f The Wittenberg Door: January 2015

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Today in Church History: R.B. Kuiper and New Life OPC (Escondido)

Rienk Bouke (R. B.) Kuiper was born on January 31, 1886 in Garrelsweer, a village in the northern province of Groningen, in the Netherlands.

The son of a Reformed Church minister immigrated with his family to North America in 1891. Kuiper's life in the new world involved a constant shuttle between the Midwest and the east coast. After studies at Calvin and Princeton Seminaries, Kuiper served five western Michigan congregations over the course of seventeen years. He then embarked on a career in higher education, first as professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary in its inaugural academic year, 1929-30. He then answered the call to serve as President of Calvin College. Three years later, he returned to Westminster where he taught practical theology for twenty years. After his "retirement" in 1952 he served as president of Calvin Seminary for four years.

Kuiper was a ministerial member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for 16 years, and he moderated the fourth General Assembly in 1938. He was the author of several popular books, including As to Being Reformed, The Glorious Body of Christ, and God-Centered Evangelism. In his writing and especially in his preaching, "he had the gift," wrote Robert Nicholas in the Presbyterian Guardian, "of making the profound simple as he proclaimed the whole counsel of God."

Kuiper died on April 22, 1966 in Grand Rapids, at the age of 80.

New Life OPC (Escondido)

On January 31, 1989, New Life OPC in Escondido, California, left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and joined the Presbyterian Church in America.

In a process dubbed "voluntary realignment," the Escondido congregation was one of several churches established by New Life OPC in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, that left the OPC in frustration over two failures of the denomination to unite with the PCA within the previous decade. In an exchange published in New Horizons, John Frame defended the exodus. "Our congregation," he wrote, "has gifts from God, a strategic location, and a burden and a calling to plant churches in San Diego County. Most of the more gifted church planters in this area have preferred to work in the PCA rather than in the OPC. Thus we believed we had good reason, indeed, a divine mandate of sorts, to switch denominations."

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., disagreed: "To withdraw unilaterally and for the reasons currently being given " frustration, preference, or presumed advantage " is to retrace those fatal steps that first divided Christ's body."

Twelve years later, the OPC returned to Escondido with the planting of a mission work in the city.

-John Muether


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

William Tyndale - Part 1

"I defy the pope and all his laws; and, if God spares me, I will one day make the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the pope does!" So said translation pioneer William Tyndale.

Born near Dursley, Gloucestershire, UK, between 1484 and 1496, Tyndale developed a zeal to get the Bible into the hands of the common man—a passion for which he ultimately gave his life.

Educated at Oxford and Cambridge, Tyndale became fluent in at least seven languages. In 1522, the same year Luther translated the New Testament into German, Tyndale was an ordained Catholic priest serving John Walsh of Gloucestershire. It was during this time, when Tyndale was 28 years of age, that he began pouring over Erasmus’ Greek New Testament. The more he studied the more the doctrines of the Reformation became clear. And like a great fire kindled by a lighting strike, so Tyndale’s heart was set ablaze by the doctrines of grace:

By grace . . . we are plucked out of Adam the ground of all evil and graffed in Christ, the root of all goodness. In Christ God loved us, his elect and chosen, before the world began and reserved us unto the knowledge of his Son and of his holy gospel; and when the gospel is preached to us openeth our hearts and giveth us grace to believe, and putteth the spirit of Christ in us: and we know him as our Father most merciful, and consent to the law and love it inwardly in our heart and desire to fulfill it and sorrow because we do not.

Rome’s Opposition to an English Translation

Nearly 200 years earlier, starting in 1382, John Wycliff and his followers (known as Lollards) distributed hand-written English translations of Scripture. The Archbishop of Canterbury responded by having Wycliffe and his writings condemned.

But Rome was not finished. In 1401, Parliament passed a law making heresy a capital offence. Seven years later, the Archbishop of Canterbury made it a crime to “translate any text of the Scripture into English or any other tongue . . . and that no man can read any such book . . . in part or in whole." The sentence was burning. Across Europe, the flames were ignited and the Lollards were all but destroyed. Rome was determined to keep God’s Word out of the people’s hands.

. . . as a boy of 11 watched the burning of a young man in Norwich for possessing the Lord’s Prayer in English . . . John Foxe records . . . seven Lollards burned at Coventry in 1519 for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English.

John Bale (1495-1563)

Rome was not finished with Wycliffe either: 44 years after his death, the pope ordered Wycliffe’s bones exhumed, burned, and his ashes scattered.

Tyndale was truly in great danger.

Stay Tuned for part 2!

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Does Sin Cost a Believer His Salvation?

One of the terrors I endured early in my Christian life was that of continually believing that I was teetering on destruction, that I was constantly oscillating between salvation and perdition. Have I repented enough? Have I done enough to feel that I was again in God’s good graces? What about all the sins I’ve committed that I can’t recall or of which I am unaware?

As much as I wanted to believe that my salvation was by faith in Christ and in him alone, I was still faced with the grim consequences of my soteriology: God provided grace, but it was my decision to either take his hand or to slap it away. And it was my decision to continue in this salvific enterprise--and my sin was a definite issue. Was I still saved at any given moment? I couldn’t be sure. Despair was often the result.

Later, once I discovered that salivation indeed belonged to the Lord, I was set free! Free to worship God and to enjoy him and this life. God was the author and the finisher of my faith, not me. He holds me in his hand, and isn’t relying on my grip to keep me from falling away. What an occasion for rejoicing!

From Ligonier . . .

But I’m convinced that the Bible teaches that what God begins in our life, he finishes. Paul teaches, for example, in Philippians, “He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end.” My confidence rests in the fact that Jesus promises to intercede for me daily as my Great High Priest. My confidence for my future salvation rests in my confidence that God will keep his promise and that Christ will intercede for me and preserve me. Again, if it were left to me, I would obviously fall away. I like to look at it this way: I’m walking the Christian life with my hand in God’s hand. If my perseverance depended upon my holding tightly to God’s hand, I would surely fall away because at some point I would let go. But I believe that the Scriptures teach us that God is holding my hand, and because he is holding my hand, I don’t have to fear that I will fall ultimately and finally.

Now that doesn’t mean that Christians don’t involve themselves in serious sins and what we would call in theology “serious and radical fall,” but the issue we’re discussing here is whether a Christian will ever fall totally and finally. In the New Testament John tells us, for example, that “those who went out from us were never really with us,” and that “Christ does not lose those whom the Father has given to him.” So my confidence again rests in the intercession of Christ and God’s ability and promise to hold on to me. In and of myself I am capable of sinning even unto the loss of my salvation, but I’m persuaded that God in his grace will keep me from that.

You can read the rest here.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Rome, The Infallible Interpreter?

The Roman Catholic Church claims that only she can correctly interpret the Scriptures. We Protestants, of course, “protest” such a claim. But before we even make our Scriptural case for Sola Scripture, a few questions come to mind. Such as, if only Rome can correctly interpret the Bible, who was providing the interpretations as the Epistles were being read aloud in the early church, and why is no mention of this need made by Paul and the others?(Along those lines, who interpreted the letter for Philemon?) Besides “Because we say so,” why ought we accept Rome’s claim as the sole interpreter? And here’s an even better question posed over at Green Baggins . . .

I do want to ask formally this question: if the RCC has a monopoly on the interpretation of the Bible, how come they have not come out with an inerrant commentary on the Bible? They keep telling us that “our own private interpretations” are wrong when they run foul of the RCC. However, they don’t tell us what every verse in fact means. I would think this would be a rather high priority, seeing as how we are dealing with direct revelation from God. I want to know what God said to me in His Word. How can the Roman Catholic find that out? Would it not be vitally important that we have God’s Word all figured out by the church as to its meaning? If a RC apologist responds by saying that it is all interpreted in the Tradition, I would say that they are operating with a definition of Tradition that doesn’t really work. Tradition is basically what the current RCC teaches. Besides, very few verses have ever been definitely interpreted by the RCC as to their meaning. Where is the definitive interpretation of the Bible? In the Protestant tradition, we really don’t have to worry about that. We have and can learn from all the writers of the past, while not having to agree with any one or group of them, unless, say, we take a vow upholding a particular confessional standard.

You can read the rest of the post here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, January 24, 2015

John Calvin on Holiness

Sanctification is a slow, painful process that lasts until Glory. Indeed, we’ll only make small strides in this life. But strive we must. The holiness of our Lord must always be before our eyes. (How easy it is to lose sight of this, Lord help us!) John Calvin spilled much ink on this topic and his insights are valuable. Ligonier summarizes some of Calvin’s thoughts over at their blog. Here’s how it begins:

Holiness consists in conformity to Christ. Calvin writes, “Because the Father has reconciled us to Himself in Christ, therefore He commands us to be conformed to Christ as to our pattern.” Indeed, he continues, “Unless we ardently and prayerfully devote ourselves to Christ’s righteousness we do not only faithlessly revolt from our Creator, but we also abjure Him as our Savior.”

This is strong language. The word ardently conveys the idea of eager zealousness, or as we might say today, “going all out” or “giving 100 percent.” The word abjure means “to renounce strongly,” as in Peter’s third denial of the Lord when “he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man’” (Matt. 26:74).

Calvin leaves no room for a middle ground. Either we ardently pursue the example of Christ or else we strongly renounce Him by our conduct and lifestyle. How different this standard is from the attitude of so many of today’s Christians, who are quite casual or halfhearted in their pursuit of Christlikeness. But from Calvin’s matter-of-fact writing style, it is clear that he regards a zealous pursuit of holiness as the normal Christian life.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thought of the Day: God’s Justice vs. His Love

It’s in vogue today to claim that God won’t punish anyone because He’s a loving God. The truth is, if you sacrifice justice for love, you have likewise sacrificed love—for love demands justice. Thankfully, this is a false dilemma—one does not have to be sacrificed for the other. God is both loving and just—and we see both God’s love and His justice in the doing and dying of Christ.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Freedom of the Regulative Principle

When I was a Pentecostal, the church service was an ever-changing event. Being “led by the Spirit” meant that the whims of the preacher or worship leader could lead the service into any given direction. One of my “pastors,” who fancied himself a prophet, would stop mid-sentence and say something like, “Yes, yes, Lord. I’ll do that.” And off we’d go into a different direction. (Funny, though, that the direction never lead away from the offering.) Anything else was seen as “bondage” because we were “quenching the Spirit.”

You’re average Evangelical church isn’t this bad, but the liturgy is still typically something that revolves around wants and desires of those in charge. As a result, man, not God, determines the means and modes of worship. But the question is for the Pentecostal, the Evangelical, and any other Christian church, is freedom really found in doing what we want?

Pastor Kevin DeYoung answers this question at his blog in a post titled, The Freedom of the Regulative Principle. Here’s how it begins:

Even though I grew up in a Reformed church, until seminary I was one of the multitude of Christians who had never heard of the regulative principle. It’s not been at the core of my identity. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate the regulative principle more and more.

Simply put, the regulative principle states that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself and so limited by his own revealed will” (WCF 21.1). In other words, corporate worship should be comprised of those elements we can show to be appropriate from the Bible. The regulative principles says, “Let’s worship God as he wants to be worshiped.” At its worst, this principle leads to constant friction and suspicion between believers. Christians beat each other up trying to discern exactly where the offering should go in the service or precisely which kinds of instruments have scriptural warrant. When we expect the New Testament to give a levitical lay out of the one liturgy that pleases God, we are asking the Bible a question it didn’t mean to answer. It is possible for the regulative principle to become a religion unto itself.

But the heart of the regulative principle is not about restriction. It is about freedom. . . .

You can read the rest of the post here.

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why Christians Need Confessions

I didn’t grow up in the church, so when I became a believer I came in cold. Once I did start going to church I fell in with a bad theological crowd: Word of Faith Pentecostals. After six years of binding, loosing, and demon chasing, I realized that I didn’t know squat about Christianity. That’s where the creeds, confessions, and catechisms came in. They taught me the Christian faith, as they have to millions of believers for generations.

But not only are Christians taught the faith through these documents, but they are also a means of protecting the believer from the church. Indeed, if I had known them when I became a believer I wouldn’t have wasted six years with the big-hair and loud-suits crew.

Carl R. Trueman, Professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, offers the following seven reasons why every church needs these standards in an article in New Horizons:

  1. Confessions delimit church power.

  2. Confessions offer succinct summaries of the faith.

  3. Confessions allow for appropriate discrimination between office-bearers and members.

  4. Confessions highlight that which is of importance.

  5. Confessions relativize the present and connect us to the past.

  6. Confessions reflect the substance of our worship.

  7. Confessions fulfill a vital part of Paul’s plan for the post-apostolic church.

Click here for Dr. Trueman’s explanation of each reason.

--The Catechizer


Today in History: The Bible and the Oath

Because January 20, the constitutionally prescribed date for presidential inaugurations, fell on a Sunday in 1985, Ronald Reagan’s public inaugural ceremony for his second term was moved to January 21. Due to bad weather, the ceremony was held in the Capitol Rotunda, the first time the oath of office was taken there.

Like many presidents, Reagan swore the oath with a Bible opened to scripture he chose. Here are some examples of Scripture passages used by various presidents.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1905—“ But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror.” James 1:22-23

Woodrow Wilson, 1917—“ God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. . .” Psalm 46

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933, 1931, 1941, 1945—“ If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . .” 1 Corinthians 13

Gerald Ford, 1974—“ Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Jimmy Carter, 1977—“ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Ronald Reagan, 1981, 1985—“ and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

American History Parade

1789 - The first novel by an American writer published in America. The Power of Sympathy by William Hill Brown, is printed in Boston

1950 - Former State Department official Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury regarding allegations that he was a spy for the Soviet Union.

1954 - The first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, is launched at Groton, Connecticut.

1977 - President Jimmy Carter pardons almost all Vietnam War draft evaders.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Monday, January 19, 2015

Today in Church History: Heidelberg Catechism

On January 19, 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism was published in German under the title, "Catechismus, or Christian Instruction, as Conducted in the Churches and Schools of the Electoral Palatinate.

It was named after the German city where it was prepared by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, at the request of the Elector Frederick III. Soon after it was written, it was translated into Dutch, and along with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of the Synod of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism became part of the doctrinal standards of the Dutch Reformed churches. For centuries it has been cherished by Presbyterians as well, especially for its warm and autobiographical style, as displayed in its first question and answer:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong " body and soul, in life and in death " to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to serve him.

--John Muether


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage and State Interest

From The Wittenberg Door archives . . .

Our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation," George wrote for the majority. "An individual's sexual orientation -- like a person's race or gender -- does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.

According to the California Supreme Court, marriage rights should be conferred upon same-sex couples because they can establish loving, long-term, committed relationships. Not to do so would be the same as denying fundamental rights to citizens based solely upon their skin color.

Loving, Long-Term, Committed Relationships

I love Frank Capra’s 1944 adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace. It’s one of my favorite movies. So it's with great trepidation that I add this modern twist: What if the Brewsters lived somewhere in California instead of Brooklyn, New York; and one day, the sisters, Abby and Martha, hear on the radio that same-sex, loving, long-term couples can now receive the same benefits that married couples receive. Seeing as how they are of the same sex, they love each other, and they have pledged to spend their lives together, they must be eligible, right? Not so fast.

There’s a problem—they’re not having sex. The government is not interested in their loving, lifelong, same-sex relationship unless the wild mambo is involved. So out came plan B: Elaine.

Elaine, the minister’s daughter, moves in with the Brewster sisters; and since Elaine is looking to offset some gambling losses (she was sure Michigan could take North Carolina), she’s willing to have sex for money (i.e., tax benefits).

“But wait,” says the government! “We have some arbitrary rules to apply: sisters don’t count, and it can’t be three people, and Elaine is already married to Mortimer, so she’s out ...”

“But we love each other! Isn't it all about love?"

As this little exercise in reductio ad absurdam reveals, the court’s ruling is logically vacuous.

Is Homosexuality the Same as Ethnicity?

As the Los Angeles Times points out, “The ruling cited a 60-year-old precedent that struck down a ban on interracial marriage in California.” In the court’s mind, ethnicity and homosexuality are on the same moral plain. But is this the case?

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ethnicity is white. He was born that way and can do nothing to change it. His ethnicity is intrinsic to him. Consequently he had—and has—no choice in the matter. Those with homosexual desires, on the other hand, have a choice as to whether or not to act upon those desires. The latter is morally relevant, while the former is not. Thus ethnicity and homosexuality are not on the same moral plain (one involves choice and the other does not—one is intrinsic and the other a behavior). And since the state should only treat equals equally, it is in fact immoral to judicially conflate the two.

State Interest

The State’s only interest in marriage is that it is the best way for it, the State, to perpetuate itself. Mommies and daddies are from where the next generation of citizens will come. And the best environment for the raising of responsible citizens is a married, monogamist, heterosexual household. Married and monogamist because that brings stability to the home; heterosexual because both the mother and the father bring something in particular to the childrearing enterprise.

This unit is the best way to secure society’s future. Therefore, the State has an interest in favoring and protecting marriage between a man and a woman. It has no such interest in same-sex unions

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Today in History: A Prayer at Valley Forge

During the long winter of 1777–78, when the Patriot army camped at Valley Forge, George Washington shared the hardships suffered by his men. He spent much of his time rounding up food, begging the Continental Congress for suppliers, and bolstering the troops’ spirits. His presence kept the army from disintegrating.

Tradition holds that one cold day, Isaac Potts, a Quaker farmer who lived near Valley Forge, was walking through the woods when he heard a low, solemn voice. Stealing quietly in its direction, he found a riderless horse tied to a sapling. The farmer crept nearer and through the trees saw a lone man on his knees in the snow.

It was General Washington. Tears marked his face as he bowed his head and asked God to look after his men.

At home that evening the farmer told his wife of the encounter, “All will be well, Martha,” he said. “If there is anyone the Lord will listen to, it is this brave man. I have seen General Washington on his knees. Our independence is certain.”

American History Parade

1639 - Three Connecticut towns adopt the Fundamental Orders, one of the earliest constitutions in the colonies.

1784 - The Continental Congress ratifies the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the Revolutionary War.

1914 - Henry Ford introduces a moving assembly line for cars, reducing production time from more than 12 hours to about 90 minutes.

1943 - Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the first U.S. president to travel by airplane while in office, when he flies to a wartime conference in Casablanca, Morocco.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Is Sanctification By Faith Alone?

We contribute nothing, save sin, to our justification. We do, however, participate in our sanctification. Unlike justification, sanctification is not by faith alone. Kevin DeYoung reminds us of this distinction in a post over at the Gospel Coalition site. He begins his piece by answering the question, Is sanctification by faith alone?

The short answer is no. Though it sounds very Protestant, it is not correct to say “sanctification is by faith alone.”

That requires some explanation.

In saying sanctification is not by faith alone, I’m not saying the work we do is somehow owing to us and not to God. He works in and we work out. But if we say sanctification is by faith alone, aren’t we severely reducing what we mean by saying justification is by faith alone? It was the mistake of Catholics to inadequately distinguish between justification and sanctification. If in trying to honor justification by faith alone we provide the same formula for sanctification, we are destroying the former as much as the latter.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Lazy Atheist?— The Christian Worldview (Conclusion)

In part 1 I mentioned that for a worldview to be considered viable it must be able to make sense of reality. Atheism as a worldview fails to provide a foundation for abstract (non-material), invariant (things not given to change) entities, such as morality, mathematics, laws of logic, and propositions. Moreover, atheism fails to make sense of love and beauty, and is found wanting when it comes to accounting for the regularity of nature.

So what are we to make of it when atheists love, show compassion, demand justice, use logic and mathematics, and engage in the scientific enterprise? Like a drowning man denying the existence of water, they must assume the Christian worldview in order to refute it—for it is Christianity, not atheisim, that comports with reality.

Christianity Provides the Answers

Christianity answers the tough questions:

  • Morality
    Murder (the unjust taking of a human life) is wrong. We know this innately. The same is true with theft, adultery, rape, lying, etc. (Sure, there’ve been variations on these themes, but the themes remain.)

    Morality reflects God’s character. He is holy, righteous, and just. We are beings created in his image; therefore, we are moral agents. It is upon this very foundation that civilization is made possible.

  • Mathematics and the Laws of Logic
    Prove 2+2=4. Most people grab four items, place them next to each other, and then say “two pencils and two pencils equal four pencils.” But this doesn’t solve the problem—it merely restates the equation using a different physical representation.

    How about the laws of logic? Are the laws of logic—the law of non-contradiction (A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same sense), the law of identity (A is A), and the law of excluded middle (A is either A or it isn’t)—merely human inventions? If they are, we’re doomed. Actually, all cultures assume the laws of logic. Language isn’t even possible without them, and thus civilization would not be possible.

    2+2=4 because that’s the way it is in the mind of God; and the laws of logic reflect His thinking. Again, we think this way because we are His image bearers. Thus, Aristotle discovered (i.e., categorized) the laws of logic; he did not invent them.

  • Uniformity of Nature
    God upholds all things by the word of His power. It is because of this that we see regularity in nature, and it is because of this that we can extrapolate future events from the past. This provides the needed foundation for science and answers Hume’s Problem of Induction. All this without making incredulous claims like everything came from nothing; order came from disorder; life came from non-life; consciousness came from non-consciousness, etc.

  • Propositions
    How much does a thought weigh? How deep into space does a proposition extend? How long is it? Imagine Snoopy atop his red-roofed doghouse. Now, if we opened your cranium, would we find him there? I don’t think so. But if thoughts are material, he must be there! (Perhaps we just don’t have a microscope powerful enough.)

Wrapping It Up

Like the previous post, this is just a thumbnail sketch (and we still didn’t have room to talk about love and beauty)—but at least it’s a start. All claims to explain reality must be scrutinized, including atheism. The ball’s in your court, Penn.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Lazy Atheist?—Part 1

Penn Jillette, of the popular magic duo Penn and Teller, spent some time pontificating on the existence of God over at NPR’s site. By way of respose, I'd like to offer an observation:

Atheists Tend to be Intellectually Lazy When it Comes to Defending Their Atheism

I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy -- you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do.

Penn Jillette

What a wonderful world it must be where you can simply make metaphysical proclamations without bothering to support them with any arguments. To be fair, Penn is not alone in this; this is typical of atheists—but is it justifiable?

Atheism assumes a naturalistic worldview—only material things exist. This is the point where we need to start asking questions.

Is the proposition that only material things exist itself material?

If so, where did they discover it? Under a microscope? Did they trip over the proposition in a parking lot?

If not, the game is over. (That is, of course, unless they’d like to try their hand at proving that material things produce non-material things.)

How about morality? Are moral laws merely human conventions?

They must be. Then by convention Nazi Germany can institute its final solution. The civilized world might not like it, but hey, who are they to judge?

By the way, if morals are culturally defined by the majority, then the moral reformer is by definition immoral. That means people like Martin Luther King should be spurned not praised.

How is science possible in an atheistic universe?

Science depends upon the regularity of the universe. We talk about the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, ect., but how can there be such laws in a world were everything comes about by random chance? All they can do is describe what has happened in the past. They have no foundation for drawing conclusions about future events. Atheist philosopher David Hume’s Problem of Induction makes this very point.

It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so.

David Hume (1711 - 1776)

Does the Emperor Have Clothes?

What about love? Is there an intrinsic difference between love and hate? Or are they simply different chemical reactions in the brain? Is there a thing called beauty? Is it objective? Is there really a difference between a sunset and a pile of dung? Penn tells us of his enjoyment of both these things (love and beatify that is, not chemicals and dung). He also seems interested in the plight of his fellow man. I’m sure that Penn is sincere, and I don’t question his compassion.

But in a world where we are simply matter in motion, where survival of the fittest reigns, why ought we care about anyone else? Is there really a difference between feeding a starving child or strangling him? If so, how do you account for such distinctions in an atheistic universe?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more could be raised, but these are a good start. It’s time for Penn and his ilk to stop ducking the debate with copouts like, “you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do.” Atheists are putting forth a worldview that is radically counter-intuitive—that doesn’t fit the facts. It’s time for them to step-up to the plate and take a shot; and they can start by answering the questions above.

Part 2

For any worldview to be viably considered, it must be able to make sense of reality. This, of course, would include Christianity. In part 2 I’ll make the case for Christianity by considering the aforementioned questions.

--The Catechizer


Friday, January 09, 2015

Discussing Homosexuality

Here’s some advice for when discussing homosexuality in the market place: steer clear of using the term terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality.” These terms, which have only been around for about 60 years, have taken on a meaning that is foreign to preceding generations and civilizations—that being, homosexuals are regarded as a special class of human being.

This designation gives homosexuals carte blanch when it comes to their behavior. After all, it’s genetic. For them not to act in a way consistent with their nature would be, well, unnatural, or so the argument goes.


Instead of using "homosexual" and homosexuality," use “homosexual desires” and “Homosexual activity.” Using these terms makes irrelevant the claim that “they are born that way.” Here’s how:

I was born with certain heterosexual desires. These desires are good when exercised properly (i.e., for my wife, and for her alone). However, if I misdirect these desires (i.e., lust towards another woman), they are bad (immoral). When confronted with these misdirected desires, what should I do? Should I say, “Hey, it’s natural; I was born with these desires,” and then act upon them? No. I’m expected to realize that these desires are misdirected (sinful) and to restrain myself.

Likewise, those with homosexual desires should show the same restraint. The moral aspect aside for a moment, isn’t it obvious that their desires are misdirected? If “nature” intended for a man to have relations with another man, wouldn’t “nature” have provided the compatible equipment? It seems obvious that the proper direction for the desires should be towards those of the opposite sex.


Speaking of desires moves the conversation beyond the question of genetics—it doesn’t matter why I have these desires; what matters is how I respond to them. Engaging in homosexual activity is both unnatural (which a quick survey of the equipment reveals), and immoral (this is where a discussion of worldviews comes in). Speaking of desires also avoids the modern notion that “homosexuals” are a special class of humans. Instead, it reveals that they are like anyone else, just with different immoral desires.

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Dolly Parton and Tolerance – Part 2 (Conclusion)

In Part 1, we considered the definition of tolerance and how post-modernity has redefined it. We also took a look at the common retort of those holding the new view: "Who are you to judge?"

In this post we’ll consider the foundation of tolerance, both old and new. We’ll also get a chance to see modern tolerance in action.

Tolerance with an “If”

Classical tolerance was birthed by a Christian worldview. It’s founded upon the notion that man is created in God’s image. As His image bearer, man is expected to act in accordance with God’s moral standards. Man is also expected to treat his fellows with respect, since they too bear God’s image.

Modern tolerance has no such foundation. Consequently, it’s very fickle, changing from person to person. Because of this, you can never tell how it’s going to cash out—it’s like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a living, highly agitated animal. Some burrows, however, are easier to stick than others. Consider the following sentiment from Ms. Parton:

. . . If you can accept me, I can accept you.

Dolly Parton

Ahhhh, the art of the caveat. This is actually very typical. She’ll show you tolerance as long as you show her the same. It’s the contingency here that counts. In the classical view, one shows tolerance even if the object of the tolerance is himself intolerant. This caveat makes tolerance anemic. Reason is, I don’t have to tolerate someone who agrees with me. It’s only those with whom I don’t agree that I can show tolerance—this, of course, includes the intolerant.

Hate Mail?

Having a big gay following, I get hate mail and threats . . .

Dolly Parton

I don’t know what to make of this. Ms. Parton doesn’t give us any examples. It does seem odd, though. I’m trying to figure out what someone would say. Maybe something like this:

“Dolly, I hear that there are some homosexuals out there who listen to your music. Therefore, I hate you. Have a nice day.”

There’s no question that people full of irrational hate do irrational things. But her characterization is a bit hard to accept. I wonder if those same people send similar emails to Levi Strauss:

“I hear that there are some homosexuals out there who wear trousers. Therefore, I hate pants. Boy is it drafty.”

Of course, I’m only able to offer conjecture since Ms. Parton has not granted us a peek into her email. I suspect, though, that she does what many do today: If someone is critical of your position (particularly hot-button issues like homosexuality), you characterize them in the worst possible light. Again, I don’t know whether or not that’s the case with Ms. Parton. But, because she holds to modern tolerance, and because her claim just doesn’t ring true (that she gets hate mail because some homosexuals like her music), I think we have grounds to be suspicious.

Mr. Mohidin of New Queer World, however, has already passed judgment: these people are “hate mongers.” It makes you wonder how he can come to this conclusion without seeing any evidence. But it does provide a transition to our next topic.

The Intolerance of Tolerance

Some people are blind or ignorant, and you can't be that prejudiced and hateful and go through this world and still be happy.

Dolly Parton

If I were to create a bumper sticker for the new-tolerance crowd it would read, “We don’t tolerate intolerance around here!” Reason being, those holding to modern tolerance have a tendency to vilify their detractors. For example, if you question the morality of homosexual behavior you run risk being labeled a “homophobe” or being accused of hating homosexuals. (I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me.)

True tolerance doesn’t name call, and it doesn’t cast aspersions upon the character of those on the other side. Even if the person is prejudiced in a bad way, or has an irrational hatred towards a person or group, the truly tolerant would respond with a well-reasoned argument, presented in a gracious, respectful manor. Of course, this is the difference between the classic definition and the new: the former, being founded upon a Christian ethic, has substance, while the later, having no foundation at all, is vacuous—just like the smiley face.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Today in Church History: Westminster Theological Seminary

At a special meeting of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary on January 7, 1936, thirteen of its 28 members submitted their resignations.

Included among the departing Board members were Samuel Craig, editor of Christianity Today, and Clarence Macartney, the prominent pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. At the same time O.T. Allis also resigned from the faculty of the Seminary. At the heart of the dispute that led to the resignations were the formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in 1933 and the subsequent creation of the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union. Craig and Macartney regarded these responses to the crisis of modernism in the Presbyterian Church as excessively provocative and even schismatic, prompting them to challenge J. Gresham's leadership of the anti-modernist opposition. Craig wrote, "Dr. Machen is a very gifted man but as a tactician we venture the opinion that he is about the world's worst."

The disruption of the Westminster Board revealed significant differences among conservative Presbyterians between those who advocated separation from unbelief and those whose strategy was to "reform from within." Throughout the controversy, Macartney remained in the PCUSA. While he claimed to further the cause of Reformed militancy through the Presbyterian League of Faith, he steadily distanced himself from denominational matters while pastoring his Pittsburgh church until his retirement in 1937.

--John Muether


Monday, January 05, 2015

Tolerance and Dialog – Tactical Considerations

I penned the following post while writing for another Web site. Please note that since that site is no longer alive, the original comment mentioned below is no longer available.

It’s always of interest to me how people reach this Web site. Yesterday, someone found us by doing a search on Dolly Parton. When I was looking at the other Web sites and blogs that came up in the search, I noticed one called New Queer World that had commented on the same Dolly Parton interview on which I had posted. Since I’m always looking for opportunities to dialog with non-Christians, I left the following comment:

Greetings, Don. I can sympathize with Ms. Parton’s desire for toleration. I too want people to be tolerant of others with whom they disagree. That means we ought to treat them with dignity, fairly represent their views, and respectfully engage their ideas. Today, many of us fall short of this classic definition of tolerance. It’s much easier to name call and to vilify than to truly treat each other with tolerance. May we all strive for true tolerance.

In response to my comment, the author, Don Mohidin, left a comment on my Dolly Parton and Tolerance – Tactical Considerations post. I encourage you to read it. Mr. Mohidin, I believe, showed true tolerance. His comments are both gracious and thoughtful. He also took time to challenge my position. What follows is my response to his challenge.

Is Morality Ice cream?

Points of view that some will view as good and others will see as bad have no intrinsic 'goodness' or 'badness.' They are simply one (or more) person's opinion about something.

Mr. Mohidin, it would seem, is a moral relativist (moral absolutes do not exist). His claim is that ideas have no intrinsic moral properties, that they are simply one’s opinion. For example, Mr. Mohidin might like chocolate ice cream, while I like vanilla. Michael might like feeding starving children, while Bob likes torturing them—none of these views are “good” or “bad,” we all just have different opinions. (As you can see, moral relativism offers a hard pill to swallow.)

I think that what happened to Mathew Shepard was a heinous act, that it was an objective (exists outside of the mind) moral wrong. But, on Mr. Mohidin’s view, there are no objective moral wrongs. Morality is subjective (only exists in the mind). Therefore, the perpetrators didn’t actually do anything wrong, because there’s no “wrong” to do. All that exists are just different opinions.

The point will always be distilled down to a set of values the speaker holds based upon beliefs and a moral code developed during life. Who is to say whose moral code is universally correct?

On Mr. Mohidin’s view, man is a moral tabula rasa (blank slate). We collect our moral views through-out life like a ship’s hull collects barnacles. Adolph Hitler developed the view that homosexuals should be put to death. Does that make the Nazi persecution of homosexuals right? If Mr. Mohidin is consistent he would have to answer, “Who’s to say?”

It takes supreme arrogance to adopt the position that one knows the right moral code . . .

It’s Mr. Mohidin’s moral code that it is supremely arrogant to think that you have the right moral code. Assuming that Mr. Mohidin thinks he's right about that, he has shown us that he is supremely arrogant. (Example of a self-refuting claim.)

. . . because it assumes that the decider knows everything, and knowing everything, can pick out the right moral code to which all people should adhere.

I couldn’t agree with Mr. Mohidin more. No human being can know everything, and no human being can establish a moral code for all to follow. Here’s the Christian claim: Morality is based upon God’s holy, just, and perfect character. He is the standard for morality. We know this in two ways. First, we are beings created in His image; because of this, we are moral beings who are imprinted with His moral code. That’s why everyone engages in moral reasoning. Second, He has revealed His moral law to us in the Bible. Consequently, morality is objective.

Please note that I am not arguing for the truthfulness of Christianity. I’m simply stating the claim. For a thumbnail sketch as to why Christianity is true, please see my post titled, The Lazy Atheist?— The Christian Worldview (Conclusion).


I don’t know Mr. Mohidin. He might be a prince of a man; perhaps he gives liberally to charity, is adored by many, and performs daily acts of mercy. His character is not in question. It’s his worldview that deserves scrutiny.

Moral relativism is untenable. Not only is it self-refuting (e.g., “there are not absolutes” is itself an absolute statement), but it doesn’t work in real life—no one lives that way.

I bet if someone broke into Mr. Mohidin’s house he’d call the police (that he wouldn’t just dismiss the crime by saying that the burglar simply had a different opinion as to who owned the property). I bet he thought Hitler was evil. And I bet he was repulsed and outraged by what happened to Mathew Shepard. These are all appropriate moral responses—they're appropriate, that is, in a world with objective morality. But if morality is simply ice cream . . .

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Dolly Parton and Tolerance – Tactical Considerations – Part 1

A few years ago, while writing for another Web site, I penned the following post. I came across it recently while going through some old files and thought that the readers of this site might find it of interest.

In a USA Today interview, Parton’s Plea for Tolerance, Dolly Parton explains that her ability to identify with the outcast enabled her to pen the song Travelin’ Thru. This Oscar-nominated song was written for the movie Transamerica, which tells the tale of a pre-operative “transsexual” traveling the country with his son.

Some things are strange to me, and some things are odd . . . But I don't condemn. If you can accept me, I can accept you.

Dolly Parton

Definition of Tolerance

“Tolerance,” classically defined, refers to how you treat someone with whom you disagree. You show tolerance when you treat your opponent with dignity, fairly represent his views, and graciously engage his ideas—or, to put it simply, you don’t kill him for having divergent views.

The classical definition of tolerance has fallen on hard times. Post-modernity has refashioned the term into something warm and fuzzy—a verbal counterpart to the ubiquitous smiley face.

No longer is tolerance characterized by charitable disagreement. The modern notion is that to be tolerant is not to disagree at all, but rather that all views ought to be embraced equally—sort of.

Not only has the term been redefined, but it has also been narrowed: only those views deemed socially acceptable are accorded toleration. All other views are marginalized.

“Poor Dolly” Disclaimer

Before I comment, I want to make it clear that it is not my intention to beat up on Dolly. She seems to me to be a very sweet, decent lady. The reason I’m using her comments is because I think they reflect how most people view tolerance.


In Dolly’s comment above, she mentions that she doesn’t “condemn” things that seem strange or odd to her. In context, she’s talking about people’s behavior or “life choices.” Basically, she’s saying that she doesn’t judge.

The not-judging aspect of modern tolerance usually takes two forms:

  • “You shouldn’t judge”

  • “Who are you to judge?”

You shouldn’t judge.
When I’m confronted with this objection, I typically respond with a clarification question: “Is it your view that it’s wrong to judge?” After he affirms I follow-up with, “Then why are you judging me?”

You see, what he’s saying is that, in his judgment, it’s wrong to judge. This is obviously self-refuting. By pointing out the contradiction, it helps to pave the way for a discussion of true tolerance.

Who are you to judge?
When confronted with this question, respond with, “Who are you to ask ‘Who am I to judge?’”

Behind his question is a presupposition that you don’t have the authority to make the judgment. In essence, you are asking the same question: by what authority do you ask me about my authority? Responding this way shows that his presupposition dies by its own sword. Also, by using this tactic, you pave the way to talk about Who actually has the ultimate authority to judge.

Part 2

In part 2 we’ll consider the caveat to modern tolerance, as introduced to us by Ms. Parton: “If you can accept me, I can accept you." We’ll also see that those holding this view don’t tolerate what they consider “intolerance.”

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

Today in Church History: Robert Lewis Dabney

On January 3, 1898, Robert Lewis Dabney died in Victoria, Texas.

Born in Louisa County, Virginia, in 1820, Dabney studied at Hampden-Sidney College, the University of Virginia, and Union Seminary in Virginia. He pastored Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church for six years before serving on the faculty of Union Seminary from 1859 to 1883 (interrupted by service as a chaplain in the Confederate army during the Civil War). For health reasons he later moved to Texas, where he served eleven years on the faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. After his death, Dabney's body was shipped to Virginia where he was buried in a Confederate uniform.

A lover of the South, Dabney became the leading Southern Presbyterian theologian after the Civil War and a prominent defender of the southern tradition. His writings included a biography of Stonewall Jackson (1866), A Defense of Virginia and Through Her of the South (1867), and his four-volume Discussions (1890-1897). According to historian A. H. Freundt, "Dabney's style was terse, powerful and fresh. Interested in practical matters, he was concerned to apply Christian faith not only to religious topics but also to moral and social philosophy. Because of his willingness to wrestle with difficult theological issues and make his own critical observations, some have regarded Dabney's systematic theology as more profound than that of Charles Hodge."

- John Muether


Friday, January 02, 2015

Are We to Expect Extra-Biblical Revelations?

Coming from a Word of Faith Pentecostal background I am all too familiar with the claim that God speaks to the individual believer outside of Scripture. I recall a former “pastor” of mine saying mid-sermon, “Yes, yes, lord, I’ll say that.” This type of conversational relationship with God was something we were all to expect.

But ideas have consequences. Anytime you offer a competing authority, Scripture loses. We see this with Rome when God’s Word takes a backseat to her councils, traditions, and papacy; we see this in cults with their leaders and “holy” books; and we see this with Evangelicals who have “a word from the Lord.”

The stakes are high so we better be sure of the truth. To that end, author and speaker Nancy Guthrie sheds light on this (unfortunately) controversial topic in a post penned for the The Gospel Coalition site; here’s a taste:

When we read the Scriptures we are not just reading a record of what God has said in the past. God actively speaks to us in the here and now through the words of this amazing book. The writer of Hebrews makes this point clear when he quotes Old Testament passages and presents them not as something God said to his people sometime in the past, but as something God is currently saying to his people (Hebrews 1:6,7,8, 2:12, 3:7, 4:7). He writes that "the word of God is living and active" (4:12). It is exposing our shallow beliefs and hidden motives. This word is personal. You and I hear the voice of God speaking to us—unmistakably, authoritatively, and personally—when we read, hear, study, and meditate on the Scriptures. . .

. . . Many of us read these accounts [Job hearing God speak from the whirlwind; Moses hearing him call from the fiery bush; Samuel hearing him call in the dark, etc.] and assume that the Bible is presenting the normal experience of all who follow God. But is it? Graeme Goldsworthy speaks to this question in his book Gospel and Wisdom. He writes, "Every case of special guidance given to individuals in the Bible has to do with that person's place in the outworking of God's saving purposes." He adds, "There are no instances in the Bible in which God gives special and specific guidance to the ordinary believing Israelite or Christian in the details of their personal existence."

Are there instances in the Scriptures in which people describe a sense of God speaking to them through an inner voice? We read accounts of God speaking in an audible voice, through a supernatural dream or vision, a human hand writing on a wall, a blinding light, or a thunderous voice from heaven. This is quite different from the way most people who say that God has told them something describe hearing his voice—as a thought that came into their mind that they "know" was God speaking. One prominent teacher who trains people on how to hear the voice of God writes, "God's voice in your heart often sounds like a flow of spontaneous thoughts." But where in the Bible are we instructed to seek after or expect to hear God speak to us in this way?

You can read the rest here.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Today in Church History: J. Gresham Machen

On January 1, 1937, J. Gresham Machen died of pneumonia in Bismarck, North Dakota.

During the Christmas recess at Westminster Theological Seminary, Machen agreed to travel to North Dakota to speak at some of the churches in the six-month old church that he had helped to found. He took ill during the trip but insisted on fulfilling his obligations when he arrived in the twenty-degree below zero weather. After speaking in Leith and then in Bismarck, his condition worsened to the point where he was hospitalized for pneumonia.

In J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, Ned B. Stonehouse records Machen's death in this way: "On New Year's Eve Mr. [Samuel J.] Allen called briefly and offered prayer. And then Machen told him of a vision he had had of being in heaven: 'Sam, it was glorious, it was glorious.' And a little later, 'Sam, isn't the Reformed Faith grand?' The following day he was largely unconscious, but there were intervals when his mind was thoroughly alert. In one of those periods he dictated a telegram to his colleague John Murray which was his final word: 'I'm so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.' And so he died at about 7:30 p.m. on January 1, 1937."

-John Muether