Rome and Reading Scripture (Muller)

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols.) It’s very hard for most  Christians in the West to imagine what it would be like if they didn’t have a Bible at home to read.  It’s even harder to imagine the church telling us not to read the Bible and not wanting it to be translated into common languages.  This was the very situation before the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic church neither wanted common people to read Scriptures nor did Rome want the Scriptures to be translated into the common language of the people.  Thankfully the Reformation happened!  Here’s a paragraph about this topic from Richard Muller’s PRRD volume on Scripture (volume two):

Against the Roman objections that lay reading of the vernacular Scriptures is detrimental to the life and teaching of the church and that such reading is hardly necessary to salvation, the Reformed respond that the problem of abuse in no way undermines the command of God to read and study the Scriptures.  …The reading of Scripture is enjoined on those who are able, for the sake of strengthening them in their faith and shielding them against the enemies of God. What is more, the Roman claim that the reading of the Scripture by laity breeds heresy falls short of the mark inasmuch as heresy is founded not on reading per se, but on mistaken reading—and the careful, informed, and reverent reading of Scripture will preserve the faithful from the errors of the heretics. As for the argument that “holy things are not given to dogs,” it is quite clear from the text (Matt. 7:6) that Christ does not here refer to the reading of Scripture and does not intend to designate the children of God as dogs—rather he means that the symbols of divine grace are not to be given to the unfaithful.

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 467–468.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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Truth Is Obscured Nowadays (Pascal)

This is one of those books that I don’t always agree with, but it does always make me think: Christianity for Modern Pagans by Peter Kreeft.  It’s basically a modern commentary on some of Pascal’s Pensees.  Here’s one part that got me thinking about truth; it’s worth sharing:

Truth is so obscured nowadays and lies are so well established that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it (Pascal).

Here are Kreeft’s comments on Pascal’s statement; though I don’t fully agree with them, they are worth digesting:

This is why the discovery of truth depends on the heart and will, not just the head and mind.  This is why the prime requisite for any great truth (like God, or the meaning of life or death, or who we are and what we ought to do, or even finding the right mate and right career) is love, passion, questing, and questioning.  Once we pursue a question with our whole being, as Socrates pursued ‘know thyself’, we will find answers.  Answers are not as hard to come by as we think; and questions, real questioning, is a lot more rare and precious than we think.

Finding is not the problem, seeking is.  For truth is hidden, ever since the Fall but especially ‘nowadays’, now that our secular society no longer helps us to God, as traditional societies did.  Lies are well established on the level of appearance (for example, movies); truth and reality are hidden, behind the lies.  No one will find the truth today just by listening to the media, which are largely in the power of the Father of Lies.  We have to ignore the pervasive chatter and seek the countercultural, unfashionable, media-scorned truth behind these obstacles.

Clearly, this situation has become vastly exacerbated since Pascal’s day.  Here again he plays the prophet; he is more relevant to our time than his own.

If we do not love the truth, we will not seek it.  If we do not seek it, we will not find it.  If we do not find it, we will not know it.  If we do not know it, we have failed our fundamental task in time, and quite likely also in eternity.

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 216-17.

Shane Lems

Evangelicals, Sexual Revolution, and Roadkill (Guinness)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization by [Guinness, Os] As I’ve said before, Impossible People by Os Guinness is an excellent book in many ways.  One reason I appreciate it is because Guinness calls the church to stand firmly, carefully, and purposefully on the truths and teachings of Scripture.  He laments how some evangelicals have waffled and wavered when it comes to sexuality, gender, marriage, and other similar topics.  What is so clear in Scripture has been abandoned, explained away, or simply ignored by evangelicals trying to keep up with the sexual revolution.  Guinness’ words are helpful:

“Today’s evangelical revisionists should take sober note.  Time and again I tremble when I hear or read their flimsy arguments.  They may be lionized by the wider advocates of the sexual revolution for fifteen minutes, because they are siding with that wider culture in undermining the clear teaching of Jesus and the Bible that stands in their way.  For there is no question that Jesus, the Scriptures and Christian tradition all stand resolutely in their way.  But in truth, the sexual revolution has no real interest in such Evangelicals, and they will be left as roadkill as the revolution blitzkrieg gathers speed.  But that is nothing compared with the real tragedy of the revisionists.  It is no light thing for anyone to set themselves above and against the authority of Jesus and his Scriptures.  The apostle Peter betrayed Jesus and was restored, but Judas stands as the warning for all who betray Jesus for their personal, sexual or political interests and condemn themselves for their disloyalty.”

“Both Jesus and the apostle Peter tell us to ‘remember Lot’s wife’ (Lk 17:33), but our Christian revisionists should remember Lot himself.  Having chosen the benefits and privileges of living in the well-watered garden country of Sodom, having married into their social circles and having worked his way up to into the inner leadership of the city, Lot was suddenly confronted by the moment of truth.  He had been utterly naive and deluded in trusting the Sodomites.  When the chips were down, they had no respect for his hospitality, no time for his different moral standards, and they threatened to deal with him as brutally as his guests: ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them’ (Gen 19:9).”

“Poor Lot became a joke even to his in-laws.  In spite of all his efforts and contrary to all that he imagined, he had still not arrived, and he was never accepted as he imagined.  He was always the alien – as Abraham never forgot that he was and was respected for being.  We of course should always be resident aliens as faithful Christians who are in the world but not of it – regardless of the world’s pressure on us to change with the times and line up with the so-called right side of history.”

Os Guinness, Impossible People, p. 74-5.

Shane Lems

 

 

Wisdom and Worldview (Goldsworthy)

Here’s a nice section from Graeme Goldsworthy’s book Gospel and Wisdom:

“The Christian rejects this [naturalistic] assumption of a universe which is shut up against the God of the Bible.  He accepts rather that God is self-sufficient, personal, and in complete control.  While the atheist view of reality is a closed system of cause and effect, the Christian view is a universe in which cause and effect are established by God and open to his sovereign intervention.  We need the revelation of God in order to know that the universe is in fact like this.  We do not know all the answers yet.  We never will know all the answers because some can be known by God alone. Because God has revealed that the ultimate meaning of reality lies beyond the ability of man to discover for himself, we know that empirical knowledge is always in that sense defective.  What man discovers by himself, and what he reasons from it, will never bring him to understand God and to know him.  Thus, we have returned to Paul’s assertion that worldly wisdom cannot know God (1 Cor. 1:21, compare 2:12).

The Bible characteristically looks at reality in terms of relationships.  Because God is the creator of all things, these relationships must begin with God.  To understand what it means to be human we must know man as image of God.  The non-Christian can describe many things about man in a way that is useful within a restricted framework.  But while we can look at man purely in terms of structure, chemistry, anatomy and so on, none of these approaches can show us the real nature of man.  They do not provide a satisfactory explanation of the uniqueness of man in the purposes of God.  They can never discover and pin-point the exclusive trait of humanity created in the image of God.  From a biblical point of view, then, the definition of man is primarily a definition of his relationship to God….”

This quote is taken from The Goldsworthy Trilogy, pages 367-8.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The “Broken” Evangelical Buzzword (Wells)

I recently finished reading a very popular evangelical Christian book.  It wasn’t too bad, but when I finished reading it struck me that the author used the terms “broken” or “brokenness” way too much.  After doing a word search on my Kindle, I found that these words were used around 100 times in 300 pages!

It would be interesting to do a sociological study on these terms.  I’m guessing that “broken” and “brokenness” are evangelical buzzwords that have become very popular just in the last 10 years or so.  (Are these words used mostly by GenYers/Millenials?  I can’t imagine my grandpa using these terms!)  I’m also guessing that older generations of Christian writers rarely, if ever, spoke of being broken or facing brokenness.  Speaking of this topic, here’s a post I did in May.  I’m re-blogging it here because I thought of it after reading the book I noted above.

—–

David Wells did a nice job of explaining and critiquing postmodern spirituality in the first chapter of Losing Our Virtue.  At one point he says that postmodern spirituality doesn’t really talk about sins in moral terms but in psychological terms.  In other words, instead of talking about sin as breaking God’s law, disobeying God, and a rupture in the relationship between God and man, people talk sin by way of personal experience:

“It begins with our anxiety, pain, and disillusionment, with the world in its disorder, the family or marriage in its brokenness, or the workplace in its brutality and insecurity.  God, in consequence, is valued to the extent that he is able to bathe these wounds, assuage these insecurities, calm these fears, restore some sense of internal order, and bring some sense of wholeness.”

So in evangelicalism today you’ll notice words like broken, numb, shattered, and wounded.  Wells quotes one praise song to prove his point:

“He heard my cry and came to heal me / He took my pain and He relieved me;
He filled my life and comforted me / And his name will shine, shine eternally.”

What’s the big deal?  Why can’t we just talk about being broken and bruised instead of sinful and wretched before God?  Isn’t it OK to say we’re “numb” instead of saying “my sin is ever before me (Ps.51)?  Here’s Wells again:

“This psychologizing of sin and salvation has an immediacy about it that is appealing in this troubled age, this age of broken beliefs and broken lives.  The cost, however, is that it so subverts the process of moral understanding that sin loses its sinfulness, at least before God.  And whereas in classical spirituality it was assumed that sinners would struggle with their sin, feel its sting, and experience dismay over it, in postmodern spirituality, this struggle is considered abnormal and something for which divine relief is immediately available.  That is why the experience of Luther, Brainerd, and Owen is so remote from what passes as normal in the evangelical world today.”

This is important to note!  I’m not saying that everyone who uses the terms “broken” or “brokenness” rejects sin in a postmodern way.  But we do have to be sure we talk about sin in biblical terms and not define sin based on our psychological experiences or emotional feelings.  Sin isn’t first about our feelings, experiences, and emotions, it is first about disobeying God, doing what is evil in his sight, falling short of his glory, and being accountable to him for it (Ps. 51, Rom. 3, etc.).  And the remedy for sin is not something that we feel or do, it is Christ crucified for sinners, doing what they could never do themselves!

David Wells, Losing Our Virtue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Antichrist(s)

This is an excellent, balanced, and biblical resource on an often misunderstood teaching of Scripture: The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist. I marked the following paragraphs (among many others) that are worth sharing:

“The biblical writers do indeed foretell of Antichrist, but the images found in Scripture are markedly different from those of either ‘The Omen’ or the ‘Left Behind’ novels.  The fact that end-times speculation and sensationalism has trumped sound biblical exegesis is surely the reason this is the case.  Too often people don’t know what’s in their Bibles but can recount in great detail the plot of the most recent Christian novel.  Christians are quite familiar with the frightening images created by Hollywood but often remain ill-informed about the church’s reflection on this important doctrine.  This is most unfortunate and creates a climate in which Antichrist speculation occurs apart from serious reflection upon the teaching of the biblical text.”

“…According to New Testament writers, Antichrist is a past, present, and future foe.  As the supreme mimic of Christ, Antichrist will stage his own death, resurrection, and second coming.  The apostles faced him.  The martyrs faced him.  We must face him.  And in the one final outburst of satanic evil right before the end of time, Antichrist will make one last dramatic appearance before going to his doom.”

“Therefore, since Antichrist has already come, remains with us today, and will come again, understanding the tension between the already and the not yet is the key to understanding what the doctrine of Antichrist actually entails, and understanding this tension enables us to know how we are to combat him.”

Kim Riddlebarger, Man of Sin, p. 35-36.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Mentality of Abuse

In the past few years, I’ve written several posts on church bullies and abuse (also here).  These two topics overlap and I’ve studied them on and off for some time.  Another resource that has to do with these topics is Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Before I say anything else, I want to note that this is not at all a Christian book and I have many major disagreements with this book.  Christian readers will have to be especially discerning when reading it.  To be absolutely clear, I only recommend it to mature Christian readers.

Having said that, it is a helpful resource on the topics of [church] bullies and abuse.  Here’s one section where the author talked about the abusive mentality.  I’ve edited it for length:

  • He is controlling.  A few of my clients have been so extremely controlling they could have passed for military commanders.  Most of my clients stake out specific turf to control, like an explorer claiming land, rather than try to run everything.  A large part of this man’s abusiveness comes in the form of punishments used to retaliate against another for resisting his control.
  • He feels entitled.  Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has a special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner.  The rights of his wife and children are diminished but his own rights are greatly inflated.
  • He twists things into their opposites.  The abuser’s highly entitled perceptual system causes him to mentally reverse aggression and self-defense.  When I challenge my clients to stop bullying their partners, they twist my words around just as they do their partners’.  They accuse me of having said things that have little connection to my actual words.
  • He disrespects his wife and considers himself superior to her. The abuser tends to see his partner as less intelligent, less competent, less logical, and even less sensitive than he is.  He often has difficulty conceiving of her as a human being.  This tendency in abusers is known as objectification or depersonalization.
  • He confuses love and abuse.  An abusive man often tries to convince his partner that his mistreatment of her is proof of how deeply he cares, but the reality is that abuse is the opposite of love.  The more a man abuses you, the more he is demonstrating that he only cares about himself.
  • He is manipulative.  If a man is abusive all the time, his partner starts to recognize that she’s being abused, and the man may feel too guilty about his behavior.  The abuser therefore tends to switch frequently to manipulating his partner to get what he wants.  He may also use these tactics just to get her upset or confused, or so that she blames herself and feels sorry for him.
  • He strives to have a good public image.  If you are involved with an abusive man, you may spend a lot of your time trying to figure out what is wrong with you rather than what is wrong with him.  One of the most important challenges facing a counselor of abusive men is to resist being drawn in by the men’s charming persona.
  • He feels justified.  Abusive men are masters of excuse making.  In this respect, they are like substance abusers, who believe that everyone and everything except them is responsible for their actions.  The abusive man commonly believes he can blame his partner for anything that goes wrong, not just his abusiveness.
  • Abusers deny and minimize their abuse.  If the man is abusive, of course he’s going to deny it, partly to protect himself and partly because his perceptions are distorted.  If he were ready to accept responsibility for his actions in relationships, he wouldn’t be abusive.
  • Abusers are possessive.  Possessiveness is at the core of the abuser’s mindset, the spring from which all the other streams spout; on some level, he feels that he owns you and therefore has the right to treat you as he sees fit.

These points can be found (in full length) in Why Does He Do That?, chapter 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI