Monthly Archives: April 2007

Ideas That Do Not Square with the Christian Faith: "Coolness"

Many of my generation trip over themselves in pursuit of that elusive brand: “cool.” “He’s cool.” “She’s so progressive.” And on and on. But cool doesn’t really square with Christianity.

That’s not to say a Christian can’t, in the end, be branded as “cool.” Some are, and that’s fine. But it is to say that a Christian should not pursue coolness. A Christian should not seek to be a social alien in his culture, but he should not go to the opposite extreme and seek to be culturally cool. The core of Christianity is not image. It’s truth. The pursuit of cool is bound up with the pursuit of an image. One buys the right things, says the right things, and goes to the right places, all so that one can construct an image. In one sense, of course, we all play some part in constructing our image. But I think a Christian should do so as un-self-consciously as possible, to write badly.

Christians do not desire image. We desire heaven. While we don’t seek to be freakish in a social sense, we are also those who know ahead of time how much coolness matters in the end. Unlike the world, we realize that it will all vanish away at the extinguishing of our lives, and then it will never again matter, not for a single thread of a second. Coolness and image are two ideas (closely bound together) that have no place in heaven. Everyone will be mature in heaven, and so in actuality there won’t be a cool group. There will only be people as they are, people who worship Christ, not people who have constructed an image.

Being culturally aware can help us to make initial connections, but we should not deceive ourselves and think that coolness is what draws people to Christ. If people are drawn to communities that emphasize cultural relevance, and if they stick and become Christians, I’m guessing that the primary reason they did so was not because the church’s members listened to the right songs or wore the right clothes. I’m guessing it was because they saw authentic faith, actional faith, that loved them as they were and told them good news of salvation. We can deceive ourselves, I think, such that we think the trappings, the accessories, are the substance. They are not. Trappings may on some level help us to have more fluid initial conversations, but when it gets down to it, lost people will desire to know us better based on whether we make an attempt to understand them, to listen to them, and to love them. I play basketball and am aware of cultural media, but I realize that connection to these things simply helps me to connect with certain people better in an initial sense. It doesn’t guarantee fruitful witness or conversion on their part. Love and truth, however, do, when the will of God so desires. So even if you’re not terribly relevant to today’s youth generation, so long as you seek to love them and earnestly connect with them, you’ll be fine. You’ll also save yourself some loss in the day when the heavens and earth are recreated. Coolness, you see, like your possessions, is going to pass away, and we will never see it again.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Was Harold Ockenga?

I have been in the tunnel all week. The paper-writing tunnel, that is. Here’s a selection from the 33-page paper I just wrote about the Boston pastor Harold John Ockenga, a hugely important twentieth-century evangelical figure.

“Harold John Ockenga was born on June 6, 1905 to a lower middle-class family in Chicago. The only son of Herman and Angie Ockenga, Ockenga was raised in the Methodist church by his mother as his father was not yet a believer. From an early age, Ockenga had a spark that set him apart from other children. Biographer Harold Lindsell comments on an early money-making venture by the young man: “Harold inherited energy and ambition from his parents, and turned toward the production of income when most other boys turned away from it. When nine years old, he got a Saturday job delivering orders for a grocery store, working from 8:00 in the morning to 9:00 or 10:00 at night.” Ockenga applied this same intensity to academic and religious ends throughout his early life. He finished high school in three and a half years even as he worked throughout. Before his conversion at the end of his high school years, he attended no less six church services each Sunday.

Ockenga then attended Taylor University in Ohio, where he attained a 94 average and qualified for a Rhodes Scholarship nomination that proved unsuccessful. Ockenga developed a love for literature that led him to major in English. John Marion Adams reports that at Taylor, “His courses in English introduced him to a broader liberal arts curriculum. As an English major, Ockenga wrote papers on William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Dante Alighieri, Christopher Marlowe, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Victor Hugo.” Ockenga joined a preaching team while in college and decided to pursue the ministry as a vocation after graduation. He enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary and studied there for three years until he decided to follow his mentor, J. Gresham Machen, to newly founded Westminster Theological Seminary. Ockenga’s pattern of achievement continued during his seminary years. Entering a Greek contest in his second year at Princeton, Adams notes that “His exegesis of Romans 11:1-2 obtained both the first place finish and a one hundred dollar stipend.” During his time under Machen and other Reformed scholars, Ockenga acquired a love for reformed theology, intellectually engaged Christianity, and stout doctrinal preaching. Ockenga’s life was at this early stage stamped by a concern for the life of the mind and an ability to translate this concern into academic excellence and ministerial action.

The strength of Ockenga’s collegiate and seminary course led him to pursue both a master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh following graduation from Westminster. Ockenga labored on these degrees for over eight years as he pastored the Point Breeze Church in Pittsburgh from 1931 to 1936 and then moved on to the prestigious Park Street Church in Boston, MA. Park Street had a long and storied history, and the polished young pastor, though from the Midwest, fit the church well. Ockenga labored on his dissertation for the next four years, eventually earning his doctorate through his thesis on “Poverty as a Theoretical and Practical Problem of Government.” If this seems a strange dissertation choice for a pastor, Adams observes that during this period, “the study of Communism captivated him. Rumblings of communist enclaves surrounded him in Pittsburgh.” Ockenga’s thesis reflected interest in the greater social questions of his day, developed his ability to think and write cogently and persuasively, and rendered him a qualification that opened doors for the rest of his life.”

To read the whole paper, email me through my profile.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Quotation on Martyrdom

This from Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge):

To the inhabitants of the earth (13:8) it is obvious that the beast has defeated the martyrs. The political and military might of the beast, which seems to carry all before it and wins the admiration and the worship of the world, here seems triumphant even over the witnesses of Jesus.…But John’s message is that from the heavenly perspective things look quite different. The martyrs are the real victors. To be faithful in witness to the true God even to the point of death is not to become a victim of the beast, but to take the field against him and win. (90-91)

I am not one to go out and call for Christians to die on purpose, but I must say, this quotation caused me to think about the power of martyrdom. Too often, I think, we assume that the Gospel will be vindicated through ardent persuasion. There is a large place for this in Christianity, but I wonder if we haven’t lost sight of the power of martyrdom, and if we have fallen prey to thinking that martyrdom weakens our gospel witness. Have western comforts and the desire for safety caused us to think that life is gain, and dying is loss? Perhaps we need a reformation of thought–not necessarily so that we pursue martyrdom, but so that we are ready for it if it should come.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind

This is the title of an engrossing biography of Edward Carnell, one of the brightest minds of the twentieth-century evangelical scene. Written about twenty years ago by a New York University professor named Rudolph Nelson, and published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press, the book chronicles the life and thought of Carnell, a brilliant apologist and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, the alma mater of such men as John Piper, Tom Schreiner, and Bruce Ware.

Nelson is a former evangelical who writes with some sympathy for Carnell even as he subjects his thought to a thorough analysis. The resulting portrayal is masterful and, honestly, fun to read. If you enjoy intellectual biography, and you like both historical detail and philosophical discussion, you will enjoy The Making and Unmaking. I would recommend the book to Christian graduate students and intellectuals who regularly face scorn and hostility for holding to Christian commitments. I make this recommendation because Carnell–who obtained not one but two doctorates, one from Harvard and one from Boston University–himself faced such pressure. Sadly, Carnell drifted from his stout doctrinal moorings, and became by the end of his life an ecumenical Christian who lampooned fundamentalists. Surely the fundamentalists were eccentric on many points and theologically and intellectually underdeveloped, but most of their number were surely Christian. They loved the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel, and they contended for the faith until the end. We ought never to adopt a snotty or condescending posture to our brothers in the faith. At any rate, Carnell had by the end of his career accomodated to cultural thought, having allowed in some measure the demands of the academy to determine his theological program, not the demands of the gospel.

His life ended tragically and horribly. Carnell died of an overdose of sleeping pills in 1967. He was perhaps the sharpest mind of his generation, and he had endless talents to use for the Lord, but he shipwrecked his life and compromised his faith by the end. His story is fascinating, easy to read, but ultimately, very sad, for when we read biography, we always remember that we are not reading the story of some fictional character, however realistic. No, we are reading the story of a human being just like us, whose weaknesses could claim us just as they claimed our subject.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reading Books Instead of Blogs

What an odd title, I know, given that it adorns a blog. But my strange title is no accident. As I’ve been thinking some this past week about blogs, this thought occurred to me: we ought not to spend much time on blogs. Some time is fine, but I fear that much of the time we used to devote to reading books is now given to reading blogs.

I personally don’t read many blogs. I don’t have much time. I enjoy reading blogs when I can, but I am glad that my job and school commitments require me to do alot of book reading. Good books are worth far more time that television, the Internet, and magazines combined. In good books, authors take time to develop their thoughts, to make arguments, to push the reader to consider things he otherwise would not consider on a scale he otherwise he would not encounter. There are definitely blogs I’ve found that are worth reading (why else would I have a list of links?), but it is my practice to spend little time on these sites unless I have a great deal of free time. At that point, it’s fun to catch up. But on a regular basis, I try to limit my blog reading in order to allow myself to read as many books as I can in order to develop and delight the mind God has given me.

I’m not asking you to stop reading this blog. Please keep reading this blog. It’s fine to read blogs, I think, provided you’re being spiritually and intellectually fed by good books. But if reading this blog and other blogs stops you from reading, say, rich spiritual works, I would encourage you to drop your blog readership from a number of those sites. I hope you don’t have to, but if that means you drop consumed, I’ll be sad to see you go. If you must do so, though, I’ll understand, and I’ll be glad for you. After all, you’ll be plunging into a world of great depth and richness of discovery–the world of books.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

"The Most Beautiful Notes Ever Played in Music"

That’s the claim my former pastor, Mark Dever, made to me regarding Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, “The Emperor.” After listening to this song, I can say that it is indeed a stunning piece of music. Some music is so beautiful as to evoke tears from one’s eyes. I’m not going to say whether tears were in my eyes when listening to the song. I’ll leave you to guess–and to put some tears in your own eyes by buying this album. While you can, while there is still time in the day, buy this music, and expose yourself to a timeless work of incredible elegance. It is pieces like this that cause us to marvel at the mysterious and miraculous character of the music of this world God created. Sometimes, we find works so beautiful, we swear that they cannot be this-worldly; they must have come down to us from another realm. Perhaps it is so.

While you’re at it, get Allison Krauss’s latest album. Krauss sings sad and beautiful music unlike most anyone else out there. Her material is gentle, lilting, but altogether stirring. I cannot get enough of her latest project, Hundred Miles or More. You won’t either. I may actually have already recommended this, but if I have, I don’t care. This is such good music, it bears recommending twice. I might add that my wife first directed to this album, which for a time was playing all the way through for free at cmt.com. That was the first time I had ever been to cmt.com. Bethany’s quite a web user, and in fact, someday soon you may just see a consumed recommendation to read a new blog published by a certain beautiful intellectual.

I think that’s all for now. It’s been an eventful week here in America, hasn’t it? I think we as a nation feel tired. May the weekend bring rest and peace. Let’s pray that many will find true peace by visiting our local churches and hearing and responding to the gospel of grace.

Until Monday, be blessed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Supreme Shock: The Nation’s Court Upholds Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

I’m not sure if many people noticed due to the Virginia Tech tragedy and aftermath, but the Supreme Court upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion by a 5-4 decision. I’m not going to go deep into the workings of this case, but I did note that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a notorious swingman from right to left, actually wrote the majority opinion. In a world of surprises, this one is most welcome.

I find it quite surprising that Kennedy took the pro-life side in this particular case. This development led me to wonder a bit about what exactly is going on in the Supreme Court. I put my conspiracy theory powers to work and came up with the following. It is well-known that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are staunchly pro-life, persuasive, and brilliant. It is also well-known that Kennedy switches sides on opinions–sometimes he leans to the right side of the boat (literally), other times he leans to the left. He has fashioned himself in the role of the wild card, and he may be convinced, provided you make a good case to him. I’m wondering if Roberts and Alito aren’t warming to him personally and whispering to him intellectually, exerting a positive influence on him. It is thought, of course, that Kennedy may be against partial-birth abortion but overwhelmingly supportive of regular abortion. This may well be so, but it does not necessarily shoot down my theory. Kennedy has clearly recognized that partial-birth abortion is horrible (his majority opinion makes this clear), and I wonder if more time around such persuasive and winning presences as Roberts and Alito may sway him further. I may well be wrong, but we can hope that this is so.

The upholding of the partial-birth abortion ban is a reminder to pray for the end of abortion. If you are a Christian, pray often for this. Don’t simply pray about your family and friends and home life and work. Pray for major causes like this. Abortion is the chief evil of this society. Beseech God that He would remove it from us, and save countless lives, and end the horrific, abominable holocaust that is everywhere around us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Supreme Shock: The Nation’s Court Upholds Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

I’m not sure if many people noticed due to the Virginia Tech tragedy and aftermath, but the Supreme Court upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion by a 5-4 decision. I’m not going to go deep into the workings of this case, but I did note that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a notorious swingman from right to left, actually wrote the majority opinion. In a world of surprises, this one is most welcome.

I find it quite surprising that Kennedy took the pro-life side in this particular case. This development led me to wonder a bit about what exactly is going on in the Supreme Court. I put my conspiracy theory powers to work and came up with the following. It is well-known that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are staunchly pro-life, persuasive, and brilliant. It is also well-known that Kennedy switches sides on opinions–sometimes he leans to the right side of the boat (literally), other times he leans to the left. He has fashioned himself in the role of the wild card, and he may be convinced, provided you make a good case to him. I’m wondering if Roberts and Alito aren’t warming to him personally and whispering to him intellectually, exerting a positive influence on him. It is thought, of course, that Kennedy may be against partial-birth abortion but overwhelmingly supportive of regular abortion. This may well be so, but it does not necessarily shoot down my theory. Kennedy has clearly recognized that partial-birth abortion is horrible (his majority opinion makes this clear), and I wonder if more time around such persuasive and winning presences as Roberts and Alito may sway him further. I may well be wrong, but we can hope that this is so.

The upholding of the partial-birth abortion ban is a reminder to pray for the end of abortion. If you are a Christian, pray often for this. Don’t simply pray about your family and friends and home life and work. Pray for major causes like this. Abortion is the chief evil of this society. Beseech God that He would remove it from us, and save countless lives, and end the horrific, abominable holocaust that is everywhere around us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Supreme Shock: The Nation’s Court Upholds Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

I’m not sure if many people noticed due to the Virginia Tech tragedy and aftermath, but the Supreme Court upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion by a 5-4 decision. I’m not going to go deep into the workings of this case, but I did note that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a notorious swingman from right to left, actually wrote the majority opinion. In a world of surprises, this one is most welcome.

I find it quite surprising that Kennedy took the pro-life side in this particular case. This development led me to wonder a bit about what exactly is going on in the Supreme Court. I put my conspiracy theory powers to work and came up with the following. It is well-known that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are staunchly pro-life, persuasive, and brilliant. It is also well-known that Kennedy switches sides on opinions–sometimes he leans to the right side of the boat (literally), other times he leans to the left. He has fashioned himself in the role of the wild card, and he may be convinced, provided you make a good case to him. I’m wondering if Roberts and Alito aren’t warming to him personally and whispering to him intellectually, exerting a positive influence on him. It is thought, of course, that Kennedy may be against partial-birth abortion but overwhelmingly supportive of regular abortion. This may well be so, but it does not necessarily shoot down my theory. Kennedy has clearly recognized that partial-birth abortion is horrible (his majority opinion makes this clear), and I wonder if more time around such persuasive and winning presences as Roberts and Alito may sway him further. I may well be wrong, but we can hope that this is so.

The upholding of the partial-birth abortion ban is a reminder to pray for the end of abortion. If you are a Christian, pray often for this. Don’t simply pray about your family and friends and home life and work. Pray for major causes like this. Abortion is the chief evil of this society. Beseech God that He would remove it from us, and save countless lives, and end the horrific, abominable holocaust that is everywhere around us.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Living in an Unseen Storm: Christians and the Disturbed

I may return to the idea of Internet-based narcissism, but for today I want to write something about the Virginia Tech tragedy.

There is a great deal for a Christian to sift through in the wake of a happening like this. My primary thought is this: we who are saved and healed by Christ need to reach out to those who are unsaved and sick. It’s a simple thought, I know, but it’s a life-saving one, if we will translate thought into action.

Our action cannot ultimately prevent evil. Cho Seung-Hui is not a victim. He acted out of a sinful heart, and gave voice through his deeds to the evil that lurked within him, and that lurks within all of us. He is right now facing horrific judgment the likes of which you and I cannot imagine. I make no apology on his behalf. He was, like we all are, a monster. It’s just that some of us are stronger monsters than others.

To some degree, though, the action of monsters is determined by their peers. Many youth avoid disturbed people, and even mock them. If you are like me, you can quickly see that there is a very good chance that if this young man was in your classroom, and was your fellow student, you would have followed your classmates. Sure, if you’re a Christian, you would have felt pity for him. But if you’re like me, and you are weak and lazy and focused on much that does not matter, there is a good chance that you would not have acted on that pity. There is a good chance that you, and I, those who possess the only means of hope and healing in this forsaken world, would have cared more for our grades or our hair or next class or our next meal or our upcoming date. There is a good chance that we would have made such behavior a pattern in our lives, and so day after day, we would have passed up an opportunity to reach out to an extremely lonely, angry, troubled, sinful young man. The gospel would have stayed silent, and the storm would have kept raging. Unseen.

In a time of great sorrow, then, let us not let this lesson go unlearned. Let us reach out to the lost people around us, not for number’s sake, not so we can drive up baptisms, not so we can tell everyone we shared the gospel, but so that light–even a glimmer–will reach into the blackest darkness. Cho Seung-Hui is dead, but there are countless others like him, troubled, hurting, violently angry, disturbed. You and I may not see it, but darkness is out there, in the hearts of men, simmering, desperate, destructive. The good news is that the gospel is here as well, and it is the power of God unto salvation. It banishes the blackness, heals the hurting, saves the sinful. It is marvelously powerful, but it must be shared to be so.

Fellow believers, remember the story of Cho Seung-Hui. Remember him. In one sense, you will never see him. He is dead. But in another sense, you will surely see him. He will have a different face, a different look, and a different mask, but his distress is in most everyone around you. You will not see it, but it will be there. Reach out, brothers and sisters. Speak out. Share the gospel. Proclaim the truth. Minister to the sick. Love the unloved.

Banish the storm.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized