Keeping In Step with the Spirit by Following in the Footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien

ImageLast week, Albert Mohler republished one of his essays, “From Father to Son—J.R.R. Tolkien on Sex.” It deserves to be read by fathers and sons and everyone else. It is taken from Mohler’s book Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Toleranceand the essay is about J.R.R. Tolkien’s views on sex, captured in a host of letters to his three sons (see The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien).

Mohler’s article is well worth the read as it sets out the ways in which Christian Scripture informed Tolkien’s sexual ethic and the way that the architect of Middle Earth stood against the prevailing notions of sex half-a-century-ago. Here are some of the best lines from Tolkien’s letters, which Mohler included in his essay.

  • The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall.
  • The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favorite subject,
  • Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed’ ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh.
  • Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains.
  • No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial.
  • Christian marriage is not a prohibition of sexual intercourse, but the correct way of sexual temperance–in fact probably the best way of getting the most satisfying sexual pleasure . . . .

As is evident, Tolkien conceived of sex in a way that is lost on inhabitants of the twenty-first century, and that is foreign to many Christians too. His perspective needs to be heard, and fatherly model of speaking candidly to his children about sex needs to be imitated too. Let me close with Mohler’s reflections:

From the vantage point of the 21st century, Tolkien will appear to many to be both out of step and out of tune with the sexual mores of our times. Tolkien would no doubt take this as a sincere, if unintended, compliment. He knew he was out of step, and he steadfastly refused to update his morality in order to pass the muster of the moderns.

When it comes to sex, may we keep in step with the Spirit, by following in the footsteps of someone who did not succumb to the spirit of the age.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Christ Did Not Come for Chimpanzees

chimp

Photo Credit: From CNN article “Chimps should be recognized as ‘legal persons,’ lawsuits claim”

This month the New York Supreme Court is deciding on whether or not to rule on a case involving the legalization of chimpanzees as human persons. Yes, this is a real report, not one from The Onion. In the state of New York, the Nonhuman Right Organization is filing a lawsuit on behalf of four chimpanzees—Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo—to let them have the same rights as humans.

Unable to speak for themselves (because they are not human), CNN reports that the leader of NRO (Steven Wise) and the co-founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (Joyce Tishler) are making the case for these animals that humanity (i.e., homo sapiens) is not a necessary prerequisite for personhood.

Such is the moral insanity of our day, that men and women made in the image of God are unable to see the (biological, social, spiritual, and legal) differences between humans and apes. Albert Mohler critically reports on this subject on his daily podcast, The Briefing (Dec 4, 2013), and Graham Cole in his new book, The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of the Incarnation provides a Christological reason why men and women are different than apes.

Anglican professor of theology at Beeson Divinity School, Graham Cole makes this critical observation. “The very fact that God became truly human underlines the value of human life. The Creator did not become a lion (apologies to C. S. Lewis) or a dolphin or a parrot. He became one of us” (The God Who Became Human, 150).

Cole is exactly right. Humanity is not only distinct from every other species because we alone are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-28). Humanity is also unique because Christ only took on human flesh (Rom 8:3; Heb 2:16-17). What was once obvious to humanity—that man and beast were categorically distinct and therefore deserved different legal standings—has been lost in theory and is now requiring a court ruling to determine what personhood means.

Cole continues his Christological argument for humanity’s uniqueness and stresses that Jesus himself recognized the difference between man and beast, giving greater value to the former.  Citing Catholic and Protestant scholars alike, he writes,

As . . . the eminent twentieth-century Roman Catholic Jacques Maritain argued often, “the sanctity of human life ultimately rests in the fact that Christ became incarnate as a human creature, not some other sort of creature.” Protestant theologian Karl Barth adds to the chorus: “The respect for human life which becomes a command in the recognition of the union of God with humanity has incomparable power and width.” It is no surprise then to find in the Gospels that Jesus operated with a scale of creaturely value. Human life is more valuable . . . than that of a sparrow, even a flock of them (Matt 10:29–31). This valuing of human life over that of other creatures is criticized by some as ‘speciesism’ [e.g., Peter Singer] but is fundamental to a sound theological anthropology that factors in the reality of the incarnation. (150)

Indeed, as the court case in New York reminds us, we need to go back to the basics and reiterate that man and beast are not the same. God created man in his image to rule over creation, not to receive them as persons with equal rights. While Scripture declares that the righteous will have regard for the life of his beast (Prov 12:10), it never confuses the difference between people and pets. Even more, with the coming of Jesus Christ as a man, we see in Scripture and history that God’s incarnation is the final word on who he thinks is most valuable. Christ gave his life to redeem the human race, and we ought not confuse who that is.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Albert Mohler and Southern Seminary: A Word of Thanksgiving

I know Thanksgiving is a month away, but I cannot help but give thanks today for the impact Southern Seminary and Albert Mohler have had on me. This week marks President Mohler’s twentieth anniversary at Southern Seminary, and the folks there have put together an excellent twenty-five minute video chronicling the journey of this great school.

I cannot begin to express how much Southern Seminary and its president, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, have had on me. For the last nine years, Southern has invested pearls of wisdom and truckloads of biblical gold into my heart and life. So great is Southern’s impact on me, there’s not a day that goes by which I do not think of Southern, its faculty, my peers, and the truths I learned there.  Continue reading

Defenders of Faith and Family: People You Need to Know

It has been four days since the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This landmark decision will have implications for decades to come, and consequently, there has been no end to the legal analysis, cultural commentary, and prophetic predictions since Wednesday’s decision. This dialogue is exhausting, but also necessary.

Christians (pastors and parishioners) need to be informed and equipped to handle this judicial decision and the implication it will have on state laws and America’s public perception of those defending traditional marriage. One of the most alarming aspects of the court’s decision was Justice Kennedy’s language that essentially described opponents of same sex marriage as “enemies of the human race” (language used by Justice Scalia in his dissenting remarks).

Due to the centrality of marriage for gospel witness, not to mention societal stability, this fight for marriage is going to continue for sometime. It should.

In this heated conversation, its worth asking, “Who is a helpful voice? A voice advocating biblical wisdom, not just partisan politics?”  Since, not every voice is equally helpful, it might be helpful to know the names of a few defenders of traditional marriage that you can continue to listen to.  Maybe you already have your luminaries, but if not, let me commend a few to you. Continue reading

For Your Edification (6.7.2012): The Southern Baptist Convention Edition

This edition of FYE is dedicated to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention.

Getting Ready for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, Eric Hankins and about 350 other distinguished signatories released the ““A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  In ten points, it articulates affirmations and denials about a number of important topics concerning the doctrine of salvation.  This statement is important on a number of fronts.

For Southern Baptists, it is important because of what it means for our convention; for non-Southern Baptists, it is important because it tells the watching world what the largest Protestant denomination America is contending with at this moment in time–and the issue is the differing views of salvation as defended by Calvinist and Non-Calvinist alike.

Because this topic is so important, this week’s FYE is devoted to rounding up some of the most helpful statements around the web.  But first, let me state my discouragement and my optimism that comes from these recent discussions.

As to discouragement, it is sad that the unifying work of the Great Commission Resurgence has met the resistance of this document.  As Albert Mohler has rightly and most helpfully pointed out, these men have every right to express their beliefs, to make them public, and to engage in dialogue about doctrine.  Praise God, the discussion is about the nature of salvation, and not the inspiration of the Bible or the permission for clergy to marry homosexuals.  Nevertheless, the statement does belie a party spirit that goes against the good work that has been going on in the SBC since the infamous dialogue on election in 2006.

Now more hopefully.  I am optimistic that this document with clear points of affirmation and denial will bring light.  I pray it will bring to light what Scripture teaches on the subject of salvation and that both sides might see where they are weak.  But even if such light is not shed on the Scripture–which I am praying will take place–light will be shed on the true condition of our convention, and hopefully this itself will cause us to seek the face of God more earnestly, more jointly, and more continually.

Discouraged and yet not despairing.  That is the Christian way, right?  Paul thought so.  His words are appropriate in these days.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

May that be our prayer: As jars of clay, may we not follow others clay pots; may we instead rest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is worth being crushed for his sake, so that other future generations might know him.

Surely, in New Orleans, there will be much heat, but may we pray for light.  While it would be relaxing to enjoy a placid convention in the ‘Big Easy’; may God be pleased to give us grace to do the hard work or self-sacrificing cross-bearing, attentive listening, and golden-ruled cooperation.  Doctrines that tell of God’s glorious gospel are worth suffering to understand, to articulate, and to proclaim.  They are worthy of serious reflection, but even as we labor to nail down the doctrinal positions we affirm, may we not forget the cooperative unity that is already stated in the Baptist Faith & Message and more importantly, may we not forget the Son of God who was nailed down for us.  May we follow in his lead, boldly speaking truth but always in a manner that is pleasing to the Father.

In preparation, here are a few things to read to be prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The current document that governs all SBC entities and which unites the Southern Baptist Convention: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The document released at SBC Today on May 30, 2012: A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

Here is an explanatory piece with lots of sound bytes from Baptist Press: “Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

Joe Carter, at The Gospel Coalition, highlights a number of other articles and reasons why this discussion is so important for the larger evangelical community: “FAQ’s : Southern Baptists, Calvinism, and God’s Plan of Salvation

Baylor History Professor, Thomas Kidd gives a concise history of Baptists and the divergent traditions that have always marked our conventions: “Traditional” Baptists and Calvinism

Pastor Jonathan Akin’s response: A Response to “Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

President Albert Mohler’s response: “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Former Pastor and SBC President, Jerry Vines, responds to Dr. Mohler: “It’s Time to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

LifeWay’s Trevin Wax reminds us the difference fifty years makes: “Southern Baptists, We’re Not in Zion Anymore

Professor Malcolm Yarnell’s call for prayer: “The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

My response to Malcolm Yarnell: “Unity in the SBC

Pastor Tom Ascol is in the middle of a series of responses to the Traditionalist statement.  In his replies, he gives biblical reasons for concern with the statement.  However, he also points out that W. A. Criswell, a Southern Baptist statesman admired by Traditionalists and Calvinists, would not have been able to sign the document because of his doctrinal affirmation of Calvinism: Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

All told, there is much to discuss.  The elephant in the room has the spot light shining on it, and Southern Baptists of all persuasions need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  We do need to pray together and to return to Scirpture to understand one another and to work together for the preaching of Christ and him crucified to peoples who have yet to even hear the name of Christ.

Going to New Orleans in just a few days, that is my hope and prayer, that God will be glorified by Southern Baptists working towards reaching a consensus accord such that Traditional and Calvinistic Baptists might be able to move forward together proclaiming Christ to our neighbors and the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (5.17.12)

For Your Edification is a bi-weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.  

BIBLE

Is the Bible Really Living and Active?  Imagine a conversation at the end of Sunday service:

Pastor:  Fred, did you spend time in the word this week?

Fred: Oh, yes.  I spent hours in the word this week.  It was refreshing.  God says that he gives rest to those who ask, and when I was in the word this week, I felt the comfort of resting in the word.

Wilma, Fred’s wife (driving home later): Honey, I didn’t know that you spent so much time in the Word this week.  With your busy schedule, how did you do that?

Husband: Well, what I failed to mention was the fact that I named my Lazy Boy “the word,” so that whether I am watching TV, reading the paper, or reading my Bible, I can “be in the word.”

Wilma: Huh . . . that’s a good idea.  Maybe, I’ll try that.

Of course, no one would really say that.  Right?  But the point is made: The time we spend in the word is as effective as the way we spend it.  Jen Wilkin, mother of four, writes about why so many Christians get so little out of the word.  She nails down the fact that those who read the Bible, need to use effective means of Bible study, or they will just reinforce unbiblical ideas, and remain unchanged.  This is how she begins,

Why, with so many study options available, do many professing Christians remain unschooled and unchanged? Scripture teaches clearly that the living and active Word matures ustransforms usaccomplishes what it intends, increases our wisdom, and bears the fruit of right actions. There is no deficit in the ministry of the Word. If our exposure to it fails to result in transformation, particularly over the course of years, there are surely only two possible reasons why: either our Bible studies lack true converts, or our converts lack true Bible study.

Jen goes on to explain a number of common ways Christians “lack true Bible study.” Read the rest of her helpful article: Why Bible Study Doesn’t Transform Us?

Summer Bible Reading Plan.  Here is a 100 day Bible reading plan that would be great to use this summer if you do not currently have a reading schedule, or you have fallen off the wagon since January.  It is called E100, which stands for Essential 100 Scripture passages, and it designed to help Bible readers get through the whole of the Bible in a manageable amount of time.  It is published by Scripture Union and is designed to help young Bible readers or discouraged Bible readers make their way through the most important parts of the Bible.  The E100 website has more details; here is an easy access print-out.

THEOLOGY

Lessons in Ecclesiology.  Jonathan Leeman answers a couple important questions about the doctrine of the church.  First, he defines what the characteristics of a local church are.  Most importantly, in his article, What Is the Local Church?, he defines the difference between a ‘group of Christians’ and a ‘church’ (Hint: They are not the same thing!)  Then, he follows up by considering church membership.  In his article, What Is Church Membership?, he points out that a church is more than just a ‘voluntary organization.’ For those who want their church reflect the priorities of Christ, these are important questions, and Leeman gives biblical answers.

Additionally, Leeman is finishing his doctoral research on ecclesiology (i. e. the doctrine of the church) and has written a number of helpful resources on the subject, most recently: Church Membership and Church Discipline.  His larger work, The Church and the Surprising Offense of the Love of God: Reintroducing Church Membership and Discipline, goes even deeper into the biblical case for reclaiming a knowledge and practice of church health.

Carl Trueman on John Owen. John Owen has been described as the “Redwood of the Puritans” by J. I. Packer, and indeed his exegetical theology stands tall centuries after he has passed into glory.  Trueman, a church historian and gifted writer, introduces Owen in this ten minute biographical sketch that is worth watching to know better this great pastor-theologian.  For more on Owen, see John Piper’s biographical sermon: The Chief Design of My Life: Mortification and Universal Holiness.

FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY

What Should We Say About Gay Marriage?  A few weeks before President Obama made his public declaration to endorse Gay Marriage, Southern Baptist Pastor, Mark Dever, sat down with seminary president, Albert Mohler, to discuss the subject of marriage according to the Bible and in our culture.  This discussion recorded at Together For the Gospel, will give you a good handle on a number of the key points in the gay marriage debate, and how Christians can defend God’s design in marriage–one man, one woman, united by law, until death.

Don’t Be a Passive Reader.  N. D. Wilson, author of Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and a handful of other well-regarded fiction books, gives his critical review of The Hunger Games.  His review is spot-on and shows that Christians who enjoy the book/movie are in need of reading the book with much greater sensitivity to the world in which we live.  His review reminds us that when we read, watch, or listen to any sort of entertainment, we are imbibing a worldview (that is probably not inspired by the Holy Spirit) and thus we need to read pro-actively.  Beware of being a passive reader.  It may be more dangerous than the hunger games themselves.


May God use these resources to grow you in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (5.11.12)

BIBLE

Reading the Bible Through the Jesus Lens.  Here is how Michael Williams explains  the main emphasis of his new book, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens.   This is one of the books that I am commending for our church to read this summer in our “Summer Biblical Triathlon.”  It looks to be a great resource and help for seeing how all the pieces in the puzzle reveal the face of Jesus Christ.  Take a listen.

THEOLOGY

Ian and Larissa.  Will your view of God sustain you in the face of cancer, heart attack, or brain damage?  The story of Ian and Larissa testifies to the power of a vision of God that sees him as good and glorious in all circumstances.  The book that they reference is called This Momentary Marriageand it is grounded on the singular premise that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him” (John Piper), a truth that is wonderfully put on display in John Piper’s book Desiring God.  Ian and Larissa’s story is unique because of what God has given to them–yes, given to them (Phil 1:29)–but it is not unique in the sense that every child of God will be given opportunities to suffer and bring glory to God in the process (cf 2 Cor 1).  The video is worth watching a couple times and will need a box of tissues.

FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY

May 9, 2012: A Dark Day for Marriage. Albert Mohler provides a very helpful podcast analysis of President Obama’s renewed commitment to supporting “gay marriage” in law and in our land.  Mohler is one of many voices who have reacted to our president’s recent announcement.  Below I have included Mohler’s written response, as well as, a number of other faithful responses.

Evolution’s End? President Obama Calls for Same-Sex Marriage by Albert Mohler

Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage by Kevin DeYoung

How to Win the Public on Homosexuality by Collin Hanson

Marriage and the Presidency  by Ryan T. Anderson, Robert P. George, and Sherif Girgis

The Blasphemy of Barack Obama by Joe Carter

President Obama, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Future of Evangelical Response by Ed Stetzer


May these resources serve to edify you this weekend and spur you on towards love and good deeds in Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (4.27.12)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.  

BIBLE

A Smoking Fire Pot and a Flaming Torch. Matthew Barrett, editor behind Credo Magazine, has given a brief overview of Genesis 15 and the significance of the covenant made by God with Abraham.  He argues that the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant are fulfilled by God himself, thus making the covenant (un)conditional. For more on the (un)conditional nature of the Old Testament covenants see the forthcoming book, Kingdom Through Covenant by two Southern Seminary professors, Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry.

‘Covenant’ or ‘Will’ in Hebrews 9. For the aspiring biblical interpreter (with a little Greek knowledge), Bill Mounce has provided a helpful commentary on Hebrews 9:16-17, and why it should be translated “covenant” (NASB, KJV) and not “will” (ESV, NIV, etc).  He questions,

The standard argument is that the author is arguing by analogy. Having mentioned an inheritance, he talks about human wills not being valid until there was a death. “For where there is a covenant, it is required that the death of the one who made it be established. For a will takes effect only when a person has died; it cannot possibly be valid so long as the one who made it is still alive” (vv 16-17, NIV). The will belongs to “the one who made it.” Hence, the translation “will” and not “covenant.” (There are of course other reasons, but you can read the commentaries for yourself.)

The problem, though, is that it is hard to see how an analogy of a will helps the argument. The overall argument is certainly about the covenants. And just as importantly, the next verse draws a conclusion from vv 16-17. “Therefore (ὅθεν) not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood” (v 18, NIV). So are we still are talking about covenants?

Check out the rest at The Koinonia Blog.

THEOLOGY

Are Mormons Christian?  Joe Carter has taken the time to answer a few important questions that distinguish Christians and Mormons.  Since public religious figures (I don’t want to use the word pastor) like Joel Osteen have dropped the ball on rightly answering this question, we need to be better equipped to offer insight into what Mormon’s believe–after all, in a few months our country will probably be voting for or against a Mormon.  So here is a fast and friendly guide to understanding some of the main teachings about Mormons, and the false views they hold.  I would encourage you to print this out and keep it near the front door for the next time they come by.

FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY

Ten Narnia Resources.  Andy Naselli, theologian, author, and librarian of all things Carson, has provided the ultimate Resource Guide for The Chronicles of Narnia.  If you are reading or will read C. S. Lewis’s series of children’s books to your children, be sure to check out his cautions as well as his commendations.

Chuck Colson (1931-2012). In the NY Times, Michael Gerson has provided a warm, personal, and Christ-honoring reflection of the passing away of his mentor and friend, Chuck Colson.  Chuck Colson was indicted in 1974 in his role in Watergate.  In prison he was converted, and over the last three and half decades, he has powerfully witnessed to the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.  For a list of his important books, see Tom Gilson’s article on Colson’s life.

The Ugly American – Sex Trafficking and Our National Humiliation. In light of the recent Secret Service scandal in Colombia, Albert Mohler writes an eye-opening piece on something that most Americans are willfully or ignorantly blind to–sex trafficking!  He cites two recent reports in USA Today and the NY Times that chronicle the sex trafficking America (not just Americans) finances.  Mohler’s articles displays how far sin has taken us, and how sexual sin has an insatiable appetite for more and more perversion.  For a ministry that fights sex trafficking and promotes purity, see PureHOPE website.

May God use these resources to help you walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

The Briefing: Albert Mohler’s New Podcast

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15).

Part of the Christian’s responsibility is to give a defense of the gospel to anyone who asks.  This is the task of evangelism–proclaiming the good news of the hope we have in Christ–and the task of Christian apologetics–making a defense of the faith in a world of competing worldviews.

The challenge for most hurried Christians is finding ways to keep up to date on current events that threaten Christianity.  Likewise, finding biblical answers to the problems posed by these attacks can be daunting.  How should we cultivate our Christian worldview in a world that aims to erode our faith and that denies Truth?

Enter Albert Mohler.  Dr. Mohler is the president of Southern Seminary who has spent more than 20 years defending the faith in public forums.  Recently, his nationally syndicated radio program came to an end, but in its place he has begun producing a daily podcast that looks to be incredibly helpful for thinking Christians and those involved in Christianity ministry.  It is called The Briefing, and it is a 10 minute program devoted to helping Christians think biblically about current events.

In the last week, I have benefitted immensely from its contents.  I encourage you to check it out.  Subscribe to it on iTunes or just stop by Mohler’s website to find illuminating commentary on all the things you will find pressing against Christianity in the news.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Think Well!

Desiring God has put up a new video challenging American evangelicals to think and to think well.  The first two minutes are worth a look (and so is the rest, as it begins to promo their upcoming conference: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God).  John Piper reminds us that our love for God is dependent on our thought life, and that failure to cultivate the mind leads to “diminished” worship, joy, and love for God.

May our thinking charge our loving of God and others!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss