Friday, June 27, 2008

Do you know your candy?

Click here to see if you can guess the identity of candy bars by their cross-section? I got 14 of 20 but some were pretty tricky (the Skor/Heath and 5thAvenue/Butterfinger bars are almost identical). However, my misspent youth of television watching came in handy with my memorization of the "Almond Joy has _______, Mounds don't" lyric.

Premil Problems? Part 2

I am a premillennialist. I guess I should say that I am a premillennialist by default - it's all I have ever been taught. I was reared in the thought in my home church(es) and taught the system in seminary. I was trained to study the Bible with a historical-grammatical interpretive method and to interpret the Bible with a literal hermeneutic. With that said, I'll have to admit that I've never really thought that deeply about the millennium - it seems to just come with the territory of being a Baptist. Oh, to be sure, I've taught on the subject but I mostly went to sympathetic theologians and presented the material I've always known.

However, I never want to be wed to a system (I know those out there who know me as a Calvinist are having a big laugh right now but I truly mean those words). I want to be submissive to the word of God, which is why I rather reluctantly became more Calvinistic in my theology back in late 2000-early 2001. I didn't intend to become a Calvinist. I didn't want to be a Calvinist. My life would be a lot easier and simpler if I was not a Calvinist. However, I just see these particular doctrines present everywhere in Scripture so my submission to the Scriptures demands that I be a Calvinist.

What does this have to do with the millennium? Well, when I read some words in Scripture the other day during my time with God, it forced me to think about the millennium for the first time in a long time. I was in Matthew 13 and reading about the Kingdom of God. I'll tell you all about that in the next post. For now, let me lay down some initial thoughts.

In discussing the millennium, one’s first thought is to go to the Revelation because the 20th chapter of Revelation is the only place in the entire Bible that explicitly mentions the millennium. Differing theological positions approach this disputed passage in widely disparate ways and quickly call the other approaches bad names.

The premillennial view states that it is the only view that takes the Bible literally and claims that the amillennialists are "spiritualizers" or even "liberal." The amillennialists claim that they do take the Bible literally, meaning they literally interpret the Bible as it was meant to be interpreted and that the premillers are escapists. Both claim the postmillennialists are overly optimistic wishful thinkers with their heads in the clouds.

Here is the passage from Revelation 20:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
So, as I said, a few questions came to mind after reading that passage in Matthew (and others) and the passage in Revelation. Before we get to those passages and the questions they raised in my mind, I have two thoughts that I think one must keep in mind when studying eschatology in general and the Revelation in particular:

1) The Revelation is an apocalyptic book. It also has prophecies and sections that qualify as epistle. However, it is apocalyptic for the most part. We no longer write in this fashion but the readers of the first century were intimately acquainted with the style. Apocalyptic is highly symbolic and almost everything is a symbol of something else (though not in an allegorical sense). The thing we must remember is that this book was written to a specific audience for a specific purpose. Therefore, it had relevant application to them at that moment. They knew immediately what every symbol meant but we do not - separated as we are by two thousand years. An example will be helpful.

Imagine someone from another country picking up today's newspaper about 2000 years from now and seeing a drawing of an angry donkey arguing with an even angrier elephant. We know exactly what those images mean but someone from the far future will most likely not. Someone separated by time and culture will have an even more difficult time in decipering the cartoon. What if they decide that the donkey and elephant stands for something entirely different from a democrat and republican in the American political system? Even if that future interpretation makes sense and entire systems of thought are built around it and scads of book are written about it, they would be wrong.

The same holds true in the study of Revelation. When we read Revelation, we must keep this in mind: If our interpretation would be considered nonsensical to the first century audience, then our interpretation is wrong. This most likely means that horses probably do not equal tanks, locusts probably do not equal Apache attack helicopters and, hold on to your seats, the mark of the beast is probably not a computer chip hooked to a giant mainframe computer in Belgium!

2) In determining the meaning of disputed passages in the Bible, it is best to refer to the clear teaching passages of Scripture. Scripture will interpret Scripture. Therefore, it is advisable to let the clear inform the less clear. If we want to know for certain about the Lord's return, it makes sense to read what Paul wrote in his letters which were meant to instruct directly and clearly. It is also helpful to read the words of Christ in the Gospels. We take out understanding of the epistles and Gospels with us into Revelation. It just does not make sense to use the highly symbolic apocalyptic to inform our interpretation of the epistles and gospels.

So, concerning the alleged problematic gap of 1000 years between Christ's return and the judgment of the wicked, what about those other passages of Scripture that seem to provide a problem for the premillennial view? They are found in the epistles and the Gospels. We will look at some of those in the next post.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thinking about the Millennium

People know that Christians are gullible so we will continue to see things like You've Been Left Behind and the Post-Rapture Post. According to their own words:
Do you know someone who is in danger of being "left behind" because of a sinful life? Imagine if you could write a letter to a friend or loved one after the Great Day of Reckoning. Maybe a message to your family telling them to trust in God, and that everything will be okay. . . . It could be that your message is the light that opens a sinner's eyes to the Glory of God and allows them entrance to Heaven during the trials before the Second Coming. This is where the Post-Rapture Post comes in.
My response to a Christian's use of that "service" is that if you want to share the gospel with a loved one . . .

DO IT NOW!

Of course, these websites are only applicable with a pretribulational or mid-trib rapture. At this time (and I have to use temporal markers when discussing my understanding of eschatology), I lean more towards a post-tribulational rapture/return of Christ. I do not want to talk about the Rapture right now (I do that elsewhere). I want to discuss the other major topic of the end times - the millennium.

Over the last couple weeks, a few members of the church staff have been discussing this very issue. In our discussions, I noticed that each were reared in a premillennial frame of thought - as was I. That means that we all have been taught that Jesus will physically and gloriously return to earth after a period of great tribulation and prior to a 1000-year period of time in which He will establish His kingdom on earth. After the thousand years are completed, Jesus will then resurrect the wicked and judge them (along with the living wicked) and usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth. This judgment is different from the resurrection of the righteous, which occurs immediately before the tribulation or immediately after. Therefore, in the premill schema, the resurrections and judgments of the believer and non-believer are separated by this one thousand year gap.

As you can imagine in a theological discussion amongs seminary-trained pastors, issues were raised. Since that staff discussion, I've done some reading to try and resolve some issues. I first read Riddlebarger's A Case for Amillennialism because I've never really considered that position and his book comes highly recommended by proponents of the position.

However, I was not persuaded thought I do appreciate the fact that he bases his position on thoughtful exegesis of extended passages. I just could not accept the conclusions he reached. I also have pulled The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views off my shelf and will begin that soon. I just noticed there is a new book out there called Three Views on the Millennium. Why three views instead of four? The first book has separate chapters on the two major strands of premillennialism: classic dispensationalism (pre-trib) and historic premillennialism (post-trib).

While I was not persauded by the amillennial view, one potential problem for premillennialism was raised that got me thinking - Is there any place in the Bible that clearly states that there is a gap of some time between the return of Christ and His judgment of the wicked?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Happy? Really?

I walked into the den and saw that my youngest (turns 7 in Sept) was watching an old "Tom and Jerry" cartoon. In particular, he was watching "Part-Time Pal" which was produced in 1947. I saw him smiling and asked if he liked to watch those old cartoons and he said he did. That answer made me smile.

However, as I continued to watch, I noticed the cartoon contained the comedic cartoon staple of accidental drunkenness. It appears Tom was trying to keep Jerry out of the fridge at the command of "Mammy Two-Shoes" (a topic for another post). Anyway, Tom was chasing Jerry and Tom fell through the floor into the basement and into a barrel of "CIDER-XXX" in the basement. After sobering up thanks to some water thrown in his face, Tom later slipped in the bathroom and a bottle of bay rum fell into his mouth. After quickly drinking the entire bottle, Tom began to smile and hiccup a lot. All the while, the old "How Dry I Am" music was playing.

I asked Joey what was going on. He said, "Tom drank something and now he's happy." Just like that, an opportunity to teach my son something came from out of the blue. I believe he has a new definition of "happy" now.

PS - I read from the source of the picture that it is OK to post under Fair-Use Laws. I don't know what that means but I'll take their word for it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Building Bridges" to be published soon

Last November, I attended a conference with Brian Burgess, Brian Pestotnik, Andy Lackey, Jamie Steele, and Greg Barefoot. The conference, Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism, was jointly put on by Lifeway, Southeastern Seminary, and Founders Ministries. It was to be a discussion from both sides of the aisle and it was a wonderful 2 1/2 day event.

Now, all of the lectures have been edited and collected into a single volume called Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, edited by Brad Waggoner and Ray Clendenen. You can pre-order the book for under $14 and it should be available in the late summer/early fall.


The table of contents will include the following (with my remembrances of the lectures):

THE CURRENT CLIMATE
  • Ed Stetzer, “Calvinism, Evangelism, and SBC Leadership” - Stetzer provided a look at recent statistics from Lifeway Research's surveys of pastors and recent seminary graduates. The numbers have been rehashed multiple times but the main point made was that while Calvinists are nowhere close to challenging the majority view, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC, especially among the newly graduated. Only ten percent of current pastors agreed with the statement "I am a five-point Calvinist." That is good news because all the doom and gloom of recent days cannot be laid at the feet of the Southern Baptist Calvinist. There's just no way that 10% of the pastors of 42,000 churches can be blamed for the lack of baptisms and decrease in growth. However, if I remember correctly, around 30% of recent graduates from all six seminaries between 1998-2004 did agree with the same statement.
THE HISTORICAL RECORD
  • David S. Dockery, “Southern Baptists and Calvinism: A Historical Look” - Dockery was extremely amiable and I thoroughly enjoyed his lecture, even though he admitted he was "the leadoff hitter on the 'Akin Amyraldian team.'" He went with the "Two Streams" theory of Baptist History, which has been revealed to be slightly revisionistic (go about 2/3 of the way down this post).
  • Tom J. Nettles, “A Historical View of the Doctrinal Importance of Calvinism among Baptists” - I love Tom Nettles but I had a very difficult time making it through this talk. My notes are very sparse. He spoke of the issues of inerrancy, Trinitarianism, substitutionary atonement, religious liberty, missions and evangelism, Christ-centered preaching, holiness of life, and regenerate church membership. He told us that these are inherently Calvinistic doctrines but I imagine truly conservative Christians of all stripes would adhere to these.
GENERAL EVALUATION
  • Malcolm B. Yarnell III, “Calvinism: Cause for Rejoicing, Cause for Concern” - Yarnell, along with Noblit below, provided the two most provocative lectures (sermons) of the conference. Yarnell upset the Calvinists in the crowd by redefining the label. He said that within the SBC there are classic Calvinists like Bucer and Calvin and Beza. He referred to this as a philosophy and a dangerous one at that. He mentioned that the traditional Baptist finds this position to be "reprehensible." The second category is Baptistic Calvinism. The third is Hyper-Calvinism. The main point of all this was his statement that "Hyper-Calvinists and Classical Calvinists are unwelcome." (I want go back and listen to the MP3 but that is what I wrote and circled in my notes.) Near the end, Yarnell told a ridiculous anecdote of a man leaving his wife and kids after turning to Calvinism - I had forgotten that but can still feel my hackles rising over that sensationalistic and manipulative point. He ended with the statements that "Classic Calvinism is unwelcome!" and "Baptist Calvinists must refute Classical and Hyper-Calvinism."
  • Jeff Noblit, “The Rise of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention: Reason for Rejoicing” - If Yarnell upset the Calvinists, Noblit probably upset the non-Calvinists just as much. He did not lecture; he preached. In fact, he did not preach; he went to meddlin'. He said that we should rejoice in the Calvinistic resurgence because (1) it helps us overcome our inerrancy idolatry and helps us move to biblical sufficiency; (2) it produces better church splits; (3) it exposes and removes covert liberalism, (4) it restores true biblical evangelism; (5) it seems to grasp the new wine of biblical church ministry; and (6) it is supremely God-focused.
THE ATONEMENT
  • David P. Nelson, “The Design, Nature, and Extent of the Atonement” - A very well done and even-keeled presentation by both Nelson and Waldron, especially after the heightened emotions of the previous two. Nelson argued that the atonement is unlimited because of the design, nature, and extent of the atonement. He referred to John 3:16, 2 Timothy 2:1-6, Hebrews 2:9, and 2 Peter 3:9.
  • Sam Waldron, “The Biblical Confirmation of Particular Redemption” - Sam Waldron is a great writer. As a speaker, he is a great writer. He offered four proofs: (1) the substitutionary nature of the atonement, (2) the restricted recipients of the atonement, (3) the guaranteed effects of the atonement, and (4) the covenantal aspect of the atonement. He also dealt with the "problems" of the Calvinistic view (universal terms such as "all" and "everyone" and "world," the free offer of the Gospel to all men, and the apostasy passages in Rom 14:15, 1 Cor 8:11, 2 Peter 2:1, and Heb 10:29).
THEOLOGICAL STEREOTYPES
  • Chuck Lawless, “Southern Baptist Non-Calvinists—Who Are We Really?” - Issues covered by Lawless include the common stereotypes such as non-Calvinists are more interested in numbers than good theology, they promote pragmatic church growth, they use faulty approaches to evangelism and are unconcerned about regenerate church growth, and finally, the incorrect assertion that they do not like Calvinists.
  • Nathan A. Finn, “Southern Baptist Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight” - Finn covered five myths about Calvinists (perhaps calling on Olson's book). He dealt with the stereotype that Calvinists are a threat to evangelism, are opposed to altar calls and invitations, are really Hyper-Calvinists (or "extreme Calvinists"), deny free will, and that an authentic Baptist could never be a true Calvinist (contra Yarnell).
ELECTION AND CALLING
  • Ken Keathley, “A Molinist View of Election, or How to Be a Consistent Infralapsarian” - I was looking forward to these two lectures more than any other. Welty did not disappoint but I was sorely disappointed in the choice to bring Keathley to the stage. He did not present the common non-Calvinistic views of election(elect according to foreknowledge, elect in Christ, conditional election) but instead championed the seldom-heard position of Molinism. I suppose the chief redeeming feature of this (from my perspective) was that Keathley admitted that both non-Calvinism and Molinism posit that libertarian free will is the prima facia view.
  • Greg Welty, “Election and Calling: A Biblical Theological Study” - Welty did a phenomenal job (a little biased but I believe all would agree). He did not come close to covering all he wrote but the book will take care of that. He was one of the few that actually dealt exegetically with the biblical passages instead of merely reading them or, even worse, merely listing the references. He covered Ephesians 1:3-11 and Romans 9. He also dealt with expected objections, a la Paul in Romans 9. If you only listen to one lecture from this conference, listen to this one.
WORKING TOGETHER TO MAKE CHRIST KNOWN
  • Daniel L. Akin, “Answering the Call to a Great Commission Resurgence” - We ended the conference with these two heavyweights. Akin, the president of my alma mater (SEBTS) told us that we needed the following: sound theology, to let biblical theology drive our systematic theology, a revival of authentic expository preaching, a balance in our Great Commission theology, and to love and respect those with whom we are not in complete agreement. Well said.
  • Tom Ascol, “Working Together to Make Christ Know: Considerations for the Future” - Tom Ascol spoke on the five points (imagine that?) of bridge-building. We must agree on what is the gospel, what is a Christian, what is a church, what does it mean to obey truth, and what does it mean to live in love.
There were four other speakers at the conference but it doesn't appear their messages will be included (they were also not included in the posted MP3s):
  • James Merrit - a sermon on Ephesians 1 that spoke of the emerald of election, the pearl of predestination, the ruby of redemption, and the gold of grace. As I listened, I wrote a prayer in my notes: "God, please deliver me from cliche'-driven preaching!"
  • Al Mohler - a sermon on Romans 10:8-17 with a lengthy overview of the first nine chapters of Romans.
  • J.D. Greear - a sermon on Romans 9:11-23.
  • Don Whitney - Dr. Whitney filled in at the very last moment for a sick and absent Voddie Baucham. While extremely disappointed in Baucham's absense, Whitney delivered one of the best sermons I have ever heard. It was on the "Clarity of the Gospel" and dealt with the doctrine of hell from Matthew 25:31-46.
Get the book.

Wordle - Now This Is Pretty Cool

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. You can enter or cut-n-paste any text you want and the resultant clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. For example, if you type "apple banana banana grape grape grape," you'll see that the font size for "banana" is twice the size of "apple" and "grape" will be 1/3 that of "banana."

According to the FAQ on the site, you can tweak your complted clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out (to save them you must print as a PDF or press "PRTSCN" on your keyboard and open the copied image in an image editor.

Here are some I made from some documents on my computer:

A twenty-two page chapter on "Textual Variants" from a recent course on Textual Criticism:
I was not surprised by the many uses of the words "manuscripts" or "variants" or "words."

Here's one from a 249-page paper on the subject of Calvinism. What do you think will be the top three words?
How about that? "God," "Jesus," and "Christ" are the top three, followed closely by "Paul" and "people."

A good game would be to guess which words would occur most often in books of the Bible or to look at a wordle and guess from which book of the Bible it was made. Let's try the former first - what are the top words from Revelation?
Did you guess "God" or "earth" or "seven" or "heaven"or "saying" or "great"?

Now, from what book was the following wordle made?

If you guessed the Psalms, you are correct. Technically, it is only the first forty-four psalms. I trued to copy all 150 of them but only the first 44 were actually pasted into this incredibly interesting piece of technology.

Monday, June 23, 2008

To quote Charles Shacklerford: "He's Amphibious!"

Charles Shackleford was a goofy but effective player for the Wolfpack basketball team back in the day. He also looks like a very tall Urkel. He once lost a few games to "injury" because he slept on his arm during a long flight and it "went to sleep" for an extended period of time. Anyway, Shackleford also made the news by telling an ABC reporter "I can shoot with my left hand, I can shoot with my right hand, I'm amphibious." Of course, he meant ambidextrous.

Well, the New York Yankees just drafted an ambidextrous pitcher - Pat Venditte Jr. Venditte was drafted in the 20th round of the 2008 draft and according to Wikipedia (he has a page all to himself):
When using his right arm, Venditte delivers over the top and can throw a curveball as well as a fastball reaching up to 91 mph. His left-handed delivery is side-armed in which he throws a slider and a relat ively slower fastball. Venditte uses a custom made six-fingered glove with a thumb-hole on each side allowing him to easily switch back and forth. He generally pitches with his right arm against right-handed batters and left-handed against left-handed batters which minimizes his opponent's advantage when strategically ordering batters in the line-up based on which side of the plate they hit from. Furthermore, by splitting his pitches between his arms, he is able to pitch longer than traditional pitchers before becoming fatigue.
Here is the photographic proof from Chris Machian for The New York Times:


Here's his specially modified baseball glove:


His unique ability has caused a few problems. According to the NY Times article referenced above:

Umpires working Creighton’s games have to dust off seldom-used rules regarding switch-pitchers. Like everyone else, Venditte gets only eight warm-up pitches upon entering a game and five before any inning, whether he chooses to throw left-handed or right-handed, and may not warm up again if he changes arms midinning.

A switch-pitcher facing a switch-hitter could make a fine Abbott and Costello routine. Against Nebraska last year, a switch-hitter came to the plate right-handed, prompting Venditte to switch to his right arm, which caused the batter to move to the left-hand batter’s box, with Venditte switching his arm again. Umpires ultimately restored order, applying the rule (the same as that in the majors) that a pitcher must declare which arm he will use before throwing his first pitch and cannot change before the at-bat ends.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

If God is sovereign, why _________ ?

Last night, Brian Burgess, our Minister of Outreach, taught part two of his two-part series on "Things God Never Said About Evangelism." He did an outstanding job and I encourage you to listen to his remarks from both messages. In last night's Equipping University, one of the things God never said is "Since I am sovereign, I don't need your help in evangelism."

When Brian and I discussed this over lunch prior to the class, I told him that no true believer is really going to think God ever said such a thing. A hyper-Calvinist will believe that ridiculous statement but Hyper-calvinism is not Christian. A hyper-Calvinist is not a Calvinist who really believes the doctrines of Calvinism and don't let anyone tell you different (no matter how many degrees he has or what position he holds in a seminary). Now, back to the subject at hand...

However, believers will fall into different categories as to WHY they think God would never utter that sentence. Some would say that God is sovereign but has freely "given up" (not the best choice of words) part of that sovereignty to ensure that man engages with Him of man's own libertarian free will. I, on the other hand, would reject that sentence because God is sovereign and gives up none of it and yet that same sovereignty in no way interferes with man's responsibility for his sins. This is called compatibilism. God is sovereign in all of salvation, man is responsible, and Christians are to witness and pray.

Non-Calvinists will immediately ask me, "But why? If God is sovereign and He alone chooses who gets saved, then why witness? Does it really change anything if the end result is already decided in God's mind?"

Compatibilism teaches that God's sovereignty is compatible with man's will and responsibility (not at odds or contradictory to either). The primary texts used to buttress this theological position is Genesis 50:20; Isaiah 10; and Acts 4:27-28. But I thought of another Old Testament example that I think makes a good point. In fact, the same type of event occurs over and over in the Old Testament (see Joshua 1:3, Joshua 6:2, Joshua 10:8 and more). Here's just one example.

In the opening verses of Judges, Joshua has died and the people were worried about the plan to conquer Canaan without their faithful and courageous general. Read the following:
After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, "Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?" The LORD said, "Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand" (Judges 1:1-2)
The Lord chose Judah to fight and then told the Israelites that the battle was already won. God had already decided to give the land to Judah and it was going to happen just as God said (unless you want to open a can of worms and say God could be incorrect or ignorant of future events).

However, what if the tribe of Judah responded to these words for YHWH and said, "Whew, what a relief. The battle is already won. The land is ours. We can just stay here. We don't even have to fight. Thanks God, for winning the battle for us"? What would have been the outcome of that type of response. Well, we will never know because God ordained the ends (victory) as well as the means to achieve victory (Judah's ability to fight). We read later in the same chapter that
Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. They found Adoni-bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites (Judges 1:4-5).
One thing is for sure: the people of Israel were not sloppy theologians. They did not think that just because God has ordained/predestined a very real future that they had no part in that future. The same thing holds true for evangelism. God has promised us that His word will not return void. God has promised us that when His sheep hear His voice, they will come to Him. God has told us that He has chosen men and women from every nation on earth. That does not negate the need to witness, that gives power and confidence in the very task of witnessing! We cannot fail when we are obedient to witness. Our positive proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ will either serve as a just cause of the unbeliever's righteous condemnation or as the tool used by God to draw people to Himself.

That is why I - a Calvinist - evangelize.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The ESV Study Bible

Crossway will release the new English Standard Version Study Bible in October 2008 and it looks to be an amazing tool for Bible study.

The publishers have a lot of information already available at their website - www.ESVStudyBible.org.

Of particular interest is their recent release of the introductory material to the Book of the Revelation. Crossway says:

The Introduction to the book of Revelation explains the book’s author, date, historical setting, and purpose. The introduction also unpacks the key themes of the book, its literary features, and its place in the history of salvation. In addition to a full-color map showing the location of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, you’ll also find a number of charts that give an overview of the various approaches to interpreting Revelation and the different millennial positions.

Every book in the ESV Study Bible has an introduction like this one, providing essential information to enrich your study of God’s Word. We have also included the first few pages from chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Revelation so that you can see the font size and layout of the ESV Study Bible.

I imagine that this Bible will be my default answer to those asking "What Bible should I get?"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Father's Day: What to Give When Ties Disappear?

It appears that the men's tie is about to become extinct. In this article from the Wall Street Journal, we read that:

Many American men stopped wearing neckties years ago. Now, even tie guys are giving up on them. After 60 years, the Men's Dress Furnishings Association, the trade group that represents American tie makers, is expected to shut down Thursday.

Association members now number just 25, down from 120 during the 1980s power-tie era. U.S. tie companies have been consolidating. Others have closed because of overseas competition as the U.S. market share for American-made ties has fallen to about 40%, from 75% in 1995. Members have lost interest. But the biggest reason for the group's demise: Men aren't wearing ties.

Click here for an interesting look at the evolution of the modern tie.

Sex and the CT

Christianity Today has just waded into some very hot water after giving a favorable review to the new movie, Sex and the City:The Movie. For the uninitiated (which includes me), Sex and the City was an HBO television series (1998-2004) that won 7 Emmy Awards. The movie based on the television show (rated R) was released on May 30 with what the Chicago Tribune labels “outrĂ© fashion, casual sex and dubious cocktails” and “plenty of eye candy for the ladies (think naked men and haute couture).” Not your typical Christian movie.

Yet, Christianity Today’s Camerin Courtney wrote a fairly explicit and positive review, giving the movie 3 stars. Near the end of the review, we read that

All of this said, there is a lot of sex and nudity in the movie. Be warned: There's a threesome, a naked man in a shower, some steamy makeup sex. The sex scenes between married folk are somewhat less offensive, but there were too many times when it seemed that the producers were simply trying to shock.

At the very bottom of the page, CT manages to put forth this disclaimer in its Family Corner:
Sex and the City is rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language. Take the rating very seriously. There are several scenes with nudity, including a brief glimpse at frontal male nudity, a brief guy-to-guy kiss, and several graphic sex scenes, including a threesome. The language is colorful at times, but not as problematic as the sex and nudity. This isn't a movie for children or teens, and due to the content, not even for some adults.
A sometimes contributor to CT responded incredulously here. A response by Focus on the Family is here.

Amazingly, CT responded to the criticism by standing resolutely behind the review (and the movie). The editors instead criticized the critics and essentially poo-poo'd the criticism by claiming that they were merely reviewing the movie. The editors responded by writing:

We totally understand why many people would have no desire to see Sex and the City, choosing to avoid it because of its portrayals of pre- and extra-marital sex and rampant materialism. I myself have no desire to see it, mostly for those reasons.

But to slam us for reviewing the film makes no sense. Our mission statement is to help readers make discerning choices about movies—not to make the choices for people. Our review clearly warned readers of the sinful behavior in the movie, while also noting some of its redeeming factors—like the universal longing for love and companionship, what it means to be a true friend, and more. . . .

It's good to sometimes enter into the minds and worldviews of others, even of those we completely disagree with. It's good to see what the world looks like through the eyes of even the depraved (all emphases in the original).

Then, in a very condescending way, they close by writing:
That, (emphasis in original) dear readers, is why we review "objectionable" movies. Because our eyes "are not enough for me." We will "see through the eyes of others" and yet "remain" ourselves. It is our own "experiment in criticism." If that kind of thinking is good enough for C. S. Lewis, it's certainly good enough for us.
No one disagrees with "that." However, "merely reviewing" the film is not a problem with anyone. People I know would appreciate a warning every now and then about the way culture is heading. However, the editors completely misread the criticism: the problem the editors do not seem to realize is that they did not merely review the film, they reviewed the movie positively (or, at least not negatively enough) and even seem to be promoting it! Did Carl F.H. Henry and Billy Graham (see below) ever envision the day when their magazine would promote a "randy" show filled with "soft-porn" (both CT's words). At least blush!

After all, the magazine gave the movie THREE STARS! Ironically, in channeling the words of C.S. Lewis, the same magazine gave Prince Caspian only two and a half stars. Perhaps a little more skin and extra-martial sex between Susan and Caspian could have saved Lewis' work in the eyes of Christianity Today!

It is not enough to merely point out the bad scenes and say "Cover your eyes at the 45:16 mark- it gets kinda steamy then." Denounce sin when you see it. Don't merely point sin out - encourage and exhort the reader to avoid it. Instead, the reviewer closes by saying, "In the end, I didn't quite heart SATC—but I certainly enjoyed this meaningful reunion with its beloved characters and their winning friendships."

HT: Shepherd's Scrapbook

NOTE: Christianity Today was founded in 1956 to be a journal of “international, interdenominational scholarship” with “the largest circulation in the world to the Protestant ministry and lay leadership" (Carl F.H. Henry, “The Mission of a Magazine,” Christianity Today, 12 October 1959, page 20).

Calvinists and their Eschatology

At the 2007 Shepherds' Conference, Pastor John MacArthur delivered a controversial message entitled, "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist." MacArthur said that premillennialism as being the only consistent position for any person who holds to the doctrine of sovereign electing grace. He even went so far as to say that the amillennial position is more consistent with Arminianism than it is with Calvinism.

You can read about that message here and here. I have not found a free MP3 download anywhere but you can get an MP3 for $2.00 if you register (for free) at the Shepherd's Fellowship.

The gist of MacArthur's message is below:

1. Were the writers of the Old Testament amillennialists? No

2. Were the Jews of Jesus time amillennialists? No

3. Was Jesus an amillennialist? No (cf. Acts 1:3, 6-7)

4. Were the apostles amillennialists? No (cf. Acts 3:19-21, 25; 15:15-17; Rom. 3:3-4; 9:6-8, 13; 11:26-29)

To this could be added…

5. Were the earliest church fathers amillennialists? No

MacArthur lays out his eschatological positions in the following books:

MacArthur knew exactly what he was doing in opening the popular and well-attended conference. He knew the audience was filled with amillennialists. He knew the backlash that would occur but he threw down the gauntlet anyway - which is another reason to love the guy.

The responses came quickly. You can read those here and here and here. That last link is part one of a series by Sam Waldon. His blog posts have just been published as a book, MacArthur's Millennial Manifesto (which you can read about here).

Endorsers say:

Thank you, Dr. Waldron, for showing us how a theological refutation may be done with grace and kindness...James M. Renihan, Ph.D.

Samuel Waldron's "friendly response" to John MacArthur's "millennial manifesto" will go a long way toward setting the record straight about what Reformed amillennialists actually believe about the church and Israel...I highly recommend this book to all who are interested in this controversy...Kim Riddlebarger, Ph.D.

Samuel Waldron's response to John MacArthur's controversial sermon, "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is a Premillennialist," is a gem. In a gentle spirit, and with an awareness of what is at stake, Waldron makes a persuasive case against MacArthur's unlikely claim that true Calvinists must subscribe to the tenets of dispensational premillennialism...Cornelis Venema, Ph.D.

Most of the individuals who would read this blog are familiar with the premillennial scheme of the end times (rapture, tribulation, millennial kingdom, final battle, eternity). To learn more about the other views that are out there, the following books are worth reading:

Songs that are TRULY Different

As I mentioned in the last post, the Minister of Music at my church received two boxes filled with old hymnbooks and songbooks from ages past. Most were published in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. One book in particular caught the attention of some of our staff as we met in Rodney's recently cleaned-out office: "Songs that are Different" by F.M. Lehman. I'll just present some of the songs that we are hoping Rodney never has us sing on Sunday:

Remember in the last post I spoke of "Jesus or my boyfriend" type songs. Those are not unique to the current age. Read the lyrics to this hymn: "My Honeymoon."
Jesus is the only lover of my soul (of my soul),
He has won my heart and now has full control (full control);
Other loves come and go, Jesus never leaves me so -
There's a honeymoon in my heart all the time (since He is mine).
F.M. Lehman (1917, renewed 1945)
Here's a song of warning of all the false teachers of the day, presented in "The Auction":
Come ye, come ye, bargain seekers!
Come and see our special wares;
We are stocked with worldwide notions,
Have our counters full of snares.
We have Mother Eddy's science, Pastor Russell's no-hell seeds,
What we lack in real gospel we supply in crooked creeds.

We have Theosophic lectures,
You may purchase by the yard;
We will sell you cheap religion
if you'll only sign a card.
You may buy an easy method
How to clime [sic] the golden stairs
We have just received a shipment of the the famous brimstone wares.

We have games of chance for ladies
for their Thursday afternoons;
Statuary nude and paintings,
spicy songs with racy tunes.
Ho, ye! Come and take off our bargains!
Hell today is out of date.
Easy creeds will surely give you entrance through the golden gate.
F.M. Lehman (copyright 1919, renewed 1947)
Did anyone ever sing this song - "The Brown Blade"- in North Carolina?
There's a very noxious weed, fed by appetite and greed,
That is chewed by worms and goats and foolish man;
It discolors tooth and tongue in the age and the young,
It is time we placed this poison under ban.
We have seen church members, too, often slyly smoke and chew,
Heard them sing of heav'n and golden crowns to wear;
But they never will get through be they Gentile, Greek, or Jew,
God has said the filthy folks will not be there.

Some use the filthy stuff in the form of powdered snuff
On their gums or else they snuff it up their nose;
And a snuffiend who can smell with his breath the taint of - - well?
He is soaked in nicotine from heard to toes.
Though you think this song is odd
It will take the grace of God to regenerate the users of the weed.
It is time we were afraid of the brown tobacco blade
For the manhood of the nation we will plead.

Hell will reap a harvest yet through the deadly cigarette,
For our boys and even girls are gone astray;
Can our youth be truly just when the great Tobacco Trust
Flaunts its deadly wares before them night and day?
It is not enough to frown; we must break this evil down
By publicity and pray'r, both far and wide;
With no tombstone at his head,
Ol' John Barleycorn lies dead - King Tobacco shall be buried at his side.

Heaven is a clean place, no tobacco there.
All the folks are holy over there.
If you refuse to do God's will,
The Book syas you shall be filthy still.
F.M. Lehman (copyright 1920, renewed 1948).
People REALLY hated cigarettes back then. Check out this song: "King Nicotine Must Die!"
I have walked the woodland meadows
where the sunbeams flashed and broke,
But I never saw the cattle nor the sheep and horses smoke.
I have watched the birds in wonder
When the world with dew was wet,
But I never saw a robin smoke a filthy cigarette.

We broke the beer and whiskey jug, we smashed the license plan,
We'll take away the pipe and plus - We will; we know we can.
We voted out the vile saloon and made the nation dry;
Tobacco, too, must go; and soon, King Nicotine must die!

I have fished in many a river
When the sucker crop was ripe,
But I never saw a catfish puffing at a brierwood pipe.
I have watched the playful monkey
eating peanuts from my hand
But I never saw it dipping snuff at some tobacco stand.

I have listened to the cricket
And the droning katydid
But they never sang their love song through the droolings of a quid.
I have seen the hooting wood owl
sitting on its lonely crag,
But I never saw if puffing at a two-inch Turkish fag.
Finally, hot on the heels of the Scopes Monkey Trial, churches (somewhere) sang this song:
The "wise and prudent" tell me just what once I used to be -
A "germ" and then a "tadpole" then a "monkey" up a tree;
But just because a coconut fell on their poor old head
should be no reason I believe what disbelief has said:
They're guessing! Just guessing - only guessing!
(slowly here)
God made you and me. We're no relation to the money up a coconut tree.

Some ignoramus of the schools in mortarboard and gown
Declares this "monkey business" has been ably shifted down;
He guessed because a coconut fell on his hollow head
that evolution must be true; that Christ the Lord is dead.
F.M. Lehman (copyright 1924, renewed 1951).
This puts "God of Earth and Outer Space" on the level of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

The Perfect Hymn: "My Mother is in My Mansion in Glory"

In the near-constant battle of today’s “worship wars,” two different ages tout the glories of their songs and denounce the woes of the “other kind of songs.” The battle line is usually one of style, which basically is synonymous with differing eras. People of all ages come to the same church and all of them want songs like they sang when they were growing up. Everyone likes familiarity. What we fail to admit is that our memories of our “golden days” are selective – we remember the good and forget the bad. We also fail to remember or realize that all eras have some of each.

To be sure, many of today’s popular worship songs are simply horrible. They suffer from unsingable tunes or from theologically weak lyrics. It is often hard to discern if you are singing a song to your Savior or to your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Also, what will future generations think of the depth of this song?
Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord,
Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord,
Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord. Amen.
The older generation might hear such words and scoff at the theological airiness of such lyrics. I join them. However, their memories are selective. It wasn’t all “Power in the Blood” and “Amazing Grace” back in the day, either. Rodney Harrison, our Minister of Music, was just presented with a two boxes full of old hymnals and songbooks. A quick glance through these books from the 1920s-1950s brought many a raised eyebrow.

It was soon apparent that many of these songs centered on certain themes. In particular, I was amazed at the number of “going home” songs. Generations past seemed to focus a great deal on leaving this earth behind and were in a hurry to get to glory. I assume the recent Great Depression had a lot to do with that, not to mention World War I and the looming World War II. I'd want out of here, as well. But take a look at some titles from a few songs:

I Want to Go There, Don’t You?
When I Enter the Gate
I’ll Be Singing in my New Home
I Am Going to My Home
I’m on the Highway of Love
There’s a Mansion
There’s a Mansion in the Sky
And, my favorite, There’s No Housing Shortage in Heaven. Here are the lyrics:
There’s no housing shortage in heaven,
No searching for somewhere to live,
No signs “We are sorry, no children”
No bribes to an agent to give;
We’ll never be bothered by landlords,
Demanding their rent when it’s due,
Up there we may live in a mansion,
Rent-free, and utilities, too.

There’s no housing shortage in heaven,
I’m bound for that home all my own.
“Twas purchased for me by my Savior,
No mortgage, no trust deed, or loan;
I’m going to live there forever,
No taxes, no rentals to pay,
What a joy will be mine in that country divine,
When I come to my last moving day.
Grover C. (Grandad) Hite and J.R. (Pap) Baxter, Jr., 1946
Another common theme was “mothers.” I was stunned by the number of songs extolling the virtures of motherhood or mourning the passing of long-lost mothers. Here are some titles:

O Dear Mother (Once I had a precious mother . . . )
O Mother How We Miss You
Heaven is Nearer Since Mother is There
Once again, one in particular stood out. Here are the lyrics to Shake My Mother’s Hand For Me:

When you reach that golden city,
Friends and loved ones you will see;
When the saints come out to meet you,
O shake my mother’s hand for me.

There are times I often wonder
How can all these trials be?
Time can’t keep me here much longer
O shake my mother’s hand for me.

Over there you’ll meet my Savior
Many others you will see.
When you’ve had a talk with Jesus,
O shake my mother’s hand for me.
Eugene Wright, 1937
Some songs reveal religious attitudes of the day (that often remain). Here’s another good example:
Ain’t it a shame to work on Sunday,
Ain’t it a shame, a working shame
Ain’t it a shame to work on Sunday,
Ain’t it a shame, a working shame.
When you got Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
And you got Thursday, Friday and Saturday,
Ain’t it a shame.

Ain’t it a shame to joyride on Sunday . . .
Ain’t it a shame to gossip on Sunday . . .
Ain’t it a shame to lie on Sunday . . .
Cook and Whitworth, 1939.
Finally, I noted this song: R.E. Winset wrote “The Skeptic’s Daughter,” a true story in song. It contains 17 (!) verses.

However, either in today’s or yesterday’s music, none compare to the songs in “Songs that Are Different” by F.M. Lehman. This collection of songs published by Lillenas Publishing in Kansas City sometime in the late 1940s is amazingly bad. How bad? You’ll find out in the next post.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I Suddenly Lost My Appetite


It's great working where I do. The pastoral staff at Western Avenue is comprised of good friends who enjoy being around each other. Our staff meetings contain almost as much laughter as anything else. We also go out to eat as a group a lot and I really look forward to these times. However, I recognize some things in this list that I need to repent of:

Eat this, Not that!

See especially the #1 Worst Food in America - doesn't it look delicious!?! What an illustration for the illusory attraction of sin.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Habitat for Humanity and Planned Parenthood

If you could stop Planned Parenthood from continuing their evil agenda, would you do it? That was the question facing Habitat for Humanity last week:
In an agreement with Planned Parenthood, Habitat for Humanity is allowing the group to bypass zoning regulations in Sarasota, Fla., that restrict the opening of abortion facilities “without the presence of a multifamily liner building.”

According to a statement released earlier this month by the Sarasota City Commission, Habitat for Humanity will reportedly facilitate the opening of Planned Parenthood in the area through a $10 real estate purchase from the group.
More information is found here and here. The way I understand it is that Planned Parenthood could not have gone forward with their plans without the help of Habitat for Humanity. If you stood in the way and Planned Parenthood came to you with hat in hand, what would you have done?