterate and thus uninformed on the false doctrine of positive thinking to know what’s so appalling about Peale and company, much less what’s so appealing about Paul.
What’s so “Appalling About Peale”?
The positive thinking teachings of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller, along with the Word of Faith theology of Hagin, Copeland, Jakes, Osteen and Meyer, focus on techniques for attracting success or prosperity to oneself, believing material prosperity to be as much the believer’s right as his spiritual “prosperity” in terms of peace with God by faith in Christ and spiritual growth in grace according to the Word of God with a view to bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Hank Hanegraaff, writing in Christianity in Crisis, characterizes this as “desiring what’s on the Master’s table, rather than the Master Himself.”
In the introduction to The Power of Positive Thinking, Peale points to the successful experimentation in his positive thinking techniques which he demonstrated during his ministry at the church which Trump now occasionally visits:
How can I be so certain that the practice of these principles will produce such results? The answer is simply that for many years in the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City we have taught a system of creative living based on spiritual techniques, carefully noting its operation in the lives of hundreds of people. It is no speculative series of extravagant assertions that I make, for these principles have worked so efficiently for so long a period of time that they are now firmly established as documented and demonstrable truth. The system outlined is a perfected and amazing method of successful living. (Peale, Power of Positive Thinking; Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1952, 1956; N.V.Peale, 1980; Fireside, 2003. Introduction, page xii.)
The closest I come to a thumb-nail sketch of Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking is drawn by Steven Hein on his website, EQI.org:
1. Picture yourself as succeeding.
2. Whenever a negative thought comes to mind, deliberately voice a positive thought to cancel it out.
3. Do not build up obstacles in your imagination. Instead tear them down by tearing them apart
4. Do not compare yourself to others.
5. Get a competent counselor to help you understand why you do what you do. Learn the origin of your inferiority and self-doubt feelings which often begin in childhood. Self-knowledge leads to a cure.
6. Practice self-affirmations, for example, Yes, I can. or I can do all things through belief in myself [sic]
7. List all the things you have going for you.
It’s not hard to see why billionaire casino tycoon and television personality, Donald Trump, would be attracted to the man-centered techniques of Norman Vincent Peale which view emotional, physical and fiscal success as a sign of spiritual vitality that are the results of pseudo-spiritual practices that amount to self-hypnosis according to some, and New Age occultism according to others.
What’s so “Appealing About Paul”?
Contrary to this, the Apostle Paul taught and exemplified a life that majored on contentment regardless of one’s bottom line:
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11).
The final sentence of this passage of Scripture draws a stark contrast with Peale’s man-centered paraphrase of it in step #6 of his techniques, as described above.
Paul decried those who taught that gain is godly, as do the positive thinking disciples of Peale, and instructed his son in the faith to separate from them:
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:3-11)
The appealing doctrine of Paul follows the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as God the Son had every right to hold onto his eternal power and glory he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven, yet condescended to give it all up, taking on a human nature to suffer the deprivations of human poverty and suffering, calling his followers to take up their crosses of suffering as well. Paul writes in his great passage on the grace of giving, ““For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Paul meant this to be taken in the exclusively spiritual sense of forgiveness of sin and inheriting the Kingdom of God (which is not of this world).
It is not my goal to promote a presidential candidate. It is my goal to teach Christians to be discerning about what is and is not biblical. The modern doctrine of prosperity and positive thinking is not biblical. That’s why the gospel preached by Trump’s church is appalling. The teaching of Paul, our great Christian example, who eschewed prosperity for its own sake in this temporary life to gain an eternal life of reigning with Christ on the right hand of the Father, is much more appealing.
I watched Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens on Saturday of its record-breaking opening weekend. Since late last November, when the first teaser trailer was released, I had been following as many of the details of the production of the film as I could–from the early shots of the animatronic alien creatures to the construction of the Millennium Falcon and Harrison Ford’s injury on the set to the first script read-through by the cast, where the new ensemble of unknown actors took the baton from original trilogy stars Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. This process aroused the Star Wars fanboy in me to the degree of my spending $300 on twelve original Kenner action figures including the very valuable “Blue Snaggletooth” and “Big Head” Han Solo.As we learned in the first full Episode VII trailer, the Force likewise undergoes an awakening in that mythological galaxy far, far away setting the stage for a revival of the conflict between the light and dark sides of George Lucas’s literary device representing the universal instinct of human religiosity, which John Calvin called the sensus divinitatis. While Lucas’s Force features the earmarks of Eastern mysticism, Lucas was less interested in promoting Eastern mysticism to his Western audiences than he was in merely representing the spiritual and supernatural side of human existence in the form of his modern “Science Fantasy” genre. The bottom line for the Sparknotes on Star Wars Episodes IV-VI is that “the Force is a rather vague entity, serving primarily as a vocabulary for good and evil and as a way to explain the ‘magical’ powers of the Jedi.” This revival, or “Awakening” of the Force in Star Wars, Episode VII occasions our return to the theater for the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. It has been that long, I say, because this movie comes on the heels of Lucas’s decision to sell Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise to Disney. In the intervening years between Empire and Force Awakens was a dark time of Lucas introducing less than endearing characters like the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks in films featuring Lucas’s less than stellar writing and directing. Don’t get me wrong—George Lucas is a revolutionary filmmaker, but it is due to his hitting upon a great idea for a modern space age fairy tale and some groundbreaking developments in the art and science of special effects. But in my humble opinion, this is where Lucas’s strengths end. For this reason, I think it is good that Lucas has once and for all handed off his legendary franchise to the media giant that has mastered the art of producing high quality fairy tales for the big screen. As you may know, The Empire Strikes Back excelled for a similar reason. Lucas wanted his series to take off, so he knew the sequel to A New Hope had to be really, really good. Tapping Lawrence Kasdan to write the screenplay and film school instructor, Irvin Kershner to direct, George Lucas hit upon the formula for a well-made Star Wars film post his 1977 magnum opus: get someone else to write and direct. So, for this year’s The Force Awakens, Kasdan returns to co-write the screenplay with the next Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, who also agreed to direct. The quality of the resulting film reflects the wisdom of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy’s choice of writers and director. J.J. Abrams was the right pick to revive the Star Wars franchise. In this film, he seems to have done what made his Star Trek (2009) reboot work. In that film, Abrams gathered the perfect cast to mirror the first generation crew of the starship Enterprise, and planted lots of nostalgic references to classic Star Trek tropes, breathing new life into the rival sci-fi classic. This must be the reason Spielberg recommended Abrams to Kennedy, who then pursued him for the job. Not only is The Force Awakens the seventh episode in the series, but in many ways, it is arguably a reboot of A New Hope. Without spoiling the film for you latecomers giving place to the teeming masses you think camped outside the world’s theaters for days before the December 18th opening (not so much), The Force Awakens parallels the first Star Wars in many ways. Himself a fan since age 11, Abrams knew that what the die hard audience wanted was a return to the “used universe” look and feel of A New Hope, building props and sets the old fashioned way, keeping his use of computer generated images to a minimum, along with Abrams’s infamous lens flare habit. I counted two, maybe three such incidents of lens flare.
One thing which surprised me about the show was that, despite the many links to the original trilogy scattered throughout the film, I did not find myself overwhelmed with emotion. I’m a sentimental guy, so I was disappointed by this. I don’t fault the film, though, for this may be due more to the fact that I’ve been watching the production very closely all year, so there were fewer surprises for me, other than some of those spoilerific elements of the film which I cannot yet discuss openly. I was happy with the fact that the awkward dialogue and acting so prominent in the prequels was absent in this first installment of the sequel trilogy. Lucasfilm at last has awakened to the fact that George Lucas’s great ideas must be complemented by equally good writing and directing.
“Arianism–Arianism was a 4th-century Christian heresy named for Arius (c. 250-c. 336), a priest in Alexandria [Egypt]. Arius denied the full deity of the preexistent Son of God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He held that the Son, while divine and like God (“of like substance”), was created by God as the agent through whom he created the universe. Arius said of the Son, “there was a time when he was not.” Arianism became so widespread in the Christian church and resulted in such disunity that the emperor Constantine convoked a church council at Nicaea in [A.D.] 325.” (from Class Handout)
On Sunday, November 1, 2015, Elder Wayne Wylie taught about the Arian Heresy and Nicene Orthodoxy.
Christianity faces more controversies and heresies than other religions because it is based on propositional doctrine rather than morality, as other religions are. “Contending for the faith” is a biblical duty intended to preserve the peace and purity of the church (Jude 3). In the ancient era of church history, the Faith needed to be stated more clearly in a formal way, hence the development of Nicene Orthodoxy.
The heresiarch Arius taught that Jesus was the first created being, and denied the “ontological Trinity,” which means he denied that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are of one divine essence. The councils which developed the Nicene Creed demonstrate the fact of the eternal generation of the Son, and the…
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The jurisdiction of this blog just expanded. I know many Reformed blogs have always posted on personal interests that lay outside the realm of Reformed theology, but I had rarely, or never done so myself. This changes today.
Facebook friends of mine have become painfully aware of the fact that I have, in the past year, reverted to where I left off at about age nineteen, in my interest in comic books and Star Wars. I have been calling 2015 “The Year of Star Wars” since the announcement that George Lucas had decided to sell Lucasfilm to Disney and the joint announcement that Disney’s newly acquired company would begin a new trilogy of Star Wars feature films, along with a handful of spin-off films. There is also talk of a live-action Netflix series in the works (see this for the new canon). But, most significantly for myself, is the fact that now that both Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm are under the Disney umbrella, the twenty-plus year run of Dark Horse brand Star Wars comics is coming to an end, and Lucasfilm’s new sister company will resume publishing Star Wars comics, which they originally did since the 1977 release of the ground-breaking original Star Wars film when I was six years old, which somehow managed to wrap its tentacles around my brain.
Some of you may be aware that yesterday, the long-awaited official theatrical poster of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released, as a fore-runner to the fashionably late debut of the first full trailer for the film, to be aired during half-time on Monday Night Football on ESPN tonight.
But, thank the Maker for DVR technology! I needn’t sit through a game I’m not interested in to catch the trailer. I’ll record it, watch my normal shows, probably check in on the progress of the game in order to catch it live, then back to my preferred viewing. Then I’ll protect it in my DVR so I can re-watch it as often as I like.
The infrequency of my blogging on theological issues may largely be explained by the fact that since 2010, when my family finally joined an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, my formerly frustrated need for sound theology began being met, and my compulsion to seek interaction with others who believe as I do–few and far between as we often find ourselves–has found relief in my enjoyment of weekly ministry of the ordinary means of grace at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas.
In 2013, we moved from our original rental facility, the Airport Area YMCA to a small building on 1.6 acres on Brown Trail in Bedford. With that move, the deacon in charge of the library asked me to take over directorship of our small collection of books, and also requested that I come up with a way to facilitate online discussion of our books among our library patrons. This lead to the launch of my second blog, the MCOPC Library Blog. I have been posting our titles on this blog, which will serve as an online card catalog in the hopes that one day I will learn how to provoke a church full of ordinary people who are not already avid bloggers to open up and review, comment, raise questions and engage in discussion or debate on our humble blog with other library patrons. This strikes me as a daunting task. But perhaps with time, more of that will begin to happen.
I will begin reblogging those posts here as well, if only to increase the frequency of Reformed-content blogging. I also have intentions to resume my devotional series I started in 2006, which broke down with the increased difficulty in pairing questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism on the Ten Commandments with hymns featuring related content from the Trinity Hymnal. But I have a source which will assist me in that, my pastor has managed to do so in his Sunday evening service teaching ministry on the catechism, and has invited me to benefit from his work in that area, for which I am grateful.
But in the meantime, I hope you will enjoy geeking out with me about Star Wars and Marvel Comics from time to time. Let me know what you think about the Force Awakens poster, speculate about why you think Luke is missing, and check back here for more forty-something fanboy misadventures.
Affluent, influential white progressives have been found to be the largest group with measurable hostility against politically conservative Christians, and they find repressing their right to free exercise of their religion acceptable if it means granting new rights to tiny minority groups who behave in ways contrary to biblical Christian beliefs and practices.
“Well, anti-Christian hostility is certainly real, captured by the American National Election Studies, which include questions about animosity toward various social groups. About third of respondents rated conservative Christians significantly lower (by at least one standard deviation) than other religious and racial groups.
The only group to fare worse was atheists, who received low rankings from nearly half the respondents. But while atheists drew more global hostility than any other group, the negative rankings for conservative Christians came from a disproportionate number of white, highly educated, politically progressive, and wealthy respondents.”
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.TGO0MTsV.dpuf
Yes, you heard that right. Dr. Carl Trueman was invited to speak in the chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas yesterday. Seminary President Paige Patterson introduced Dr. Trueman as “my favorite Calvinist” for his activities as a “critic of the culture.” In the video of Dr. Trueman’s chapel sermon, you can see his friendly response in which he expresses his admiration for Dr. Patterson’s role in leading Southwestern and the SBC back to a more conservative theological position. Then he delivers a sermon on the advent of the prophet Elijah from 1 Kings 17:1-24 and proclaims the power of not only God’s Word, but also his holiness, his mercy and his power over death. My pastor, Joe Troutman, and I attended the service, got a bite to eat off campus while Dr. Patterson and his wife hosted Dr. Trueman for lunch (oh, to be a fly on the wall of that conversation!), gave him a tour of the campus, after which Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church officially took possession of him in preparation for tonight’s OPC DFW Reformation Conference 2014 on the role of creeds and confessions in the Protestant Reformation and their benefit to the life and worship of the church today. If you haven’t already registered, it’s not too late. Pictures and audio to follow on this blog in the coming days.
Among the King James Onlyist writers I used to read back in the height of my fundamentalist zeal, one of the more scholarly, by comparison, was David Cloud, whose work may be found at his website Way of Life Literature, Inc. He was definitely a schismatic fundamentalist on many issues, but he did not descend into the nuttiness of Ruckmanism. I found many of his writings on the defense of the KJV to be somewhat more satisfying than the fringe lunacy of Gail Riplinger’s New Age Bible Versions, which was her personal regurgitation of many of Peter Ruckman’s views on the Bible version debate, up to and including the inspiration of the KJV, and David Cloud wrote a worthy critique of her book.
David Cloud also included short bios of many proponents of the exclusive use of the King James Version. Called, in classic fundamentalist typography, “TESTIMONIES OF KJV DEFENDERS (do they think we’re all deaf?),” my favorite is the one on OPC minister and Westminster Theological Seminary grad, Edward F. Hills (read it here), author of The King James Version Defended, which introduces the textual arguments of then Dean of Chichester, John William Burgon, the first great opponent of the Critical Text developed by the committee selected to revise the King James Version in 1881 which fell under the influence of, to hear modern fundies tell it, Roman Catholic-loving, heretic-defending spiritualists, Westcott and Hort (cue ominous music—BOM BOM BOMMM!) and misuses the presuppositional apologetic method, which he calls the logic of faith, to provide his unique twist to Burgon’s outdated scholarship. Hills’s book was my all-time favorite criticizing modern English Bible versions, because it was otherwise very informative with his short histories of “Unbelief” and “Modernism” and detail on the textual sources of many of the contested readings. Indeed, Hills, provoked by a quote of B. B. Warfield which praised higher textual criticism, went on to get the needed credentials and work as an actual textual critic in that field for 20 years before writing his book. Despite my critical description above, it contains many examples of fine scholarship when it comes to reporting the facts of the history of textual criticism and the translation of the King James Version, and it also planted many of the seeds of Reformed theology which would take root and bear fruit in my own mind and heart in the years to follow. It’s just the methodology by which he reaches his conclusions with which I disagree.
Another of the TESTIMONIES OF KJV DEFENDERS which intrigued me was that of the founder of the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and Irish Protestant political leader, Ian Paisley (read it here) who died on Friday. It tells the story of a courageous public figure who endured violence and assassination attempts for boldly standing up to Pope John Paul II (footage) and calling him the Antichrist among other anti-Catholic activities and rhetoric. And although he was considered a revivalist, Paisley also was consistent with his fundamentalist anti-Catholicism when he boycotted a Billy Graham crusade for allowing the participation of Roman Catholics. And most relevant to Cloud’s appreciation of him was his rejection of modern English translations of the Bible. Cloud reprints at least part of a speech delivered by Paisley at a World Congress of Fundamentalism at Bob Jones University in 1983 called (again, reach for your hearing protection) “THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES VS. THE CONFUSION OF THE TRANSLATIONS.”
This TESTIMONY was last updated back in 2004. It only gives the reader the information regarding Paisley’s views which parallel those of American fundamentalists who consider the pope the Antichrist from the perspective of dispensational premillennialism, rather than post- or amillennialism, to which Paisley likely subscribed. It excuses his otherwise “heretical” Calvinism, denial of congregational polity and the leadership of only one elder, called either the pastor or the preacher, or just “Preacher.” It omits a dark period in which he was involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse against children in a boy’s home (HT: Jeri Massi). Cloud’s report also leaves out the details of the violence on the ground which Paisley’s political rhetoric inspired, or the man himself lead. Because his webpage remains so incomplete, Cloud also neglects to point out the fact that in 2007, after decades of spearheading the movement to suppress Roman Catholic civil rights in Ireland, which led to thirty years of violence in what is called “The Troubles,” and leadership of the Ulster Resistance which teamed up with other Protestant groups dedicated to violence against Roman Catholic civil rights, when the Catholic Irish Republican Army disarmed itself and promised an end to its terrorism, according to the New York Times obituary on the late fundamentalist Presbyterian minister and First Minister of Ireland, Ian Paisley, entered into a power-sharing unity government with a leader of his former Catholic opposition.
The day many thought would never come arrived in Belfast on May 8, 2007. Mr. Paisley, founder of the Democratic Unionist party, which sought continued association with Britain, and Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader and former commander of the Irish Republican Army, which had fought for a united Ireland, took oaths as the leader and deputy leader, respectively, of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.
This is not to say that Paisley necessarily recanted his stern anti-Catholic views regarding the Pope, or his rejection of modern English Bible versions, or his other fundamentalist views, but it is to say that when all you know about someone originates from a fundamentalist resource, you will want to compare it to other sources of information to make sure you are getting the whole story. It is nice to hear that Paisley’s controversial career ended on a more conciliatory note the way it did.
In this day when America is, for better or worse, trying to wind down its war against radical Islamist jihadists, Skidmore College Professor and Director of Religious Studies, Mary Zeiss Stange, opines in a USA Today piece that we don’t think enough today about how religion can be a source of evil as well as good. Just let that sink in for a moment. But Stange’s focus is not on radical strains of Islam. Hers is on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. You know, that “hyperconservative offshoot of the mainstream Presbyterian Church USA” which she calls “Calvinism on steroids” because it “sees the world in stark either/or terms” in which you are either “saved and bound for heaven. Or you are a sinner, treading a one-way path to the fiery pit of hell.” She characterizes the struggle to discern one’s eternal destiny as “making extraordinary demands on a sensitive young person’s conscience and conduct.” Having painted this dramatic portrait of my denomination with such colorful brush strokes, broad as they may be, she then proposes the possible diagnosis for the “chaotic mood swings” which lead to Bowe Bergdahl’s “transformation from gung-ho warrior to pacifistic deserter”: “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church compels followers to feel the inner spark of absolute certainty of one’s own God-given righteousness.” This is what we hyperconservative Calvinists on steroids call “assurance of salvation.” But Stange’s description of this teaching is overly simplistic, and with the use of the phrase “absolute certainty,” she is associating the OPC with that predominant flaws of the fundamentalist movement. In the doctrinal standard of the OPC, the Westminster Confession of Faith, we find a little more nuance in what we confess about the Bible’s teaching on assurance. Chapter 14, “Of Saving Faith,” section 3, reads,
This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.
Likewise, in Chapter 18, “Of the Assurance and Grace of Salvation,” the doctrine is treated more fully. Section 3 again demonstrates our allowance for degrees of assurance which may often fall far short of Stange’s portrayal of “absolute certainty.”
This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
These excerpts indicates that not all will come to “absolute certainty” regarding their assurance of salvation, but this lack of absolute certainty does not necessarily entail the absence of faith. A weak faith, maybe, but a saving faith nonetheless. Since 2012, the congregations of the OPC have been praying that Bowe Bergdahl would come to faith in Christ, if he truly does not believe, or, if he does, that the Lord would strengthen that faith, that he might grow up “to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of [Bowe’s] faith.” We are careful to point out that assurance is a goal, yet it is not a constant, unwavering quality of the genuine Christian life. For those who find this assurance of faith elusive, it is our desire to comfort, encourage, and point them again to the imputed righteousness which Christ procured by his humble, sinless life, propitiatory death and glorious resurrection in the Word of God preached, and signified and sealed to them in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each of these are ordinary means of God’s grace which can develop an assurance that is not contingent upon the strength of one’s faith, or the quality of his works. So it’s not as if those of us who believe in assurance of salvation strive to keep the heat turned up on people to make sure they get some “feeling” of certainty, or else they’re in trouble. That is mischaracterization of the doctrine of the grossest sort on the part of Professor Stange.
Yet it is just such a one-dimensional view of the doctrine of assurance which Professor Stange would have us believe makes my religion a “source of evil.” The idea that moral absolutes and the search for assurance of salvation are bad is consistent with the contemporary religious and philosophical culture in Western civilization, where secularism and relativism are the virtues of our time. I can’t help but see the climactic light saber duel between Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, in which the latter paraphrases Jesus (and George W. Bush) by declaring the ultimate either/or proposition, “if you’re not with me, then you are my enemy,” to which the former replies, “only a Sith deals in absolutes.”
That’s right, dear reader, if you affirm the Ten Commandments, and believe that only through repentance of sin and faith in Christ can one find assurance of salvation from eternal conscious torment, then to liberals like Mary Zeiss Stange, whose kind of view is currently in favor, you have embraced the Dark Side, and your form of religious extremism is what makes people want to kill the innocent and take over the world, and it may even be what stresses our kids out when they can’t “feel” this “absolute certainty” and makes Bowe Bergdahls of them. I never cease to be amazed by the logical leaps which liberals make about orthodox Christianity. It’s positively fundamentalistic.
But Bergdahl’s woes cannot be the sole responsibility of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, because, from what I’ve read, the Bergdahl family were members of two different OPC congregations in the past, neither of which exist today. I’ve heard that it is possible that they may remain under the oversight of their regional presbytery, and Bob and Jani do retain an ongoing relationship with pastor turned missionary Phil Proctor, but the OPC does not seem to be as solely influential in the life of the Bergdahl’s, Bowe least of all, as it may appear.
For five years, citizens of the United States have waited, wondered and prayed for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who was taken into custody by the Taliban on June 30, 2009 after leaving his outpost (OP) in Afghanistan. While there were indications of possible desertion on Bergdahl’s part, and a 2012 Rolling Stone article reporting email correspondence between Bowe and Bob Bergdahl in which Bowe expressed rather distressing sentiments critical of the United States, many of us did not follow the story closely enough to be aware of these things. As far as people like me were concerned, Bowe Bergdahl was a straightforward victim of the war in Afghanistan, who was bravely suffering for his country in the hands of the enemy.
As you may or may not be aware, I am a member of a congregation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). One Sunday in 2012, a flyer was distributed to our churches, calling on us to pray for the health, safety and faith of Bowe Bergdahl, and peace of mind for his family. Responding to this call, our congregation, and many like ours, corporately prayed for the Bergdahls. This flyer was the most I would read about Bowe Bergdahl until this past weekend when he was released, and his father, Bob, raised eyebrows by reciting a Muslim prayer from the Koran in a personal statement to Bowe. This, added to the growing awareness of Bowe’s desertion and possibly traitorous intentions while among the Taliban, and Bob’s recently publicized tweet expressing his desire for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, has made the person of Bob Bergdahl the object of much controversy as well. People wonder if he converted to Islam, or if he is an Islamist sympathizer.
Even I began to wonder, given our denomination-wide efforts to pray for the Bergdahls, if they were at least still members in good standing of an OPC church, and inquired about this on Facebook, hoping for some input from OPC ministers with which I am in contact. I did learn much in private messages with my FB friends which was reassuring regarding the ongoing Christian faith of the Bergdahl family. It is safe to presume that Bob and Jani Bergdahl have become all too familiar with the Christian grace of perseverance over the last several years, and, despite the release of their son, no end of their need for perseverance seems to be in sight. Prayer on behalf of the Bergdahl family remains a tremendous obligation.
Details about Bowe and his leaving his outpost, statements by fellow soldiers who knew or were involved with recovery operations, and the political and national security implications of releasing the Taliban figures from indefinite detention, continue to dominate the daily news. Yesterday, the Washington Post published a profile of Bob Bergdahl and World Magazine has now also run a story featuring the perspective of the Bergdahl’s former pastor and friend, Phil Proctor, who remains in contact with the Bergdahl family.
Today in my Facebook newsfeed, I discovered another statement from Proctor who wishes to silence the rumors that the Bergdahls have converted to Islam or seek to aid Islamist efforts against the United States. This statement was posted by Andy Webb, Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on his Facebook page, The Outer Monologue. Phil Proctor writes:
I appreciate your asking about the Bergdahls. I’ve really been saddened about how the Christian community is jumping all over this. Here’s the deal…
I pastored the Bergdahl family in 2003, prior to going to Uganda. We were very close, and remained so throughout my time in Uganda (I just found out this evening that apparently I’m referenced in some important Rolling Stone article from 2012).
Bowe was a young man with all the dangers of home-schooling—a brilliant and inquisitive mind, a crisp thinker, and someone who had never really been exposed to evil in the world. He was wanting to determine whether the Christian faith was his own, or his parents’ and was doing a lot of exploring of ideas—never drugs or alcohol, but trying to be an outdoors/Renaissance type figure. We’ve stayed in close contact with Bob and Jani, especially since Bowe’s capture. Since we moved here to Northern Virginia, Bod and Jani have stayed in our home on a couple of occasions and I’ve spoken on the phone with Bob once a month or so.
Bob felt (with some justification) that the US government was not going to engage with diplomatic efforts and so decided to try to free his son himself. He learned Pashtun and developed a lot of contacts in the Middle East. The Qatar connection is one that either originated with Bod or, at the very least, became very personally connected to Bob. Bob has, for quite some time, been saying that the closure of Guantanamo is integrally connected to the release of his son.
Whatever one thinks of Bob’s political views, I can attest to both he and Jani’s unwavering commitment to Christ and trust in him. I’ve prayed with both of them regularly. They both have been through a torture mill that I cannot begin to comprehend—5 years of a living death. It has affected their health, both physically and mentally, as Bob has been completely obsessed with tracking down any possible communication avenue to get his son home. There are a number of things I would disagree with Bob on in terms of political statements, but at the end of the day, I think this whole mess is a WHOLE lot more complicated than a 30 second sound bite (sic) can explore—the very existence of Gitmo attests to the complicated nature from the very beginning, and it’s only gotten worse over the years.
To the foundational issue: Bob and Jani both have regularly confessed their dependence upon Christ and rest in him—the most recent being Bob’s conversation with me about a month ago. They are broken peop;le who need prayer, love, and compassion. I personally intend to run as hard as I can in the opposite direction of judging his words in the moment of his crucible—I would HATE to have that standard applied to my moments of stress, which have never reached anything approaching his intensity and duration!
Feel free to forward this and use it as widely as you like.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor, Sterling Presbyterian Church (OPC)
FYI, My most recent conversation with Bob and Jani was 30 minutes ago. Still Christians.
Noah (2014) is Gnostic!
In his post, “Sympathy for the Devil,” Dr. Brian Mattson connects the dots and demonstrates The Noah movie is not a Bible movie, but it’s “creative license” was issued from the Kabbalah, and other Gnostic sources, from the bodiless Adam and Eve at the beginning of the film, to the circular rainbow at the end of the film.
Darren Aronofsky has produced a retelling of the Noah story without reference to the Bible at all. This was not, as he claimed, just a storied tradition of run-of-the-mill Jewish “Midrash.” This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources. To my mind, there is simply no doubt about this.
So let me tell you what the real scandal in all of this is.
It isn’t that he made a film that departed from the biblical story. It isn’t that disappointed and overheated Christian critics had expectations set too high.
The scandal is this: of all the Christian leaders who went to great lengths to endorse this movie (for whatever reasons: “it’s a conversation starter,” “at least Hollywood is doing something on the Bible,” etc.), and all of the Christian leaders who panned it for “not following the Bible”…
Not one of them could identify a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the biblical story when it was right in front of their faces.
DO NOT ignore Dr. Mattson’s post! This is the most important and informative one to surface in this deluge of Noah “conversation.”
Dr. Mattson recommends that all Christians get informed on Gnosticism so they can spot this kind of stuff in the future. He recommends we begin by reading Against Heresies by the Church Father Irenaeus of Lyons (begin here). It gave us most of what we’ve known about Gnosticism since the late second century. It’s required reading in this era of Gnostic revival. Noah is only the latest platform promoting Gnosticism in our culture.
For the record, no one is saying don’t go see the movie. What people like me would say is be an informed viewer. I don’t care if you like it or hate it, or if you ever see it. But if you do, do not miss the fact that there is more to “creative license” than meets the eye.
For those of you still awaiting my closing post on “Gender Roles: Complementarianism,” rest assured I have not forgotten, but the post is still not ready. Stay tuned, true believer! In the meantime, I enjoyed the following video…
Listen as Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President and Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary California and Ligonier teaching fellow, discusses the tendency toward anti-intellectualism throughout church history, and calls believers to not only love God with their hearts and their strength, but also with their minds. This lecture was delivered at the 2012 Ligonier national conference on “The Christian Mind.”
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. Mark 12:28-34
As the father of a young lady who is growing in her understanding of Reformed theology, I have had to wrestle with the relative merits of “patriarchalism” versus “complementarianism.” What are the definitions of these fifty cent words, you ask? How glad I am that you asked!
Allow me to preface these definitions with yet another term—egalitarianism–and the environment in which these three terms have become points around which various parties rally. With the advent of feminism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, efforts to free women from all forms of tyranny, real or perceived, in society, the home and the church have sparked a two-pronged response. Feminism promotes the ideal of egalitarianism, which asserts the absolute equality of men and women in every way, so that the institution of marriage is often disparaged, women are encouraged to work outside the home and pressured to refrain from the honorable vocation of domestic engineering (that is, being a housewife), and to answer an unbiblical call to pastoral ministry in the Christian church. This movement became part and parcel of the ideals of liberal Protestant theology and practice throughout the twentieth century. Toward the end of that century, however, the movement began making inroads into otherwise conservative Evangelical churches.
Throughout the history of the development of Christian theology, orthodoxy was commonly believed among the whole church, and remained generally agreed upon and largely unwritten, since there was little to no disagreement about the orthodox interpretation of Scripture. This is why we see in church history how that it is the aggressive assertion of heresy which forces the orthodox to go back to the drawing board and more carefully work out and put into writing the correct understanding of the Bible. In theology as well as commerce, competition forces one to work harder to increase the quality of their philosophical principles, goods and services.
How, in this environment, are Christian families to insulate their children from the erroneous claims of modern feminist egalitarianism? In the next post, we’ll deal with conservative Evangelical responses to egalitarianism which have resulted in the spectrum with which we must deal today.
Yesterday I tweeted a request to Reformed bloggers in the know to post on the Reformed side of American medical icon, the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, who died Monday at the age of 96. Dr. Koop’s medical and public service bonafides are a matter of public record. One quick and easy summary may of course be accessed, where else? Wikipedia! Here also is a press release from HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sabelius, detailing his legacy from the point of view of the federal government. But in addition to his service to the City of Man, Dr. C. Everett Koop was an accomplished lay leader in the City of God, serving as a Presbyterian church elder, and until the day of his death, a board member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), the para-church organization which was so instrumental in introducing me to and cultivating in me the Reformed faith and theology.
Incidentally, tomorrow afternoon, my pastor and I depart for ACE’s Texas Hill Country Bible Conference in Boerne, Texas. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of tribute they put together for him there. For now, though, the ACE website offers a “Koop Classic”: Life, Bioethics and Christianity (2010, ACE).
But in answer to my (“all about me”–apologies to Dr. D.G. Hart ;-) request, two of my favorite Reformed bloggers has indeed posted remembrances of Dr. C. Everett Koop: Drs. Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger. You may read Dr. Horton’s at the White Horse Inn blog, and Dr. Riddlebarger’s post at the Riddleblog. Horton gives a nice summary of meeting Dr. Koop and his service to his church, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, featuring the audio of a 2001 interview and a link to Dr. Koop’s contribution (“Faith-Healing and the Sovereignty of God”) to Horton’s out of print 1990 expose of televangelism, The Agony of Deceit–download it as soon as possible! Riddlebarger adds an amusing anecdote of Dr. Koop’s sobering reaction to his sense of humor. Both posts are great reads.
Be sure to peruse the other links I tweeted yesterday regarding the late Dr. C. Everett Koop from Christianity Today and Banner of Truth magazines and the Gospel Coalition blog featuring both compliment and criticism. Finally, in search of an image of Dr. Koop inside the building of Tenth Pres, I ran across a video of his 2010 marriage to Cora Hogue (pray comfort for her in her loss), officiated by former pastor, Phil Ryken, who is now the President of Wheaton College, whose sermons are still featured on ACE’s broadcast, Every Last Word. For those who are interested in viewing this heartwarming moment, the service begins about 30 minutes into the video, after the beautiful music of Westminster Brass.
As one who was first introduced to Reformed theology by Dr. Michael Horton in a televised interview promoting his first book, I have a great affection and appreciation for the work of those who are, in Reformed circles, associated with what Dr. John Frame (RTS, Orlando) calls “The Escondido Theology.” Frame and others seem to think that for Reformed folks to interact with Lutheran theology on the things with which they agree is some sort of compromise of the integrity of Reformed theology. As a layman who hasn’t read it all on this controversy, that’s the impression I get. Frame’s book is promoted as a discussion primarily of the Two Kingdom approach to Christ and culture, but I’ve just learned that there is more to Dr. Frame and the Escondido Theology that this one issue.
In terms of coming to a greater understanding of the broader controversy myself, I was pleased to find that Scott Oakland interviewed Dr. Frame on a recent episode of ReformedCast. Agree or disagree, it is important to understand Frame’s point of view on the matter. Looking back to the days in which he helped found Westminster Seminary California, Dr. Frame portrays himself as not fitting in with any of the “parties” that formed among the faculty there. I also found it helpful to hear him express his concerns with how closely many among the faculty wanted to stick to the Reformed confessions, while he, in my opinion, thought the Reformed principle of sola scriptura was better honored by not “turning biblical and systematic theology into historical theology” (or something like that–it’s been a few days since I heard the interview). This helped me understand why Dr. Frame was willing to be a little more “progressive” in his approach to worship, and became a veritable whipping boy among many in the so-called “worship wars” (see, for example, how Frame’s writing is treated in Hart and Muether’s With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.) While I do not doubt Dr. Frame’s commitment to the Reformed interpretation of Scripture, it does seem to me that he has a more moderate approach. Neither side of this Escondido debate deny that the Reformed Confessions are subject to the authority of Scripture, but I perceive that in some ways Dr. Frame seems so much more openly self-conscious of highlighting the authority of Scripture over the Confessions that he runs the risk of coming off more broadly evangelical than Reformed on the issue of worship. I could be wrong, but this is my initial impression.
Many of you have read more Frame than I have, and have a more informed opinion of his approach to Reformed theology. Feel free to enlighten and correct my impressions in the comments. I simply wanted to share my thoughts on the interview as I recommend it to you. If any of you have wondered about the back and forth that sometimes takes place online about the so-called “Escondido Theology,” this interview is an important resource for gaining some insight into both sides of the debate.
The September 9 episode of the White Horse Inn featured an interview between Michael Horton and Jeffery Burton Russell, author of Exoposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends. The following is an edited excerpt from this interview, in which Russell summarizes in layman’s terms common misconceptions about Christianity’s guilt regarding chattel slavery and the Crusades. I hope you find these to be helpful thumbnail sketches:
Horton: The moral questions–that Christianity is intolerant–if you look back at the history of Christianity, very often that criticism is wrapped up in lots of things, like getting hit with tennis balls coming out of that machine; they’re shooting at you so quickly you can’t bat them away.
[They say] Christianity is intolerant. Look at slavery; look at the history of injustice towards women. There’s just so many problems, that Christianity cannot possibly keep its promise to make the world a better place.
Russell: Yeah, let’s just mention a couple of them. Let’s look at slavery, for example. Well, it’s precisely Christians who did away with slavery. People may point out that people had slaves; well, so did everybody else! Slavery was unfortunately a worldwide institution in the ancient world. The whole movement against slavery was started by Christians: by Catholic bishops and Protestant clergy. They were the great leaders of the movement, first to abolish the slave trade, and then to abolish slavery altogether. So, Christianity’s record with regard to slavery is extremely good.
Unfortunately, we know that many of our founding fathers had slaves, but again, it was Christians, not atheists, who moved against the institution.
Then, on the intolerance question: people always raise questions about the Inquisition and the Crusades. The Crusades are somehow seen as a colonialist, Western invasion of indigenous peoples, and view it as a terrible thing. But people seem to be ignorant of the background of the Crusades.
The background of the Crusades is simply that all of the southern Mediterranean lands from Spain to all around North Africa, to as far as what’s now Iraq and Iran–these were Christian territories with Christian populations. The great cities of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch were the centers of Christian bishops, and this is a thoroughly Christian area up until the 600’s. In the 600’s, the Arabs quickly come out of Arabia. By 750 BC, the Muslims defeated the Byzantine Empire and occupied most of the Christian lands. So it’s not as if Christians were attacking these innocent people who had been there for ages and ages.
Christians were fighting a defensive war. The immediate cause of the Crusades lies in the fact that most of the Muslim rulers that previously allowed Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, had taken over Jerusalem, and by the 1080’s were forbidding any Christians to go to Jerusalem, and that created a horrible reaction in Europe. So the Crusades were to open up the pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.
So, in a sense, there is no doubt that a lot of the Crusaders behaved very badly. We certainly have plenty of evidence of that. But the motive of the Crusades, and the motive of most of the Crusaders were to open up the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to take back some territory that the Muslims had taken from them 400 years earlier.
Horton: So in many of these cases, one, it’s just that we don’t understand enough of the historical background; and two, that we sort of anachronistically project our standards of universal human rights on cultures that in any case–whether they were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever—simply had no reference for what we are talking about.
Russell: Yeah. There’s a lot of projection, on the part of historians in the last forty years, of modern values and attitudes back onto the past. It used to be that our aim was to open minds to the various ways of thinking: how did Babylonians think? How did the Chinese think? Christians, Jews and so forth. But now, most teaching of history seems to be very propagandistic. Instead of opening peoples’ minds to various points of view, most historians seem to be imposing a particular ideology on their students and teaching them only one side of things.