Monthly Archives: June 2011

SSMI Blogpost: Loving Our Pastors

I wrote this post for the Sola Scriptura Ministries blog. I’m not pointing fingers, I realise that I have been guilty of being unduly critical of pastors. Now that I’ve gained some pastoral and preaching experience, I know first-hand how discouraging back-biting a pastor can be. May we all be more careful in how we speak about and treat our pastors.

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Filed under pastoral theology, ssmi

Chatting With Michael Coren

Photo taken by Adam Rumball

Last night I joined a comfortable number of men and women at the aptly named Bishop and Belcher in downtown Toronto to share a meal and lively discussion with Michael Coren. In Canada, Coren is a familiar face in conservative political punditry. He has been a columnist for four major Canadian newspapers, he has authored over a dozen books—including biographies of Menken, Lewis, Chesterton and Tolkien—and is the host of The Michael Coren Show; a daily political talk show on television. Coren is a London expatriate and I was interested to find out that he spent some time in the eighties working for the New Statesman.

Coren’s recent book is Why Catholics Are Right and he agreed to join our monthly meeting of theological discussion to speak about it. Though he grew up rather nominal when it came to church, he entered into the Roman Catholic fold while living in England. Upon arrival in Canada he grew tired of some forms of Roman Catholic worship and spent a number of years testing various evangelical bodies in the Toronto area. About eight years ago he was received back into Catholic communion and has since been an outspoken advocate of a more conservative brand of their teaching.

I give Coren credit for being so willing to join our discussion as our group is by-and-large Protestant with a significant number of us as self-identified Calvinists. Of course, Coren is not one known to back down from a good debate, so it’s not too surprising to see him hanging out with a group like ours. Thankfully, from both our part and his, the discussion was energetic and entertaining, but not at all combative. Coren got to clearly, and with wit, express his views as they are found in the book, and we listened intently without letting him off the hook on a number of key areas.

For my own part I have found aspects of the book helpful and others somewhat troubling (I plan on reviewing it shortly). After about three questions from the group I raised my hand to share my thoughts. First of all, I thanked Coren for his section on the so-called “Hitler’s Pope” misconception. Since the sixties the popular take on the Roman Catholic Church’s silence during the Holocaust is that she and her pope, Pius XII, were complicit in what happened to the Jews in order to save their own skin. Coren helpfully dispels this myth and demonstrates that Pius XII had long been a vocal critic of National Socialism and that as pope he expended himself saving a significant number of Jews. This spurred me on to further research which confirmed Coren’s argument.

However, I did mention an area, one among many, that I found problematic in both the book and his presentation of it. He says that although Roman Catholics are “right,” serious minded evangelicals are only “slightly wrong.” He believes that the major difference between evangelicals and Roman Catholics is that of ecclesiology, not so much soteriology. The concern that I voiced is that according to Canon 9 of the Council of Trent (1545-1564), “If anyone saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (see also Canons 11, 12, 24, 30, 32). That last word, “anathema,” means “accursed.” Protestants historically have followed the apostle Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:8-9 that sinners are saved by the grace of God apart from “works” so that no one may boast. Thus the Canons of the Council of Trent leave us accursed, or damned. Coren responded by saying that the strong language of Trent was driven by its immediate historical context; that due to the violence and disruption in Europe, the Roman Church needed to react strongly. However, the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church does not speak in such strong terms. That may be, but Trent is still a binding authority in the Catholic communion and its anathema’s still stand. Thus, committed evangelicals can’t be “slightly wrong;” according to Rome, we’re going to hell.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. A person like Michael Coren, who has had so many unique life experiences, can share anecdotes and stories that make any conversation interesting. On numerous occasions his dry humour had us all bursting with laughter. I confess to feeling a little of the romanticised nostalgia of hanging out with a “literary Catholic” akin to Auden, Eliot, Waugh or Greene. While I would strongly disagree with his book—on a number of levels—I am thankful that in his busy schedule, Michael would be so willing to come and hang out with a rag-tag bunch of theology-wonks. It was very gracious of him and I think all of us who were there can look back at last night with a new-found fondness for the man and his work.

***UPDATE*** Darryl Dash, who organised the event, posted his thoughts here. Adam Rumball, pastor of High Park Baptist Church, shares his thoughts and pics here.

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Filed under books, catholicism, michael coren, theology pub

Libertarianism – A Question

I really appreciate the writings of those who are labelled libertarian. Although they come from different schools of thought, I’ve been helped by books like The Law by Frederic Bastiat, The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek, Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I believe in small government, the right of an individual to own their property, low taxation, no government intervention in the market and other such libertarian ideals.

But I do so as a Christian.

Paul in Romans 13 gives us an explanation of the purpose of government: it is a minister of God to protect citizens from wrong-doing (v. 3). I am not an anarcho-capitalist (though I have sympathies), because v. 1 tells me to be subject to the authorities God has put in place. However, when it comes to God’s law vs. the law of the state, I echo Peter’s words in Acts 5:29 that it is better to serve God rather than man–hence why the Christian sometimes is called to civil disobedience. In terms of private property, the eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal”; this presupposes the ownership of property that can be stolen. The bible also speaks to charity and the welfare state (1 John 3:13-18) as well as honest financial dealings and inflation (Deut. 25:13-16Prov. 16:11).

Many other libertarian ideas find their support in the bible—I recommend Greg Bahnsen’s lectures Economic Ethics as a great place for more info—but my point here is that my views are not determined by an arbitrary appeal to myself as the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Rather, the scriptures provide for me an unchanging, external, objective, universal, moral standard—something indispensable for a person to avoid being arbitrary or subject to the whims of convention in their ethics, view of reality and knowledge.

So, my question to libertarians who do not believe in God or that his Word is truth is this: by what standard do you determine your economic/political values? Do you determine them by your own autonomous faculties of reason? If so, does this not leave you open to the charge of being arbitrary? Are they determined by societal convention? If so, what of changes in the whims of society? Or what if society chooses to follow a path that you know to be wrong (say, cannibalism)?

The biblical worldview is necessary to make sense of ethical norms (just as it is for reality and knowledge). It makes sense of how markets work (a chance universe, not guided by God makes market predictability absurd), why theft and inflation is wrong (if survival of the fittest, then why not steal?), why no one–including governments–has ownership over another (we are only subject to God, not humans). In my opinion, the great thinkers like Mises or Rothbard, who have much good to teach us, ultimately can’t account for the views that they espouse. And, to be frank, when they do offer up good economic ideas, they do so by breaking with their presuppositions and borrowing from the bible’s. They’ve climbed up on the branch of the Christian worldview and cut if off in the hopes that the branch wouldn’t fall.

If a libertarian can’t account for their own ethical norms, why be a libertarian? Why be a socialist, a communist, a hedonist, a materialist, a Marxist, or a typical-sports-watching-beer-guzzling-North-American for that matter? Without the biblical worldview, everything in this world is meaningless and absurd.

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Filed under economics, ethics, f a hayek, greg bahnsen, libertarianism, ludwig von mises

Orwellian Euphemisms for Libya

The Atlantic has an awesome piece on their site titled, “Top 10 New Orwellian Euphemisms for the War in Libya” by Conor Friedersdorf. If you have any interest in how western governments are being dishonest about the war in Libya (and it is a war), then this article is entirely relevant—and funny.

George Orwell famously pointed out the way governments will try to downplay their actions with over-blown words—euphemisms—so that the unsuspecting public won’t buy into the obvious. Fridersdorf has rightly argued that the Obama administration fits the bill of this Orwellian verbal-menace with Gates’ euphemistic “limited kinetic operation,” a term Obama uses as well. Our author gives the administration some help in case they have writer’s block for some more useful phrases. My favourite is #2: “A determination to lend France and Britain sufficient munitions and refueling capability to give their efforts a new lease on life.”

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Filed under language, libya, obama, orwell, politics, war

Meeting Che

Ernesto “Che” Guevara is probably the most well-known, but least understood revolutionary in recent history. His face is placarded across the t-shirts of the fashionable whose “raise their fist and resist” mantra has the hackneyed quality of DePape’s “Stop Harper” stop sign. Guevara has been romanticised into a modern rebel who stood against the capitalist pig; in reality he was a murderer who stood against everything the Che-lauding Left applauds.

Nat Henthoff met Che and in this video he discusses what the meeting was like. If you want more, check out Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s essay, “The Killing Machine: Che Guevara, from Communist Firebrand to Capitalist Brand” in the 2005 The New Republic {HT: Cato}

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Filed under capitalism, cato institute, che guevara

More Whitefield on Slavery

I finished Mark Noll’s fabulous The Rise of Evangelicalism about a week ago. For a book that deals in “boring” historical details like facts, figures and dates, it was quite an enjoyable read. Anyone hoping to learn about the early days of evangelicalism should begin with it.

In a couple of earlier posts I quoted Noll on the subject of the revivalist George Whitefield and his purchase of slaves to work in his Georgian orphanage. I compared Whitefield with the Southern theologian R. L. Dabney and noted that Whitefield’s foray into slavery was pragmatic and not based on a view of ethnic superiority as Dabney’s was. As Noll explains, “First generation evangelicals either held slaves themselves (Edwards, Whitefield, Samuel Davies) or simply accepted the slave system as a given in the British empire” (p. 247). Noll points out that Whitefield was an “effective preacher to slaves” and early-on attacked the slave-system (though Noll does not reference any primary sources). John Wesley, one of the c0-founders of Methodism with Whitefield, wrote scathingly against the trade and dutifully evangelized slaves. Noll says of John and his brother Charles: “The Wesleys’ eagerness to preach to blacks, their disregard for questions of social standing and their open welcome for fellowship in Christ to all who believed also marked the Methodism that emerged strongly in Antigua” (174). By the end of the book, Noll rounds out the picture of early evangelicals and slavery by highlighting the strong reaction against it by Samuel Hopkins (mentored by Edwards) and of course William Wilberforce.

Upon finishing Noll’s book, I have turned to Arnold Dallimore’s “mini-Whitefield”; the single-volume condensing of his magnum opus double-volume biography of the great preacher. Dallimore gives more detail, even in this shorter work, to Whitefield’s view of African slaves that I think is helpful:

Whitefield’s inherent kindness is manifest also in an action he now undertook to assist the black men and women in America. Having witnessed the cruelty practiced on many slaves, he now wrote and published A Letter to the Inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, and North and South Carolina Concerning Their Negroes.  It read, in part,

“Your dogs are caressed and fondled at your tables, but your slaves, who are frequently styled dogs or beasts, have not an equal privilege. They are scarce permitted to pick up the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables. Nay, some…have been, upon the most trifling provocation, cut with knives, and have had forks thrown into their flesh; not to mention what numbers have been given up to the inhuman usage of cruel task-masters, who, by their unrelenting scourges, have ploughed upon their backs, and made long furrows, and at length brought them even to death itself. I hope there are few such monsters of barbarity suffered to subsist among you.

Is it not the highest ingratitude as well as cruelty, not to let your poor slaves enjoy some fruits of their labour? Whilst I have viewed your plantations cleared and cultivated, and have seen many spacious houses, and the owners of them faring sumptuously every day, my blood has almost run cold within me, when I have considered how many of your slaves have neither convenient food to eat, nor proper raiment to put on, notwithstanding most of the comforts you enjoy were solely owing to their indefatigable labours…’Go to, ye rich men, weep and how, for your miseries shall come upon you!’ Behold the provision of the poor negroes, which have reaped your fields, which is by you denied them, crieth, and the cries of them which have reaped have come into the ears of the Lord of Saboth!”

This letter, which sounded as though it were a declaration by an Old Testament prophet, received a speedy circulation. Whitefield gave it to [Benjamin] Franklin to be published in pamphlet form, but it was also reprinted in newspapers in almost all the Colonies (Dallimore, George Whitefield, 78-79).

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Filed under arnold dallimore, church history, dabney, quotes, racism, slavery, whitefield

Odd Thomas’ Spoken Word

This is an awesome spoken-word about the gospel by Odd Thomas:

Odd Thomas is a hip-hop artist with Humble Beast Records. You can download his album “Devine Use of Animosity” and other Humble Beast records for free here (I also highly recommend Propaganda).

***UPDATE***

Okay, I just mentioned Propaganda in this post. I can’t help but put his video up too, cause he’s that good:

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Filed under gospel, hip hop, odd thomas, poetry, resurrection, spoken word

Grudem on Christ’s Impending Return

Wayne Grudem, in his well-used Systematic Theology, writes on the question of whether Christ could return at any moment. Grudem, an historic premillennialist, argues that the signs that must precede the coming of Christ may have already been fulfilled, although it is unlikely. Because of this possibility, the passages that warn Christians to be ready in light of the Parousia can be taken seriously. I have sympathies for Grudem’s view, as a lot of the signs—especially apostasy and persecution—might be evident in the world today. However, because of the unlikeliness that these events have all happened, I don’t ultimately buy this view. Instead, I prefer that of Ladd and Hoekema that I posted previously. They, and many like them of all eschatological stripes, argue that we must hold the signs and the need for readiness in tension.

For interest’s sake, it is worth quoting Grudem’s conclusion (for the whole section dealing with the signs in more detail, go here):

Conclusion: Except for the spectacular signs in the heavens, it is unlikely but possible that these signs have already been fulfilled. Moreover, the only sign that seems certainly not to have occurred, the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, could occur within the space of a few minutes, and therefore it seems appropriate to say that Christ could now return at any hour of the day or night. It is therefore unlikely but certainly possible that Christ could return at any time.

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Filed under end times, eschatology, quotes, wayne grudem

Impending, not Imminent

It is quite common, particularly in dispensationalist circles, to say that the Second Coming of Christ is “imminent.” If by “imminence” it is meant that no predicted event needs to occur before Christ comes again, this view gives us difficulties—since, as we have seen, the New Testament teaches that certain things must indeed happen before the Parousia occurs…

[ T]here is no sound biblical basis for dividing the Second Coming of Christ into these two phases. Although the signs of the times are indeed present throughout the entire history of the Christian church, it would appear that before Christ returns some of these signs will assume a more intense form than they have had in the past. The signs will become clearer, and will move on to a certain climax. Apostasy will become far more widespread, persecution and suffering will become “the great tribulation,” and antichristian forces will culminate in “the man of lawlessness.” As we shall see when we look at the individual signs more closely, the Bible does indeed point to such a final culmination of the signs of the times. To say therefore that no predicted events need to happen before Christ returns is to say too much. We must be prepared for the possibility that the Parousia may yet be a long way off, and the New Testament data leave room for that possibility. On the other hand, to affirm with certainty that the Parousia is still a long way off is also to say too much. The exact time of the Parousia is unknown to us. Neither do we know exactly how the signs of the times will intensify. This uncertainty means that we must always be prepared. Instead of saying that the Parousia is imminent, therefore, let us say that it is impending. It is certain to come, but we do not know exactly when it will come. We must therefore live in constant expectation of and readiness for the Lord’s return. The words of the following motto put it well: “Live as though Christ died yesterday, arose this morning, and is coming again tomorrow.

Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 135, 136.   

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Filed under end times, eschatology, quotes

Imminent Tension

The predominating emphasis is upon the uncertainty of the time, in the light of which people must always be ready. This is the characteristic perspective of the Old Testament prophets. The Day of the Lord is near (Isa. 56:1; Zeph. 1:14; Joel 3:14; Obad. 15); yet the prophets have a future perspective. They are able to hold the present and the future together in an unresolved tension. “The tension between imminence and delay in the expectation of the end is characteristic of the entire biblical eschatology.”[1] “One word can sound as though the end was near, another as though it only beckoned from a distance.”[2] This may not be the thought pattern of the modern scientifically trained mind, and the dissection of the prophetic perspective by a severe analytic criticism may serve only to destroy it. A proper historical methodology must try to understand  ancient thought patterns in terms of themselves, rather than forcing them into modern analytical categories. The overall impression of the Synoptics is clear. They leave readers in a situation where they cannot date the time of the end; they cannot say that it will surely come tomorrow, or next week, or next year; neither can they say that it will not come for a long time. They keynote is: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 210-211.

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Filed under end times, eschatology, quotes

Swindles and Perversions

This post by Gerald Hiestand is so good that I have to repost it in its entirety and add a quick comment at the end:

There are few things that frustrate me more than theologically sophisticated prose that is nearly impossible to decipher. For instance,

“Since culture refers to the whole social practice of meaningful action, then Christian theology has to do with the meaning dimension of Christian practices . . . . The cultural dynamics of an active view of God and discipleship as a way of life have at their core this issue of the meaning-making of Christian practices” (194, The Missional Church and Leadership Formation.)

This sounds, of course, especially significant. But what it actually means—in concrete terms—is nearly impossible to say. Don’t write like that.

This reminds me of the comparison Orwell made between what he called “good English” and “modern English”—the latter of which he cites as an example of “swindles and perversions”—in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” Never trust someone who feels obliged to write or speak in such convoluted gobbledy-gook.

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Filed under language, orwell, quotes

MacLeod on Christian Biography

Carl Trueman, in a post on hagiography, mentioned A. Donald MacLeod’s paper on Christian biography recently presented at Westminster Seminary’s commencement. Dr. MacLeod has kindly posted the paper, “The Joys and Frustrations of a Christian Biographer,” on his website. MacLeod is the author of a number of books; the most note-worthy is his fantastic W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy (McGill-Queens, 2004). I have had the privilege of meeting him on a couple of occasions, although I doubt he remembers me. He has always come across as a very kind and gracious man.

Here is a great paragraph from the linked paper:

When one sets out to the research on a person you never know where it will lead. I was reminded forcibly of that when I set out to write the biography of C. Stacey Woods, the founder of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States and the first general secretary of its international counterpart, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. It was in Sydney Australia that I first discovered the reason why Stacy emigrated to North America: his great mentor and inspiration in camps ministry to young men, it turned out, had to return to England suddenly on charges that are today all too familiar. My next shock came when I learned, while in Lausanne (Stacey’s home for the last twenty years of his life) that his death at the age of 73 was due to his alcoholism. These facts posed me a serious problem, and sponsors and publishers even more of a threat. We eventually, at their insistence, managed to express the truth in carefully chosen language that preserved my integrity as a professional. Truth-telling can be costly but I shall forever be grateful to Stacey’s family for their courtesy and willingness to go along with Stacy’s professed desire to have his story told “warts and all.” And it is a wonderful story, one that needed to be told as InterVarsity strives to find its identity in the Twenty-first Century. Stacey shines out of it as a man who struggled and prevailed.

He says, “Truth-telling can be costly.” Indeed.

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Filed under a donald macleod, biography, church history