Wednesday, December 29

Tsunami Relief

UN pronouncements notwithstanding, American Christians have already begun to respond with overwhelming generosity even as the magnitude of the Asian tsunami disaster becomes all too evident. Two of the organizations presently on the ground delivering much needed emergency aid to the hardest hit areas are also among the most effective in connecting Word and deed: Food for the Hungry and Samaritan's Purse. If you have wondered where your charitable giving might have the best and most immediate humanitarian and Gospel impact, I encourage you to visit their websites and donate today. You might also want to consider supporting King's Meadow's discipling and educational work at the classical Christian school in Jakarta, Indonesia--now more vital than ever before--though at this point, the relief work of organizations like Food for the Hungry and Samaritan's Purse must assume first priority.

Monday, December 27

The "Happy Holidays" Flap

The banning of carols, creches, and Christ from a season that only has a whit of significance precisely because of carols, creches, and Christ is more than a little ironic for all of the obvious reasons. But it is more than a little ironic for all of the not so obvious reasons as well. For instance, the politically-correct season's greeting is now "happy holidays!" This uber-chic replacement for the outre-gauche "merry Christmas" is itself fraught with difficulty. It is a difficulty that has been equally ignored by the well-intended defenders of Christmas tradition and the iconoclastic secular-Scrooges.

The difficulty is simply that the word "holiday" is just an alternate spelling for "Holy Day." According to Samuel Johnson's authoritative English Dictionary, the definitions of "holiday or Holy Day" include:

1. The day of some ecclesiastical festival within Christendom;

2. An anniversary feast day on the Christian liturgical calendar;

3. A day of gaiety and joy in light of Gospel truth;

4. A rare occurence of God's grace.

Replete with example quotations and epigrams from Shakespeare, Milton, Ainsworth, Walker, Dryden, and Pope, Johnson's definitions highlight the great irony of modern disputes about language, culture, history, and worldview: we are so ignorant of language, culture, history, and worldview that it is all too common for both sides of an argument to actually miss the point of the argument.

The next time Target, the ACLU, Macy's, and the public schools decide to play the role of Grinch to sweep into Whoville in an effort to steal away every vestige of Christian civilization, they probably ought to do their homework a little more thoroughly. And the next time some well-intentioned Christian decides to defend us all from such cultural conspiracies, perhaps they ought to do their homework as well.

The whole flap rather smacks of one of Johnson's illustrative epigrams from Dryden, "Courage, like intelligence, is but a holiday kind of virtue, only seldomly exercised."

Ho ho ho! Happy Holy Days, indeed.

Sunday, December 26

A Resolve to Pray Twelve Days of Christmas

Today in the midst of our series on Nehemiah, I taught on the subject of prayer. Nehemiah was a remarkable prayer warrior--a fact that we often overlook when we focus on all of his other leadership traits. I am convinced however that it was his life-long resolve to be a man of prayer that made him so effective in all of his nation-building endeavors.

I am equally convinced that Nehemiah's example in this regard ought to wrest our attentions from all other distractions if we are to have any hope of undertaking such culture-restoring work in our own time.

By all accounts, prayer is the universal language of the soul. There is hardly a Christian who does not know of prayer’s importance, prayer’s power, and prayer’s solace. The irony of course is that there also is hardly a Christian who does not struggle to actually make prayer a priority in their daily lives. Prayer may be our unconscious heart-cry in times of distress; it may be the currency of our spiritual vitality; but prayer, as a hallmark of our deep and committed soul-bond, our communion with Almighty God, is an exceptionally rare and precious jewel.

We tend to take our time with God in snatches. We throw out petitions rapid-fire on the run. At best, we rush through our laundry lists of wants and needs. Even in the corporate life of the church prayer gets short shrift--only briefly imposed like charms at predictable intervals in worship services, business meetings, and meals. The great romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge sadly observed, “The act of praying is the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable; praying that is, with the total concentration of the faculties on God. The great mass of worldly men, learned men, and yea, even religious men is absolutely incapable of such prayer.”

In contrast, the heroes of the faith through the ages have always been, like Nehemiah, diligent, vigilant, and constant in prayer. They humbled themselves before God with prayers, petitions, and supplications always acknowledging their utter dependency upon His mercy and grace. Athanasius prayed five hours each day. Augustine once set aside eighteen months to do nothing but pray. Bernard of Clairveaux would not begin his daily activities until he had spent at least three hours in prayer. John Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer--beginning well before dawn. John Fletcher regularly spent all night in prayer. His greeting to friends was always, “Do I meet you praying?” Martin Luther often commented, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Francis Asbury rose each morning at four in order to spend two hours in prayer. Samuel Rutherford began praying at three. If ever Joseph Alleine heard other craftsmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim, “Oh how this shames me. Doth not my master deserve more than theirs?” John Calvin, John Knox, and Theodore Beza vowed to one another to devote two hours daily to prayer. John Welch thought the day ill-spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours in prayer. On and on and on we could go. “The story of prayer,” E.M. Bounds once said, “is the story of great achievements.”

We know too that the Scriptures are brimming over with exhortations to likewise be constant in prayer: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore” (1 Chronicles 16:8-11). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Clearly, we are to be men and women of prayer. We are to pray with whole-heartedness (Jeremiah 29:13). We are to pray with contrition (2 Chronicles 7:14). We are to pray with all faith (Mark 11:24). We are to pray with righteous fervor (James 5:16). We are to pray out of obedience (1 John 3:22) and with full confidence (John 15:7). We are to pray in the morning (Mark 1:35), in the evening (Mark 6:46), and during the night watch (Luke 6:12). This is because in accord with the good providence of God, prayer is a dynamic means of grace. It binds and it looses (Matthew 18:18). It casts down and it raises up (Mark 11:23-24). It ushers in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-2), forgiveness (Mark 11:25), healing (James 5:14-15), liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17), wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-14), and protection (Psalm 41:2). Clearly, “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

Samuel Chadwick, a Puritan of great renown, once wrote, “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. Alas, activities are multiplied that prayer may be ousted, and organizations are increased that prayer may have no chance. The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” Thus, Homer W. Hodge could say, “Prayer should be the breath of our breathing, the thought of our thinking, the soul of our feeling, the life of our living, the sound of our hearing, and the growth of our growing. Prayer is length without end, width without bounds, height without top, and depth without bottom; illimitable in its breadth, exhaustless in height, fathomless in depths, and infinite in extension. Oh, for determined men and women who will rise early and really burn for God. Oh for a faith that will sweep into heaven with the early dawning of morning and have ships from a shoreless sea loaded in the soul's harbor ere the ordinary laborer has knocked the dew from the scythe or the lackluster has turned from his pallet of straw to spread nature's treasures of fruit before the early buyers. Oh, for such.”

The question of course, is how? How in the world are we ever to recover this extraordinary Biblical perspective of the priority of prayer? In the midst of our 24/7/365 rush, how do we actually find the time, establish the discipline, and attain the focus necessary for genuine intimacy with the Lord? When our lives seem inescapably governed by the business of busyness and the tyranny of the urgent, how do we do what we know we ought to do, what we know we need to do, what we know we really must do? How are we to “really burn for God” like the saints of yore?

Surely guilt-tripping won’t work—most of us have tried that at one time or another. If you’re anything like me, sheer discipline works for a few days at best. Then my resolve starts to lessen, my mind starts to wander, and my body gets fidgety. Most of us would readily confess that we would like nothing better than to have prayer be “the breath of our breathing, the thought of our thinking, the soul of our feeling, the life of our living, the sound of our hearing, and the growth of our growing.” But we’ve tried and tried, to little or no avail. Our hearts and minds and lives are cluttered with a thousand distractions. Our time and effort and energy are claimed by a million other demands. So, what to do? How should we then pray?

There is a very simple and practical answer. According to Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish pastor, reformer, and educator, what is needed for the total reordering of our hearts and minds for prayer is “the expulsive power of a new affection.” In other words, it is a greater love that pushes aside all other competing affections, all other insistent concerns, and all other noisome bothers. It is not a consuming discipline that will make us more constant in prayer; it is a consuming love. It is a love that pushes aside—with expulsive power—every other lesser love.

When a man or a woman falls in love. Chalmers reminds us, no one needs to tell them to “think continually on the object of their affection.” No one needs to remind lovers to spend their every waking moment pondering the beauties, the excellencies, and the delights of their beloved. No one needs to prod them into spending time conversing into the wee hours of the night. No one needs to help them develop the discipline of shutting out other distractions. The smitten can think of little else. There is nothing more exciting for them. They want nothing more than to spend time with, to nurture intimacy with, and to commune with their new affection.

All throughout the Scriptures we see this principle at work in the lives of the faithful. The priority place of prayer in their lives was the result of the expulsive power of a new affection. Abraham was a man of prayer. He was “the friend of God” and thus, enjoyed close and intimate relations with Him (Genesis 15:1-21). Moses too, was constant in his fellowship with God. He delighted in His presence not out of duty but out of sheer love (Numbers 14:11-38). David, a man after God’s own heart, prayed as he arose in the dawning of the day, yielding the very meditations of his heart to the scrutiny of his beloved Lord (Psalm 5:1-3). Though naked, beaten, imprisoned, and shackled, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God in the inner prison of Phillipi (Acts 16:25). They marvelously exemplified the “expulsive power of the new affection.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples about this sort of consuming prayer—prayer that was dramatically different from anything they had ever seen before (Matthew 6:5-8). Then, Jesus drove home the idea with a warning, a command, and a promise in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). First, He reminds them that prayer is not a means for self-promotion--either before men or before God. The throne room of the Most High is not some kind of cosmic vending machine for our every want, whim, or worry any more than it is a showcase for our eloquence or our reverence. It is instead the dwelling place of our beloved father. Others make a spectacle of themselves when they pray selfishly, brazenly, and introspectively. “Do not be like them,” Jesus warns.

Second, prayer is to be habitual. It is the expression of our day-to-day relationship with God. It is to be intimate. It is to be personal. It is to be as practical as our daily bread. It is to be as lofty as the outworking of providence in heaven and on earth. It is to be as pointed as our trespasses and our trespassers. But above all, it is to be regular. “When you pray,” Jesus said. Not “if you pray,” but “when.” This is His mandate, His command. “In this manner, therefore, pray.”

Third, prayer is objectively hedged by God’s perfect, protective, and providential will. As the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession says “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will.” We are not to pray simply in order to get something. We are to pray in order to be something (James 4:3). We pray in order to be conformed to God's will. And “He who sees in secret will reward openly,” for He “knows the things we have need of before we ask Him.” That is His promise. And, oh what a promise! In the presence of our Beloved, we are transformed. The new affection makes all things right, good, and true!

Thus, prayer is not a job to be done. It is not a duty to be fulfilled. It is not a task to be undertaken. It is the marvelous outworking of a love that displaces ever other love. It is the blessed overflow of the smitten heart. It is the happy result of the expulsive power of a new affection.

E.M. Bounds once said, “There ought to be no adjustment of life or spirit for the closet hours. Without intermission, incessantly, assiduously; that ought to describe the opulence, and energy, and unabated ceaseless strength and fullness of effort in prayer; like the full and exhaustless and spontaneous flow of an artesian stream.”

Those stalwart heroes times gone by who practiced that sort of free flowing, natural prayerfulness were not super saints. They did not have unique constitutions that peculiarly equipped them for prayer. They simply drank deeply from the well of grace. They embraced the “expulsive power of a new affection.” And thus freed from monkish discipline, they reveled in the love of their Savior. So it ought to be with you—and with me.

Wednesday, December 22

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Throughout the halcyon days of Christendom, every day from December 25 to January 6 was a part of the traditional Yuletide celebration. Dedicated to mercy and compassion—in light of the incarnation of Heaven’s own mercy and compassion—each of those twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany was to be noted by selfless giving and tender charity. In many communities, gift giving was not concentrated on a single day, but rather, as in the famous folk song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, spread out through the entire season.

Interestingly, all of the gifts in that folk song represent some unique aspect of the blessing of Christ’s first Advent in anticipation of His second. They portray the abundant life, the riches of the Christian inheritance, and the ultimate promise of heaven. They also depict the essential covenantal nature of life lived in community and accountability. Thus, the song was a clever sort of catechism tool for oppressed religious dissenters, written during the tumultuous conclusion of the Tudor period in England—though it is not altogether clear from the historical record if the song was intended for Puritan dissenters during the reign of Bloody Mary or for the Catholic dissenters during the reign of her half-sister, Elizabeth.

What is clear is that festive song praised the feasting and good will of the Yuletide season by detailing the gifts of Gospel. So for instance, instead of referring to a suitor, the "true love" mentioned in the song refers to the wooing suitor of Heaven: God Himself. The "me" receiving the gifts is symbolic of every covenant believer. The partridge in the pear tree is Jesus Christ, and in the song, He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge who feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. The pear tree itself is often portrayed in Medieval literature (as is the apple tree) of the means of grace by which the gifts of God are bestowed upon men and nations.

And so it goes throughout the whole song: the two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments; the three French hens are faith, hope and charity; the four calling birds are the four Gospels; the five gold rings are the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses in the Old Testament; the six geese a-laying are the six days of creation; the seven swans a-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; the eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount; the nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Spirit; the ten lords a-leaping are the freedoms of the Ten Commandments; the eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful disciples; the twelve drummers drumming are the twelve cardinal doctrines of the Apostles' Creed.

All in all, the song is a joyous reminder of all we celebrate this Christmas—from the crèche to the cross.

Tuesday, December 21

Too Good to Be True?

Author and social prognosticator Alvin Toffler is often wrong but always interesting. In an interview in Modulations: A History of Electronic Music Today, he discusses the peculiar cultural hazards of effective modern propaganda in the media, a la Fahrenheit 9/11:

"The technologies of deception are developing more rapidly than the technologies of verification. Which means we can use a television camera, plus special effects, plus computers, etc. to falsify reality so perfectly that nobody can tell the difference. And the consequences of that eventually could be a society in which nobody believes, everybody knows that seeing is not believing, and nobody believes anything. With the exception of a small minority that decides to believe one thing fanatically. And that's a dangerous social/cultural situation."

He concluded:

"One of the consequences of living through a period like this, which is in fact a revolutionary period, is that the entire structure of society and the processes of change become nonlinear. And nonlinearity I think is defined almost by the statement that 'small inputs can have large consequences while large inputs can sometimes have very small consequences.' That also means in a political sense that very small groups can, under a given set of circumstances, achieve power. And that is a very threatening idea for anything remotely resembling what we believe to be democracy. So we're going into a period, I think, of high turbulence and considerable danger, along with enormous possibilities."

If he is right, and I think he is at least partly so, we've got a good deal of work to do.

Monday, December 20

Why Christmas?

Christians have celebrated the incarnation and nativity of the Lord Jesus on December 25 since at least the early part of the third century, just a few generations removed the days of the Apostles. By 336, when the Philocalian Calendar--one of the earliest documents of the Patriarchal church--was first utilized, Christmas Day was already a venerable and tenured tradition. Though there is no historical evidence that Christ was actually born on that day--indeed, whatever evidence there is points to altogether different occasions--the conversion of the old Pagan tribes of Europe left a gaping void where the ancient winter cult festivals were once held. It was thus both culturally convenient and evangelically expedient to exchange the one for the other. And so joy replaced desperation. Celebration replaced propitiation. Christmas Feasts replaced new Moon sacrifices. Christ replaced Baal, Molech, Apollo, and Thor.

Some have argued that this sort of thing was little more than an accomodation to the world. They deride Christmas celebrations as rank worldliness. In fact, they are beautiful pictures of the Great Commission in action. Christianity did not compromise with Paganism; it subsumed the old mores of the world into the new mores of the Church; it transformed the old barbarian rites and rituals into the new godly patterns of work and worship. In other words, Christmas converted cultures and calendars--demonstrating with particular practicality the fact that Jesus is Lord over the totality of life. Glad tidings of great joy, indeed.

Wednesday, December 15

Tristan Sighting

When I was in Memphis last week, I could have sworn I actually saw Elvis. No really. And not just once--several times. In fact, there were at least two Elvises (is that a word?) cheering on runners at about mile twelve--but I was seeing double by then so it might have just been me. Even so, I am now convinced that Tristan Gylberd is more elusive than even the King. But, I have it on good authority that there will be an authentic Tristan sighting tomorrow evening at the Christmas Spirit Readers Theater (7 PM at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN). Tristan will be reading from his own work. He may also, I hear, try to slip in a work or two from his Texas kith and kin, Ben House. If he does, I hope it is this one, entitled The Incarnation:

I stumble at the thought of God sleeping on hay,
With scent of cow manure and cud-chewing blank stares;
Or of God twisting a tiny finger around the young mother’s hand,
As he nurses and drifts to sleep to her weary psalm.
I stumble to see the slow afternoon, the rhythm of planing wood,
Halting to fetch Joseph a saw.
Or figuring accounts of his father’s business
As God plans to change his career.
I stumble to believe that he fluffed and propped a pillow,
Then fell into sleep too deep for storm to waken;
Or to see God, dust covered, with tired feet resting;
Longing for a drink and talking to a cheap woman.
To be found wandering Roman territory without papers—
No letter from Heaven certifying his claim.
To be lumped with every radical with blazing eyes
And visions who portrayed the certainty of society’s fall.
A wine making, mud dabbing, temple brawler God,
Broke, homeless, surrounded by weak and foolish men.
God can be myth and metaphor and image;
A rock, a mountain, sun, light, or sea;
But the sweating flesh of a middle age man—
A descent that would often be heresied away.

I stumble at the thought of God incarnated—
But not drunken night stumbling down an empty road;
I stumble at the thought of God incarnated—
Intensely light blinded, fearfully secured, irresistibly drawn.

Monday, December 13

Readers Theater

This year I have had the opportunity to enjoy two things I have always wanted to be a part of: a chamber concert and an out-of-town marathon. Now, I get to enjoy a third: a readers theater. This Thursday evening, December 16, at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Bannockburn grad Amy Shore will be producing Christmas Spirit: An Evening of Stories, Songs, and Poems as a benefit for Joanna Grant's mission to Peru. It should be loads of fun. The actors are all wonderful, the scripts are great, the poems are delightful, and rumor has it that the elusive poet Tristan Gylberd will also be there to read some of his work! I can hardly wait! Y'all come, now. Y'hear?


Being new to this whole grandparenting thing, I somehow failed to grasp the supreme importance of figuring out what I ought to be called by my new grandson. Never mind that we are double-digit months away from actually hearing anything like words come out of his mouth--regardless of how stunningly advanced he might turn out to be. It seems that I must name myself right away. Actually, it is probably a sign of moral turpitude that I have yet to give the subject a good deal of anxious thought.

I tried to put a righteous spin on the whole affair: "I'll be content with whatever he decides to call me." Hmm. Nobody bought that one.

Karen and little David's other grandmother have not been so neglectful. They came up with creative names well-ahead of his blessed arrival. I, on the other hand, remain recalcitrant, much to their dismay!

Apparently though, I am not alone. It seems that most new grandfathers are equally focused on other things--like figuring out when the little tyke is ready for his first football, Titans jersey, and season tickets package. The evidence? Well, Karen googled (yes, it is a verb, and a useful verb at that) "grandmother names" the other day just to make absolutely certain that she had chosen her new moniker well. Dozens of sites showed up. Dozens and dozens. This granny naming business is quite a cottage industry. Practically a specialized hobby. Not so for gramps. When she googled "grandfather names" no sites showed up. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

Pretty much tells you everything you need to know, doesn't it?

Faith and Freedom

By 1774, American colonial leaders determined that the violations of their liberties necessitated severing ties with their mother country, Great Britain. Thus, orators like Patrick Henry began to effectively stir the populace and rally the grassroots to the cause of independence. But, they knew that a good deal more than rhetorical bravado was needed; the colonies would have to find experienced military leaders.

Fortunately, there were such men available. Arthur St. Clair of Pennsylvania, for instance, was one of the many experienced military men transplanted from Scotland. He was responsible for organizing the militias in for his own colony, as well as for the colonies of New Jersey and Delaware. His family was forced out of their ancestral Highland homeland after the defeat of the Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. He, however, enrolled in the British army to learn the military arts and strategy of his enemy. Coming to America while serving as a Redcoat in the Seven Years War, he chose to stay after the war and settle in one of the Pennsylvania communities established by Scottish immigrants. Detesting the English, he was delighted to be able to assist the colonial militias in establishing an effective defense against his hated British foes.

We must never underestimate the contribution that men like St. Clair made to the successful war effort. But surprisingly, it was the churches of America that provided the most effective field leaders and the strongest recruitment program for the expanding war effort.

In New England, ministers regularly delivered sermons on various occasions that addressed the political affairs of the day. The most common type was the Election Day sermon, which was preached every year in the presence of the governor and the newly elected members of the legislature reminding them of their duties as civil magistrates and the requirement that they act both virtuously and justly in their public office. These sermons were printed and widely distributed amongst the colonies, and had been delivered in Massachusetts and Connecticut since the founding of the colonies. The sermons preached on Election Day were accompanied by several other types of sermons for other events: the Artillery Sermon, which was preached when new militia officers were selected; Thanksgiving Day Sermons, which were delivered on special occasions marking an occasion of particular demonstration of God’s providence in national or international affairs, such as the repeal of the Stamp Act ; the Fast Day Sermon preached in times of calamity and were accompanied by public calls for repentance; and sermons preached annually to commemorate the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

In the years leading up to the War for Independence, the Election Day sermons were the primary vehicle used by the pastors in New England to articulate their political ideals and justify resistance to British oppression. The most famous of these, A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, was delivered by the Boston pastor, Jonathan Mayhew, on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I by the Puritan Parliament for treason. This address laid out the common themes of the Election Day sermons: rulers were to govern for the benefit of all the people, not to themselves; officials were bound by the same laws as other citizens and the requirement to obey God’s laws in the administration of justice; the rights of subjects to appeal to lower magistrates to retrain unlawful activity by government officers were affirmed; and the undeniable right to take up arms when life and liberty were threatened.

In the tumultuous days of 1775, Samuel Langdon, president of Harvard College, delivered a sermon that chastised the British government for trying to force the colonists to submit to their tyrannical rule. “Our King,” Langdon said, “as if impelled by some strange fatality, is resolved to reason with us only by the roar of his cannon, and the printed arguments of muskets and bayonets. Because we refuse submission to the despotic power of a ministerial Parliament, our own sovereign…has given us up to the rage of his ministers.”

The effect of these sermons did not go unnoticed by the British authorities. In 1774, the Governor of Massachusetts denied a request by the colonial assembly to convene a fast day, because he said it would only afford an opportunity for “sedition to flow from the pulpits.”

But religious motive for taking up arms was not limited to New England. In Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, both the Presbyterians and the Baptists were taking up the cause of freedom. Angered by the Quebec Act, which gave the Roman Catholics in Canada the religious freedoms that they were denied in their own colonies, the dissenting clergy had been active since the Great Awakening in developing political principles that were now being used to propel the colonies to prepare for war.

It isn’t hard to understand how these pastors grew as influential as they did. In New England, the Congregationalist clergy were from the most well respected families in the area. The Presbyterian ministers further south were generally the most educated men in their communities. The prominent Lutheran pastor of Pennsylvania, Henry Muhlenburg, wrote in his journal about the reasons for the Presbyterians success: “This progress is due to the fact that they have established seminaries in various places, educate their own ministers, keep strict discipline, and tolerate no ministers except those who have good moral character and the ability to speak, and who are content with small salaries and able to endure hard work. Those denominations here which do not have these characteristics, but just the opposite, are consequently decreasing and making room for the Presbyterians.”

The massive waves of Scotch-Irish immigration up until 1775 flooded all of the colonies with adherents of the Presbyterian faith. Representing one of the largest people groups in America, they had built numerous communities in virtually every colony and developed extensive networks to keep in contact with one another, but their presence was particularly felt in Virginia. Here Presbyterian churches sprung up like wildflowers, with fiery pastors, many of whom fled from their homeland because of religious and political persecution by the English. It was in one of these churches that the young Patrick Henry would listen to the fervent sermons of Samuel Davies to learn and develop his own passionate rhetorical style.

By the time Davies left Virginia there were many younger Presbyterian pastors to take his place. Having graduated from the Log College and the College of New Jersey, these men were instructed not only in religious studies, but in civil matters as well. There they learned about the natural law established by God that governed the universe and the affairs of men, but also the political theories of the leaders of the Reformation. Traveling up and down the backwoods of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and Georgia, these itinerants preached against the Parliamentary claims of absolute power and the rights of citizens to punish government officials that violated both the written law and the law of God. Reminded of their Scottish Covenanter ancestors that had paid with their lives in defense of their liberties, Presbyterian ministers, like Alexander Craighead, John and Samuel Blair, Samuel Finley, John Rodgers and Alexander McWhorter, encouraged their congregations to take up arms for the sake of their freedoms that were under attack once again by the British government.

As hostilities increased and preparations were being made for war, the Baptists became important allies for the leaders of the resistance. It was no wonder, for up until 1775 the Baptists were actively persecuted in the colonies. Patrick Henry had to defend many of their ministers against Virginia authorities. Their services were frequently disrupted by angry mobs and their clergy were regularly horsewhipped or had their tongues nailed to posts for preaching without government licenses. They rejected the dancing, drinking and gambling that were commonplace in gentry society, and they believed in the equality of all their members. Their entire lifestyle was a rejection of British culture.

Their growth was explosive: in 1769, there were just seven Baptists churches in Virginia; by 1775, there were 54. As the opening shots of the War for Independence were fired, the Baptist leader, Isaac Backus, would appeal to his congregation to take up arms to defend their freedoms, noting that nothing less than their fundamental freedom to worship as their consciences dictated was at stake.

By April 1775, the clergy of America were not only solidly behind the defensive efforts of the colonial leaders, but they were leading the charge against British oppression. In their sermons, they called for their congregations to take action and encouraging them to “obey God rather than men.” Many pastors would leave their pulpits and take up arms themselves and lead the men of their congregations into battle. In the opening days of the conflict, the motto “disobedience to tyrants is obedience to God” seemed to be uttered by every American speaker and writer without the slightest hint of embarrassment that colonial religion was shaping their politics. Everyone of all religious beliefs knew that faith in the Judge of all Nations was necessary now that the colonies were poised on a dark and deadly threshold with nothing less than their life and liberties on the line.

When the news of the battles at Lexington and Bunker Hill arrived in the surrounding communities, Alice Baldwin writes in her New England Clergy and the American Revolution, that parson after parson left his parish and marched hastily toward Boston. “Before daylight on the morning of April 30, 1775, Stephen Farrar, of New Ipswich, New Hampshire, left with ninety-seven of his parishioners. Joseph Willard, of Beverly, marched with two companies from his own town, raised in no small part through his own exertion. David Avery, of Windsor, Vermont, after hearing the news of Lexington, preached a farewell sermon, then, outside the meeting-house door, called his people to arms, and marched with twenty men. On his way he served as captain, preached, and collected more troops. David Grosvenor, of Grafton, left his pulpit and, musket in hand, joined the minute-men who marched to Cambridge. Phillips Payson, of Chelsea, was given credit for leading a group of his parishioners to attack a band of English soldiers that nineteenth day of April. Benjamin Balch, of Danvers, Lieutenant of the third-alarm list of his town, was present at Lexington and later, as chaplain in army and navy, won the title of ‘fighting parson.’ Jonathan French, of Andover, Massachusetts, left his pulpit on the Sabbath morning, when the news of Bunker Hill arrived, and with surgical case in one hand and musket in the other started for Boston.”

Thus it was that the great experiment in liberty we know as America, was birthed in the churches of our great land.

Wednesday, December 8


I am currently in Grandpaland--that glorious state several hours west of Dreamland, around the corner from Lalaland, and just this side of Beulahland. I am loving it here. And the company is great--my son, now a proud pappa, his dear wife, a very beautiful mom, my daughter, a doting aunt already, my wife all aglow as the newly dubbed "Nanna," and of course, the main attraction weighing in at seven pounds and eight ounces, Joel David Grant, Jr. who will be known as "David." I've got the first few photos posted at the Picture This section of the website.

Monday, December 6

Wounded Knee Update

I had a great time--in every sense of that phrase--at the St. Jude Marathon and Half Marathon this past weekend. Karen and I stayed right across the street from the beautiful AutoZone Baseball Park in downtown Memphis where the race started and finished. So, we were able to soak up the atmosphere of the event for two full days, meet runners from all over the country, and visit with some of the patients and families at St. Jude Hospital. It was great. Thanks to all who prayed for me, encouraged me, and supported me in my effort to raise funds for children's cancer research and treatment. My feet, my ankles, and of course my knees are still a little sore, but I am already planning my next one! We've posted a few of the photos Karen took at the finish line in the Picture This section of this blog--so, you can see the scene for yourself!

Though this run is over, it is still possible to give to the remarkable work of St. Jude Children's Hospital. You can even pledge online!

Thursday, December 2

A Great Christmas Gift

This morning after my lecture at FCS, my students presented me with an amazing gift. They knew I was running this weekend in the St. Jude Marathon in an effort to raise funds for the cancer research and treatment there in Memphis. So they passed a hat and raised $250. I am so grateful, so moved. Now, I really am running with great purpose! Want to join these students in being one of my sponsors? All donations go to the remarkable work of St. Jude Children's Hospital. You can even pledge online!

Wednesday, December 1

Speaking of Jack

Chuck Colson's BreakPoint Commentary is often the most insightful--and inspiring--thing I read each day (a recording of the daily column is also broadcast on radio stations nationwide). A couple of days ago, on the anniversary of the birth of C.S. Lewis, Colson and his very gifted editorial team sent out a particularly provocative piece:

C. S. Lewis was born on this date (November 29) in 1898, and forty-one years after his death, one thing has become startlingly clear: This Oxford don was not only a keen apologist but also a true prophet for our postmodern age.

For example, Lewis’s 1947 book,
Miracles, was penned before most Christians were aware of the emerging philosophy of naturalism. This is the belief that there is a naturalistic explanation for everything in the universe.

Naturalism undercuts any objective morality, opening the door to tyranny. In his book The Abolition of Man, Lewis warned that naturalism turns humans into objects to be controlled. It turns values into “mere natural phenomena”—which can be selected and inculcated into a passive population by powerful Conditioners. Lewis predicted a time when those who want to remold human nature “will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique.” Sounds like the biotech debate today, doesn’t it?

Why was Lewis so uncannily prophetic? At first glance he seems an unlikely candidate. He was not a theologian; he was an English professor. What was it that made him such a keen observer of cultural and intellectual trends?

The answer may be somewhat discomfiting to modern evangelicals: One reason is precisely that Lewis was not an evangelical. He was a professor in the academy, with a specialty in medieval literature, which gave him a mental framework shaped by the whole scope of intellectual history and Christian thought. As a result, he was liberated from the narrow confines of the religious views of the day—which meant he was able to analyze and critique them.

Lewis once wrote than any new book “has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages.” Because he himself was steeped in that “great body of Christian thought,” he quickly discerned trends that ran counter to it.

But how many of us are familiar with that same panorama of Christian ideas “down the ages”? How many of us know the work of more than a few contemporary writers? How, then, can we stand against the destructive intellectual trends multiplying in our own day?

The problem is not that modern evangelicals are less intelligent than Lewis. As Mark Noll explains in his book
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, the problem is that our sharpest intellects have been channeled into biblical scholarship, exegesis, and hermeneutics. While that is a vital enterprise, we rarely give the same scholarly attention to history, literature, politics, philosophy, economics, or the arts. As a result, we are less aware of the culture than we should be, less equipped to defend a biblical worldview, and less capable of being a redemptive force in our postmodern society—less aware, as well, of the threats headed our way from cultural elites.

You and I need to follow Lewis’s lead. We must liberate ourselves from the prison of our own narrow perspective and immerse ourselves in Christian ideas “down the ages.” Only then can we critique our culture and trace the trends.

The best way to celebrate Lewis’s birthday is to be at our posts, as he liked to say—with renewed spirits and with probing and informed minds.

My Soldier

Manhattanville College in New York has launched a wonderful new program designed to connect citizens at home with soldiers deployed in Iraq and other hotspots around the globe. The boilerplate correspondence and support structure is easy and free. If you have desired to somehow put feet to your prayers, this might be a perfect program for you or your church or your Sunday School class or your small group to get involved in--so, check it out at the Manhattanville web site.