Choose To Be a Calvinist

Evidently a radio host recently rebuked a Calvinist by asking, "Can't you choose between Burger King and McDonald's"? The caller apparently was rebuffed because, of course, he was indeed able to choose which fast food chain to enjoy. And for that show, as I heard it, the debate was over.

This kind of thing is so ridiculous and simplistic as to leave me hot and bothered. I'd like to ask the host: "Can you choose to purchase a mini-van for your family that explodes in flames if it goes over 25 mph?" That man will not buy that van. And why not? It is not because he doesn't have the faculty or responsibility of choice. He does. Rather, he cannot choose to buy the family inferno because he does not want to. He loves his family and wants to keep them safe.

Desires determine choice. You choose what you want with every choice every time. I'd love to hear someone prove that assertion wrong. Now, of course, your options in every choice are limited. For instance, you cannot choose to have a condo on Mars, no matter how bad you want it. Only God has this kind of "free will." (Psalm 115.3) But for us there are only so many realistic options in every choice we make. That can make things quite painful at times. But even when the options are bad and worse, the "chooser" will choose the option he most prefers every single time. Desires determine choice.

That's why the Calvinist, with the apostle Paul as I understand him, insists upon the truth that those in the sinful nature cannot choose Christ without the powerful, irresistible, gracious act of God in changing their core desires. When we say the sinner cannot choose Christ it is not because he has not the faculty of choice. O, he does. He chooses against Christ in every moment. The problem is not the ability of making decisions.

The problem is the desires. As the apostle proclaims, "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires." (Romans 8.5, NIV) And in verse 7, "the sinful mind is hostile to God." The unbeliever has evil desires and is hostile to God. Against God. Rebellious. Therefore, because of his evil desires, his nature "...does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." (verses 7-8; emphasis mine)

"Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11.6)

"Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."

Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot have faith in Christ. Not because they can't have faith - they do all the time! They worship sex, status, money, themselves, whatever. But they cannot have faith in Christ because they do not want to! They do not love Him or find Him desirable. The relationship is hostile.

This is so important ultimately because the conclusions on the matter will determine whose glory and praise will echo for all eternity. For if faith is yours, you can boast in something. But if faith is a gift, the song sounds like this:

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2.8-9 NIV)

So choose to be a Calvinist, and give God the glory He deserves!


Framework for Freedom

Thoughts from Ravi Zacharias in a recent interview regarding what he would want in a political candidate:

"I think we should ask the hard questions of everybody...and see if the framework of the value of human life and the moral framework of the Judeo-Christian world view, (which is the only moral framework under which this country could have been framed. It was not framed under a Hindu framework. It was not framed under a Muslim framework, not framed under a Buddhist or a naturalistic framework) that we are all created equal, that liberty and justice and all of those terms that I’ve given only make sense within the Judeo-Christian world view.

Created? Equal? Naturalism does not tell us we are equal. Naturalism does not tell us we are created. Liberty? Islam does not believe in the total liberty of the individual. Equal? Hinduism believes in the caste system. The Judeo-Christian world view is the only world view that could frame this country. And so I think as we elect, we go before God and see out of the candidates who will be the best one to represent the values and at the same time be a good leader for the country whose first responsibility should be to protect its citizens.

This is a great country and the challenges we face are immense to a point where this country could be totally mangled with the onslaught of a rabid atheism ala Christopher Hitchens, Samuel Harris, Richard Dawkins, those kinds of vociferous, acerbic writers in our time who would like to strip the notion of God completely from our culture. For Sam Harris to actually say if he had a magic wand to eradicate religion or eradicate rape, he would eradicate religion tells you the kind of mindset, and his book is in the top ten bestseller list of the New York Times. There’s a rabid atheism out there and there’s a rabid Islamic extremism out there and the secularism combined with that. I’ve responded to Sam Harris in a book which will be released in the early part of next year. I’ve said to him basically his choice is not going to be between religion and secularism. His choice is going to be between Islam and Christianity. Secularism has no staying power and has proven itself in Europe today. Europe is on the decline and on the demise and it’s only a matter of time before Islam would take a foothold there unless the Christian world view reemerges."


True Greatness

I've had the enjoyment of some serious soul food over the last few days. I just finished C. J. Mahaney's book, Humility; True Greatness. I strongly recommend it to anyone suffering from the same disease as I - pride.

A major strength of the book is the many very practical ways to fight pride. One strategy is "actively identifying evidences of grace in others." Here's a nugget on that subject regarding correction:

"...any correction will not be effective unless you approach it with a divine perspective of those you are correcting, because your heart won't be filled with affection for them or with a fresh faith for change on their behalf. And they'll be sure to sense that lack in your heart."

That, my friends, is some valuable wisdom. Read this book. C. J. left me both chuckling at myself and mourning my pride. But best of all, he has left me with a strong desire for the blessings of humility.


Arguments for the ESV

I'd like my church to transition from the NIV to the ESV as our Bible translation of choice and have proposed that we do just that. Here are links to a few arguments in that direction:

Why Bethlehem Baptist (John Piper's church) uses the ESV

Why Mars Hill (Mark Driscoll) uses the ESV

The letter this church sent to every household

An Explanation of Genesis 1-4

See Justin Taylor's explanation of the biblical account of our origins.


A Compelling Theological Vision for Ministry

See The Gospel Coalition's Theological Vision for Ministry. It is an intelligent document that includes consideration of the all-important epistemological (how we know truth), hermeneutical (how we handle the Bible), and contextualization (relating to the world) issues facing the church.


"Pathetic Pietistic Backwater"

In his blog, The Oversight of Souls, Ray Van Neste quotes the Scottish preacher and theologian James Stewart who wrote:

“no church is anything more than a pathetic pietistic backwater unless it is first and fundamentally and all the time a world missionary church.”

It might be overstated. It might be too harsh. But at least in part, it's probably true. And it stings.


Safe Atheists?

The worst thing about atheism is that it isn't true.

The worst thing about Christianity is real and fake Christians that are hypocrites. Those folks, myself included to some extent, have done some dastardly deeds of evil.

There are some really nice, kind atheists out there. And there are some nasty "Christians." We've probably each met some of both. And certainly, from my perspective, those who claim to be followers of Christ and His Word will be held to a higher standard.

However, it has become popular to decry the "dangers of institutionalized religion" and talk as if religion, especially Christianity, is the sum of all evil. The assumption therein is that it is the objective atheists who hold the answer to peace and harmony.

Here's the historical fact as far as I can tell: the worst of what Christians have done cannot compare with evils of institutionalized atheism, and the blessings of the Church on societies around the globe cannot be overshadowed by any other movement, especially atheism.

Consider just this: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (click here for a review), published by Harvard University, reports the death toll at the hands of communist (atheist by definition) institutions to be around 100 million people. That is almost inconceivable. Perhaps it is atheism that we ought to find dangerous...

Dangerous Christians?

In his June 10, 2007 Stand To Reason radio broadcast (free registration required to download - you can also podcast the show at the bottom of this page, and it is well worth the listen), Greg Koukl reports that the kitchen is getting hotter for Christians in America. For instance, there are presently more books being published against the dangers of Christianity than there are about the dangers of Islam. And as Greg says, the books aren't saying that we're wrong, "but [that] we're dangerous."

Especially considering the present moment in history, this is utterly ridiculous. It is one thing to deal with a truth claim, and it is still another to paint its adherants black to the ignorance of evidence. A collection of monstrous examples of the evils of religion does not prove that all religion, or Christianity for that matter, is false.

One example of the "new atheism" you've probably heard of is Christopher Hitchen's book, god Is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything. If you're looking for answers, see Stand to Reason (linked above) or the Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, who also gives a strong response.

All Our Good in God

Jonathan Edwards:

The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God’. The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield then delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them. (The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999], pp. 74-75)


The All-Important Glory of Jesus

Andrew Murray, in The Holiest of All, writes

"[Jesus] is the outshining of God’s glory, and the express image of His substance. As we only know the sun by the light that shines from it, so is Christ the outshining, the revelation of God’s glory. As the light that shines from the sun is of the same nature with it, so the Son is of one nature with the Father – God of God. And as a son bears the likeness of his father, because he has his life and nature from him, so the Son of God is the express image of His substance. He is of one substance with the Father – its express image – and hath therefore life in Himself, even as the Father hath life in Himself.

Someone may be tempted to think that these are theological mysteries too deep for the ordinary Christian, and not needful for our Christian faith and life. And they are inclined to ask, of what importance it can be to a simple believer to know all this? My brother, think not thus. It is all important that we know the glory of Jesus. The more the soul is filled with that glory, and worships Him in it, the more it will see with what confidence it can count upon Him to do a divine and supernatural work in us, and to lead us to an actual living fellowship with God as our Father."

The Terrible Temptions of Lost Hearts

I'd wager that anyone who ever tackled a big, important job was at some point seriously inclined to give up and quit. To lose heart. Losing heart is when difficulty brings discouragement. Losing heart is when conflict and/ or suffering in all it's variety drives you towards despair. Losing heart is when confrontation or an apparent lack of success makes you want to quit.

I have felt it. My heart has been hard to find at times. And my heart has taken great courage in those moments from realizing that the Apostle Paul himself was seriously inclined to lose heart (you see a good picture of his experience in 2 Corinthians 4).

One of the scary parts of losing heart is the temptations that come when one is feeling low. The apostle confesses this in verse 2: He has been tempted to do something very deceitful and underhanded. What is the great evil that has looked good when he is in danger of losing heart?

Tampering with God's Word.

Yes, when one is facing hostility or a lack of success, it is tempting to tamper with Scripture. It becomes easy to mess with the message. Paul is facing hostility: people want to kill him for his message. Paul is facing an apparent lack of success: many, especially his own ethnic people whom he loves so dearly, are violently rejecting his message. How easy it would be to change the message just a little here and there! How simple it would be to soften this or just ignore that! Maybe then people would be less angry. Maybe he would be better liked. Maybe more would believe a softer, kinder gospel!

But, thanks be to God, Paul refused that temptation. He insisted upon "an open statement of the truth." And the gospel we have in his writings is the real one.

O, I know that temptation when my heart is tired. And I have heard and read the voices of "advice." "Don't talk about the wrath of God." "Don't proclaim the sovereignty of God." "Don't describe substitutionary atonement." "Don't insist on the exclusivity of salvation found only in Jesus Christ."

Like Paul, I want to refuse this kind of tampering with the text of Scripture. I want to proclaim the truth openly! And here's the good news!

- The problem is not Scripture or it's proclamation. It's that people are blinded and cannot see the "light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4.4)."

- The fix to the problem does not ultimately depend on me. Only God can cause light to shine in hearts; but He is able and will certainly call His people to Himself! (verse 6).

So we proclaim not ourselves, but Christ (verse 5). He is the eternal glory and reward. Being faithful to Him is worth conflict, and knowing Him and bringing Him glory is the ultimate success.

2 Corinthians 4.16-18:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (ESV)


Live Earth Silliness

Jonah Goldberg's editorial about Live Earth reveals the ridiculousness that, sadly, is often normative for the "global warming" conversation. Here's my favorite part of what he has to say:

"Imagine how befuddled [rock fans] must have felt while listening to Dave Matthews sing the glories of cloth diapers. And, assuming they didn't hit the mute button when Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova came to the stage, one wonders what any climate-change ingenues might have made of her confession. The model, who nearly was killed in Thailand by the 2004 tsunami, explained that she 'didn't feel hate toward nature' because of the tsunami. 'I felt nature was screaming for help.'

It's nice that Nemcova didn't want to blame the messenger, but it's hard to feel a similar reluctance about Live Earth's impresario in chief. Former Vice President Al Gore recently penned a book in which he rails against the current 'assault on reason' by the evil forces of Earth-hating right-wingery. He repeatedly invokes science as if it's his exclusive property. But the soft paganism on display in Nemcova's faith-based assertion that a sub-oceanic earthquake was the result of Mother Nature sending us a message is typical of greenhouse gasbaggery."

I have yet to understand why an atheistic, materialistic view of the world gives any motivation for saving a species or planet. If we're all just cosmic accident, then where did all this meaning and ethic come from? However if we are made in the image of God, and creation declares His glory, we now have a very serious ethic and meaning for our stewardship of what God has made.

Christians and Global Warming

Click here to consider Russell Moore's helpful thoughts towards a Christian perspective on global warming and the environment.

Roman Catholic Conundrum

See Al Mohler's comments regarding the Roman Catholic's recent declaration regarding the nature of the church. Their statement, though not surprising and quite consistent with their historical beliefs, is profound because they have again proclaimed that we protestants are, in their view, not part of the church. This further illustrates that the differences between us are very deep and very real.

Mohler writes,

"The Roman Catholic Church does not deny that Christ is working redemptively through Protestant and evangelical churches, but it does deny that these churches which deny the authority of the papacy are true churches in the most important sense. The true church, in other words, is that church identified through the recognition of the papacy. Those churches that deny or fail to recognize the papacy are 'ecclesial Communities,' not churches 'in the proper sense.'

I appreciate the document's clarity on this issue. It all comes down to this -- the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Pope as the universal monarch of the church is the defining issue. Roman Catholics and Evangelicals should together recognize the importance of that claim. We should together realize and admit that this is an issue worthy of division. The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children, it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question."


Beating Addiction

I can't say that I know experientially how to beat an addiction. I don't have any chemical addictions (excepting perhaps caffeine - and I have no plans at this point to fight that one).

However, I do have some experience with something that looks very much like addiction. In fact, it may be the ultimate addiction: I have been addicted to sin.

I am continually bombarded with lusts and desires. I know they are wicked and terrible and bring nothing but death and destruction, but nonetheless I desire them and many times act upon those desires. My friends, this is part of the Christian experience (1 Peter 2.9-12, Romans 7.7-25).

"Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly (Proverbs 26.11)." Such is the experience of the sinner and the addict. In fact, it is an addiction to sin that brings addiction to chemicals, sex, gambling, or whatever else. So how is it beaten?

1. Core desires are changed.

This is what happens at conversion - I am freed from sin and freed to be satisfied in something greater than anything else: Jesus Christ. He is glory, and He is joy (2 Cor. 4.3-6, Psalm 16.11). It is here that the ultimate power of the addiction to sin is broken.

I am told by my friend, a past addict, that something like this happened for him in regard to drugs. The temptation still came around, but by the grace of God, the powerful hold broke, and his core desires were changed.

It is key to realize that a desire like this needs to be replaced with something else. And Jesus is the ultimate replacement. In the light of His glory, all others fade.

2. Practical steps are taken to ensure, as much as possible, that incoming temptations are defeated. This includes:

A. Removal from tempting circumstances and people.

The recovering alcoholic should never be at the corner bar with his drinking buddies. This is part of the reason rehab programs take people out of their normal surroundings. The addict isn't prepared to handle it.

B. Strong accountability from trusted sources.

Those fighting sin and addiction need to be known and confess their sins and habits to those who will confront them, support them, and help them reach a higher standard. We cannot do this alone.

C. Serious prayer and word. Our lives are transformed by the mercy of God through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12.1-2). We are in desperate need of the Spirit of God changing us through His Word. He can and will do it for His people.

Pray for core desire change. Pray for a renewed mind. And take practical steps to make it happen. I don't mean to pretend this is quick, simple, and easy. It isn't. But by God's grace, it is possible.


Puritan Profundity

You've got to read the puritans! Find them here.

Until then, meditate on this one question:

"Is he not a fool who minds his recreation more than his salvation?"

Thomas Watson wrote that sentence in 1668 (The Doctrine of Repentance). How many of us in Western culture need to take his words to heart today? We are fools. May we "mind" our salvation as the utmost priority.

Two Great Challenges for the Pastor

In a plug for the great puritan Thomas Watson's book, All Things For Good, it is said that Watson "believed he faced two great difficulties in his pastoral ministry. The first was making the unbeliever sad, in the recognition of his need for God's grace. The second was making the believer joyful in response to God's grace."

I think he's right, and there are so many implications. Let's settle for 2 in general:

1. May we pray for and plead with unbelievers that they may understand both the emptiness and terror of being without God's grace. May they catch a glimpse of the glory of God's grace as found in Christ and mourn the lack of it. And may we never assume that all in our churches are believers...

2. May we personally be filled with joy in the knowledge of God's grace on our behalf, and may all believers rejoice and live in the strength of such joy in the Lord. And may unbelievers become believers by God's grace through the witness of our lives and words.

These things are reality when the gospel is the "glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4.3-6)." To see His glory is to desire Him above all else. It is to mourn the lack of His grace or to rejoice in the presence of it. His glory and our joy in it is always the issue.


A Call To Commitment

Andrew Murray confronts us in his book, The Believer's Call to Commitment. He writes,

"In any judgment we pronounce, everything will depend upon the standard we use. Those who are content with the level of ordinary Christianity, though they may admit that their own commitment is lacking, will not be deeply convicted of its sinfulness or of the need and the possibility of any higher attainment. But, when we begin to see what the standard of the New Testament is, and its universal obligation, we see how far we come short of it. We become convicted of the great sin of unbelief in the power of Jesus to keep us from sin and to enable us to live a life pleasing to God. We find in God’s Word that no matter how impossible the standard is with men, it is not impossible to the God who works in us to will and to do by the power of His Holy Spirit. (17)"

May God call us to and enable us for deeper commitment to Him.