Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism

Best Links of the Week

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The World as 100 People

The World if There Were Only 100 People

Fight Club sequel plot revealed

Great article by J. Budziszewski entitled, “Why Hooking Up is Letting You Down

All_Location-of-all-potential-trafficking-cases-final

Article from the Polaris Project on “Human Trafficking Trends in the United States

Great long-form piece from Sports Illustrated entitled, “The Book of Tebow

Solid article from Kevin DeYoung entitled, “Seven Thoughts on Pastors Writing Books

Written by Michael Graham

December 5, 2013 at 3:52 pm

When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

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I wanted to re-post something that Chuck DeGroat wrote earlier this week on his blog, The New Exodus.  I think this is a pretty important discussion that needs to happen amongst the New Calvinism.  Reductionism is dangerous and it hurts people.  Legalism is dangerous and it enslaves people.

When “Believing the Gospel” Doesn’t Work

Maybe you’re like the many men and women who I’ve talked to.  Having been through Sonship (a fairly well-known discipleship program in conservative Reformed circles) or having digested the writings of Keller or Powlison or Tripp, your still struggling.  Or, maybe your version of “believing the Gospel” came from a preacher who told you that the answer to your lifetime of guilt was greater “Gospel depth” or deeper “Gospel transformation.”  And so, you searched high and low for that newer and better way, the Gospel way, only to try to believe better and repent better and be less guilty.  And that, too, didn’t amount to much.

Just recently, I was talking to yet another person whose digested all the writings and listened to all the sermons and read all the tweets, and ‘Gospel repenting and believing’ isn’t working.  He went through Sonship.  And each time he talked to his Gospel phone coach, he’d confess his latest idol.  “I’m justifying myself through my attempts to repent better, and repentance is now my idol.  So, I’m repenting of my repentance, but I’m still neck deep in feelings of guilt.  What’s wrong with me?”

“Gospel Tweeting” is the latest phenomenon.  The answer to all our problems is this:  Just believe the Gospel!  If it was that easy. This seems to me to be the newest quick fix, the most recent Christian cliche, and I’m growing weary of it.  I’ve counseled people who’ve done the full Sonship workout only to be more racked with guilt than ever.  They are repenting of their failed repenting and repenting of their failed attempt to confess their failed repenting.  They’re more twisted in guilt than ever.  And the ‘Gospel Twittersphere’ isn’t helping.

This is oversimplified Calvinism.  Period.  It doesn’t take the complexity of sin seriously enough, though it claims to in every way.  It doesn’t take it seriously because it oversimplifies the remedy, leaving troubled and struggling people feeling even worse.  Gospel counselors tell people that their troubles amount to a failure to believe the Gospel.  Freedom is available, we’re told.  Just repent and believe! Over and over, preachers are trying to boil this down to 140 characters on Twitter.  And I think it’s Gospel arrogance.

The problem is that we’re far more complex and psychologically broken that we’re often aware of.  It’s not just “unbelief” that bears down on us.  It’s a whole host of things – neural pathways grooved by years of living a certain way, a “divided heart” that thrives on its habitual polarities, weakness of will, and the extraordinary brokenness manifesting in the systems we inhabit, whether in our families or workplaces or churches.  And if I’m not being pessimistic enough, consider John Calvin’s words:

“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him” (Institutes, 3.6.5 or pp. 1:689)

But the problem extends beyond understanding the complexity.  It’s the cure that is far more difficult.  Having counseled too many men and women who beat themselves up for not growing fast enough by repenting and believing, I’m convinced we do many people a disservice (and harm!) by oversimplifying both the problem and the cure.  Those fearful of modern psychology need to begin listening at this point, because what we’ve found is that growth and maturity isn’t found in a method or a discipline or a repentance exercise.  In fact, growth is harder, longer, more painful, and more puzzling than many of us care to admit.  People who we serve in the church would like microwavable strategies, but the fact is that growth and maturity isn’t microwavable.  It defies programs and methods.  It frustrates the most competent pastor or therapist or spiritual director.  And, it can’t be captured in a tweet, even a well-formed Gospel tweet.

I admire the hearts of my friends out there who attempt to tweet Gospel cures.  They mean well.  Most are pastors, and you know who you are.  And I really do like you a lot.  But, hear me when I say that people are suckers for your 140 word fixes.  Why do you think you get re-tweeted so much?  We’re suckers for remedies and methods.  We love a sound byte.  But I’m asking you to step back and consider the complexity.  Do you really see people growing that quickly in your churches?  Do you really see ‘Gospel transformation’ happening in a “repent and believe” moment?  I’m prone to think that this is where we need a good dose of those old stories, like Pilgrim’s Progress, that highlight the long and difficult journey.  Because most people I know don’t find that the methods work.  Most people I talk to struggle day to day just to believe, just to utter a one word prayer, just to avoid another outburst of anger or another deluge of cynicism. Most people find that it takes a lifetime to believe that they are the prodigal who is lavished with a Father’s prodigious love.

Gospel tweeters:  Relax.  You are far more screwed up than you think.  And your cure is far too simplistic to help.  This journey requires more than a 140 characters of Gospel happy juice.  A big and good God requires a long and difficult Exodus journey for real change to happen.

Best Links of the Week

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Dealing With Difficult People:  Narcissists.  The best article I’ve read this year.

IBM computer to play against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.  Should be another interesting man vs. machine conflict.

Doug Wilson piece entitled “Calvinism, Eschatology, and the New Media

Andy Crouch, “Ten Most Significant Trends of Last Decade

A number of people in California recently won $150 by correctly guessing 4 of the 6 numbers of the California Lottery.  The winning numbers were:  4, 8, 15, 25, 47, 42

Apparently the Catholic Church is doing a realty series on exorcism, but I heard this was news to the Vatican.

New US $100 bills to have 3-D technology.

AIG is recapitalizing.  Unbelievable… have any lessons been learned?

Banks repossess over a million homes in 2010.  Also, foreclosures rising.

Drunk Scientists accidentally pour wine on semiconductors and make some scientific discovery.

WSJ article entitled “Bye-Bye PCs and Laptops

The Catholic Church and science.  Personally, I am a huge fan of science and think there is a fair degree of agreement between science and Christianity, far greater than many acknowledge.

Green blob from Hubble Space Telescope.

Major Dick Winters passed away earlier this month.  Thankful for this man and countless anonymous men just like him.

China’s new stealth fighter.

Haitian amputee soccer.

Is the Black Church Dead?

The precipitating event was an essay posted last February on the Huffington Post by Eddie Glaude, Jr., a young African-American religion professor at Princeton who gave his column the eye-catching title, “The Black Church Is Dead,” and continued that with an equally arresting lead:

“Of course, many African-Americans still go to church,” Glaude began, noting surveys that track the higher-than-average religiosity of American blacks. “But the idea of this venerable institution as central to black life and as a repository for the social and moral conscience of the nation has all but disappeared,” he said.

Best Links of the Week

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The Problematic Path of a Graduate Degree in the Humanities

I am starting a new installment of this blog for the best links of the week.  They will typically be in accordance with the major topics discussed here (theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics).  Depending on how many good articles were out on the net, the number of links will vary.  Enjoy.

1.  “Graduate School in the Humanities:  Just Don’t Go“:  controversial, informative, and lucid look at the current status of graduate school humanities programs and the dysfunctionality of finding work thereafter.

2.  MSNBC article on Matt Chandler’s battle with cancer – there are some strange things about this story involving him punching a healthcare provider…  Also excellent is a year old article by John Piper entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”

3.  Previously mentioned article by pro-choice Sally Jenkins (Washington Post) defending Pam/Tim Tebow’s Superbowl Ad.

4.  “Haiti Three Weeks Later“:  absolutely stirring images from the Boston Globes excellent photo-essay segment “The Big Picture.”

5.  Pew Survey on Social Networking: Teens Love Facebook, Hate Blogging, Are Always Online, and Don’t Use Twitter

6.  Newsweek on the ineffectiveness of Anti-Depressants.  Not sure I share the conclusions, but interesting article.

7.  “A Christian Nation“:  article exploring relationship between Christianity and pop-culture and how we are highly marketed to.   There are weaknesses to the author’s argumentation but interesting nonetheless to get an outsiders view of Christianity and pop-culture.

8.  “Should Conan, Goldman Sachs send megabucks to Haiti?“:  Interesting proposal.

9.  “The Rise of the Calvinists“: article exploring Scott Brown’s theological convictions as a member of a CRC church.

Top 10 Books by John Piper

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Desiring God by John Piper

This list is what I think are the 10 best books that I have read from John Piper.  I haven’t read some of the more recent ones, but have heard good things about This Momentary Marriage (a book on marriage apparently).

1.  Desiring God [y, l, e, p, s]

This classic is what introduced me to a sovereign God and the doctrines of grace.  It also taught me that my pursuit of joy and my pursuit of God were one and the same pursuit.  If you cannot get through it or are intimidated by its size, try The Dangerous Duty of Delight, he essentially says the same things, just more concisely.

2.  Don’t Waste Your Life [y, l, e, p, s]

Quite simply this book needs to be read (and can be) by everyone.  The title says it all.  His passion for living a worthy life is infectious.

3.  Let the Nations Be Glad [y, l, e, p, s]

This is his book on missions.  It is excellent.  Reading this book is what compelled me to spend time overseas investing the Gospel into people.

4.  Brothers We are NOT Professionals [l, e, p, s]

Just as relevant in 2009 than it was in 2002.  I agree with my friend James W. that this book ought to be read by every seminarian before and after seminary.  Piper takes aim at the professionalization of the ministry.  We are not professionals, we are shepherds.

5.  The 5 Book Biography Set [y, l, e, p, s]

Each book has three or so vignette-length biographies.  They are all good and the link above takes you to DG’s Christmas sale.

6.  Finally Alive [l, e, p, s]

This book may prove to be one of Piper’s most important contributions.  The book concerns the rarely written on, doctrine of regeneration.  Definitely one of the best books of 2009.

7.  Battling Unbelief [y, l, e, p, s]

This book gives you tools to fight for your joy in Christ when you don’t feel it.  Also, I am told that, When I Don’t Desire God, and When the Darkness Will not Lift are both quite good and in the same vein.

8.  The Supremacy of God in Preaching [e, p, s]

One of the best books on preaching.  Period.

9.  Future Grace [l, e, p, s]

The superior pleasure of Christ and the hope of future grace are our tools in fighting against sin.

10.  God’s Passion for His Glory [y, l, e, p, s]

This books is Piper channeling Jonathan Edwards thoughts (which is much of what Piper has done his entire ministry… and that is a good thing).  We would be wise to listen to Edwards and his vision for a God who is passionate for His own glory.

Honorable Mentions:

What’s the Difference – book on Biblical manhood and womanhood.

Counted Righteous in Christ – book defending the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness.  A critical doctrine and a solid book on the matter.

The Justification of God – rock solid exegesis of Romans 9.  If you have ever had questions about Romans 9, this book will answer them.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

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1754 Edition of Freedom of the Will. 255 years... still unanswered.

This subject can be one of the most difficult, confusing, and disconcerting theological discussions.  The books below (at various reading levels) bring clarity and cognitive rest to the matter.

1.  Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards  [e, p, s]

This is the most difficult read on the list but it is by far the best.  In my view, Edwards has accurately described blow-by-blow how divine sovereignty and human responsibility work by accurately describing all aspects.  This book has never been answered.  Every book on human freedom conveniently ignores this work.  If you get stuck, message me in the comments and I’ll email you a book review which includes a summary of his argumentation.

2.  The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner  [e, p, s]

3.  Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin  [e, p, s]

It bothers me how many “Calvinists” haven’t read the Institutes of Christian Religion.

4.  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book is the most accessible and has been helpful to many.  I disagree with its central thesis that the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is antinomy.  But most find this book to be the most helpful on the subject.  Also, Will Metzger’s, Tell the Truth and Mark Dever’s, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism are both excellent and in the same vein.

5.  Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther  [e, p, s]

Excellent book on how our will is bound.

6.  The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen  [e, p, s]

Excellent defense of the doctrine of limited atonement.  J.I. Packer’s introductory essay to this book is probably the best thing Packer has ever written.  That essay is helpful and worth the price of the book.  I refuse to talk to anyone about “Calvinism” until they have read that essay.  It can be read online here.

7.  Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul  [y, l, e, p, s]

Sproul outlines the doctrine of election cogently.  Also, Willing to Believe is solid.

8a.  Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper  [y, l, e, p, s]

Although not explicitly on the subject, Piper does a great job disarming the lie that the sovereignty of God in salvation destroys the impetus to evangelize.  Further and rightly, he makes the case that the sovereignty of God is the soil where fruitful evangelism grows.  If you want more on this, I have a paper defending this position theologically and from the history of missions (most of the big names in missions affirmed the doctrines of grace).

8b.  Finally Alive by John Piper  [y, l, e, p, s]

This is a much needed book on the doctrine of regeneration.  Piper explains clearly how regeneration precedes repentance and faith.  Critical.  In my view, this was one of the finest books of 2009.

9.  The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink  [y, l, e, p, s]

Classic book on the sovereignty of God.

10.  The Potter’s Freedom:  A Defense of the Reformation and the Rebuttal of Norman Geisler’s Choosen But Free by James White  [l, e, p, s]

White takes on Geisler and Molinism in a needed rebuttal of his Chosen But Free.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

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