Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Week-est Link, October 31, 2008

1. Don’t let the polls affect your voting. So says no less an authority than Karl Rove.  If you initially disagree with him, think about 2000…and 2004…

2. The Henry Center is sponsoring a “Day with Dr. Don” at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA on December 8.  That’s their title, not ours.  He’ll be talking about the Bible’s center, among other important topics.  Sounds like a great event.

3. Good strong exhortation on the Resurgence blog to avoid lust and sin with the eyes. Read it and get a good stout reminder to this effect.  When can you and I not benefit from such a reminder?

4. Twenty ways to cultivate a culture of counseling in your church from 9Marks. Very helpful stuff.

5. Luis Palau, Christians, and a gay mayor are trying to transform Portland, OR. Interesting stuff.

6. Check out the highly stimulating Southern Seminary Christology panel. I found this a most helpful discussion and loved hearing biblical theologian Jim Hamilton’s comments.  To me, he is one of the most exciting young scholars around.  Visit his excellent blog. I only wish that Russ Moore had been on the panel. (HT: JT)

7. John Piper has just released a thoughtful video on issues relating to the election. I’ve heard that the second video down is especially helpful.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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Phil Ryken’s Excellent Talk and Interview Are Online

We at the Henry Center in Deerfield, IL are pleased to announce that the audio and video files for both the Scripture and Ministry lecture and interview with Dr. Phil Ryken of Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, PA are now posted and ready for viewing and reflection.  These events took place on October 1 and 2, 2008 at the TEDS campus in Deerfield, IL.

Video of “The Suffering and the Glory: Pastoral Ministry in Union with Christ”
Audio of “The Suffering and the Glory: Pastoral Ministry in Union with Christ”

Video of Ryken Interview (with Steve Farish and Owen Strachan)
Audio of Ryken Interview (with Steve Farish and Owen Strachan)

I would encourage readers of this blog to watch both the lecture and the interview.  Both are well-done visually and will stimulate much thought and reflection.  Pastors and seminarians in particular will benefit from Ryken’s outstanding meditation on what it means to suffer in ministry while in union with Christ.  Speaking quite honestly, I found Ryken’s lecture on this topic one of the most helpful and realistic (yet hopeful!) talks on pastoral ministry I’ve ever heard.

All media is free and ready to be distributed, linked to, and heard for the benefit of Christian faith and practice.

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A Humorous Look at Rhetoric from the 2008 Presidential Campaign

These satirical definitions of campaign rhetoric are from the Weekly Standard:

Energy Independence. What the candidates hope to achieve in ten years. Actually, more like twenty. Or maybe twenty-five. Wait–why don’t we make it thirty. Forty maybe? How does forty sound to you? Forty-five?

Experience. Unnecessary for presidents; absolutely necessary for vice presidents. Joe Biden, for example, has a tremendous amount of experience in being wrong. He was wrong about the Reagan defense buildup, wrong about the first Gulf war, says he was wrong about the second, and was definitely wrong about the surge. So much experience in being wrong is extremely rare. This is why he would make an excellent vice president.”

From “A Dictionary of Political Clichés” by Matthew Continetti.

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Are Laws Really That Powerful in Today’s World?

Have you heard claims from some that abortion rates have recently fallen due to Clinton-administration efforts?  And that laws, whether state or federal, have no bearing on abortion rates in America?  If you’re like many (most?) Americans, and you’ve heard both claims, here are some stats for you from an article by Michael New on the excellent The Public Discourse website, a project of pro-life Princeton scholar Robbie George and others:

“For instance, the 1990s decline in the abortion rate–a decline that is eagerly touted by these Obama and Kerry supporters–had virtually nothing to do with policies enacted by President Clinton, and much to do with the dramatic increase in the number of states that were enacting pro-life laws. The information below comes from NARAL’s Who Decides, an annual publication which provides information about abortion legislation:

- In 1992, virtually no states were enforcing informed-consent laws; by 2000, 27 states had informed-consent laws in effect.

- In 1992, no states had banned or restricted partial-birth abortion; by 2000, twelve states had bans or restrictions in effect.

- In 1992, only 20 states were enforcing parental-involvement statutes; by 2000, 32 states were enforcing these laws.”

What were the effects of these laws in certain states?  New provides a clear answer:

Case studies provide still more evidence of the effectiveness of state level pro-life legislation. Between 1992 and 2000 the overall abortion rate declined by 14 percent (among the 47 states reporting data both years). However, those states that were especially active in enacting pro-life legislation during the 1990s experienced even larger decreases in abortions.

Mississippi: Mississippi has probably been more active than any other state in enacting pro-life legislation. During the 1990s the legislature enacted an informed consent law, the most protective parental involvement law in the country (one which requires the consent of both parents), a partial birth abortion ban, and a sweeping conscience clause allowing any medical professional to opt out of participating in an abortion.

Abortion Rate Decline: 1992-2000: 52.07%

Pennsylvania: In the 1980s the Pennsylvania state legislature passed the Abortion Control Act, signed into law by the late Governor Robert P. Casey. It was one of the most comprehensive informed consent laws and included a parental consent law (It was the law the Supreme Court ruled on in its Casey vs. Planned Parenthood decision in 1992). This law took effect sometime after the Supreme Court’s decision.

Abortion Rate Decline: 1992-2000: 23.50%

South Carolina: During the 1990s South Carolina passed a partial birth abortion ban, a parental consent law, an informed consent law, and an act regulating abortion clinics.

Abortion Rate Decline 1992-2000: 33.57%”

I am so thankful for this website, the institution it represents, and the excellent, fraud-busting work it’s doing.  I would encourage you to check The Public Discourse website in order to stay informed and rightly informed on current issues of great social importance.  The scholarship is nothing less than a model of clear, intelligent, powerfully persuasive writing and thinking.

In the end, this article pretty well dispels any argument to the effect that abortion laws–or other laws, for that matter–have little effect on the day-to-day life of citizens.  To the contrary, it seems that when the law speaks, the culture follows.  Remember this helpful article from Michael New the next time someone speaks to the contrary.

Also, far more importantly, let this piece of research and others shape the way you vote in the upcoming election.  Your vote–and the vote of those you elect–is not weak.  It potentially has tremendous power both to bless and to curse.  Do not fall into the trap of apathy and think that your small efforts–and those of government representatives–have no effect.  They certainly had an effect in saving the lives of hundreds and even thousands of babies in the states referenced above.  I hope that many more Christians will realize this, will prioritize the culture of life, and will vote so as to protect the family, the rights of individuals, and the lives of thousands–millions!–of innocent unborn children.

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Walking the Sawdust Trail: The Altar-Call and its Use in American Evangelicalism

“The pastor closes his sermon: “The Holy Spirit bids you come. The congregation, praying, hoping, expectant, bids you come. On the first note of the first stanza, come down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles. May angels attend you. May the Holy Spirit of God encourage you. May the presence of Jesus walk by your side as you come, while we stand and while we sing.” And come they do. Week after week, in churches all across the America—and other parts of the world—scenes like this play out at the end of thousands of sermons. The congregation stands and sings “Just As I Am” or “Come Just as You Are.” Sinners walk the aisle and pray for salvation.”

So begins a recent article on the excellent Church History website by TEDS historian Douglas A. Sweeney and TEDS PhD student Mark C. Rogers entitled “Walk the Aisle.” I would encourage you to read the very nicely written and researched study and to reflect on it (and while you’re at it, check out and support Church History).

Here’s a nice section on the 19th-century development of the practice:

“Many people consider Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) to be the “father” of the altar call. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1823, Finney did not begin giving public invitations until long after Methodists had made the altar call a regular part of their camp meetings. Finney, however, did more than anyone to establish altar calls as an accepted and popular practice in American evangelicalism. Finney regularly called anxious sinners to the front of the congregation to sit on an “anxious bench.” There, they would receive prayer and often be preached to directly. The altar call was also one of Finney’s famous “new measures.” He was convinced that ministers could produce revival by using the right methods, and that the altar call “was necessary to bring [sinners] out from among the mass of the ungodly to a public renunciation of their sinful ways.”

The even-handed conclusion of the article:

“Despite criticism, the altar call continues. It has become a permanent fixture in American evangelicalism. One need only watch a few minutes of a Billy Graham crusade on TV to recognize that what was once a “new measure” has become mainstream. Graham’s distinctive voice calls out, “Up there—down there—I want you to come. If you are with friends and relatives, they will wait for you. The buses will wait for you. Christ went all the way to the Cross because He loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps and give your life to Him.” While the venue has changed from the backwoods of Kentucky to modern football stadiums, and the mode of transportation has evolved from covered wagons to charter buses, the altar call has endured. It is featured even today in the stories of countless Christians who met Christ when they stood up, stepped out, and walked the aisle.”

I used to get very exercised about things like the altar-call.  I’ve toned down a bit, which tends to happen with a bit of seasoning.  This is not to say that I would personally use an altar call (I don’t when I preach) or that I would encourage others to do so (I would not for theological reasons).  With that said, though, I am aware that many people who are far more evangelistically faithful and fruitful do use the altar call and see many more people truly come to Christ than I ever will.

If one would still seek to think carefully through the practice–we must do so, after all, and should never blindly accept tradition–one can also give thanks for the many souls who past and present evangelists have led to the mercy seat of God.  Whether we find Christ while walking a church aisle or sitting in a bar, desolate and lonely, we know that we Christians will all walk down a very different path in a day that is soon to come.  Here, we tread on sawdust or hardwood; there, we will walk on gold, and worship the King who staggered up a hard and bitter road to bring us to our rest.

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Rebuked by a Smile: Children and the Lessons They Teach Us

Life gets busy.  This is a fundamental reality for many of us.  Indeed, many of us make our lives too busy.  I was reminded of this when I read a recent USA Today piece on the actress Tina Fey, whose comedic work I generally enjoy.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“How Fey balances what now amounts to two jobs, plus marriage and motherhood, and writing an upcoming humor non-fiction book, is a question none of her co-stars or friends can answer. Friend and fellow SNL-er Amy Poehler attributes it to “cloning and time travel.”

30 Rock writer Robert Carlock says, “It’s kind of unprecedented what she’s trying to pull off. I guess she doesn’t sleep? She has those early calls and works all day. She runs out and gets her kid from school and runs back for the next shot. She does do it all.”

Jack McBrayer, who plays perky Kenneth the page, calls her a workhorse. “Yesterday, she had to do several scenes, do a taped episode of Letterman and go back to writing the next episode. She doesn’t stop.”

Those who read this blog will know my stance on gender roles and the balance of work and motherhood.  That is not the issue I’m interested in after reading this particular piece.  Rather, I’m concerned with Fey’s drive to produce work.  What, exactly, prompts a person to work full-time for Saturday Night Live, full-time for 30 Rock, and then take up the duties of wife and mother?  All this between tapings of Letterman.  (Though I must say, I’ve always found him remarkably accommodating to my schedule.)

Many of us know people like Tina Fey.  Actually, many of us Americans are naturally oriented to Fey’s frenetic pace.  Living in a market-driven world consumed with the bottom line, we have adopted habits that, quite simply, are not healthy.  I’m not referring to work that we need to do.  There are seasons of life that can be very demanding, and there’s no other solution but to work, and to work hard.

But many of us also desire and embrace a way of life that is detrimental to our physical, psychological and spiritual health.  And–here is the $64,000 question–for what?  For what, exactly?  Why are we so driven?  What does it all accomplish?  Or, to ask a better question, what does our next little bit of accomplishment cause us to sacrifice in other areas?

I am both saddened and challenged by the Fey article.  I can see a similar ambitiousness in my own heart, and I must admit that I am repulsed by it.  A good helping of ambition is no bad thing, of course, and many of us could use more of it.  When carried by the right motives, God often blesses it, as the Bible and church history make clear (see numerous texts from Proverbs like 6:6 and Matthew 25:14-30 and the examples of men like Whitefield and Wesley).  Yet our ambitiousness can often blend with naked selfishness and create a pattern of life that is about the advancement of the kingdom of God, yes, but is also about the advancement of the kingdom of self.  I’ve found this particularly true in the academic realm.  In the same way that consumer capitalism can reward greed, the academic world can reward selfishness.  One is measured in large part by one’s publishing, and so if one works hard to publish, one may well be lavishly rewarded.  But much of this endeavor can be fueled as much by selfishness and pure ambition as by gospel concerns.

I was reminded of all of this in a potent way when I sat my daughter on my lap this past weekend.  The house was quiet, the chores were done, and I was free to enjoy some time with my daughter.  As we sat together, Ella Rose smiled at me.  She melted me with her first smile, but then she did it again.  This process repeated itself for quite some time before she fell into a contented sleep.  As she slept, I found myself quite stirred by the past few minutes.  I was rebuked by my daughter’s smile.  In those sweet moments, I was rebuked for my pride, my selfishness, my naked ambition, and for the harm that these sins of my heart could wreak on my little girl.

In these first days of her life, my wife and I are everything to Ella.  We are her world.  Yet it is quite possible for me in coming days to emulate the pattern of many driven people, Christian or otherwise, and to fade out of her life, swept away by a schedule of my choosing that involves considerable time away from home.  One wants to scrupulously avoid sweeping generalization, and thus to leave a significant place for a busy life lived to the glory of God, but one also wants to be aware of a temptation common to man.  It is easy to drift away from our families, friends, and churches, and to lose ourselves in a world made by ambition and selfish bent.  I can see this in myself, I can see it in others, and I am determined to fight it.

I know that I will lead a busy life even if I am a balanced person.  Many–most–of us will.  But this does not excuse us from the need to love our families and to give them great chunks of our time, to regularly sacrifice for them.  If we do not do so, perhaps the Lord will rebuke us.  It may not be through a resounding sermon or a sharp argument, though.  It may be through a baby’s sweet smile, a laugh that echoes in our ears, a moment that goes as swiftly as it comes.

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The Week-est Link, October 24, 2008

1. The new 9Marks issue is online.  Go to the website and read it and you’re guaranteed to learn a lot about church-based counseling.  You can also access the PDF if you like.  I wrote a review published in this issue about a book called The Incredible Shrinking Church.

2. Charles Krauthammer (the man whose name perfectly fits his work) has just published a powerful pro-McCain column that, if not persuasive to all, has some strong points that need to be considered.  Here’s a potent snatch:

“The case for McCain is straightforward. The financial crisis has made us forget, or just blindly deny, how dangerous the world out there is. We have a generations-long struggle with Islamic jihadism. An apocalyptic soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. A nuclear-armed Pakistan in danger of fragmentation. A rising Russia pushing the limits of revanchism. Plus the sure-to-come Falklands-like surprise popping out of nowhere.

Who do you want answering that phone at 3 a.m.? A man who’s been cramming on these issues for the past year, who’s never had to make an executive decision affecting so much as a city, let alone the world? A foreign policy novice instinctively inclined to the flabbiest, most vaporous multilateralism (e.g., the Berlin Wall came down because of “a world that stands as one“), and who refers to the most deliberate act of war since Pearl Harbor as “the tragedy of 9/11,” a term more appropriate for a bus accident?”

3. The Ambassador, godfather of Christian rap, has a new cd out entitled “The Chop-Chop.” I’ve heard it, and can recommend it to Christian rap fans out there.  Not my favorite Ambassador stuff, but still quite solid.

4.  Can you tell the storyline of the Bible?  Vitamin Z provides a book list that can help you work toward that end.  Helpful post.

5. Funny bit on The Onion website fake-previewing the Charlie Rose show: “During an interview with Michael Bloomberg, the ubiquitous black background comes tumbling down to reveal that Charlie has been taping the show in his mother’s basement for the past 17 years.”

–Have a great weekend, all.

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David Wells on the Identity of a Postmodern Person

David Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary will be speaking at Trinity’s ATO Chapel in Deerfield, IL next Wednesday, October 29th at 3pm on behalf of the Henry Center’s Scripture & Ministry Lecture Series.  His free lecture is entitled, “How, Then, Should We Preach to Postmodern Persons?”

In anticipation of this stimulating lecture, the Center asked him a teaser question:

What is a postmodern person?

“Postmodern is how we are speaking about our current cultural mood.  While in some ways we become more and more modern—more technological advances, more information, more medical breakthroughs, and more things—in terms of a world-and-life view, we are adrift.

The old Enlightenment paradigm with its belief in unaided, naturalistic reason, human potential, and the prospect of progress have all collapsed.  In the way we think about our lives, we are not modern but postmodern because we think about ourselves differently from what was true up though the 1960’s.”

For more such insight, join me and other curious students of theology on next Wednesday, October 29th at 3pm in the ATO chapel for a free lecture.

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Theology 101: Guidance on Vocation, Truth, and Difficult Issues of the Christian Faith

In recent days my church, Crossway Community Church of Bristol, WI has posted a number of talks that I think will be of help to Christians and non-Christians who want to understand certain theological matters better.  Here are a couple listings of some of these resources.

Crossway Books Editor Justin Taylor on a Theology of Vocation (A Theology of Vocation, Parts One and Two)

Owen Strachan on Truth for Everyone (click on “How Can There Be Truth That Is True for Everyone?”)

The Difficult Issues Series (hour-long talks on a variety of apologetic questions; click as you see fit)

In addition, you might want to check out some sermons that a group of TEDS PhD students, including myself, recently preached at Grace Church of Walworth, WI. Scroll down a ways and you’ll see my name a couple of places.  If you’re interested in hearing my preaching, that should give you a taste.  I would also highly recommend the sermons of Andy Naselli, Jared Compton, and Mark Rogers, my fellow PhD students and fine young preachers all.

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Tim Keller on Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture

Manhattan pastor Tim Keller recently addressed questions related to the unique challenges of ministry in our day in an online interview.  I found the link through Florida pastor’s Tullian Tchividjian’s excellent blog.

Here’s what Keller had to say about the need for revival in our day (remarks published on Darryl Dash’s blog):

“We live in a society in which revival is necessary. As Peter Berger shows in The Heretical Imperative in contemporary pluralistic societies, everyone who believes a faith has to make an individual choice to believe it. There are no longer inherited, authoritative faith traditions. Whether you raise a child Lutheran, Muslim or Baptist the child at some point will have to choose to make the faith of his parents his or her own. In other words, they will have to have a conversion experience.

When revival breaks out through a recovery of the gospel, three things happen:

  1. nominal church members realize they’d never been converted;
  2. sleepy, lethargic Christians are energized and renewed;
  3. outsider non-Christians are attracted into the beautified worship, community and lives of the converted and renewed church members.

That’s how it works. We need it.”

Here are Keller’s interesting comments on the relationship between Christ and culture:

“The second deeper issue is the relationship of Christ to culture. The old Niebuhr book shows how the Church has never come to consensus on how it should relate to a culture that is sharply non- or anti-Christian. The evangelical Church is bitterly divided into groups that say, either we should change the culture “one heart at a time” by evangelizing individuals, or we should change the culture by penetrating the cultural institutions with Christians operating out of a biblical world-view.

Others say we will only affect the culture if the Church contextualizes—connects to people’s needs and concerns and serves the poor and needy—while still others say we shouldn’t be trying to change culture at all; we should just “be the Church,” because trying to change the culture inevitably corrupts the Church into the image of the culture.

Until we can break through these warring views and factions we are in trouble. Don Carson’s recent book Christ and Culture Revisited is a good starting point because he shows that each approach has a lot of biblical warrant, but each approach, taken as the exclusive one, is seriously imbalanced. I believe the different approaches are actually responding more to other parts of the Christian Church than they are to the world. They are defining themselves as being “not like those Christians over there” and so are falling into what Don calls “reductionisms.””

I appreciate that a pastor like Tim Keller is able to think critically about theological trends, to practice a spiritually and theologically driven ministry, and to lead the way in engaging people of our age with the gospel.  Though few possess Keller’s intellectual and ministerial gifts, many of us can emulate his drive to bring the unchanging gospel to a changing world.  Many of us can pray and work for conversions in our churches, and many of us can carefully consider culture and engage it from a Christian perspective.

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