Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Year of Calvinism: America's Preachers

I recall fondly reading about George Whitefield as a teenager in the 80s. The small softback book (still on my shelf) brought to life the genuineness of this godly man. And his friendship with the Wesleys.

And yet it kept me in the historical dark for another seven years. In fact, many popular Christian "history" books kept me in the dark for years, never allowing me to dig too deep into what these famous men believed.

Weren't we all just Christians anyway...couldn't we just get along? Yeah...and Jefferson was a Christian...

No, seriously, I was taught that Jefferson was a Christian. When in fact--if our theological nearsightedness were only corrected with love of doctrinal truth--he and others were Deists.

Oh, and Whitefield was a Calvinist.
Somehow that little fact escaped the author. More likely he thought such doctrinal labels irrelevant.

Well, what motivates, excites and directs someone is not irrelevant unless, perhaps in the case of some historians, it is an inconvenience.

And it is not convenient for most of the conservative right-wing Evangelical leadership to admit that Calvinism played a large roll in early America. That is why reading secular historians can be helpful at times--they have no such qualms.

For instance, that famous excerpt you may have read in high school--Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God--was written by a Calvinist minister. Jonathan Edwards, considered by historians as one of the most brilliant men in early America, was a Calvinist.

A family of ministers, the Mathers--most notably Cotton--were Calvinists as well. In fact, the vast majority of Congregational and Presbyterian ministers from the early 1600s well into the 1700s were Calvinists. They publicly affirmed God's absolute sovereignty, man's total depravity and full and free justification through faith alone in Christ alone. They taught these truths. They sung these truths. They wrote about these truths. And they nursed generations of children on these truths.

Many conservatives pine for those great ol' days. But their wishes only exist in a vacuum. To return to the strength (in spite of their unique sins) of our forefathers, we will have to return to the truths they built America upon. To find new American preachers of such caliber as these men , Christians today will need to relearn the truths of Calvinism. And the Spirit is needed to create such god-fearing men.

LORD, may it be so.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prayer of our First Chief Justice

Most merciful Father! who desirest not the death of a sinner, but will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, give me grace so to draw nigh unto thee as that thou wilt condescend to draw nigh unto me ; and enable me to offer unto thee, through thy beloved Son, supplications and thanksgivings acceptably.

I thank thee for my creation, and for causing me to be born in a time and land blessed with the light of thy holy gospel. I thank thee for the excellent parents thou didst give me...I thank thee for my children—for thy kind providence over them—for their doing and promising to do well—and for the comforts which through them I receive from thy goodness.

Above all, I thank thee for thy mercy to our fallen race, as declared in thy holy gospel by thy beloved Son, "who gave himself a ransom for all." I thank thee for the gift of thy Holy Spirit, and for thy goodness in encouraging us all to ask it. I thank thee for the hope of remission of sins, of regeneration, and of life and happiness everlasting, through the merits and intercession of our Saviour. I thank thee for having admitted me into the covenant of this grace and mercy by baptism; for reminding me of its duties and privileges, and for the influences of thy Holy Spirit with which thou hast favoured me.

Enable me, merciful Father, to understand thy holy gospel aright, and to distinguish the doctrines thereof from erroneous expositions of them ; and bless me with that fear of offending thee, which is the beginning of wisdom...Wean me from undue and unseasonable attachments and attentions to the things of this transitory world, and raise my thoughts, desires, and affections continually unto thee, and to the blessings of the better and eternal world which is to succeed this.

Protect me from becoming a prey to temptations to evil, cause the new and spiritual life which of thy goodness thou hast begun in me, to increase daily in growth and strength...Establish my faith in that great atonement, and my gratitude for it...

Be pleased to impress my heart and mind with a deep and permanent sense and recollection of the manifold and unmerited blessings and mercies, spiritual and temporal, which throughout my life thou hast conferred upon me. Give me grace to love and obey and be thankful unto thee, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength; and to worship and to serve thee in humility, in spirit, and in truth. Give me grace also to love my neighbour as myself, and wisely and diligently to do the duties incumbent upon me according to thy holy will, and because it is thy holy will, and not from worldly considerations.

Be pleased also to impress my heart and mind with a deep and unceasing sense and recollection of the evil of sin, and of my disobedience and ingratitude to thee...Give me grace, I humbly and earnestly beseech thee, to repent of my sins with such repentance as thy gospel requires ; and to loathe, and forsake, and detest all sin for ever...Let thy Holy Spirit lead and keep me in the way in which I should walk, and enable me to commit myself entirely to thy kind and gracious providence and protection as to all my spiritual and temporal concerns...

Be pleased to bless me and my family, my friends and enemies, and all for whom I ought to pray, in the manner and measure which thou, and thou only, knowest to be best for us. Create in us all clean, and contrite, and thankful hearts, and renew within us a right spirit.

I thank thee, the great Sovereign of the universe, for thy long-continued goodness to these countries, notwithstanding our ingratitude and disobedience to thee, our merciful deliverer and benefactor. Give us grace to turn unto thee with true repentance, and implore thy forgiveness...Be pleased to bless all nations with the knowledge of thy gospel,—and may thy holy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

Condescend, merciful Father! to grant as far as proper these imperfect petitions, to accept these inadequate thanksgivings, and to pardon whatever of sin hath mingled in them, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour..My gracious Saviour ! continue, I beseech thee, to look down with compassion and mercy upon me, and to intercede for me...

Without thee we can do nothing; condescend to abide in me, and enable me to abide in thee, as the branch in the vine. Let thy Holy Spirit purify, and cause it to produce fruit meet for repentance and amendment of life...

Give me grace to meditate with faith and gratitude on thy kind redeeming love all the days of my life. When thou shall call me hence, be with me in the hour of death, and bless me with a full assurance of faith and hope, that I may " fear no evil."

John Jay

Friday, July 10, 2009

Calvin, Calvinists & Calvinism

I have a number of articles on Calvin and the Calvinists. Or more precisely one article on his life and the rest on his legacy. I think he would have preferred it that way.

For the Evangelicals, these articles are designed to challenge your thinking. For the Calvinists, these articles are designed to encourage your faith. More importantly, they are written to glorify God.

1. The year of Calvinism
2. The Year of Calvinism: Famous Calvinists in America
3. Second Reformation
4. Lessons from the Reformation
5. Calvinism, History & Homeschooling
6. Really, It's True: Calvinism Created America

Thursday, July 09, 2009

In Defense of Homeschooling

In my naivete, I thought only the secular school sponsors ranted against home education.

But I was wrong.

I recently discovered that Christians could be against homeschooling. For instance, a professor of theology strongly discouraged homeschooling as a viable option. He may have allowed it under special circumstances but such was not articulated.

I have also heard second-hand from reliable ministers that homeschooling has been discouraged by other ministers. Yet as near as I can tell this is a minority position.

Nevertheless, I think homeschooling should be defended from such detractors.

First of all, parents have Christian liberty in this realm. Sending their children to a good Christian school, using a good tutor, homeschooling or combining all of the above are well within the acceptable parameters of the Bible. What the Bible does not forbid is allowable if used correctly. The Bible does not forbid homeschooling. Therefore, homeschooling is a viable option.

Second, there is no universally acceptable manner to educate children. Naturally, what decision is made in this regard is heavily dependent upon the family's financial, academic, ecclesiastical and similar circumstances. As much as such circumstances change so there are that many combinations of acceptable educational methods. And mature parents are usually the best judges of their own circumstances.

Third, the Bible assigns the parents as the primary guardians, giving them the responsibility to determine the best nurturing method for the child (Eph. 6:4). Although the Word of God does not specify all the areas and ways to nurture a child, the light of nature and the clear assumption of the Word puts questions of diet, exercise, entertainment, etc. as areas in which parents are granted authority. Certainly, this includes education.

Fourth, religious instruction is assigned to parents (Deut. 6:7; Proverbs). Religious instruction has historically been propagated in the family through daily family worship, catechetical instruction and daily impromptu discussions. Religious instruction being a greater subject of education than math, for instance, it follows from the greater to the lesser that parents have the option to instruct in less sublime topics, if able.

Fifth, history demonstrates the acceptability of homeschooling. Some Puritans practiced it. And some church leaders were partly or mostly homechooled. Historically, homeschooling has never been condemned by the church nor denounced by her leaders.

None of this should be taken to excuse bad homeschoooling. As with any enculturation tool, homeschooling can be abused. This defense of properly applied homeschooling does not defend those families that wish to isolate themselves from the local church. The church of God has her own duty to instruct her members, young or old. Nor is this a defense of those who wish to use homeschooling as a new relational center, replacing a common set of doctrine and practice with a new set of emphases.

Rather, good homeschooling does not consider itself in isolation from the Christian community. It is concerned with doctrinal and practical purity. Furthermore, many families in my experience do not exclusively homeschool but mix it with other approaches.

So, the next time someone wishes to dismiss homeschooling as some suspicious aberration, point out these truths to them. And above all, do not become overly agitated--there are bigger concerns we ought to be worried about.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Fourth of July & Christianity

The practice of true and undefiled the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
--John Witherspoon, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1782

America's collective ignorance about her religious past is cause for lament. It means that even as we knowingly celebrate our Fourth of July as a day of political freedom we ignorantly omit the religious roots of that freedom.

It is true that many conservatives and Christians wish to bring our nation back to the old paths, for "righteousness exalts a nation". Yet too many think that path of righteousness as a path of political effort and good-will divorced from serious religious effort. In contrast, the founders contended that America's freedoms were rooted in virtue. And for the colonial Christian that virtue was defined by the Word of God and promulgated in the churches. But today too many wish to recreate the fruits of our American heritage without its roots.

Such confusion can be remedied by recalling the true culture of American freedoms.

In our collective Christian past, our culture and politics were greatly influenced by Reformational thought: the Congregationalists of New England and the Presbyterians and Anglicans of the Middle and Southern colonies confessed similar creeds about God and man: God was sovereign (not man) and man was depraved (not good). Such fundamental beliefs, embedded in early American society, were the intellectual tools under-girding political involvement. For if only God has all power then dictators could not legitimately claim such. And if man was basically a sinner then any man-made institution could easily become corrupt and untrustworthy. This common Christian thought explains the preponderant usage of the word Providence and the struggle to form a government that would balance the power between the government and the people.

This also meant that these churches--especially the first two denominations--possessed a common theology of politics, what has been dubbed the Five Points of Political Calvinism. The most well-known element being the right to resist tyrants--both political and spiritual. Spiritual tyranny was one main reason for our spiritual forefather's fleeing to America in the 1600s. And spiritual tyranny reared its ugly head again shortly before the Revolution. John Adams asserted:

"The apprehension of Episcopacy contributed fifty years ago [1765], as much as any other close thinking on the constitutional authority of parliament over the colonies..."

If parliament could institute a spiritual lord (Bishop) then certainly they could institute political lords. One of the most well-known political cartoons of that time, "An Attempt to Land a Bishop in America," shows a crowd of colonists harrying a Bishop back to England, throwing books titled "Locke," "Sydney on Government" and "Calvin's Works," shouting "no lords spiritual or temporal" (1768, see picture).

John Adams even acknowledged the wide-spread influences of two 16th-century works, the French-Calvinist’s work Vindicus Contra Tyrannus and the English Calvinist work of Ponet (A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power). Both works, with Biblical argumentation, defended the right of the people to rise against tyrants. Such theological roots of political resistance were expanded in the Scottish Presbyterian work, Lex Rex, and eventually transmitted into the works of Locke, the son of Puritans.

More importantly, the colonial culture was predominately religious. Many are aware of the religious language, public prayers and political declarations of Christian fasting and thanksgiving. Few know about the blasphemy and Sabbath laws or the State constitutions supporting or assuming Christianity. And fewer know that such a Christian culture of virtue grew from the power of the Bible through the preachers and the schools. New England boasted of her yearly election day sermons, Presbyterians taught the right to resist tyrants and the schools taught the Reformed catechisms. Ministers, considered the most trained, godly and intelligent element of society, preached twice on Sunday, lectured during the week, taught schools and catechized children. Their advise was liberally solicited. Their sermons nation-wide sellers. Their influence was tremendous. For generations, they faithfully taught the definition of a godly government and a holy electorate. And they uniformly instructed their listeners about the sovereignty of God and the depravity of man, applying those truths to the politics of their day.

While the super-minority upper-crust intellectuals (like Jefferson) abstracted and debated amongst themselves, the pastors in the pews laid the path to freedom by popularizing these truths. Unlike today the vast majority of colonists attended church, while many of their children were taught in Christian schools or by ministerial tutors. And they learned their lessons well.

In fact, on May 20, 1775, the Presbyterian Synod was the first religious body to send a public letter to their churches reminding them to respect the Crown even while they encouraged their readers to obey the Continental Congress and to prepare their lives and souls for war. Most of the Continental army were Presbyterian laymen even as most of the New England minutemen were Congregationalists. These ministers--defending the Revolution or even fighting in it--were dubbed the "Black Regiment". Horace Walpole told Parliament that "there is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it."

Many conservative Christians are becoming increasingly alarmed by the rise of American heathenism. They wish to bring back the good ol'e days but without the virtues that nurtured them, without the churches that sustained it. Yet if the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, then it must be a necessary institution in any Christian society (1 Tim. 3:15). And if the churches wish to be leaven in such a corrupt society, they must stand firm in the truth without being carried away by every wind of doctrine--they must be instructed by strong and faithful men of God, ministers who are called to help perfect the saints with Reformational truth (Eph. 4:12-14).

The Fourth is a great day to celebrate and an even greater day when the Christian roots are honored.

Further reading: October Revolution, Lessons from the Reformation, Revolution and Religion, Covenantal Politics in America

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

An Obituary

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who
has been with us for many years.. No one knows for sure how old he was,
since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
Knowing when to come in out of the rain; Why the early bird gets the
worm; Life isn't always fair; and maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend
more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children,
are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well intentioned but
overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy
charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended
from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for
reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the
job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly

It declined even further, when schools were required to get parental
consent to administer sun lotion or an Aspirin to a student; but could
not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses;
and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a
burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to
realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in
her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by
his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son,

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I'm A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.