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Review of Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

Conversation on Pipe-Smoking with Joffre Swait

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A Short Bio of the Man Who Changed the World

A Short Bio of the Man Who Changed the World

The great Reformer Martin Luther belonged to a peasant family. Luther once wrote that “his father, grandfather, and all his ancestors were thorough peasants.” Luther’s father made his livelihood by mining for copper. Margaret was Luther’s strong and strict mother. In fact, you can see that Luther’s personality comes very much through his mother. There is some record of the strictness and sometimes harshness in the Luther home. On one occasion, “His mother whipped him till the blood flowed, for stealing a hazel-nut.” In fact, Luther writes that it was the strictness and the rigorous life that led him to the monastery and made him a monk. a

One of the remarkable events in Luther’s life was one that is often unknown. Growing up in a peasant home, Luther’s opportunities to move to a higher rank of society were minimal. One of the things young Luther did to help with schooling and food was to go around from door to door with his friends and sing. It was in one of those occasions where he met Mrs. Ursula Cotta. She welcomed Luther to her table and exerted a great influence on Luther. Specifically, Mrs. Cotta taught Luther the ways of a more refined home circle. Essentially, she taught Luther proper mannerisms. This actually provided Luther opportunities to move to a higher rank in society than the ones his parents belonged bAt 18 Luther entered into the University of Erfurt and as always Luther distinguished himself. The author S.M. Houghton observed: “Little did Luther realize that even at this time God was preparing him for a career of activity which was to astonish Europe, and which was to shake a proud and polluted Church to its foundation (79).” It was at Erfurt that Luther came across a copy of the Bible. Contextually, we need to remember that peasants did not have copies of the Bible, so this was Luther’s first engagement with the Word of God. What caught his attention was the story of Hannah and Samuel, and how Samuel was called by God. This is all the background formation of Martin Luther before he became the great Protestant leader.

When Luther finished his studies, a series of events occurred, which really led Luther to consider his life and what he wanted to do in the future. There are two main events. The first was the day when one of Luther’s best friends got involved in a fight and was killed. At that moment he asked himself the question: “What if I had been killed instead of my friend?” The second and legendary event was the day when during a trip, a vicious thunder-storm broke over Luther. Luther believed that he was surely going to die before he reached his destination, and “stricken with fear he fell prostrate to the ground, crying out: ‘Help, Anna, beloved saint, I will become a monk.’” Luther kept his vow and after a big farewell party, the next day he presented himself at the door of an Augustinian monastery. Growing up in a peasant home, the last thing Martin’s father wanted was his son to pursue an ecclesiastical life. He wanted him to pursue law and achieve fame and wealth. But Luther wanted something different than fame and wealth, though as result he certainly achieved fame and the respect of many of the wealthiest in Europe. Luther—ultimately—wanted peace with God. For Luther, the way to obtain this peace was to isolate himself. He obeyed the very strict monastic rules, performed menial tasks, and went on begging on behalf of the monastery c. One author said that Luther was the “most sincere, conscientious monk who ever tried in genuine earnestness to merit salvation by human effort (81). He even became proud of his humility. This is important because this is shaping Luther’s thinking and how drastic his theological change was. He sacrificed everything to find peace. “He observed every detail of discipline, praying, fasting, watching, confessing his sins and he literally tortured his body to obtain peace for his soul.” Luther’s conscience plagued him so much that he despaired of salvation, and his physical strength began to waste away (Sketches, 80). His fellow-monks couldn’t help him, the departed saints that Luther prayed to so fervently could not help him. One person who brought some consolation to Luther was John von Staupitz, the head of the Augustinian monastery in Germany. He visited Luther often. Luther would cry often to his friend, Staupitz: “Oh, my sins! My Sins! My Sins!” Luther could not view God as the punisher of sin. Staupitz offered Luther many great theological truths that sank into Luther’s head. Once he said to Luther: “ Your thoughts are not according to Christ; Christ does not terrify, he consoles.” In God’s grace, the Spirit revealed to Luther that our works can never merit salvation before God. Only the mercy and grace of God can bring sinners to true faith. Luther once wrote that the phrase The Just Shall Live by Faith was the very gate of Paradise.
The result of a changed mind is a changed life. Martin Luther began proclaim the light of the gospel far and wide, and before long he became aware that this was not received well by the Church of the day.

Martin Luther was deeply troubled when he was commissioned to go to Rome in 1510. In his way to Rome he discovered that there was deplorable wickedness being done in the name of the Church, he saw the remarkable ignorance in the monasteries. The priests did not know the Scriptures well. Luther was so enamored with Rome in the beginning of his trip, but at the end, he wrote: “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.” (Sketches, 84). When Luther returned to Wittenberg , he received a doctorate degree and began to preach in the parish church. He was loved by the people, because here was a man opening the word of God. As the people began to learn, Luther desired that more people hear the Word of God. As a result, Luther began to protest more and more.

And his protest came to a culmination when the popes decided that St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome should be rebuilt. The expense was to come from every area of society where the church had influence. One of Rome’s fundraiser experts was a man named Tetzel. Tetzel taught that those who donated to the project of re-building would deliver their loved ones who had died from purgatorial torments. Tetzel, and other issues of corruption infuriated Luther who began to preach vehemently against Tetzel. Luther wrote down 95 theses attacking indulgences. And at mid-day 1517 on October 31st, Luther nailed them to the Wittenberg Castle. His intention, of course, was to begin a conversation, but the conversation has been going on for over 400 years now. There was the printing press that made Luther’s theses popular, but what really got the attention of the citizens was that following October 31st was All Saints’ Day. Multitudes flocked to church. Luther’s theses were read, copied, printed, and distributed all over Germany, and eventually all over Europe (Sketches, 88). Luther’s these was received with little protest by the church, but as the popes and priests began to see how much it was affecting the population.

As Luther’s fame went far and wide, he quickly became the leader of this new movement emerging in Europe. In Luther’s day, Emperor Charles V was requested to deal with the case of Martin Luther. He ordered Luther to appear before him in the city of Worms. Luther’s friends reminded him of what had happened to John Huss. But Luther was committed to going to Worms. This is the famous Diet of Worms. The Council of Worms as is commonly known. Luther arrived at Worms and the streets were crowded with people all waiting to see the man who was taught to be the “devil personified” (88). He was the man who stood up against church and state, and not church and state were ready to crush him. As Luther entered the hall of the assembly he was astonished that the great religious and political leaders of the day were all present. The presiding office, Johann von Eck, opened the proceedings by asking Luther if he was the author of the writings on the table, and secondly he asked Luther if he would retract the doctrines in the books. Luther answered that he was the author of the books, but he said he wanted to think through his doctrines carefully to make sure he was being truthful to the Word of God. Luther spent the rest of the evening in prayer. April 18th, 1521 is described as the greatest day in Luther’s life. One author describes the day as “one of the sublimest scenes which earth ever witnessed, and most pregnant with blessing.” Luther came back and Dr. Johann von Eck posed the question again: “Luther, do you recant of the doctrines written in your book?” And here is the English translation of what Luther said:

“Unless I am convinced by testimonies of Scriptures or by clear arguments that I am in error—for popes and councils have often contradicted themselves—I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scriptures I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. It is unsafe to do anything against one’s conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. So help me God.”

Several days after this statement, Luther was declared to be an outlaw and anyone who lodged him or gave him food or drink were liable to be charged with treason. Nothing stopped Luther’s mission and throughout the rest of his life he wrote, preached, translated and left a remarkable legacy. In these times he held very dear to Psalm 46, and in fact, wrote his greatest hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God. God became his fortress in his time of trial.

In 1546, Luther fell ill and shortly thereafter he died. It is said that one of his closest friends asked Luther if remained determined to stand fast in Christ and in the doctrine which he had preached! Luther responded with a distinct Yes. Luther died and was buried at the Wittenberg Castle; the same place where 29 years earlier he had nailed the 95 theses.

  1. see Martin Luther the Man  (back)
  2. Sketches from Church History, pg. 79  (back)
  3. Sketches, 81  (back)
A Review of “Unstoppable” with Kirk Cameron

A Review of “Unstoppable” with Kirk Cameron

The thought of spending $12.50 on a movie frightens me. I am perfectly content watching my favorite latest series on Netflix. The thought of going to a movie theater no longer appeals to me as it did ten years ago. So what would compel me to visit the theater this time? I confess, I was intrigued. I have been following Kirk Cameron for some time now. Kirk’s rise to stardom occurred in the late 80’s with Growing Pains. Since then, Cameron has come to Jesus and turned his career toward the Christian movie industry. His official entrance into the evangelical scene came in the 2000 movie, Left Behind. In those days, Cameron had drunk deeply of Tim Lahaye’s best sellers. The Left Behind series became a sensation. The 16-part novels emphasized the rapture, a popular evangelical doctrine of the end-times. The “Rapture” occurs when Jesus calls His Church home. The vision of falling airplanes, tightly folded clothes, and millions of people disappearing has become more than fiction; to many, it is Christianity in its purest form. And Cameron’s movies became the face of it.

Fast forward several years. Cameron’s involvement in broad apologetic and evangelistic work with Ray Comfort has given him some notoriety. He has spoken courageously on a host of moral issues and has received the type of media persecution expected from those who are antagonistic to the exclusivity of Jesus.

Cameron’s personal journey led him to some interesting theological figures. His youthful appeal can be deceiving. Kirk has actually become a fine thinker. And the greatest proof of his ability to engage the world of the Bible intelligently is his latest movie entitled “Unstoppable.” Originally presented to an audience of 10,000 people at Liberty University, Cameron explores the traditional question of theodicy: “If God is sovereign, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?” a

A Case for Christian Activism

The theme song summarizes the basic thrust of the movie. There is a time to speak and that time is now. Cameron’s investigation provides an apologetic for Christian activism. The former Growing Pains star is now calling Christians everywhere to grow up. Speak for Christ. Defend Christ. The whole world has become a platform for the Christian vision.

This journey seeks to offer some answers to the broad questions of good and evil. Instead of entering into the philosophical arena, Kirk enters into the narrative of redemptive history. The drama of life is being enacted in this great stage. Unstoppable presents a narrative theology that is often unheard of in the evangelical pulpit. This narrative is both compelling and rich. It is a story that starts in the beginning.

Narratival Theology

Through very rich imagery, Cameron takes us through the formation of man. Man is created with authority and that is most clearly seen in his ability to name animals. In doing so, Adam mimics His Creator. God gives man a mission to heavenize earth.  The heavenification project began in the Garden. Adam then is put to sleep and, from his side, God forms woman, who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. This beautiful, poetic, creative act, now puts man and woman at the center of God’s great plans for history.

Man was to have dominion over all things. And the first great test they faced came in the form of a beast. Adam should have smelt it a mile away. He should have crushed it. But the compelling drama goes from the safety of the garden into the danger of the forbidden fruit. Adam’s sin plunges humanity into chaos. But in the middle of this cosmic betrayal, God does not betray His creation. He makes a promise (Gen. 3:15). Even after Adam and Eve leave the garden He continues to provide for them.

But the narrative continues in bloody fashion. Humanity experiences its first death: the death of a son, the death of a brother. God then places on Cain the first true mark of the beast.

At this point, Kirk Cameron explores the persuasiveness of this narrative. This is a narrative, he argues, that would not sell. In Genesis, the Creator of the world destroys His own creation when He sent a great deluge to drown humanity in their sin. Why would the Protagonist do this? It is here when Cameron shines in his narration. He argues that God packs the whole world in a wooden box and then re-opens the box (the ark) to a new and better world. The new world is born through tragedy. The story is persuasive because it does not hide the consequences of sin.

The Theology of Unstoppable

Unstoppable is a short commentary on Genesis, which is consequently a commentary on the whole Bible. The great rainbow (bow) serves as an instrument of war. God took that instrument and directed it to His only begotten Son at the cross. At the cross, Christ was brutally murdered by His own creation. But it is precisely at the cross, argues Cameron, that “Jesus flips death on its head by dying for His enemies.” After death came life. Life burst from the grave. In fact, every graveyard is a garden. And one day, “each seed will burst into a new world.”

It is in this resurrection theme that Cameron transforms the question of evil into a case for the God who redeems humanity and will bring humanity from the dust of the earth into a new creation. Cameron takes the death of his young friend and uses it as an example for how grieving is not the end of the story. God’s purposes are unstoppable.

This is not your typical Bible story telling. Cameron weaved into his narrative a robust view of creation. Creation is not something to be despised or rejected. Creation was not left behind by its God. Creation is being redeemed by its Maker. Redeemed humanity united to the Final Adam, Jesus Christ, is now commissioned to disciple the nations and make the glory of God known.

Evangelicals will be deeply shocked by its overwhelming optimism. Cameron does not end in lament, but in triumph. The Christian vision is not an escapist one. It is a mission grounded in resurrection joy. And because of this, evil does not have the final word. God cannot be stopped. His purposes will be accomplished in history. His glory will be known from sea to sea.

DVD AVAILABLE
JANUARY 28, 2014

CHURCH SHOWINGS BEGIN NOVEMBER 15!

  1. Inherent in the question, is “How can He allow bad things to happen to Christians?  (back)
Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

If you are interested in an introduction to Revelation, here is my sixth introduction to the book focusing on the hermeneutical method called “Interpretive Maximalism.”

“The minimalist is often quite literal and focuses exclusively on the grammatical-historical interpretation. Though this method is necessary, our interpretation should not be limited to it. I am currently working on a project on the book of Ruth, and at first glance it seems like a simple narrative, but the more one digs into the meaning of the names of each character, the places mentioned, the theology of the land and of gleaning, the nature of Boaz and his relationship to Ruth, one is compelled to realize that Ruth is really a miniature picture of the entire gospel message from Genesis to Revelation.”

(Scroll down on the main page for all six lessons)

Lots of Resources for Psalm-Singing (Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs)

Lots of Resources for Psalm-Singing (Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs)

My article entitled 10 Reasons Why You Should Sing the Psalms received a lot of attention and several days later it is still on the front page of The Christian Post. I am grateful for all the e-mails I received from pastors and parishioners alike seeking to benefit from the psalms for their own spiritual edification and the maturation of their own congregation.

In order to provide those resources to a broader audience, I will list many of them here and hope to update them occasionally.

I’d encourage you to visit the Genevan Psalter website. It will provide music and lyrics and a host of links to articles on the Genevan Psalter. This is my favorite Psalter.

You may also wish to visit this site, which will give you some ideas and a general introduction to psalm singing.

Another way to benefit from sung psalms is to simply start listening to psalms on your ipod or computer. For a more contemporary rendition of the Psalms, this CD by Greg Wilbur with Psalms and Hymns published by Ligonier is quite good. Nathan Clark George has done some beautiful versions of the Psalms with guitar accompaniments.

If you want to listen to some beautiful Scottish Psalmody, go here on Groove Shark.

One indispensable selection of psalms put into music is from a dear brother, Jamie Soles ( a CREC elder). Jamie has a wonderful gift of bringing psalms into easy and memorable tunes for children, but I confess I listen to them myself often.A great hymnal to get you started is Psalms for Singing. You can find audio samples on-line. You can also purchase the Cantus Christi, which is a Psalter-Hymnal. The Cantus includes about 75 psalms of the 150 (with several chants).  If you would like to hear some of the psalms sung and harmonized, you can purchase this CD. You can also find samples of some of the Psalms on the Cantus Christi:

Psalm 117 – Youtube

Psalm 98 – Youtube (Christ Church, Moscow, ID)

Psalm 148, Psalm-Roar – Youtube

Psalm 42, Audio Only (sung at Providence)

Psalm 45, taught and sung at Providence

Psalm 22 (audio only, Psalm-Roar)

Psalm 122 (Youtube, Christ Church)

Finally, for an award-winning website with more information on the Psalms and psalm-singing than you will ever need has been compiled by the saints of Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, AL.  called The Psalm Project.

NOTE: If you find any additional resources, please let me know.

 

The Symbolism of Revelation: Study # 5

Holy Saturday: Behold the Lamb of God

Revelation Study, Part IV, The Nature of Revelation

Study #3 

Study #2 

Study #1 

Welcome to our fourth review of Revelation using David Chilton’s Days of Vengeance as our main source.

Another introductory issue we want to tackle is the matter of the nature of Revelation. Revelation is an eschatological discourse. It is John’s discourse. Matthew 24 provides a discourse, Mark 13 provides a discourse, Luke 21 provides a discourse, but there is no eschatological discourse in John’s gospel. Why? Because John offers the most comprehensive account in Revelation. More

Revelation Study, Part III (David Chilton’s Days of Vengeance)

In this third episode I discuss the question, “Why was John’s letter sent to Asia?”

Episode 1 & Episode 2