Douglas Moo: Confessing Christ in our day

20 12 2011

There is much of interest in this tiny excerpt from Douglas Moo’s masterful commentary of Romans (prob the finest out there at the moment).  However, I would draw your attention to Moo’s point about theology and confessing Christ.  To put it briefly, correct theology is essential to confessing Christ in our day (as it is in any age).  If a young Christian were to ask me what he could do for Christ then I would give him a very surprising answer.  Go  read a book.  Go read a book about Christ for Christ.  Equip yourself to proclaim the Gospel with depth rather than a catch phrase.  Equip yourself to see through the unacknowledged presuppositions of culture.  Equip yourself with 2000 years of faithful reflection on the riches of God.  Go read a book for Christ. 

Confessing the gospel in our own day requires that we subscribe to Paul’s exalted view of Jesus; it is failure to do so that spawns many heresies.  But Paul’s attention, as we have also seen, is especially on the activity of this Jesus:  his coming to earth as the Messiah; his exaltation through resurrection to Lord of all; his dispensing power as the Son of God.  It is what Jesus has done, not just who he is, that makes the gospel the “good news” that it is.  But make no mistake: what Jesus has done cannot be severed from who he is.  Ours is an age not too much interested in theology; but correct theology- in this case, the person of Jesus- is vital to salvation and to Christian living.

Douglas Moo The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1996 pg 55)





Tim Keller at the Veritas Forum at UC Berkley

20 12 2011

One of the big battles facing the future of Christianity in the West is presenting a Gospel message that meets the harsh and legitimate critiques of a culture that has grown up in a shallow evangelicalism.  Tim Keller, particularly in the video below, is a helpful model for how Christians can compassionately and intelligently bear witness to the Gospel in our current context.  The whole video (at 94 min!) is worth your time. 





“Exmas”: a satirical essay by C.S. Lewis

20 12 2011

I found myself chuckling out loud a few times during this great piece of satirical writing. Lewis’ fictional country of Niatrib represents Great Britain but it could just as easily be present day America. I’m sure you can figure the rest out on your own. Enjoy!

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas , and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card . But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and the most miserable of citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk in the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think that some great calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush .

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush , lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.
Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas , which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.”

And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket, using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis ).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in theRush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Read it yourself in C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock “Xmas and Christmas: A lost chapter from Herodotus”





J. C. Ryle: Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing

20 12 2011

The mainline denominations in North America are in systemic decline.  Why?  J.C. Ryle, long dead Bishop of Liverpool has some thoughts on the matter that might be worth investigating.  ”Christianity” he says, “without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing.”  I think it is powerless for two reasons.  First and foremost, I do not believe the Holy Spirit will be present in power to assist the proclamation of the Gospel when it is not the Gospel that is presented to us in Scripture and handed down for centuries  in the church.  Second, from a purely practical perspective, when the borders of an organization are not clearly drawn people have a very difficult time discerning what the organization is, why they should join it, or even if they have already joined it!  The mushier doctrine becomes in a denomination the more rapidly it will decline.  God will not bless it, nor will people take the time to investigate it.

“Mark what I say. If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision, and take up a distinct, sharply cut, doctrinal religion. If you believe little, those to whom you try to do good will believe nothing. The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology, by telling men roundly of Christ’s vicarious death and sacrifice, by showing them Christ’s substitution on the cross and His precious blood, by teaching them justification by faith and bidding them believe on a crucified Saviour, by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit, by lifting up the brazen serpent, by telling men to look and live, to believe, repent and be converted. This, this is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honoured with success, and is honouring at the present day both at home and abroad. Let the clever advocates of a broad and undogmatic theology — the preachers of the gospel of earnestness and sincerity and cold morality — let them, I say, show us at this day any English village or parish or city or town or district, which has been evangelized without ‘dogma’, by their principles. They cannot do it, and they never will. Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing. It may be beautiful to some minds, but it is childless and barren. There is no getting over facts. The good that is done in the earth may be comparatively small. Evil may abound and ignorant impatience may murmur, and cry out that Christianity has failed. But, depend on it, if we want to ‘do good’ and shake the world, we must fight it with the old apostolic weapons, and stick to ‘dogma’. No dogma, no fruits! No positive evangelical doctrine, no evangelization!”

J.C. Ryle Wants of the Times, from a sermon preached at St Margaret’s church, Ipswich, 11 June 1879





More “Christian” Atheism: Michael Horton’s “Are Churches Secularizing America?”

19 12 2011

Several years ago, a mainline theologian told me of his experience at an evangelical megachurch. He was visiting his children and grandchildren during spring break and then Easter Sunday arrived. Nothing visibly suggested that it was a Christian service, but this distinguished theologian tried to reign in his judgments. There was no greeting from God or sense that this was God’s gathering. The songs were almost exclusively about us, our feelings, and our intentions to worship, obey, and love; but it was not clear whom they were talking about or why. He concluded, “Well, evangelicals don’t really have a liturgy. They put all of the content into the sermon, so I’ll wait.”

His patience, however, was not rewarded. Although it was Easter, the message (with no clear text) was on how Jesus gives us the strength to overcome our obstacles. Lacking even a benediction, this theologian left discouraged. He had come to an evangelical church at Easter and instead of meeting God and the announcement of a real victory over sin and death by Jesus Christ, he encountered other Christians who were being given fellowship and instructions for making their own “Easter” come true in their life.

Pressed with leading questions by his son-in-law as to his reaction to the service (like, “Did it touch your heart?”), the theologian broke his silence: “I assume you’re trying to ‘evangelize’ me right now,” he said. “But there was no ‘gospel’ anywhere in that service that might convert me if I were unconverted.” He concluded, “Not even in the most liberal churches I’ve been in was the service so devoid of Christ and the gospel. It’s like ‘God who?’” Read the rest of this entry »





J. Gresham Machen’s Testimony Before the House and Senate Committees on the Proposed Department of Education (1926)

19 12 2011

Machen was the New Testament professor at Princeton and founder of Westminster Theological Seminary. Machen’s testimony before the House and Senate committees is terribly thought provoking. Note how he attacks the presuppositions behind the creation of the department and note his critique of the stated goals of the department. Also noteworthy is the type of person that Machen believes educating people after this fashion will produce. In short, he believes it will produce a “reduced” (my words) person, who is unable to exceed the appearance of things but strives to simplify and reduce everything to categories.  As a committed and thoughtful Christian, Machen foresaw the effects that reductionistic  (and ultimately atheistic) philosophies would have on impressionable students.  Read it carefully.

It is for the latter reason that I am opposed to the bill which forms the subject of this hearing. The purpose of the bill is made explicit in the revised form of it which has been offered by Senator Means, in which it is expressly said that the department of public education, with the assistance of the advisory board to be created, shall attempt to develop a more uniform and efficient system of public common school education. The department of education, according to that bill, is to promote uniformity in education. That uniformity in education under central control it seems to me is the worst fate into which any country can fall. That purpose I think is implicit also in the other form of the bill, and it is because that is the very purpose of the bill that I am opposed to it….

The principle of this bill, and the principle of all the advocates of it, is that standardization in education is a good thing. I do not think a person can read the literature of advocates of measures of this sort without seeing that that is taken almost without argument as a matter of course, that standardization in education is a good thing. Now, I am perfectly ready to admit that standardization in some spheres is a good thing. It is a good thing in the making of Ford cars; but just because it is a good thing in the making of Ford cars it is a bad thing in the making of human beings, for the reason that a Ford car is a machine and a human being is a person. But a great many educators today deny the distinction between the two, and that is the gist of the whole matter. The persons to whom I refer are those who hold the theory that the human race has now got behind the scenes, that it has got at the secrets of human behavior, that it has pulled off the trappings with which human actors formerly moved upon the scene of life, and has discovered that art and poetry and beauty and morality are delusions, and that mechanism really rules all. I think it is very interesting to observe how widespread that theory is in the education of the present day.

Sometimes the theory is held consciously. But the theory is much more operative because it is being put into operation by people who have not the slightest notion of what the ultimate source of its introduction into the sphere of education is. In this sphere we find an absolute refutation of the notion that philosophy has no effect upon life. On the contrary, a false philosophy, a false view of what life is, is made operative in the world today in the sphere of education through great hosts of teachers who have not the slightest notion of what the ultimate meaning is of the methods that they are putting into effect all the time.

For my part, I cannot bring myself to think, with these persons, that the lower things in human life are the only things that remain, and that all the higher things are delusions; and so I do not adhere to this theory. And for that reason I do not believe that we ought to adopt this principle of standardization in education, which is writ so large in this bill; because standardization, it seems to me, destroys the personal character of human life.

read it all here