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You Cannot Have Two Masters

Feb 27, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

You can have two friends. You can have two hobbies. You can even have two jobs. But you cannot have two masters.

Slavery is absolute, it requires all of you—all your time, all your allegiance, all your work, all your heart, all your soul. You may try to have two masters, but it doesn’t work. You will end up being devoted to one and despising the other.

You may think you can be a Christian and love Jesus and go to church and be passionate about the gospel and have a little fling with money, or flirt with pride, or enjoy the fruits of the sexual revolution on the weekends. Not going to work. You can’t marry Jesus and date on the side.

What are you working for? What are you dreaming about? We are you living for? What can’t you live without?  If only I had _________, I’d be happy. What’s in that blank: kids, spouse, grandkids, house, job, health, wealth, prosperity?

Do you remember the parable of the sower and the soils? Each plant grows a little bit more and gets a little closer to making it. The one that looks good for quite awhile is the plant that grows up from the seed thrown among the thorns. It grows up for a time, but then gets choked out by deceitfulness of riches and the worries of life. Too many promising young “Christians” are done in by the cares of this world and the craziness of life. That happens, all the time. Maybe it’s happening to you. Maybe it’s happening to me.

We cannot serve two masters. Jesus isn’t looking for a 60-40 split. He demands total allegiance, complete surrender, unequivocal worship. Don’t buy the lies you’re hearing from money, pride, and sex. Only God gives you real worth. Only God gives you real affirmation. Only God will make you truly special and truly loved. Only God can give you real security. If you can only serve one master, make sure you choose wisely.

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Keeping His Commandments

Feb 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

1 John is clear: we are all sinners and we all sin (1 John 1:8, 10). If we say we have not sinned, we are not real Christians. But 1 John is also clear that if we do not keep God’s commandments, we are not real Christians either (1 John 2:3). So how can this be? Isn’t there an inconsistency here? We can’t be spiritual successes and spiritual failures at the same time.

Calvin understood this seeming inconsistency and provided a wonderfully balanced response. Commenting on 1 John 2:3 and wondering how anyone can be said to know God if the prerequisite for knowing God is keeping his commandments, Calvin replied:

To this I answer, that the Apostle is by no means inconsistent with himself; since before showed that all are guilty before God, he does not understand that those who keep his commandments wholly satisfy the law (no such example can be found in the world), but that they are such as strive, according to the capacity of human infirmity, to form their life in conformity to the will of God. For whenever Scripture speaks of the righteousness of the faithful, it does not exclude remission of sins, but on the contrary begins with it.

In this short paragraph we find much wisdom for navigating the sanctification debates in our own day. Calvin does not want to sidestep the whole point of 1 John 2:3. He acknowledges (as he must in order to be biblical) that obedience is a necessary component of Christian discipleship and of our Christian identity. And how does this fit with the earlier statements about our continuing sinfulness? Notice four points in Calvin’s response.

1. He does not take the language of “keep[ing] his commandments” to be a reference to sinless perfection. The obedience John expects of the Christian is not the obedience of fully satisfying the law of God. We need a category for non-meritorious, flawed, stumbling, but genuine obedience. Through his Son, God is pleased to accept that which is sincere, although accompanied with many imperfections (WCF 16.6).

2. He includes repentance as one aspect of holy living. Walking in the light means not only avoiding the deeds of darkness, but being honest about our sins and running to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:5-7). Keeping the commandments requires a daily turning from sin and turning to Christ.

3. He is not embarrassed by the language of moral exertion. We must be passionate about pursuing Christlikeness. We must make an effort to be obedient to God’s commands. We should try hard to be holy. The Spirit will not allow us to be negligent, but will enable us to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God within us (WCF 16.3).

4. And yet, even this striving will be marked by weakness. The best we can do is to strive “according to the capacity of human infirmity.” As Calvin says later, while we will not love God perfectly we should nevertheless “aspire to this perfection according to the measure of grace given unto [us].”

Granted, there is much more to be said about sanctification than what Calvin touches upon in a few sentences. But affirming these four points–and not just affirming them in a statement of faith, but preaching them, tweeting them, writing about them, and commending them–would go a long way toward establishing a balanced and biblical approach to Christian discipleship. We strive, we aspire, we obey. We struggle, we sin, we repent. If our doctrine of sanctification does not embrace all this we are out of step with Calvin, out of step with the Reformed tradition, and, most importantly, out of step with the Bible itself.

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The Coptic Church and Chalcedon

Feb 24, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Fourth_ecumenical_council_of_chalcedon_-_1876On February 14, twenty-one Egyptian Christians were brutally beheaded by Muslim radicals working for the Islamic State in Lybia. The Coptic Orthodox Church announced yesterday that the twenty-one victims will be inserted into the Coptic Synaxarium (the Oriental Church’s official list of martyrs) and commemorated in the church calendar as martyrs and saints. Christians of every denominational and doctrinal stripe have expressed outrage, sadness, and a sense of unity with their fallen brethren.

Which leads to an important question: how should we view the Coptic Orthodox Church?

This isn’t a bad question, provided we approach it in the right way. Let’s set aside the issue of what the twenty-one martyrs understood about monophysitism. That’s not unimportant, but as far as I know the information is unattainable. Besides, what is most needed at this point is prayer for the persecuted church and sympathy for the suffering. Thinking about these men who died because of their allegiance to Christ, men who belonged to one of the oldest church communions in the world, and men who called upon Jesus as they were murdered on the beach—trying to determine whether these men were actually Christians seems like remarkably poor form.

And yet, perhaps now is an appropriate time to consider more broadly and think more carefully about why some consider the Coptic Orthodox Church to be, well, unorthodox. While participating in a panel discussion at Ligonier last week, one of the first questions we were asked was about the twenty-one Coptic martyrs and the heresy of monophysitism (yes, it’s that kind of conference). So let’s step back and try to understand the history and theology behind what may be the oldest (formal) split in the church.

Two Natures, Without Division

To tell the story properly, we have to start with a man by the name of Nestorius. Nestorius was born sometime after 351 and died sometime before 451. He was the patriarch of Constantinople. His teaching was condemned by the third ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431. It’s unclear whether Nestorius was actually a Nestorian. What is clear is that Nestorius was not very careful in his theology and did not acquit himself very well when he was put on the spot to defend his views.

Nestorius, like most heretics, was intent on preserving the truth. Most ancient heretics did not set out to disrupt the church or teach false doctrine. They weren’t like Bart Ehrman with an ax to grind, or like Richard Dawkins with an anti-Christian agenda. Most heretics in the history of the church were trying to be biblical. They would have been professing Christians, with genuine concerns, who got key doctrines wrong and whose followers got things even more wrong.

Nestorius was concerned that people were calling Mary “the God-bearer” (theotokos). His concerns were probably not entirely unwarranted. God-bearer is an appropriate title for Mary, but only if the emphasis is on the Son and not Mary. It has happened since Nestorius, and most likely was happening in his day too, that people took the dangerous step from “Mary the bearer of God” to “Mary the divine Mother of God.” Theotokos is a proper term, but only with the proper qualifications.

Nestorius objected to this popular title. He could admit that Mary bore someone and that the someone was Jesus of Nazareth. But he reckoned that she gave birth to only the human nature of Christ. How could the divine nature be born? Divinity is eternal. It can’t be given birth. So, Mary, Nestorius reasoned, could be the mother of Jesus, but not the mother of God. If she was, then the Son of God was born, making him a creature with a beginning, and making us in our worship guilty of Arianism and of violating the second commandment.

Nestorius’ solution, or at least the theological solution that got attached to his name, was to argue for a dividing wall between the two natures. He knew the Son was God, and he knew the Son was a man. So Mary must be the mother of one half of Jesus, but not the other. She brought forth a man who was accompanied by the Logos. The two natures of Christ existed, not in hypostatic union, but in a kind of relational partnership.

Nestorius was opposed by Cyril of Alexandria (378-444), the brilliant apologist and implacable foe. He made two arguments against Nestorianism.

(1) If Mary is not theotokos, then instead of the incarnation of God himself, we have a human being born with the divine Logos. In other words, if Mary is not the God bearer, then we must understand the incarnation as something different than God becoming man. We have God coming alongside a man. No longer do we have the God-man Christ Jesus. We have Jesus Christ, a man with God in him. Thus, in Nestorianism, God is in Christ in nearly the same manner God is in us. The difference is not ontological; it is only a matter of degree. Nestorianism ends up making too little of Jesus and too much of us.

(2) If Mary is not theotokos, the relationship of Christ to humanity is changed. Only orthodox Christology allows for a real redemption of fallen man. Nestorianism’s problem was not with the two natures, but with the one person. Christ is fully God and fully man in Nestorianism, but he does not seem to be one person. Instead of two natures in a single self-conscious person, the two natures are next to each other with a moral and sympathetic union. The logic of Romans 5:19—that our salvation is accomplished through “the one man’s obedience”—will not hold. It’s only through the one man Jesus Christ, the union of humanity and deity, that we are made righteous.

Two Natures, Without Confusion

Which brings us to Eutychianism and Coptic Christians. Eutyches was a monk at a large monastery in Constantinople. He was born around 378 and died in 454. Again, it’s hard to determine what he actually taught. Eutyches himself was, to quote one author, “an aged and muddle-headed thinker.” So it’s unclear how much of Eutychianism came from Eutyches.

We do know that Eutyches had a strong anti-Nestorian bias. He was loathe to fall into the error of dividing Christ’s humanity from his divinity. So instead of division, we find in Eutychianism a confusion or mixture of the two persons. Eutyches taught that there was only one (mono) nature (physis) in Christ after the union of his divinity and humanity (hence, monophysitism).

Eutyches argued for the absorption of the human nature into the divine, the fusion of the two natures resulting in a tertium quid (third thing)–like mixing yellow and blue to get green. He said that Christ’s humanity was so united to his divinity that his humanity was not the same as ours (consubstantial). Christ was “of one substance with the Father” but not “of one substance with us.”

Eutyches was stubborn and not very careful in his theology. Yet, he was not without friends in high places. Eutyches was deposed in 448 by a Synod led by Archbishop Flavian. Eutyches complained to Pope Leo that he was treated unfairly. Leo, after some back and forth, wrote a letter to Flavian where he brilliantly surveyed all the Christological heresies and concluded that Eutyches was wrong. “In Christ Jesus,” he wrote, “neither Humanity without true Divinity, nor Divinity without true Humanity, may be believed to exist.”

But Eutyches was a friend to the Emperor, Theodosius II. In an effort to defend Eutyches, the emperor called a council in Ephesus in 449. The delegates were very pro-Eutyches and when legates from Pope Leo came to present their side, they weren’t even allowed to speak. Flavian was mauled and beat up, so badly in fact that he died a few days later. Eutychianism was vindicated, but the whole meeting was a sham. It’s now referred to as the “Robbers’ Synod.”

Later that year, Theodosius died in horse riding accident. His sister Pulcheria and her husband Marcian (not to be confused with the heretic Marcion) assumed the throne. Pulcheria agreed that the last synod was a travesty. So at the request of Pope Leo she convened a new synod at Chalcedon in 451, in what later would be considered the Fourth Ecumenical Council. The First Ecumenical Council in Nicea (325) rejected Arianism; the Second in Constantinople (381) rejected Docetism; the Third in Ephesus (431) rejected Nestorianism; and the Fourth in Chalcedon (451) rejected Eutychianism.

A Mess Worth Making?

Chalcedon didn’t settle everything. Some in the east still couldn’t swallow the doctrine of Christ’s two natures. Making things more confusing was the contested legacy of Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril was a legend already in his own age, the standard bearer for orthodoxy. He was the hero who led the charge against Nestorius, securing his condemnation at Ephesus in 431. If you agreed with Cyril, you were orthodox. If you didn’t, you probably weren’t. Unfortunately, Cyril had grown fond of an unhelpful anti-Nestorian phrase: “one incarnate nature of God the Word incarnate.” He thought this phrase came from Athanasius, but the phrase actually came from the heretic Apollinarius. Cyril used the phrase as a way to safeguard the unity of Christ against Nestorianism. In later years, Cyril was very clear that he still affirmed a full human nature and accepted the phrase “two natures” as long as it did not detract from the union of those two natures.

Many in the East, however, including in Cyril’s native Egypt, believed that embracing Chalcedon and its doctrine of the two natures of Christ was a repudiation of Cyril and his impeccable orthodoxy. This lead to a church split a millennium older than any Catholic-Protestant divisions. There are six churches known as the Old Oriental Orthodoxy (or Non-Chalcedonian Churches): Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrea, Malankara (Indian), and Armenian. These six churches have a completely different hierarchy and are not in communion with the rest of Eastern Orthodoxy (under the Patriarch of Constantinople) or with Rome (under the Bishop of Rome).

These churches have been called monophysite, but they reject the label, saying they too deny Eutychianism. They prefer to be called miaphysites because they want to emphasize the one (mia) nature, without rejecting the doctrine of the two natures of Christ.

So is the Coptic Orthodox Church actually orthodox? That depends on whom you ask, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some want to underline the fact that the church of the Old Oriental Orthodoxy still repudiate several ecumenical councils and have not formally embraced the Chalcedonian Definition. Others want to talk about the ecumenical dialogue of recent years in which leaders from the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox have agreed that they don’t disagree on the doctrine of the two natures, only on the way to say it. For my part, I’m unwilling to say the non-acceptance of Chalcedon is no big deal. And yet, it doesn’t seem in this insistence as if continued non-acceptance is the same as outright rejection or damnable heresy. There are historic and national reasons which may be obscuring a great deal of unity on Christological essentials.

No matter the confusion surrounding he Coptic Church, what is clear is that a half-way Christ cannot save. We need a Mediator who can lay a hand on us both. There is no room for a Nestorianism that threatens the unity of God’s work or a Eutychianism that threatens the fully human dimension of Christ’s work. At its best, all our doctrinal defining and theological wrangling is meant to preserve the simple, eminently biblical truth that Jesus Christ is both God and man, and as such, is uniquely and solely capable of saving the chosen ones of Adam’s helpless race.

UPDATE

In the comment thread and by personal correspondence, some have expressed other serious concerns with the Coptic Church besides their non-Chalcedonian Christology. My post was prompted by the question we received at the conference regarding the monophysite heresy. Hence, the focus of this post was on the history behind this Christological debate and the origination of the division between the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. I am not familiar enough with the inner workings (or out working) of Coptic Christianity to assess the church as a whole, nor was it my intention to do so.

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Monday Morning Humor

Feb 23, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s Monday, again. But at least you’re not this guy.

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More Book Briefs

Feb 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Bonus: more books! Here are several other books I’ve picked up in the last two months. Unlike yesterday’s haul, I haven’t read these cover to cover, but I’ve read parts of all of them and plan to consult them again in the future.

Stephen Westerholm, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (Eerdmans, 2013). “How can sinners find a gracious God? The question is hardly peculiar to the modern West; it was provoked by Paul’s message wherever he went. But Paul was commissioned, not to illuminate a crisis, but to present to a world under judgment a divine offer of salvation. . . .Paul’s answer was that sinners for whom Christ died are declared righteous by God when they place their faith in Jesus Christ” (22). This is why I find Westerholm’s book on justification so refreshing.

Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2015). “Reformed catholicity is a theological sensibility, not a system. And this book is merely a manifesto, not a full-blown theological methodology. . . .Our thesis is that there are Reformed theological and ecclesiological warrants for pursuing a program of retrieval, that we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles, and that pursuing this path holds promise for theological and spiritual renewal” (12-13). A thesis worth exploring. I hope to read more.

Bradley G. Green, Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life (Apollos, 2014). I’m a big fan of this series (even if they eschew the Oxford comma). Green makes a compelling case that “in the new covenant, works are a God-elicited and necessary part of the life of the converted person” and that is a “constant theme in the New Testament” (17).

 

Gregg R. Allision, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Crossway, 2014). We’ve needed a book like this for awhile–a bona fide evangelical who takes a careful, measured look at official Roman Catholic dogma, not in order to take cheap potshots and not in a futile attempt to act like we agree on everything that really matters. I expect to use this resource often.

 

Sean Michael Lucas, On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories (P&R Publishing, 2006). I got the book to brush up on my PCA history, but there is a plenty of good stuff here besides that one chapter. I enjoy reading Sean’s writing, especially his historical work.

 

 

Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014). Practical, personal, and indebted to the Reformed tradition. I used the book when I was preaching through the Lord’s Prayer.

 

 

Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Traditions (Belknap Press, 2003). Building on his earlier work which rooted the Western legal tradition in medieval Catholicism, Berman in this volume argues that the Western legal tradition was transformed by two subsequent revolutions: the sixteenth-century German Revolution (Lutheran Reformation) and the seventeenth-century English Revolution (Calvinist Reformation).

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Book Briefs

Feb 18, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book blog. Here are some of the books I’ve read over the past couple months.

Lee Lofland, Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Writer’s Digest Books, 2007). Written by a cop turned writer, this is a fascinating look at how police officers are trained, what they do, and how they think. Lofland overturns a number of myths (like cops shooting to wound, or firing warning shots, or going through the Miranda routine as they cuff someone). As Americans continue to wrestle with issues surrounding law enforcement and race, we would do well to understand the basic of how things work (or are supposed to work). The chapters on the police academy, officer equipment, and search and arrest procedures were especially helpful.

David M. Kennedy, Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America (Bloomsbury, 2011). Read this book. I doubt anyone will agree with everything in the book, but I’d be surprised if someone can’t learn anything from it. In my case, with little education and even less experience regarding violence in inner-city America, I felt like I was learning on every page. I hope to write a longer review in the weeks ahead. For now I’ll just say that the chapter “Across the Race Divide” helped me understand why my Black brothers and sisters are so wary of law enforcement in this country and why those Christians I know on the law enforcement side are so upset when they get painted as the bad guys. Kennedy’s book is part memoir, part sociology, and part activism. His analysis makes a lot of sense to me.

Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014). As always, business books like this must be read with a discerning eye. I find that best-sellers in the “personal success” genre are almost always long on over-simplification and short on gospel wisdom. This doesn’t mean they are useless. Far from it. Maybe it’s just an indication that I’m still learning the lessons from Crazy Busy, but I appreciated the relentless reminder to find what is most important, focus on this one thing, and say no to almost everything else.

Oliver Crisp, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Fortress Press, 2014). I already wrote a longer review; here was my conclusion: “This is not the first book I’ve read by Oliver Crisp, nor will it be the last. Even when exploring ‘liminal places,’ his theology is deeply informed by and respectful of the Reformed tradition. This work is no exception. The history is informative, the breadth of knowledge striking, and the arguments provocative. One can learn much from this book. My main complaint is that in the two instances meant to make the case for ‘deviant Calvinism,’ the first example (libertarian free will) is not really Calvinist and the second example (hypothetical universalism) is not all that deviant.”

Lee Gatiss, For Us and For Our Salvation: ‘Limited Atonement’ in the Bible, Doctrine, History, and Ministry (The Latimer Trust, 2012). A brief book filled with excellent work in each of the categories mentioned in the subtitle. This is a thoughtful, learned, and readable introduction for anyone trying to sort through the questions “For whom did Christ die?” and “What did Christ’s death accomplish?”

 

Gary Steward, Princeton Seminary (1812-1929): The Leaders’ Lives and Works. I love to read about Old Princeton. Here’s my blurb for the book: “Gary Steward is to be commended for providing an intelligent and edifying introduction to the theology and leaders of Old Princeton. Part biography and part doctrinal exploration, this volume can be profitably used both by those familiar with the Alexanders and Hodges and by those meeting them for the first time. The tone is warm and balanced, the content rich and accessible, this historical work careful and illuminating. I hope pastors, students, and anyone else interested in good theology and heartfelt piety will ‘take a few classes’ at Old Princeton. This book is a tremendous resource toward that end.”

Clarke D. Forsythe, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter Books, 2013). Based on a quarter-century of research, Forsythe offers an impressive, if at times disheartening, look at the legal, personal, and cultural issues that led to the legalization of abortion in America. Without ever sounding shrill, cantankerous, our alarmist, Forsythe explores a number of medical myths and judicial irregularities surrounding Roe. If you think Roe was a mistake, you should probably read this book. If you think it wasn’t, you definitely should.

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Away from the Body and at Home with the Lord

Feb 16, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

do-we-go-to-heaven-when-we-die_472_337_80In recent years a new pet peeve has arisen in some quarters of the church. I have often encountered, and not uncommonly from good evangelical brothers, an objection to casual references about “going to heaven when you die.” No doubt, much of this angst has trickled down from N.T. Wright, who expresses concern (in every book I’ve read from him) that traditional Christians have not allowed for God-rescuing-and-renewing-the-cosmos theology to really permeate their thinking. We’ve imagined an ethereal eternity of strumming harps and floating around in the great by and by. We’ve neglected the promise of resurrection. We’ve forgotten the hope of heaven come to earth.

Fair enough. I wholeheartedly agree that salvation is about more than being beamed up into the clouds. And yet, the whole heaven thing is pretty critical to folks when they come to their last breath. Dying saints may find it encouraging to know that the whole cosmos is going to be renewed at the end of the age, but they also can’t help but wonder what the next moment will be like when they reach the end of their days.

Where we go when we die is one of the most important questions a pastor has to answer. Good news about what God promises to do years or centuries from now will not suffice. It isn’t enough to tell our people that they’ll live in a new world at the renewal of all things. They want to know what tomorrow will be like. Will they be with Jesus in paradise or not? Paul talked about the heavenly dwelling waiting for him once he died (2 Cor. 5:1-10) and the joy he would have to depart and be with Christ (Phil. 1:19-26), so we ought to have no shame in glorying, as the saints for two millennia have done, that after death we live with God in heaven.

I understand that some good Christians have an underdeveloped eschatology that rarely touches on crucial New Testament themes. But many of these same Christians have a sweet and simple longing for heaven, a commendable confidence that because of Christ they will, in fact, die and go to a better place. Correcting eschatological imbalances is good, but not if it means undermining or minimizing one of the most precious promises in all the Bible; namely, that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). Even the intermediate state is indescribably good–better to be away from the body and at home with the Lord is how Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:8).

In trumpeting the good news of cosmic renewal let us not lose sight of the hope that anchors the believer in hard times and is the reality awaiting us on the other side of suffering and death: we really do go to heaven when we die.

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The Most Glorious Cure

Feb 13, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

No one plans to be a widow at twenty-three.

Tomorrow I will preach at the funeral of Elliott Preston Orr, a young man from our congregation who died of cancer last Friday. Elliott grew up in North Branch, a small town in Michigan’s Thumb. He came to Michigan State University in the fall of 2010. At the end of his freshman year he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, cancer in the bone. After months of chemotherapy and radiation, he was cancer free.

For a time.

In the summer of 2013 doctors discovered the cancer had come back, and was worse than before. Not knowing what the rest of his life would be like, except that it would almost immediately include another battery of grueling treatments, Elliott and his fiancee decided to move up their wedding so they could find out together what “for better, for worse” really meant. On July 18, 2013 Elliott married his childhood sweetheart Christina Skelton.

I got to know Elliott and Christina as college students in our campus ministry, Spartan Christian Fellowship. In a church our size, there are lots of students I don’t know very well and some I never meet. But I’m glad to have known Elliott. He and Christina were in our home many times. Along with the rest of our church, we prayed for them often. They were (and are) easy people to like and to love. Elliott was smart, friendly, funny, un-anxious, warm-hearted–a good friend and a godly Christian.

We’ve had people die in our church before. Every life has been precious. Few have been so young. Few have been the object of so many prayers. We prayed for Elliott for years–special services, congregational prayers, elder visits, and a near endless supply of petitions for friends and family. God did not give us what we prayed for, at least not everything we prayed for, at least not now.

Hundreds of people–maybe close to a thousand–will gather in The Thumb tomorrow for a funeral they prayed they would not see. And yet, mingled in the midst of much sorrow, will be brilliant sights and sounds of joy. Not only to remember a remarkable young man, but reflect on the faith he so powerfully displayed and to worship the one he so fully trusted. I wish you could have met Elliott. You would have been better for it. Despite the mouth sores, despite the excruciating pain, despite the paralysis, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:20-21).

Tomorrow will be about Christ. Those were Elliott’s wishes. During his illness, he wrote a poem which is a powerful reflection of who he was and who Christ is.

People say with albeit good intentions
That if God heals me then His glory will be shown,
But people often hesitate to mention
The other side of His omniscient throne.

For God to show His power through healing
Would be glorious if it were His will,
But it would also be maybe too appealing
For perhaps my faith would stand too still.

For in truth I want all to realize in whole
That I care not what this ailment does
Because I truly believe in full
That God knew it all before it was.

And in trusting Him I would gladly endure
One thousand years of agony and strife
In order to witness the most glorious cure
Of Christ coming into just one more person’s life.

Elliott fought the good fight. He finished the race. The last time I spoke to him–a few days before he passed away–he talked about caring for his dear wife and longing for heaven. I asked him what song we could sing. He said, “In Christ Alone.” Very fitting. That’s how he lived, and that was the comfort in which he died.

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No Grey Area

Feb 11, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

There is nothing gray about whether a follower of Christ should see 50 Shades of Grey. This is a black and white issue. Don’t go. Don’t watch it. Don’t read it. Don’t rent it.

I don’t even want to talk about it. Another blogger and I went back and forth for several weeks about how we could write a satirical review panning the movie and skewering those who think they need to see it in order to be relevant. We couldn’t do it. There was no way to make the humor weighty enough to sufficiently condemn such a vile film.

And no, I haven’t seen the movie. I haven’t watched the trailer either. I haven’t read a single page from the book. Reading about the premise from Wikipedia and the IMDb for two minutes convinced me I didn’t need to know any more. Sex is a wonderful gift from God, but like all God’s gifts it can be opened in the wrong context and repackaged in ugly wrapping.  Violence against women is not acceptable just because she’s open to the suggestion, and sex is not open to all permutations, even in an adult relationship. Mutual consent does not a moral philosophy make.

Sex is a private matter to be shared in the privacy and sanctity of the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4). Sex, as God designed it, is not meant for actors who pretend (or not) that they are making “love.” The act of conjugal union is what married couples do behind closed doors, not what disciples of Jesus Christ pay money to watch on a screen the size of your house.

As I’ve said before, we have to take a hard look at what we put in front of our eyes as men and women seated in the heavenly places (Col. 3:1-2). If 50 Shades is a problem, by what standard do we give ourselves a pass on the rest of the sensuality we freely consume? To be sure, awareness of sin is not by itself the problem. The Bible is full of rank immorality. It would be simplistic and morally untenable—even unbiblical—to suggest you cannot watch sin or read about sin without sinning yourself. But the Bible never titil­lates with its description of sin. It never paints vice with virtue’s colors. It does not entertain with evil (unless to mock it). The Bible does not dull the conscience by making sin look normal and righteousness look strange.

Christians shouldn’t try to “redeem” 50 Shades of Grey. We should not get cutesy and advertize a new sermon series on “50 Shades of Grace.” We should not give both art and holiness a bad name by thinking that somehow something as dark as 50 Shades is worth viewing or worth reviewing. According to Paul’s logic, it is possible to expose sin and keep it hidden at the same time (Eph. 5:11-12). “A good man is ashamed to speak that which many people are not ashamed to act” (Matthew Henry).

Some movies do not deserve sophisticated analysis. They deserve sober repudiation. If the church cannot extend grace to sexual sinners, we’ve lost the heart of the gospel. And if we cannot tell people to stay away from 50 Shades of Grey, we’ve lost our minds.

 

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Yeah, Well, But What About the Crusades?

Feb 09, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

crusadesWe are coming up on a thousand years, and Christians still haven’t made up for the Crusades. No matter how many times Billy Graham makes the most admired list, we’ll still have the Crusades to deal with.  When President Obama encouraged humility in denouncing ISIS today in light of the Crusades from close to a millennium ago, he may have been making a clumsy moral equivalence argument, but he was only voicing what many Americans (and many Christians) have articulated before. Remember the faux confessional booths from way back in the 2000’s when Christians would apologize to non-Christians for the Crusades? If there is one thing in our collective history that we cannot apologize for enough it is the history conjured up by pictures like the one in this post.

Yet, for all the times we’ve lamented the Crusades, how many of us know more than two sentences about them? Isn’t it wise to know at least a little something about the Crusades before we borrow them to get an advanced degree in self-recrimination?

A few years ago I picked up a copy of The New Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden, a history professor at Saint Louis University.  It’s a fascinating book.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more, but not too much (it’s only 225 pages), about the Crusades.

What Are We Talking About?

The Crusades refer to a series of military expeditions over several centuries, beginning with the First Crusade in 1096 through the end of the Fifth Crusade in 1221, and continuing on in more sporadic fashion up until the Reformation.  The term “Crusade” is not a medieval word.  It is a modern word.  It comes from crucesignati (“those signed by the cross”), a term used occasionally after the twelfth century to refer to what we now call “crusaders.”  Contrary to popular opinion, the Crusades did not begin as a holy war whose mission was to convert the heathen by the sword.  In fact, very few of the crusaders saw their mission as an evangelistic one.  The initial purpose of the Crusades, and the main military goal throughout the Middle Ages, was quite simply to reclaim Christian lands captured by Muslim armies.

The popular conception of barbaric, ignorant, cruel, and superstitious crusaders attacking peaceful, sophisticated Muslims comes largely from Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Talisman (1825) and Sir Steven Runciman’s three-volume History of the Crusades (1951-54), the latter of which concludes with the famous summation now shared by most everyone:  “the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.”

Scott and Runciman did much to shape the entirely negative view of the Crusades, but it isn’t as if they had no material to work with.  The Crusades were often barbaric and often produced spectacular failures.  Children died needlessly.  Coalitions splintered endlessly.  Jews were sometimes persecuted mercilessly.  Ancient cities were ransacked foolishly.  And on occasion (e.g., the Wendish Crusade) infidels were forced to convert or die, while the crusaders holding the swords were guaranteed immortality.  In short, many of the Christians who went to war under the sign of the cross conducted themselves as if they knew nothing of the Christ of the cross.

But that’s not the whole story.  The Crusades is also the story of thousands of godly men, women, and children who sacrificed time, money, and health to reclaim holy lands in distant countries overrun by Muslims.  The Christians of the East had suffered mightily at the hands of the Turks and Arabs.  It was only right, it seemed to medieval Christians, to go and help their fellow Christians and reclaim their land and property.

Not What You May Think

Many crusaders were knights (and their families) who left lands and titles.  They saw their journey to the Middle East as an act of piety, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the center of the earth and the center of their spiritual world.  To be sure, the crusaders could be arrogant and savage, but they could also be pious, compassionate (e.g., the Hospitallers), and courageous.

And they did not always fail.  The First Crusade, unlike most of the others, actually worked.  Against all odds, a fractious group of Christians made their way from Western Europe to the Middle East and conquered two of the best-defended cities in the world (Antioch and Jerusalem).  Their triumph was nothing short of remarkable, and for the crusaders, it signaled nothing less than the hand of God restoring his city to his people.

A popular poem of the fifteenth century captured the heartbeat of the crusading spirit:

Fifteenth century/ Our faith was strong in th’ Orient/ It ruled in all of Asia/ In Moorish lands and Africa/ But now for us these lands are gone/ ‘Twould even grieve the hardest stone…We perish sleeping one and all/ The wolf has come into the stall/ And steals the Holy Church’s sheep/ The while the shepherd lies asleep/ Four sisters of our Church you find/ They’re of the patriarchic kind/ Constantinople, Alexandria/ Jerusalem, Antiochia/ But they’ve been forfeited and sacked/ And soon the head will be attacked.

We are right to deplore the cruelty meted out by crusading Christians, but should not ignore their plight.  Christians lands had been captured.  Surely, they thought, this could not stand.  For an American, it would have been as if Al-Qaeda sacked Washington D.C. following 9/11, set up shop for Bin Laden in the White House, and turned the Lincoln Memorial into a terrorist training center.  It would be unthinkable, cowardly even, for no one to storm the city, liberate its captives, and return our nation’s capital to its rightful owners.  We should never excuse the atrocities that occurred under the banner of the cross during the Crusades, but we should, at least, take pause to understand why they set out on what seems to us to be a fool’s errand.

We should also resist the temptation to blame present day Muslim extremism on the Crusades.  This is not to say that the Crusades don’t loom large in the Islamic consciousness.  It is to say that this was not always the case.  The Crusades were always a big deal in the Christian West, but for Muslims, as late as the seventeenth century, it was just another futile attempt by the infidels to halt the inevitable expansion of Islam.  From the time of the Prophet Mohammed through the Reformation, Muslims conquered three-fourths of Christian lands.  Once the Muslims united under Saladin, the crusaders, themselves divided, were no match for the armies of Islam.

The Crusades were not a major factor in shaping the Islamic world.  The Crusades were just another unsuccessful attempt to thwart the spread of Islam.  The term for the Crusades, harb-al-salib, was only introduced in the Arab language in the mid-nineteenth century, and the first Arabic history of the Crusades was not written until 1899.  Because the crusades were unsuccessful, they simply did not matter much to Muslims.  But all this began to change when European nations colonized  Muslim nations and brought their schools and textbooks which hailed the gallant crusaders and heroic knights who tried to bring Christianity and civilization to the Middle East.  Like sports, like war, like life–when you’re winning, you don’t care who’s losing; but when you’re losing, it matters a lot who’s beating you.

A Little Caution Goes a Long Way

The point of this article is not to make us fans of the Crusades, but to make us more careful in our denunciation of them.  We fight for nation-states and democracy.  They fought for religion and holy lands.  Their reasons for war seem wrong to us, but no more than our reasons would seem wrong to them.  Madden writes:

It is easy enough for modern people to dismiss the crusades as morally repugnant and cynically evil.  Such judgments, however, tell us more about the observer than the observed.  They are based on uniquely modern (and, therefore, Western) values.  If, from the safety of our modern world, we are quick to condemn the medieval crusader, we should be mindful that he would be just as quick to condemn us.  Our infinitely more destructive wars waged for the sake of political and social ideologies would, in his opinion, be lamentable wastes of human life.  In both societies, the medieval and the modern, people fight for what is most dear to them.  That is fact of human nature that is not so changeable.

Maybe the crusaders can teach us something after all.  Maybe their example can force us to examine what we hold most dear. In America this may be freedom, democracy, and a hard fought peace in a world of terror. In the church, we will establish different priorities.

We are in a battle and the Master has called us to fight–not with the weapons of the world, but with the word of God and prayer; not against our neighbors, but against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Some things are worth fighting for. Some things are worth dying for. Our land? Perhaps. Our Lord? Always. So let our struggle be valiant, our suffering be purposeful, and our strategy be Christ’s, who triumphed over the enemy not by taking life, but by giving his own.

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