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Bloodguilt (Psalm 51)

A comparative poem by Dan Newbanks

A king’s rebellious heart
Shed the blood of a bridegroom
And claimed the dead man’s bride.

The King’s willing heart
Shed blood and is the bridegroom
And claimed His bride from the dead.


Why Ideological Terror Attacks Will Continue to Rise

By now, you have likely had your fill of commentary on the attack on French satirists that have sparked outrage and mourning across the globe.  Chalk it up as one more ideological act of violence.  One worldview lashing out in savage violence that both appalls and enrages any civilized person.  “How does this happen?  We live in the 21st century!  This simply cannot go on!  It must stop!  What has happened to the world we live in?!”  All of these and more are repeated in response to every occurrence of violence around the world–each one seemingly more savage than the last.  The worst news of it all is this:  Not only will this pattern of violence continue, but the continuation of these violent terror-tantrums are actually the only rational outcome of a situation that was created more than a century ago with the rise of relativism and subjective reasoning.

The consensus among child-psychologists today is that temper tantrums in children begin when a child experiences frustration over not getting what they want, and then not being able to communicate properly about the matter.  As I am sure you can imagine, if every 14 month old could communicate to his or her guardian that they simply did not require a nap today due to the fact that they slept in late that morning and planned on turning in early that night, there would be no need to violently protest the matter in what we commonly know as a temper tantrum.  A responsible parent, when confronted with a temper tantrum, should use the opportunity to help the child communicate without hurling objects and screaming at the top of its lungs.  The opportunity and ability to communicate effectively tends to cease these temper tantrums and results in what we know as “growing out of it.”  I tell you that it is the same effect being witnessed here in the world today.  Terror attacks are a result of the built up anger and frustration with the inability to discuss topics of important or deeply emotional impact to the group or individual committing these acts of violence.  And I squarely blame proponents of Postmodern philosophy for setting the stage and then fanning the flame for this increasing trend of violence by these ideological groups.

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The Missing Virtue: Humility

I ran across this article yesterday, and the truth of it has been weighing on my spirit, both for myself personally, but for our ministry, and for the Church as a whole.  It is indeed a fine line between arrogance and excellence, when it comes to Christian scholarship.  Here is the scoop:

Christian Scholarship and the Distinguishing Virtue of Humility

I never had the chance to meet him in person, but I have become an ardent admirer of Carl F. H. Henry. And while I have come to appreciate his brilliance as a Christian thinker, I am always struck by his humility. Don’t get me wrong, Henry was not reluctant to call a spade a spade or to dismantle erroneous arguments, heterodoxy, or injustice. But he did so with a marked humility that is also evident from the countless anecdotes I have heard from his former friends, students, and colleagues.

D. A. Carson tells of a conversation near the end of Henry’s life, when he asked the aging theologian how he had sought to remain humble. Coming from a giant of evangelical theology, Henry’s response is noteworthy. “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?” I want to be more like that. But I find the rip tide of self-promotion to be a powerful one, pulling me out to an eventual and certain ruin.

Christian scholarship must be, by its very essence, characterized by a love for, and earnest desire to seek, the truth. This means it will by necessity involve conviction, critical thought, and the best tools of research and inquiry.

Humility Must Distinguish the Christian Scholar

But I would argue that the mark of Christian scholarship that might be in shortest supply these days is humility. And its deficiency is evident in ways we might not expect. Perhaps it is because we have forgotten, even within contemporary evangelicalism, the nature of these ancient truths, which demand humility in the scholar for three primary reasons:

1. Humility presses against the professionalization of Christian scholarship. I suspect some part of our evangelical confusion regarding the scholarly virtue of humility has to do with our simultaneous theological amnesia. We have largely forgotten a historic and distinctly Christian understanding of vocation, one that Christians have understood more clearly at better times, one that reminds us that our own work as scholars is a gift, a grace, a calling.

Christian scholarship is more than a career. It’s a vocation. Of course, historic Protestantism has trumpeted this point—sometimes better than others—for half a millenium. But far too often, Christian scholarship has succumbed to the zeitgeist of professionalization. In an age that has turned education and learning into another commodity, we understand the call to learn to be grounded in the created order, part of God’s design for his image bearers, and central to the continued call to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).

Those called to teach, research, and write, to create new knowledge and transmit ancient wisdom, are fundamentally a called people. Thus we must carry out that vocation in all its aspects with a humble spirit, mindful that it has been entrusted to us by divine grace, no matter how credentialed or accomplished we may appear to be.

2. Humility presses against the values of the world and of American culture. To say we live in a narcissistic age is hardly news. But while our age may be particularly at ease with some of the most obnoxious and flagrant expressions of this form of arrogance, Christians realize this has been the spirit of the age since Genesis 3.

Christian scholars increasingly find themselves situated within a culture that prioritizes celebrity, that tells us of the necessity of “establishing our platform” and “building our brand.” Humility is essential for civility, and the deficit of both is reaching epidemic levels within American life, including in the academy. If you think the scholarly guild is immune from this toxicity, think again. Sure, we might dress it up in more genteel clothing (read a C.V. sometime to see what I mean), but it is there nonetheless: an aspiration to set ourselves above and apart from those within our own community.

In an age that has commodified all things, including education and the life of the mind, the pressure toward self-promotion, caustic polemicism, and visceral reactionism is everywhere. Christian scholarship framed by humility will be swimming upstream against these tides.

3. Humility increasingly presses against evangelicalism’s pernicious fetish with self-promotion. The expansion of digital technologies, social media, and the democratization of mass communication all hold incredible promise, with potential to serve the common good and deepen human flourishing. This is especially true within evangelicalism, where the rapid exchange of ideas accelerates global evangelization, dialogue, discipleship, and education.

However, this proliferation comes with built-in risks. If you aim to cultivate the virtue of humility as a Christian scholar, you will increasingly find not just the world but also the pressures of evangelical subculture telling you that self-promotion is just part of the game. We might like to think that it’s part of being “strategic” or “expanding our relational network.” But the siren song of narcissism in the digital age carries an especially seductive tune.

Neither the quality nor effectiveness of Christian scholarship is gauged by how many Twitter followers you have. It is not measured by whether or not you are on the bestseller list or by where you get invited to speak. It has little to do with how quickly you can concoct a half-developed or reactionary response to the cable news cycle.

Humble scholarship should make us leery of the siren song of self-promotion and cautious when we feel the tug to recklessly dispense our judgments and opinions in a half-cocked fashion simply to make sure we provoke the most readers, retweets, or media calls.

Nature of Humility as Scholarly Virtue

So how does humility shape the life and work of a Christian scholar?

First, humility means that the Christian scholar remains always a student. We are never finished learning. As Christians, we are being transformed according to the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). And no matter how distinguished we may become as teachers, we never cease to be students and learners. There are always more questions to be asked, more answers to be found, more truths to be learned. A Christian understanding of revelation and truth serves to bolster this vocation with sincere hope—these questions are worth asking, and the answers are out there, available to those who would seek them thanks to a sovereign God who created all things to tell the story of his infinite greatness.

Second, humility means that we submit to authority. For the Christian scholar, that ultimate authority must be the Bible. Whereas our disciplines are marked by competing authorities and multiple theories, we understand the Scriptures to be unique. The Bible is the singular inspired and therefore inerrant authority for the people of God. This is a place of rest for the Christian scholar. We can fully and truly trust what God says to us in his Word. We do not sit in judgment over it; instead it judges us (Heb. 4:12).

Third, humility compels the Christian scholar to recognize and be honest about his or her own limitations. It’s counterintuitive, but one of the most freeing things one can say as a Christian scholar is, “I don’t know.” But it’s not only liberating, it’s also stimulating. Being humble enough to admit our own limitations helps spark inquiry. If we’re honest about what we don’t know, we give an opening for intellectual curiosity to break through.

Richard Mouw describes this posture well in his most recent book, Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Christian Scholars (Eerdmans, 2014). Mouw, a distinguished philosopher and longtime seminary president, points out: “It is precisely because we are finite beings—and if that were not bad enough, fallen ones as well—that we must take a humbly modest approach to human knowing. God alone knows all things.”

A little bit of eschatology might also do us well. We have it on good authority that there will be work in the new heavens and new earth. Of course, this work will be liberated from the toil and burden of the curse. But those of us called to scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge have a mystery awaiting us. While our capacity to know God and delight in him will expand throughout the infinite ages to come (a glorious thought if ever there was one), we will no longer suffer ignorance. Perhaps we can understand a bit of what the apostle Paul meant when he reflected, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). Being known fully now, even when we know only in part. Anticipating a coming fullness of knowledge, centered on God himself. What could be more wonderful, and humbling, than that?

Matthew J. Hall (PhD, University of Kentucky) serves as vice president for academic services at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Is Your Church Functionally Liberal?

Here’s a great question, and a very well thought out analysis of the issue from Ray Ortland, courtesy of TGC.


Is your church functionally liberal?

“Whatever your church’s commitment might be on paper, what is it that, in real terms, leads and guides and defines your church culture?”

An honest look at ourselves cannot come often enough.  Great thoughts!

Who Gets to Define Who God is?

There once was an old mystical box, discovered by three wise philosophers while they walked on their pilgrimage.  This box, they could see from its exterior as it sat on the ground untouched, was ancient and much worn in appearance.  As the three of them sat down around it, with the box in the middle of the three, they began to converse about what was contained within the box.  Each of them had their own idea about what was inside. Continue reading

Advent Anyone?

“The Coming.”  That’s what the word “advent” means.  Depending on where, or if, you attend church, you may or may not be familiar with this term.  Even if you ARE familiar with the term, you may still be wondering, “the coming of what?”

The observance of Advent is certainly not a requirement, in a biblical manner of speaking, but I pray that with this explanation you might discover the usefulness of a conscious participation in Advent this season, whether individually or with your immediate family or your local church body as a whole.  In seasons past, I will admit that I have caved into an unhealthy amount of consumerism to go with my “Come all ye faithful.”  Containing the urge to get swept up in all the holiday sales and mad rushes to the department stores can be an extremely difficult thing to do in this country in the 21st century.  Especially with all the new gadgets they keep coming up with!  To some of us, it may come as a complete surprise that “advent” is not a reference to “the coming” of the next generation of game consoles or the new iPhone 23.

So what IS this “coming” about?

The word “advent” is an English adaptation of the word adventus in Latin, which is, in turn, a translation of the Greek word, parousia, which in the New Testament often refers to the Second Coming of Jesus.  So, in essence, we are not only participating in the lead-up to the Christmas celebration of the First Coming of the Messiah, but also looking forward to His triumphant return.  We not only get to read, tell, and share the story of the birth of the Savior and feel that Christmas marvel at realizing that “God-with-us” began in that familiar manger scene, but now is also the time of anticipating the magnificent and terrifying return of the Conquering King and His impending judgement of the World.  We can read the Old Testament prophecies about peace on earth and good will toward men, understanding and being thankful for the redemption and reconciliation we have been given as God’s people through this tiny bundle in a swaddling cloth.  But we can also dive into and meditate on the promises that this Messiah is not yet finished.   He will return!

These thoughts can be a sobering contrast to anxiously looking for the best price on Frozen merchandise and mind-numbing checkout lines at Walmart.  I’m not going preach about the immorality of our product-addicted culture or shame you about overemphasizing the red-clad fat guy’s behaviorist legalism you’re instilling in your kids (you realize that, right?), but I will simply put in front of you here, a fantastic opportunity to do something different this year.  In the evening before everyone heads to bed or in the morning before rushing out the door, take a few minutes to read to yourself or your family from one of the advent devotionals available.  You might be amazed at the joy it can bring.  Take time to remember what it is we’re celebrating.  Praise the King Who Came, Died, Rose, and is Coming Again.  Make a new tradition this holiday season.  Advent has already started, but it’s still not too late to catch up.

Our family has been enjoying this Advent devotional from John Piper:   (It’s free to download!)