Thursday, June 30, 2005


Apple just released iTunes 4.9, which offers Podcast subscription capabilities through iTunes. For those not familiar with podcasting, it is a system that allows you do subscribe to audio content on the web so that new MP3s from the content providers you choose are automatically downloaded to your computer and then to your MP3 player when you sync. Obviously, you can also listen to them from your computer.

I just barely have a clue, so more knowledgeable people should feel free to correct my explanation or put it in more plain English.

Below are some links to the podcasts I've subscribed to. If you have iTunes (if not, it's a free download for Mac or PC), you should be able to click the link and it will automatically subscribe you. If you work with iPodder, you're on your own. The link may still help somehow, but I haven't figured that software out yet.

God Focused Youth Ministry Training Conference (watch for some conference speaker interviews coming soon)
Brookside Baptist Church (Sam Horn)
Falls Road Baptist Church (Scot Shelburne, my pastor)

Anybody listen to any other worthwhile podcasts?

P.S. Don't be intimidated by the technology. I'm not an IT brainiac, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

You Might Be a Paleoevangelical If . . . (#2)

. . . an offer like this one hits the garbage faster than your next low interest credit card offer:
Just join Crossings Book Club, and you'll "enjoy more of what Christ has to give" (when you get up to 6 books for $.99 and save up to $161 on publishers' edition prices plus a free SURPRISE gift if you apply for membership NOW with only one book to buy for the reduced price of $5.99 [plus shipping and handling] with only three more books to buy in the next two years . . .)
Wow, who knew that imputed righteousness was only part of what we can enjoy of what Christ has to give?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Too Much Information?

After scanning an installment of Blogspotting late last Friday afternoon, I hopped in my car for a medium-length trip out of town. Sometime while listening to 3 sermons from Rick Holland that I had just downloaded and the conclusion of Mark Dever preaching "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" on Edwards' 300th birthday, my mind drifted briefly to the nature of our information-overloaded age.

I (we?) spend far too much time engrossed with the information that is available about this particular moment in time. During the past 24 hours, I've scanned a lengthy profile of Rick Santorum, about nine BPNews articles related to last week's SBC annual convention, two on Billy Graham's NYC crusade, a couple WSJ editorials, and an article on why Muslim women are suicide bombers since they don't get the 72 virgins.

Far be it from me to suggest that the Alpha Blogspotter is wrong to scan his own preferred list of blogs and report on them. He has an agenda, and he coincidentally addressed this very issue in an entry (see the last bullet before the comments) on Sunday. (By the way, I'm intentionally avoiding names so as to avoid provoking inclusion in some future Blogspotting and thereby hypocritically engaging in the activities I am questioning.) I am likewise not without guilt in that my entries on Phil Mickelson and Barry Bonds (the Paleoevangelical jinx begins) can hardly be accused of advancing any substantive discussion. And perhaps some light-hearted repartee is occasionally in order.

So, my complaint is not with the supposed Narcissism of blogspotting, but with the rampant self-absorption of the blogosphere and, more broadly, the internet news and discussion culture. Haven't we become far more obsessed with our "15 minutes" than any society, secular or religious, that has preceded us? Can this possibly be healthy? I'm sure that other people have written far more eloquently and incisively on this topic, but rather than track them down and provide yet another link, I think I'll retire for the evening and read an old book.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Why God Might Let Sin Defeat You

Yesterday morning I attended a systematic theology class for adults on the topic of sin—depravity, the problem of evil, etc. The teacher closed with a discussion of how to mortify (kill/defeat) sin in our lives. He said it is possible that God might allow us to be defeated by sin because our motives for defeating it are wrong. We need to fight the fight against sin for God, not just to eliminate the fruits of sin in our lives that we do not like.

The speaker referred in the broader context to John Owen's On the Mortification of Sin in Believers. I do not know if Owen discusses this particular concept, and I failed to find out from the speaker before I returned home. What's more, no biblical text comes to my mind that specifically proves the point.

What I do know is that he made me think about something. Are my efforts towards sanctification in themselves a demonstration of self-centeredness, or they an act of worship? Even the plowing of the wicked is sin. What about my own?

"King of the Hill" and the North Carolina Governor

I had no idea Mike Easley had such a sophisticated political philosophy:
If politicians and pundits are really so desperate to understand the values of conservative America without leaving their living rooms, then they should start setting the TiVo to record another animated sitcom, which Anderson mentions only in passing and which, despite its general policy of eschewing politics, somehow continues to offer the most subtle and complex portrayal of small-town voters on television: ''King of the Hill,'' on Fox. North Carolina's two-term Democratic governor, Mike Easley, is so obsessed with the show that he instructs his pollster to separate the state's voters into those who watch ''King of the Hill'' and those who don't so he can find out whether his arguments on social and economic issues are making sense to the sitcom's fans.

full New York Times article

Thursday, June 23, 2005

More on Piper and Sign Gifts

Three or four years ago I heard a tape of one of Piper's biographical sketches delivered at the 1991 Bethelehem Conference for Pastors. This one dealt with Lloyd Jones and dug deepest into his view of Spirit baptism and revival. I dug up what is apparently a transcript of that presentation, available here.

I remember being frustrated with Piper over this presentation, as were my friends who also listened to the tape. Curiously, I did not experience that frustration again when I re-read the article moments ago, despite the fact that my views on Spirit baptism have not changed. Perhaps a transcript is more clinical, and I am better able to separate Lloyd Jones' views from Piper's on paper. Or perhaps the transcript has been edited from the audio presentation.

This sketch is obviously much more about Lloyd Jones than it is about Piper, but some of his personal views seep through. These are probably the most informative paragraphs:
My own answer to the question how the power of the word and the authenticating function of signs and wonders fit together is this. The Bible teaches that the gospel preached is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:23). It also teaches that the demand for signs in the presence of God's word is the mark of an evil and adulterous generation (Matt. 16:4; 1 Cor. 1:22). But the Bible also says that Paul and Barnabas "remained a long time [in Iconium] speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands" (Acts 14:3; cf. Heb. 2:4; Mark 16:20). So signs and wonders were God's attesting witness to the spoken word of the gospel.

Could we not then say, in putting all this together, that signs and wonders function in relation to the word of God, as striking, wakening, channels for the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the gospel? Signs and wonders do not save. They do not transform the heart. Only the glory of Christ seen in the gospel has the power to do that (2 Cor. 3:18-4:6). But evidently, God chooses at times to use signs and wonders along side his regenerating word to win a hearing and to shatter the shell of disinterest and cynicism and false religion, and help the fallen heart fix its gaze on the gospel (see note 42).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Circle of Life: The FBFI and Piper (Part 2)

John Piper teaches in his local ministry that miraculous sign gifts are continuing. Piper has also failed to separate from the Baptist General Conference which has deliberately chosen to tolerate the heresy known as open theism in its membership. He also enthusiastically endorses Daniel Fuller, who has championed the attack on the inerrancy of scripture in our generation.
So says the FBFI resolution adopted last week. Yesterday I promised a bit of analysis of these criticisms.

Non-cessationism: Mike Riley's explanatory article that accompanied the resolution is a bit weak in documenting Piper's views on signs and wonders. This article by Piper himself is much more helpful. I am personally inclined towards cessationism, but the cessationist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:12 has never completely convinced me. Other arguments less connected to exegesis seem more weighty to me. Regardless, I'm not sure that Piper is arguing that sign gifts to specific individuals are still in existence. It seems that his point is that we should desire to see God glorify Himself by validating the gospel with signs until Christ returns. Is there not a difference between recognizing a specific ongoing gift of healing or miracles, and merely allowing that God might still choose to perform a miraculous healing or some other sign to validate the gospel?

Would fundamentalists deny this? Darrell Champlin, for example, is a fairly well-known missionary in fundamentalist circles. He frequently preaches a sermon called "Loving God with Shoes On" in which he tells the story of 400 people in a Suriname village who trusted Christ after God told him to stomp and dance on hot coals and glass shards after a witch doctor had performed a similar feat. This sermon was preached in chapel at Bob Jones University in November of 1984. Last year I was present at a service where he told that story and another about a deathly ill man who was not breathing and had no pulse who sat straight up and was immediately returned to health and alertness when Champlin prayed over him. These events seem to be similar to what Piper is talking about. The only difference I see is that Piper is advocating that we pray for these signs, but fundamentalists merely testify that they happen.

Failure to separate from the BGC:
The tolerance of open theism in the BGC is troubling. Piper agrees.
In order for the two resolutions [that repudiate open theism but refuse to expel its adherents] to cohere, open theism must be viewed as an insignificant aberration from the Biblical norm. But this is a profound mistake in theological and historical judgment, for open theism is a massive re-visioning of God. This is clear from Dr. Boyd's published works and will become increasingly clear with those yet to be published. If the Baptist General Conference does not wake up to the magnitude of the distortion of God being powerfully promoted in the writings and classrooms of one of Bethel's most popular teachers, the Conference of fifty years from now will probably not be the faithful evangelical institution it is today.
Should he withdraw from them? I believe the case is strong that he should. But then I'm an independent and quite content not to be part of the BGC, SBC, or the FBFI for that matter. Piper no doubt has reasons for remaining in the BGC, and I am incapable of defining what they are or of giving account for him as to whether they are good or bad reasons.

What I do know is that the FBFI is the current name for the Fundamentalist Fellowship, which was originally organized in 1920 inside the Northern Baptist Convention for the purpose of combating modernism within the Convention. It was not until 1947 or 1955 (depending on what event is considered the watershed) that the Fellowship declared itself independent of the NBC and reconstituted itself as the Conservative Baptist Fellowship. The Fellowship then formed the Conservative Baptist Association as a new denomination. Frustration within the CBF (fellowship subset) that the CBA (denomination) was plagued by compromisers soon developed, and by 1967 the CBF had withdrawn from the CBA and renamed itself the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, now known as the FBF International (FBFI). All that to say this: If it took the forefathers of the FBFI over 40 years to realize that they could not save their denominations, perhaps some charity towards Piper is not inappropriate. (See In Pursuit of Purity by David Beale of the Bible faculty at BJU for fuller documentation of the history of the FBF[I].)

Failure to separate from Fuller: My first-hand knowledge of Daniel Fuller's denial of inerrancy is slim. My second-hand knowledge is enough to share wholeheartedly the FBFI's concerns with Fuller. I am not aware of the entire background of Piper's relationship with Fuller, but it does seem that Piper's statement about Fuller in Desiring God is something substantially less than enthusiastic endorsement, particularly a full endorsement of everything about his ministry. Piper's comment refers to a 1968 class under Fuller, a 1992 book (which was written after the first edition of Desiring God), and to his ongoing friendship with Fuller and view of him as a mentor. This raises my eyebrow in concern, to be sure, and I believe it is the strongest reason to caution readers towards discernment. On the other hand, Piper seems to have far deeper relationships with men who are stalwart inerrantists. I highly doubt that he will depart from this stand himself. I will be interested to see if this level of association with doctrinal error is grounds for future FBFI resolutions of warning.

Finally, it has been suggested by someone at SI (I honestly don't remember whom) that the timing of this resolution was poor, given the FBFI's attempts to reach out to younger generations who tend to be more appreciative of Piper. I appreciate the fact that the FBFI apparently did not include such reasoning in their decision-making process. Whether I agree with every motivation for the resolution or not, I would be disappointed if they had withheld this resolution so as not to discourage potential members. I also share the FBFI's admonition that we read Piper with discernment, as we ought to read every author. For whatever reason, it does seem as though there are a lot of "Piper clones" running around fundamentalist institutions. I have difficulty believing that this is healthy. Perhaps we would all do well to read some old books for a change.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Circle of Life: The FBFI and Piper

At last week's annual FBFI national meeting, the fellowship passed a series of resolutions that ranged from encouraging church planting to warning the membership about the emerging church and purpose driven movements. Another resolution, which is at most a mild caution concerning John Piper's ministry, has garnered far more attention that may fairly be characterized as something between "a tempest in a teapot" and "no small stir."

The objective of the resolution is to warn the FBFI's membership about his "non-separatist position" and to encourage those who read his works "to do so with careful discernment." The distaste for this resolution that is being expressed seems grounded in the fact that there is a large number of folks who have grown up within or nearby the FBFI camp who have a great appreciation for Piper's writings and ministry.

I count myself among that number, but I do not share their disgust at what happened at the FBFI meeting. The reason is that in conjunction with the adoption of this resolution, the FBFI released a paper written by Mike Riley that documents and explains the reasoning behind the resolution. This paper is stunningly complimentary of Piper—not in that Riley is complimentary, but that the FBFI permitted such a positive review of Piper's theological contributions to represent the official explanation of the FBFI's resolution. Not only does Riley speak highly of Piper's theocentric/doxological contributions, he also efficiently and accurately dismisses criticisms of Piper's "Christian Hedonism" and alleged soteriological reductionism that have been levied from quarters ranging far wider than FBFI circles.

The significance of this development should not be underestimated. Such a concession to the value of Piper's contribution would have been, in my opinion, inconceivable a decade ago. This speaks far more to changing attitudes in the FBFI than to any shift on Piper's part. What the FBFI has done is essentially to acknowledge publicly what Piper's appreciative readers have been saying throughout that decade—that he is restoring theocentricity to the lives of believers and the pulpits of churches, probably more than any other modern individual. That the FBFI has at least tacitly endorsed Piper's emphasis is no small shift, for which I and others who think like me ought to be profoundly grateful.

Why, then, was the resolution necessary? It states three reasons: 1) Piper's teaching "that miraculous sign gifts are continuing;" 2) Piper's unwillingness to "separate from the Baptist General Conference," which has voted not to expel open theists; and 3) Piper "enthusiastically endorses Daniel Fuller," who is no longer willing to affirm biblical inerrancy.

These reasons warrant some discussion, which I intend to offer tomorrow, but I am inclined to believe that what also made the resolution necessary to the minds of the FBFI resolution committee is that Piper is influential and popular. The FBFI could have issued scads of resolutions about non-cessationists or people who maintain problematic associations, but they didn't. I believe they picked out Piper, Warren, and the emerging movement because they foresee the inroads that these have or might have into fundamentalist circles.

But why is Piper so influential and popular? What is it about his ministry that has resonated in so many fundamentalists' hearts and minds? Piper is influential because he is dead right on doxological issues that ought to be at the core of our faith. He is popular because the people with whom his writings resonate will say to a man that his emphasis was absent or very nearly so in their lifetime of church experience. If I am right on these points, that leads us full circle to the conclusion that the FBFI has been forced to deal with their concerns about Piper precisely because FBFI and FBFI-ish churches have not convinced generations of believers that theocentric ministry is a priority to them.

Some might argue that theocentric ministry was taught but not caught. Without omniscience, it is impossible for me to say for certain if that argument is valid, but Piper is teaching it, and these generations are catching it from him. That makes me believe they will also catch it from FBFI folks if they will teach it and expose the oft-tolerated man-centered residue. That is precisely why I am personally so encouraged to see the FBFI engage in these first steps. Complain if you will. I'm counting the blessings.

Monday, June 20, 2005

My Take on Chapter 6: A Piper Book Review (part 3)

Mark Dever, Michael Lawrence, Matt Schmucker, and Scott Croft, all of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, tag-team for the chapter on "Sex and the Single Man." They are addressing two problems: 1) The trend of more and more men delaying marriage longer and longer, and 2) The trend of more and more professing Christian men engaging in greater levels of physical intimacy prior to marriage. It's impossible to disagree that these trends are problems in evangelical culture.

The problem of delayed marriage seems underestimated by the 21st century church. Al Mohler was the first person I heard to attack this problem, but Dever et al (no pun intended) do a better job of avoiding the inflammatory broad-brushing that Mohler engaged in. Dever touches only briefly on this problem in this article, but in other places he has expressed substantial concerns with the extension of adolescent "boy culture" into the 20s and 30s and the "professionalism culture" that indefinitely sets aside family life in favor of career. More on this to come in a pending discussion of Mohler's comments that preceded the conference from which this book springs.

The larger portion of this chapter is developed by Lawrence, Schmucker, and Croft, and their primary objective is to exposit a theology of sex and an appropriate application of that theology to single men. Lawrence addresses the theological issues, and the essence of his argument is that marriage is a covenant, and sex is the sign of this covenant. This assessment of marriage seems plausible, and I am inclined to agree with him, but his exegetical argument for these conclusions is rather thin. Because I know Lawrence to be a competent theologian, I presume that he is quite capable of formulating this exegetical argument, and that time (conference) and space (book) limitations precluded fuller development.

[6/21 a.m. Edit: I've been warned that right about here my argument gets a bit difficult to follow. Maybe it's the complexity of the issues; maybe it's that married people don't feel strongly about this issue; maybe I've just poorly stated my thoughts. Probably the latter, but I don't know how to make it simpler without diluting my argument. So I offer my deepest apologies for my deficiencies, and I'll offer any clarifications that I can.]

In any case, he transitions to the application of his conclusions by contrasting the "typical progression" of physical intimacy in relationships with the "biblical progression" of physical intimacy. Whereas in the typical progression, physical intimacy is a sliding scale that gradually increases as commitment to the relationship increases, he contends that the biblical progression remains at zero intimacy from "no commitment" through engagement up until marriage, at which time intimacy increases, well, substantially (as I conclude from the arrow on Figure 6.2 that points off the page). In other words, there is a level of physical intimacy that is appropriate with a mother or sister, and there is a level that is appropriate for a wife. "Biblically speaking, there is no in-between area here, where a woman is sort-of-a-sister, or sort-of-a-wife."

Schmucker continues from Lawrence's foundation to flesh out how this theology ought to be lived out in the life of a single man. He begins by asking three questions about the appropriateness of varying levels of intimacy between a married man and a woman who is not his wife. All three are no-brainer "No's," with the third question being undoubtedly the lowest level of intimacy:
Do you think it would be acceptable or unacceptable for me to have a meal with a woman not my wife and engage in extended conversation about each other's lives (likes/dislikes/struggles/pasts)?
It is at this point that Schmucker's arguments depart from Lawrence's mother/sister ethic and morph into an ethic based on what is appropriate conduct for a married man with a woman not his wife or a man with a woman who is another man's wife. The subtle difference creates a persuasive argument, but it also introduces some flaws. His argument seems to presuppose that any intimacy—physical or emotional—that is inappropriate between a man and woman who are married to other people is also inappropriate for single people (who might ultimately become the spouses of other parties).

Yet one might just as well take Schmucker's third question and end the sentence a bit sooner: "Do you think it would be acceptable or unacceptable for me to have a meal with a woman not my wife?" Call me old-fashioned, but should I be married at some point in the future, I'm not going to be real crazy about my wife having a meal with some other guy. I think it's unacceptable. But if Schmucker's broader argument is valid, it is just as inappropriate for me as a single man to go out to eat with another single woman as it would be for a married man to have dinner with another man's wife. Now, this presupposition that any extra-marital physical or emotional intimacy is inappropriate may be true, but if it is true, it will lead us to some more radical conclusions that Schmucker displays no interest in espousing. But we'll need to come back to that.

Now, I'm very sympathetic with Schmucker's conclusion that single men ought "not to have any physical intimacy with any woman" to whom they are not married. He offers four excellent reasons for this conclusion. Croft concurs in his section and forays further into the defrauding tendencies of emotional intimacy. He argues, "The topics, manner, and frequency of conversation should be characterized by the desire to become acquainted with each other more deeply, but not in a way that defrauds each other." I can't disagree with this in the slightest. Croft is dead right to say that "the motive for dating or courting is marriage," but courting couples need to guard against defrauding one another emotionally during this period when marriage is uncertain. But what should a relationship that might be on the pathway to marriage look like? "Of course he must get to know his courting partner well enough to make a decision on marriage," he concedes. "However, prior to the decision to marry, he should always engage with her emotionally in a way he would be happy for other men to engage with her."

In other words, prior to engagement, there ought to be no emotional intimacy as well as physical intimacy. A man ought not interact with a woman he is courting differently in a qualitative way from any other guy this woman has contact with. Ok, fine. I guess I've never observed a relationship approaching engagement with zero emotional intimacy, but for sake of the argument, I will assume that it is theoretically possible. I do wish that Croft and Schmucker could have found a way to offer some practical meat to hang on these theoretical bones. What is it that this man is trying to find out about the potential wife that is "enough to make a decision on marriage"? This approach makes courtship sound like a clinical job interview.

Now, maybe that is the ideal we singles ought all to be striving for. Look for a godly person who possesses strong character and scrap the "chemistry" stuff. But then I'm not at all sure why Croft's argument implicitly allows for some level of emotional intimacy after "the decision to marry," when Schmucker and Croft himself specifically oppose any allowance for any level of physical intimacy. How is emotional intimacy at some (undefined) level safe and acceptable if all physical intimacy is inappropriate. My argument is not that some physical intimacy ought to be permitted, but that Schmucker and Croft do not offer any rationale for permitting some emotional intimacy but no physical intimacy.

I've spilt a great deal of bandwidth trying to make a very technical criticism of a chapter that is, on the whole, quite helpful. For instance, Croft offers a tremendous challenge to young men as he distinguishes between modern dating and biblical courtship. He says, "Modern dating asks, 'How can I find the one for me?' while biblical courtship asks, 'How can I be the one for her?' " Schmucker also makes a great case for pre-marital purity when he advises men to make good deposits in the "Marriage Bank." He says, "Treat all women in a way that ensures, when doubt arises, that the one woman you do marry will be able to draw confidence and faith from the pre-marriage deposits you made through prayerfulness and holy living."

My simple point is that there are good arguments for right conclusions and "less good" arguments for right conclusions. Both are present in Schmucker and Croft's case for abstinence from physical intimacy prior to marriage.

My slightly-less-simple point is that if we take Schmucker and Croft's arguments against physical intimacy to what I believe are their rightful ends—abstinence from emotional intimacy prior to marriage, as well—we land on a pretty small plot of land. I think that the only reasonable positions left are that we ought to engage in arranged marriage or perhaps follow a model of courtship that is quite clinical—even antiseptic. Certainly not very romantic.

Of course, I suspect that some elements of such an approach might be rather attractive to me and some of my single guy friends. But I speak as one who has never seen Anne of Green Gables. (I prefer the idealistic pessimism of Casablanca.)

On the other hand, the fact that these conclusions may seem undesirable and outmoded does not make them wrong. Also, I should say that there is no direct indication that any of Dever, Lawrence, Schmucker, or Croft are arguing for these approaches. I have simply been unable to this point to imagine what more moderate ground is preferable or theoretically possible. I have tremendous respect for each of them, having observed them in action at a CHBC elders meeting during a IX Marks weekender. I suspect that they are able to more fully develop their views with wisdom and biblical support.

Once again, I find that is has taken me far more space (and time) to address far fewer issues than I had hoped. Part 4 should be brief.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dealing with Those Pesky "Young Fundamentalists"

Looks like the Fundamentalist Mormons figured out a plan. But then there might be some ever-so-slight differences.
Authorities say the teens aren't really being expelled for what they watch or wear, but rather to reduce competition for women in places where men can have dozens of wives. "It's a mathematical thing. If you are marrying all these girls to one man, what do you do with all the boys?" said Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff, who has had boys in his office crying to see their mothers.

Sometimes Nice Guys Win a Major

I've become a golf fan as a result of the "Tiger effect." It's not that I'm a Tiger fan, but I started following the sport because of his remarkable talent and dominance. But now I'm to the place where I'll watch snatches of a tournament even if he isn't playing or in contention, and I'm glued to the majors even if he shoots a 76 on Thursday.

Until Tuesday, though, I didn't have a favorite golfer. There have always been a few guys I've liked—Furyk, Toms, and Goosen, for example. But this week JW (the friend who took the photo) and I got a great deal on tickets for a practice round for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Practice rounds are definitely the time to go, by the way, if you ever have the chance. Many of the golfers went out of their way to interact with the crowd. We saw Toms sign autographs and another young lad carry on flirtations with a member of the gallery over the course of several holes.

Something about Phil Mickelson's relationship with the crowd was different, though. It's hard to put a finger on precisely what, but I think it's that he treated them not as adoring fans, but as peers. It was in the tone of his voice. In the eye contact. And, of course, in the fact that he spent 30 minutes or more signing autographs after his round. I'll be pulling for him this weekend and many more.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Keep Pluckin' that String: A Piper Book Review (part 2)

Today I'll tackle part two of my review of Sex And The Supremacy Of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. Read part one here. In part one I tried to explain that SSC is far more than a book about overcoming sexual sin. It's about recognizing and responding to the lordship of Christ, which inevitably results in progressive sanctification of the whole person, even the most powerful domains of the flesh. In part two, I'll try to summarize the themes of SSC and analyze the strengths. There will be a part three, but it will focus on one chapter of this book and transition into some other discussions about related issues that have been discussed outside SSC.

In the interests of full disclosure, I'm getting the book for free in exchange for blogging a review (no stipulations on content, of course). If you needed another reason to blog for yourself, the growing trend of getting free books in exchange for reviews is a pretty good one.

SSC ranges from perceptively philosophical to incisively devotional to carefully theological to intensely practical. It will challenge your lifestyle, but you expected that. Its greater value is that it challenges how the Church thinks about sexuality. For example, SSC refines the common teaching about sexual purity that focuses almost exclusively on the wedding day. So much of our "church talk" about purity is "Wait until you're married," almost as if virginity is the one and only arbiter of purity. But what about mental purity before and after? If we can believe statistics, we're losing that battle, and I believe it has a lot to do with the fact that we try to control behavior without making the case for the joy in Christ that is far superior to the pleasure of indulging our lusts. Teaching that "misuses of our sexuality distort the true knowledge of Christ" gives us the fuel to overcome desires by reminding us that indulging lust is not just a sin. It is an exchange of the greatest pleasure for a lesser one. Strategies to modify behavior aren't enough. Accountability only treats the symptoms, and it is motivation by shame, not grace. "The Bible is always about behavior, but it is never only about behavior," David Powlison writes. "God's indictment of human nature always gets below the surface, into the 'heart.' "

The central theme is that "all misuses of our sexuality derive from not having the true knowledge of Christ, but the true knowledge of Christ serves to prevent sexual corruption." Neither here nor elsewhere in the book do the authors refer to 2 Corinthians 5:14, but that passage describing the power of Christ's love leapt immediately to my mind. The lesson is that we need to recognize that the highest satisfaction available to us is found by seeking our sole satisfaction in the righteousness Christ provides. As Piper writes, "Little souls make little lusts have great power. The soul, as it were, expands to encompass the magnitude of its pleasure."

Even Mohler's chapter on homosexual marriage speaks to the Church in far broader ways than merely how to respond to this narrow issue. He challenges the Church to take more seriously its responsibility to the authority of Scripture, the solemnity of marriage, theological clarity, and unconditional love. His argument is that before we have any moral ground to address homosexual marriage, we must rebuild our foundations in these matter. Reading between the lines, I was struck by the implications for the SBC and other conservative denominations or fellowships. Homosexual marriage has been the straw on the camel's back that has stirred many a congregation and denomination to life, and that is unfortunate. The "yuck factor" has aroused our righteous passions more than zeal for God and His Word has in a long, long time.

Powlison's chapter on restoration is an unadulterated theology of progressive sanctification. He says, "This chapter is about making new, about the long restoring of joys to the broken and dirtied. In other words, it's about the process of change. It's about moving along a trajectory away from the dark and toward the light. It's about knowing where you're heading while you're still somewhere in the middle." He cites Luther, who wrote:
This life, therefore,
is not righteousness but growth in righteousness,
not health but healing,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified.
The battle is in the mind. "Remembering is the first change," Powlison says.

The next four chapters apply these principles of progressive sanctification to specific groups—single men, married men, single women, and married women. The authors of these chapters address the common battlefields of lust for these groups and the sinful patterns of thinking at the root of the problems. Part three of my review will delve into one of these chapters in detail and into another for comparison.

The final two chapters on Luther and the Puritans' views of sex are perhaps the most interesting chapters for their historical color. Although my initial impression was that these chapters were less directly connected to my sanctification, the understanding of their perspectives will help those like me who are rooted in a modern American mindset to be less myopic about our experience. Plus, these two chapters are chock full of earthy Luther, pithy Edwards, and incisive Baxter, and what Puritan-at-heart (as I sense I may be becoming) can't appreciate a healthy dose of that?

If you want some homework to prepare for part three, listen to this Leadership Interview conducted by Mark Dever with Al Mohler, Scott Croft, and Josh Harris. All but Harris are co-authors of SSC. Harris is pretty well-known for some book about kissing.

Monday, June 13, 2005

2 Peter 1:3 and the Sufficiency of Scripture

I believe that Scripture is sufficient as the sum of God's revelation for us today. I've often used 2 Peter 1:3 to defend this doctrine. But lately I've wondered if doing so isn't some warmed-over proof-texting.

Where, exactly, is the Word of God in the context? To say that Jesus Christ has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of the Father does not prove that all those things are contained in the Word of God.

It is clear in the NT that the Word of God is not all that God has "given us":

". . . who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge." (2 Cor. 1:22)

"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, . . ." (2 Thess. 2:16)

"For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline." (2 Tim. 1:7)

"Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, . . ." (2 Tim. 1:9)

"The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us." (1 John 3:24)

"By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." (1 John 4:13)

"And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." (1 John 5:20)

My purpose is not to argue that Scripture is insufficient for our life and godliness, but to demonstrate that we're on shaky exegetical ground to insist that this passages teaches that truth exclusively. I simply don't think the sufficiency of Scripture is the primary point of this passage. It seems to me to be about the sufficiency of the power of Christ.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Another Anniversary and Its Memories

I'm not an impulsive person. Those of you who know me can testify to that. But I don't regret the most impulsive thing I've done in a while—deciding on the spur of the moment one year ago today to leave work at 4:00, drive 4 hours to D.C., stand in line for 5 hours, and pass through the Capitol to view the President's casket lying in state, followed immediately by a 4 hour drive home and work the next day. Ok, I was an hour late to work.

The memory of standing in line with KB (close friend), talking with other Reagan respecters, and sharing our bags of jelly beans (RR's favorite candy, for you young 'uns) with others in line will be with me forever. Providentially, we had extra time to savor the moment since we were in the Dome for about 15 minutes for the changing of the guard. Having done what we could to be a part of the historical events also made Friday's ceremonies at the National Cathedral and the Presidential Library that much more meaningful.

I don't want to moralize, but I learned a lesson last year that has been impressed on me since: Memories are worth more than convenience and sleep.

L.A. Daily News (Simi Valley edition)
San Jose Mercury News

Lest I Make You Jealous . . .

. . . I'm not going to provide a link to the specs on the new Mac that I just finished installing at the office. I will merely say that I pity any of you who have to work on PCs, particular those that aren't widescreen. And I dare not talk about display size, because it will diminish the progression of your sanctification.

I am curious to try out the AV iChat. If you're configured for it, e-mail me at the address in the sidebar.

Typical or Aberrant?

Like G-Knee, I didn't know these kinds of things happened anymore, at least not to "first-time visitors." I know enough of the background story to report that this is no backwater/backwoods ministry, but the kind of place that is perceived by many as a standard-bearer.

I would like to think this attitude is a rare exception. But I wonder if attempts like this to be dead right are less aberrant than they are just plain abhorrent.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Happy Anniversary

I am at that stage of life when I don't like to count how many years ago things happened because of how old they make me feel. The sole exception is the anniversary that I am enjoying today—10 years since God saved me.

On June 8, 1995, after 21 years in gospel-preaching churches and 16 years in Christian schools, my spiritual game came to an end by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Ironically perhaps, I was saved during staff training at a camp where I was preparing to serve as a teen camp counselor. That fact alone is not as ironic as the additional memory that Mike Manor preached that evening a sermon, not about what a wicked sinner in need of repentance I was, but about "Being a Servant" from Colossians. I look back to that counter-intuitive confluence of events as my first introduction to the doctrines of divine initiative and sovereignty in salvation that would later pervade my theology as I studied Scripture.

When I think now of the fear of man and pride that kept me from acknowledging my need for so long, I both laugh at my delusion and cringe at the seductiveness of such thinking. I fear for many who may be similarly self-deceived.

One of my most treasured memories from that summer is remembering how God worked in so many of my old and new friends' lives. God saved two other counselors that summer (that I know of), and He has graciously allowed me to stay in contact with them over the years. I've been constantly encouraged as I've seen their spiritual growth and how they have invested their lives in Romanian missions and leadership in children's ministry.

Most things that I remember from a decade ago (or even less) make me feel very old. Thinking about being a Christian for just ten years and seeing every day how much further I have to go makes me feel quite young. Too young. But I'll still give thanks for His grace.

May God be praised.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

One String Banjo? A Piper Book Review (part 1)

I know of only one book that I would recommend for the foreword alone: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. The foreword, "For Single Men and Women (and the Rest of Us)" is an absolute must-read for every single person in their 20s and beyond. Actually, that sells it short. It is also an absolute must-read for every member of the body of Christ who ministers to, yea, interacts with, any single person in their 20s or beyond. More on that perhaps in part 2, since this is an awful way to start a review for another book.

That other book is Sex And The Supremacy Of Christ, which will be released on June 13th (more info from Crossway). SATSO Christ does not have a foreword, but it does have an introduction and a couple pages of blurbs. And based on those two elements alone, I wholeheartedly offer my recommendation. From these pages alone it becomes evident that SATSO Christ is not essentially about sex, but about the theology of progressive sanctification defined and applied to one of the primary battlefields in believers' lives.

It should come as no surprise that the second book I've endorsed for its front matter alone is also edited by Piper, this time in conjunction with Justin Taylor of Desiring God Ministries. As in all of Piper's writings that I have read, SATSO Christ establishes from the beginning that the believer's santification does not hinge on cleverly crafted strategies like accountability or journaling, but on the recognition that we can find no pleasure in heaven or on earth greater than what we find when we value Christ supremely. When we exchange submission to His power and glory for earthly pleasures, we exchange that which is most valuable for a demonic lie. Piper explains this truth in the first two chapters. Although he only briefly alludes to Philippians 3, I find no other chapter in Scripture that so concisely reflects these truths that he explains.

I have heard and read individuals accuse Piper of being a one-string banjo. Apparently, some grow weary of hearing that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. So is he a one-string banjo? Well, I don't know much about banjos, but when it comes to expositing biblical teaching about the Christian life, I'm convinced that Piper's string is pretty important. A "Christian life banjo" without the string of the supremacy of Christ would create some (and in my experience, has created many) hollow-sounding chords. It seems to me that what Piper is doing is installing this same string into a wide assortment of banjos with the result that a long-neglected element of the gospel is being renewed in our hearts and minds. Through books like Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, these truths are infiltrating every aspect of our minds so that the influence of the flesh is gradually being defeated.

On that note, I'll need to wrap things up for tonight. Lord willing, part 2 will follow later this week. In it, I'll try to hit the high points of this collection of essays written by many of the evangelicals who are most effectively challenging my generation towards spiritual maturity and ministry. I also intend to offer some points of criticism and personal reflection.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Southeastern Seminary Bloggers?

We're behind the curve. I don't have the skills to pull off something like that 8th Wonder for us at SEBTS, but we can at least start a blogroll. Post here and we'll kick things off.

The Finney Exposé: A Fundamentalist Weighs In

I'm convinced that fundamentalists will demonstrate their relevance through statements like this rather than through continued protestations that their demise has been exaggerated. May Kevin Bauder's tribe increase.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Another Anti-Baseball Rant (brief)

I can't believe they didn't blame it on the weather. It's so much easier to take shots at Divine providence (weather) than at human depravity (steroids).

Saturday, June 04, 2005

IT is here

IT came last night. IT will stay until sometime in October, when the last throes of hurricane season melt into the Atlantic. That IT came so late is both a surprise and a blessing. Usually, IT infiltrates this coastal plain in the early parts of May, sometimes even in April. And once IT comes, IT stays. IT's oppression never relents, not even for a day.

You sad, deluded friends in the Midwest think you know about IT. I used to think that, too. Until I moved here. You anticipate afternoon storms that bring relief, and you think your experience is universal. I scoff at such folly. Thunderstorms here feed IT like electricity on King Kong.

You Floridians think you know about ITtoo, but the pleasant coastal breezes blow not here. Only the folks in Louisiana, D.C., and the rain forests of South America have anything to say to me about IT.

You may think of densely suspended particles of dihydrogen monoxide as merely a banal chemical compound. Here, we think of IT as a oppressing force—not a living, breathing creature—but an ominous, invasive, silent killer that sucks life and breath from all creatures.

If this blog dies, you'll know what slew it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Good Reasons for Me to Stop Being a Church History Dunderhead

The Value of Learning History
. . . God ordains that events happen and that they get recorded as history so that we will learn them and become wiser and more insightful about the present for the sake of Christ and his church. Never stop learning history. Gain some knowledge every day. And let us give our children one of the best protections against the folly of the future, namely, a knowledge of the past.

Coincidence? I Think Not!

Has anyone else noticed the stunning resemblance between Mark Felt, the Watergate whistle-blower, and the line drawing illustration of Digory's magician uncle in The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis' prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Why Blog? (Part 2)

I started blogging in earnest in March. I'm not sure that my reasons when I started are the same as they are today. I see three main benefits to my blogging:

1. Blogging disciplines me to read. It has made me more serious about study. My TV sports viewing has declined noticeably in the past three months.

2. Blogging disciplines me to think. The fact that I'm forcing myself to put something together for publication on a near-daily basis demands that I constantly have my antennae tuned to find connections and analogies between events or ideas if I'm going to write anything that resembles a lucid thought. Occasionally, I succeed.

3. Blogging disciplines me to write. People like Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon would have had far less impact had they not written. Now by my age, Calvin had already written the Institutes. This blog is a step or a million below the Institutes, but it is a first step.

You'll notice that all my benefits to my blogging are self-centered. I can make no promise whatsoever that the readers will experience any benefits of their own.

Then there are also a couple reasons not to blog:

1. Blogging isn't doing. Talking incessantly about ideas is a sorry substitute for acting on those ideas. Phil Johnson shared some great commentary on this point yesterday.

2. Some blogging is a form of teaching. And teachers have a solemn and terrible responsibility. "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment" (James 3:1 NASB).

3. To this point I have uncovered precious little evidence that women find blogging attractive.

Hugh Hewitt argues in his book, Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World, that leaders ought to be blogging. You can hear more extensive comments from Hewitt in this brief audio interview. So if I'm doing it, many more of you should be.

End of series. Finally finished one.

Good News for Orange Guys Everywhere

For all who wore black for a month after he left ESPN Radio, Tony Kornheiser is back on the radio at 980 WTEM in Washington. Listen live on the web. I realize this isn't new, but it's new to me.

Mr. Tony is the only sportstalk host you'll ever hear who will make you smarter, or at least not make you dumber. Charles Krauthammer is apparently a fan. That's good enough for me.