Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My carbon-eating units

Best way to deal with the anthropogenic generation of carbon dioxide is to plant some carbon-eating units. That's what Dor and I did this Memorial Day weekend. Here, let me show you a picture of one.

What are these? I already told you, carbon-eating units. I have no idea beyond that, except the near one is an Asian lilly. That I do know. We have diversity quotas for our garden.

That's me, shamelessly contributing to global warming, generating carbon dioxide. By breathing.
But wait, I'm also planting something that eats carbon dioxide, so I must be contributing to global cooling.

Other than that, I had no idea what I was doing. I'm supposed to be planting peas. But I think it's the wrong time of year. Never grew peas before. This year will probably be no exception.

When it comes to gardening, I am close to clueless. But being clueless has never stopped me before, so why now?

And here I am, shamelessly generating carbon monoxide, plus a lot of noise and dust. More global warming. Somebody needs to report me to the EPA.

And here are my little friends, happily eating the noxious effluents I have shamelessly produced. The tomato in the lower right looks like he's had a little too much CO2.

It's been a good, hard-working, holiday. Doris and I strategized, discussed, planned, drew diagrams, measured, borrowed a rototiller, then went to Lowes.  And pitched our plans in the trash. Just too many beautiful plants. Felt like Adam and Eve, prior to the serpent.

We got started after church on Sunday, and worked pretty much straight through today (Tuesday). Here's the vegetable garden. The line with no mulch is where my lettuce is supposed to come up. Never grew lettuce before. This year's probably no exception. At least the seeds were cheap, unlike the peas.

All snide remarks aside, it's been a great holiday weekend. We got a lot done. Here's the pond area. By the way, you can barely see it, but if you'll note the grill in the background, just above it is some black and yellow. It's the bottom of Doris's Iowa Hawkeyes flag. Football Momma loves her Hawkeyes. We're flying it in the backyard so the local OSU fans don't run us out of town.

This is the view from the deck. Comical to watch the birds mug one another in an effort to gain control of the birdbath, which is the prime real estate in the backyard according to my local feathered friends. Whoever talks about nature being in harmony has evidently spent most of their days inside. It's aerial combat out here.

And here's Dor. She's the one who really knows what to do with all these plants.

And this is Lilly, my heart-throb. Gorgeous.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2008 reprint. 

To have published a single literary work that becomes a classic is a notable accomplishment. Publishing two gives the writer a corner on contemporary Christians’ reading lists. James Inverness Packer has accomplished just that. Packer is well-known for his landmark book, Knowing God, which first was published in 1973. This is not a review of that book, but if you have not read it you should. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (first published, 1961) is the other classic Packer has written, and it punches far above its weight (my copy is a 2008 reprint edition—it’s only 134 pages) in the world of biblically faithful Christian classics. 

The first chapter, Divine Sovereignty, makes the case that all believers adhere to a confidence in God’s absolute sovereignty. Packer calls the average Christian’s prayer life to the witness stand, and the testimony is irrefutable. If you are inclined to question this last sentence, just read the chapter and form your own opinion: it’s only seven pages long.

Next, in Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Packer shows that these two poles of activity (divine and human) comprise not a paradox, but an antinomy: the assertion of two statements which seem to be contradictory, but both of which are logically necessary: “An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable” [26]. Packer goes on to show, with plenty of examples, that both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are taught in Scripture. His advice regarding how to handle the conflict between the two is wise:
What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles not as rival alternatives but, in some way that at present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. Be careful, therefore, not to set them at loggerheads, nor to make deductions from either that would cut across the other (such deductions would, for that very reason, be certainly unsound) [28-29].
In his chapter entitled, Evangelism, Packer answers four questions in the light of the foregoing. “What is evangelism? What is the evangelistic message? What is the motive for evangelizing? By what means and methods should evangelism be practiced” [45]? The bulk of the book is found in this chapter, and it is excellent. Packer fully delivers on the promise to deal with the questions, and in doing so he faithfully and powerfully represents the biblical gospel.

The final chapter, Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism, demonstrates that, far from being a damper on our evangelism, a good understanding of God’s sovereign role stokes the flames of our passion to tell the message. God’s sovereignty is, in fact, a guarantee of our success in evangelism.

Without being disrespectful or polemical, Packer has dismantled the typical Arminian concerns regarding the doctrines of grace, as regards evangelism. This book is not a “gotcha!” to be used to win a debate; rather, it is a powerful, positive, pastoral accounting of what must remain a divine mystery: God’s absolute sovereignty, and our undeniable responsibility to evangelize.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Please report broken links

I have deleted my account on Scribd (trying to simplify life!), and transferred the files over to my own domain. As a consequence, some of my earlier posts may have broken links. I think I have repaired them all, but it is always possible that I have missed some.

Please email me (chcobb at chcobb.com; replace the at with an @, and no spaces) if you find a broken link.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: Classic Christianity

This is a good book. It has some negatives that I’ll get to in a moment, but there is so much right about the book that the mature, discerning reader can easily overlook the weaknesses and benefit from the strengths. In a nutshell, Classic is about finding one’s identity in Christ, or even more specifically, through one’s union with Christ. George’s big idea is that, having been saved by Christ, I am now properly understood as: totally forgiven, clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, an adopted, accepted, and much loved child of God. That is now my identity. It is an identity that is not connected to performance, but is rather connected to the union with Christ I enjoy as a consequence of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

George has one guiding principle as a counselor that appears repeatedly in the book: John 8:31-32 (NIV) . . . “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When he encounters someone with a problem in the course of his counseling ministry,  his typical response is to “identify the error” in that person’s thinking, and to dispel it with the Word of God. While there are some weaknesses with this approach, there is also much to commend it.

Strengths of the book include developing and applying the truths of our union with Christ and of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the believer’s behalf. George has these things right, and knows how to teach them in such a way so as to bring clarity to the believer. Another strength of this book is its illustrations. George is a master at using illustration to clarify and explain spiritual principles; for this reason the book is an easy read for anyone with a high-school education.

George also gets the whole self-image thing right. It is refreshing to read a popular-level writer who does not teach a man-centered view of self-image. George rightly argues that we don’t need a “good self-image,” rather, we need a “proper, biblical self-image.” George also teaches a thoroughly biblical view of the Mosaic Law: it was never intended as a tool of redemption, but rather as a tool to lead us to Christ. 
The book does have its weaknesses, too. All of them I would put under the category of being somewhat imprecise in certain areas of systematic theology, and even a few in the area of practical theology. His definition of reconciliation (p. 70) is, in my view, inaccurate. He believes that the sacrifice of Christ reconciled all people to God, and now there is one sin and one sin only that will send folks to eternal judgment: the sin of unbelief. Beyond the particular redemption/unlimited atonement debate, George is in the odd position of claiming that an unregenerate man is reconciled to God, but will be condemned on the basis of his unbelief alone. While there are many problems with such a construct, it ignores (or at least, truncates) Romans 1 and 2, along with many other Scriptures.

George’s principle of “find the error and dispel it with truth” treats man as though all sin is rooted in the intellect, apart from the will. George’s entire handling of sins that the believer commits, and which contribute to his woes, is inadequate. He really does not get into how sin interferes with our fellowship with God. In some ways, his treatment of sin is very heavily weighted toward the forensic aspect (paid in full by Christ), without delving into the experiential aspect (the misery that sin causes even to a believer). This, to me, may be the major oversight of the book.

There are other small issues, but I do not think it would be wise to accentuate them. This book has gotten some major, really big issues right, and it has done so in a readable and winsome way. The practical truths it presents combined with George’s excellent illustrations will be very helpful to a believer locked into a performance mentality. A good, discerning mentor will be able to correct the reader with the minor issues as necessary.