f The Wittenberg Door: November 2013

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

You Never Marry the Right Person

In an article for RELEVANT Magazine, Pastor Timothy Keller points out that many in our culture are looking for the wrong things when considering a future spouse:

. . . they are looking for someone who will accept them as they are, complement their abilities and fulfill their sexual and emotional desires. This will indeed require a woman who is “a novelist/astronaut with a background in fashion modeling,” and the equivalent in a man. A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put—today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.

Not only that, but many are shocked to find thorns in their marital rose garden. “This marriage-thing shouldn’t be so tough! I must have married the wrong person.” Pastor Keller answers, “You’re right.”

. . . Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered—living life incurvatus in se. As author Denis de Rougemont said, “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love ... ?” That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess. Raw, natural talent does not enable you to play baseball as a pro or write great literature without enduring discipline and enormous work. Why would it be easy to live lovingly and well with another human being in light of what is profoundly wrong within our human nature? Indeed, many people who have mastered athletics and art have failed miserably at marriage. So the biblical doctrine of sin explains why marriage—more than anything else that is good and important in this fallen world—is so painful and hard.

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Does Calvinism Make People Jerks?

Calvinists are sometimes described as the theological equivalent to Ebenezer Scrooge. The cause of this supposed malady is typically diagnosed Calvinism itself. But is this true? Do the doctrines of grace cause us to be malcontents? Pastor Kevin DeYoung answers this question:

No. But Calvinism is a useful tool for jerky people to act like jerks.

Reformed folks have been stereotyped as the cranky Christians on the block. I’m not interested in debating whether the stereotype is deserved or not. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we are the meanies because we have the audacity to believe what we believe and the temerity to say that others are wrong. No problem there. That’s Christianity (not all of it, but part of it).

And yet, who among us has not met the quintessential Calvinist curmudgeon? How many of us have been that curmudgeon? Some of you still are! We might as well admit it: Calvinists can be jerks.

But the problem is owing to the jerks, not to the Calvinism. I’ve seen feminist jerks and social justice jerks, libertarian jerks and liberal jerks, hipster jerks and “you Calvinists are Taliban fundamentalists” jerks. The problem is not predestination. It’s pride.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Make Your Election Sure

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall”

2 Peter 1:10

Fine commentary from Table Talk:

Like those of us living today, the apostles could also not be absolutely sure that all those in their audiences had true faith. Therefore, we read many warnings about the need to grow in holiness so that we, along with the original recipients, might persevere in faith and not fall away. In today’s passage, Peter concludes his section on the necessity of possessing godly virtues by reminding us that if we practice the qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5–7 we will not fall away but rather be welcomed into the kingdom (vv. 10–11).

Moreover, in practicing these qualities, we make our calling and election sure (v. 10). All of this is not to call the final salvation of God’s elect into doubt. Rather, it shows us that the elect have a role to play in their perseverance. God saves us from first to last through His sovereign grace alone, but one evidence that this sovereign grace is operative in our lives is that we persevere in faith by working to add the virtues described in verses 5–7.

Our efforts merit neither regeneration nor righteousness. God, however, is pleased to use them to keep us from falling away. The elect will not presume upon God’s grace and think that they can persist in sin. Rather they will exercise their God-given faith (Eph. 2:8), which in turn will move them to strive after holiness so that perseverance results. Those who profess faith without possessing it will not continually pursue godliness and thus will not persevere.

You can read the entire commentary here.

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Challenges to Presuppositional Apologetics

The Gospel Coalition has posted a series of articles about apologetic methodology. The three major schools were represented: Classical, Evidential, and Presuppositional. The Aristophrenium provides a handy list and links to each of the respective articles here.

Being of the Van Tilian Presuppositional stripe, one of the articles that piqued my interest was Dr. Paul Copan’s challenge to the Covenantal approach, particularly his charge of question begging. Reason being, this was my main objection when I was still in the Evidential camp. Dr. Oliphant answers this objection and the others Dr. Copan raises in his article titled, Answering Objections to Presuppositionalism. Here’s part of his answer to the question begging charge:

Van Til is not advocating fallacious reasoning here. Though much more needs to be said, a couple of points should be remembered when Van Til wants to affirm circular reasoning:

(1) Circular reasoning is not the same as a circular argument. A circular argument is one in which the conclusion of the argument is also assumed in one or more of the premises. Van Til's notion of circularity is broader, and more inclusive, than a strict argument form. For example, in William Alston, The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), Alston argues that it is impossible to establish that one has knowledge in a certain area without at the same time presupposing some knowledge in that area. His example is an argument for the reliability of sense perception. Any argument for such reliability presupposes that reliability. And it does so because of the epistemic situation in which human beings exist. Alston is right here, it seems. Not only so, but, to go deeper, the epistemic and metaphysical situation in which human beings exist is one in which the source of and rationale for all that we are and think is, ultimately, in the Triune God of Scripture. Circularity in this sense is inevitable. We will never be outside the context of image of God as we think and live---not in this life or the next.

(2) Van Til's affirmation of circular reasoning should be seen in the context of the point he makes in various places about "indirect" arguments. Any petitio principia is, by definition, a direct argument---containing premises and a conclusion. Van Til's indirect method moves one out of the context of a strict proof or direct argument, and into the context of the rationale for any fact or law assumed to be, or to be true. Thus, circularity is inextricably linked to the transcendental approach, and is not meant to be in reference, strictly speaking, to direct argumentation.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Excuses for Not Praying

Prayer doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve always admired those “prayer warriors" who’ve worn-out many a pair of jeans because of prolonged sessions on their knees. I’d much rather study. But prayer is an important part of the Christian life, so I press on (at least most of the time).

There are, of course, many other reason why we don’t pray as we should. D.A. Carson addresses some of the most common reasons over at Monergisim.com. Here’s one that struck close to home for me:

I Feel Too Dry Spiritually To Pray

Hidden behind this excuse are two presuppositions that are really quite monstrous. The first is that the acceptability of my approach to God in prayer out to be tied to how I feel. But is God especially impressed with us when we feel joyful or carefree or well rested or pious? Is not the basis of any Christian’s approach to the heavenly Father the sufficiency of Christ’s mediating work on our behalf? Is not this a part of what we mean when we pray “in Jesus’ name”? Are we not casting a terrible slur on the cross when we act as if the usefulness or acceptability of our prayers turns on whether we feel full or dry? True, when we feel empty and dispirited we may have to remind ourselves a little more forcefully that the sole reason why God accepts us is the grace that he has bestowed upon us in the person and work of his Son. But that is surely better than giving the impression that we are somehow more fit to pray when we feel good.

The second unacceptable presupposition behind this attitude is that my obligation to pray is somehow diminished when I do not feel like praying. This is to assign to my mood or my feelings the right to determine what I ought to do. And that, of course, is unbearably self-centered. It means that I, and I alone, determine what is my duty, my obligation. In short, it means that I am y own god. It is to act as if the Bible never says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12, emphasis added).

You can read the entire list here.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thought of the Day: Taking Notes

Here’s today’s helpful hint: take notes during the sermon . . .

  • It’ll help you stay awake.

  • It’ll help you remember what was said.

  • And, for heads-of-households, it’s a great way to make sure that everyone understood the sermon by going over the notes later with the family.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, November 07, 2013

What Does it Mean to be Salt and Light?

Phil Johnson penned a fine article for Table Talk on what it means to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). He has also posted it at the Pyromaniacs blog. Here’s an excerpt:

That text [Matt. 5:13-16] is often cited as if it were a mandate for the church to engage in political activism—lobbying, rallying voters, organizing protests, and harnessing the evangelical movement for political clout. I recently heard a well-known evangelical leader say, "We need to make our voices heard in the voting booth, or we're not being salt and light the way Jesus commanded."

That view is pervasive. Say the phrase "salt and light" and the typical evangelical starts talking politics as if by Pavlovian reflex. But look at Jesus' statement carefully in its context. He was not drumming up boycotts, protests, or a political campaign. He was calling His disciples to holy living.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Christian Hedonist Calvinism

Pastor John Piper asks the question, “What would the doctrines of grace sound like if every limb in that tree were coursing with the sap of Augustinian delight (that is, Christian Hedonism)?” Here’s his answer:

  • Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to God’s beauty and deadness to the deepest joy.

  • Unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed as the overflow of God’s joy in the fellowship of the Trinity.

  • Limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the covenant.

  • Irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights.

  • Perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God not to let us fall into the final bondage of inferior pleasures, but to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of fullness of joy in his presence and pleasures at his right hand forevermore.

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Prayer and the Gospel

Our understanding of the gospel affects how we pray. This is why when we see prayer represented in our culture, such as in movies, we see something like a child asking for a pony from Santa. (Of course, the hucksters on “Christian” TV don’t help with their name-it-claim-it nonsense.)—They don’t understand the gospel so they don’t understand prayer.

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York city, takes up this topic at the church’s Web site. Here’s how the article begins:

One of the most basic things that the gospel does is change prayer from mere petition to fellowship and the praise of his glory. Galatians 4:6-7 teaches us that when we believe the gospel, we not only become God's children legally, but we receive the Spirit in order to experience our sonship. The Spirit leads us to call out passionately to God as our tender and loving Father. The Spirit calls out 'Abba' (4:7). In the very next verse Paul refers to this experience as "knowing God" (4:8). We do not just know and believe that God is holy and loving, but we actually experience contact with his holiness and his love in personal communion with him.

No one had a deeper insight into the gospel and prayer than Jonathan Edwards. Edwards concluded the most essential difference between a Christian and a moralist is that a Christian obeys God out of the sheer delight in who he is. The gospel means that we are not obeying God to get anything but to give him pleasure because we see his worth and beauty. Therefore, the Christian is able to draw power out of contemplation of God. Without the gospel, this is impossible. We can only come and ask for things- petition. Without the gospel, we may conceive of a holy God who is intimidating and who can be approached with petitions if we are very good. Or we may conceive of a God who is mainly loving and regards all positively. To approach the first "God" is fearsome; to approach the second is no big deal. Thus without the gospel, there is no possibility of passion and delight to praise and approach God.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer