Friday, February 29, 2008

Top Ten Albums of the Eighties

Things have been a bit, umm, heavy here at DRD of late, so maybe I'll start dedicating Fridays (which are slow blog days anyway) to some lighter fare.

Today, then, I give you, in no particular order, the ten best albums of the eighties (drom roll, please):

Green by REM

So by Peter Gabriel

Declaration by The Alarm

All of This and Nothing by The Psychedelic Furs

The Joshua Tree by U2

Porcupine by Echo and the Bunnymen

Urban Beaches by Cactus World News

Nothing Like the Sun by Sting

Kick by INXS

Synchronicity by The Police
I know, I know, I left some great stuff off the list. But if I think about it too long it'll become a top 100, and I just don't have the time....

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Of Roses and Rifles, Crescents and Crosses

As was pointed out in the last thread, there is a stubborn insistence on the part of many American Christians that our nation's immunity to cultural Babylonianism inevitably results in our being the number one exporter of happiness to the rest of the planet. God uses this country, we are told, to be a providential source of blessing to the entire globe.

I cannot help but wonder if what we export is received in the same spirit in which it is allegedly given (I mean come on, those roses with which the Iraqis were supposed to greet our soldiers sure ended up looking a lot like rifles). Is it possible that others may not be particularly fond of the blessings we keep trying to give them?

Just because we say, really loudly and with lots of force, that we are just trying to help, doesn't always make it so. There is greater reason to believe that intense persecution by Muslim fundamentalists would be a blessing to the American church than there is for the idea that an American-style government and culture would be a blessing to the people of the third world. I mean, concerning the first scenario Jesus himself told us as much (Matt. 5:11-12), but that still doesn't make us actually desire it.

So maybe a healthy dose of national humility is called for, especially on the part of us Christians whose Bibles tell us that unchecked power, untold wealth, and greed euphemized as ambition, though as American as apple pie, are called in Scripture "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (I John 2:16).

If we don't want Islamo-fascist oppression here, and if they don't want our "free markets" over there, so what? Whether it comes dressed in camo and army boots, or in turbans and sandals, it's still Babylon.

And stamping it with a crescent or a cross won't change that....

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On Babylon, Beasts, and White Picket Fences

I just preached from Revelation 13, where we are introduced to the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth (sometimes called "the antichrist" and the "false prophet" respectively). When we discover these beasts' project, we see that their aim is to combine military might and lofty religious rhetoric in order to bring about conformity to their sinister agenda of destroying the church by means of lies and deceit.

I can't help but wonder if, in our little parcel of earth, we haven't to some degree bought in to the lie that there's a protective force field around our nation that precludes our complicity in an agenda that is anything but godly and divinely-favored.

I recently heard a well-known Christian talk-show host (yes, he is Reformed) attempting to explain the difference between providence and redemption. He said, "You see, just because America has been the source of tremendous good in the world doesn't mean we hold a 'Most Favored Nation' status in God's redemptive plan. God uses us to providentially bless the world, but not to redeem it."

Indeed, for we wouldn't want to think too highly of ourselves, now would we?

As I heard that, I couldn't help but wonder if we see our heavenly citizenship as profound enough to help us handle the fact that our little corner of the kingdom of man is itself a suburb of Babylon, and no imagined myth of nobility or manifest destiny can change the earthly, fallen, and selfish motives that drive us "further up, and further in" to this Dream which we have been told we are blessed to enjoy.

Last time I checked, a dragon-empowered beast with ten horns, seven heads, and the authority to make war upon and conquer God's people is not likely to be stopped by stars, stripes, and white picket fences.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Semper Reformanda, But Nunquam Reformata

A good mate of mine, "ACD" (a resident scholar here at De Regnis Duobus), has taken a break from his doctoral work in Aberdeen to dig up the oldest reference to the phrase "semper reformanda" he could find. He writes:
"The earliest reference I've found to the notion of 'always reforming' is in Abraham Wright's (a.k.a. Abraham Philotheus) criticism of certain Scottish Presbyterians. Philotheus was dissatisfied with the state of affairs following the English Restitution; [he] says of [them] and [their] type: 'They could no more endure the Long Parliament with their Aristocracy, nor the Rump [Parliament] with their Oligarchy, nor the Protector with his Olivarchy, then their lawful Prince with his regular Monarchy. In a word, what they are in Church they are in State; always Reforming, but never Reformed.'"
So apparently, the earliest known usage of the slogan semper reformanda (a phrase that supposedly captures the spirit of the Protestant Reformation) was employed to characterize those who were little more than malcontents intent on spreading dissent among the ranks.

When we compare that description to those who insist upon using this slogan to force innovation in our Reformed churches today, I'd have to conclude that the shoe fits pretty well, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's OK to Fix It, But Only If It's Broke

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that our churches need to be "always reforming" I would have, like, two dollars probably.

Think about this slogan for just a moment. According to this view, if our churches are not tweaking their theology always, then they're not living up to the spirit of the Reformation. Excuse me, but does it not seem a tad irresponsible to be constantly altering our theological formulations for no good reason?

Now of course, our confessions are not divinely inspired (though they are authoritative), and if or when the Bible demands a modification in our system of doctrine, we had better make the change.

But how often does something like this happen?

If you ask me, it's not every day that we make an exegetical quantum leap. Since the seventeenth century, I'd say that men like Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, and Meredith Kline have significantly forwarded our theological conversation in ways that further, but do not contradict, our confessional orthodoxy. And when faithful and compelling exegesis demands we adapt, then by all means, let us adapt.

But I have no interest in "always reforming" for the sake of being innovative. "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," as the fella said.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Confessional Minimalism or Maximalism?

I have been thinking lately about the nature of the minister's relationship and obligation to the doctrinal standards of his church. Do we take a minimalist approach, which only asks that he not contradict the teaching of his confession, or is a maximalist approach to be preferred, which insists that he positively affirm his church's doctrines and promise not to stray outside the parameters of his confession?

Of the seven ordination vows a PCA minister must affirm, the second reads as follows:
Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
In the light of this statement, one may reasonably enquire whether it is legitimate to posit an additional, supplementary version of a specific confessional doctrine which contradicts the confession's teaching, but claims the freedom to do so because it is just reflecting the broader teaching of Scripture on the subject in question.

For example, the Westminster Standards teach that union with Christ is a "special benefit" enjoyed by the "members of the invisible church," and that by this union "the elect... are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably" joined with Christ (WLC 65-66). The "inseparable" nature of this union precludes "true believers" from "totally or finally falling away from a state of grace" (WLC 79). Finally, the various benefits of Christ's mediation, such as "justification, adoption, and sanctification," are given to "the members of the invisible church" as "manifestations of their union with him."

Now here's my question: If the phrase "union with Christ" is not found in the Bible, and if the various prepositional phrases used to denote this concept are also used in passages that plainly teach that the connection can be broken, then what is the responsibility of the expositor of Scripture at this point?

Should he (1) Teach that there are two kinds of "union with Christ," the Westminster kind and the John 15 kind? Or, (2) Teach that "union with Christ" refers to what the Standards are referring to, and insist that the John 15 phenomenon be called something else? Or, (3) Teach whatever version of "union with Christ" his passage is referring to without any qualification whatsoever?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pacific Northwest Study Committee Meeting

Just a heads-up to those of you who are interested, our study committee that was appointed to examine the theology of Peter Leithart will be meeting tomorrow to see where we stand. Please pray for all of us involved, that we would discharge our duty with fairness, conviction, and brotherly love. We are due to report to presbytery in April.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who Tramples Whom Underfoot?

I recently preached from Revelation 11, and as is the case all over that prophecy, this chapter offered a powerfully vivid metaphor to describe the church:
Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, "Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months" (vv. 1-2).
Some points of note: (1) The command to "measure the temple" involves measuring people, meaning the temple is not a literal structure; (2) The outer court is to be left unmeasured, and therefore unprotected; (3) The unprotected outer court is called "the holy city," a designation that elsewhere in Revelation refers to the Lamb's wife, the New Jerusalem (21:2; 22:19).

So according to this picture, the church is portrayed as partly measured and invincible, and partly unmeasured and vulnerable. As with the two witnesses in this chapter, who are hated by all and yet protected by God until their mission is complete, at which time their martyred bodies are raised and ascend to heaven, so the church is illustrated in an ironic and paradoxical fashion in order to demonstrate the bittersweetness of her earthly existence.

Now in continuing our Babylonian theme of late, I find it interesting that the divine description of the church, in the thinking of many sincere believers today, fits better when applied to the good ol' U.S. of A.

Our God-fearing nation, we are assured, is hated by infidels, A-rabs, the French, and other unsavory types because our light on the hill is shining brightly upon their culturally backward societies, exposing their lack of megachurches and WalMarts (which are one and the same, really).

Well, I would humbly suggest that "the Gentiles" who "trample the holy city" are not Muslims who fly planes into our skyscrapers, but the very aspects of our society (yes, ours) that turn our churches into strip malls, our worshipers into consumers, and our God into a commodity beholden to the ebb and flow of the Market.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Babylon By Mirror

I remember listening a sermon by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in which he referred to the hymn "The Kingdom Come, O God" which contained this line:
O’er heathen lands afar
Thick darkness broodeth yet:
Arise, O Morning Star,
Arise, and never set!
He basically laughed, and lamented, at the idea that Great Britain was still thought of in his day as a place that needed to look "afar" to find "heathen lands." Look no farther than in the collective mirror, the Doctor argued, for there you'll find all the heathensim you'll ever want to see.

I wonder if transformationism in the spiritual kingdom is the mirror-image of its counterpart in the civil one?

Just as postmillennial transformationists feel compelled to "redeem the city," so many Americans (believing or not) feel the responsibility to "make the world safe for democracy." The latter has been called "the white man's burden," and perhaps the former should be considered the Christian version of Manifest Destiny.

If what is good for the pious goose is good for the pagan gander, then the secular version of judgment begining at the house of God may be the willingness to admit that we Americans don't need to get to "Babylon By Bus," we can just walk out our front door.

Who, us Babylon? I dunno, but Revelation 18 hits eerily close to home.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

On Obstinate Optimism

I find it interesting, when I consider genres like the printed page or the screen (big or small), how rare a thing it is to come across a true tragedy. You know, the kind where Sauron takes the Ring, where Voldemort kills all the Muggles, and where the villain escapes at the end, leaving behind a trail of suffering and darkness with no evidence of "lux post tenebras" (as the fella said).

The reason for this is pretty obvious, I think: Deep down we need to believe that nice guys finish first, that only the good die old, that cheaters never prosper, that crime doesn't pay, and that honesty, at the end of the day, really is the best policy.

Problem is, none of this is true. Not in the here and now, anyway.

What if the story of man, in his earthly kingdom under the sun, is the consummate and archetypical tragedy? Now I know what you're thinking: "Well duh, Sherlock! Of course it is, look at all the suffering and misery out there." Yes, but perhaps we're not seeing the tragic nature of the human story with sufficient clarity and depth.

Let me put it another way: What if our collective earthly story, yours and mine, is actually swept up in and even contributing to the tragic nature of this present age? What if it's not merely the case that, despite America's most valliant efforts to rid the world of evildoers, suffering still exists out there among the swarthy and less civilized. But what if we Americans are ourselves culprits, contributing collectively to what we claim, on paper at least, to desire to eradicate?

I'll not elaborate just yet (or perhaps ever). I'm just wondering out loud if we American Christians are willing to accept the fact that our heavenly citizenship may be the only redeeming thing about our earthly lives.

I mean, we Reformed folk can resign ourselves to being outsiders looking into a broader church culture with which we feel little affinity, and we often do it with no small amount of moustache-twisting and sinister glee. But why can we so readily "tsk, tsk" those misguided evangelicals, while insisting that our secular corner of the earthly kingdom is on the right side of every battle, destined to don the white hat and ride off into the providential, common grace sunset?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

When A Credit in Thine Account Ye Place, Pollute Ye May, Without Disgrace!

Call me behind the times or hopelessly out of touch, but last week I heard, for the first time, about carbon credits.

The way these credits work, as far as I can tell, is by allocating to a company a certain amount of credits which they can use to pollute the environment. Companies that pollute less, and therefore have extra credits which remain unused, can sell those credits to companies whose pollution levels exceed what their carbon credits will allow.

First of all, this sounds a lot like the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences, doesn't it? If you're going to sin, here's a pre-approved, divinely sanctioned excuse for it. Pretty soon we'll be hearing that the carbon credits still in the accounts of companies that go belly-up will be placed in a "treasury of merit" from which those with less than super-erogatory tendencies may draw.

Secondly, it drives me crazy that something like "environmental virtue" can be placed within the jurisdiction of the Market and treated as a commodity. Didn't there used to be things called "commons" which were, back in the day at least, big open spaces that belonged to everyone? Well, it seems the Enclosure Act that placed literal spaces (like parks and greenbelts) in private hands has extended beyond mere real estate and now includes all kinds of other things that are now up for sale.

I guess it just annoys me that everything from schools to street signs, hospitals to health care, and water to warfare are subjected to Market forces and treated as consumer products auctioned off to the highest bidder.

OK, enough ranting....

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Scandal of the Gospel

I just began a series of sermons called More Than Conquerors in which I plan to look at Romans 6-8 and focus on the topic of Christian living under the shadow of the cross, and in the power of the Spirit.

This morning I preached from Romans 6:1 and quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who insisted that all faithful preaching must be mistaken for antinomianism, saying, "There is a kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation."

You see, those who see the gospel primarily as a tool for individual or cultural transformation will inevitably be hesitant to give too much attention to something like grace. After all, if not even the law could cure our constant sinning, and then God just accepts us anyway, the conclusion that grace will curb our lusts sounds pretty absurd if you think about it.

"Give 'em an inch," as the fella said.

With all due acknowledgement of the dangers of the etymological fallacy, it is still interesting that the word from which we translate the "offense" that the scribes and Pharisees felt at Jesus' person and message is the Greek verb scandalizomai, from which we derive our English word "scandal."

I don't know about you, but if a person's understanding of the gospel isn't scandalous to my natural way of thinking, if it doesn't call into question everything I think I know, if it doesn't subvert the wisdom of this age, then when you preach it I can barely muster the energy to yawn.

Which is why my response to the idea that the gospel is simply the latest in a long line of self-help methods, or that New Urbanism is "kingdom work," is to wonder why Jesus had to be so attention-seeking as to die to accomplish such tasks.

If the gospel is as "earthy" as many claim, then I will echo the scandal of the scribes and protest alongside them the seeming overkill of the cross and resurrection.