Morning Press 3.31

Virtual Choir. This is incredible:

See another here.

Holy week. If you want a good book to read for Holy Week, D.A. Carson’s “Scandalous” is an excellent choice. If you’ve listened to Carson’s lectures much (especially his three-part series on N.T. Wright and New Perspective at Westminster) then you’ve heard some of this stuff before, but it’s certainly worth hearing again. Adrian Warnock’s “Raised with Christ” is next, and perhaps Mark Driscoll’s “Death by Love.”

The historical fact of the resurrection. Speaking of N.T. Wright, here’s an excellent video:

As Adrian Warnock pointed out on his blog (HT by the way), it’s become sort of cool for evangelicals to criticize Wright. This is a mistake. We may disagree with him on justification, but he’s worth listening to on that and all other issues. With the resurrection (as with most other things) I believe he is right on.

Why are Jews liberal? Marvin Olasky interviews neo-conservative Jew Norman Podhoretz.

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Morning Press 3.29

Denying the atonement. Here‘s an NPR piece on Brian McLaren. The clip also includes a comment from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Bruce Ware, who says “I’ve thought of Brian McLaren for years as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but I think in this book he’s taken the sheep’s clothing off.” It’s that book, A New Kind of Christianity, that has made several longtime McLaren sympathizers, like CT’s Scot McKnight and Mike Whittmer, turn against McLaren and his interpretation of Scripture. I think Ware’s assessment is right — it seems that McLaren has at last dispensed with most pretenses and just said what he’s kept silent all along: he doesn’t believe in Original Sin, total depravity, sovereign election, eternal damnation for the wicked, propitiation, any real kind of expiation, or any manner of penal substitution for that matter. Sounds like Jim Hamilton was right; this is no Christianity at all. For other assessments of the book, click here, here and especially here. For the panel discussion at SBTS referred to in the NPR piece, go here.

Piper. John Piper is taking an eight-month leave of absence from preaching, writing and virtually all other public responsibilities. As he mentioned to his congregation yesterday, this is unlike his previous writing breaks or other sabbaticals. This is is eight months of no sermon prep, preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, blogging or tweeting. Here’s why, according to Piper:

I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.

But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.

Kind of confused? Me too. The next part helps clarify a lot:

Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.

If anyone deserves an eight-month leave, it’s Piper. But I still find this puzzling. I suppose it could be easy to infer some private sins, but as Justin Taylor put it, Piper really would take an eight month leave just to spend re-cultivating his relationship with his wife and family. We should just pray that he comes back in January refreshed and renewed for the struggle.

NCAA. The Final Four is set. Two five seeds — Michigan State and Butler — play in the left side of the bracket. If you’re like me (and probably most other people), your right side has been great and your left side has been awful. If the previous games are any indication, the next week should be fun to watch.

The Rage Against God — Peter Hitchens and Faith

I’m pretty excited about this book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens. Hitchens is the brother of one of the most popular New Atheists Christopher Hitchens, who has been discussed in this blog previously.

Like his brother Christopher, Peter is a journalist, former atheist and former Communist. Unlike his brother, Peter gave up atheism and turned to Christianity. This is a book in response to Christopher’s militant atheism, best represented by his 2007 book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Peter Hitchens calls atheism “the first stop on the train” of spiritual searching, not the last. He holds that the greatest testimony to the truth of Christianity is not rational argument (which he still uses, of course) but instead the arts. He personally first took religion seriously not through the arguments of Cornelius Van Til or Francis Schaeffer, but instead through Michaelangelo’s painting “The Last Judgement” and the poetry of T.S. Eliot.

“I would think that most educated atheists are much more likely to be suddenly ambushed in the heart by poetry than they are ever likely to be converted by reasoned argument,” he said. “The arts, which have always had the most effect on me, these things are immensely potent and I think if people are exposed to them, then they may find that the still, soft voice is audible.”

Watch a full 8-minute interview with Peter below:

The book comes out May 1, and you can pre-order it here.

The Madness

Absolutely priceless post from Kevin DeYoung. Before you read, let me provide some background. DeYoung is a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan and C.J. Mahaney played basketball at the University of Maryland before he got saved. As you probably know, Michigan State beat Maryland on a last second buzzer-beater in a crazy game.

Here’s their friendly wager on the game:

If Michigan State wins, C.J. must…

1. Come preach at University Reformed Church again.

2. Write a blog post about why the Spartans are the superior basketball team.

3. And post a photo of himself wearing MSU attire.

If Maryland wins, I must…

1. Go preach at Covenant Life Church.

2. Blog about the awesomeness of Maryland basketball.

3. And show the world what I look like in Maryland gear (no turtle I’m told).

And here’s an excerpt of their back-and-forth emails:

Sunday afternoon emails between me and C.J.:

ME 4:36 – Game’s not over yet.

CJ 4:38 – Md does not give up but it would be a complete collapse if your boys lose and Izzo won’t let that happen.

CJ 4:44 – Oh my!

ME 4:44 – I am feeling ill.

CJ 4:47 – My entire family is present and screaming! I already have my post done that I was going to send you.

ME 4:49 – Are you kidding me!

CJ 4:50 – Congratulations my friend! We are heart broken.

CJ 4:54 – We are depressed. Post is coming.

Awesome stuff. Interestingly, DeYoung’s Spartans now play Justin Taylor’s Northern Iowa Wildcats. The plot thickens.

Morning Press 3.25

Zak Smith’s story. An important reminder from a man of faith. Watch it here.

Pastoral reading. Some great thoughts from Doug Wilson about the Pastor and his personal reading time.

Angry Urban. Crazy video from a Orlando Sentinel sports reporter Jeremy Fowler. Meyer confronted the writer in practice after Fowler apparently criticized Deonte Thompson. Read Fowler’s thoughts on the incident here. More from me later.

Spirit Airlines. Just in case you ever wanted to try the super cheap airline, Brian from MGoBlog pleads with you not to.

Doctor K. The legendary Met — in more ways than one — is at it again.

Links and thoughts on healthcare

About two hours ago, President Obama signed the Health Care bill he has said will define his presidency. Politics aside (this blog has dealt with politics a bit too often recently), the pressing concern for evangelicals has been the effect the bill would have on government-funded abortions. Christian leaders like Al Mohler and Russell Moore have been on the front lines in fighting against the bill for this very reason.

I have a few links for you, all of which I have found very helpful in thinking through the implications of this $940 billion new HCR system. One, here’s an informative Q&A specifically about the bill–how it passed, what this Executive Order for Pro Life Democrats really is, and what it means for abortions. Hat tip to Justin Taylor for the link on his blog this morning. Two, here are some really helpful thoughts from Russell Moore about how we conservative evangelicals should respond to the new bill. Conservative Christians are afraid about all kinds of things under the Obama administration, but we need not fear any temporal government. This part was particularly helpful:

Most of us don’t preach “hellfire and brimstone” sermons anymore, on hell and God’s judgment. But hellfire is exactly what Jesus said we should fear. “And do not fear the ones who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” our Lord tells his disciples. “Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Jesus not only teaches this; he lives it. Jesus doesn’t fear the crowds attempting to stone him. He doesn’t cower before Pilate. He isn’t afraid of the Sanhedrin. He’s confident and tranquil, even when he’s being arrested. But when he faces drinking from the cup of judgment of his Father, he sweats drops of blood.

If we were half as outraged by our own sin and self-deception as we are by the follies of our political opponents, what would be the result? If we rejoiced as much that our names are written in heaven as we do about such trivialities as basketball brackets, what would be the result?

So if what you’re afraid of is a politician or a policy or a culture or the future of Western civilization, don’t give up the conviction but give up the fear. Work for justice. Oppose evil. But do it so that your opponents will see not fear but trust, optimism, and affection.

“So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Fear God and, beyond that, don’t be afraid.

Amen. Again, read the whole thing.

I remember when Obama was elected, many of my friends and relatives were very concerned about the future of our country. On election night, when the outcome was all but secure, I sent out a mass email to my college friends that Obama had won. The replies varied from minor celebratory remarks (from people with more liberal backgrounds) to rather grave messages (from those in the majority who came from conservative households). Now, this is a conservative, evangelical, historically Baptist campus — most students are very, very conservative politically. So it follows that the high majority of my friends fit into the “grave messages” catagory.

One particular email said something like, “Yes, this will certainly be an interesting four years!” to which another friend retorted, “I don’t understand why the next four years will be any different than the last four years.” His comment sprouted from a general ambivalence about politics and the election. He chose not to vote out of principle — why should we support a pagan American culture by voting in such an election?

I disagree with his statement now more than I did at the time. I am convinced that politics is important, and if we are serious about “engaging the culture for Christ” (as Cedarville relentlessly reaffirms to us — mostly for good reason) then politics is a key battleground in that endeavor. We should be concerned for true justice, mercy and peace, especially for the smallest and most helpless among us — the unborn child. Too many Christians talk about justice and shalom without having any cultural, let alone biblical, understanding of what those terms mean. Our more liberal friends say we conservatives rail against abortion without engaging the more numerous pressing issues like capital punishment, Darfur, HIV/AIDS, global poverty and the lack of healthcare coverage for the poor in this country. Capitalism has crept into Christianity, they say, and it’s time we take our faith back. Jim Wallis said as much, by the way, two weeks ago.

To which I reply: indeed, we should be concerned about all injustice, not just abortion, but we need to deal with the issues in thoughtful, effective ways rather than by throwing money at the government or holding pep rallies for the poor on Christian campuses without ever addressing the other (historically more effective, I would argue) ways we can confront the poverty issue. To return to my initial point, politics is a prime place for Christians to have a voice, and not just a voice of disgruntled frustration about how messed up our country is. It’s time we get involved in practical, effective solutions for national and international problems. It’s time we elect good leaders who won’t support the murder of unborn children. It’s time we elect leaders who allow professional doctors and nurses to deal with the healthcare problem, rather than arrogantly sticking their noses into it, saying they can fix a problem they don’t understand and throwing almost a trillion dollars at it to do so. It’s time we Christians get involved in the most controversial things, including the military. Yes, the military. Who do you want to have their finger on the trigger of a nuclear bomb: an atheist or a Christian?

So in one sense, I strongly disagree with my friend. Don’t be passe about critical issues or elections. Christians, get involved in politics. Be concerned when leaders with whom you disagree are elected. It’s your constitutional right to feel that way. And be passionate about important issues, and have the courage to stand up against governmental injustice.

But, I agree with my friend too, though for a different reason. Yes, in a sense the next four years won’t be much different than the last four years in that God is still on the throne today just as he was in 2006. And he’s not surprised by healthcare legislation, or Roe v. Wade, or anything else. As Moore said, don’t be afraid. Our hopes do not lie with a political party or leader — the Lord is our refuge and strength. We need not fear man. Fear God, for His purposes will be accomplished, regardless of what our government does.