Saturday, March 26, 2016

The real Puritans wore Bright Colors and Drank Beer.

HOW DO YOU REACT when you hear the word, "Puritan?" Do you think of the hypocritical pastor Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, or do you think of the uptight, rigid, legalists in Arthur Miller's prominent play, The Crucible? Both are influential works of American fiction, read by most High School students. Both were caricatures that painted 17th century New England Puritans in a negative light. In fact, it is only through the window of these works that most Americans know anything about  the Puritans.

In light of these facts J.I. Packer has done us an immense favor. His book, A Quest For Godliness, The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life paints a more accurate view of both Puritans and Puritanism. For the 17th century Puritans, in both New England, and the British Isles from which they originated, were vibrant, fun loving, joyful, beer drinking, and most passionate Believers. They worked had and they played hard. They loved the gospel. They dressed in bright colors, and their view of marriage, sexuality, and parenting were both wholesome and fulfilling.

Packer opens by noting that the theology and holiness of the Puritans elevated them above most Christians. In fact, they were the Red Wood Trees of Christian history. This was because their era, 17th century England, was the petri dish in which the ideas of the Reformation germinated, multiplied, and bore great fruit. The theological ideas of the reformers found maturation in the Puritans.

Puritanism was a movement of revival in the church England. From England it migrated to New England. It emphasized gospel centrality, preaching, dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit, a Reformed understanding of the Bible, family life, male servant leadership, revival, and host of foundational issues that we would consider central today.

Packer writes with clarity and simplicity dividing A Quest for Godliness  into sections on subjects like...
  • Why we need the Puritans today
  • The Puritans and the Bible
  • The Puritans and the Gospel
  • The Puritans and the Christian Life
  • The Puritans and Ministry
A Quest For Godliness is one of Packer's most popular books. If you have any interest in church history, the Reformation, or the work of the Holy Spirit in revival, this is a good place to start.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Luther on Christian Leadership

ALL CHRISTIAN MINISTRY depends to a great deal on how deeply the reality of the cross has penetrated the soul of the Christian worker. The cross is about sin, judgment, and the reality of utter human bankruptcy. It is about the certainty and redemptive power of suffering, but it is also about the reigning power of mercy, grace, and love. 

It is impossible for the message of the cross to penetrate one's soul and still be enthralled with distortions like the gospel of health and wealth. Luther called the latter the "theology of glory" and contrasted it with his "theology of the cross." The cross went deep into the heart of Luther. Here is how Carl Trueman summarizes Luther on this subject. 

"Luther spoke of the theologians of the cross, not of the theology of the cross. The latter can be an intellectual system or lens through which we simply make the necessary inversions of meaning and expectation with words like strength and weakness. 

The former, however , demands the existential engagement of the individual, and that at the deepest level possible. The theologian of the cross simply cannot talk glibly, with an easygoing smile and a cocksure wink, about the theology of the cross. Indeed, to do so would be a sure sign that one is actually dealing with a theologian of glory. There was, after all, a crucial difference in Luther’s mind between preaching the cross and preaching about the cross. Anybody can do the latter; only the theologian of the cross can do the former."

Trueman, Carl R. (2015-02-28). Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Theologians on the Christian Life) (p. 174). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Politically Incorrect Solution to Poverty

BERNIE SANDERS AND other politicians on the left have noticed the growing disparity in income between the rich and the poor. They blame it on capitalistic greed, but greed is not the problem. Fatherlessness is the problem.  and the solution is moral and spiritual, not a massive transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. 

Roughly forty percent of live births in America are to women without husbands. In the inner cities the ratio is much higher. This single fact explains most of the poverty and social pathologies that follow. We could eliminate poverty in America if we would just do one thing: get dads to marry, and stay married to, the mothers of their children. 

However, political correctness is at war with this fact. Why? Because the sexual revolution and Gender Feminism are directly responsible for the large number of fatherless children. And in our culture these ideologies are "untouchable." Social critic, Kay Hymowitz, lays out the problem and the astounding resistance from those who should know better. 

"Seventy percent of black children are still born to unmarried mothers. After all that ghetto dwellers have been through, why are so many people still unwilling to call this the calamity it is? Both NOW and the National Association of Social Workers continue to see marriage as a potential source of female oppression. The Children’s Defense Fund still won’t touch the subject... Seriously complicating the issue is the push for gay marriage, which dismissed the formula “children growing up with their own married parents” as a form of discrimination... In opinion polls, a substantial majority of young people say that having a child outside of marriage is okay—though, judging from their behavior, they seem to mean that it’s okay, not for them, but for other people. Middle- and upper-middle-class Americans act as if they know that marriage provides a structure that protects children’s development. If only they were willing to admit it to their fellow citizens.”[1]

There is the problem. Our culture justifies and glamorizes fatherless parenting, even though all the evidence indicates that it is the root cause of our inner-city poverty, crime, and academic failure. The solution is the gospel. Only the gospel cuts through all of the red tape produced by  the strongholds of political correctness.  The gospel encourages sex after marriage, not before. The gospel motivates male responsibility maturity. It motivates moms and dads to marry and stay married.  

Our inner cities need the moral and spiritual transformation in men that only the gospel can produce. 

[1] Kay Hymowitz, “The Black Family; 40 Years of Lies,” City Journal, Summer 2005,

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Does cultural pluralism lead to a weak National Defense?

AMERICANS ON THE LEFT seem to delight in the evils of American culture. There is nothing to be proud of. There is nothing exceptional about the U.S. of A. Many of us are aghast. Yes, the U.S. has problems. Yes, we are imperfect. But how can well educated people be so negative about the culture that rebuilt its enemies after WWII, that is the first nation in history with the power to dominate, rule, and enslave the earth but has not. 

If you are like me, you just don't get it. 

There is an explanation, and in his important book, Emancipating the World, author, Darrow Miller nails it.  Cultural “self-loathing," Miller explains, "is rooted in cultural relativism, which undermines the importance of a given culture’s unique identity and strengths and maximizes that culture’s weaknesses. Cultural relativism denies an objective moral and metaphysical order that leads to freedom, economic sufficiency, social health, and public justice. Cultural relativists seem embarrassed by their national identity. Somali political refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali noted this tendency in her adoptive homeland of Holland: ‘(The Dutch) saw nationalism almost the same as racism. Nobody seemed proud to be Dutch.’ A logical consequence of cultural relativism is the denial of the uniqueness of one’s own culture. Thus, cultural relativists do not recognize the problem of Islamic terrorism and instead lay the world’s problems at the feet of freedom-seeking theists who believe in absolutes.”

Cultural relativism is dogma in academia. It is foundational to the worldview of the left. It is rampant in the corridors of power. 

Cultural relativism is the descendant of moral relativism. The rejection of moral relativism is the only cure. There is transcendent, absolute moral truth, and we must embrace it to survive as a nation. This "truth" is worldview penicillin for the moral infection of cultural relativism. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How To Get Spiritual Joy

WHAT WOULD MOST Americans pay for joy? What price would they give? Modern
pharmaceutical companies know the answer. In 2010 Americans spent 16 billion on antidepressant drugs. If we add to that the amount spent on vacations and new toys, (activities pursued to amplify joy) the cost is incalculable.

In light of these facts, Christians are the most blessed of people. For joy is a fruit of walking in the Holy Spirit. Galatians five lists the first three fruits of the Spirit. They are “love, joy, and peace.” I want to focus on the second—joy.
By joy I do not mean a 24x7 cork-popping effervescence. Sometimes spiritual joy feels like happiness but at other times it flourishes even when circumstances are bitter and we don’t feel good. For example, the death of a loved one, war, or a collapse of the stock market.

In fact, the Bible regularly connects joy with the strange bedfellows of trials, sorrow, and affliction. For example, James 1:2 exhorts us to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.” And Paul described himself as “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). How does that work? Then, in the next chapter, he says that he was “afflicted” yet “overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). For most, the words “trials,” “sorrow,” and “affliction” don’t go with “rejoicing” and “joy,” but for those “living in the Holy Spirit,” they are increasingly and intimately entwined. “For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).

How can I get this joy? Spiritual joy is like a heat-seeking missile.  It pursues those who “walk” in the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16). “Walking in the Holy Spirit” involves many spiritual disciplines, but foremost amongst them is the discipline of gratitude or thanksgiving. No one “walked” in the Holy Spirit like Paul. New Testament scholar Peter O’Brien, notes that Paul mentions gratitude or thanksgiving “in his letters more often, line for line, than any other Hellenistic author, pagan or Christian.”[1] Why? Paul knew what he deserved. He deserved crucifixion and the eternal damnation that was his rightful inheritance. That is the message of the cross, but because Jesus died in his place, he knew that he would never get what he deserved, or anything akin to it. Because of this, no matter how bad his circumstances, the apostle, Paul, was always thankful.

How about you and me? Is this real to us? Here is death to grumbling, self-pity, and temper tantrums. Here is the secret of spiritual joy.

Despite seriously adverse circumstance, Horatio Spofford (1828–88) found this joy. In 1870 his only son died of scarlet fever. Then in 1871 the great Chicago fire destroyed much of his wealth. A few months later Spofford sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to Europe while he stayed in Chicago to wrap up some business affairs. The ship carrying his family collided with another vessel and sank. All four daughters died. Only his wife, Anna, survived. From Europe she telegraphed her husband these terrible words, “saved alone!” Grief-stricken, Spofford quickly sailed for Europe. As his ship passed the area where his four daughters had drowned he penned the lyrics to the famous hymn It Is Well With My Soul.  The first verse captures the essence of spiritual joy.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Despite sorrows that “like sea billows roll,” Spofford knew what the apostle Paul called the “peace that passes understanding.” It is inseparable from spiritual joy. It is the deep, quiet confidence that God loves me, that I deserve much worse than I am getting, but, because of the cross, I will never get it. It is the conviction that God has everything under control, that he works all of life’s events together for the good of those who love him. When faith clings to these as its present possession, despite unpleasant circumstances, the fruit is tangible, spiritual joy.

[1] Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Hawthorne, Martin, and Reid, “Benediction, Blessing, Doxology, Thanksgiving,” Peter Obrien  (Downers Grove, IVP, 1993), pg. 69