Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day Resources on John Calvin

It's Reformation Day, and some people asked about more resources about John Calvin after my Reformation Sunday sermon this past Lord's Day.  You can access some materials through the link below.

First, there is a short, free biography by T.H.L. Parker, the best known modern biographer of Calvin, that is available from Desiring God Ministries here.  They also have a few other resources you can find at their site, some of which I used in my preparation for my message.  My major source from this ministry was John Calvin and His Passion for the Majesty of God, and it is found here.

If you have great interest in more than just Calvin, you could get John Piper's book on the lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, called The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. It can be purchased or obtained in another free .pdf file from this link.  Piper is one of the biggest promoters of biography of famous Christians that we have today, and you can find other biographies like this one at Desiring God.

Another biography by a respected modern scholar is John Calvin, Pilgrim and Pastor, by Robert Godfrey.  One of our Grace CU students told me about a book by his high school instructor that tells the story of Calvin well in the form of historical fiction.  It's called The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin, and it is by Douglas Bond.  I've looked at reviews and plan to read it myself, but thought I would pass it along for others to review as well (Thanks, Christian Hayes!).

For those who missed the sermon, check the Grace website and soon you should find notes and video (audio should be up shortly as well--we're still working on restoring our iTunes podcast feed).

Have a Happy Reformation Day!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Gospel and Self-Deception

I read Matt Chandler's book, The Explicit Gospel, and now am using it in a Bible study.  This quote really stood out to me.  Read it soberly!
"Even works of righteousness, if not done through faith, are works of self-righteousness and therefor filthy rags.  Be very careful about going to church, reading your Bible, saying prayers, doing good deeds, and reading books like this through anything but faith in the living Lord.  Because the result of all that is belief in a phony Jesus and inoculation to the gospel.  You can end up knowing the jargon and playing pretend.  Be very careful.  Watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).  Some of you are so good that you've deceived yourselves.  God help you" (page 85, emphasis mine).

Friday, October 5, 2012

Some Pro-Life Issues are More Important than Others

As another election cycle concludes, I find myself wondering about the wisdom of some of my Christian friends who try to defend their support for a candidate for office who supports abortion rights by an appeal to other issues.  They say something like this,

 "Well, there are lots of "pro-life" issues.  You can't just care about people before they are born.  If you don't care for them afterward--the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the immigrant, the victims of discrimination, etc., you are not really pro-life, you are just anti-abortion."

(Often, the speaker will throw in protection of the environment as being "creation care," and equally or nearly equally important as a "pro-life" issue.)

I believe that every one of the issues mentioned in the above is important, and Christian ethics has something powerful to bring to any discussion of policy decisions.  In fact, unlike some of my more rock-ribbed conservative friends, I am supportive of a number of government initiatives and using tax money to address quite a number of programs to address many of them.  I am all for a very liberal immigration policy.  I've lived in poor neighborhoods, and ministered in places where "the system" really IS stacked against the poor and needy.  They do suffer, and it is wrong.  However, only one of the issues under discussion is the active, government-sanctioned (and soon to be paid for) taking of millions of innocent, defenseless, human lives.

This kind of weak thinking needs to be seen for what it is--rationalization and false equivalence.  It is rationalization because it tries to re-frame issues in a way that says they belong to the same category of moral importance when they do not.  The killing of an unborn child is a crime against the God who gives life and a direct violation of scriptural absolutes from Genesis onward against the unjust shedding of blood.  This crime, by man or beast, was so evil that God demanded that the offender be executed by "man"--that is, mankind collectively, which we now see function through human government.  It is false equivalence in the same way as we see it when people say, "All sins are equally sin, so they are equally bad."  Telling a white lie and murder are, indeed, both sins, but the scope, consequences, extent of guilt, etc., are radically different as everyone with a smidgen of common sense (not to mention good theology) understands.

[Let me hasten to add that abortion is, certainly and thankfully, as forgivable as any sin, and those who may have had an abortion under the misguided idea that this was simply exercising a personal choice are in many ways victims as much as sinners.  The church is filled with sinners saved by the forgiving grace and mercy of God.  My earlier post below addresses my pastoral concern for those who have abortion as a part of their past, and my desire we not let that past define the present or destroy the future.]

Someone who opposes the death penalty as evil, but supports abortion as a personal choice has chosen to oppose something with at least some biblical support (I know Christians are on both sides of that debate) and to support something that violates every principle of Scripture when it comes to the sanctity of human life as given by God.  And pacifists who hate war but allow abortion are at least as inconsistent--not wanting to kill in war, even if the aggressor may be heinously evil, but callously allowing the destruction of an unborn child because its arrival might be inconvenient.

If a candidate promises to feed all the poor, but will allow the rich and poor alike to kill unborn babies, that is not in any consistent way a pro-life position.  If another candidate will make the killing of babies universally illegal, and says, "let private compassion replace government programs," that may or may not be a good political position, but it is not evil unless it says, "let the poor starve to death; the sooner the better."  Debates over the role of government in caring for individuals can take many forms, with both sides able to marshal positive biblical examples and texts for support, but the decision to allow the killing of unborn children can find no such support.

I understand the appeal of candidates who exude compassion and attack greed and selfishness.  It resonates when we see inequality, suffering, and evil in our society.  But to my friends who want me to join them in supporting candidates who take what they (and maybe even I) would say are more "Christian" approaches to societal evils, I say this:  start choosing candidates who will defend defenseless unborn babies, and then I will know that those candidates may be trustworthy in the other issues we face.  Until they see that a government cannot practice any form of state supported mass murder, they cannot get me to choose to vote for a candidate who will take the morally right stand on the issue.

By the way, I will vote this way, even if it means voting for a high tax, soft on defense, socialist.  My conviction has led me in the past to vote for a liberal Democrat over a conservative Republican.

Now I know that some will say, "You can't legislate morality!"  To which I answer, "Of course you can!"  That is what legislation does every time it makes something a crime; it creates civil morality.  Laws against rape, murder, theft, etc. are the legislation of morality--they are wrong and they will be punished.  The question is whose morality will be enshrined in legislation.  And as long as I can, I will strive to have civil morality that is as closely aligned with biblical morality as is possible in our society.  I'm not after a theocracy any more than our Founders, who seemed pretty comfortable with the idea that the Bible provided a framework from which a republic could draw effective and sufficient moral guidelines.

Think clearly, and think biblically, as you prepare to vote, this time and always.