Monthly Archives: February 2014

“A certain pleasantness of the ego”

My pride is so pervasive.

From A Hunger for God by John Piper, p. 71

Jesus is testing the reality of God in our lives.  Do we really have a hunger for God himself, or a hunger for human admiration?  O, how easy it is to do religious things if other people are watching!  Preaching, praying, attending church, reading the Bible, acts of kindness and charity – they all take on a certain pleasantness of the ego if we know that others will find out about them and think well of us.  It is a deadly addiction for esteem that we have.”

Review: A Hunger for God

A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer by John Piper (David Platt, Francis Chan)

Deeply stirring – this may change your spiritual life

David Platt and Francis Chan ask in their foreward to this book: “Where are the passionate conversations today about communing with God through fasting and prayer?” (p. 10)

I’ve fasted and prayed off and on over the years, but I have never understood the biblical teaching on fasting the way I do after reading this book. Someone recently asked me, “what’s the point? be miserable for a day? why?” I was able to give a clear, helpful answer, because I had been reading this book. The basic reality is that we want to cultivate a hunger for God, by saying no to other appetites and redirecting our desires directly onto him.

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie… The most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.” (18)

“The true mortification of our carnal nature is not a simple matter of denial and discipline. It is an internal spiritual matter of finding more contentment in Christ than in food.” (35)

Chapter 1, Is Fasting Christian?, blew my mind! Have you ever thought about the difference between Old-Covenant-fasting and New-Covenant-fasting? Do you realize how the presence of the future kingdom is reflected in our fasting? Have you ever seen the fundamental shift, as new wine is poured into new wineskins instead of old, in fasting? I had never thought this through, though I’ve thought through the related issues. This chapter alone caused me to set the book down for a week, and dig deeply into the Bible itself to grasp these truths directly from the Word. This chapter is worth the price of the book. But it actually gets better, more intense, more seriously joyful, more ravenous for God.

Chapter 4, Fasting and the Lord’s Coming, was another very high point in this book.

“The almost universal absence of regular fasting for the Lord’s return is a witness to our satisfaction with the presence of the world and the absence of the Lord.” (80)

I do not cry out “Come Lord Jesus” as I would if I really desired Him as I ought. O, help me God to want you more!

These are the hungers that will be stirred in your heart as a result of reading this book. I highly, highly recommend it, for revival, for the little ones being slaughtered every day, for the billions of unreached-unengaged-unevangelized people in the world, for your deepest serious hungry joy, for His glory.

Review: William Grimshaw of Haworth

William Grimshaw of Haworth by Faith Cook

Another gem from the Great Awakening

I love reading about the figures of the 18th century Great Awakening. The best known, of course, are George Whitefield and John Wesley, as well as Jonathan Edwards in America, but there were dozens of men who who were mightily used by God at the time, and William Grimshaw is one of them.

Grimshaw went to Cambridge, and then entered the ministry as a Church of England minister, all without having been converted. A current of the awakening began to swirl around him, as a book came into his hands (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices), and men who had believed the gospel began to cross his path. Before long, he himself was converted, and his parish, based in Haworth, began to feel the effects.

Grimshaw was tireless in his efforts to bring the gospel to everyone in his parish. He would sometimes pull unusual stunts to get the attention of his congregants. One time, a group of young people were playing a game instead of attending church on the Sabbath. Grimshaw disguised himself, and hid amongst them, until finally one of them noticed him, and they all fled in fear. Grimshaw later gathered the whole group in church, rebuked and admonished them, and then preached Christ to them, to great affect.

Grimshaw was a preacher, and cared passionately for the souls to be saved. His was an example of An Earnest Ministry, and under the influence of the Wesleys, he also circuited miles and miles around his own parish, preaching the gospel, gathering groups of believers together in to “societies” and then traveling back to them to help their spiritual growth.

John and Charles Wesley preached often in his church, as did Whitefield. John Newton was his friend, and visiting him, and later writing a biography of him. Henry Venn, and the Countess of Huntingdon were also his friends and fellow-laborers.

There are fascinating examples of how he dealt with differences in his day. He tried to find a position between the calvinism of Whitefield and the arminianism of Wesley. He had dealings with many outside of the Church of England – baptists, dissenters, moravians – though he himself resisted strongly any attempts for the methodists to pull out and become dissenters themselves. He is a good example of charity with brethren who differed from him on these points. To one man, who started a baptist church in his own city, and pulled away members from Grimshaw’s church, he said, “God bless thee, James; God bless thy undertaking! Perhaps God has given thee more light than he has given me – God bless thee!” (231)

His life is an example of a man who wore himself out spreading the gospel to everyone he could. Faith Cook is an excellent biographer (see also Selina: Countess of Huntingdon), and she gives Grimshaw the treatment he deserves.

I highly recommend this biography, as well as any others you can find from the Great Awakening. J.C. Ryle’s Christian Leaders of the 18th Century is the place to start, and then branch out to Whitefield, Wesley, HuntingdonDaniel Rowland, and Jonathan Edwards in America.

Oh that we might see an awakening like this today!

“in a clear day”

No one stirs my soul and fills the mind with sweet thoughts and affections for Christ like Jonathan Edwards.  He especially loved to wander in the woods contemplating God’s goodness communicated through His creation.  Marsden is trying his best to be a dispassionate historian, but it is the nature of his subject that, what Marsden takes care to minimize in himself, shines through all the more brightly in Edwards.  My soul is thrilled, reading an academic biography!

Today, as I read, the sun was shining brightly, filled with beauteous light in a clear day.   I had to set the book down and glory in the beauty and wonder of Christ.

Edwards was captivated by the idea that God’s purpose in creating the universe is to bring harmonious communications among minds, or spiritual beings, and every detail of physical creation points to that loving reality, epitomized in Christ.  In this enthralling framework, he continued his meditation:

When we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we only see the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ; when we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity.  So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of his infinite joy and benignity; the easiness an naturalness of trees and vines [are] shadows of his infinite beauty and loveliness; the crystal rivers and murmuring streams have the footsteps of his sweet grace and bounty. … That beauteous light with which the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness and happiness, and delight in communicating himself.”

Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George Marsden p. 100

They Can be Learned

Vocabulary Round-up

“avidity”: extreme eagerness or enthusiasm.

“They can be learned, and the degree to which they are learned and successfully used depends entirely upon the intellectual avidity and motivation of the learner.” (Study is Hard Workp. 1)

“sinecure”: a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit.

“It is not a sinecure for the rest of your school experience.” (Study is Hard Work, 5)

 “reify”: make (something abstract) more concrete or real.

“Religion in general and Christianity in particular may have some instrumental value, but not much; religion may have some mythological value as that which represents the best and noblest in the human spirit, but to reify the myth is to depreciate humanism.” (Christ and Culture Revisited  116)

“effluent”: liquid waste or sewage discharged into a river or the sea.

“Secularization thus becomes tied, in popular outlook, to the effluent from the Enlightenment, to material prosperity, and above all to the idea of progress.” (Christ and Culture Revisited 117)

“riposte”: a quick clever reply to an insult or criticism.

“Today there is a small but growing and important riposte that questions these connections.” (Christ and Culture Revisited  117)

Review: The Messianic Character of American Education

The Messianic Character of American Education by Rousas John Rushdoony

A presuppositional critique of the history of philosophy of education in America

This is a thick book: 400 pages, every one densely packed with names and philosophies of education covering the last 200 years in American education. This book appears on several reading lists (for example in Doug Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning), as a devastating critique of the philosophy of the American education system.

This book is “an historical and analytical study of the philosophies of education in state education in the United States.” (x) He starts out with a couple of chapters of historical introduction, stretching all the way back to Rome and then later Scholasticism, and explains how “the university gradually developed its concept of academic freedom, that is, an independent authority for reason and scholarship which made it responsible to none other, and its concept of the redemptive, authoritative and power-endowing nature of knowledge, of reason, of university and school.” (17)

He then jumps into the American history of the philosophy of education, and doesn’t come up for air until the end of the book. 21 of the 28 chapters are each devoted to a particular figure in this history, starting with Horace Mann, and including men like William Harris, Francis Parker, Wiliam James, G. Stanley Hall, and John Dewey.

Each chapter is heavy on original source quotes, so you can read for yourself the sort of language and philosophy that has shaped education in America. This is important, because if you couldn’t see it with your own eyes, you would be tempted to write Rushdoony off as a crackpot conspiracy theorist. His title “The Messianic Character,” put me on guard initially, that maybe he is taking this a little too far, but page after page, quote after quote, from figure after figure and eventually you cry out “Okay! I get it! your point is incontrovertible.”

This history of American education has been shaped by men and women who believed in the innate goodness of man, and his ability to reach utopia through education. They themselves use religious, messianic, salvation language when describing the process of education, specifically apart from the God of the Bible. When you see how these men were the professors of teacher’s colleges, and held positions in federal and state Education departments, you see how we have reached our present condition.

I appreciate the hardcore presuppositionalist reconstructionists for this: they boldly take on ungodly philosophies from the foundation up, and spare nothing in exposing them for what they really are. The Bahnsen/Stein debate is another classic example of this. While I don’t agree with the solution that they posit (theonomy, reconstructionism), their critiques are devastating and extremely helpful, and pave the way for a more truly Biblical solution. I want them on my demolition team, even if I don’t ask them to help me rebuild 🙂

One final note, Rushdoony is hard to read. His sentences are often tangled syntactical messes, and his paragraphs often extend for 3-4 pages in length. Here’s an example that I noted for it’s sheer convolutedness:

“In Idealism, God, however exalted in rhetoric, nevertheless, especially since Hegel, labors mightily merely to bring forth the new universal, man. In Horne, this strange “God” was still on the stage; in Dewey, having brought forth the child of destiny, man, this “God,” like a salmon whose life ends with spawning, faded quietly out of the picture.”

Dozens of names, dates, places, and quotes, combined with the difficult style of Rushdoony’s writing, makes this a laborious read. Nevertheless, if you want to understand the history of the philosophy of American education, this is the book to tackle, if you must!

Review: Rees Howells: Intercessor

Rees Howells: Intercessor by Norman Grubb

full of mysticism, false spirituality, unbiblical teaching on prayer

This book came recommended from a source that I trust, as a book that would really help a persons prayer life. I got this book expecting to really like it and to be helped by it. Unfortunately, the opposite was true.  Howells turns out to be one of the worst examples of what the Keswick movement had to offer.

Voices

Early in Howell’s life, he starts hearing voices. On the way to a Keswick convention, “a voice spoke to him…” and the voices just keep coming, on almost every single page of the book. This is a book about hearing voices in your head, and doing whatever they say. Almost every page contains “God told me” “the Sprit said to me” etc. And what are these voices in his head telling him? This is not just affirming what is taught in the Bible, but specific extra-biblical things like fasting a specific day (p. 55) and when he gave in to eating a little food, the voice said “I will forgive you, but you are not to go unpunished. You will hold up your hands while you pray from 6 to 9 o’clock” (56). Not following “the voice” is equated with disobeying God, i.e. sin! This is reiterated several other times in the book. The voice tells him not to wear a hat (109) otherwise he wouldn’t “gain the place of intercession.” The voice told him to seclude himself from all other believers (113) and not cut his hair or his beard, again in order to “gain a much higher position.” After six months, the voice told him that “he was free” (119). Howells equates the voice that he hears with “God’s word” (139) a phrase usually reserved for the Scriptures, but not for Howells. The voice told him to abandon his son so that he and his wife could go to the mission field. (145) They left him with his uncle, and the voice told him that “for everything you give up for me, there is the hundredfold; and on this you can claim 10,000 souls in Africa,’ and we believed it” (147). The voice told him not to let his wife take medicine when she was sick (151). The voice told him to leave a ministry in which they were deeply intwined in love. It was “a great wrench on both sides. The Council did not want to let them go, and they would not have left the Mission and the co-workers they had learned to love…” – unless the voice told them to – “…for anything less than a direct command from God.” (175) The voice is equated with a commandment from God!

Equating the voice in your head with the voice/command of God results in twisted teaching on faith (believing what the voice says), obedience (doing what the voice says) and prayer. Most of the time this isn’t tied to the Scriptures at all, and when the Bible is used, it is ripped out of context, and misapplied terribly.

Prayer

Intercessory prayer is like climbing to higher and higher levels of spirituality. The phrase “gain the position” and “abide in the position” are used over and over again. The basic “law of intercession is that “before he could intercede for them, he must live like them.” (121) Before you can intercede for someone, you first have to “gain the position” of intercession, and then “abide in it” for some length of time. Gaining the position is done by either fully identifying with the person interceded for – one time the voice told him he couldn’t pray for the woman with tuburculosis until he was willing to get tuburculosis himself. (75) Once the “position of intercession” has been gained for physical healing, then any physical healing can be prayed for. Now you have to “gain the position” for receiving money. Once that one is gained, you can move on to the next, getting higher and higher in the levels of intercession. “There are degrees and stages of abiding. The deeper the oneness, the more the power of the risen life of Christ can operate through the channel, and new positions of spiritual authority can be gained.” (65) Other ways of gaining a new position of higher spiritual authority are by not wearing a hat (see above), or secluding yourself for 6 months and growing a beard (see above). Fasting can earn you a higher position – “In this period of intercession, the final positions of fasting to which God called Rees were first to one meal every three days, and then to a total fast of fifteen days.” after seven days, “The Lord told him that the intercession was gained, and the fasting could finished.” (122-123). He is always trying to gain a “higher position” (138 for example.)

My criticism of all this? It is completely unbiblical, and presents a twisted view of spirituality and prayer, in which you have to attain to higher and higher levels of spirituality in order to intercede effectively. It appeals to human nature to have effort that results in higher positions and rewards. Kind of like trying to become a black belt. Put forth the effort and training, work hard, pass the test, and you get the next color. Prayer is NOT THIS WAY!! Prayer is a child crying out to his Father. Prayer is a child coming boldly to the throne of grace to find help in her time of need. Prayer takes work, yes, but not this jumbled mess of mysticism, voices, and bizarre tests of obedience.

Not only do I not recommend this book, I would warn any young believer to avoid this teaching. If you want to learn about prayer and have your prayer life to be stirred, read anything by E.M. Bounds. The Essentials of Prayer is excellent. Power Through Prayer is a classic. E. M. Bounds on Prayer (Hendrickson Christian Classics) is three of his books in one that I highly recommend.

For an example of the good that can be found in the Keswick movement, see Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, and for an excellent evaluation of Keswick theology in passing, and Taylor in particular, see John Piper’s biographical message from this years pastor’s conference.