What Are Millennials Really Saying About Marriage? (CaPC)

Pew Research on Marriage

Another week, another story on millennials comes out. This time we have one about millennial attitudes towards marriage. According to a new Pew study, about 70% of my peers think that “Society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.” as opposed to about 30 % who think that “Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority.”

But as Emma Green over at the Atlantic points out, “Looking at this chart is a little like taking a Rorschach inkblot test on the topic of ‘American values: You could see a lot of different things, if you wanted.”

For instance, this could easily be read as a blaring alarm sign-posting the grim future of marriage in America. Still, given that 75% of millenials in a 2013 Gallup poll that they’d like to get married in the future, it could be something much more benign like a “not quite yet”, which would make sense given the way average marriage ages are creeping higher each year.

I say a lot more about this over at Christ and Pop Culture.

Soli Deo Gloria

A Non-Scholastic, Personalistic Doctrine of Divine Simplicity?

dogFollowing up the discussion of the doctrine of divine simplicity from Monday, one of the most frequent criticisms of the doctrine, certainly of it’s harder forms, is that it is not something derived from biblical considerations, but almost wholly from non-biblical, or even unbiblical philosophical presuppositions drawn from Platonist, Aristotelian, and other philosophical traditions. This charge is particularly leveled against the forms found in accounts like Thomas’ and those following in the Aristotelian tradition of reflection. For a good example of one of these accounts, I’d point you to this short post by my friend Steven Nemes.  For a good, much longer example of this sort of criticism, see Paul Maxwell’s recent, serious ETS article on the subject (an article which I have yet to complete and so will leave off from evaluating here.)

While I’m not going to try and defend or answer objections to this kind of account, I did recently run across John Frames’ account of divine simplicity in his The Doctrine of God (pp. 225-230) in which he argues that some form (probably falling somewhere in the first 5 senses of the term we listed out recently) should be attributed to God. What makes his account worth highlighting is that he’s trying to make the argument from within a theological methodology that he himself describes as “something like biblicism”, with a somewhat unsympathetic take on medieval and Reformational scholastic metaphysics. In other words, he’s kind of a prime suspect for rejecting the doctrine, and yet here he tries to find a way of salvaging and affirming it according to a “more scriptural” logic.

How does the argument work? Well, it begins simple enough. Frame notes that scripture uses the language of attributes to describe God as “spirit” (John 4:24), “love” (1 John 4:8, 16), and “light” (1 John 1:15). Scripture says not that God has these things, but that he is these things. These are three different ways of describing God that are perspectives on the whole divine essence. What’s more, he notes that the Lord swears by his own holiness (Psalm 89:5, Amos 4:2), with the insinuation that his holiness is nothing less than himself. The same sort of logic is at work when we consider God’s truth, which distinguishes him from false gods (Jeremiah 10:10), as well as Lordship and so forth. In the case of all of these attributes, Frame says that we can’t imagine God being God without being characterized by this quality.

Frame says that while we don’t find a clear passages showing that “all of God’s attributes are necessary to his being and thus perspectives on that being, but they do provide a pattern and a way of thinking about divine attributes to which it is hard to find plausible exception” (pg. 229). From there he asks “But does this pattern justify talk of simplicity?”

It’s here that things get interesting. Frame says that if we think that the different attributes are still perspectives or angles on the one reality of God, then we’ll have to admit at least a relative simplicity even while confessing some sort of complexity. The attributes are not separate in God and so therefore we begin to see that “attributes have attributes”: God’s love is holy, his righteousness is wise, his “mercy is eternal”, and so forth. Still that shouldn’t lead us to conclude that the attributes are simply synonymous. It’s not that his justice just is his power which just is his love and so forth. Though the attributes are all together and mutually determining they are also truly distinguishable. For those who know what to look for, it’s beginning to sound like a Scotist account of the sort Tom McCall writes about in Forsaken; it allows for formal distinctions between the attributes by which they are inseparable, but really distinguishable in themselves, not just phenomenologically (or, just in our heads).

Still, despite pushing for a recognition of real distinctions between the attributes, he invites us to remember that God is a person, and so when we speak of the “divine goodness”, for example, we’re really just “referring to everything that God is”, not some abstract property. “For everything God does is good, and everything he is is good. All his attributes are good. All his decrees are good. All his actions are good. There is nothing in good that is not good” (pg. 229). When we praise his goodness, or his justice, or his beauty, we’re not praising some external standard to which he conforms to, possesses, or participates in, but rather just what he is.

At the heart, then, of Frame’s account of simplicity is the recognition that the biblical God is a “personal God.” He is not a bundle of attributes, but rather a whole person that relates to his creation as such. “The attributes merely describe different things about him. They are a kind of shorthand for talking about that person. Everything he says and does is good, right, true, eternal, and so on” (pg. 230).

Leaving a treatment of the Trinity and simplicity until later, Frame concludes:

It seems to me therefore, that there is a legitimate biblical motive in the doctrine of simplicity. We may be surprised to find that it is not an abstract, obscure, philosophical motive, but a very practical one. Those emerging from the murky waters of scholastic speculation maybe surprised to find that the doctrine of simplicity is really fairly simple. It is a biblical way of reminding us that God’s relationship with us is fully personal.

So the simplicity of God, like all his attributes, sets forth his covenant lordship. It reminds us of the unity of our covenant Lord, and the unity that he brings into our live as we seek to honor him and him alone. The Christian is not devoted to some abstract philosophical goodness, but to the living Lord of heaven and earth. (pg. 230)

Now, for some this will sound great. “Woohoo! We don’t need the philosophical speculation, or need to decide whether Aristotelian distinctions between essence/existence, form/matter, etc. are relevant in order to proclaim a simple God!” On the flipside, I can imagine some people sitting back and thinking, “Well, I suppose we can go that far, but then again, how is that any different than a really aggressive doctrine of the unity of God?”

At that point I don’t really have an answer, but I figured the train of thought was worth pursuing, sharing, and inviting comments on.

Thoughts?

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Mere Fidelity Podcast: The End of Nature?

Mere FidelityIn this week’s episode we begin our discussion through some of the questions raised by Oliver O’Donovan’s work Begotten or Made? We’re joined by Dr. Matthew Loftus as our medical expert and contributor, to discuss the issues provoked in this section of text:

When every activity is understood as making, then every situation into which we act is seen as raw material, waiting to have something made out of it. If there is no category in thought for an action which is not artifactual, then there is no restraint in action which can preserve phenomena which are not artificial. This imperils not only, or even primarily, the ‘environment’ (as we patronizingly describe the world of things which are not human); it imperils what it is to be human, for it deprives human existence itself of certain spontaneities of being and doing, spontaneities which depend upon the reality of a world which we have not made or imagined, but which simply confronts us to evoke our love, fear, and worship. Human life, then, becomes mechanized because we cannot comprehend what it means that some human activity is ‘natural’. Politics becomes controlled by media of mass communication, love by analytical or counseling techniques. And begetting children becomes subject to the medical and surgical interventions which are the theme of this book.

As always, feel free to share, and go subscribe to our iTunes RSS. Also, if you have not reviewed or rated us, please take a moment to do so.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity Podcast: On Sanctification

Mere FidelityRecently there’s been a big dustup over the issue of Law, works, and sanctification. This week on Mere Fidelity, the boys (Andrew, Alastair, Matt) and I talk about why it’s become such a controversy, the nature of repentance, joyless sanctification preachers, and so forth. Good times were had by all. You can listen here:

Also, as a heads-up, we’re going to be begin reading and discussing ethicist Oliver O’Donovan’s classic essay Begotten Or Made. I’m told it’s the finest treatment of various bio-ethical issues like transgenderism and so forth, written in the last 30 years. Here’s what I’ll say: we plan on reading and discussing it in such a way that even if you haven’t read it, you’ll get a ton out of the discussion–well, at least as much as normal. That said, feel free to pick up a copy and read along with us.

Finally, we’re prepping for the podcast feed. If the Soundcloud option doesn’t work within a couple of days, we’ll get something going by next week.

As always, feel free share if you like what you hear.

Soli Deo Gloria

Is it Okay to Pastor the “Small” Problems Too?

single personLast week I had a piece published at the Gospel Coalition on the subject of gluttony, though not the typical gluttony of excess, but rather the gluttony of nice things. I also noted the temptation to that sort of thing present in craft beer, organic, kale, etc. foodie trends that are popular (and that I mostly enjoy!). Well, while it was largely well-received, there were a few nay-sayers.

Why the protest? Well, a few reasons, but the one that really got my attention was the challenge along the lines “You know, you really ought to be dealing with the bigger issue here which is the gluttony of excess. You sit here nit-picking foodies and people who care about their health, but you don’t go after the real obesity epidemic connected to fast food a cruddy foods.” Or again, one that came up a couple of times, “This is the kind of sin that only wealthy, American hipster types with disposable cash would care about.”

What do we say to this? Well, my first retort in a couple of cases was the all-too-obvious “methinks the lady doth protest too much” factor. When you step on someone’s idol–organic or not–they tend to react defensively. But we’ll leave that sort of ad hominem, though likely accurate, argument to the side. Pushing deeper, my question then becomes, “Okay, say the gluttony of excess is the bigger problem. Also, let’s concede that the gluttony of daintiness is the sort of thing that only a middle-class, hipster kid with disposable cash is tempted by. What of it?”

In essence, my question becomes, “Is it okay to pastor the small sins too?”

There is a sort of pragmatism that I find can infect our thinking about pastoral care, preaching, or the witness of the church in these cases. We have this sense that, if the sin isn’t “big” enough, or effect enough people, then we shouldn’t waste our time thinking about it, or addressing it in print. I think this is, quite frankly, nonsense. As a pastor and preacher of the Word of God, I have responsibility to deal any and all issues, big or small, that tempt or draw our hearts away from the Lord. If I only ever addressed the “biggest issues”, I’d probably have to spend every week preaching about sex and money and never get to anything else the Bible addresses, leaving large swathes of the human heart un-addressed.

Beyond that, I have responsibility of thinking of my context. I happen to pastor in an area that has a good chunk of upper middle-class, hipster types with disposable incomes who deal with these sorts of temptations. Am I allowed to address a pastoral word to them? Or do only the majority of Americans, or maybe global citizens need God’s Word addressed to their hearts? Obviously, the question is answered as soon as it is asked. If I followed the logic of only addressing the issues that the majority of people face, I’d never address the challenges that employers, or business owners have, since the majority of people only struggle with the challenges of being an employee. We could follow that logic out in a number of different directions.

The one danger that I would say that pastors need to beware of is using some of these “smaller” issues, or more specific issues, that ding less of your congregation, in order to preach hard on sins that most of your people don’t struggle with. That is a real danger and that’s been at the heart of some of the challenges of inconsistency on the part of progressives on sexuality with respect to same-sex marriage. If you’re going to preach about same-sex sin, you better be challenging your congregation on fornication and divorce as well. And I suppose, if you’re going to talk about daintiness, you better address excess.

Still, that said, don’t be afraid to address the “small” sins. Somebody in your congregation probably struggles with them, others might be tempted by them, and often-times you don’t know the way addressing “smaller” issues will shape the way your people will respond to your preaching on the larger ones.

Soli Deo Gloria

Proof that PROOF Works: A Gracious Response From Jones And Montgomery

proofToday I had a review go up at the Gospel Coalition for the book PROOF by Timothy Paul Jones and Daniel Montgomery. It’s a good book that I think many will profit from. I said as much in my review. Still, I had one very big quibble with it:

…about a rather specific and unfortunate use of the phrase “camel-jockey” to refer to the patriarch Abraham (60). Maybe that’s just a colloquialism in some parts of the country, but as a Christian of Arab descent who’s been insulted with that term, I couldn’t help but flinch at the use of the slur. Given the authors’ robust defense of the racial universality of the gospel call, the offense was obviously unintended. Still, somebody in editing ought to have caught that phrase.

I wrote this with some trepidation because I didn’t want to sink or distract from the book. I had no ill-will towards Montgomery and Jones and I did think it was probably something careless or inadvertent.  Still, I felt that it needed to be said to maintain my integrity. This is why I was so pleased to read this near-immediate response in the comments on The Gospel Coalition review by Timothy Paul Jones:

First off, thanks to Derek for his review of PROOF. Both Daniel and I deeply appreciate the care and attention Derek has taken in his reading and review. Second, neither of us were aware that “camel jockey” functions as a derogatory epithet, and we apologize that we erred by including anything in the book that might be hurtful to any ethnic group.

No matter how unintended it may have been, the hurtfulness inherent in such an epithet runs counter to everything toward which we are working at Sojourn Community Church–to rejoice in the diversity of cultures and languages that God brings together through faith in Jesus Christ. We are thankful to Derek for calling us to account in this area so that we may share the grace of Jesus Christ more effectively with persons from every tribe, every language, and every ethnicity.

This morning, we have already taken every necessary step to have this error corrected. The first printing of the book has already shipped, but we have been assured by the editors at Zondervan that this section will be reworded prior to the second printing of the book.

Pastors and leaders, this is a godly response. As I said in my original review, I believe they didn’t know “camel-jockey” to be a slur or they wouldn’t have used it. And yet, Jones still owned up for the unintentional offense and even thanked me for the correction!

A humble, gracious, and quick response such as this is one that flows from a desire to not see anything stain or besmirch the name of Jesus or the Gospel. I’m so grateful for this demonstration of Christ-centered humility on the part of these leaders in the church. In an age of manufactured press releases and micro-managed spin, it’s rare to see an actual apology and swift movement to course-correct.

Leaders who are striving after Christ don’t reject the well-intended, or even not-so-well-intended, criticisms of others out of hand. Instead, they stop, listen, examine themselves and their sources to see if it’s true and if, and in what way, there is any opportunity for repentance or correction. They can do this because they know that ultimately their identity is found in Christ, where they are securely held by their Savior, no matter what (true or false) criticisms come their way. Leaders care far more about the name of Christ than feeling the need to prove they get it perfectly every time. Indeed, they know that at times a quick apology for whatever offense they might have provoked (that isn’t simply the offense of the gospel, that is) is more God-glorifying than getting it perfect the first time.

This is a wonderful testimony that Montgomery and Jones have truly imbibed deeply of the message of grace they write about so powerfully in their book. In other words, it’s a little more proof that PROOF works.

Soli Deo Gloria

Just as I went to hit ‘publish’, I saw on Twitter that Jones had posted a follow-up to this statement on his blog. You can go read it here.

Casting Across the Pond Podcast

Last week I had a virtual sit-down with  a couple of my favorite writers from across the pond–Andrew Wilson and Alastair Roberts–and had a chat. Not only that, we recorded it and gave it a fancy name: “Casting Across the Pond.” That’s right kids, it’s our first podcast.

In this episode we take some time to talk about the connection between Jesus, the Old Testament, and our use of problem texts in our conversations on things like, say, the death penalty. It was a great convo and me excited for what’s to come.

You can find it here at Mere Orthodoxy, where Matt Anderson has graciously demanded that it be hosted. Please give it a listen and maybe share it with some friends. Thanks!!

But really, go listen to it.

Honestly.

Like, right now.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Five Reflections on #T4G 2014

t4gWith thousands of others from across the country, and indeed, world, this last week I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Far too much happened for me to adequately give an account for it all. Still, I had a few brief reflections on my experience I figured were worth sharing:

  1. Hospitality and Generosity – I only made it to T4G because of the generosity of others. I couldn’t have afforded it myself. From my friends on twitter lobbying to get me to the conference, to my gracious benefactor providing the ticket, my parents helping with airfare, and good friends giving me lodging, every single bit of this trip was due to the gracious giving of others. Along that same line, I was deeply struck by the hospitality of friends, in particular that of my hosts, the Clarks. Richard (my editor at Christ and Pop Culture) and his wonderful wife Jen put me up–and put up with me–for the whole of the conference, providing me with lodging, rides, and the warmth of their care. All of this without us ever having met in real life! I told them a number of times, either I have really low standards of hospitality, or they are champs at it. The entire experience left me with a deep, concrete picture of our generous, hospitable God who gives abundantly and makes undeserving sinners welcome in his home.
  2. New York Calvinists – I find I tend to live a parochial existence in my head. As much as I might affirm the existence of a global church where every tribe, tongue, and nation will one day (and even now) worships King Jesus, I don’t think I have a thick, lived sense of it most of the time. This is why it was such a delight to have the opportunity to meet, if only briefly, brothers and sisters serving, preaching, and teaching the same gospel all around the nation. I think of one brother I talked with briefly, serving young adults in a difficult area of Baltimore. Or again, of the pastors from Albany I ran into, talking in thick New York accents in the airport terminal about the love and wrath displayed in the cross. Or finally, my brother Johnny from New Jersey, serving youth in Detroit, who prayed with me for my college students as I was away from them on Thursday. God-centered ministry is happening in sorts of places that it never occurs for us to think of as centers of gospel-work.
  3. Hey, I Follow You on Twitter – Following off that point, I met a bunch of people I follow on Twitter (and occasionally, those who follow me.) I think I noted this last year after the TGC conference, but it’s lovely to find out that the people you see tweeting and blogging all of this encouraging material actually believe it and are living it out. Beyond that, fellowshipping in the flesh with them made me realize both the blessings and the limitations of technology. I love that I know, laugh with, and am stirred up to service by so many that I know only through social media. That said, being in the same place, able to shake hands, embrace, and grasp hands in prayer made me keenly aware of the blessing of physical presence. As I think of the new friends I’ve made, and older friendships deepened, I begin to feel the weight of Paul’s longing to commune and worship with his brothers and sisters he can only write to and pray for in a new way.
  4. Evangelism is Awkward – So, the conference topic was evangelism and I have to say it was convicting and encouraging. I got on the plane Friday morning looking for new ways to engage my fellow passengers, or fellow travelers in the airport with the gospel, and you know what? I didn’t really get to. I mean, I’d strike up conversations, keen to look for opportunities to mention the gospel, and try as I might, I hit wall after wall. I don’t know if it was that I wasn’t bold enough, prayerful enough, or these were particularly difficult crowds (I mean, once people find out you’re a pastor, things either open up or shut down fast), but it just didn’t go anywhere. Why do I share this? Shouldn’t I wait until I have a nice little story with a bow on it about converting the atheist or the Muslim in the seat next to me? Maybe, but we need to be prepared to hit some difficulties along the road when it comes to sharing the gospel. It’s easy to get discouraged by one or two failed encounters and stop trying to find ways of sharing the news of Jesus. It’s also simple to fall into the trap of thinking this sort of thing just happens naturally and easily for pastors. It doesn’t. We have to work on it too. But remember that God is at work even in our “failed” attempts, working in our own hearts and lives, preparing us for greater service in his kingdom. God is a father who is pleased even with our stumbling efforts in his name.
  5. We Don’t Really Want What We Pray For – Finally, I’m once again reminded of God’s sense of humor. I rarely miss a college group, or am missing for it, so I tend to get a bit anxious the few times I have been away. This week was no different. Though I had my very trustworthy and capable buddy covering for me, great volunteers, and a pretty normal week, I was still kind of worried. That night, though, I prayed with a friend that God would show me that he could glorify himself in the group without me—that he remind me of my essential unnecessariness (not sure that’s a word) in his works. Well, about an hour later I call and check with my wife who tells me the group packed, there are new people, things are bumping, and my first reaction is to think, “Oh great, the one week I’m not there to run things…” Then the thought struck me, “Isn’t this what you prayed for? For things to go smoothly without you? For God to show you he’s perfectly capable of handling things without you there?” And that’s when I was reminded of the reality that so often I don’t actually want the sanctification I pray for. I pray for patience and resent the situations that build it. I pray for compassion and try to harden my heart to opportunities to demonstrate it. Thank God that in his faithfulness, he answers according to our actual needs, not our whims.

As always, there’s more to say, but I’ll cap it there. All in all, the conference was another good gift from God’s hands whose blessings I can’t begin to number.

Soli Deo Gloria

Arguing Against the Argument Culture (Christianity Today Interview)

Tim Muehlhoff

Blood pumping. Temperature rising. Voices thundering. Anger and confusion. Do all of our conversations about difficult topics—politics, family, finances—need to be this way? Tim Muehlhoff, a marriage expert and professor of communication studies at Biola University, doesn’t think so. In I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations with Truth and Love (InterVarsity Press), Muehlhoff charts a path for navigating difficult conversations with grace and truth. Derek Rishmawy, a minister to students and young adults in California, spoke with Muehlhoff about combining modern insights from communication theory with timeless biblical truth.

What makes the subject of communication methods so urgent?

As a culture, we’re losing the ability to talk about the deepest things in a tolerant and civil way. That’s bleeding down into our personal relationships. Georgetown linguist Deborah Tannen calls it the “argument culture.” You see it in American politics any time we try to talk about same-sex marriage, immigration, or other hot-button issues.

We have to find productive ways to communicate with family members, coworkers, and children, whether it’s sharing our faith or talking about the kid’s schedule that’s gotten out of control. This book takes modern research on communication and develops a practical strategy for entering tough conversations in a productive way.

Please go read the interview over at Christianity Today, or catch it in this month’s print edition. Also, please pick up this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Soli Deo Gloria