Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Seventh Day Baptist History VIII

Seventh Day Baptists Sing

It would seem that Seventh Day Baptists have always praised God with song. Early in the English Reformation there was controversy—as there sometimes is today—about what should be sung, and where and how. Joseph Stennett (1663-1713), pastor and hymn writer, wrote in a time when many Protestants objected to singing anything but the Psalms. He composed hymns about baptism and communion, always taking care to make their Scriptural basis clear. His most explicitly Sabbatarian hymn was Another Six Days Work is Done. Joseph’s grandson, Samuel Stennett (1727-1795) is probably the best-known Seventh Day Baptist hymn writer. His words for Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned and On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand appear in most Protestant hymnbooks.

William C. Daland
In the 19th and 20th centuries Seventh Day Baptists were enthusiastic participants in congregational singing, using the great wealth of Protestant hymnody from various traditions. There were also distinctly Seventh Day Baptist hymns by people like J.M. Stillman, Mary Stillman, William C. Daland and Elizabeth Fisher Davis. Elizabeth Fisher Davis wrote the Young People’s Rally Song which proudly announces “We young folks are Seventh Day Baptists.” Daland wrote God of the Sabbath which comes very close to being the official hymn of the denomination:

God of the Sabbath, unto Thee we raise
Our grateful hearts in songs of love and praise.
Maker, Preserver all to Thee we owe;
Smile on Thy children, waiting here below.

Music has also been a vehicle for evangelism. In the early 1900s male quartets and female quartets ventured out from the colleges, singing for revival meetings in local churches, often using the popular Towner song books. Late in that century a similar ministry was taken up by young Seventh Day Baptists performing in groups like the “Lightbearers for Christ,” and later, “Stained Glass,” presenting the gospel using contemporary forms of music.

Music has always been an integral part of Seventh Day Baptist worship and ministry—from the earliest hymn writers in England to a rousing rendition of Wonderful Grace of Jesus by the congregation at a General Conference worship service.

Pictured is William C. Daland. Click on the image to the right to get a full size version of the hymn. "Towner" was the songbook favored by the male quartets. The title of this post, "We Glorify Thy Name" is that given to a collection of Seventh Day Baptist hymns and songs edited by Rev. Lester G. Osborn, Rev. Victor W. Skaggs and Howard S. Savage and published in 1946.

This series begins with: "Seventh Day Baptist History I - Seventh Day Baptist Origins"

Links to all of the posts about Seventh Day Baptist History can be found here.

This series of short summaries of Seventh Day Baptist history is part of a project undertaken for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, which maintains its archives and a museum in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Moral truth and human behavior

Recently I read [I've forgotten where] of someone asking "What is the largest Protestant denomination in America?" The answer was "the Catholic Church." One of the defining characteristics of Catholicism is the teaching authority of the Church. When Catholics insist that they can disregard at will what their church teaches, they are not being very Catholic. Archbishop Chaput of Denver on the Catholic Church and politics:
Catholic leadership in the secular world belongs to laypeople, not to clergy or religious. The visible role of the priest in public affairs—if by public affairs we mean political affairs—should normally be pretty small.

It’s very dangerous for the Church to identify with one political party. It’s not my business to tell people to vote for John McCain or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. And while I worked for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign as a volunteer when I was young, I don’t think any Catholic should feel comfortable today in either major political party—Democrat or Republican.

But that doesn’t really get us off the hook, does it? The problem is that the Church teaches moral truth, and truth has obligations for human behavior—including the social, economic, and political kind. The Church is never mainly a political organism, but her witness for justice always has political consequences. For example, killing unborn children is a form of homicide. It’s a profound attack on human dignity, because all other rights depend on the right to life. It’s not the only important issue facing our country. But it is the foundational one at this moment in our nation’s history. We can’t ignore it. Cooperating in abortion or quietly tolerating it is a grave evil. We can incrementally seek to restrict and eliminate abortion, but we can never accept it as a so-called right. And if that truth inconveniences one or another political candidate, well, that’s their problem. .... [more]
Of course every Christian - Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox - or, for that matter any adherent of any religion - knows that his or her relationship to God has implications for every aspect of life - every act or decision - including who to vote for. I don't look to my pastor for such direction, but I do look to my faith.

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » The Role of the Priest in Public Affairs

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Doré and the Bible


Doré is one of the great illustrators - and I have long enjoyed his engravings. My library includes a collection that Dover published in 1974, The Dore Bible Illustrations. Scott Lamb at Discerning Reader recommends a newer collection, by George Davidson, Scenes from The Bible:
Gustave Doré (1832-1883) was an engraver, sculptor and illustrator from France. His wood and steel engravings illustrated books by Lord Byron, Cervantes, Poe, but I think he is best known for his Biblical illustrations. It was for these that he became famous in his own lifetime, and for which he reaped the most financial success and acclaim.

Moving from Genesis to Revelation, this collection contains scenes from just about every Bible story you can imagine. Being engravings, they are all in black-and-white, and utilize contrasting light to bring forth the focus of the scenes. ....

When a biblical story contained violence, Doré did not back away from revealing the ugliness of the moment- the head of John the Baptist, David killing Goliath, the bears killing the youth who mocked Elijah, etc.

One aspect of Doré's work that I really appreciate is how when the biblical story contains an element of God's power and might, His power and might is the central focus of the picture - "Elijah Destroys the Messengers of Ahaziah by Fire". When the scene calls for a display of divine magnificence, then that is exactly what we see.
Amazon.com: Scenes from The Bible: George Davidson, Gustave Dore: Books

Fellow pilgrim

Sometime in the '70s the high school where I was teaching inaugurated a reading period every day. During that time everyone in the classroom, including the teacher, was supposed to read something - anything. The idea was simply to encourage reading. But the period was only ten minutes long. I looked for something with short chapters that could be read more or less independently. I found Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Philip Yancey and Paul Brand. That was my introduction to Philip Yancey and it was a timely introduction for me.

Christianity Today provides a profile of Yancey by Tim Stafford. Stafford:
All Philip's best writing is marked by sharp observation and caution in jumping to conclusions. His general stance is, "I didn't understand this [prayer, pain, the seeming absence of God], it was a problem to me, so I decided to try to learn from it. And now as a fellow pilgrim, I am going to offer you what I learned, to see if it helps you too."
He certainly helped me. Probably his most important book for me has been Disappointment with God, in which he approaches the questions about the silence or seeming unfairness of God in the face of suffering and pain. It, along with Ben Patterson's Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, are surely among the best on this subject - at least for laymen. They are among the books I give away.

Yancey writes about suffering and pain without sentimentality and without the easy, pat, false comfort that can come so easily to the lips. His early co-author, Paul Brand, was a medical doctor who had worked with patients with leprosy. Stafford identifies one reason for their affinity:
... Brand had participated in the discovery that most of leprosy's terrible toll on lives began with numbness to pain. The loss of pain was at the heart of his patients' problems. In this scientific fact, Philip saw a spiritual metaphor. And he somehow felt his way to the realization—I say felt because I doubt that it was a conscious process—that pain would be the subject of his life. Dr. Brand gave him a way to start writing about pain without being too direct or too obvious.

Philip used to say that he was an odd candidate to write about suffering, since he had never suffered. I disagree. True, he had never been starved or tortured, nor did he suffer from a terrible disease. But he was a little boy who grew up without a father, a boy sensitive to the deprivations of his childhood, and a man who, despite his rational exterior, experienced life very deeply. As long as I have known Philip, he has been drawn to suffering people—to their written accounts, to their experiences shared in letters and conversations. Somehow people recognize this sensitivity in him: he started receiving an extraordinary deluge of confessions, even before he was a well-known author. People seek him out to tell him about their pain.
The article is informative and good. It should point more people toward Yancey's work - and that would be a good thing.

The Healing Pen | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Monday, April 28, 2008

Is Islam a way to salvation?

Mark Hemingway at NRO:
I was at the NPC breakfast with Wright this morning, and no one seems to have picked up on what I thought was one of the most remarkable comments this morning:
MODERATOR: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the father but through me.” Do you believe this? And do you think Islam is a way to salvation?

WRIGHT: Jesus also said, “Other sheep have I who are not of this fold.”
That was the extent of his answer, and after he gave it, Wright backed suddenly away from the podium to gaze at the audience for dramatic effect.
Hemingway then quotes all of John 10:16, which I offer here from the ESV:
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Does that say what Wright seems to think it says?

Hemingway comments:
As a practicing Christian, I've always been under the distinct impression that Christianity was not to be regarded as part of a spiritual smorgasbord where all options are equally valid, as Wright seems to suggest here.
The Corner on National Review Online

Can this possibly work out well?

Guillermo del Toro has been selected to direct the planned Hobbit movies [produced by Peter Jackson]. This makes del Toro seem like kind of a doubtful choice...
...[H]asn't anybody noticed that del Toro has repeatedly said he doesn't like Tolkien, and that he never finished reading "The Lord of the Rings"? Here's what he told me in Cannes in 2006, when I asked him about the influence of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis on his own work: "I was never into heroic fantasy. At all. I don't like little guys and dragons, hairy feet, hobbits - I've never been into that at all. I don't like sword and sorcery, I hate all that stuff."

Let's see, he doesn't like "little guys and dragons" or hairy-footed hobbits, and "The Hobbit" would be a movie about what, exactly? ....
Thanks to Peter Suderman at The American Scene for the reference.

Guillermo del Toro to make "Hobbit" films: Bleah! - Beyond the Multiplex - Salon.com

Friday, April 25, 2008

The problem of pain and suffering

Bart Ehrman is hardly the first to have lost his faith because he couldn't reconcile a just and loving God with the pain and suffering in the world:
Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn't he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn't he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world? ....

Eventually, while still a Christian thinker, I came to believe that God himself is deeply concerned with suffering and intimately involved with it. The Christian message, for me, at the time, was that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to us humans, and that in Jesus we can see how God deals with the world and relates to it. .... He is a God who suffers. The way he deals with suffering is by suffering both for us and alongside us.

This was my view for many years, and I still consider it a powerful theological view. It would be a view that I would still hold on to, if I were still a Christian. But I'm not.

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. ....
N.T. Wright responded in what became a multi-part dialog. Justin Taylor has provided links to all of the exchange here. In his final response to Ehrman, Bishop Wright says:
...I resonate with a line from Bonhoeffer that has haunted me ever since I heard it as a student: that the primal sin of humanity, as in Genesis 3, is to put the knowledge of good and evil before the knowledge of God. This could [be]... a recognition that the sort of creatures we are are never going to be in a position to set a moral bar and insist that God – if there is a creator God – jump over it. .... ...[M]y creaturely and innately rebellious humanity – can’t pick up the full mysteries of God and the world. Of course, there is continuity between God’s view of good and evil and ours, or it would be chaos come again. But we are never in a position to judge God (if God there be). That’s not a pious platitude, but a rather obvious ontological reality. ....

I don’t think much of the Bible is actually addressing the question, ‘Why is there suffering?’, but rather the question, ‘What is God doing about it?’. When cause-and-effect sequences do occur, as in Amos etc., I read them within the prophetic call to Israel and the warnings, proper to humans in general and covenant people in particular, about the consequences of not going with the grain of the creator’s purposes. ....

If we insist on putting things the Bible says into a grid of our own questions, we will often find apparent contradictions. ....
Every believer either has or will wrestle with this question. This exchange is helpful primarily because Ehrman's position is held by many and N.T. Wright's response will help many.

Between Two Worlds: Ehrman vs Wright on the Problem of Suffering

Starving people to feed cars

The use of grain to produce ethanol, and especially the subsidies and mandates that have increased its use, are having a disastrous effect on the poor and hungry around the world. Good intentions are not enough. From the New York Sun [emphases added]:
With prices for rice, wheat, and corn soaring, food-related unrest has broken out in places such as Haiti, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. Several countries have blocked the export of grain. There is even talk that governments could fall if they cannot bring food costs down.

One factor being blamed for the price hikes is the use of government subsidies to promote the use of corn for ethanol production. An estimated 30% of America’s corn crop now goes to fuel, not food.

"I don't think anybody knows precisely how much ethanol contributes to the run-up in food prices, but the contribution is clearly substantial," a professor of applied economics and law at the University of Minnesota, C. Ford Runge, said. A study by a Washington think tank, the International Food Policy Research Institute, indicated that between a quarter and a third of the recent hike in commodities prices is attributable to biofuels.

Last year, Mr. Runge and a colleague, Benjamin Senauer, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, “How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor.”

"We were criticized for being alarmist at the time,"; Mr. Runge said. "I think our views, looking back a year, were probably too conservative." ....

It takes around 400 pounds of corn to make 25 gallons of ethanol,” Mr. Senauer, also an applied economics professor at Minnesota, said. “It’s not going to be a very good diet but that’s roughly enough to keep an adult person alive for a year.”

Mr. Senauer said climate change advocates, such as Vice President Gore, need to distance themselves from ethanol to avoid tarnishing the effort against global warming. “Crop-based biofuels are not part of the solution. They, in fact, add to the problem. ....[more]
One of the difficulties with taking the various recommended steps which might or might not affect climate change for the better is that they are expensive and especially impact the poor — here and abroad — in very bad ways.

Food Crisis Starts Eclipsing Climate Change Worries | The New York Sun

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Christianity and conservatism

S.M. Hutchens explains why Touchstone magazine is not "conservative":
.... The social and political operation of Christians is not based upon theorizing about what works best for the ordering of the world, but belief about what pleases the living God. The result is a way of thinking and acting that may or may not be agreeable to those whose understanding of the ordering of state and economy is based on a realistic appraisal of human nature coupled with an ideals of moderation and resistance to earthly utopias - that is, the classical tradition usually identified as “conservatism.” Christianity’s affinity with political, economic, and social conservatism is particularly pronounced in societies suffering from moral breakdowns which adversely affect all areas of life, but in Christian eyes the difference between “conservative” and “liberal” theory is still only a difference between theories, one more reasonable and more in agreement with Christianity about the nature of man than the other, but still based on a theory about human good that deals only with the achievement of happiness in this world. [....]

Of this end outside the world, and its beginning in the same Place, mere conservatism can know nothing, despite a superior reason, realism, and assessment of human nature as compared to “liberalism” - the latter characterized by belief in the goodness of human nature, its forward evolution in the world, and a utopian end. Despite its practical wisdom, it will find an enemy in Christianity when the ethics of the faith overrides its pragmatics - when, for example, Christians insist that its practical reasons for limiting population growth are overridden by divine mandates concerning the conduct of family life. In such matters the conservative, who may quite reasonably believe that life on earth can be more happy and comfortable for its inhabitants when there are fewer people, especially in overpopulated areas, will make common cause with the liberal - who believes the same thing, with the admixture of progressivist and utopian notions - against the Christians. ....

Here at Touchstone we are Christians. When placed in the context of certain modern political contests we will look most dreadfully conservative for two reasons: first because we believe, with traditional Jews, Muslims, and almost all people of faith, in ancient, universal moral norms, in sexual matters in particular, against those who think that certain elements of societal or scientific progress have rendered them nugatory, and second, because we agree with conservatives that a realistic appraisal of human nature leads to skepticism about its innate goodness, militates against undisciplined progressivism, and is non-utopian. [more]
Religious belief is much more important than political conviction and both should take priority over partisan loyalty.

Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: Why Touchstone is Not Really “Conservative”

Methodists

Mark Tooley explains why, unlike most of the so-called mainline Protestant denominations, United Methodists may depart from the theologically and politically liberal trend:
Like the elites of other Mainline Protestant denominations, officials of the United Methodist Church have served as an amen corner for the secular left in America for more than 50 years. Episcopalians have imploded in schism since the 2003 election of their first openly homosexual bishop. Presbyterians and Lutherans are locked in gridlock over sex issues. And the more liberal-than-thou United Church of Christ has fully embraced the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a suitable spokesman.

United Methodism, whose quadrennial General Conference convenes April 23 to May 2 in Fort Worth, is heading in a different direction. Like the other Mainline Protestants, its U.S. membership has plummeted continuously for 44 years, falling from 11 million to 7.9 million. But unlike the other Mainline Protestants, United Methodism has become an international denomination. ....

The African United Methodists are strongly evangelical. While U.S. church elites are confused by their declining influence and give their attention to fading political causes of the left, the Africans are quietly assuming wide influence over what was once almost an entirely American institution. Thirty percent of the delegates at the General Conference will come from Africa, the Philippines or Europe. In coalition with another 30 percent of delegates who are U.S. evangelicals, mostly from the South, there is likely for the first time in modern Methodist history a conservative governing majority. Just 4 years ago, U.S. evangelicals and overseas delegates comprised less than 50 percent. [more, including much more about the implications]
Will Methodism Tilt Right?

Imaginary history

A letter from C.S. Lewis quoted at The Inklings:
....Reviewers of his books and mine [Tolkien and Lewis], both friendly & hostile, constantly put forward imaginary histories of their composition. I do not think any one of these has ever borne the slightest resemblance to the real history. (e.g. they think his deadly Ring is a symbol of the atom bomb. Actually his myth was developed long before the atom bomb had been heard of).

You see the moral. These critics, in dealing with us, have every advantage which modern scholars lack in dealing with Scripture. They are dealing with authors who have the same mother tongue, the same education, and inhabit the same social & political world as their own, and inherit the same literary traditions. In spite of this, when they tell us how the books were written they are all wildly wrong! After that what chance can there be that any modern scholar can determine how Isaiah or the Fourth Gospel… came into existence? I should put the odds at 10,000 to 1 against you all.
The Inklings: Literary Influences and the Critics

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sabbath-keeping

Rick Phillips is persuaded, although I would question the relevance of the "Lord's Day" to the Sabbath. It seems to me that the Sabbath should be observed, if at all, on the seventh day. But then, that's why I'm a Seventh Day Baptist. There was once a quite respectful discussion of the issue between Sabbatarians who disagreed about the proper day. It is pleasant to find someone who still believes in Sabbath, even if he thinks it is Sunday:
I am persuaded that the Fourth Commandment, establishing the Sabbath observance, remains in effect for Christians. Not all Christians agree on this and some think Sabbath-keeping is a form of legalism. I am persuaded that this is mistaken, since Sabbath-keeping is one of the Ten Commandments, since the Sabbath ordinance is rooted not in the old covenant but in creation (see Gen. 2:2-3), and since as a sign and foretaste of God's eternal rest in glory, it is still needed on this side of Christ's Second Coming. As Hebrews 4:9 states, "There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God."

The Fourth Commandment says that on the Lord's Day "you shall not do any work" (Ex. 20:10). This means that each of us should rest from whatever is our typical work. Students should set aside their books; businessmen should set aside their business; housewives should set aside their chores. We are to rest from our normal labor. Isaiah 58:13 adds that we are to refrain "from doing your pleasure on my holy day... not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly." This tells us that the day is to be set aside for worshiping, fellowshipping with God, and enjoying his spiritual blessings. [more]
Update 4/25: I've revised my introductory sentences. What I had originally written read as much less appreciative of the Phillips insights than I actually felt. There is an interesting history of the Saturday/Sunday Sabbath question at WorldNetDaily.

Advice for Sabbath-keeping - Reformation21 Blog

Rejoice with trembling

Bob Kauflin, in one of the promotional videos for his new book, comments on the "worship wars" and the need for healthy tensions in the way we think about worship:

This is one of several short presentations presenting some of the material from Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God [most of the other videos are linked at the end of this one]. The book is described at Amazon, where the reader reviews are very favorable:
Combining biblical foundations with real-world application, a pastor and professional songwriter guides worship leaders and pastors to root their corporate worship in unchanging scriptural principles rather than divisive trends.

Nothing is more essential than knowing how to worship the God who created us. .... Bob Kauflin covers a variety of topics such as the devastating effects of worshiping the wrong things, how to base our worship on God’s self-revelation rather than our assumptions, the fuel of worship, the community of worship, and the ways that eternity’s worship should affect our earthly worship.
Mark Tubbs at Discerning Reader:
Bob’s heart for biblical, passionate worship pervades every page of this book. His writing is littered with Bible, especially the psalms, that manual of Old Testament worship. But this isn’t merely a devotional on a few aspects of worship. No, this is a handbook about how to pursue more biblical, more humble hearts in the midst of a task pregnant with tensions.
Kauflin also has a website, WorshipMatters, where, among much else, can be found the announcement of a conference this summer on what sounds a very profitable topic:

Chosen before the foundation of the world

Predestined for What?
Steve Crouch

from a sermon
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14 [NIV]

It’s known by the big fancy word “Predestination.” I doubt that there is a Christian alive who understands Predestination completely – I know I don’t. But I do know that the Bible teaches it. So if nothing else, let’s at least see what the Bible says about it. It might still be a mystery, but it wouldn’t be the only one: we don’t completely understand the Trinity either, but we believe it because the Bible teaches it.

The best place to get started on Predestination is in Ephesians 1, where it’s mentioned several times. First of all, what does the word Predestination mean? The English word is fairly simple:
  • Pre- is a prefix that means “before.”
  • And Destiny is what’s going to happen in the future.
So Predestination is: the future beforehand, ahead of time – maybe even determining the future. That’s oversimplified, yes, but it will do as a starting point.

Now in a way, you and I determine the future all the time, more or less, by making plans. I could say “We will have lunch today.” “I will go to work on Monday.” But whenever we make plans like that, we have to remember the caution in James 4:15 – “Instead you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” It’s really quite presumptuous to believe that all of our plans will happen – because they might not. This is not Predestination.

Only God can really do Predestination. I mean it’s just a whole lot easier to predestine something when you can see the end from the beginning. And God can. The Bible says things like:
  • “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you."
  • Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, …
  • He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
And in Acts 4, when Christians prayed about the people who crucified Jesus, they said,
  • They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
It’s amazing enough that God knows the future. But it also says that he sometimes determines the future.

I can remember when I was growing up, a really hot issue among Christians was Predestination vs. Free Will. I even remember once when there was a debate in my youth group on this issue – Predestination vs. Free Will. Lots of people back then thought these were opposites: either God decides what we will do, or we can choose what we will do. And again I’m oversimplifying the issue – there’s more to it than that.

The fact is, the Bible teaches both Predestination and Free Will, and so both of them are true. The trick is to understand what they mean. Free will we probably don’t have much trouble with. From “Choose this day whom you will serve” in Joshua, to “Whosoever will may come” in Revelation, the Bible encourages us to choose God and his Way, to choose life not death. We all make decisions freely every day – what to eat, what color socks to wear, all that – so we understand that we have Free Will.

But Predestination isn’t quite so easy. So let’s see what Ephesians 1 has to say. This letter is actually pretty easy to read – until you get to verse 4: “He chose us.” Now God has done a lot of choosing over the years:
  • He chose Abraham – and not only Abraham, but he chose Isaac not Ishmael, and he chose Jacob not Esau.
  • Later on he chose Moses to be the deliverer of the Hebrew slaves and lead them out of Egypt.
  • And he chose Jesus before the creation of the world to save us from sin and death.
That’s all fine. But did he also choose us? It says here in Ephesians that he did.

And if he did choose us, then – well, I might as well bring up right now the question that no Christian ever wants to ask – we don’t even want to think about it. But here it is: If God chose some people, then did he not choose all the others?
  • Like the billion or so Muslims – did he choose them to reject Jesus as Savior and Lord?
  • Or all the people who just don’t believe. Some people think all religion is bad. Some think they just don’t need God. Some think becoming a Christian would take away all their fun.
Lots of people who don’t love the Lord, and don’t want him. Did God just not choose them?

Or even worse – this isn’t quite the same thing, it’s even worse: If God chose us to be saved, did he also choose that those people shouldn’t be saved? Did he choose them to be condemned? There’s actually a fancy term for this: it’s called Double Predestination – choosing some to be saved and some not to be saved. I think it’s too horrible to think about. The fact is, Predestination is much clearer in the Bible than any idea of Double Predestination.

So what does the Bible teach about Predestination? I gave this message the title “Predestined for What?” and I did that for a reason. As I have studied this in the Bible, I have seen something consistent in the way it talks about Predestination. The Bible doesn’t really talk in terms of “Am I predestined, or not?” – I don’t think that’s the right question. The right question is, “What am I predestined for – what was I chosen for?

I’ve got four answers to that – three of them in Ephesians 1, and another over in Romans 8. Let’s just read them quickly, and I think you’ll see something similar in all of them:

  • First is in Ephesians 1:4: We were predestined “to be holy and blameless.” Holy doesn’t mean we’re perfect. And blameless doesn’t mean we never sinned. It means that if we’re saved, we’re clean before God. Because of Jesus, our sins are forgiven. And if we died today, God would accept us into his Kingdom. This verse says that God predestined – he determined ahead of time – that believers are acceptable to God.
  • Verse 5 then says we were chosen “to be adopted as sons” – and of course we don’t have to worry about that word “sons”: it also includes girls. Adopted means that God has made us part of his family. John 1:12 says that all who receive Christ and believe in him are given the right to become children of God. Now everybody knows that there are two main ways to get into a family: you can be born in, or you can be adopted in. Either picture is fine. Some people like the birth picture, like when Jesus said “You must be born again” – that’s fine. Some people prefer the adoption picture, probably people who were adopted into their human family. Either way, we’re joining God’s family, becoming his children – verse 5 says that God predestined this for us.
  • Next is in verses 11 and 12 – “having been predestined … in order that we … might be for the praise of his glory.” What that’s saying is that when people are saved, it glorifies God. He gets all the credit and the glory when someone enters God’s Kingdom and family. It’s like what Jesus said about angels rejoicing in Heaven whenever a sinner repents. In God’s plan, he determined that this will happen, that he will be glorified when sinners are saved.
  • Then one more Predestination item is in Romans 8:29 – “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” One of the things God has predestined is that eventually we will become like Jesus. We won’t become him, but we will be like him. We’re already supposed to become like him more and more. But one day the job will be finished.
Okay, what were those four things again?
  • Holy and blameless
  • Adopted as sons
  • For the praise of his glory
  • Conformed to the likeness of his Son
All of these are end result for the Christian. When we put our faith in Christ, these are the kinds of things God has planned for us, that he has predestined for us. And that’s why Predestination is good news for Christians. It’s not just “Are we predestined?” It’s “What are we predestined for?”

I’m sure I’ve probably oversimplified this “doctrine.” Actually, it’s not one of my favorite Bible doctrines – I would be happy if God hadn’t mentioned Predestination at all in the Bible. But he did. So why did he do it – what is the point of teaching us about Predestination?

For one thing, it shows us that God is in charge of salvation. He can choose people to save if he wants to – he didn’t really have to choose any of us. But he did choose us. And that’s good news, because that was his purpose in Creation: to create people, to choose people, and to save people forever in his Kingdom. God is in charge of the whole salvation process from beginning to end.

And then another reason for God teaching us Predestination is: now that we’re in the Kingdom, it’s okay for us to know how we got here. Before we were saved, the Bible says to us “Repent and believe the Gospel. Whosoever will may come.” Evangelism always assumes that people have Free Will. But once we’re in the Kingdom, we find out that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, even predestined to be adopted as sons, to become holy and blameless, like Jesus.

Please don’t think of Predestination as just one of those stuffy old theological words that most “regular Christians” don’t need to worry about. It’s there in the Bible for a reason. And if nothing else, it shows us that God wants to bring us into his Kingdom, and so he decided to do that a long, long time ago. He could have done it anyway and not said anything about it. But instead, he gave us this “doctrine,” to tell us that he really does mean to save us. I hope we’re grateful.

Steve Crouch is the pastor of the Bay Area Seventh Day Baptist Church.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sabbath Recorder May 2008

The May, 2008, Sabbath Recorder is available online here as a pdf.

This month's issue of The Sabbath Recorder focuses on the Sabbath with three articles by Seventh Day Baptist pastors: "God's Choice; My Choice" by Don Sanford, "The World Needs a Sabbath" by Donald Chroniger, and General Conference President, Andrew Samuels, contributes "Thankful for the Sabbath." Rev. Samuels writes:
For me, Sabbathkeeping has always been intricately connected to my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. My salvation and my Sabbath are intertwined. Both are gifts from the Lord, and I have grown to enjoy and appreciate them. I see my weekly Sabbath rest as a physical and practical expression of the eternal and spiritual rest which is mine through my acceptance of His salvation.
This issue also contains registration materials for the General Conference sessions at Carthage College, Kenosha, Wisconsin, August 3-9, 2008.

The Sabbath Recorder is the magazine of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and has been regularly published in some form since 1844.

Abstinence or moderation?

Seventh Day Baptists, like most other Baptists and many other Protestants, have been advocates of abstaining from the consumption of alcoholic beverages since the mid-19th century. My grandfather, a Seventh Day Baptist pastor, was active in the temperance movement and spoke for the Anti-Saloon League. My parents — and I think most of their generation in my denomination — were total abstainers. My sense is that things have changed, but that impression is not based on any change in policy. The subject is little discussed.

Southern Baptists are engaged in a vigorous open discussion about the permissibility of alcohol consumption. Those arguing for the acceptability of moderate use seem to be in the minority - but they have been speaking out. The Criswell Theological Review recently devoted an entire issue to the question of "Christians and Alcohol." Two of the articles are available online as pdfs: "The Christian and Alcohol" by Richard Land and Barrett Duke, which advocates the wisdom of total abstinence, and "The Bible and the Question of Alcoholic Beverages," by Kenneth L. Gentry, which makes the scriptural case that moderate consumption is permitted. Gentry is the author of God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says About Alcohol, a fuller explanation of his position.

Early in his essay, Gentry writes:
Few would deny the widespread abuse of alcohol in our culture today. From occasional binge drinking to full-scale alcohol dependence, from under age drinking to drunken driving, alcohol abuse is a serious problem. And none can credibly deny that the Bible strongly condemns all forms of alcohol abuse through several means, including binding precept, notorious example, negative image, and harmful effect [Gentry provides citations for each]. Yet, the debate continues raging among evangelicals.

For the evangelical the question of beverage alcohol consumption ultimately must be arbitrated in terms of the Scriptures, rather than traditional customs, contemporary social practices, cultural mores, or emotional revulsion. ....
Later:
In this article I will be presenting the biblical evidence for allowing a moderate, circumspect use of alcoholic beverages. Due to space limitations my approach to the issue involves three fundamental, unargued presuppositions regarding the Scriptures:
  1. The Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
  2. The Bible is the ultimate standard for ethical inquiry.
  3. The Bible condemns all forms of alcohol abuse.
Building on these presuppositions I will show that just as the Bible allows appropriate use of sex (despite its widespread perversion and abuse) and wealth (despite the love of money being the root of all kinds of evil), it also allows a balanced use of alcohol. In considering the issue before us, we must always recognize the distinction between use and abuse. .... [more]
Thanks to Alex Chediak and Denny Burk for the reference.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Freedom

At City Journal, Arthur C. Brooks explains that "Free People Are Happy People" and that such happiness requires that freedom be balanced with moral restraint:
Understanding freedom is a matter of no small importance. The Founders believed that it was one of at least three fundamental rights from God, along with life and the pursuit of happiness. These three rights are interrelated: not only does liberty, of course, depend on life, but the pursuit of happiness depends on liberty. In fact, evidence shows that freedom and happiness are strongly linked. [....]

In 2000, the GSS (General Social Survey) also asked adult Americans about their attitudes about freedom. About 70 percent of the respondents said that they were “completely free” or “very free,” and another 25 percent said that they were “moderately free.” Further, about 70 percent thought that Americans in general were completely or very free.

Perhaps such results are not surprising in the United States. But the GSS also revealed that people who said that they felt completely or very free were twice as likely to say that they were very happy about their lives as those who felt only a moderate degree of freedom, not much, or none at all. [....]

.... In a famous 1976 experiment, psychologists in Connecticut gave residents on one floor of a nursing home the freedom to decide which night of the week would be “movie night,” as well as the freedom to choose and care for the plants on their floor. On another floor of the same nursing home, residents did not receive these choices and responsibilities. The first group of residents—no healthier or happier than the second when the experiment began—quickly showed greater alertness, more activity, and better mood. A year and a half later, they were still doing better, and even dying at half the rate of the residents on the other floor. [....]

Religious freedom—known to the Founding Fathers as the “first liberty”—probably brings happiness, too. That assertion is hard to test internationally because there are no widely accepted global indexes of religious freedom. It is even hard to test within the United States because no one without religious freedom exists to tell us how unhappy he might be. Yet we do know that people who support freedom for those with unusual religious beliefs are happier than those who do not. In a 2006 survey asking if respondents endorsed the right of people with antireligious views to speak publicly, those who said “no” were a third likelier than those who said “yes” to say that they were not too happy. In other words, religious tolerance—even tolerance of anti-religiousness—is strongly linked with happiness.

Furthermore, many of the happiest people in America achieve their happiness through faith. When asked in the 2000 GSS about the experiences that made them feel the most free, about 11 percent of adults put religious and spiritual experiences at the top of the list. And these people were more likely than those mentioning any other experience to say that they were very happy.

Surprisingly, one reason that religious experience is satisfying may be that religion imposes constraints on behavior—and these constraints point to a kind of freedom that isn’t conducive to happiness. [....]

As Americans, we understand that people can be entrusted with freedom, which is why we guard it so jealously. But happiness requires that we also use freedom responsibly—which means, both as individuals and as a nation, balancing abundant private liberty with healthy personal morality. [the article]
Free People Are Happy People by Arthur C. Brooks, City Journal Spring 2008

Jesus for Real Men

Brendon O'Brien at Christianity Today on the "masculinity movement": what it does right and what it doesn't.
"The stallions hang out in bars; the geldings hang out in church." This observation from David Murrow strikes a little close to home for someone like me. I always thrived in my congregation but was never certain I fit the mold of masculinity I saw modeled around me. So as much as I resent Murrow's sentiment, it nevertheless rings true: In many churches, a certain type of man is conspicuously absent.

The disparity in men's and women's attendance in American churches has made men the target of specialized ministry over the last two decades. Promise Keepers kicked off the men's movement in 1990 by challenging stadiums full of men and boys to fulfill their duties to God and their families. Today a growing body of literature is leveling its sights on the church, suggesting that men are uninvolved in church life because the church doesn't encourage authentic masculine participation. [the article]
A Jesus for Real Men | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Friday, April 18, 2008

"...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world..."

Prominent individuals in the Continental Congress, including those who drafted the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, were not orthodox Christians [or, by orthodox standards, Christians at all], although each of them believed in a God who acted in the affairs of men. But many of the others did profess biblical Christianity. Steven Waldman, in Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America:
...[W]e cannot consider only the views of Franklin and Jefferson. Most of the other men in that hall likely imagined something different when they read the phrase Divine Providence—not the god of nature but the God of scriptures. John Hancock, the first to sign, had served as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress when it declared that "it becomes us, as Men and Christians," to rely on "that GOD who rules in the Armies of Heaven." George Read, one of Delaware's delegates, had written the Delaware constitution, which required legislators to take an oath to "God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost." New Jersey's delegate was the Reverend John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton, which trained young men to become evangelical ministers. It was Witherspoon who had authored a resolution the year before, on July 20, 1775, calling for a continentwide day of fasting and prayer, and he was hardly a Deist: "I entreat you in the most earnest manner to believe in Jesus Christ, for there is no salvation in any other [Acts 4:12]," he had written. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, who offered the resolution on independence, would a year later propose one creating a national day of prayer in which the people "may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance." Sam Adams, the influential Boston radical, had called for "bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace."'

Young, Restless, Reformed

Trevin Wax at Kingdom People has reviewed in several parts the new book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, by Collin Hansen. It's a good review, describing a book about the resurgence of Calvinism among Baptists and others, but also reacting to the phenomenon. Early in the review Wax, who is broadly sympathetic to the renewed interest in Calvinism, writes:
...My theology leans Reformed, meaning that I am probably more Calvinistic than the majority of Southern Baptists. (I would be in the category often jokingly referred to as “Christmas Calvinists.” In other words, No L.) I do not see most aspects of Calvinism as being worthy of dividing over. Neither do I believe I have been commissioned to convince others of Calvinism.

In other words, I am not so much concerned that the people in the church in which I am a pastor are able to detail the historical development of the doctrine of unconditional election, as I am concerned that my people know and believe that the Bible teaches that there is nothing in them that makes them worthy of God’s grace in salvation in Christ. I have critiqued some of the aspects of the Reformed Resurgence in other posts, even as I celebrate some of its developments. ....
Later he expresses a caution about some of the more enthusiastic expressions of Calvinistic zeal:
...I am most concerned about the testimonies that give the chapter this title: “Born Again Again.” Those who discover Calvinism speak of their experience as a second conversion, like getting saved all over again. Collin himself gives a brief testimony, where he mentions his conversion, his spiritual life after conversion, and then the difference that Calvinism made in his life. The underlying impression in his story and others is this: “God saved me, praise the Lord! But I was still missing something. I needed something more.”

Ironically, the Calvinist resurgence here resembles its arch-nemesis: Wesleyanism. The Methodists have their “Second Blessing” whereupon “perfection” is granted. This event takes place after conversion. Likewise, the Pentecostals (also Arminian!) believe that the filling of the Holy Spirit takes place after conversion, once one speaks in tongues. Salvation is terrific, but the blessing that comes after salvation is even better. Is the embrace of Calvinism much different?

These questions about “converting to Calvinism” bother me more as the book goes on. (Piper later talks about being “baptized into Calvinist theology” - an unfortunate metaphor that says more than he probably intended, but is revealing nonetheless). Students speak of Calvinism as a secret they discover that they then want to take back to their churches. The person’s journey towards Calvinist convictions sounds more Gnostic to me than Christian. We finally have the secret knowledge that no one else knows about. We are the only ones who know this. ....
The book, which I haven't read, sounds good. The review, which I have read, is excellent. Find links to all of it here.
Young, Restless, Reformed Series « Kingdom People

Religious, paranoid and ignorant

I have no idea whether or not Expelled is an accurate portrayal of academic intolerance, but reactions to it suggest that it may well be:
...[T]he evolutionist prophets featured in the film are on the warpath inveighing against it, and the alleged idiots who would lower themselves to watching it. Richard Dawkins laments how the film will solicit "cheap laughs that could only be raised in an audience of scientific ignoramuses." Minnesota professor and blogger P.Z. Myers predicts the movie is "going to appeal strongly to the religious, the paranoid, the conspiracy theorists, and the ignorant – which means they're going to draw in about 90% of the American market." Myers and Dawkins now both complain they were "duped" into appearing in the movie (for pay).
Anyone who believes that 90% of his fellow citizens are paranoid and ignorant [and apparently includes the religious in this group] is probably not very tolerant of those among his colleagues or students who might disagree with him.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Against valuing every human life

Senator Boxer welcomes the Pope:
While Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit to Washington received wall to wall coverage, Sen. Barbara Boxer briefly held up a Senate resolution welcoming the pontiff because she objected to language about how the pope values "each and every human life."

The measure later cleared the Senate Thursday afternoon after the sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), dropped the reference to "human life" because some Democrats saw it as a reference to abortion. ....

Three Senate Republican aides involved in the issue say that Boxer objected to the "life" language, which Democrats see as an implicit reference to the Catholic church's opposition to abortion. Senate Democratic leadership offices declined to comment but referred questions to Boxer's office....
Supporters of abortion have always argued that what is being aborted is not human life. Senator Boxer must think it is.

The Crypt's Blog - Politico.com

"Doctrine is about marriage"

Ligon Duncan at the Together for the Gospel Conference:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Debates among Christians

As he begins his presentation about the doctrine of Creation — about which he has very definite views — Mark Driscoll of Seattle's Mars Hill Church gives an important caution:
I would like to stress that Genesis was not written as a scientific textbook. Rather, it is a theological narrative written to reveal the God of creation, which means it emphasizes God, not creation. As one example, Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

The Bible in general, and the opening pages of Genesis in particular, are far more concerned with the questions of who made creation, how he made creation, and why he made creation than when he did. Therefore, as Galileo said, “the Holy Ghost intended to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”

Therefore, at Mars Hill we want to be clear that there is a distinction between debates within Christian theology and debates that are not Christian. For example, godly Bible-believing and Jesus-loving people can and should graciously debate and discuss what Genesis 1 and 2 mean without viewing one another in the same light as non-Christians who hold to naturalistic and atheistic evolution. [more]
The Mission & Vision | Creation: God Makes

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tolkien on anti-Semitism

Tolkien was wonderfully unambiguous when, before World War II, a German publisher asked him whether he was "Aryan." From IYOV [quoting from the introduction to Beowulf and the Critics]:
In 1938, Tolkien had written a razor-tongued reply to the German firm Rütten und Loening Verlag, who, upon negotiating the publication of a German translation of The Hobbit, dared to ask Tolkien if he was "arisch" [Aryan]. Tolkien replied with insulting philological precision that since he was not aware that any of his "ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects," he could not claim to be Aryan. He adds, "but if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people." He then continues with an explanation of his German name (Tolkien's ancestors immigrated to England in the eighteenth century), and closes with the following:
I have been accustomed...to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war.... I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
In a letter to his own publishers about the same issue Tolkien calls the German race laws "lunatic" and notes "I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable...and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine." ....
Thanks to Mark Olson for the reference.

Iyov: Tolkien on anti-Semitism and racism

A vague belief in something that works

Barack Obama's comments in San Francisco have thus far been analyzed primarily for their anticipated political effect in the upcoming primaries. Albert Mohler is more concerned about another question:
....Sen. Obama has given us a near-perfect expression of a functional view of religious belief. In other words, Sen. Obama said that "religion" is a coping mechanism for hard times — lumping religion with other issues his audience members were presumably to find strange and alien.

A functional view of belief assumes or "brackets" the question of whether the beliefs are true. One who holds to a purely functionalist view of religious conviction is not concerned with the truthfulness of these beliefs, but only with the effects the beliefs have on the believer, both privately and in social contexts.

No one but God knows Sen. Obama's heart, but we are left with his words. In this case, the words are very similar to what is so often heard from political figures. When speaking of their own faith they often speak of how it functions. Sen. Clinton spoke this way at the "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College on Sunday night, but we must note that Republicans often speak the same way — valuing "faith" as if faith has no object.

A functional view of belief appears when people speak of their beliefs or the beliefs of others in merely pragmatic form. It can be a way of avoiding the particularities of belief - speaking only of how their belief system functions in their lives. This function can be in terms of a coping mechanism, hope, comfort, moral guidance, or any number of effects. [....]

...functional views of religious belief are found among both conservatives and liberals. In one famous example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, conveyed a functional view of religious belief in an almost quintessential expression. Speaking on Flag Day in 1954, President Eisenhower said: "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply felt religious faith — and I don't care what it is."

As presidential historian William Lee Miller once noted, Eisenhower was a "fervent believer in a very vague religion." [more]
The Real Issue with Sen. Obama's Comments

Monday, April 14, 2008

Using the Bibles we have

Bible Design & Binding provides a brief explanation of how good, durable books are bound — and why most books aren't bound that way, including many Bibles [I've added emphasis to the quotation]:
The more you understand about the way books are made today, the more you appreciate the challenges faced by any publisher hoping to (a) produce quality bindings, and (b) stay in business. The sad fact is, a lower quality product doesn't necessarily disappoint consumers, because most of them aren't going to notice. As Parisi notes, "...bad binding structure does not become apparent until the book has been used many times and has failed." A poorly bound Bible is only a problem if it's going to be "used many times," the way a library book is. My guess is that, if consumers used their Bibles often enough for the disadvantages of adhesive bindings to become apparent, publishers would find a way to sew them all, just to avoid the complaints. But if consumers don't complain...
I feel the need, now, to confess that I haven't used my glued Bibles often enough for their disadvantages to become apparent.

Bible Design and Binding: Binding Boot Camp: Some Basics from Acme Bookbinding

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"I am the kind of Christian I am...."

C.S. Lewis's influence on John Mark Reynolds was very much like Lewis's influence on me and a great many others. Reynolds:
...I am a Christian in great part because of the role his works had in shaping my imagination. I am the kind of Christian I am, because Lewis wrote and lived as he did. [....]

C.S. Lewis was the first writer who inspired me to read all of his works . . . or at least all his works I could find.
Reynolds blogs about C.S. Lewis: Five Books That Changed My Life and gives the reasons for his choices. Here are his five:
  1. That Hideous Strength
  2. The Abolition of Man
  3. Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  4. Perelandra
  5. The Last Battle
He challenges each of us to choose five.

As I tried to do that I found it impossible. I admire the five he chose and for much the same reasons he gives. The first book by Lewis that I read was Mere Christianity - it provided a reasonable explanation of Christian orthodoxy at a time when that was very much what I needed. Then, like Reynolds, I read everything I could get my hands on. Choosing only five is too hard.

C.S. Lewis: Five Books that Changed My Life | The Scriptorium Daily: Middlebrow

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Two historical myths

The religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers - what those beliefs were or if they even had any - have become ammunition in the current battles about the role religion should play in the public square. Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, by Steven Waldman, tells us what their beliefs were and why most of those of us involved in today's debates get it wrong.

Richard Brookhiser's review explains that there are two myths about the religious convictions of the Founders:
...One common myth, he writes, holds that “the founding fathers wanted religious freedom because they were deists.” The First Amendment, in this view, is a conjurer’s trick designed to hold the rubes’ attention while gentlemen professed polite unbelief over their after-dinner port. In fact, Waldman writes, “few” of the founders “were true deists — people who believed that God had created the universe and then receded from action.” Many were orthodox Christians — Waldman lists Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Witherspoon (a Presbyterian minister) and Roger Sherman. The founders whose biographies fill our best-seller lists are a more heterodox lot. John Adams, a scrappy Unitarian, scolded Catholics, Anglicans and skeptical French philosophers as each passed under his eye. Benjamin Franklin flirted with polytheism in his youth but ended believing in “one God, creator of the universe,” who “governs the world by his providence.” Thomas Jefferson railed against the Christian church, past and present, as corrupting the teachings of Jesus, and made his own digest of Gospel sayings he considered accurate. “It was the work of two or three nights only, at Washington,” Waldman quotes him, “after getting thro’ the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day.” Yet even these founders, Waldman says, “believed in God and that he shaped their lives and fortunes.”

According to an equal and opposite myth, America’s national origins were Christian. The 13 colonies, Waldman says, were indeed Christian polities, most of them indulging in persecution to uphold their ideals. But the independent United States “was not established as a ‘Christian nation.’” When George Washington was Revolutionary commander in chief, he mandated that his soldiers have chaplains and strongly encouraged them to attend divine service, but his own writings typically employed nondenominational language, appealing to providence rather than Christ. The First Amendment, which, along with its siblings Second through Tenth, was among the first business of Congress under the new Constitution, rejected a national religious establishment. States were allowed to maintain their own establishments, and some did so for decades, although James Madison had hoped to dismantle even these.

Perhaps the strongest supporters of the separation of church and state in the founding era were the communicants of a new, vigorous church, the Baptists. From 1760 to 1778 there were 56 jailings of Baptist preachers in Anglican Virginia. When the Rev. James Ireland continued to preach through the window of his cell, two supporters of the 39 Articles put a bench to the wall, stood on it and urinated in his face. No Barsetshire atmosphere in the New World. At least 14 jailings of Baptists happened in Madison’s home county. “Though much scholarship has gone into assessing which Enlightenment philosophers shaped Madison’s mind,” Waldman says, “what likely influenced him most was not ideas from Europe but persecutions in Virginia.”

Waldman’s conclusion is that “the Founding Faith ... was not Christianity, and it was not secularism. It was religious liberty — a revolutionary formula for promoting faith by leaving it alone.” ....

“Founding Faith” has a few shortcomings. Waldman gives the most ink, as do we all, to the founding all-stars — Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison. Why not spend a little more time, in a book on founding religion, on the most pious and most radical of the founders, Samuel Adams? As a young man, Adams heard Whitefield preach; as an old one, he criticized the anti-Christian polemics of his friend Thomas Paine. Waldman’s favorite among the Big Five is Madison, a wise choice if constitutional interpretation is the core of the story (certainly courts are the venue where church/state issues are hashed out these days). But this is not an unassailable choice. The laws tell us what we may do. Leaders must decide what they themselves should do. If leadership is the focus, then pride of place must go to Washington, who, unlike Madison, ran a successful war and a successful presidency, attributing his success to providence all the while.

Waldman ends by encouraging us to be like the founders. We should understand their principles, learn from their experience, then have at it ourselves. “We must pick up the argument that they began and do as they instructed — use our reason to determine our views.” A good place to start is this entertaining, provocative book. [the review]
Founding Faith - Steven Waldman - Book Review - New York Times

Friday, April 11, 2008

Revelation

Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle is preaching a series of sermons on "Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe." The second sermon is "Revelation: God Speaks":
...The big idea, building off the first week’s sermon on the Trinity, is that God communicates. For example, we read, “God said” ten times in Genesis 1 alone. For further reading on the topic of revelation, I have two new books coming out this summer: On the Old Testament and On the New Testament. Each is short enough to be read in about an hour.

No one is born with a clear comprehension of who God is. So, in an effort to know about God, various philosophers and religious leaders have presented their speculations about God with seemingly endless and contradictory declarations.

God has chosen to lift the fog of human speculation with divine revelation. Whereas speculation is the human attempt to comprehend God, revelation is God’s communication to humanity with clarity that is otherwise impossible. The object of that revelation is the sixty-six books of Scripture. .... [more]
Driscoll provides a useful bibliography for further reading about the Scriptures:
For Further Reading on Bible Translations
For Further Reading on How to Study Scripture
For Further Reading on Apparent Bible Contradictions
For Further Reading on Miscellaneous Bible Issues
The Mission & Vision | Revelation

Seventh Day Baptist History VII

Defining Who We Are
America, 1930 -

The modern era, especially the last half century, has confronted everyone—not just Seventh Day Baptists—with challenges. Urbanization, rapid technological change, social and political turmoil, increased diversity of every kind, have each provided opportunity to succeed in new ways or to fail.

Churches increasingly appeared in urban and suburban settings. The rural and ethnically homogeneous character of the denomination changed and the denomination became more defined by doctrine and less by family relationship.

Sen. Jennings Randolph, WV
There were continuing efforts to gain greater efficiencies through reorganization and coordination of the offices and agencies of the denomination. In 1963 the School of Theology at Alfred University closed and was replaced by a Center on Ministry which coordinated the education of theological students at a variety of other – usually Baptist – seminaries. There was a later consolidation of some denominational ministries and denominational offices moved, in 1981, from Plainfield, NJ, to Janesville, WI.

New approaches for nurturing and encouraging the faith and participation of young people were instituted:
  • Summer camps
  • Pre-Conference retreats for high school youth and young adults
  • The Summer Christian Service Corps [SCSC] - youth receiving training and serving a church during summer vacations.
Late in the 20th century, many Christians, feeling that doctrinal differences among denominational groups were unimportant, focused more on their local churches—and gave less financial support to denominational ministries. There were continuing tensions between theological Liberals and Evangelicals, somewhat complicated by the advent of the charismatic movement. New styles of worship both engaged and repelled churchgoers. Seventh Day Baptists were affected by all of these things.

Seventh Day Baptists have spanned the modern Protestant theological spectrum, from Fundamentalist to Evangelical to Liberal – but, unlike some denominations, didn’t split. Over time, however, decisions were made that defined the denomination more clearly:
  • The General Conference was a charter member of the Federal Council of Churches [later the National Council of Churches] as well as the World Council of Churches. During the 1950s and 60s these affiliations became contentious. The organizations were increasingly viewed as theologically and politically Liberal. In 1973 Seventh Day Baptists withdrew from the National Council of Churches. Three years later General Conference voted to leave the World Council of Churches.
  • When the Alfred School of Theology closed in 1964 the new program supported students at the seminaries of other denominations. Given the opportunity, students have increasingly chosen to attend schools identifiably Evangelical and conservative in theology.
  • The Statement of Belief, adopted in 1987 with very little controversy, is unambiguously Trinitarian and doctrinally orthodox.
These and other actions indicated a trend toward theological conservatism and a general identification with Evangelical Protestantism. A broad variety of theological conviction continues among Seventh Day Baptists and we have largely avoided the angry and acrimonious disputes which have sometimes characterized similar differences elsewhere.

Responding to a questioner who wanted to know why Baptists generally seemed to know nothing about Seventh Day Baptists, a Baptist pastor recently wrote “I imagine that they are not well known because they are 1) still a fairly small denomination, and 2) they are irenic enough not to make waves.”

Seventh Day Baptists are still seeking ways to convey who we are – and thus become larger and better known – without losing those characteristics that would cause someone to think us a moderate and peaceful people.

Source: Don Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, 1992

The picture is of Jennings Randolph, a Seventh Day Baptist, who represented West Virginia in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

The next and last in the series: Seventh Day Baptist History VIII: We Glorify His Name - Seventh Day Baptists Sing

This series begins with: "Seventh Day Baptist History I - Seventh Day Baptist Origins"

Links to all of the posts about Seventh Day Baptist History can be found here.

This series of short summaries of Seventh Day Baptist history is part of a project undertaken for the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society, which maintains its archives and a museum in Janesville, Wisconsin.