Thursday, November 30, 2006

Go Deep

Rebuilding Your World of Talk

By Justin Taylor @

Lately I've been dipping into Paul Tripp's book, War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles, which is "not a discussion of the techniques and skills for effective communication," but rather is "the story of the great battle for our hearts that is the reason for our struggle with words."Here are some notes from one of the sections on how to rebuild your talk so that it runs along the dual rails that God has designed--one rail called God's glory, the other rail called your neighbor's good.
1. Don't give in to regret. We should not become paralyzed by "if onlys." Remember that God is the Wonderful Counselor, the universe's best teacher; therefore, instead of regret we need to rest in his sovereign wisdom. Also remember that the God who forgives also restores, rebuilds, and reconciles.
2. Embrace gospel hope. While our sin confounds us, it never confounds the Savior. Trouble does not mean that God has forsaken us. And God not only forgives, but he also empowers.
3. Examine your fruit. "What is the fruit produced by your communication? Do you leave others encouraged, hopeful, and loved? Do your words lead to forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace? Does your communication impart wisdom and encourage faith? Or do your words lead to discouragement, division, condemnation, bitterness, and foolishness?"
4. Uncover your roots. Word problems always point to heart problems (Luke 6:45). People and situations do not cause us to speak the way we do. They are simply the occasion for the heart to express itself. Our heart controls our words.
5. Seek forgiveness. "Seeking forgiveness is like weeding a garden. It leaves the soil of the soul free to grow the new life of obedience. The weeds of unconfessed sin choke out the life of the soul. A major part of rebuilding your world of talk is to ask yourself the question, What specific sins of communication (both heart and mouth--see Luke 6:46) is the Lord calling me to confess to him or to others?"
6. Freely grant forgiveness. There are two aspects: (1) judicial, vertical forgiveness (willingness to let go of another's offense before God; Rom. 12:19); (2) relational, horizontal forgiveness (willingness to forgive anyone who comes seeking it; Eph. 4:32). There is no greater impediment to change than the unwillingness to seek and grant forgiveness.
7. Change the rules. What is God calling you to change in your communication? What new ways of speaking must replace the old ways? After the obedience of forgiveness, you must make a specific commitment to a new way of speaking. "The 'put off' of confession and repentance must be followed by the 'put on' of a specific, practical commitment to a new way of talking."
8. Look for opportunities. "This is not so much a change of direction as it is a change of perspective. Those situations that were the source of difficulty, those moments where unkind, selfish, and ungodly words were spoken, those situations you once dreaded, now become opportunities to experience the enabling grace of the Lord and exercise newfound character and obedience."
9. Choose your words. We must think before we speak, weighing our answers (Prov. 15:28), not speaking in haste like a fool.
10. Confess your weakness. The awareness of weakness is a sign of maturity. We will never outgrow our need for God's moment-by-moment supply of grace.
11. Don't give the Devil an opportunity.

Two things shut the door to Satan and his cruel work: (1) commitment to the courage of honesty and loving truthfulness; and (2) commitment to the humility of approachability.

War on Christmas? Nein!

Posted by Mollie @

I hope I’m not jinxing anything by asking this, but do you think we may be witnessing less “War on Christmas” media hype this year? It seemed the story was escalating annually, but I think we may have a reprieve this year.

Not that there haven’t been stories. Some genius Chicago officials created the first major entry into the annual rite, as reported by the Chicago Tribune’s Emma Graves Fitzsimmons:
A Nativity display has a spot at this year’s holiday celebrations in Daley Plaza. So does an Islamic crescent and a Jewish menorah.

But clips from a film celebrating the birth of baby Jesus are too much for the Christkindlmarket, a Christmas festival held at the plaza for more than 10 years.

The story is fairly representative of how most media outlets are handling the issue. (And thanks to all the readers who passed coverage of this story along.) The facts are being reported in a straightforward manner with analysis provided by various religious and political representatives.

At first city officials said they banned “The Nativity Story” from sponsorship because it might offend people who aren’t Christian but then they completely changed their story. The new version is that they objected to the film because it was too commercial. And that apparently conflicted with the, uh, commercial nature of the marketplace. Fitzsimmons did a good job of following up on the city officials’ latest excuse:
Other sponsors include the Hard Rock Hotel, Mercedes-Benz and Lufthansa airline. But while they, too, are commercial enterprises, their presence at the festival is more muted, city officials said.

The film studio was stunned by the news that the festival didn’t want its $12,000.
“We don’t understand why our sponsorship would be rejected for religious reasons, particularly considering the fact that our film details the story that inspired the holiday season that the Christkindlmarket was created to celebrate,” New Line Cinema spokesman Robert Pini said in a statement.

Just a good and interesting story. In the few minutes since I started writing this post, another Christmas War story came across my screen. I think I really might have jinxed this. The Associated Press reports on a situation out of Vienna:
St. Nick, nein! A ban on St. Nicholas at Vienna’s kindergartens is taking some of the ho-ho-ho out of the holidays for tens of thousands of tots this year. And it’s creating a political ruckus, with opposition parties accusing City Hall of kowtowing to a growing Muslim population by showing Europe’s Santa the kindergarten door.

I love all the information packed into the opening graph. And written in such a lively manner. I can only assume the writer’s jaunty prose is an attempt to make what has now become a mundane story a bit more interesting.

Time, Newsweek in early schism over the pope

Posted by tmatt @

Wow. Reader Janette Kok dropped us a note noting the radical difference taken in the Time’s article on the papal trip to Turkey, in comparison to that in Newsweek, which, in fairness, was written by a ringer — Catholic scholar George Weigel.

The Newsweek piece is about the important ecumenical trip the pope planned long ago that has been changed, radically, by the tempest over his remarks about Christianity, Islam and human reason.

The Time piece by Jeff Israely focuses totally on Islam and politics, with little or no content on the original papal goal of pushing for human rights and religious liberty in Turkey (with a special emphasis on the plight of Orthodox Christians). Everything starts with the headline, which is “The Pope Tones Down His Act in Turkey — Long known for his rigid thinking, Benedict XVI shows new flexibility in trying to mend fences in the wake of his controversial speech about Islam.”

No, I didn’t make that up. Read the article for yourself.
Meanwhile, one of the early Associated Press reports contains a fine, concise paragraph of statistics — a wire-service basic — and then a historical paragraph that is, to say the least, puzzling or incomplete.

First the statistics:
Of Turkey’s 70 million people, some 65,000 are Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 are Roman Catholic, and 3,500 are Protestant, mostly converts from Islam. Another 2,000 are Greek Orthodox and 23,000 are Jewish. The European Union has called on Turkey to expand religious freedoms.

So far, so good. Then comes this:
The pope planned to travel to Istanbul later Wednesday to meet Bartholomew I, leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. The two major branches of Christianity represented by Bartholomew and Benedict split in 1054 over differences in opinion on the power of the papacy. The two spiritual heads will meet in an attempt to breach the divide and reunite the churches.

Well now. Papal authority certainly was an issue, but I think the great ecumenical schism was a bit more complex than that and it involved more than “opinion.” Click here for background. However, I will admit that this question looms in a discussion of wire-service coverage of complex theological issues: How many newspaper readers have heard of the Nicene Creed, let alone the filioque clause?

Meanwhile, does anyone on either side of the schism think that the pope and the patriarch are actually meeting “in an attempt to breach the divide and reunite the churches”? That’s overstating the matter a bit.

By the way, has anyone seen MSM coverage noting that the leadership of the massive Greek Orthodox Church may have a different take on Turkey entering the European Union than the tiny church that remains based in Istanbul? Greece is not a minor country in the Orthodox East.

More on Helping People Change

Posted by Wayne Shih @

Ken Sande has an article on Getting to the Heart of Conflict. Although its focus is on dealing with conflict, the article is relevant to counseling in that it deals with an important dimension of change in people's lives.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if people could simply renounce their bad habits and decide to respond to conflict in a gracious and constructive way? But it is not that easy. In order to break free from the pattern they have fallen into, they need to understand why they react to conflict the way they do.Sande describes our problem patterns as the progression of an idol (see also this).
An idol, as we have seen, is any desire that has grown into a consuming demand that rules our heart; it is something we think we must have to be happy, fulfilled, or secure. To put it another way, it is something we love, fear, or trust.Love, fear, trust—these are words of worship! Jesus commands us to love God, fear God, and trust God and God alone (Matthew 22:37; Luke 12:4-5; John 14:1). Any time we long for something apart from God, fear something more than God, or trust in something other than God to make us happy, fulfilled, or secure, we are engaging in the worship of false gods. As a result, we deserve the judgment and wrath of the true God.Here is the process Sande proposes that we use to examine our life, in order to progressively expose the idols that rule our hearts and be delivered from them.

Prayerfully ask yourself the "X-ray" questions listed previously [see the article], which will help you discern the desires that have come to rule your heart.

Keep track of your discoveries in a journal so that you can identify patterns and steadily go after specific idols.

Pray daily that God would rob your idols of their influence in your life by making you miserable whenever you give in to them.

Describe your idols to your spouse and an accountability partner, and ask them to pray for you and lovingly confront you when they see signs that the idol is still controlling you.
Realize that idols are masters of change and disguise. As soon as you gain a victory over a particular sinful desire, your idol is likely to reappear in a related form, with a redirected desire and more subtle means of attracting your attention.

If you are dealing with an idol that is difficult to identify or conquer, go to your pastor or some other spiritually mature advisor, and seek his or her counsel and support.
Most of all, ask God to replace your idols with a growing love for Him and a consuming desire to worship Him and Him alone.

Should We Light Candles?

By Tim Challies @

I receive all kinds of interesting questions from readers of this site. Recently one of these, a friend, asked my opinion of lighting advent candles in worship services. "Would you say the lighting of advent candles fit under the category of imagery," he asked, "or would it be considered symbolism? What's the difference? Does observance of advent violate the Regulative Principle?" I would like to consider this question today and will focus primarily on the third portion of the question, dealing with the Regulative Principle.

Let's begin by defining the Regulative Principle (also known as the Regulatory Principle). This principle is no longer widely practiced in the Christian world but not too many years ago was observed in most Protestant churches. It continues to find support today in a variety of predominantly Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian congregations. It is important to note that this principle applies only to worship services and not to other elements of life.

The Regulative Principle of worship states that the only acceptable worship is that which is explicitly taught or modelled in the Bible. By extension then, anything that is not explicitly taught in the Bible is implicitly forbidden. The Regulatory Principle is most often applied to music in the worship service, but can also apply to the use of drama, the administration of the Lord's Supper (how is it celebrated and how often?) and any other number of situations (including the use of advent candles). Churches that adhere to the Regulative Principle will insist that God, in His wisdom, provided particular ways in which we are to worship Him and these are outlined in Scripture. Means of worship that we may invent will not be acceptable to a perfect and holy God. In the New Testament God has given us certain rules and restrictions just as He gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Like the Israelites of old, these rules are given for our protection and within them rules we have great freedom to worship the Lord. Churches that do not hold to the Regulative Principle may take the opposite approach and assume that God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. As long as all of our worship is edifying and does not directly contradict a practice that is forbidden, it will be acceptable in God's sight. This is the view of worship held by the majority of evangelical churches.

The definitive statement regarding the Regulatory Principle can be found in the Westminster Confession, Chapter 21, paragraph 1 which reads, "The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture." This statement is echoed in the London Baptist Confession of 1689, showing that the confessions undergirding both Baptist and Presbyterian churches once held to this principle.

The Regulative Principle is built upon the following five biblical commands concerning worship:
We are to worship God in ways that edify our local church (1 Corinthians 14:26).
We are to worship God in a proper and orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40).
We are to worship God in Spirit and truth (John 4:24).
We are to worship God in reverence (Hebrews 12:28-29).
We are to worship God in awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Despite the fact that the Regulative Principle has been utilized by churches for centuries, there is still a great deal of discussion and disagreement about what aspects of the worship service are to be governed by it. To understand what falls under the purvey of the Regulative Principle it is crucial that we make the crucial distinction between elements and circumstances of worship. Let's consider a few questions that may arise when discussing worship services and see whether these can rightly be governed according to the Regulative Principle?
Should a worship service be held on Saturday or Sunday?
Should a worship service be held at 10 AM or 11 AM?
Should a worship service be 2 hours long or 12 hours long?
Should dance be permitted during the worship service?
Which psalms and hymns should we sing in church?
Should we permit voice amplification in the service?
Should we use hymn books or Powerpoint projection?

To answer these questions, we need to understand the difference between the elements of worship and the circumstances (or form) of worship. The Regulative Principle can seen daunting or terribly restrictive, but I feel it seems far less so when properly understood, for the Principle is really meant only to apply to elements. It is important to note that this division transcends Reformed worship and is a helpful way to understand all that happens in worship services in all Christian traditions. The service of your local church is divided into elements and circumstances and you may find it helpful to consider which is which.

Said simply, the elements of worship are the "what" of worship - the parts that, according to the Regulative Principle, are fixed by God in Scripture. Examining the New Testament will show the elements that are permitted and commanded by Scripture. These include reading Scripture, prayer, singing, preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments of baptism and Lord's Supper. The worship service should incorporate each of these elements, though there is some disagreement on whether each element must appear in each service, especially in regards to celebration of the Lord's Supper. T. David Gordon writes, "It is not difficult to conclude that the elements which are anticipated by our Lord's instructions to the disciples, which are observed in the churches under apostolic oversight, which are regulated by inspired epistle, are the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, spoken and sung prayers and praises, and collections for the relief of the saints." It is likewise not difficult to conclude that these are the only elements that are explicitly modelled in New Testament worship. In churches that do not hold to the Regulative Principle, the elements can extend to a variety of other practices and activities such as drama, foot washing and prophecy to name only a few.

The following list of elements, typical of a church that adheres to the Regulative Principle, is compiled by Reisinger & Allen in their book entitled Worship:
The reading of Scripture (Acts 15:21, Rev. 1:3)
The preaching of the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:2)
The hearing of the word of God (James 1:19)
The singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19, James 5:13)
Baptism (Matthew 28:19)
The Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23, Acts 2:42)
The Collection of Offerings (Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 9:3-12)

If the elements of worship are the "what," the circumstances of worship are the "how" - the conditions that determine the best way to worship God within the structure provided by the elements. The Westminster Confession says, "there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed" (1.6). The Directory of Worship for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church states, "The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given his church a large measure of liberty in this matter." While there is little freedom in the elements of worship, there is great freedom within them according to circumstances. However, as with every area of life, this freedom must be exercised cautiously and in a way consistent with Scripture.

So let's turn again to the questions we asked earlier and determine which are elements and which are circumstances. I will attempt to answer each in a way that is consistent with the Regulative Principle.

Should a worship service be held on Saturday or Sunday? - According to most Christians who adhere to the Regulative Principle, this question is answered clearly in the Scripture. Worship services are to model the New Testament example by being held on the Lord's Day - the first day of the week. The confessions state plainly: "The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy."

Should a worship service be held at 10 AM or 11 AM? - This is a circumstance, not an element. Thus the leaders of the church should decide on a time (or on several times) that best suits that congregation. There are any number of considerations. For example, a rural church may need to work around the schedule of farmers to allow them to attend church; a church that rents a building may have to worship later in the day, and so on.

Should a worship service be 2 hours long or 12 hours long? - This is a circumstance. While a service should be long enough to incorporate the elements the Scripture models, a service that is too long might lose its effectiveness.

Should dance be permitted during the worship service? - This is an element. There is no place in Scripture where dance is permitted as an element of worship. Thus dance should not be permitted during the worship service.

Which psalms and hymns should we sing in church? - This is a circumstance. Scripture commands us to sing but does not dictate exactly what we should sing. I will point out that some people believe that only the singing of Psalms is allowed in the New Testament, and thus we should sing only Psalms in our worship services. Most churches that adhere to the Regulative Principle teach that we have greater freedom than that in our music.

Should we permit voice amplification in the service? - This is a circumstance. If necessity dictates voice amplification, it is expedient to use it.

Should we use hymn books or Powerpoint projection? - This is a circumstance. Displaying words in a book or on a screen is circumstantial. However, if the Powerpoint projection includes pictures meant to enhance the singing or preaching many who adhere to the Regulative Principle would argue that the Scripture does not allow images in worship, and thus we must project only plain text.

When we understand the difference between the elements and circumstances of worship, we can put to rest many of the questions about the Regulative Principle. Any questions that have to do with the elements can be answered quickly by comparing the element in question with what is permitted in Scripture. Questions regarding circumstances are moderately more difficult to answer clearly, but we are given more freedom in the way we answer them in ways appropriate to particular settings for they are not directly governed by the Principle.

This article has already gotten lengthy, so I will conclude it tomorrow by applying the Regulative Principle to advent candles. I will also provide my beliefs about this Principle and its usefulness for churches today.

Apologetic Lectures

Is the Christian faith rational? Reasonable? How do we respond to other faiths in this world?

These lectures were originally delivered in the Fall of 2004 on the campus of Denver Seminary, by Dr. Douglas Groothuis (Professor of Philosophy). They are provided here, with permission, to challenge and edify. Provided also are lecture notes supplied to attendees, and relevant books to supplement the lectures.
See also our Companion Page, which provides additional perspective on, and application of, the material given.

This week's lecture, in mp3 format:

23. Questions and Answers--Another short one! Coming off the "God and Moral Meaning" session, a series of questions and answers.

Questions and Answers (20 minutes; 4.5 megs)
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No Lecture Notes

Additional Readings Pertinent to the Lectures:

No Doubt About it. Winfried Corduan (Nashville, TN: Broadman, Holman, 1997);

Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. Douglas Groothuis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000)

On Jesus. Douglas Groothuis (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2003; published June 2002)

Confronting the New Age. Douglas Groothuis (InterVarsity, 1988);

Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. J.P. Moreland (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987)

The Universe Next Door, 4rd edition. James Sire (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004)

Past Lectures:

i. Introductory Lecture--some words about the nature of the lectures, and it's speaker, Dr. Douglas Groothuis.
Dr. Douglas Groothuis (26 minutes; 6 megs)
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1. The Nature of Apologetics--The real meat of the opening lectures. What is the nature of Truth? Discusses the importance of propositional statements and truth claims. Defines "apologetics," and it's relationship to philosophy, theology, and evangelism.
The Nature and Purpose of Apologetics part 1 (1 hour, 21 minutes; 18.5 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

2. The Nature of Apologetics--Why is apologetics important? What's the point--and what are we trying to accomplish?

The Nature and Purpose of Apologetics part 2 (38 minutes; 9 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

3. Developing an Apologetic Mind--Why are Christians unskilled--and unschooled--in apologetic practices? What can we learn from Jesus' apologetic example?

Developing an Apologetic Mind for the Postmodern World part 1 (1 hour, 9 minutes; 16 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

4. Developing an Apologetic Mind--How do we deal with the fluid definition of "truth" in today's postmodern world? Is it possible for a thing to be objectively true for one person, but not objectively true for another? Discusses also the challenge that television and media plays for apologetics.

Developing an Apologetic Mind for the Postmodern World part 2 (1 hour, 13 minutes; 17 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

5. Worldviews, Truth, and Knowledge--What is "knowable," and how do we communicate it? Continues the discussion on the difficulties of making statements of knowledge in a postmodern world (which rejects that certain things can be knowable). Compares the postmodern view of truth to the Christian view.

Worldviews, Truth, and Knowledge part 1 (1 hour, 15 minutes; 17 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

6. Worldviews, Truth, and Knowledge--Discusses the shortcomings of a relativistic worldview, and the roots of relativism. Discusses also Jesus' worldview.

Worldviews, Truth, and Knowledge part 2 (57 minutes; 13 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

7. Truth and Knowledge--What does it mean to "know" something? How do you know what you know? What is the difference between belief and knowledge?

Truth and Knowledge (57 minutes; 11.5 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

8. Conventionalism--A short one! Is it possible to change worldviews? Is it fair to ask people of other cultures to consider Christianity? Some definite food for thought.

Conventionalism (14 minutes; 3.2 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

9. Testing Worldviews--a discussion on finding common ground in apologetic discussions, and evaluating the worldviews both of others, and ourselves. Also includes a discussion on the tragedy of 9/11: what apologetic evidence is offered up by moral indignation?

Testing Worldviews (47 minutes; 11 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

10. The Project of Natural Theology--Can we rationally establish the existence of God? Also a discussion on why it is difficult for some people to admit their worldview is in error.

The Project of Natural Theology (26 minutes; 6 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

11. Atheism--What about those arguments atheists use against Christianity? Can God create a square circle, or a boulder so heavy that even He can't pick it up? Where does atheism fall short?

Atheism (24 minutes; 5.5megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

12. Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God--This is the beginning of the meat of the lectures. Discusses the "cosmological" arguments for God's existence; why God must exist.

Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God part 1 (38 minutes; 8.6 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

13. Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God--An introduction to the Kalam Cosmological argument, and some of the philosophical difficulties of infinity.

Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God part 2 (34 minutes; 8 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

14. Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God--Continues the Kalam Cosmological argument, looking at some of the scientific confirmations (somtimes inadvertant!) of the argument. Discusses also, briefly, issues of time and theistic evolution.

Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God part 3 (53 minutes; 12 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

15. Design Arguments for the Existence of God--What does nature tell us about the existence of God? If the world and universe appears to be designed, does it not follow that there must be a Designer?

Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 1 (51 minutes; 11.5 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

16. Design Arguments for the Existence of God--What does DNA tell us about the existence of God? As we look at the design of the universe, what is the best interpretation? Touches briefly upon the "Many Worlds" theory, and weakness thereof.

Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 2 (41 minutes; 9.5 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

17. Design Arguments for the Existence of God--What does the mind tell us about the existence of God? Also addresses some of the criticisms that have been raised about the Design Argument.

Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 3 (51 minutes; 12 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

18. Design Arguments for the Existence of God--Argument from Mind continued. Is the physical world everything? Or is there something to the mind beyond the physical? Includes a discussion on the Vulcan Mind Meld!

Design Arguments for the Existence of God part 4 (39 minutes; 9 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

19. God and Moral Meaning--Most everyone has some sort of moral principle. Is this existence of this moral order best explained by a moral God? Includes a digression to comment on politics, abortion, and John Kerry.

God and Moral Meaning part 1 (40 minutes; 9 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

20. God and Moral Meaning--Naturalism (the denial of the supernatural, or higher powers) eventually leads to Nihilism (the rejection of absolute truth and morality). But what are the consequences of this?

God and Moral Meaning part 2 (29 minutes; 7 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

21. God and Moral Meaning--What is the foundation of morality? Where does guilt come from? Can morality be explained naturalistically--apart from God?

God and Moral Meaning part 3 (43 minutes; 10 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

22. Argument from Religious Experience--Thus far we've given arguments for the existence of God from the origin of the universe, tne nature of the universe, morality, ect. How much weight should be given to personal experience?

Argument from Religious Experience (45 minutes; 10.5 megs)
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Lecture Notes (Click Here to download in Word format)

23. Questions and Answers--Another short one! Coming off the "God and Moral Meaning" session, a series of questions and answers.

Questions and Answers (20 minutes; 4.5 megs)
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No Lecture Notes

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In praise of quirky news interviews

Posted by tmatt @

I have been feeling kind of guilty because GetReligion hasn’t even mentioned the bizarre semi-story of the week that has been so hot out there in the blogosphere, especially on conservative Catholic sites.

I am referring to that strange little interview that New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon did with Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. In case you missed the wave of cybercoverage of this story, including in our own comments pages, here are the remarks that have been getting so much attention:
How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.
Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

As you can imagine, great fun was had in the usual places because of this statement. Anglican capitalists sprang into action, as did humorists. Lots of amused or angry people wrote letters to

This would explain why the Episcopal Church has, in a generation or so, lost a million members and many that remain are getting a bit long in the tooth. Losses have been especially sharp in the past two or three years, as discussed in this story in the liberal mainline Protestant journal The Christian Century.

Catholic writers, in particular, were rather miffed that the Episcopal leader created such a stark equation that said, in effect: Our numbers are declining because we are smarter and care more about the environment than all of those populist Catholics and Mormons (recall that Jefferts Schori was bishop of the tiny Diocese of Nevada before her election as archbishop).
But I didn’t quite know what to say about this Times mini-interview because, for starters, I thought the questions were interesting and so were the answers. It is also true that when people get richer, more urban and very highly educated they tend to have fewer children. And the heart of the Episcopal Church’s leadership comes from areas that are rich, urban and highly, highly educated. At the same time, the Episcopal Church’s parishes that are experiencing rapid growth tend to be in the Sunbelt, in growing suburban areas and popular with young, growing families.

So it was a good interview, with a few interesting questions that produced interesting responses, much like that Here & Now public radio interview that produced the new presiding bishop’s revealing comments about people finding salvation through the culturally appropriate religion of their choice.

Quirky questions. Quirky answers. That’s good, right? Like that question about her husband and their long-distance marriage?

You were previously bishop of Nevada, but your new position requires you to live in New York City. Do you and your husband like it here?

He is actually in Nevada. He is a retired mathematician. He will be here in New York when it makes sense.

The question for me is whether Jefferts Schori will continue to be this candid in interviews with news organizations that she respects and to which she wants to talk in order to reach her liberal base. Is it possible that she felt too comfortable talking to the Times and to a public-radio show? That she felt a bit too secure?

I, for one, hope that her candor continues. I have always enjoyed covering religious leaders — on the left and the right — who have strong convictions and are not afraid to share them near microphones and pens.

He Is There and He Is Not Silent

posted by Kirk M. Wellum @

Recently a friend of mine sent me to a video of a "Clown Eucharist" held at Trinity Church in New York City. That's right... you read it correctly... a Clown Eucharist! It is one of those videos that you have to see to believe! If you ever needed proof of the pathetic state of Christianity in the West and a demonstration of why proponents of Islam believe that Christianity is bankrupt; look no further, this is it. Although there are many things that could be said about this sad performance in this post I want to focus on just one element.

At the very beginning of the "service" we are told that "mime and sign rather than speech are going to be used because this allows us to visually participate in worship in a profound and intentional way that does not rely on spoken language". Unfortunately, this is not that unusual. Today there is a growing aversion to words in many difference circles. This in spite of the fact that the climax of redemptive history involves the very word of God himself becoming flesh and revealing the Father to us by speaking to us in human language. His incarnation is then joined to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the apostles to that they are able to understand and communicate the truth of God to us, and this is tied to the giving of the Spirit to the New Covenant community so that the law of God is written on our hearts.

Christianity without words is impossible. It is theologically absurd because the biblical God is a talking God who reveals himself by means of words. The gospel is not a mime or a sign! It is a declaration of the good news of God. It tells us who he is and who we are and our great need of a Savior. God has not left us to wander in the dark. Nor has he merely acted without explanation. He has spoken and he has given us the task of going into all the world and telling what he has done. He tells us to give attention to the reading of Scripture, to teach others to observe everything that he has commanded us and to preach the word in season and out of season. We must not miss the fact that according to the apostle Paul faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God!

If the church has lost its voice, it is because it has wandered from the truth as it is in Christ. We are not called to play games and leave people to fill in the blanks for themselves. We are called to rightly divide the word of truth and to pass on to others what has been entrusted to us at great cost. Revival will never come as a result of mime. But it will be found where and when the Holy Spirit blesses his own word so that it comes home with power to the human heart as it did on the Day of Pentecost which ushered in the New Covenant era. Different forms of artistic expression may be used to communicate the gospel message at some level, but none come close to the foolishness of the message preached by the heralds of God. May God have mercy on us so that "clown eucharists" do not become the next fad of the church. Let us pray that he will not send us the worst kind of famine: a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11).

Articles on Homemaking, Singleness

Some of the articles from the most recent issue of The Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood have been posted online by Sovereign Grace Ministries:
Carolyn Mahaney, "Homemaking Internship"
Nicole Whitacre, "Future Homemakers"
Carolyn McCulley, "When You Don't Have a Better Half: Encouraging Biblical Roles as a Single Woman.

A description of the entire "By Women for Women" issue can be read here.

Explanations for Evil, Part I

Posted by Jeremy @

This is the the twenty-ninth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post presented the evidential problem of evil, including five questions that deal with specific kinds or manifestations of evil thought by some to be evidence against the existence of God. This post begins a series of responses looking at answers to those five questions, starting with the first two.
A. The primary response to the logical problem of evil involves free actions of human beings. What about kinds of evil that aren’t the result of the free actions of human beings?

Two things have been suggested about what is sometimes called natural evil (i.e. evil not caused by human beings). Natural disasters, suffering in nature, and so on may not be the result of free human actions, but it’s possible that they are all the result of free beings. Alvin Plantinga has suggested that perhaps non-human, even non-physical, beings are responsible for all the evil that does not result from human choices. Some people might call these beings fallen angels or demons. Even if we do not consider that possibility likely, it remains a possibility that we cannot absolutely rule out. Should we believe that all such evil is caused by such beings? Probably not, but it remains enough of a possibility for theists that it means there is at least a possible explanation. If there is a possible alternative explanation for the existence of a kind of evil, then the claim that a good God would never be able to allow it seems wrong. There is at least one possible way that a good being would allow such things, and that is if other free creatures do it in a way that it would be wrong for God to stop them (thus mirroring the free human beings response to the logical problem of evil discussed in a previous post).

As it happens, most theists do not believe fallen angels or demons cause all natural evil such as the suffering from forest fires, tsunamis, hurricanes, or earthquakes. They might say something else, however. There seems to be no point to freedom if we cannot predict the consequences of our free actions at least to some degree. If I try to give someone a hug but cannot control my arms and end up giving them an uppercut to the jaw instead, that would be bad. For this reason we should expect a being like God to make the world in a way that is predictable and orderly. In other words, it should follow certain natural laws. These regularities would allow us to predict the consequences of our actions, thus allowing our choices to be genuinely free. However, they also might generate natural processes that lead to landslides, tornadoes, and floods.

It might be that natural evil is just the result of natural processes. It so happens that most people believe so anyway. But the point here is that a being like God should be expected to consider those natural processes to be crucial to free action, and thus we would expect God to allow them and their negative consequences because not allowing the world to be predictable and regular in its processes would have even worse consequences.

B. God might allow free human beings to make evil choices, but why wouldn’t God immediately restore things to the way they were so that the world would not continue to contain evil? That would seem to be the most obvious way to prevent as much evil as possible without violating people’s freedom. The choice would be allowed, but its negative effects would never arise.
Several difficulties arise when you think more fully about such a situation. For one thing, it would make God a deceiver. How could things be restored immediately if people could still remember what happened? So God would have to changed their memories, deceiving them about what happened. Would a good being do that? Some think not.

Second, it seems to count against freedom. If people freely choose to do evil, then what is God doing by wiping out the effects and memories of that choice? In effect, God allows them to think they are choosing, but such an act would remove the person’s ability to choose to do exactly that thing. The thing the person chose to do was not just the initial act but what it would be reasonable to expect it to lead to. If God prevents that, it seems unfree.

Third, wiping out the effects of people’s actions might bring things back to how they were before the first free choice to do evil, but it could happen all over again just as easily. If it is possible that allowing the consequences of evil to remain would eventually serve the purpose of preventing people from doing evil in the future, then it might be worth allowing evil and its consequences for a time in the light of the future that God will eventually move toward when people will not do such things and will freely choose not to do such things.

It might be worth mentioning here also that the idea of an afterlife also might minimize this objection to some degree. The evil we face is surely bad, but it is temporary. Eventually this life is over. If there is an afterlife, as many theists believe, then God might be more inclined to allow evil to go on for some time to achieve certain effects, and it might be worth it in the long run. After all, an eternity without end of no evil might count very strongly in favor of a situation that allows some evil if you contrast it with an eternity that does not guarantee the removal of evil at all.

Next: Questions C and D

Introducing the Emerging Church

By John MacArthur @

The Emerging Church Movement is made up of an admittedly broad and variegated collection of pastors and church leaders, with a common concern for Christian mission within a postmodern generation.

As one author explains:
At the heart of the “movement”—or as some of its leaders prefer to call it, the “conversation”—lies the conviction that changes in the culture signal that a new church is “emerging.” Christian leaders must therefore adapt to this emerging church. Those who fail to do so are blind to the cultural accretions that hide the gospel behind forms of thought and modes of expression that no longer communicate with the new generation, the emerging generation. (D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005], 12)

Mark Driscoll, an ”emerging” pastor himself, defines the movement this way:
The emerging church is a growing, loosely connected movement of primarily young pastors who are glad to see the end of modernity and are seeking to function as missionaries who bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to emerging and postmodern cultures. The emerging church welcomes the tension of holding in one closed hand the unchanging truth of evangelical Christian theology (Jude 3) and holding in one open hand the many cultural ways of showing and speaking Christian truth as a missionary to America (1 Cor. 9:19–23). Since the movement, if it can be called that, is young and is still defining its theological center, I do not want to portray the movement as ideologically unified because I myself swim in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church. (Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006], 22)

In asserting himself as a theological conservative, however, Driscoll is in the minority among ECM leaders. The neo-liberal thrust embraced by the majority of those in ECM is spearheaded by Emergent, an organization begun in 2001, which is deliberate in its desire to impact the entire movement.

By 2001, we had formed an organization around our friendship, known as Emergent, as a means of inviting more people into the conversation. Along with us, the “emerging church” movement has been growing, and we in Emergent Village endeavor to fund the theological imaginations and spiritual lives of all who consider themselves a part of this broader movement. (Online Source)
Because of the influence of Emergent, many have seen the term as synonymous with “emerging,” referring to the movement as a whole as the Emergent Church Movement. Those who are more conservative, however, differentiate between the terms. As Driscoll writes:
I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church Movement in its early days and spent a few years traveling the country to speak to emerging leaders in an effort to help build a missional movement in the United States. The wonderful upside of the emerging church is that it elevates mission in American culture to a high priority, which is a need so urgent that its importance can hardly be overstated.

I had to distance myself, however, from one of many streams in the emerging church because of theological differences. Since the late 1990s, this stream has become known as Emergent. The emergent church is part of the Emerging Church Movement but does not embrace the dominant ideology of the movement. Rather the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only differences is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity. (Driscoll, Confessions, 21)

It is this particular segment of ECM, the Emergent Church, that has most blatantly attacked the clarity and authority of the Scripture. And of all the voices that make up Emergent, the most prominent belongs to Brian D. McLaren.

McLaren has been called “the emerging church’s most influential thinker,” as well as “the de facto spiritual leader for the emerging church.” He currently serves as the chair of the board of directors for Emergent Village, and is a frequent guest on television programs and radio shows. In February 2005, he was listed as “One of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” by Time Magazine. His books include A New Kind of Christian, A Generous Orthodoxy, and most-recently The Secret Message of Jesus. Though the ECM is admittedly diverse, McLaren has emerged as its most prominent spokesman.

Other ECM leaders include Spencer Burke, Eddie Gibbs, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Kyle Lake, Erwin McManis, Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, and Leonard Sweet.

Counseling and How to Change

posted by Wayne Shih @

How does change take place in people's lives? Here are some biblical reflections from a few different sources:- Justin Taylor refers to the The Dynamics of Biblical Change taught by David Powlison.
Here are the eight questions to ask in seeking the dynamics of biblical sanctification:
1. What is my situation? (What was or what will be my situation?)
2. How am I reacting? (or How did I react? How will I be tempted to react?)
3. What is ruling me? (Desires, expectations, fears, beliefs)
4. What are the consequences of my reaction? (Vicious circles)
5. Who is God? What does He say? What resources will He provide to help in my need?
6. How can I turn to God for help? (Hebrews 4:16)
7. How should I respond to the situation in order to honor God?8. What are the consequences of living in faith and obedience? (Gracious circles)

- Tim Keller preaches on How to Change (takes about 30 seconds to load).
- Timmy at Provocations and Pantings writes about Conscious for a Change, and shares this quote from Jay Adams:
Since God has made counselees with the capacity for living according to habit, counselors must reckon with habit when seeking to help counselees change. They must help them consciously to take a hard look at their life styles. They must help them to become conscious of life patterns by carefully examining their unconscious responses. Their unconsciousness must again become conscious. As they become aware of life patterns, they must evaluate them by the Word of God. So, as much as I'm a Bob Newhart fan, just telling people to "Stop it" is not all there is to change. Even the moralist can do that. The person with a high level of self-discipline can make the needed changes, if that's all there is to it. But biblical change is a matter from the inside out, requires the work of the Spirit, and involves the entire reorientation of our lives to delight in Christ.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Advent Wreath: The First Candle

By Mark Roberts @

Today in our worship services – I'm writing this on Sunday evening – we lit the first candle of the Advent wreath. As that small fire atop a purple candle burned slowly, I felt my own heart warmed with the hope of the coming of Christ.

If you're in a fairly traditional or liturgical church, you may immediately connect with what I'm saying here. But it's quite possible, given the wide varieties of Christian experience in our world today, that you have no idea what I'm talking about or why the lighting of a candle would be so special to me.

In the next few days I'll explain more about Advent and why I think it's such an important season of the year. But, today, I'd like to focus instead on the meaning of Advent as represented by the first candle in our Advent wreath.

An Advent wreath with the first candle lit.

I should explain that there is no one, official set of meanings for the candles of the Advent wreath. I can't even remember where the one we use at Irvine Presbyterian Church originated. Nevertheless, the typical Advent wreath has five candles, one for each Sunday of Advent and one for Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve). The candle colors vary, though most wreaths have purple candles (the standard Advent color, signifying solemnity or royalty) and a central white candle for the birth of Christ. Some wreaths use a pink candle for one of the Sundays of Advent, as a symbol of joy. If you're not used to all of this, it can seem strange to have purple and pink colors prominent in the weeks right before Christmas. But, in time, the colors make sense to both mind and heart. (For more information on the colors of the Christian year, see my posts: "Overview of the Christian Year" and "The Colors of the Christian Year.")

In my church, all of candles of the Advent wreath signify some dimension of our waiting. Advent is, after all, a season of hopeful waiting for the coming of Christ. The first candle reminds us that we are waiting for our Good Shepherd. This morning, those who lit the candle read a portion of Isaiah 40:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

If you're familiar with Handel's Messiah, no doubt you can hear the way Handel set these lines to music. They convey God's good news to Judah: He is coming to make all things right! Notice that the Lord is strong, but His strength is not something to be feared by His people. Rather, it enables Him to gather His people as a shepherd picks up his lambs.

The first candle of the Advent wreath helps us to recognize just how much we need God to be our Good Shepherd. We need guidance. We need protection. We need comfort. And this is what God provides. Advent heightens our awareness of our need for a Shepherd, and it points us to the only One who can meet this need. His is not power to be feared, but to be desired.

(Note: If you'd like to use an Advent wreath for your personal, family, or church's recognition of Advent, I've prepared an Advent wreath guide that you might find helpful.)

"The Nativity Story" -- In Season and On Message

By Albert Mohler @

My family and I attended a media screening for The Nativity Story last night. Here is my instant review -- the movie is in season and on message. In other words, the movie faithfully presents the main thrust of the Christmas story. That is no small achievement.
The movie, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, takes some liberties with the biblical accounts found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Nevertheless, the invented scenes and dialogue do not distract from the biblical storyline. The screenplay by Mike Rich presents key truths such as the virgin conception and deity of Jesus with unambiguous clarity and artistic force.

The gospel accounts are the starting point for any telling of the story, of course. At the same time, there is no comprehensive biblical narrative that fills in every detail. We are left with huge questions. Joseph is described in the New Testament merely as a "righteous man" who believed God and obeyed angelic visions. When Mary is found to be "with child," Joseph decides the put her away privately, rather than to defend his own honor through a public accusation against his betrothed bride. Beyond these facts, we know little of Joseph the Carpenter. Yet, as a character in this movie, Joseph is almost as developed as the character of Mary.

The movie presents invented dialogue and situations including a focus upon Mary's parents and family, the village of Nazareth, the emergence of Joseph, and Mary's relationship with her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

Invented scenes include an imagined version of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem (including a river crossing scene, complete with a threatening snake) and representations of the brutal oppression of the Jews by King Herod the Great -- a character who can hardly be imagined as more evil than he actually was. The film also attempts to convey the messianic hopes of the Jewish people, suffering under multiple levels of oppression.

Mike Rich, the screenwriter who wrote the script, explained his decision to expand the story: "The only way to tell the story was to try and take that foundation in Matthew and Luke and expand upon it, while at the same time being very faithful to the spirit, tone, and content of those Gospels." The same is basically true of nativity plays presented in churches across America.

The most extravagant display of that creativity involves the Magi. As presented in the movie, the Magi provide historical context, important dialogue, and a degree of comic relief. Yet, these men are presented in a believable manner, without farce. Of course, the Gospel of Matthew never specifies a number of the Magi (stipulating only the three gifts), much less their names. The movie simply assumes the tradition of three Magi named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar -- a European tradition traceable only to the seventh century.

In order to present the Magi in Bethlehem the night of Jesus' birth, the movie suggests that these wise men from the East had seen the astronomical event of the star in the making and had left for Bethlehem months before Christ's birth. In any event, the Magi provide some of the most important Christological material found in the film.

When it comes to the virgin birth, the divinity, and the saving mission of the Christ Child, the movie never blinks. Cinematographers may find fault with the presentation of the angels and the voice of God, but I have the sense that where the director had to choose between accuracy and artistry, accuracy often won. For that decision Christians should be thankful.
The film succeeds in presenting the humanity of the central characters and in building a sense of expectancy. There is little suspense in the movie, of course. We know the story.

Christian parents will want to discuss the movie with their children. Which parts of the movie can be traced to which biblical texts? Were the other parts of the movie faithful to the main storyline? How much of what Christians think they know about the nativity story is actually in the Bible at all?

Should the story of Jesus be reduced to film? That question is not as easily dismissed as some might think. Nevertheless, The Nativity Story is the first major Hollywood studio film in many years to deal with a biblical story. In fact, World magazine reviewer Steve Beard reports that The Nativity Story is the first such release from a major studio since Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments.

So, Hollywood has produced a major film with a national release that straightforwardly presents the central themes and events of the biblical accounts of Christ's birth. We should not let that fact pass without notice. The movie opens across America on December 1.

The Hollywood Jesus

posted by Tom Chantry @

In the spring of 2004 the Evangelical World greeted with wild acclaim the Hollywood blockbuster on the crucifixion, “The Passion of the Christ.” Pastors across the nation led their churches to the theater, buying out huge blocks of seating. Books were written on how to turn this movie into the greatest evangelistic opportunity since the Great Awakening. Christians created the greatest buzz for any movie of the season. When they got to the theaters, what did they see?

Amidst the gore they saw an anemic, powerless Jesus suffering various trials, most not found in Scripture. They saw the heroine of the movie, a sinless Mary, achieving super-sainthood through vicarious suffering. They saw a botched atonement in which God the Father did not superintend events but shed tears from heaven over the terrible tragedy enacted by sovereign man.

Evangelicals in the throes of post-theological misjudgment did not recoil, but continued to praise Hollywood for finally “listening” to the Christian majority. Only one mitigating factor limited the damage to the church: Mel Gibson’s decision to portray the atonement in the slasher-horror genre kept the youngest kids away. Most (though certainly not all!) children born in the 1990’s or later missed the excitement.

Brace yourself: things are about to get worse!
Next week New Line will release “The Nativity Story,” a PG rated retelling of the birth of Jesus. Evangelicals will undoubtedly rush to praise Hollywood again, and the film promises to be a family blockbuster. We will again hear that the “voice” of the church has been heard and that Hollywood is listening. Really? Has the moral content of movies improved since 2004? Biblical Christians should know better than to patronize this movie, and here are some reasons why:
Entertainment is not Education.

Perhaps the cultural phenomenon which has most influenced America is “Sesame Street.” Thanks to those furry muppets, a whole generation is convinced that kids learn best when entertained. Every educational process is thought to be improved through games and songs, while video has become the pinnacle of educational tools. Christians have unthinkingly bought into this, and many thousands of Christian parents are right now saying, “Hey, our kids will really appreciate the birth of Jesus once they’ve seen the movie!” I would suggest two counter-proposals:
1. It will take years of solid Bible study and preaching to drive from a child’s mind the many falsehoods implanted during two hours in a movie theater. I’ll never forget the months it took me to convince kids who had seen “Prince of Egypt” that the Pharaoh had not thrown babies to the crocodiles, and they never could accept that Moses was eighty at the time of the Exodus. What kids see is more real to them than what they read or hear. Any movie about a central biblical theme must be absolutely accurate or it will prove destructive to biblical knowledge.
2. Adults aren’t much more discerning than children. If my discussions after “The Passion of the Christ” are any indication, adults are actually less critical than kids. I heard Christians who presumably had read the gospels many times say, “I wanted to cry when they threw Jesus off that bridge!” No matter that this sequence was drawn from the ravings of a French nun - they had seen it; it was real.

We will hear repeatedly that this film is based strictly on the Bible. We heard it about the last film too; it’s called “marketing.” Here’s an idea: Read through the narrative of Christ’s birth in Matthew, then in Luke, and time yourself. If you read slowly and carefully, it might take half an hour, and that includes the time it takes to leaf through the rest of Matthew and Mark to find Luke. Do you expect a Hollywood blockbuster to last just half an hour? What might they do to pad the story?

The answer should be obvious: they’ll do what Hollywood always does to make movies palatable. They’ll add intense inward anguish and exciting adventure footage. A little research on the web reveals the details. The Mary in the movie didn’t actually love Joseph, but agonized over her arranged marriage the way any twenty-first century teenager would. Taxes aren’t collected by local collaborators, but by Roman soldiers who ride (a fascinating detail to scholars of military history - whence this Roman cavalry?) into town bearing Nazi-like eagle standards and threatening the life and virtue of every pretty girl.

It is well-known that Hollywood thrives on emotional content divorced from facts. That’s why Hollywood history is always incomplete and misleading, which in turn is why we can’t trust movies on biblical themes. Even if they wanted to be fair, the movie studios would adjust the story to fit their medium. Doctrinal exposition and simple historical fact-telling don’t make good movies.

Idolatry is not Worship.
While practical considerations make us wary of “The Nativity Story,” examination of God’s law should settle the question.

Drama and the arts were always the heart of pagan worship. The Egyptians, like all the ancient cultures, used their artistic talent to portray their gods in realistic terms. When the Israelites were reintroduced to the God of their fathers, it was a natural impulse for them to communicate what they learned about this God in the same manner. Thus the second commandment, forbidding all artistic renderings of God, was especially emphasized. Golden calves could not reveal the mysteries of the Godhead; neither can modern cinema.

Film technology was unavailable in the Sinai Wilderness, a fact which allows many Christians to overlook the obvious connection between two types of artistic renderings of God’s character. We somehow imagine that if the scripts are written well enough we can somehow get at the truth through film. This ignores the critical part played by actors. They do not merely recite lines; they endeavor to enter into the minds of the characters they play, and they present their ideas about those roles in a myriad of subtle ways. Is Hamlet mad, or merely pretending to be mad? Shakespeare leaves the decision to the actor, so Olivier’s Hamlet bears little resemblance to Branagh’s. And what about Caviezel’s Jesus? Did he, in “The Passion,” accurately represent God the Son as He is revealed in Scripture?

Every aspect of film, from lighting and camera angles to script and casting, is interpretive. Film is even more likely to reinterpret its subject than sculpture or painting. If God is offended by human attempts to reveal Him in golden statuary, how will He respond to those who endeavor to reveal Him through the imaginations of actors? The point of the commandment is this: only God can reveal Himself. He has done so through His Word, and He commands us to discover that revelation through the study and preaching of His word. Bible movies are not a short-cut; they lead down an entirely different path.

The certain failure of artistic representations of biblical truth can only be more pronounced when rendered by the hands of the skeptics of modern culture. Hollywood’s major concern is to avoid giving offense to any segment of the market. Consequently, though we are hearing that great care was given to biblical accuracy, we also read that Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish theologians were all consulted in the writing of this film. Ponder that for a moment, and ask yourself if it is even possible that “The Nativity Story” could be theologically accurate. Two issues come to mind:
1. The Person of Mary Mary will be the unquestioned star of this movie. Much of the story is seen “through her eyes.” We can certainly understand this from a biblical perspective. No one else experienced the incarnation of Christ in quite the same way.

But who will the “Mary” of the film be? I will venture a guess here: she will not be the redeemed sinner we meet in the Bible. She will not be the somewhat overbearing mother who struggled to understand who her Son truly was. She can’t be, or New Line would infuriate that huge demographic of Catholics who, sadly, know their theology better than most Evangelicals know ours. She is more likely to be the semi-deified Mary of “The Passion.” (Did you know that Gibson was shocked at the Evangelical reception given to what he rightly perceived as a distinctly Marian film?)

In a day when evangelicals are rushing to accommodate the Heretic Church of Rome, which is itself moving inexorably towards titling Mary the “Co-Mediatrix” with Christ, can we really afford to spend two hours having our ideas about Mary shaped by Hollywood?

2. The Person of Christ As troubling as it is to imagine the casting calls for babies to play the role of Jesus, we have a bigger problem here. “The Nativity” is, we are told, based largely (though clearly not exclusively) on the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Biblical history is always accompanied by a doctrinal interpretation. In the Old Testament the prophets provided the interpretive detail necessitated by books of history. When we consider the story of the birth of Jesus, we must confess that Matthew and Luke alone do not reveal the full richness of the story. We require the doctrinal interpretation of John:
“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.Here we discover the real miracle of the nativity. What makes the story wonderful has nothing to do with wise men and sheep. It has little to do with the agonies undoubtedly experienced by a young man trying to get help for his pregnant fiancé and winding up watching as she gave birth in a barn. What makes the story wonderful is the fact that this child was and is God the Son, willingly giving up the glory of heaven for a time to walk among us so that He might die for us. How likely do you think it is that New Line will play up that angle? Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with their world view to show us a poor couple struggling against oppression in the attempt to realize their own dreams and aspirations? And is that the message of the Incarnation?

The Path of Wisdom
We cannot expect Hollywood to treat the birth of Christ wisely. Sadly, we can no longer expect Evangelicalism to treat Hollywood wisely. Biblical Christians, though, may still make wise decisions. Skip the Hollywood version of Christmas, or if you can’t bring yourself to do that, watch something more innocuous. Almost any of the classic Christmas movies are going to be less damaging than “The Nativity Story.” “Miracle on 34th Street” may exalt the false god of the season, but it won’t misinform about the true God. “It’s a Wonderful Life” might mix trivial sentimentality with an absurd parody of angels, but even it won’t mislead us concerning the nature of our Lord.

And by all means, if you want your children to have a better understanding of the events of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection, then read the Bible with them and discuss its teaching. Don’t let Hollywood become your family’s Sunday School teacher. The consequences of false teaching are far too high.

Is Finding the Will of God Biblical?

Posted by David Wayne @

Rusty Lopez has an excellent post on his New Covenant blog about finding the will of God. It got me thinking about the matter and I wanted to share a few thoughts.

First of all, I want to suggest that our modern obsession with finding the will of God is evidence of evangelicalism narcissism, and secondly that it has more on common with paganism than Christianity. I owe my thoughts on the first matter to Henry Krabbendam of Covenant College, and on the second matter to an article in Antithesis on finding the will of God.

Henry Krabbendam was at our church last year for a missions conference and he made some tangential comments on the will of God that were very helpful. First of all the idea of finding God's will for your life as an individual is a fairly recent development in the history of Christendom. For most of the church's history God's will was spoken of in terms of His decretive will and His revealed will, particularly in the Ten Commandments. In other words, a discussion of God's will would usually have something to do with the doctrine of God's decrees (or predestination), or with obedience to the Ten Commandments. This was in a day when theology and the church were far more God centered than we are today. This "God-centeredness" has been replaced with a "man-centered" worldview where we are far more focused on ourselves than God. Thus we are far more concerned with whom we are to marry, where to work, and which pair of socks to put on today than we are with obedience to the Ten Commandments, or submission to God's decree.

This fits in well with a me-centered, narcissistic worldview. Krabbendam gave us four negative consequences to this mindset:
1. It is man-centered and resistable. 2. It is happiness oriented. 3. It paralyzes (i.e. you can't move until it is revealed). 4. It is non-existent. Krabbendam says that the idea of finding God's will for my life is foolish and offensive to God.

God's will is that we study the doctrine of the decrees and delight ourselves in the law of the Lord. God's will doesn't have to be found, it has to be obeyed.

The second thought I want to share came from the Antithesis article which has an excerpt from Bruce Waltke's book, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion. Those who are obsessed with finding the will of God have more in common with those who sought guidance from the oracle of Delphi than anything in the Bible. True, there is Gideon's fleece, but that is a bad example for those who advocate looking for a sign to verify the will of God. In His mercy, God accomodated Himself to Gideon's request for a sign via the fleece, but I like to remind myself that, what the Bible reports, it does not always endorse. The Bible reports that God accomodated Himself to give Gideon a sign with the fleece, it doesn't say that He endorsed that method. In fact, Gideon's demand for a sign via the fleece shows more a lack of faith than anything else.
Here are a few good quotes from Waltke in the Antithesis article:
When I hear Christians talking about the will of God, they often use phrases such as "If only I could find God's will" as though He is keeping it hidden from them, or "I'm praying that I'll discover His will for my life, " because they apparently believe the Lord doesn't want them to find it, or that He wants to make it as hard as possible for them to find so that they will prove their worth.

Unfortunately, these concepts do not mesh with the balance of Scripture. Isaiah tells us that "there is no one worthy," and the story of the Old Testament is that man, no matter how hard he tries, can never attain to God. If we really believe in God as the perfectly loving Father, we can do away with our notion of Him as an almighty manipulator and con man.

God is not a magician. Our theology tells us that God loves us enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. So does it make sense that He would play some sort of game with His children, hiding His will? Is it logical that the God who says He has a plan for each life would conceal that plan so that His work cannot go forward through His people? It is time for Christians to observe, analyze, and systematically determine what the Bible says about God's will. Perhaps it is time for Christians to ask themselves if the words "finding God's will" are even the best way to phrase the plan the Lord has in mind for each of us.

There is no place in the New Testament where we are taught to seek a special revelation, and the practice may actually lead to disobedience if it causes us to neglect the everday opportunities that life brings us in order to wait for a special word from the Lord.God's will has been revealed to us in His law, He is Jehovah God, not the oracle of Delphi. Rusty Lopez summarizes it well in his blog post:
Herein lies the crux of the frustration I mentioned above: we think that there is some cosmic blueprint for our lives that God knows, and we have to discover. If only we can learn how to tune in on the hints that God throws our way, then we can avoid getting caught in deadend paths.

Yet if we read the Bible we will find that it does not teach that we should expect to get that type of guidance from God. In fact, it teaches that we have been given the responsibility of making our own decisions... through a methodology framed within a Biblical Worldview.

Decision Making and the Will of God.

Decision Making and the Will of God.
By Garry Friesen
A Review By Greg Gilbert
Friesen, Garry. Decision Making and the Will of God. (Multnomah, 1980).

Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God is the most exhaustive treatment of the subject of divine guidance that I have read. It runs for more than 400 pages and deals extensively with every conceivable angle of the matter at hand. The book opens with a masterful summary of what Friesen calls the “traditional view,” presented as a seminar by a typical pastor. The traditional view of God’s guidance is essentially that God has a specific ideal blueprint for every person’s life which that person may either discern and follow or deviate from and therefore miss God’s ideal plan for his life. If that happens, of course, God has another plan waiting in the wings, but it will not be his “first-choice” and therefore not as fruitful or as fulfilling. So how does one discern this ideal plan? God, of course, wants us to know that plan, but the normal way of finding it is through reading a combination of signs, both internal and external. Friesen lists those signs as the Bible, an inner witness, personal desires, circumstances, mature counsel, and common sense. When a decision needs to be made, the Christian is to look at all of those “road signs” and determine from them what is God’s unique, ideal will for that person in that particular situation.

Following this clear and fair summary of the “traditional view,” Friesen begins an exhaustive, 350 page critique. He examines every passage of Scripture that is used to support it, including those that may seem to endorse decision-making by “putting out fleeces,” “an inner peace,” or instances where people seem to have missed God’s ideal, individual will for their lives and forced Him to move on to Plan B. The exegesis on these passages is mostly very good, and the one or two places where I might have disagreed with him in certain areas are not at all important to the overarching matter. Friesen makes the case very well. His reasoning, also, is very good. Friesen points out and develops several different problems with the traditional view, including the fact that no one holds to that view in the mundane decisions of life. No one checks out all six of those “road signs” when deciding which shirt to put on in the morning. If he did, his day would probably be pretty frustrating.

In place of the traditional view, Friesen proposes what he calls “the way of wisdom.” His view is that the Scripture is fully sufficient to lead us in any decision that needs to be made during the day. He says:
The traditional view holds that the Bible (God’s moral will) gives most of the guidance needed to make a decision; but additionally, knowing God’s individual will is essential for complete leading to the correct choice. The alternative view put forth in this book is that the Bible is fully sufficient to provide all the guidance needed for a believer to know and do God’s will. (82)

What he means is that while the Bible contains some very clear moral commands for us, it may not tell us which college we are to attend, or much less which car to buy. However, even in those kinds of non-moral decisions, the Bible will give us principles of wisdom by which we can make those decisions. One of the most important things that Friesen says is that there are certain decisions in which neither alternative will violate the teaching of the Bible. In those cases the decision is ours, and we shouldn’t fret about whether we will someday be judged for failing to wear the Nikes instead of the Reeboks. Of course, God has already sovereignly determined which tennis shoes we will wear that day, but we shouldn’t waste half the day waiting for a swoosh to appear in the clouds. So long as there is no biblical principle being violated, just put on some shoes and get busy.

One obvious question that arises from all this is whether or not this is really guidance. If God leaves us morally free in so many areas to make decisions, then is he really guiding us? Isn’t this some kind of deistic God we have here? Friesen answers “no,” and his reasons are summarized in a very helpful chart on page 230. His reasons are summarized in these four statements:

1. In moral conduct, God directly guides believers by revealed commands and principles according to His moral will (the Bible.)
2. In nonmoral decisions, God mediately guides believers by acquired wisdom according to spiritual expediency.
3. In all things God secretly guides believers by sovereign control over all events according to His sovereign will.
4. In unique cases God has supernaturally guided believers by divine voice, angel, dream, or miracle according to special revelation.

I’m not sure I would limit the term “special revelation” to angels and dreams and miracles; the Bible in #1 is certainly special revelation. But enough pickiness. It’s a good chart, and I think Friesen is right in pointing out those four ways that God guides his people.

That does bring up just a couple of things that you might be careful of while reading the book. First of all, Friesen is at first a little confusing when it comes to God’s sovereign will. He finally writes a strong chapter on the sovereign will of God—“the sinner may shake his fist at the heavens, but God will determine how many times he shakes it,” (202)—but that doesn’t happen until Chapter Twelve, 200 pages into the book. Until then, I found myself confused in several places where Friesen seemed to deny that God had a specific sovereign will for every event in our lives. He seemed to say in places that there was just a general moral will, but that within that boundary, the future was unset. The problem is that Friesen needs a more careful capsule definition of the “individual will” of God that he is debunking. His definition of that “individual will” is “a detailed life-plan for each person,” (151). So he ends up writing sentences fairly often that say something like, “It is our contention that the idea of an individual will of God for every detail of a person’s life is not found in Scripture,” (82). You can see the confusion. If he is talking about a plan which is hidden, that we must find, and that can be missed if we don’t work hard enough, then he is absolutely right. But if he is talking about the sovereign will of God over every hair on our heads and every sparrow that falls from the sky, he’s wrong. A clearer definition of that “individual will” could clear that up. I would suggest something like, “an ideal, best-case blueprint that the believer may actually miss if he doesn’t correctly discern it.” That’s a mouthful, but it would be worth minimizing any confusion. As you read the book, keep this problem in mind, know that he will resolve it clearly in chapter 12, and you’ll navigate the argument with no problem at all.

You might want to simply skip the section titled “If a Horse and Chariot Were Good Enough for David . . .” on pages 169-170. The section is a somewhat confused critique of the regulative principle that is not really well thought through, and is not at all integral to Friesen’s overall argument. Besides, I think Friesen is wrong. His argument consists of a couple of quotes from Francis Schaeffer about how the idea that Christian worship should contain only elements that have specific warrant in the Bible would mean that we could not use hymnals, etc. That’s a bad argument, and only proves that neither Schaeffer (when he wrote those words) nor Friesen (when he read them) really understood the regulative principle at all. There is much more to the argument than that, which you can read about in places other than this review. The argument would still make perfect sense if Friesen took that section out. Read the book, but just make sure you’re not convinced of the stupidity of the regulative principle by that one-page section.

All in all, the book is very good, if somewhat long. In some ways, it might work better as a handy reference for answering pointed questions about certain Bible passages than as a working tool to hand to people struggling through issues like these. Better for that kind of work is Philip Jensen’s Guidance and the Voice of God. As a final note, the last two chapters of Friesen’s book, “Wisdom When Christians Differ” and “Weaker Brothers, Pharisees, and Servants” are fantastic—probably the clearest, most accessible practical treatment of the teaching of Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 on the conscience that I have seen. The book is probably worth the purchase price just for those two chapters.