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In Death, a Witness to Life: Kara Tippetts (1976-2015)

Mar 23, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Kara Tippetts went to be with her Lord on Sunday, March 22, 2015.

You can read her obituary here.

She recently wrote on her blog:

My little body has grown tired of battle, and treatment is no longer helping.

But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus.

He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live.

I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives.

I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves.

I get to laugh and cry and wonder over Heaven.

I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and He will provide.

He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love, will cover us all.

And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.

Kara was the author of the book The Hardest Peace, and also the author of an open letter to suicide advocate and victim Brittany Maynard.

Psalm 145:17-19

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him He also hears their cry and saves them

Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 16, 18

13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Revelation 22:20

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

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Screwtape on a 3-Step Plan to Make Faith a Means for Political Gain

Mar 21, 2015 | Justin Taylor

C. S. Lewis’s diabolical advice in Screwtape Letters, chapter 7 (emphasis added):

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.

Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.

Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.

HT: Warren Throckmorten

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Three Free Lectures by Russell Moore: “Onward Christian Strangers: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel”

Mar 20, 2015 | Justin Taylor

onwardRussell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently delivered the Spring 2015 Gheens Lecture Series on the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville (March 18-19, 2015).

Dr. Moore’s next book, to be published in August 2015 by B&H, is entitled Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Moore explains the vision of the book here:

This book is a vision for Christian social engagement in an era in which Christianity is increasingly strange. I think we should own the strangeness, because it’s the freakishness of the gospel that changes things.

In the book, I argue that the church is, if we ever were, a moral majority no more. We are, on our best days, a prophetic minority, rooted in the gospel of the kingdom. This minority status doesn’t mean siege mentality. The prophetic word, after all, uproots and rebuilds. The new era before us, though, gives us the opportunity to toss aside some aspects of our past that never reflected the gospel in the first place: starting with our bargain-basement prosperity gospel.

We are not ambassadors of “traditional values.” We are stewards of the mystery of the gospel.

The book argues that the kingdom of God should set our priorities, that the kingdom should reorient the cultures of local congregations to speak to the outside world, and that a holistic mission ought to define our engagement. This kingdom-culture-mission framework drives us then to a distinctively Christian vision of human dignity, of religious liberty, and of family integrity.

The kingdom doesn’t just change what we say, though; it changes how we say it. We speak with convictional kindness because we are not enraged losers. We are more than conquerors in Christ. The Christian church, then, should be confident, hopeful, and future-directed. We should march triumphantly into the future. We pledge allegiance where we can and where we ought. We render unto God and we render unto Caesar, but we don’t forget the difference between the two. We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.

The future will be challenging. Hucksters and heretics can’t withstand it. But the gospel of the kingdom can. We’re not in Mayberry anymore, and we never were. But the gospel didn’t emerge in Mayberry. It came rocketing out of a Roman Empire in which nothing could be stranger than the idea of a crucified Messiah. Onward Christian strangers.

You can watch Dr. Moore’s lectures below, on (1) Kingdom, (2) Culture, and (3) Mission. (For audio only, go here.)

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3 Wrong Ways that Some Christians Think about Heaven

Mar 20, 2015 | Justin Taylor

heavenIn his book Meditation and Communion with God: Contemplating Scripture in an Age of Distraction (IVP Academic, 2012), John Jefferson Davis challenge three common assumptions about “heaven.”

He uses verses like the following:

  • John 14:2
  • Galatians 4:26
  • Philippians 3:20
  • Hebrews 8:5
  • Hebrews 9:24
  • Hebrews 10:1
  • Hebrews 11:6
  • Hebrews 12:22
  • Hebrews 13:14
  • Revelation 21:2

In passages like these, we see that “heaven” =  new Jerusalem = Jerusalem above = new creation.

Davis shows that the following ideas, even though they are common, are unbiblical:

  1. Heaven is only future.
  2. Heaven is only spiritual.
  3. Heaven is inaccessible.

1. Heaven Is Not Only Future But Also Present

Davis writes:

[H]eaven or the new Jerusalem (= new creation) already exists in the unseen dimensions but will be visibly revealed when Christ returns visibly and in a physical, bodily form at the end of history.

The writer of Hebrews informs us that in true worship we have already arrived at the heavenly Zion/Jerusalem (Heb 12:22), as truly as the Israelites in the old covenant had arrived at the visible Mount Sinai.

The John of Revelation sees the new Jerusalem coming down of out heaven from God; he sees a city already fully built, not just bricks and mortar arriving on semitrailers for some future completion date. The transition is not from not-existing city to existing city, but from invisible, existing city to visible and existing city.

2. Heaven Is Not Only Spiritual But Somehow Located in Space

Here Davis is responding to the idea that “heaven is purely spiritual, consisting of disembodied spirits flying around in some gaseous and ethereal realm.” Davis writes: “Let us be very clear about this: this notion of heaven is gnostic and Neo-Platonic and a heretical distortion of biblical teaching. Strong language, to be sure, but I believe that it is justified.” Even though I wouldn’t use the word “heretical” to describe this deviation from Scripture, Davis is right about its origin:

Neo-Platonism, which rooted itself in the Christian church and spirituality from the time of Pseudo-Dionysius in the sixth century A.D., presupposed an alien vision of salvation and the spiritual life as a flight from matter and the body to the pure realm of spirit, away from the changing world of distinctions into the changeless world of the One.

He then shows, by contrast, the biblical depiction of heaven and the framework within which it is presented:

Heaven is depicted as a city: a structured environment, a complex topography that in some sense has extension and dimensionality, and is occupied by bodies located in some form of space.

Biblical spirituality and salvation is not a rising from the world of matter to a realm of pure, disembodied spirit, but rather a transition from matter “under the curse” to a redeemed and glorified material creation (“creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” [Rom 8:21]).

The inaugurated eschatology of the New Testament teaches not a transition from matter to pure spirit but rather from matter in its present state to “matter enhanced” and glorified, suffused with the glorious Spirit of God, who was present to the material creation (Gen 1:2) and has never abandoned it (cf. Ps 104:30, presence of the life-giving Spirit in the biological world).

3. The Reality of Heaven Is Accessible, Not Inaccessible, to Believers

David correctly observes:

In true worship we are already in the presence of the new Jerusalem, of God, the risen Christ, the angels and the saints and martyrs (Heb 12:22-25); we can already experience the powers of the age to come (Heb 6:5). If we but have the eyes to see it, every Sunday morning we are “in the presence of the angels” and all the heavenly host. We are really present to heaven, and heaven is really present to us—again, the reality of inaugurated eschatology.

This is not merely an academic point but a profoundly practical teaching. Davis reminds us that this mean “the very transformative energy of the age to come (‘the powers of the coming age’ [Heb 6:5]) is already being made available to the church for its ministry and mission.” Here’s why this matters:

Alas, all too often the church today is being run on the natural energies of this age, rather than the supernatural energy loosed by the resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit! If we have lost our heavenly imagination, we will be disinclined to access, by faith and prayer, the heavenly energy from above. Which energy does your church run on?

Paul reminds us that we are already in heaven, seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). Our molecular selves are still very much located on earth, but since we are united to Christ, with our spirits connected to Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:17), our extended selves are projected (Skyped) and represented in heaven by the Holy Spirit. As Calvin rightly observed, “the Spirit truly unites things separated by space.”

Taken from Meditation and Communion with God by John Jefferson Davis. Copyright (c) 2012 by John Jefferson Davis. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

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An Interview with Sam Storms on What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security

Mar 19, 2015 | Justin Taylor

In the new book, Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security (Crossway, 2015), Sam Storms looks at every passage in the New Testament that addresses assurance, security, and perseverance—with a gifted combination of exegetical rigor and pastoral sensitivity. He seeks to show that the Bible presents a different way from both those who say that true Christians can lose their salvation and those who say “once saved, always saved” (implying that perseverance is not necessary for final salvation).

Storms and I recently sat down to ask him some questions about the book:

9781433542022

  • 00:00 – How did you come up with your new book’s title, Kept for Jesus?
  • 00:32 – How do terms like “eternal security,” “perseverance,” and “assurance” relate to one another?
  • 02:53 – What do different theological positions teach about eternal security?
  • 05:13 – How would you respond to the claim that the Arminian perspective seems most consistent with our experience of seeing people fall away from the faith?
  • 09:04 – Is assurance of salvation normative for the Christian life?
  • 12:15 – Who do you envision using this book?

Learn more, download an excerpt, or download a free bonus chapter, “A Primer on Perseverance.”

“I have wrestled with the issue of assurance of salvation not just as a pastor counseling timid souls but as a sinner trusting in God. What a great help is Kept for Jesus, then! Handling the relevant biblical texts with clarity and precision, Sam Storms has crafted real ministry with this book, working by the Spirit to plant the security of union with Christ in the believer’s heart.”
—Jared C. Wilson, Director of Content Strategy, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“With care and compassion, Sam engages in a wide-ranging discussion of the love of God, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, spurious faith versus saving faith, human dignity and human depravity, the nature of eternal security, God’s preserving power in faithful Christians, the problem of apostasy, and much more. Not shying away from the controversial nature of his topic and tackling head-on dozens of difficult passages, Sam offers an engaging book that deals biblically, theologically, and practically with the all-important matter of assurance of salvation.”
—Gregg R. Allison, Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Too often the gospel is reduced to only wiping away sin’s debt. Storms shows us a more wonderful gospel of love and direct relationship with God in which Christ is inseparable from us, keeping us, and holding us as family. Storms is a pastor of pastors, walking us through the thorny issues—such as the warning passages—and into green pastures of communion with our Savior. He calls us into the beautiful tension and transformation of God’s forever grace.”
—Daniel Montgomery, Pastor, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky; Founder, Sojourn Network; author, Faithmapping and Proof

“This is classic Sam Storms: warm, thoughtful, clear, and wise. Not all readers will agree on every detail, but all will be well served by working through the issues with such an insightful guide. Throughout the book, God’s protection of his people shines through—and so do the joy and security that this brings to all who trust him.”
—Andrew Wilson, Pastor, Kings Church Eastbourne, East Sussex; author, If God, Then What? and Unbreakable

“Sam Storms has given us a book that is fair, humble, straightforward, and helpful. He consistently presents views that oppose his own and frequently admits he does not have all the answers. He argues biblically and passionately for the truth that God keeps true believers saved to the end and focuses on the Christian life and rejects errant views, including those that cut the biblical cord between God’s keeping us and our keeping on in faith, love, and holiness. This is a good book, and I am happy to recommend it.”
—Robert A. Peterson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Covenant Theological Seminary

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6 Stages in the War for the Heart

Mar 19, 2015 | Justin Taylor

heartIn his book Instrument in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul Tripp unpacks James 4:1-1o and the war for the heart according to the following stages:

Stage 1: Desire (“I want”)

“The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way they tend to grow, and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. All human desire must be held in submission to a greater purpose, the desires of God for his kingdom.”

Stage 2: Demand (“I must”)

“Demand is the closing of my fists over a desire. . . . I am not longer comforted by God’s desire for me; I am threaten by it, because God’s will potentially standards in the way of my demand. . . . The morphing of my desire changes my relationship to others. Now I enter the room loaded with a silent demand: You must help me get what I want. . . .”

Stage 3: Need (“I will”)

“I now view the thing I want as essential to life. This is a devasating step in the eventual slavery of desire. . . . To ‘christen’ desire as need is equivalent to viewing cake as I do respiration. . . .”

Stage 4: Expectation (“You should”)

“If I am convinced I need something and you have said that you love me, it seems right to expect that you will help me get it. The dynamic of (improper) need-driven expectation is the source of untold conflict in relationship.”

Stage 5: Disappointment (“You didn’t!”)

“There is a direct relationship between expectation and disappointment, and much of our disappointment in relationships is not because people have actually wronged us, but because they have failed to meet our expectations.”

Stage 6: Punishment (“Because you didn’t, I will. . .”)

“We are hurt and angry because people who say they love us seem insensitive to our needs. So we strike back in a variety of ways to punish them for their wrongs against us. We include everything from the silent treatment (a form of bloodless murder where I don’t kill you but act as if you do not exist) to horrific acts of violence and abuse. I am angry because you have broken the laws of my kingdom. God’s kingdom has been supplanted. I am no longer motivated by a love for God and people so that I use the things in my life to express that love. Instead I love things, and use people—and even the Lord—to get them. My heart has been captured. I am in active service of the creation, and the result can only be chaos and conflict in my relationships.”

So what do you do when desire has morphed into demand into need into expectation into disappointment into punishment?

The first step must be vertical (with respect to God) before you can make progress on the horizontal (with respect to people). Because relationship problems are rooted in worship problems, James’s solution, Tripp rightly notes, is “Start with God”:

  • “Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:7).
  • “Draw near to God” (James 4:8).
  • “Cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts” (James 4:8)
  • “Humble yourselves before the Lord” (James 4:10).

The entire book is recommended reading to explore this further.

—Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 85-89.

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Why Sin Shuns the Light and Wants to Remain Unknown

Mar 17, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Sin demands to have a man by himself.

It withdraws him from the community.

The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.

Sin wants to remain unknown.

It shuns the light.

In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together in Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 5, ed. James H. Burtness and Geffrey B. Kelly; transl. Daniel W. Bloesch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 110.

HT: Ed Shaw, The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2015).

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How Historians Ask Questions of Primary Sources

Mar 17, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Foner-pik1Professor Eric Foner of Columbia University is one of the preeminent historians working today. His Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution is a landmark book, and The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery is considered a definitive look at the subject. His most recent book is called Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Dr. Foner (age 72) has taught a three-class unit on the Civil War for over three decades. This is his last year teaching the class, and he has partnered with edX to make them available online for free.

One helpful feature of these classes is that they provide undergraduate students—and the rest of us—a primary on how to question, interpret, and discuss the backbone of historical research: primary sources. I’ve taken the material and broken it up into a Q&A below. At the end, you’ll see an example of a primary source, some answers to some questions, and some links for you to try it yourself.

1401400002rWhat is a primary source?

A primary source is a document, image, or artifact that provides first-hand or eyewitness information about a particular historical person, event, or idea.

What are some typical examples of primary sources?

Typical examples include

  • letters
  • diaries
  • newspapers
  • photographs
  • paintings
  • maps
  • oral histories

How can primary sources help historians?

Primary sources can help historians answer research questions and gather evidence to support their arguments.

For scholars, these materials—and the questions they raise—constitute the foundational elements of historical work. Interrogating primary sources is one of the fundamental tasks every historian must perform in order to craft a nuanced, contingent, and evidence-based argument.

How do different types of texts offer varying potential questions and answers?

Wills, financial records, and military accounts document the day-to-day functioning of a society.

Photographic albums, engravings, and printed ephemera provide glimpses into the iconography of a culture.

Personal belongings and correspondence beckon toward the intimate details of private lives, while mass-produced keepsakes blur the lines between historical evidence and pop-cultural kitsch.

What starting questions should one ask of a document?

When working with primary sources it is important to begin with a few observational and interpretive questions, which can often suggest future research directions.

  1. When was this source created? If the source is not dated, can you use any contextual clues to make an educated guess?
  2. Who created it? If no individual’s name is apparent, can you guess their position within society?
  3. What was the original purpose of this source? Why was it created and what was its intent?
  4. Who is the intended audience of the source? How does this influence the way information is presented?
  5. Is there anyone, besides the author, who is represented in the source? What can you learn about them?
  6. How has the meaning of the source changed over time?
  7. How might a historian use this source as a piece of evidence? What research questions might it help to answer? What story might you tell using this source?

Can you give an example?

The following (Cyrus Gordon – Abraham Lincoln Collection, 1846-1980, Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library) is a Bill of Sale from the State of Louisiana. You can click the image to enlarge it:

1401400039

 

Using the questions above, the answers would be along the following lines:

  1. October 4, 1859
  2. Anthony Wiesemann of St. Louis, Missouri.
  3. This document is a bill of sale for a slave woman. This was a legal document meant to transfer property rights to this woman from Wiesemann to her new owner, Denis C. Daniel of St. Mary Parish, Louisiana for the sum of $1,450. [FYI: this is equivalent to $37,658.98 in 2014 dollars.]
  4. The primary audience for this document was the purchaser, Denis C. Daniel, and his heirs.
  5. This document also represents the subject of the sale, “a certain negress, slave for life, named Sarah Jane, aged 17.”
  6. While this source originally served as a legal document guaranteeing property rights, today it shows us how people were held and valued as property.
  7. A historian might use this document to show how the demand for slaves continued to grow in the years immediately before the Civil War.

These questions and answers are really just the beginning. If you go here, and scroll down to Week 3, you can see another document and some initial observations and questions from a historian of women and gender, an environmental historian, and a labor historian. Different questions, angles, and comparisons can lead to new discoveries and lines of inquiry.

How can I try this for myself?

To use the rubric above to look at primary sources from the Civil War era, go here, here, and here.

What are some further resources for learning more about the use of primary sources in historical research?

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Happy Saint Patrick

Mar 16, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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22 Benefits of Meditating on Scripture

Mar 13, 2015 | Justin Taylor

Joel Beeke, in his essay on “The Puritan Practice of Meditation,” writes that “The Puritans devoted scores of pages to the benefits, excellencies, usefulness, advantages, or improvements of meditation.” Dr. Beeke lists some of the benefits as follows:

  1. Meditation helps us focus on the Triune God, to love and to enjoy Him in all His persons (1 John 4:8)—intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically.
  2. Meditation helps increase knowledge of sacred truth. It “takes the veil from the face of truth” (Prov. 4:2).
  3. Meditation is the “nurse of wisdom,” for it promotes the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:8).
  4. Meditation enlarges our faith by helping us to trust the God of promises in all our spiritual troubles and the God of providence in all our outward troubles.
  5. Meditation augments one’s affections. Watson called meditation “the bellows of the affections.” He said, “Meditation hatcheth good affections, as the hen her young ones by sitting on them; we light affection at this fire of meditation” (Ps. 39:3).
  6. Meditation fosters repentance and reformation of life (Ps. 119:59; Ez. 36:31).
  7. Meditation is a great friend to memory.
  8. Meditation helps us view worship as a discipline to be cultivated. It makes us prefer God’s house to our own.
  9. Meditation transfuses Scripture through the texture of the soul.
  10. Meditation is a great aid to prayer (Ps. 5:1). It tunes the instrument of prayer before prayer.
  11. Meditation helps us to hear and read the Word with real benefit. It makes the Word “full of life and energy to our souls.” William Bates wrote, “Hearing the word is like ingestion, and when we meditate upon the word that is digestion; and this digestion of the word by meditation produceth warm affections, zealous resolutions, and holy actions.”
  12. Meditation on the sacraments helps our “graces to be better and stronger.” It helps faith, hope, love, humility, and numerous spiritual comforts thrive in the soul.
  13. Meditation stresses the heinousness of sin. It “musters up all weapons, and gathers all forces of arguments for to presse our sins, and lay them heavy upon the heart,” wrote Fenner. Thomas Hooker said, “Meditation sharpens the sting and strength of corruption, that it pierceth more prevailingly.” It is a “strong antidote against sin” and “a cure of covetousness.”
  14. Meditation enables us to “discharge religious duties, because it conveys to the soul the lively sense and feeling of God’s goodness; so the soul is encouraged to duty.”
  15. Meditation helps prevent vain and sinful thoughts (Jer. 4:14; Matt. 12:35). It helps wean us from this present evil age.
  16. Meditation provides inner resources on which to draw (Ps. 77:10-12), including direction for daily life (Prov. 6:21-22).
  17. Meditation helps us persevere in faith; it keeps our hearts “savoury and spiritual in the midst of all our outward and worldly employments,” wrote William Bridge.
  18. Meditation is a mighty weapon to ward off Satan and temptation (Ps. 119:11,15; 1 John 2:14).
  19. Meditation provides relief in afflictions (Is. 49:15-17; Heb. 12:5).
  20. Meditation helps us benefit others with our spiritual fellowship and counsel (Ps. 66:16; 77:12; 145:7).
  21. Meditation promotes gratitude for all the blessings showered upon us by God through His Son.
  22. Meditation glorifies God (Ps. 49:3).

You can read the whole essay here.

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Why the Christian Narrative Is Not a “Metanarrative”

Mar 12, 2015 | Justin Taylor

In The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979 French edition; 1984 English translation), philosopher Jean-François Lyotard argued that the “postmodern” outlook can be simplistically defined as “incredulity toward metanarratives”—that is, mistrust or skepticism about the totalizing stories of modernism and their grounds for universal legitimacy.

In response to this line of thinking, it is not uncommon for Christians to suggest that Christianity itself is a metanarrative—the ultimate universal story.

But Michael Horton (and others) argue that this well-intentioned move is based on a misunderstanding of what “metanarratives” mean. Horton writes, “For Lyotard, a metanarrative is a certain way in which modernity has legitimized its absolutist discourse and originated or grounded it in autonomous reason.” The biblical storyline is not grounded in this way, so while it is a mega-story, it is not really a meta-narrative (which refers to the level of discourse and its basis, not to the size and scope of the story).

Horton writes:

All of our worldviews are stories. Christianity does not claim to have escaped this fact. The prophets and apostles were fully conscious of the fact that they were interpreting reality within the framework of a particular narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, as told to a particular people (Israel) for the benefit of the world. The biblical faith claims that its story is the one that God is telling, which relativizes and judges the other stories about God, us, and the world. . .

Horton continues:

The prophets and apostles did not believe that God’s mighty acts in history (meganarratives) were dispensable myths that represented universal truths (metanarratives). For them, the big story did not point to something else beyond it but was itself the point. God really created all things, including humans in his image, and brought Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. He really drowned a greater kingdom than Pharaoh and his army in Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s mighty acts in history are not myths that symbolize timeless truths; they create the unfolding plot within which our lives and destinies find the proper coordinates.

Metanarratives give rise to ideologies, which claim the world’s allegiance even, if necessary, through violence. The heart of the Christian narrative, however, is the gospel—the good news concerning God’s saving love and mercy in Jesus Christ. It is the story that interprets all other stories, and the lead character is Lord over all other lords. . . .

Horton shows how the Christian meganarrative is a “counterdrama” to all of the meganarratives and metanarratives of this passing age:

 It speaks of the triune God who existed eternally before creation and of ourselves as characters in his unfolding plot. Created in God’s image yet fallen into sin, we have our identity shaped by the movement of this dramatic story from promise to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This drama also has its powerful props, such as preaching, baptism, and the Supper—the means by which we are no longer spectators but are actually included in the cast. Having exchanged our rags for the riches of Christ’s righteousness, we now find our identity “in Christ.” Instead of God being a supporting actor in our life story, we become part of the cast that the Spirit is recruiting for God’s drama. The Christian faith is, first and foremost, an unfolding drama. Geerhardus Vos observed, “The Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest.” This story that runs from Genesis to Revelation, centering on Christ, not only richly informs our mind; it captivates the heart and the imagination, animating and motivating our action in the world. When history seems to come to a standstill in sin, guilt, and death, the prophets direct God’s people to God’s fulfillment of his promise in a new covenant.

—Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), chapter 1.

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Are the Religion Clauses of the Constitution Contradictory?

Mar 11, 2015 | Justin Taylor

gty_us_constitution_jef_111215_wblogThe Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .”

followed immediately by the Free Exercise Clause:

“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Together these are called the “Religion Clauses” of the First Amendment.

Some people suggest that they are contradictory: the Free Exercise Clause encourages the exercise of “religion” in every possible sense, and at yet the purpose of the Establishment Clause is to keep religion from being practiced to such a degree that politics are influenced.

Political philosopher J. Budziszewski rebuts the argument:

The Free Exercise Clause does not say that the government should encourage the exercise of religion in every possible sense.

What it says is that Congress must not prohibit it.  That’s all.

The Establishment Clause does not say that the government should keep religion from influencing politics.

What it says is that Congress must not make laws concerning official churches, like the Church of England.  That’s all.

There is no conflict whatsoever between saying that the national legislature must not prohibit the practice of faith, and saying that it must not make laws concerning official churches.

Conflict arises only when you try to make the clauses mean more than they do.

Budziszewski goes on to argue that the chief reasons advance for the Religion Clauses were themselves religious:

The Framers didn’t want the practice of faith prohibited, because they thought we have duties to God.

But they didn’t want Congress to get into the official church business, because they thought religious truth is best promoted by religious competition.

The states, and the people thereof, were left to do as they thought best.

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Why Jerram Barrs Read “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” Six Times in Six Months

Mar 08, 2015 | Justin Taylor

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Watch Mike Reeves Teach on the English Reformation and the Puritans

Mar 06, 2015 | Justin Taylor

This is a great pairing: one of my favorite teachers (Mike Reeves) paired with one of my favorite resources (Ligonier’s DVD/CD teaching series) on a fascinating period in church history (the English Reformation and the Puritans).

Here is a description of the series:

Few stories contain heroism, betrayal, ricocheting monarchs, bold stands against repressive authorities, and redemption like this one. And fewer generations have modeled commitment to the gospel and the application of God’s Word like the Puritans of England. In this 12-part series, Dr. Michael Reeves surveys Puritan theology and the work of the Holy Spirit when the Reformation flourished in England. Major milestones of this movement underscore the Puritan’s special place in history, as they displayed spiritual wisdom and discernment still benefiting pulpits and believers today.

You can watch the first session, on “William Tyndale and the English Reformers” below for free:

Here’s a description of that first session:

The Reformation in England is a thrilling story of the recapturing of God’s grace. In this first lesson, Dr. Reeves relates the emergence of the English Reformation in connection to influences outside the country, especially Erasmus and Luther. We then learn of the foundational role played by Thomas Bilney and the White Horse Inn within England. The lesson culminates with a focus on the English Reformer William Tyndale, particularly in connection to his translation of the Bible into English. Such forbidden labors and the product that resulted not only led to his martyrdom but also catalyzed the Reformation cause in England.

You can purchase the audio or video set of additional sessions here, or get individual sessions one at a time.

You can also download a study guide for free.

For Robert Godfrey’s church history survey, which I highly recommend, go here.

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FAQ on the Human Soul

Mar 04, 2015 | Justin Taylor

41UkDCabLFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Some notes from J. P. Moreland’s book, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters (Chicago: Mood Press, 2014).

What is dualism?

The view that the soul is an immaterial thing different from the body and brain.

What is substance dualism?

The view that a human person has both

  1. a brain that is a physical thing with physical properties, and
  2. a mind or soul that is a mental substance and has mental properties.

What is Thomistic substance dualism?

The view that the (human) soul

  • diffuses,
  • informs (gives form to),
  • unifies,
  • animates, and
  • makes human

the (human) body.

The body is not a physical substance, but rather an ensouled physical structure such that if it loses the soul, it is no longer a human body in a strict, philosophical sense.

What is the soul?

  • The soul is a substantial, unified reality that informs (gives form to) its body.
  • The soul is to the body like God is to space—it is fully “present” at each point within the body.
  • The soul and body relate to each other in a cause-effect way.

Do animals have souls?

Animals have a soul, but it is not as richly structured as the human soul. It does not bear the image of God, and it is far more dependent on the animal’s body and its sense organs than is the human soul.

What are some arguments for substance dualism and the immaterial nature of the soul?

1. Our basic awareness of the self

  • We are aware of our own self as being distinct from our bodies and from any particular mental experience we have, and as being an uncomposed, spatially extended, simple center of consciousness.
  • This grounds my properly basic belief that I am a simple center of consciousness.
  • In virtue of the law of identity, we then know that we are not identical to our body, but to our soul.

2. Unity and the first-person perspective

  • If I were a physical object (a brain or body), then a third-person physical description would capture all the facts that are true of me.
  • But a third-person physical description does not capture all the facts that are true of me.
  • Therefore, I am not a physical object. Rather, I am a soul.

3. The modal argument

  • I am possibly disembodied (I could survive without my brain or body).
  • My brain or body are not possibly disembodied (they could not survive without being physical).
  • Therefore, I am not my brain or body, I am a soul.

4. Sameness of the self over time

  • A physical object composed of parts cannot survive over time as the same object if it comes to have different parts.
  • My body and brain are physical objects composed of parts that are constantly changing, and therefore cannot survive over time as the same object.
  • However, I do survive over time as the same object.
  • Therefore, I am not my body or my brain, but a soul.

What is the relevance of neuroscientific data to whether or not we have a soul?

Neuroscience is a wonderful tool, but it is inept for resolving disputes about the nature and existence of consciousness and the soul. The central issues in those disputes include philosophical, theological, and commonsense topics. Neuroscientific data are simply irrelevant for addressing those topics.

Neuroscience shows correlation between mind and brain, not that mind and brain are identical.

How is the law of identity relevant to this relationship?

Leibniz’s law of the indiscernability of identicals states that for any entities x and y, if x and y are identical, then any truth that applies to x will apply to y as well.

Some things are true of the mind or its states that are true of the brains or its states; therefore, physicalism is false and dualism (provided it is the only other option) is true.

What are the states of the soul?

Just as water can be in a cold or hot state, so the soul can be in a feeling or thinking state. Here are five such states: 

  1. sensation: a state of awareness, a mode of consciousness (e.g., a conscious awareness of sound or pain)
  2. thought: a mental content that can be expressed as an entire sentence and that only exists while it is being thought
  3. belief: a person’s view, accepted to varying degrees of strength, of how things really are
  4. desire: a certain inclination to do, have, avoid, or experience certain things
  5. act of will: a volition or choice, an exercise of power, an endeavoring to do a certain thing, usually for the sake of some purpose or end

What are the faculties of the soul?

The soul has a number of capacities that are not currently being actualized or utilized.

Capacities come in hierarchies:

  • First-order capacities (e.g., I have the first-order capacity or ability to speak English)
  • Second-order capacities to have first-order capacities (e.g., I have the potential to speak Russian, though it is not actualized)
  • And so forth

Higher-order capacities are realized by the development of lower-order capacities under them.

The capacities within the soul fall into natural groupings called faculties. A faculty is a “compartment” of the soul that contains a natural family of related capacities. For example: 

  1. Sensory faculties
    1. sight (All the soul’s capacities to see are part of the faculty of sight. If my eyeballs are defective, then my soul’s faculty of sight will be inoperative just as a driver cannot get to work in his car if the spark plugs are broken. Likewise, if my eyeballs work but my soul is inattentive—say I am daydreaming—then I won’t see what is before me either.)
    2. smell
    3. touch
    4. taste
    5. hearing
  2. The will: a faculty of the soul that contains my abilities to choose
  3. Emotional faculties: one’s abilities to experience fear, love, and so forth
  4. Mind and spirit
    1. Mind: that faculty of the soul that contains thoughts and beliefs along with the relevant abilities to have them
    2. Spirit: that faculty of the soul through which the person relates to God (Ps 51:10; Rom 8:16; Eph 4:23) [prior to regeneration, most of the capacities of the unregenerate spirit are dead and inoperative; at the new birth, God implants new capacities in the spirit]
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