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Some Dogmatic Thoughts on Grace

When I was five years old, my parents took me and my sister to a farm – I think it was a farm – I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings so much as the reason for the trip.  We were getting a puppy!  Pretty soon I was standing in front of a wire-fenced, makeshift kennel in which a litter of mutts happily yipped and played together.  They were a mix of Golden Retriever and German Shepherd, and the one with a white tip on his tail immediately caught my attention.  So did the fact that he nipped me.  Yep, this was going to be our dog. 

Glad to be Disappointed in Chapel

God has blessed the Geneva chapel program with some absolutely wonderful sermons and testimonies this fall, and I say that with no reference whatsoever to my own work.  From Dr. Dan Doriani of Covenant Seminary, to Dr. Bill Edgar, Geneva’s interim President, to Dr. Christopher Yuan from Moody Bible Institute, and co-author along with his mother of Out of a Far Country, A Gay Son’s Journey to God and a Broken Mother’s Search for Hope – these men have brought the chapel crowd wonderful biblical substance expressed in their own pastoral, engaging styles.  

We Could Be Heroes (and maybe that’s not good …)

We have such low standards for heroes.  And I don’t just mean comic book superheroes:  Green Lantern…Hawkeye….Robin (!?!)  No matter how much we equivocate the term, these guys don’t deserve the title “super.”  But that’s a subject for another blog.  In this one, I’d like to explore the tendency among Christians in our modern, Western culture to laud as heroic any non-fictional person who seems even vaguely virtuous.  In a time of moral famine, Christians seem far too eager to gobble up and praise what little signs we see of basic good behavior and to celebrate them as Christ-like.   To borrow and adapt C.S. Lewis’ expression:  When it comes to distinctly Christian heroism, we are far too easily pleased.  

Stop the Conversation Stoppers!

As Bible-believing Christians continue to speak out against sinful, seismic social changes and against atrocities enacted in the name of health care, they are met with predictable charges of hypocrisy.  “You have no right to protest when people of your faith fail so miserably to tangibly care for the people you claim to champion.”  Despite the civilization shaking significance of the evil these Christians decry, some people are far more interested in decrying (sometimes without specific example) the evil of Christian hypocrisy.  The mere existence of Christian hypocrisy apparently invalidates all public Christian protests.   We could expect such thinking and accusations from opponents of Christianity.   What’s unnerving is that these predictable accusations and the imbalanced moral outrage they represent are coming more and more from Bible-believing Christians.      

A Lament for Sally (and the rest of us)

There is a difference between freedom and autonomy (literally, self-law).  Freedom allows flourishing within a defined context conducive to life.  To bloom bright and beautiful, flowers are “constrained” by their need for water, good soil, and sun.  Autonomy demands the right to redefine terms and refuse any restraint.  Pop culture and political activists in black robes have made it clear:  We demand autonomy.  No fixed definitions for social institutions and therefore none for us as individuals.  We demand the right to self-define, no matter whose freedom gets trampled in the process and no matter who gets hurt, including ourselves. As we will increasingly see, but will likely keep refusing to learn, self-definition is self-destruction.

The following satire is barely hyperbolic.  As these recent articles show – doctors in Belgium to kill healthy 24 year old  and  Aggressive pursuit of the right to die – this scenario is now nightmarishly close to materializing.    

Where Faith Goes to Die

It’s an old joke among Christian leaders to “accidentally” refer to seminary as cemetery.  “Back when I was in cemetery…er, seminary…” Or to a young prospect for the pastorate:  “So, you’re heading to cemetery…er, seminary, eh?  Well, hang in there.  You’ll be involved in real ministry eventually.”  The joker’s purposeful subliminal slip assumes that theological education and vital, faith-filled ministry are in tension with one another, if they’re not outright enemies.  Well, if seminary is where an aspiring minister’s faith goes to die, then Presbytery meetings must be purgatory.

For Presbyterian denominations within Christ’s church, Presbytery is the deliberative assembly of elders from a particular geographical region that gathers to make decisions which will guide the local congregations within that region.  The Synod (or General Assembly) is the Presbytery meeting of all Presbyteries in the denomination.  All the stereotypes, the alleged faith-killing aspects of seminary – dry discussions of dust-accumulating documents written by dead theologians who were barely interesting in their own day – are made to live again in debates among seminary graduates and other church leaders.  Any vitality from fresh ideas in these debates is short-lived; soon those sparks of life are laid to rest in the coffins of […]

So I’m Apathetic…Who Cares?!

It is incredibly easy in our day to observe an incredibly saddening reality:  Apathy is everywhere.  To which you might reply: “Who cares?”  To which I might reply:  “Fair point, and my point exactly.”  To which you might reply: “Whatever.”  This could go on for a while, and I would win, but you wouldn’t care!

It is easy to be apathetic when we feel unthreatened, or unimpressed.  Imagine being at one of those zoo aquariums where you can walk through a transparent tunnel and be surrounded by all the sea life.  You feel quite safe, even though a group of gnarly- toothed, flesh eating sharks swarms above and beside you.  The Plexiglas is protecting you, so you’re rather indifferent to their presence.  You might even get irritated that the sharks aren’t doing anything interesting, like attacking some other sea creature or each another.  Maybe you can find a video like that with your phone.

After several minutes of searching, you look up and see the sharks looking back at you.  They’re now together, side by side, and it seems they’ve been staring at you the whole time you were staring at your cellphone.  You’re a little embarrassed at being startled, so you […]

“Not In Our House!!”

Have you ever tried to resist the inevitable?  I do this whenever I sit down to eat.  No matter how much I try to avoid it, my superlative skills in unintentionally creating social awkwardness will kick in, and some of my food will end up on me rather than in me.  Sometimes I think I should purposely dump the contents of my plate on my lap as soon as I sit down, just to kill the anticipatory tension.  Either way, wearing my food is an unpleasant inevitability.  But have you ever tried to resist something that is inevitable, but also absolutely wonderful – in fact, the very best thing that could ever happen to you?  I have, and if you are a Christian, you have, too.     

Of Kryptonite, Kool-Aid and Windex: Concluding a Series on the Practical Pursuit of Holiness

As much as our hearts crave the completion of God’s sanctifying work within us, the prospect of stepping forward in newness of life can be daunting. We might fear that we will be stepping away from sacred pieces of identity, attitudes and affections which distinguish us from others and which keep us objective in our outlook on life. The reality is, however, that progress in sanctification is the progressive revealing of our truest selves; it is the unleashing, not the strangulation, of our hearts.  We considered this at length in a prior entry:   The New You.  We’ll begin this final entry in a series on sanctification –  one, two and  three – by exposing this fear as a strong impediment to that progress, especially as we hide it beneath the guise of a realism regarding our potential progress in holiness.

Sometimes, the limits we place on the possibilities of realized holiness in this life only reveal the limits of our willingness to pursue them.  Sanctification is hard work, though it is indeed the work of God in and through us which accomplishes it (Philippians 2:12-13).  It is far easier to be content to enjoy freedom from the law’s condemnation, than to […]

The Perfect(ionism) Excuse, part 3 in a series on sanctification …

Do you believe that it is possible to overcome a besetting sin in your life?  And do you believe that this conquering is possible in this life?  If your answer is no, or a highly qualified “yes”, what is it that keeps you from answering instead with a resolute, unqualified “yes”?  And is that hesitation truly consistent with what Scripture says is possible for the sons and daughters of the living God?

If you are Reformed in your theology, or are familiar with different denominational takes on this topic, the term “perfectionism” may have come to mind in light of these questions.  Suffice it to say, I am not advocating the idea that Christians can attain a state of sinless perfection in this life, even with regard to willful sins.  The closer we draw to Christ, the more aware we become of sins which had been lurking undetected in our hearts, the kind which eventually give rise to overt and obvious sin (Matthew 5:21-22).  These words from Psalm 139 are appropriate to pray until our dying day: “Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Try me and know my anxious thoughts!  And see if there is any offensive way in […]