Tuesday, November 10

Forefathers: Our Big/Small Gift

On this day many years ago God did something very big. Actually it was very small. By His providence a little baby boy was born to a miner and his wife, and he was to change the world in so many ways even history professors (not known for conciseness) have trouble enumerating the benefits of his legacy. I am not a history prof. Our child’s most important gift to us is theology, which as the eternal queen of sciences influences every other area of life. Let us be transported to a land long ago and observe our man before we label or name him.

First we see our boy, after some growing up, enter law school at age 13 and earn his bachelor’s and master’s degree at the fastest pace allowed. His skills in debate become legend.

Then fear descends. Our boy, now a man, is caught in danger and dedicates his life to God. Radical change follows. Our man’s father is unhappy with his son’s about-face; he was supposed to be a lawyer after all. Nevertheless, our man is resolute. He enters the cloister.

Our man throws himself wholeheartedly into his new life. But something is missing. “I should love the Lord,” he reflects, “but sometimes I hate him.” Despite these internal ravings, our man is compelled to pursue a doctorate in theology.

Now a theologian, our man’s struggles have not passed away. “How can I love a righteous God who judges me?” Our man reads Romans; chapter 1, verse 17 confuses him. “If the righteous will live by faith, how can the unrighteous live?”

He pauses.

He meditates.

Epiphany; post tenebras, lux. Romans 1:17 really means that “the one who by faith is righteous shall live.” The gates of heaven have opened for our theologian, and he enters in. He knows that all is changed. In all of Scripture once-known-but-never-understood he now sees the glorious gospel of Christ. The condemnation is gone.

Our man becomes a true preacher.

Another preacher comes around. He is teaching that God’s pardon can be bought with money; the merits of Christ go to those with coin to spare.

Our preacher is furious. Christ gives grace to the humble and poor, not to the rich consumer. He writes a treatise, hoping to spark a formal debate on the matter. Our preacher wishes to be a renewer. With hammer and nails our preacher unwittingly sets in motion an avalanche God planned long ago. The time has come.

Our man is a pebble in the Lord’s hands. His ripples our still in our pond.

Years have come and gone. Our preacher is in trouble, external this time. He stands accuse of heresy and stands before his emperor to answer for his ripples. “Do you repent?” Our man wavers. God strengthens him; he refuses to buckle. “I cannot deny what the Bible clearly says. Its strong hold is over me. It must correct me.”

Our preacher is now an outlaw. He hides; really he is hidden. A work is begun. “I want everyone to read God’s Word.”

It is finished. Our outlaw reveals himself. No one can stop him because no one can stop God. The outlaw becomes our Reformer.

He is Martin Luther, our Martin Luther. Our man, our theologian, our preacher, and our reformer because God has given him to us as a gift, a gift that points to the ultimate Gift who is Christ. Luther is proof that God’s righteousness and steadfast love endure forever. He is God’s big and small thing. O the gracious love of God in such paradoxes! Glory be to God for all things, even big/small ones.

Glory be to God for our Luther.

Friday, July 31

A Eulogy for Nana

My grandmother, Pauline Oleta Wells, passed away on July 23, 2009. Her funeral was yesterday and I had the privilege of speaking a eulogy both for my cousin Jessica (who was unable to attend) and myself. This is how I honored my grandmother, and I hope it is helpful:

One of my abiding memories of Nana is a particular look she would give. Now, looking back on it, the look makes me smile; but as her young grandchild it would jolt me and put me in my place. The look is easy enough to describe; when we would misbehave or be smart, Nana would tilt her head down and leer at us over the rim of her glasses, as if to say, “Really now?” There was love in this look, tough love, but the kind we needed when we needed it. Every once in a while I see this look now in my mom; genetics is scary.

Another characteristic of Nana would show itself when she enlisted the grandchildren’s help in yard work. Most people would be content with simply giving a general outline of the job and setting the youthful energy loose on the lawn; but not Nana. She would pull out her lawn chair and set herself down right where she had a view of the work being done, and she wasn’t bad at commenting on it either. Nana knew what she wanted done; but it was also a trait that she was never mean or harsh towards us. Mixing discipline and gentleness was her forte; and us grandchildren could always be sure that a rich reward awaited our labor (usually this took the form of a dessert; never mind, it always took the form of a dessert).

I miss Nana. I mourn that she spent the final years of her life in the grip of Alzheimer’s. I grieve that she is no longer with us. I am absolutely certain that she is now with Christ in joy, but I am also certain that we must grieve in the face of death, and mourn the loss of our dear mother, grandmother or friend.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

God comforts us in the midst of suffering and death in the world; what he does not do is shield us from it altogether. The Bible does not beat around the bush about the hard realities of life, and in fact encourages us to face them head on.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-3)

How is the heart made to rejoice in the face of sadness?

British author J.R.R. Tolkien invented a word that sums up the Bible’s answer to this question. Tolkien said that just as we have the word catastrophe in English we should also have it's opposite, eucatastrophe. As catastrophe means a sudden change from good to bad, eucatastrophe signifies a sudden change from bad to good. For Tolkien this was the essence of the Gospel. He once said it this way, "The Incarnation is the eucatastrophe of human history, and the Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.”

In the Incarnation God, instead of leaving us to the consequences of our own sin, takes the deserved evil of suffering and death and deals with it decisively and finally in Jesus Christ. We still experience suffering and evil, but God now takes these bad things and fashions a eucatastrophe; he turns the bad into good. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he takes us through our own death to resurrection with him forever. This was the good news Nana believed in, and this is the hope she looked for. She knew that because Jesus lived, died, and rose again she too would rise again with him even though she would die. God wants to show us that he is the One who is sovereign over evil and death and raises the dead to new life. Nana’s life, and death, is ultimately about Jesus.

Just before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said to Martha:

“‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:25-27)

Even after this declaration of the eucatastrophe he is about to perform, we find Jesus grieving. The shortest verse in the Bible is: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) So let’s weep with Jesus; but let’s do it as those who know that Christ will raise his people from death and turn our weeping into laughing when he wipes away all tears from our eyes. So let’s weep, with hope.

Tuesday, May 19

The Gospel is Historical

This was originally posted over at Reformation Theology last year, and in light of some recent conversations I've had about how we really should preach the gospel I have decided to post it here in the hopes that it will foster some counter-intuitive thinking. Please soak in the radical nature of what Keller is saying:

The gospel is historical . . . The word “gospel” shows up twice [1 Peter 1:1-12, 1:22-2:12]. Gospel actually means “good news.” You see it spelled out a little bit when it says “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Why do we say that the gospel is good news? Some years ago, I heard a tape series I am sure was never put into print by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was an evening sermon series on 1 Corinthians 15. He clarified how the Gospel is based on historical events in how the religion got its start. He said there was a big difference between advice and news. The Gospel, he would say, is good news, but not good advice. Here’s what he said about that: “Advice is counsel about something that hasn’t happened yet, but you can do something about it. News is a report about something that has happened which you can’t do anything about because it has been done for you and all you can do is to respond to it.”

So he says think this out: here’s a king, and he goes into a battle against an invading army to defend his land. If the king defeats the invading army, he sends back to the capital city messengers, envoys, very happy envoys. He sends back good newsers. And what they come back with is a report. They come back and they say: It’s been defeated and it’s been all done. Therefore respond with joy and now go about your lives in this peace which has been achieved for you. But if he doesn’t defeat the invading army, and the invading army breaks through, the king sends back military advisers and says . . . “Marksmen over here and the horseman over there, and we will have to fight for our lives.”

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says that every other religion sends military advisers to people. Every other religion says that if you want to achieve salvation, you will have to fight for your life. Every other religion is sending advice saying “here are the rites, here are the rituals, here’s the transformation of the consciousness and here are the laws and the regulations. Marksmen over here and horsemen over there and we are going to fight for our lives.” We send heralds; we send messengers and not military advisers.

Isn’t that clarifying? It’s just incredibly clarifying. And it’s not like there’s nothing to do about it, my goodness. Both the messenger and the military adviser get an enormous response. One is a response of joy and the other one is a response of fear. All other religions give advice and they drive everything you do with fear . . . as you know, when you hear the gospel, when you hear the message that it’s all been done for you, it’s a historical event that has happened, your salvation is accomplished for you, what do you want to do? You want obey the Ten Commandments, you want to pray, and you want to please the one that did this for you.

If, on the other hand, military advisers say you have to live a really good life if you want to get into heaven, what do you do? You want to pray and you want to obey the Ten Commandments. It looks the same, doesn’t it? But for two radically different reasons: One is joy and the other one is fear. In the short run, they look alike. But in the long run, over here we have burn out and self-righteousness and guilt and all sorts of problems. And that’s fascinating.

But having said that, what’s the ministry implication? The ministry implication is this: the significance of preaching, of proclamation, of declarative preaching, is irreplaceably central in Gospel ministry. Declarative preaching is irreplaceably central.Why? If basically we are sending people “how to”, if we are saying here’s the “how to” to live the right way, if that’s the primary message, I am not sure words are necessarily the best thing to send. You want
to send a model.

If I was to teach an advanced seminar on preaching (and I never have) I would make everybody read CS Lewis’ Studies in Words. It’s amazing because we are wordsmiths and he shows you how important it is to craft your words properly. The last chapter is called “At the Fringe of Language” and he says language can’t do everything. He says that one of the things language cannot do is describe complex operations. On the other hand, when it comes to describing how, to explain to somebody that Joshua Chamberlain, without any ammunition, charged down Little Round Top in an incredible, risky adventure at the height of the Battle of Gettysburg, and as a result changed the course of history. You don’t show people that, you tell them that. It’s something that happened, you describe it. You tell them that. If you are going to give them how-tos, very often what you want is modeling and dialogue, action and reflection and so forth.

Therefore, if you believe the gospel is good news, declarative preaching (verbal proclaiming) will always be irreplaceably central to what we do. However, if you subscribe to the assertion that the gospel is simply good advice on how to live a life that changes people and connects to God . . . dialogue would be alright. Stories and modeling and reflection would be more important. In other words, you would believe what some people would quip: “proclaim the gospel, use words if necessary”. You’ve probably heard that. That shows, I think, that they don’t quite understand what the gospel is all about.

Excerpt from Keller's sermon "Gospel-Centered Ministry."


Tuesday, April 21

Forefathers: Anselm

Today, 900 years ago exactly, Anselm of Canterbury died in 1109. He is ranked as one of the greatest theological minds in church history along with giants like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Here is a link to the Wikipedia article:

Anselm of Canterbury

He was a fascinating man. I am going to highlight just a few of his contributions to the Christian faith.

His first work of note was a work of philosophy and apologetics, not theology proper. Proslogion is the name it usually goes by but an English translation of the title is Discourse on the Existence of God. In this work Anselm developments his famous (or infamous, depending on one's worldview) ontological argument which, in a much simplified form, states that a being (i.e. God) other than which nothing greater can be conceived must necessarily exist; and since the Christian God is the greatest being possible, He must necessarily exist.

Theologians and philosophers still debate about the merits or dis-merits of the ontological argument for the existence of God. Even after 900 years Anselm's ideas are still alive and kicking.

His major theological work, and arguably his most important, especially from a theological perspective, is Cur Deus Homo. In English this can be variously translated as Why the God-man? or Why Did God Become Man? In it Anselm argues that the main reason why God the Son became man was to pay a debt, not to Satan as many early proponents of the "ransom theory" thought, but to God himself. He argued that in sinning against God humanity was morally required to make satisfaction to God's honor and holiness, and this satisfaction is exactly why hell is necessary. But Jesus provides salvation because he is the God-man; fully human because the satisfaction required is due from humanity, and fully God because the debt against an infinitely holy God is infinite and is therefore only something God can possibly pay in full.

The reason I have started this series on Christians who have gone before us is because I believe that history is an important part of knowing who we are and who God is. The Gospel is historical because it is about God's acts in history; specifically the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Church is also historical, and ignorance of it's history is ignorance of where we came from and ultimately where we are going. I hope reading about Anselm of Canterbury is proof of that.

Friday, April 10

The Curtain and the Death of Types

One of the most moving images of what Jesus' cross meant is shown by one of the signs accompanying his death. All of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record this event, but here is Matthew's account:

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:50-51)

What exactly is the curtain of the temple? Why did three of the four Gospel writers think it significant enough to record it? And most importantly, what are the implications of this event?

The curtain, or veil as some translations have it, was the partition between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and later the Temple. The Holy Place housed the menorah and the table of the bread of the Presence and was where the Old Testament priests performed the daily rituals. But in the Most Holy Place stood the Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat on top of it, where God's presence dwelt. Only the high priest could go in once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and he had to bring blood as a sacrifice for his sins and those of the people of Israel. According to tradition a rope was tied around the high priest's leg in case he was struck dead by the Lord for wrongdoing and the people had to retrieve his body.

The curtain was a very clear testimony to the fact that God and his presence were separated from the people because of their sin. If a sinner were to enter into the Holy of Holies he would be immediately struck dead by the justice of God. In Jesus' time, the veil in the Temple was 60 feet high and 4 inches thick; a very sturdy reminder of the separation of a sinful humanity from a holy God.

So why is the ripping of this partition so important? There are many reasons, but a few that strike my soul and reveal Christ's glory are: 1) It shows the uselessness of the Temple and the Old Testament system it represented. 2) It shows that Jesus was the true temple of the living God. and 3) It shows that the separation between God and man caused by sin has ended in Jesus.

If God established the Old Testament sacrifices, then how are they useless? Becasue they were never meant to atone for sin, period. The Old Testament system and all it entailed was intended by God to be a type, or prefiguration, of the sacrifice that would truly take away the sin of the people; the Cross of Christ.

"For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:1-4)

When Jesus died, the true Lamb had been offered once for all and God indicated this by tearing the curtain of the now obsolete Temple. The Sacrifice to end sacrifice was slain. The true Form had come; the shadow passed away. Ultimately this was completed by the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2)

And Jesus is not only the sacrifice but also the true temple of the Lord; he is the Presence of God on earth. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus cleansed the Temple by driving out the money changers. When the Pharisees asked him what sign he would do to prove he had the authority for this, Jesus said...

"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

John makes it clear right after this that Jesus was talking about his body, and not the building right next to him. By claiming to be the temple, Jesus is making a radical statement that the true followers of God are to come to him, not to the Temple. No longer is the worship of God to be centered in Jerusalem, but in the Person and Work of Christ.

"Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.' The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.' Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am he.'" (John 4:21-26)

If He is the true temple, of which the Jerusalem temple was but a picture, then the torn curtain also pictures something about Jesus himself. What did the ripped veil symbolize in relation to Jesus' death?

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:19-22)

The curtain also points us to Jesus' human nature, and shows us that in having his body torn, like the veil, he has opened the way to the Presence of God for us. We no longer need to stand outside the veil apart from a holy God; in Christ we are brought near to God, and God is brought near to us. We can approach the throne of a the perfectly just Creator because Jesus is our torn curtain, mediator, and substitute who bore the wrath of divine justice in our place so we would be made a royal priesthood with access to the Most Holy Place and eternal communion with Yahweh.

And the most amazing grace of God is seen in that we sinners, who were once enemies and haters of God soiled in our own filthiness, are in union with Christ by faith sanctified stones being used by God to build his everlasting temple not made with hands, but with the Holy Spirit.

"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-5)

As the Church of Christ all those who trust in Christ for complete salvation are both the priests of God and the temple of God, because Jesus is first. He is the true High Priest and the everlasting Temple, and in Him we are true priests and everlasting temples.

On this Good Friday I pray that everyone sees that the true Curtain, Jesus, is the most precious broken Object ever known because He was torn so we don't have to be. May this Curtain fall on you and be a beautiful garment to cloth your naked lack of righteousness before God.

Believe that Christ was torn for you.

Monday, March 30

Books: Spectacular Sins

John Piper's Spectacular Sins is, please forgive me, spectacular. Not so much a book as a 128-page Christ-exalting sermon from the warm, tender, and tough heart of a loving pastor. It is by no means exhaustive or expansive. Instead Piper focuses on six of the most vile and well-known sins from the narrative of Scripture; the rebellion of Satan, the Fall of Adam and Eve, the building of Babel, the sale of Joseph by his brothers, Israel asking for a king, and Judas Iscariot trading the most precious Treasure for thirty pieces of nothing.

This entire book is excellently God-honoring, but the last chapter, "Judas Iscariot, the Suicide of Satan, and the Salvation of the World," is worth ten times the price of the entire book. One thing that really popped out at me in the final chapter was when Dr. Piper compares Judas to anyone who goes after God merely for his gifts. He writes,

Judas was a lover of money, and he covered it with a phony, external relationship with Jesus. And then he sold him for thirty pieces of silver. How many of his ilk are still around today! Don't be one. And don't be duped by one.

This is a much-needed exposition of what the health, wealth, and prosperity "gospel" really is; a convenient use of Jesus to get things, not God himself. Lest we be Pharisaical judges, we must remember that as sinners we are naturally idol worshipers, and without grace will want the gifts but not the Giver. We must oppose prosperity teaching intently and aggressively, but also lovingly and meekly, praying for those who preach and believe it.

This book is short. One could easily get through it in one or two sittings, but the chapters are small and divided into subsections to aid in a more spread-out, devotional reading. However you choose read it, you will be challenged and edified and comforted and enthralled with the majesty of God in his triumph and sovereignty over all sin, and with the radiance of this majesty in Jesus. Everyone not only should read this book; everyone needs this book (or at least its message)!

Saturday, March 21

Thomas Cranmer: Reformer, Coward, Martyr

This day marks the anniversary of the death of Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury. He is a hugely important figure in the development of Anglicanism, and I believe he should also share the gratitude of any who ventures to call themselves Protestant; especially if one is an English-speaking Protestant.

Thomas Cranmer came from a rather humble beginning. He was born in Nottinghamshire in 1489 and at the age of 14 he started attending Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1510 he was ordained a priest. Cambridge become the focal point in England of discussion about the Reformation and in 1520 Cranmer joined a group that would meet to discuss Luther's ideas.

It was an accident (or act of Providence) that set Cranmer on the course of becoming the genius behind the English Reformation. He happened to meet the King in a neighborhood he was visiting and spoke with Henry about his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a devout Spanish woman who had "failed" to produce a male heir for King Henry. (She did, however, have a daughter; the future Queen Mary who would be known to the Protestants as "Bloody Mary.") Henry was impressed with Cranmer's reasoning on how he could best divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. Cranmer was quickly appointed as an ambassador and charged with writing a treatise arguing in favor of the divorce.

In 1533 Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest ecclesiastical position in England. Interestingly enough, the Pope actually signed off on the appointment thinking it would placate Henry after the Vatican had refused to annul the King's marriage to Catherine. This backfired. Immediately the new Archbishop declared Henry's marriage to the Queen null and void, and on top of that, validated the King's secret marriage to Anne Boleyn that had already taken place.

Over and over, as King Henry VIII changed wives only slightly less often than codpieces, Archbishop Cranmer would back the King's wishes and grant yet another annulment. In all this he was a coward, refusing to hold Henry accountable to sacred Scripture and its views on divorce and remarriage.

Where Thomas Cranmer's better colors shine however is in the reforms he undertook under Henry's son, King Edward VI. The monarch was a boy when his father died, and so much of the power was in the hands of decidedly pro-Reformation advisers, including the Archbishop. Cranmer was therefore able to take the Church of England in a staunchly Protestant direction during Edward's reign. Until....

Edward died six years after taking the throne and despite a nine-day rule by Lady Jane Grey, the Catholic Mary (daughter of Catherine) entered London and assumed the throne. She made short work of weeding out the Protestants and taking England back into the fold of the Roman Catholic Church. Cranmer was among the victims.

In 1556, after a three year trial, Thomas Cranmer was convicted of treason and sentenced to burn at the stake. He was humiliatingly defrocked in a ceremony stripping him of his episcopal and priestly vestments. In an effort to save his life, he signed a recantation of his Reformed views and submitted himself to the Pope as supreme head of the church. Mary decided to burn him anyway.

Supposed to read his recantation in church the day of his execution, Cranmer instead shouted out, "All such bills which I have written or signed with my own hand [are] untrue." He continued, "As for the pope, I refuse him as Christ's enemy and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine. As for the sacrament..."

Dragged off before he could finish his speech. When the fire was lit, he put out his right hand directly into the flame and declared, "This hand has offended."

Though Thomas Cranmer died as a martyr, when Elizabeth came to the throne two years later her reforms of the Anglican Church were really Cranmer's, with a few compromises. His forty-two points of doctrine were reduced and became The Thrity-Nine Articles of Religion, still the foundational doctrinal statement for Anglicans worldwide. His Book of Common Prayer is still the liturgical guide used in Anglican worship services, and parts of it have seeped into other Protestant churches' worship. For example, the traditional wedding ceremony that most English speakers are used to is either taken directly or slightly modified from Cranmer's Common Prayer.

All Protestants in the English speaking world should thank God for Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. He was by no means perfect, but without him there would have been no Reformation in England; and without that those giants of biblical theology we call the Puritans would never have been able to edify the English church as they did. May Cranmer's memory serve to magnify God's faithfulness to His church.

Sunday, January 11

It's Easy to Diss a Dead Dude

Here's an article I started writing back in January when I was in Seattle and decided to post anyway despite being late:

Passing judgment on historical persons is risky business; especially if that person lived 500 years ago on a different continent and with another language than the "judge."

The New York times has just run an article by Molly Worthen on Mars Hill Church's preaching pastor, Mark Driscoll. I was expecting some negative comments and critique of his views; we must remember that Calvinism and complementarianism are not very popular, especially in cities like Seattle and New York. But what I was not prepared for was a full scale attack on Driscoll rooted in a "historical" condemnation of John Calvin. You can find the article here.

I am currently writing this post in the Magnolia district of Seattle, and will be attending Mars Hill for an evening service. Nevertheless, my critique of this article will focus on the various aspects of Calvin and his thought that were mentioned, true and feigned.

Since the early 19th century, most evangelicals have preferred a theology that stresses the believer's free decision to accept God's grace. To be born again is a choice God wants you to make; if you so choose, Jesus will be your personal friend.
This is unfortunately true historically, but hardly an argument against Calvinism unless you only want to appeal to what makes Christians feel warm and fuzzy instead of pleading the teaching of Sacred Scripture. Many, many American Christians do indeed believe that they chose to be born again but they would be hard pressed to find the Bible on their side; let alone reason. Did we have a hand in our natural birth? Should we assume that when Jesus tells Nicodemus, "Unless you are born again," that He is commanding us to be the midwife at our own spiritual birth? (John 3:3) Certainly not!

A close reading of the passage dispels this perspective. This is especially highlighted earlier in John's Gospel; Chapter 1 states, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." Notice that those "who did receive him" were born, past tense! John then further clarifies that the birth is not by the will of the flesh or man.

And here's the the seemingly everlasting condemnation of Calvin:

John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake...

This is like saying that the President of the United States is elected by popular vote on Election Day; sort of close, but not really true. According to the historical record there was only one heretic ever burned at the stake in Geneva, and Calvin's involvement in it is very nuanced.

Michael Servetus was a Spanish physician and theologian who developed a theology in the wake of the Reformation that denied the Trinity; according to Servetus Jesus wasn't God incarnate. He had corresponded with Calvin, and the Reformers in Geneva had already publicly denounced him as a heretic.

Servetus was then spotted at one of Calvin's sermons and arrested. John Calvin participated in his prosecution and did agree that Michael Servetus should die for his heretical beliefs; however, Calvin did not want him to be burned at the stake and tried unsuccessfully to get the sentenced commuted to beheading. I'm not trying to clear Calvin of all his culpability in the matter, but compared to burning alive beheading is an obviously more humane form of execution. In addition, the night before the sentence was to be carried out Calvin spent the night with Servetus in prison ministering to him by calling Servetus to repent.

Calvin sinned. That is not in dispute; he should have denounced the whole business of the state thinking it had the right to kill someone for their aberrant theology. But the truth about the events around Servetus' execution disperses the lie that John Calvin was some egotistical sadist who ruled Geneva with an iron fist. That picture is simply untrue.

We must remember that though we may be in Christ, the truth that our indwelling sin makes us a product of our time is still painfully true. I pray that our posterity judges us with more charity than we have shown our brother John Calvin.