Tim Keller: The Acid Test of Being a Christian

20 12 2011

Perhaps what I noticed most about this excerpt from Dr. Keller’s sermon was that a “real Christian” has a spirit of wonder that permeates their whole life.  There is an old woman at Trinity, who whenever a promise of the Gospel is put forward she exhales loudly and will say something like “oh how marvelous!”  This woman has a host of difficulties in her life that would cause many of us to be miserable.  But what is most striking about her life is that she is utterly amazed at Jesus Christ and is therefore a very happy woman.  My heart breaks for people who spend their whole life in church and are never amazed at what God has done in Christ, who never rejoice in the gift of his Holy Spirit or who are never moved with gratitude at the gift of his word.  People who live out their Christian lives in such a way are like folks who turn their nose up at a banquet table to munch on stale, moldy bread.

A real Christian is a person who says, “it is an absolute miracle that God’s loves me. “It’s just a miracle that I am a Christian.” This is actually an acid test; let me just lay it on you here at the end. There are two kinds of people that go to church: there’s religious people and real Christians. And the way you can tell the difference is that a Real Christian is somebody who sees everything that comes as a gift.  In other words a real Christian sees that you are totally in debt to God, but a religious person is someone who is working hard and making an effort and trying to be good, going to Bible studies and just saying “no” everywhere, and denying themselves a lot of pleasures, and so forth, and a religious person is someone who is trying to put God in their debt. That is the difference.  A religious person is someone who is trying to save themselves through their good works. A religious person is somebody who thinks they are putting God in their debt since they have tried so hard. A Christian is somebody who sees themselves as in God’s debt.

Here is the acid test: If you are a Christian you have a spirit of wonder that permeates your life. You are always saying “how miraculous”, “how interplanetary”, “how unreal”. You are always looking at yourself and saying, “me a Christian … incredible, miraculous, unbelievable, a joke!!! ” but a person who is trying to put God in their debt – there is none of that spirit of wonder at all.  For example, when you show up to get your paycheck.  I am assuming that most of you work hard for your money.  When you show up for your paycheck do you say “Ah, BEHOLD!!!, you’ve paid me, you’ve given me money!!! Oh!! Are you real?.” No, you don’t do that, you say “of course you paid me, I worked.”  If you ask a religious person who does not understand the grace of God. you say, “Are you a Christian?” They say “Of course I am a Christian, I have always been a Christian. Sure I am a Christian. “  My friends, if you are a Christian there is no “sure” about it and there is no “of courseness” about it, not a bit.

The acid test is your spirit of wonder stays there even when things go bad.  You see when things go bad, when problems happen, here you can tell the difference between a moralist and a Christian.  A moralist says, “what good is all my religion, what good is going to God, I have tried hard to be a Christian, I am trying hard to be obedient to God, and what good is it? God owes me.” And you see you get mad. You say, “I have been trying hard and look what’s going on in my love life, look what’s going on in my career”, and you get bitter. Why? because God owes you.  But A Christian keeps that spirit of wonder.  A Christian may say “my career has not gone too well, my love life has not gone too well, it’s astonishing… Its amazing that God is as good as He is to me. Its all grace. Its all grace.  That spirit of wonder. That sense of being a miracle. That everything that comes to you being an absolute mercy. That is an acid test.  In fact, in some ways I have made a dichotomy that is unrealistic.  Christians, to the degree that you behold the free grace of God, to the degree that you meditate on it and you let it become a holy fire in your heart, to the degree you experience and behold the love of God, to that degree you are going to find that to difficulties you will be able to say “oh well, my Father must have a purpose here because He loves me, and besides that, He does not owe me a good life. He owes me a far worse life than I’ve got.” You can handle anything. And when good things come you will say “Behold! what a miracle”  And the very fact you can get up in the morning and say, “I am a Christian. Who would have thought it?” There is a spirit of wonder about you, and if you have lost that you are slipping back into moralism, you are slipping back into thinking “well I guess what it means to be a Christian is just to do.”  Here is Christianity:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

The wonder is a mark that you know the Lord. The ability to handle anything with that sense of almost childlike wonder. That sense of being a miracle.  That tells you that you know him.

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s Name!
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.
He has wash’d us with His blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.

read the whole thing here

Calvin: God, Worship, and Idolatry

19 12 2011

Below is an excerpt from John Calvin’s Institutes on the Christian Religion ch 12. I have linked through to the whole of his Institutes on CCEL (fantastic resource!). Calvin’s Institutes (two volume set) is one of the most cherished works in my library. It was given to me by a dear friend and old prayer partner Adam Chapman. I have read them and re-read them a number of times and am always impressed and the knew wealth of knowledge and insight that Calvin is still able to provide. For example, you may notice in Section 1.1 that knowledge of God is incomplete unless it is enjoined with worship of God. What a timely and stern warning to students of theology who love accumulating knowledge but do not accumulate a love for God! These and other jems you will find below. Some come out easy, some only with hard work. Either way I hope you enjoy it.



1. Scripture, in teaching that there is but one God, does not make a dispute about words, but attributes all honour and religious worship to him alone. This proved, 1st, By the etymology of the term. 2d, By the testimony of God himself, when he declares that he is a jealous God, and will not allow himself to be confounded with any fictitious Deity.

2. The Papists in opposing this pure doctrine, gain nothing by their distinction of δυλια and λατρια.

3. Passages of Scripture subversive of the Papistical distinction, and proving that religious worship is due to God alone. Perversions of Divine worship.

1. We said at the commencement of our work (chap. 2), that the knowledge of God consists not in frigid speculation, but carries worship along with it; and we touched by the way (chap. 5 s. 6, 9, 10) on what will be more copiously treated in other places (Book 2, chap. 8)—viz. how God is duly worshipped. Now I only briefly repeat, that whenever Scripture asserts the unity of God, it does not contend for a mere name, but also enjoins that nothing which belongs to Divinity be applied to any other; thus making it obvious in what respect pure religion differs from superstition. The Greek word εὐσέβεια means “right worship;” for the Greeks, though groping in darkness, were always aware that a certain rule was to be observed, in order that God might not be worshipped absurdly. Cicero truly and shrewdly derives the name religion from relego, and yet the reason which he assigns is forced and farfetched—viz. that honest worshipers read and read again, and ponder what is true.9191 Cic. De Nat. Deor. lib. 2 c. 28. See also Lactant. Inst. Div. lib. 4 c. 28. I rather think the name is used in opposition to vagrant license—the greater part of mankind rashly taking up whatever first comes in their way, whereas piety, that it may stand with a firm step, confines itself within due bounds. In the same way superstition seems to take its name from its not being contented with the measure which reason prescribes, but accumulating a superfluous mass of vanities. But to say nothing more of words, it has been universally admitted in all ages, that religion is vitiated and perverted whenever false opinions are introduced into it, and hence it is inferred, that whatever is allowed to be done from inconsiderate zeal, cannot be defended by any pretext with which 105the superstitious may choose to cloak it. But although this confession is in every man’s mouth, a shameful stupidity is forthwith manifested, inasmuch as men neither cleave to the one God, nor use any selection in their worship, as we have already observed.

But God, in vindicating his own right, first proclaims that he is a jealous God, and will be a stern avenger if he is confounded with any false god; and thereafter defines what due worship is, in order that the human race may be kept in obedience. Both of these he embraces in his Law when he first binds the faithful in allegiance to him as their only Lawgiver, and then prescribes a rule for worshipping him in accordance with his will. The Law, with its manifold uses and objects, I will consider in its own place; at present I only advert to this one, that it is designed as a bridle to curb men, and prevent them from turning aside to spurious worship. But it is necessary to attend to the observation with which I set out—viz. that unless everything peculiar to divinity is confined to God alone, he is robbed of his honour, and his worship is violated.

It may be proper here more particularly to attend to the subtleties which superstition employs. In revolting to strange gods, it avoids the appearance of abandoning the Supreme God, or reducing him to the same rank with others. It gives him the highest place, but at the same time surrounds him with a tribe of minor deities, among whom it portions out his peculiar offices. In this way, though in a dissembling and crafty manner, the glory of the Godhead is dissected, and not allowed to remain entire. In the same way the people of old, both Jews and Gentiles, placed an immense crowd in subordination to the father and ruler of the gods, and gave them, according to their rank, to share with the supreme God in the government of heaven and earth. In the same way, too, for some ages past, departed saints have been exalted to partnership with God, to be worshipped, invoked, and lauded in his stead. And yet we do not even think that the majesty of God is obscured by this abomination, whereas it is in a great measure suppressed and extinguished—all that we retain being a frigid opinion of his supreme power. At the same time, being deluded by these entanglements, we go astray after divers gods.

2. The distinction of what is called δυλια and λατρια was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honours to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity. For it is plain that the worship which Papists pay to saints differs in no respect from the worship of God: for this worship is paid without distinction; only when they are pressed they have recourse to the evasion, that what belongs to God is kept unimpaired, because they leave him λατρια. But since the question relates not to the word, but the thing, how can they be allowed to sport at will with a matter of the highest moment? But not to insist on this, the utmost they will obtain by their distinction is, that they give worship to God, and service to the others. For λατρεὶα in Greek has the same meaning as worship in Latin; whereas 106δουλεὶα properly means service, though the words are sometimes used in Scripture indiscriminately. But granting that the distinction is invariably preserved, the thing to be inquired into is the meaning of each. Δουλεὶα unquestionably means service, and λατρεὶα worship. But no man doubts that to serve is something higher than to worship. For it were often a hard thing to serve him whom you would not refuse to reverence. It is, therefore, an unjust division to assign the greater to the saints and leave the less to God. But several of the ancient fathers observed this distinction. What if they did, when all men see that it is not only improper, but utterly frivolous?

3. Laying aside subtleties, let us examine the thing. When Paul reminds the Galatians of what they were before they came to the knowledge of Gods he says that they “did service unto them which by nature are no gods,” (Gal. 4:8). Because he does not say λατρια, was their superstition excusable? This superstition, to which he gives the name of δυλια, he condemns as much as if he had given it the name of λατρια. When Christ repels Satan’s insulting proposal with the words, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve,” (Mt. 4:10), there was no question of λατρια. For all that Satan asked was προσκὺνεσις (obeisance). In like manners when John is rebuked by the angel for falling on his knees before him (Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9), we ought not to suppose that John had so far forgotten himself as to have intended to transfer the honour due to God alone to an angel. But because it was impossible that a worship connected with religion should not savour somewhat of divine worship, he could not προσκὺνει̑ν (do obeisance to) the angel without derogating from the glory of God. True, we often read that men were worshipped; but that was, if I may so speak, civil honour. The case is different with religious honour, which, the moment it is conjoined with worship, carries profanation of the divine honour along with it. The same thing may be seen in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:25). He had not made so little progress in piety as not to confine supreme worship to God alone. Therefore, when he prostrates himself before Peter, he certainly does it not with the intention of adoring him instead of God. Yet Peter sternly forbids him. And why, but just because men never distinguish so accurately between the worship of God and the creatures as not to transfer promiscuously to the creature that which belongs only to God. Therefore, if we would have one God, let us remember that we can never appropriate the minutest portion of his glory without retaining what is his due. Accordingly, when Zechariah discourses concerning the repairing of the Church, he distinctly says not only that there would be one God, but also that he would have only one name—the reason being, that he might have nothing in common with idols. The nature of the worship which God requires will be seen in its own place (Book 2, c. 7 and 8). He has been pleased to prescribe in his Law what is lawful and right, and thus restrict men to a certain rule, 107lest any should allow themselves to devise a worship of their own. But as it is inexpedient to burden the reader by mixing up a variety of topics, I do not now dwell on this one. Let it suffice to remember, that whatever offices of piety are bestowed anywhere else than on God alone, are of the nature of sacrilege. First, superstition attached divine honours to the sun and stars, or to idols: afterwards ambition followed—ambition which, decking man in the spoils of God, dared to profane all that was sacred. And though the principle of worshipping a supreme Deity continued to be held, still the practice was to sacrifice promiscuously to genii and minor gods, or departed heroes: so prone is the descent to this vice of communicating to a crowd that which God strictly claims as his own peculiar right!

read Calvin’s Institutes online by clicking here

Abraham Kuyper: The Antithesis of Symbolism and Revelation

19 12 2011

I highly recommend this entire lecture to Anglican pastors in the Reformed tradition. It is wildly enlightening in seeing how the popular sentiment behind the Anglo-Catholic revival (I say popular sentiment because most of the prime movers of the A.C. revival were orthodox, godly men) of England led us into the current syncretistic mess and allergy to confession that the Episcopal Church currently faces in the U.S. I personally found it of great historical interest (J.C. Ryle seems to be fighting a similar battle) in this regard and many others. I also recommend this lecture to those who are interested in deepening their understanding of the aesthetic, particularly in worship. Read the whole thing, because it is easy to be deceived by the excerpted paragraphs below. Kuyper is not rejecting the aesthetic, as he makes clear throughout the essay. Nor is he rejecting “high church” liturgies, in fact he helped republish an old high church reformed liturgy (Forma Ac Ratio, which was influential in the Episcopal prayer book) and goes out of his way to convey the “liturgical” aspects of historic Calvinism. I think what he is aiming at, to repeat myself, is the popular sentiment behind the need for symbolism. So read it carefully, and read it all.

Every one who, moving in the finite, becomes aware of the existence of something Infinite, has to form a conception of the relation that exists between both. Here two possibilities present themselves. Either the Infinite reveals itself to man, and by this revelation unveils the really existing relation; or the Infinite remains mute and silent, and man himself has to guess, to conjecture, and to represent to himself this relation by means of his imagination; that is, in an artificial way. Now the first line is the Christian one. The Infinite at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past by the prophets, and in these late days has spoken to us by his Son�this Son being not a silent mystery, but the eternal, creating and speaking Word. Paganism, on the contrary, being destitute of revelation, wants the symbol, and creates it in its idols, “having mouths but they speak not, having ears but they hear not.” Symbol means a fictitious link between the invisible Infinite and the visible finite. It is derived from sumballein; i.e., bringing two different spheres together. Symbolism is the grasping of something outward and material, upon which the imagination may put the stamp of the unseen and unspeakable. The symbol is the middle link, being related from one side to what you can see and grasp, and from the other side to what you feel, fancy and imagine. As soon, therefore, as the consciousness of the Infinite revives in the public mind, in antagonism to a God-given Revelation, the demand for the symbol necessarily and immediately declares itself. So it was in the Grecian world, so it is now. Of course there exists also an unconscious, ever-changing relation between the Infinite and the finite in the actual phenomena of life; but this relation, being always partial, successive and momentarily gauged, cannot satisfy the soul. What she is longing after is a comprehensive impression of the Infinite in its totality, in its all-pervading and all-permeating action; and this sensation no finite phenomenon is able to stir in us, just because it is finite. What the soul want to realize is a grasping of the Infinite as such; and such an infinite sensation Symbolism only can produce, just because it puts an invisible stamp upon a visible or palpable phenomenon. In the Freemasonry you see quite the same thing. Freemasonry aims at the Infinite, but rejects all revelation, and therefore it created from the very first, and still advocates, the most explicit and elaborated symbolism. Spiritism, on the contrary, is almost choked with thirst for revelation from the other side of the tomb, and consequently knows of no symbolical fancy whatsoever.

So Revelation and Symbolism are opposed one to the other by principle. Both have in view to establish a perceivable relation between the Infinite and the finite, but they are so diametrically opposed, that by the means of Revelation it is the infinite Being himself who unveils and stipulates the relation to be accepted by the finite creature by faith: and that, on the other hand, on the field of Symbolism, it is the finite man who conventionally coins such a relation symbolically, to be grasped not by faith, but by sensation. Now the fact that German pantheism rejects and repudiates every supernatural revelation, no one will deny. From the very beginning its war has been waged against every dogma, every confession, and every divine authority ascribed to the Holy Scriptures. The idea itself of a God intervening in the process of history was absolutely excluded; yea, even thrust out and debarred. According to the panta rei, the Infinite, strictly bound to the revealing of its essence in the course of successive events, could only throb and pulsate in the arteries of the cosmos and in man’s soul. But, besides that, it had to be silent and mute as the idol. In the all-embracing antithesis between Revelation and Symbolism, therefore, the current opinion of the day could not but antagonize Revelation and side with Symbolism. And here Philosophy and Art found their natural alliance�Philosophy, by its oneness of systematical conception, raising the mind to the Infinite, and Art, by the wonderful power of its imaginative gifts, creating the corresponding symbols.

Abraham Kuyper, The Antithesis Between Symbolism and Revelation, Late 1800′s

Rob Sturdy: Imago Dei A Worshipping Image

19 12 2011

In the essay below I make a case for a doxological reading of human nature based upon Reformed texts

“The central theological framework of radical orthodoxy is ‘participation’ as developed by Plato and reworked by Christianity because any alternative configuration perforce reserves a territory independent of God.”[1]  This excerpt from Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology demonstrates both the breadth of the agenda of Radical Orthodoxy as well as the mechanism through which RO seeks to accomplish its goals.  Briefly put, RO reads the history of Western cultural movement since the Enlightenment as an ever increasing secularization. Overtime, the abstract philosophy behind the secularization of the West worked itself out in a dangerous nihilism, systematically devaluing embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community etc.[2] A revaluing of such things, argues RO, will take a framework that both denies the secular as well as grounds the immanent upon a platform that can give it ultimate meaning and eternal stability.  This is done through RO’s theological framework of participation, which understands the material world as suspended from the transcendent in the same manner that a bridge is suspended above the nothingness beneath it.

At first glance, the Reformed tradition shares many of the same concerns of Radical Orthodoxy.  Both repudiate the isolation of the material, stepping beyond the secular in favor of a created order that derives its significance and depth from God.  However, as James Olthuis observes “whereas the intentions voiced by Radical Orthodoxy are ones that the Reformed tradition fully shares, we differ significantly on how best to make good on these intentions.”[3]  The significant difference on how best to go about stepping beyond the secular and revaluing the immanent hinges upon RO’s commitment to participation and the Reformed commitment to the notion of covenant.  “Participation for Radical Orthodoxy and covenant for Reformed theology function as the central theological frameworks or organizing principles by which these theologies understand the Christian faith,” writes Justin Holcomb in his essay ‘Being Bound to God’, yet he also notes that these two frameworks are not mutually exclusive.[4]  His conclusion that this is a false dichotomy is shared within the RO ranks.[5]

While Reformed theologians have been sweeping in their indictments of participation it is it is partly due to the perception that participation belongs exclusively in the realm of platonic philosophy rather than in the world of Biblical theology.  After all “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?  What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?  What between heretics and Christians?”[6]  Well, if we (if Tertullian himself!) were honest, Athens does and always has had much to do with the church.  As Holcomb notes, Tertullian himself could not avoid philosophical categories, nor could such modern Reformed Theologians as Karl Barth keep from building sweeping theological systems under the influence of Martin Buber and Soren Kierkegaard.[7]  The Bible itself often speaks in borrowed categories whether from a particular location in history or from philosophy.  We are after all embodied beings.  For God to communicate with us at all He must use language, practices, and signs that are already in place in culture in order to make himself understood.[8]  This does not free us from an uncritical appropriation of pagan signs, language and philosophy which subsumes Christian theology under such things reducing the significance and distinctiveness of its message.  But, and this is very important to add at this point, neither does it free us from dismissing such things outright simply because the church has become aware of them through the contributions from the pagan world.  Read the rest of this entry »