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The Thirsty Theologian

(15 posts) Stuff about me.

A Turning Point

Wednesday··2006·09·27
This week, Pulpit Magazine began a series of posts on “Lordship Salvation” taken from the writings of Pastor John MacArthur on that subject. Today, they republished a 2003 article titled A 15-Year Retrospective on the Lordship Controversy, which begins by noting that it was fifteen years (now eighteen) earlier that MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus was published. The article gives a brief discussion of the nature of the controversy, and why a correct view of the lordship of Christ is so important to our Soteriology. The Pulpit article caused me to do a retrospective of my own. I remember very well when The Gospel According to Jesus was published. I was newly married and living in Fridley, Minnesota. I was driving a delivery van for a formal wear company, which gave me the opportunity to listen to the radio most of the day as I made my rounds around the Twin Cities and surrounding area. It was during this time that I was introduced to John MacArthur through the Grace to You radio broadcast. MacArthur was the first genuine expository preacher I had ever encountered, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked on Grace to You. I was no undiscerning listener, though. I had mentioned MacArthur to some friends from the Lutheran Bible School I had attended, and one of them had warned me that he was a Calvinist. I had not heard any overtly Calvinist teaching on Grace to You, but I was on guard lest I be taken in by that heresy. The first point of doctrine that impressed me while listening to Grace to You was MacArthur’s conviction that salvation was more than a pardon from damnation. A redeemed sinner cannot continue in sin. The “carnal Christian” is a myth. The Gospel According to Jesus completely changed my perspective on so-called “Free Grace” Theology. My opposition to this absurd heresy had formerly been legalistic. To think that one could be saved and still do whatever he wanted was repugnant. Although I affirmed that salvation was by grace alone, there was a sense in which I believed that salvation was contingent upon obedience. I would have denied it, but I really believed that we are saved by grace, and kept, at least in part, by works. I think things through slowly, and do not usually change my mind quickly (I regret the times that I have, as I have been wrong in almost every case), so it took me longer than just reading this book for the truth to sink in. I eventually came to understand that a true believer lives obediently not out of obligation, but because his desires have been changed. He is being conformed to the image of Christ, not by his own effort, but by “God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). As much as I appreciated MacArthur’s expositions of Scripture and his stand against the antinomianism of the “Free Grace” movement, I remained on guard against any sneaky Calvinism that might creep into my thinking. I still have my first-edition hardcover copy of The Gospel According to Jesus, with one paragraph marked where he snuck in his belief in eternal security. I was greatly disappointed, since the rest of the book was so good. Over a period of at least ten years, as I listened to Grace to You, read MacArthur’s books and study guides, increased my study of other theological sources, and searching the Scriptures “to see whether these things were so,” I learned two things. First, I learned that I had been right. Calvinism as I understood it is heresy. Second, I learned that I had been wrong. Arminianism is serious error, and some of what I had believed was heresy. Third, I began to see that genuine Calvinism is no less than Biblical theology, but it would still be a few years before I would understand that completely and be willing to say so out loud. In fact, there are some points that I have only recently come to terms with, and others that I know I never will. I am convinced that many of the debates over the finer points of Calvinist Soteriology are attempts to answer the unanswerable. The more I see of these discussions, the less they interest me. To conclude these somewhat rambling thoughts, the Pulpit Magazine series on “Lordship Salvation” takes me back to a major turning point in my life. That first edition of The Gospel According to Jesus on my shelf is a memorial to the day in my life when I really began to pursue theology seriously. Since then I have read many other books, including many that are better and more important, but The Gospel According to Jesus is the one that started it all. And I reached that turning point because I was working a low paying, dead end job that allowed me to listen to the radio all day.
My testimony is no doubt much like many others, but very unlike many that are shared publicly. I cannot point to a moment in time at which I was saved. All I can say is, “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” Due largely to the confused theology that I was raised on, I cannot say when that was. I was raised in a very conservative, evangelical Lutheran denomination. Justification was by faith alone, and no question about that. Man was utterly incapable of obtaining salvation through his own efforts. Salvation came by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In that, my church was quite orthodox. Evangelism was a high priority in our denomination. Every year, as well as I can remember, a guest evangelist was invited for a week of evening evangelistic services. This is where the confusion comes in. While the Gospel was faithfully preached (again, this is to the best of my recollection), the call to “receive Christ” was very Arminian. There was always a heavy emphasis on emotional appeals. If the Holy Spirit didn’t move anyone to repentance and faith, the preacher surely would. Consequently, I prayed a “sinner’s prayer” and “asked Jesus to come into my heart” more times than I can remember. On one of those occasions, I remember asking the evangelist why, when I had gone through all the necessary steps on previous occasions, it hadn’t “stuck”? I had prayed the prayer, and I had really, really meant it, but I hadn’t stayed saved. I was told that I needed to preserve my faith through diligent Bible reading and prayer. I confessed that, although I had begun well, I had gradually slacked off in my devotions and drifted away. He encouraged me to do better this time, and promised that he would remember to pray for me, that my faith would not fail. I remember the man, and met him on several occasions in subsequent years, and I have no doubt that he made that promise in good faith and kept it. Yet, I did fall away as before—which, I now realize, meant I was probably not saved at all. Now you may ask, was I really not saved, or was I backslidden? How can I say? There is no doubt that I was under conviction of sin. I understood quite clearly that Jesus died in my place for my sin, and that if I confessed my sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, my sin would be forgiven and I would be saved. Perhaps I was truly saved, but I don’t believe I was. As I grew older, I drifted steadily farther away from the faith I was taught. If I was merely backslidden, it was a long slide. Through my high school years, no one who knew me on a daily basis would have imagined I was a Christian. I certainly did not believe I was, but I had determined to “come back”—someday, when the cost was not so high, when there was less fun to be had, when it became necessary to get serious about life and eternity. I would buy my ticket before the box office closed. I even told my buddies that I still believed the preaching I was raised with, and that someday I would get seriously religious. They thought that was funny. Through those years, I continued to put on my saved face for church. I’m sure few people in our small town were fooled, but I didn’t always stay in town. I made a point of attending every Bible Camp I could and going to several retreats put on by our denominational Bible School. I learned to sing and quote Scripture and became reasonably handy at “sharing” around the campfire. I left home at the earliest possible opportunity and headed for the Twin Cities, not exactly to seek my fortune, but to leave the old town behind, and maybe even the old life. I was undecided, but I thought I might give God a try again. I chose the Twin Cities for two reasons: first, because several of my Bible Camp acquaintances were attending the denominational Bible School in the suburb of Plymouth, west of Minneapolis, and second, because my older sister lived with her husband in New Brighton, north of St. Paul. They had offered me a room if I wanted to come. I arrived in the Cities in the Fall of 1983. On my way to my sister’s apartment complex, I stopped for gas at a Standard station in Arden Hills. Seeing a “HELP WANTED” sign in the window, I asked for the manager and applied for a job. I was hired on the spot. I had barely enough money to pay for my tank of gas. If you think that was providential, a day or two later, before my first day of work, my thermostat went out and I blew a radiator hose two blocks from the Standard station. I took advantage of my employee discount and free towing before I had even punched in. As you might expect, “giving God a try” didn’t go so well. It wasn’t long before I was back to my old ways. It was not uncommon for me to be involved in some variety of ungodly behavior with my suburban St. Paul friends on Friday night, and be in church on the Bible School campus in Plymouth on Sunday morning. God would have to wait. A year went by. Then, two events coincided to disrupt my happy, irresponsible existence. I lost my job (one of the few things that I still maintain was not my fault), and my sister got pregnant—“We need your room, could you please move out?” I will now skip my adventures as a wandering nomad for several months. I finally landed in an apartment with some friends who had attended the Bible School, and was working two jobs. I was now thinking seriously about spiritual matters. I was attending church semi-regularly, and I was listening with real interest to the Christians around me, all of whom believed I was one of them. It was not really that they had anything to say that I didn’t already know. I had spent my life immersed in evangelical Christianity and orthodox theology. I understood the Gospel better than some of them. The question that troubled me was, why didn’t it work for me? Why was it real for them, and just knowledge for me? One Sunday evening I attended church with my best friend from camp days. I don’t know how it happened, but I found myself in the very uncomfortable position in the pew between him and a girl he was sweet on. The service had started, the church was packed, and we were in the second or third pew from the front, so I couldn’t just get up and move. Anyway, because of my discomfort, and because I didn’t think it was a very good sermon, I wasn’t really listening to the preacher. As I sat there, my mind wandering, I began to feel really out of place. The people around me, they belonged there. I did not. Why not? I believed everything I had to believe, and more. I wanted to be a Christian. But what they believed changed them, while I was still the same old sinner. I determined at that moment to be a Christian. I knew it didn’t work that way, but I didn’t know what else to do. I had “gone forward” and prayed a “sinner’s prayer” so many times that it was meaningless. I had, in effect, been vaccinated against salvation. In the following weeks and months, I read my Bible more or less regularly, and prayed. I doubted that God heard me. After some time, I began to realize that when I confessed my sins, I really was sorry. It wasn’t just a rote prayer. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When I gave thanks, I was truly thankful. I loved hearing God speak through Scripture. Wait! God speaks? God speaks! To me! And just like that, I knew that God had created a clean heart in me. He had granted me repentance. I was a new creature. Like Lazarus, he had called me forth from the grave. All the Scriptures that I had learned in Sunday School applied to me. I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ—I was saved! When did God breath life into me? I don’t know. Sometime in the Spring or Summer of 1985, I think. All I know is, whereas I was blind, now I see.

Who Influences You?

Tuesday··2007·09·18 · 9 Comments
Tim Challies wrote yesterday on 10 Tips to Read More and Read Better. It’s a helpful article; I especially liked his final point: Read What Your Heroes Read - A couple of years ago, while at the Shepherds’ Conference, a young man who was in ministry but had not had opportunity to attend seminary asked John MacArthur what he would recommend to this man so he could continue learning and continue growing in his knowledge of theology. MacArthur’s answer was simple: He said that this pastor should find godly men he admires and read what they read. This is something I’ve tried to do more in recent years. Of course, that means I often find myself reading over my head. All of my favorite teachers are head and shoulders—and probably navels—above me in every way, and they didn’t get that way by reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I often find myself reaching for the fruit on the higher branches. I can’t always reach it, but my reach increases as I stretch. Now, I want to ask you, the reader, who your favorite theologians are. Who has influenced you most profoundly? List as many as you like, but I’d like to see, at the top of the list, at least one living and one dead theologian, if you can. My most influential living teacher is, by far, John MacArthur. The first serious Christian book I ever purchased was The Gospel According to Jesus. I discovered R. C. Sproul some time later. After that, everything else in the bookstore seemed so light and worthless. I’m thankful that today there seems to be an increase in good quality, Biblical writing. Certainly, there is an abundance of worthless fluff and downright heresy in Christian bookstores today, but there is also a resurgence of solid Reformed theology as well. It is more difficult to name one dead theologian to top the list. I have not read a large amount of any one, but rather small portions of several. I suppose, having been raised Lutheran, and having learned Luther’s Small Catechism and attended a Lutheran bible school, that Luther has influenced me more than I know (which is quite a lot). More recently, as I have begun reading the Puritans, William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour—which I am reading   v e r y   s l o w l y—has given me more to think about than any other single book. This is the “Christian living” book to replace all of those flaky How to _____ and Seven steps to a _____ books in the bookstore. So, those are my most influential authors, living and dead. Who are yours?

Twenty Years Ago Today

Tuesday··2008·04·22 · 10 Comments

Bibles I Like

Tuesday··2008·06·24
I like Bibles, some more than others. Here is the which and the why. Wycliffe New Testament (1385) This was the first English translation (Middle English, to be precise) of the New Testament. My interest in the Wycliffe is historical. I want to maintain ties to the important people and events of the past that helped lay the foundation for the church today. John Wycliffe, the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” and his Bible are certainly among the high points of church history. I don’t actually have a Wycliffe New Testament in any form, but I hope to have one eventually. Since I probably won’t be affording the two million or so that an actual, hand-scribed copy is worth, I’ll have to settle for a facsimile edition. I might even get an updated-spelling edition, like this one. Geneva Bible (1560) Like the Wycliffe New Testament, the Geneva marks an important point in church history, and connects us to some of the greatest theologians the church has known. During the oppressive reign of Queen “Bloody” Mary, many Reformed believers took refuge in Geneva, Switzerland. There, led by Myles Coverdale and John Foxe, and under the protection of John Calvin, fugitive theologians produced the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was a first in several ways: First chapter and verse divisions. First Roman style typeface (the King James, produced fifty-one years later, retained a Gothic Blackletter style). First marginal study notes. William Shakespeare quotes hundreds of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking Christians. Between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions of this Bible were published. Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retains over 90% of William Tyndale’s original English translation. The Geneva in fact, remained more popular than the King James Version until decades after its original release in 1611. The Geneva holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims. It is truly the (English) “ Bible of the Protestant Reformation” Unfortunately, the Geneva was never updated (until just recently) as the King James was, and went out of print. Now, a new version of the 1599 Geneva, published by Tolle Lege Press with updated spelling, is available. Those are translations I like for their historical value. The following are those that I would actually carry to a Bible study (the Tolle Lege updated 1599 Geneva almost makes it into this group, but not quite). Authorized Version (King James, 1611, final revision 1769) The King James Bible is not one for which Protestants should feel any great historical affection. It was produced as an Anglican antidote to the Geneva Bible. However, it is, I believe, a superior translation, and certainly a superior literary work. When the King James finally overtook the Geneva in popularity, it made a place for itself in church history that cannot be ignored. It was my preferred Bible for years, until I discovered Reformed theology, church history, and the Geneva Bible. And contrary to popular opinion, I don’t find it difficult to understand. It is not written in Old English, as some believe, or even Middle English*. It is written in modern English, the same language we speak. Yes, some of the language is antiquated (and some of the spelling in the 1611 edition can make reading it a bit awkward at first), but any difficulty with it is easily overcome with a little effort by any reasonably literate person. That, by the way, goes for the Geneva Bible as well. New King James Version This is a good translation, but it completely fails in its attempt to “retain the beauty of the King James” while updating the language. I suspect it was produced, at least in part, as a bone to the King James Only crowd, and it hasn’t pleased them at all. This is not to discourage you from using it. It’s a fine translation in modern, up-to-date English. I’ve used it, and if you’re using it and like it, that’s just fine. Of course, when we talk about good translations, the question we have to asks is, translation of what? All the translations above are based on the best manuscript evidence available at the time, but archaeology has since given us older manuscripts. By and large, this is not a major issue (except to a small but loud cult of poorly educated nuts); the Geneva and KJV remain trustworthy translations in general. However, the older manuscripts confirm what Calvin already suspected, that some passages included in the Byzantine text are apocryphal (Mark 16:9ff; John 7:53–8:11), and others are incorrect (the “Johannine comma,” 1 John 5:7–8; “book/tree of life,” Revelation 22:19). Which brings us to the last two on my list, both based on the newest manuscript evidence. New American Standard Bible This is the Bible you should use for serious study if you’re going to rely solely on an English text. It is the most literal translation available and, especially since its 1995 updating, is perfectly readable. English Standard Version While my Reformed brethren have been convulsing in paroxysms of rapturous delight over the ESV, I’ve never gotten fashionably excited about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good translation; I encourage anyone who likes it to use it, give it away, and promote it. I just don’t see the necessity of another translation. The NASB has everything the ESV claims to have. I like it better than the NKJV, because (in addition to the textual problem) it isn’t claiming to retain the language of a great literary work though not retaining the language of a great literary work. But it reads just a little like the NIV, which you will not find on this list. Anyway, I have a couple of study Bibles in the ESV, and I like them, use them when I want the notes they contain, and have even given a few copies away. These are all essentially literal, or formal equivalent, translations—the only kind I will use. * Old English is a language you would not recognize at all, more closely related to Old Norse or modern Icelandic than English. Middle English is the language of Chaucer and Wycliffe. Click here for a comparison of the languages.
Yesterday my wife and I joined the church we’ve been attending. This is the testimony I presented to the congregation. I haven’t shared my testimony publicly in this way very many times. Of the times I have, when I look back and remember what I have said, it occurs to me that most of what I have said has been about me. That ought not be the case, and I am going to try to avoid that this time; because my testimony is not primarily about me. It is primarily about God. God is the main character in my story, and the mover behind the various minor players. God has been gracious to send people into my life and use them to bring me the gospel. In my earliest years, I was given wise and godly Sunday school teachers. I thank God for the example of my mother, whom I frequently saw—and who still can be seen—sitting with her Bible, always with a notebook at hand, writing copious notes. He sent me friends whose lives made me want to know God, even while I resisted him. I don’t know when God saved me. I know the general time frame in which I began to receive assurance of salvation, which is now more than twenty years ago. Because of some rather confused theology in the churches I grew up in, I had a difficult time gaining that assurance. That’s not particularly important. What is important, and what I do know, is how God saved me. Ephesians 2 says, 1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,  2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. I have done nothing; God has done it all. It was God who chose me before the foundation of the world according to his good pleasure (Ephesians 1). It was God who sent the gospel to me, who convicted me of my sin, called me to faith in Christ, gave me the gift of faith (Ephesians 2), granted me repentance (2 Timothy 2), and gave me the understanding to discern the things of God (1 Corinthians 2). It was God who adopted me as his son (Romans 8, Galatians 4, Ephesians 5), and made me a joint-heir (Romans 8) with his only natural son, Jesus Christ. It was God who gave me a new nature (2 Corinthians 5), so that I would hate my sin, and love him and his Word. And it is God who continues to work in me, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2). Finally, it is God who has promised to perfect the good work he has begun in me (Philippians 1) and to glorify me with him (Romans 8). I was conceived and born in sin. I had no ability or inclination to choose Christ, accept Christ, make a decision for Christ, or any other phrase you may have heard or used to describe conversion. I was an enemy of God, a rebel, concerned only with my own pleasure and well-being. As much as I would like to diminish my role in this story, there is one way in which I was very actively involved. I actively hated God and loved myself. But God loved me, and saved me. Just as he called Lazarus out of the grave, he called me from mine; and just as Lazarus could not raise himself from the dead, neither could I raise myself. I am not saved because I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I am saved because God, in Christ, by his perfect righteousness and his death for my unrighteousness, has made me acceptable to him. He has not accepted me because I have accepted him. My faith in him is a consequence, not a cause, of his acceptance of me. I have trusted Jesus as my Lord and Savior because God has accepted me in Christ. Because of Christ, God doesn’t see me as the sinner I am. He sees me covered with Christ’s righteousness. And in that same way, I hope when you hear [or read] this testimony, it causes you to see not me, but the glory of God in Christ.

Will You Respect Me in the Morning?

Friday··2009·09·04 · 8 Comments
Considering yesterday’s topic, I suppose that might not be the best title. It’s just that I feel somewhat compromised today. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think much of Twitter. I love brevity, but let’s not get stupid about it. Nevertheless, I have created a Twitter page. It’s only an experiment in blog promotion; we’ll see what it’s worth. On my Twitter page you will not find: What I am eating. What I am drinking. What I am wearing. Where I am. Where I am going. Where I have been. What I am doing. What I just did. What I am about to do. How I am feeling. What I am thinking. [Fill in your own narcissistic category] Truncated words and sentences. Every sentence will have a correctly-spelled subject and verb, correctly punctuated and capitalized, guaranteed, or your money back (blog post titles not included). The only item on the list above with any value (and that tenuous) is “what I’m thinking”; but any thought I can complete in 140 characters is not worth reading—not alone, anyway. That goes for you, too, by the way, even if your name is Mohler or Piper (I did get a kick out of fakejohnpiper, though). I surfed around twitter a bit, looking for something redeeming. I expected hoped for some dignified Presbyterian profundity at Ligon Duncan’s page (I enjoyed him immensely at Together for the Gospel 2008, and expect to again in 2010). Nope. From there I clicked Phil Johnson’s rather juvenile-looking avatar. Now, I’m not a Phil Johnson fan-boy, but I can say I liked him even before he was blogging. I had listened to his sermons, visited his Spurgeon Archive, Hall of Church History, and Bookmarks, and of course, benefited from his work at Grace to You. So I clicked into his Twitter page with expectations a bit high, perhaps. Well . . . I never would have anticipated using this word in relation to Phil, but here it is:  b o r i n g.  Phil shouldn’t take it personally, though. Everyone is boring on Twitter, even my friends Tim and Daniel. (Tim and Daniel were my first two followers, until they read this post. They only followed me because I followed them first, anyway.*) It’s not like I’m any better; if I did like everyone else, I could out-boring Al Gore tweeting his backyard thermometer fluctuations on the hour, every hour. I won’t be doing that. My page will look like John Macarthur’s (and who could be better to emulate?) most of the time. The rub is that I’m already subscribed to the Grace to You feed, so I have no need to follow him on Twitter. The same will be true here, if you already subscribe to this blog’s feed. So this will serve as just another feed to this blog, for the Twitter crowd. “The Thirsty Theologian: Going into the Highways and Byways . . .” I may occasionally rarely throw in a personal news item, but I will try to keep those in line with “soup questions.”† So off I go, on a most likely useless experiment. Follow me here. Or don’t. * If you choose to follow me, don’t get your feelings hurt if I don’t reciprocate. I don’t intend to actually follow anyone, including these guys. I do follow their blogs—you know, where they can actually say something. Maybe I’ll follow yours, too. Update: Now, this one, I will follow, at least until it gets boring. † see Finding Forrester.
I grew up with a medium-sized list of things Christians shouldn’t do. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things Christians shouldn’t do, but this list was not exactly the Decalogue. On this list, probably somewhere in the middle below drinking alcohol and above playing cards, was going to the movie theatre. It wasn’t considered a sin per se, but it was definitely a sign of worldliness. I’ve never been able to negotiate the difference between sinful and merely worldly, but trust me, it exists. They said so, or at least, implied so. So it was through a bit of serendipity that I first stepped into a theatre at ten years of age. Some cousins from Big City, Minnesota came to visit during the summer of 1975. They were liberals (no kidding, they really were) who had no scruples about the theatre; so, stuck in Small Town, South Dakota (population 650, give or take) and bored to death, they were going to the show that weekend, whatever it was. As luck would have it, it was The Apple Dumpling Gang (still one of my favorites). It was rated G, and I think my parents weren’t quite sour enough to frown and tut-tut at the cousins. Consequently, they were in a bind when, in front of aunt, uncle, and cousins, my siblings and I declared that, yes, that would be fun! Long story short, we went; which, I believe, broke down the barrier between yours truly and an event that would have a dramatic effect on my wee little psyche in the summers to come. What, The Apple Dumpling Gang messed me up? No, this story is not about cute orphans and bumbling “desperados.” It’s about [cue ominous music] sharks. You see, 1975 was also the year Jaws was released. I’ve told this story many times, and every time I’ve said I was twelve years old. Who lets their twelve-year-old see a movie with graphic people-eating? But my fact-checking revealed the shocking fact that I was actually only ten. How I managed to finagle Jaws from my theatres-are-evil parents is still a mystery. Anyway, in those days and in that town, no ten-year-old was getting into a PG movie unaccompanied, so it fell to my sister, then seventeen, to take me. She was a better date than you might expect, jumping and gasping in all the right places, giving me mucho teasing ammo for days, if not weeks and months, to come. Her gasps grew to shrieks in my gleeful accounts of the evening. But I haven’t gotten to the good part yet. It was either that same summer or one of the following two that our family met some other cousins, these from Even Smaller Town, South Dakota, at the Oahe Reservoir near Pierre, the state capital, where we camped, swam, and fished for a week. On at least one of those days, the wind blew something fierce, as it is wont to do in the plains states. Oahe is a big lake, so a big wind produces big waves—too big for fishing, skiing, or any small boating activity. But we were there to have fun, so rather than sit around outside our tents watching our potato chips and paper plates blow away, we did the only thing we could do. We went swimming. Well, not swimming, exactly. We put on life jackets and swam out from shore as far as we could. Then we just laid in the water and let the waves take us in. Up and down we rode for hours, on waves six to eight feet high, reaching the shore and swimming back out again. There I was, laying on my back in the water, watching the waves tower over me, then riding to the top and surveying the lake around me and the approaching beach ahead. I could have just laid back and fallen asleep, it was so relaxing. Relaxing . . . relaxing . . . when suddenly, like a flash of lightning, the image of a huge shark thrust itself upon me. I nearly shot out of the water and hydroplaned to shore. Slowly, I got a grip on myself. “It’s a lake. There are no sharks. It’s a lake . . . it’s a lake . . . it’s just a lake.” My heart-rate slowed, my breathing steadied, and I was mostly alright. I laid back, shaken, nervous, and wishing for the shore, but pretty sure I wouldn’t be eaten that day. Now, you need to know that Jaws had awakened an interest in me. From the day I saw that movie, I was hooked on sharks. I read everything I could find on them. I even got the novel and read it (and was disappointed with the discrepancies between book and movie). I knew that sharks have a cartilaginous skeleton, that they have to swim constantly to avoid drowning, have multiple rows of teeth that rotate forward to replace lost teeth, and that, rather than scales, they have a network of dermal denticles that sheath their bodies in a virtual external skeleton. Shark skin has the texture of sandpaper, and has in fact been used as such. Mark that fact, Dear Reader. But I was not thinking of those things on that warm, windy day as I rode the waves to shore. I was trying to put all things fishy out of my mind, and had mostly succeeded. Riding to the top of a wave, I was relieved to see the beach within yards. Sinking to the bottom of the swell, laying face down now with my feet trailing behind, the top of my foot brushed the sandy bottom. I’ve never been a good swimmer, but I’m sure I broke somebody’s record that day. Spitz and Phelps had nothing on me. I hit the shore running, and collapsed just a few yards onto the beach. That was the end of my “swimming” for the day. My interest in sharks waned as years passed, but still, whenever I see something like this I think, “cool.” I didn’t enter the theatre again until 1979, for Hal Lindsey’s church-approved The Late Great Planet Earth. I don’t remember a thing about that one.

To Make a Long Story Short

Thursday··2012·02·02 · 1 Comments
Quite a while ago, I received an email asking about my conversion from Lutheranism to Reformed theology. I’ve decided to post my answer here. Why did I move from Lutheranism to Reformed theology? That’s a long story. First, I should say that I am not Truly Reformed®. I subscribe to the “Five Solas” (salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone), and am soteriologically Calvinistic, but I am not necessarily Reformed-kosher on the covenants or eschatology, and I am credobaptist. I didn’t move directly from Lutheranism to Reformed theology. That theological journey began with difficulties I had with a couple of areas of Lutheran doctrine. One of those was Lutheran sacramentalism—consubstantiation in the Lord’s Supper, and paedobaptism, especially baptismal regeneration. The other was soteriological—I became increasingly Arminian as (I think) a result of contradictory practices in my church. While Lutheran soteriology is essentially monergistic (though a bit muddled on that count), the evangelistic methods of my church were distinctly revivalist. I was pretty confused, and became a devout synergist. Sometime in the mid-eighties, I began listening to John MacArthur on the radio. I didn’t know he was a Calvinist at first, or I probably wouldn’t have listened long. By the time I caught on to his Calvinism, I was already hooked on his expository preaching, something I had never heard before. Through his ministry, my mind was opened to at least consider the claims of Reformed theology. As my synergistic and legalistic prejudices fell away, and as I learned to study the Bible without those presuppositions, the doctrines of grace became clear and undeniable. I wasn’t particularly happy about this. I suppose it was my pride that struggled against it. Accepting the fact that I had played no part in my conversion was difficult, but worse still was the embarrassment of having argued loudly and at great length against Calvinist “heretics” for several years—and now I was one. But, by the grace of God, I got over it, and now rejoice in the assurance that can only come through knowing that salvation is all—really all—by the sovereign will of God, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and that nothing—truly nothing—can ever separate me from the love of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. —Romans 8:28–30 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. —John 6:37–40

An Historic Occasion

Monday··2014·06·02
Or, possibly, hysteric. Yesterday marked the ninth anniversary of this blog, and the sixth of blogging daily. I would have mentioned it then, but it's impious to brag on Sunday. Monday bragging is fine, therefore, this post. June 1, 2008–May 31, 2014, 2,557 consecutive days, 2,557 consecutive posts. As of this post, 2,559. Some folks might poo-poo that record as just a feeble beginning, but if they really knew how lazy I am and how little follow-through I normally demonstrate, they'd bake me a cake, shake my hand, and sing For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.

If You Think Your Job Stinks

Wednesday··2014·07·09
Fellow North Dakotan Julie Neidlinger has something to tell you about cleaning toilets. It’s something you need to know, especially if you are one of [ahem] my teenage children. And it reminded me of a story . . . January, nineteen hundred and ninety-something. There I was, piling wood in the stove at six a.m. in my underwear. By underwear, I mean two pairs of socks, long johns and heavy-weight sweat pants, t-shirt and two sweatshirts (one hooded). While the family snoozed peacefully in their warm beds, I stepped into jeans and a quilted flannel shirt. Over that, I put on a Carhartt quilted vest and insulated coveralls with a snap-on hood. As I laced up my Sorels, my partner pulled up and blew the horn. I pulled on my Carhartt Thinsulated cap (earflaps down), slipped into Thinsulated gloves, grabbed my lunchbox, headed out the door looking like a portly duck hunter. It was cold. I don’t remember how cold, but it was one of those days when the snow squeaks under your feet, and walking to the mailbox feels like a Jack London adventure. I remember reminding myself that “at least I’m not in Grand Forks.” So we headed down the road in our work van, drinking gas station coffee from insulated mugs, simultaneously glad we had work and wishing we were laid off, and generally dreading the day. The owners of the largest house we would ever build were anxious to get the siding on the dormers finished, and for the last week it had been too windy, even for hardy North Dakotans, to stand up on that roof. Finally, the wind had abated enough that, with an adequate load of nails in our toolbelts, we could hope to remain planted, and the boss said no more putting it off. So we went. We climbed up on that roof, and did the slow work of trimming and siding small structures that are all angles, taking our gloves off to handle the short nails, pulling them back on to avoid frostbite, and generally feeling miserable. Oh, yes, and complaining. Lots of complaining. Could there be a more odious job? No; never. Then it happened: a truck with a tank and a pump in the back pulled onto the lot and backed up to the porta-john behind the house. The driver, in garb similar to ours but not so clean, climbed out. He trudged to the rear of the truck, uncoiled a hose, and opened the fiberglass door (here I had a vision of a hillbilly fireman saving the outhouse). We watched. We listened. We heard the lid slap the back wall as Hillbilly Fireman flung it open. Then we heard an exclamation that was both vulgar and ironically appropriate. The hose was recoiled, and Hillbilly Fireman went back to the cab and, from behind the seat, retrieved—No way, he’s not going to . . . oh, yes, he is—a hatchet. Grabbing a handy concrete block, he propped the door open, squared his shoulders, and went to work. Whack . . . whack . . . whack [more ironically appropriate commentary] whack-whack-whack-whack . . . We heard some shuffling around, and what we saw next is indelibly imprinted on my memory. Flying through that porta-john door and landing with a loud BANG! in the box of that unfortunate truck was the darkest chunk of ice I had ever seen. My workmate and I stood speechless for a moment, and then in unison, murmured . . . well, you can guess. The scene was repeated several times until Hillbilly Fireman emerged, tossed the hatchet—and his gloves—in the bed of the truck, climbed into the cab, and drove away. I vowed that day never to complain about my job again.

Meanwhile, down on the farm …

Tuesday··2014·08·19
By “down on the farm,” I mean in my back yard, naturally. In spite of a late Spring, the hops are coming in. We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
I never knew I was an introvert until people started talking about it. Like most terms birthed in the pseudoscience of psychology, I don't like it. I don't like it because the word itself sounds like a synonym for self-absorbed, when the truth is almost the opposite. However, I can deal with the word as long as it doesn't misrepresent me. This is immensely helpful toward that end: Top 10 Myths about Introverts that Simply Aren't True As I have said, I don't generally like spsychobablish labels, but the descriptions contained in that list describe me nearly to a tee, so I thought I would flesh them out a little and put a personal face on them. You'll want to read the list before, or at least alongside, my comments. Introverts don't like to talk. I don't actually hate small talk; I'm just no good at it. “Nice weather.” If you say so. Chances are, unless it's snowing in April, I haven't noticed the weather. “How about those Vikings!” I will gladly discuss the Vikings. Did you know they discovered America five hundred years before Columbus? They landed in Newfoundland, or Vinland, as they called it. Are you familiar with the sagas of Snorri Sturlusson? Wait, where are you going? . . . See, I'm not against small talk (though I have no use for it). I just know nothing, and care even less, about sports or Kardashians. The things I do know and enjoy talking about are things on which we might disagree, and God help us if we should have to converse like adults about something serious, important, and controversial (skip to #3 for more on that). Introverts are shy. Well, maybe a little, but mostly, it's like Top 10 list says: I don't talk just to hear my voice. Furthermore, I am perfectly comfortable, in fact moreso, alone and in silence (more on that under #6). Introverts are rude. Indeed, my around-the-bush beater is busted. I can only do straight talk, and appreciate straight talk in return. If I say something you don't like, stand up like a man (even if you're a woman) and answer me. Don't, for pete's sake, just clam up and go crying to your wife about it (yes, this has happened). You might actually come to understand why I said what I said. You might, if I'm wrong, even correct my error. If I had a nickel for every time someone has gone away to gossip (yes, folks, your gossip has a way of getting back to it's object) about how I “never think I'm wrong” without having made any serious, well-considered (see #6) arguments that might change my mind, there would be Christmas songs written about me, I'd have so much jingle. For the record, I don't even want to talk about the many effective corrections I've received, because many of the errors corrected have been so horribly, embarrassingly wrong. I know very well how wrong I can be, but it takes more than strong feelings to convince me. Meanwhile, what does your intractability say about you (if you can stand to look inward)? I might say you think you're never wrong, but that would be cheap, lazy ad hominem, and most likely just flat wrong. Introverts don't like people. The great philosopher Linus Van Pelt once said, “I love mankind. It's people I can't stand!” I confess to feeling that way sometimes, but generally, I like people—some more than others, of course. I don't like a lot of people at once. I fairly dread large family gatherings, but enjoy very much getting off alone with one or two of them for a relaxed visit. I will even listen (after a fashion) to them drone on about the Packers' chances in the World Series, Stanley Cup, or whatever it is they're after, as long as they don't expect me to have an opinion or even give a hoot. Introverts don't like to go out in public. Actually, I don't, but for sufficient reason, I will. I might even enjoy it, but that's usually accidental and not the purpose of the excursion. Introverts always want to be alone. I do love being alone. Solitary silence is my most productive—and relaxing—habitat. How can anyone study and think through important issues in a thorough manner surrounded by noise? Here's a thought: maybe the noise most people can't seem to live without is the reason so many that actually get beyond small talk sound as though they haven't studied and thought things through before forming their opinions. But as much as I thoroughly enjoy solitude, and as glad as I often am to see people leave, the time comes when enough is enough, and I'm glad for their return—in limited numbers, for a limited time. Introverts are weird. Well, that's rather subjective, isn't it? Anyway, I prefer “eccentric.” I'm @#$%-nine years old. I lost my adolescent need for social affirmation years ago. I'm not going to miss a good experience or suffer a miserable one just to gain the good opinions of socially-constrained busybodies. Introverts are aloof nerds. Without checking a dictionary (which are postmodernly unreliable these days, anyway), I think “aloof” implies intentionality. I'm not intentionally off down another road, just naturally so. It's just too hard to stop thinking and pay attention to mundane stuff. Introverts don't know how to relax and have fun. Nonsense. It's just that what I call fun, you call boring, and what you call fun, I call WOULD YOU PLEASE SHUT UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE? Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts. Who, in their right mind, would even want such a thing? But seriously: everyone can, and should, look at themselves critically and work towards improvement. Just as extroverts can learn to shut their big fat stupid mouths now and then, introverts can learn to be somewhat more sociably agreeable. And it is never acceptable to use our individual personalities to excuse sin (as many are wont to do). But we do each have our own God-given personalities, and to think those personalities can or should be changed (rather than managed and moderated) is not merely folly, but an affront to our Creator. Not an Introvert

Ninety-Six Years Ago

Friday··2014·09·26
I know very little about my grandfather. I am told he was a blacksmith before the war, physically powerful and athletic. He was born in 1888, and so was thirty years old when he entered the military in May of 1918. He was assigned to the 109th Infantry Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard. By this time in the war, the usual twelve weeks of training had been reduced to six, so he might have been in Europe by late July or early August. Ninety-six years ago today, September 26, was the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. The battle was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought the war to an end. On this day, somewhere on the battlefield of the Argonne in France, my grandfather was wounded. Both legs were amputated. He was mustered out of the service in December of 1919. Following the war, he married my grandmother. They produced four sons. He did a lot of fishing and duck hunting, and died in 1943 of a heart attack at the age of fifty-five. [RSS readers click through to view image] John Alfred Kjos (1888–1943)

Me & My Grandfather

Monday··2016·04·04

@TheThirstyTheo



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