Harshness or compromise leads to caricature

“The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God’s holiness and God’s love. The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite-personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God’s character of holiness and love. Not His holiness without His love: this is only harshness. Not His love without His holiness: that is only compromise. Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fails to show the simultaneous balance of the holiness of God and the love of God presents to a watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of the God who exists.”

-Francis Schaeffer quoted by John Piper in Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, Owen, and Machen (Crossway, 2006), concluding chapter

Hardening of the spiritual life

“Over the years words begin to come easy, and we find we can speak of mysteries without standing in awe; we can speak of purity without feeling pure; we can speak of zeal without spiritual passion; we can speak of God’s holiness without trembling; we can speak of sin without sorrow; we can speak of heaven without eagerness. And the result is an increasing hardening of the spiritual life.”

-John Piper in Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, Owen, and Machen (Crossway, 2006), chapter on John Owen

Piper and issues of the Hart

I have a lot of respect for John Piper and his lifelong work of exalting the glory of God, and I have been challenged and encouraged by a lot of his writings and sermons. Yet when I hear him or read him, something just doesn’t “click” for me, and I find myself not fully identifying with his Christian hedonism. Maybe because in his teachings there is too heavy an emphasis on individualism that I am reticent to embrace, or there is a latent emphasis on law and imperatives mixing with the gospel, or that I find it most edifying and God-honoring to glorify and enjoy God without focusing on my efforts to glorify and enjoy him. On this last point, it’s like telling someone not to think about a pink giraffe. What are they going to think about? It’s not going to be a green monkey. Likewise, focusing on my own subjective delight in God too much, or constantly asking myself if I am enjoying God enough, or worrying if I’m wasting my life takes away from my actual delight in God.

D.G. Hart’s recent post on Piper, Jonathan Edwards, piety, and introspection encapsulated and articulated much of my reluctance to fully embrace Piper. Check out the post here: Desiring God Enough? I also found many of the thoughtful and respectful comments helpful for putting to words much of my own thoughts. R. Scott Clark also posted briefly on his worry “about the long-term consequences of the influence of [Piper’s] theology, piety, and practice on the confessional Reformed churches.” Hart recently followed up his original post with an excellent quotation from Luther that speaks to these issues.

I’m with Hart and many of the commenters in being careful to not argue that all things subjective or introspective need to be eliminated. That wouldn’t be biblical. But I’m weary of overemphasis with such. I also heartily agree that Piper is doing lots of great things and bringing many into a beginning understanding of the glorious truths that come with a Reformed world and life view. I plan to read all of Piper’s Desiring God later this year, so I’ll be better able to wrestle with his teachings. I may or may not embrace Piper more afterward, but regardless, I’ll be thankful to have mingled with others in the hallways of mere Christianity and be ever more thankful to return to the warm, welcoming confessionally Reformed room.

Much further discussion can be found from the keyboard of Doug Wilson, which Hart probably would never link to: Christian hedonism; confession of sin.

Hope shall change to glad fruition

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. -Psalm 116:15

We’ve been hit hard with the news of the deaths of some of our brothers and sisters in the Lord recently. Two older saints have gone to be with the Lord, and one younger brother is now with Christ as well. All of them lived their full lives in God’s gracious, mysterious timing, but they will all be missed dearly. I’ve found myself singing the last verse of Henry Lyte’s hymn “Jesus, I my cross have taken” as I reflect on the deaths of these saints.

Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.
Heaven’s eternal days before thee,
God’s own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

These saints haven’t “passed away” (an unfortunate euphemism that was coined by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, who believed that material things are an evil illusion and that everyone’s pure spirits “passed away” into another permanent, purely spiritual realm at death akin to annihilation), but they’ve tasted the curse of the reality of death. As John Piper writes, “We are kidding ourselves when we romanticize death as the climax of a life well lived. It is an enemy. It cuts us off from all the wonderful pleasures of this world. We call death sweet names only as the lesser of evils” (50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, p. 57).

It is okay for us to be emotional and angry at death and the curse even in the midst of rejoicing that they are even now with Christ. It is okay for us to shake our fists at death, even as we rejoice in Christ’s guaranteed future victory over this final enemy. We can be encouraged that the work that these saints have started on earth is not in vain, and will reach its consummation at the last resurrection and the renewal of all things. They, like us, will be given new bodies and will reign forever with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 
‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. -1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Christian Hedonism; Confession of Sin

I don’t have enough links for an Information Overload, but I had two main posts to link to that have been of great benefit to me.

The first is actually several in a series on John Piper’s “Christian hedonism,” something that I don’t disagree with but am hesitant about. Doug Wilson, likewise, doesn’t disagree with Piper’s Christian hedonism, but in accepting it, he shows that it should be taken “further up and further in.” In doing so in this series, he hits on many of my questions and puts them into words much better than I ever could. Here are the posts, in order from first to last (if you don’t have time to read all of them, the first two are excellent):

Piperian Hedonism 3.0
A Full Tank of Gas and Lots of Wyoming Ahead
The Barkity Barkity Midnight Dog
Math Problems in a Dark Room
Creation is Thick, I Tell You

Here’s a lengthy quotation from the first post:

“Van Til once said that if there were one place on creation’s radio dial where nonbelievers could tune in and not hear God, that is where everybody would have their radio set, all the time. His point was of course that God broadcasts, all the time, on every channel. But often, believers make a similar mistake, that of thinking that God broadcasts on only one channel, and then they do their level pious best to keep their radio tuned to that one channel. But then the time comes when the rest of your family and friends tire of hearing the Haven of Rest Quartet 24-7, and so life elsewhere begins to wither and dry up. And sanctifying the rest of the channels does not consist of making them into ‘religious broadcasting.'”

And one from the excellent second post:
“There is a delicate balance here, but God is most glorified in me when I love what He has given to me, for its own sake. This is teleologically related to the macro-point of God’s glory being over all, of course, but we still have to enjoy what He gives, flat out, period, stop. Otherwise, in the resurrection, God will be looking at all the billions of His resurrected saints, standing there contentedly, looking at Him, and He will say, ‘You know, you people are impossible to shop for.’ Which is, of course, absurd and impossible. In the resurrection, it will be possible for us to be absorbed by God’s gifts in ways that are impossible to conceive of now.”

The other link is to a post from Kevin DeYoung on the necessity of confession of sin – in corporate and private worship and prayer. It is spot-on. An excerpt:

“Confession of sin is one of the missing ingredients in the life of today’s Christian. We feel bad all the time, but often it’s over the wrong things. And when we do feel sorry for our sin, we don’t know what to do with it. We feel like we would be cheapening the blood of Christ if we confessed again. So we hesitate to repent. We feel bad, but we don’t confess and enjoy a clean conscience.”

Piper, Warren, Horton, and Wilson

There has been a lot of furor over John Piper inviting Rick Warren to his 2010 Desiring God conference. While I don’t think it is something to get so worked up over, I don’t really think that an evanjellyfish like Warren has business being at a Calvinistic evangelical conference. Ironically, the conference theme this year is “Think: The Life of the Mind & the Love of God,” and I’m not sure how Warren fits in with that. But it’s Piper’s conference, so he can invite whomever he wishes.

There are a couple reactions to this news that I especially appreciated. First is Mike Horton’s lengthy reaction to the news over at the White Horse Inn blog:

“Warren’s theology seems to reflect run-of-the-mill evangelical Arminianism, especially with its emphasis on the new birth as the result of human decision and cooperation with grace…None of this disqualifies him from being an evangelical statesman. After all, much the same can be said of Billy Graham. After pointing out how difficult it is to define an evangelical theologically, historian George Marsden famously surmised that it’s “anyone who likes Billy Graham.” Today, perhaps, it’s anyone who likes Rick Warren…His best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, begins by announcing that it’s not about you, but about God, and then the rest of the book is about you. There seems to be a contradiction between the God-centered theology that is professed and the basically human-centered orientation that dominates much of his message and methods.”

Second is a five-minute video interview with Doug Wilson on the topic. Wilson was last year’s “bad boy” of the conference (he also filled the role of the token post-mil) and as such offers a unique perspective.

Third is Phil Johnson’s spot-on reaction that touches specifically on Piper, Warren, the harsh critics, and discernment. “Warren’s private reassurances to John Piper shouldn’t trump the fact that he does not actually preach the gospel plainly, boldly, thoroughly, unashamedly, and in a way that is faithful to the Word of God. If he privately believes something other than what he has said in his books and sermons, that makes him more culpable as a hypocrite. His belief is better than his practice? Let’s not make that sound heroic.”

In conclusion, I’m not worked up about the issue, though I strongly disagree with Warren, his theology, his methods, and his persona. At the same time, I’m not a huge Piper fan (I’ve been encouraged by much of his work and have lots of common ground with him, but have key disagreements in other areas), but I respect his work and I respect his decision to invite whomever he wishes. If you don’t like it, don’t go.

Sunday Citation

“We are kidding ourselves when we romanticize death as the climax of a life well lived. It is an enemy. It cuts us off from all the wonderful pleasures of this world. We call death sweet names only as the lesser of evils. The executioner that delivers the coup de grace in our suffering is not the fulfillment of longing, but the end of hope. The longing of the human heart is to live…Eternal life is not merely the extension of this life with its mix of pain and pleasure. As hell is the worst outcome of this life, so ‘eternal life’ is the best. It is the supreme and ever-increasing happiness where all sin and sadness will be gone. All that is evil and harmful in this fallen creation will be removed. All that is good will be preserved and purified and intensified…For those in Christ, we will see the all-satisfying glory of God. ‘This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (John 17:3). For this Christ suffered and died.”

-John Piper in 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (2006), p. 57