Sunday, November 28, 2010

God told me _______ (Part 2)

I think when I finished Part 1 I said I'd discuss why we seem to jettison wisdom when it comes to decisions the Bible hasn't clearly spoken on. On the one hand, I said it always requires wisdom to apply the Bible to our unique circumstances. So even this bifurcation of "things the Bible has clearly spoken on" is purely pedagogical. If by things the Bible has clearly spoken on we mean things the Bible has told us how to handle without any steps of wisdom on our part, I'm inclined to say it actually hasn't spoken clearly on anything. I obviously don't think that. I'd rather say the Bible speaks clearly on everything, but that some things just require a few more steps of wisdom. The level of deicison making in these things therefore takes on a different quantity (we have to think more, pray more, etc.) but not a different quality (we leave wisdom and move to "hearing God's voice").

What we should do when coming to a deicison then is ask what God wants us to do as He's revealed His general will in scripture. If that answer is clear to us, we simply make that choice. Now here's where the rubber meets the road: if it's not clear. In other words, in this situation, we lack wisdom. What we to do when we lack wisdom? God tells us:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." - James 1:5-6

We are to pray, and ask God for wisdom in faith that He will give it. We don't ask for Him to speak new words to us, we ask Him for wisdom. If we ask in faith, God gives it. James further describes this wisdom:

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere." - James 3:16-17

The contrast here is between decisions influenced by our sinful motives, and the wisdom from above. So that should be part of the decision process and one of the things wisdom will reveal: sinful motives vs. wisdom from above. Again this is all logical wisdom grounded in God's revealed will in scripture. The wisdom from above is even described as "open to reason." That means it's testable and open to correction as opposed to "God told me ____." Who can argue with that? In Part 3 we'll look more at how our wisdom can be "open to reason."

Read This Blog Post

From Tullian whats-his-name: Counterfeit Gospels I found Biblicism and social-ism most convicting. In each of these I can say "I can control my life apart from God, i.e. save myself, by just knowing everything and having everything right so no claim can be brought against me" or "I can control my life apart from God, i.e. save myself, by developing a network of like-minded friends who make me feel good about myself." The latter has been a particular temptation as I move to a new city and get involved with a new church that honestly contains alot of like-minded people who I'm developing friendships with. I find I tend to feel like I need them all to like me and affirm me, so it leads me to be less willing to serve anyone, especially those who aren't "in" at the church and aren't as like me as others. Good stuff from Tullian.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I'm Learning From the Puritans

Today I finished reading A Quest For Godliness by J.I. Packer. The subtitle of the book is "The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life." In it Packer basically gives an overview of the Puritans. While the book started slow for me, I eventually found myself learning alot from it. I've always heard reformed guys talking about the puritans but never really delved into them myself, mostly because they always seemed like such difficult reads. I found this book to be a great middle ground that exposed me to the puritans without requiring me to actually read an entire book written by a puritan. I want to share with you some of the big takeaways I got from it. First, specific chapters:

  • Chapter 7: The Puritan Conscience - I was really impacted by this chapter, especially since I think I rarely explicitly consider the role our conscience should play in our Christian lives. The Puritans saw the conscience as "a witness, declaring facts (Romans 2:15; 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12), a mentor, prohibiting evil (Acts 24:16; Rom 13:5), and a judge, assessing desert (Rom 2:15; cf 1 Jn 3:20f)" (p. 110). This means we should make sure our consciences are in line with what God actually requires and prohibits. It also means we should not sin against our consciences, doing what we believe God does not want us to do or vice versa. I think alot of times I pay no attention to this. Sometimes Christians whose conscience condemns them even feel like that's just satan bothering them and they should not respond. But our conscience is a gift from God, and we should consider when we feel guilty whether we have sinned against God. We should examine ourselves. Then we rest ultimately in Christ's death to purify us from a guilty conscience (Heb. 9:14)
  • Chapter 8: 'Saved by His Precious Blood': An Introduction to John Owen's The Death of Death - Everyone should read this chapter. It's available online here. It's one of the most succint and compelling statements/defenses of calvinism I've read.
  • Chapter 15: The Puritan Approach to Worship - In this chapter Packer goes through some of the commonalities the puritans held, not their difference. The commonality is a general approach to worship. That approach is essentialy an approach to God. That's what we're doing in worship: approaching God. Thus they held that this should be done joyfully. We should delight in God and in the worship of Him. They also emphasized that God is actually more glorified in public worship than private, because the church shows a gathering of God's people in unity and diversity, which is to His glory. A part of the chapter that really struck me was their emphasis on preparation for worship. Often I stumble into church fresh out of bed, my heart not at all ready to sing God's praises or receive His Word. The puritans emphasized the need on saturday night and Sunday morning for disciplined time of confession, prayer, and meditation...asking God to prepare one's heart to worship Him. I tried this this past Sunday and indeed saw the fruit of a much more focused time of worship.
  • Chapter 17: Puritan Preaching - The basic structure of Puritan preaching was doctrine, defense, application. I think this provides a helpful grid for preaching. What are we to believe, why are we to believe it, and how should it change our lives? The Puritans are known for hour long sermons where they would go to great pains to apply the text as specifically as possible to their audience. In my own teaching and in some that I hear application is very general and lacking in practicality. The puritans offer even a grid for how to make specific application. This is needed, because if we only have general notions of repentance we will too easily say things like "I'm working to love people better" without it actually changing any of our actions. (as a sidenote, one thing I really appreciate about my current church, Redeemer, is the precision of application).
  • Chapter 18: Puritan Evangelism - My main appreciation here is of the sovereignty of God. The Puritans preached every sermon evangelistically, meaning every sermon was rooted in God's grace in Christ and calling everyone to faith and reptentance on the grounds of it. They knew nothing of the "evangelistic meetings" of today or of the special "evangelistic sermons." Every sermon was a call on sinners to repent. Believers and non-believers both need to hear the gospel and be called to the right response: faith and repentance. They would preach in this manner and press on the consciences of their hearers, then leave the rest to God. No altar call, no call for immediate decisions, just a trust in the Spirit of God to work. Now that doesn't mean they didn't do evangelism relationally, in fact in this chapter there are examples of puritans saying the best way to do evangelism is to follow up the broad preaching with individual conversation. However, their preaching of the gospel to non-believers was not done in a manipulative way, forcing a decision, but with an attitude of trust in God to be the one at work. Often as I'm reaching out to non-believers I can get impatient with them and try to force them into a decision, all the while not remember that non-believers are powerless to make such a decision unless God gives them a new heart. This encourages me to patience in sowing the gospel.
  • Chapter 19: Jonathan Edwards on Revival - Edwards saw a revival in his ministry, and prayed for the Holy Spirit to be poured out afresh among his people. Revival is a large scale renewal of true religion among people that results in a renewed passion and joy in Christ and good works. I was just convicted of how I really don't pray this way and almost don't think God could do such a thing. I've begun praying this way for the Texas Tech campus, that God would pour out His spirit among the students and create in them a passion and joy in Christ.

Well, those are some of the specifics. But in general in this book I saw men who were captivated by God's grace, resulting in a deep joy and satisfaction in Jesus. This led them to lives of holiness and pursuit of God's glory in all the earth. It's motivated me to try to read next year Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections and at least one biography of a puritan (I'm leaning towards Lloyd-Jones, who is more of a modern day Puritan). I highly recommend A Quest For Godliness.

Monday, November 22, 2010

God told me _______

I've been thinking alot lately about the idea of guidance. I'm sure most of you have yourself said or at least encountered someone who's said something to the effect of "I really feel like God's telling me to do _______" (e.g. share my faith with my friend, move to China, drop out of college, etc.). The question that most people inevitably grapple with in this is, "how do you know that's God telling you?" Stated other ways it sounds like: "how can I know what God's will is in this situation?" or "how can I hear God's voice?" or "how can I be sensitive to the Spirit's leading?" You may have even received such teaching from Christians you respect: "you need to be seeking God's will in everything you do," "you need to be listening for God's voice," "you need to be sensitive to the Spirit's leading," "have you really asked God if He wants you doing this?" In my experience, most Christians are simply confused about this whole process. I'm one of them. However, I feel like lately the Lord is growing me in understanding in this area.

Questions like these become relevant any time we are faced with a decision that the Bible hasn't clearly spoken one way or the other on. In some ways, this includes every situation we encounter in our actual lives. This is simply called application: taking God's general will as revealed in the Bible and applying it to our specific situations. For instance, should I steal my favorite candy bar from the store or not? Well, if we consider the Bible in its narrowest sense, it hasn't directly addressed that question. There's no passage on Mike Anderson in a convenience store with a candy bar. However, the Bible has spoken generally about theft, and in fact prohibited it. But for me to apply that to my life, I use wisdom, i.e. a rational thought process. It goes something like this: "To steal or not to steal the candy bar? The Bible prohibits stealing, to steal the candy bar from the store would be stealing, therefore I will not steal the candy bar." Often times in an obvious case such as this the thought process I've just described goes on subconsciously, but it happens nonetheless.

Now can you imagine me asking someone for counsel on my decision (whether to steal the candy bar) and them saying "well you should pray and ask the Lord if He wants you to steal the candy bar, and then wait to see what He says," or "follow how you feel His spirit leading"? Absolutely not. Such counsel would be superfluous at best and misleading at worst (e.g. if I really want to steal and still feel like stealing after praying, now I feel like that's justified because it's "how the Spirit is leading." I can almost hear the Christian rationalization now: "I just felt the Lord telling me He wanted me to really live out of my freedom in Christ"). Now I assume everyone agrees with my line of reasoning so far, however it seems to me when we get to more complicated issues we jettison such reasoning. The counsel we've just shot down in the case of stealing suddenly seems to be garden variety when it comes to issues like where one should live or who one should marry. Why is that the case? We'll look into it in part 2...

Monday, November 15, 2010

More on Politics According to the Bible

Well, Brett convinced me to get another entry up here by requesting it on my facebook wall. As it turns out I've been thinking/talking more about Grudem's book Politics According to the Bible since my last post. Alot of this got worked out on a comment thread over at TGC reviews, but I'll repost my thoughts here in a more formulated, drawn out manner (sounds exciting, right?).

As I said before, in general I've really enjoyed the book. It's contained great biblical insight and the chapters on specific issues have been very helpful introductions to the issues facing our nation today from a Christian perspective. That said, he didn't answer my questions (the nerve!). On the one hand, who am I to think Wayne Grudem should set aside time to answer my questions? For alot of people, the book will probably do a fine job of presenting a Biblical view of government. Insofar as that's true, I applaud the book and I can't say I'm mad at him or something because he didn't answer my questions. Nonetheless, in my mind these questions are substantive and worthy of attention:

1. Where is the NT imperative for Christians to change government? I talked about this alot in my earlier post on Politics, so I won't rehash it all here. In his book Grudem gives 2 NT narrative examples of Christian engagement in politics that I found to be exegetically weak. In fact, NT imperative with respect to politics seems to be entirely about Christians submitting to government, not trying to change it.

2. In Grudem's criticism of the "do evangelism, not politics" view in chapter 1, he accuses them of having too narrow an understanding of "the gospel" (p. 45-47). Basically he says the gospel doesn't just apply to individual salvation, but also includes a transformation of society (his words). The "what is the gospel?" conversation is a hot one these days (I'm thinking of Carson's essay in For the Fame of God's Name and Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel?) but it seems to me at least (for what that's worth) that the growing evangelical consensus is that the gospel broadly conceived (as sometimes it is in scripture) includes a cosmic redemption, not just the redemption of individual lives. I completely agree with that, but it doesn't answer the question of what role we play in that redemption. Why is it that because the good news includes a cosmic redemption (i.e. transformation of society) that the acitivity of people in this age is the means through which that redemption happens? I think many Christians would agree that the good news includes a cosmic redemption, but would still see a progressive decline in this age until Jesus returns and establishes the transformed society unilateraly (for a brief statement of this view see this blog post, especially point #9). I'm not saying that's necessarily right, but is it not worthy of at least some response from Grudem (I mean come on, Mark Dever's no fool)?

3. As I think about this point more that I made over at the TGC comment thread, it makes sense to me that if the church's role is to preach the Word, and God's Word contains His moral will for governments, and we are all involved in government in the U.S., then pastors should teach us how to submit to God's moral will as we all participate in the political process. So I wouldn't state my objection as strongly as I originally did. I do wish he'd be more clear in the book as to what things apply to the U.S. and what things apply to government as a whole. It seems like in the first 4 chapters of his book his goal is to discuss God's will for all governments, not just the U.S. government, yet some of it only makes sense to me if we're all part of the government. If it's God's will for all Christians to be involved in changing government, not just those in a democracy, then we'd expect to find that somewhere in scripture (see question #1 above).

4. His main passages in support of alot of his view of government are Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:14-15, which both describe government as punishing evil and rewarding good. But those passages seem to do just that, describe. They simply say "this is how it is; submit." They don't say "this is how it should be, and if it's not you better try to change it." Grudem takes these descriptive passages to be God's moral will for all governments, and then concludes that we should be actively making sure that governments conform to that. Maybe that's the case, but he doesn't actually argue that it is. He appears to take it for granted.

5. If the role of government is to punish evil and reward good (as he says it is), then why shouldn't governments punish idolatry? Isn't that evil? Or are we now appealing to some other standard (natural law?) than the Bible for our definition of good and evil? Grudem seems to be against that approach throughout the book since he consistently appeals to the Bible on moral issues. So if the Bible is our standard for good and evil, and the Bible says idolatry is evil, why shouldn't governments punish idolatry? I know he doesn't think they should (he says he's not a theonomist, and he argues for a distinction between church and state due to Jesus' "render unto ceasar" sentiment). But I fail to see how his position doesn't logically lead to government punishing idolatry, which is equivalent to "government compelling religion," one of his wrong views of chapter 1! Grudem again doesn't even address this question.

As I said before, I don't think Wayne Grudem should in any way feel like he needs to answer my questions. However, at least questions 1, 2, and 5 are questions anyone who's thought about the 2 kingdoms/Kuyperian debate wonders. For Grudem not even to address them in his 4 chapters that are supposed to set forth God's will for government is a major oversight in my mind.

Well, it's been fun posting again. I hope to follow up this post with some of the positives I've taken from Grudem and the resulting thinking/dialogue on Christians and politics. I highly recommend reading his book, especially the first four chapters. I'd definitely say anyone reading Trueman's new book or the Gerson/Wehner book needs to read Grudem's first 4 chapters since what I'm hearing about those book is that they don't give any detailed theological description of God's will for government. And come on, if you're reading this and thinking about politics as a Christian, drop me a comment!