Monday, March 31, 2008

What's All This Fuss About Calvinism?

Perhaps you read Christianity Today's cover feature "Young, Restless, Reformed" in September 2006, that described the "comeback of Calvinism". Maybe you've encountered someone speaking enthusiastically about "T-U-L-I-P" (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints) or referring to the "doctrines of grace" or "reformed theology". Or perhaps you have heard people debating "Arminianism vs. Calvinism" and you've wondered: what in the world are they carrying on about?

The Christianity Today article described a resurgence of popularity of Calvinism, especially among young seminarians and college-age Christians. According to the article, this resurgence has in part been due to the influence of dynamic leaders. Among them is John Piper, pastor, prolific author and leader of Desiring God Ministries, who has tirelessly and passionately preached reformed doctrine for many years; Al Mohler, Jr. the outspoken radio host, blogger and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, under whose leadership the seminary has grown dramatically and has been transformed from an institution with a liberal reputation to one producing many graduates who firmly embrace Calvinism; C. J. Mahaney, charismatic leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and his dynamic protege, Joshua Harris, who took over for Mahaney as Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Church, are the most well-known figures in the reformed/charismatic association of churches that comprise Sovereign Grace Ministries, which is also dedicated to upholding reformed teaching; and there is also Mark Dever, pastor, author and leader of 9Marks Ministries, an organization dedicated to providing biblical resources (from a reformed perspective) to help churches grow and be healthy.

Others leaders in the resurgence of Reformed theology not mentioned in this Christianity Today article but noted in a briefer CT article (It's All About God), include Alistair Begg, Donald Carson, Bryan Chapell, Timothy George, Michael Horton, Timothy Keller, John MacArthur, Tom Nettles, and Philip Ryken. Still others who teach from the Reformed perspective include Tom Ascol, Thabiti Anyabwile, Arturo G. Azurdia III, James M. Boice (deceased 2000), Mark Driscoll, Sinclair Ferguson, John Frame, R. Kent Hughes, D. James Kennedy (deceased 2007), Steven J. Lawson, J.I. Packer, Richard D. Phillips, Nathan Pitchford, Richard L. Pratt, Kim Riddlebarger, Sam Storms, James White and many others.

In addition, there are countless bloggers who write from a Reformed or Reformed/Charismatic perspective (this is one of the ways that God providentially guided me into these truths). Just of a few of these blogs include CampOnThis, Pyromaniacs, LaShawn Barber's Corner, Jollyblogger, Between Two Worlds, ChalliesDot.Com, Parchment and Pen, Reformation Theology and OldTruth, and of course, this blog.

A Brief Testimony
So, you probably have encountered reformed teaching before, and may not have necessarily realized it. That's how it was for me. I was coming across blogs and teaching that had a reformed perspective behind them, and I was attracted to the teachings because they emphasized proper doctrine and sound theology as a foundational means to living out one's faith fruitfully. Yet since I was not very conversant with reformed teaching, having never studied it, I didn't at first see where these various teachers were coming from. Finally I became aware of the fact that these teachers I was interested in were of the "reformed" persuasion. This began for me a journey of studying reformed theology and soon, coming to embrace it, my eyes being opened to these truths, as I see it, by the Spirit speaking to my mind and heart. Specifically, He used the Word of God present in this teaching to convict me of its truth.

I feel that I am benefiting greatly from my study of reformed doctrine. One reason is that reformed theology attempts to present biblical truths systematically and thus reveal the way God has worked in his dealings with mankind historically, and especially in the salvation of sinners. Reminded of God's awesome sovereignty and my own deep sinfulness, I have been realizing afresh that God's grace is truly amazing-- for there is nothing in me that commends me to Him. Reflecting on reformed truths, I realize I can take no credit at all for what He alone has done to give me new life in Him, and for watching over me and sustaining my growth in faith. I am learning too that the power to change is His power, that flows by His Spirit through the application of His inspired Word. I am getting excited about being a Christian again, as reformed truths help me see that growth in the Christian life is not really about finding some new method, some new spiritual power, some new way of doing church, some new purpose to drive me, but rather it is about God's power already at work in my life, and in the lives of others, accomplishing his purpose. They are not new truths, but old. There is deep mystery in them, and yet they are also often simple and profound. Now I have a long way to go-- for sometimes I forget who I am in God and act out of the flesh-- but these truths are helping me to trust that even my sinful mistakes are incorporated in God's plan.

So I am quite passionate about sharing reformed truths with others, and have been doing so here at Jordan's View (you might have noticed). I've written my own (continuing) series of studies on the doctrines of grace, and have added many resources to this blog as a means of helping others discover the amazingly abundant and often truly excellent resources available on the Web to those desiring to learn about Calvinism, Reformed doctrines, the doctrines of grace [Check out below the new "Reformed Podcast Player" in the Reformed Theology section- left sidebar]. And as I've mentioned, I recently created a Netvibes hosted web page titled " Resources for the Reforming Christian". I have done all of this because I am convinced that these doctrines are indeed biblical and because biblical, edifying and practical for every believer to know and apply.

This article then, is for those of you who may be as I was at one time, having heard about reformed teaching, but perhaps not having yet explored it. Maybe you have felt it's not really critical to your walk with God to know that much about doctrine. Or perhaps you've heard negative things regarding the teachings of Calvinism-- that it is not biblical; that it hinders the evangelistic impulse; that it misrepresents God's character; that its practitioners are snobbish, arrogant, cliquish and argumentative, or that propagation of these doctrines divides, rather than unites. No doubt some criticism of certain Calvinists is justified. If we recognize though, that Christianity is never perfectly well-represented by its followers, who are flawed and sinful beings, then we should also see that this principle applies to Calvinists representing Calvinism-- some will distort the teaching (Hyper-Calvinism) and others who know the teaching well may nevertheless fail to exhibit the grace they claim to be called to. I certainly have failed in this regard myself. Yet the ever- present gap between faith and practice among imperfect beings doesn't disprove the truths of reformed doctrine, just as Christianity itself isn't proved false by imperfect saints. I would strongly urge anyone who's curious not to discard the doctrines of Calvinism on this basis, without first having examined the teaching for yourself, primarily by looking at Scripture. When reading essays on these doctrines, don't just read what the authors have to say. Examine the Scriptures they refer to in their arguments and see whether what they are saying is good interpretation. Consider too, the arguments of the Arminians and others who disagree with these doctrines. Examine their Scriptural proofs and interpretations. Then, decide for yourself if you think Reformed doctrine is true or false, on the basis on whether it accurately represents Scriptural teaching. This is the noble, so-called "Berean" method of determining scriptural truth (Acts 17:11- the Jews spoken of here were from Berea).

So I will point you to articles and resources you may find helpful if you're beginning to examine reformed theology or even if you're already "reformed", but want to deepen your understanding. Of course you'll soon recognize that among reformed believers there are differences of opinion regarding certain theological points. Most Presbyterians, for example, teach a doctrine called "infant baptism" which many other reformed schools don't agree with. There are also differences among reformed teachers in their views of eschatology (one's perspective concerning the "end of the world" or man's final destiny). Then there are some who call themselves reformed, yet don't embrace all 5 points of T-U-L-I-P. For example, so-called "4-point Calvinists" don't think that the teaching of limited atonement (the "L" in T-U-L-I-P) is correct, though they would affirm the other four points. However, don't let these differences deter you in your study-- the teachers and blogs mentioned above generally do agree on the essential points of reformed doctrine.

Speaking of essentials, one thing that the Reformers have done historically, to try to help the Church grow in the application of these vital truths, was to create creeds, confessions and catechisms. These statements helped define and systematize these truths, as well as distinguish them from erroneous teaching. R.C. Sproul writes "Creedal statements are an attempt to show a coherent and unified understanding of the whole scope of Scripture (from "Norma Normata: A Rule That is Ruled", Tabletalk Magazine, April 2008)."

The brand of Calvinism I espouse, and which I commend for your examination is "5-point" Calvinism. I hope that the resources you discover below will prove to be instrumental in blessing your spiritual understanding and your walk with God. I'm certain that God will use His Word to lead "those who have ears to hear" into all His truth, and that His Church will someday be unified and strong in the truth.

Links for Further Study:

T-U-L-I-P, or the "Doctrines of Grace"
TULIP - The Pursuit of God’s Glory in Salvation PDF booklet from Desiring God Ministries

Essays on the Five Points of Calvinism

The Five Points of Calvinism by R.L. Dabney

Doctrines of Grace- What The Bible Says About the Doctrines of Grace by Nathan Pitchford (free PDF!)

Doctrines of Grace(Category at

The Five Points of Calvinism (Topic under Doctrines of Grace,

An Overview of Reformed Theology Category Section of Articles at

Miscellaneous essays and resources on TULIP/reformed Theology

Creeds Confessions and Catechisms
Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms (The Hall of Church History)
Creeds and Confessions at

The Creeds and Confessions of Christendom

The Five Solas of the Reformation (Category at

Tim Challies reviews new book: Young, Restless and Reformed

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Reviews plus New Section: Books I'm Reading

Since I have recently begun doing book reviews here on Jordan's View, I have added a new sidebar section (right column) to alert you to books I'm currently reading, are on my bookshelf, or would like to read.

My hope is to post a review here for each book I do complete.

So many goals, so little time....

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blips on the Blogosphere 12

Well, some time ago I discontinued the "blips on the blogosphere" posts here on Jordan's View, and alternatively created a "Blips in the Blogosphere" section in my right sidebar, one where I regularly share links to articles I've encountered that I think are worth reading (it's easier to maintain this -- because it's a Google Reader widget-- I just click the "share" button while I'm on Google Reader, and the post link shows up here in the widget).

But, I've decided to bring back "Blips on the Blosphere" because I think the widget perhaps isn't as effective as sharing links the old-fashioned way-- via a post-- and in a post I can also share a little bit about the various links.

So without further adieu, a few "blips on the blogosphere" for your consideration:

Bob DeWaay, John Piper and Gary Gilley are three guys whose stuff I always keep an eye on. Both DeWaay at Critical Issues Commentary and Gilley, at Think On These Things articles, are meticulous in their research, and write articulately and with excellent reformed insights, on critical issues facing the contemporary Western church. John Piper at Desiring God Ministries is a man of many gifts, prolific author, fine theologian, poet, author, and a communicator par excellence. He speaks in a prophetic voice, and preaches with a passion that well adorns his conviction that we Christians should find our deepest, most satisfying joys in God Himself. I offer the following links as a few samples of the excellent work of each of these men.

The Prophetic Calling of Every Believer by Bob DeWaay

Rob Bell’s Abstract “Elvis”- A Critique of Velvet Elvis by Bob DeWaay

Signs and Wonders, Heresy, and Love for God by John Piper

The God of Peace Brought from the Dead the Good Shepherd

The Kingdom of Emergent Theology - Part 1- Gary Gilley

The Kingdom of Emergent Theology - Part 2- Gary Gilley

The Kingdom of Emergent Theology - Part 3- Gary Gilley

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review Series- "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?"- Chapter Two

As it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

The Apostle Paul (Romans 3:10-12)

Having established in chapter one of his book "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace" that "the sovereignty of God at work in our salvation" is what the doctrines of grace are all about, Richard D. Phillips now begins his examination of the five classic reformed doctrines commonly referred to by the acronym "T.U.L.I.P". The first doctrine to be examined is total depravity.

Phillips begins by noting that there is sound insight in beginning the presentation of these doctrines with total depravity. He reminds us of the truth taught by Calvin, that "one may begin a study of theology in either of two ways, either with God or with man, since to know either correctly you must correctly know the other." If one begins with God-- as Isaiah did in his vision of the awesome, sovereign, holy God-- one's darkness becomes revealed in the holy light of God's presence. Yet one may also come to the same revelation by beginning with man, for the Scriptures continually declare that the heart of man is desperately evil, and its testimony is ratified by all the wicked acts of all men (including our own). An honest look in the mirror should provide ample evidence of our utter sinfulness.

Phillips argues that the understanding of man's sin that total depravity provides is critical to appreciating the gospel, thus it is fitting that total depravity is the "first" doctrine of grace. The teaching of total depravity, he surmises, is perhaps the central controversy among the doctrines of grace. This is because it shoots down the pride of those who ask "I am not really so depraved, am I?" and forces them to acknowledge the ugly, but essential reality, that yes, they really are that depraved. We all are. "It is against the backdrop of this terrible news about man in sin that we see the good news of the gospel as something far more wonderful than we have ever imagined." We know then, he writes, "what we are being saved from" and we better "grasp the glory of our salvation."

So what does exactly does total depravity show us about ourselves?

To explain this, Phillips first quotes Lorraine Boettner's definition of total depravity:

This doctrine of Total Inability, which declares that men are dead in sin, does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human will is evil in itself, nor that man’s spirit is inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead. What it does mean is that since the fall man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God or to do anything meriting salvation.

The chapter then continues with Phillips demonstrating that these truths are indeed taught in Scripture, and Phillips focuses especially on Paul's portrait of the human condition depicted in Romans 3:10–18. Here is an outline of various points made:

1. Man is universally unrighteous (Romans 3:10), but God requires that man be justified according to a standard of perfect obedience to the law (Romans 2:13, James 2:10). Therefore man's most profound need, is not companionship, employment, training in life skills, self-esteem, purpose, etc. but to "gain righteousness before God" and thus be "saved from the wrath of God" (the problem of justification).

Depraved Mind
2. Mankind is under the wrath of God because of its many sins, including the fact that he has a depraved mind that:

a) Makes him blind to the spiritual reality of God’s glory and righteousness (Romans 3:10, John 3:3).
b) Makes him unable and also unwilling to perceive spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:14, John 8:43).
c) Causes him to manufacture idols in his heart that he worships rather than seek God (Romans 3:11)[see also Romans 1:18-25]. "In his quest for meaning, truth, and salvation, fallen mankind will turn everywhere except to God."

Phillips writes that man wants the benefits and blessings God has to give, so long as "he doesn’t have to deal with God Himself". This is why the seeker-sensitive approach to conversion is so off-target biblically. Man isn't seeking God but he wouldn't mind going to a church that has "contemporary music", a "health and fitness center", a "casual and informal" atmosphere and teaches him "life-skills".

[Note: the following paragraph are my observations, building on Phillip's thought in the chapter].

If we design church to cater to these superficial needs yet neglect man's most urgent need --to be saved from the wrath of God through the justification found through faith in Christ alone-- we betray the gospel. We give the false impression that the Christian life is primarily about utilizing Jesus and His principles to get "your best life now", rather than leading people to the truth that the Christian life begins with the God-wrought miracle of salvation through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:1-10, 1 Cor 1:30, - and continues with grace-empowered faith (1 Cor 15:10, 2 Cor 5:7, Gal 2:20, 5:5-6, Col 2:7,12) that teaches us to locate all satisfaction in Him through whom all treasures flow (Romans 8:32, James 1:17, 1 Cor 15:28, Eph 1:11-14, 22).

Moral and Spiritual Bondage
3. Man is enslaved to sin:

a) Wicked speech (Romans 3:13–14,quoting Psalms 5:9,140:3,10:7).
b) Evil behavior (Romans 3:15-17)[see also Romans 1:28-31]
c) No fear of God (Romans 3:18)
d) His will is in bondage, not only to sin but also to the Devil(John 8:34,44).

"With sin corrupting our every faculty, we are no more able to will after God than a blind man can see, a deaf man can hear, or a mute man can speak." Phillips sums up:

This is the state of man’s will after the fall: enslaved to the desire of the Devil. Man’s bondage in sin results not from the lack of opportunity to do good and love God, but from the bondage of his heart that causes him to love evil and hate God. Here is the rub when it comes to total depravity: despite the glorious opportunity afforded to man in the gospel of Jesus Christ, such is our total depravity that we are not able in and of ourselves to turn to God.

Having completed this very unflattering portrait of the desperate state of humanity in its sin, one might ask, "what's so great about the doctrine of total depravity?"

As he did with his teaching on God's sovereignty, Phillips wants to show that these doctrines indeed have practical, "great" benefits for those who take them to heart. Thus he proceeds to examine the benefits of believing the truths involved in total depravity.

One benefit already mentioned is that the knowledge of how far we have fallen and how evil we are by nature-- so evil that we would not even turn to God-- increases our marvel and appreciation that God would save such "wretches" as we.

Second, an understanding of this doctrine is "vital to all true spirituality" for it causes us to be humbled before God (Luke 8:14), knowing that we cannot take any credit whatsoever before God in our salvation [1 Cor 4:7].

Third, the doctrine exalts the cross in our eyes and fills our hearts with a holy delight. Phillips writes, "Awe and gratitude drive the true Christian life and draw us joyfully to God’s grace in Christ. It is from the pit of our lost condition that we gaze up toward a God so high and perfect in His holiness. But from that vantage point we come to see fully at least one of those four dimensions of the cross that Paul would long to have us know: its height. The cross of Christ then rises up to span the full and vast distance that marks how far short we are of the glory of God, and that cross becomes exceedingly precious in our eyes.

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:1–2)

Further Reading:
Arminianism vs Reformed Theology Series

Total Depravity of Man (abundant resources at

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How Do We Know the Will of God: "Experientially" or through Scripture?

What is God's will? How do we know and follow it? Is following God's will a matter of cultivating an intimacy with God that develops within us the ability to "hear His voice" (inwardly and supernaturally) and thereby receive precise, specific guidance from Him day-by-day for all our choices, big and small? Or does the Bible present a different way of knowing and doing His will that does not depend upon direct supernatural revelation, but rather might be described as applying the "way of wisdom"-- obeying God's revealed will in moral matters, choosing wisely and with liberty where there is no specific biblical command, and trusting that God will sovereignly work out His plan for our good in our less-than-perfect choices?

A recent book, Walking with God, by bestselling author John Eldredge, presents the "hearing from God" approach. Blogger Tim Challies has written a critical review of the volume, taking Eldredge to task for the book's lack of "deliberate teaching" or "carefully building a case" for its teachings. Challies notes that the book is structured "more like a blog than a typical Eldrege book... four broad divisions in the book follow the seasons but there are no chapter divisions."

According to Challies, "Walking with God" presents Eldredge's very personal account of how in his own walk with God he has learned to discern and respond to God's specific directives. Eldredge claims that Christians who learn this way of walking with God and hearing Him speak specifically to their lives gain confidence that they are walking in the "center of God's will." This approach to knowing God and His will might be called an "experiential model", since in it walking closely with God in large part means cultivating the art of "hearing God's voice"--and hearing God's voice means getting specific revelations from God (experiences of supernatural guidance).

The "experiential" model of knowing God's will is now, and has been, very popular in contemporary Christianity for a long while, especially as it has been promoted by bestselling authors like Eldredge, and in such books as "Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God" by Henry Blackaby and Claude V. King.

In the review Tim Challies points out that many Christians do not believe that God communicates to us in this way [i.e., the "hearing from God", experiential model], and that knowing this,

...Eldredge makes a brief attempt to persuade in a section titled “Does God Still Speak?” His argument, it must be admitted even by his supporters, is hardly likely to convince those who have strong convictions on the matter. He primarily looks to the examples of God speaking to people in Scripture and concludes that this proves such communication is normative. Though he does acknowledge Scripture to be the first and foremost means of God’s revelation to us, and though he looks often to Scripture, he still insists that all Christians should expect to hear God speak to them personally. Nowhere does he interact with thoughtful objections to such communication. He essentially takes it as a given that God will offer fresh revelation today.

While Eldredge's book offers "little formal guidance on how to hear God’s voice, writes Challies, "it does suggest a process that goes something like this: Ask simple questions; remain in a posture of quiet surrender; sit quietly before God and repeat the question; try one answer and then the other in your heart and gauge how you feel about each. Carrying over from his previous books is the assumption that the human heart is inherently good and trustworthy. We can listen to our hearts and allow it to discern for us what is good and bad, right and wrong. Though God may speak in an audible voice, primarily we “hear” him in our hearts."

In such an approach to God's will, there appears to be an assumption that we need to be on God's "supernatural wavelength" so that we don't miss out on God's individual, specific will for us and make serious missteps in our choices. Accordingly, Challies notes, in Eldredge's model one feels compelled to ask God for "direct guidance in every area of life", from everything to "Do you want me to paint the bathroom?" to "Should I stay late at work?" to what Scripture passage He would have us read each day, lest we miss some vital word from God.

In the conclusion of his review Challies writes:

... As a glimpse into the life of John Eldredge this book may have some appeal. But as a guide to hearing from God, it has little value. What the author teaches is fraught with peril. Feeling that we need to hear direct and fresh revelation from God in every matter is a prescription for paralysis. Though such a discussion is beyond the scope of this short review, it is far better and far more consistent with Scripture to see that there is no such thing as the center of God’s will. God gives us the Bible to guide us to what He expressly commands and forbids. Beyond those black and white commands, He gives us great freedom to live our lives. He does not expect or demand that we will stop to demand answers from a “still small voice” for every situation we face. Instead, we fill our minds with Scripture, we study His commands, and we live life in the freedom He offers. Walking with God offers confusion rather than clarity. Take a pass on this one.

If then, the "hearing from God" approach to finding and living out God's will described in "Walking with God" is not helpful (because not supported by Scripture), how can we know and do God's will? What are the alternatives to this teaching? And how does one decide which view is correct and biblical?

In the first paragraph of this article, I hinted at my current understanding of God's will when I asked the question, "... does the Bible present a different way of knowing and doing His will that does not depend upon direct supernatural revelation, but rather might be described as applying the "way of wisdom"-- obeying God's revealed will in moral matters, choosing wisely and with liberty where there is no specific biblical command, and trusting that God will sovereignly work out His plan for our good in our less-than-perfect choices?" The "way of wisdom" approach is the one I follow today, and seems also to be Mr. Challies' view, if I am judging the remarks he makes at the conclusion of his review correctly. I'll explain more in a moment what I mean by the "way of wisdom" approach to finding and doing God's will.

A brief testimony regarding the evolution of my understanding of God's will
We are very fortunate and blessed that the topic of knowing God's will is one that has been tackled thoughtfully and with careful study of Scripture by many excellent teachers and that we in the West have access to such valuable resources. Since 1983, when the Lord brought me to Himself, I have read numerous books on the topic of how to know God's will, including:
Discovering God's Will
God's Will and the Christian by R.C. Sproul
The Mystery of God's Will by Charles Swindoll
Every Life is a Plan of God by J. Oswald Sanders
Knowing God's Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions
God's Guidance: A Slow and Certain Light with Study Guide
The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life

Over the years, I learned a lot about making better decisions as a Christian by reading such books, but often felt as if there was something missing-- that I ought to be crystal clear that my decisions were really in God's will-- for I thought perhaps there was a dimension of hearing from God I was lacking-- after all, you did find many people in the Bible who were being led supernaturally, and then there were people I knew personally who would speak as if God often and specifically told them to do things. Then I began a several year journey in the exploration of more charismatic churches and practices, and the more "mystical" approach to finding God's will presented itself and was quite appealing. The idea of communing so closely with God that He would direct me and my family personally by specific revelations sounded quite exciting. And this view of discerning God's will seemed also to fit in well with other new concepts I was learning about and exploring-- the "baptism in the Holy Spirit", speaking in tongues as a form of communion with God, and the possibility of receiving fresh visions or prophesying by the Spirit of God. And yet I somehow was never able to get completely comfortable with this approach to knowing God's will that was obviously so subjective and therefore seemed impossible to validate. If a brother or sister told me that the "Lord told them" to do such an such, what could I say, except "Amen", for how could I object? After all, God told them (but secretly I wondered, how could such claims be proven)? Occasionally I'd hear of someone getting a word from the Lord that indeed came to pass and this seemed truly remarkable. But then there were other times when the expectations created by "a word" occasioned deep disappointment when the events simply did not turn out as predicted. Besides, in the epistles of the New Testament, where one would really expect to find teaching for the Church about how to walk in God's will, the approach to hearing from God and following God's plan was not at all a mystical, experience based approach, but rather there are calls to obedience to the commands of Scripture, to study and preach the Word, to a lifestyle of repentance, and to decision-making based on sound reasoning from the wisdom of Scripture.

Discovering the "Way of Wisdom" Approach

I returned on several occasions to reading the most thorough (and long!)volume in my extensive library on this subject, Garry Friesen and J. Robin Maxson's "Decision Making and the Will of God- A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View". In their book, Friesen and Maxson evaluate the "traditional" model of finding God's will and find it deficient for making good decisions, as well as lacking in biblical support. As an alternative, they present another model which they call the "way of wisdom", which they claim is more true to the Bible's teaching and therefore, much more freeing and practical. The book was carefully researched and made a very strong impression on me because their case was extremely persuasive. Yet at the time, I wrestled with how their arguments squared with some of my still charismatic ideas.

God providentially has led me to embrace, during these past few years, the reformed doctrines of grace. With their strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God in the life of the believer and proper context in interpretation of Scripture, I feel that my spiritual vision has been cleared and refocused. I see more readily now that many concepts about God's will I had picked up from the books by reformed authors were indeed based on sound exegesis of Scripture, while the more mystical concepts I had begun to explore about discovering God's will via subjective experiences were mistakenly presenting the supernatural experiences of biblical characters as normative for today. The main problem with this is that the guidance experiences of the saints of old were not the subjective, internal, feelings-guided, vague impressions touted by contemporary teachers on finding God's will, but rather, clear, unmistakably supernatural instances of guidance from God, in the form of audible voices, angelic visitations, supernatural visions, and the like. God may guide like this today if He so chooses, but because of the completion of the canon of Scripture, such ways are not His main mode of communicating His plans today.

May I present then below, a summary of key principles for decision-making as presented by Garry Freisen. At the end of the article I will also point you to other helpful resources on finding God's will, which teach along these same lines. Note that what Friesen calls the traditional view is still a very widely taught approach to finding the will of God, though in these days it seems even more emphasis is being placed on the mystical aspects of discovering God's will.

Friesen contrasts the "traditional" view against the "Way of Wisdom":

Four Principles of Decision Making (The Traditional View)

1. Premise: For each of our decisions God has a perfect plan or will.

2. Purpose: The goal of the believer is to discover God's individual will and make decisions in accordance with it.

3. Process: The believer interprets the inner impressions and outward signs through which the Holy Spirit communicates His leading.

4. Proof: The confirmation that one has correctly discerned the individual will of God comes from an inner sense of peace and outward (successful) results of the decision.

Four Principles of Decision Making ("The Way of Wisdom" Approach)

1. The Principle of OBEDIENCE: Where God commands, we must obey.

2. The Principle of FREEDOM: Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose

3. The Principle of WISDOM: Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose.

4. The Principle of HUMBLE TRUST: When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good.

There is much more from Garry Friesen at his website, including his very insightful and charitable reviews of other books that have been written on the topic of God's will. Others have such fine resources available on this topic that rather than try to present a teaching here I will direct you to their teachings via the links below.

Of the books on God's guidance I have read over the years, perhaps my favorite was the "Knowing God's Will" by M. Blaine Smith, which, as Friesen describes in his own review of it, presents a "wisdom" approach but uses more "traditional" terminology. Although I was not "reformed" at the time I read it, Mr. Smith's teaching on making good decisions within God's will I believe are based on sound reformed principles.

Links to further resources:

How Do We Know the Will of God, Part 2 (The Way of Wisdom)

Principles for Decision Making- An Overview (A concise web version of the key teachings of the book Decision Making and the Will of God)

Garry Freisen's reviews of books on The Will of God and Decision-Making (Overview) and List of Books Reviewed

M. Blaine Smith's Nehemiah Ministries (features many excellent articles about discovering God's will)

God’s Will, Lost or Found - Part 1- by Gary Gilley
God’s Will, Lost or Found - Part 2- by Gary Gilley
God’s Will, Lost or Found - Part 3- by Gary Gilley
God’s Will, Lost or Found - Part 4- by Gary Gilley
God’s Will, Lost or Found - Part 5- by Gary Gilley

The Problems with Personal Words From God-How People Become False Prophets to Themselves by Bob DeWaay

God’s Revealed Will-Understanding God's Boundaries by Bob DeWaay

What Is the Will of God and How Do We Know It? by John Piper

The Will of God- Article by R.C. Sproul

Discovering God's Will- Article by Sinclair B. Ferguson

God's Will and the Christian By R.C. Sproul-A Review By Greg Gilbert

Knowing God's Will by M. Blaine Smith- Reviewed by Merle Harton, Jr.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reformed Theology and the Church: An Interview With Dr. Timothy George

At Walking Together Ministries blog, an interview appears today titled
Reformed Theology and the Church: An Interview With Dr. Timothy George
. It's an informative interview and I'd recommend it.

The Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. George has written books titled "Theology of the Reformers" and "John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of Reform". The interview dates from May of 2000, and is written by Wyman Richardson, founder of Walking Together Ministries.

I thought that Dr. George offers helpful clarifications on what is meant by terms like "Reformed theology" or "Calvinistic", showing that these terms are not always understood very precisely.

Most of all I appreciated very much the answer Dr. George provides to the question, "What are the major pitfalls that must be avoided in order for reformed theology to continue to gain influence and popularity in the American church?"

Well, first of all I want to say that I don't think gaining influence and popularity in the American church is necessarily a goal to be sought or an end to be desired. Once we begin to talk like that, we're not talking like reformed theologians, we're talking like people that put pragmatism above truth. So I reject the premise of the question.

But having said that, I would say a couple of things. One is just to repeat what I said a moment ago about missions and evangelism being the heart of the Christian movement. And I would say two other things also. One would be an ability to work with other Christians across lines - denominational lines, ideological lines - that do not compromise the gospel. There is a kind of ecumenism of accommodation that says, "Let's find the least common denominator and settle on that and just be happy and together and forget about other matters." I'm against that kind of ecumenism. But I believe in an ecumenism of conviction which takes seriously those irreducible, evangelical essentials that we cannot compromise, but, having affirmed those, are willing to reach across some other boundaries and work with other believers in Jesus Christ in a common cause. I think reformed theologians should be in the forefront of an ecumenism of conviction. I've tried to do that and others as well. So that was one thing I would say. Don't become a sectarian movement. Don't isolate yourself from the wider body of Christ.

And then the third point is the attitude that we bring to it. There's no room for pride, for arrogance, for hubris among anyone who is truly reformed, because we recognize that we're saved by the grace of God and that it is only by the grace of God that we even understand one-millionth of the meaning of any of the doctrines of grace. And if you really believe that, then 1 Corinthians 4:7 becomes a very important verse in your life. That verse contains three questions. It says, "Who made you different than anybody else?", "What do you have that you did not receive?", and "If you received it, why do you boast as though you did not receive it?" And I think that's a marvelous verse, a life verse, for every reformed theologian. We have nothing that we did not receive. If you have that attitude, then I think your life and your approach to others is going to be characterized by humility and a graciousness and not by, "I've got the truth and you'd better duck or I'll hit you in the face with my theological pie." That's the way it sometimes comes across. There's no place in the body of Christ for graceless debates about the doctrines of grace. Too often that's been the case in the past. I think that's changing. I think that's changing for the good.

Resources on Discernment

The proclamation and defense of truth, and the discernment of true from false doctrine has been an ongoing theme here at Jordan's View. A recent post along these lines was my article Christian Watchbloggers- Good or Bad?

I have also come across some fine resources on Christian discernment I'd like to bring to your attention.

One of these is a message by John Piper which I also mentioned in yesterday's post, How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels. it's so good that it's worth mentioning a second time.

Another conference message from Piper is titled "How Do Christians Explain Truth?".

Mark Dever has a message entitled "Discern Your Doctrine" that is available for free download.

In Rob Bell, the Pastor’s Task of Discernment, and My Heart, C. J. Mahaney presents a balanced article concerning how pastors ought to pursue their task of discernment while at the same time maintaining a watchful, humble eye on their own hearts, praying for those whose errors they expose, and making sure to keep preaching sound doctrine, and not just continually point out error. I would think that his admonitions are suitable not only for those in those in pastoral ministry, but also for all Christians called to proclaim their faith.

How blessed we are to have such great teaching resources available to us through the Web.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One Man, Three Powerful Messages

John Piper was a participant and speaker in the recent Resurgence National Conference 2008: Text & Context.

Mr. Piper is probably my favorite preacher, because of his godly fear in handling of the Word, the earnestness and passion for souls evident in his preaching, the substance, depth and intelligence of his teaching, and his articulate delivery.

Thus far I have only listened to the powerful conference message titled How My Pastoral Ministry Shapes My Pulpit Ministry, but I have no doubt that all of his conference messages are worthwhile and edifying to listen to.

To watch/listen to the others, visit these links:

How Do I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels

Why I Trust the Scriptures

Text of these messages is available here:
How My Pastoral Ministry Shapes My Pulpit Ministry
How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels
Why I Trust the Scriptures

Christ The Lord Is Risen Today!

Did you know... Christ the Lord is Risen today! (click link to listen to the triumphant tune, and sing this famous Easter melody whose lyrics were penned by John Wesley, a staunch Arminian-- proving they're not all bad, just misguided :).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More Resources for the Reforming Christian

Since my own evolution from an (unexamined) Arminianism to a confirmed Calvinism was greatly aided by reading many superb on-line articles describing and teaching Reformed Christianity, I have tried also to be a help to others who may want to learn more about the "doctrines of grace" and examine them for themselves. To that end I began writing an in-depth series contrasting Arminian and Reformed theology (which I plan to re-visit and continue, as soon as I'm able) and more recently, have been writing a book review series of Richard D. Phillips' excellent title, "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?". I also created a section for Reformed Theology on the sidebar there, which I continue to update and add resources to. More recently, I created a new "Netvibes universe" website titled " Resources for the Reforming Christian", which, though it duplicates many resources found here, may be a more-user friendly way to locate many of them. There's a link to that site too, from the sidebar here. Resources for the reforming Christian
The new site contains many reformed feeds, podcasts and website links, all found under descriptive tabs. It's think it's an easy site to navigate, and it's also simple for me to maintain and update. I have recently added tabs for "Reformation and Christian History", and if like me you've been investigating seminaries, you'll want to check out the new tabs for "Reformed Seminaries (Accredited)", "Reformed Seminaries & Schools (Non-Accredited)" and "Distance Education Programs/Courses". Many of the reformed seminaries and reformed distance education links are ones recommended by John Piper at Desiring God Ministries. Additionally there's a tab for Reformed Education- Free Seminary-Level Materials, which I aim to take more advantage of myself.

May your Resurrection Sunday remembrance be blessed and Happy Easter!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Reflections

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

...these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

It is Good Friday, and how good it is to reflect this day upon Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished by coming to Earth and dying on a cross. As I am in the process of reviewing the chapter titled "What's So Great About Total Depravity?" (part of my current book review series of posts), the doctrine of total depravity is on my mind. I see a definite connection between the two-- Good Friday-- specifically, Jesus dying on the cross for our sins-- and total depravity. What is the connection?

Total depravity teaches that all of mankind is spiritually "dead" in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), and we are "natural", therefore unable to comprehend and respond to the truth of God, because such truth is spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14, John 3:3-6). Our spiritual condition is akin to Lazarus in the tomb-- just as a dead person doesn't and can't respond to anything, so we're insensible and unresponsive to spiritual truth. But when Jesus specifically calls our name ("Lazarus, Come forth!"), power is given to hear and to respond. We are no longer dead but born again, by the mysterious power of the Spirit (John 3:7-8). A miracle has happened and suddenly, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ makes sense as it never has before.

The doctrine of total depravity reminds us how utterly lost we are outside of Christ. Though we have life in one sense, yet we are dead in another sense. That is, we have the natural life that we are born with and pertains to all things in this world. Yet we don't possess the life that is truly life- the life that mankind was meant to have-- eternal, spiritual life, in fellowship with God.

This life is what we are missing because of our sinful condition. But we are so lost in sin that we are not even aware of what we are missing, as by nature we suppress the truth of God (Romans 1:18). The wrath of God is set against us and we all stand guilty before a holy God (Romans 3:23). In this helpless and hopeless and sinful state (Matthew 9:36, Ephesians 2:12, Romans 5:8), Jesus came and died for our sins, which were separating us from life in God (Ephesians 4:18). He takes away those sins (John 1:29) and gives life to all those who will believe in Him and put their faith in Him (John 5:24; John 6:40,47). So much more could be said, but at this time I will point you to others who have also meditated on the meaning of the cross and eloquently share their teaching and reflections:

A Good Friday Meditation: Christ and the Meaning of the Universe by John Piper

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON THE CROSS?...Christ died for God - this is called propitiation by Steve Camp, CampOnThis

Easter Through the Eyes of God- Message series by John McArthur

The Joy Set Before Us by Jared Wilson, Gospel-Driven Church

A Crucifixion Narrative by Rick Gamache

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Review Series- "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?"- Chapter One

Many treatments of the doctrines of grace order their explanations of the doctrines by examining sequentially the doctrines represented by the letters of the well-known acrostic "T.U.L.I.P." (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). In his book, "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?", Richard D. Phillips also follows this outline, but rather than begin with total depravity his first chapter explores the sovereignty of God. In his view, the doctrines of grace are synonymous with "biblical teaching about the sovereignty of God at work in our salvation". Accordingly, it is implied, an understanding of God's sovereignty is foundational to comprehending the doctrines of grace. He explains:

The doctrines of grace offer a perspective on salvation in which God truly is God, so that everything depends on His will and works to His glory. As with all God’s attributes, sovereignty is not a mere abstraction, but a reality that shapes the warp and woof of our experience. The real God is a God who really is sovereign over all reality.

I agree, and would add the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is perhaps an underlying theme that runs through all the doctrines of grace, for in each of the doctrines there is revealed a God who works powerfully and effectively to achieve the purposes of His will. To illustrate what a profound effect a proper understanding of God's sovereignty ought to generate in believers, Phillips points to Isaiah, whose life was forever impacted by his vision of God as the high and exalted One, seated in His throne room, reigning supreme above all things and worshiped by the majestic angels. When Isaiah experienced this incredible vision he cried out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isa. 6:5). Phillips writes that "Isaiah despaired of himself and all his works. You know you have met with God when you cry, “Woe is me!” This is what self-awareness produces when accompanied by God-awareness."

Furthermore, we see in Isaiah, "the link between the sovereignty of God’s grace and the self-abandonment that flows from the doctrine of total depravity. These truths go together, like two parts of a locket. When these pieces click, the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ makes sense as it never has before," writes Phillips. A true apprehension of God's awesome sovereignty leads to a deep awareness of one's utter sinfulness before a transcendentally holy God.

Now Phillips defines God's sovereignty this way:

By sovereignty, we mean that God actively governs everything. By everything, we mean all things that happen, from the greatest to the least of occurrences. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” asked Jesus. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29). So sovereignty means “according to God’s sovereign will.”

Logically, Phillips includes salvation as also being under the rule of God's sovereignty. He writes,

"God’s sovereignty in salvation means that believers are saved for this sole ultimate reason: "according to God’s sovereign will." Or as Paul wrote, our salvation was "predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). That sums it up about as well as possible: we are saved according to God’s sovereign purpose, by God’s sovereign working, according to God’s sovereign will. Salvation truly is "from him and through him and to him" (Romans 11:36).

And the practical result of believing such truths about the sovereignty of God in our salvation, or as Phillips describes it, "when this truth breaks into our minds and hearts", is that "we glory in God forever."

As discussed in the preface, Phillips aims not only to explain each of the doctrines of grace using simple language, but also, to draw out practical implications for application. He writes that "everything in a believer’s life changes when he or she grasps the truth of God’s sovereignty." For example, he examines how Isaiah's experiential revelation of the unique, holy sovereignty of God produced four responses in Isaiah, responses that will also be ours as we come to grips with God's sovereignty: a readiness to serve; humble, trusting obedience; holy boldness; and reliance on sovereign, saving grace.

4 Responses to the Vision of God's Sovereign Lordship
Regarding the "readiness to serve" that the vision of the sovereignty of God produces, Phillips writes, "Since God is the true sovereign, there is no greater privilege than to serve Him. Awe before His glory makes other pursuits diminish." Furthermore, Phillips points out that really knowing that we serve an exalted, sovereign King produces both the inner compulsion to serve Him and to delight in His service.

Secondly, Phillips argues that it was Isaiah's radical recognition of God's awesome sovereignty that caused him not to question, and never complain about, the wisdom of God's instructions, even though his God-given assignment was singularly unpleasant. Isaiah was called to preach a very challenging, "in-your-face" message that would "bring about a hardening in Jerusalem", and "cause calluses as a prelude to judgment." Yet, Phillips points out, Isaiah's vision of a "sovereign, saving God" had produced in him the humble willingness to obey without questioning orders.

Thirdly, holy boldness is produced within God's people as they become conscious of the fact that their God is sovereign above all earthly rulers. He quotes the Scottish Reformer John Knox, who when asked why he could be so bold in defying the Queen of Scotland, replied, "When you have just spent time on your knees before the King of Kings, you do not find the Queen of Scotland to be so frightening."

And finally, the vision of God in His sovereign glory makes His servants trust and rely completely upon the power of sovereign grace to see His work accomplished.

This is seen in the sign Isaiah gave to King Ahaz. Isaiah urged this sign on Ahaz to enliven his faith. It was a sign that was foolish in the eyes of the world, but glorious in the eyes of God: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). In the presence of Ahaz’s apostate unbelief, Isaiah laid his hand on the greatest sign of sovereign grace of which he could think: the virgin who would be with child.

Despite the reaction that a hostile, unbelieving world may have, Phillips writes, Isaiah's vision of God as Almighty sovereign was one by which the Spirit inspired him to preach prophetically to Ahaz of the coming Savior. Phillips concludes, "true gospel ministry can succeed only if a virgin girl gives birth to a son." He means that the ultimate success of ministry lies in the power of a miracle-working, sovereign God whose grace alone is be trusted in and relied upon.

Isaiah’s sign of the virgin birth tells us not to trust human wisdom, even as we must not despair in the face of human difficulty or personal failure. For if we, like Isaiah, gain a vision of God’s sovereign glory, especially in the salvation of sinners, we will count it our privilege to serve this sovereign Lord, who brought our Savior into the world through a virgin womb, and who will bring many to salvation as we likewise rely on His sovereign, saving grace.


I believe Mr. Phillips book has been successful thus far in achieving his aims of presenting the doctrines of grace simply, clearly and with a view towards their application. Musing on this first chapter, which describes so eloquently the importance of deeply knowing God's sovereignty, lead me to consider what happens when/if we don't have such a recognition. I think there are many possible effects of having a weak view of God's sovereignty, but it's outside the scope of this review to fully explore them. However, I'll briefly present a few ideas on these lines for your consideration.

Blame It on the Devil Lifestyle
One result of a weak consciousness of God's sovereign rule might be a distorted picture of the Christian life, one that gives Satan way too much prominence and thus leads believers into blaming Satan or demons for everything bad that happens. The truth is that God's sovereignty extends to ruling over the devil and his demonic forces, who actions are as God permits and are ultimately overruled by him (see the book of Job).

If we don't view Satan, as well as all that happens, as being under God's sovereignty, and if at the same time, we lose sight of the way God is providentially working together all things for the good of those who love Him, we may be prone to try to figure out the "why" in every bad circumstance (was it the Devil, was it God, what does it mean?).

I think that Scripture, in books such as Ecclesiastes and Job, shows that such speculation is not profitable. We mostly won't receive answers from God as to "why" certain things happen. But we do know from Scripture that the God who created and controls this universe watches over it, and that He cares for believers, who may please Him by living according to faith in His Son and in His great promises.

"Experiencing" God
Another possible consequence of not seeing and trusting in God's sovereignty may be the contemporary tendency to want to "hear from God". Does God promise to personally and supernaturally give us moment-by-moment instructions on all decisions of life, so that our task is to learn how to hear His voice and sense His directions inwardly? Surely the biblical record shows that God has revealed Himself in spectacular and direct ways to various servants in times past, but the Bible does portray such supernatural guidance as normative. How does this relate to having a vision of God's sovereignty? The impulse to get specific revelations may be due to a defective understanding of God's sovereignty. The Bible tells us "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3)". The Bible also claims special status as God's revelation to his people, one that is sufficient to guide us through life. Therefore by faith we must trust that God's word is inerrant and infallible because it was God's sovereign power that produced and preserved the Bible for us.

Returning again to the book review, we observe that Mr. Phillips is a pastor and his writing style is reminiscent of well put-together sermons. His desire then, to not only explicate but help his audience to be personally changed by these truths, seems driven by pastorly concern. In this first chapter I would say that he has been quite successful in these goals. In a time when the doctrines of grace or Calvinism are so often disparaged, I think this book serves a good purpose in showing that the doctrines, understood properly and applied properly, bring powerful blessings into the life of Christians because they are rooted in Scripture.

Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Me-thinks "Rethink" Stinks

Two recent articles that refer to the influence of Robert Schuller on a new generation of leaders are quite disturbing. As "traditional" ways of following Christ and interpreting Scripture are thought to be ineffective and outdated, new strategies of leadership that have more in common with secular marketing strategies than biblical methodology are being promoted. One of the articles is titled "Rethinking Revised" by Roger Oakland of Understanding the Times Ministries. In it he describes his experiences and observations while attending the recent Rethink Conference that was headed by Schuller and featured well-known names in evangelicalism (Erwin McManus, Bill Hybels, Chuch Colson, George Barna, Lee Strobel, Dan Kimball, John and Nancy Ortberg among them) as well as more secular figures such as Larry King, former President George H.W. Bush, and Rupert Murdoch.

The second article, "Robert Schuller – The Humpty Dumpty of Evangelicalism" is an excellent analysis of some of the deep flaws in Schuller's theology. It seems that the discernment level among Evangelicals today is appalling low. But if it is low among the leaders, there is even less discernment among those who follow these leaders. May articles like these help people avoid the false and deceptive directions being promoted by these leaders.

For further consideration:
Rethinking Robert Schuller
Erwin McManus Teams Up with Robert Schuller - Could Have Far-Reaching Effects
Rethinking Culture
What is "Rethinking"?

Crosstalk Program on Rethink Conference/Evangelicalism

Here's one article which doesn't find anything wrong with this picture (read this too if you wish and make up your own mind):
Kay Warren and Robert Schuller (and the Re-Think Conference)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Start-Page" Wars- The Curse of the "Tweaker"

I am busy working on the next post in my first-ever book review series (click here to jump to the initial article), but didn't quite get the next post done in time to post tonight.

So I'll take a little fun break. Or what I find fun. Ha ha. You may not. I don't know about you, but I love to tweak my browser (Firefox, of course), and also, my "start page". You know, those pages that you can have on the Internet where you can add all the content you want, like news feeds, or local weather, or a little clock, etc.? "My Yahoo" is an example of one that's been around a long time. But the new start pages have really gone all "Web 2.0" in sophistication. So this gets a "tweaker" like me into trouble because (I hope you some of you know what I'm talking about) I'll tweak to get the browser organized just so, and fiddle with the home page till it contains just the information I want on it, and looks just right, and I have to load up my browser and home page with lots of buttons and widgets and doodads. I know, it sounds like I have too much time on my hands. No, but actually this kind of tweaking is more about function than aesthetics-- in the end it does make surfing and doing work on the Web a whole lot easier (really it does).

Anyway, several months ago I wrote about how I'd discovered and started using Netvibes as a home page. Now, I found out that Pageflakes offers very similar types of pages and functions, and of course, iGoogle and also want to "get in on the action". But how is one to choose from among the competitors? Well, here's an in-depth article from CNET in Australia to your technical rescue:

Start-page smackdown: Netvibes, Pageflakes, iGoogle and

Personally, I think I'll be sticking with Netvibes (by the way, please do check out my new Netvibes Universe", and you'll get a taste of what I'm describing in this article. Besides, it's a whole world for you crazy Calvinists to romp about in). Still, knowing myself, it's inevitable that I'll sneak over and give Pageflakes a try one of these days... 'cause I can't resist tweaking.

P.S. Just found yet another cool start-page website with Web 2.0 features:

For further information

This PC Magazine article analyzes and compares some of the same top start pages sites as the article mentioned in my post: The Best Start Pages on the Web
See also: Top 5 personalized start pages
The Top Personalized Start Pages
10 Ajax Start Pages To Consider
The Future of Personalized Start Pages

Plus: See my new Web 2.0 Start Pages links list

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review Series- "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?" by Richard D. Phillips

Tonight I begin a chapter-by-chapter review series on the forthcoming book "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?" by Richard D. Phillips, senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C. Slated for release in just a few weeks (April 1, 2008), it's being published by Reformation Trust, a publishing imprint of Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul).

According to the book jacket, Mr. Phillips (M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary), in addition to his pastoral duties, is also the author of numerous books, including "Jesus the Evangelist" and the "Hebrews in the Reformed Expository Commentary" series. His preaching is heard weekly on the radio program God’s Living Word, and since 2000 he has chaired the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, founded by James Montgomery Boice. Prior to his calling to the gospel ministry, Rev. Phillips served as a tank officer in the U.S. Army and was assistant professor of leadership at the United States Military Academy, West Point, resigning with the rank of major. He lives with his wife, Sharon, and their five children in the Upcountry of South Carolina.

Before delving into the book's preface, I'd like to open this series with a few brief introductory remarks on the topic of the "doctrines of grace".

What is so great about the "doctrines of grace"? Many today would say, "not much". For these classic reformed truths are not necessarily cherished in our day, and in fact are often viewed with hostility, alarm and apprehension. Why is this so? Why should these doctrines, from which most, if not all, Protestant denominations today trace their roots, be viewed with such suspicion by many contemporary Protestants?

One reason, I believe, is that the specific content of the "doctrines of grace" is not taught from many pulpits and is unfamiliar to large numbers. Though most Presbyterians and Lutherans, some Baptists, Sovereign Grace Ministries (and others too, I'm sure) know these doctrines and preach them, yet there are huge segments of the contemporary American church that likely have never been exposed to, nor critically examined, the doctrines of grace (sometimes referred to by the acrostic "T.U.L.I.P", or by the nickname "Calvinism"). As a result many can't explain the difference between the two most prominent theological systems of Protestant history- Calvinism and Arminianism, nor would they be able to answer the question, "Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?" What they have heard about Calvinism may be nothing more than superficial and dismissive hearsay. One may think (as I used to) "Well, I have heard a little about these Calvinistic teachings--Limited Atonement, Unconditional Election-- and they just don't sound correct or biblical."

Additionally, you may be thinking, so what? Does it really matter anyway, to prefer one ancient set of creeds, over another ancient set of creeds? What practical difference would choosing sides in an ancient theological debate make to my life right now as a Christian? Isn't the important thing to get busy loving each other as Christians and showing God's love to the world?

This is precisely, I believe, the issue that Mr. Phillip's new book aims to address: to show why the doctrines of grace are indeed great and why they matter for us today. His method however, is not to offer an exhaustive argument in defense of the doctrines of grace, nor thorough refutation of Arminianism or other theological systems. Rather, he wants to share his love and enthusiasm for these doctrines even as he demonstrates that they are indeed biblical and therefore highly relevant. In order to do so, he writes in the preface of having two purposes in his book. First:

I seek to exposit definitive passages as they pertain to the respective doctrines. My approach is to present and explain the doctrines as plainly as possible by drawing out both the clear teaching of the Bible’s text and the necessary implications thereof.

His second purpose, which he thinks is equally important but often neglected in books on this topic, is: help believers feel the power of these precious truths in their lives. In other words, I aim not merely to teach the doctrines of grace, but to show what is so great about them. And how great they are! If we really believe the Bible’s teaching on the sovereign, mighty, and effectual grace of God, these doctrines not only will be dearly beloved, they will exercise a radical influence on our entire attitude toward God, ourselves, the present life, and the life to come.

It is especially this second purpose, which Mr. Phillips so eloquently describes here, that makes me excited about reading and reviewing this volume. Despite this positive bias, however, I aim to write a critical and constructive review of the book.

For Further Reading:
Arminian vs Reformed Theology series

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Christian Watchbloggers- Good or Bad?

Recently Christian blogger Carla Rolfe asked the following questions about the term "watchblogger". Noting that the term has been used as a compliment or as an insult, depending on who is using it, she asked:

1. Please define watchblogger for me?

2. Please give examples of watchbloggers?

Defining the term: Watchblogger
A number of people, including myself, chimed in with answers to her inquiry in the comments section on her blog. Here's part of what I said:

I believe the term "watchbloggers" --especially if talking about Christian blogs/bloggers-- is referring to those who "watch" and report on false or un-biblical trends and teachings via their blog ministries. Examples would include Pyromaniacs, Apprising Ministries, Camponthis, Lighthouse Trails, Kjos Ministries, Slice of Laodicea and many others. I think a similar but broader term is "discernment ministries", which would include sites that are not necessarily blogs...

I noted in my comment that sometimes watchbloggers have also been referred to as "discernment" ministries (other commenters quickly pointed out that both terms have been used in a negative sense, especially when referring to certain Christian bloggers). I've been thinking a bit more about these questions and would like to weigh in on the issue further here. But before doing that, how is the term "watchblogger being defined by others? Here's one definition, from the site

Watchblogger: An derogatory term for an individual who establishes a blog for the purpose of attacking, smearing, and/or discrediting a specific faith group or belief system. They frequently use quotes selected out of context, misquotes, guilt-by-association, genetic fallacies, ad-hominem attacks, and other tricks to maximize their impact.

Well, if you read the above definition, to be a "watchblogger" doesn't sound like a very attractive calling, does it? Steve Camp, who's probably been called a "watchblogger" many times by those who don't like what he has to say, wrote this about the term "watchblogger":

Listen, the watchblogger term is a pejorative used in an egregious manner to stereotype and belittle anyone who speaks the truth in love about the skewed orthodoxy and assuaged orthopraxy that currently exists and is embraced in contemporary evangelicalism.

Mr. Camp seems to be saying that it is possible to write critically about both "skewed orthodoxy and assuaged orthopraxy" in the Christian church, while at the same time speaking "the truth in love". Of course Steve's statement assumes that there is such a thing as truth that can be objectively defined and apprehended by human beings. As a fellow Christian I agree with this assumption, but it is clear that many today don't agree with it and question the very notion that one can be so dogmatic as to claim that one set of faith propositions is true while another set isn't. So really there is an underlying debate about truth and the nature of truth, that precedes the issue of whether watchblogs serve a useful purpose. If one's perspective is that all religious truths are equally valid-- equally true-- then to such a person the Christian watchblogger will come across as one who is intolerant and hateful in speech, merely because he or she dares to proclaim and show that one truth is more in line with Christian and biblical teaching than another.

But here's another take on the term, from Christian blogger David Kjos. He commented on Carla's blog:

As I see it, a watchblogger [is one] who: can't read anything they disagree with without instantly rattling off a screed condemning the perpetrator and warning all the other poor souls who couldn't possibly survive without them. might be right most of the time, but rarely writes anything positive or encouraging. Edification = screaming "repent!" Their "faith" is all about what they are against. What they are for is less clear.lives in a constant state of panic, fancying themselves to be like the Dutch boy with his finger in the hole in the dyke, trying valiantly to save the church from the destruction that would surely come if not for them.scoffs at anyone who doesn't adopt the same combative attitude as they do ("Compromiser! People-pleaser! Wimp!") justifies being a total jerk by claiming Jesus was, too. ("I'm just driving money-changers from the temple!")... I could go on, but in a nutshell, a watchblogger is an internet troll with his own blog.

It's not necessarily just the non-Christians then, who can have a problem with Christian "watchbloggers". In an article titled Diss Isn't Discernment, J. Mark Betrand wrote:

Here's what I'd say the underlying philosophy of discernment is for the average watchblogger: There are two groups of people and things: the good and the bad. Good is, well, good ... and bad is off limits. The art of discernment involves examining them and determining which group to categorize them in. Everyone is called to make these category distinctions, but some of us are also appointed by God to make them for others. Because most people are undiscerning, it falls on the discerning few to lead the way, especially when it comes to exposing bad people and things that are generally held (by the undiscerning masses) to be good -- the wolves in sheep's clothing.

In his very interesting article, Mr. Bertrand went on to make the point that "no one can be discerning on your behalf", and that "discernment" ministries that try to do all the thinking and discerning for you are operating with a faulty notion of what discernment actually entails. "To be discerning", Bertrand argues, "you have to be critically engaged with a particular influence, sifting it, taking from it what is profitable. So you can't be discerning about something and ignorant of it at the same time."

He ends the article with this conclusion:

Discernment, to wrap this up for now, is not about flipping a yes/no switch or pidgeonholing other people. It's about individual judgment based on knowledge -- knowledge of self, knowledge of the world, knowledge of God and knowledge of the thing being judged. Given that, you can see that it's as difficult to be discerning for someone else as it is to think for them. If I really want to see more discernment, then I should encourage people to think for themselves, to do the work for themselves, even at the risk that they will disagree with me (and say so in the comments).

My Thoughts on Discernment/Discernment Ministry:
I think that all of the comments quoted above offer valuable insights that can be helpful to a Christian involved with "watchblogging" or "discernment". In addition though I think we need to establish the fact that as Christian bloggers we believe that biblical truth is a revelation from God that is understandable (imperfectly of course) by finite and fallible humanity. Jesus Himself claimed that truth was knowable, and pointed to the revelation given by God through Scripture (your Word is truth- John 17:17) and in His very person (I am the Truth- John 14:6). With this view of truth as a foundation, the Christian is then being called to "hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9)."

Yet the task of distinguishing what is true from what is false, what is good from what is evil, is not limited to the teacher or the "discernment minister". It is expected of all Christians that by reading, study and obedience to God's word, we may grow up in our understanding, to the point where we are able to teach the word and that "our powers of discernment [are] trained by constant practice [in the Word of God] to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14)".

So in principle, there is nothing wrong with being a watchblogger or part of a discernment ministry, if what we are doing through such ministry is to be obedient to the command to teach sound doctrine and contradict false doctrine. As I commented over at Carla's blog, "I think it's important that the "discernment" ministries not only point out what is false but also show what is true, biblically." Ministries that spend all of their time reacting to the bad/false but without pointing to the good/true, don't really teach their readers how to discern. And of course poor argumentation and other shady tactics only discredit those who engage in them.

There are also other Christian directives that should guide us as we engage in such ministry. Paul commanded believers: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene (2 Timothy 2:15-16)"... and also,

... flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:22-26)

With the many different callings we have been given as members of the diverse body of Christ, not all will be drawn to the ministry of being a "watchman", yet none of us is excused from being discerning enough to recognize the false teaching and false prophets that Jesus and Scripture repeatedly warn us will arise (Matthew 7:15, 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1-6). Those called to a more formal ministry of refuting heresies must soberly and fearfully reflect that they answer to God in the conduct of their charge, and so must avoid guilt-by-association tactics, ad hominem attacks, and uncharitable attitudes. They must avoid everything that it is unfitting to ministers who claim to follow Christ, and, as the Scriptures above (and others) counsel, be humble, pure, gracious, gentle, truthful, charitable, guileless, Christ-like. Surely as fallen creatures we will fall short of this standard at times, but no lesser standard of conduct is acceptable for those who follow a holy Savior. May it be so, and may the Lord's name be glorified by this generation of His followers.

Further reading:
Regarding Guilt by Association- A Gentle Admonition to Some of Our Friends
The Age of Tolerance Calls for Bold Proclamation of Truth