Two bald theologs named James

 This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. James White, the man to whom I am most frequently compared.  Usually, the comparisons are of a theological nature.  People who listen to our podcasts often listen to his as well (www.aomin.org).  But, last Friday we were both in the same place at the same time and we now have photographic proof that the comparisons are not merely theological, but quite physical.
 

I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to meet.  We had time for a couple of very cordial chats and I thoroughly enjoyed his presentations.

I first became aware of Dr. White about 15 or 16 years ago when I was part of a chat group hosted by Sound of Grace.  We were in the middle of a fierce debate about the transmission of the New Testament text and the controversies surrounding “King James Only-ism.”  One of the members of the chat group invited James to join us and present his research and opinions on the subject.  I was immediately struck by the lucidity of his arguments and his ability to communicate clearly and concisely.  After he was done the group voted and Dr. White won the day.

It was years later when I became aware of his website and Internet program, The Dividing Line.  That led to downloading his various debates and lectures.  These days, he’s a YouTube power user, uploading videos regularly that deal with various topics: Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Calvinism, and defenses of the historic Christian faith.  He goes by the name of “DrOakley1689” on YouTube and you can find his channel here:

Dr White on YouTube

I’ve called his Dividing Line program a couple of times over the years (although not too recently, come to think of it).  I’ve always enjoyed our exchanges.  One of his most attractive qualities is his willingness to laugh.  I think it’s important that theologians take their subject matter very seriously, while being cautious not to take themselves too seriously.

Even though I’ve learned the hard way not to hold my heroes up too high, I’m always grateful when I have a chance to meet them, share a bit of time, share the joy of our common faith, and remember how blessed we are that God continues to provide leaders and teachers in His church.

And besides, how can you not like guys who look like this?

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What I Don’t Want For 2010

 

My own way.

I spent a great deal of my life pursuing — and pretty effectively attaining — my wants and desires. Unfortunately, inasmuch as I’m a depraved person (a fact that I can prove with ample evidence), my wants and desires were equally depraved. And eventually the constant diet of fulfilled sinful desire became wearying and soul-stultifying.

As I look back, I’ve learned two important lessons. One: every bad, painful, horrid thing that ever happened to me, I didn’t see coming. And two: every truly good thing that has occurred in my life happened despite me. So, what is instantly clear is that I am not in control. And on those occasions where it appeared that I had some influence over the outcome of things, I always messed them up. So, why would I want control? Why would I want things to work my way?

Early on in my Christian conversion I was taught a wonderful guiding principle: God is too holy not to that which brings Him the greatest glory and He loves us too much not to do that which is for our greatest good. In other words, He’s going to do things His way whether we like it or not. That’s what sovereign providence is all about.

So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own way.

My own fame.

In my early 20’s I decided to move to Los Angeles. That decision was driven by the need to be famous. It was no longer sufficient to have people in the Detroit area know me, I wanted a national stage. And rock music was the vehicle that would take me there. I had performed for two seasons and toured Great Britain with the Houston All-City Symphony. I had played intimate jazz and “big band” swing. I had played in garage bands, club bands, marching bands, pit bands, and shows bands. But, rock’n’roll was like the express elevator to worldwide recognition. It was hard work. It was emotionally draining. But, it paid big dividends. And that was just fine with me.

But, as Christianity took hold in my heart and mind, thoughts of my own personal advancement and fame became increasingly upsetting and revolting. “How,” I began to wonder, “can Christ truly be ‘all and in all’ if I am constantly making sure there’s adequate room for me?”

I cannot save anyone. My death will not result in anyone else’s redemption. I am quite utterly imperfect. I cannot heal sickness, solve crises, prevent catastrophes, or bring the dead to life. All in all, I am hardly a person to be admired or imitated because, when it comes to the really important matters, I can only point to the One who actually matters. So then, why should I be famous? He should have all the fame because He has all the power. And I need Him far more than He needs me.

So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own fame.

My own art.

At one point in my life, I reveled in the notion that I was the quintessential “tortured artist.” My thoughts, emotions, and feelings were significant enough that they needed to be shared with the world. I wrote songs, I wrote poems, I wrote stories, I wrote … well, I wrote about me. I basked in my unmitigated emotional depth and imaginary courage. As I was wont to say, “Hurt me; I’ll make it art.” If hubris had a cousin, I was it.

I have several folders and notebooks full of poems and scribblings. I took them out the other night and realized that it had been fully nine years since I’d written anything poetic. Self-expression seems vain … in every meaning of the word.

Now whatever gifts God may have given me with which to communicate thoughts and ideas, I prefer to convey those thoughts and ideas that exalt Him for His great kindness to me, and those which “minister grace to the hearer.” (Eph. 4:29)

So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own art.

My own cleverness.

Sometimes, cleverness is its own reward. People gravitate to clever people who can devise inventions, turn a pithy phrase, or appear to be a few steps ahead of the madding crowd. Cleverness is also akin to sarcasm — the ability to slice and dice others with a bit of witty repartee. For many years, my sharp tongue was the chief weapon in my arsenal of tools used to keep everyone at arm’s distance.

As I have aged, I have been cursed with the ability to remember all the verbally-bloodied victims I’ve left in my wake. And, successful in my attempt to keep people at a safe distance, I found myself alone. Cleverness is also its own worst enemy.

Christianity, by contrast, insists on putting the wellbeing of others ahead of our own. Christianity encourages us to keep a civil tongue and use kind words. Christianity is not about being clever, it’s about being a servant, about giving yourself away and investing in the fruitful outcome of others. That’s not done by wit. It’s done by humility. And no matter how clever I think my thoughts or words are, they are of absolutely no significance if they do not aid the Christian progress of the person who hears them.

So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own cleverness.

My own sinful passions.

As a human, I crave. I have deep, entrenched desires. There was a time when I thought my passion for the things of this world was noble. I was never more alive than when I was lunging headlong into my latest craving. I was “deep,” after all. I felt things more vividly and violently than most folk … or, at least that’s how I saw myself. It made me unique and worth all the attention I was getting.

Consider Psalm 37:4 for a moment. It says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s a dangerous statement unless the Lord changes the desires of your heart. And that’s what has happened to me. The more I have learned to delight myself in the Lord, the more He has become my primary desire. And, sure enough, the more of Himself He reveals to me, the more I am delighted. Now my passion is for Him; His glory, His word, His worship, and His people.

One of the most amazing things about genuine conversion is that God does not suppress our emotions — He redirects them. What was once self-love becomes brotherly love. What was once fleshly desire becomes Heavenly desire. What was once selfish passion becomes the desire to spread His word, to call sinners to repentance, and to help them see the One who is gracious, kind, patient, and altogether lovely.

So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own sinful passions.

What I deserve.

Through an act of amazing charity, I was recently given a set of drums. There was a time when I was defined by my ability to play drums and if I didn’t practice for at least three hours each day, I wasn’t alive. Playing drums was as natural as breathing. Although I used to own several drum kits, I haven’t owned any drums for fifteen years or more. When the kids were young and I was struggling financially, I had fallen behind on the house payments. I sold my last Pearl kit for exactly the amount it took to keep us in our house. Since then, I had been drum-less.

I told you that story to tell you this one. After I was given a beautiful set of Pearl drums — my favorite, by the way — I told a musician friend of mine about the remarkable circumstances that led to the gift. He said, “That’s great! You deserve them.” Those words hung in the air for a moment. Then I replied, “No, I don’t deserve them. And the last thing I want is what I deserve.”

You see, one essential element of a really advanced ego (trust me here, I’m an expert in this area) is the assumption that you deserve all the good things that come your way. And if something bad happens, it’s an aberration. That’s the sort of thinking that leads to questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

The Bible declares that there are no good people. There are only sinners; enemies of God; haters of everything that is holy; wicked, depraved people. The proper question then is, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” And that’s the essence of grace.

What I deserve, it turns out, is hell forever. What I deserve is God’s eternal wrath. What I deserve is to be separated from Him permanently and perpetually. Fire, brimstone, torment — that’s what I deserve.

But, what I’m promised is Heaven. Through no goodness on my part, as the result of no good works I’ve performed, but merely as a matter of God’s mercy, I will not receive what I deserve. I have received grace. I am receiving grace. I will receive grace.

So, from 2010 onward, the very, very last thing I ever want is what I deserve.

In summary.

Now here’s the great irony of God’s genius. As much as I do not want my own way, my way is inexorably becoming conformed to His way. In other words, I do not feel in any way cheated or short-changed. I am fulfilled and happy. Just as I grew tired of “my way,” He changed my way to suit His way and I most joyfully now pursue the way I find most pleasing — His way.

As much as I am no longer interested in my own fame, I get great joy from seeing Him exalted. And though I could never have predicted it, GCA and Salvation By Grace have become widely known through the Internet. I receive wonderful letters and email from people who share their lives and testimonies with us. We hear from all corners of the globe and people tell us how their lives and faith have been enriched by listening and reading at our site. Honestly, it’s overwhelming and deeply gratifying. But this new-found recognition is not fame. It’s not a matter of ego. It’s God’s providential wisdom at work. He allowed me to bask in my own aggrandizement until I could smell ego a mile away. Once that smell was repugnant, He put me into His service. Then He let people know who we were and what we were about.

His ways are wonderful.

As much as I do not want my own art, God does not destroy the individuality of His people. He gifts His own with the abilities that are best suited to their place in His kingdom. I was given the gift to communicate. Being Irish, I’ve always thought of it as “the gift of gab.” When folk tell me that the Bible finally makes sense to them, or that I have helped them understand complex biblical concepts in a way that makes it simple and approachable, that’s just God turning my “art” to His glory. It’s no longer about self-expression. It’s about Heavenly-expression. Same ability, new purpose.

Cleverness, I suppose, falls into that same rubric. But, where I used to show off my own verbal and intellectual dexterity, my concern now is to show off God’s astounding wisdom and the limitless value of His word. It’s not about being clever; it’s about being clear, being precise, being a tool in the hands of a Master Craftsman.

As much as I do not want my own sinful passions, God has redirected my passion. He has not squelched it. Much as He used the temperament of Moses or the boldness of Peter, God has taken what was once debauched and turned it toward His holy purposes. Christianity has enlivened and enriched my passion, giving it a righteous purpose and restraining it from its unseemly past.

His grace is beyond comprehension.

And, as much as I do not want what I deserve, as Christ has been formed in my heart I want Him to receive everything that He deserves. He deserves a church that will recognize their status as His elect and beloved bride … and act like it. He deserves to have His word revered, respected, and rightly handled. He deserves to be glorified through the eternal ages because of His finished, complete, fully-effective atoning work and the full salvation of His chosen people. He deserves to sit at the Father’s right hand and be lifted up above all names and all creation. He deserves to be worshiped and adored. He deserves the very best that His Father can prepare and give Him. And, I want Him to have it all.

Let me close this bit of new year’s observation by driving home one more vital point:

This is nothing like me.

Left to myself, I would always want my way, my fame, my art, my cleverness, and every sinful passion my evil heart could inspire. And I would be fully convinced that I deserved every moment of pleasure and egocentric gratification. That’s exactly what I’m like.

This small treatise is evidence of how effectively and sovereignly God has overcome and overwhelmed a wretch like me. I get no glory from it; nor have I earned any. He gets all the glory because He has done all the work, invested all the effort, and is fully responsible for any and all good results.

I am astounded at His grace.

I am secured by His mercy.

I am cradled in His love.

I am thankful.

I am humbled.

And I want Him more than I want myself.

Happy New Year.

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Unitarianism Vs. Calvinism

Yesterday morning I made a passing comment concerning a college friend of mine’s involvement in the Unitarian Church. I also pointed out that the leading historic opponents to the tenets of Unitarian doctrine were Calvinists — you know, those people who emphasize things like sound doctrine and Biblical principles. I didn’t want to leave those comments dangling, so here’s the info for those who want to pursue it.

This introductory quote is from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan:

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) studied theology at Harvard. First, as minister in a Boston Congregational Church, he came to be known as “the apostle of Unitarianism.” He preferred to avoid abstruse points of doctrine, concentrating instead on morality, charity and Christian responsibilities. Denounced by the orthodox Calvinist periodical, “The Panoplist,” Channing issued several defenses of his position, the best-known being “Unitarian Christianity,” delivered at an ordination in Baltimore in 1819. In this famous speech he emphasized the unimportance of “the Trinity.”

You can see why a conflict would erupt between those who hold to the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity and those who felt it was “unimportant.” And while “morality, charity and Christian responsibilities” are all fine and good, they should not be emphasized to the exclusion or subversion of salvation by grace through faith.

So, here’s my point: Today Calvinism is often marginalized or represented as a recent novelty. Those opponents who admit to its historicity often treat Calvinism like Christianity’s ugly step-child. But, the more you know about church history, the more you recognize the indelible stamp of the Reformers on all Protestant and Evangelical churches, contending for truth and standing against the errors and contortions of fringe theologies and heretical groups. Whatever else you may say about Calvinism, its history is rich with education, thoughtfulness, and devotion to the sacred value of God-breathed Scripture.

If you’d like to read the entire text of Channing’s “famous speech,” you can read it here:

Channing Speech

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Five Solas

On Sunday I mentioned the Five ‘Solas’ of the Reformation and wrote them on the board. A few folk have mentioned that when they listen to the mp3’s from our site they cannot see me or what I’m writing. So, I’ll list them here on this fine Reformation Day 2006.

Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
Soli Deo Gloria: God’s Glory Alone
Solo Christo: Christ Alone
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
Sola Fide: Faith Alone

Learn ’em. Know ’em. Live ’em.

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Happy ChrismaHanaQwanzaDon!!

It’s been interesting to watch the Christmas/Holiday debate this year. Historically, it’s hard to conclude that Jesus was actually born on December 25. Even a cursory look at the Biblical facts should make any honest bible student ask questions.

For instance, it’s cold in Israel in December, so you’re not likely to find shepherds watching their flocks in the fields by night. And seems rather cruel of the inn-keeper (with Joseph’s apparent agreement) to consign an obviously pregnant girl to the manger/grotto/stable in midwinter. And according to Luke’s account of the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ birth six months later would have occurred somewhere in the fall, around September. So it’s a safe assumption that December 25 is a traditional, rather than historic, observance of the birth of Christ.

At the same time, there are numerous parallels between modern Christmas traditions and ancient pagan practices. As a consequence, early America was careful not to observe the holiday. The History Channel sums it up like this:
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“The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.”
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That quote comes from here . So, if you figure that Columbus landed on these shores in 1492 (or thereabouts) and that the pilgrims arrived in 1620, followed by the Declaration of Independence culminating in 1776, and Christmas was declared a federal holiday in 1870, Christmas was not observed on a national level for the first 400 years of our tenure on this continent. But importantly, the reason that Congress did eventually recognize Christmas was specifically because of its connection with the birth of Christ. They had no problem with its connection to Christianity.

These days, Christmas is entrenched in our society. While a portion of America celebrates it as a Christian holiday, it has also become a vital part of our retail economy. The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” among retailers because it is usually the point in the caledar year where they move into positive profits, out of the red and into the black. So, it would be quite impossible to remove Christmas from America’s calendar because of its economic impact.

On the other hand, even though Christmas cannot be altogether eliminated, the anti-Christian secularization of America marches forward and those who object to being reminded of Jesus’ birth have rallied successfully to make retailers and those dependant on the whim of the consumer nervous about using Christian-sounding phrases. So, in order to be politically correct, and avoid offending any potential shoppers, many businesses and retailers have abandoned the “Merry Christmas” greeting in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays.” Several schools across the country have even replaced their traditional Christmas concerts with “Winter Solstice” programs. And, in so doing, they’ve come full circle back to the pagan roots that surround December 25. Meanwhile, the Christian pro-Christmas groups are quite vocal in their opposition to these replacement greetings, making sure to say “Merry CHRIST-mas” at every ocassion.

So, we live in interesting times. Early America avoided Christmas because of its pagan connections. Later America celebrated it as a Christian holiday. Present America objects to its connection with Christianity, but do not want to lose the economic benefits. And Christians are left arguing in favor of an observance our forefathers rejected, trying to “put Christ back into Christmas” when He was likely never in it in the first place.

Whew. The only thing we’ve learned from history is that we’ve learned nothing from history.

So, where do I stand in the midst of all the cross-traffic? It’s undeniable that Christmas/December 25 has a load of pagan baggage attached to it. And I do shudder at the intermingling of pagan and quasi-Christian symbols during this time of year. For instance, my neighbor has a well-lit manger scene in his yard (replete with the magi who never actually attended Christ’s birth but arrived when Jesus was around two years old) with Santa Claus overseeing the whole affair. I’m a bit surprised he doesn’t have reindeer watching over the Christ child along with the cows and sheep. Oh, and there was never a drummer boy at the manger, either.

BUT, all that being said, I equally dislike the systematic elimination of all references to Christ in our schools and society. The idea that Christianity is somehow harmful to our public discourse is very disturbing. So, I find myself, for better or worse, siding with the pro-Christmas crowd in order to combat the continuing encroachment of secular powers against the rights of Christians to worship according to their customs.

It’s a terrible shame that Christianity has lost its position in the marketplace of ideas. As Purpose-Driven, seeker-sensitive, be-careful-not-teach-anything, TBN-style “christianity” dominates the “evangelical” landscape, the Bible is viewed with increasing suspicion and opposition. And Christians are no longer equipped to posit a defense for the faith. Rather than be fully equipped with sound doctrine, modern “christianity” is left Biblically ignorant and easily confounded by the arguments posed against it.

It seems to me that the more the modern church continues to act like the world in order to appeal to the world, the more it loses its effectiveness to genuinely influence the world. This current Christmas debate is yet another red flag that indicates the secular world’s increasing opposition to all things Christian. And as the modern church loses its focus on the historic doctrines that separated it from the world, it will equally lose ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of men.

While we know that faith in Christ is a gift from God and that not all men will embrace Christianity, there was certainly a time in our nation’s history when Christianity was respected and the government recognized that having Christians in the midst resulted in a better, more law-abiding, civil society. The primary reason that secular society so easily opposes Christianity in our day is that they fail to see any real benefit to having Christianity in their midst.

And that’s not their fault. It’s ours. Posted by Picasa

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