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.