Monday, December 31, 2007

Video Editing and Other Things Not Explicitly Christian

I've been spending hours upon hours monopolizing the computers at my house to capture, edit and process video of our church's Christmas program a few weeks ago. This is the first draft of the first piece. There are actually two instrumental preludes prior to this one. I may leave this as it is, but it includes video from a camera that saved its video information in files fit for a mac. Since I use a Bill Gate's machine rather than a Steve Jobs machine, I had to convert the files and it lost quality in the conversion which is particularly evident in this sequence. When I complete the DVD, I'll save all the final cuts to uploadable files and post them - probably on GodTube.

This is a medley of sleighing songs. While our program always recounts the birth of Christ and the significance of the incarnation and ends with a few songs of worship for the season, we like to start with a song or two that approaches the season from a lighthearted aspect. As such, these are songs that are not explicitly Christian. Of course, neither is the book of Esther. The fullness of the season is Christian, however, and that includes romance, flights of fancy and children playing. Enjoy...

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Infidelity and Divorce Among the Faithful

Emotional attraction is a mysterious thing to me. It seems that there are so many factors in the attraction equation. In all cases, the question of attraction can be boiled down to one observation, and that is this: that one is attracted to something or someone because there is a need that one perceives, often not consciously or deliberately, that the object of the attraction can meet. We tend to be attracted to people for friendship because the personality of certain others is such that we wish to identify with them. They may resonate with us in some way or exhibit characteristics that we don’t have, but wish we did.

I’m attracted to unique individuals because I am a unique individual and most everyone else has a level of predictability that fails to stimulate me interpersonally. We may choose a certain automobile because we think that others will see us favorably, or at least more accurately, behind the wheel. I know people who drive vans and call them SUVs. Why? Because they perceive a certain sociological stigma with driving a van and they fear being identified as one who is in such mean estate as to warrant driving a van.

One thing my wife and I learned in premarital counseling is that it is unreasonable to expect one’s spouse to meet all of one’s emotional needs. We are to be identified with one another explicitly, exclusively, mutually and mortally with regard to our marital covenant. However, while we are principally and in principle to meet one another’s needs, realistically we will each have needs that may preclude our capacity to fulfill our purpose from time to time. God is certainly aware of this.

No married couple is an island. We have the sociological context of family, church and community, all of which may overlap. We must develop good relationships with those outside the marriage who likewise support our marriage. When the struggles of daily life present the temptation to play the Adam, Eve and serpent blame game, we need the ear of someone who won’t be put off by the disclosure of our distress and who is trustworthy to provide the proper perspective on the sacrificial service we are called to bear for our spouse.

The divorce rate is alarmingly high. The divorce rate among Christian churchgoers is no different than that outside the church. Perhaps it is because mature Christians don’t cohabitate sans marriage like many non-Christians. If you throw the breakups of cohabitating couples into the statistical mix, then a striking difference may be noted. Nevertheless, Christians should not be divorcing each other.

What has changed to cause the divorce rate has escalated? Perhaps it is that sociological expectations have changed. Commitment to a marriage was once expected of spouses by those who knew them and had some influence in their lives. But the influence of others has changed. Wher we were once influenced locally by others who knew us, we have been increasingly influenced by the opinions of celebrities in the media who decidedly don't know us.

Who gives others influence over our lives? We do. However, it is a sign of weakness to allow others to have influence over us. We know this because we allow those who espouse such a view to have influence over us. We see the view espoused in movies. We see popular people and strong leaders who have other bend their will to theirs by for no other reason than they have a charisma that draws other people to them - not because they are particularly wise.

The people who should have influence over us are those who who would improve our marriage. First, our spouse, inasmuch as he or she is obedient to Christ. Secondly, our freinds and family inasmuch as they are obedient to Christ. Thirdly, our church family and ministers inasmuch as they are obedient to Christ. Christ established the pattern for a marriage in the willingness to sacrifice all for your spouse.

The same sociological degredation that is destroying our marriages also causes distrust in the community at large. We suspect, often correctly so, that when others ask how we are doing today they don't really want to know the truth.
We are often more concerned with whether we are being awkward than with building true friendships. We don't engage others on a level where they are in a position to influence us positively because we don't trust that they will actually want to help us. Furthermore, and not so tangentially, the homosexual agenda has caused otherwise straight people to fear this sociological intimacy that is necessary for personal influential accountability.

When we don't recieve the emotional intimacy we need through appropriate means, we are prone to percieve that the need can be met in otherwise inappropriate ways. A husband who finds himself attracted to a woman who is not his wife percieves that she will meet the needs that are not being met otherwise. For a church to handle an adulterous husband with proper church discipline is good. However, when the church fails to encourage the appropriate relationships that would have prevented the adultery in the first place, then the church as a body needs to repent for they have not ministered to the sinful man and encouraged righteousness. Indeed, the ills of fallen society have permeated our Christian fellowship.

I've become increasingly convicted of this and have sought to find a means to encourage the growth of a men's ministry in my church which has a corporate foundation, but draws on the strength of the personal invesment of individuals in the ministry. A program will fail, but changing sociological expectations is the only way to succeed in changing the viability of marriages in the church. If you are a Christian man, I encourage you to take steps in your own church to these ends for it is only on a local level through the actions of individuals that this trend will change and we will become truly faithful to Christ in our marriages.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Magi and the Star

Matthew 2

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.'"

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

I have had a lot of questions about this passage. Two related biggies:

  1. What exactly is the "star"?
  2. How did the magi obtain their information about the Hebrew Messiah?

I've considered that the star was just some astrological "alignment" that resulted in the occultic conclusion that the Messiah was going to be born. Hey, God can use whatever means necessary, can't He? I've also considered that it could be some sort of astronomical anomaly. You know, some star went supernova or something, or three planets/stars lined up just like in the movie and made a bright place. I don't think either of these is correct.

The word "anatole" in Greek refers to a dawning, or rising star. It is often translated "in the East" in this passage. Here I have used the ESV which translates it, "when it rose". It matters not whether it rose in the east like any other astronomical object or if it rose in the west. If it was an astronomical object it would have rose in the east. However, it "went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was". It takes a lot of linguistic gymnastics to make this phrase figurative where such figurative phrases don't exist elsewhere. Therefore, I don't believe it was astrological. The magi had been in Jerusalem. Bethlehem is a scant 5 miles south of Jerusalem. Any astronomical anomaly would not show a discernible distinction between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. My conclusion? I don't know. For One who Created the Universe, this sort of thing is right up His alley. It rather goes along with the parting of the Red Sea. Miraculous, I'd say.

So what of the knowledge of the Magi. Scholars are pretty certain they came from Persia. There was once a Hebrew prophet who seemed to specialize in details of the advents of Christ, particularly the second. Daniel spent his life in Persia. He was well known by the Persians to be a man of God and harbored great wisdom and understanding. He had once been placed in a position of power - that of the head of the magi:

Daniel 5

10 The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, "O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. 11 There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father — your father the king — made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12 because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation."

The magi almost certainly had personal prophecy from Daniel written down that they would have used to know the general time and location of the birth of the Hebrew Messiah. Incidentally, why else would they care and how could they understand the appropriate gifts to bring a child king prepared to die for His people?

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What's the Measure of Your Heart?

"A heart is not judged by how much you love but by how much you are loved by others." The Wizard of Oz (to the Tin Man)

Are you lovable? None of us are intrinsically lovable. One might wonder if the Wiz even had it right. It's true that we are commanded by Christ to love, but is that the measure of our heart?

I've been editing a video of our recent Christmas Concert at church. Right now, I'm waiting for the final cut of the second piece to export. It has 40 more minutes. What's missing from it is some fantastic camera work done by a girl studying cinematography in college. She even brought a good high-definition video camera from school. it uses the same miniDV tapes that mine does. When she was done, she gave me the tapes. I took them home and found out that the high-def format isn't playable on my camera. There was no way for me to capture the video she took with her camera.

We met at church, she with her camera and I with my laptop and had a capture party. After fiddling with the hardware to get the computer to recognize the camera, we were off. We captured all the video and I got to see the great closeups she got. A few hours later we were finished and I had some great video saved to files on my hard drive - or so I thought. When I got home, I found the files and tried to play them. They were blank except for some video that she shot with my camera. The format wasn't compatible with my software. I just don't have the capacity to process high-definition video. The greatest video I have are clips I can't use. All that work for nothing.

What is the measure of the value of the video? Is it merely utilitarian? That's what I'm tempted to say here. The high-def clips are useless. They exceed the capacity of the program. They outshine the quality of the other video but no one will ever see them. I have the tapes and no means to play them or use them. They will not make the final cut. However, their value transcends their usefulness. In them is encoded the greatest expression of the Christmas program that I have and I will treasure what they represent.

The pattern of Christ is encoded in creation. The Bible is inerrant and is our certain source of truth. However, truth exists outside the text of the Bible inasmuch as it agrees with the text of the Bible. This truth is to be sought for its intrinsic value. This is why I used the quote from the Wizard of Oz. I'll also use this song from Icicle Works:

My friend and I, were talking one evening,
Beside some burning wood,
Trading tales of places we came upon,
When the times were good,

Spoke of a girl he viewed like no other,
Whom he had come to know,
I swallowed hard and listened intently,
Resigned beside the glow...

Always there, it's standing proudly,
When all else falls down,
It's all around you, didn't it find you,
When you said you couldn't be found,

When love calls me, I will be running swiftly,
To find out just what all the fuss is all about,
Unrelentless, deep in the strangest feelings,
Believe me, love is full of wonderful colour...

I insist that you pick the wrong one,
To preach your theories to,
Simmer down, we'll run for a reason,
To see what faith can do,

Love is a beacon, on the horizon,
Watch when you touch down,
Reality finds you fumbling for reasons,
when the chance comes 'round

Take my confidence to guide you,
Through the fallen hope inside you,
Love is full of wonderful colour

Who knows precisely what the composer really meant by these words. This is a style of writing that is often nebulous although it sounds deep. however, there are some things to note that are pertinent to my observation here. Although, "a girl he viewed like no other" seems to indicate that the value is in the one who loves, he's talking about being loved: "didn't it find you, When you said you couldn't be found". "Take my confidence to guide you, through the fallen hope inside you." While these words can be interpreted different ways, the measure of our heart is not in that we love, but that we are loved. When we have hope in no other and when we are alone in this world, the value of our heart is in the love that we are given by God.

I love the word "confidence". We usually attribute this to someone who is self-assured. However, the word literally means "with faith". In whom do we have faith? If we measure the value of our heart by our own capacity to love, we have faith in ourselves. If we measure the value of our heart by how much we are loved, we have faith in another. "...we'll run for a reason, To see what faith can do, Love is a beacon, on the horizon." Do we operate according to our own capacity to understand or do we have a sure source of guidance?

I'm not referencing the Bible for a reason here. This is a truth that is easily found in the Bible. Do you know it well enough to find it in there? If not, then perhaps you don't know the love that God has for you. It is a truth that is pervasive enough for the Wizard of Oz to pick up on it as well as the decidedly secular New Age band, Icicle Works.

God loves you enough to come to this world in the person of the Son, born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. He loves you enough to pay the penalty for your inability to love and your status as one who is unlovable. Nevertheless, He loves you. The value of your heart is contingent not on your failed attempts at love, but on God's perfect love for you. The value of your heart is not contingent on a truth that you can invent on your own, but on the truth the God gives us. Pick up the Bible and learn the truth about His love if you don't already know it.

God bless you this Christmas season.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bearing One Another's Burdens

I generally don't like to repeat others' materials. I enjoy a fertile mind and like to share unique observations. I read people who analyze things. Analysis is taking things and breaking them up into mental byte-sized pieces. Synthesis, on the other hand, is taking pieces and discovering transcendent truth by correlation. That's what I do - synthesize.

However, sometimes something comes along that is worth repeating. "The Constructive Curmudgeon" is Dr. Douglas Groothius: Philosopher, professor, preacher, writer. He wrote a short article entitled "Suffering and Listening". I commented in his meta with the following passages:

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah. (Psalm 68:19)

But He said, "Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46)

Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. (Galatians 6:2-5)

This was in response to this poignant article:

Suffering and Listening

1. If you listen to [those] who address you with their suffering, you will suffer more yourself. But you will also put yourself into a sympathetic or even empathetic position.

2. If you listen to those who address you with their suffering, you will decrease the suffering of the one suffering.

3. If you fail to listen to those who address you with their suffering, you will increase the suffering of the one suffering.

Now, what of a religion whose aim is to alleviate suffering through detachment from it?

What kind of ministry do you have for those who suffer? Do you alleviate or increase the suffering of others? What religion do you practice as a Christian? Do you bear the burdens of others? Do you need others to help you bear your burdens but find yourself alone?

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Do You Have the Mind of Christ?

I run sound for my Sunday School classroom. We have perhaps 150 on the roll and about 130 show up each Sunday. Someone suggested that we break up into smaller classes of 10-15 people, but we just don't have 10-15 spare classrooms. Perhaps the reason we are so large is because we get teaching like this:

David Moss is a fellow homeschool dad. He and his wife, Nettie, met as students at Moody Bible Institute and fell in love as missionaries in Japan. He has a masters degree in literature, teaches college English and is an accomplished finish carpenter. He's also my Sunday School teacher. It's not that I don't know the material that he teaches, but if I could speak like this I wouldn't need to waste my time blogging. Sometimes I get nice comments, but largely I think my thoughts just disperse into the vast cacophonous void of the Internet archived for the chance searcher or surfer to scan through on their way to some other informational destination.

Yet I have the mind of Christ. God knows. Although I have very little encouragement, all I can do is use what He has given me to the best of my ability to glorify Him. If all this appears to be in vain, then it is for God to use as He sees fit. I have merely done what I could with what I have. My intent is not visceral, but highly principled.

Do you have the mind of Christ? Do the best with what you have in the interest of glorifying God. You may never know what impact you have. Act on the clear principles found in the scriptures and deny mere intuition.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Relative Time and Truth Games

How does Santa Claus deliver all those presents? It's more than just magic, it's science.

I like to play truth games with the kids. Paul is a little young to get the game, but Luke and Hope get it; and they participate very well. Daddy's truth games challenge the perception of reality. Sometimes I play by reacting to cartoon characters on the kids' programs as though they were real. I've also done the same with Santa Claus. The truth game is to figure out how Santa Claus delivers all those toys in just one night without losing sight of the fact that it's purely fiction.

My speculation is that Santa Claus is able to simultaneously fly and get around very quickly because he, his sleigh and reindeer are in a gravity well caused by the mass of all those toys at the center and the weight of the imaginations of all those kids who believe in him at the perimeter. This is why Santa goes away if kids don't believe in him anymore according to all the legends purported by the infallible Hollywood. He's simply unable to create the necessary gravity well.

Of course Santa doesn't exist. I know this empirically because no present has ever ended up under my tree that didn't come from someone I knew. There are atheists or even agnostics who may read this and conclude that the same sort of criteria can demonstrate the futility of believing in God. However, I argue that the physical and historical evidence as well as the philosophical derivation of bivalent logical calculus overwhelmingly demonstrates the necessity of a Creator. I won't go into all these now. That's not the purpose of this post.

Christ told His disciples to be the light of the world. He himself was the light of the world, born in a feed trough in a suburb of Jerusalem. This is a light that is still being shed in new parts of the world. Pray for Paulas in Nepal and his YWAM team as they have taken the gospel to a village where it has never been taken for Christmas. it is no truth game to assent to the truth of the gospel and have faith.

Even scientists play truth games and lead some theologians astray. The same scientists who will argue for the "big bang" theory will also argue that distant light from stars have taken billions of years to get here. Yet the big bang theoy has a flaw in its treatment of the speed of light and time dilation. Not understood is the relationship of space to the proximity of objects experiencing extreme time dilation and the passage of light through this space. I've always asked myself why this hasn't been fully investigated or if it has why it hasn't been seriously regarded. The answer is that scientists have been playing truth games.

I've investigated light and time dilation in bits and pieces, but Answers in Genesis has published a recent article which sums it up nicely. Just like Santa Claus, it's a matter of what you believe: As long as the belief in scientific myths like the big bang and the constancy of time are ascribed to, naturalism will persist. The truth, however, doesn't need our assent to be true. It is astonishing the distance light has traveled, but it needn't have taken billions of years to get here. Christ came from even beyond the boundaries of this temporal universe and he arrived precisely on time - the true light of the earth whose gift came to all at once: a gift that lay not under a tree, but hung on it affixed there with nails and adorned with ribbons of scarlet. A host of angels waited idly by for a command they would not receive as they watched the Light dispel the darkness of sin from among men.

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Magi Infiltration

I've always wondered about the magi. Who were they, really? I've read speculations and seen them on Bible-lite TV programs. The scholarship most likely correct by my estimation is that they were men of Persia tasked with the handling of great knowledge and consulted for the same.

I've heard speculation about this star. I've heard it speculated that it was some astrological conjunction rather than an astronomical anomaly. According to the text of the Bible the star was seen in the east which would have been in the opposite direction from which the magi had to travel. They knew they had to travel west for they were from the east. The star moved until it lay over Bethlehem. The magi had already come to Jerusalem. The difference is a mere 5 miles. The "star" was perhaps not even astronomical if one could distinguish the difference between it hovering over Bethlehem and were it to hover over Jerusalem. So how did they arrive at the conclusion that this star was going to lead them to Judea?

Well, it's always cool when you learn something new. I believe they had knowledge that this was going to happen. I just read this article which notes that the Hebrew prophet Daniel, during the exile, was appointed chief of the Magi in Persia. Read Daniel 4:9; 5:11. A true prophet of God... Would he not leave information of the future coming of the messiah? It's too cool how God used the exile to glorify the incarnation of His Son and bring prophesy through the gifts as to His status as king, priest and savior.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Exhibiting True Joy

Tonight I'm singing in a Catawba Valley Community College Community Choir Christmas presentation in Hickory. (Okay - that's a lot of Cs) This is the first of it's kind. The primary director (there are six), Mike Kirby, calls it the "Christmas Colossus". We have about 250 people in the choir accompanied by the Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra, the Statesville Senior High School Drum Corps and a hand bell choir - about 350 musicians in all. (My band director from way back in HS is the first horn player. He also played at our church concert. I still call him "Mr. Merritt". He was my music mentor and introduced me to many of the different styles of music I enjoy today as well as the physics behind harmonics and music theory.)

Mike Kirby is a Christian. The other two vocal directors probably are also. The director of the orchestra may not be. As all directors who direct joyous Christmas music, the admonition for the choir is to express joy as we sing about joy. Rodney Harrison, the director of worship at my church, admonished us to do the same. We're Christians - this is easy. We know, or should know, the difference between joy and happiness. As Christians, we have experienced true joy. Many of the musicians participating in the Christmas Colossus are not Christians. It is unreasonable to expect anyone who doesn't know true joy to express joy.

There is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness comes and goes. Joy is everlasting. It overlaps, I would say, the "peace that passes all understanding" (Phil 4:7). As Christians we can have joy when we are sapped of our temporal happiness. We have the certain hope of the promise of salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Those who do not know Christ and are not regenerate do not have this experience. To them, our joy is mere happiness and can be seen to come and go. But to hear in the worst of times that we still have joy is incomprehensible to them. When we express joy, it is not always with a smile. But when we are happy, our happiness is backed by something other than momentary glee which waxes and wanes. When we have no temporal reason to express anything else, it is this eternal source from which the Christian can express the joy that is a constant for us.

May you have a truly joyous season. May you know the love of a God who offered up His Son as the only worthy sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin. May you see the cross in manger and know that the baby is precious because of the road He would walk and the sin He would bear - yet not His sin, but ours.

Merry Christmas.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007


rhap·so·dy audio (rps-d) KEY

pl. rhap·so·dies
  1. Exalted or excessively enthusiastic expression of feeling in speech or writing.
  2. A literary work written in an impassioned or exalted style.
  3. A state of elated bliss; ecstasy.
  4. Music A usually instrumental composition of irregular form that often incorporates improvisation.
  5. An ancient Greek epic poem or a portion of one suitable for uninterrupted recitation.
Latin rhapsdia, section of an epic poem, from Greek rhapsidi, from rhapsidein, to recite poems : rhaptein , rhaps-, to sew; see wer- 2 in Indo-European roots + aoid, id, song; see wed- 2 in Indo-European roots

Provided by Houghton Mifflin

I've chosen this term to indicate a post where I mix together unrelated elements. Yet in the grand scheme of things it is all ultimately related in import and ideology. It's musical, poetic, eclectic, diverse yet harmonious. To illustrate the diversity in my own life I offer to you another round of Bela Fleck:



Fusion Jazz brings styles together in unique ways. Bela not only incorporates styles, but he brings together instruments that are not typically used together. Who would think to use a banjo, steel drums and bassoon together? My life is like this. A mixture of cultures, endeavors, gifts and abilities. I don't know that any of the men in this band are Christian. I would pray that they are or that they are made alive in Christ if they are not.

I've been reading the Bible with the kids in the evening. They've gotten to where they really like this. They beg to read yet another chapter. We always do a psalm with whatever we read and we have been doing them in order as we go through Matthew. They have been astonished as to how the Psalms seem to match up with what we just read as though it was planned that way. Last night, Hope tried to read ahead to see how they would match up. I feigned scorn and said, "Don't do that! What are you trying to do, read the Bible or something?"

Two nights ago we read the end of Matthew which included the tearing of the veil at the time of Jesus' death. I looked up a drawing of the tabernacle and explained how the temple was built to be like a "permanent" tabernacle. The veil separates us from the holy of holies where God's presence was to be. Once a year a priest would go in and if he did one thing wrong he could die. The other priests would have to drag him out without going in there themselves. So I asked the kids what the veil was for.

"It separates us from God," they concluded after thinking about it a short bit.

"What happened to it's purpose when it was torn," I asked?

"We weren't separated from Him anymore," Luke said with a smile.

Hope's eyes got big and an excited smile came across her face. "Hey! I know why Jesus had to die," she exclaimed. "If we do something wrong, we die. He died so that we wouldn't die if we messed up."


My friend Kim posted some pictures of her Christmas decor, so I'll return the favor. I endeavored to photograph the lights and played around with the manual settings on my cheap digital camera. Here are the results:

This is the front of the house.

Paul and Hope sitting on the porch railing under the icicle lights. Icicles in the NC piedmont? They're rare and never this large.

Detail of the stuff hanging on the lattice.

The tree in the front room. Yes, it's in front of the fireplace. We rarely use the fireplace anyway, but it would be nice to decorate the fireplace and put the tree elsewhere. However, there is no elsewhere for the tree.

Detail of the tree with knick-knacks on the mantle. The partially occluded bear is definitely part of the Christmas decor. The painted terra cotta doll is from Venezuela. The framed thing is a wedding invitation that someone colored and framed and presented to us on our wedding.

Most of the ornaments on the tree are an ecclectic collection of gifts and crafts. It's homey, but meaningful, and certainly fits the Rhapsody theme.

And, since I am a bit of a Trekkie, I took this silly Star Trek personality quiz:

Your results:
You are An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Deanna Troi
Beverly Crusher
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Will Riker
Geordi LaForge
Jean-Luc Picard
Mr. Sulu
Mr. Scott
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Since your accomplishments are seldom noticed,
and you are rarely thought of, you are expendable.
That doesn't mean your job isn't important but if you
were in Star Trek you would be killed off in the first
episode you appeared in.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test

Ok - That's disappointing. I'm expendable. I may sing the occasional solo at church, but by and large what I do, or what I can do, indeed goes unnoticed. The solos are fluff.

Look back at the previous post and see the photo of me dressed up like the 1940s. I've always said that the 40s was my era. WWII was my war. Glenn Miller was my band leader. There was a man named Mark Ma who saw that the gospel had progressed westward since the Great Commission. Now the great frontier of the gospel was China. In the 1940s, Mark Ma had a vision to take the gospel beyond China and traverse the nations between China and the Holy Land to take the gospel to the people of those lands back to Jerusalem. His vision was halted by the Chinese government. Over the years the vision dimmed and was nearly lost when it was discovered by Chinese Christians over a decade ago. Now the vision is in full swing. Last night I heard from Chinese missionaries that the vision is being realized with the sending of Chinese missionaries into the "-stan" countries.

Mark Ma was stopped and never saw his vision realized. He was marginalized and passed into the next world unaware of the impact his vision would have. He was expendable, but he will not be forgotten.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Merry Christmas From the 1940s

[sings] There's a Christmas party at the home of farmer Grey...

This is my wife and I in our 1940s attire this past weekend during our Christmas concert series.

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Dr. Abraham Reveals Subversive Religion

In 2004 Dr. Nathaniel Abraham was fired from the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in New England when his belief in divine creation became known. Dr. Abraham is a citizen of India and also nearly had his visa rescinded. He was subsequently hired as a professor at Liberty University, but he lost the capacity to do the research he desires to do. Since his dismissal was over his theological beliefs and not contingent on his scientific study, he has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the institute for religious discrimination. Read more at Answers in Genesis.

I wonder what religion was being discriminated against? Being Indian, a name like "Dr. Nathaniel Abraham" makes me think he's Christian, not to mention his current employment with Liberty. But creationists can be Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion. The argument from the Institute could be that they weren't discriminating against a religion per se, but only against a belief that happens to be held only by people who are religious in general. However, there are people who believe in God, but aren't religious and there are atheists who are rather religious about their atheism.

And that's my observation. Naturalists argue that belief in God is untestable and therefore unreasonable. But it is unreasonable to claim something is untestable if we merely haven't developed a scientific methodology for testing it. Therefore, denial of the existence in God is no less unreasonable than belief in the existence of God. In fact, initial belief in God is contingent on assent to the veracity of the evidence of God. Sustained belief in God for the Christian is contingent not on external evidence, but recognition that the assent itself was of God and that spiritual growth is internal. (I don't mean to imply that non-Reformed theologians don't recognize God's activity in their life, but they may not recognize the gift of initial faith.) Therefore, belief in God is more reasonable to those who have the additional evidence of a personal relationship with Him than the denial of God by those who do not.

To be clear, I'll state this another way by way of example. Take the old shell game. The ball goes under one cup and it is mixed around by the shell game artist with two cups under which there is nothing. After the shuffle, the artists asks the gambler which cup the ball is under. He doesn't know, but he thinks he does. The ball may have been transfered by way of slight of hand from one cup to another by the artist, but the gambler doesn't know which. He can't see under the cups. With respect to science, this means he cannot test to determine which cup the ball is under. If the gambler were a naturalist, he would argue that there is no ball under any of the cups because he cannot test it. The artist has a buddy he calls over. He carefully lets his buddy peek under each cup and see for himself where the ball is. The buddy now knows where the ball is and tells the gambler which cup the ball is under. The gambler argues that there is no ball under any cup because he cannot see it, but the buddy has personal knowledge of the ball. This is why it is more reasonable for the buddy to believe there is a ball - and to know which cup the ball is under.

The charge of "religious discrimination" brings this fact to light. If is is discrimination, on what basis was the discrimination made? If it is religious to believe one thing and not another that is mutually exclusive, then would it not likewise be religious to believe the other? If the belief in God is a religious belief, it is a belief that is held by many different organized religious groups. It is held by people like Anthony Flew who are not particularly religious, or who do not identify with one group or another. Therefore, belief in the nonexistence of God is likewise a religious belief although most of those who hold this belief do not belong to an organized religious group. After all, I have demonstrated that membership is not necessarily concordant with assent.

There is a difference between belief in a Creator and a belief that the Creator created. The notion that it is tolerable to accept the reasoning of someone who would believe in a Creator but doubt that He Created any of this rather than someone who actually held a reasonably consistent theology indicates the lack of reason by which the Institution establishes its beliefs. Nevertheless, we can conclude that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a religious organization that requires its members to adhere to a certain set of unreasonable beliefs. The established method for the determination of the validity of scientific credentials and discovery is peer review, NOT institutional dogma.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Black And Reformed

Some of our brothers and sisters who hail from the black American culture hold to a reformed soteriology. This is no small thing for them and Pastor Lance pointed to a discussion at The Council of Reforming Churches that asks the question, "Can we be both Black and Reformed?"

I was born in what was then a rather homogeneous area of Ohio and raised there throughout my early formative years. My exposure to Black culture was on TV with programs like Good Times and Fat Albert. I was (and still am) vocally imitative. My kids love for me to read to them because I affect different voices. I could imitate nearly all the the Fat Albert gang. Despite these television shows, I knew little of the real black culture they caricatured. On a trip to Detroit for my dad to obtain his ham radio license, we left very early in the morning and brought breakfast with us to eat on our arrival. I remember my aunt offering leftover orange juice to a black lady on the street and getting a strange look.

A few years later we moved south and I was introduced further to black culture. As far as I could see, these were people like any other people who had been dealt a difficult cultural hand. However, my new associates were kind in general and I made several friends among them. In high school, I enjoyed hours of writing and improvising jazz with a remarkable saxophone player who happened to be black. I even had a chance to sing in a black country church one Christmas. The walls of the small church were held together by a small cable and the church was packed. The choir was small but dynamic and I could swear the whole building moved with praises to God. I fell in love with black gospel music then.

In the Marines I continued to broaden my experience with brothers in arms who were black. For a short time I played with an R&B group that played base clubs - we did Keith Sweat stuff mostly. The group gave me my black nickname "P-bone". Many of my fellow jarheads who were "dark green" (they said there was no white and black - only green) were also brothers in Christ. As I strayed from the faith, among the brothers God sent to bring me back was a godly black man named Larry Williams. I started going to the base chapel and sang in the choir. The choir director was black and the choir was thoroughly mixed. We sang a variety of things, but I learned how to sway and clap here.

I love learning different cultures. I was envious of my wife and children as they spent the summer in Venezuela and received firsthand experience of the culture there. I love reading mission books like "Cowboy Boots in Darkest Africa" by Dr. Bill Rice and "Peace Child" by Don Richardson. I've been deployed to England and the Middle East with the Marines and Venezuela on missions. All these required some education as to developing and utilizing an understanding of the culture.

Some observations regarding cultures:

1) Multiple cultures can provide an opportunity to destroy moral mores in each. Wisdom must be employed when transversing or mixing cultures that the law of God as manifested differently in each is not compromised.
2) Mot people understand only a single culture and other cultures often prove to be a stumblingblock to them. In this case a certain lack of cultural sensitivity is to be anticipated and some education may be lovingly offered to these.
3) Culture is fluid and changes over time, often at dramatically different rates. I'll call this "cultural progression".
4) Cultural progression carries with it popular philosophies and outlooks that influence the understanding of the people in that culture. This understanding has theological ramifications for any religious group with a contingency in that culture.
5) Reciprocally, the introduction of theological concepts influences cultural progression.
6) Therefore, Christians must understand that a culture may cloud the truth of the gospel in some ways and reveal it particularly well in others.

With regard to Reformed theology, we should understand that much of our theology is a reaction to theologies we regard as false for whatever reason. Reformed theology, by definition, is a reaction to the poor theology of the Roman Catholic Church - originally with regard to Pharisaical abuses where ecclesiology and soteriology overlap. The purpose therefore is to arrive at the truth.

I am a Reformed theologian because I believe it is the best reading of scripture, not because I necessarily want Reformed Theology to be true. I want what's true to be true and I didn't particularly like Reformed theology when I started realizing the teachings in scripture. They challenged my previous understanding. However, I wanted to align myself with truth, so I changed my understanding and reassessed my presuppositions. My personal culture (if there is such a thing) changed. My prayer is that it has changed to be more in accordance with the transcendent culture of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, whatever culture that can be identified, whether white, black, Asian, Hispanic, or any number of the hundreds or thousands of particular iterations of culture in the world, can be said to have elements that cloud the truth and elements the reveal the truth. We must be diligent to cast off those elements that cloud the truth and use those elements that reveal the truth to proclaim the truth. From 1 Corinthians chapter 9:

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.

20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;

21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.

22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.

23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

This past weekend, I sang a little solo with my wife at church in a portion of a program that was choreographed and styled after the 1940s white American culture. I wore a top hat, a coat and scarf over my tux. My wife wore a nice 1940s style dress and makeup. People knew that we were from 2007, but they understood the words I sang in the context of the 1940s. It made a nice warm-up for a program that was otherwise steeped in worship and praise for our God who deigned to become a man so as to pay the penalty of sin for men.

So, can you be black and reformed? Just as much as you can be white and Reformed. If I cannot share the gospel as a white man, I must wear the culture that people understand as though it were a piece of costumed attire. "You're not one of us, are you..." may be the sentiment of someone of a different culture "...but I understand what you are saying."

The multitude of cultures speaks to the extravagance of God's grace. The pursuit of truth is possible in each of them. However, while we can enjoy many of the particulars of a culture in the truth, there are elements that must be cast off and new elements that must be added. The culture must change as we grow closer to God. This is true of the white culture as well as the black culture. You can be black and Reformed with the understanding that the grace of God is greater than all this.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Depression and Spiritual Growth

It's tempting when you are depressed to read something like this:

“There is more purchasing power, more music, more education, more books, worldwide instant communication, and more entertainment than ever before,” the psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman wrote in 2004. “But contrary to the economic statistics,” they continue, “all the statistics on depression and demoralization are getting worse.”


As Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has written, “We are in the midst of an epidemic of depression, one with consequences that, through suicide, takes as many lives as the AIDS epidemic and is more widespread.”

...and be comforted by the fact that you are a part of a trend that someone in an important position out there somewhere better fix.

Look at this article in Reason Magazine by Will Wilkinson reporting on a new book: The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder, by Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield, New York: Oxford University Press, 287 pages, $29.95

I'm a basket case if there ever was one. I'm not manic-depressive, but I can be ecstatic and near-suicidal at the same time. I'm just as emotional as I am reasonable and logical. It makes method acting easy for me - all I have to do is chose which of any set of emotions I'm feeling at any given time and exhibit those. However it makes questions like "How are you?" difficult to answer fully. I'm writing this to indicate some of the experience with which I can comment on this matter.

There is a good use for anti-depressants. When you have an individual who is non-functional as a result of his or her depression, drugs may be used to restore a person to some semblance of functionality. My wife has taken anti-depressants in an effort to reduce her need for pain medication with regard to her fibromyalgia.

However, psychiatrists who prescribe psychotropic drugs in an effort to avoid addressing presuppositional errors or sociological conditioning resulting in depression in individuals are lazy. Drugs may treat the symptoms, but the cause must be addressed. Our emotions are a gift from God. They allow us to respond to stimuli in ways that raw reason is either not sufficient or too inefficient to address. If we had to leave it up to reason to select a mate for reproduction, then we may never find the motivation necessary. If we lacked the capacity to fear, then we would find ourselves indecisive in important situations where we would need to flee or engage danger while we paused to calculate the odds and debate the moral and ethical ramifications of any given number of actions. Without sufficient sadness, we would lack the capacity to find the companionship we need to establish beneficial community.

In other words, when we are "depressed" we understand a change needs to be made in order to assuage the depression. Such a pursuit is beneficial to us. Ultimately our relational needs must bring us to the throne of our Creator. Depression is a gift of God that brings us to Himself. Christ in Gethsemane suffered such extreme anxious depression (sounds contradictory, I know) as to cause capillaries to burst in his sweat glands. Our lot is not to die for the sins of the world for only one can and has done this, but depression can spur us on to great things.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Invalent Matthew 25

I can’t find “invalent” in any of my dictionaries. Apparently, I’m not the first to use the term. Most instances I can find in the vast writings found on the immense trade land of ideas of the internet are a misspelling of “invalid” or “indolent”. I have found a screen name of someone who calls him/herself “invalent”. Then I have found the term contrived for use in technical discourse in the areas of philosophy and chemistry. I’m contriving it for my own purposes and I’ll define it for you:

The prefix “in-” can mean “not” (negative) or “into” (positive). The suffix “-valent” means to have a valence specified by the prefix. Valence has the etymological definition “capacity” and is relate top words like “value” or “valid”. If something is invaluable, then it is priceless. If it is invalid it is worthless. (Someone who is an “invalid” is incapacitated in some respect.)

Since “invaluable” and “invalid” already have established meanings with one or the other meanings of the prefix “in-”, and since “invalent” isn’t likely to hit the dictionaries in general usage anytime soon, I’m coining it for my own usage. As such, it is unknown to any who understand any meaning of the suffix “-valent” to know which meaning of the prefix “in-” I intend. This is fitting, for I intend the meaning to be perfectly ambiguous.

Valence also has a couple of other interesting definitions that apply. In psychology, valence is the degree of attraction or aversion that an individual feels toward a specific object or event. Valence, in general, can also be the capacity of something to unite, react, or interact with something else.

So, when asked how I am doing today I may reply, “Simply invalent, thank you.” This will leave the questioner entirely in the dark. If they think about it, they may arrive at the conclusion that my response was intended to be ambiguous and that perhaps that is indeed how I am feeling today.

Which, by the way, is how I feel most days: both invaluable and worthless. Consider that this term could apply to some victims toward their abductors/abusers/attackers where they find a certain attraction to them. I’ve heard of it happening in hostage situations. There are people who stake their sociological claims by devaluing others. They often become popular among those they devalue. The reason is because the ones who are being devalued notice the popular attention that such individuals attract and unreasonably believe that sociological proximity to these people can obtain for them the sociological value that has been usurped from them. Another example may be the capacity to interact sociologically on one level but not another, which is what you get when people ask questions like, “How are you today?” They don’t often want the truth.

But this has theological value as well.

Linus is certainly trying to be contrite. I might believe it if this were written my Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown hopes beyond hope that Lucy will not pull the football away time after time. From him she merely obtains entertainment value at his physical and emotional duress. She doesn’t value his dream of kicking the football. Yet his desire is less in kicking the football as it is hoping that Lucy will value him enough not to pull it away at the last moment. Charlie Brown has been beaten down enough to see himself as less than valuable.

Enter the eschatological Matthew 25. I read this with the kids last night and realized something about the parable of the talents that I had never noticed before. I asked the kids if they had ever learned about the parable of the talents in Sunday School or some other class at church. Hope didn’t recall it, but Luke did. I asked if they had a side note in their study Bibles that expounded on this passage. Luke read one from his and I asked him if this was the lesson that he was taught from this passage. This, he affirmed, was the case.

The lesson is one I’m sure we’ve all heard if we’ve ever heard a lesson from this passage. This is that we should use the gifts and talents we have been given for building the Kingdom of Heaven. You may think of such abilities to teach, preach, sing, evangelize, etc, as the gifts and talents we have been given. This is a good lesson. We should want to serve God with those things we are equipped to do. However, I realized last night that this lesson doesn’t fit the eschatological context.

Matthew 24 establishes clearly that Christ is talking about the “end-times”. The first verse of Chapter 25 affirms that He is still teaching about the “end-times”. “Then [or at that time] the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins…” He then tells a parable about being prepared for the second coming of Christ. Immediately after the parable of the talents is the account of the judgment of the “lambs” and the “goats”. When does this take place? In the “end-times”. Why would we not understand the parable of the talents in light of Christ’s teaching of eschatology?

For the virgins, what is the price of admission to the wedding banquet? Oil in the lamps? Just to be on time? Well, we know that they needed oil in their lamps to get down the road to the place where they needed to be, but they didn’t keep their lamps filled. It doesn’t seem that the issue was that they needed money, but that they had not invested the money and the time they had in the very substance that would ensure their preparedness.

In the judgment, the sheep are admitted and the goats are excluded on what basis? The sheep gave to the least of these brothers of Christ and the goats did not. The sheep gave acts of simple grace to otherwise worthless people. They invested in Christ by doing so.

As an aside, why did Christ make the distinction between sheep and goats if He also made the distinction between giving and not giving? Could it be that there is an intrinsic difference implied between “sheep” and “goats” in this account? What if a sheep didn’t give? What if a goat did? Would the goat who gave magically become a sheep? Would the sheep who failed to give magically become a goat? How would Arminius answer this question? ‘Nuff said.

So what is the parable of the talents about? It is about investing, but what are we investing? When I realized this, I directed the kids to Romans 5:16-17. The gift, I argued is the gift of grace and the righteousness of Christ. I asked them what would happen if they give grace and righteousness away? Would they run out of grace and righteousness? I saw the lights go on in their heads. “No,” they replied, “God gives us more.” I explained that when we give grace and righteousness, we are given more. Plus, someone else has received grace and righteousness. The kingdom of heaven has been propagated.

On the other hand, if we have received the gift of grace and righteousness and have hidden it away for fear that someone else will have it, then we have not invested properly in the kingdom of heaven. It has not been propagated. As new creations, we have not been fruitful and multiplied. If it is grace, then it must be given away – or it is no longer grace. So, whoever does not give the gift of grace that has been given, from them will be taken the gift of grace. Lest you think I’m contradicting the perseverance of the saints, there is a matter where we have all been given some general grace. For those who bear the mind of the Master, they will give general grace and receive the particular grace of salvation. Like the virgins who gave their money and obtained oil early.

Grace and the righteousness of Christ are valuable. The investment of such in the lives of others yields extraordinary dividends in the kingdom of heaven. For the Charlie Browns among us who would hope for a Christmas present yet are convinced of their own lack of value, they may receive a gift that is more valuable than a toy that will break in a couple of weeks. They may receive the free gift of grace and righteousness.

It is a source of constant frustration that yields a feeling of worthlessness that my particular gifts and talents are underutilized for the kingdom of Christ. Yet, I know that have invested where I could if only with the “bankers”, among the people of God. Perhaps it is that my abundant gifts are a special blessing for the very few to whom I am able to offer them. Do you desire to use the gifts that God has given you for His glory? Especially, do you seek to give away the gift of grace and the righteousness of Christ that you have received? Are you worthless, but have been given the invaluable gift? This, you have to give. You also can be “invalent”?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Building an Understanding of Baptist Calvinism

I’ve been listening to some of the podcasts of the Building Bridges Conference at Ridgecrest last week. Today, I’ve been working through Malcolm Yarnell’s talk on “Calvinism: A Cause for Rejoicing, A Cause for Concern”. He is a non-Calvinist. I appreciate his comments. I think he has dealt fairly with Calvinism for the most part. There are a couple of issues that he brings up that gives me cause to address – perhaps not his own misunderstanding, but certainly the misunderstanding of many non-Calvinists.

He defined the five points of “Classical Calvinism”. To be sure, I don’t see much of a distinction between his definition of Classic Calvinism and Hyper Calvinism. Nevertheless, the five points he gives are these:

Unconditional predestination
Limited or particular atonement
Total human corruption
Irresistible grace

He stated:

“Fisher Humphreys is correct when he notes, ‘anyone who accepts unconditional predestination should have no trouble accepting the other four ideas as they follow naturally from unconditional predestination.’ …By unconditional predestination, classical Calvinism understands not only positive election which scripture definitely affirms, but also negative reprobation which is their mere logical supposition. After the line is crossed into philosophical theology with speculation regarding the divine decrees, there is little holding the Christian theologian back from embracing the soteriological doctrine of Classical Calvinism in its entirety."

Note the sentence I highlighted. One of the complaints I hear from non-Calvinists is that if God elected some to heaven, then you would have to conclude that He elected some to hell. A typical response from a thoughtful Calvinist is that we are already doomed to hell, but the elect are saved by grace. This is not a bad answer.

However, the non-Calvinist qualm employs the deductive “denying the antecedent” fallacy. The syllogism is thus: If I am elect by God to eternal life, then I am not elect by God to go to hell. I am elect by God to eternal life. Therefore, I am not elect by God to go to hell. It is incorrect to conclude that I am elect by God to go to hell if it is given that I am not elect by God to eternal life. The question begged is either that the syllogism is equivalent – namely, “I am elect by God to eternal life if and only if I am not elect by God to go to hell”. However, scripture nowhere affirms that people are condemned to hell because God elected them to it or chose them for hell from the foundations of the earth. Scripture indeed affirms election and predestination for salvation. Therefore, my original syllogism is the scripturally accurate one.

In this case, I think Malcolm Yarnell and I would agree. What troubles me is that too often non-Calvinists assume that Calvinists in general believe in election to hell because the non-Calvinists apply this faulty logic to the doctrine of election.

He makes this next comment by way of illustrating non-Calvinistic missional roots among Southern Baptists:

“..the Hyper Calvinist argument that faith is only available to those possessing a warrant to believe. To argue like the Hyper Calvinists that sinners should not be freely offered the gospel nor invited to respond with faith and repentance is anathema to a missionary Baptist. For instance, Texas union Baptists adopted articles of faith that have been interpreted as Arminian. "We believe that Christ died for sinners and that the sacrifice which He has made has so honored the divine law that the way of salvation is consistently opened up to every sinner to whom the gospel is sent and that nothing but their voluntary rejection of the gospel prevents their salvation." While the claim that such a statement is necessarily Arminian is doubtful, it is definitely not a Calvinist sentiment.”

He also offered a similar statement from Massachusetts. But what I find striking I that aside from the question of a couple of terms, this is not overly non-Calvinist. If it is non-Calvinist, then the only reason I could see why it would be worded so is that there were plenty of Calvinists at the time and the need was felt by non-Calvinists to overreact to some Calvinists who perhaps did have a heretical brand of Calvinism.

The two terms that are dubious here are “opened up” and “voluntary”. Do the writers of this statement mean to indicate that the gospel should be presented to all people or that Christ’s atonement was made for all people. Given the context, I would say the former. If the latter is the intended meaning, then a particular soteriology rather than missiology is being recommended. There is a difference.

The second term “voluntary” is not adverse to Calvinism. Our volition is certain, but dependent on second causes rather than possessing the capacity to be an agent of first causation. All first causation is necessarily unified as eternal. We are saved by faith. Our possession of faith is of second causes. The faithful respond to possession by the Holy Spirit – an eternal agent of first cause. The lack of faith is not an act of volition but rather is exhibited behaviorally. Faith is active while the lack of faith is passive. Behaviors that result in a lack of faith are active. We are responsible for our behaviors. Where there is no faith, we are condemned by our behaviors. Where there is faith, the penalty warranted by our behaviors is atoned for by Christ – an eternal agent of first cause. Therefore, the volition of our faith, while not an autonomous agent of first cause, is freed from responding only to our depravity. We may now respond directly to agents of first cause.

So where does missiology come into play? Why do we have the Great Commission? God can come to people in visions. He still does so today. However, He has made it clear to us that He desires to use us as His second-cause agents of His first-cause activity in the temporal manifestation of the calling of His elect. It is this purpose and command to which we must be obedient. We must proclaim the true gospel and leave it to God to quicken the hearts of men as a matter of first cause. He has given us over to reason that our faith may be shown to be reasonable. He is glorified not only in the response of our second-cause volition to His first-cause quickening, but that our faith may be reinforced with the certainty of the truth and the unfaithful provided with no excuse. Wheat and tares are planted in the same soil.

Malcolm Yarnell further stated:

“With such a history behind Southern Baptists it should be clear that the SBC may be willing to tolerate Baptist Calvinism, and I would argue should be willing to have Baptist Calvinists as brethren in our churches. Classical Calvinism and Hyper Calvinism are singularly unwelcome.”

This is a welcome statement. His gave particular definitions of Classical Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism. There’s apparently a very fine historical distinction. However, I must have missed an elucidation on what he considers acceptable Calvinism. I can think of it, but I’m more concerned for the non-Calvinists who can’t.

He gave three reasons why “the non-Calvinist outlook will continue...”:

1) Southern Baptists are committed to foreign missions.

2) In their own nations, cities and home towns Southern Baptists have greatly emphasized evangelism and church growth.

3) A dispensational view of eschatology which enjoys popularity across the SBC is generally not compatible with Calvinistic theology.

What I have to note is that if missions, evangelism and eschatology are reasons why a non-Calvinistic soteriology will persist, then it is because there is a lack of understanding among many Southern Baptists who incorrectly link a lack of missions, a lack of evangelism and amillennialism with a Calvinist soteriology. In other words, these are not glowing reasons. They speak of a glaring need for improved theological equipping among Southern Baptists in general.

For the record, the reason I, a Southern Baptist who holds to a Calvinistic soteriology, didn't go the 80 miles down the road to the Conference is because it happenned inthe middle of the week. To be sure, I could take vacation days to go. However, I'm saving as many vacation days as possible to do more mission work next summer.

Finally, Malcolm Yarnell gave five benefits and concerns about Calvinism:

1) Calvinism takes Christological Orthodoxy seriously. However, Baptists focus on demonstrable faith.

And Calvinists do not focus on demonstrable faith?

2) Calvinists hold a high view of the Bible. However, the non-Calvinists suspect that Calvinism is a system that is not particularly Biblical, but more philosophical. Must "rightly divide the truth", but not continue to divide it ad infinitum. Some forms of Calvinism, not all, are simply not Biblical enough.

Some forms of non-Calvinism are not Biblical enough. As for being philosophical inasmuch as we are all theologians we are also all philosophers. It is more fruitful to talk about presuppositions. There are theological conclusions that are true and theological conclusions that are false. Likewise, there are philosophical presuppositions that are true and philosophical presuppositions that are false. Calvinists are no more philosophical than non-Calvinists. The question is what presuppositions are true.

3) Calvinists are serious about the gospel. Spurgeon's Calvinism pursues the gospel, but not all forms of Calvinism do. The Classical Calvinist doctrine of salvation is confusing and troubling because they seem to deny the need to repent. Calvinists make a distinction between common grace and special grace, but folk theologians do not because they cannot find it in the Bible. "Non-Calvinist Baptists would call our Calvinist Baptist brethren to reject clearly and permanently the speculative doctrines insofar as they detract from the clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

What is “troubling” is the speculative use of “confusing” and “seem to” as well as a reference to “folk theologians”. What is he talking about? The reason anyone would not find something in the Bible is that their presuppositions preclude a clear understanding. The doctrine of the trinity is not in the Bible any more than, say, limited atonement. God is not mentioned in the book of Esther. However, God is evident in the book of Esther, the doctrine of the trinity is evident from Genesis to Revelation and limited atonement is likewise as clear.

Another thing that is “troubling” is his reference to the “clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” What is sufficiently “clear”? Is it clear enough if the gospel is rejected? What if we are explaining the gospel to someone with impeded mental faculties who cannot understand penal substitution? Should we compromise penal substitution in order to present a gospel that is more understandable? We must communicate the gospel to the best of our ability with as much an understanding of our audience as possible. However, the theology of the gospel must not be compromised for some misperceived level of clarity.

4) Calvinists have been at the forefront of ecclesiological reform. However, the Calvinist teaching of the "invisible church" goes against Baptist congregationalism. Calvinists are to thank for Baptist "historiology". However, they emphasize the history of Baptist Calvinism at the expense of Baptist non-Calvinists.

I have to be honest. I don’t understand precisely what he means by “invisible church”. I know what I would mean if I used that term and what I would mean if I used that term doesn’t contradict congregational ecclesiology. In fact, it would support it. “Invisible” speaks of the fact that our association with true Christians outside of our local congregation transcends any imposed man-made hierarchical ecclesiological government. Looking at how God has revealed Himself throughout history and in the images in prophesy, the parables of Christ and the examples of Paul, God likes to spell things out in simple terms. The microcosm of the local congregation should be a picture of the church at large. That doesn’t defeat congregationalism in the least.

5) Calvinists are good at encouraging genuine Christian living particularly in criticizing the invitation or the altar call. However, there is a need for a public display of one's faith.

Look at the benefit here of encouraging genuine Christian living versus the concern from the first issue. I’m probably just missing something, but these don’t seem to jive. Indeed, he specifies the “invitation” or “altar call” here. As far as that goes, I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve defended the use of the invitation in the face of criticism from non-Calvinists. As such, he may be alluding back to some historic hyper-Calvinists, but I don’t see this at all today among Baptists.

In all, I appreciate his comments. He was exceedingly fair and gracious in his treatment and my commentary here is merely my thoughts as I listened to him. It seems that there remains much that non-Calvinists do not understand of Calvinism. Being a professor of theology, he had a better understanding of Calvinism than most non-Calvinists I know. As long as we seek a greater understanding and to agree on the important issues of the authority and accuracy of the revelation given in the text of the Holy Scriptures, the full gospel of Jesus Christ and the call to righteousness even to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will be unified in Christ.

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