Book Review: The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther and Calvin

“The Legacy of Sovereign Joy” is the first book by Pastor
John Piper in a series entitled “The Swans are not
Silent”. This series gives a brief glimpse into the lives

of people used by God in the history of the church.
However, the purpose is not primarily biographical,
but to highlight the character of God in the lives of
these notable Christians. As the title suggests, the
focus of this book is finding joy in a sovereign God. The
characters Piper focuses on are St. Augustine, Martin
Luther and John Calvin.

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After a brief introduction where he makes it clear that
each of the men looked at were used by God in spite
of their flaws (“Savoring the Sovereignty of Grace in
the Lives of Flawed Saints”), Piper spends one chapter
on each of the men drawing out what he feels to be
a picture of how they demonstrated a joyful passion
for God’s sovereign grace. In the life of Augustine we
see “the liberating  power of holy pleasure”, a man who
finally recognized that all the pleasure of earth
could not compare to the pleasures of God. “Saving
grace, converting grace, in Augustine’s view, is God’s
giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all
other joys…”

In the life of Martin Luther, shaped by
the teachings of Augustine, we see not only a passion
for God’s saving grace, but a zeal for the Word of God
through which that grace is revealed. Piper seizes upon
Luther’s dedication to study to exhort the reader to
zealously study God’s Word. Finally, Piper uses the
life of John Calvin to promote the “Divine Majesty of
the Word” through preaching. (“Let the pastors boldly
dare all things by the word of God…but let them do all
according to the word of God.”) 

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Book Review: Wild at Heart

In this book Eldredge tackles seeks to give men permission
to be what God created them to be – men. From his observation
of culture (i.e. movies), history and Scripture Eldredge reaches the
conclusion that men are hardwired to seek (1) a battle to fight, (2) a
beauty to rescue and (3) an adventure to live.
The motivation for this book is the cultural redefinition of
masculinity into one of two extremes. Men are encouraged to be
more feminine, squelching their masculinity, or they are encouraged
to be hyper-masculine, driven by a macho mischaracterization of
their masculinity.
While Eldridge approaches both issues in the book, his
primary focus is against the “feminization” of men. With that
in mind he sets out to reunite men with the battle, beauty, and
adventure drive within them. But before he fleshes out those three
points he spends the majority of the book laying the groundwork.
He looks at the questions that haunt men, the wounds we carry, the
battle for man’s heart and how ultimately the healing is found at the
cross. This then sets the reader up to learn about the battle to be
fought, the beauty to be rescued and the adventure to live.
I believe that Eldredge makes his point well but potentially
distracts from his point in two ways. First, his handling of scripture
led to some questionable views of God. Since this is not a theology
book and he’s making observations from a human perspective
rather than a doctrinal thesis I can understand his point of view,
but nonetheless it was a distraction for me and has undermined
the message of the entire book for others. Secondly, he only
occasionally warns against turning manliness into a super-macho
caricature, and at times, had I not noted the subtle warnings, I would
have felt that he was advocating what he warned against.
With those observations I still recommend this book,
especially for men, young and old. At the very least it will push the
reader outside the box and make him recognize that what passes
for “manliness” in our culture is handicapping the type of man God
wants us to be.

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Book Review: Bringing up Girls

The book “Bringing up Girls” is, as the subtitle suggests, a book full of “practical advice and encouragement for those shaping the next generation of women.  And, as one might surmise from the title, the book covers how girls need to be brought up as, wait for it, girls!  This is not a book for the feminist who wants to perpetuate the myth that the sexes are identical and only their upbringing creates differences between boys and girls.  Right up front Dr. Dobson spends several pages underlying the scientific and biological reasons why girls and boys think and act differently, and how that applies to parenting. 

   Regarding parenting, Dr. Dobson spends a chapter on the special relationship daughters will have with their mothers and a couple of chapters on the vital roles that fathers play in nurturing their daughter’s femininity.  Dobson points out that the lack of godly fathers is one of the greatest threats that face girls today.

   In addition to the practical advice Dr. Dobson spends most of this book pointing out the perils that face girls today.  These dangers need to be brought to the attention of all parents.  From the lies of feminism, the distorted view of body image that the culture forces upon our teens, the lack of godly and involved fathers and the rampant bullying that takes place – these dangers all face our daughters.  Without belittling these dangers, I did feel that there was a bit of an imbalance toward these negative aspects as opposed to the positive (There was a chapter dedicated to “The Good News About Girls). 

   All in all, I would highly recommend this book to parents with a daughter of any age.  The reading can be tedious at times (a lot of transcripts from radio shows), but the topic is vital and the information very helpful.

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Book Review: Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists

In the realms of non-fiction some books are prescriptive in nature, offering solutions and ideas to assist the reader, while other books are descriptive, describing things like events to the reader.  “Young, Restless, Reformed” fits into the second category.  The author, Collin Hansen (editor-at-large for Christianity Today Magazine) seeks to give the reader a glimpse into the resurgence of Calvinism in American Christianity, especially among the young adult demographic.  Hansen describes his experiences at the Passion Conference in 1997, Bethlehem Baptist Church (Pastored by John Piper), Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  He gives us a glimpse into the lives of some key figures within the movement through interviews with John Piper, Mark Driscoll and many young people that are on fire for God as a result of coming to grips with the doctrines of grace (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints).  Though the book may be descriptive in nature, there are still lessons to be learned.  It becomes clear from his observations that weak theology and “attractional” ministries like the seeker-sensitive movement have failed to capture the passion of the next generation.  The strength of Biblically focused and doctrinally passionate churches is seen, and the myth that a focus on doctrine must result in lack of passion is put to rest.  But further lessons are learned as Hansen also shares interviews of those who are critical of these “new” Calvinists, both from the conservative and liberal side.  From these interviews some of the potential pitfalls can be seen (i.e. perceived arrogance, difficulty getting along with others).

Another feature is that this book provides historical context.  “Young, Restless, Reformed” was written in 2008.  As I read this book in 2012  the “New Calvinist” movement has only gotten larger.  For example, the Together for the Gospel conference that Hansen attended as he researched for his book has grown by the thousands.  Yet some of the opposition to the movement is also clearly seen, as recently as the Southern Baptist Convention as opponents of the movement continue to be vocal.

Finally, while the book is descriptive and historical in nature, as Hansen describes his interactions with the New Calvinists, he also details what they believe which results in a clear presentation of the Gospel.  But when an author writing a descriptive work of such a God centered, gospel oriented movement it would be quite hard to omit that gospel.

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Book Review: The Church: The Gospel Made Visible

This past month I had the privilege of reading “The Church: The Gospel Made Visible“ as part of our pastoral staff’s ongoing reading program (read a book each month and write a review).  The following is my review of this book by Pastor Mark Dever.

As one reads through many of Mark Dever’s books it becomes apparent that he has a desire for people to have a Biblical understanding of “the church”. This desire is seen in his ministry “9 Marks” which details what he believes are 9 marks of a healthy or Biblical local church. In his book “The Church: The Gospel Made Visible” Dever continues his ecclesiological education by, first, running the different aspects of the church (it’s nature, attributes, membership, polity, discipline, etc) through a biblical grid, then secondly, showing how the church or churches stayed true or deviated from biblical teaching throughout history and then finally applying that information to what a local church should look like today. 

The first section is foundational to the whole book, and has necessary information for all Christians as they discover their relationship to the body of Christ made visible through the local church. The first 8 chapters focus on answering the question “What does the Bible Say?”. One of the basic principles that he comes back to regularly is that the marks of a church, as seen in Scripture, come down to 1. right preaching (Preaching the Word, built up by biblical theology and centered around the gospel) and 2. Right administration of the ordinances.

The 3 chapters in the second section answer the question “What has the Church Believed?”. Here he covers the history of the idea of the church, the ordinances of the church and the organization of the church. As he explores the history of the church he goes back to the Biblical foundation that he already laid comparing and contrasting the actions of men, churches, traditions and denominations against Scripture.

Finally in the 4 chapters of the third section Dever puts it all together and puts forth what he believes a Biblical church should look like. In summary a biblical church has right preaching, right administration of ordinances, a biblical view of church membership, and an elder led yet congregational governed structure.

If you’re wondering if you should read this book, ask yourself two questions. 1. Do I know what the Bible says about the church? And 2. Do I know why churches today, and specifically my church, believes what we believe and practices what we practice? If the answer to either of those is less than affirmative, then this would book would be an excellent book for you to read.

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Book Review – The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence

This past month I had the privilege of reading “The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence“ as part of our pastoral staff’s ongoing reading program (read a book each month and write a review).  The following is my review of this book by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.

With the Muslim population exploding all over the planet, Thabiti Anyabwile’s book “The Gospel for Muslims” is a must read for those who have been saved by and desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike many books comparing and contrasting Islam and Christianity “The Gospel for Muslims” is not a book of apologetics that simply seeks to answer the claims of Islam and defend the claims of Christianity. Instead Thabiti’s focus is encouraging the Christian to have confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ showing that it is the gospel that has the power to save lost sinner regardless of the belief system that is holding them in darkness. To that end this book is more a book about the Gospel than a book about Islam. 

The book itself is divided into two parts. Part one focuses on the expounding the gospel while showing how the Muslim individual may react based on their belief. The good news in talking to a Muslim is that very rarely will the Christian find it difficult to bring up the topic of “Who is Jesus”. From there the conversation will go to who God says He is in His Word (The Quran accepts as inspired the books of the law, the Psalms and the Gospels), man’s problem (To the Muslim all sin isn’t necessarily a big problem), Jesus’ sacrifice and the required response. 

Part two is dedicated to encouraging a right mindset and attitude when witnessing. The chapters focus on being filled with the Holy Spirit, trusting in the Bible, being hospitable (very important in the Muslim culture), using the local church and being willing to suffer. The final chapter looks at the unique challenges of the African-American Muslim culture.

Over all, Thabiti does a good job at reminding the reader that the goal of the Christian is not to win arguments or debates with their Muslim friends, but to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the weeks after I finished this book and wrote this review I have had many opportunities to interact with a Muslim student at an area school and have a inter-faith dialogue with his Imam.  As a result of my discussions I would add that while the Koran does teach that the Torah, Psalms and Gospels are trustworthy, your Islamic apologist will claim that the copies of these today have been corrupted through multiple translations and scribes seeking to change the meaning.  It’s a catch-22 situation for them however since they will try to use (individual) Bible verses to back up their positions and then turn around and say that the Bible has been corrupted.

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Book Review: The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max

This past month I had the privilege of reading “The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max” as part of our pastoral staff’s ongoing reading program (read a book each month and write a review).  The following is my review of author/missionary Andrew Comings most recent literary accomplishment.

Several years ago the author of this book, Andrew Comings, and myself used to travel from church to church teaching puppetry skills.  One of the truisms about puppetry that we would mention was that good puppetry, while mostly geared toward younger generations, would capture the attention of adults as well.  In “The Astonishing Adventures of Missionary Max” Andrew has managed to do just that.  The book itself would most likely fall into the pre-teen / teen guy reading category.  However, the action, romance and multi-layered plots will keep just about anyone turning the digital pages.

The book, as I just alluded to, has only been published in digital format and is available through Amazon and Nook e-readers.  The story follows Maxwell Sherman, a reluctant missionary with an interesting past, through a series of adventures that begin when he arrives on the small (fictional) island of Cabrito to assist some missionaries in constructing a church building.  But plans go awry from the moment Max steps of the airplane.  Throughout the rest of the book Max embarks on a fantastic, some would say astonishing, journey meeting an eclectic group of characters (from the mysterious Ray and the lovely Ilana to the clutzy Cascavel and ruthless Diego) all the while learning how to trust in God and boldly share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On a personal note, and since this book review is for a church where the author is known quite well, it didn’t take long for me to see the passion that Andrew has for the culture and people of Brazil come out in the pages of this book.  While missionary Max is not autobiographical by any stretch of the imagination and the none of the cast of characters represent a real-life counterpart, for those that know him it’s hard not to see the influence of people and events that God has allowed Andrew to experience creep into the description of an event or character in the book.  So, while this book may not be autobiographical, it is the direct result of a passion that God has given Andrew for a country, a culture, a people and ultimately for the glory of God.

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Book Review: After Darkness, Light

In November I had the privilege of (re)reading the book “After Darkness, Light”.  The ten chapters of the book cover the distinctives of Reformed theology (5 Sola’s and 5 points of Calvinism).  Each chapter is written by a different author and the book is edited by R.C. Sproul Jr. and dedicated to Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Many people assume Reformed theology is only adhered to by Presbyterians who baptize babies and believe that there is no future for ethnic Israel.  Yet as you read through this book, while you will note some paedobaptist and amillenial (i.e. R.C. Sproul Jr.) authors you will also note some authors that hold to believers baptism and pre-millenialism (i.e. John MacArthur).  The conclusion must quickly be drawn that this issues of baptism and eschatology, though important, are not the litmus test for true Reformed theology.  The authors of this book lays the foundation of Reformed theology in ones view of God, Faith and salvation, and they does so by expounding on two of the best systematic views of God, Faith and Salvation:  The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation

  1. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone: “An appeal to the ultimate authority of God’s Word” (chapter 2 written by Keith A. Mathison)
  2. Sola Fide – By Faith Alone: Faith that because of the justifying work of Christ “we are as righteous before God as Jesus Christ himself is”. (chapter 4 written by Sinclair B. Ferguson)
  3. Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone: Salvation is not a result of our works, but of the grace of God active in our lives. This chapter also includes a look at how a popular evangelist in the 1800′s (Charles Finney) instituted a pragmatic works based religion into our culture that we are still battling over a century later. (Chapter 6 written by Michael S. Horton)
  4. Solus Christus – By Christ Alone:  ”Apart from Christ, there is no hope for anyone.” (Chapter 8 written by John F. MacArthur)
  5. Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone be the Glory:  ”If we were forced to pick one [of the 5 sola's] that subsumes all the others, it would no doubt be the last one, soli Deo gloria, ‘to God alone the glory.’” (Chapter 10 written by R.C. Sproul Jr.)

and the 5 doctrines of grace (or 5 points of Calvinism).

  1. Total Depravity – “Did [man] sin because he is a sinner or because of the sin in his environment?” (Chapter 1 written by Martin Murphy)
  2. Unconditional Election – Sinners “are not condemned because they have been passed over, but because they are sinners.” (Chapter 3 written by W. Robert Godfery)
  3. Definite Atonement – “The nature of the Atonement – the death of Jesus – underscores the actual accomplishment of redemption” (Emphasis added) (Chapter 5 written by O. Palmer Robertson)
  4. Irresistible Grace – “When God gives us the grace of a new heart, the first thing we do with it is to repent and believe.” (Chapter 7 written by Douglas J. Wilson)
  5. Perseverance of the Saints – Salvation is assured in Christ, resulting in confidence and love in place of fear. (Chapter 9 written by Jay E. Adams)

The book in it’s entirety is worth the read.  For those struggling with the biblical doctrine of definite atonement I recommend chapter 5.  I came away from that chapter wondering why I had ever struggled with definite atonement and wondering why people still do!

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The Alcohol Post…

At the outset, let me state that this post is not a defense of nor an attack on conscience or liberty.  Meaning that if you’re looking for ammunition in a fight your having with a brother in Christ over whether drinking is good or bad, I hope that you won’t find any here.  So, move along, nothing to see here.  It’s also important to note that while there will be some universal applications, this post is directed at those who hold Christ as preeminent in their lives.  All who do so would of course be called Christians, but not all who call themselves Christians hold Christ as preeminent.  For that second group there are more important things to focus on than the subject below.  Regardless, my goal even in the paragraphs that follow is to raise the focus of the discussion from the earthly and sensual (dealing with the senses) to Christ.

As Tim Challies points out in the intro to his article Christians and Alcohol, the issue of alcohol consumption is a “source of heated disagreement and even separation.”  But where does this heat come from?  When I linked his article on Facebook a 66 comment discussion ensued with parties demanding black and white answers to an issue that the Bible paints in shades of grey.  Let me be clear:  The Bible no where prohibits the child of God (Old Testament or New) from consuming an alcoholic beverage, though in some places and for different reasons it commends abstinence.  By the same token the Bible no where commands consumption, though in some places and for some reasons it commends the ingestion of strong drink and wine to make the heart glad.

I have read articles that come just short of saying that if you don’t drink you’re sinfully avoiding part of God’s creation that we were intended to enjoy.  And of course there are plenty of articles saying that any imbibing, perhaps even of Nyquil, will probably call down the wrath of God, and definitely call down the wrath of the author (full disclosure…I had a shot of Nyquil last night.  Well…two tablespoons in that little plastic cup they give).  And, of course, there are countless articles in between.

Most articles will cite Romans 14, as they ought, but usually focus on one of two points.  The abstainers will focus on how people shouldn’t drink so as not to offend the weaker brother, though some will chafe when you point out that Paul labels the abstainer as the “weaker”.  The imbibers will point out Paul’s focus on liberty, but some will squirm when you point out that Paul showed that there is a time to abstain.  But the point of the chapter I believe is laid out in verse 19-20.

Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All things are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.

From this passage I think that most of our debates about alcohol miss the point.  It seems that we debate in order to justify our position – rarely are those debates edifying.  Oft times labels are thrown around (immature, foolish, legalistic, unwise, condescending, etc.) with the aim of, intentionally or not, tearing down the opposition and fortifying our own.  If we aren’t labeling the opposition, we engage in judging the motives of the opposition:  ”If they weren’t so selfish they wouldn’t drink” or “You’re just trying to impose your standards on everyone else”.  And if all else fails we appeal to the emotions:  ”But all the potential dangers of alcohol obviously make it a sin!”  Regardless of which side of the debate we find ourselves on, when we employ these tactics we risk, at best, destroying “the work of God for the sake of food” (or drink).

How then do we approach the issue? In making his point in Romans 14 Paul is demonstrating a very important fact of Christian life:  God is working in each person in unique ways.  There is a black-and-white issue in this area of alcohol:  Drunkenness is repeatedly condemned as sin.  But due to the uniqueness of each individual the line where drinking becomes a sin is different.  I’ve come up with four categories and an analogy that will hopefully prove beneficial.

#1 The person who can, and does.

This is the Christian who is self-controlled, sober-minded and free of conscience as he enjoys his adult beverage of choice.  He knows his limits, and is in no way held in bondage to alcohol.  He can enjoy his drink as a gift from God and would not want to take glory away from God by over indulging in any way.  This person also recognizes his responsibility not to cause others spiritual damage and goes out of his way not to boast or wax eloquent about his liberty recognizing that such boasting in no way brings glory to God and is far more likely to do damage to a brother.  This person would eagerly refrain from all refrence of alcohol in order to enjoy the fellowship of a brother in category #3.  I would place Tim Challies and R.C. Sproul in this category.

#2 The person who can, and doesn’t

This is a person who, if he chose to could enjoy an adult beverage of choice in the same manner as person #1, chooses rather to abstain because of providential circumstances in his life.  These circumstances could include being in a position of leadership and influence where his drinking could be misunderstood or misrepresented by those he is leading.  Perhaps he just despised the taste.  Whatever the circumstances, he believes it would be better for him to abstain than partake.  It’s important for this person not to boast about how he could if he wanted to, or assign to himself some sort of extra-spiritual status because he “chooses” to abstain, when the truth is God has providentially hindered him.  I would place myself, John Piper and probably John MacArthur in this category.

#3  The person who shouldn’t, and doesn’t

English: photo of Josh Hamilton playing.

Josh Hamilton

This is the person who would in some way be held captive by drinking.  This captivity could include (though not be limited to) an alcohol addiction, a lack of self-control, or a simply conscience that won’t let them take a sip.  The person in this category must know himself and refuse to put himself in situations where stumbling is likely.  I would stress that this person has also been providentially hindered from drinking whether by choices in his past, or genetics in his body.  The person in this category is no less spiritual than the person in categories 1 and 2, rather he has the opportunity to glorify God through triumphing over temptations that others don’t face…at least to the same degree.  This person however needs to be careful not to hold others hostage to his own conscience.  Or to put it another way, this person should not demand that others avoid alcohol the same way he must.  The mature brother in this category can rejoice with others over the path that God is leading him on without demanding that others leave their God-given path.  I would place Josh Hamilton in this category (player for the Texas Rangers).

#4  Those who shouldn’t and do

This category is inhabited by members of each of the other categories who give in to their own selfishness rather than seeking the glory of God and the edification of others.  This is the category 1 individual who feels it his duty to let everyone know how much he’s had to drink recently, being known for what he drinks instead of the Savior who loves him.   This is the category 2 individual who despite the conscience issues or negative influence he will have, drinks anyway…and probably boasts about it to his category 1 friends.   This is the category 3 individual who knows he should avoid the bar or those friends but gives in anyway.  Category #4 should have a high turnover rate.  When we sin and find ourselves in this category our reaction should be one of repentance, thus turning away from the sin that put us here and moving ahead on the path God is leading us down.  However, there are people that seem to like it here, and have camped out in this category.  For them the issue is no longer alcohol, but an eclipse of the Son by their own selfish desires.

These categories are best used for self-inspection.  They are observations and hopefully can be beneficial in directing our gaze to our heavenly Father.  I believe that in a lifetime God can providentially move a person through the first three categories, and by his grace and forgiveness out of the fourth every time it’s entered.

Finally, an analogy.  If, after all this, you’re still struggling with how to accept Christians who drink, or Christians who abstain.  Let me provide an analogy regarding another “grey” area….the internet.

Is using the internet a sin? Well…the Bible doesn’t prohibit it, yet how many families and lives are destroyed by internet porn, gambling, etc. – and the Bible has lots to say about adultery and stewardship! Shouldn’t we as Christians avoid all appearance of evil? Some would say this is a very black and white issue? Others would say that the Bible no where prohibits the internet but it should be used cautiously, and for some it might be a sin to use because of their propensity to stumble.

So to complete the analogy, and thinking of the four categories mentioned above:

Just as, the Bible nowhere prohibits the use of the internet, but does speak strongly about the sin of lust and other vices easily obtained by using it and therefore caution should be used by those who have liberty to use it and benefit from it for God’s glory, while those who cannot not show restraint should abstain for the glory of God:

So

The Bible nowhere prohibits the use of strong drink for every person, but does speak strongly about the sin of drunkenness and therefore those who have the liberty to use it should do so with caution in order to bring God glory and those who cannot use it without causing spiritual damage should abstain in order to bring God glory!

And as this discussion will no doubt come up again many times in our lifetimes, let us abide by the Word of God via the pen of Peter (well..technically the pen of Sylvanus as dictated by Peter):

   “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:5b–8, ESV)

May our satisfaction lie not in our liberty or conviction but in the God who gives them.

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Required Reading…

Ok, before I post my thoughts on Christian liberty in the alcohol department, let me give you two assignments.  The first is this article, Christians and Alcohol, by Tim Challies that sparked quite a discussion when I linked it on Facebook.  The second is the following article by my Dad which I have reproduced with permission below.  Among any other observations you might have, answer this question:  Are the authors saying two different things?

Enough Already!

Reproduced from More than Tennis, the blog of Harold H. Comings: (picture added)

Okay boys, let’s step up to the mirror and open your shirts and count the hairs on your chest. You’re all grown up now. You’ve broken free from those nasty self-righteous, judgmental, tea-totaling Fundamentalists and earned your own place as nasty, self-righteous, judgmental, beer guzzling, whateverists. Good for you.

 

Forgive me if I pull the age thing on you, but I was working through questions of freedom and conscience before many of you were even born; yet, somewhere along the line someone managed to get it through my head that re-thinking and re-evaluating are a part of life. Sure, I wish I had re-thought and re-evaluated some things earlier than I did, but when the time came it was no big deal. Of course there were people who were disappointed in me (thus teaching me not to play that card on others), and there were those who became obnoxious and threatening (thus unintentionally turning my thoughts to Jesus’ words to treat others as I would want to be treated and not as they treated me).

In my later years I have watched a few movies, but I have done so because I was convinced it would be profitable in connecting with others or simply because it would be something to do for mental recreation. There was no issue of psychological damage which could be resolved only by marathon visits to the local theaters and DVD stores.

I still have not taken up alcohol; but not because I fear some dark judgment. I just happen to recognize I have an addictive feature to my character and I don’t want to risk becoming a drunk when God wants me to think clearly (at least as clearly as I can with what I have to work with). I personally embrace the counsel of Lemuel’s mother (Proverbs 31) who told him there were too many things he needed to be able to do for others to waste his time developing his taste for fine wine. I’m terribly sorry if this means I don’t measure up; and the reason I think it might mean that is, I cannot read anything you write without being told you’re having a beer, a brandy or a night cap. When something gets mentioned enough times it takes on the character of a mantra – a measuring device, a predictable and expected nod to something which has become more than “accepted” – something worshiped. Nope, I’m not telling YOU not to drink. Far be it from ME to tell YOU anything. However, knowing your desire not to be like those Fundamentalists, you might want to check to see if your indulgence is just a mirror image of their legalism.

 

Speaking of risk. Wow! You guys sure are adventuresome! Yessiree, real risk takers. From paintball to extreme sports you’re the real wild men of the day! Some of you can swear like a pimp and call people who blush bigots and hypocrites. Can you get more awesome than that? With a manly swagger you let it be known that no Fundamentalist is going to tell you what to do. Yet, golly (spoken like a true wimp), since you and your colleagues are so predictable in so many wild and reckless ways, I wonder what issues in your own circles are “enforced” on each other by the “look.” You know what I mean, that raised eyebrow or sneer other legalists use to keep each other in line? Do you, after all, turn your scorn on any of your group who might dare to say that some sacred cow of your wild and wonderful world is not for them?

 

Please don’t think I’m picking on you. I’m saying the same thing to you that I’ve said to my Fundamentalist circle (and to myself) about many fetishes wrapped in the vocabulary of conviction or freedom. If you want to lump me with them you may, since you do tend to lump people just like they do. However, please be advised that some of my Fundamentalist friends have lumped me with you. On the other hand, please DO think I’m challenging your self-righteous self-congratulationism. My point is, you sound like a bunch of sneering bullies skulking behind the barn daring each other to light up while laughing at the stupid fools who told you not to. Or, worse, you sound just like some legalistic cliques I’ve known over the years. There is, I believe, a considerable difference between Jesus’ passion to seek and save the lost, and the passion to sit around a campfire sniffing arm pits whether or not you are quaffing a pint in the process.

 

As I listen to you scorn the weak, I am grateful. You have helped me discover true friendships with people who do things my conscience will not let me do or who do not do things which my conscience will allow. They are dynamic. Even if they drink, they encourage me to focus more toward the blood of the cross rather than toward the wine pitchers of Cana. They and I both understand and encourage each other to remember that the casting out of one demon of legalistic error, if not replaced with the humbling force of truth, can result in becoming the slave of seven self-righteous errors worse than the first. We are not offended when we remind each other that the counsel to stand fast in our liberty in Christ is yoked with the warning not to let that liberty lure us to become trapped by some fleshly fetish.

With that said, I must leave you to count your chest hairs among yourselves. I could never match you. (If you ever want to check out nose hairs, that’s another matter altogether.) Nor do I bid you follow me. You say you trust Jesus. Check out his “tattoos.” They’re awesome.

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