How willingly do people go to hell?

One of my favorite reads last year was one that I read through with the Theoforum fellas, by Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.  There was only one chapter, as I recall, that seemed to come short of a giving a robust and unapologetically biblical answer to the objection of skeptics.  It was the chapter on hell, and it struck me as a bit soft.  I like Keller’s winsomeness and want to imitate it.  Here, I didn’t feel Keller was merely winsome.  It seemed, well, soft.

Here and there, I’ve heard that C.S. Lewis was light on hell.  The first link is merely a passing statement made by Mark Dever on Lewis’ unbiblical presentation with respect to hell that, in light of my recent reading of Keller on the topic, piqued my interest.  The second is a post from John Piper.  He finds Lewis wanting on the topic and so provides some helpful counterpoint.

Check out Keller’s great book.  It really is outstanding.  Read and enjoy, and let me know if you think I’m out to lunch on the hell-chapter.

I recommend you, Pivoter, read…

A few weeks ago one of the pastors of a Sovereign Grace church sent around an email volley to other Sovereign Grace pastors asking what books they might recommend specifically for 18-30 somethings.  I’m sure there are much better answers but here are a few that would come to mind.

Just Do Something (Kevin DeYoung)

Best book on the topic of discovering God’s will – which is the most popular Pivot-aged (18-30) question by far!

Stop Dating the Church, (Joshua Harris), Why We Love the Church (Kevin DeYoung)

Many of our young adults have read Josh’s book. Those who haven’t, should.  DeYoung’s book on the church was just released.  It looks like a great book for the generation most influenced by postmodernism. A good antidote to the mass exodus of millennials from the church.

What is a Healthy Church Member (Thabiti Anyabwile)

A solid encouragement to the college-age roamer who comes to the college/career meetings but never reads his bulletin or shows up on a sign up list to serve.

Gospel-Centered Books

Hold the center!  Any of our excellent Sovereign Grace or otherwise published works that press on the centrality of the gospel and its relevance for our lives would be vital reading.  Close your eyes and pick anything by Mahaney, Bridges, or Ferguson.

Worldliness (edited Mahaney) or Set Apart (Hughes)

Addressing matters of godliness, love of the world, wisdom and vigilance. Perennially important for 20 somethings.

Tactics (Gregory Koukl)

A short, engaging, funny, yet substantive book on how to strengthen one’s conversational apologetics and get armed and ready for all the opinionated 20 somethings that we call university students.

The Reason For God (Timothy Keller)

A longer, more in-depth study through some of the major objections to Christian faith. Keller’s approach is so winsome and his style of writing so fresh, it’s hard to come away from this book without a greater appreciation for the beauty and compelling nature of God’s truth.

What Is a Christian Worldview (Philip Ryken), pamphlet

Beautifully written and might make a good short study through Creation/Fall/Redemption/Restoration motifs. I would guess that if you wanted to get people’s feet wet in the Calvinism/election issues, that the companion pamphlets in the Basics of Reformed Faith series would likely be very well-written and concise. Another good study of the ‘bible storyline’/biblical theology would be Edmund Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery.

What’s the Difference (Piper), 50 Crucial Questions (Piper/Grudem)

Or anything that clearly presents biblical complimentarianism. Campus Ministries in many places have given up this position and become card-carrying egalitarians. So even Christian college-aged people who come to our meetings often have NO category for the phrase “men are called to lead.”

Boys Meets Girl (Harris), Holding Hands Holding Hearts (Phillips), Doing Things Right In Matters of the Heart (Ensor)

The books dovetail at many points but compliment each other nicely by moving off the mains into different directions. Ensor’s book fits into the complimentarian study category as well.

A Call To Spiritual Reformation (Donald Carson)

Teaching young people to pray the way the NT writers prayed. Excellent. Also Carson’s Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Brief, helpful resource on a much distorted doctrine.

Dead Guy Books/Studies

John Piper’s biographical works in The Swans are Not Silent Series are very good. Thomas Watson’s The Godly Man’s Picture would be a great study for young men.

Calvin: 1.7-1.8.1: Scripture's self-attestation

Ever heard the argument – if the Church determined the canon of Scripture, then surely the Church stands above Scripture.  Calvin sets up the dilemma this way, “… that Scripture is of importance only insofar as conceded to it by the suffrage of the church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men.” He continues, “With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God.” (1.7.1)

Some of my favorite theologians/scholars – many of whom hold Calvin in high regard – do not agree with him on some of the points I’ll quote below.  They are not friends of so-called presuppositional apologetics.  It’s too circular.  We need to start on some agreed-upon common ground: in comes the law of non-contradiction, the basic reliability of sense perception, the basic reliability of the New Testament, the historicity of Jesus, etc.  Inch by inch it moves its way toward full expression of faith in Christ and the truthfulness of the Scriptures, and does so (purportedly) without circularity.

Calvin is not averse to circularity and contends for the self-attesting authority of the Bible.

“These ravings are admirably refuted by a single expression of an apostle.  Paul testifies that the church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Eph 2:20).  If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist…  For if the Christian church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certinly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the church, since, but for this, the church herself never could have existed.  Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the church, and that on her nod its certainty depends.  When the church receives it, and gives it the stamp of her authority, she does not make that authentic which was otherwise doubtful or controverted but, acknowledging it as the truth of God, she, as in duty bound, shows her reverence by an unhesitating assent.  As to the questions, How shall we be persuaded that it came from God without recurring to a decree of the church? it is just the same as if it were asked, How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter?  Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their color, sweet and bitter of their taste.” -Institutes, 1.7.2

“It is necessary to attend to what I lately said, that our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author.  Hence, the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose word it is.  The prophets and apostles boast not their own acuteness or any qualities which win credit to speakers, nor do they dwell on reasons; but they appeal to the sacred name of God, in order that the whole world may be compelled to submission…. Our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, judgments, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit…. We shall see a little farther on, that the volume of sacred Scripture very far surpasses all other writings.  No, if we look at it with clear eyes, and unblessed judgment, it will forthwith present itself with a divine majesty which will subdue our presumptuous opposition, and force us to do it homage…. The testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason.  For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.  The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted.” -Institutes, 1.7.4

“Let it therefore be held as fixed that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit.  Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured – as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it – that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God.” -Institutes, 1.7.5

“In vain were the authority of Scripture fortified by argument, or supported by the consent of the church, or confirmed by any other helps, if unaccompanied by an assurance higher and stronger than human judgment can give. Till this better foundation has been laid, the authority of Scripture remains in suspense.  On the other hand, when recognizing its exemption from the common rule, we receive it reverently, and according to its dignity, those proofs which were not so strong as to produce and rivet a full conviction in our minds, become most appropriate helps.  For it is wonderful how much we are confirmed in our belief.” -Institutes, 1.8.1

If you want to spend more time considering this whole idea, you can get it with wonderful clarity and force in Grudem’s Systematic Theology, part 1.  I don’t remember the exact chapter at the moment, but it’s in there somewhere and it’s very helpful.

You might also check out John Piper’s biographical sermon on Calvin, which is good for many reasons – one of them being that Piper effectively unpacks this attribute of Scripture combining Calvin’s thinking with his own.

So, I no longer hate the man…

[In case you just popped in, I'm taking some time to keep notes as I read through Calvin's Institutes this year.  Glad you came.  Hope you check in more often.]

Again, this section of Calvin’s Institutes has been one of the most poignant portions so far.  I remember reading this for the first time – roughly 1997.  Some authors brought me to a place of thinking of Calvin as an enemy of the gospel, an ungodly proponent of a system of theology that was more indebted to philosophical impositions than biblical truth.  Reading this Preface to the King back in 1997, it didn’t take long before I was struck by the sense of Calvin’s strong devotion to Christ and courage in the face of vehement opposition.  I started to think in those days, “Crazy, way off base theologically, yes, definitely.  But, a calculated deceiver, an ungodly man, a man who seemed to love philosophy more than Scripture.  I’m not seeing that so far.”  My sense of antagonism against all things associated with the name was no longer personal to Calvin.

From the Prefatory Address, to Francis I, King of France 1536…

“Let not a contemptuous idea of our insignificance dissuade you from the investigation of this cause.  We, indeed, are perfectly conscious how poor and abject we are:  in the presence of God we are miserable sinners, and in the sight of men most despised – we are (if you will) the mere dregs and offscourings of the world, or worse, if worse can be named:  so that before God there remains nothing of which we can glory save only his mercy, by which, without any merit of our own, we are admitted to the hope of eternal salvation and before men not even this much remains, since we can glory only in our infirmity, a thing which, in the estimation of men, it is the greatest ignominy even tacitly to confess.  But our doctrine must stand sublime above all the glory of the world, and invincible by all its power, because it is not ours, but that of the living God and his Anointed, whom the Father has appointed King, that he may rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth; and so rule as to smite the whole earth and its strength of iron and brass, its splendor of gold and silver, with the mere rod of his mouth, and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel … (Dan 2:34; Is 11:4; Ps 2:9).”-Institutes, Prefatory Address, xxv

Analogy of faith

When Paul declared that all prophecy ought to be according to the analogy of faiths (Rom 12:6), he laid down the surest rule for determining the meaning of Scripture.  Let our doctrine be tested by this rule and our victory is secure.  For what accords better and more aptly with faith than to acknowledge ourselves divested of all virtue that we may be clothed by God, devoid of all goodness that we may be filled by him, the slaves of sin that he may give us freedom, blind that he may enlighted, lame that he may cure, and feeble that he may sustain us, to strip ourselves of all ground of glorying that he alone may shine forth glorious, and we be glorified in him?”-ibid., xxv

On the early Fathers and authority

“It is a calumny to represent us as opposed to the fathers (I mean the ancient writers of a purer age), as if the fathers were supporters of their impiety.  Were the contest to be decided by such authority (to speak in the most moderate terms), the better part of the victory would be ours.  While there is much that is admirable and wise in the writings of the fathers, and while in some things it has fared with them as with ordinary men; these pious sons, forsooth, with the peculiar acuteness of intellect, and judgment, and soul, which belongs to them adore only their slips and errors, while those things which are well said they overlook, or disguise, or corrupt, so that it may be truly said their only care has been to gather dross among gold.  Then, with dishonest clamor, they assail us as enemies and despisers of the fathers.”-ibid., xxviii

“It was a father who thoughts that Christ only should be listened to, from its being said, ‘hear him’; and that regard is due not to what others before us have said or done, but only to what Christ, the head of all, has commanded.  This landmark they neither observe themselves nor allow to be observed by others, while they subject themselves and others to any master whatever, rather than Christ.”-Institutes, Prefatory Address, xxx

Marks of the Church

“We on the contrary maintain both that the church may exist without any apparent form, and moreover, that the form is not attained by that external splendor which they foolishly admire, but by a very different mark, namely, by the pure preaching of the Word of God, and the due administration of the sacraments.”-ibid., xxxii

‘Post tenebras lux’: God’s Word & the Devil’s attack

“It is ones of the characteristics of the divine Word, that whenever it appears, Satan ceases to slumber and sleep.  This is the surest and most unerring test for distinguishing it from false doctrines which readily betray themselves, while they are received by all with willing ears, and welcomed by an applauding world.  Accordingly, for several ages, during which all things were immersed in profound darkness, almost all mankind were mere jest and sport to the god of this world, who, … idled and luxuriated undisturbed.  For what else could he do but laugh and sport while in tranquil and undisputed possession of his kingdom?  But when the light beaming from above somewhat dissipated the darkness – when the strong man arose and aimed a blow at his kingdom – then, indeed, he began to shake off his wonted torpor, and rush to arms.”-ibid., xxxiv

On the gospel and fallen receptivity

“Paul declares that it is a never-failing characteristic of the gospel to be a “savor of death unto death in them that perish” (2 Cor 2:16).”-ibid, xxxv

Respect/pray for the king, live quiet and godly life

“We, whose voice was never heard in faction, and whose life, while passed under you, is known to have been always quiet and simple; even now, when exiled from our home, we nevertheless cease not to pray for all prosperity to your person and your kingdom.  We, forsooth, are aiming after an unchecked indulgence in vice, in whose manners, though there is much to be blamed, there is nothing which deserves such an imputation; nor (thank God) have we profited to little in the gospel that our life may not be to these slanderers an example of chastity, kindness, pity, temperance, patience, moderation, or any other virtue.  It is plain indeed that we fear God sincerely, and worship him in truth, since, whether by life or by death, we desire his name to be hallowed”-ibid., xxxv-xxxvi

Closing words: unflinching allegiance to Christ in the face of ‘every extremity’ and a warning:  God, the King of kings, will reckon with our persecutors.

“But if the whispers of the malevolent so possess your ear, that the accused are to have no opportunity of pleading their cause; if those vindictive furies, with your connivance, are always to rage with bonds, scourgings, tortures, maimings, and burnings, we, indeed, like sheep doomed to slaughter, shall be reduced to every extremity; yet so that in our patience we will possess our souls, and wait for the strong hand of the Lord, which, doubtless, will appear in its own time, and show itself armed, both to rescue the poor from affliction, and also take vengeance on the despisers, who are now exulting so securely.  Most illustrious King, may the Lord, the King of kings, establish your throne in righteousness and your scepter in equity.  Basel, 1st August, 1536.”-ibid., xxxvi

Question for the mormon at the door

This quote, on mormonism, was passed along through Dr. Russell Moore’s blog.

“The next time an LDS member knocks on my door, I shall ask him, ‘What did God worship before he became God and why don’t we worship that?’”

Rev. Philip Spomer, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Edgewood, New Mexico, in a letter to the editor, First Things, February 2009.

Christian Debate: Voting for the Glory of God

Tony Jones, one of the emerging voices of leadership among young evangelicals in particular, faces off with Scott Klusendorf, a pro-life apologist, in a cordial but forthright exchange over the question of how evangelicals ought to think about the issue of abortion in the larger scheme of American life and politics.

No matter what happens tomorrow, I think getting in on this conversation will better equip us to vote ‘for the glory of God’.

I only wish the men could’ve taken more time.

Lawn-Care Seminary & the Exclusivity of Jesus

I started reading Tim Keller’s Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism over the weekend.  So far, I think it is superb and would highly recommend it.  This Manhattan pastor is one of the most winsome communicators I’ve encountered.  He is also one of my most frequent lawn-care companions.  [Aside: I never do lawn work without my ipod.  My primary lawn care 'assistants' this past year or so have been leaders from Sovereign Grace (CJ Mahaney, Bob Kauflin, Josh Harris), T4G guys (mostly Duncan & Dever), John Piper, Tim Keller, J.I. Packer (lectures on Puritans, sweet!), Mark Driscoll and, most recently, Andy Naselli.]

But I digress.

Keller’s book addresses many tough and frequently asked questions posed to Christians.  Here, one of my favorite bloggers, Justin Taylor, lends perspective on one of the big ones.

Giving an answer for the faith

[A follow-up interview (spoken rather than written) on key issues in apologetics.  For more, see Evan May's recent post of a written interview with Frame.]

Dr. John Frame is nothing short of a gift of God to the church today. He is an eminent scholar who writes on a vast range of issues. His book The Doctrine of God, which I will be working through over the next several years, is a riveting work. As an aside, I hope in years to come to read through it with our TheoForum class.

Wayne Grudem’s remark about the book (on the back cover) is telling.

“A magnificent treatment that will be a standard work for decades. Frame stands in the great Reformed tradition of Calvin and Charnock, Hodge and Bavinck, yet in his treatment of the doctrine of God he surpasses them all with an amazing breath of knowledge and depth of understanding.

The list of names Grudem has included is a veritable who’s who of historical heroes of the past 500 years. Factor that in – and that coming from a man like Wayne Grudem – and you have a better idea of the impact of Frame’s way of thinking and writing.

Interview with John Frame

Someone who has been somewhat of a mentor to me the past couple of years through his writings is John Frame. His works on theology and apologetics have helped me to fine-tune my thinking, to become more appreciative of other traditions, and to carefully derive my theology and method from Scripture. In this interview, Dr. Frame fields questions of an apologetic nature (why he believes in God, why he trusts the Scriptures) as well as questions of a more personal character (how he has grown in faith, how he witnesses to unbelievers, etc.). He also mentions a few of our other favorite guys, such as Tim Keller, John Piper, and C.J. Mahaney. Check it out.

Is Christianity the only way?

Recently I came across the work of Greg Koukl on his website Stand to Reason. Koukl is a winsome defender of the faith who has a heart to train Christians to be able to intelligently and with a right attitude share their faith with others. I’ve found many of these kinds of short videos very helpful. I’ve also watched him and listened to him in online debates where I’ve been impressed by his demeanor. He’s a brilliant apologist who is clearly concerned to represent not only the truth of Christ but the spirit of Christ.

These videos are sort of teasers.  Brief and thought-provoking. The reality is, though, that as we talk with people who have questions about Christian beliefs, we need to know how to get to the core issues quickly.  It’s not like we get to whip out the old easel and begin an apologetics lecture.  Koukl’s videos are, in this way, very helpful.

Check this one out for starters.