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Thoughtful Quotes

Theology is Supposed to Help People

The following quote is by John M. Frame from his book, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

"Objectivism" continues to be a danger in orthodox Christian circles.  It is all too easy for us to imagine that we have a higher task than merely that of helping people.  Our pride constantly opposes the servant model.  And it is all too easy for us to think of theological formulations as something more than truth-for-people, as a kind of special insight into God Himself (which the Biblical writers would have written about, had they known as much as we).  But no, theology is not "purely objective truth"; as we saw earlier, there is no such thing as purely objective truth, or "brute fact."  Our theologies are not even the best formulation of truth-for-people for all times and places; Scripture is that.  Our theologies are merely attempts to help people, generally and in specific times and places, to use Scripture better.

The Stupidity of the Intelligent

The following quote is by Dr. J. Budziszewski from his article, "Escape from Nihilism", the full text of which can be found here.

I have already said that everything goes wrong without God. This is true even of the good things He's given us, such as our minds. One of the good things I've been given is a stronger than average mind. I don't make the observation to boast; human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways. The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong. When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn't do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid. Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to commit. God keeps them in his arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all. That is how I ended up doing a doctoral dissertation to prove that we make up the difference between good and evil and that we aren't responsible for what we do. I remember now that I even taught these things to students; now that's sin.

It was also agony. You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself--well, if you are like I was, maybe you can--what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense. St. Paul said that the knowledge of God's law is "written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness." The way natural law thinkers put this is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds. That means that so long as we have minds, we can't not know them. Well, I was unusually determined not to know them; therefore I had to destroy my mind. I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value. Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one's will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons, and denies that his commitments are in his control?

Visualize a man opening up the access panels of his mind and pulling out all the components that have God's image stamped on them. The problem is that they all have God's image stamped on them, so the man can never stop. No matter how much he pulls out, there's still more to pull. I was that man. Because I pulled out more and more, there was less and less that I could think about. But because there was less and less that I could think about, I thought I was becoming more and more focussed. Because I believed things that filled me with dread, I thought I was smarter and braver than the people who didn't believe them. I thought I saw an emptiness at the heart of the universe that was hidden from their foolish eyes. Of course I was the fool.

Death-Haters

The following quotes are from Athanasius and Eusebius respectively, and both are cited in David Chilton's, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation. Athanasius writes:

All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead. There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Saviour’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot as he now is, the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Saviour on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, ‘O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?

Eusebius writes:

We were witnesses to the most admirable ardor of mind, and the truly divine energy and alacrity of those that believed in the Christ of God. For as soon as the sentence was pronounced against the first, others rushed forward from other parts to the tribunal before the judge, confessing they were Christians, most indifferent to the dreadful and multiform tortures that awaited them, but declaring themselves fully and in the most undaunted manner on the religion which acknowledges only the one Supreme God. They received, indeed, the final sentence of death with gladness and exultation, so far as even to sing and send up hymns of praise and thanksgiving, until they breathed their last.

An Eye for an Eye

The following quote is from Greg Bahnsen's book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics.

The main underlying principle of scriptural penology (whether civic or eternal) is not reformation or deterrence, but justice. The outstanding characteristic of theonomic punishment is the principle of equity; no crime receives a penalty which it does not warrant. The punishment for a violation of God’s law is always appropriate for the nature of the offense; “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Here is the most blessed standard of social retribution that man’s civilization has ever seen. That the Older Testament law sets forth humane and just punishments for crime is immediately apparent when one compares it with the legal codes of the nations around Israel. God’s penal sanctions are not overweighted, cruel, unusual, or excessive; a criminal receives what he deserves: no more, no less. It is especially important for Christians to recognize this fact, for it is the underlying principle at work in the atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the cross; He is the sinner’s substitute in order to effect atonement. Sin must meet divine judgment (e.g., Nah. 1:2, Hab. 1:13), and God can only forgive sin in a manner consistent with His holiness (Ps. 85:9 f.). Hence a sacrifice had to be offered to placate divine wrath occasioned by sin.

Within this framework Christ came as our sacrificial substitute; He is the Lamb of God who brings redemption by His sacrifice upon the cross (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:11-15; 10:3-18; 13:10-12; 1 Pet. 1:18 f.) and thus substitutes Himself for the sinner by taking God’s wrath upon Himself (Col. 2:14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10, 13; cf. Deut. 21:23; 27: 26; Jer. 11:3). The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him (Isa. 53:6). Christ laid down His life to atone for the sinner’s life; Christ took the punishment warranted by the sinner’s violation of God’s law upon Himself. Therefore, the sinner need not fear God’s eternal punishment, for his sin has been atoned. The principle of retribution is prominent in man’s salvation. This illustrates the importance of the scriptural penal system: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

This principle of equity applies to civic punishments imposed by the civil magistrate; there must be equity in punishment, even at the social level. God operates on the basis of retribution (Job 34:11; Ps. 18:25 f.; Ezek. 18:4, 20; Gal. 6:7—and even restitution, Job 42:10), and the penalties which He prescribes for social sins are based on the same principle of retribution, restitution and compensation (Ex. 21:18-22:7; Lev. 6:4 f.; 24:17-21; Deut. 19:21). None of God’s penalties are excessive or lenient; hence the Older Testament does not detail arbitrary punishments for crimes (as with the varying fines for traffic violations from state to state in our modern day), but the punishment was made to correspond to the social heinousness of the offense so that the culprit receives what his public disobedience merits (e.g., Deut. 19:19). The penalties imposed upon social crime are just as appropriate, equitable, and just with respect to their sphere of reference (civil society) as the eternal punishment for that crime (considered now as sin) is just with respect to its sphere of reference (the God-man relation with respect to eternity).

Heavenly Worship

The following quote is from the book, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, by Alexander Schmemann, cited in the book, Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, by David Chilton:

The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended.  They realized also that this ascension was the very condition of their mission in the world, of their ministry to the world.  For there - in heaven - they were immersed in the new life of the Kingdom; and when, after this 'liturgy of ascension,' they returned into the world, their faces reflected the light, the 'joy and peace' of that Kingdom and they were truly its witnesses.  They brought not programs and no theories; but wherever they went, the seeds of the Kingdom sprouted, faith was kindled, life was transfigured, things impossible were made possible.  They were witnesses, and when they were asked, 'Whence shines this light, where is the source of its power?' they knew what to answer and where to lead men.  In church today, we so often find we meet only the same old world, not Christ and His Kingdom.  We do not realize that we never get anywhere because we never leave any place behind us.

The Universality of Obedience

The following quote comes from the first part of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, entitled, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, written by John Owen and edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor:

The second principle which to this purpose I shall propose is this: Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained...You set yourself with all diligence and earnestness to mortify such a lust or sin; what is the reason of it?  It disquiets you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your heart with sorrow and trouble and fear; you have no rest because of it.  Yea, but friend, you have neglected prayer or reading; you have been vain and loose in your conversation in other things, that have not been of the same nature with that lust wherewith you are perplexed.  These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan.  Jesus Christ bled for them also.  Why do you not set yourself against them also?  If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul.  It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it.  Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone.  Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you.  Now, can you think that God will set in with such hypocritical endeavors - that ever his Spirit will bear witness to the treachery and falsehood of your spirit?  Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves him?  No.  God says, "Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost."  Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God's.  God's work consists in universal obedience; to be freed of the present perplexity is their own only.  Hence is that of the apostle: "Cleanse yourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).  If we will do anything, we must do all things.  So, then, it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.

Civil Government and God's Law

The following quote is from Greg L. Bahnsen's, Theonomy in Christian Ethics:

The fact that Christians are commanded to obey the civil magistrate is another indication that human government is obligated to follow God’s holy law. Scripture clearly teaches that God’s people must obey and respect civil magistrates. And yet in the book of Revelation men are indicted and held culpable for following the dictates of the “beast,” that is, sinful Rome and its emperor. Moreover, those who followed the beast are contrasted with those who, instead, kept the law of God (Rev. 14:9-12). Rulers are consequently expected to follow the law of God so that Christians can obey them—or else those who are punished for obeying sinful Rome according to Revelation 14 would be exonerated by Romans 13! The way to reconcile Romans 13:4, where the state is spoken of as in the service of God, and Revelation 13:2, where the state is said to be in the service of Satan, is by viewing the former as the norm for government and the latter as indictment for deviation from that norm. Outside of that one must either forfeit the unity of Scripture or appeal to principles (e.g., Rom. 8:28) to explain Romans 13 which that passage itself gives no hint of utilizing as necessary for understanding its message. Thus the civil magistrate ought to promote obedience to God’s law (the good) and to punish with God’s wrath (i.e., according to the just penal sanctions for society) those who publicly perform evil deeds (violations of God’s laws). Toward this end believers are exhorted to pray for all kings and authorities: in order that they might lead peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim. 2:1-3).  The tranquility which the magistrate should establish and protect in society must be characterized by justice and civic righteousness, for his reign should enable Christians to live in peace (which does not mean, in this passage, that believers have “personal” peace while nevertheless under public persecution) and should provide for, and promote, an environment characterized by justice and righteousness (which, as in the case of tranquility, does not simply mean that believers have personal or private godliness in the midst of complete social unrighteousness and public injustice). The peace which the believer wants to have, and also the godliness which the believer wants to express, should be made possible by the civil magistrate’s proper administration of government; toward that end Christians are told to pray.

We Need to See God's Holiness

The following quote comes from David Wells' book, The Courage to Be Protestant:

Let us not mince words.  If we could see more clearly God in the full blaze of His burning purity, we would not be on easy terms with all the sins that now infect our souls and breed easy compromises with the spirit of the postmodern age.  This is what leads to the casual ways in which we live our lives with their blatantly wrong priorities.  If we could see this more clearly, the church would be filled with much more repentance and, in consequence, much more joy, and much more authenticity.

The Enemy: Pragmatism

The following sobering comparison between what a pastor should be and what he often is in most churches comes from the book, The Courage to Be Protestant, by David F. Wells.

Across much of evangelicalism, but especially in the market-driven churches, one therefore sees a new kind of leadership among pastors now.  Gone is the older model of scholar-saint, one who was as comfortable with books and learning as with the aches of the soul.  This was the shepherd who knew the flock, knew how to tend it, and Sunday by Sunday took that flock into the treasures of God's Word.  This has changed.  In its place is the new "celebrity" style.  What we typically see now, Nancy Pearcy suggests, is the leader who works by manipulating the feelings of the audience, enhancing his own image with personal anecdotes, modeling himself after the CEO, and adopting a domineering management style.  He (usually) is completely results-oriented, pragmatic, happy to employ any technique from the secular world that will produce the desired results.  And this leader has to be magnetic, entertaining, and light on the screen up front.

Stupid about Art

The following quote comes from Philip Graham Ryken's masterful commentary on the book of Exodus in the Preach the Word commentary series.  It is concerning Exodus 31:1-11.

There are many reasons why some churches have a negative view of the arts.  Art trades in images, and images easily lend themselves to idolatry - especially when objects of art are brought into the church for religious worship.  At various times in church history, such as during the iconoclastic movement of the eight century or the Protestant Reformation in Europe, church leaders have tried to smash this form of idolatry by taking statues and other works of art out of the church and destroying them.  They were not opposed to the use of art, only its abuse.  However, some Christians failed to understand the difference, and there was a lingering suspicion about the visual arts.

More recently, many Christians have objected to art on the grounds that it is dominated by an anti-Christian view of the world.  During the last century art has suffered a tragic loss of beauty.  So much modern and postmodern art has been attracted instead to absurdity and ugliness.  Anyone who doubts this should attend the senior exhibition at nearly any art school in America.  So much contemporary art is the art of alienation, which if it is true at all, is only true about the disorder of a world damaged by our depravity.  As a general rule, such art does not point us to the redemptive possibilities of a world that, although fallen, has been visited by God and is destined for His glory.

Yet even Christians who dismiss art continue to produce it.  This is inescapable.  Every time we build a sanctuary, arrange furniture in a room, or produce a brochure, we are making artistic decisions.  The question is not whether we will be artists, but whether we will aspire high aesthetic standards.  All too often Christians settle for something that is functional but not beautiful.  Sometimes what we produce can only be described as kitsch - tacky artwork of poor quality that appeals to low tastes.  The average Christian bookstore is full of the stuff, as the real artists will tell us, if only we will listen.

Ultimately this kind of art undermines our message.  Art has the power to shape culture.  What is happening in the arts today is prophetic of what will happen in our culture tomorrow.  So when Christians abandon the artistic community, the church loses a significant opportunity to speak the gospel into our culture.  What we need to recover - or possibly discover for the first time - is a full Biblical understanding of the arts - not for art's sake, but for God's sake.  Then we will be able to produce good art that testifies to the truth about God and His world.  This is important not just for artists, but for everyone made in God's image and redeemed by His grace.

Saving the World

The following comes from a sermon preached by Benjamin B. Warfield on the text of John 3:16 entitled, "God's Immeasurable Love":

You must not fancy, then, that God sits helplessly by while the world, which He has created for Himself, hurtles hopelessly to destruction, and He is able only to snatch with difficulty here and there a brand from the universal burning.  The world does not govern Him in a single one of its acts: He governs it and leads it steadily onward to the end which, from the beginning, or ever a beam of it had been laid, He had determined for it....Through all the years one increasing purpose runs, one increasing purpose: the kingdoms of the earth become ever more and more the Kingdom of our God and His Christ.  The process may be slow; the progress may appear to our impatient eyes to lag.  But it is God who is building: and under His hands the structure rises as steadily as it does slowly, and in due time the capstone shall be set into its place, and to our astonished eyes shall be revealed nothing less than a saved world.

Sacrificial-Suicidal Glory Prayer

The following quote is copied from pages 95-96 of the book, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, by Elisabeth Elliot.  It comes from the daily journal of Jim Elliot.

October 26.  "Prayed a strange prayer today.  I covenanted with the Father that He would do either of two things: either glorify Himself to the utmost in me or slay me.  By His grace I shall not have His second best.  For He heard me, I believe, so that now I have nothing to look forward to but a life of sacrificial sonship (that's how my Savior glorified Him) or heaven - soon.  Perhaps tomorrow!  What a prospect!"