Rewriting the Westminster Shorter Catechism? Not so fast

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Over at Reformation 21, Mark Jones has written a post on why we should rewrite the question and answer to question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Instead of this being the q and a for the first question:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Mark Jones wants us to rewrite the question and add a second part:

Q. What is the chief end of God?
A. To glorify Christ, through the Spirit, and enjoy him forever.

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and Christ and enjoy them, through the Spirit, forever.

His stated purpose for making the change is that he believes the original language does not focus us on Christ’s work, since Christ is not mentioned in the answer. I have a couple of thoughts about that that I want to address here.

First, I’m uncomfortable with saying that we know what God’s chief end is. We should be extremely careful when it comes to speculating about the things of God, especially when those things are not addressed specifically in Scripture. While it is demonstrably true that God the Father glorified Christ Jesus the Son and that the Father loves the Son, it is less clear if we can therefore infer that we know God’s chief end.

Calvin warned against speculating into the essence of God beyond what is revealed to us in Scripture:

Hence it is obvious, that in seeking God, the most direct path and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous curiosity to pry into his essence, which is rather to be adored than minutely discussed, but to contemplate him in his works, by which he draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates himself to us.

Book 1, Chapter 5, section 9, Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. 1997. Institutes of the Christian religion.

I believe that we should tread lightly when discussing intra-Trinitarian workings.

Second, I have a concern about Jones’ underlying assumption. Jones says:

But, as I read the Scriptures, it could be more accurate. Sure, we are to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But any question and answer on the chief end of man must explicitly refer to Christ, as well as God.

“Christ, as well as God.” Does he believe that “God” only means the Father? Isn’t Christ God? When we worship and glorify God, do we not worship and glorify Father, Son, and Spirit? When the catechism and confession speak of the will of God does that mean only the will of the Father? Is there a hierarchy in the Godhead?

Maybe instead of critiquing and rewriting the catechism we should recover a more robust understanding of who God is. Interestingly enough, the catechism goes on to explain this in questions 3-6:

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Q. 4. What is God?
A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q. 6. How many persons are there in the godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

And there you have it. There is one God, three persons “equal in power and glory.” By simply continuing to read the catechism we see that in glorifying God, we are glorifying Father, Son, and Spirit.

If Mark Jones does not see Christ in the q and a for question 1, that is a product of his own misunderstanding, and not a failing in the catechism. Because if Jones is correct and “God” refers only to the Father, then the rest of the catechism becomes incomprehensible and grossly inaccurate.

My recommendation is that we leave the catechism alone and continue to teach all of it. Each question and answer builds on the others. Each references Bible verses to help us understand in greater depth. And if we have any doubts as to who we are to glorify forever, we can always sing the Doxology:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

And Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen, Amen.

The He-Man Women Haters Club has met again and declared me an “angry feminist”

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The boys over at the “Blog-that-must-not-be-named” have their shorts in a knot again over things I’ve written. Their most recent concern is a small excerpt from The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy where I write:

I believe patriarchy to be emotionally abusive because it creates an antagonistic relationship between husbands and wives, men and women.

They responded with the following:

“Patriarchy [is] emotionally abusive?” Does she mean the rule of God the Father over all His creation—that Father-Rule? Does she oppose the rule of Adam, our federal head? The rule of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Since they are obviously reading my blog, I find it doubtful that they missed the places where I answer those very questions:

I absolutely believe that God is our Father and that He rules everything. If that’s all that’s meant by patriarchal, then I can agree. However, God is more than our Father. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. Besides being our Father, He is also our Husband, Redeemer, Creator, Savior, Teacher, Comforter. My concern is that we can limit our understanding of God by seeing Him ONLY as Father.- Is Complementarian Just Another Word for Patriarchy

And again, here:

I hold to the position mentioned above called Complementarianism. I believe that men and women are equal before God and that husbands and wives are made to complement each other. I also believe that men are called to be the spiritual leaders of their families and that women are not called to be officers in the Church. I believe that I am to submit to my husband’s leadership and that my husband is to love me sacrificially like Christ demonstrated by dying for the Church. I also believe that my husband and I are both to submit to the leadership of the elders that God has placed over us. – What’s Wrong with Biblical Patriarchy?

But this is really not about whether or not I’m an “angry feminist” who decries God’s fatherly rule over creation. This is what happens when someone dares to stand up against bullies, especially the patriarchal sort. They deny patriarchy, as practiced by today’s “Biblical Patriarchy” movement, is inherently abusive. But then they treat women who disagree with them in this way.

Of course, it’s worth noting that I’m not the only one to have experienced the impotent rage of the Bayly boys. Anyone who confronts them on anything may expect to receive similar treatment. As another recent target explains:

As you can see the Bayly Boys like to mix it up with others. But they don’t like it much when others mix it up with them.

Check out Bill Smith’s post in the link above. It’s well worth a read. I completely agree with his conclusion, “the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him.”

Maybe it would be worthwhile to consider if our behavior is more in line with this passage:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV) emphasis mine

than with this one:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

If it’s true that you are known by your enemies as much as your friends, then I count it a badge of honor to have been singled out by these guys. They have done nothing more than prove my point on the Gospel denying, soul-numbing dangers of patriarchy.

Nearly Everything Wrong with N.T. Wright Summed Up in One Chapter Heading

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John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton and author of the Lost World of Genesis 1, has a new book coming out this Spring. The new book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debateis summarized this way by the publishers:

For centuries the story of Adam and Eve has resonated richly through the corridors of art, literature and theology. But for most moderns, taking it at face value is incongruous. And even for many thinking Christians today who want to take seriously the authority of Scripture, insisting on a “literal” understanding of Genesis 2–3 looks painfully like a “tear here” strip between faith and science.

How can Christians of good faith move forward? Who were the historical Adam and Eve? What if we’ve been reading Genesis—and its claims regarding material origins—wrong? In what cultural context was this couple, this garden, this tree, this serpent portrayed?

Following his groundbreaking Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton explores the ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 2–3, creating space for a faithful reading of Scripture along with full engagement with science for a new way forward in the human origins debate. As a bonus, an illuminating excursus by N. T. Wright places Adam in the implied narrative of Paul’s theology.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand this foundational text historically and theologically, and wondering how to view it alongside contemporary understandings of human origins.

While there is much to be said about this book and the theological positions taken by the author (you can read the chapter headings here), what caught my attention was the “illuminating excursus by N.T. Wright.” Here is the full heading for Wright’s chapter, “Paul’s Use of Adam Is More Interested in the Effect of Sin on the Cosmos Than in the Effect of Sin on Humanity and Has Nothing to Say About Human Origins.”

This single chapter heading is truly amazing. It has successfully encapsulated almost everything that’s wrong with Wright’s theology. Let me explain what I mean. This chapter heading contains Wright’s low view of Scripture, his re-interpretation of Paul’s writings, his minimizing the importance of the salvation of individuals, his emphasis on the redemption of the cosmos, and his belief in the evolutionary origins of humanity.

First, the chapter heading illustrates Wright’s low view of the inspiration of Scripture. He speaks, here and in his other works, of “Paul’s use” as if Scripture is mainly the work of the human authors. It may seem like a stretch, but over and over again the repeated use of “what Paul means” or “Paul’s use of the Old Testament” or “Paul’s purposes,” etc. emphasizes the human author and de-emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the writing and preserving of Scripture.

As far as inerrancy is concerned, Wright would not call himself an inerrantist and views the debate on inerrancy and inspiration to be an American preoccupation:

“…the insistence on an ‘infallible’ or ‘inerrant’ Bible has grown up within a complex cultural matrix (that, in particular, of modern North American Protestantism) where the Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other. Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate. It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it.” Simply Christian (183)

Of course, Wright also believes the debate over the historicity of Adam is mainly an American preoccupation, so I’m not sure why he felt called to address it now.

Second, re-imagining and re-interpreting what Paul really meant is what Wright does. Wright has made his mark as part of the New Perspective on Paul. It should come as no surprise that Wright’s contribution to Walton’s book would be to explain to us how we’ve misunderstood and misused what Paul wrote.

What have we misunderstood this time? Two main things are mentioned in the chapter heading:

  • The effect of sin on the cosmos is more important than the effect of sin on humanity.
  • Paul had nothing to say about human origins.

I read an article this week that critiqued Wright’s “overstatement” on the importance of the cosmos as compared to humanity. The author is convinced that Wright simply overstated his case and that everyone knows that Scripture teaches that humans are more important than things. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on the importance of the cosmos is part and parcel of Wright’s theology.

Wright truly does believe that the cosmos are more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become way too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos:

to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world – may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century.

To focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all. Surprised by Hope (164 ebook)

Not only have we misunderstood the purpose and overarching theme of redemption, we’ve misunderstood the Gospel. When Scripture says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Wright believes that it’s not so much about individuals being saved from their moral failures, but rather, that Jesus had to come to put God’s rescue plan for creation back on track.

God has made a plan to save the world. Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite. This (Jesus) is what God has now provided. Justification (68)

And,

Embedded within the earliest strands of Christian tradition we find an already formulaic statement: the messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures. … It was not, first and foremost, a way of saying that the moral failures of individuals had been atoned for in some abstract theological transaction. That would come, and quickly; we find it already in Paul’s mature thought.

But in the beginning it was a claim about what Israel’s God had done, in fulfillment of the scriptural prophecies, to bring Israel’s long night of exile to its conclusion, to deal with the “sins” that had kept Israel enslaved to the pagan powers of the world, and to bring about the real “return from exile,” the dawn of the new day, for which Israel had longed (The Meaning of Jesus, 98).

And that is how we get to the final point from the chapter heading, Paul’s use of Adam has nothing to say about human origins. In a review of Wright’s book, Surprise by Scripture, the author explains how Wright’s understanding of salvation and his re-interpretation of Paul’s use of Adam are connected:

There is a commonly held approach to salvation which posits that a perfect creation was marred through Adam’s sin, and Jesus came to pay the penalty for sin, thereby allowing us to go to heaven when we die. Adam’s role in that story is crucial: “no Adam” means “no reason for Christ to come.” But according to Wright, that is not the story that Paul tells, and it is a distortion of the Gospel. Instead, Paul connects our salvation to the story of Israel—their being placed in the Promised Land, given a commission to bless all nations, then breaking the Law and being exiled. Paul uses Adam to retell Israel’s story: “placed in the garden, given a commission to look after it; the garden being the place where God wanted to be at rest, to exercise his sovereign rule; the people warned about keeping the commandment, warned in particular that breaking it would mean death, breaking it, and being exiled. It all sounds very, very familiar” (p. 37). Not much hinges on the historicity of Adam on this account. Lots of other Jewish authors around the time of Paul appropriated Adam to get their points across too. The genre of this literature was not historical journalism.

So there you have it. According to Wright, there’s no need for a historical Adam. Of course, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the review appeared on the BioLogos website. Wright and Walton both are featured on BioLogos and share their belief in an evolutionary explanation for human origins. For all three, Wright, Walton, and BioLogos, I truly believe their interpretation of Scripture is driven by their commitments to science, politics, and their own worldviews rather than the reverse.

And that brings us back full circle to the first point. Everything hinges on your view of Scripture. Either Scripture will be the lens through which you view the world or the world (science, politics, worldview, etc) will be the lens through which you view Scripture. Ultimately one or the other will be your authority.

Top 10 Posts of 2014

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Looking back through the past year’s posts, I realize I haven’t had much time for writing. I hope to make more time this year. Here are the top 10 posts for 2014. Some were published in previous years, but they continue to receive a number of hits. Thank you all for your support and encouragement. May God bless!

10. Fifty Shades of Grey: Harmless Fun or Spiritual Warfare?

I’ve come across three basic arguments supportive of Fifty Shades and similar books:

  1. Who are you to judge? Why are you so concerned about consenting adults having sex when there are real problems in the world?
  2. Reading Fifty Shades is just harmless fun. No one is getting hurt. It’s just fantasy.
  3. It might be sinful to read Fifty Shades, but we all sin in so many ways. What’s the big deal about this one sin?

In considering how to answer these kinds of questions and how to answer more generally why I’m not reading Fifty Shades or going to see the movie, I came across a recommendation for a book that seeks to provide the answers:Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart.

9. Divorce, remarriage, and abuse

The third, and final, part of my review of Pastor Jeff Crippen’s book, A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church, deals with the somewhat controversial topic of divorce and remarriage. There are a wide variety of interpretations on this subject, even within the conservative, evangelical world.

8. Keller: “Noah’s flood … was a regional flood”

One of the hot debates over how to interpret Genesis is what to make of Noah’s flood. Is it myth or history? Was is worldwide or local? Here is Tim Keller’s answer: “In order to be true to my own principle, I won’t bother you with information about the different views of the flood. Let me just lay out my own assumptions. I believe Noah’s flood happened, but that it was a regional flood, not a world-wide flood.”

7. Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

“So, what are your kids dressing up as this year?” This question always gives me pause. You see, we don’t “do” Halloween. Never have. While I don’t have any reservations about our decision not to participate, I hesitate about the right way to answer the question. I don’t enjoy making people uncomfortable, and I’m not trying to convince anyone to change their own minds about it. We just have decided that Halloween celebrations are not for us.

6. Why I Don’t Wear Skirts all the Time

I read an article today over at the Aquila Report by a woman on why she wears skirts all the time. Caroline Allen, author of the Modest Mom blog and owner of the Modest Mom line of clothing, gives three main reasons for why she prefers skirts over pants: because they are feminine and easily portray the fact that she is a woman, because they are easy to be modest in, and because they are comfortable.

While I appreciate her concern for modesty, and I commend her dedication, I have to disagree with her basic premise.

5. Is N.T. Wright Wrong on Jesus?

Early on in my reading, I began to wonder if Wright really believes that Jesus is/was God. This article is the result of two years of research into what Wright believes, or at least has written, about Christ. The books and articles I’ve read and will quote here are: Surprised by Hope, The Meaning of Jesus, Simply Jesus, Jesus and the Victory of God (I’ve read portions, but not the whole of this one), “Jesus and the Identity of God“, and “Jesus’ Self Understanding“.

4. The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy

In her article, Vyckie discusses each type of abuse she experienced in the patriarchy movement. I would like to go through her points and address each of those points. My argument is not that it isn’t abuse, but rather that what she experienced was not Christianity. I understand why she equates patriarchy with Christianity, but I would urge others who read her post to consider that what she was taught was a twisting of Scripture. Most of all, I would like to encourage those interact with anyone who has experienced abuse and rejected Christianity to treat the abuse survivor with gentleness and much mercy. May God show them His love.

3. Why I’m Not Using Susan Wise Bauer’s Curricula: A Review of Peter Enns’ Bible Curriculum

Telling God’s Story is a multi-year Bible curriculum aimed at children of all ages. It is published by Susan Wise Bauer’s Olive Branch Books, a division of Peace Hill Press. Given all of the controversy over Dr. Enns and his well-published views on Scripture and evolution, it is Susan Wise Bauer’s defense and support of Dr. Enns that has convinced me that her curricula are not what I want to use.

2. What’s Wrong With Biblical Patriarchy

As a homeschooling family, we come in contact with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. One of the groups that is fairly common within the homeschooling community is the modern patriarchy movement, or as they refer to it “Biblical Patriarchy.” Some of the big names in this group include, R.C. Sproul, Jr., Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, and Doug Wilson of Credenda Agenda magazine. R.C. Sproul, Jr. and Doug Phillips have put together a list of tenets to help define Biblical Patriarchy. They define the reason for the movement this way:

1. If it looks like Rome …

In the end, I’m not sure why so many Catholic practices are finding their way into Reformed Presbyterian churches. It seems to me that these things have the “feel” of worship, and maybe that is the attraction. Maybe there is boredom or discontent with our own traditions. Maybe there is a desire to “do church” differently. Whatever the reason, maybe we should stop and reconsider. All of these things are part of a religious tradition that our spiritual ancestors broke away from. Maybe we should give more thought as to why.

Fourteen years ago

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In January 2000, I was working for the best University in the world, Texas A&M, and living in College Station. I was planning to go to grad school in Houston later that year, and I had been visiting a church in Houston. One day at work my pastor in College Station called. He told me that he was setting up a new small group Bible study for the singles group at church and that he wanted me to be a part of it. I was reluctant to agree since I was pretty sure there were almost no single men in the church, aside from college students. He assured me that there were single young men at the church that were invited as well. I agreed to go mainly to see if he was right.

The small group started out meeting at the house of our youth pastor and his wife. The first week I went and enjoyed myself. I met a very nice couple who would become very dear friends, and a few other people. No single guys, but I had a great time and decided to go again the next week. That night is engraved in my memory.

I was sitting in an armchair facing the front door. A few others were there, and we were visiting when in walked this very, very tall handsome young man. I’m pretty sure I stared. I remember thinking that it wasn’t possible that he went to church with me because I was SURE I’d remember seeing him. He was wearing a Penn State sweatshirt and jeans. His hair was almost black. Truly, he was tall, dark, and handsome. I don’t remember much else about that Bible study. I doubt I paid much attention to anything else that night. Needless to say, I didn’t miss a Bible study after that.

Matt was in his second year of grad school working on his PhD in Inorganic Chemistry. He came to Texas from Pennsylvania for graduate school. That winter we got to know each other through those small group get-togethers. I was both intrigued and irritated when he asked for prayer about a girl he was pursuing that didn’t seem to be interested in him. (Intrigued to know who she was and irritated that there was a girl other than me that he was interested in.) I started to sit with him and his friends at church.

One day in the spring the group was over at my apartment for a party. I called from the kitchen for someone to come help me, and guess who arrived. He’d shaved off his mustache and goatee that week. (yes, he actually had a goatee when we met; he finally regrew it one summer, after almost 10 years of me asking him to.) Sunday after church I went out to lunch with him and the couple I mentioned earlier, Sam and Joanne. The waiter asked if there would be separate checks, and as I started to say mine was one it’s own, Matt indicated that he and I were together. I protested mildly. Mainly I was ticked that if this was a date he hadn’t asked me out.

Monday he called to ask me out. I was out with a friend test-driving cars. Tuesday he called back. I knew he was calling to ask me out, but I still played dumb. We talked for TWO HOURS on the phone. For those of you who know my husband, you can appreciate how amazing this is. Finally he asked me out. That was mid-April of 2000.

By May we were talking about marriage. It was amazing. We just knew it was right. We started planning our wedding in June, and on July 4th, Matt gave me my engagement ring. It was a whirlwind romance. I decided not to go to grad school in Houston. We really didn’t want to wait until either he or I were finished with grad school to get married.

On December 22, 2000, Matt and I said our vows. It was a beautiful ceremony. The church was decorated for Christmas. All of our family and many of our friends were there. It truly was a family affair. My Aunt Lou played piano for us. Matt’s sisters read scriptures. My friend, Cara, did all the flowers for cost, and her husband, Pete, did our cakes for cost. My aunts, mother, and grandmother did all of the food for the reception, and Matt’s mother and sisters did the food for the rehearsal. Such a wonderful time.

On that day, I married my best friend. We’ve been through a lot in the last eleven years, and I love him more every day. I pray that the Lord will bless us with many more years together. Matt truly is everything I didn’t know I wanted. I love you sweetheart.



Christian, Where is Your Joy?

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Four common themes discussed during the Advent/Christmas season are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Last week, I posted a devotional that I wrote last year on the source of hope in a Christian’s life. I’ve also written before on the meaning and significance of peace to a believer. Today, I want to consider joy.

What is joy? As Christians, what is the source of our joy? What does joy look like in our daily lives? Should a believer’s life be marked by joy? And what if it isn’t?

Merriam-Webster defines joy this way, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” I think this is a useful definition. Joy is that wonderful feeling we get when our children smile for the first time. It’s that sense of happiness when our family is gathered together for the holidays. Joy is that emotion we feel when we get a raise or a promotion at work. It’s the feeling comes with knowing we are loved. It’s even that sense of anticipation we have when we look at the presents under the Christmas tree.

Of course, ultimately, joy is more than a transient emotion or feeling. Consider this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the life of believer. That means that it is something more than an emotion we have in the right circumstances. Our joy, as Christians, is rooted in something much deeper. It’s source is in the work of Christ for our salvation.

Consider the angel’s declaration when Jesus was born:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

What is this “good news of great joy?” The Savior has come! Jesus has been born. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Jesus’ birth was just the beginning. He lived and died for us. And most importantly, He rose again. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has saved us from our sins! What a glorious thing! We are forgiven. We are made new. He has won the victory and secured our future. Nothing can separate us from His love.

The Savior has come, and He will come again. In the face of this truth, how can we be anything but joyful? No matter our circumstances, no matter the pain, sorrow, grief, fears, dangers, heartaches we face, we are His, and He will never leave us. And one day, He will come and take us home. That is the source of our joy. And it can’t be shaken.

As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that Christians do not struggle with sadness and depression. Christians can and do suffer from depression. But even in the depth of depression, it is possible to turn our eyes to the source of our joy and to remember that depression doesn’t separate us from Him. We can have joy in the knowledge of our salvation even when we don’t feel it.

Joy doesn’t mean that we go through life with happy-clappy attitudes and smiles plastered on our faces. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for sorrow. It’s appropriate to grieve and cry at times. But in those times, we have not lost our joy. We still have that sense of anticipation. Christ is the only joy that lasts.

So what should joy look like in our daily lives? First, our lives should be filled with worship and praise. We have been saved from our sins. They are remembered no more. We are loved, adopted, children of God. We have hope in our resurrection. Our response should be to worship the One who has called us, redeemed us, atoned for us.

Second, we should share our joy with others. Because of how much we love our families, friends, and neighbors, we must share with them the source of our joy. There is no gift more precious in the world than the salvation we have received through Jesus. There is nothing more joyful in this life than seeing others come to Christ. How can we keep silent?

Given the source of our joy, the reality of His resurrection, the security of our salvation, how can we not be joyful? But what about Christians who aren’t? I’m sure we all know Christians who don’t exactly embody joy.

From grumps and cranks to Eeyores and curmudgeons, there are some believers who seem to be happiest when they’re miserable, cantankerous, and grumbling. While I can appreciate that there are those who are naturally pessimistic and grouchy, I don’t think it’s right to revel in those character flaws. The image of the cranky old man yelling at the kids to “get off his lawn” is comedic, but who wants to live that way? It doesn’t seem to fit with the picture of the believer that we see in the fruit of the Spirit.

The world around us is full of reasons to fuss and complain. Our jobs aren’t going well. Our families are crazy. Our health is failing. The government isn’t doing a good job. The politicians we voted for didn’t get elected. The ones we elected broke their promises. The weather is bad: too hot or too cold. The drivers on the roads are idjits. There are so many reasons to be in a bad mood. But when we’re tempted to give in to our emotions, let’s remember the source of our joy.

Let us sing for joy this Christmas! Joy to the world, the Savior has come! And He will come again!

Christian, Where is your Hope?

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[Originally posted 12/2/13]

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13, ESV)

On Sunday, our pastor preached on hope. His message was about the certainty of our hope in Christ. All too often we speak of hope in a wishful way. “I hope I make it to work on time.” “I hope you’re feeling better.” “Hopefully, my children will sleep tonight.” This kind of uncertain, wishful thinking is not what it means to have hope in Christ. In Christ, we have assurance. We have security. We have a Savior who has come, fulfilling the prophecies of old, and who will come again! Maranatha!

The sermon got me to thinking about where I put my hope on a daily basis, and where it ought to be. So I made a list of where my hope isn’t to remind myself:

  • My hope is not in my finances.
  • My hope is not in my health.
  • My hope is not in my children.
  • My hope is not in my husband and his love for me.
  • My hope is not in my career or my professional success.
  • My hope is not in my ability to control my life.
  • My hope is not in my appearance.
  • My hope is not in my self-reliance or independence.
  • My hope is not in those around me.
  • My hope is not in me.

All of these things are fleeting. All will ultimately disappoint. None will satisfy. None will save. None are secure. If I have everything, I could lose it tomorrow. My only hope is in Christ. He will not fail.

Our pastor suggested that we consider the first question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism and change the word “comfort” to “hope” in our minds:

What is your only “hope” in life and death?

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Christ is our only sure hope. Our salvation is secure in Him. God has saved us, God is saving us, God will save us. Past, present, and future. All are certain in Him.

We didn’t sing this hymn Sunday, but the words were in my mind as I mediated on the sermon. Rejoice today in the hope of Christ!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne. — Edward Mote

Praise for Praise Teams and Contemporary Worship Music

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Recently there have been a number of articles about why praise teams are bad for worship. In a similar vein, there have been several posts and comments on why contemporary music is awful. While I don’t deny that there are churches whose worship practices are unbiblical and therefore wrong, I don’t believe that it’s right to lump all praise teams and contemporary worship music together.

There are good praise teams that lead worship in appropriate ways. There are bad praise teams that don’t. Some contemporary worship practices are terrible. Some are God honoring. Contemporary worship music is an equally mixed bag. There are really great songs, and there are really bad ones.

For these reasons, I’d like to comment and respond to some of the complaints that I’ve read and offer some thoughts as to what is important in worship music and what is a matter of preference.

  • Praise teams drown out the congregational singing.
  • Praise teams turn worship into a concert or performance instead of corporate worship.
  • Praise teams sing music that the congregation can’t sing easily.
  • Contemporary worship music is repetitive.
  • Contemporary worship music is dull, boring, bad music.
  • Contemporary worship music is theologically weak.

First, one recent article complained that praise teams drown out congregational singing. I absolutely agree that congregational singing is very, very important. We should be able to hear each other when we sing. I also agree that, done poorly, praise teams can overshadow the congregation.

However, I don’t agree that praise teams by their nature drown out congregational singing or that other forms of music are less prone to being too loud. Any music can potentially be overpowering. For example, organs, choirs, exuberant pianists, and brass ensembles (to name a few) are all quite capable of being too loud. Finding the right balance of sound in order to lead corporate worship effectively takes time, effort, and practice.

The second concern leads directly from the first. In addition to being too loud, praise teams are accused of turning worship into a concert or performance instead of leading corporate worship. There are certainly churches that are guilty of this one. Any number of mega church worship services have a lot more in common with a rock concert than a Sunday morning at church. And I agree that this is a questionable practice. I’m all for a good concert, but I’m not convinced that Sunday worship is the appropriate time or place.

But this is not the norm for many smaller churches and their use of praise teams. In many churches who use praise teams and contemporary worship music, the worship is reverent and conducive to worship. Done well, a praise team leads corporate worship in a way that gives glory to God, that focuses the congregation’s attention on worship and praise, and that prepares hearts and minds for the rest of the service. This is the case in my own church (and almost all churches I’ve been a member of over the years).

The next complaint bridges the gap between the concerns with praise teams and contemporary worship music: praise teams sing music that the congregation can’t sing easily. It’s true that there are songs that are hard to sing and some that are not meant for corporate worship.

In the modern church, there are way too few people who can read music at all. It is necessary, no matter who leads music in a church, to choose music carefully with the congregation in mind and also to take time to teach new or unfamiliar songs to the congregation. The music, both words and tunes, should be easy for inexperienced singers to follow along and appropriate for the content of the sermon and Scripture readings for the service.

So, what about the complaints about contemporary worship music in general? One of the most common critiques is that contemporary music is repetitive. I think we can all agree that the real complaint is that it is unnecessarily repetitive. Some repetition is necessary and desirable in music.

Psalm 136 is an excellent example (and I’ve heard complaints about the repetition here too). “His love endures forever” is repeated 26 times, once for every verse. However, that kind of repetition is good because it drives an important point home and creates a focus on a theme we need to remember. Of course, it’s also Scripture and inspired so it’s not the same as an typical hymn or praise song. But I do think the principle is sound.

Praise songs that repeat the same phrase over and over again out of laziness or weak theology should be avoided.  But not all contemporary worship music is like that.

The second common complaint about contemporary worship music is that it’s dull, boring, or just plain bad music. It’s certainly true that some music is truly bad. This is true across the board regardless of style. I’m sure we can all think of examples of hymns that are unpleasant to sing or ones that make us groan inwardly when we flip open the hymnal.

Even the psalter is not immune. I’ve suffered through psalter selections that have been set to funereal dirges or music that moves so slow that all forward momentum is practically lost. Just because the meter of the tune and the meter of the psalm match doesn’t mean it’s a good combination. Going back to my previous point, music should be chosen carefully no matter which type of music is used.

Lastly, one frequent complaint is that contemporary worship music is weak theologically. Again, I acknowledge that this is true of some songs. It’s also true of some hymns (I come to the garden alone …). Unless a church only sings from the psalter, there is going to have to be a good level of discernment in choosing hymns and songs.

For those interested in finding doctrinally solid songs set to contemporary music, I highly recommend the RUF or Indelible Grace Hymnbook. These hymns have a good balance of theologically strong words and lovely singable tunes.

To summarize, praise teams and contemporary worship music are not inherently bad or wrong. Style of music and choice of instruments should be considered adiaphora in my opinion. All worship music should be selected carefully with consideration given both to the content and to the ease of use for congregational singing. Those who lead worship should be careful not to overshadow the congregational praise and to remember that all worship should draw our eyes to Him and not to ourselves.

If the words are true and faithful, if the congregation can sing it and be heard, if the focus is on praising the King of Heaven, let us rejoice and worship and remember to be gracious to others who may not share our worship music style.

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150 ESV)

Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween

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“So, what are your kids dressing up as this year?” This question always gives me pause. You see, we don’t “do” Halloween. Never have. While I don’t have any reservations about our decision not to participate, I hesitate about the right way to answer the question. I don’t enjoy making people uncomfortable, and I’m not trying to convince anyone to change their own minds about it. We just have decided that Halloween celebrations are not for us.

Increasingly, I’ve heard more and more discussions among Christians about what our role is as Christians in Halloween. Some Christians, like us, choose not to take part in Halloween. Others see it as no big deal. Still others believe that Halloween is a great opportunity to engage the culture or reach out to their neighbors. There are many differing opinions out there.

While I’m aware of the arguments for the Pagan, as well as the Christian, origins for Halloween, I’m less interested in determining which origin story is the more important to today’s culture, and more interested in how Halloween is actually celebrated today. Halloween in today’s culture is a dark and disturbing celebration. From risque costumes to violent images, I just don’t see any redeeming factors in the celebration of Halloween.

Many people argue that Halloween is “no big deal,” that dressing up and eating candy are fun. Dressing up, of course, is a lot of fun, and who doesn’t love candy (actually I don’t really, but I know that makes me very odd. Now ice cream would be a different matter.) What’s wrong with having a good time? Nothing, in general, but what is being celebrated? The dead? Monsters? Evil spirits? Witches? The Occult? While there may not be anything wrong with celebrating Halloween, I just don’t see anything particularly right about it either.

I’ve read articles that say that Christians who choose not to participate in Halloween are letting fear rule them. They say that since Christ has defeated death and the evil one we have nothing to fear. Absolutely, we have nothing to fear from Halloween. I am not afraid of Halloween. However, I do believe that there is a devil and that evil spirits are both real and active in the world around us. Spiritual warfare is a reality, and it isn’t something to ignore or to take lightly. Along these lines, I have no desire to expose myself or my family to the darkness that runs rampant through Halloween.

I thought Dr. Al Mohler’s article really summed up my thoughts well on the matter:

While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God’s gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. …

Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.

The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the Devil at Halloween is that offered by Martin Luther, the great Reformer: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.”

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation with a declaration that the church must be recalled to the authority of God’s Word and the purity of biblical doctrine. With this in mind, the best Christian response to Halloween might be to scorn the Devil and then pray for the Reformation of Christ’s church on earth. Let’s put the dark side on the defensive.

Is Complementarian Just Another Word for Patriarchy?

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There have been a number of articles going back and forth on whether complementarianism is the same thing as patriarchy. Some feminists say, “Of course it’s the same.” Some complementarians seem to agree at some level. There is certainly debate over the issue. It’s worth noting that the boys at the blog that shall not be named believe that complementarianism is just another name for feminism.

So what do I think? Is complementarian just another word for patriarchy? Well, my answer is: not really and it depends who said it. Helpful isn’t it.

First, I think it’s important to note that there is considerable confusion over the definition of terms. There are many people who claim the term complementarian often with significant differences over what they think that means. Because of that it can be difficult to determine what a “complementarian” believes simply based on the label. I believe it’s worthwhile to consider the various views on gender roles on a continuum with feminism on one extreme and patriarchy on the other. So, some “complementarians” would be closer to patriarchy and others further away.

Also, it doesn’t help matters that some complementarians claim to prefer the term patriarchy or that some in the patriarchy camp claim to be complementarians. There is a real need to define what one believes, and it’s possible that some labels are not as helpful as they were developed to be.

Some complementarians (and also the patriarchy guys) think that the word patriarchy best describes the Christian faith. Since patriarchy means “father rule” and since God is our Father, then we have a patriarchal faith. These complementarians argue that just because some extreme views have assumed the name patriarchy doesn’t mean that the name itself should be avoided.

I would argue that even if the word hasn’t always been associated with those views, it is now. Like it or not, once a word has assumed such as strong association, it is near impossible to call it back, and it’s honestly not worth the effort or the confusion it causes. For example, if someone says, “I’m gay” we all know exactly what they mean, and it has nothing to do with a temporary emotional state of happiness. I don’t think it’s helpful to try to rehabilitate the word patriarchy.

But back to the idea that Christianity is inherently patriarchal. I absolutely believe that God is our Father and that He rules everything. If that’s all that’s meant by patriarchal, then I can agree. However, God is more than our Father. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. Besides being our Father, He is also our Husband, Redeemer, Creator, Savior, Teacher, Comforter. My concern is that we can limit our understanding of God by seeing Him ONLY as Father.

I’m also concerned that if we aren’t careful we will lean towards a hierarchical view of the Trinity that flirts with heresy. Of course, in the economic Trinity, God the Father sends the Son, the Son submits to the will of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. But when we are dealing with who God is we must remember that the three persons of the Godhead are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (WLC Q.9). It is not only God the Father that we worship. We worship the Triune God: one God, three persons. It is not only God the Father that interacts with us.

What about the view that the “patriarchs” of Israel were patriarchal? The New Testament uses the word “patriarch” twice: once to refer to David and the other to refer to Abraham. The use of the word is similar to our use of forefathers. Did the forefathers of Israel live a patriarchal life? Many of them did. Many of them were also living polygamist lives. I believe that this is an example of the descriptive nature of their marriages and their society, not a prescriptive one.

I think it’s worth looking at the evidences of how the Israelites were different than the surrounding cultures as the people of God. We can consider the actions of Deborah, Ruth, Esther to be contrary, in many ways, to a strict patriarchal society and difficult for many modern patriarchy guys to explain. In fact, when Deborah is brought up the most common answer starts with her being “non-normative.”

In the New Testament, the teaching is very much counter to the Roman patriarchy system. Paul tells the church that woman are to learn in silence. We get caught up on the silence part, but it was revolutionary to say that woman were to learn! The New Testament also teaches a much, much more complementary view of men and women in marriage and also equality before God in Christ. This was very different from the society they lived in, and also different from what the modern patriarchy movement teaches.

So, in summary, do I believe that complementarian is just another word for patriarchy? It shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, there is often not as much differentiation between complementarian views and patriarchal ones as there should be.

It can be hard to be in the middle ground between two extremes. People on both ends will disagree with you. But the answer isn’t to deny that the middle ground exists.

My plea for complementarians is to be clear about what you believe. Don’t be afraid to take a stand that pits you against both extremes. Speak out against the twisting of Scripture and the dangers and abuses of both sides. Feminists may always believe that you’re just patriarchy guys by another name. Patriarchy guys may always call you feminists. Just because they see the world that way doesn’t make them right.

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