Archive by Author

Dating: Cohabitation

26 Sep

What Mark Driscoll has to say about cohabitation in his book “Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions.”


The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s radically altered the sexual landscape of our nation:

One of the most important consequences of this revolution in sexual behavior and beliefs is that the institution of marriage is much less likely to govern and guide the expression of sexual intimacy between adolescents and adults. More specifically, abstinence before marriage is now the exception to the behavioral and attitudinal norm when it comes to sex.

For the first time in America’s history, there are more single adults than married adults, and the number is expected only to rise. Still, more than nine out of ten people will eventually marry. In our culture of hook up, shack up, and break up, the expectation is that they will cohabit prior to marriage. From 1978 to 2008, the number of cohabitors in the U.S. rose from 1 million couples to 5 millions couples. By simple definition, living together—or unmarried cohabitation—is the status of couples who are sexual partners, not married to each other, and sharing a household. Others who are not cohabiting by definition because they have two residences still sleep over enough to qualify, even if the statistics do not count them.

It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 are currently living with a partner, and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner (the data are typically reported for women but not for men). Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none earlier in the century. The most likely to cohabit are people aged 20 to 24.

However, the evidence actually challenges the popular idea that cohabiting ensures greater marital compatibility and thereby promotes stronger and more enduring marriages: “Cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood of eventual divorce; in fact, it is associated with a higher divorce risk.” Virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage that was preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than for a marriage that was not preceded by cohabitation. Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with an increased divorce risk, with estimates ranging from as low as a 33 percent increased divorce risk to a 151 percent increased risk of dissolution.

In addition to missing out on many of the benefits of marriage, cohabitors may face more serious difficulties. Annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times what they are among married couples. Women in cohabiting relationships are twice as likely as married women to suffer physical abuse. Two studies found that women in cohabiting relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than are women in marital relationships.

Furthermore, couples who have sex before marriage, especially couples who cohabit, are more likely to experience difficulties in their marriage. For instance, a study of 2,034 married adults found that those who had cohabited prior to marriage reported less marital happiness and more marital conflict, compared to similar couples who did not cohabit.

Conversely, abstinence before marriage is linked to greater marital stability. Studies indicate that men and women who marry as virgins are significantly less likely to divorce. For instance, men who marry as virgins are 37 percent less likely to divorce than other men, and women who marry as virgins are 24 percent less likely to divorce than other women. Thus, adults who remain abstinent until marriage are more likely to enjoy a satisfying and stable marriage.

Adults who waited to have sex until they married, and who have remained faithful to their spouses since they married, report higher levels of life satisfaction, compared to adults who engaged in premarital sex or adulterous sex. Furthermore, “Those [adults] who have ever had sex outside their marriage also report notably low happiness scores.”

The reason why all of this is important is that people are prone to think their experience is normative. Singles today were born into a world that is unlike any other time in history, and it is peculiarly perverted. It seems normal to them because it is all they have ever known, but it must be evaluated in light of history and Scripture for perspective.

The bottom line? Satan is still a liar, and God’s plan is still the best. That plan is chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage.

I pastor a church where about half the people are single, and most of them are walking as Christians with Jesus for the first time in their lives. I am deeply sympathetic to the pressures and temptations that single Christians face. In a culture where people have “friends with benefits,” where men are into scoring and not marrying, where the entire singles’ scene from clubs to bars is built to oppose a life modeled after Jesus’ singleness, and where Craig’s List and other online portals in cities like mine have fifteen hundred people posting daily for a “casual encounter” (which is code for free sex), those wanting to honor Jesus in their singleness have nothing short of a war on their hands. Add to this the fact that both men and women are waiting later than ever to marry (men around twenty-six to twenty-seven and women around twenty-four to twenty-five), and the opportunities for sexual sin multiply.

When you consider that there are between eleven and thirteen million more women in church than men and acknowledge that the average man wants to attract the youngest and hottest wife he can afford, then Christian women—particularly older singles, divorcées, widows, and single moms—are at a distinct disadvantage and are tempted to settle in sin.

Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconcetptions, pg. 183-185

You Can’t Take the Bible Literally

15 Sep

So I’ve had this book “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Tim Keller for a while now. It is an amazing book and I love it; however, I am just now on chapter eight out of fourteen. I just finished chapter seven, which is “You Can’t Take the Bible Literally.” Really good stuff.  Here is part of it that I really liked.

You Can’t Take the Bible Literally
 
“I see much of the Bible’s teaching as historically inaccurate,” said Charles, an investment banker. “We can’t be sure the Bible’s account of events is what really happened.”
  
“I’m sure you’re right, Charles,” answered Jaclyn, a woman working in finance. “But my biggest problem with the Bible is that it is culturally obsolete. Much of the Bible’s social teaching (for example, about women) is socially regressive. So it is impossible to accept the Bible as the complete authority Christians think it is.”
 
When I was in college in the last 1960s, I took some courses on the Bible as literature and was confronted with the prevailing wisdom of the time. My professors taught that the New Testament gospels originated as the oral traditions of various church communities around the Mediterranean. These stories about Jesus were shaped by those communities to address the questions and needs peculiar to each church. Leaders made certain that the Jesus in these stories supported the policies and beliefs of their communities. The oral traditions were then passed down over the years, evolving through the addition of various legendary materials. Finally, long after the actual events, the gospels assumed written form. By then it was almost impossible to know to what degree, if any, they represented the actual historical events.
 
Who then was the original Jesus? The scholars I read proposed that the real, “historical Jesus” was a charismatic teacher of justice and wisdom who provoked opposition and was executed. After his death, they said, different parties and viewpoints emerged among his followers about who he was. Some claimed he was divine and risen from the dead, others that he was just a human teacher who lived on spiritually in the hearts of his disciples. After a power struggle, the “divine Jesus” party won and created texts that promoted its views. They allegedly suppressed and destroyed all the alternative texts showing us a different sort of Jesus. Recently, some of these suppressed, alternate views of Jesus have come to light—like the “Gnostic” gospels of Thomas and Judas. This shows, it is said, that early Christianity was very diverse in its doctrinal beliefs.
 
If this view of the New Testament’s origins and development is true, it would radically change our understanding of the content and meaning of Christianity itself. It would mean that no one could really know what Jesus said and did, and that the Bible could not be the authoritative norm over our life and beliefs. It would mean that most of the classic Christian teachings—Jesus’s deity, atonement, and resurrection—are mistaken and based on legend.
 
As a student I was initially shaken by this. How could all of these prominent scholars be wrong? Then, however, as I did my own firsthand research, I was surprised at how little evidence there actually was for these historical reconstructions. To my encouragement the evidence for this older, skeptical view of the Bible has been crumbling steadily for the past thirty years, even as it has been promoted by the popular media through books and movies such as The Da Vinci Code.
 
 
Anne Rice was one person who was startled to discover how weak the case for a merely human “historical Jesus” really is. Rice became famous as the author of Interview with the Vampire and other works that could be called “horror-erotica.” Raised a Catholic, she lost her faith at a secular college, married an atheist, and became wealthy writing novels about Lestat, who is both a vampire and a rock star. It shocked the literary and media world when Rice announced that she had returned to Christianity.
 
Why did she do it? In the afterword to her new novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, she explained that she had begun doing extensive research about the historical Jesus by reading the work of Jesus scholars at the most respected academic institutions. Their main thesis was that the Biblical documents we have aren’t historically reliable. She was amazed at how weak their arguments were.
 
Some books were no more than assumptions piled on assumptions . . . Conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all . . . The whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified . . . that whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles I frequented as an atheists for thirty years—the case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.

 
The Christian faith requires belief in the Bible. This is a big stumbling block for many. I meet many New Yorkers for the first time after they have been invited to one of Redeemer’s services. The centerpiece of each service is a sermon based on a text of the Bible. The average visitor is surprised or even shocked to find us listening to the Bible so carefully. Most would say that they know there are many great stories and sayings in the Bible, but today “you can’t take it literally.” What they mean is that the Bible is not entirely trustworthy because some parts—are scientifically impossible, historically unreliable, and culturally regressive. We looked at the first of these issues, of science and the Bible, in the previous chapter. Now we will look at the other two.
 
“We Can’t Trust the Bible Historically
 
It is widely believed that the Bible is a historically unreliable collection of legends. A highly publicized forum of scholars, “the Jesus Seminar,” has stated that no more than 20 percent of Jesus’s sayings and actions in the Bible can be historically validated. How do we respond do this? It is beyond the range of this book to examine the historic accuracy of each part of the Bible. Instead, we will ask whether we can trust the gospels, the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life, to be historically reliable. By this I mean the “canonical” gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—that the church recognized very early on as authentic and authoritative.
It is often asserted that the New Testament gospels were written so many years after the events happened that they writers’ accounts of Jesus’s life can’t be trusted—that they are highly embellished if not wholly imagined. Many believe that the canonical gospels were only four out of scores of other texts and that they were written to support the church hierarchy’s power while the rest (including the so-call “Gnostic gospels”) were suppressed. This belief has been given new plausibility in the popular imagination by the bestselling book The Da Vinci Code. In this novel, the original Jesus is depicted as a great but clearly human teacher who many years after his death has made into a resurrected God by church leaders who did so to gain status in the Roman empire. However, there are several good reasons why the gospel accounts should be considered historically reliable rather than legends.
 
The timing is far too early for the gospels to be legends.
 
The canonical gospels were written at the very most forty to sixty years after Jesus’s death. Paul’s letters, written just fifteen to twenty-five years after the death of Jesus, provide an outline of all the events of Jesus’s life found in the gospels—his miracles, claims, crucifixion, and resurrection. This means that the Biblical accounts of Jesus’s life were circulating within the lifetimes of hundreds who had been present at the events of his ministry. The gospel author Luke claims that he got his account of Jesus’s life from eyewitnesses who were still alive (Luke 1:1-4).
 
In his landmark book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham marshals much historical evidence to demonstrate that at the time the gospels were written there were still numerous well-known living eyewitnesses to Jesus’s teaching and life events. They had committed them to memory and they remained active in the public life of the churches throughout their lifetimes, serving as ongoing sources and guarantors of the truth of those accounts. Bauckham uses evidence within the gospels themselves to show that the gospel writers named their eyewitness sources within the text to assure readers of their accounts’ authenticity.
 
Mark, for example, says that the man who helped Jesus carry his cross to Calvary “was the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21). There is no reason for the author to include such names unless the readers know or could have access to them. Mark is saying, “Alexander and Rufus vouch for the truth of what I am telling you, if you want to ask them.” Paul also appeals to readers to check with living eyewitnesses if they want to establish the truth of what he is saying about the events of Jesus’s life (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). Paul refers to a body of five hundred eyewitnesses who saw the rise Christ at once. You can’t write that in a document designed for public reading unless there really were surviving witnesses whose testimony agreed and who could confirm what the author said. All this decisively refutes the idea that the gospels were anonymous, collective, evolving oral traditions. Instead they were oral histories taken down from the mouths of the living eyewitnesses who preserved the words and deeds of Jesus in great detail.
 
It is not only Christ’s supporters who were still alive. Also still alive were many bystanders, officials, and opponents who had actually heard him teach, seen his actions, and watched him die. They would have been especially ready to challenge any accounts that were fabricated. For a highly altered, fictionalized account of an event to take hold in the public imagination it is necessary that the eyewitnesses (and their children and grandchildren) all be long dead. They must be off the scene so they cannot contradict or debunk the embellishments and falsehoods of the story. The gospels were written far too soon for this to occur.

It would have been impossible, then, for this new faith to spread as it did had Jesus never said or done the things mentioned in the gospel accounts. Paul could confidently assert to government officials that the events of Jesus’s life were public knowledge: “These things were not done in a corner,” he said to King Agrippa (Acts 26:26). The people of Jerusalem had been there—they had been in the crowds that heard and watched Jesus. The New Testament documents could not say Jesus was crucified when thousands of people were still alive know knew whether he was or not. If there had not been appearances after his death, if there had not been an empty tomb, if he had not made these claims, and these public documents claimed they happened, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground. The hearers would have simply laughed at the accounts.

The four canonical gospels were written much earlier than the so-called Gnostic gospels. The Gospel of Thomas, the best known of the Gnostic documents, is a translation from the Syriac, and scholars have shown that the Syriac traditions in Thomas can be dated to 175 A.D. at the earliest, more than a hundred years after the time that the canonical gospels were in widespread use. Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker wrote that the Gnostic gospels were so late that they “. . . no more challenge the basis of the Church’s faith than the discovery of a document from the nineteenth century written in Ohio and defending King George would be a challenge to the basis of American democracy.” The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, however, were recognized as authoritative eyewitness accounts almost immediately, and so we have Irenaeus of Lyons in 160 A.D. declaring that there were four, and only four, gospels. The widespread idea, promoted by The Da Vinci Code, that the Emperor Constantine determined the New Testament canon, casting aside the earlier and supposedly more authentic Gnostic gospels, simply is not true.

As for The Da Vinci Code, people know the book and the movie plot is fictitious, but many find plausible the historical background that the author, Dan Brown, claims is true. The bestseller depicts Constantine in 325 A.D. as decreeing Jesus’s divinity and suppressing all the evidence that he was just a human teacher. Even in a document like Paul’s letter to the Philippians, however, which all historians date at no more than twenty years after the death of Christ, we see that Christians were worshipping Jesus as God (Philippians 2). Belief in the deity of Christ was part of the dynamic from the beginning in the growth of the early Christian church. One historian comments:

[Dan Brown says] that the Emperor Constantine imposed a whole new interpretation on Christianity at the Council of Nicea in 325. That is, he decreed the belief in Jesus’ divinity and suppressed all evidence of his humanity. This would mean Christianity won the religious competition in the Roman Empire by an exercise of power rather than by an attraction it exerted. In actual historical fact, the Church had won that competition long before that time, before it had any power, when it was still under sporadic persecution. If a historian were cynical, you would say Constantine chose Christianity because it had already won and he wanted to back a winner.
- “The Reason for God,” pg. 97-104

City on Our Knees

14 Sep

“City on Our Knees” by tobyMac: one of my new favorite songs.

Sexual Sin: Premarital Sex

10 Sep

I have only read about half of the book Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions by Mark Driscoll, but it is already a favorite. This is just a little excerpt from the book on premarital sex.

When talking with a number of young teens in their junior high years, it has become painfully obvious that the sexual landscape of our culture has rapidly changed even in one generation. Girls, some of whom even claim to be Christian, sign pledges to their parents vowing to remain virgins until their marriage yet engage in oral and anal sex with boys, because, for them, those acts do not count as sinful acts that violate their virginity. I have met more than a few young boys who have naked photos of their girlfriends on their phones, because it is now widely expected that if, say, a thirteen-year-old couple is dating, naked photos of their boyfriend or girlfriend will be made available.

Anyone who is surprised to hear these things would be well served to spend some time surfing online social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. You will see that these sites are the new confession booths where young people share their deepest secrets and post pictures of themselves that would have been considered porn when their grandparents were the same age.

Many parents, in general, and Christian parents, in particular, have had their children commit to sexual abstinence. However, the Journal of Adolescent Health reports that, of course, adolescents who commit to abstinence do not always honor that commitment. Research shows that “most teenagers who take a pledge to abstain from sex before marriage ultimately go on to have sex before marriage, and are somewhat less likely to use contraception at first intercourse than adolescents who did not pledge.”

There is some benefit to abstinence pledges, however, according to the Center for Data Analysis Report, which says that “because they typically experience first sex 18 months later than teens who do not pledge, teenage girls who pledge are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.

Indeed, most adolescents and adults end up having sex before marriage. The mean age of first intercourse in the United States is now 16.4. The implications of premarital sex by adolescents and adults alike are enormous. The National Vital Statistics Reports reveal that from 1960 to 1998, birth rates more than doubled for unmarried teens ages fifteen to nineteen (from 15.3 to 41.5 percent), as well as for unmarried women aged fifteen to forty-four (from 21.6 to 44.3 percent).

Simply put, many children are conceived by teenage girls and unmarried women every year, with many being aborted and others being born into the world. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that in 2005, 420,000 girls under the age of twenty in the United States gave birth—83 percent out of wedlock. Therefore, with increasing numbers of adolescents and adults engaging in premarital sex, “millions of children are being born ever year into family contexts that do not bode well for their future financial, emotional, and social welfare.”

A number of social scientific studies also find that adolescent premarital sex, particularly casual sex (where there is no romantic relationship), is linked to psychological pathologies such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. The evidence for this correlation is so overwhelming that anyone who loves adolescents has to take it seriously.

This association between adolescent sex and psychological problems is also markedly stronger for girls than it is for boys. One study found that the association between sex and depression was almost twice as powerful among teenage girls. A study of twelve- through sixteen-year-old students found that sexually active girls were 6.3 times more likely to report having attempted suicide than were virgin girls.

Adolescents who abstain from sex are less likely to be involved in antisocial or risky behaviors such as drinking, drug use, and delinquency. A study of 1,052 urban adolescents found that abstinence was associated with significantly lower levels of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other illegal drug use. A study of 3,054 Massachusetts high school students found that students “with more [sexual] partners are more likely to have greater frequency and severity of lifetime and recent drug use.”

Studies indicate that the academic consequence of teenage sex are stronger for boys. A longitudinal study of 1,120 Florida adolescents found that boys who experienced sex between waves of the study were significantly more likely to suffer a decline in their academic performance relative to peers who remained virgins. The authors concluded: “To the extent that adolescent premarital coitus has long-term effects on academic performance, and to the extent that school performance is a good indicator of success in later life, premarital coitus may have far-reaching negative consequences for a white male’s future well-being.”

Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions, pg. 130-132

School and Stuff :)

8 Sep

Tomorrow will make three weeks that I have been back in school. So far, everything is going great. I now only have to go to school Monday-Wednesday, so I’m loving that. My classes are not the easiest though, just so you know. And I would not be able to have this awesome schedule if it were not for three years of a constant school, home, homework, repeat routine.

Although I don’t have any classes on Fridays, I go to FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) for about an hour. I really enjoy it (most of the time). We have more people in FCA this year than any other club, which I think is pretty cool. I am the only senior in there, however, because most seniors don’t have classes on Fridays so they choose not to be in a club. I’m cool with that though. Later in the semester I’m looking forward to doing some lessons, since everything has to be student-led.

A major benefit of only going to school three days a week is I don’t have a ton of homework to do every night, which allows me to have time to go to youth group on Wednesday nights. Also, I now have time to do some things that I love doing but haven’t really had time to for the past couple of years, like reading (besides material for school). I’m such a dork :P I love reading, and have done quite a bit of it as of late :) Good stuff.

Hearts of the Innocent

8 Sep

I don’t really listen to the band Kutless that much, but there are a few of their songs that I really like. One of them is called “Hearts of the Innocent.”  The lyrics are pretty awesome:

I’m looking down into the eyes of hopelessness
They’re crying out to me
I see the pain
It’s so much more than youth should know
It tears me apart
What can I do to change what I see
This vicious cycle must come to an end

Can’t you see
We’re crushing the hearts of the innocent
We’re teaching them to fail
And how it breaks me to see how we’re living
And punishing the ones that need us to care
To see them hurting
Feels like knuckles to the back of my head

Where have the days gone
That a promise was forever
Families stuck together
We wonder why their generation struggles to get by
There’s no one to help
What can I do to change what I see
This vicious cycle must come to an end

Can’t you see
We’re crushing the hearts of the innocent
We’re teaching them to fail
And how it breaks me to see how we’re living
And punishing the ones that need us to care
To see them hurting
Feels like knuckles to the back of my head

Beloved

1 Sep

About a week or so ago I bought the Tenth Avenue North CD “Over and Underneath.” It was $13 well spent. I very rarely buy CD’s anymore, because I just put music on my iPod and listen to it or play it in my car, but I just really wanted this CD. Turns out, every song on it is AMAZING. Absolutely love it. I found the lyrics in the song “Beloved” very powerful. Good stuff.

Love of my life
Look deep in my eyes
There you will find what you need
Give me your life
Lust and the lies
The past you’re afraid I might see
You’ve been running away from me

You’re my beloved
Lover I’m yours
Death shall not part us
It’s you I died for
For better or worse
Forever we’ll be
Our Love it unites us
It binds you to me
It’s a mystery

Love of my life
Look deep in my eyes
There you will find what you need
I’m the giver of life
I’ll clothe you in whine
My immaculate bride you will be
Oh come running home to me

You’re my beloved
Lover I’m yours
Death shall not part us
It’s you I died for
For better or worse
Forever we’ll be
Our Love it unites us
It binds you to me

Well you’ve been a mistress, my wife
Chasing lovers it won’t satisfy
Won’t you let me make you my bride
You will drink of my lips
And you’ll taste new life

‘Cause you’re my beloved
Lover I’m yours
Death shall not part us
It’s you I died for
For better or worse
Forever we’ll be
Our Love it unites us
And it binds you to me

You’re my beloved
Forever we’ll be
Our love it unites us
And it binds you to me
It’s a mystery
It’s a mystery


“Beloved” by Tenth Avenue North

Father of the Reformed Faith

30 Aug

Here’s just a little article I found about John Calvin on ChristianityToday.com. Good stuff.


John Calvin
Father of the Reformed Faith

“I labored at the task [writing The Institutes] especially for our Frenchmen, for I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a few had any real knowledge of him.”

With his brother and sister and two friends, John Calvin fled Catholic France and headed to the free city of Strasbourg. It was the summer of 1536; Calvin had recently converted to the “evangelical” faith and had just published The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which articulated his Protestant views. He was a wanted man.

The party put up at an inn in Geneva, and word quickly passed to local church leader William Farel that the author of The Institutes was in town. Farel was ecstatic. He was desperate for help as he strove to organize a newly formed Protestant church in town. He rushed to the inn and pleaded with Calvin, arguing it was God’s will he remain in the city.

Calvin said he was staying only one night. Besides, he was a scholar not a pastor. Farel, baffled and frustrated, swore a great oath that God would curse all Calvin’s studies unless he stayed in Geneva.

Calvin, a man of tender conscience, later reflected on this moment: “I felt as if God from heaven had laid his mighty hand upon me to stop me in my course—and I was so terror stricken that I did not continue my journey.”

To this day, Calvin’s name is associated, for good and for ill, with the city of Geneva. And Calvin’s belief in God’s election is his theological legacy to the church.

The “whole sum of godliness”

Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon, France. His father, a lawyer, planned a career in the church for his son, and by the mid-1520s, Calvin had become a fine scholar. He spoke proficient Latin, excelled at philosophy, and qualified to take up the intensive study of theology in Paris.

Suddenly, though, his father changed his mind and decided John should achieve greatness in law. John acquiesced, and the next five or six years saw him at the University of Orleans, attaining distinction in a subject he did not love. During these years, he dipped into Renaissance humanism. He learned Greek, read widely in the classics, and added Plato to the Aristotle he already knew. He developed a taste for writing so that by age 22, he had published a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia.

Then word of Luther’s teaching reached France, and his life made an abrupt turn, though his own account is reticent and vague:

“He [God] tamed to teachableness a mind too stubborn for its years—for I was strongly devoted to the superstitions of the papacy that nothing less could draw me from such depths of mire. And so this mere taste of true godliness that I received set me on fire with such a desire to progress that I pursued the rest of my studies more coolly, captionhough I did not give them up captionogether.”

He became marked out as a “Lutheran,” and, when persecution arose in Paris (where he had returned to teach), he sought refuge in Basel. There he penned the first edition of a book that was to affect Western history as much as any other.

The Institutes of the Christian Religion was intended as an elementary manual for those who wanted to know something about the evangelical faith—”the whole sum of godliness and whatever it is necessary to know about saving doctrine.” Calvin later wrote, “I labored at the task especially for our own Frenchmen, for I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a very few had any real knowledge of him.”

In The Institutes, Calvin outlined his views on the church, the sacraments, justification, Christian liberty, and political government. His unique and overarching theme is God’s sovereignty. He taught that original sin eradicated free will in people. Only by God’s initiative can anyone begin to have faith and thus experience assurance of salvation.

In this and later editions, Calvin developed the doctrines of predestination, or election. More importantly, he argued for the indefectability of grace—that is, grace will never be withdrawn from the elect. This was Calvin’s pastoral attempt to comfort new believers. In medieval Catholicism, believers remained anxious about their spiritual destinies and were required to perform more and more good works to guarantee their salvation. Calvin taught that once a believer understands he is chosen by Christ to eternal life, he will never have to suffer doubt again about salvation: “He will obtain an unwavering hope of final perseverance (as it is called), if he reckons himself a member of him who is beyond hazard of falling away.”

God’s city

After fleeing France to escape persecution, Calvin settled in Geneva at Farel’s bidding. But after a mere 18 months, he and Farel were banished from the city for disagreeing with the city council. Calvin headed again for Strasbourg, where he pastored for three years and married Idellete de Bure, the widow of an Anabaptist, who brought with her two children.

By 1541 Calvin’s reputation had spread: he wrote three other books and revised his Institutes. (Still more revisions came in 1550 and 1559, eventually amounting to 80 chapters.) He had become close friends with leading Reformers like Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon. He was asked to return to Geneva by city authorities, and he spent the rest of his life trying to help establish a theocratic society.

Calvin believed the church should faithfully mirror the principles laid down in Holy Scripture. In his Ecclesiastical Ordinances he argued that the New Testament taught four orders of ministry: pastors, doctors, elders, and deacons. Around these, the city was organized.

Pastors conducted the services, preached, administered the Sacraments, and cared for the spiritual welfare of parishioners. In each of the three parish churches, two Sunday services and a catechism class were offered. Every other weekday, a service was held—later on, every day. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated quarterly.

The doctors, or teachers, lectured in Latin on the Old and New Testaments usually on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The audience consisted mainly of the older schoolboys and ministers, but anyone could attend.

In every district, elders kept an eye on spiritual affairs. If they saw that so-and-so was frequently the worse for drink, or that Mr. X beat his wife, or that Mr. Y and Mrs. Z were seeing too much of each other, they admonished them in a brotherly manner. If the behavior didn’t cease, they reported the matter to the Consistory, the church’s governing body, which would summon the offender. Excommunication was a last resort and would remain in force until the offender repented.

Finally, social welfare was the charge of the deacons. They were the hospital management board, social security executives, and alms-house supervisors. The deacons were so effective, Geneva had no beggars.

The system worked so well for so many years that when John Knox visited Geneva in 1554, he wrote a friend that the city “is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles.”

Unofficial authoritarian

Calvin, for his part, preached twice every Sunday and every day of captionernate weeks. When not preaching, he lectured as the Old Testament professor three times a week. He took his place regularly on the Consistory, which met every Thursday. And he was either on committees or incessantly being asked for advice about matters relating to the deacons.

He was in no way the ruler or dictator of Geneva. He was appointed by the city council and paid by them. He could at any time have been dismissed by them (as he had been in 1538). He was a foreigner in Geneva, not even a naturalized citizen, until near the end of his life. His was a moral authority, stemming from his belief that, because he proclaimed the message of the Bible, he was God’s ambassador, with divine authority behind him. As such, he was involved in much that went on in Geneva, from the city constitution to drains and heating appliances.

His role in the infamous execution of Michael Servetus in 1553, then, was not an official one. Servetus fled to Geneva to escape Catholic authorities: he had denied the Trinity, a blasphemy that merited death in the 1500s all over Europe. Geneva authorities didn’t have any more patience with heresy than did Catholics, and with the full approval of Calvin, they put Servetus to the stake.

Calvin drove himself beyond his body’s limits. When he could not walk the couple of hundred yards to church, he was carried in a chair to preach. When the doctor forbade him to go out in the winter air to the lecture room, he crowded the audience into his bedroom and gave lectures there. To those who would urge him to rest, he asked, “What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?”

His afflictions were intensified by opposition he sometimes faced. People tried to drown his voice by loud coughing while he preached; others fired guns outside the church. Men set their dogs on him. There were even anonymous threats against his life.

Calvin’s patience gradually wore away. Even when he was patient, he was too unsympathetic sometimes. He showed little understanding, little kindness, and certainly little humor.

Calvin finally wore out in 1564. But his influence has not. Outside the church, his ideas have been blamed for and credited with (depending on your view) the rise of capitalism, individualism, and democracy. In the church, he has been a major influence on leading figures such as evangelist George Whitefield and theologian Karl Barth, as well as entire movements, such as Puritanism.
Day to day, church bodies with the names “Presbyterian” or “Reformed” (and even some Baptist groups) carry forward his legacy in local parishes all over the world.

Mathematicious

25 Aug

So I just discovered this past weekend that the degree I want to get from UNCG (B.S. in biology with a human biology concentration) requires that you take Calculus I and II or Calc. I and Fundamental Concepts of Statistics. Had I known this earlier, I would have gone on to take Calc. I and II right after Precal, but instead I opted to take College Algebra, knowing it would be easier. So, now I am going to be taking Calc. I next Spring (as well as American Lit. II and Personal Health/Wellness), which I definitely had not planned on doing :( So next semester is going to be a little tougher than I have been thinking it was going to be. I’m still not sure about Calc. II though. If it is offered next Summer I may take it then. If not, I will probably just take Stats. at UNCG.

Oh, and I am not like a math genius (although I wish I were!). I’ve made C’s in my two previous math courses, so that’s all I’m really hoping for in these too. So although I have had a slight change of plans, I still think this will be a great year :)

Piper’s Confession

22 Aug

My Happy Confession of Having No Merit

This is my confession:

I was born into a believing family through no merit of my own at all.

I was given a mind to think and a heart to feel through no merit of my own at all.

I was brought into the hearing of the gospel through no merit of my own at all.

My rebellion was subdued, my hardness removed, my blindness overcome, and my deadness awakened through no merit of my own at all.

Thus I became a believer in Christ through no merit of my own at all.

And so I am an heir of God with Christ through no merit of my own at all.

Now when I put forward effort to please the Lord who bought me, this is to me no merit at all, because

…it is not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
(1 Corinthians 15:10)
…God is working in me that which is pleasing in his sight.
(Hebrews 13:21)
…he fulfills every resolve for good by his power.
(2 Thessalonians 1:11)

And therefore there is no ground for boasting in myself, but only in God’s mighty grace.

Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:31)

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