Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dear Screwtape, XXIV: Pride


Dear Friend, you can read Chapter XXIV of The Screwtape Letters here.

Dear Screwtape, XXIV

My Dear Screwtape,
    Your strategy to attack our patient through Pride is definitely an approach we can pursue with some conditional hope of limited mastery. As you know, Pride defines us both philosophically and historically and we have both an adroit understanding of its strategic capability and a sterling record of successful exploits using it as a most effective weapon. In fact, our Father Below concocted the whole damned thing.
    A splendid pattern of perfection himself, Lord Lucifer epitomized the blazing radiance of Heaven with a beauty and wisdom unparalleled by any creature. His dazzling raiment glistened with heaven’s brightest jewels - ruby, topaz, emerald, onyx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and beryl - mounted in settings of purest gold. But Pride’s infernal passion melted these gems into a lava-like, rivulose stream of self-consuming lust. Cold-blooded, alien passions then transformed his adornments into rock-hard, reptilian scales, beautiful in color and pattern, yet poisonous with Hell’s deadliest venom.
    Indeed, Pride is like a lovely Hydra, poised to strike with deadly accuracy against audacious Herculean braggarts. Its least subtle but most frequently poised head, Possessive Pride, fosters childlike selfishness through a false sense of ownership of things, particularly if the bitten fool thinks that his things are bigger and better than someone else’s things. A more potent and deadly head, Performative Pride, bites most often at those who substitute the arrogance of accomplishments for the humbler self-respect born of quiet confidence; entrepreneurs and successful white-collar types are especially vulnerable to this poison. Lightning-quick Mental Pride strikes those high-minded intellectuals who are given to a sort of cerebral snobbery flaunted through a puffy, erudite ego and inflated conversational tone; professors, theologians (real and pretended), and dilettantes are our prey here. Another kind of Pride enchants the Beautiful and Strong: Physical Pride. Its serpentine sway charms them into a narcissistic self-appreciation of their bodily or facial aspect, an ego worship whose symptoms include too many trips to the mirror and the wearing of ostentatious or sparse clothing; vain youths and insecure or overconfident forty-ish types most frequently fall prey to this kind of mesmerism. But the most entrancing and deadly head of all, “Spiritual Pride,” we reserve for prized victims, the religiously deceived. The fangs of Spiritual Pride spew forth a venom deadly to those deluded by a self-deceiving consciousness of their superior spirituality. Numerous contemporary false prophets have succumbed to this succubus, and many of their followers as well. Now it is this latter kind of Pride which you think we can inject into my patient through what you perceive as a “chink” in his girlfriend’s armor, this Spiritual Pride. But let us observe a couple of cautions.
    First, you correctly assume that my patient’s youth makes him more vulnerable to Spiritual Pride. This is a tendency among His newborn of which the Enemy is keenly aware and therefore forbids them any authoritative voice in His Church. Also, the Enemy uses unfair means to thwart our efforts to exploit this prideful tendency of young converts. For instance, if we exploit this vulnerability as you suggest, be prepared for a number of counterattacks from the Enemy, such as the incisive penetration of His sword and Spirit directly into the patient to surgically remove the prideful thoughts we engender. And watch out for Providential meddling that chastises the younger patient with adverse circumstances that are certain to bring him into a repulsive state of humility and grief-stricken repentance. Even if we attain a greater degree of success with a true Christian, be prepared for the Enemy’s most spiteful tactic against Pride. Sometimes He allows Pride to swell in His children to the extent that they stumble, fall under its weight, and are crushed by it; then, contradictory to all logic and contrary to our wills, the Enemy takes Pride off their backs, dusts them off, and puts them back on the same old path but with a quickened awareness of our devices and sin’s prices. We cannot possibly win under such unfair and uneven conditions; triumph in minor skirmishes is all we can hope for where real Christians are involved. Irrevocable, absolute triumph await us only in the arena of counterfeit Christians and out-and-out reprobates. 
    One other thing before I sign off. Let us not deceive ourselves into believing we can exploit “erotic enchantment” as a means to spiritual pride. A patient’s romantic involvement with a Christian represents real danger to us. The eroticism born of Christian love is one of the more potent weapons in the Enemy’s arsenal; it has a way of elevating patients into a sphere of ecstasy which replicates within its amplitude the Enemy’s own passion for His Bride, a sphere into which we dare not ascend.        

Your affectionate nephew,

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dear Screwtape XXIII: The Limits of Reason and Revelation

My Dear Screwtape,
    Your last letter trumpets a disharmonious and paranoid note: “Reason threatens Hell.” You suffer from the delusion that my patient’s association with “very intelligent Christians” will undermine my efforts to “remove” spirituality from him completely; therefore, you assert that I must launch a second sortie to “corrupt” his spiritual life. Dear Uncle, why in Hell do you insist upon this preposterous idea that Heaven depends upon human intelligence for the preservation and perpetuation of spiritual Life among its citizenry? Oh, certainly, Heaven has its scholars, but they are not the mortar that holds the City together; they are only some of Earth’s rarer jewels crushed into dust and refashioned into clay pots, made fools for the Enemy’s sake. Now this may startle you, but humanity’s failure to understand the Enemy by means of Reason ironically conforms to His plan. He's even brash about it!  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." No, He saves only by foolishness, the foolishness of preaching. As the Heavens are higher than the earth, so also the Enemy’s thoughts are higher than humans' thoughts. Even the brightest Christian scholars are but fading sparks in His blazing Sun. Perhaps I can illustrate.
    One of the Enemy’s great poets compares the knowledge of the Enemy to a traveler's journey from Hell to Heaven, from the Pit to Paradise. On the journey, three guides accompany the traveler; one guide is Reason, a second guide Revelation, and yet a third guide, Regeneration. Personified by the poet Virgil, the first guide, Reason, can lead the traveler only as far as the gates of Paradise, but Reason cannot lead the traveler through Paradise's gates and must remain just outside. To ascend towards Paradise and the Enemy’s throne, another guide besides Reason is required, Revelation, whom the poet calls Beatrice, and who is the source of what you refer to as Natural and Moral Law. But Beatrice, that is, Revelation, has her limitations as well; she can lead a traveler into the outer spheres of paradisaical knowledge, but even she herself cannot lead the traveler into a full and intimate vision of the Enemy. In Dante's words,
Io veggio ben che giĆ  mai non si sazia
nostro intelletto, se ‘l ver non lo illustra
di fuor dal qual nessun vero si spazia.
[Paradise. 4.124–26]
 I see well that never is our intellect satisfied,
unless that Truth illumines it beyond which no truth may soar.
Since you know that poet so well, I am quite surprised you have missed his point. Supreme consciousness of the Divine requires something more than Reason, even more than Revelation. Beyond Reason, beyond Revelation, something more is needed, something transcendent, something mystical, even something miraculous, something that the Enemy calls Regeneration. The poet personified this phenomenon in St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose surname means "clear vision." To see the punta, the "point of Light" at the center of the Mystic Rose, the traveler's limited capacity of vision must be "enlightened." I suppose this is what the Enemy's Offspring meant when He said, "Unless a patient is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God." But back to your reference to Moral Law that, you fear, poses a special danger to our subversive activities.
    I am willing to admit the possibility that, through Reason and Revelation (generally understood), the Moral Law can sensitize patients to the existence of “the Eternal Power and Godhead” and to their own violation of the Enemy’s will, but to suggest that this Moral Law, in and of itself, is an effectual medium to convert patients into defectors - that I cannot accept. Please remember the success we had with the Pharisees on this issue; to make the Moral Law an end in itself is almost always in our best interest. This approach leaves the patient with a non-transcendent vision of the Enemy, far short of the “light unapproachable” to which true Defectors are drawn. Even better, when we can guide our patients to equate consciousness of the Moral Law with real conversion, we make them two-fold more the children of Hell! 
    And as for your contention that spirituality can be “corrupted,” I ask, “With what weapons will you overthrow Heaven’s army? By what ladder will you scale Zion’s walls? What blazing spark from Gehenna will kindle the flame of Hell in the River of Life or incinerate Heaven’s asbestos palaces? By what strength will you overcome the omnipotent arm of a Father’s Love that disciplines His children in the way they should go, protects them from all intruders, and grips them so tightly that none has ever plucked even one from His hand? Or will you penetrate Mother Jerusalem’s womb and abort the seed of God?” Dear uncle, have you forgotten? The Enemy’s children sit together with Him in heavenly places, places from which we are fallen and to which we can never return; our dominion is the Netherworld, and we rule only over those Gadarenes who, like us, walk among Tartaran tombs, rattle their chains, and shake their shackles. The Enemy can get to our possessions, but we cannot get to His. No, dear Uncle, once our Enemy has said “Come out of him,” we must enter into whatever swine we can find; but we cannot enter again into His sheep, for they cannot even hear our voices, much less follow us. Your strategy is ill conceived and doomed to failure. Intelligence does not secure genuine spirituality; neither can we remove or really even corrupt (in any ultimate sense) the real thing where it exists.
    On the other hand, we can “corrupt” the Enemy’s camp by slow and progressive infiltration through traitors whose minds are ripe for deceit. This strategy always proves quite productive to our ends, and has been effectively used to extinguish a number of candle-flames, but only where counterfeits exist among the real thing (we do have our Ananiases and Sapphiras).
    Screwtape, I grow weary of this song. Silence it. Dig your claws into those minds and souls where you yet have room to work with some “reasonable” hope of success, and vex me no more with your apprehensive and naive view of Reason.

    Your exasperated Nephew,


Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Rebuttal Part II: A False Dichotomy and a Shaky Premise

          The false dichotomy is the most prevalent kind displayed in persuasive writing. Chapter 2 of the Blue Book expounds on a great example: Covenantalists believe in a hermeneutic that leads to continuity within Scripture while Baptists support discontinuity. The false dichotomy then rests on a cracked foundation: the idea that covenants between a superior and an inferior are always conditional.

          “The question of how we should interpret the Bible is at the very heart of the baptism debate—indeed it is the foundational issue.” BB at 15. Justus is spot on with this assessment. Interpretational methods will lead to particular conclusions, or at least to a particular range of conclusions. We may be interested, then, to see how the paedobaptist chooses to interpret Scripture. Here, Justus is quite helpful, as he gives us the “Reformed or Covenantal Method.” BB at 16. This method “sees a basic continuity between the Old and New Testaments, with the New flowing out of the Old and building on its foundation.” BB at 16-17. One could hardly argue with such a method of interpreting Scripture. Though we will soon learn that when it comes to baptism what the paedobaptist means by this hermeneutic is that there is a basic continuity with the way by which God chooses who His people will be—the children of His people are His people—and how they should be marked. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Rebuttal: Part I

     I’m a Baptist of a Reformed bent. I love high-church services, but there’s something about the dunking of converts in vats of water which apparently renders such practitioners incapable of practicing high-church. I prefer Bach to praise choruses; were I a paedobaptist I would find myself much more comfortable on Sunday mornings. Alas, I am not, though I long to be. I’m not alone—many Reformed Baptists feel a little out of place and, having already been properly baptized, make the plunge to a Presbyterian or Episcopalian church of their liking, particularly if their children are grown. My child’s about two, which means this isn’t an option for me.

          Nevertheless, the desire to be convinced of the merit of the paedobaptist view lingers in my mind and heart. So it was with great anticipation I cracked open a book about a credo-baptist’s journey to being a paedobaptist. The book was given to me by its author, who is a good and kind man. His thinking on the issue of baptism, however, is illogical, incomplete, and tinctured by haughtiness, which is to say that it is typical of a paedobaptist’s arguments about baptism. But I write this, my response, not as an attack on the author’s intelligence—his name will not be mentioned, nor will the title of his book. Instead, as I note that his book is typical of the arguments I’ve heard from credo-turned-paedo-baptists, I take it upon myself to rebut the ideas contained therein. You’ll read quotes from the book as I use them to display the thinking, and wrong-headedness of its underlying logic. As I said, I’ll not use the name of the book, but in the spirit of Lewis I shall call it the Blue Book, and I’ll refer to its author as Justus. It is only right that I not refer to the author by name, not only because of my desire not to embarrass him, but because the thinking reflected in the book is not really his own. Justus didn’t lock himself in a room with a lamp and a Bible until he came away with a “proper” understanding of baptism. He adopted the thinking of others, and is now in the Blue Book trying to hook new converts to an idea he finds intellectually appealing.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Value of Confessions of Faith

    Contemporary Christianity faces an intellectual crisis of faith that, regrettably, equals its ethical deterioration. By “contemporary Christianity” we do not mean Christianity inclusive of Catholic or liberal churches but rather contemporary evangelical and Protestant churches including Baptists. By “intellectual crisis” we do not refer to a mere dearth of scholarship at the seminary podium or in the parish pulpit; rather, we mean an intellectual crisis in the typical church wherein the average member and, too often, even the pastor, remain ill-informed about their theological roots and historical identity. For over a century and, more especially in the last fifty years, Christianity has homogenized theologically, resulting in a willful yet unconscious ambiguity about a given religious group’s ecclesiastical and theological ancestry. One wonders if such ancestral forgetfulness results from embarrassment about our religious past or perhaps stems from our desire to excuse ourselves from explaining to parishioners who we really are. Such ecclesiastical denial falsifies many churches’ claims to religious non-affiliation and deceives their membership into believing “we are just a Christian church; we don’t want to be labeled,” when the truth is that, except for extreme cult groups, almost every so-called non-denominational church has a history traceable to a specific theological movement and denominational identity.
    Preeminent among such non-affiliation groups would be the so-called “Bible” churches. What could be simpler, more honest, truer, and more innocent than to say merely that we are a “Bible church”? Certainly, such a claim has been tremendously successful for “Bible churches” since the mid-twentieth century. But the truth is that presumably non-denominational “Bible churches” are in fact quite denominational, though not in name, and easily identifiable in theological and ecclesiastical terms as descendants of the Plymouth Brethren movement, doctrinally characterized by Dispensational Premillennialism and modified Calvinism (viz, refined Arminianism). The same holds true for major non-denominational, “Bible church” seminaries, such as Trinity Evangelical and Dallas Theological. Other, more specific and outstanding examples of this de-identification with ecclesiastical and doctrinal history would be Saddleback Church, California; Lakewood Church, Houston; and Cornerstone Church, San Antonio; who respectively are tethered to historical Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God traditions. Arguing that denominational tags represent an obstacle to “seekers,” many Baptist pastors, especially those for whom numerical increase of their congregation is a primary goal, follow this trend to disassociate themselves from their denominational identity.
    While most Protestants may reject the Roman Catholic emphasis upon Holy Scripture and tradition, the fact is that, whatever its theological faults, the Roman Catholic Church maintains a loyal respect for tradition that has sustained its identity for many centuries. Except for conservative Episcopalians and Presbyterians, such vivid and consistent identity is not the case with the majority of Protestant churches whether liberal or conservative, especially Baptists.
    One of the major contributing factors to the Baptist denomination’s identity crisis is its polity, its form of ecclesiastical governance, specifically congregationalism. Unlike other conservative groups whose confessional history is highly respected and guarded by a ministerial hierarchy of bishops, presbyters, and elders who govern paedobaptist congregations, the Baptists, wedded to their congregational form of government, are more vulnerable to the shifting opinions, biases, and attitudes of the broader culture from which they draw their membership. This is most especially true of American Baptist churches. In contrast to their European or British counterparts for whom tradition is paramount and where elders and even monarchs still rule, American Baptists inherently have a disdain for tradition and hierarchy, fostered by the political philosophy of the broader culture. In other words, American Baptists too often allow their political opinions to influence and even compromise their ecclesiastical identity and theological convictions; the theory that “all men are created equal” now permeates the intellectual life and ecclesiastical setting of most Baptist churches to the extent that they tacitly believe that “all opinions are created equal”; thus, in terms of doctrinal belief, almost anything goes in a typical Baptist church: “Well, I know what you think” or “Well, I know what they thought,“ but “This is what I think and your opinion is no better, and certainly not more important, than mine.” Such existential subjectivism has resulted in a doctrinal amalgamation of “all things evangelical” within the Baptist denomination so that broad and even antithetical opinions about cardinal doctrines can comfortably coexist within the same ecclesiastical body, shaping it not to look like the unified body of Christ but rather an ecclesiastical smorgasbord that proffers almost every theological morsel to its banqueters. More than this, churches who retain the “Baptist” name are ashamedly unfamiliar with historic Baptist confessions that grounded Baptists historically and shaped the destiny of their denomination. The present writer’s opinion is that the Baptist denomination would do well to recover a confessional grasp of its historic identity, the potential benefits whereof follow.
    First, a valid, time-tested confession of faith represents an historical repository of the declared faith of specific churches, religious organizations, and their leaders, and tethers a contemporary church or pastor to a legitimate ecclesiastical ancestry. One sees such an attempt today among the Founders Ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as among “reformed” Baptists. The Founders group, for instance, typified by such leaders as Albert Mohler and historian Tom Nettles, strongly argues for a return to the original faith of the Southern Baptist “founders,” epitomized in historic declarations of faith such as the New Hampshire, Philadelphia, and First and Second London Confessions. The Founders point not only to the original architects of the Southern Baptist Convention as the rightful heirs of those confessions, but also to the most notable theologians in their history, such as B. H. Carroll and J. P. Boyce. Beyond their own organizational history, Mohler and his cohorts cite the theology of early American Baptists such as John Clarke, Isaac Backus, and Obadiah Holmes as proof of a strong confessional, Calvinistic strain predominant among original American Baptists. An even more conservative group known as “reformed Baptists” led by Albert Martin, Walter Chantry, and others, also strongly emphasizes baptistic confessional history, especially the confession of faith embraced by John Gill and “the prince of preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Second London Confession. To the point, both the Founders and “reformed Baptists” seek to vindicate and legitimize their theological convictions by tethering themselves historically to ancestral confessions of faith. At the local-church and denominational levels, such historical tethering could potentially fortify a pastor’s or congregation’s claim to orthodoxy, especially in times of doctrinal ambiguity, controversy, or schism. If heterodoxy, heresy, or serious theological questions arise in a denomination or church, reference to a biblically-based, historically influential, and well respected confession of faith provides a touchstone of comparison and contrast by which to discern the “faith of our fathers” reposited in confessions and declarations of faith, strengthening our ability to “mark them that causes divisions” and empowering us to “fight the good fight of faith.”
    Presuming its theological integrity, a confession of faith could also serve as an anchor, compass, and lighthouse for the contemporary church. Paul warns the church that, like a wayward ship, she is not to be tossed about by “every wind of doctrine,” and Jude refers to false teachers and their deceptive doctrine as “raging waves of the sea.” One might convincingly argue that many “ships” upon the contemporary religious sea have been driven off course by the fickle winds and waves of unstable doctrine, and are therefore in need of a weighty anchor, an accurate compass, and a bright lighthouse. A confession of faith represents such an anchor, compass, and lighthouse.
    Solomon teaches us that, “in the multitude of counselors, there is safety.” That proverb affirms the wisdom we derive from others. Certainly, we may cautiously look to contemporary leaders and their preaching, writing, and teaching for guidance, but God’s Word teaches us that we should “seek the old paths, wherein is the good way.” Time-honored, time-tested confessions of faith mark those “old paths” and map out the “good way.” A confession of faith is a repository for the collective wisdom of our elders – antecedent theologians, preachers, pastors, and churches from centuries path who, “being dead yet speak” to us as a “multitude of counselors” in whom the contemporary church can find “safety.”
    A confession of faith also provides an effective tool for the sanctification and edification of pastors, individual Christians, and churches. Arguably, Baptists do fairly well with two-thirds of the Great Commission – Evangelize and Baptize – but we often struggle and even fail in our responsibility to its third commandment – Catechize. Certainly, nothing replaces the study, preaching, and teaching of God’s Holy Word; however, we should not neglect to read and profit from ancient documents that our holy and wise fathers have authored as aids to faith for their generation and ours. Alien to the frequent mediocrity and shallowness of contemporary commentaries and religious literature, a biblically tethered, well written confession of faith is, no doubt, the soul’s best guide outside Holy Scripture. Yet almost the entire Baptist denomination neglects that rich vein of theological gold, choosing instead to erect its intellectual edifice with the bendable aluminum of the moment and the pliable plastic of the present. If we would teach, that is, catechize, our children well and, more importantly, the children of God, we could do no better than to return to those old confessions that nurtured our forefathers in their youth – Spurgeon, Bunyan, Gill, Keach, and other great divines.
    Moreover, a confession of faith might result in an unpleasant but healthy reduction in congregational numbers. In a religious generation that has abandoned radical repentance and authentic faith characterized by holy living, a unified confession of faith could separate sheep from goats, wheat from tares, and purify the church ethically and intellectually. But such a confessional revival in the Church would necessitate a radical shift in how pastors interpret their basic philosophy of church ministry, specifically, that the principal aim of the New Testament Church is not numerical but spiritual growth; intellectual unity, not intellectual diversity; and moral accountability, not moral permissiveness coupled with an easy forgiveness that requires no hard repentance.
    A confession of faith is also a window to the past and a mirror of the present. If we would know who Baptists were, we need to peer into history; the most translucent medium through which to look at Baptist history is the windowpane of historic confessions. And if we truly want to see ourselves as we really are, or as we really should be, confessions of faith reflect not only the image of our ecclesiastical forefathers but also an image of ourselves, either convincing us of our rightful inheritance of identity with historical Baptists, or convicting us that who we are does not correspond with who they were.
    Finally, returning to a confession of faith could unify contemporary Baptists. The Apostle James tells us that “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” If instability characterizes the double-minded individual, how much more does it destabilize that collection of individuals known as “the Church.” Paul’s mandate to the church is that she should embrace “one faith” and “speak the same thing” in “the unity of the faith.” Absolute Truth does not respect, tolerate, or encourage diversity of opinion within the body of Christ but rather seeks to “bring every thought captive to Christ,” resulting in actual fulfillment of the biblical mandate that the Church should “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.” But if we speak different shibboleths, we are destined to fall before our enemies, turn upon one another, and find ourselves confused in the tower of theological Babel.
    In summary, the current ecclesiastical trend toward doctrinal homogenization has resulted in an identity crisis in contemporary Christianity. No group suffers more from this malady than Baptists, who have almost completely lost connection to their most influential and noble forerunners whose faith was defined by formal confessions. Severance from our theological ancestry not only obscures our historical identity, it also threatens our claim to orthodoxy as we incautiously follow the popular trend of religious homogeneity. That is an unsafe path, for not only does it lead to compromise and error, it also ensures the “dumbing down” of our congregants for whom we are responsible to “sanctify” by the Truth, casts aspersion upon our forbears, and forebodes the continuing intellectual regression of the entire Baptist denomination (is that possible?). Although a renewed emphasis upon our confessional history might be an enlightening and edifying development for contemporary Baptists, it might also result in a modern exodus from our churches when our congregants, or even our pastors, find out who we really are; however, whatever collateral damage a confessional revival might inflict upon the Baptist denomination, the Bible teaches us that two cannot walk together except they are in agreement, that a divided house or a kingdom must eventually fall, and that even Gideon’s few or David’s outlaw band, when unified, are much more usable to God than a mighty army marching unattuned to their commander’s voice and out of step with their comrades’ strides.

"Falling in Love" - Dear Screwtape, XXII

Dear Reader, you can read Chapter XXII of The Screwtape Letters here.

My Dear Screwtape,
    You daunt me with hostile threats because my Patient has fallen in love; I must confess my own self-hatred in the matter, but I am helpless. The “deadly odour” you detect is indeed that “impenetrable mystery” of “disinterested love” which nestles in every corner of his beloved’s home. Alas, Love is stronger than Death, and Death is stronger than Hell; not even we can triumph over that. Rail if you will, but Love cannot fail. It’s just a problem we have to be livid with. So what can I do but shudder in the shadow of Love? If our counterfeits fail to seduce the patient into substituting emotional compatibility, mutual interests, and brutish sexual chemistry for the real thing, then we must exult in other victories. But the real thing is irresistible, unconquerable.
    I know the young lady’s portfolio nauseates you. You seem especially repulsed by her virginity, but take heart - the case is rare. Our Department of Linguistic Prevarication has made real headway here; they have duped the public at large into separating the term “virgin” from its true synonyms “innocence” and “chastity” and equating it with “naive,” “prudish,” “self-righteous,” and “unsophisticated.” As all Hell knows, virginity parallels the most significant attribute humans share with the Enemy - purity. But what a thorough job we have done in aiding the Enemy (I hate it when He uses us like that) in turning the public over to a reprobate mind; our success has been so sweeping that no longer does the church or public at large attach any stigma to promiscuity, much less any shame or sorrow; “sexually active” is today’s “social norm.” There are no scarlet letters in modern society, or scarlet sins.  Actually the young have little hope for chastity because of our success in the divorce courts; like begets like, and human parents with shattered pasts procreate children who live similarly splintered and corrupted lifestyles; the promiscuity of Yippies (after your heyday) has come back to haunt Yuppies, whose descendants now fornicate with a regularity that flabbergasts even their once openly hedonistic but now conservative ancestors. But parents should not be surprised; past moral patterns always become present social norms. And the religious community has been our faithful ally in this seduction.
    The delusion that promiscuity bears real no consequences (other than physical; something called AIDS is interfering here) derives specifically from the religious community’s surrender of its formerly formidable and forbidding theology of Fear: fear of the Enemy, fear of sin’s aftermath, and fear of excommunication. How I rejoice at this! Many religious professors now believe our lie that forgiveness requires only confession minus repentance. Also, the post-modern church fails to discipline its members who commit sexual sin, even some of its popular preachers (I love popular preachers; they’re so compatible, so receptive, so loving, so wimpy, so sickeningly sweet). So you see, this matter of cheap grace and deceitful, grand-fatherly images of the Enemy reenforce our efforts toward moral prostitution through spiritual perversion.
    But you do speak with acuminous insight about silence; it is certainly one of our deadlier foes. It opens the mind up to all kinds of dangerous influences, such as peace and healthy introspection. But we continue to thwart this danger in most cases by making the atmosphere noisier and noisier, especially through the aid of unsuspected, undetected ambient noise like air conditioners, computers, traffic, sand the general “buzz” of the average workplace. But you could not be more mistaken than in your contention that Music has no place in our plans. In fact, nothing in modern history has been more effective in brain-pollution than the Music which we have not only orchestrated but in many cases even composed. Our musical influence now permeates almost every traveler in every automobile or airplane throughout the world; we sing our anthems through countless call-waiting systems, invade the vast majority of teenagers’ bedrooms, and infiltrate both the casual moments and active work time of every unthinking adult. From red necks to head bangers, skid-row bums to corporate executives, our siren-voices fill the airwaves with songs to the self. Our cacophony is a most effective propaganda devices to enhance moral corruption, emotional imbalance, and intellectual vacuosity.
    In conclusion, I find particularly repulsive your most recent threat that I “will pay for” what you call my “blunders.” How dare you humiliate me with the suggestion that I should read “a little booklet, just issued, on the new House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters.” I especially resent your suggestion that I could be imprisoned for incompetence, particularly since my own observations about you uncover a despicably low degree of expertise in matters pertaining to Hell’s devices and Heaven’s ways.
    Your affectionate nephew,

Friday, February 1, 2013

The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith, Revised in Modern English

I revised the NHCF under commission from
our nation's most affordable, fully-accredited seminary.

Written in 1833 with minor revisions in 1853, the New Hampshire Declaration of Faith ranks highly among historic Baptist confessions of faith. While its language and content fall short of the more definitive and eloquent Second London Confession of Faith (1689), the NHCF nonetheless is an important historical document that provides great insight to historic Baptist theology. The NHCF is of particular significance to contemporary Southern Baptists who identify themselves as conservative and evangelical, as it is the foundation upon which modern Southern Baptists set forth "those things most surely believed among us" in the Baptist Faith and Message. Incumbent upon modern Southern Baptists is the responsibility to contemplate and evaluate both their claims of faith and the integrity of their doctrine in light of this document.

I. Of the Scriptures, we believe that the Holy Bible, written by divinely inspired men, is the perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that God is the Bible’s author; salvation the Bible’s end; and, without any mixture of error, truth the Bible’s substance; that the Holy Bible reveals the principles by which God will judge humanity; therefore, the Bible is, and shall remain to the world’s end as the true center of Christian unity, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

II. Of the True God, we believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God; that God is an infinite and intelligent Spirit; that God’s name is JEHOVAH; and, that JEHOVAH is the Creator and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness; worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; revealed under the personal and relative distinctions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who are equal in every divine perfection, and who execute distinct but harmonious offices as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the great work of redemption.

III. Of the Fall of Humanity, we believe that mankind was created in a state of holiness under the Law of his Maker; that, by voluntary transgression, mankind fell from that holy and happy state, the result of which is that all humanity are now sinners, not by compulsion but by choice; that humanity’s nature is completely devoid of that holiness required by God’s Law; completely given over to worldly pleasures, Satan, and sinful passions; and, without defense or excuse, humanity is under just condemnation to all humanity’s eternal ruin.

IV. Of The way of Salvation, we believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace; that, by the Father’s decree, the Son of God freely but sinlessly took our nature upon Himself; honored the Divine Law by His personal obedience; atoned for our sins by His death; rose from the dead; now reigns in heaven; unites in His wonderful Person the tenderest sympathies (as Son of Man) with the Divine perfections (as Son of God); and, is in all ways qualified to be a suitable, compassionate, and all-sufficient Savior.

V. Of Justification, we believe that Justification is the great Gospel blessing that, from His fulness, Jesus Christ bestows upon those who believe in Him; that, based upon principles of righteousness, Justification consists in the pardon of sin and the promise of eternal life; is not bestowed upon us in any consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through Christ’s own redemption and righteousness; is freely imputed to us by God through faith; brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God; and, secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.

VI. Of the Freeness of Salvation, we believe    that the Gospel freely declares the blessings of Salvation to all humanity; that the gospel demands of all humanity an immediate heartfelt repentance and obedient faith; and, that nothing prevents the Salvation of the greatest sinner on earth except his own total, inherent depravity and voluntary refusal to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ that will result in his awful condemnation.
VII. Of grace in Regeneration, we believe that, in order to be saved, we must be regenerated or born again; that Regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that Regeneration occurs by the Holy Spirit’s power through Divine truth in a way that is above our comprehension or calculation; that Regeneration secures our voluntary obedience to the Gospel; and, that Regeneration evidences itself in the holy fruit that we bring forth to God’s glory.

VIII. Of Repentance and Faith, we believe that Repentance and Faith are both sacred duties and inseparable graces, produced in our souls by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit; that Repentance and Faith deeply convince us of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and the way of salvation by Christ, through whom we turn to God with authentic (genuine and sincere) contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy and, at the same time, heartily receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King, relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Savior.

IX. Of God's Purpose of Grace, we believe that Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He freely regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that, being perfectly consistent with the free agency of human volition, Election includes all the means in connection with (and necessary for) the salvation of sinners; that Election is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy and unchangeable; that Election utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of His free mercy; that Election encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that Election is demonstrated and proven by its effects in all who truly believe the gospel; that Election is the foundation of Christian assurance; and, that we must exercise utmost diligence to “make our calling and election sure.”

X. Of Sanctification, we believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of His holiness; that Sanctification is a progressive work; that Sanctification begins in regeneration; that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, our Sealer and Comforter, carries out Sanctification in believers’ hearts by the continual use of appointed means, especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer.

XI. Of the Perseverance of Saints, we believe that only true believers endure to the end; that true believers persevere in their faithfulness to Christ, which is the grand mark that distinguishes them from false professors; that a special Providence watches over the true believers’ welfare; and, that true believers are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

XII. Of the Harmony of the Law and the Gospel, we believe that God’s Law is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government; that  God’s Law is holy, just, and good; that the inability, which the Scriptures ascribe to fallen humans to fulfill the precepts of God’s Law, arises entirely from their love of sin; and, that one great end of the Gospel, and one great end of the means of grace connected with the visible Church, is to deliver fallen humanity from their love of sin, and to restore them through a Mediator to authentic (genuine and sincere) obedience to the God’s Law.

XIII. Of a Gospel Church, we believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers who are associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel; who observe the ordinances of Christ; who are governed by His laws; and, who exercise the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His word; and, that the visible Church’s only proper officers are Bishops or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, we believe that Christian Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, with its purifying power; that Christian Baptism is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation; and, prerequisite to the Lord's Supper, in which the members of the church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; and, always precede with solemn self-examination.

XV. Of the Christian Sabbath, we believe that the first day of the week is the Lord's-Day, or Christian Sabbath; that the first day of the week is to be kept sacred to religious purposes by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations; by the devout observance of all means of grace, both private and public; and, by preparation for the “rest that remains” for the people of God.

XVI. Of Civil Government, we believe that God establishes civil government for the interests and good order of human society; and, that we should pray for, conscientiously honor, and obey civil magistrates except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.

XVII. Of the Righteous and the Wicked, we believe that there is a radical and essential difference between the Righteous and the Wicked; that only those who through faith are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and sanctified by the Spirit of our God, are truly Righteous in His esteem; that all those who continue in unrepentance and unbelief are Wicked in His sight and under the curse; and, that this distinction between the Righteous and the Wicked remains both in death and after death.

XVIII. Of the World to Come, we believe that the end of this World is approaching; that, at the last day, Christ will descend from heaven, and raise the dead from the grave to final retribution; that a solemn separation of the righteous from wicked will then take place; that the wicked will be condemned to endless punishment, and the righteous to endless joy; and, that, based upon principles of righteousness, the judgement will fix forever the final state of humankind in heaven and hell.