Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Culture of Life

Culture is religion externalized. It is the sum total of not only the institutions normally associated with the idea of society (family, church and state), but includes all the relational interplay of those institutions and the people that make up them. It is a less than tangible idea that integrates the little things in life with the issues of life: from how we greet one another to how weddings and funerals are administered.

Taking this simple premise, one can work backwards, as it were, from the elements of culture to the religion that lies behind them. Take for instance, the popular game of Life. As many of us played the game in childhood, we recall the relatively rigid path that always leads to
a counting of money: he who retires with the most money wins. In the last few years, the game morphed into a hydra-path spanning normal family life goals, living a single's life or trying to tour the world. Money is no longer the objective, or rather, money is only one legitimate path of life along side play, entertainment, family and anything else.

Most readers can quickly perceive how the original and the contemporary versions of Life reflect differing concepts of life and its goal. In fact, they reflect differing concepts of the Gospel. For games are a part of the larger culture that spawned them. Certainly games do not always and only directly reflect that culture, but certain games stand out more clearly than others. So, the original 50s game reflected the "he who dies with the most money wins" mentality; the newer version reflects the "he who dies with the most __ [fill in] wins" mentality. For in this multicultural universe every path is legitimate and every goal is valid.

Historically, the original game of life was not geared toward money but long and fruitful lives. Milton Bradley of the 1800s made the original, original game of life, but it had too much virtue to suit the 1950s company. In turn, Milton received his idea from another popular game in the early 1800s: The Mansion of Happiness. In this game, with sixty spaces spiraling toward the center of the board, the object is good works. Land on a spot of virtue and advance; land on a space of vice and move back. Break the Sabbath day and retreat six spaces.

Yes, the Sabbath day. One can perceive immediately how different was the culture of the early 1800s in contrast with today's culture--even with today's Christian culture. A Christian game I played as a child was Bible trivia pursuit. What analysis can one make of that? It is easy to read the questions in the game and see a Christianity that revels in ignoring the big issues of life that separate churches: baptism, predestination, free-will, the Sabbath. Not one doctrinal question of significant debate between honest Christians existed in that early game. The same can be said of many sermons these days as well.

The culture that many Christians wish to enjoin upon their fellow man is blasé and bleak. And the Gospel proclaimed is benign as well, challenging little and thinking only of man. The churches need to go back to yesteryear and proclaim the big issues of life instead of reveling in the trivial. Only then will there be a culture of life for the dead.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Books.google.com--The What & How

A good friend of mine has written a useful and well thought out series on GOOGLE BOOKS.
Google books is a must for all ministers and laymen researchers:

Part 1:
One of the most amazing resources on the web is books.google.com. Google is trying to get all of the books in the public domain on the web both downloadable and searchable. A few weeks ago, I went to the eye doctor and was amazed at some of the ways that technology is changing optometry. The woman asked, "How does technology affect your field as a pastor?"

I answered, "I don't know." But, then, I though about it, and I realized that it is changing the pastorate quite a bit. First, there are cell phones, which make a pastor easier to get a hold of. Second, there is the computer and all its usefulness for searching and studying the Scriptures. Now, there is google books. Basically, what google books does for us is to give the rural pastor or western pastors the ability to have as much access to pre-20th century books as anyone near Harvard or any of the best eastern libraries. In many ways, though, it is even better because we can download this material and print it off or search it.

I have told many people about this resource, and yet, I find that many people are not making the use of it that they should. Of course, old habits die hard. On the other hand, I think there is a bit of a learning curve. In these few posts, I want to try and break the learning curve and give some examples of how this resource can be used in the pastorate.

Part 2: Breaking the Learning Curve
Part 3: Latin Works
Part 4: Commentaries
Part 5: Presbyterian Polity
Part 6: Conclusion

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Morality and Housing

A recent U.S. News and World Report is illuminating about the basics of economics (Dec. 24, 2007).

"We should have walked away sooner and quit selling to some of them," one president of a large home building company admitted.

And what an admission that is!

There is concern about the housing industry (especially out West here). And there are many answers to the question "why?"

Of course, it is easy to read the above quote and say, "hey, there is the answer: greedy builders!" But the builders' greed can only make an impact if the buyers are greedy.

The article notes: "Approved for 100 percent financing by Richmond American's mortgage arm, the 27-year-old didn't even have a job at the time." Why did she apply if she had no ability to pay?

All within one article, the relation of morality (greed) to economics (low house prices) is complete. Hopefully, this article will be read by more Americans and their education will then be complete.


Friday, January 11, 2008

A Short Review 11: The Duties of Parents

The Duties of Parents, J. C. Ryle

Do not let the size of this pamphlet fool you. Although it may be small of stature, it is weighty in the things of the Lord. The godly and copious writings of J. C. Ryle have encouraged and strengthened believers for years, and this work is no exception.

There is no stone left unturned, no ally-way of thought left unexplored, while Ryle examines, exhorts and entreats parents to follow the will of the Lord. Covering twenty-seven topics, the author reminds parents to train up the child in the way he should go (Prov. 22:6). This means, amongst other things, the educational, spiritual and disciplinary training of the child. However, it is not merely another mainstream “how-to” book that divorces Christ from doctrine and life by creating a 1-2-3 step program after the fashion of Oprah Winphrey, but an earnest plea to apply the truths of the Word—man’s inborn depravity, Christ’s atonement, and God’s mean’s of grace—to the life of one’s child.

Even as doctrine and life are woven into the fiber of the book, and the dangers of negligence and over-indulgence are forcibly presented through Puritan-like illustration, Ryle lovingly reminds parents of the promise of God (Prov. 22:6). The Proverbial promise, he reminds us, is through the means established by God, even as the dispensing of God’s gifts are within His holy sovereignty.

Powerfully arguing for old-fashioned discipline and training based upon the Word and the Love of Christ, The Duties of Parents is a must for young and old parents alike.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Top Ten For This Year, & Last Year, &...

People like top ten lists. I like top ten lists. I've read a few over the years ranging from the top Christian music and sermons to more ambitious top best things happening in Christiandom.
This list will be in the latter category. But with a twist...

Top Ten Christian People & Organizations

Big Names:

1) Banner of Truth: The work of this organization has not been praised enough. They brought me to the Reformed faith through their book, The Forgotten Spurgeon. Their magazine and books are found wherever there are thoughtful Christians seeking Reformation of their doctrine and lives.

2) Founders Ministry: Although I am not intimately knowledgeable of this organization, I do know they are trying to infuse the gospel of free grace back into the Southern Baptist Convention--that is inestimable.

3) White Horse Inn: Another group that helped me along my path to Reformation. They have dialogue with a Reformed baptist and a Lutheran, but always in the context of self-conscience confessionalism, while not downplaying their differences. A must in this day of public compromise. The Gospel of free justification is already transforming the lives of general Evangelicals.

4) Ligonier Ministries: Although mostly associated with R. C. Sproul, Sr., this ministry should last beyond him. His winsome style and uncompromising public stand for the Reformed faith in all its offensive glory has influenced many souls toward a revival of doctrine and manners.

5) Reformed Worldview Thinking: The Reformed denominations, OPC, RCUS, etc., are officially dedicated to thinking God's thoughts after Him. These sister denominations, even with their differences, are a small but strong witness in the face of the withering Protestant branch known as Evangelicalism. Their churches are small but their hearts are big. Determined to stand for the truth in love, I pray the Lord to use them in a mighty Second Reformation.

Little Names:

6) Reformed Presence: Both locally and internationally, through the radio and internet, in publishing and lectures, schools and seminaries, the Reformed doctrine and practice is surely spreading. It includes not simply the big names but, in many ways more importantly, the little names. We easily forget, that although Luther was the straw that broke the Roman Catholic back, he was not alone.

7) Faithful People: The leaders of faithful churches depend upon the prayers and support of faithful members. No man is an island and no pastor is an island. The people need to faithfully attend the means of grace, seeking God's will in the Commandments. It is in the pews, amongst the laymen, that the Gospel of our Sovereign Lord is propagated among the masses through private luncheons, email debates, neighborhood picnics and everyday witnessing.

8) Everyday Pastors: It is easy to hitch the wagon of revival to the big, noticeable names because they draw the crowds. But in reality God's revivals of yesteryear spread simultaneously amongst faithful preaching of the Good News. Such pastors stand unswervingly upon the Truths of the Reformation, in public and private. They counseled with one another, admonished one another, and reinforced each other's ministries. Oh, that the Lord of the Harvest would bring unity amongst the leaders to preach and teach all of God's counsel, especially against the reigning heresies of this day.

9) Faithful Churches: It is not enough to have individual piety, or church piety, there must be collective sanctification as well. When the churches work in harmony (both publicly and privately), casting out hate and suspicion in their hearts by the power of the Spirit, there God is working mightily. Corporate prayer and church cooperation is imperative: God is not pleased with a divided Church any more than with the divided Israel of old.

10) Faithful Understanding of Reformation: This last point is about the sum total of what Reformation entails--it is the organizational and organic, individual and collective, doctrinal and moral revival on a larger scale. It is returning to the Word without shame and a clear trumpet call. It is preaching, teaching, writing and admonishing, through all mediums possible, the truth of man's total depravity and God's total sovereignty. It is radically returning the church to her roots in the free righteousness of Christ. The church in America today does not need more "does" and "don'ts"--it just needs the Ten Commandments as a means of convicting them of their sins and need of a Savior. The church needs the Gospel crystal clear.

Reformation is not reformulating old truths, refocusing on doing, or revamping the family. Judgment begins in the house of the Lord, so reformation will begin in the house of the Lord. As Elijah the prophet was to bring the hearts of the family together, so the preachers of today must preach Christ and Him crucified to bring the heart of the church together.