Diehard Sins: A Brief Review

Diehard Sins: How to Fight Wisely against Destructive Daily Habits by [Witt, Rush] Here’s a newer and very good resource on fighting sin and growing in grace: Diehard Sins by Rush Witt.  I have to admit when I first got this book I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’ve read similar books on the topic – some good, some not so good.  This is one of the good ones!

There are three main parts: 1) Enter with Joy into Your Struggle against Daily Sin, 2) Understand the True Needs of Your Heart, and 3) Bring Christ and his Provisions to Your Fight.  The topics covered include a discussion of the nature of sin, what it means to struggle with sin, how to detect sin in your own life, and applying the gospel to the struggle with sin (among others).

I appreciate the book first because it is rooted in Scripture and very much grounded in the gospel.  Witt strikes a nice balance between resting in Christ and actively putting sin to death – you can only do the latter by doing the former.  A big picture summary of the book would probably be like this: How to fight sin by depending on Christ.  Since there is a proper law/gospel distinction, the book gives some helpful biblical lessons in fighting sin.

Another strength of the book is that Witt approaches the topic from a counseling perspective.  It’s not a counseling book specifically, but there are some counseling themes and, in my opinion, helpful wisdom on practical ways to put sin to death.  For example, one appendix is a brief outline to resisting temptation: Refuse, Replace, Pray, and Praise.

Finally, I appreciate how the author mentions that we fight sin best in the context of the body of Christ and the means of grace: the last chapter is called “Fighting Sin in the Community of Faith.”  This book isn’t a call to fight sin on our own, but to do it depending on grace while walking beside and with other believers.

If you want a good resource on fighting sin, I very much recommend this one: Diehard Sins.  There are a few reflection questions after each chapter, so it would make a good group study or book club resource.  I’m glad I own this book, and I’ve already used it in my own ministry!

Rush Witt, Diehard Sins, (P&R Publishing, 2018).

(Note: The author kindly sent me a copy to review, although I was not compelled in any way to write a positive review.  If I didn’t like the book, I would’ve said so!)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Jesus: A Contentless Banner?? (Schaeffer)

 Many Christians have noted a dichotomy in modern thought.  On the upper level is value; on the bottom level is fact.  On the upper level is faith; on the bottom level is reason.  On the upper level is religion; on the bottom level is science.  On the upper level it is non-rational; on the bottom level is rational.  In other words, the upper level is about personal feelings and beliefs and the lower level is made up of more solid and real things like reason, science, and facts.  Francis Schaeffer discussed and critiqued this modern view in his excellent book, Escape from Reason.  In this book he gives a good Christian and biblical answer to modernity’s false dichotomy.

One area where this false dichotomy shows up is in how people today think of Jesus.  For most people, Jesus belongs to the upper level of religion and faith but he does not belong to the bottom level of fact and reason.  For many Westerners, Jesus can mean anything to anyone – what Francis Schaeffer called a “contentless banner.”  Here’s Schaeffer:

I have come to the point where, when I hear the word “Jesus”—which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and his work—I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word “Jesus” than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it. But there is no rational, scriptural content by which to test it, and thus the word is being used to teach the very opposite things from those which Jesus taught. …It is now Jesus-like to sleep with a girl or a man if she or he needs you. As long as you are trying to be human you are being Jesus-like to sleep with the other person, at the cost, be it noted, of breaking the specific morality which Jesus taught. But to these men this does not matter because that is downstairs in the area of rational scriptural content.

We have come then to this fearsome place where the word “Jesus” has become the enemy of the Person Jesus and the enemy of what Jesus taught. We must fear this contentless banner of the word “Jesus” not because we do not love Jesus but because we do love him. We must fight this contentless banner, with its deep motivations, rooted into the memories of the race, which is being used for the purpose of sociological form and control. We must teach our spiritual children to do the same.

This accelerating trend makes me wonder whether, when Jesus said that toward the end time there will be other Jesuses, he meant something like this. We must never forget that the great enemy who is coming is the anti-Christ. He is not anti-non-Christ. He is anti-Christ. Increasingly over the last few years the word “Jesus,” separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care. If evangelical Christians begin to slip into a dichotomy, to separate an encounter with Jesus from the content of the Scriptures (including the discussable and the verifiable), we shall, without intending to, be throwing ourselves and the next generation into the millstream of the modern system.

Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2014).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Jesus “Learned” Obedience and Was “Made Perfect” (Vos)

 In Hebrews we learn “because he himself [Jesus] suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18 NIV).  In Hebrews we also read that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” (5:8 NIV).  Yes, it says that Jesus learned something.   Interestingly, the epistle also talks about the Son of God being “made perfect” forever (7:28).  At first glance it might seem that Jesus was lacking something, that he didn’t know something, that he wasn’t perfect.  I like how Geerhardus Vos discussed this:

…the “perfecting” of the Savior, which is made so prominent in the Epistle, has two sides: [first:] it is perfecting in the sphere of sympathy with exposure to temptation and [second] perfecting in the sphere of appreciation of obedience which overcomes temptation. In both respects the perfecting is an ethical process, since it took place by means of an ethical experience through which the Savior passed: He became acquainted with the force of temptation and learned the practice of obedience.

But so far as the notion of τελείωσις [perfection] in itself and from a formal point of view is concerned, the Epistle does not know this as an ethical but as an official conception. The term nowhere designates that Jesus was made ethically or religiously perfect, that His character was developed in either sense; it always designates that His qualifications for the high-priestly office were perfected, that He received the full-orbed equipment which His priestly ministry requires. The subject of the τελείωσις [perfection] is always the priest, never the man. That the means through which the τελείωσις [perfection] of the priest takes place lie in the moral sphere cannot alter this conclusion in the least. The author has nowhere said, and hardly would have said, that in His moral or religious character Jesus was made perfect.

 Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 149–150.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Religious Fundamentalism of Evolution/Darwinism (Johnson)

 (This is a re-blog from July, 2012)

I’ve heard about Phillip Johnson’s book, Darwin on Trial, but until recently I haven’t read it.  And I’m very glad I finally did. This book does not deal with superficial issues.  It gets right to the heart of the matter by examining the logic, presuppositions, and religious aspects of Darwinism. Darwin on Trial captured my attention immediately in the first chapter when Johnson said that the book was going to explore “whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism” (p. 14).  In other words, is evolution based on fact or faith?  Does Darwinism start with fact or with faith?  Here’s Johnson:

“I do not think that many scientists would be comfortable accepting Darwinism solely as a philosophical principle, without seeking to find at least some empirical evidence that it is true.  But there is an important difference between going to the empirical evidence to test a doubtful theory against some plausible alternative, and going to the evidence to look for confirmation of the only theory that one is willing to tolerate.  We have already seen that distinguished scientists have accepted uncritically the questionable analogy between natural and artificial selection, and they have often been undisturbed by the fallacies of the ‘tautology’ and ‘deductive logic’ formulations.  Such illogic survived and reproduced itself for the same reason that an apparent incompetent species sometimes avoids extinction; there was no effective competition in its ecological niche.” (p. 28-9).

You may have to read that paragraph again to see the depth of critique there.  Johnson later says, along those same lines, “It is one thing to say that there are gaps [in the fossil record], and quite another thing to claim the right to fill the gaps with the evidence required to support one’s theory” (p. 48).  Here’s one more quote to give you yet another angle on Johnson’s point.

“The fossils provide much more discouragement than support for Darwinism when they are examined objectively, but objective examination has rarely been the object of Darwinist paleontology.  The Darwinist approach has consistently been to find some supporting fossil evidence, claim it as proof for ‘evolution,’ and then ignore all the difficulties” (p. 86).

To be sure, Johnson doesn’t just make these claims over and over.  He supports them with examples from scientists and scientific studies.  In reading the book, I learned about the basilosaurus, saltationism, mutations, natural selection, materialism, and so forth. It isn’t for beginners!  Furthermore,  Johnson’s work is well documented so the curious reader can trace out some of his arguments.  If you have not yet read this book and are interested in this topic, I strongly recommend it.  It isn’t just for Christians; I’d give it to friends or family members who hold to evolution but are willing to learn and be challenged. (If you do get Darwin on Trial, you probably want to get the newest updated edition – from 2010 I believe.)  Though others may disagree, I believe the book shows that Darwinism is indeed a sort of religious fundamentalism.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Prenatal Genetic Testing and Abortion (Moreland/Rae)

 Our culture today has very subjective and illogical views on what it means to be a person.  For one of several examples, some say that an unborn baby with Down syndrome is not a person.  In fact, as many of our readers know, pregnant women can have tests to see if their unborn baby has a defect or health issue.  Moreland and Rae explain:

“It is widely assumed that if the couple were to get bad news about their child’s genetic makeup, they would end the pregnancy. But consider what that assumption indicates about the view of a human person. This kind of presumption about prenatal genetic testing suggests that personhood and the attendant rights to life are dependent on the child’s possessing an acceptable genetic makeup.  What constitutes such an acceptable makeup would be entirely up to the subjective preferences of the parents. It is solely the genetic anomaly that, in the minds of the parents, renders the fetus as less than a full person, since without the child’s anomaly, the parents would undoubtedly consider ending a pregnancy with their wanted child as immoral.

The fact that couples would end a pregnancy on the basis of genetic abnormality assumes that the fetus in the womb is not a full person.  Without that assumption, there would be no morally significant difference between ending the pregnancy when a woman is carrying a genetically defective fetus and ending the life of a genetically handicapped adult.  Society and the law take the latter as absurd, and in fact the argument is commonly made that the law owes even greater protection to the genetically handicapped because of their vulnerability. If personhood is denied based on genetic abnormality, then there is no justification for protecting the adult genetically handicapped population, which faces physical, mental and genetic challenges. Prenatal genetic testing and the corresponding assumptions about ending a pregnancy indicate a deeply flawed view of a human person.  Further, that assumption about what constitutes a person is illogical, since it cannot be applied evenly to all segments of the population.

I agree.  This example shows how our culture has a subjective and illogical definition of “person.”  Thankfully in Scripture we find an objective and logical definition: to be a human is to be a person and to be a person is to be a human.  This is assumed in Bible stories.  Furthermore, in Scripture a baby in the womb is considered a person.  It was David himself whom God knit together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).  Even terminally ill humans are considered people in Scripture (e.g. the story of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8).  This is objective and it makes sense.

Finally, this biblical definition of person means that all people – from embryos to newborns to middle aged to senior citizens, whether very healthy or very ill – all people are created in God’s image and have dignity and worth because of it. All these are people Christians are called to love and serve.  Don’t let anyone tell you that the Christian view of man is oppressive and dehumanizing.  The opposite is true!

The above quote is found on pages 308-309 of Body and Soul by J.P. Moreland and Scott. B. Rae.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Man Put to Shame for Me! (Bunyan)

The Pilgrim’s Progress We’re doing a study of The Pilgrim’s Progress for adult Sunday school this Fall/Winter.  I did read it quite a few years ago; reading it again and studying it in some depth has been a treat!  Here’s the song Christian sang after the burden fell off his back and rolled into the mouth of the sepulcher (tomb) and disappeared forever:

“Thus far I did come laden with my sin;
Nor could aught [anything] ease the grief that I was in
Til I came hither: What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it crack?
Blessed cross! Blessed sepulcher! Blessed rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!”

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Perfectionism, Pride, and Grace (Winter)

 This is one of those books I keep coming back to even though I read it quite a few years ago: Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter.  It really is worth the read if you need a resource on the topic of trying to be perfect (having the perfect job, the perfect kitchen, perfect kids, a perfect body, perfect grades, etc.).  Here’s one section near the end of the book where Winter talks about perfectionism, pride, and grace:

You may be wondering why my focus is on Christianity alone. All the great religions of the world, except one, have developed rituals and duties that are designed to make us feel more secure in an uncertain, lonely and threatening world.  But, whether it is Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Confucianism (and even in some versions of Christianity), believers can never be sure that they have done enough to make themselves acceptable to “God.”

… This is why Christianity has such a profound answer to some of the issues at the heart of perfectionism. The philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer never tired of saying that Christianity is both the easiest and hardest religion. His reasoning was that it is the easiest because we do not have to do anything to contribute to our salvation; we need only come with empty hands and a repentant heart to receive the free gift of God’s forgiveness and love. it is the hardest because we are proud, and we do not want to be indebted to anyone, not even God. We want to do something to ensure our own salvation. But the core of Christianity is about receiving God’s free gift of grace.

Richard Winter, Perfecting Ourselves to Death, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002