Saturday, September 27, 2014

John R.W. Stott on Being Salt and Light

The world is evidently a dark place, with little or no light of its own, since an external source of light is needed to illumine it. True, it is "always talking about its enlightenment," but much of its boasted light is in reality darkness. The world also manifests a constantly tendency to deteriorate. The notion is not that the world is tasteless and that Christians can make it less insipid ("The thought of making the world palatable to God is quite impossible"), but that it is putrefying. It cannot stop itself from going bad. Only salt introduced from outside can do this. The church, on the other hand, is set in the world with a double role, as salt to arrest--or at least to hinder--the process of social decay, and as light to dispel the darkness.
What message do we have, then, for such people who feel themselves strangled by 'the system', crushed by the machine of modern technocracy, overwhelmed by political, social and economic forces which control them and over which they have no control? They feel themselves victims of a situation they are powerless to change. What can they do? It is in the soil of this frustration that revolutionaries are being bred, dedicated to the violent overthrow of the system. It is from the very same soil that revolutionaries of Jesus can arise, equally dedicated activists--even more so--but committed rather to spread his revolution of love, joy and peace. And this peaceful revolution is more radical than any programme of violence, both because its standards are incorruptible and because it changes people as well as structures. Have we lost our confidence? Then listen to Luther: "With his single word I can be more defiant and more boastful than they with all their power, swords and guns."
John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (InterVarsity Press, 1978), pgs. 58-59, 64.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

John Murray on the Cultural Mandate

There is an indication in Genesis 1 and 2 of the variety which would have characterized his labours in a state of confirmed integrity. The other mandates—the replenishing of the earth and subduing it—involved labour also. Even in the genial conditions which would have obtained in an uncursed earth it is not difficult to imagine the labour entailed in geographical expansion and the necessity of making adequate provision for sustenance and comfort in this process of expansion. But more significant in respect of labour is the mandate to subdue the earth. This means nothing if it does not mean the harnessing and utilizing of the earth’s resources and forces. We are not to suppose that the earth is represented as offering resistance to man’s dominion and that the subduing was to be that of conquering alien and recalcitrant powers. But the subduing of the earth must imply the expenditure of thought and skill and energy in bringing the earth and its resources under such control that they would be channeled to the promotion of certain ends which they were suited and designed to fulfil but which would not be fulfilled part from the exercise of man’s design and labour. In the sense in which Jesus spoke of the Sabbath as made for man and not man for the Sabbath, so we may not say that the earth and its resources were made for man and not man for them; he was to exercise dominion over them, they were not to rule over him The earth and its resources were to be brought into the service of his well-being, enjoyment and pleasure.
John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957), 36-37.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Recommendation: “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” by John Murray

NOTE: For a few years now, I have been writing book recommendations for my church's monthly newsletter. I have decided that I would begin reposting some of them here on my blog. Note that these are not full-length reviews, but short blurbs on what I found helpful about the books and why I recommend others to read them. I hope this encourages you to check out the same books.

From the back of the book:
The atonement lies at the very center of the Christian faith. The free and sovereign love of God is the source of the accomplishment of redemption, as the Bible’s most familiar text (John 3:16) makes clear. 
For thoughtful Christians since the time of the Apostle Paul, this text has started, not ended, the discussion of redemption. Yet few recent interpreters have explored in depth the biblical passages dealing with the atonement as penetratingly or precisely as John Murray, who, until his death in 1975, was regarded by many as the foremost conservative theologian in the English-speaking world. 
In this enduring study of the atonement, Murray systematically explains the two sides of redemption: its accomplishment by Christ and its application to the life of the redeemed. In Part 1 Murray considers the necessity, nature, perfection, and extent of the atonement. In Part 2 Murray offers careful expositions of the scriptural teaching about calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification perseverance, union with Christ and glorification.
I read this book while taking Systematic Theology classes under Prof. Kirk Wellum in Toronto Baptist Seminary, and this was my favourite among all my seminary textbooks. And it’s not because of its short length! Although small and only 192 pages long, it is densely packed with great information on the doctrine of salvation. This work is a classic treatment of the salvific work of God (especially as it relates to Jesus’ work on the cross) from a Reformed perspective. It is concise enough that readers are not drowned in lengthy theological arguments, yet comprehensive enough that the breadth of the biblical teaching on redemption is adequately covered. Murray’s contributions to the theology of redemption are helpful both to those who are still young in the faith and need to be grounded in the scriptural understanding of salvation, as well as more experienced Christians who wish to further their understanding of how God has accomplished His salvific work and has applied it to believers.

In keeping with the title, Murray has divided the book into two sections: Redemption Accomplished (which is 5 chapters long) and Redemption Applied (which is 10 chapters long). As noted in the preface, the second section of this book was originally a set of twenty two articles that the author wrote for The Presbyterian Guardian from 1952 to 1954.  It was later collected together and added to the first section to produce the current edition of the book, which has remained in more or less the same form since it first came out back in 1955.

For those looking for a biblical and logical exposition of Reformed theology that explains the key concepts underlying our belief concerning the doctrine of salvation, this is the best one-volume treatment of the issues. It is both highly informative and edifying, and belongs in every believer’s library.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On Being Salt and Light

Some Christians think that either you're involved in heavenly things or involved in earthly things. That is a false dichotomy, because the Bible commands us to be involved in both: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7).

Christians should be fully involved in the public square, and they should be involved in such a way that the surrounding world can see what the effect of a Christian worldview and lifestyle have on such public involvement. Statements such as "None of these things matter , because it's all about Jesus!" sound high-minded and pious, but it's not what the Lord commanded, and in fact goes contrary to His command for us to be salt and light to the world around us.

Two Principles in Debating

Two truths that ought to be obvious to everybody regardless of their religious or political beliefs:

  1. Sincerity does not equal truthfulness. One may sincerely hold to his beliefs, but he may be sincerely wrong about his beliefs.
  2. A sincerely wrong person is not a lying or deceptive person. Unless one has good reason to think otherwise, it is always best to assume that if one is making a claim, they really do believe the claim they're making (even if you know that claim to be false).

Saturday, August 2, 2014

On the Harmony Between Different Disciplines

The human mind has a wonderful faculty for the condensation of perfectly valid arguments, and what seems like an instinctive belief may turn out to be the result of many logical steps. Or, rather it may be that the belief in a personal God is the result of a primitive revelation, and that the theistic proofs are only the logical confirmation of what was originally arrived at by a different means. At any rate, the logical confirmation of the belief in God is a vital concern to the Christian; at this point as at many others religion and philosophy are connected in the most intimate possible way. True religion can make no peace with a false philosophy, any more than with a science that is falsely-so-called; a thing cannot possibly be true in religion and false in philosophy or in science. All methods of arriving at truth, if they be valid methods, will arrive at a harmonious result.

Machen, John Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism., 1923. p. 51.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflections on the Israel-Gaza Conflict

Israel and Palestine supporters butt heads in downtown Toronto

People who know me would tell you that I'm a very opinionated person. I have strong views on a lot of religious/political/social issues (it comes with being INFJ, methinks). So when it comes to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, one would think that I have some really firm opinions on the matter. However, the fact is that I don't. And it's not because I'm not well-studied on the issue. I've done plenty of reading on the conflict, and my Facebook newsfeed is regularly inundated by posts both by ardent pro-Israel and pro-Palestine people. So in articulating my views, I will tend to be much more nuanced and tentative. My personal views perhaps comes closest to those presented by Nicholas Kristoff, who finds plenty of blame to go around for both Israel and Palestine. I'm certainly not going to please any of the hardliners, whether they are on the side of Israel or on the side of Palestine. I have to call it as it is, and I'm prepared to take whatever criticism anyone on either side of the issue wants to hurl at me.

Let me begin by saying that in principle, I believe that everyone--Jewish or Arab--should have the right to a safe home without fear of genocide or racial discrimination. That would lead me to some kind of binational solution in the long term, though there are way too many complications at the present moment for that to be a feasible solution in the short term. My heart goes out to all of the people on both sides who are living daily in fear and trepidation because of the constant rain of bombs and missiles upon them. Nobody should have to live in that kind of situation, and the death of a Palestinian youth due to rocket fire should be considered no less tragic than the death of any Israeli who gets killed under similar circumstances. I've seen the pictures of mangled bodies, and it's horrible to have to look at. It just brings out the reality that war is hell, and no nation should ever treat war as a trivial thing--something that gets lost in this world of warhawks and militarist demagogues. If anyone here has my disdain and contempt, it is those who are at work to perpetuate the war, whichever side they may be on.

Now, there is plenty of blame to go around. The spreading of media misinformation is particularly deplorable. I for one do not believe every graphic image or video that appears on my newsfeed, because I am aware that there is a whole industry dedicated to fabricating such videos. There are real atrocities that take place down there, to be sure, but it serves nobody (least of all the cause of peace), when these kinds of fabrications are made. It's also disheartening how facts are omitted when they don't serve someone's narrative. Those on the Palestinian side will speak, for example, about how the IDF kills children in Gaza, but are strangely silent when it comes to Hamas doing the same thing

Also, much is made about the fact that 80 percent of casualties are unarmed non-combatants. While that is undoubtedly tragic, it is actually unremarkable in the history of warfare. Historically, 80 to 90 percent of war casualties are civilians. Sometimes the military deliberately targets civilians (the Nanking Massacre comes to mind), and other times it is simply collateral damage. Which one is it, in this case? I have to say that it's a bit of both. There have been cases of IDF soldiers deliberately targeting civilians (for example, see this). If there is any integrity among IDF's high command, I would hope that those who commit these kinds of attacks are duly court martialed, and that other soldiers are restrained from similar acts. I would also hope that these kinds of incidents are the outliers and not the norm (whether or not that is the case, I cannot determine). In any case, it is precisely these kinds of incidents that reveal the horrors of war--the deliberate targeting of civilians, not just combatants.

Just as horrifying is the kind of racism and xenophobia that is bred among both sides, and is then passed on to the children. Who hasn't seen the videos of children's shows used to brainwash Palestinian kids with Hamas ideology? Unfortunately, something similar seems to be taking place among Israeli youth, as evidenced by the large number of tweets calling for death to Arabs. With this kind of xenophobia being passed on to the next generations, it seems that the prospects for a lasting peace seem rather bleak indeed.

Finally, I want to speak briefly on the Christian dimension to the conflict. It should be known to everyone that there are Christians on both sides of the conflict--Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians. Ministries such as Musalaha are aimed at bringing these believers together in order to promote peace and reconciliation between them. This would seem to me to be the most biblical approach to the conflict As the apostle Paul said, "strive to be at peace with all people"  (Romans 12:18).

This seems to be lost among those Dispensational Premillennialist Evangelicals who see the modern state of Israel as being a fundamental component of God's plan to bring about the second coming of Christ. As a Reformed Christian who is Postmillennial in eschatology, I have grave disagreements with this theology, which I will hopefully speak more on in the near future, Lord willing. In the meantime, I would like to kindly refer to reader to this article by R.C. Sproul Jr., which sums up my thoughts on this theology. Suffice to say, this theology has caused many western Evangelicals to uncritically accept whatever Israel does (as if God had granted infallibility to their political leaders!).

Worse yet, they seem to have no qualms about completely writing off all the Arabs, even throwing the Christians among them under the bus. They seem to think that their very existence is some sort of mistake. However, as Palestinian Christian theologian Derek Rishmawy has pointed out, "as a Palestinian Christian, I am not Abraham’s mistake: I am God’s choice in Christ." See also this Arab Christian girl's appeal to western Christians not to look at modern national Israel as some sort of immaculate entity that could do no wrong. God forbid that we forget these brothers and sisters for the sake of some Dispensational dream of rapture and tribulation. Christians should remember that before we can do good for the world around us, we must first take care of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

That's pretty much my take on the Israel/Palestine debate. I'm sure that by now, I've stepped on a sufficient number of toes. Maybe I'll change my mind and take a firmer stand on one side or the other. Who knows? What I do know is that this is not a simple matter, and I encourage people not to oversimplify the politics of the region.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thoughts on the Morality Debate

Tarun Iyer (left) and George Simopoulos (right)

Last month, a debate was held in the University of Toronto between George Simopoulos (Christian) and Tarun Iyer (Atheist) on the question, “Is God the Source of Morality?” I thought it was a good debate, and gave the chance for some budding young intellectuals to be able to demonstrate what they are capable of in the area of academic debate.

Representing the Christian side, George Simopoulos that “the idea of absolute value is at the heart of the human experience.” Christianity affirms that there is an objective standard for making value judgments, which makes sense of our intuitive judgments regarding pleasure and pain, He makes the argument that all morality and ethics is ultimately rooted in the Triune God of scripture. This is not just in terms of Divine Command Theory, where God makes something moral by declaring it to be thus. Rather, as George notes, goodness is inextricably tied to God's nature, and when God makes a command in scripture, He reveals something of His unchanging nature. He also makes the point that ethics matters because of teleology/eschatology: We are headed towards an end, which culminates in the final judgment and the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth. In that light, right and wrong matters because their consequences are eternal. Accordingly, the non-theist's worldview cannot account for categories of right and wrong. We cannot know if such categories truly exist or not, thus causing the non-theist to commit epistemological suicide. Our thoughts are like weather patterns and we have no reason to trust them, and while we can make descriptive statements, we cannot make prescriptive ones, for to do so is to commit the “is-ought fallacy.” Furthermore, since we are just a random assortment of atoms, there is nothing intrinsically valuable about human life if we take this Naturalistic perspective

Representing the Atheist side, Tarun Iyer argues that according to Humanism, we must take care of the intrinsic value of human life (how he arrives at the conclusion that human life has intrinsic value is not explained). He rejects the idea that a transcendent higher power is necessary for grounding moral value judgments, as we can scientifically determine whether actions are good or bad. He refers to the idea of objective morality as “the last bastion of religious argument.” He objects to the idea that a higher power allowed humanity to live in hundreds of thousands of years without knowledge of morality. According to Tarun, it is absurd for God to prohibit such things as homosexuality and polytheism, and that if we choose to interpret the Bible in its historical context, we thereby nullify its claim to be the Living Word of God. He further rejects the idea of the Bible being the basis for moral absolutes on the grounds that other sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita have been making moral claims at least a thousand years before it.

Based on the arguments raised by both sides, it can be seen that they are approaching the debate from completely different angles. Tarun approaches the question from a social-historical angle, pointing to particulars that, in his estimation, militate against the Christian worldview's claim to provide objective moral grounding. George does respond to some of these particulars, pointing out, for example, that differences among different Christian groups are on secondary issues and do do nt detract from the core consensus on moral views, and that despite perceived difficulties in interpreting certain biblical texts, a solid hermeneutic allows us to draw a coherent moral standard from the Bible. George does not dwell on these particulars, however, and instead, approaches the question from a philosophical angle, going beyond particulars and going into the meta-ethical considerations underpinning our moral judgments and intuitions. He ties in the ethical aspects of the Christian worldview to its metaphysical and teleological presuppositions. In so doing, George exposes the fact that while Tarun can make objections regarding specific historical details incidental to Christianity's morality claims, he cannot provide a viable alternative from a Naturalistic worldview. 

There were two questions that were posed to Tarun in the Q&A in the debate that illustrate this failure of Naturalism to provide a meaningful basis for morality. The first was when I pointed out to Tarun how he never provided a way out of the is-ought fallacy, and asked him how he got around it. He responded by denying the is-ought fallacy! This implies that we can derive moral imperatives simply by empirical observation (he repeats in his closing statement when he asserts that we do not need to make any presuppositions to arrive at truth; but only to make observations of the world around us). He then argued that the we can objectively measure the consequences of actions and make moral judgments based on those (incidentally, Tarun did not know what a teleological ethics is, even though that was basically what he espoused). He never explained how one determines what exactly we should measure in order to determine if something is good or not, other than a vague and undefined reference to “love and compassion,” never mind why we take such parameters to be the basis for moral judgment, as opposed to the parameters anyone else proposes.

The second question came towards the end of the Q&A, when someone asked Tarun whether all of humanity's achievements, moral or otherwise, will matter after the human race becomes extinct. Tarun's response to the question is to say that it would depend on whether or not anyone else comes along to be able to observe the remains of humanity's achievements. If sentient life were to disappear from the universe, then it ultimately would not matter. This reveals the anthropocentric nature of Tarun's worldview: Persons, actions and achievements have value because other persons assign value to them. But if there is no person to assign that value, then such value would not exist. Corollary to this is that there is no way to arbitrate between someone who assigns value to certain persons and actions, and another person who rejects such value judgments.

In addition to this are various miscellaneous problems with specific issues that Tarun brings up. He says, for example, that it is “implausible and obscene” that such a being then decided to reveal Himself in the Middle East rather than someplace more civilized, such as China. Leaving aside the implicit racism embedded in that comment, it is quite odd that anyone would think that God must give His revelation to a nation that (in the objector's estimation) is civilized enough to accept it, or that He must do so in a specific way and in a specific time and place in history, as though the objector imagines himself to have a better plan for spreading God's message than the way He actually did so.

The Hitler question was debated to death as well, both during the Q&A and in the post-debate discussions that ensued. Not even Richard Dawkins accepts the idea that Hitler was a Christian, arguing that the contradictory statements coming from him indicate either that Hitler deconverted at some point in the early 1940s, or that he is, in Dawkins' terms “an opportunistic liar whose words cannot be trusted, in either direction” (The God Delusion, ch. 7). It seems that no matter how many times it is pointed out that Hitler privately ridiculed Christianity as a “great scourge” “disease,” such statements are nullified by public statements by Hitler where he praises Christianity. Because you can always trust the sincerity of politicians who make religious professions in their public statements, yes?

Finally, there is the question of other sacred texts predating Christianity. First of all, Tarun makes a slight historical error with regards to the Bhagavad Gita: the probable date for its composition is around the fifth century B.C., at which point most of the Old Testament had already been written. Be that as it may, even if other cultures did draw from moral sources predating the Bible, this does not nullify the Christian claim in the least. The reason for this is that in the Christian worldview, natural revelation (as distinct from special revelation gives humanity its moral sense (cf. Romans 1-2). Special revelation via the Scriptures expands upon the moral compass that God placed in human beings, making explicit what is implicit and revealing that these moral values are not just human developments, but have divine sanction and transcend human beings. Funny enough, the relative uniformity of moral codes across cultures is precisely what we would expect if the words of Romans 1-2 were true, as opposed to the evolutionary explanation of morality provided by Naturalists.

Overall, I have to say that George presented the better case in this debate, as he was the more articulate speaker, and his arguments were much more cogent. I find Tarun's arguments lacking, as he demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the meta-ethical issues surrounding the debate regarding the source of morality, or even of the historical and sociological issues that he raised in his own presentations. Perhaps in the future, he would learn from this experience and present better arguments for a Naturalistic view of ethics.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

You Don't Know? That's Okay

Let me begin this post by saying that if you are not following the Lifehacker page on Facebook, you are missing out on a lot of helpful tips. That being said, Lifehacker recently posted an illuminating article entitled, “Why Saying ‘I Don't Know’ Adds Credibility.” According to this article, people are actually more inclined to believe you if you admit when you don't know the answer to a question, because you are less likely to come off as pretending to know it all, and will trust you to research the answer to their question and relay it to them at a later point in time.

This certainly feeds into the present generation's desire for “authenticity” (however that word may be defined). More importantly, for those who are zealous to provide answers for why they believe what they believe, it helps to make sure that one's zeal is tempered with humility. After all, the Bible states, “even zeal is not good without knowledge” (Proverbs 19:2, HCSB). Of course, there will always be those who will twist your “I don't know”s in a negative light, but such people should not bother you. The important thing is maintaining one's intellectual integrity, and admitting the limitations of one's knowledge (and promising to study and learn more where one's knowledge is lacking) is an important step towards that.

In summary: Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know something from time to time. If you do, that makes you more believable, and you become all the better for it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Abraham's Camels

Recently, an archaeological report has been making its rounds claiming that the book of Genesis' mentions of camels being used by the patriarchs (eg. in Gen. 12:16) are anachronistic, as camel bones unearthed in the Arabah Valley were dated to having been no later than the 10th century BC, many centuries after the days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Naturally, this report has been seized upon by numerous news sites, claiming that this proves that the Bible is historically unreliable. For example, one editor for the New York Times states:
These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”[1]
The problem is that, as is the case with discoveries in almost every academic discipline, archaeological discoveries tend to get oversimplified by news sources, who tend to extrapolate conclusions that are not warranted by the actual data. In particular, the conclusions mainstream news outlets have come to regarding the accuracy of the Bible based on this report demonstrate a failure to understand how Archaeology works. There are two main points which indicate why this is the case:

First, Archaeology as a discipline is constantly in flux. I have taken Archaeology courses in the University of Toronto, and I learned early on that new discoveries are constantly overturning old ones, and the interpretations of specific pieces of archaeological data are constantly being disputed. The fact that the oldest camel bones that we know of in the Arabah valley are dated to the tenth century BC does not negate the possibility that even older camel bones are waiting to be unearthed in the region.[2]

Second, the geographical locale where camel bones were dug up is too narrow. The book of Genesis takes place over a wide variety of locations throughout the Ancient Near East. Once one widens the geographical region being studied, one finds that there are plenty of references to domesticated camels that are much older than the camel bones from the Arabah valley. For example, Joseph Free cites various inscriptions of camels carrying water jugs in Egypt that date to as old as the 15th century BC.[3] Going further back than that, we have texts from the city of Alalakh in northern Syria which are dated to the 18th century BC, and mention camels as pack animals.[4] 

In light of these pieces of documentary evidence, the idea of Abraham owning camels becomes much more plausible. I would conclude with the following statement by Free:
[W]ith the above evidence for the knwoledge of the camel in the earlier periods, it would appear somewhat presumptuous to set completely aside as an anachronism the reference to Abraham's having camels in Egypt. Our evidence thus provides another argument for accepting as authentic the picture of the patriarchal period presented in the Old Testament.[5]


[1] John Noble Wilford, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis,” New York Times, 10 February 2014,

[2] Skeptics of the Bible would do well to take this into consideration, as hasty conclusions based on tentative historical data have been the pitfall of many outdated arguments against the Bible in the past. For example, before Hittitology became an established field in Ancient Near Eastern studies, skeptics during the 19th and early 20th centuries jeered at the mention of Hittites in the Old Testament, claiming that the they were just a figment of the Old Testament authors' imaginations. Today, we have many documents and excavated sites belonging to the Hittite civilization, proving beyond doubt that the Bible was right about their existence all along.

[3] Joseph P. Free, “Abraham's Camels,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1944): 189,

[4] Donald J. Wiseman, “Ration Lists from Alalakh VII,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 13 (1959):29, Victor Hamilton provides a translation of the phrase “1 SA.GAL ANSE.GAM* MAL*,” rendering it as “one (measure of) fodder--camel.” See Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995), 384.

[5] Free, “Abraham's Camels,” 193.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

On Prayer

Prayer . . . is a confessing of impotence and need, an acknowledging of helplessness and dependence, and an invoking of the mighty power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. . . . God means us . . . to recognize and confess our impotence, and to tell him that we rely on him alone, and to plead with him to glorify his name. It is his way regularly to withhold his blessings until his people start to pray. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). But if you and I are too proud or lazy to ask, we need not expect to receive. This is the universal rule . . . God will make us pray before he blesses our labors in order that we may constantly learn afresh that we depend on God for everything.
Packer, J.I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 118-119. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Work in the Bible

One of the great gifts of the Reformed/Puritan tradition is what sociologist Noah Webster referred to as the Protestant Work Ethic. This is the idea that work is something sacred to the Lord, and that whatever vocation we take up, whether it is in business, the arts, the sciences, law, etc., we must work hard and pursue our vocation to the glory of God. There is certainly much in the Bible that speaks to this topic, which is why I want to give a small compendium of relevant Bible verses.

Proverbs 6:6-11:
Go to the ant, O sluggard; 
consider her ways, and be wise. 
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, 
she prepares her bread pin summer 
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.  

Proverbs 14:23:
In all toil there is profit,
but mere talk tends only to poverty 

Ecclesiastes 9:10: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. 

Ephesians 4:28: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 

Colossians 3:17, 23-24: And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him... Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12: But we urge you, brothers... to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12: Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Greg Koukl Lecture Notes

Earlier this week, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason came to the University of Toronto to deliver two lectures, entitled "Bad Arguments Against True Religion," and "Taking Jesus Seriously." He afterwards gave an evangelism training session for the local Power to Change chapter. I took down notes, and for the benefit of everyone who is interested in apologetics and evangelism, I decided to post my notes online. Here they are for everyone who wants them.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Committing Myself to God

Commit your work to the Lord,
and your plans will be established. 
Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
(Proverbs 16:3, 19:21)
I'm incorrigibly idealistic. My mind is always flowing with dreams, harebrained schemes and plans that land me in all sorts of adventurous situations. I'm always thinking about what might make the world a better place, or maybe just how I'm going to get by in this life and get what I want. The problem is that there is a strong temptation for me to rely on my plans, my wit, my skills, or even just plain dumb luck, in order to get things done. And I'm none the wiser when I fall for that temptation.

As an ardent believer in the providence of God, I am often harping on about how everything in life is in God's hands, that He has promised to take care of His children, and will in no wise fall back from fulfilling that promise. Yet I must confess that I don't always live up to that profession of faith. I confess that it is a sin on my part that I always end up falling back to the mentality that somehow, everything depends on me, that I have to make things happen and I must determine the course that my life will take. I don't commit myself to God in my prayers nearly as much as I ought to, and the result of this negligence has been much unnecessary anxiety and disappointment. And if I fall, I have nobody to blame for that but myself. It's like that old song that's often sung in churches: "O what peace we often forfeit / O what needless pain we bear / all because we do not carry / everything to God in prayer."

I got a lot going on in my mind right now. I got university papers to finish, jobs to apply for, a summer missions application to work on, and (potentially) a significant other to pursue. This endless avalanche of things to think about brings with it a strong temptation to fall into my old habit of perpetual anxiety and stressing out. But tonight, I've committed it all to the Lord. He reminded me that He is there and is available for me to come crawling to Him, unworthy though I may be. I've placed all these things before His feet in prayer, and I am trusting that He will sort everything out even where I have no earthly idea what I have to do or how things might turn out. If they turn out the way I hope in my mind they'd turn out, well and good. If not, well then, it's not the end of the world. God must have something better in mind. He has promised, and will not change His mind, that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28)

Blessed be the Lord God Who has numbered the hairs on our heads and Whose eye is on every sparrow that darkens the skies.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I'm so thankful that I'm incapable . . .

I remember when I was a relatively new Christian, still finding my way and discerning what God had in store for me in life. I was being exposed to life-changing truths about how God is sovereign over all things and nothing ever happens in life outside of His will. It was all pretty hard to take in at first (especially for someone of my background), but as I learned these things from reading the Bible through for the first time, I was also exposed to the music of Caedmon's Call, which is one of the best and underrated contemporary Christian music bands out there. The lyrics to their songs really resonated with me, and I learned to appreciate the beauty and majesty of an all-powerful God Whose grace can never be thwarted, and Whose judgments are always unimpeachable. I also learned to appreciate how small I really am in the grand scheme of things, how helpless I am in the face of my own sins and limitations, and how gracious God has been to lift me up in spite of these things.

So for the edification of my brothers and sisters, let me just share this song that I picked up early on in my Christian walk and has been close to my heart ever since.

You know I ran across an old box of letters
While I was bagging up some clothes for goodwill
Imagine you know I had to laugh that the same old struggles
That plagued me then are plaguing me still
I know the road is long from the ground to glory
But a boy can hope he's getting some place
But you see, I'm running from the very clothes I'm wearing
And dressed like this I'm fit for the chase
No, there is none righteous, not one who understands
There is none who seek God, no not one, I said, "No not one"

So I here I am thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own

'Cause we're all stillborn and dead in our transgressions
Now we're shackled up to the sin we hold so dear
So what part can I play in the work of redemption
'Cause I can't refuse, I cannot add a thing
'Cause I am just like Lazarus and I can hear your voice
I stand and rub my eyes and walk to you because I have no choice

So I am thankful that I'm incapable
And I'm doing any good on my own, yeah
I say that I'm so thankful that I'm incapable
And I'm doing any good on my own

It's by grace I have been saved
Through faith that's not my own
It is the gift of God and not by works
Lest anyone should boast

So I am thankful that I'm incapable
And I'm doing any good on my own, yeah
I say that I'm so thankful that I'm incapable
And I'm doing any good on my own

'Cause here and I am thankful that I'm incapable
Well I'm doing any good on my own
I say that I'm so thankful that I'm incapable
Well I'm doing any good on my own

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On Trivialities

While riding the bus home from classes earlier today, I overheard some urban youths talking about rap music and "whips" and other various other things that urban youths often talk about--all in a dialect of ghetto slang that only vaguely resembled English. I found it all to be quite "pedestrian" (for lack of a better term) and made me think about how much of the time and energy that young people spend on trivialities--video games, popular music, fashion trends, discussing aforementioned trivialities--the kinds of things that possessed most of my time back when I was teenager myself. 

It also made me think of John Piper's book, Don't Waste Your Life (Note: If you only ever read one Piper book, make it this one). The title of the book pretty much says it all. There's this interesting anecdote that Piper mentions about this couple that accomplishes the American Dream, earning a lavish six-figure income, eventually retiring to the Bahamas (or some other Caribbean island, can't remember) where they spend the remainder of the days collecting seashells. He then asks, on Judgment Day, when God asks this couple to give them an account of how they spent their lives, what are they going to have to show for it? "Look God, look at our seashell collection." Simply tragic, when you think about it.

Now, maybe collecting seashells isn't what tickles your fancy. Maybe you have something else that functions in a similar capacity. It could be sports. It could board games. It could be your X-Box 360. Whatever it happens to be, it's worth looking at the amount of time that goes into these trivial things, and whether it's taking away from worthier pursuits.

I'm not saying it's a sin to partake of any of these things. Oh, not at all. I happen to be a bit of a gamer myself, so I'm certainly not one to advocate chucking your gaming console into the trash. It seems that a few well meaning Christian brothers and sisters go a wee bit overboard and guilt-trip other brothers and sisters for these things. That being said, way too many of us who belong to the "millennial" generation are on the other extreme of spending an inordinate amount of time on these trivialities. It's hard to point this fact out to others because the moment you do, the "legalism" boogeyman gets trotted out as a reason not to worry too much about this admonishment.

To my fellow Christians, think about this: The New Testament says "you were bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20). What were you bought with a price for? So you could unlock all the achievements in Halo 4? Nope. The rest of the verse quoted says "glorify God in your body." What does glorifying God mean, exactly? It could be something as spectacular as ending world hunger or something as simple as making sure you've finished all your reading assignments for next week's lectures. Even the cereal you had for breakfast could be used to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). Just make sure you're doing things with the intention of furthering God's Kingdom, and not just wasting your life on trivialities.

In fact, go buy yourself a t-shirt that says that. Go rock that t-shirt in public to the glory of God.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Divine Self-Portraits

Understand this: we are both tiny and massive. We are nothing more than molded clay given breath, but we are nothing less than divine self-portraits, huffing and puffing along the mountain ranges of epic narrative arcs prepared for us by the Infinite Word Himself. Swell with pride and gratitude, for you are tiny and given much. You are as spoken by God as the stars. You stand in history with stories stretching out both behind and before. We should want to live our chapters well, but doing so requires that we know the chapters that led up to us in our time and our moment; it requires that we open our eyes and consciously begin to shape those chapters that are coming after.
N.D. Wilson, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent (Thomas Nelson, 2013), p. 6.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

About Thought Criminal #219

Who is Thought Criminal #219?

Well, for starters, I grew up in an idyllic (sort of) tropical paradise, until Divine Providence saw fit to relocate me to the frozen wastelands of Canada, where I have spent the last few years of my life engaging in guerrilla warfare against the forces of darkness in the hopes of eventually immanentizing the eschaton.

It's been one crazy ride, let me tell you that.

All of my musings and opinions are informed by and filtered through the Christian Worldview. As far as my theology goes:
  • I hold to what the historic Christian Creeds (ie. Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian Creeds) have to say about the nature of God, which makes me orthodox (small-o) and catholic (small-c).
  • I take the Bible as my final authority, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession as the subordinate authority that most accurately describes what the Bible has to say on any given topic.
  • I am Protestant/Reformed in my views on how salvation takes place, meaning that I affirm the five Solas as well as the five points of Calvinism.
  • I use Presuppositional apologetics to explain the truth of the Christian worldview over and against other worldviews (be they secular or religious).
  • I am a Kuyperian in my views on the relationship between Christianity and the public square.
  • I am (with superb alliteration) a Postmillennial Partial Preterist in my view of the end times.

For those who are interested in my educational background, I spent a year studying theology at Toronto Baptist Seminary, then transferred to the University of Toronto (where I currently am) to work on my bachelor's degree in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, with a minor in History. That means there's a fairly good chance that I may end up in the Middle East at some point in the near future, though that depends on the grace and provision of the good Master.

That doesn't mean I limit myself to just those topics, however. I fancy myself to be a bit of a polymath, so I'm more than happy to talk about anything under the sun, whether it's philosophy, law, history, the social sciences, politics, current events, the finer points of english grammar, or the latest internet memes. As long as you don't ask me to comment about the latest sports happenings--I know nothing about such things, and refuse to touch the topic with a ten foot pole.

For those who are into the Myers-Briggs personality test, I usually score as an INFJ, though I occasionally also score as an INTJ, which I guess means that I'm a hybrid of both. Given the complexity of human nature, it only makes sense that I couldn't be boxed neatly into either of those two categories.

Anything else you may want to know about me, you can find out either by interacting with my musings or contacting me personally (if you can figure out how to).

And yes, the title of this blog is an Orwell reference. Go crazy.