Sunday, July 31, 2011


God’s Dupes? by Ravi Zacharias

Is the Christian faith intellectual nonsense? Are Christians deluded?
If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable,” writes Sam Harris about the 2004 tsunami in Letter to a Christian Nation. “The only thing inscrutable here is that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think this is the height of moral wisdom” (p. 48). In his article “God’s Dupes,” Harris argues, “Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music” (The Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2007). Ironically, Harris’ first book is entitled The End of Faith, but it should really be called “The End of Reason,” as it demonstrates again that the mind that is alienated from God in the name of reason can become totally irrational.
Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins suggests that the idea of God is a virus, and we need to find software to eradicate it. Somehow, if we can expunge the virus that led us to think this way, we will be purified and rid of this bedeviling notion of God, good, and evil (“Viruses of the Mind,” 1992). Along with Christopher Hitchens and a few others, these atheists are calling for the banishment of all religious belief. “Away with this nonsense!” is their battle cry. In return, they promise a world of new hope and unlimited horizons once we have shed this delusion of God. 
I have news for them — news to the contrary. The reality is that the emptiness that results from the loss of the transcendent is stark and devastating, philosophically and existentially. Indeed, the denial of an objective moral law, based on the compulsion to deny the existence of God, results ultimately in the denial of evil itself. Furthermore, one would like to ask Dawkins, are we morally bound to remove that virus? Somehow he himself is, of course, free from the virus and can therefore input our moral data. 
In an attempt to escape what they call the contradiction between a good God and a world of evil, atheists try to dance around the reality of a moral law (and hence, a moral lawgiver) by introducing terms like “evolutionary ethics.” The one who raises the question against God in effect plays God while denying He exists. Now, one may wonder: Why do you actually need a moral lawgiver if you have a moral law? The answer is because the questioner and the issue he or she questions always involve the essential value of a person. You can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question. In a nutshell, positing a moral law without a moral lawgiver would be equivalent to raising the question of evil without a questioner. So you cannot have a moral law unless the moral law itself is intrinsically woven into personhood. This means that an intrinsically worthy person must exist if the moral law itself is to be valued. And that person can only be God.
Our inability to alter what is actual frustrates our grandiose delusions of being sovereign over everything. Yet the truth is that we cannot escape the existential rub by running from a moral law. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Is it all right, for example, to mutilate babies for entertainment? Every reasonable person will say “no.” We know that objective moral values do exist. Therefore, God must exist. Examining those premises and their validity presents a very strong argument. 
The prophet Jeremiah noted, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jer. 17:9). Similarly, the apostle James said, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25). 
The world does not understand what the absoluteness of the moral law is all about. Some get caught, some don’t get caught. Yet who of us would like our heart exposed on the front page of the newspaper today? Have there not been days and hours when, like Paul, you’ve struggled within yourself and said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15, 24). Each of us knows this tension and conflict within if we are honest with ourselves. 
Therefore, as Christians, we ought to take time to reflect seriously upon the question: “Has God truly wrought a miracle in my life? Is my own heart proof of the supernatural intervention of God?” In the West we go through these seasons of new-fangled theologies. The whole question of “lordship” plagued our debates for some time as we asked if there was such a thing as a minimalist view of conversion? “We said the prayer and that’s it.” Yet how can there be a minimalist view of conversion when conversion itself is a maximal work of God’s grace? “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). 
If you were proposing marriage to someone, what would the one receiving the proposal say if you said, “I want you to know this proposal changes nothing about my allegiances, my behavior, and my daily life; however, I do want you to know that should you accept my proposal, we shall theoretically be considered married. There will be no other changes in me on your behalf.” In a strange way we have minimized every sacred commitment and made it the lowest common denominator. What does my new birth mean to me? That is a question we seldom ask. Who was I before God’s work in me, and who am I now?
The immediate results of coming to know Jesus Christ are the new hungers and new pursuits that are planted within the human will. I well recall that dramatic change in my own way of thinking. There were new longings, new hopes, new dreams, new fulfillments, but most noticeably, there was a new will to do what was God’s will. Thomas Chalmers characterized this change that Christ brings as “the expulsive power of a new affection.” This new affection of heart — the love of God wrought in us through the Holy Spirit — expels all other old seductions and attractions. The one who knows Christ begins to see that his or her own misguided heart is impoverished and in need of constant submission to the will of the Lord — spiritual surrender. Yes, we are all gifted with different personalities, but humility of spirit and the hallmark of conversion is to see one’s own spiritual poverty. Arrogance and conceit ought to be inimical to the life of the believer.  A deep awareness of one’s own new hungers and longings is a convincing witness to God’s grace within.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - TexasFlood - Live In Japan

Brian Regan - On Aging - Late Show with David Letterman

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Man’s Ability to Choose God

It is ironic that in the same chapter, indeed in the same context, in which our Lord teaches the utter necessity of rebirth to even see the kingdom, let alone choose it, non-Reformed views find one of their main proof texts to argue that fallen man retains a small island of ability to choose Christ. It is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
What does this famous verse teach about fallen man’s ability to choose Christ? The answer, simply, is nothing. The argument used by non-Reformed people is that the text teaches that everybody in the world has it in their power to accept or reject Christ. A careful look at the text reveals, however, that it teaches nothing of the kind. What the text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. Whoever does A (believes) will receive B (everlasting life). The text says nothing, absolutely nothing, about who will ever believe. It says nothing about fallen man’s natural moral ability. Reformed people and non-Reformed people both heartily agree that all who believe will be saved. They heartily disagree about who has the ability to believe.
Some may reply, “All right. The text does not explicitly teach that fallen men have the ability to choose Christ without being reborn first, but it certainly implies that.” I am not willing to grant that the text even implies such a thing. However, even if it did it would make no difference in the debate. Why not? Our rule of interpreting Scripture is that implications drawn from the Scripture must always be subordinate to the explicit teaching of Scripture. We must never, never, never reverse this to subordinate the explicit teaching of Scripture to possible implications drawn from Scripture. This rule is shared by both Reformed and non-Reformed thinkers.
If John 3:16 implied a universal natural human ability of fallen men to choose Christ, then that implication would be wiped out by Jesus’ explicit teaching to the contrary. We have already shown that Jesus explicitly and unambiguously taught that no man has the ability to come to him without God doing something to give him that ability, namely drawing him.
Fallen man is flesh. In the flesh he can do nothing to please God. Paul declares, “The fleshly mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:78).
We ask, then, “Who are those who are ‘in the flesh’?” Paul goes on to declare: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). The crucial word here is if. What distinguishes those who are in the flesh from those who are not is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No one who is not reborn is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. People who are in the flesh have not been reborn. Unless they are first reborn, born of the Holy Spirit, they cannot be subject to the law of God. They cannot please God.
God commands us to believe in Christ. He is pleased by those who choose Christ. If unregenerate people could choose Christ, then they could be subject to at least one of God’s commands and they could at least do something that is pleasing to God. If that is so, then the apostle has erred here in insisting that those who are in the flesh can neither be subject to God nor please him.
We conclude that fallen man is still free to choose what he desires, but because his desires are only wicked he lacks the moral ability to come to Christ. As long as he remains in the flesh, unregenerate, he will never choose Christ. He cannot choose Christ precisely because he cannot act against his own will. He has no desire for Christ. He cannot choose what he does not desire. His fall is great. It is so great that only the effectual grace of God working in his heart can bring him to faith.

Excerpted from Chosen by God.

Oscar Peterson - Hymn To Freedom

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Testify - Live In Japan

Live at Shiba Yubinchukin Stadium Japan, Jan 24th, 1985

Welcome To Austerity

Stott: Substitution is Not a “Theory of the Atonement”

John Stott”s The Cross of Christ is one of those books every Christian should read. While there are a few points here and there that I wouldn’t agree with (e.g., impassibility), the book as a whole is a masterful treatise on the glories of the cross.
In chapter 7 Stott looks at the four principal New Testament images of salvation, taken from the shrine (propitiation), the market (redemption), the court of law (justification) and the home (reconciliation). This beautiful chapter on “The Salvation of Sinners” ends with a masterful summary of the four images (198-99).
First, each highlights a different aspect of our human need. Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us, redemption our captivity to sin, justification our guilt, and reconciliation our enmity against God and alienation from him. These metaphors do not flatter us. They expose the magnitude of our need.
Second, all four images emphasize that the saving initiative was taken by God in his love. It is he who has propitiated his own wrath, redeemed us from our miserable bondage, declared us righteous in his sight and reconciled us to himself.
Stott shows that texts like 1 John 4:10; Luke 1:68; Rom. 8:33; and 2 Cor. 5:18 teach this precious truth.
Third, all four images plainly teach that God’s saving work was achieved through the bloodshedding, that is, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.
Again, Stott reminds us of the most important texts that make this point: Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20.
The chapter concludes with a much needed paragraph for our day. Everyone who marginalizes penal substitution by calling it a “theory,” everyone who minimizes this doctrine by making it just one aspect of the atonement, everyone who shies away from this teaching in a misguided effort to rescue the love of God, everyone who undermines this essential truth by refusing to declare it confidently in plain, unambiguous terms, should pay careful attention to this concluding paragraph:
So substitution is not a “theory of the atonement.” Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust in the Substitute.
Kevin DeYoung

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Couldn't Stand the Weather - Live In Japan

Live at Shiba Yubinchukin Stadium Tokyo, Japan Jan 24th, 1985

Adam and Christ

'. . . full of grace and truth.' -John 1:14

Luther, preaching on this text--
This world is a veritable vale of tears, an abode of sadness, a cheerless desert; for we behold Adam and all men full of God's disfavor, displeasure, wrath, curse, and condemnation. Adam is not full of grace.

By contrast, nothing but pure grace, love, peace, joy, and favor is evident in Christ. All of these are lavishly and profusely His, since He is the dear Child of the heavenly Father. Therefore He is a far different man from Adam. The comparison between the two is like that of devil and angel. (LW, 22:119)
Dane Ortlund

Were Going To Crash

New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism

NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth's atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.
Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA's Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA's Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.
"The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show," Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. "There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans."
In addition to finding that far less heat is being trapped than alarmist computer models have predicted, the NASA satellite data show the atmosphere begins shedding heat into space long before United Nations computer models predicted.
The new findings are extremely important and should dramatically alter the global warming debate.
Scientists on all sides of the global warming debate are in general agreement about how much heat is being directly trapped by human emissions of carbon dioxide (the answer is "not much"). However, the single most important issue in the global warming debate is whether carbon dioxide emissions will indirectly trap far more heat by causing large increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds. Alarmist computer models assume human carbon dioxide emissions indirectly cause substantial increases in atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds (each of which are very effective at trapping heat), but real-world data have long shown that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing as much atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds as the alarmist computer models have predicted.
The new NASA Terra satellite data are consistent with long-term NOAA and NASA data indicating atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds are not increasing in the manner predicted by alarmist computer models. The Terra satellite data also support data collected by NASA's ERBS satellite showing far more longwave radiation (and thus, heat) escaped into space between 1985 and 1999 than alarmist computer models had predicted. Together, the NASA ERBS and Terra satellite data show that for 25 years and counting, carbon dioxide emissions have directly and indirectly trapped far less heat than alarmist computer models have predicted.
In short, the central premise of alarmist global warming theory is that carbon dioxide emissions should be directly and indirectly trapping a certain amount of heat in the earth's atmosphere and preventing it from escaping into space. Real-world measurements, however, show far less heat is being trapped in the earth's atmosphere than the alarmist computer models predict, and far more heat is escaping into space than the alarmist computer models predict.
When objective NASA satellite data, reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, show a "huge discrepancy" between alarmist climate models and real-world facts, climate scientists, the media and our elected officials would be wise to take notice. Whether or not they do so will tell us a great deal about how honest the purveyors of global warming alarmism truly are.
James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Common Place But Extreme Overraction to Brown Spots on Bananas

So What - Ron Carter / Kenny Barron / Lewis Nash Trio

Etta James - The Very Thought of You

Congress Wants To Oversee Happy Meals But Refuses To Deal With The Federal Debt

If You Can Only Read One of John Stott’s Books

When a significant figure dies, for whatever reasons, his or her book sales often see an immediate spike.
Some readers of this blog may feel that way, having come of age and come to Christ after John Stott had already retired from public ministry and wanting to taste for yourself the fruits of his labors.
If you feel that impulse, I’d encourage you to consider Stott’s The Cross of Christ, republished a few years ago by InterVarsity Press in a 20th anniversary edition.
Endorsers can sometimes sound a bit hyperbolic, but you can tell from the commendations below that there is an earnestness and realism about the message and the ministry of this masterpiece.
“John Stott rises grandly to the challenge of the greatest of all themes. All the qualities that we expect of him—biblical precision, thoughtfulness and thoroughness, order and method, moral alertness and the measured tread, balanced judgment and practical passion—are here in fullest evidence. This, more than any book he has written, is his masterpiece.”
—J. I. Packer, Regent College
“Rarely does a volume of theology combine six cardinal virtues, but John Stott’s The Cross of Christ does so magnificently. It says what must be said about the cross; it gently but firmly warns against what must not be said; it grounds its judgments in biblical texts, again and again; it hierarchizes its arguments so that the main thing is always the main thing; it is written with admirable clarity; and it is so cast as to elicit genuine worship and thankfulness from any thoughtful reader. There are not many ‘must read’ books—books that belong on every minister’s shelf, and on the shelves of thoughtful laypersons who want a better grasp of what is central in Scripture—but this is one of them.”
—D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Justin Taylor

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jimi Hendrix Stephen Stills And Johnny Winter -RARE- The Things That I Used To Do

Eric Clapton & Jimmy Page / Draggin' My Tail

Dennis Miller Rips Harry Reid

NFL Season Saved But Not The Economy

Francis Schaeffer on How to Read His Books (or, How the Gospel Saved Him as a Christian)

The key is to realize that they were born out of his conversion, his dark night of the soul, and his rediscovery of the gospel as a Christian:
The way to read my books, then, is to realize that I came through a real struggle in those early days, and I’ve tried to be honest in my study ever since. I try to approach every problem as though I were not a Christian and see what the answer would be.
Later on in my ministry I faced another crisis that equally influenced the writing of my books. It came after I had already been a pastor for ten years in the U.S. and a missionary to Europe for five years. Throughout this period one thing was dinned into my thinking: “Why,” I asked, “is there so little reality among orthodox evangelical Christians? Why is there so little beauty in the way Christians deal with one another?”
This led to doubts about the reality of spiritual things in my own life. I realized that although I had been studying for years and although I had been active in Christian ministry and although I was becoming more and more known in certain Christian circles, the reality of my own spiritual life was diminished. Somehow I had lost what I had when I first became a Christian.
For about two months I walked out in the Swiss mountains. When it rained, I walked in the old hayloft above our chalet. And as I prayed, I went all the way back to my agnosticism. With as much honesty as I could, I asked myself, “Was I right in becoming a Christian as a young man?” The unreality I had found in the Christian world, the ugliness I saw in Christian relationships, the fact that Christians were not able to talk to twentieth-century people—all these things made me ask, “Was I right?”
And finally the sun came out. I saw that my earlier decisions to step from agnosticism to Bible-believing Christianity was right, and I also discovered that I had been missing something vital in my biblical understanding. It was this: that the finished work of Christ on the cross, back there in time and space, has a moment-by-moment meaning. Christ meant His promise to be taken literally when He said that He would bear His fruit through us if we allowed Him to do so, not only in our religious life but in all of our life. Christ meant to be Lord of my whole life. This brought my life to a great shattering moment. What began as struggle ended in a song. Without that crisis, I could never have written True Spirituality, for that book is the outcome of that personal struggle.
—Francis A. Schaeffer, “Why and How I Write My Books,” Eternity Magazine, vol. 24 (March 1973): 64f.
Justin Taylor

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

B B King - Just a little bit of Love

Was Norway Terrorist Anders Behring Breivik a Christian?

In connection with the youth camp massacre on Friday that left 85 people dead, Norwegian police have arrested a man Saturday, whom they describe as a “right-wing fundamentalist Christian,” Hmm Fundamentalist? I think perhaps they are using the wrong word. If anyone murders in the name of Christ it is not because they are taking the Bible too seriously, but because they are not taking the Bible seriously enough. Many people in Norway think they are Christian simply because they are Norwegian. Don't get me wrong, I believe as fallen human beings any of us are capable of the most heinous atrocities. So, I would argue, that human nature is the cause rather than the teachings of the Bible.
I predict the media may be too quick to jump on this one. This is because the teachings of Christ are primary to the Christian faith, especially of the "fundamentalist kind, but it does not include or condone the taking of human life for any reason. If, by the grace of God, you live by Jesus' teachings, you do not murder another human being, period, regardless of their ideology. Killing may be fundamental in other religions and ideologies, but certainly not in the Christian faith! In many ideologies, the greater the degree of fundamentalism the greater danger of violence it poses on society. In Christianity, the more conservative the theology the less likelihood there is of violence.
Next, it is a simple fact that followers of Christ are not threatened by Islam, Secularism or Paganism. God is sovereign over all things, including the unfolding of the minutest details of history. It is ours merely to proclaim Christ and what He has done for sinners - and God causes the growth or not. The small political gains we might make in this world do not help sinners know Christ and find salvation, only the gospel or grace does that. Christianity does not flourish by taking over the reigns of power, or by beating down opposing ones. On the contrary, it has been shown over and over in history that Christ advances his kingdom in the least likely of places. China for example, has been closed to Christianity almost through their entire history. But when Mao decided to persecute and make it extremely difficult for indigenous Christians, God saw to it that this oppression would create the greatest revival the world has ever seen - from 1 million Christians in 1949 to well over 100 Million today, in just 60 years. From this we can only conclude that the gospel is not chained. We advance our cause through proclaiming good news to every creature, not by wielding physical weapons or political power. That is not to say we do not vote or get involved in politics. As long as it is legal we will vote our conscience based on God's law, but the success of the gospel does not depend on it and again there is no place for violence to accomplish these goals. Christ forbade his followers from stopping him from being killed in Jerusalem at the hands of evil men. Likewise, when people want to stamp Christians out, the faith has historically grown because the message of the cross in their lives has been the most powerful witness against falsehood, and its all done without picking up a sword. Lastly, as Christians we recognize that we are no better than other people in the world. We are not Christians because we are more moral than others or better in any way, but only because God was merciful to hell deserving sinners like us. Apart from the grace of God, we have nothing.
So the answer to the question of whether or not he was a Christian should be clear. He is not. But, whatever he called himself, he certainly was not of the conservative gospel kind of Christian. His statements rejecting Protestantism and embracing the strange beliefs of the Free Masons might also give us a clue. Police have speculated that the attack may have been politically motivated. Behring's political comments appearing on some political blogs seem to suggest that "fundamentalist Christian" is a very misleading description. There his views appear to be more ideological rather than religious with his overall focus being his opposition to multiculturalism.
Lets hope the press does not botch this as they did with Jared Laughner, who was well-known for this atheism yet strangely enough, people not associated with him or his insane ideology at all, were thought to be to blame.

"For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Breivik is a Darwinist who sees Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform, who supports a monocultural Christian Europe. An agnostic/atheist who claims to want to preserve the basics of the European "Christian" cultural legacy.
Related Article
Terrorist proclaimed himself 'Darwinian,' not 'Christian'
Norwegian's manifesto shows Breivik not religious, having no personal faith
Reformation Theology


I find this moving every time I'm reminded of it. In A.D. 404 John Chrysostom, the early church father, was brought in before the Roman emperor. The emperor threatened him with banishment if he remained a Christian.

Chrysostom responded, 'You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.'

'But I will kill you,' said the emperor.

'No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,' said Chrysostom.

'I will take away your treasures.'

'No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.'

'But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.'

'No, you cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.'
Dane Ortlund

The Really Big Deal Most Americans Were Concerned About

Best prayer EVER! Pastor Joe Nelms - Nascar Nationwide - Nashville, TN

Pre-race prayer at the Nascar Nationwide series race in Nashville TN July 23, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Killing Sin

by Sinclair Ferguson
The aftermath of a conversation can change the way we later think of its significance.
My friend — a younger minister — sat down with me at the end of a conference in his church and said: “Before we retire tonight, just take me through the steps that are involved in helping someone mortify sin.” We sat talking about this for a little longer and then went to bed, hopefully he was feeling as blessed as I did by our conversation. I still wonder whether he was asking his question as a pastor or simply for himself — or both. 
How would you best answer his question? The first thing to do is: Turn to the Scriptures. Yes, turn to John Owen (never a bad idea!), or to some other counselor dead or alive. But remember that we have not been left only to good human resources in this area. We need to be taught from “the mouth of God” so that the principles we are learning to apply carry with them both the authority of God and the promise of God to make them work. 
Several passages come to mind for study: Romans 8:13; Romans 13:8–14 (Augustine’s text); 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1; Ephesians 4:17–5:21; Colossians 3:1–17; 1 Peter 4:1–11; 1 John 2:28–3:11. Significantly, only two of these passages contain the verb “mortify” (“put to death”). Equally significantly, the context of each of these passages is broader than the single exhortation to put sin to death. As we shall see, this is an observation that turns out to be of considerable importance.
Of these passages, Colossians 3:1–17 is probably the best place for us to begin. 
Here were relatively young Christians. They have had a wonderful experience of conversion to Christ from paganism. They had entered a gloriously new and liberating world of grace. Perhaps — if we may read between the lines — they had felt for a while as if they had been delivered, not only from sin’s penalty but almost from its influence — so marvelous was their new freedom. But then, of course, sin reared its ugly head again. Having experienced the “already” of grace they were now discovering the painful “not yet” of ongoing sanctification. Sounds familiar! 
But as in our evangelical sub-culture of quick fixes for long-term problems, unless the Colossians had a firm grasp of Gospel principles, they were now at risk! For just at this point young Christians can be relatively easy prey to false teachers with new promises of a higher spiritual life. That was what Paul feared (Col. 2:8, 16). Holiness-producing methods were now in vogue (Col. 2:21–22) — and they seemed to be deeply spiritual, just the thing for earnest young believers. But, in fact, “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Not new methods, but only an understanding of how the Gospel works, can provide an adequate foundation and pattern for dealing with sin. This is the theme of Colossians 3:1–17.
Paul gives us the pattern and rhythm we need. Like Olympic long jumpers, we will not succeed unless we go back from the point of action to a point from which we can gain energy for the strenuous effort of dealing with sin. How, then, does Paul teach us to do this?
First of all, Paul underlines how important it is for us to be familiar with our new identity in Christ (3:1–4). How often when we fail spiritually we lament that we forgot who we really are — Christ’s. We have a new identity. We are no longer “in Adam,” but “in Christ”; no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit; no longer dominated by the old creation but living in the new (Rom. 5:12–21; 8:9; 2 Cor. 5:17). Paul takes time to expound this. We have died with Christ (Col. 3:3; we have even been buried with Christ, 2:12); we have been raised with Him (3:1), and our life is hidden with Him (3:3). Indeed, so united to Christ are we that Christ will not appear in glory without us (3:4). 
Failure to deal with the presence of sin can often be traced back to spiritual amnesia, forgetfulness of our new, true, real identity. As a believer I am someone who has been delivered from the dominion of sin and who therefore is free and motivated to fight against the remnants of sin’s army in my heart. 
Principle number one, then, is: Know, rest in, think through, and act upon your new identity — you are in Christ.
Second, Paul goes on to expose the workings of sin in every area of our lives (Col. 3:5–11). If we are to deal with sin biblically, we must not make the mistake of thinking that we can limit our attack to only one area of failure in our lives. All sin must be dealt with. Thus Paul ranges through the manifestation of sin in private life (v. 5), everyday public life (v. 8), and church life (vv. 9–11; “one another,” “here,” that is, in the church fellowship). The challenge in mortification is akin to the challenge in dieting (itself a form of mortification!): once we begin we discover that there are all kinds of reasons we are overweight. We are really dealing with ourselves, not simply with calorie control. I am the problem, not the potato chips! Mortifying sin is a whole-of-life change.
Third, Paul’s exposition provides us with practical guidance for mortifying sin. Sometimes it seems as if Paul gives exhortations (“Put to death…,” 3:5) without giving “practical” help to answer our “how to?” questions. Often today, Christians go to Paul to tell them what to do and then to the local Christian bookstore to discover how to do it! Why this bifurcation? Probably because we do not linger long enough over what Paul is saying. We do not sink our thinking deeply into the Scriptures. For, characteristically, whenever Paul issues an exhortation he surrounds it with hints as to how we are to put it into practice. 
This is certainly true here. Notice how this passage helps to answer our “how to?” questions.
1. Learn to admit sin for what it really is. Call a spade a spade — call it “sexual immorality,” not “I’m being tempted a little”; call it “impurity,” not “I’m struggling with my thought life”; call it “evil desire, which is idolatry,” not “I think I need to order my priorities a bit better.” This pattern runs right through this whole section. How powerfully this unmasks self-deceit — and helps us to unmask sin lurking in the hidden corners of
our hearts!  

2. See sin for what your sin really is in God’s presence. “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (3:6). The masters of the spiritual life spoke of dragging our lusts (kicking and screaming, though they be) to the cross, to a wrath-bearing Christ. My sin leads to — not lasting pleasure — but holy divine displeasure. See the true nature of your sin in the light of its punishment. Too easily do we think that sin is less serious in Christians than it is in non-believers: “It’s forgiven, isn’t it?” Not if we continue in it (1 John 3:9)! Take a heaven’s-eye view of sin and feel the shame of that in which you once walked (Col. 3:7; see also Rom. 6:21).
3. Recognize the inconsistency of your sin. You put off the “old man,” and have put on the “new man” (3:9–10). You are no longer the “old man.” The identity you had “in Adam” is gone. The old man was “crucified with him [Christ] in order that the body of sin [probably “life in the body dominated by sin”] might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). New men live new lives. Anything less than this is a contradiction of who I am “in Christ.”
4. Put sin to death (Col. 3:5). It is as “simple” as that. Refuse it, starve it, and reject it. You cannot “mortify” sin without the pain of the kill. There is no
other way!

But notice that Paul sets this in a very important, broader context. The negative task of putting sin to death will not be accomplished in isolation from the positive call of the Gospel to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). Paul spells this out in Colossians 3:12–17. Sweeping the house clean simply leaves us open to a further invasion of sin. But when we understand the “glorious exchange” principle of the Gospel of grace, then we will begin to make some real advance in holiness. As sinful desires and habits are not only rejected, but exchanged for Christ-like graces (3:12) and actions (3:13); as we are clothed in Christ’s character and His graces are held together by love (v. 14), not only in our private life but also in the church fellowship (vv. 12–16), Christ’s name and glory are manifested and exalted in and among us (3:17).
These are some of the things my friend and I talked about that memorable evening. We did not have an opportunity later to ask each other, “How are you going?” for it was our last conversation. He died some months later. I have often wondered how the months in between went in his life. But the earnest personal and pastoral concern in his question still echoes in my mind. They have a similar effect to the one Charles Simeon said he felt from the eyes of his much-loved portrait of the great Henry Martyn: “Don’t trifle!”

Outskirts of Town - Stevie Ray Vaughan & Albert King

A Lesson About Demonic Power

THE HEALING OF THE Gerasene man who was demonized by a “legion” of demons (Mark 5:1–20) calls for explanations and reflection at many points. To pick up on six:
(1) The setting is Gentile territory on the east side of Lake Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis (Mark 5:20), the Ten Cities of largely Gentile constitution. That point is clear even from the herd of pigs, something that no self-respecting Jew would keep.
(2) The poor man described in these verses was subject to some sort of cyclical attack. At times he was docile enough to be chained, and then the attack would be so desperately strong that he could tear the chains apart and free himself. Banished from home and hearth, he lived among the tombs, where he cried out and lacerated himself, a man in the final throes of destruction by demonic powers (Mark 5:5). We should not assume that every case of what is today called insanity is the result of demonic activity; neither should we adopt the reductionism that reduces all demonism to chemical imbalances in the brain.
(3) The words addressed to Jesus (Mark 5:6–8), though on the lips of the man, are the product of the “evil spirit.” This spirit knows enough (a) to recognize who Jesus is, and (b) to live in horrible anticipation of the ultimate doom that awaits him.
(4) This exchange between Jesus and the “evil spirit” has two elements not found in any other exorcism in the canonical Gospels. First, the strange interplay between the singular and plural—“My name is Legion, … for we are many”—suggests an ambiguity in certain demonic activity. Moreover, as Jesus hints elsewhere, multiple invasion by unclean spirits is a “worse” condition to be scrupulously avoided (Matt. 12:45). Second, these demons do not wish to leave the area, and they do wish to be embodied (Mark 5:10, 12). Jesus accedes to both requests. Presumably this reflects in part the fact that the final hour for their banishment has not yet arrived.
(5) While it is essential to reflect on Jesus’ absolute mastery over these evil spirits, one must add that he does not call forth these spirits one by one, solicit their names, enter into conversation with them, or a host of other things commonly practiced by some who are given to “deliverance ministries.”
(6) The responses to this deliverance are striking. The delivered man wants to follow Jesus, and is commissioned to bear witness, in his Gentile world, to how much the Lord has done for him and how he has shown him mercy (Mark 5:18–20). The people of the region beg Jesus to leave (Mark 5:17): they prefer pigs to people, their financial security to the transformation of a life.
Don Carson

On The Debt Ceiling

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (Live from Bonnaroo 2011)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Empire Emerges

                                            Shanghai skyline in 1990 (top) and 2010 (bottom).
                                                               China transforms itself.

Butting Heads Going Nowhere

Kenny Baron Trio - Beautiful Love


J.A.T.P. in Japan(1983)

Sin, Promises, and Spirit: Mud, Windshield Wipers, and Windshield Washer

John Piper, Future Grace (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1995), pp. 55, 56:
Suppose you are in a car race and your enemy, who doesn’t want you to finish the race, throws mud on your windshield. The fact that you temporarily lose sight of your goal and start to swerve, does not mean that you are going to quit the race. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you are on the wrong race track. Otherwise the enemy wouldn’t bother you at all. What it means is that you should turn on your windshield wipers and use your windshield washer.
When anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the greatness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faithless, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked. At first blow, our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether, by grace, we set in motion a process of resistance—whether we  fight back against the unbelief of anxiety. Will we turn on the windshield
wipers and will we use our windshield washer?
. . . The windshield wipers are the promises of God that clear away the mud of unbelief, and the windshield washer fluid is the help of the Holy Spirit. The battle to be freed from sin, as we have seen, is “by the Spirit and by faith in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13). The work of the Spirit and the Word of the truth. These are the great faith builders.
Without the softening work of the Holy Spirit, the wipers of the Word just scrape over the blinding clumps of unbelief. Both are necessary—the Spirit and the Word. We read the promises of God and we pray for the help of his Spirit. And as the windshield clears so that we can see the welfare that God plans for us (Jer 29:11), our faith grows stronger and the swerving anxiety smooths out.
Justin Taylor

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Would You Summarize the New Testament in Three Words?

J. I. Packer:
Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that. (Knowing God, p. 214)
And a test for how well you understand Christianity:
You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator.
In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father.
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.
If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.
For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. (Knowing God, p. 201; my emphasis)
Justin Taylor

Eric Clapton - Have you ever loved a woman - Live in Hyde Park

Shop Hours - Hey Were Open When Were Open

Our Greatest Need

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor.
But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.
— D. A. Carson,  A Call to Spiritual Reformation
Vitamin Z

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Myths People Believe

Muddy Waters - I'm Ready

Jimi Hendrix - Catfish Blues

Impressionist Does Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices

Jim Meskimen performs Clarence's speech from William Shakespeare's Richard III as a number of different celebrities, from George Bush, Woody Allen, George Clooney, Johnny Carson, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson and Droopy Dog.

Mistaken Monotheism

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? This is perhaps the most significant question that has emerged during the increased interest in Islam in the decade following 9/11. Theologian Miroslav Volf tackled this thorny question in his new book, Allah: A Christian Response. Volf’s answer to the question is a qualified yes. That is to say, while Muslims and Christians have different understanding of aspects of God’s nature and character, so do Christians and Jews and, for that matter, so do different kinds of Christians. If we say that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, Volf argues, we have to concede that Jews and Christians (and Arminians and Calvinists for that matter) do not worship the same God. While Volf’s argument has a certain appeal, when we dig a little deeper, we find that it is built on a rather shaky foundation.

What Is Monotheism?

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are commonly known as the “three great monotheistic religions.” But this label may assume too much. The word monotheism was not coined until the 17th century when Cambridge don Henry More used it to describe any view that held to one person (or principle) as God. The word was co-opted in the 18th and 19th centuries by OT critical scholars who were engaged in revising OT composition history. In the spirit of that age, they saw the history of religion on an evolutionary scale. As human religion developed, it progressed from pantheism to polytheism and finally to the “ethical monotheism” we see reflected in “Deutero-Isaiah,” his friend “Trito-Isaiah,” and other later prophets. This evolutionary process was a movement from the belief that all things are spiritual and divine, to the belief that only a few things are divine, and finally only one thing is divine.[1]
Among other problems, this notion of religious history creates the possibility of an abstract monotheism in which the only real tenet is the belief in a single divine being. Unfortunately, most people on the street probably understand “monotheism” in this way (if they understand it at all). But there is a fatal flaw with this abstract monotheism: nothing like it actually exists. Whenever we talk about “God” in the abstract, we must immediately move to the concrete. That is to say, just as we cannot say anything specific about an abstract person without immediately explaining which person, we cannot say anything of substance about God without explaining which God. So then, if we assume the three monotheistic faiths are talking about the same God, we are begging the question. Not everyone who uses the word monotheism means the same thing by God. It seems this kind of circular reasoning can lead Volf to claim that those who deny Muslims and Christians worship the same God must also deny that Jews and Christians worship the same God. But this line of thinking misses an important part of the picture.

Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism

In the Old Testament, we certainly find the idea that there is one God who created all things, rules over all things, and will judge all people. In Isaiah 44:6, God proclaims, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”
But elsewhere in the OT, we find that this one God is only known because he reveals himself to a people. Deuteronomy 4:35 says, “To you [God’s power in the Exodus] was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.” The quintessential statement of monotheism in the Bible, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, is also found in this context. “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This revelation was directed to Israel alone. Throughout the OT, the knowledge and confession of the one God is the property of Israel and not the nations.
When we turn to the NT, we find this confession expanding to include the nations. In Romans 3:30, for example, Paul says that the one God is now the God of both Jews and Gentiles together. Through Christ, the revelation of the one God now extends to the nations. However, this knowledge is still based on God’s self-revelation. And while he previously spoke in many times and in many ways through the prophets, in this last day, he has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1).
While we can speak of a certain measure of general revelation, it seems that without the specific revelation that comes from the one creator God, we are left with two options. Either he will remain an “unknown God” to us, as he was to the Athenians in Acts 17, or we will add our own “revelation” and make him a false God, as countless world religions have done.

Additional Revelation

Volf claims that if Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, then neither do Jews and Christians. However, what Jews and Christians share that Muslims and Christians do not is an understanding of God that is based on biblical revelation. While I would contend that my Jewish friend’s view of God is incomplete, I would say that insomuch as he accurately reflects the special revelation of God in Tanakh, he is speaking of the true God. However, when my Muslim friend bases his view of God on the additional “revelation” of the Quran, I cannot say that he is speaking of the true God, for I cannot affirm that the Quran is the special revelation of God. While Muslims may say some things that are true about God, they do not share this revelatory foundation. Therefore, they are not speaking of the God who has revealed himself in history to a specific people and ultimately through a specific Person.
Imagine two Dallas Cowboys fans having a discussion after the 2008 season. One says to the other, “Roy Williams was really a disappointment this year.” The other, nodding thoughtfully, says, “Absolutely. He only played in a few games for us, and he didn’t do much to earn his paycheck even when he was on the field.” His friend answers, “If only he could match the stats he used to put up Big 12 conference play.” They both sigh.
But then the conversation takes a turn. The second fan continues, “I mean, the guy dropped more passes than a statue.” The first guy, responses with slight confusion, “I don’t think he was ever in position to intercept the ball, let alone drop it! And don’t even get me started on his tackling!” “Tackling?” his friend replies. At this point the guys look at each other and realize they are talking about two different players. You see, in 2008, two different players named Roy Williams were on the Cowboys roster. One was a wide receiver, and other was a defensive back. Both had the same name. Both played the same game. Both wore the same uniform in the pros, and both played college football in the Big 12 conference (one at Texas, the other at Oklahoma). None of this, however, makes Roy Williams, wide receiver, and Roy Williams, defensive back, the same person.
We can say a lot about the similarities in name, character, and activity between the God revealed in the Quran and the God revealed in the Bible. But that does not make them the same person any more than talking about the similarities between the two Roy Williamses does. If someone worships a God who is based on alternative revelation, regardless of how much we might like to smooth over the differences, we cannot affirm that person is worshiping the God of the Bible. To do so would be unfaith to the revelation we have received. We know God only because he has revealed himself to us, finally and fully through the Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] This paragraph is based on Nathan MacDonald, Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism (FAT II/1; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003).
Gospel Coalition

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Jesus" - Blind Boys of Alabama with Lou Reed on David Letterman

Killing Moralism

Many Christians have grown up in the church on moralistic preaching; that is, preaching that calls for obedience without connecting the commands of God to the cross of Christ. This disconnect is dangerous, potentially leading hearers into either self-loathing or self-righteousness. Moralistic preaching is often the ground in which the devil sows the seeds of legalism. Of course biblical preaching will always be relevant and call for a response, but how can we preach the commands of God without reducing our messages to moralism? Is the key to simply jump from the command “pray without ceasing” to the reality that Jesus suffered a vicarious, penal atonement? Well, that’s one way to do it. But, let me suggest three ways of preaching the commands of God that help us avoid the trap of moralism.

Show the God of the Command

God’s laws are not arbitrary, but stem from who he is. And, because we are made in his image and for his glory, he gives us commands that reflect his character. So, when holding out the commands of God we must point beyond the command to the God who gives it.
For example, God commands us to be holy, because he is holy. He commands us to speak the truth and not bear false witness against our neighbor, because he is a God of truth who cannot lie. He commands us to be faithful, for he trustworthy and keeps his word. He calls us to love, because he is love. Naked commands, separated from the character of God, lack both weight and compelling beauty. Showing the God of the command moves us from preaching moralism to unpacking theology. It moves us beyond the command to the God who gives it.

Show the Grace Behind the Command

It is important to note, when speaking to believers, that the commands of God are given to his people who live in a covenant relationship with him by grace. When the Lord gives Israel the law he first establishes who he is and what he has done for them, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2 ESV) He is the God who has rescued his people. He is our God. We must always remind our people (and first, ourselves) that God commands us to act—not that we might become good, but that we might know and show him to be good. God does not reveal his will so that we can build our confidence in our ability to keep it, but so that we can exalt and exult in the God we know by grace. Showing the grace behind the command moves us from fearful performance-based religion to a delight in the will and ways of God.

Show the Gospel Above the Command

Once the commands of God are laid out, and people can feel their weight and significance, it is important to point them to the gospel above the command. We need to work to help our people see three truths:
1.  Jesus atoned for our failure in this command. (Col. 1:3; 2:13, 14; Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:9)
The commands of God are pure and beautiful. They are a perfect reflection of his character and will, and we stand in stark contrast to that revelation. We are spiritual failures who could be justly condemned for our sin. But, our failure is not the end. Jesus has fully atoned for our sins through his death on the cross, and by it we are reconciled to God.
2. Jesus fulfilled this command for us. (1 Cor. 1:30, 31; Rom. 5:19; Phil. 3:9)
Not only has God forgiven us of our unrighteousness, but he has given us the righteousness of Jesus, declaring that in him we are holy and blameless. In every point where we have failed, Jesus has been faithful. In this very command, Jesus was not only righteous, but was righteous for us.
3.  Jesus empowers us to live out this command. (Phil. 2:12, 13; Eph. 6:10-20; 1 Pet. 4:11)
The good news of the gospel is that in Christ we are not only delivered rom the curse of the law, but also empowered by God to keep it. Relatively. We remain sinners, and find ourselves unable to loose ourselves from sin’s presence this side of the resurrection, but God is at work in his people to enable us to walk in his ways. You really can live a godly life. One in which you acknowledge and repent of your sin, and submit yourself to will and ways of God through power that comes by the Holy Spirit.
So yes, we can and must preach the whole counsel of God.  We must call men and women to obey, but not for approval, nor apart from the truth of the God who gives and fulfills the law for us. I believe if we do this when teaching the commands of God we kill moralism and will, by the grace of God, see conviction and encouragement among the people.
Joe Thorn

I Saw The Light - Blind Boys Of Alabama with Hank Williams Jr.

Harry Swatter

The Tree of Life: An (un)Review

In the world of cinema, there are two basic kinds of people: those who “go to the movies,” and those who love the art of film itself. For the latter group, the release date of  Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life in their respective city was tantamount to a high holy day. Malick—the reclusive director—has only made four films in the past 40 years before this current release. Each piece has in turn been critically acclaimed. The Tree of Life was certainly no exception to the rule, receiving the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the festival’s most prestigious award. This all took place despite the fact that Malick did not personally appear in support of the film at Cannes (although he was there), and refuses to do any publicity.
Confession: I believe that The Tree of Life is a masterpiece and a deeply important film. As someone who teaches courses in philosophy of film, and having seen the film multiple times myself, I have repeatedly told all interested parties that this is not a film for the folks who like to “go to the movies.” In fact, I have actively discouraged people from going to see it. Terrence Malick is a highly philosophical auteur filmmaker whose works defy the traditional conventions of dialogue, narrative, and story arc. Complicating matters, however, The Tree of Life stars three of Hollywood’s biggest names: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain. Consequently, people have shelled out their hard-earned dollars and filed into the theater to see a blockbuster. They were in for a rude awakening.
Each time I have seen the film, I have felt like I was entering a zone demarcated for spiritual warfare. It opens with an epigram from Job 38:4,7 (“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation . . . while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”), and immerses its viewers into what I can only describe as an intense experience of emotional vertigo for the next two and a half hours. The film arrests the individual’s senses at every level: intellectual, psychological, and visual. The cinematography is stunning. The portrayals of the O’Brien family, set in 1950s Waco, Texas, provide what can only be described as the most moving repristination of childhood ever captured on film. The voiceovers from the film’s protagonist, Jack, confront the audience directly with the existence of God.

Legendary Reactions

Reactions to The Tree of Life have already become the stuff of legend. Some respond to what they are seeing with deep, sensate weeping. Others grow visibly angry and verbalize their protests before storming out of the theater. Still others emerge from the auditorium in a state of shock. But everyone leaves talking about what they have just seen. Personally, I felt the right response for me afterward was a period of silence.
Film criticism has fallen decidedly on hard times, and nowhere has this been more evident in the reviews of The Tree of Life. Although Roger Ebert has heralded the film as the most ambitious film he has seen since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, reviewers have struggled to wrap their minds around Malick’s magnum opus.
For secular audiences, the content borders on offensive given the work’s explicit theism and anomalous ending (e.g. is this an evocation of the afterlife or not?). The general line of attack for them has been: “Malick has taken on the meaning of life, but we remain very piously unconvinced by what we perceive as his ‘answers.’”  Perhaps more enlightening are those who apply a Freudian/Lacanian grid to the story, referencing the Oedipal impulses they see tacit in Jack’s relationship to his father and his mother.
Christian reviewers, by way of contrast, appear almost desperate to figure out what every scene “means” in the film. We would like to believe that Malick’s genius is a catalog of one-to-one correspondences with orthodoxy, ready-made for illustrative sermon material. To be sure, there is plenty of fodder for such interpretations: the nature vs. grace dichotomy, the explicit and latent references to Scripture, the themes of darkness and shame versus light and love, the seemingly weak church and pale Christ juxtaposed to the youthful passions of Jack, and the redemption/reconciliation sequence that closes the film.
The whole work overflows with theological intensity. For example, what other filmmaker besides Malick would have such a high view of the sanctity of human life so as to suggest that the significance of one child’s birth can only be understood in light of the totality of the universe’s creation? And what do we make of the sequences with the older Jack among the skyscrapers of Houston? Could it be, as one colleague suggested, that you can go running from your emotional and psychological “stuff,” but sooner or later, your “stuff” is going to come looking for you?
But whereas we are driven to do theological analysis on The Tree of Life, I wonder if we might be missing the film’s own internal governing hermeneutic. Terrence Malick transports the individual into the pure feeling and wonder of existence in light of our experience. Could it be that the analogue for this film is not Western Christianity, but rather Eastern Orthodoxy? Is The Tree of Life meant to be dissected and explained, or does the filmmaker intend for us to think of his piece as an icon, transporting us into another world in which restoration, reconciliation, and grace are not scorned by mockers and enervated by skeptical disavowals?

High Priests of Culture

Recently, philosophers have begun asking the question of whether or not film has/will become a new form of thought itself. In his massive two volume work on Cinema, Gilles Deleuze argues that film is not merely a medium for communicating messages or stories, but also a means to fuse thought and image together in an instant of ecstatic realization. Similarly, Jacques Rancière has written that film gives us the ability to do something that ideologies have wanted to do for centuries: make the abstract and unrepresentable, representable. It has the potential to combine image, sound, and thought into form that has a distinctive power to explain the world around us.
If these analyses turn out to be apt, then The Tree of Life may well be remembered as a turning point in the importance of how we think about film itself. It may well accelerate the feeling of many people today that their aesthetic experiences through the arts are religion enough for them. Anton Chekov once reflected on his ambivalence toward the theater and the “high priests of the sacred art”—that the actors show us how to live, what to do, and who to be. Today, there can be no doubt that the high priests, priests, and acolytes of our culture are the producers, directors, writers, and actors. As film increasingly presents people with opportunities to replicate certain aspects of religious experience, we must pause to reflect upon the growing reality of “theater as temple.”
This phenomenon puts us back, curiously enough, in the position of the ancient Mediterranean world, in which Greek dramas brought together the worship of the gods, the understanding of the state, and the norms of society. In such a world, we have no choice but to repair to the foolishness of preaching, return to what Luther called the “poor tokens of the Word of God alone” . . . and hope at the end of the day that Terrence Malick is on our side.
The Gospel Coalition

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blind Boys of Alabama - Take The High Road (featuring the Oak Ridge Boys)

Canned Heat - Let's Work Together (Original Version)

Who Is Saving You?

The following comes from By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (p.75-76):
Your salvation rests not on what you have done but on what Christ has done.  You, therefore, can be sure of it, no matter how weak the faith by which you hold on to Christ, no matter how strong the attacks and accusations of Satan may be.
Remember that you are not saved by increased levels of holiness, however desirable it is that you should reach them.  Indeed, while we often say that we are “saved by faith” or by “faith in Christ,” as Benjamin B. Warfield shrewdly comments, it is not been faith in Christ that saves us.  It is Christ who saves us – through faith.  Your faith is a poor and crumbling thing, as is your spiritual service.  Jesus Christ alone is qualified and able to save you because of what He has done.  Cling to anything else and you are relying on flotsam and jetsam floating on a perilous sea.  It will bring you down under the waves.  If you should ever experience anything like the satanic attack Bunyan’s Christian endured, you will be lost.  But cling to Christ Jesus and His righteousness, and nothing can sink you.
When you grasp that, you begin to realize why and how it is that you can live in the face of such demonic attacks as these.  You are not pushed back on your own resources or spiritual qualities.  You are able to rest exclusively on what Jesus Christ has done for you.  For what He has done for you is absolutely perfect.
What Christ is doing in you is still incomplete.  But in what Jesus Christ has done for you there is not a single tiny crack that the satanic arrows can penetrate.  Jesus Christ is your shield.
Its A Beautiful Gospel

Looking Down The Barrel

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Oh No

What Are the “Rewards” in Heaven and Should They Motivate Us?

The Gospel Coalition has posted my answer for a recent “TGC Asks” regarding the nature of heavenly rewards and whether the prospect of receiving them should motivate our actions now.

In its most general sense, “reward” (Greek, misthos) is the appropriate consequence or consummation of a course of action. Sometimes it is rendered as “wages” (Matt. 20:8; Luke 10:7; John 4:36). Negatively, Judas’s blood money is called “the reward of his wickedness” (Acts 1:18).
Positively, “reward” (which is always in the singular in the NT) refers to entering eternal life. And the greatest joy of heaven will be seeing God face to face (Rev. 22:4). Every believer longs for the day when “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2), when we shall “enter into the joy of [our] master” (Matt. 25:21, 23). “They shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) and “your reward is great in heaven” (Matt. 5:12) are ultimately referring to the same thing. Jesus frequently appeals to reward as a motivator for righteousness—whether he is talking about persecution (Matt. 5:12) or love (Matt. 5:46) or giving (Matt. 6:4) or prayer (Matt. 6:6) or fasting (Matt. 6:18).
Five key passages reference believers receiving a “crown” (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4). Though it is popular to see these as different types of reward (crown of righteousness, crown of gold, crown of life, etc.) a majority of commentators believe these are different ways of referring to the one reward of eternal life. Space does not permit a detailed examination of these and related passages, but I would commend the careful analysis by Craig Blomberg.
While Professor Blomberg is largely convincing with regard to the exegetical issues, I think he takes a misstep in his theological objections to varying degrees of reward. Even though I don’t think any passages explicitly teach this idea, it is not inconceivable, not is it incompatible with any teaching in the NT. If there are degrees of reward, they would likely revolve around increased capacities and responsibilities.
Jonathan Edwards explains the former: “Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others; and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.” Could the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27) imply that some believers will rule over more cites in the new heavens and earth? If so, this would mean that under our “great reward” (enjoying God himself) there are various roles and responsibilities. I am not certain this will be the case, but I see nothing inherently problematic in holding to this as a possibility.
In summary, all true believers will receive the great reward of seeing God face to face, and this should motivate all of our actions. The NT nowhere clearly and explicitly teaches varying degrees of reward, though this may indeed be true. If so, some may have greater capacities as well as greater responsibilities, but all of us will experience “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” at God’s right hand (Ps. 16:11). Maranatha—come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Justin Taylor