1/29/11

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the WorldA Review
By: Jonathan Harris

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World is perhaps the simplest and yet most accurate representation of Reformation History available in book form. I would recommend it to any individual desiring to know the history that sparked the birth of the Protestant Church. You'll get to know first-hand men and women like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Lady Jane. You'll find out about their own human errors and fears, while at the same time concluding that they were chosen by God for a monumental task. The Anabaptists, Waldensians, Menonites, and Huguenots are also afforded mention as well as the catechisms and confessions that defined these movements. Condensing 450 years of church history into about 150 pages- this work by Stephen Nichols is not only informative, but is reasonable and readable. Pick up your copy today!

To order click here

Slavery, Terrorism, and Islam

Slavery, Terrorism and IslamA Book Review 
By: David Harris

I took a class in world religions at my community college this last semester as an elective. I had certain expectations of what the atmosphere in the classroom would be like, and what the views of the professor would be like. The majority of the class was spent on the eastern religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc; several days were spent on Judaism and Christianity, and exactly 1 hour and 15 minutes was devoted to the religion of Islam. You would expected to hear a thing or two about the prophet Mohammad, the Caliphs, or five pillars of Islam- but no; my professor spent nearly an hour and 15 minutes trying to make sure that we all understood that Islam was a religion of peace and tolerance. My professor could have done some good from reading Peter Hammond’s “Slavery, Terrorism, and Islam”.

The author- Dr. Peter Hammond- is the director of a South African based mission called Frontline Fellowship that has done much laboring for the sake of the gospel all over Africa. One particular area of concentration for Frontline is Sudan. The people of southern Sudan have suffered under the oppression of Islamic ideology for over a century. The current state of Christians in Sudan could be described as a genocidal holocaust- in which the Muslim government of Northern Sudan is trying to eradicate the Christian south. The Frontline base in Southern Sudan has experienced numerous aerial attacks from the Northern Sudanese military, and Peter Hammond has been present for many of these attacks. This alone gives him a good degree of credibility and believability as he presents his thesis in Slavery, Terrorism, and Islam. While I do not wish to simply give away the whole book, (I think it would greatly benefit whoever reads it in the understanding of this “religion of peace") I would like to cite a few of the areas of concentration: The book bounces back and forth between several main ideas concerning slavery and terrorism, relating them back to Islam- and how the religion empowers these activities. Contrary to popular belief, slavery did not die out with its outlawing in Europe and the United States. As a matter of fact, not only is it still VERY prevalent today in Islamic countries, but it always has been most widely practiced in those countries. Hammond does an exceptional job of showing the various roots of the justification and propagation of within the religion of Islam, more specifically within its’ holy book, the Koran. Not only is it allowed, but suggested in the pages of the Koran. The shocking abuses of men, women, and children (possibly most shocking through the practice of child concubines) cannot simply be ignored by the Christian world- it must be struggled against.

Hammond also points out that the second word in the title of the book, Terrorism, is not a fringe practice by radical Muslims, but a central, core pillar of the Muslim faith. Mohammad said that Jihad was the second most important deed of Islam (The Hadith). With that in mind, the question is asked: is it any wonder that on September 11th, 2001, a group of true Muslims put their hateful ideology into action? No. Of course not. It’s something to be expected! Several chapters of the book focus on perhaps one of the most misunderstood periods of time in history: The Crusades. Hammond points out that in the 700s; Charles Martel was opposing a huge force of Muslims coming into France. France? But France is QUITE far from the Middle East or Northern Africa. Well, that’s because in the 700s, The Muslim advance in Western Europe had taken over most all of Spain, and was coming north to France. Therefore in the 900s a movement was started to free fellow Christian brothers and sisters suffering under the burden of Sharia Law and Muslim theocracies. He goes on tracing the various historical roots of the Crusades, the shameful conditions of Christians in Muslim controlled lands, and the historical inaccuracies portrayed in films like Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven”.

As mentioned earlier, Hammond’s personal experience and study gives him a good deal of credibility for this book. I would highly recommend ordering it from Frontline Fellowship (the order may take a while because it comes from Cape Town). I would highly suggest this book for any college taking any western civilization class, anyone interested in reaching Muslims with the Gospel of Christ, or anyone interested in the subject of either slavery or the crusades. 

1/17/11

Sleep

A Gift From God
By: Jonathan Harris

The topic of “sleep” is particularly relevant to college students. I remember two summers ago Pastor Rick Holland telling the college/carrier Sunday school class at Grace Community Church that the number one problem facing college students is that they stay up too late. Whether you or I would rank sleep deprivation as the biggest problem among young adults may be up for debate, but the fact remains that sleep deprivation is a big problem.

My thinking has fluctuated on this topic over the years. I of course, like many individuals my age, love to get a good night’s sleep. I, also like many contemporaries, don’t always get it. Why? Because I’m so busy with school, work, ministry, etc. I remember in law school orientation my professors taking it for granted that the first-year students wouldn’t get a whole lot of sleep. It was around this time when I was also finishing the book When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper. Overall, it’s a great book and I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, there was one section toward the end in which Piper quotes Puritan William Law who says, “sleep is . . . a dull, stupid state of existence."

If we look to the example of Jesus we see He sometimes even prayed all night. Was sleep important to Him? This combination of influences led me to believe that sleep wasn’t really “that” important. In fact, I thought it was more pious to lack sleep. It became in my mind one of those “if I have time” type of things. After all, I can get more done if I have more hours available to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In Craig Lambert’s article in Harvard Magazine, Deep Into Sleep, we find that sleep is an essential function for life itself. The average American adult today only gets 6.8 hrs of sleep a night; more than an hour less than what’s required. Associate Professor of Psychiatry Robert Stickgold, claims that “Sleep deprivation doesn’t have any good side effects.” Professor of sleep medicine Charles Czeisler has studied the effects of sleep-deprivation finding that it promotes hyperactivity in children and decreased productivity in adults. The problem can be explained better by first understanding circadian rhythms which “are internal periodic rhythms that control many things like body temperature, hormone levels, sleep and wakefulness, digestion, and excretion.” Messing with these hormonal cycles essentially lead to many negative consequences including weight gain, lack of motor skills, insulin resistence, and glucose tolerance. In fact, “Being awake more than 24 hours impairs performance as much as having a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 percent—which is legally drunk.” All that to say, God gave us sleep for a reason.

Can it be said that while God is for sleep, He’s just against too much sleep? I think the answer is yes. Proverbs 6:9-11 says,

How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest"-- And your poverty will come in like a vagabond, And your need like an armed man.

This admonishment must also be balanced with what the rest of the Bible says about sleep. Proverbs 19:23 states, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.” Also, Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For Thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety.” As we can see, there is an element of vulnerability that comes with sleep and it is the fear of God that protects us from our enemies allowing us to rest. This is why it was so significant for Christ to be deep in sleep on a boat as the disciples were frantically battling a storm. God is not against sleep by any means. After all, it was He that rested on the 7th day. However, God is against idiolatry and sleep can easily become an idol (When Christ prayed all night He was putting His relationship with the Father above rest). I think most of us know when we’re taking more than we need. Perhaps after we’ve gotten our 8 hours (some people can function on less) and the alarm clock goes off, just staying in bed as long as possible is a bit on the obsessive side. It can be a side-effect of not wanting to face reality — of wanting to live in a perpetual dreamland other than the world God has created. It may also be a symptom of laziness. Just like money is a gift of God though the love of money is the root of “all kinds of evil,” so the love of sleep is sinful. That’s why Proverbs 20:13 says, “Do not love sleep, lest you become poor; Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food.”

My overall point is this: College students tend to forget sleep either because they’re partying or studying (or a combination). This is not necessary or right though! There is nothing holy about lacking sleep. It is negligent to disregard the way our body is designed. It is true that since you are more productive after a good night’s rest, you’ll get about as much done on 8 hours of sleep as you will on 6; and pulling all-nighter’s will significantly reduce your ability to critically think. Be wise with your time so you don’t have to make the decision not to sleep! Value its importance and don’t ignore it. Sleep is a gift from God, and to reject the gift is to reject the giver.

1/15/11

No Guns for Jews

A great documentary on the potential implications of loosing our Second Amendment "right to bear arms."

1/12/11

Misrepresenting Calvinism

Repeating a Lie Often Enough
By: Jonathan Harris

For the past three years I have not found it necessary to bring the word "Calvinism" into any of the posts here at The Lion's Den. Believing that one can both be a Christian and a "non-Calvinist" per se, I never saw the use in being dogmatic on a "secondary issue". I realize now that this way of doing things just isn't being completely honest and forthright. I have come to understand that in reality all Christians are "Calvinists" in one sense; not that they knowingly follow the man John Calvin, but that they humbly received Christ's work on their behalf. Unless you believe in work's righteousness, you too subscribe in some way to Reformed Theology simply because you agree with God that salvation is His work and not your own. This system of theology however does more than put Christ at the center of our lives- it puts Him on the throne of creation. As believers in God's sovereignty we subscribe to beliefs concerning government, science, medicine, history, etc. which view Him as the centerpiece. Without a view that man is sinful and weak while God is good and powerful we have no true Christian worldview. No one is under obligation to call this theology and accompanying worldview "Calvinism" if they don't want to be associated with a man- but at the same time we should all realize that this is the formal name for the theology we all basically subscribe to believers in God's sovereignty.

Some of you are probably upset at me at this point. You may be saying, "How dare you tell me I'm a Calvinist! I'm nothing of the kind!" or "I can still be a Christian and not a Calvinist!" Well, that may be true in one sense- You can be a Christian and not follow the man John Calvin, but again, as I stated previously, you cannot be a Christian and believe that somehow your own "decision" or "works" have saved you. You must completely cast yourself on the mercy of God. Calvinism is the system that recognizes grace alone apart from any works. The system opposing Calvinism is referred to as Arminianism, emphasizing man's "free will" and "decisional regeneration." I expect that most people reading this will be familiar with both terms. (We will be discussing why it is you shouldn't be afraid of the theology of Calvinism shortly.)

On a side note: It is my belief that Arminianism leads inevitably to humanism simply because it maintains that there is a spark of good in man by which he can obtain God's favor- namely his decision. In our country this has definitely been the case and it has lead to privatization, a phenomena in which the church has neglected the culture in favor of "personal relationships" with God. (More on that in other postings such as Total Truth)

Anyway, it is because Calvinism has been so grossly misrepresented that so many are unwilling to verbally subscribe to it. My aim is to correct three of the biggest misrepresentations I have seen used among friends of mine and believers in general. Just to be clear: I'm not trying to bash anyone over the head at all. My motivation is simply out of fear for my readers that they will be sucked into a theological system (Arminianism) that ultimately leads to ineffectiveness (privatization), lack of satisfaction (no sense of calling), despair (no truly sovereign God in reality), and sometimes heresy (i.e. Pelagianism).

1. Calvinists Believe No One Has Choice

This statement couldn't be more untrue but yet it remains the biggest objection to Reformed Theology. Allan Turner writes, "According to Calvinists, a person may have only one course of action open to him and still be free." Unfortunately for Turner and all the other Arminians leveling this critique, John Calvin disagrees when he says:

This liberty is compatible with our being depraved, the servants of sin, able to do nothing but sin. In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! That man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, ethelodoulos (a voluntary slave); his will being bound by the fetters of sin.

In other words, man is given a choice as to whether he will receive God's free gift or not. Man however, in his sinful state, will always choose wrong. The elect are chosen by God against their will to be His followers- and we should be grateful for it (the equivalent would be a dying man forced against his will to go to the hospital). I want to emphasize one more time that John Calvin is only right because this is what Scripture already teaches, not because he happened to say it. However, John Calvin is a man God used to systematize the Doctrines of Grace contained in Scripture. All that to say, Calvinists do believe in choice.

2. Calvinists Believe in an Evil God

After telling the congregants at Thomas Road Baptist Church that Hypercalvinists believe only the elect babies are going to heaven, Ergun Caner- professor of theology at Liberty University School of Divinity- went on to say:

A Hypercalvinist believes that everything is predestined and thus God- they have no problem saying- is the author of sin. Hypercalvinsts believe that predestination and foreknowledge are the same thing: What God predestines He divinely decrees and thus they believe in what we call double-predestination. . . a Hypercalvinist believes that invitations are an insult to God- that predestination is the highest of all doctrine.

Unfortunately, Caner erred in two basic ways. He equivocated Hypercalvinism with Calvinism (using the terms interchangeably during the course of his sermon), and he defined the latter term wrongly. Just to set the record straight: Hypercalvinism is a belief system that can also be called "Christian fatalism." A Calvinist who fails to obey the prescriptive will of God (most notably in evangelism) simply because "God will take care of it in His sovereignty," is a Hypercalvinist. What folks like Ergun Caner do (quite frequently I might ad), is take something like Calvinism, misrepresent it, and then create a straw man called "Hypercalvinism" so they can knock it down. To be clear, none of what Caner said is accurate. Calvinists do not believe in a God who is the author of sin, or who necessarily sends babies to hell (it's simply an unknown Biblically speaking), or who "chooses" some for destruction. They believe in a God that is so powerful that He can use even evil to glorify Himself. That's a big difference. The burden of proof lies on folks like Ergun Caner to provide the evidence to justify such destructive accusations. I'm not holding my breath.

3. Calvinism and Arminianism are Both True

I have heard this argument so many times I feel like my head's going to spin. I don't fault friends of mine who have made such a claim for making it- rather I attribute the blame for such poor thinking with the spiritual leaders propagating such post-modern gibberish. Usually the argument goes something like this:

Well we know the secret things belong to the Lord, and Scripture teaches that we have a choice and that God chooses us, so I guess the Bible teaches both systems. It must work out in the mind of God somehow even if it doesn't make sense to us.

The first problem with such thinking is that it assumes misconception 1. Remember, Calvinism teaches that men do have a choice- it's just that they choose wrong in their sinful state. Secondly, This way of thinking twists Scripture to make its case. It maintains that because some things don't make sense, it must logically follow that contradictions are perfectly acceptable. Really? So the God who's nature is logical, who isn't the author of confusion decides to reveal two valid diametrically opposed belief systems? I guess we may as well accept relativism while we're at it! The reality is this: Some things we don't know because we either don't have the capability of understanding it, or we have not been given the necessary information. This does not mean that we can believe logical impossibilities (such as, we solely choose God and He solely chooses us at the same time and in the same sense). We do choose God, when He gives us the ability to do so. And yes, He does choose to give us this ability. This doesn't mean that He overrides our personal will, while we are still saved by an act of our personal will.

In closing, I know for many of you this may be new information. I haven't cited Sciptures or defined all of my terms simply because I expect most people reading this to have a basic understanding of the terms and Scriptures used by both systems. If anyone has questions regarding any of this, or would like information on either theological system feel free to leave a comment with your email address. We need to realize that the ideas being discussed are big ones with far-reaching implications. Your worldview is determined by your theology. I've found over and over again that Calvinism is the brunt of jokes and straw man arguments more than any other "sect" of Christianity in the world of secular academia. This is what has inspired me to make some of the defenses above. Because ultimately, where Calvinism goes, so goes Christianity.

1/10/11

Buried or Cremated?

What Should Happen to Your Body After Death?
By: Jonathan Harris

Perhaps to some the question of, "What should happen to my body after I die?" is a rather morbid one. After all, who wants to think about death? Still it is an essential one. We all will die one day- if Christ doesn't return before such a time- and we ought to at least have given a little thought to what God demands of us on this earth after death. Obviously our spirits will be in heaven glorifying Him- what a wonderful thought!- but that which remains on this earth will be our only lasting legacy with the living. In our culture two main options exist: cremation or burial. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a strong advocate of burial over cremation. In a 2005 article Mohler wrote:

The early church rejected the pagan practice of cremation because of a belief that the body is to be respected. The early Christians observed the Roman pattern of cremation and agreed that it represented an intentional destruction of the human body — a belief that conflicted with the believers’ understanding that death was to be understood as sleep, and that the dead are awaiting the resurrection to come. There is no question that God can and will resurrect all human bodies on that day — no matter the disposition of the body. The primary issue was and is a proper Christian respect for the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The good doctor was writing in response to a new trend in the state of Colorado towards cremation. The Denver Post presented this new development as a rejection of historic Christianity. It is true that that throughout both testaments of the Bible we do see burial as the common practice among the people of God (Gen. 23:19, Matt. 27:60-66), and wherever burning a human body is presented it is within the context of a pagan practice (2 Kings 21:6, 2 Kings 23:16-20). However, in the same token we don't see any prohibition against cremation. After all isn't it in the end "ashes to ashes dust to dust?" And will it really be any trouble for the God of the universe to resurrect any body no matter what the condition?

In the end this question is without a clear command and therefore deserves to be left up to Christian liberty. Still, I would advise a proper "Christian burial" for the following reasons. Firstly, even if it is not a sin, the example of Scripture presents burying in a more positive light. Secondly, a properly engraved tombstone and location of burial will allow for a perpetual place of remembrance of God for both the saved and unsaved. Thirdly, burying represents death in a very real way contrasted with cremation. After cremation is finished if the ashes are saved they don't really resemble a human body. If they are not saved then there is no lasting reminder of the curse of sin.

No matter where you come down on the issue however it's important to have grace with others. Remember, this is a very sensitive and intimate subject to deal with and for those who have lost a loved one, should only be made after deliberate prayer.

1/7/11

The Grand Design

The Grand DesignWhat God Hath Wrought
By: Jonathan Harris

Stephen Hawking's new book The Grand Design certainly has caused quite a stir in the "pop-science" community. Newspaper and online profiles presented Hawking's work as  " new answers" to the "ultimate questions of life." Unfortunately for both Hawking and Mlodinow, their work is hardly new. What we are left with after reading Hawking's words is a theoretical atheistic framework that claims to explain the secrets of the universe without any real substance. In fact, the very first page of the book undercuts the very branch the rest of Hawking and Mlodinow's thoughts are resting on. After listing a number of ultimate questions such as, "What is the nature of reality?" etc., the authors write:

Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

I see two problems emerging from such an ignorant statement. Firstly, science is not self-authenticating. Science relies on philosophy to justify its procedures. In other words, science cannot certify itself, it must appeal to something outside itself to be valid. There is no scientific experiment that can give credence to the preconditions of intelligibility (i.e. the uniformity of nature, reliability of sensory perception, reality of a moral law, etc.). On the contrary, an individual must first have a philosophical reason for believing these things to be true in order for science to even make sense. The second problem I see is a gross inconsistency. Hawking starts his book by bashing philosophy- ironically however- the rest of the book is pure philosophy. The arena of theoretical physics is not an exact science. Hawking himself admits he's dealing with theories, not proven facts. Making the case that there are multiple universes is not something proven at all, yet Hawking relies on this principle to explain God away from His creation.

In the chapter The Apparent Miracle, the authors wax eloquent about "M-Theory," a competing model of string theory which Hawking deems the "theory of everything." Basically, Hawking and Mlodinow believe that every action that can possibly take place, does takes place. There is a universe in which the Confederacy won the War Between the States. There is a universe in which Marin Luther never nailed the 95 theses to the castle church in Wittenburg. There is a unvierse in which life cannot be supported. This is used to explain away any sense of "special design" in our universe. If there are an infinite number of possible environments, we shouldn't be surprised that we happen to live in one which can support life and there exists an appearance of design. It should be noted however, this doesn't alleviate the problem at all, it merely "moves it back one step." There still must be a designer to produce the mechanism producing these imaginary universes. Also, M-Theory does not explain how something came from nothing. Hawking believes the big bang is the starting point, but if there was nothing before the bang, where did the matter come from?

Far from explaining God away, M-Theory- if it ever could be demonstrated to be true- would require the supernatural just as much as a strict Newtonian world. The Grand Design belongs to the Grand designer ultimately, and if anything, Hawking demonstrates the fact that God was right when He said that men "suppress the truth" even when it's obvious.

For more of a critique on the Grand Design from a Christian perspective check out the links below.

Ravi Zacharias and John Lennox discuss Hawking's book.

William Lane Craig on Stephen Hawking.
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