Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Further to my last...

Well, I've been Blogspotted.

For those who aren't familiar, that's what you usually get for linking to PYROMANIAC, the blog of the redoubtable Phillip Johnson. Every so often, he does a round-up of those blogs that mention him for one reason or another.

I mentioned his take on the "Biblezine" craze in my last post, and, true to form, he noticed. Check out his comment here. It's worth the look - he included yet another hilariously funny parody "Biblezine" cover that cracked me up yet again...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Now there's a bright idea...

Now, I'm not a huge fan of the "Biblezines" and other worldly ways of repacking God's Word, in order to make it more "appealing" or "user-friendly." Some of these marketing ploys are just sad, or even offensive.

(By the way, want a good laugh? Then read Phillip Johnson's (he of PYROMANIAC fame) look at one such attempt here, and then read this unforgettable and hilarious post on his blog from a couple days later. These are from a couple months back. I was crying...)

Too much of the English Bible industry out there is motivated by money, and any new gimmick that will sell more items seems to be okay these days. Even if it means dumbing down the words of Scripture (often in the name of making it more readable) to the point that many so-called "Bibles" out there are more products of interpretation than they are of translation, and really would be more honestly sold as Bible commentaries than as "Bibles" (paraphrases like The Living Bible and The Message come to mind).

However, I have to admit that I'm really intrigued by this idea.

For once, an innovation that's actually practical and doesn't make a tabloid or other mockery out of the Bible. It doesn't seem to add a whole lot of bells and whistles to make the Word more alluring (no lipstick hints here, thankfully), and it's a good translation - the Updated NASB is possibly the most literal, word-for-word English translation out there. This would be great for camping, hiking, etc., especially if you're doing it as a family or church activity. And as a soldier, I like the idea of a Bible that could withstand tough field conditions.

Just bring along some Staedtler permanent overhead pens to make notes, and some nail polish remover to erase them...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Book Preview

Humility: True Greatness

Thanks to Sovereign Grace Ministries, I was one of 50 bloggers blessed with the opportunity to preview a not-yet-released book: "Humility: True Greatness" by C.J. Mahaney. This is the completed book review.


In short, I loved this book. I will go over the reasons why in more detail below, but for now, I wish to say that I strongly recommend this book. Much of Christian publishing these days is filled with man-centred philosophy and little Biblical theology, and the Gospel of Christ Jesus is increasingly a rare focus. I was happy to find that Humility was not only Biblically solid, but that it was absolutely centred on the Cross and Gospel of Jesus. The author’s enthusiasm for the Cross jumps from every page – a beautiful sight to behold.

About the author

The author, C.J. Mahaney, is a founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a growing network of evangelical churches founded in 1982. They may not be very well known, but the musical arm of their ministry has written some very popular songs in contemporary worship music today, such as "Stand in Awe" and "How High and How Wide." Mahaney himself was, until recently, the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and serves on the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

I had not read any of Mahaney’s works, such as The Cross Centered Life or Sex, Supremacy, and the Glory of God, until I read Humility. Now that I know what I've been missing, I fully intend to.


Mahaney is a very skilled and engaging writer. The reading level of Humility is such that any adult Christian would have no trouble reading the book. It was a joy to read – Mahaney keeps the book down-to-earth, avoiding heavy theological language while introducing and defending deep doctrinal concepts. The language is smooth and flowing, almost conversational in tone. The author’s use of stories – particularly personal anecdotes – easily and effectively introduced and illustrated the points he made.

As suggested by the title, Humility is a Christian examination and guide to the issue of pride and humility. Mahaney begins with a look at Isaiah 66:2, which reads:

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Mahaney’s central theme in the book is that true humility draws the attention and favour of God. He helpfully (and Biblically) defines humility as "honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness." This understanding is key to his whole thrust – the idea that all men are sinners, and have nothing to be prideful about. We stand before a perfectly holy and all-powerful God, having nothing of our own that God did not Himself give us – save our own sinfulness. And it was this stress in Mahaney’s work that I truly appreciated, because this humiliation of man before God, this stress that all we have and are is from Him alone, is often missed in our self-centred, experience-driven Christian subculture.

Pride, Mahaney tells us, was the first sin, and indeed is the root of all sin. Sin is rebellion against God, and rebellion is the practical result of rejecting our dependence on God. The author quotes John Stott making the point that pride is not merely just another sin, but is indeed the essence of all sin. Put in this light, all sin is really an expression of human pride and hubris. And, Mahaney says, this is why God so passionately HATES pride.

The book moves from this definition into God’s solution to this problem – Jesus Christ. Mahaney repeatedly stresses that true greatness is servanthood and humility, and points to the only One who perfectly modeled these qualities: Him who died, innocent and pure, in the place of proud and haughty sinners. Mahaney contrasts Christ’s sacrifice with the pride and ambition of his own disciples James and John, who are jockeying for a place of honour in His kingdom. If Christ’s own disciples, the future apostles themselves, fell to such pride, how are we any different?

The Cross, Mahaney points out, was true greatness defined because it was true humility displayed. And so the author takes a whole chapter describing the Cross and the good news of freedom from sin in light of Christ’s humility. This chapter was beautiful, a far more powerful and eloquent presentation of the Gospel than I have seen in any tracts and altar calls. In relating his whole book, every theme, to the Cross and Gospel of Christ, Mahaney truly glorifies God.

Having laid a firm foundation at the foot of the Cross, the rest of the book is largely practical advice. His first suggestion is constant meditation on the Cross of Christ – regular, unceasing consideration of true humility and true greatness. From there, Mahaney effectively ties humility as a spiritual practice into other spiritual disciplines. Without being dogmatic, he introduces several practical ways in which a Christian can increase his own awareness of the pride in his life and strive for humility in his walk. While emphatically stating that he is only giving suggestions, he prescribes beginning each day with acknowledgement of our need of God, and thanks for what He has done. He examines daily prayer, worship, and Bible study as means of increasing our awareness of God’s greatness and our own insufficiency. In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, he even recommends taking up golf as a way to humble yourself!

Mahaney also succeeds where all too many have failed, giving a clear, coherent, PRACTICAL motivation to study theology and doctrine. In particular, he describes three areas of particular importance for developing spiritual humility: study of the attributes of God (his omnipotence, eternity, omniscience, etc.); the doctrines of grace (God’s sovereignty in salvation and our dependence on Him for it); and the doctrine of sin, where we discover how truly needy and unworthy we really are. Without falling into heavy words and concepts, he points out what a humbling and revitalizing effect on one’s spiritual life can result from in-depth study of theology.

Tiny little quibbles

I only had two minor quibbles with the book, neither of which detracted from the author’s aim or my enjoyment of and edification from the book. They were not disagreements or issues of substance, merely questions of emphasis. First of all, Mahaney stresses that humility will bring grace to him that practices it. This is a biblical message, to be sure – God gives grace to the humble. Humility brings the approval and blessing of God, for it gives Him His due. I just felt that the author might have reinforced his point further by stressing that humility in a sinful person, like faith and repentance, is itself a work of God’s grace in his heart, and that it is indeed impossible without it. Mahaney does touch on this issue, of course, in explaining that only Christ perfectly fulfilled Isaiah 66:2 and in mentioning man’s depravity; I only thought he could have emphasized further the role of God’s grace as not just a reward for, but also the necessary precondition for, humility. Humility as God’s gift - that, truly, is a humbling truth.

Secondly, a stress on humility bringing reward detracts somewhat from the truth that the most sincerely humble heart is motivated by love. A Christian is humble not simply because God deserves it from him – although that certainly is enough – but also out of love for God. We deflect praise and honour to God not just because He alone deserves it, but because our love for Him compels us to see Him glorified. Mahaney could have emphasized this point, having laid an excellent foundation for a detailed look at a relationship between love and humility. Maybe in another book…

Why you should read this book

Those minor points aside, I found that the book forced me to be aware of a problem that I grapple with (as do we all). I fight pride on a daily basis. Mahaney points out that the Bible says, "Knowledge puffs up;" and as I am the type of guy who expresses enthusiasm for a subject by reading everything I can get my hands on about that topic, I find I’m particularly prone to this kind of pride.

Perhaps my favorite of Mahaney’s list of practical suggestions is to "look for evidence of grace in all others." Not just Christians – God has showered grace on everyone. And as a recently married man, this challenged me to look at the things I said to and noticed in my wife’s life. Pointing out to someone that "I see God’s hand on you, in this way" is unbelievably encouraging to that person.

There are many more gems like this one in Humility: True Greatness. It comes out in late October. Trust me - this one is worth buying, folks. You will not regret it.

Other information on this book:

Sample Chapter (Multnomah)
Justin Taylor's interview with C.J. Mahaney
Tim Challies

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My Wife Joins The Blogosphere

I just thought I'd point out that my lovely wife Erin is now a blogger.

It's kind of strange that I jumped into it before she did, actually. Erin has always been a diarist and journaler - when I first met her, she kept a log of her prayer life in her journal. As for me, I don't even write down the tasks I have to accomplish half the time! (This is a constant source of frustration to Erin, of course, as my memory isn't all that great...) Of course, she's a little more private than I am, but I expect she'll be posting more personal or emotional reflections than I tend to. Should be a nice counterbalance to my heavy theological approach...

Erin, good luck with your blog!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Thoughts on Katrina

It's been a couple weeks since Hurricane Katrina bulldozed the U.S. Gulf Coast. I initially decided to remain silent about it, because many with much more experience in the faith than I have said a lot. However, a comments by a leading "evangelical Christian" lately made me grouchy, and so I decided to write an article addressing the issue. It's long, and extremely politically incorrect, but please take the time to read.

(A much better treatment of the issue can be found here - a webcast by Dr. James White discussing the issue. Erin and I both found this very helpful.)

First, read the words of our Lord about His control and power over all things:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:28-31)

Here, Christ reminds us that our concern for our earthly lives is misplaced. We are not to be concerned about physical death. Eternal death in hell, however, is our concern. Therefore, our life on earth must be lived in fear of the God who makes that decision, in abandonment of earthly things.

And to reassure Christians in troubled times, Christ reminds us of the Father's absolute sovereignty. Even the tiniest details of life - such as the death of a tiny sparrow - are all under God's control. Nothing comes to pass, nothing at all, outside of His plan and will. God is in full control, and we can trust that no matter what happens, He is still there and He has a purpose.

Now read these comments by Tony Campolo, one of the leading lights of the "emerging church" movement (complete article can be found here):

But when the Bible tells us about the grace of God, it is giving us the good news that our loving God does not give us what we truly deserve. Certainly, God would not create suffering for innocent people, who were--for the most part--Katrina’s victims.

Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.

This comment truly saddens me. Campolo denies God His omnipotence and omniscience, rendering Him a hapless and helpless spectator to natural events. I disagree with him in his characterization of the Old Testament's picture of God, but that aside, Campolo's supposed to be Christian! He's got the whole New Testament - the Greek Scriptures - to call upon! Compare his comments to this Scripture passage, and judge for yourselves:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (Mark 5:35-41)

There's no denying that God has power over the weather, as this Scripture demonstrates. So why does Campolo deny God's own word? His own comments contain the answer:

Certainly, God would not create suffering for innocent people, who were--for the most part--Katrina’s victims.

There it is - innocent people. Campolo is not judging the event by Scripture, but by his own philosophical outlook. Campolo here thinks that, in God's eyes, there is such a thing as an "innocent person." And this is why he's forced to deny Scripture - although the Biblical view of God, of man, of sin, and of calamity all say exactly the opposite of what Campolo is saying here, he refuses to give God His sovereign right to deal with His creation as He pleases.

Mark my words: this is heresy. Nothing less.

There are no innocent people!! Remember the words of Paul: For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:9-12)

If Campolo were right, and there are "innocent people," then Christ's blood was wasted. I guess we can do it on our own after all.

"But what about all the Christians? Their sins are covered - why would God punish them with the rest?"

A fair question. But remember, in Scripture, there are many examples of large-scale catastrophes befalling God's people - the Assyrian conquest of Israel, the Babylonian conquest of Judah, the locust plague described in Joel, and so on. God's punishment was on the nation, the whole people. As it affects individuals, it may or may not be intended as punishment on them. God never promised a free ride for the righteous - remember Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, Mordecai? All these lost their homes, their possessions, their country, probably many family members in the Babylonian Conquest. All (except Jeremiah) went into exile with everyone else. Don't forget, too, that Jesus and Paul both spoke of suffering as the Christian's lot.

God is sovereign. What does that mean? He is King. He is Lord. His Word is Law. His will WILL come to pass. And, as the Creator of us all, He has every right to take the lives of His creatures when He wills. Remember, our Christian faith does not confer immortality in our present bodies. Even Christians still die, because of the curse of Adam.

And in the case of the righteous, those made right in God's eyes through faith in Christ, if God chooses to take them earlier than expected, all glory be to God. They have joined Him - we should be happy for them.

Sadly, Campolo knows the truth. Earlier in the same article, he wrote:

Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God’s great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see "all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28)

And later: There are still other religionists who take the opportunity to tell us that God is punishing America for its many sins. Undoubtedly, there are some al-Qaeda fanatics who right now are saying that Katrina is the hand of God, striking America for what we have done to the people of Iraq and to the Palestinians. Furthermore, there are Christians who, in the weeks to come, can be counted on to thunder from their pulpits that Katrina is God’s wrath against the immorality of this nation, pointing out that New Orleans is the epitome of our national degradation and debauchery. To all of this I say, "Wrong."

No, Dr. Campolo. You're wrong. Those answers you casually dismiss ARE the right answers. Look at the Scriptures - those Hebrew Scriptures that "don't speak of God's omnipotence:"

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7)

Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? (Amos 3:6)

Anyone who would deny God's sovereign right over His own creation is no Christian.

Campolo would have us believe in a god who stands helplessly by and watches as his creation flies out of control. A god who weeps, but can do nothing to stop what he wants to prevent. How is that supposed to be a comfort or encouragement to anyone? "God weeps with you, but he couldn't do anything to stop it. I'm sorry." Why trust in such a god to raise people from the dead? Why trust such a god for eternal life? I just cannot see how, whether philosophically, ethically, or most important of all, Scripturally, Campolo's god is worthy of worship at all.

No. Campolo's god is not the God I believe in. My God is worthy of glory and honour and praise.

So what of Katrina? I see it as a wake-up call, visited on a sinful nation. No country on earth is as "Christianized" as the United States. No nation has been blessed with such power and prosperity. No nation has such unfettered access to God's truth. And yet that nation pumps out more filth, more violence, more pornography from its culture than any other nation on earth. Americans kill more than a million helpless unborn children every year because they are "unwanted." No nation, save perhaps my own and a couple of other Western countries, has been given so much and done so little for so few. And God cares about this.

Katrina is a reminder by God: "I'm still here." He is still in control. And Americans would do well to realize this. As a Canadian, I see my own nation as possibly even more morally bankrupt, and I shudder to think of what God's judgment on Canada might be, if we do not repent and turn to Him.

It comes down to this, guys. Either God couldn't do anything about Katrina, and is therefore no God at all; or He had a purpose in the storm. Go to your Bibles. Pray about it.

And when it gets tough, remember the words of Paul: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

And, beware of false teachers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


It seems like I haven't blogged in forever... Now that I'm back, I figured I'd spend a post on more personal matters, for a change.

I was on vacation for a couple of weeks - most of it spent in the Fredericton area, mind you, but I just tried to lay around and relax with Erin (when she wasn't working). I needed the break, I'll tell you - I have this way of biting off way more than I should, and I can wear myself out if I'm not careful (as my darling wife keeps telling me...)

But we did get out of our usual stomping grounds for a couple of days. Erin and I went camping at Parlee Beach Provincial Park, near Shediac (on the coast of the Northumberland Strait, in southeastern New Brunswick). It was great - we camped in the middle of the week, and so the campground was almost empty and we got a great spot.

The beach itself was fantastic. We had perfectly clear blue skies and temperatures near 30 degrees (that's in the 90 range for any American readers). We lay out on the beach and read books, and swam. Erin got burned all over her back and shoulders, though. But we loved it. The water was fantastic - Parlee Beach is supposed to have the warmest water north of the Carolinas, or so I was told by a local (there must be an element of truth to it, if ocean water off Canadian coastlines is enjoyable in September!)

Two minor mishaps made the trip interesting, though. The campground had showers, much to Erin's joy (I don't know why girls don't seem to fully accept the "get out of civilization and into nature" idea behind camping, but I digress) but her joy soon turned to horror as we took our first showers. The stalls were individual and opened to the outdoors (you can lock the doors) and are not ventilated. So the campground staff have to keep them open between showers, so that they stay safe and free of mold and mildew. Well, that meant (of course) that these stalls develop their own communities of insects and spiders. I remember waiting outside Erin's stall for her to finish her shower (having swatted several moths and flies out of the place before she went in) and suddenly hearing a scream, followed by a plaintive wail:


She emerged in short order, almost in tears and shaking. I went in to look, and discovered two craneflies - totally harmless, of course, but scary to look at. For those who aren't familiar, craneflies look like gigantic, six long-legged spiders with wings. These two, perched on the walls, had a leg-span of about four inches. They had flown out of nowhere and buzzed her in the shower. Erin didn't fully buy my assurances that they were harmless...

We eventually moved to a Holiday Inn in Moncton, however, because both of our backs were bothering us (we've both managed to wreck them working our respective jobs - I've developed a disturbing ibuprofen habit, and that at just 25!) and our air mattress had sprung a leak. I took Erin to Old Navy to make up for the cranefly incident - guys, that's the BEST way to make a girl feel better. No substitute. We felt sad coming home - we had a great time.

That's all for now, I guess. Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow, God willing.