f The Wittenberg Door: May 2014

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Friday, May 30, 2014


Classical tolerance was birthed by a Christian worldview. It’s founded upon the notion that man is created in God’s image. As His image bearer, man is expected to act in accordance with God’s moral standards. Man is also expected to treat his fellows with respect, since they too bear God’s image.

Modern tolerance has no such foundation. Consequently, it’s very fickle, changing from person to person. Because of this, you can never tell how it’s going to cash out—it’s like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a living, highly agitated animal.

In the classical view, one shows tolerance even if the object of the tolerance is himself intolerant: I don’t have to tolerate someone who agrees with me. It’s only those with whom I don’t agree that I can show tolerance—this, of course, includes the intolerant.

The Intolerance of Tolerance

If I were to create a bumper sticker for the new-tolerance crowd it would read, “We don’t tolerate intolerance around here!” Reason being, those holding to modern tolerance have a tendency to vilify their detractors. For example, if you question the morality of homosexual behavior you run risk being labeled a “homophobe” or being accused of hating homosexuals.

True tolerance doesn’t name call, and it doesn’t cast aspersions upon the character of those on the other side. Even if the person is prejudiced in a bad way, or has an irrational hatred towards a person or group, the truly tolerant would respond with a well-reasoned argument, presented in a gracious, respectful manor. Of course, this is the difference between the classic definition and the new: the former, being founded upon a Christian ethic, has substance, while the later, having no foundation at all, is vacuous.

--The Catechizer


Monday, May 26, 2014

Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day

Kevin DeYoung offers some important thoughts on celebrating Memorial Day. Here are the main points with a few excerpts from the explanations . . .

1. Being a Christian does not remove ethnic and national identities.

In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (Gal. 3:28), but this does not mean men cease to be male or Jews ceases to be Jewish. The worshiping throng gathered around the throne is not a bland mess of Esperanto Christians in matching khaki pants and white polos. God makes us one in Christ, but that oneness does not mean we can no longer recognize tribes, tongues, nations, and peoples in heaven. If you don’t have to renounce being an American in heaven, you shouldn’t have to pretend you aren’t one now.

2. Patriotism, like other earthly “prides,” can be a virtue or vice.

Most people love their families. Many people love their schools, their home, and their sports teams. All of these loves can be appropriate. In making us for himself, God didn’t mean to eradicate all other loves. Instead he wants those loves to be purer and in right proportion to our ultimate Love. Adam and Eve should have loved the Garden. God didn’t intend for them to be so “spiritual” that they were blind to the goodness around them. In the same way, where there is good in our country or family it is right to have affection and display affection for those good things. . . .

3. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country are not inherently incompatible.

Sometimes Christians talk like you should have no loyalty for your country, as if love for your country was always a bad thing. To be sure, this must never be ultimate loyalty. We must always obey God rather than men. But most Christians have understood the fifth commandment to be about honoring not only your parents but all those in authority over you. . . .

4. God’s people are not tied to any one nation.

When Jesus says “go ahead and give to Caesar what belongs to him” he is effectively saying, “you can support nations that do not formally worship the one true God.” Or to put it a different way: true religion is not bound with only one country. This means–as we see in Revelation 7 and Isaiah 49 and Psalm 87 and Matthew 28 and Acts 1and a hundred other places–the Church will be transcultural and transnational. . . .

5. All this leads to one final point: while patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism.

We should pray for service men and women in our congregations. We should pray for the President. We should pray for the just cause to triumph over the evil one. We are not moral relativists. We do not believe just because all people are sinners and all nations are sinful that no person or no nation can be more righteous or more wicked than another. God may be on America’s side in some (not all) her endeavors.

But please think twice before putting on a Star Spangled gala in church this Sunday. I love to hear the national anthem and “God Bless America” and “My Country, Tis of Thee,” but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples. . . .

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Roman Catholic Exodus

According to the Catholic National Reporter, 1 in 10 Catholics are leaving Rome for Protestantism:

People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.

Nor are the people becoming Protestants lazy or lax Christians. In fact, they attend worship services at a higher rate than those who remain Catholic.

Thus, both as believers and as worshipers, Catholics who become Protestants are statistically better Christians than those who stay Catholic. We are losing the best, not the worst.

Pastor Chris Castaldo, a former Roman Catholic, offers some insight as to why (as well as some warnings for Protestants) over at the Gospel Coalition site:

Father Reese’s observations are noteworthy. For instance, he contrasts the reasons why there are more Catholics migrating in an evangelical direction than toward Protestant liberalism. Reese also sets the record straight in explaining the disconnect between the commonly cited reasons for these departures by Catholic clergy—e.g., disagreement with moral stipulations such as contraception, women priests, or divorce—versus actual reasons based on data from the Pew Forum, which indicate that it is something closer to spiritual renewal and attraction to dynamic forms of worship.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Necessity of Creeds By Rev. Robert Grossmann

The Word of God calls upon believers to confess their faith. Jesus said, Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven (Matt. 10:32). The apostle Paul concurs: If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9). To assure a purity of confession, the church has written various creeds over the years. Creeds are universal as summaries of the truth of the gospel.

Even those who proclaim "No Creed but Christ" have a list of propositions that defines the Christ they believe in. The problem is that they are not willing to publish this list since it might change. There should be no fear to publish the teachings of Scripture, though: the Lord got his doctrines right the first time! Nevertheless, as Christians we must agree that, if our creedal summary is in error, we will change it.

The Bible teaches that man's conscience should be bound only by the Word of God (Mark 7:9). This does not lead to anarchy, as one might suppose, because the Bible also teaches the unity of the true faith and separation from those who do not hold to the clear teaching of God's Word (2 Cor. 6:14ff.; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 10).

Basic Christian unity is confessed by Reformed Christians with all who sincerely hold to the teachings of the Apostles' Creed (see Heidelberg catechism, Questions 22 and 54). Historic confessions have generally used the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer to structure their more specific doctrinal statements.

Reformed churches, along with other churches descending from the Reformation, have followed the ancient church tradition of writing expository creeds which state Biblical teaching in a way that separates believers from unbelievers (cf. the Nicene Creed, which declares that all Christians must believe in the Trinity). Reformed confessions include the Heidelberg catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Canons of Dort, the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Standards (the first three creeds constitute the confessional base of the RCUS). These expository creeds serve as the skin and bones for the church as an organization on earth. As bones, they give it a unifying structure, since all members and officers confess the truth of the doctrines they set forth; as skin, they separate those of a particular denomination from others outside the church structure.

Because Reformed churches hold that unity in truth is the basis of all other unity (2 John 10), they form close-knit denominational fellowships and establish ecumenical connections with other Reformed bodies holding similar creeds. Such fraternal relations should not be confused with the modern tendency of church unionism.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

True But Unusual Facts About C. H. Spurgeon

From Christian History magazine . . .

One woman was converted through reading a single page of one of Spurgeon’s sermons wrapped around some butter she had bought.

Spurgeon read The Pilgrim’s Progress at age 6 and went on to read it over 100 times.

The New Park Street Pulpit and The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit­—the collected sermons of Spurgeon during his ministry with that congregation—fill 63 volumes. The sermons’ 20-25 million words are equivalent to the 27 volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The series stands as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity.

Spurgeon’s mother had 17 children, nine of whom died in infancy.

Spurgeon’s personal library contained 12,000 volumes—1,000 printed before 1700. (The library, 5,103 volumes at the time of its auction, is now housed at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.)

Before he was 20, Spurgeon had preached over 600 times.

Spurgeon typically read 6 books a week and could remember what he had read—and where—even years later.

Spurgeon once addressed an audience of 23,654—without a microphone or any mechanical amplification.

During his lifetime, Spurgeon is estimated to have preached to 10,000,000 people.

At least 3 of Spurgeon’s works (including the multi-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series) have sold more than 1,000,000 copies. One of these, All of Grace, was the first book ever published by Moody Press (formerly the Bible Institute Colporage Association) and is still its all-time best seller.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Return of Gnosticism

A while back my aunt died from complications related to Alzheimer's. At her funeral, the “minister,” who was somehow associated with Calvary Chapel, made several references to her spirit being “released from the prison house of the body.” This terminology comes from an ancient heresy called Gnosticism. Gene Edward Veith, in a World Magazine article titled Return of the Cainites, provides this helpful definition:

The Gnostics were eastern mystics who taught that the physical realm is intrinsically evil and that the spirit can be freed from its bondage to physicality through the attainment of secret knowledge (or "gnosis"). They rejected the Christian doctrine of creation (saying that the material world is evil). They denied the incarnation (saying that Christ was a spiritual being who brought the secret knowledge and denying that He became "flesh"). And they denied the redemption (saying that sin is not a moral failure—since what we do in the flesh does not affect our spirits—but simply a lack of spiritual knowledge).
Although Gnosticism is primarily considered a second century heresy, a precursor to it known as Docetism was present in the time of the Apostles. John addresses this heresy in 1 John 4:1–6. Like Cher and her annual “farewell tour,” this heresy just won’t admit defeat and remain on the ash heap of history.

Today the Gnostics are back in vogue. Feminist theologian Elaine Pagels of Princeton argues that Gnosticism is more open to women, since the body makes no difference to the spirit. She maintains that the early church labeled Gnosticism a heresy as part of a patriarchal plot to oppress women. And the Cainites have come back in pop literature. Philip Pullman, in the His Dark Materials fantasy novels for young people—currently being made into a motion picture—presents God as the villain and Satan as the hero. Dan Brown in the mega-seller The Da Vinci Code draws on Gnostic writings and continues their tradition by making up history to create the impression that Christ's real message was feminism and sexual liberation.

Gnosticism lets you be "spiritual"—as an inner mysticism—without worrying about objective truth or what you do with your body. But, like Judas, it betrays Christ.

Read the rest of Mr. Veith’s article here.

--The Catechizer


Monday, May 19, 2014

Freedom is the Problem

In salvation, freedom is the problem, not the solution.

Could I choose never to eat Brussels sprouts? Yes. Could I choose never to sin? No

In the first, I can choose to eat that foul vegetable or I could choose not to. In the second, I can choose to sin, but I can't chose not to sin (although I can choose not to commit certain sins).

What Does This Tell Us About Our Freedom?

As fallen creatures, we are in rebellion against God. Our will is set against His. So it's nothing outside of us that is keeping us from choosing Christ (or causing us to sin), but something with in us—our will. It's not that we are kept from choosing Christ, it's that we won't. (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:1–7; Ecc. 9:3; Jer. 17:9; John. 8:34; Rom. 3:10–12, 5:12, 6:20, 8:7–8; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:25–26; Tit. 3:3; 1 John 3:10)

When we exercise our freedom, we choose what we want. I choose not to eat Brussels sprouts; however, this is a matter of taste, which can change. But when it comes to choosing Christ, I will not choose Him because it's against my nature as a rebel. My freedom is the problem.

What's the Answer?

God, by His great mercy, changes the direction of my heart from that of a rebel to that of a son. Acting consistently with my nature, I rebelled; now, acting consistently with my nature, I obey, albeit imperfectly. (Due. 30:6; Ezk. 36:26–2; John 5:21; Acts. 11:18, 16:14; Rom. 6:1-14, 21–22; Cor. 5:17–18; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:1, 5, 10; Col. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:25–26; Phil. 1:29, 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:3)

Therefore, if God doesn't intervene, we will continue to make our free choice: rebellion.

--The Catechizer


Friday, May 16, 2014

Pelosi Announces Faith-Based Immigration Policy

From The Wittenberg Door archives :

WASINGTON—Former Speaker of the House and supplemental Holy See Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced her new immigration policy this week. Although vowing that her deeply-held religious convictions would not color her political decisions, Congresswoman Pelosi shocked constituents with her new Bible-based policy.

Using verses found in the book of Second Illusions, the Holy Mother dictated that clerics must preach what the government tells them, including the new gospel of illegal immigration.

The cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops that come to me and say, 'We want you to pass immigration reform,' and I said, 'I want you to speak about it from the pulpit. I want you to instruct your' -- whatever the communication is . . . The people, some (who) oppose immigration reform, are sitting in those pews, and you have to tell them that this is a manifestation of our living the gospels.

The new policy and redefined-gospel have caused reactions in both the sacred and the secular world. Noted armchair theologian and all-around-good-egg, The Catechizer, had this to say,

We Protestants define the gospel as imputation—Christ’s righteousness being imputed (transferred) to his people, and their sin being imputed to him, which he bore on the cross. For Rome, though, it’s always been based on works. This new gospel is no different; except now to earn my salvation I apparently must either break into someone else’s country and steal their resources, or I must help someone violate the sovereignty of my own country and break our laws. Either way, lying, cheating, and stealing are now Christian virtues.

In a legal brief filed today, Winfred La Pooh, vice president of Atheists United to Keep Religious Wackos Out of Politics (AUKRWOP), stated, “This is America. Land of the free. This means that we should be free from having to listen to these religious zealots. Hasn’t Congresswoman Pelosi read the part of the constitution about separation of church and state?”

After learning that there is no “separation of church and state” in the constitution, Ms. La Pooh responded, “We at AUKRWOP are sure that the judges will be able to find it in there somewhere.” A lawsuit is pending in federal court.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, May 15, 2014

You might be a Calvinist If . . .

Always a source of good, clean (albeit off kilter) fun, Tominthebox News Network offers the Jeff Foxworthyesque You Might be a Calvinist . . .

  • If your child’s first word was “Westminster”

  • If you send your mother tulips on Mother’s Day

  • If you’ve ever heard a wave of groans sweep through Sunday School when you refer to Romans 9

  • If you’ve ever read parts of “The Bondage of the Will” to children under ten and prayed that it would change their lives

You can read the entire list here.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mary, Mother of God

What is the meaning of “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary?"

That the eternal Son of God, who is and continues true and eternal God, took upon Himself the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, so that He might also be the true seed of David, like unto His brethren in all things, except for sin.

The Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 35

The Council of Ephesus (also known as the Third Ecumenical Council) met in 431 A.D. to confront a heresy called Nestorianism. The Nestorius controversy centered on the term “Mother of God.” Instead of Theotokos (Mother of God), Nestorius (c. 381–c. 451) taught that Mary was Christotokos, or “Mother of Christ.” In a nutshell, Nestorius claimed that Jesus was two persons (one human, the other divine) in one body, and that Mary only gave birth to the “human” part, not the divine.

The council declared Nestorianism heresy and affirmed the Nicene Creed (325, 381) which maintained that Christ was both human and divine and “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary . . .”

What Say Protestants

Protestants affirm the Nicene Creed and the Council of Ephesus. Consequently, we affirm the statement that Mary is the mother of God. That being said, I do have a recommendation for when you’re discussing this: clearly define what you mean when you use the term. Here’s why. Consider the following syllogism:

Mary is the mother of Jesus.
Jesus is God.
Therefore, Mary is the mother of God.

So far so good; but then . . .

Mary is the mother of God.
God is a Trinity.
Therefore, Mary is the mother of the Trinity.

You can see how this can get away from you. For this reason it’s important that you understand and clearly communicate the doctrine of the incarnation, so that it’s clear what you mean by Mary being the mother of God. I particularly favor the Athanasian Creed (c. 500) on this topic.

Named after Athanasius (293–373 A.D.), defender of the Trinity against another Christological heresy, Arianism
(great granddaddy to the Jehovah Witnesses), the creed comprises two parts: the first sets forth the doctrine of the Trinity, and the second the incarnation and dual natures of Christ. Here’s a portion:

. . . The right faith therefore is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man. He is God of the substance of the Father begotten before the worlds, and He is man of the substance of His mother born in the world; perfect God, perfect man subsisting of a reasoning soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. Who although He be God and Man yet He is not two but one Christ; one however not by conversion of the Godhead in the flesh, but by taking of the Manhood in God; one altogether not by confusion of substance but by unity of Person. For as the reasoning soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ . . .

Can’t Get Enough of Mary?

On a similar note, Rev. Lee Johnson at the Two-Edged Sword blog has two great posts pertaining to Mary:

  • Rejecting Mariology
    Did the early church fathers believe that Mary was sinless? Did they worship her? In this post Rev. Johnson provides the history behind Mary’s rise to veneration.

  • Roman Degradation of Mary
    Was Mary sinless? Was she perpetually a virgin? Here Rev. Johnson answers the charge that Protestants degrade Mary and shows that it’s actually Rome who’s doing the degrading by making her into something she’s not.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Eye for an Eye

From Time magazine . . .

HERE IS ONE OF PROTHERO'S FAVORITE stories of Bible ignorance. In 1995 a federal appeals court upheld the overturn of a death sentence in a Colorado kidnap-rape-murder case because jurors had inappropriately brought in extraneous material--Bibles--for an unsanctioned discussion of the Exodus verse "an eye for eye, tooth for tooth ... whoever ... kills a man shall be put to death." The Christian group Focus on the Family complained, "It is a sad day when the Bible is banned from the jury room." Who's most at fault here? The jurors, who perhaps hadn't noticed that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus rejects the eye-for-an-eye rule, word for word, in favor of turning the other cheek? The Focus spokesman, who may well have known of Jesus' repudiation of the old law but chose to ignore it? Or any liberal who didn't know enough to bring it up?

Oftentimes, when capital punishment is being discussed, Jesus’ remarks regarding “an eye-for-an-eye” are pressed into service.

38) “You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.'

39) "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Matthew 5:38-39

But is it the case that, in this passage, Jesus was rejecting capital punishment?

What is “Eye-for-an-Eye?”

In figuring out what Jesus meant, we should first see what he was referencing. The relevant passages are Ex. 21:12–36, Lev. 24:17–23, and Deut. 19:14–21. In these passages God is laying out a principle of justice: the punishment should fit the crime. Consequently, if a man takes another man’s life without due cause, he forfeits his own life.

Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.

Genesis 9:6

Did Jesus Overturn This Principle?

For Jesus to “reject eye-for-an-eye” means that He rejects the principle that the punishment should fit the crime. The question that those, such as the person quoted above, need to answer is, “Is it your understanding that Jesus taught that the punishment should not fit the crime? Do you believe that Jesus rejected justice?” Indeed, such a teacher would be profoundly immoral, and not worthy of our attention.

Did Jesus Reject the Death Penalty?

God established the death penalty.
Jesus is God.
Therefore, Jesus established the death penalty.

The logic of the above syllogism is inescapable. The only way around it is to show that either the major premise (first sentence) or the minor (second) premise is false: either God didn’t establish the death penalty or Jesus isn’t God. Of course, if one takes the Scriptures seriously, then neither can be rejected.

With murder, there is one more thing that must be considered beyond just the “eye-for-an-eye” principle. As Genesis 6:9 points out, man is made in the image of God. Consequently, murder is not simply taking a man’s life, it’s destroying the very image of God. This profoundly compounds the sin.

So, the second question we must ask is, “Is man no longer God’s image bearer? Or, if he is, is it now no big deal to destroy that image?”

As with the earlier questions regarding the rejection of justice, these questions too cannot be answered in the affirmative.

What Jesus’ Words Do Not Mean?

First, what they don’t mean. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses personal pronouns, such as “You are the salt of the earth,” Let your light shine,” For truly I say to you,” and, in the passage in question, “But I say to you.” This is important because it shows that He is addressing His immediate hearers and us (i.e., individuals). He is not talking to the government. Therefore, He’s not telling the government to turn the other check. Furthermore, the New Testament affirms the state’s right, as God’s minister, to execute judgment via the sword (Rom. 13:4; Acts 25:11). And since the New Testament came from Jesus, He affirms the state’s right to carryout capital punishment.

It also isn’t a call to passivism. Even the most cursory reading of the Old Testament will reveal that God isn’t a pacifist. Moreover, Jesus, who is God incarnate, instructed His disciples to arm themselves for journey (Luke 22:36). Why were they to buy a sword, even if it meant selling their garment? Answer: For self defense along the dangerous Roman highways. And, let us not forget what happened when the Temple Guard came to arrest Jesus:

50) And Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.

51) And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear.

52) Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.

Matthew 26:50-52

Jesus didn’t respond, “Hey! Where did you get that thing? How long have you been carrying that? Get rid of it before it kills us all!” Instead, he told Peter to return it to its sheath, followed by the instruction that this was an inappropriate time for its use.

There’s one other problem with the pacifistic interpretation, and that’s with its application. Let’s say someone breaks into your house and steals one of your children. Do you offer the intruder your other child as well? (Illustration from Dennis Prager.)

What Do Jesus’ Words Mean

I’m partial to an interpretation I heard from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason. Since most people are right handed, how would someone slap you on the right cheek? He would do so by slapping you with the back of his hand. A back-handed slap is not meant to injure, but to insult. And let us not forget that when Jesus was struck by one of the temple guards, He did not turn the other cheek. Instead, He inquired as to the justice of the action (John 18:22–23).

“Turn the other cheek” is not a call to passivity, nor is it an overturning of the principle that the punishment should fit the crime (including capital punishment). It seems that what Jesus is actually calling us to do is to bear insults and to not respond in kind, just like in the verses following Mat. 5:39 where we are instructed to bear other such personal affronts.

--The Catechizer

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Friday, May 09, 2014

A.I., Data, and the Soul

We define the soul as born from the breath of God, immortal, corporeal, having shape, simple in substance, intelligent in itself, working in various ways, having free will, subject to contingent circumstances, in its moods changeable, rational, exercising control, possessing intuition, overflowing out of one source.

Tertullian (155–230)

I recently watched the movie A.I. Not a bad flick, but it won’t be replacing The Big Sleep as my favorite movie. The movie did, however, leave me thinking about artificial intelligence and the nature of the soul.

Desire and the Will

In the movie, David, the little machine boy, has the Pinocchian desire of becoming a real boy. This desire sets David on a trek to find the Blue Ferry, who supposedly can bring his desire to realization. Cute story.

Here’s the problem: desires are not physical and thus not produced by matter. They are products of the will. Therefore, a purely physical object like David cannot engage in such soulish activities as desiring (neither could we, by the way, if the materialists are right). So the pain the audience feels because of David’s unfulfilled desire is completely misplaced—David cannot desire, so it cannot experience the emotional pain of unfulfilled desires (another activity of the soul).


My dear-old grand pappy always told me to “never switch androids in midstream,” but I’m going to anyways (I’m a rebel). Star Trek: Next Generation’s Commander Data had a pet cat named Spot. Data could tell you everything about that cat—from its molecular structure on up. But Data could never tell you what it’s like to BE a cat. That’s beyond a machine’s capability, and couldn’t be otherwise.

Even with Data's emotions chip, all it could do is mimic humanity. Unlike Data, I’m a human being (despite what my wife says); that’s concrete (physical). My “being” a human being entails my “humanity” which is abstract (not physical).

With a machine, what you see is what you get. But like the “redness” (abstract) of Rudolf’s red nose (concrete), human beings are more than the sum of their parts. We are “beings”; machines aren’t. Sorry, Data.


Back to A.I. Warning: If you haven’t seen the movie, what follows is a “spoiler.”

The aliens that find David are able to grant the wish—sort of. Although they cannot make it a real boy, they can bring back its human “mother” for one day. All they need is a strand of her DNA. Thankfully, the forward-thinking Teddy Bear has a strand of her hair.

In a nutshell, the aliens bring her back with most of her memories in place (odd though; she remembers the robot boy but seems to have forgotten her real family); they have a fun day together (another activity of the soul); then she goes bye-bye, and we all feel sad.

Once again, here’s the problem: Memories are not physical (not extended into space). Therefore, even if the aliens can produce her body from the DNA, they could not produce “her.” Her “identity,” which would include her memories, would not be present, for they are a product of the mind. More realistically, it would be like she had just died—you would have a body, but nobody would be home.


Despite the imaginations of TV and movie writers, even the most sophisticated machine will never be able to engage in actual soulish activities. These activities, being non-physical, will always be out of reach for even the most sophisticated thingamabob—but it does make for good fiction.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The Nazi at the Door – Considering Moral Dilemmas

We, as God’s people, are required to think His thoughts after Him. This is no small task. This means that we have to face tough moral and theological questions carefully and thoughtfully, all the while not surrendering the sure foundation of God’s Word. It's against this backdrop that I broach the topic of today’s post: moral dilemmas.

A note of warning: this topic carries with it a certain amount of controversy. For that reason I remind you to "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Moral Dilemmas

You are on the horns of a moral dilemma if you are caught between competing moral requirements. Here is the most common modern example:

It is wartime Germany and you are hiding Jews in your basement. There’s a knock at the door—Gestapo performing a house-by-house search! They ask if you are hiding Jews in your basement. You pause as you consider your answer.

  • “If I say ‘yes,’ they will kill them"

  • “If I say ‘no,’ then I’m lying"

Dilemma: The only way to protect the innocent is to lie.

No Win Situation?

Some characterize this as “choosing between two evils.” But this characterization is false. God will never put us in a situation where we can’t please Him, where we must sin.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

15) For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

16) Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need

Hebrews 4:15-16

Although Christ was not specifically tempted with Nazis at the door, He did face every kind of temptation. Each temptation met its defeat. Based on Christ’s triumph, and the Corinthian passage, we can conclude that any particular instants of sin can be overcome by the believer. Since sin can always be resisted, we’ll never face a “no win situation” morally.

This is true, but this savors of a carnal heart to think that you must choose one sin rather than another. You must not choose any of them! Both of them are evil, though one may be less evil than another.

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599–1646)

Scriptural Considerations

The Ninth Commandment forbids lying (Ex. 20:16). But are we to take from this passage that all lying is forbidden? To answer that question we must first remember that the Ten Commandments are but a summary of God’s Law. To be faithful, we must take into account all of what God's Word says.

1) Now the LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons."

2) But Samuel said, "How can I go? When Saul hears of it, he will kill me." And the LORD said, "Take a heifer with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.'

1 Samual 16:1–2

Here we see the Lord instructing Samuel to deceive Saul. If Samuel would have told Saul the truth, Saul would have killed both him and David. Through the lie, both men where spared and God’s plan of redemption continued.

Also consider 1 Kings 22. Prior to going to war against Syria, king Ahab consults his 400 brown-nosing prophets who basically say “you da’ man, boss!” (that’s my own translation). Unsatisfied, the king summons Micaiah. Micaiah (eventually) tells the king of his pending doom, and a bit more:

19) Micaiah said, "Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.

20) "The LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said this while another said that.

21) "Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.'

22) "The LORD said to him, 'How?' And he said, 'I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then He said, 'You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.'

1 Kings 22:19–22

Thus God mislead Ahab into battle.

And how about Rahab? We read in Joshua 2 that she lied to protect the spies. Do the Scriptures condemn her? No. Actually, because of her deception, she was included in the “Faith Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11:31).

Conclusion: “There are No Jews Here”

The “Nazi at the door” is not a true moral dilemma—we are not actually caught between competing moral choices. As a matter of fact, God will never put us in a situation where we truly have to choose between two of His commands.

God does expect us, however, to make moral choices that are consistent with His revealed will. This means that we cannot simply stop at the summary of God’s law, but, instead, we must press on to consider the totality of what God has to say.

In our short study, we found that truth-telling is the general rule. But in certain situations (such as when protecting innocent people, or during a time of war) God allows for deception. That being said, there is something very important we must remember: Because God’s character is the standard of morality, He is the only One able to determine when deception is allowed—not us. Therefore, study the Scriptures carefully, for God takes His commands seriously.

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Preach Like a Calvinist!

Think like a Calvinist. Preach like an Arminian.

Most Calvinists, myself included, would take exception with the second line—for we, indeed, must also preach like a Calvinist! But what does that mean? How do you preach like a Calvinist? Pastor Eric McKiddie breaks it down like this:

  1. Explicitly call the unregenerate to believe in the gospel.
  2. Trust that the Holy Spirit will do the work to make that call effective in the elect.
  3. Pray that God would save people through the inherent power of the gospel.

Pastor McKiddie expounds on this topic in a post over at The Gospel Coalition site. Here’s an excerpt . . .

Eschewing theological labels for a moment, it is biblical and Christian to call people to believe in the gospel. This is, after all, how Jesus began his ministry: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15). You don't have to know Greek to recognize the imperatives.

But we Calvinists love to quote Ephesians 2:8. "Faith is a gift from God!" we exclaim. "It doesn't originate in the person!"

The question is: When non-Christians do repent and believe the gospel, do they express faith in Christ? Or does God grant the gift of faith in Christ to men? Yes! Why? Scripture teaches that faith in Christ includes both an objective and a subjective aspect. This is not a contradiction. Rather, the two must be held in tension.

Click here to read the rest of the post.

--The Catechizer


Monday, May 05, 2014

Forced Love? – Part 2 (Conclusion)

"i'll never force you for i love you so,
i give you freedom. is it yes or no?"

god, according to the riches of his wonderful grace, doesn't force anyone into heaven. but he does force us to make a decision. i think sproul should write a book called "does god believe in apatheists?" and in it he should discuss the fate (predestination is an obvious falsehood) of all those souls who choose to not choose.

In Part 1 we answered the common Arminian objections to the doctrines of Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election: “So you’re saying that God drags people into heaven against their will, while those sincerely desiring to get in can’t because they’re not the elect?”

Now we’ll turn our attention to the next issue . . .

Is it true that “predestination is an obvious falsehood”? Is it true that God leaves the choice up to us in the hopes that we’ll take up His offer? Or did God choose us in Him before the foundation of the world? Let’s see what Scripture has to say . . .

28) And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

29) For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

30) and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

(Romans 8:28-30)

just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love.

(Ephesians 1:4)

13) But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.

14) It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)

Also consider: Due. 10:14-15; Psm. 33:12, 65:4, 106:5; Mat. 11:27, 22:14; Mark 13:20; Rom. 11:28; Col. 3:12; 1 Thes. 5:9; 1 Pet. 2:8-9; Rev. 17:14.

Is the Choice Based Upon Foreseen Faith or Acts?

The next question we must consider is whether or not God's choice is based upon foreseen faith or upon foreseen works. Consider the following passages:

11) for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,

12) it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER."

13) Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."

(Romans 9:11-13)

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

(Romans 9:16)

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity

(2 Timothy 1:9)

Also consider: Ex. 33:19; Acts 13:48, 18:27; Rom. 11:7; Phil. 1:29, 2:12-13; 1 Thes. 1:4-5; James 2:5


The Arminian objections above fall flat, for they do not truly represent the state of man, nor do they truly represent the gracious work of God in salvation.

In his fallen state man is an enemy of God. He not only doesn’t seek reconciliation and entrance into God’s kingdom, but he is daily seeking to further himself from His holy Creator. The sinner’s only hope is a rescue operation—a sovereign work of God upon his heart. And this rescue operation does not depend upon the drowning man seeking out the lifeguard. Instead, our rescuer chose to save us, and to preserve us, before we ever entered the water. May His name be praised forever more.


The “poetry” provided above is from a song called I Give You Freedom (The Whippoorwill Song). Here’s a portion:

I own the cattle on a thousand hills,
I write the music for the whippoorwills,
Control the planets with their rocks and rills,
But give you freedom to use your own will.

And if you want Me to, I’ll make you whole,
I’ll only do it tho’ if you say so.
I’ll never force you, for I love you so,
I give you freedom – Is it “yes” or “no”?”

I’d like to preface my comments with a note to my Arminian brothers and sisters: I am sympathetic to your view. I once heard someone remark that we are born Arminian. I think that’s true: it is our natural, fallen inclination to want to exalt ourselves. Autonomy is something that tempts us all. Indeed, that’s what the serpent successfully tempted our first parents with.

That being said, I am deeply troubled by this song. In my reading of it the rolls are reversed: instead of man worshiping His sovereign creator, this song seems to proclaim that God has subjected Himself to the will of His creation (i.e., man). Not only that, but it seems to me that God (Who is the one “speaking” in the song) is worshiping the will of man. Frankly, this is blasphemous—but this is the natural outcome of Arminianism.

As I wrote the conclusion to this post, I was overcome with gratitude for our Lord because He rescued a wretch like me. That’s why I ended it in praise—I couldn’t help myself. But if I were to use this song, would my praise be to God? No.

Even though, in the Arminian view, God made salvation possible, it’s up to me as to whether I want to accept the gift, or if I’d rather slap His hand away—I get to say “yes” or “no.” So the praise at the end would be for me, and my will, for that is the grounds of my salvation being actualized and, ultimately, realized. This brings the contrast between Calvinism and Arminianism into clear focus: the former places God and His sovereignty at center, while the later exalts man and his autonomy. Here’s how Dr. James White put it recently at his blog . . .

I believe TULIP [five points of Calvinism] represents the spectrum of the gospel truth most reprehensible to the natural man. I believe TULIP rips the lips off of man’s self-righteousness. It casts man fully upon the mercy of God and leaves no ground for boasting. I believe TULIP then is vital to maintaining gospel balance against the ever-present drag of remaining sin that leads us to constantly find ways of robbing God his glory and putting ourselves back in some semblance of control.

--The Catechizer


Friday, May 02, 2014

Forced Love? – Part 1

"i'll never force you for i love you so,
i give you freedom. is it yes or no?"

god, according to the riches of his wonderful grace, doesn't force anyone into heaven. but he does force us to make a decision. i think sproul should write a book called "does god believe in apatheists?" and in it he should discuss the fate (predestination is an obvious falsehood) of all those souls who choose to not choose.

A friend of mine forwarded me the above quote and asked for my comment. It originated from a Christian with whom my friend was conversing on a message board.

The first issue mentioned above (just after the bad poetry) is the common Arminian response to the doctrines of Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election. It usually takes the following form:

“So you’re saying that God drags people into heaven against their will, while those sincerely desiring to get in can’t because they’re not the elect?”

Banging on Heaven’s Door?

We’ll start with the second objection: Is it the case that there are sinners who want to reconcile with God but God won’t let them because they're not of the elect?

Here’s the problem with this objection: it doesn’t take into consideration the state of man. Scripture teaches that Adam’s sin brought spiritual death to us all (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:1–7; John 11:24-26; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13).

As a result, men are spiritually deaf, blind, and completely corrupted (Ecc. 9:3; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7–8; 1 Cor. 2:14); also, men are slaves of sin (John. 8:34; Rom. 6:20; Tit. 3:3) and children of the devil (Eph. 2:1–2; 2 Tim. 2:25–26; 1 John 3:10).

So how does natural man respond to the revelations God has given him? He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Consequently, man in his unregenerate state hates God and is therefore not seeking Him.

10) as it is written,



Romans 3:10-12

Kicking and Screaming?

Now to the former part of the objection: Is God forcing people into heaven against their will?

As we’ve just seen, man is dead in his sins and in complete and utter rebellion against God. Man’s plight is not simply that he needs to add a few doctrines to his belief system—no, he needs to be made a new creation (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 5:17–18), to have his nature renewed (Due. 30:6; Ezk. 36:26–2; 1 Pet. 1:3).

Being made alive by the Spirit (John 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13), the sinner is granted repentance. (Acts. 11:18, 16:14; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25–26). Now with a new disposition towards God, he lives a life characterized by thankfulness and service unto the Lord (Rom. 6:1-14; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:13). So, contrary to kicking and screaming, God’s people are made alive, turned, and eternally brought into the embrace of their loving father.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll find out if “predestination is an obvious falsehood.”

--The Catechizer


Thursday, May 01, 2014

Five Reasons to Join a Church

Tim Challies offers five reasons to join a church :

1. For Assurance
While a person should not feel he needs to join a church in order to be saved, he ought to join a church to be certain that he has been saved. Christians, those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will naturally gravitate towards other Christians and will desire to be with them, to learn from them, and to serve them. A person who professes Christ but feels no desire to be among his believing brothers and sisters is not a healthy Christian. Thus, eager participation in a local church and heartfelt attempts to measure our enthusiasm for that group of believers is a God-given way for us to assure ourselves that we are truly saved.

2. To Evangelize the World
The gospel can best be spread through combined and collaborative efforts. Throughout the history of the church great men and women have attempted great things on their own and have often been successful. But more often, great things have been accomplished through the collaborate efforts of Christians working together. If we are to reach this world with the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we must share our efforts with other believers.

3. To Expose False Gospels
As we interact with other believers, we will see what true Christianity is, which ought to expose the common belief that Christians are self-righteous, selfish individuals. As we labor, fellowship, and serve alongside other Christians, and as we observe the lives of other Christ-followers, we will see what biblical Christianity looks like. The more we see of genuine Christianity, the more the counterfeits will be exposed.

4. To Edify the Church
Joining a church will help Christians counter their sinful individualism and teach them the importance of seeking to serve and edify others. The benefit of being a member of a local church is not primarily inward, but outward. Christians attend a local church so they might have opportunities to serve others and thus to serve God. Every Christian should be eager to serve within the church and to edify others through teaching, serving, and exercising the spiritual gifts.

5. To Glorify God
We can bring God glory through the way we live our lives. God is honored when we are obedient to him. He is glorified when his people come together in unity and harmony to find assurance, to evangelize the world, to expose false gospels, and to edify one another. God is glorified in and through the local church.

--The Catechizer