Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Southern Seminary Report

Judy and I just returned from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where I was honored to speak at a Connecting Church and Home Conference. God blessed us with new friends, brothers and sisters on the same team, serving the same Lord, filled with the same passion for his Kingdom. The rise of the "new Calvinism" which Time Magazine said was one of ten prominent trends of our time was conspicuous here. Southern Seminary filled the void created by the leftward move of the nineteenth century Princeton Theological Seminary.

Boasting about 3,000 students, Southern Seminary is the largest in the world. The President, Albert Mohler, has been used by God to make this one of the premier Protestant theological institutions in the world.

Another highlight was worshiping with the Sojourn Church in Louisville. Sojourn is a ten year old Acts 29 church. About 3,600 people attend on three separate campuses. It felt like Mars Hill in Seattle, except we found the music and worship more engaging. Sojourn Church is Southern Baptist. Many of the staff at Southern Seminary attend.

It was great to travel, but we missed our little church in Spokane. It is good to be home.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Help" Reviewed

The Help (Movie Tie-In)
Emma Stone stars as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan in Director Tate Taylor’s PG-13 screen adaptation of Kathryn Stocket’s novel “The Help”. A new college graduate, Skeeter returns to her parent’s cotton farm in Jackson, Mississippi where she is instantly confronted with her family and friend’s disapproval that she not only graduated without a husband but is seeking a job in journalism. Returning home means Skeeter is expected to eagerly fall back into her role as the daughter of one of Jackson’s foremost prominent white families and involve herself in the weekly bridge club and Junior League and do all she can to quickly procure a husband.

While Skeeter does what is expected of her she also does something for herself and lands a job at the local newspaper writing the housekeeping advice column. Knowing full well she knows nothing about house keeping Skeeter seeks out her friend’s, Elizabeth Leefold (Ahna O’Reilly), African-American maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) for help in answering her reader’s questions. Meanwhile, Skeeter’s close friend Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is using her influence as the community’s social leader and head of the Junior League to lead her campaign against the “colored” help using the same indoor bathrooms as their white employers. It is with this issue Skeeter begins to see how the African-American maids are treated so differently from white people.

Following this social awakening Skeeter is determined to write a book from the maid’s perspectives in order to reveal the truth of such injustices. However, Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s was no friend to the African-American and it proved a challenge to convince even one maid to agree to tell her story for fear for her life. Eventually, however, Aibileen musters up her courage and she and Skeeter begin a dangerous partnership which could prove socially detrimental for Skeeter, but deadly for Aibileen. Aibileen’s friend, Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), is eventually convinced to join them and the three women, one white, two African-American, begin a journey which could prove to be fatal for them all, but a source of freedom too.

I highly recommend “The Help” as a movie and book. For those book to movie purists I was pleasantly surprised at how the movie rarely strays from Kathryn Stocket’s original creation. A few minor details are added, such as Sissy Spacek’s hilarious portrayal of Hilly Holbrook’s mother, Missus Walters, but overall the story remains the same. Parents, due to the realistic portrayal of racism I would not recommend “The Help” for anyone younger then Junior High. However, the worldview presented here is one I do recommend and encourage a discussion with your children following the film. The director and actors skillfully bring to life the injustices of racism and prove that no matter what the color of your skin we are all made in the image of God and deserve to be treated as such. There is absolutely no room for racism in this world and “The Help” is a skilled reminder of such.... by Stephanie Spurgetis

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where have all the Boys Gone?

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young MenDr. Leaonard Sax, M.D., PH. D, a physician with a large practice in the suburbs of Washington D.C. has done parents and educators alike a great service with his 2009 book, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men

Dr. Sax chronicles the increasing withdrawal of primary and secondary school males from responsibility and from life itself. "I’ve seen hundreds of families," Sax writes, "where the girls are the smart, driven ones, while their brothers are laid-back and unmotivated. The opposite pattern—with the boy being the intense, successful child while his sister is relaxed and unconcerned about her future—is rare" (pg 4). A few paragraphs later he continues. "But here’s what’s really strange, and new, about this picture: That young man isn’t bothered by his situation. His parents are. His girlfriend, if she hasn’t left him yet, is at least having second thoughts about him. But he’s oblivious to their concerns as he surfs the Net on the computer they’ve provided, or plays video games on the flat-screen television they bought for him."

Earlier this summer I reviewed Kay Hymowitz' Manning Up which describes the same phenomenom amongst adult men aged 20-40. Our culture is radically hurting, and the wound is deepening with each passing day.

Sax notes five primary causes. First, he blames our educational system which is primarily geared to a female friendly style of learning. Second, he blames the prevalence and use of video games. “The average teenage boy today spends more than thirteen hours a week playing video games, compared with five hours per week for the average teenage girl" (pg 58). Third, he blames the over-diagnosis of ADHD, and the following prescriptions of Ritalin, etc. After withdrawal from these drugs the average user is often passive for life. Fourth, citing falling sperm counts and increasing bone brittleness in boys, he argues that environmental changes have affected the male endocrine system which produces testosterone. Last, he blames the devaluation and disintegration of the masculine ideal. From my perspective he gets closest with this fifth observation.

While all of these have contributed to the problem, the author ignores the elephant in the room, Feminism. He makes a case for all male High Schools, noting that males do better when they do not have to directly compete with females, but the larger reality seems to escape him. That reality is the same phenomenon in home, church, business, politics, the military, and government.

Many men, when mandated to compete with females simply withdraw. Men don't want to be females, and they don't want to be in an environment where they must compete with them. They want to compete with men. They want to identify with men. They want to feel like men. Our culture gives men little opportunity to feel this way.

By contrast, the contemporay script is androgyny, no sex differences in work, task, or funciton. Androgyny does not produce masculinity, i.e. the use of masculine strength in the service of others. It has the opposite affect. Dr. Sax gets close to the issue when he writes, "'Deconstructing' all images of the ideal husband and father, is not likely to result in a father who insists on his wife sharing equally in all sacrifices. The result is far more likely to be a selfish young man who doesn’t feel any strong obligation to the children he has fathered. In the United States, more than one in three babies is now born to an unmarried mother (35.7 percent to be exact). The growing trend away from married couples with children cuts across all racial and ethnic boundaries.”

Despite this concern, I highly reccomend this excellent book. It will greatly serve parents, especially fathers, educators, and leaders in the church. Readers will be deeply enriched. Dr. Sax writes simply and directly about a subject that is crucias to each of us.

It is also crucial to the survival of our civilization.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

John Murray

Life of John MurrayJust finished the Life of John Murray by Ian Murray, one of my favorite historians. Through the biography of Murray (1898-1976) the reader gets a glimpse of the theological collapse of Princeton in the 1920s and the rise of Westminster Theological Seminary.

Born in Scotland, Murray fought in the first World War. He lost one eye and returned home to spend a significant amount of time in recovery. In 1924 He crossed the Atlantic to study theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.

During his student days Princeton was morphing from the bastion of theological orthodoxy that it had been for 100 years, into a nursery for theological liberalism. This ultimately led to the defection of Princeton's famed professor of New Testament, Gresham Machen (1881-1937), and many other faculty members. They moved up the road to Philadelphia and founded Westminster Theological Seminary. The goal was the continuation of Princeton's tradition of theological orthodoxy.

By this time Murray had graduated and had returned to Scotland for ministerial work. Machen wrote Murray in Scotland and asked him to join the faculty at Westminster. Murray agreed and ended up spending the rest of his life in Philadelphia.

Biographies are one of the best ways to learn history. This book is a good example. It will be useful to anyone interested in the history of theological currents in twentieth century North America. It is also useful for those who have read Murray's writings and want to know more about the man. I heartily reccomend.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Preach the Final Judgment

I was a law student at Gonzaga University for one year. My grade for the entire year’s work was based on one exam in each class at the end of the year. Papers, quizzes, and homework contributed nothing to my final grade. The entire years work rested on the output of one exam in each class. The pressure was tremendous. I spent the entire year thinking about, preparing for, and hoping that I would do well on that exam. My answers would be judged by my professors and I would be graded accordingly. The stress was incredible.

Similarly, each of us faces a final exam. It is ultimate. By contrast all other exams are trivial. In addition, the requirements are impossible, and the stakes are infinitely more important. How we perform will have eternal, irreversible consequences. It is the final judgment. It is not a popular subject today. It was not a popular subject in Paul’s day, yet he was willing to trust his evangelistic efforts to the proclamation of this event.

To put Paul in a modern perspective, lets assume you had an opportunity to present the gospel to a room full of Harvard philosophy students . Would you start with the final judgment? That would be the last subject on most of our minds. To do so would be very controversial. It would take great courage. We would need to overcome the fear of rejection.

But, that is exactly what Paul did.

The Areopagus was the council that ruled Athens. It’s prestige was great, going back centuries. It was the forum for the social elites, the center of the secular intellectual world of the first century.

However, when asked to share the Christian message to the Areopagus Paul spoke with amazing boldness. He didn’t speak of God’s love. He didn’t make lavish promises of a happy, trouble-free life. Instead, he warned them of the judgment to come. At the climax of his testimony he boldly proclaimed—

“God Has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

People were no different then. First century intellectuals were no more open to news of a final judgment than they are today. The Areopagus were just as offended as a group of Ivy League philosophy majors would be today.

Why did Paul discuss the final judgment? His presentation of the gospel flowed out of very specific assumptions about God and man. The final judgment is reality. Every human being is hurtling toward this, the great defining moment of our existence. God expects perfection. It takes great humility to accept this. God engineered the gospel to reverse the affect of the Fall. That means He engineered it to produce humility. That is why Paul told the Areopagus the truth. He explained the final judgment because it is true. He explained it because it humbles pride.

P.T. Forsyth (1858-1921) wrote, “The question of judgment is where all other questions end. It is the central question in religion. How shall I stand before my judge? …The question is not about our views; nor is it about our subjective state—how do I feel? But our objective religion—how do I stand?” And T. David Gordon, from Grove City College adds, “The great seriousness of the reality of being human, the dreadful seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificance of the present in the light of eternity—realities that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon—have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.

How about you? Where do you stand on this important subject?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

King of the Jews!

"There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews" (Luke 23:38). This text is a picture of true spiritual authority.

Pilate and the Sanhedrin exercised authority in typical, worldly fashion. They used their authority to advance themselves, protect themselves, and empower themselves. In other words, they used others to enrich themselves. In both cases Jesus was a threat to their popularity or power. The expedient course of action was to liquidate him. It was not to serve him.

By contrast, Jesus showed us what God's authority looks like. It is counter cultural, counterintuitive. Jesus used his authority to enrich others at his expense. The placard over his head announced his crime. He claimed to be king of the Jews. Here is the irony. He is and was King of the Jews. In fact, he is and was King of the Universe. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He has been given all power and authority. But, how did he use his authority? He allowed others to crucify him for their advancement. He allowed  his enemies to torture him to death that he might secure their forgiveness. This included some of those performing the dastardly deed.

Husbands, here are our marching orders. This is how a godly husband/father exercises his authority. He spends himself for the advancement and welfare of his wife and children. Spiritual leaders, here are our marching orders. This is what true spiritual authority looks like. Those who lead in business and politics, here are your marching orders. On the Day of Final Judgment all of those to whom God has given authority will give an accounting to this standard.

Let us use our authority like Christ, for the advancement and welfare of others!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Family or Christ?

Jesus went to great lengths to convince us that family is never ultimate. For example, he put little trust in his biological family. After his ministry began his own hometown rejected him (Luke 4:18-32).
When his family approached him expecting special attention, he made it clear that the family he first identified with were those who heard the word of God and performed it (Luke 8:19-22).
Jesus even told us to hate our families (Luke 14:26) "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Of course by hatred he meant, "Love God so much that by comparison your love for your family is hatred."

He warned us that some members of our family would be the first to turn on us and persecute us even unto death (Luke 21:16–17) "You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. "

For someone who loves their family, this is a problem.  I love my family, especially my wife and children.  So, how do I interpret this? What is the solution? The solution is a call to a deeper love for God, and dependence upon God not family. It is also a call to a healthy distrust of sin first in myself, and second in those closest to me. Last, it is a call to gratitude for faithful, loving, Christ-centered family members. This is a luxury none of us deserve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gospel Powered Humility

Gospel-Powered Humility
Have been preaching through the content of my forthcoming book, Gospel-Powered Humility published by P&R, and to be available in Sept 2011. You can access these talks here

Humility is a crucial subject, and nothing is harder to preach about, especially when you clearly feel the smarting evidence of your own personal pride.

Paul understood his own pride with great clarity. He also understood the arrogance of those to who God sent him. That is why he preached a humbling gospel. In Romans 1:16-3:26 Paul gives us a clear picture of how he presented the Good News. His gospel presentation contains 1200 words explaining the bad news, but only 188 words explaining the Good News. Why? We are proud, and our pride hardens us to our tremendous spiritual need. Paul knows that he needs to carefully humble his hearers with an clear exposition of spiritual reality. Only then will we be thirsty for the refreshing water of the gospel.

In the words of Martin Luther, “The gospel tastes best to those who lie in the straits of death, or whom an evil conscience oppresses. For in that case hunger is a good cook as we say, one who makes the food taste good.  For when they feel their misery, the heart and conscience can hear nothing more soothing than the gospel; for this they long, on this they are eager to feed, nor can they get too much of it.... But that hardened class who live in their own holiness, build on their own works, and feel not their sin and misery do not taste this food.  Whoever sits at a table and is hungry relishes all, however, he who is sated relishes nothing but is filled with loathing at the most excellent food."[i]

As always your thoughts would be appreciated. 

[i] Ewald M. Plass, editor, What Luther Says, An Anthology, Vol. 2, (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986) pg 563

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

American Credit Downgrade: What it Means and Why it Matters

The potential downgrade of US government debt has been the subject of recent media headlines. The United States is at one of those crucial historical turning points. The enemy is not out there. It is in our midst. This great nation is on the road to financial insolvency.

At the bottom of money is morality. Our views of family, church, the individual, God, and a host of other issues (all ultimately theological) come to bear upon how we utilize our assets. This applies to individuals, families, and nations.

That is why there has been such a snow storm of confusing opinions on the subject. Last week the Wall Street Journal published an important article that provides a history of the problem. It will also motivate you to pray much for our nation and our elected representatives.