John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and recent host of the controversial Strange Fire Conference, predicted in an interview with Christianity.com that what he calls the “Reformed Revival” will reverse itself in the next few years. He thinks this is so, because he sees so many of the younger generation who seem to be merely adding the doctrines of sovereign grace to their otherwise non-Reformed modes of operation like contemporary worship music, drinking beer, and Arminian forms of evangelism. He says in time, their Calvinist soteriology will fall by the way side because of the contradictory positions they hold.
Watch the video first, then read my comments below:
I find it ironic that this pastor should offer this critique of other pastors when he himself has added the five points of Calvinism to a non-Reformed view of eschatology. Reformed theology, after all, is not the home of Dispensational Premillennialism. Those who embrace total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, effectual calling and perseverance of the saints but reject the Covenantal theology in which these doctrines were developed, should think twice before criticizing others for selectively embracing popular elements of Reformed theology without embracing the whole system.
I also find it amusing that he should critique Calvinists for drinking beer. The enjoyment of alcoholic beverages in moderation is historically more Reformed than otherwise.
But I am in agreement with MacArthur that the five points of Calvinism isn’t enough. I would encourage him and members of the movement which a few years ago was called the Young, Restless and Reformed to take another look at the rest of Reformed theology. If it’s so right about the sovereignty of God in election, redemption and regeneration, what makes you think it’s so wrong about eschatology, church government and the sacraments?
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle, Washington’s Mars Hill Church, must have been very thankful for his friends in the Christian publishing world on Thanksgiving. Since he was asked some tough questions about some passages in his latest book, A Call to Resurgence, which gave insufficient citation to one of his sources, they’ve been circling the wagons around their author.
But Driscoll is no stranger to controversy. It’s plagued his ministry since the beginning. He started out a member of Emergent Village, working alongside Brian McLaren and others, trying to find new ways to do church with the “emerging” generation of postmoderns who were leaving Evangelicalism, or at least lowering the Evangelical bar even closer to the ground than it already is. To his credit, he left Emergent Village, when they left orthodox Christianity. You can read about that in “Navigating the Emerging Church Highway.”
Building a church in what he calls “the most unchurched city” in America, Seattle, Washington, Driscoll earned a reputation among his Evangelical and Calvinistic colleagues for his delivery—irreverent at best, and vulgar at worst. I personally recall Steve Camp’s ongoing blog crusade calling him out for this. But they have since buried the hatchet in the wake of an edifying debate Mark did on Nightline. I don’t know if what Camp called Driscoll’s “scatological” language has ended, but Camp’s crusade certainly did.
A year or so ago, Mark got in trouble for joining James MacDonald and others at the Elephant Room Conference to pass some soft-ball questions to T.D. Jakes about the Trinity, before declaring him an orthodox brother in Christ. Jakes was raised in the Oneness Pentecostal tradition, but now plays both sides of the Trinitarian divide with carefully crafted language which demonstrates he hasn’t repented of the anti-Trinitarianism of his youth. This No Compromise video handles the issues well.
I haven’t followed Mark Driscoll’s ministry that closely over the years. My theology and interests are on a slightly different trajectory from his, so I’m not aware of the datails in many of the scandals and stories about which I’ve heard. Liberals, however, also find much to criticize in him. Just search your favorite Left-wing site and you’re likely to find posts on his being “anti-gay,” among other things, some of which even his conservative critics would likewise critique, even if for different reasons.
A few weeks ago, when John MacArthur hosted his latest Truth Matters conference at Grace Community Church on the subject of how the charismatic movement often features false forms of worship (see my recent post on this here), the Charismatic Calvinist Mark Driscoll crashed the conference to pass out copies of A Call to Resurgence and tweeted a much-debated claim that security personnel confiscate his books, while cell-phone footage seemed to indicate otherwise, and a representative of the conference accused Driscoll of lying about the incident. See that story here.
It was therefore no surprise to me, when Mark Driscoll was as defensive as he was when he went on the Janet Mefferd Show and was asked some tough questions about several pages in A Call to Resurgence in which he borrows heavily from Dr. Peter Jones of TruthXChange.com but gives only one citation referencing him as an “example.” This is insufficient, because it does not clearly state Jones was the actual source. While I can see how Driscoll may have thought he was doing justice to Jones’ intellectual property, and neglected to cite him properly, his defensive tone and attempt to turn the tables on Mefferd by making the issue her “grumpiness” and “rudeness,” demonstrates to me that Driscoll wasn’t serious about doing what needs to be done, even though he tried to use all the right sentiments to come off as someone who is suffering for doing the right thing. If you listen to the interview, it is true that Mefferd seems to be relentless in her questioning even after he began saying he’d talk to Jones about the matter, even though she was asking if he’d go to his publisher about it. But the tone he takes with her in his own defense, and the pretentious way he attempts to frame her as a bully betrays his insincerity on this, in my opinion.
In the days that followed that interview, Driscoll’s publisher, and a prominent Reformed promoter of one of Driscoll’s past publishers attempted to follow Driscoll in turning the tables on Mefferd and make her the bad guy. But the fact that he is a source of income for them makes their objections less meaningful, if not a real conflict of interests.
Then Mefferd kept finding more examples of plagiarism in other books he’s written. She provided photographs of the texts in question so her listeners could see for themselves how he used the language of others without proper, if any documentation of his use of their intellectual property (but Mefferd removed them all yesterday, upon her apology motivated by her regret over the controversy caused by the interview, though not the inaccuracy of her criticism). The only person who can’t be persuaded that Janet Mefferd is correct in her assertions and documentation are those who want Driscoll to prevail in this controversy, or those too squeamish to stomach a trained journalist doing what journalists do when presented with obstacles in their effort to get at the truth. They get persistent.
Today’s “Bully Pulpit” episode of The Mortification of Spin, in which Dr. Carl Trueman, Rev. Todd Pruitt, and Aimee Byrd address the need for accountability for Evangelical celebrities, and hence the necessity of a free Christian press. Listen to “Structured Accountability.” I am thankful that there are real journalists like Janet Mefferd who are willing to do what they can to hold celebrities accountable for their behavior.
For the past week or so, evangelical sites have been critiquing John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, which condemns “the Charismatic Movement” as a tradition that performs false worship practices. Featuring, in addition to himself, messages by Joni Eareckson Tada and R. C. Sproul, along with a number of lesser known associates of MacArthur, this conference anticipates the November 12 release of a book by the same title (pre-order the hardback here). One of MacArthur’s stated purposes was to “start a conversation” about the errors, extremes and dangers of the movement as a whole; judging from the reaction, I’d say he started something more akin to a cyber-riot.
But MacArthur probably isn’t surprised. He’s been the provocateur of tremendous controversy before, over the relationship between the Lordship of Christ and the freeness of God’s grace in salvation, back in the 1980’s, centering around his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In both cases, I think it is fair to say that the intensity of the reaction is partly due to ways in which MacArthur’s message misses the mark, and opens himself up, as one Cessationist reviewer put it, to easy refutation due to his failure to draw careful distinctions between the various movements–in this case, within the Pentecostal tradition and the Charismatic Renewal, Word of Faith Movement, the Brownsville Revival, New Apostolic Reformation, and any number of other varieties which feature distinctive forms of the so-called “charismata,” or purportedly supernatural manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit.
In addition to his denial of the legitimacy of the focus on the miraculous in this multi-faceted tradition, the Strange Fire Conference also intends to focus on ways in which the movement in general promotes false forms of worship, as the conference name implies, being an allusion to the account of the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10:1-3 upon their offering of “unauthorized” (ESV), or “strange” (KJV), fire in their censers, in direct violation of God’s explicit and detailed prescription for Israelite worship.
1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.
Fair or not, MacArthur and his fellow conference speakers would all advocate worship derived solely from the clear teaching of Scripture, a distinctive of Reformed theology known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. Undoubtedly, MacArthur, et al desire to see them come into closer conformity to Scriptural modes of worship, in essence calling the movement as a whole to Reformation as the Calvinistic Reformed tradition understands it.
Now it is possible for us not only to read, watch and hear what critics of the Strange Fire Conference have to say, we can all, friend or foe, see for ourselves how the messages of the conference were presented. Audio files of the have now been released, and are available for free download, with video and transcripts of each session forth-coming. Judge for yourself whether MacArthur’s charges against so-called Continuationism (the view that New Testament sign gifts are ongoing today) and his distinctive case for Cessationism (the view that these came to an end with the close of both the Apostolic era and the canon of Scripture–with which I agree) are legitimate, and where he misses the mark.
Visit Grace To You’s blog post, “John MacArthur on Making an Informed Response to Strange Fire” to watch a short introductory video and to download the audio files for each session of the conference which has set the evangelical blogosphere ablaze, in my view, both rightly and wrongly.
Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
Westminster Confession of Faith 5.3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.
Westminster Confession of Faith 18.3. 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.
If everything in the Christian life is “dynamic,” “epic,” “impactful,” “powerful,” and “extraordinary,” then the extraordinary becomes the expected norm, rather than the exception. It’s easy to see that with such high spiritual expectations, disillusionment is sure to follow. For this reason, I’d like to direct you to a series of episodes of the White Horse Inn called “Ordinary.” Along with concepts like “sovereignty,” and “predestination,” one of the unsung distinctive doctrines of Reformed theology is the way that God ordinarily works through ordinary means in our lives by His Word and sacraments. He reveals himself and his work of redemption to us in the Scriptures, grants to his chosen regeneration, faith, justification, repentance, sanctification, communion with him in grace and assurance. That he ordinarily does so through the “ordinary means of grace” (the Word read and preached, the sacraments and prayer), means that, indeed, in extraordinary circumstances, he is free to work by extraordinary means. The extraordinary nature of these means should be our first hint that this will not be what Christians should expect every Sunday during their so-called “worship experience.” Take some time to listen and be reformed to a liberatingly ordinary Christian spirituality.
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.
Listen to Lutheran Church Missouri Synod minister, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, talk about what drove Luther’s hammer…
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.
In case I’ve never mentioned it, I love the way Penguin publishes their books! It’s probably just the nostalgia associated with the first Penguin Classic I ever bought as a teenager, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Recently, I was browsing at Barnes and Noble and discovered a recent church history book published by Viking (Published by the Penguin Group). Naturally, I was drawn in. The book is called Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Oxford Professor of Church History, Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Perusing the introduction, it became clear that, while this writer may be a super scholar (he’s got a long list of awards and other honors to his name), he is not a believer, although he used to profess faith. In fact, he was an Anglican deacon, but refused to enter the priesthood due, fortunately, to controversy swirling around homosexual clergy. See his Wikipedia entry linked above for more on this story.
Although intrigued, I was not quite sure if I should spend my money on the book, so I visited that old place where people can check out books temporarily without having to pay for them, unless they are returned late. Remember libraries? Pretty cool places.
Reading the introduction is a roller coaster ride for an orthodox Christian like myself. MacCulloch, as close as he has always lived to Christianity, makes some rather odd observations about the development of Christianity, but he assures the reader he is a “candid friend of Christianity” (p11). Fair enough. The writing is very engaging, and I have a healthy respect for common grace as it relates to the vocation of unbelievers, and I am sure there is much good information I can gain from this book.
My pastor and his family swung by our house this afternoon, and I showed him that I was reading MacCulloch’s Christianity, and wanted to learn what he knew about the writer. He said they used his previous history, Reformation, as a textbook at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also said that the British WTS Church History prof, Carl Trueman, knows MacCulloch and respects his work. My pastor also wants me to let him know what I think after I read it. If any of my readers are familiar with MacCulloch’s work, please share your thoughts and reactions with us in the comments section.
So, with such a hearty endorsement, I suppose I can afford to set aside the other books I’m bogged down in, and focus on this one for a few weeks until I can’t continue. As much as I love books, I’m a slow and easily distracted reader. My “ADD” will kick in at some point, I’ll return the book to the library (on time, hopefully), and then go purchase the paperback edition of both Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, and Reformation: A History.
Here’s a BBC interview of MacCulloch on his history of Christianity, in case you’re interested in what’s in store for me as I read his book:
There he goes again… :-)
Strike Three and You’re Out
You may have heard that last week Harold Camping apologized for setting dates for the rapture. His bizarre application of civil engineer math geekiness to biblical hermeneutics misleads him to believe he could calculate the date of the rapture and the final judgment (See Robert Godfrey’s posts on Camping parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Strike one was back in 1994—No rapture. Camping discovers his miscalculation, and revises his date to May 21, 2011, which is also to kick off five months of judgment apparently in the form of rolling earthquakes that were to begin at a certain time of day all around the globe. Perhaps you noticed the billboards in some parts of the country, but most of you will recall the media attention given to it in the weeks leading up to Camping’s second date. May 21, 2011 comes and goes: strike two! Upon this failure, he claims that the rapture really did happen, but it was a spiritual rapture, and that a spiritual judgment has begun which will culminate in the complete end of the world all at once on October 21, 2011. Nothing. Strike three and you’re out, Harold Camping! In the stressful aftermath of this publicly humiliating fiasco, which brought much grief, consternation, and in some parts of the world, persecution, Camping suffers a stroke, and he is removed from regular broadcasting on Family Radio. I don’t know if the strike was brought on by the stress of the events, but a stroke he suffered, nonetheless.
Now that he’s had time to recover, this past week, Camping posts a letter on the Family Radio website apologizing for his “sin” of setting dates (read the letter here). In some ways it is an impressive statement. I was particularly moved to see his state in no uncertain terms that those of us who harped on Jesus’ words that “no man will know the day or hour” were right, and that he was wrong:
…we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.
But this candid concession and apology was not good enough for Dan Elmendorf, former Family Radio broadcaster and now founder of Redeemer Broadcasting. In his weekly program, “A Plain Answer,” Elmendorf reminds us that the sin of date-setting was the least of Camping’s doctrinal problems. Absent from Camping’s open letter is any expression of repentance for having called on Christians to leave organized churches in which the gospel is preached and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered under the oversight by elders with the authority of exercising church discipline on members whose lives are persistently refusing to conform to a biblical standard of holiness and obedience to Scripture. Apparently, Camping still believes, and would have his listeners believe, that “the church age has ended.” So, it’s not that Camping has repented of the more heretical nature of his controversial “ministry.” I recommend that you listen to Elmendorf’s program, the first segment of which addresses Camping’s “weak apology.” The host shares some insight and experience which you can’t get from the Associated Press stories.
The Schuller’s Take Their Ball and Leave
In another recent instance of heresy in the headlines, it is reported that the entire family of positive-thinking televangelist, Robert Schuller, are leaving Crystal Cathedral Ministries. The 85 year-old Schuller, having retired from weekly “ministry” in 2009, was succeeded by his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman. According to the LA Times, Coleman announced this past Sunday that she will leave the Crystal Cathedral to start a new church citing a “hostile working environment” stemming from a growing divide between the Schuller family and the Crystal Cathedral’s board of directors. Robert Schuller and his wife applaud Coleman’s decision, but announce they will not be joining her at her new church, and that their plans for weekly worship are not yet finally decided. They will not, however, have any further public association with the work of the Crystal Cathedral and it’s broadcast The Hour of Power, started by Robert Schuller back in 1970. It seems that all positive (as opposed to “good”) things must come to an end. In my humble opinion, this end has been long overdue.
I don’t blog much about politics, and that is by design. However, I do follow a particular conservative radio talk show called Bill Bennett’s Morning in America. It airs live between 6-9am Eastern on the Salem Radio network. Many of you are aware of Dr. Bill Bennett, he has a degree in Philosophy, is an educator, was Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education, George H. W. Bush’s Drug Czar, and ever since has been involved with his wife and others in efforts to improve education and has participated in a number of politically conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and most recently, the Claremont Institute. Finally, he is the author of many books, most notably The Book of Virtues, a three volume American history called America: The Last Best Hope (volumes 1 & 2) along with A Century Turns (volume 3 of the series) and most recently a title on manhood called The Book of Man.
Dr. Bennett’s radio show distinguishes itself by the depth and breadth of his experience inside the Beltway, and the tone of his discussion striving to embody the virtues of “Intelligence, Candor and Good Will.” While many of us have appreciated the work of other conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, among others, there is a marked difference in Dr. Bennett’s approach that is refreshing and almost ennobling.
This Christmas season, I have decided to join Dr. Bennett in his effort to raise money for the Salvation Army; therefore, I have joined “Bill Bennett’s Online Red Kettle Team.” He’s attempting to raise $50,000. Under the umbrella of his Kettle Team, I have started a page for my own Red Kettle Team, which has a goal of raising $300 from the readers of this blog. I’ve stuck my neck out that we at The Misadventures of Captain Headknowledge are going to demonstrate our “heart knowledge” of the Lord Jesus Christ by giving to those in need out of our gratitude for Christ’s gift of himself for us and our salvation. So far, I’ve sweetened the pot with a $25 donation. Would you please join me in providing assistance to those in need this Christmas season? Just click on this link to go to my Red Kettle Page and make a donation, or click on the red link at the top of the sidebar to the right of this post, above the portrait of Captain Headknowledge. Thanks and Merry Christmas!
I am currently reading Michael Horton’s Thanksgiving post at Out of the Horse’s Mouth (the White Horse Inn blog), “Joining the Thanksgiving Parade.” In his introduction, he brings up a famous quote–sort of a theological proverb. Here’s Horton’s words:
The Heidelberg Catechism, in fact, is structured in terms of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude, leading G. C. Berkouwer to conclude, “The essence of theology is grace; the essence of ethics is gratitude.” Or, as we have say around here, duties (imperatives) are always grounded in gospel promise (indicatives). The appropriate response to a gift is thankfulness. (emphasis mine)
In light of this reminder, I simply have a question for students of Reformed theology in general, and the Heidelberg Catechism in particular:
- If grace is the essence of theology, and gratitude is the essence of ethics, then guilt is the essence of what?
Please submit your answers in the comments thread.
May the grace of God in Christ crucified and risen to atone for your guilt inspire much gratitude in you this Thanksgiving!
November 10th was the 528th birthday of Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther. The Lutheran radio show, Issues, Etc., hosted by Todd Wilken, interviewed Uwe Siemon-Netto of the League of Faithful Masks, and author of The Fabricated Luther, about the popular notion that the writings of Martin Luther which were critical of the Jews were in fact part of the source of the twentieth-century Nazi form of anti-Semitism. I will attempt to summarize Siemon-Netto’s explanation and defense of Martin Luther.
Some of Martin Luther’s writings from late in his ministry certainly do not match the political-correctness of modern Western civilization, but they are hardly the source of Nazi sentiment against the Jews. For starters, late in his life, Luther was wracked with physical pain and illness, which took a serious toll on him. Psychologically, people under such severe physical and emotional stress are prone to give expression to ideas which they otherwise would not. Luther’s earlier writings were are more affirming and caring, urging the evangelization of the Jews.
In sixteenth century Germany, it was still a civil crime to commit blasphemy against the Christian God. Thus, the Jews’ denial of Christ was legally categorized as a violation of German blasphemy laws. While today, Western civilization considers blasphemy laws unjustifiable, we must not judge a man anachronistically when he is seen acting consistent with the context of his own generation.
Luther’s statements critical of the Jews had been, right or wrong, suppressed by the Lutheran church due to their recognition that they reflect something other than theologically Lutheran attitude. These writings were recovered and misused by proponents of the Volkisch movement which promoted pre-Christian pagan ethnocentricity and Romantic nationalism, among other influences. Their racist views are projected back onto Luther and unjustly point to him as a primogenitor of their own views when they were actually engaging in public relations to popularize their own peculiar views.
These days, when people find how the Nazis and other German anti-Semites utilized quotes by Martin Luther, it is easy to come away assuming Luther was anti-Semitic in a manner comparable to Nazi Aryanism. Todd Wilken asked Uwe Siemon-Netto to put in a nutshell what he would recommend as a helpful response and defense of Martin Luther in the light of such assumptions. Siemon-Netto explained as follows:
A) The entire Lutheran church rejected Luther’s statements that were critical of Judaism;
B) What Luther wrote against the Jews in his later life was un-Lutheran as compared with his earlier writing on the same subject;
C) Luther was fallible, and made egregious mistakes—an admission made by Martin Luther probably more than anyone else.
Happy Reformation Day! October 31, 2011 marks the 494th anniversary of the legendary event considered the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation when Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences(commonly known as the 95 Theses) to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. In the years that followed, Luther lead the movement to reform the church’s understanding of what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The Lutheran tradition would build on Luther’s work on justification, and they placed it at the center and starting point of all of the benefits of the redemption purchased
by Christ for his people. But biblical reformation of soteriology didn’t end with Luther and the Lutherans. The Reformed movement also grew alongside of the Lutheran movement, and while both were co-belligerents against the Roman doctrines of justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ, they differed on the most biblical way to systematize these truths.
Friday on the Reformed Forum’s podcast, Christ the Center, Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy and Jeff Waddington interviewed Dr. Lane Tipton, the new Charles Khrae Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Tipton was allowed two hours to spell out the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed approaches to justification and many current issues related to this essential aspect of Protestant theology, such as whether Dr. Michael Horton’s academic work on the subject is moving Reformed theology toward a more Lutheran, and therefore,according to Dr. Tipton, semi-Pelagian doctrine of justification. Listen to the podcast at this link.
I was introduced to Reformed theology by Michael Horton’s materials and the Lord used his parachurch ministries Christian United for Reformation (CURE) and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE) and the White Horse Inn radio show to gradually bring me around to embrace it. I will certainly be looking forward to a future Christ the Center program in which Dr. Horton responds to Dr. Tipton’s characterization of his work on justification and the other benefits of redemption in Christ. More public dialogue on this ought to take place, IMHO. At this point, Dr. Tipton’s case sounds convincing and more in line with the Reformed confessions and catechisms, as opposed to Dr. Horton’s efforts to, as I once heard him state on the air, build a kind of ecumenism between Reformed, Lutheran and Anglican traditions. I can see how some synthesis may be taking place in that effort. But what do I know?
Reformata, Semper Reformanda!
I’m one of those especially unfortunate fellows who grew up with a love-hate relationship with sports. I played several sports on several little league teams as a child, and played plenty of sports in the streets of my neighborhood. My lack of skill then is probably the chief reason I do not follow sports today, although I do tend to catch the Super Bowl, mostly for the commercials. My new membership in a Reformed church and their biblical and confessional (we view these two adjectives as synonymous) emphasis on delighting in the Lord on the Lord’s Day may have implications for the Super Bowl in the future. All I can say is, thanks be to God for digital video recording.
In light of my lack of interest in sports, I am fond of informing folks that “my sports are politics and religion,” which probably tells people I can relate even less to them, when they may already see me as a socially challenged individual who doesn’t follow sports. It is for this reason that you may not be surprised by my interest in the following lecture series that was held at Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Washington, D.C., called “Christianity & Politics,” which is yet another venue for the Westminster Seminary California faculty and alumni, among others, to focus our attention on their attempt at recovering the Reformed notion of the Two Kingdoms approach to the relationship between “Christ and Culture.” A timely offering in this year of presidential politics.
Here’s their introduction to the series, speaker bios and links to the lectures:
Why We Confuse Church & State
Separation of church and state?
Whatever you may think of the contemporary application of our first amendment freedom of religion, Christianity and politics are ever confused in our national consciousness. Preachers seek influence in the political sphere; politicians manipulate and calculate the faithful in their constituencies.
What are the faithful to do? How should we understand our callings as citizens, both on earth below and in heaven above?
Christianity & Politics presents a range of speakers approaching this topic from a range of perspectives while discussing topics as diverse as the mission of the church, the place of evangelicals in American political culture, natural law, and the spirituality of the church.…
Lectures [were] sponsored by Christ Reformed Church, and [took] place in our place of worship, historic Grace Reformed Church, home of President Theodore Roosevelt….
MICHAEL HORTON is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Host of the White Horse Inn radio program and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is a minister in the United Reformed Church.
MICHAEL GERSON is an opinion writer for the Washington Post and former head speech writer and senior policy advisor to President George W. Bush.
DARRYL HART is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, author of numerous books, and blogs on religion and public life at oldlife.org.
TERRY EASTLAND is the Publisher of The Weekly Standard and an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.
BRIAN LEE is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC (United Reformed Church). He is a Guest Faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary and formerly worked on Capitol Hill, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Department of Defense.
DAVID VAN DRUNEN is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and holds a Law Degree from Northwestern University School of Law.
DAVID COFFIN is the Senior Pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia.
Michael Gerson, Darryl Hart, Terry Eastland