it’s a people business

Saw an interesting political clip on Breitbart the other day. It’s TV host Chris Matthews complaining about Obama. I first ran into Matthews on TV when the Clinton scandals were active. He was quite antagonistic to Clinton, but he is a liberal Democrat politically and a Catholic, so I have big disagreements with him on a lot of issues. Still, he’s a guy I like in spite of these disagreements.

And of course, I was interested in this clip because the headline talks about Matthews going after Obama. I don’t particularly like Obama’s politics either.

But take a look at the video, because I want to make a point about the ministry from something Matthews says about politics.

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decisions, decisions

What if you don’t recall the hour of your “decision for Christ”? Or, as this old article at Christianity Today asks, “How can I know I’m a Christian if I can’t remember when I first responded to the gospel?”

The question reveals, I think a faulty view of salvation and assurance of salvation. In light of our recent discussion of revivalism here, I thought the article asked an interesting question.

The whole idea of a “decision for Christ” is largely a revivalistic phenomenon. As the article says:

Much of American Protestantism has been influenced by revivalism, which places great emphasis on "making a decision for Christ" in a public, definitive way. These "moments of decision" often become the crucial evidence that one is saved. Other Protestant traditions, less influenced by revivalism (including some Reformed and Lutheran churches), may be content to leave the conversion experience unclearly identified, putting the focus on identification with the church. Both of these traditions have benefits, as well as potential problems.

In a recent comment, our e-friend Tracy makes a good point, I believe:

If I’m preaching to lost folks, I preach Christ crucified and call for them to close with Christ immediately and publicly. Before I close, I tell them if they have any questions, either they can come to the front at the invitation time or they can see me after the service. I always stress that Christ desires their immediate salvation. So I declare the gospel, spell out its terms, and call them to close with it.

I agree with that. We need to call folks to decisions.

But what about some who can’t remember the specifics of their decision? (Perhaps it was a long time ago, perhaps it was when they were very young, perhaps they remember bits, or perhaps they remember nothing at all.)

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In an interview with Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher), Hugh Hewitt brings up the subject of marriage. Peter Hitchens’ comment is very interesting.

HH: As we speak, marriage is up, it’s a knockout punch that is being aimed at marriage in California.

PH: Yes.

HH: The consequences of that, do you have any opinion?

PH: Well, I think it’s immensely serious, and it’s also rative of a fight, because those who fight it on the grounds on which the left have chosen to make it a battle, can very easily be portrayed as bigots and intolerant and cruel, because it’s always an issue of allegedly giving something to somebody, and why are you against giving something to somebody? Are you a cruel person? Are you a nasty person? Are you a vindictive person? And it’s turned into that development. And this is partly, of course, because the battle over divorce, which both in your country and in mine, was made so ridiculously easy in the 1960s. The battle over divorce has already been conceded, and therefore marriage among heterosexuals is so weakened, that this assault on it is not seen for what it is, namely a further blow at what I regard is the constitution of private life, that the marriage contract is the basis on which private life can be lived. And the moment the state becomes more important, and the moment big corporations become more powerful than the marriage bond, then private life is over, and we’re all slaves. And this is the difficulty. You need to find, and the conservative movement on both sides, I think, need to find a language in which to fight this war without it being easy for the other side to portray them as bigots.

(Quote comes about 2/3 of the way through the interview)

Most of my readers are probably aware that this is a present battle for the essential building blocks of human society.

Recently, I conducted the ceremony for my sister and her husband. Two comments highlight how much on the front lines of the battle real Christian marriage is.

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a man of the book

I’d like to recommend an excellent article by one of my old professors, Dr. Stewart Custer. In “Biblical Balance," he writes advocating that we become less shallow in our Scriptural understanding and really get to know our Bibles. I am afraid that most of us are ‘sound bite’ Christians. We treat the Bible like the media treats newsmakers – we take a slice of words that we think represents all of truth on a subject and think we know what the Author meant.

Dr. Custer starts his article this way:

Many people use Scripture for their own purposes. I am referring to sincere Christians who use the Scriptures to reinforce their own private interpretations of the Bible and of life. Many of these people are very godly individuals. I know of preachers whose personal dedication to the Lord is unquestioned, but who have certain doctrines for which they are notorious. They plug these things as though they were the great truths of revelation, when they happen to be of private interpretation.

Most fundamentalists would say they have a handle on the idea of holiness. Dr. Custer points out there are approximately 600 references to the word ‘holiness’ in the Bible (leaving aside passages that don’t specifically use that word). How many of those passages would you say you have thoroughly studied? What kind of grasp do you have on holiness, according to the Scriptures?

Our culture is filled with media, as Dr. Custer points out. All kinds of noise blares at us, demanding our attention. We live fast paced lives. We are ‘Martha’ Christians. We need to learn to be ‘Mary’ Christians, and sit at the feet of Jesus.

Turn off our televisions and our computers. Turn off our ipods and iphones. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Mt 11.29)

I can tell you that I was mightily convicted by this little article this evening


counselling the terminally ill

An article in Christianity Today brings to mind some thoughts concerning illness, especially terminal illness and the way Christians should approach them. The article is entitled, “Does Faith Prolong Suffering for Cancer Patients?

A key quote:

Because religious patients often trust in God’s sovereignty and an afterlife, “one might expect them to be more accepting of death and let nature take its course at the end of life, rather than pursuing very aggressive treatments,” said Dr. Andrea Phelps, lead author on the study and senior medical resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. Such a view, she said, reflects a commonly held assumption about how religious patients approach the prospect of imminent death.

But, Phelps added, a few reasons might help explain why religious cancer patients commonly opt for aggressive care in their final days. Among the possibilities:

—faith leads to optimism, even when a prognosis is bleak;

—faith gives purpose to suffering, and in turn helps patients muster stamina for invasive treatments;

—beliefs about sanctity of life may give rise to a quest to prolong life at almost any cost.

“We were concerned” by the study’s findings, Phelps said. “We are worried because aggressive care, at least among cancer patients, is a difficult and burdensome treatment that medically doesn’t usually provide a whole lot of benefit.”

My question: should Christians ‘fight’ when it comes to disease? Often when someone gets very ill, believing family members will talk about ‘let’s fight this’ or ‘you’re going to fight this, aren’t you?’

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a follow-up on Welch

A friend takes me to task a bit for the review I linked to here. I thought his comments were worth posting. He agreed to let me do so, as long as I kept him "Annie Mouse" (my term), which I am happy to do. He starts off this way:

Arms review was interesting but I think he misses the boat.  I’ve read all of the Adams, Bobgans, etc. type books. Very helpful stuff, but to them, fear, anxiety, depression, etc. are always due to a spiritual problem. I disagree. Berg comes the closest to my position by recognizing that there can be a physical component.

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a review of Welch on depression

Donn Arms reviews Ed Welch’s book, Depression, A Stubborn Darkness here.

I have been positive of Welch in the past, especially for his book on addictions. I have read several of his other books as well. However, if this review is accurate, Welch is basically an integrationist and an unreliable guide for Christian counsellors. Arms is quite severe in his criticisms.