Fall books

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene (1940) // Excellent work of fiction, and this, my second impression of Greene was much better than my first (Brighton Rock). The story follows a whisky priest in Mexico on his quest for forgiveness and redemption at a time of religious purging.

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism – D.G. Hart (2011) // A very well researched historical narrative of evangelicals’ political involvement since the early 1900s. Light on analysis or opinion until the two concluding chapters. Hart assumes his readers have a certain level of familiarity with historic conservatism that I don’t have, but I still enjoyed it. The final chapters tied things together nicely, provided a good perspective on Christians and political bias, and drove home Hart’s point that evangelicals and conservative politics have always been an odd match. He wouldn’t be surprised to see a messy split in the near future. Dr. Brian Lee has an excellent review here.

The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples – Michael Horton (2011) // This is Horton’s third in a series of three books on the American church, and is a lengthy exposition of the Great Commission. The first diagnoses the problem, the second challenges Christians to get the message right, and this one explains the methods and the future of the church. It is very good at points and skimmable at others. Could have been improved by better editing and shortened by 30-50 pages.

Miracles – C.S. Lewis (1947, 1960) // Philosophical, poetic, and masterful. A couple excellent passages here and here. I’m not sure if Lewis’ definition of Naturalism isn’t a straw man, but his logic, poetic prose arguing for the supernatural in our world is a joy to read.

Culture in Christian Perspective: A Door to Understanding and Enjoying the Arts – Leland Ryken (1986) // This has been recommended to me several times, and I intend to do the same now that I’ve read it. Ryken is a clear, compelling writer who argues for a recovery of the arts to a prominent place in Christianity. He touches especially on art related to truth, beauty, and creativity. The only qualm I have with it is that it is dated and written before postmodernism came into self-conscious existence in the arts.

The Pearl – John Steinbeck (1947) // Steinbeck’s novella is based on an old folk tale of a poor man who finds the greatest pearl in the world. A powerfully tragic message. I did find some of Steinbeck’s general descriptions to be superfluous and contrived, though.

The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition – John Stott (2006) // After Stott’s death earlier this year, I wanted to read his most popular and influential book. It’s a comprehensive look at Christ’s death and what it means theologically, doxologically, practically, and socially. Stott covers so many aspects of the atonement, relating them all back to its essence of “self-satisfaction by self-substitution.” Without the cross being a substitution, everything else about it falls apart. A really great book.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart: Revised and Updated – Tedd Tripp (1995) // Excellent book on parenting based on God’s promises. Focuses on the foundation of communication and correction in getting to the heart issues with kids. This book is a resource that we will assuredly keep coming back to through the years.

Moralistic, therapeutic, narcissistic deism

“I have tried to articulate some of the contours and reasons for the dominance of ‘moralistic, therapeutic deism.’ We come to the Great Commission with our questions. As Paul reminded Timothy, the last days are marked by narcissism, greed, disloyalty, and selfishness. It follows that we gradually transform the Commission’s message into something about us rather than something about God and his saving purposes, work, and destiny for us in Jesus Christ. Consistent with this new message, we transform the Commission’s mission into a kingdom that we are building rather than receiving, and we exchange its methods of delivering Christ through preaching and sacrament for our own clever programs, techniques, and principles for effecting real transformation of ourselves and the world.

“However, the result has been not only an increasing failure to reach the lost but a growing tendency to lose the reached. We place our hope in laws, principles, programs: things that we do to ascend to pull God down to us, instead of a gospel that is brought to us by a herald as completely counterintuitive Good News.”

-Michael Horton in The Gospel Commission (2011), p. 298

Terrible as an army with banners

“Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.”

-G.K. Chesterton quoted in Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission (2011), p 265-6

From nursery to the golden oldies

An issue that has been on our minds lately is that of family inclusive, or integrated, church and worship. We are grateful that our church is mindful of the importance of the family in the covenant community, especially in matters of catechesis, worship, and activities. While there are many ways family inclusivity can manifest itself, we are especially thinking through matters of church education (i.e. Sunday School and catechesis), worship (e.g. nursery and children’s church), and programs (like youth group). We Pearces recently watched the hour-long documentary Divided, produced in large part to be a film promoting the organization Family Integrated Church (FIC).

Uber blogger Tim Challies (and author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment) ironically posted an uncharitable and one-sided review of the film. Though I am in agreement with Challies that the film is one-sided and heavy on the FIC propaganda, I think it is worth viewing for the purpose of stirring up thought on the subject. It is helpful to hear mainstream FIC proponents like Voddie Bachman explain the presuppositions of the FIC movement. Namely, why are youth and young adults abandoning the church in such huge numbers? Does the youth ghetto so prevalent in America’s churches have something to do with it? What should the role of the father (or single mother) be? It is especially helpful for those of us who are wrestling with family inclusivity over against the status quo. That is, why are we segregating ages for education, worship, and activities? What are the foundational assumptions made when doing so? Are we segregating age groups because that’s the way we’ve always done it, or because that’s how all churches do it? What does the fact that age segregation stems from a modern education paradigm mean for the church? What are the benefits? At what cost to us and our children? Are there any repercussions of segregating age groups?

Where I think the film is lacking (and where Challies’ review also lacks) is not necessarily in giving voice to the opposition (it is a documentary with an agenda, after all), but in its foundations for integrating family into the church life. The film and its FIC proponents do base their arguments on Scripture (as well as reactions against Plato, Dewey, and evolutionary thinking), but the film turns almost exclusively to the imperative commands (read: law) of Scripture for integrating the family. A more helpful approach, and one that has more Scriptural and historical staying power, is to make gospel, rather than law, the foundation of the rationale for family inclusivity. More specifically, the gospel as it is embodied in baptism and the covenant, and the covenantal community of grace that springs up organically from the gospel (see what I did there?).

Michael Horton, in his recent The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples, discusses the integration of families and youth in the life of the church, but from a different foundation than the Divided filmmakers. He grounds his reasoning in God’s gospel-bathed methods for making disciples: namely the worship of the church, baptism, union with Christ, and the covenant community. He is worth quoting at length:

“One may go from the nursery to children’s church to the youth group to the college campus ministry to small groups to the empty nesters to the golden oldies and never really have been incorporated into the communion of saints. Is it any wonder that those who have never regularly attended the public service of Word and sacrament never join a church in college, although they may be active in a campus ministry? If they do join a church after college, it’s often a new experience.

“A youth pastor in a Reformed church challenged me a bit. Youth ministries are so important, he said, because they relate to kids on their own level, ‘where they are.’ That’s just it, isn’t it? I asked. Where are they? Presumably, their location is ‘in Christ.’ They are baptized and are therefore members of the visible body of Christ, his covenant community. That’s their primary location. Just as they grow up as members of their natural families, with all of the privileges and responsibilities of that home, they grow up in Christ’s body…If [a youth] has grown up in the covenant community, he will realize that he needs the covenant community over the long haul. In addition, he needs to be reminded that his primary location is ‘in Christ,’ not his various social demographics…If they are raised with the contrast between a personal relationship with Jesus and belonging to the church – and their experience living on the margins of the covenant assembly confirms this – it is little wonder that they fail to join a church or embrace their covenant responsibilities as young adults.” (p. 174-175)

Granted, the blind spot of Divided filmmakers and even critics like Challies might stem from their anti-paedobaptism stances, in which a well worked out and established concept of the tie between baptism and covenant community is foreign. Many FIC churches might also be struggling with such issues because many of them are Calvinistic Baptist. But beyond the issue of baptizing babies or not, churches would do well to ask Why? and To what purpose? when it comes to issues of age segregating in church worship, education, and programs.

Carved amulets in pockets

“Make no mistake about it: Whatever our time and place, the cultures of this present age are catechizing us all. We may see this more evidently in places other than our own…But that’s ‘over there,’ right? This is America, after all, born in the cradle of Judeo-Christian civilization. We forget that ever since our founding, our culture (including religion) has been a mixture of traditional Christianity and successive waves of infidelity, pseudo-Christian sects and cults, and esoteric spiritualities. We are catechized more by the rituals of the market than those of historic Christianity. Although bells rarely announce the assembly of saints today, the ringing of the opening bell on Wall Street is a daily ritual. We may recognize idolatry in the tribesman’s dependence on the carved amulet in his pocket, but it doesn’t occur to us that we may be idolaters as we clutch our iPhones for security, look to the market’s daily news for our hope, entertain ourselves to death, and crave an identity that is shaped by the fashions of the moment.”

-Michael S. Horton in “Trees or Tumbleweeds?”,  July/August 2011 Modern Reformation, p. 14

PCRT Overview

What a weekend it was in center-city Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. It was full of some of the best preachers of our day opening the Scriptures to us to show us Christ, the heavenly worship of the saints, great fellowship, excellent food and libations, and much learning and growing. I’m hoping to have a few blog posts with some of the specific highlights (if I ever have time), but in the meantime, here are a view general observations or comments I had from the conference.

-It was not exactly what we were expecting, but by no means are we disappointed. We were expecting a little more on eschatology – the last days – but instead we gladly received Christ preached to us from all of Scripture. Instead of indulging in curiosities or labels, the men preached on redemption, prophetic fulfillment, our resurrection hope, justification, and Christ’s past, present, and future work.

-Sinclair Ferguson has to be one of the best preachers in the country. His mastery of Scripture, his ability to weave everything together, and to do it in such understandable, Christ-centered ways was outstanding – and all without using any notes. We could listen to him and his Scottish accent for hours on end.

-Ferguson’s preaching gifts were only matched by by D.A. Carson’s intellect and exposition. He has insight into Scripture that renders listeners amazed.

-Not just the sermons from those two (two each!), but each sermon was a display of godly, engaging, powerful, gospel-centered, sincere expository preaching. I’d highly recommend obtaining copies of them and listening to them again and again.

-I’m pretty sure every speaker was somewhere in the amillennial spectrum, but it didn’t really matter because none of them were concerned with furthering the arguments of their camp. Instead, all of them were rightly concerned with proclaiming Christ crucified, raised, and coming again.

-Carson must have seen my dad preach, because the similarities in preaching style are uncanny. From hand and facial gestures to voice inflections, pronunciations, and display of emotion, it could have been my dad up there for all I know. Maybe it’s the Canadian connection?

-Mike Horton is sincere, kind, passionate, and shorter than I thought in person. He says hello.

-There is nothing like singing A Mighty Fortress, And Can It Be, Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, or For All the Saints with thousands of brothers and sisters along with a huge pipe organ and the Westminster Brass. We literally could not hear ourselves sing, and we were singing at the top of our lungs. Truly heavenly worship. I have to admit that it would have been awesome to sing a psalm or two, though.

Information Overload

Church: The Hallway and the Rooms. Mike Horton offers more insightful thoughts on the Piper/Warren controversy as well as the shortcomings of the “young, restless, reformed” movement being a movement.

Theology: Peter Liethart on The Long View: qualifications, clarifications, and helpful arguments about the postmillennial position.

Hymns: Is It Accurate to Say That God Died on the Cross? R.C. Sproul has some interesting points for those of you who may have hesitations with singing “And Can It Be.”

Books: Seven Basic and Brief Points for Writers.

Sports: Great video of spontaneous rain-delay theatrics by two college baseball teams.

Food: Yes, I’m a couponer. As such, I subscribe to couponing blogs. We are also conscious about not eating too much processed food, so I found this article interesting and helpful: Real Food on a Budget.

Games: Amazing life-size Settlers game, which debuted at Burning Man.

Photography: Free fundamentals of digital photography online course.