31 October 2010

Today is Reformation Day!

Today may be Halloween to many, but to me it is Reformation Day.  Those of us who celebrate it commemorate the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenburg in 1517.  While the events of the start of the protestant reformation are many and diverse, most accept this event as the impetus that started it all.

Here is the best concise explanation of the ramifications of that event on our culture and the church today (from Ligonier Ministries, of course).

30 October 2010

Missionary Steve Saint Builds a Flying Car

This is an interesting story; if you saw the movie End of the Spear, it is a compelling story.  Steve Saint is the son of Nate Saint, one of the missionaries martyred in 1956 trying to establish contact with the Waodani (Auca) tribe in the Amazon jungle.  If you want the whole story, go rent End of the Spear, and get a box of tissues while you are out.

Here are the details, and here is a video of the car/plane in action (you have to sit through a short ad first).

The FAA has certified the device, the first time a flying car has been so recognized.  Wow!

21 October 2010

What's a Good Study Bible These Days?

Since I teach a Sunday School class, I've been asked a few times which study bible one ought to buy; which one is the most accurate translation, has the best notes, etc.  Those are tough questions to answer in generalities.


First, there are a number of good translations, starting with the good old King James Version (KJV).  Most of the modern version are good as well.  But before you can pick a version, you need to ask yourself what kind of philosophical foundation you want in the text.  Bible translations are done on one of about three (give or take) foundations- (a) literal, word-for-word; (b) dynamic equivalent (so-called thought-for-thought); or (c) paraphrase.  I have condensed these a bit, and there are many ways to make distinctions such that there are more ways to translate the bible than these three, but I've done this for the sake of brevity.

Some paraphrase versions- New Living Testament (NLT), New English Bible (NEB), Today's English Version (TEV), Phillips', Living Bible, The Message.  If you want to read scripture like a story, with writing at the 9th-grade level or below, these are your target.  You will gain readability, but lose accuracy and detail in translation.  In addition, several are the work of single individuals, so you get their biases in the text.

Some thought-for-thought translations- New International Version (NIV), Today's NIV (TNIV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), New RSV (NRSV), Amplified Bible, updated New American Standard Bible.  These try to strike the middle ground between literal, word-for-word translations and the paraphrases.  On the whole, they are mostly good and useful for most people.  If you want precision to the original text, they aren't as good as the next category, but they are certainly better than the first category.

Some literal word-for-word translations- KJV, New KJV (NKJV), original NASB, English Standard Version (ESV).  The KJV is the historical standard, in spite of a few translation issues.  However, it is written on a 16th-grade reading level, and many people find the language inaccessible.  The NKJV is an excellent translation, and I recommend it.  The original and updated NASB versions are good as well, though the flow of the language can be stilted in some places.  The ESV is one of the newest version, and in my opinion, the best.  It is as readable as the NIV, but retains much more accuracy to the original languages, and retains the genders in the original languages.


There seem to be almost as many study bibles available now as there are versions.  This is really a bit silly, though in our consumerist culture, I can see why this is so.  If your primary interest is understanding the text and the meaning of the original authors, I can narrow the list down to just a few.  Here are my recommendations, in order-

  (1) MacArthur Study Bible, ESV or NKJV

  (2) Reformation Study Bible, ESV

  (3) ESV Study Bible, ESV (obviously)

In terms of conservative, gospel focused commentary, I don't think you can do better than the MacArthur Study Bible.  Since it is now available in the ESV (as of Summer 2010), it's a no-brainer.  Dr. MacArthur provides more meaningful and helpful notes on the text, stays true to the original intent (as defined by historic, post-reformation orthodox Christianity), and is a bona fide biblical conservative, than any other translation out there. 

The Reformation Study Bible, edited by R. C. Sproul, is also excellent.  It has notes of no less value, but there are fewer of them.  It has the advantage of having been compiled by a committee of men rather than a single individual (like MacArthur), which can be important (though not in the case of Dr. MacArthur's work, in my opinion). 

The ESV Study Bible is the biggest in terms of the volume of helps and notes.  As a result, it is BIG.  I keep one of these on my desk for reference, but don't carry it to church.  It has a tendency to move a bit further to the left in terms of the notes, compared the the two bibles above, but it is still a very conservative, evangelical (in the traditional sense) study bible.  It has the best (most, and high-quality) maps and charts.  And if you buy one, you get free access to the online version of the study bible, which I find very helpful.

These are just my recommendations...you may find another that you like better, and that's fine.  But if you ask me, these are the three suggestions you'll hear.

20 October 2010

Wednesday Wisdom: Six Reasons to Love Church History

When I was young, church history was taboo to me.  I grew up in a denomination that claimed (at least locally) exclusivity as the church; it claimed that it was an extension of the first-century church and all other manifestations (i.e., denominations) were false.  (And yes, by extension, all those folks in them were bound for hell.)

So looking at church history was not a good thing to be doing...it raised too many questions.

As I've aged, I've of course looked into these things for myself, and found church history to be both fascinating and frightening at the same time.   But mostly, I've found it to be enlightening.  Hebrews 13:7-10 certainly teaches us that we should look at our past, and for good reasons.

I recently ran across an online article about why we should love studying church history.  In it, the authors (Rick and Susanna, relatives of one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Challies) look at why church history is important.

There are a lot of church history books out there.  Some are very specific to an individual or event, or a period of time.  These are too numerous to mention.  Others are more general, covering long periods of history in a more superficial way.  These are a good place to start.  Some are very academic in nature, and are about as much fun to read as the instructions that came with your most recent 'some assembly required' purchase from China (excuse me, Wal-mart).  Others are written for the non-academic audience, and are much better.  Of these, I recommend Justo Gonzalez's book for both readability and accuracy.  It is two volumes, but CBD has a version with both in one hardcover volume, and the price is very reasonable.

Of the more specific books out there, one I recommend is a compilation of multiple specific events/people.  It is called Turning Points by Mark Noll.  Of course, one of the best places to start with a biography is the classic Here I Stand (Martin Luther) by Roland Bainton.

I should also mention, for those who like audio-format learning, that a semester church history course by a fantastic lecturer, Dr. David Calhoun of Covenant Theological Seminary, is available various places online.  Here is a set of the first half (Ancient and Medieval church history), and here is a set of the second half (Reformation and Modern church history).  You'll need to do a free registration to get them...really, it's free.  These can be downloaded and burned to CD or MP3 player for easy listening.  These lectures are engaging and enjoyable...not at all boring or overly academic, for having come from a seminary course.

13 October 2010

Wednesday Wisdom- 'Missional'...what does it mean?

I've heard the term missional thrown around for a number of years now, and most of the time I hear it, context is the only way to try to figure out what the author means by it.  I've interacted on other blogs with authors, asking for definitions of words at times, and often missional is one of the words I want defined.  I'm usually ignored.

A few days ago, I ran across this blog post by Ryan Kelly over on the Gospel Coalition web site.  It is by far the most helpful article I've read on missional and missionalarity (that's a new word I just made up...much like others use words in new ways).

I hope you find this as helpful as I did.  Use the hyperlinks...there's a lot more additional info buried in those.

12 October 2010

Monday's Meanderings- What do Sex and Salvation Have in Common? What about the Puritans?

Today's blog by Tim Challies is an excellent look at what sex and salvation have in common, and how they relate to each other.  It is much more useful stuff for defending traditional marriage than the usual fare like, "it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve".

Ever consider reading Puritan literature?  I didn't think so.  Neither did I, until I started seeing how much many of the pastors I respect were reading it.  Ligonier has a neat article on why we should, at least occasionally, read the Puritans.

Joe Carter had this funny, but true, quote a while back- "Whether they are Lutheran, Methodists, or Presbyterian, when it comes to religious engagement online, all bloggers act like Baptists."

Yes, I know this is a day late for a Monday post, but in the interest of being truly meandering, I meandered into Tuesday.

My plan is to start some regular features on this blog.  Here's the idea-

Monday's Meanderings (Mondays, of course)
Tuesday Twos (interesting posts or articles of interest that pair up, by chance or Providence...some Tuesdays)
Thursday Thuggery (some Thursdays...point out the nasty, mean evidence of total depravity in our society)
Friday Follies (humor, Fridays, of course)

I haven't decided what to do on Wednesdays.  Since I'm already a day behind, maybe I should make Wednesdays, Wednesday Wiggle-room, to get caught up.


07 October 2010

Atheism and Morality- Is there such a thing as morality beyond God? (Thinker Thursday)

This started out as a question asked by a friend in our local church social network called 'The City'.  My friend Chris posted this-

I’m always interested in British thinking.  It is often quite different from what we typically encounter in the Texas Panhandle.  The article linked below is an interesting essay on morality.  I would be curious to have someone decipher the article for me.

    Morality beyond God

I initially responded with the following post-

[begin post]

What is there to decipher?

    This author is very much infused with Nietzsche-an “God-is-dead-ism” and is trying to find a basis for a universal (morality) in a worldview of relativism.

    She does get one thing very, very right.  She says, “However, the enthronement of God as the source not only of the laws of nature but of moral law has its origin not in the argument from design, but in the narrative of the scriptures.”  That’s absolutely true.  If we reject the authority, inerrancy, and divine inspiration of scripture, we leave ourselves not with a three-legged stool, but a no-legged stool.  One look at the direction of American culture is all the emprical evidence we need of this fact.

    Here’s her inescapable predicament…she claims, “No human being is exempt from the temptation to make things worse in his own interest, nor from the responsibility not to do so.”  That’s a moral absolute, in a statement with no foundation in which to ground it.  Who says (if not God, as she claims) that no human being is exempt from anything?  How dare she state an absolute from within her worldview of relativism?  (If you make the statement that ‘there is no absolute truth’, is that statement absolutely true?)

    Without the absolute of an infinite creator who establishes moral law, there are no absolutes in human behavior.  There’s not even a standard by which to judge good or evil.  Atheists like to point out the ‘problem of evil’ for the theist.  However, in reality, they have it backwards.  If there is no God, there’s a much bigger ‘problem of good’ for them to deal with.

    No absolute moral authority, no morality.  In fact, to state that there is a basis for morality outside God would itself be an immoral statement, because you are infusing yourself with absolute moral authority.  Everything moves from’the good’ to ‘the power’.  As Marx said, if you remove the absolutes of God, then all that’s left is me gaining power over others.

    Look at the two hundred million murder victims of the 20th century for evidence that he was right.

[end post]

It occurred to me a bit later to add a spin on Tertullian's quote about, 'What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem'...so I added, 'What hath London to do with Amarillo?'

Chris replied in much the same way as R. C. Sproul, Jr., did, in this very useful blog post from Ligonier.org.  (If you want the Cliff's Notes version, Tim Challies give it here.)  Basically, the answer is, 'much in every way'.

I was thinking about this last night and this morning when I ran across four different blog posts over on James White's website, aomin.org.  These posts are all responses to the 'Consensus Statement' (which aomin.org humorously calls the 'Atheistic Ethics Confession of Faith') published recently by militant atheist Sam Harris and others.   These are much more detailed in how they answer the ideas that we can have moral codes without ultimate moral authority.  I highly recommend you take time to read them.

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 1

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 2

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 3

    A Christian Response to the 2010 Consensus Statement on Morality, Part 4

 This isn't easy reading, all of it, but it is important reading.  Are you prepared to do anything more than just blush and stammer when one of your acquaintances hits you over the head with, "We don't need God to have a moral code in society...how can you insist on the need for God?"  If you aren't, please re-read Jude 3 and 1 Peter 3:15, then come back to these articles and become ready.

06 October 2010

American Theology: Justification by Death Alone

This past week in our Sunday School class, I talked briefly about what has become the American ideal in terms of the theology of justification- not sola fide (justification by faith alone), and not even a mix of justification by faith and works.  The ideal in this culture is justification by death.  In other words, the only thing required of us to receive entry into heaven is that we die.

R. C. Sproul has written on this in numerous places, and has put an outstanding blog article on the Ligonier page this week.  Read it and tell me if this is not what you hear at funerals, and now, even in conversations with people about what happens when they die.

When you die, are you willing to risk standing before a perfectly holy God, and answering his query about why you should get into heaven with, "Because I'm dead?"

04 October 2010

The Inherent Danger of Consensus as the Arbiter of Truth

Does using Wikipedia ever bother you?

It bothers me sometimes.  I use it quite a bit...because it is so convenient.  But when I use it, I always take what I find there with a grain of salt. (What will we use when the FDA bans salt from out diets???)

As is the norm, no one says deep philosophical things about culture quite as understandably as Tim Challies.  (Well, I guess Al Mohler does, but who's counting.  And don't forget R. C. Sproul and his peeps at Ligonier Ministries.)  In this article, Tim talks about the problems with wikis (he uses Wikipedia as the example of all wikis).  In a previous article, Tim spoke about what Wikipedia does well, and it does do some things well.  But the second article is the one of import.  Read the first for balance, or to get perspective on the second, but the second is the important one.

Everybody with a kid in school, especially the younger kids in (say) fourth grade through high school, should zip off a copy of this blog and let their kids read it.  Or read it to them, if they can't read (you know how our education system is).  This is a tremendously important concept that reaches over from the cultural into the spiritual sphere.  Please don't go wandering through life without this perspective!