Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Meditation

Overhead the stars glisten in the predawn sky like diamonds set in black velvet. A chill wind sweeps off the nearby hills, seeping through the cracks and crannies of every home, carrying with it the biting cold of winter. In the pasture lands the sheep huddle together in woolly clumps seeking an escape from the piercing fingers of frost.

As the eastern sky turns from black to purple to brilliant orange, the cry of an infant intrudes upon the early morning stillness. Somewhere, in a stable in a little village nestled in the Judean hills, a young woman and her young husband cradle her first little child in their arms.

Mystery of eternal mysteries, the Divine Logos is come—Immanuel, which being interpreted is God with us. For the little one in his mother’s arms is the One who placed those diamond stars in that black velvet sky. In timeless ages past it was He who ordained the warmth of summer and the cold of winter. By the word of that vulnerable infant the sun burst into its brilliant blaze of glory before there were human eyes to see it. Indeed, upon the counsel of the Father it was that precious babe who molded from the bones of the earth on the third day of time a little hill someday to be called Mount Calvary.

For you see, the little One crying in that cold stable, surrounded by the love and protection of a proud young mother, is the mighty Son of the Highest, the Prince of Peace, the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review: Mindscape: What to think about instead of worrying

This little book (180 pages, including endnotes) is a great exposition of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, . . . , let your mind dwell on these things.” Witmer writes with a pastor’s heart and eye as he walks the reader through this verse, virtually word by word. Throughout the book he employs an extended metaphor for worry: our “mindscape” is a landscape—a garden with “worry weeds” that must be pulled. He draws on illustrations from his own life as well as his pastoral experience that are helful and to the point.

As he explores the list of things Paul tells us to fasten our minds upon, Witmer deals with both the negative aspects—what we think about instead of what Paul is commanding; and the postive aspects—why what Paul commands is so helpful to defeat worry.

I’ve also read Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book, Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety. These two books make great companions. Fitzpatrick delves deeper, perhaps, into some of the underlying issues (she makes much of the “idols of the heart”), whereas Witmer is devoted to examining Paul’s solutions from Philippians 4:8. Both books are outstanding, contribute significant material for biblical counseling, and are quite readable by counselees.

I recommend Mindscape very highly. Even if you don’t wrestle with worry, you’ll find the book helpful as Witmer unfolds a verse from one of Paul’s best known passages.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Change-up in the book schedule

The release date for Outlander Chronicles: Icarus is being pushed back by one year--now scheduled for December 2016. It has been bumped by a story I have been toying with for about six months: a political thriller titled The Candidate, about a plain-spoken, non-lawyer, conservative/libertarian blogger who is talked in to running for President. I am hoping, Lord willing, to publish The Candidate in December of 2015--just in time for our real presidential election coming up in 2016.

I apologize to those of you who have been urging me to get the next Outlander Chronicles tale done. I really enjoy the Outlander series myself, so the next book will get done. The only reason I have bumped it back is because I am hoping that The Candidate will do well in an actual election year.

None of this affects Falcon Strike, which is on schedule for a release this December.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The "expulsive power of a new affection"

Iain Duguid is a new Old Testament professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. The school has released a pamphlet written by Duguid, that clarifies the WTS position on Christ in the OT. The reading below is an excerpt from this pamphlet, "Is Jesus in the Old Testament?" and deals with truth that the Gospel addresses our failures to live as we ought.

How do we address this gap between what we know and what we do? Sermons and Bible studies that focus on "law" (the demands of Scripture for our obedience), no matter how accurately biblical in content, tend to simply add to the burden of guilt felt by the average Christian. A friend of mine calls these sermons "another brick in the backpack"--you arrive at church knowing five ways in which you are falling short of God's standard for your life, and you leave knowing ten, doubly burdened.

In my experience such teaching yields little by way of life transformation, especially in terms of the joy and peace that are supposed to mark the Christian life. Focusing on the gospel, however, has the power to change our lives at a deep level. Through the gospel we come to see both the true depth of our sin (and therefore that our earlier feelings of guilt were actually far too shallow), while at the same time being reminded of the glorious good news that Jesus is our perfect substitute who removes our sin and guilt. He lived the life of obedience in our place and fulfilled the relentless clamor of the law's demands, and he took upon himself the awful punishment that our sin truly deserves. As the Holy Spirit enables us to grasp this gospel reality, he frees us from our guilt and refreshes us with a deep joy that motivates our hearts to love God anew. In this way, the gospel begins the slow transformative work of changing us from the inside out. This is what the nineteenth-century Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers called the "expulsive power of a new affection": the fact that profound change in our behavior always comes through a change in what we love most, not through external coercion.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Open Office Styles

Regarding Open Office and learning how to use it: if you already know how to use the basic functions of word processing in Open Office, there is one feature you should invest two or three hours learning, and learning well. That feature is Styles. There are character styles, paragraph styles, frame styles, page styles, and list styles. A style is like a pre-defined template which guides how your words go on the page, and sets things like tabs, line spacing, indents, italics, etc. If you don't know how to use styles you'll find yourself fighting against your computer rather than working with it--very frustrating. Sometimes with a few keystrokes you wind up inadvertantly changing the look of your entire document.

This explains why I have no hair. I did not know how to use styles and I was bumping into the power of the word processor without knowing what I was doing. Sort of like sticking your tongue in a light socket.

 Both Open Office and Word have styles. Once you learn how to use them properly, they are extremely powerful and very helpful. But until you learn to use them, it would be best to keep hammers, guns, and bricks in a separate room from your computer.

Invest the time. Read the helps. Play with a test document. Learn to use the styles. Especially learn what the "autoupdate" feature does. I can now change my plain-vanilla text manuscript into a highly formatted print-on-demand book in a couple of frustration-free hours, because of styles. Learn to use 'em - they're your friend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Microsoft Office versus OpenOffice

Just had an outstanding illustration of why I abandoned MS Office a long time ago, and have never looked back and never regretted it. Spent five minutes just trying to figure out how to reveal hidden characters. Back when MS Office was a decent product, it was easy to find. But when MS began changing the user interface with each major release (sometimes radically changing it), the learning curve became simply ridiculous--and that was just to relearn stuff you already knew how to do.

Anyway, I have written countless sermons, four novels, and one non-fiction using OpenOffice. I have installed numerous major upgrades over the years, and not one time did I have to relearn the user interface--not once.

I was a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, and an IT director at a graduate school, so I'm not exactly a newbie. But when MS started yanking around their customer base, I jumped ship. Have never regretted it.

OpenOffice is free, it's reliable, it's well-maintained, and it's user interface is stable. Once you invest the time to learn it (it's much like Word used to be), you will never have to make that investment again.

Okay, just needed to rant a little. I'm done. You can go back to searching your ribbon for stuff you used to know exactly where to find (while I return to my productivity).

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review: C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock

Reading Lewis is like peering through a freshly washed window into the depths of his soul. A rare communicator among great thinkers and writers, Lewis is able to put deep thoughts on the lower shelf, accessible to the man who has callouses on his hands and dirt under his fingernails.

God in the Dock is a compendium of Lewis’ essays, articles, letters, and a few transcripts of his speeches compiled by editor Walter Hooper, who served briefly as Lewis’ secretary during the illness that took Lewis’ life. Hooper has organized the volume into four parts. The first part contains essays that are “clearly theological,” the second “semi-theological,” and the third “ethics,” and the fourth is comprised of Lewis’ letters answering those who disagree with some point he has made.

If Lewis is a polemicist, he has two arguments to make: his primary argument is against unbelief, and particularly unbelief possessed by those who professed to believe: the liberal clergy and theologians of the post-war Church of England. His other great issue is more subtle: it’s an argument against unclear thought and language that befuddles rather than enlightens. Lewis contends that if a man is not able to translate a passage from an English volume of systematic theology into language that his gardener would understand, he should fail his ordination exam.

Modern conservative evangelicals are conflicted about Lewis. It seems to me that there are two reasons for the uncertainty. First there is a misunderstanding about the way Lewis uses the term myth. As a professor of literature, Lewis used the term to describe the rich stories of cultures such as the Norsemen or the Greeks. Lewis contended that, though historically false, such stories conveyed subtle evidences of transcendence—in other words, evidence of God, the True Joy. But he also used the term to describe Christianity, and that’s what makes modern Bible-believers nervous. It need not.

Unlike modern liberals, when Lewis uses “myth” in connection with Christianity, he is not speaking of something false or unhistorical. Indeed, Lewis was a strong force in his day arguing for the reality of the miracles of Scripture, and against the anti-supernaturalism that wound up destroying much of Anglicanism. Lewis uses the term myth in much the same way that “metanarrative” is used in popular culture: it’s the “big picture,” the “grand narrative,” the unifying story that ties together and explains a culture. For Lewis Christian myth is the true historical story of God’s grand plan of redemption through His Son Jesus Christ. It is the story (the only story) that explains the faith of the apostles and the two thousand years of history since. Theologians use the term “redemptive history” in almost precisely the way Lewis used the word myth to describe Christianity. Myth is not the denial of historicity for Lewis, rather it is the assertion of the grandness and majesty of The Story—the true story.

The second concern about Lewis regards his tendency to Universalism, the idea that all men—even Christ rejecters—will ultimately be redeemed. Lewis argues that we in time cannot now know what eternity bodes for the lost. See for instance the last two chapters of The Great Divorce. I think Lewis himself was conflicted about it—you can observe his conflict in places where he argues strenuously for the need of conversion before one faces God. Conservative evangelicals who are disturbed by this part of Lewis need to go back and read the first four centuries of church history—even Augustine believed things we would disavow today. The same can be said of the Reformers: for instance, they did not clearly separate civil from ecclesiastical authority—it took a couple more centuries for that to finally happen. We will do ourselves no favors judging Lewis by this one matter. Hooper says of him, “Lewis struck me as the most thoroughly converted man I ever met. Christianity was never for him a separate department of life. . . ” [12, emphasis his].

God in the Dock is an edifying and challenging sampler of Lewis’ thought in many different areas of life and theology. I recommend it highly.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Falcon Strike!

Time is running out . . .
Vanished. Eight western scientists and an Israeli military officer have disappeared without a trace, victims of a ruthless Soviet espionage program. USAF Major Jacob “Falcon” Kelly is the only American who knows where they are and why they've been taken.
Imprisoned. Suspected of treason by American intelligence, Kelly’s claims are dismissed and he is jailed by his own government. He finds himself in a deadly race to prove his innocence before Soviet assassins can shut his mouth—permanently.
Outwitted.  Entangled in a high-stakes game of intrigue with Soviet military intelligence, American operatives are duped by a masterful disinformation campaign in which Kelly is a pawn. As his captors play right into the hands of the enemy, Kelly knows the window to stage a daring rescue operation and thwart the Soviet endgame is rapidly closing.
The exciting conclusion to the Falcon Series, Falcon Strike will captivate readers as nonstop action and intrigue transport them on a thrilling adventure spanning the frozen coasts of Alaska, the suburbs of northern Virginia, and the snowy taiga of Siberia.

Available December 1st!

C. S. Lewis, the radical

I never realized what a radical C. S. Lewis was until reading his essays in God in the Dock. One of Lewis’s great concerns was the rise of the modern, technocratic welfare state. Lewis warned that the purpose of government is to protect individual liberties, not to transform society or to provide for its citizens. When a population forgets that limited role of government it is headed inevitably for tyranny.

Lewis writes, “. . . classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man), has died. The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence the new name ‘leaders’ for those who were once ‘rulers’. We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, ‘Mind your own business.’ Our whole lives are their business.” [from the essay, Is Progress Possible? in God in the Dock, 314]

Lewis published this in 1958. Apparently we weren’t listening.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Observations from the Bible on Fear, Part 3

2 Timothy 1:7-8 (NASB) For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,

Fear doesn’t come from God. Rather, God offers in place of fear, power, love, and “a sound mind.” Why does Paul say “a sound mind” (KJV), or “self-discipline” (NIV), or “discipline” (NASB)? Paul uses these terms because fear militates against sound, disciplined thinking: fear expands itself irrationally when we give place to it.
This is an important point and one that recurs as you read the Bible’s passages on fear. Fear feeds itself, even to the point where we perversely begin to fear fear itself. But what God provides is a spirit of love (the most important key to conquering fear outright) and power (in His power we are not helpless but can chose to exercise faith in His goodness and sovereign control), and discipline. Discipline enables us to control the wild flights of fancy in our minds (2 Corinthians 10:5), so that we are not carried away with gusts of fear (as the spies were in Numbers 13-14). To yield to these imaginations is to give way to panic.
Paul has a real bell-ringer in 2 Timothy 1:8 in our battle against fear and panic. Notice that Paul did not advise Timothy to combat his fears by backing off his ministry. Paul didn’t give his young coworker a pass because Timothy was afraid. Rather, in verse 8 Paul says, “join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.” Paul did not protect Timothy from suffering; he invited Timothy to embrace suffering with him for the sake of the gospel.
We are not accustomed to think of fear in terms of moral responsibility. But there is a significant moral component to our fears when we allow them to interrupt the responsibilities and ministries to which God has called us.
God desires that we confront our fears by not allowing them to turn us aside from our obligations. Rather than giving in to fear and retreating, we are invited by God to step out onto the edge and labor together with Him. It is uncomfortable—to be sure—but “God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Observations from the Bible on Fear, Part 2

Numbers 13-14 contains a remarkable story of the experience of the children of Israel at Kadesh. They have arrived at Kadesh at the southern border of Canaan, and are ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses sends spies into Canaan with the responsibility of bringing back a report on the land, the people, the fortifications, and so on.

Numbers 13:25-29 (NASB): When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.”

There’s nothing wrong with the report so far; if you carefully examine what Moses asked them to do (13:17-20), the report indicates that they were quite thorough. The perceptions of the faithful and the perceptions of the fearful regarding the land were in agreement—so far. The majority report of Numbers 13:27-29 is not disputed by anyone.

It is in the reaction to the report that the trouble lies. Caleb tries to calm the people but to no avail. Fear began spreading among the children of Israel, and as is almost always the case, fear brings a distortion of reality.

Numbers 13:30-33 (NASB): Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Once the fearful had given way to their fears, the difficulties became distorted and magnified (vs 32-33). Yielding to their fear fueled it, and they wound up being dominated by it. Their fears became self-fulfilling.

Numbers 14:1-4 (NASB): Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! “And why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”

Their fears also moved them to attack the character and purposes of God (why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword?). Their fears led them to distorted memories of the “good old days” in Egypt when they were in hard servitude (would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?).

Finally, what is most significant for our purposes is that, because they chose to follow their fear rather than their faith, God gave them over to their fears. Their fears became self-fulfilling in a tragic way. They feared falling by the sword of the Canaanites, their children becoming plunder.

And so they did fall, but by the hand of God Himself, not the Canaanites. They wandered for forty years until every last one over the age of twenty (at the time of the rebellion) died, except for the two faithful ones—Joshua and Caleb. Everyone else died.

The irony is that God faithfully brought their children—whom they feared would become plunder—into the Promised Land. Their children—who walked in faith, not fear—became under the hand of God an invincible military juggernaut, conquering kings and cities and alliances by the power of God. No one was able to stand before them (other than Ai, and that defeat was due to sin).

There are some important observations about fear we can draw from this text.
  • Fear can distort reality.
  • Fear feeds on itself.
  • Fear can become self-fulfilling.
  • Our fears can accuse God of either being inadequate to protect us, or of having evil motives. Sinful fear is ultimately a slander on the character of God.
  • When we choose to live by our fears instead of our faith, God may give us over to them.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

C. S. Lewis and Old Books

I'm reading through a book of C. S. Lewis essays, called "God in the Dock." Today's essay was from Lewis' introduction to a new translation of Athanasius' fourth-century work,  "The Incarnation of the Word of God."

Anyway, Lewis is making a case for reading the old books, the books of the past that history has shown to have weight and heft. One of Lewis' points is that modern authors, even when they disagree with one another, share in common a huge set of assumptions--some of which are bound to be wrong. As moderns reading modern books, we too will be blind to the wrongness of those assumptions--since we ourselves share them. The only way we have to extricate ourselves, Lewis claims, is to read books of the past--not that they are error-free, but that they are operating on a different set of assumptions than those of the modern age. I'll let Lewis speak for himself:

"None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction" [202].

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fruit from my morning reading

Several interesting points from reading the Institutes this morning.

First, on the difference between the god of Islam and the True God.

Calvin makes the point that God is by necessity good, meaning that God cannot choose not to be good. To get the following quote, you must understand the way a philosopher or theologian uses the word, "necessary." Something that is necessary is something that must be due to the nature of things; it cannot not be. Here's Calvin: "The goodness of God is so connected with his Godhead, that it is not more necessary to be God than to be good; . . . " As I thought on this, I realized that it forms one of the most basic distinctions between the theology of Christianity, and that of Islam.

In a word, God does good things because God, in His essence, is good. God cannot fail to be good--it is His nature to be good, and God cannot contradict Himself.

However the god of Islam is arbitrary in his actions, sometimes doing good, sometimes evil. The god of Islam is only good when he decides to be so; his actions are not tied to his essence. This is one reason why Islam can justify any atrocity: Allah is not good, Allah is just what Allah determines to be at the moment.

The second interesting point comes from Calvin's discussion of free will and the bondage produced by sin. He quotes Augustine: "Man through liberty became a sinner [speaking of the Fall] but corruption, ensuing as the penalty, has converted liberty into necessity." Calvin then says, several sentences later, "Man, since he was corrupted by the fall, sins not forced or unwilling, but voluntarily, by a most forward bias of the mind; not by violent compulsion, or external force, but by the movement of his own passion; and yet such is the depravity of his nature, that he cannot move and act except in the direction of evil." [Calvin, Institutes, Book II:3:5]

This is why we need a Savior, and this is why He must take the initiative in salvation. We won't. We can't.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

At Last!

As of today, the summer campus of the top-secret C. H. Cobb Sermon and Book Production Facility, (located at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Midwest) resumes operations, Toy Story mousepad and all. At long last. Thought winter would never end. Don't quote me on that, please.

Please hold, the coffee just finished. Back in a sec. . .

Okay, I'm back. If you look closely, you can see what I'm working on. Displayed on the monitor at the right is an advance peek at what will probably be the cover shot of Falcon Strike. My cover lady/book consultant extraordinaire (Dani Snell, aka my daughter) nixed all my other picks. She loves this one. It's from the prolific lens of Kris Klop and is a good sample of his aviation art. You really ought to check out his stuff at Clearskyphotography.com. Kris, reckon I'll be contacting you soon to purchase the rights to use this shot. He's the photographer for all of the gorgeous covers on the Falcon Series. Between his and Dani's work, I am very blessed.

Here I am, hard at work, slaving over a hot keyboard, as you can tell. You might see the pole for my umbrella, rising just aft of the monitor. "Why the umbrella, Cobb? It's not raining, and you're in the shade anyway?" It's those darn birds. They've got absolutely no respect. They keep dropping ordnance on me. The umbrella is part of my point defense system. A very necessary part.

Okay, coffee break's over. Back to work. Wonder what sort of trouble I can create for Jacob Kelly this evening . . . ?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Observations from the Bible on Fear, Part 1

Before you read this post, read Mark 4:35-41.
Notice how the disciples feared the storm and thought their lives were in danger. They awakened Jesus and accused Him of not caring that “we are perishing.” The object of their fear was the great storm and the very real danger of swamping the boat and drowning.
Jesus rebukes their lack of faith and then—with a word—calms the storm. Rather than releasing them from their fear by removing the danger, the actions of Jesus renewed their fear, turning it in a different direction. Now they were “very much afraid” of this unusual person in their midst who had exerted such effortless control over nature.
Positive lesson: it’s good for our fears to be turned from that which “can only destroy the body and after that have nothing more that they can do” (Luke 12:4), and to be refocused on the One who can destroy “both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). As Jesus conquers the objects of our fears by His mighty power, it’s a good and healthy thing that we transfer our fear to Him. The “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). The only thing a Christian should truly and deeply fear is God Himself, and not with a slavish fear of judgment but with the devoted and reverent fear wholly appropriate to creatures in the presence of their omnipotent Creator.
Negative lesson: a case can be made in this account that the disciples feared being at the mercy of forces beyond their control. Being at sea in a small boat during a great storm is a classic example of being “out of control.” The forces of nature are dominant--the most you can do is bail and pray. The potential for a terrifying death is very real. But more fearsome than that is to be in the presence of One who can create or eliminate such situations with nothing more than His command. In the startling calm of the now-placid sea, the shocked disciples realized that the mighty and powerful Person they were with was someone over whom they had no control. They were in the presence of a far more terrible power than a mere weather disturbance. While at the mercy of the storm they were under the control of an impersonal act of nature, something that with sufficient planning and diligence plus a bit of luck they could conceivably survive. But with Jesus they were at the mercy of a sentient Being, a thinking, acting, planning, volitional Person. Such power combined with purpose could not be defeated or resisted. And so they feared with the fear of those wholly at the mercy of vast forces beyond their control.
How much, then, of fear has to do with a loss of control? What portion of the emotion of “fear” is really a frightened and frustrated reaction to being denied control of a difficult situation? How much of fear might be attributed to having a different agenda from that of our sovereign God? Perhaps what we are really afraid of is that God will do or permit something that will defeat our personal goals and subject us to unwanted pain and suffering.
If in fact this is the case, then the innoculation against fear is twofold. First, we must gain a greater appreciation for the goodness of God. We must take confidence in the fact that His presence and His promises are sufficient to shepherd us through difficult times. Not only is it proper that He (and not us) is in control, it is preferable because He is unerringly and unendingly good (Psalm 119:68).
Second, we must cultivate an attitude of submission, constantly bringing our goals and agendas under the control of His sovereign will. His way is often the way of pain and self-denial, stretching us beyond our comfort zone; but it is also the only path that leads to contentment and perfect peace (Isaiah 32:17; Romans 8). This peace we seek is notably denied to us when we yield to our own fears and our own lust for control.
Isaiah 30:15-17 describes two options for responding to God: one is repentance, rest, and faith. The other is yielding to our fears and attempting to take control by employing our own measures for protection (“fleeing on horses”). The effect of such disobedience is the magnification of fear (“one thousand shall flee at the threat of one man”). We become frightened of our fear itself, and so its effect is heightened and worsened.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Killing Calvinism, by Greg Dutcher

This isn’t really a review, it’s more of a brief reflection. Dutcher has identified the weak underbelly of the Young, Restless, and Reformed stream of Christianity today. As with all critiques of this nature, the author is speaking of the movement in general; the reader will always find exceptions in his personal experience. That said, you will do yourself no favors if in quibbling on this point or that you miss the overall thrust of Dutcher’s theme: Calvinistic theology is in danger of being controverted by the arrogance of some of its proponents. I remember once thinking of a bombast I was listening to, “If you are a Christian, please don’t tell anyone else.” One could say the same thing about some of Calvinism’s fans. And there have been times one could say the same thing about me.

Dutcher is not dealing with the arrogance of our opponents or their faults or failures; he’s pointing out sin in our camp. We who love Scripture and thrill in the doctrines of grace and feel deeply the depravity of man should be the very first to recognize—and confess—the scent of that depravity among ourselves—and in ourselves.

Dutcher is not a cheap-shot artist in the tradition of those who find it easier to criticise than construct. He’s rather a voice calling us to repentance, and to love, appreciate, respect, and learn from those who differ. Pick up any good volume on church history and turn to the early church fathers and read what they wrestled with as the orthodoxy of the church was discovered from Scripture over the first five hundred years or so after Christ, before you start slinging around the term “heretic.” Read Augustine, for instance. That godly champion of justification by faith had an amazing amount of residual Roman Catholicism in his belief system. Shall we call him a heretic?

And is it not possible that both we and our brothers and sisters in Christ will experience some recapitulation of “faith seeking understanding” as we wrestle with the meaning of Scripture? How many of today’s enthusiastic Calvinists went through their early Christian life with an essentially Arminian understanding until their ongoing study of Scripture reformed their thinking? I know I did. And are we not willing to give our brothers and sisters the love and respect and time and space to work through the issues themselves, just as we did?

Our church has a two year course in advanced theological training. Dutcher’s book just became part of the required curriculum. I commend it without reservation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No-fault Divorce

World Vision today divorced itself from its policy decision, announced March 24th, to recognize gay marriage by hiring gays living in monogamous, faithful relationships.

To be fair, World Vision claimed in that same news release that they were expressly not recognizing gay marriage.

To be real, that’s precisely what they were doing.

World Vision states unambiguously that they require from their employees sexual abstinence outside of marriage. Unless World Vision has also redefined “abstinence,” one can hardly consider anal sex as sexual abstinence. Hence, they did recognize gay marriage as marriage, despite their sophistry to the contrary.

They proclaimed that this move was made to foster unity among the churches. Um, would that be the same sort of unity that has split The Episcopal Church, because last time I checked that's precisely what endorsing homosexuality did for TEC? Would that be the same sort of unity that is splitting the PCUSA? 

And of what unity do they speak, anyway? The prayer in which Christ sought for unity among His people in John 17 also included a request for their sanctification—their holiness, by means of the truth. On what grounds does World Vision see homosexuality as a move toward sanctification?

Does World Vision ignore the great disdain in which the global south holds the practice of homosexuality? Do they wish to subject their workers to added danger as Muslims in other countries react with anger to this decision, as one more example of the decadence of the West?

This was not a policy or procedural error. This was an abandonment of truth.

In his explanation for their decision to divorce gay marriage after having married themselves to it, Richard Stearns said that he did not consult enough Christian leaders. Perhaps he could have saved himself a bit of trouble by consulting the Bible instead.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Letter to a Seminary Student

A young man I respect very highly is taking seminary classes and beginning to wonder whether it is worth it. At the graduate level of theological study one gets exposed to much material that is of questionable value in terms of truth, but is necessary simply so that the student is aware of what's going on out there in the theological world. Sometimes it can get a little frustrating. He wrote, and here are snippets of his questions and my responses.

1. I'm noticing that we read and study a lot about the various theories and methodologies used to approach scripture, rather than the content in and of itself. It is feeling like man's words are being elevated above God's. I understand that there is much to be learned from men who God has blessed with scriptural understanding and the ability to communicate that material. I welcome that sort of instruction.

You’ve hit on a perennial problem in theological studies. Do we study the Word, or do we study what others say about the Word?

Some believe it is better to read nothing but the Bible. Anything else is the word of man, and not worthy of our time. On the other hand, no one in their right mind would argue that we should only study what others say about the Word, but in practice that is what some seem to do.

So what’s the answer? Study the Word, or commentaries and theologies? The answer is, “yes.” In other words, we should do both. In fact, God would have us do both.

According to Ephesians 4:11, one of the gifts God has given the church are pastor/teachers. In Acts 13:1 there are teachers at the church of Antioch. Note well: God gave the church teachers, not simply Scripture readers. In 1 Timothy 4:13 Paul instructs Timothy to give proper attention to the reading of the Word. But in the same verse he adds, “to exhortation, to teaching.”

Books written by men about the Bible are nothing other than their teaching ministries put to paper. They may be good teachers, poor teachers, or false teachers but the fact remains—God gives to His church teachers. And if the Lord gifts men for such a role (Romans 12:7), and gifts the church with such men (Ephesians 4:11), one can only assume we should be listening to them (and we should also be discerning who are the bad and false teachers so that we may reject those).

Having established that there is a place for reading the works of men—theologies, for instance—let me advocate a balance. One of the unfortunate tendencies I have seen among Internet theologians is a skillful use of theological terminology and concept, coupled with a shameful ignorance of the biblical text and an inability to deal with it. This is one of the reasons we have started limiting admission to our ATT class to those who have read the entire Bible through at least once. Theological literacy should always follow, never precede, basic biblical literacy.

One of the (many) things I really appreciated about Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia is the mandatory English Bible Exam all potential graduates must take and pass before being granted a degree. Someone wisely realized that it’s possible to produce propeller-heads who are experts in the languages of the Bible, skilled in theological concept and nuance, but basically ignorant of the text. And so the school insists that one must be able to name the Bible books in order, identify which books which texts come from, and other basic facts of biblical literacy before graduating. Unbelievably, there are enough people who fail the test that WTS has a remedial course for those who don’t get it on the first go-round.

Therefore, it is your job to establish that basic biblical literacy as you are taking your classes. If your classes are not requiring a significantly challenging amount of reading in the Bible itself, then you should be doing it in your own devotions. The purpose of a class in theology is to teach you theology: the results of someone else’s systematic, inductive study of the biblical text.

But to conclude that the study of theology is unnecessary is an equally bad mistake in the other direction. Whenever you encounter a verse in the Bible that is hard to understand, your reflexive instinct is to look for other passages dealing with the same period of time, or topic, or context, so that you may compare Scripture with Scripture and hopefully come to a better understanding. This practice has a name: “the analogy of faith.” Your interpretation of a passage needs to be compared with other passages to see that it does not contradict other texts.

Anytime you begin comparing one Scripture with another in order to determine meaning, you are employing a theological system. You may not be aware of it and it may not be a good theological system, but it is nonetheless true. You already have a theological system in place when you first approach the Bible. One of the goals of biblical and theological studies is to refine your personal theological system so that it is informed by the text and accurate in its understandings.

So let’s immediately dispense with the idea that you can read the Bible without doing theology. Not possible. The question is not whether you can dispense with theology (you can’t), but whether your theology is accurate to the text as a whole.

2. Yet, I question the motives of some (they seem prideful). I desire growth in the knowledge and understanding of God and His relationship with men.

Yes, generally speaking what you are seeing is real, and no one is exempt—not me, not you. Pride is a constant problem in theological studies. I think most recognize it and all godly theologians hate that capacity within themselves. Pride is something I struggle with every time I write or speak (and some will question why, seeing as how I have little to be proud about!).

In any sort of advanced theological studies (advanced being that which is done at the seminary level), you are going to be required to read materials you simply detest. There will be some articles and books that cause you to wonder whether the author is even regenerate. This is the price of learning at this level. Yet it will ultimately be helpful as you grow in your capacity to spot error. Someday you may need to be protecting your sheep from that same error, whether you are a pastor, Sunday School teacher, small group leader, or simply an older believer mentoring a younger one.

At BFC I have to edit our children’s church material, to eliminate the Keswick theology it contains. I am asked to identify books that can—and cannot—be used by our teachers for Sunday School. I am constantly asked by earnest believers about this doctrine, and that radio preacher, and this tract or that book. All pastors, counselors, teachers, mentors, are faced with a constant stream of material, some of which may be toxic to the spiritual health of the people for which they are responsible. It’s exposure to the nasty stuff in a seminary-level theology course that will prepare you to identify and reject unbiblical teaching.

3. We focus so much on "scholarly" writing that it is as if my entire purpose is to be published, when all I want is to know God more and be more equipped to share Him and His word with others.

You may never be a writer; but you will always be a communicator. This is the time for you to learn to write well and communicate precisely and clearly. Don’t short-circuit it. There is a certain rigor attached to seminary-level study. Don’t hate it and don’t fight it lest you be miserable.

And think about this: you have always heard teachers say things like, “I never learn so much as I do when I am preparing to teach others.” This is true. The care, time, energy, and sweat you expend to write well is helping you to formulate, clarify, and understand your own beliefs. It is helping you express those beliefs, which is what you will be doing when you “share Him and His word with others.”

Your wrestling coach would say, “Suck it up and just do it!” but since I’m not a wrestling coach and I’m much kinder and gentler, I won’t say that. Even though it is good advice.

4. Am I misunderstanding the point of what I'm reading/writing in these early courses? Are we laying a foundation to build upon? If so, why isn't the foundation the Word of God and not man's?

Yes, yes, and it is.

At every turn in your required reading you should be evaluating the truth/error of what you are being exposed to. You should be doing what the Hebrew believers in Hebrews 5:11-14 did not do, and they earned a rebuke from the Spirit of God for not doing so. In your studies, you are training your senses to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14b).

The foundation you are laying is that of the Word of God only to the extent you are evaluating what you are reading, and are comparing and contrasting it with the Bible, and accepting or rejecting it only as it passes or fails to pass the measure of the canon of Scripture.

When I attended Westminster I had to exercise discernment in every lecture and every reading. Most of the professors were godly Christ-honoring men at whose feet it was a privilege to learn. A few instructors were playing fast and lose with the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture (some have since been dismissed by WTS). I cannot speak highly enough of the value of both: with the one group I learned more of the Word of God and with the other I learned how to be discerning and gracious in what at times was a somewhat adversarial atmosphere. I learned how subtle error can be. I learned to stick to my guns.

5. Are we laying a foundation to build upon?

Let’s get to the bottom line with a closing comment about the difference between classes from the Bible department and classes from the Theology department. There is a difference.

In your Bible classes you are going to be doing a lot more reading of the Bible itself, and gaining a stronger biblical literacy. Your OT and NT survey classes will be among the most helpful, and will probably really scratch the itch you have for the Word of God.

Your Theology classes—depending on their level—are assuming a basic biblical literacy. They are going to be concerned with how the various statements of Scripture can be combined to result in a comprehensive theological sketch of God, man, sin, salvation, etc. Different theological systems will create somewhat different sketches. Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology are not going to produce identical pictures, for instance.

You need both Bible and Theology to prepare you to serve others. Do you know where my theology gets the most vigorous workout in ministry? It’s not in the Advanced Theological Training classes I teach. It’s in my biblical counseling work. A very wise pastor once said to me at the beginning of my seminary career, “Chris, if you want to counsel, take theology classes.” It was good advice.

So stay the course. You can do it. It will be worth it. And it will equip you to serve Christ by serving others.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Review: Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam

Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co.  (Mariner Books, 2003 edition).

This volume ranks among the best works of military history that I have read. Sears is a top-drawer writer and historian, and this book displays both those skills. It’s one of the few histories I’ve read that could be legitimately described as a page-turner.

Sears does a great job of unfolding the context for the Battle of Antietam—of 336 pages in the main body of the book, fully 180 are devoted to establishing the background. Much of that material is spent elaborating General George B. McClellan’s personal history and conduct up to the collision between the armies on September 17, 1862. I didn’t come away feeling that any of the detail was unnecessary. In many respects the book is an examination of McClellan, and Sears is not among his fans.

Those looking to redeem the general from history’s opprobrium will need to look elsewhere. By the extensive use of original documents, Sears has documented the man’s failings as a combat commander, although he balanced his critique with a fair assessment of McCellan’s strong record of organizing and training the Army of the Potomac.

The threads of political intrigue that were whirling about Washington are well represented, as is the dithering of the Great Powers as they grappled whether or not to support the Rebellion.

From the first bullets of the skirmishers to the slow withdrawal from the battlefield, Sears is able to narrate the action in such a clear way I was able to follow it without difficulty. The biggest problem was keeping track of which commanders were attached to what unit, as the officers were mowed down so rapidly even regiment and brigade commanders were quickly used up. The maps Sears has included are excellent; you might want to mark the maps with post-notes to enable you to find them easily.

This book will be a treat for those who enjoy military history, especially as regards the Civil War. I recommend it highly.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The trajectory of unbelief

Just finished reading Calvin on the credibility (trustworthiness) of Scripture (chapter 8 of book one of the Institutes). Calvin begins with this statement (emphasis mine): "In vain were the authority of Scripture fortified by argument, or supported by the consent of the Church, or confirmed by any other helps, if unaccompanied by an assurance higher and stronger than human judgment can give. Till this better foundation has been laid, the authority of Scripture remains in suspense."

What Calvin is saying here is something that outrages modern scholars: the truth of the Word of God is not something known by human investigation: it can only be known by regeneration (i.e., getting saved), followed by the illuminating activity of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Word can not be known by unaided rationality. This gets to the heart of the argument between theologically conservative scholars and theologically liberal scholars.

The points I am about to make have more to do with scholars, academics, and pastors than it does the average person in the pew. There are many true Christians who wrestle with the question of biblical Creationism, but they do so because they are unaware that theological belief resembles more a web than it does a rope. Most average Christians are unaware of the contradictions they create for themselves elsewhere in Scripture when they do not believe the literal account of creation. Scholars and pastors, on the other hand, are fully culpable. This essay applies to those of us who presume to teach the Bible to others.

Conservatives and liberals have terms that we sling at one another: fideism and rationalism. Liberals accuse conservatives of fideism: taking positions based on faith alone, flying in the face of evidence. Building our belief in young-earth creationism from our convictions regarding the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is to modern liberal critics a flight of anti-intellectual fancy in which faith silences, squelches, and suppresses modern science. It’s fideistic.

On the other hand, conservatives accuse liberal critics of rationalism: of refusing to believe anything that can not be supported by the consistent use of human rationality as informed by empirical evidence.

In one sense we are talking past one another. We conservative, Bible-believing Christians do not engage in irrationalism in order to practice our faith. We use rational thought to process what the Bible tells us. Systematic theology is the one of the fruits of a tightly reasoned faith. Biblical theology also is a rational (but not rationalistic) endeavor. The distinction between us is that when we conservatives bump up against something that seems to go against modern evidences, we anchor our belief on the Bible and best-practices of interpretation. We will gladly fly in the face of modern thought if we believe the biblical text compels us to do so, and we don’t give a flying fig about what the evangelical, academic, or cultural world thinks of us. We do this with confidence because of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit as to the truth of His Word.

Consequently whether one speaks of the paradoxes and other difficulties involved in the Trinity, human responsibility versus divine sovereignty, the existence of evil, the creation of the cosmos, miracles, or bodily resurrection, we will surrender to the text, even though we may be incapable of explaining it at some points. For this we are called fideists. Okay, guilty—and faithful.

While the charge of rationalism that we conservatives bring against liberal Christians and liberal critics is mostly true, it is not completely true. Liberal Christians reject out of hand most meaningful notions of creation, and accept almost all the provisions of evolutionism, claiming that God does what He does by natural processes. They reject Creation and a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 not on the grounds of exegesis but on the grounds that they do not fit the conclusions of modern science. Having been persuaded by science, they return to the text and eisegete it: they “read into” a perfectly understandable account of creation all sorts of interesting “figurative” language. Never mind that the vast bulk of the history of orthodox Christianity never saw the text that way. There are a few exceptions, of course, but they are in the clear minority. There’s nothing new in the playbook of unbelief: just recycled arguments.

I mentioned that Christian liberals are not necessarily thorough-going rationalists: they are rather, inconsistent rationalists. The dead giveaway is their view on the resurrection. While modern science completely pooh-poohs the notion of a real, bodily resurrection, liberal Christians—for a while—insist on believing it. Thus are they inconsistent with themselves: they deny the creation account because of the verdict of modern science; they believe in the resurrection against the verdict of modern science.

At this point the careful reader might think, “Okay, Cobb, what’s the diff? You conservatives are inconsistent, the libs are inconsistent—so what? At least they land correctly on the big point—the resurrection—as a matter of faith. Is this not proof of the reality of their faith?” Yes, it possibly is proof of precisely that. I certainly hope it is, for their sake. But I am concerned that it might be a demonstration, rather, of a sentimental attachment to vestigial orthodox Christianity than a genuine, vigorous faith. The reason I believe this also points out the distinction between our inconsistency and theirs: it’s the matter of the ultimate source of authority. The conservative believer takes the Bible as his source of authority: end of story. That’s why we dispute evolution, abortion, homosexuality, modern morality, etc. We do so because the text compels us to. On the other hand, for the liberal, it appears that science has become their highest source of authority. If so—and many of the signs point this way—the Christian faith of the liberal is merely a waypoint on an evolving journey to somewhere else.

You see this all over the blogs: “I used to be a fundamentalist, and then I realized it was a cult of narrow-minded, hateful, abusive people. I was liberated when I finally realized that evolution makes creation impossible, and that you don’t have to believe that silly stuff to be a Christian . . . ” Unfortunately, they do have a point. There are a lot of horrible examples of fundamentalists, such as Fred Phelps and Jack Hyles and many, many others—people who seem to believe that the Bible licenses hate, condemnation, dictatorial control, etc.

But the misuse of the Bible does not argue for its invalidity any more than the liberal misuse of 1 John 4:8 (“God is love”) argues for the invalidity of that text. Where will that former fundamentalist be in another five years, or ten? That’s the real question. I believe the truth of the matter is that many Christian liberals don’t have a settled position. They are, rather, on a trajectory of unbelief. The unbelief at the core of their being comes to slow flower: among the first things to be jettisoned is a meaningful notion of the inspiration of Scripture. Oh, they claim to believe it—they just continuously restrict its meaning until it no longer governs their exegesis and remains little more than a meaningless bullet point on their statement of faith.

Keep an eye on them. While on their trajectory of unbelief it is inevitable that they will cross a number of other markers. At some point the resurrection will be redefined (“it’s a spiritual resurrection, not a bodily resurrection”), as will the nature of God (they will return to something like a modal view of the Trinity, and possibly to a benign, Christianized pantheism). It will take years. Their sentimental attachments to the form and pageantry and mystery of worship will keep them in a church of one nature or another. But there will be neither redemptive truth nor redemptive power in their belief. John Shelby Spong is a perfect example of this trajectory of unbelief. Spong is the famous Episcopal bishop who argued that Christianity must change or die, and that we can no longer conceive of God as a truly personal being. He has jettisoned all of the major aspects of Christianity and is little more than a thorough-going humanist who has retained the word “god” in his personal lexicon.

Book one, chapter eight of Calvin’s Institutes, closes with these sentences (emphasis mine): "But it is foolish to attempt to prove to infidels that the Scripture is the Word of God. This it cannot be known to be, except by faith." Apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible remains a closed book. Amen.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: When God Comes to Church

When God Comes to Church, by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.

If I could summarize this book with a word, it would be “Wow.” Raymond Ortlund takes the reader on a tour of a number of passages in the Old Testament prophets as he builds a case for what revival is, and what it isn’t. Mixed with his outstanding exegesis are illustrations from noted revivals of the past, and the comments of good pastors and theologians who were contemporaneous with those events. In this exploration Ortlund takes advantage of a clear-headed historical hindsight.

Part one of the book is arranged under the theme of “What God can do.” The chapter titles summarize Ortlund’s directions: God comes down to us; God reinvigorates us; God heals us; God pours out His Spirit upon us; God raises us up; God restores us. In this part Ortlund celebrates the sovereignty of God, unfolding it not as something which frustrates our efforts, but something that gives us ultimate hope even as it preserves the purity of revival itself.

Part two moves to the next step: “What we must do.” Again his chapter titles tell the tale (and by the way, they deliver what they promise): we return to God; we seek God; we humble ourselves. Ortlund again returns to surgically-precise exegesis to show us what the text actually says about these things. The last chapter, on humility, is probably one of the best pieces of literature I’ve read on the topic.

Here is what distinguishes this book from many other modern works. All too many modern books, for all the great intellectual commitments of the authors to God’s glory, remain essentially man-centered. You’ve typically got one or two verses that are followed by a chapter of illustrations and ten points of how to apply what you’ve learned (presumably, what you’ve learned from those one or two verses).

This is where Ortlund shines. He exegetes complete passages of Scripture, he’s not tossing a few verses on the salad as garnish. The power of the book rises from the power of the biblical text. His exposition is accurate, context-sensitive, and flat-out convicting. By the time Ortlund himself applies the text (which he does do, make no mistake), the Holy Spirit has already beaten him to the punch. Ortlund’s applications are firmly anchored in responsible exegesis.

I am convinced this is the best way to teach and preach, and it protects the reader/hearer from applications that go askew, the accumulation of which could potentially lead into more serious error. The topic of “revival” has seen its share of these problems in American Christianity. Ortlund’s work in “When God comes to Church” restores a proper, biblical view of revival. I recommend it thoroughly.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Nye-Ham Debate thoughts

Watched the Nye-Ham debate this evening. I thought it was a good exchange, well worth the time. I don't think this debate could be scored in win-loss terms. Ken Ham did a good job making sure the Gospel was proclaimed, and he did not shrink back in any way from the Bible. He did a good job of representing the truth.

I think Nye did a good job of representing his position. Apart from the Spirit of God the Word is foolishness to him. That was clearly seen, but I thought (with a few exceptions) that he did a good job of avoiding some of the more outrageous slanders that folks like Sam Harris sling around.

I would have liked to see Ken Ham do a better job with the point of historical science. At times he was almost contradictory. On the one hand, he asserted that because we were not there in the past we don't know what the rates of processes were. On the other hand he asserted that God is a God of order, and because of that fact we can do science and know that we will obtain the same results yesterday, today and tomorrow. I felt his explanation of this was a little clumsy and a little lacking.

The best model I can think of is that of a discontinuous function in mathematics. In some discontinuous functions as you approach the boundaries the value of the function gets out of hand. An example might be y=1/x. As x approaches zero the function value approaches infinity.

Here's the point. With some possible exceptions, "historical science" works precisely like "experimental science" - except as you approach the boundary of Creation. The Law of the Conservation of matter and energy doesn't work at the moment of Creation, for example. But it works immediately following Creation.

Ken Ham made it sound like if an event occurred in the past, the present processes can't tell us anything about it. That simply is not true. What is true is this: science can not tell us about origins because it was the supernatural power of God that originated all things. The origin of Creation is the "boundary" of the function, to use my illustration above. The other problem extrapolating origins is that God created with the appearance of age. For example, to assume the presence of no radiometric daughter products is unwarranted.

Anyway - this was my only beef with Ham's performance tonight. Though I am sure he did not intend this, he made it sound as though we can not extrapolate processes reliably backwards into history. We can - so long as we do not approach the "boundaries," and as long as we acknowledge that we do not necessarily know the starting conditions.

Otherwise, he did an outstanding job.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Parenting Tip: Now or Later

It’s Friday evening, and you’re coming home from work looking forward to a fun time with the family. As you come through the door you hear your five-year old speaking in a disrespectful tone to your wife. Body language, tone, content, it’s all wrong. So what do you do?
  1. Excuse it. “It’s just a phase he’s going through. He’ll grow out of it.”
  2. Hope your wife will deal with it. “I’ve had a long day, I deserve a little rest.”
  3. Ignore it. “Want a fun evening. It’ll be hard to do that if I discipline him.”
  4. Blow your top and shout at him. “If I can terrify him with my anger, it will teach him not to talk that way. I’ll shout at him and put a good scare into him.”
  5. Threaten/Promise, but don’t act on it. “If I hear that again, I’m going to paddle your bottom.”
  6. Deal with it biblically. “Hey, buddy! I just heard what you said to mommy, and it was downright disrespectful! What do you think Jesus would say about that? I think we need to go to your room and have a little talk.”

One of the keys to a family that honors Christ is biblical discipline that begins very early in the life of your child. It involves teaching, reproof, correction, and training. Your children need to be taught what God says—by YOU—right out of the Bible, and your teaching needs to be backed up with properly applied parental discipline. The model of discipline the Scripture most frequently provides is spanking: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15). If you doubt this, look up the occurrences of “rod” in Proverbs—most of the time it is speaking of a properly administered spanking.

Biblical discipline is hard to do, it is time-consuming, it’s often heart-breaking for us as parents, it’s not fun, and it often brings as great a conviction of sin on the parent as it does the child. As I discipline my child for how he/she spoke to my spouse, I am convicted of my own sinful speech as well.

But if you spend the sweat equity to teach them now, you will honor Christ, and you’ll enjoy the fruit of an obedient, peaceful household as they grow older: “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul” (Proverbs 29:17) .

Your efforts to “preserve peace” in the short-term by neglecting discipline, however, will yield long-term heartache and grief. “A foolish son is a grief to his father, And bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25). Putting off discipline is a bad bargain: discipline your children now, while there is hope of correction!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book review: Warrior Soul

Warrior Soul is the memoir of Navy SEAL Chuck Pfarrer, a true account of his training, experiences and exploits. I read it as research for my own novel, Falcon Strike. It’s always difficult to review a book whose content concerns a matter the reviewer has never personally experienced. I believe the book is authentic and honest, but only another SEAL is really qualified to make such judgments.

I grew to like the author as I got to know him through his own words. Pfarrer is a man with clay feet, but refreshingly he does not seem inclined to hide it. His indiscretions and mistakes get the same treatment as do his acts of valor, probably because after all he’s been through and accomplished he simply does not care about my judgment, or yours.

The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with his training at BUD/S and beyond, and then eases into actual operations. The second deals with his deployment with SEAL Team Four to Beirut and the massive truck bomb that killed 220 men of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit in 1983. Bitterness and anger seep through every page of this portion, and it infects the reader as well. Perhaps it had been better for America if that truck bomb had taken out 220 of our politicians or top brass instead of the marines [my observation, not his]. Idiotic rules of engagement and a military command structure that had apparently learned little since the days of the Ardennes consumed men in place rather than preserving their operational value by rotating them off the line periodically. Our recent attempts at nation-building make it apparent that the political leadership (both liberal and conservative) aren’t able to tell a SEAL platoon from the Peace Corps.

That anger spills into part 3 as Pfarrer recounts the change in leadership of SEAL Team Four, and his difficulty returning from Beirut. Pfarrer applies for and receives a coveted spot on the secretive SEAL Team Six’s training team, the “Green Team,” and passes the brutal training regime, ultimately winning the command of a platoon in the black ops group.

One of the things I take away from this book is the almost super-human edge to which the SEALs are trained. That training regime, their strict performance standards, their meticulous planning, and the indomitable will of the individual operators is what accounts for the amazing record of success enjoyed by these elite units.

The quality of Pfarrer’s writing is outstanding. At no point in the book was I bored. And he’s not some soulless shooter; he’s a deep, honest, and at times profound thinker. His literary craft is excellent. For example, Pfarrer opens the book with an account that he does not complete until the end of the book, creating a bookend structure that is delightful. It’s a neat literary arrangement. A warning is in order, however: there’s a great deal of bad language in the book.

Warrior Soul is a great book, a large picture window into a world most of us can not even imagine. On the one hand I am thankful for the men who are willing to sacrifice so much to keep the bad guys at bay. On the other, it makes me disgusted with the political figures and the political generals and admirals who misuse our armed forces and task them with rules of engagement in operations better given to the Boy Scouts than the SEALs.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Psalms studies snippet

One of the members of my church emailed me with a question, "Do you know how old David was when he wrote Psalm 23?"

Here is my answer, which might provide a few useful snippets of information to you as you read the psalms:
No. One of the more speculative parts of Psalm studies is attempting to discover what theologians call the sitz-im-leben, a term that means "situation in life."  These speculations have led to all sorts of fanciful ideas not anchored in Scripture. Occasionally we will get some help from the caption, or superscription. In our English bibles, the caption is the small type at the very beginning of the psalm, and it is usually not in italics. The superscription of Psalm 23 is "A Psalm of David." Not much help there locating the psalm in a situation. But take a look at Psalm 18 - it has an extended caption that provides some background, not only of the situation, but of how the psalm was to be used: "For the choir director."

The captions are actually in the original manuscripts, and they are part of verse one. For example, the Hebrew text of Psalm 90 has "A prayer of Moses, the man of God" as the opening words of the psalm.

Most conservative scholars believe there is a reason why the psalms are so hard to pin down to a specific life situation: it enables the reader to identify with and apply the psalm regardless of his situation.