Book Review: Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life

There are few figures in church history that experience as wide a range of opinions about them than John Calvin. When I was an undergraduate at Biola University a classmate told me that she transferred to Biola from another Christian college where Calvin/Calvinist/Calvinism was comparable to a curse word. Similarly, during a philosophy of religion class, which covered the atonement, a professor quipped that penal-substitutionary atonement (a view deeply associated with Calvin’s work) was divine child abuse. On the other side, I have sat in two different classes on Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and listen to students switch views on a topic instantaneously because Calvin held the other view. My point in beginning this book review here is to say that we are either deeply divided on the issues presented in Calvin’s theology or we are completely misunderstanding his views. My guess is that it is a little bit of both, which is why when people ask me about Calvinism or reformed theology (often used interchangeably, which is awkwardly anachronistic) I have usually pointed them to Greg Foster’s book The Joy of Calvinism. It is a great read for anyone interested in Calvinism, but now Foster has a competitor. Last month I read Michael Horton’s addition to the Theologians on the Christian Life series, which is on John Calvin. Horton does a phenomenal job articulating Calvin’s theology with a particular eye for its impact and importance to the Christian life. There is a full review of this book on the Gospel Coalition’s site, so I am going to primarily focus on what I believe to be the highlights of the text.

Stats

  • Total Pages – 272, 251 of content
  • Topic – John Calvin on the Christian Life
  • From the Theologians on the Christian Life Series
  • Crossway, 2014, originally $19.99

Piety

As I consider what was important to talk about in this review, the first thing was obvious: Calvin’s piety, that is Calvin’s view of piety. To those unfamiliar with Calvin’s theology, or maybe to those who think something along the lines of “Calvinism = T.U.L.I.P.”, to draw our attention to a P word that isn’t predestination may seem odd, but piety is the central concern of the reformers. In many ways the protestant reformation was not fundamentally about theological reformation, but an overhaul of the Christian life, a call to return to piety. This, the reformers rightly believed, required a change in theology, thus they sought significant theological change as well. I guess what I am trying to say is that the reformers were concerned with orthopraxy as much as they were with orthodoxy.

The heart of piety of Calvin stemmed, according to Horton, from what theologians refer to as double-knoweldge, that is knowledge of God and knowledge of self. This is how Calvin opens his Institutes he explains that true piety begins with the pursuit of knowledge of God (for those who don’t like theology, read “true piety begins with pursuit of relationship with God”). However pursuit of God must be driven by knowledge of self. We must see what need we have of God in order to be drawn into such pursuit. The rest of the Christian life in many ways is described by the continual growth in these areas. That is, as we grow in knowledge of God we see ourselves through the lens of his holiness and realize how deeply we need his grace, comfort and forgiveness then come through the pursuit of knowledge/relationship of/with God.

Transforming Culture

This is another area of misconception about Calvin, yet it is also a place where we can learn much from him. The usual view of Calvin is that he was some amalgam of a church and state official. This is overly simplistic and it carries with it the notion that Calvin had the run of the town (that town being Geneva, Switzerland) and sought to reform its manner of life through legislation and moralistic preaching. The truth is Calvin was not very involved in politics and really only began to get his way after the city counsel exiled him and then asked him to return. Calvin’s method of transformation, Horton says, was not ecclesial-political rulership, but rather more akin to what James Davidson Hunter, in his amazing book To Change the World, calls “faithful presence”.

This idea of faithful presence is key to Calvin’s impact in the daily life of Geneva (which was an outworking of his theology) and is an increasingly popular idea in the minds of those who study history and theology, and particularly those who study Calvinists—George Marsden’s recent work, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, concludes with an exhortation to faithful presence in a pluralist society, and who does he look to as an example but Abraham Kuyper the dutch Calvinist from the turn of the century. What interests me about the increasing popularity of “faithful presence” is that it run contrary to much of the Christian rhetoric I hear today. From megachurches to Christian universities and scattered throughout Christian music and publishing, all I hear is “GO CHANGE THE WORLD FOR JESUS”. The heart is good, but the idea I think is off. The way Christians will truly make the most impact is by living like Jesus (this includes holiness and evangelism) in regular, everyday life circumstances in the midst of a community. Let people see and hear the gospel in how you live.

Conclusion

There is much more that could be said about Calvin on the Christian Life, but honestly I leave a bunch out because I want you to read the book, so I am hoping just to wet your appetite. I point out these issues because they are regularly misunderstood positions and I have seen great growth and insight in my own life as I have corrected false assumptions in my pursuit of God.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

Masculinity and Domain: The Body

What is your reaction to the following thoughts:

  • How you treat your body (i.e. how much exercise you get, how much sleep you get, what you eat, etc.) is a reflection of how serious you are taking spirituality.
  • How you position your body in a religious context is important to your ability to be spiritually formed.
  • The body is just as important to God as your heart.

If there is a lost skill, or a gap in our educational system, I would contend that it is the ability to critically think. I wrote a few weeks back that I believe the process of transformation begins in the mind. In essence, that is to say transformation starts with critical thinking, and in many ways it does not move past it, but rather engages the rest of life with it. One area of engagement is the body. As disciples of Jesus we must think about what God thinks about our body and whether it plays a role in our transformation into increasing Christlikeness. After some serious thought and study I believe that the body is important to God and to our transformation, but we ought to be judicious in how we speak about its importance since the Trinity’s primary concern is our heart, but that ought not to be used as an argument for neglecting the body, rather properly prioritizing it, all of this we will discuss in this post. Before we get too far into this post, I want to discuss the current situation.

How Things Seem to Be

In an article from January 2013, Fox News reported that a Pulpit and Pew study of 2,500 clergy found that 76% were over weight or obese. The article also pointed out that same year for America as a whole, 61% registered at overweight or obese. In line with this increasing numbers of clergy and laity have chronic illnesses directly resulting from an unhealthy lifestyle. What does it say about our beliefs concerning our bodies, not only that the average people in the pews, that a fair amount (read: majority) of pastors and clergy either struggle with or neglect all together the stewardship of their bodies? This trend was spotted a few years ago by Rick Warren, not exactly Mr. (or minister) Skinny, but to his credit he began encouraging his congregation to follow his example and begin treating their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and something God cares about.

What Does the Bible Say About Our Bodies?

Before we get too condemning or self-loathing, let’s consider what the Bible says about our bodies. There is more that could be said on this subject, but for now what you are about to read will need to be sufficient.

  1. We were created as physical and spiritual beings. In Genesis 1, we see that the body exists before the fall, this would seem to tell us that the body is AT LEAST not evil as the gnostic heresy would claim. We may also note that all things are declared ‘good’ in Genesis 1, informing us that not only is the body not evil, but it is actually good.
  2. Are bodies are fallen and will be made new. Genesis 3 teaches  that the Fall had a total impact, meaning that it impacted ever aspect of us, this means our bodies. As a result our bodies age and wear down over time, some more quickly than others. But to show that God has not written off the body, we see in the book of Revelation that our bodies are renewed and that we will live in eternity, in the Kingdom of Heaven, as physical and spiritual beings.
  3. Spiritual training is more important than physical training. 1 Timothy is clear, in spite of the fact that we are and will continue to be both physical and spiritual beings, training in the spiritual realm (to use biblical language: training in godliness) is of significantly more importance than training in the physical realm.

How Does the Masculine Mandate Impact Our Understanding of the Body?

At this point we have seen that bodily training is of significantly lesser importance than spiritual training, however, as the late Dallas Willard wrote,

Spiritual transformation…is the process of forming the inner world of the human self in such away that it takes on the character of the inner being of Jesus himself. The result is that the “outer” ice of the individual increasingly becomes a natural expression of the inner reality of Jesus and of his teachings…. [For] this to happen our bodies must increasingly be poised to do what is good and refrain from what is evil…. The body must come to serve us as a primary ally in Christlikeness. For good or for evil, the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life. (Renovation of the Heart, 159)

 

Thus there is clearly a care and concern that ought to be given to our bodies. There are many reasons for this care and concern:

  1. Our bodies are gifts from God that ought to be stewarded.
  2. Our bodies are tools to advance the kingdom of heaven that ought to be properly used.
  3. Our bodies can limit our ability to minister.

For our purposes though I want to talk about, something Willard points out a few pages later when he writes, “Therefore my body is the original and primary place of my dominion and my responsibility” (161). In this series we have been looking at how men can pursue the masculine mandate by systematically seeking to keep/protect and work/cultivate the different things God has placed under our domain. We began with the mind, will, and soul (which combine to make up the heart, biblically not biologically speaking), now we consider the body.

How Can We Keep/Protect the Body

Not to sound to obvious, but have you heard about diet and exercise? We obviously cannot protect our bodies from everything, but we can eat right and exercise to make sure our bodies are functioning in the most optimal condition. I really cannot say much more than this because (1) I don’t know a ton about either diet or exercise (my wife tells me what is healthy and what isn’t and I got to the gym and lift heavy things and do some cardio) and (2) how one diets and exercises depends on what stage of life you’re in and where you body is at right now. My advice would only really be all that good for 26 year olds blessed with a high metabolism, who weigh in at 150ish lbs.

How Can We Work/Cultivate the Body

This is pretty much going to be the same thing, but I want to add one more idea here. In the book Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes about the folly of thinking that our body has little to do with our spirituality. In particular Lewis brings up our body position during worship. It is not uncommon for churches to encourage people to stand when singing, but I think Lewis makes a good case that our body position should vary depending on what we are doing in worship. Some prayers and some songs might better represent our heart posture if said and sung from our knees with our heads bowed low, other might be better when we stand on our chairs and stretch our hands as high as we can get them. Ultimately this is my point, cultivate the heart body connection by mimicking your heart posture with your body posture.

Conclusion

In closing I want to say a few things to leave with:

  1. To neglect your body is a sin, but so is the neglect of your heart for the well-being of your body. The heart comes first, but the body is to be cared for as well.
  2. Our bodies can be a source of shame, but Jesus died not only to take the shame of our sin, but all of our shame. He did so by making our primary identity that of children of God. You are not to see yourself first and foremost as a “fatty” or “boney”, but as an adopted child, adopted by the king and creator of the universe.
  3. Your body, though it requires work to keep up, is a gift. You did not choose the family and the gene pool which you were born into. So, if you are pretty cut, don’t be cocky about being fit, rather thank God that he created you the way he did and use your body to praise him. On the flip side know your limits, how hard you can work out and what you need to eat in order to steward your body well.
  4. Most of all, know that Jesus loves you.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

Coming up:

  • NFL predictions, discussions, and reflections.
  • Book Review of Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life
  • Masculinity and Domain: Family and Home
  • Thoughts on a philosophy of education

Bonhoeffer and Emotions

On Monday I posted a blog about Masculinity and the need to bring the soul and will (the seats of emotions and decisions, respectively) under our control. Men are called to rule over, as God’s ambassador, all that is put under their domain. In a series of posts, beginning with the heart, the internal workings of a person, I wrote about how a man ought to exercise his God-given dominion. On Monday we will move on to discuss how man ought to have dominion over his body, but I want to spend some more time considering emotions. I have been reading Eric Metaxes’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and I have noted a few places where Metaxes touches on Bonhoeffer’s view of emotions or ability to control his emotions, I think looking at a few will be instructive on the importance of cultivating and protecting our emotional lives.

  • Bonhoeffer’s Family

Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say. He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride… The Bonhoeffer children were taught to be in firm control of their emotions. Emotionalism, like sloppy communication, was thought to be self-indulgent. When his father died, Karl Bonhoeffer wrote, “Of his qualities, I would wish that our children inherit his simplicity and truthfulness. I never heard a cliché from him, he spoke little and was a firm enemy of everything faddish and unnatural.”

It is important to read this rightly. Metaxes is not saying that the Bonhoeffer household was emotionless, the actions and legacy of this family shows that to be quite an untenable position. What Metaxes is saying is that Dietrich’s father, Karl, sought to instill in his children emotional balance. They were to experience emotions, but not to lose themselves to them, not to allow themselves to be ruled by emotions. So much of our culture encourages us to lose ourselves in our emotions, especially in terms of romantic love and vengeance.

  • Bonhoeffer, Emotion, and the Church

Talk like this was rare from most German pulpits. From a university lectern it was simply unheard of. But Bonhoeffer had not suddenly become more emotional, or less rational. His style as a lecturer was “very concentrated, quite unsentimental, almost dispassionate, clear as a crystal, with a certain rational coldness, like a reporter.” It was this combination of an adamantine faith with a logician’s sparkling intellect that was so compelling.

Bonhoeffer openly thought things through and taught his students to do the same. They followed lines of reasoning to their logical conclusions and considered every angle to have a sense of absolute thoroughness, so that nothing depended on mere emotion. He accorded theological ideas the same respect that his father or Karl-Friedrich accorded scientific ideas, or his brother Klaus accorded ideas of jurisprudence. Questions about the Bible and ethics and theology must be treated with the same rigorousness, and all cant and “phraseology” must be identified, exposed as such, and cut away and discarded. One wished to arrive at answers that could stand up to every scrutiny because one would have to live out those conclusions. They would have to become actions and would have to become the substance of one’s life. Once one saw clearly what the Word of God said, one would have to act on it and its implications, such as they were. And actions in Germany at that time had serious consequences.

Bonhoeffer struck a balance between the lectern and pulpit. The former was often cold and mathematical, the latter emotional and charismatic. Bonhoeffer sought a middle ground. he combined controlled emotions with firm logic. In his own studies this allowed him to see through the fog of the popular liberal theology and to seek to communicate truth. He impressed this on his students as well.

  •  Emotions, Control, and Circumstance

But as they spoke, Bonhoeffer’s mind continued to churn about the situation back home, wondering how long he should stay in America, whether he ought to have come at all. But ever the master of his emotions, he didn’t betray any of this inner turmoil to his host, neither on the train nor in the three days he was with him and his family in their country home.

Listening to the radio in the sick bay on July 21, Bonhoeffer heard the news of the failed assassination attempt. He knew the ramifications. But he would not take his emotional cues from circumstances.

Bonhoeffer’s life brought about circumstances that would have lent themselves to emotional extremes, but his ability to rule his emotions (rather than them ruling him) allowed him to live a life of joy in the midst of tragedy, which was never far from his mind. It is possible that Bonhoeffer went too far in reigning in his emotions, I am not sure, but what I can say for sure is that we can learn much from Dietrich, as well, I am sure, other brothers and sisters in church history. But ultimately our example must be Christ. Jesus as well felt deep emotions and yet he never allowed them to rule him. Yes, even when turning tables over in the Temple.

 

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

Coming Up Next Week:

  • Masculinity and Domain: The Body
  • More NFL predictions and reflections on the NFL
  • Either a personal psalm (I promised one a while ago and didn’t get around to it)…
  • Or a review of Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life

Predictions for Week One

Though I usually limit myself to a select set of topics, every once in a while I branch out to talk about sports, my favorite of which is football. So here are my predictions for week 1 of the regular season.

  1. With a larger than normal chip on his shoulders Arron Rodgers leads Green Bay to an upset over Seattle in Seattle as pay back for the “Fail Mary”. Final score 14-24 Green bay.
  2. San Francisco stops talk of weak defense as Bowman and Smith’s subs get big pressure on Romo. I bet the secondary gets burned deep at least once though. Final score 17-27 San Francisco.
  3. Corrderell Patterson scores at least a 30 yard touchdown of some kind in a win over St. Louis. Final score 21-14 Minnesota.
  4. Brian Hoyer does “just fine” as Cleveland beats Pittsburgh in an underwhelming performance. Final score 3-17 Cleveland.
  5. Toby Gerhart does well, but is out shined by McCoy and Sproils. Final score 14-28 Philly.
  6. Maurice Jones-Drew makes a comeback. Final score 10-17 Oakland.
  7. Epic chases ensue between RGIII and Javed Clowney as Houston barely pulls out the home win. Final score 24-21 Houston.
  8. Alex Smith usually does well when he has a new contract, I bet he get a touchdown with his arm and his legs in a win over Tennessee. Final score 24-14 Kansas City.
  9. Cam Newton continues to prove he is a fantasy beast, but also continues to prove that Carolina is not good on offense. Final score 10-21 Tampa Bay.
  10. Andrew Luck out performs Peyton Manning in an Indi win in Denver. Final score 24-31 Indianapolis.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

Masculinity and Domain: The Soul and The Will

Feelings, feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Continuing on in our discussion about masculinity and domain, we come to the will and soul. By way of recapitulation, we have been examining what Richard Phillips calls the “masculine mandate”. This is the directive God gave to Adam to work (cultivate) and keep (protect) creation. Having written both a book review of Phillips’ The Masculine Mandate and a discussion of how we (men) might pursue fulfilling the mandate today by thinking about what God has given us dominion over, we discussed the how we might work and keep our minds, as the mind is where transformation begins. In that last post I asserted, in agreement with Dr. Robert Saucy, that the mind is one facet of the heart; or put differently, that the heart is the center/core of a person and is made up of the mind, the will, and the soul. In this post we turn our attention to the will and soul, that is, having attempted to work and keep the mind, we now attempt to understand how we might do the same for the will and soul.

The Relation of the Mind, the Soul, and the Will

The first concept we must understand is how the mind and soul relate, for this I, again, am relying on Dr. Saucy’s Minding the Heart. In today’s culture we are tempted to think of emotions as involuntary or uncontrollable. Emotions are often thought of as autonomous, they do what they want without regard for our thoughts and desires. Likewise we often think of ‘emotional’ people as volatile or spontaneous. On the flip side, the Spocks of the world are all intellect and no emotion. In truth, however, this is not an accurate picture of emotions. Emotions are directly linked to our thoughts, they arise as a result of our thoughts. Consider, by way of example, the death of a loved one. How you emotionally respond to that is directly correlated to what you believe to be true about that person and what happens after death. In relation to this Dr. Saucy writes, “This analysis tells us that our emotions are not simply feelings, but feelings that result from our emotions are not simply feelings, but feelings that result from our mind’s appraisal of that which has aroused our attention” (140).

This is not always immediately clear to us though, not because it is false, because we often are inconsistent in our real beliefs and our assertions. We may claim a belief in God, or the goodness of man, or the rightness of an action, or the benefits of technological progress, but if we ever ‘lose’ this belief we might ask if we ever really believed it in the first place. To be more specific there are many who have ‘left’ Christianity or the Church because they felt they could no longer believe in God for this or that reason, but many times we find that careful investigation reveals that they never really believed in the Christian God (the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Rather they believed in some false depiction of God (maybe a deist God or the God of moralistic, therapeutic deism) or never tested their “belief in God” enough to see if it actually held weight.

To return to our point, though, emotions are connected to beliefs and thoughts. They are subordinate and often reveal our true inclinations in what we believe and how we think. But if we are seeking transformation and change it should be common sense that something is missing from our discussion. From this idea we get the following progression:

Thought  >>> Emotion >>> _________ >>> Heart Transformation

It should not take long to figure out what is missing, action. Heart transformation does not happen on its own, rather it is a result of actions which are motivated by our sanctified emotional responses to true beliefs/ideas. This brings us to our next concept, the will.

The will is the seat of desires and decisions. Put simply when a choice arises (say between writing a blog post or going to work out) our will kicks in. It weighs our desires (do I want to practice writing and publish a blog which will contribute to me becoming a better writer or do I want to work out which will contribute to me getting stronger and looking good with my shift off?) and makes a decision based on which desire is stronger. Like our emotions, however, this is not an isolated process. Our desires are based on beliefs/ideas and fueled by emotions. Thus the will is inseparably linked to the soul and the mind.

There is much more that could be said here, but we need to move on to the issue at hand.

How Do We Work Our Souls and Wills

  1. Seek truth. voraciously read your Bible and allow it to challenge your thoughts and beliefs. I recommend starting by taking a few blank pieces of paper and labeling them ‘God’, ‘Life’, ‘Humanity’, then write as much as you can about what you believe about them. Then take a Bible (read it), and make notes about what the Bible says about those three things. When you run into disagreement between what the Bible says and what you believe allow the Bible the place of primacy over your thoughts. This is not to say “just believe what the Bible says”, rather allow the Bible to be judge over you rather than you judging the Bible. Ask yourself why you believe X and whether or not it is more believable and more consistent with reality than what the Bible says. This is not easy to do, so seek help from people who know their Bibles well and from commentaries on the Bible.
  2. Reflect on your past. Are there events that have lead you to develop false beliefs about God, life, humanity, the world. Seek out your false beliefs and change them, ask God to change them.
  3. Analyze your emotions. In moments of deep emotion or soon after, ask yourself, ‘why did I respond that way?’, ‘what caused that emotion to manifest in me?’, ‘was my emotional reaction justified?’, ‘if I could re-live that experience and change how I reacted, what do I wish I could have done?’
  4. Act. Go. Actually do these things. Ask God to give you the desire to do them.

How Do We Keep Our Souls and Wills

  1. Seek Truth. Read your Bible it will soften and feed your heart.
  2. Search and destroy false beliefs.
  3. Analyze emotions. Attempt to catch yourself in the midst of emotional reactions which show false beliefs.
  4. Pray for consistency in your life.
  5. Pursue holiness. Sin hardens and erodes the heart, but holiness frees us to follow and hear from God.

 

That is all we have time for in this post, thanks for reading,

 

t.d.h.

 

Coming up next:

  1. Update on The Planter
  2. NFL: Week One Predictions
  3. Bonhoeffer and Emotions
  4. Review of Michael Horton’s John Calvin on the Christian Life: Part 1 of a series of reviews covering the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway.

 

Theology Proper Creed

In an effort to gain precision and concision in my theology I have started attempting write 1-page, single-spaced creeds (statements of belief). I have just posted the first one under the creeds tab at the top of the page on God (the technical term on Theology Proper). Check it out and give it a try for yourself 1-page, single spaced as much as you can state about who you believe God is. Then try and support it.

Enjoy,

t.d.h.

Masculinity and Domain: Beginning with the Mind

The past couple of weeks I have produced a few posts on the masculine mandate, the first was a book review of Richard Phillips’ book The Masculine Mandate and the second was the introduction to this series on fulfilling the mandate of Phillips’ book. You can follow the links back to those posts, otherwise it will suffice to say that the masculine mandate is the task given to men to work and keep, or we might say cultivate and protect, that which God places under our stewardship and domain. As we pursue the masculine mandate, we must understand that there is a flow to how we proceed, and that flow begins in the mind. But before we get into the how, it is important to answer the whats and why that prop up our understanding of working and keeping our minds.

What Is the Heart?

Before we can talk about the mind, we need clarification on the heart. The heart, biblically speaking, is the center of a man. Dr. Robert Saucy, of Talbot School of Theology, writes:

In truth, the heart represents the whole person—who we really are. Scripture tells us that life flows from the heart…. The faith of a person is never expressed with any faculty other than the heart…. Ultimately, ‘heart’ and ‘person’ are virtually synonymous. To understand ourselves and how we grow, therefore, requires an understanding of the real nature of the heart. (Minding the Heart, 31)

Saucy marshals convincing biblical evidence to show that the heart is crucial both for what it does and because God deals with us in accordance with our hearts and we experience and know God through our hearts. This is not to say, however, that our experience with God is limited to the emotional realm, for the biblical manner of speaking of the heart encompasses our thoughts (the mind), emotions (the soul), and decisions/direction (the will).

What Is the Mind?

The mind, then, is the part of our hearts which deals with ideas, images, information, and the ability to think. This is why the mind is so important. The late Dallas Willard wrote about the importance of the mind in his book Renovation of the Heart. In it he argued that false thoughts can often derail our lives both practically speaking and spiritually speaking. Consider for example the current debate over so called same-sex marriage and the openly homosexual lifestyle and the Church. This issue is very clear when we take a moment to stop and critically engage it with our minds. Those who embrace and accept homosexuality and same-sex marriage (meaning those who claim it is not a sin, think Rob Bell) claim one of two things usually: either (1) society has changed and so should the church (the get with the times approach) or (2) we need to show the gay community that we love them and are not homophobic by accepting their lifestyle. The problem is both of these are fundamentally flawed and neither is supportable by scripture or the Christian tradition. On the flip side, we could think through the issue slowly.

  • We want to love our neighbors regardless of lifestyle.
  • The gospel is the deepest need of everyone.
  • Sin hardens hearts.
  • Sin is corrosive to the soul.
  • Sinful and hardened hearts reject the gospel.
  • If homosexuality is a sin, then it damages the soul, and thus hardens the heart.
  • God uses the truth of his word to soften hearts.
  • God’s word clearly states that homosexuality is a sin.
  • Christianity (discipleship to Jesus) comes with a cost.

There are more points I could put up here, but you can see the logic and whether you agree or not you can see why I see my stance on homosexuality (and pornography use, extramarital sex, and a whole gamut of non-sexual sins) as loving. I am concerned with the health of the heart, which I believe begins with an active critical mind; which is to say, that the health of the heart depends on a mind that critically engages with ideas, images, and information.

  • Ideas – “General models of or assumptions about reality” (Willard, 96).
  • Images – Concrete or specific pictures (visual or verbal) that give emotional weight to abstract ideas (Willard, 99).
  • Information – Facts about reality (Willard, 102)

Here is what needs to be said about these three concepts. Ideas guide us, images—especially powerful ones—ground ideas, and information confirms ideas. My life, in many ways, is directed by the ideas I have, specifically the idea that God exists as three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) and that he has offered salvation through his son Jesus of Nazareth. This idea is grounded in information I have concerning the make up of the world, the accuracy of the Bible, and powerful images of God’s power and the work of the gospel. What should be noted is that powerful images can also be used to propagate false ideas. Willard writes,

Ideas and images are, accordingly, the primary focus of Satan’s efforts to defeat God’s purposes with and for humankind…. Thus when he undertook to draw Eve away from God, he did not hit her with a stick, but with an idea…. Images increase the danger of inadequate ideas. They have the power to obsess and to hypnotize, as well as to escape critical scrutiny. (Willard, 100)

This understanding of the importance and purpose of the mind explains why the process of transformation and the application of the masculine mandate begins with the mind. It requires clear and accurate thinking about any area in order to properly work and keep it. Consider child rearing, your approach to raising children is heavily dependent on what you think is best for them. If you don’t believe me consider checking out this NPR link.

How Do We Work Our Minds?

  1. For the sake of your heart read. Begin with the scriptures, read the Bible, read it in big chunks. Think about it, digest it, talk to people about it, question it, allow it to question you, wrestle it, and when all is said and done obey it.
  2. Read good books. I have cited a few on this subject (Renovation of the Heart and Minding the Heart), I could also add Love God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland. For more check out the reading list link in the menu bar.
  3. Have meaningful conversations. Critically and humbly question the ideas of others and be okay with others questioning yours. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a great guide on this, you can pick up his biography by Eric Metaxes and read about Bonhoeffer’s thinking practices.

How Do We keep Our mind?

  1. Seek out and destroy destructive ideas. Begin with your thoughts about God and yourself. What does the Bible say about God? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Question yourself, submit your mind to the authority of scripture and allow it to challenge your ideas as you read.
  2. Make good friends who promote good thinking. Many people today fail to think well, don’t be one of them and don’t surround yourself with them, but make friends that challenge sloppy thinking.
  3. Spend time in silence. Sometime there is so much noise that we can’t assess ideas. We need to slow down and learn to quietly listen to God, to ourselves, and to others.
  4. Put your ideas down on paper. Try and defend them with a written argument. Note bad ideas and good ideas.

Where Do We God From Here?

As we seek to steward our domain well we must begin with the mind and then progress to deeper into the heart before we look to the outside world. Next stop the soul.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

Upcoming

  • God Creed
  • A TDH Psalm
  • Masculinity and Domain: The Soul

Bold, Boldish, Not So Bold, and Bland Predictions for this NFL Season

After some careful deliberation, some thought provoking analysis, and a good night sleep here are my bold to bland predictions for this year’s National Football League season.


NFC West

  • BOLD – Seattle Seahawks will lose two home games. My guess is St. Louis in week 7 and San Francisco in week 15, but I could also see Green Bay or Denver with an upset.
  • BOLDish Zac Stacey ends the year as the best statistical running back in the division. Primarily, this means he has a better year than Frank Gore or Marshawn Lynch.
  • Not so BOLD – San Francisco 49ers will be the NFC Champions. Beating out the New Orleans Saints for the Super Bowl. I’ll grant that the latter half is pretty bold, but last year everyone saw the Niners as the second best team in the NFL so this is not all that bold considering repeats have been few and far between (sorry Shehawk fans).
  • Bland – Sam Bradford has a better year than Carson Palmer.

NFC South

  • BOLD – Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints will both be undefeated when playing each other in week 9.
  • BOLDish New Orleans wide receiver Brandin Cooks will have a better year than Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Cooks is also my pick for NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year.
  • Not so BOLD – Tampa Bay’s safety Dashon Goldson is penalized more than former teammate and Cleveland Brown’s safety Donte Whitner.
  • Bland – The Atlanta Falcon’s continue to be terrible at running the football.

NFC North

  • BOLD – Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a better season than Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel and Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles (though I am hoping that the Jaguars develop their young qb and don’t play him at all this year).
  • BOLDish The winner of the NFC North will have a worse record than the NFC Wild Card (which I am predicting to be the Seahawks).
  • Not so BOLD – Aaron Rodgers continues to be frustrated by the NFC West and the Packers will be plagued with second half injuries.
  • Bland – Detroit Lion’s defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh gets suspended

 

NFC East

  • BOLD – The Washington Redskins change their name and logo midway through the season sparking an exciting push for the playoffs, which ultimately falls short.
  • BOLDish Dallas Cowboys win the division, but get crushed in the first round of the playoffs. As a result Tony Romo is criticized in spite of being the only player on Dallas to play like a professional athlete. He will also be criticized for either taking or not taking a vacation before the game.
  • Not so BOLD – Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles continue to be much better fantasy players than NFL players.
  • Bland – New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL this year.

 

AFC West

  • BOLD – The San Diego Chargers make the playoffs.
  • BOLDish - Oakland Raiders running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden, one has a resurgence, the other gets hurt.
  • Not so BOLD – Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith rushes for more touchdowns than Denver’s opening day starting running back and Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel
  • Bland – Chiefs do not go 8-0 again.

 

AFC South

  • BOLD – Houston’s Andre Johnson will not be on the Texans come the deadline.
  • BOLDish Toby Gerhart has the best statistical season of any AFC South running back. That’s right Gerhart will be better than Arian Foster.
  • Not so BOLD – Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback of the Houston Texans, does not start all 16 games. Also, only a small minority of football fans not residing in Houston will be able to tell you who Houston’s starting quarterback is at any point in the season.
  • Bland – Andrew Luck puts up better numbers than Payton Manning.

 

AFC North

  • BOLD – Cincinnati Bengles are the AFC Champions.
  • BOLDish - In the quarterback battle in Cleveland I believe Brian Hoyer plays more snaps than Johnny Manziel this year.
  • Not so BOLD – Steve Smith is essentially retired and the Ravens season is essentially over. Though Flacco’s unibrow will continue to be stand out among NFL quarterbacks.
  • Bland – Pittsburg finishes last in their division.

 

AFC East

 

  • BOLD – Buffelo Bills win the AFC East, Sammy Watkins is your AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year.
  • BOLDish New York Jets back up quarterback Michael Vick starts at least four games this year.
  • Not so BOLD – Miami Dolphins have a winning record in their division.
  • Bland – Tom Brady appears in more non-football related ads than football related stories.

Masculinity, Dominion, and the Masculine Mandate

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed the book The Masculine Mandate by Richard Phillips. It’s a very good book that has helped me understand and articulate some foundational beliefs about masculinity, but you can read about those elsewhere. Today I want to kick off a series of posts expanding on some of Philiips’ ideas. In order to do so it will be necessary to layout Phillips’ thesis so we are all on the same page.

The Masculine Mandate20140803-112531.jpg

Many Christians and non-Christians have noticed a distinct problem in American culture as it currently exists, specifically, there is a distinct lack of maturity in the male population, that is to say there is a distinct lack of masculinity or manhood. Sure there are males, there are baby boys being born and growing up, but they are turning into something other then men. To use sociologist Michael Kimmel’s distinction, they are turing into guys. Considering that we are dealing with non-technical terms it may be helpful to say what I take the difference between a man and a guy to be. Having read a fair amount of the “where-have-all-the-men-gone” literature, it strikes me that the difference between what Kimmel calls a guy and a man is that a man exhibits responsibility, selflessness, along with ethical awareness as integral aspects of their character, a guy does not. There is much that we could discuss here, and in many ways I am oversimplifying, but we’ll save that for another post. At this point we as a culture and as Christians ask, “what can be done?”, “how can we recover masculinity?”, “what is masculinity?”. All are good questions, and it is at this point that Phillips comes in.

The book The Masculine Mandate seeks to answer the question “what is the heart of masculinity?” from a biblical perspective. Phillips begins by clarifying his starting point:

When Jesus was asked about marriage (Matt. 19:4-6), He answered from Genesis 2. Likewise, when Paul was discussing the role of women in relation to men (1 Tim. 2:11-14), he found his answers in Genesis 2. The New Testament sees issues of gender and male-female relationships answered in the opening chapters of the Bible: the basic teaching on creation in Genesis 1 and the record of God’s specific dealing with the first man and woman in Genesis 2. It is here that we should search for the Bible’s most basic teaching on manhood. (page 4)

From there Phillips turns to Genesis 2 and draws out two main principles: to work and to keep. Which Phillips expands, saying, “To work is to labor to make things grow. In subsequent chapters I will discuss work in terms of nurturing, cultivating, tending, building up, guiding, and ruling…. [And to] keep is to protect and to sustain progress already achieved. Later I will speak of it as guarding, keeping safe, watching over, caring for, and maintaining” (page 8). This according to Phillips is the masculine mandate, and I believe his exegesis and logic is quite sound, but if you want to investigate it for yourself you’ll have to get the book.

Moving Beyond Phillips

In some reviews I read of The Masculine Mandate while I was working on my review, I came across the critique that Phillips fails to adequately address singleness. While I have mixed opinions about this criticism, I do think it is fair to say that Phillips’ audience seems to be a generic Christian man (30+ year old, with a wife, kids, and career), this would seem to make his examples irrelevant for younger (20-somethings) believers. If you read my review you’ll see that I dismiss this as lazy thinking considering the Genesis 2 template can be applied to other situations, not just those Phillips covers in the latter half of the book. However I been giving some thought to the principles of the book and how they might affect my life—as a married, 26 year old, in seminary—and the lives of my married and single friends. 

As I thought about this book and its challenge, I thought “but where do you begin?” There is some much work to be done and so many areas that need to be assessed. This is where the idea of dominion comes into play. As I try to apply the masculine mandate to my life, I need to look at my dominion, that is, I need to look at what God has given me lordship and influence over. We, therefore, must begin with ourselves and work our way out.

For the next few weeks I will be working on a series of posts dealing with how we can work and keep the things under our dominion, and by doing so embody masculinity. I will be touching on topics like the mind, soul, body, family, domicile, and work/education.

Before I close up shop for the day, at least in terms of this blog, I want to make a few comments. In this series of posts and future posts on this blog, I will be reframing from the terms “godly masculinity” “or “biblical masculinity” as well as their female counter parts because they communicate that there is a definition of masculinity that are unbiblical or ungodly. In one sense there are, there are cultural definitions of masculinity that emphasizes things like sexuality, strength, independence, etc., but the truth is that these definitions are counterfeits and the only true definition of masculinity is biblical masculinity or godly masculinity. As such they should not require qualifiers, both because they are the originals and it is redundant (to say something is masculine is to say it displays what God intended and describes in the scriptures as characterizing a man, therefore “biblical masculinity” is redundant). All other counterfeits ought to receive qualifiers. 

A second point I want to clarify is that the masculine mandate is, in a way, also given to women, for God created them to be helpers to their husbands. As such, my wife is also tasked with working and keeping that which is under her domain. However, the mandate is called “the masculine mandate” because it is men who the mandate is given to and it is men who are tasked with the leadership and initiative in pursuing the mandate.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

Coming up next

  • My Bold, Boldish, and not so Bold Predictions for this NFL Season
  • Masculinity and Domain: The Mind
  • Theology Proper Creed

Bonhoeffer: Chapters 11-15

Continuing a thread of posts, this is my third post on the thoughts and reflections which Eric Metaxes’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, has evoked. The previous two posts can be found here along with some other Bonhoeffer related posts.

  • How do we lead?

This thought has struck me in light of the recent news concerning Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle, WA. (for those unawares here are several links from Christianity TodayTim Challies, and Acts 29). Regardless of what you think about Mark, you must admit that he has been one of (if not the biggest) leader of young evangelicals for almost a decade. Mark has come under a ton of criticism throughout his time in ministry (if you are unaware of that just google his name, but please only read posts from reputable sources like Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, and First Things) for the things he has said or tweeted, but what we should look at is his character and manner of leadership. Bonhoeffer believed deeply in the imitation of Christ and the call to discipleship. This lead Bonhoeffer to reflect both steadfastness to truth and care and compassion in his leadership. Bonhoeffer, like Driscoll, faced a flurry of criticism from every possible angle. The government was not fond of him, as the Nazi’s continued to push the nation and the church increasingly toward cultural Christianity (which is really not Christianity) at best and full blown paganism at the worst. The church leaders were concerned about him believing him to be extreme in his call to separate and clarify (as Luther had done centuries before) that the established church had left the confessing church. But Bonhoeffer, humbly and sternly grasped his Bible and fixed his conscience, he would not bend either to violence and vulgarities or to a wishy-washy faith. He stood in a gap that many before and since failed to. I am at a loss to say what is true, what is embellished, and what is slanderous. Regardless, however, it ought to be recognized that Driscoll’s character and leadership has been called into question and all in (or training to be) pastoral ministry ought to take notice and ought to search the scriptures for in them we do find guidance for how to lead. I would also recommend Bonhoeffer’s example.

  • Where are our minds set?

Metaxes notes that Bonhoeffer was given increasingly to the exposition of eschatological passages. Though there is the historical element of ministering in a time period when one must have wonder if the final days were at hand, we should not neglect the fact that believers are to have an eye always to the Kingdom of God. Colossians tells us to set our minds on the things that are above rather than on the the things of this world. The gospels continually tell of John and Jesus preaching about the Kingdom of God. In contemporary America it is easy to have our vision set only on today with no thought to the future, but we must balance both, we need to set our minds, hearts, and bodies to work for the Kingdom, for the gospel today, but we cannot neglect that our work today sets a trajectory into the Kingdom of the future. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy that bodily training is of little value, but spiritual training is of much value because it carries over into the next life. Open your Bible today, live eschatologically (not in a weird way mind you) today because we are training to live in the Kingdom.

  • Is your church made in your image?

A Christian is one that seeks to follow in the footsteps of Christ, obeying his teaching and learning from his life. If this is true of individual Christians, then we can see how the church, a gathering of believers should be continually growing to look more and more like Christ. That is, we should be continually fashioned into the likeness of God, into, as we were intended to be, his image bearers. The image of God was given to us in our creation, but in the Fall the image was fractured and distorted. It still remains in all of us, but it is not whole, it is not consistent. In the New Testament we are told that Jesus, the Son of God, became man and lived consistently and holistically in the image of God. Thus showing us how we might fulfill our intended purpose. Furthermore Christ’s life, death, and resurrection made a way to be refashioned into God’s image. Yet it often seems like churches are not being increasingly fashioned into the image of Christ, but into the image of their leadership or their community. If you were at church this last Sunday think back and consider this question: did the people who I interacted with, sat near, or saw on stage look like me? If you wore a black shirt, jeans, and have at least one tattoo, can you recall seeing a guy in a suit at church? If you wore a suit to church can you recall a guy in a black t-shirt, jeans, with a tattoo? Do you go to a church where you comfortably fit in with everyone around you? Did you pick a church fashioned in the image of yourself and your culture? Bonhoeffer’s biography is riddle with insights and growth which came from the gospel-centered desire to be around people that made him uncomfortable, that didn’t look like him. The reader comes across the story of a young hard working academic ministering to a laid back, kind of lazy church. Or the story of a white German leading children’s ministry in an African-American church in Harlem. Bonhoeffer saw the body of Christ as diverse, he did so because the Bible depicts the body of Christ as diverse, therefore we to should see our churches as diverse, but are they?

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.