September 2008

An Amazing Book by Twin Brothers: Do Hard Things

The next generation stands on the brink of a “rebelution.”

With over 16 million hits to their website, Alex and Brett Harris are leading the charge in a growing movement of Christian young people who are rebelling against the low expectations of their culture by choosing to “do hard things” for the glory of God.

Written when they were 18 years old, Do Hard Things is the Harris twins’ revolutionary message in its purest and most compelling form, giving readers a tangible glimpse of what is possible for teens who actively resist cultural lies that limit their potential.

Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility, the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life and map a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact.

Written by teens for teens, Do Hard Things is packed with humorous personal anecdotes, practical examples, and stories of real-life rebelutionaries in action. This rallying cry from the heart of revolution already in progress challenges the next generation to lay claim to a brighter future, starting today.

When we lived in Brazil, we were amazed at how active in all area of the Brazilian society the young people were. I have not yet read this book, but I agree with their thesis that we have for too long kept our young people from assuming responsibilities through communicating to them low expectations. The response to this book has encouraged me as much as anything else recently.


Separation of CHURCH and STATE: What It Does Not Mean

When we insist, as I have done on this blog, that the Church and State remain separate, no one should jump to the conclusion that that means there is no place in the national life for those who live by their faith-systems. Quite the contrary. To be have freedom of conscience means to exercise that freedom for the good of your neighbors and the well being of your nation and to make this contribution from the convictions which come from the depths of who you are.

I simply want to post one example of someone doing this that was sent to me by one of my beloved sons. This young man, twenty-five, is a deeply religious individual who opens his heart, as it were, for us to see something of an intense struggle. He is not of my faith-tradition. But I find myself understanding exactly his struggle, and I think you will too.

Joshua Casteel is a thoughtful all-American young man. After being a football star and his high school valedictorian, Casteel went on to West Point Military Academy. As a soldier, he was sent to serve at Abu Ghraib. Working side by side with private contractors who made six figures Casteel began to question the role of private contractors in a war zone: “… over the course of my stay in Iraq it was just day after day after day, grappling with going to mass and taking, you know, the body and blood of Christ into my mouth and then going back to the interrogation room and interrogating five breadwinners who had been taken from a single home and wondering what their family was doing for food while I was eating food prepared by private contractors…”

To see the video of his twenty minute testimony go HERE


 Once we choose to deliberately set our own cherished orthodoxy into the background and concentrate on celebrating our unity, we will find a rich and varied treasure chest in the traditions of other Christians. Perhaps at this point I need to make an apology to those who are not a part of the Western tradition, especially Anglo Saxon and white. I am very aware that there are rich resources outside the of those usually posted on American blogs. Having speant years in Brazil, I have learned how limited our own life experiences are and how much we need to deliberately seek out those beyond our own horizons. In a limited way I have tried to include some of those both on my Blogroll and in my E4Unity toolbox as well as on the Saints Gallery pages.

I have found a rich supply in the Liberal wing of the American churches, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, which I am afraid, has been greatly ignored by Evangelicals. One example is Karl Barth himself. I have learned much from him and other outside my own tradition in regards to Christian unity. Here is a small excerpt from a study on Barth’s concept of the Preaching role of the Christian minister:

“The positive factor in the new development was this: in these years [the 1920s] I had to learn that Christian doctrine, if it is to merit its name, and if it is to build up the Christian church in the world as it needs to be built up, has to be exclusively and consistently the doctrine of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the living Word of God spoken to us men.  If I look back from this point on my earlier stages, I can now ask myself why I did not learn this and give expression to it much sooner.  How slow man is, especially when the most important things are at stake!… My new task was to rethink everything that I had said before and to put it quite differently once again, as a theology of the grace of God in Jesus Christ…  I have discovered that by concentrating on this point I can say everything far more clearly, unambiguously and simply, in accordance with the church’s belief, and yet far more freely, openly and comprehensively that I could even have said it before.  In the past I had been at least partly hindered, not so much by the church tradition as by the eggshells of a philosophical system.” – from PREACHING and BARTH


For those not familiar with Karl Barth and his contribution to the Church, here is an excellent place to BEGIN




If you’ve been observing Christianity for any time at all, you will have noticed all the divisions that have resulted from schism. This is nothing new, in fact the tendency was already evident within the Biblical narrative- in New Testament times. The sectarian spirit which is now in full bloom, can be a major barrier to the full realization of the Unity which is inherent in the Body of Christ-God’s new creation. But it doesn’t have to be a barrier; it can be instead a great source of strength in diversity if we can only recover the fulness of God’s original design. It is, among other things, a question of desire and deliberate choice to be obedient to God and to live by faith.

One thing should be abundantly clear by now: all of the various claims to “orthodoxy”, or “the right doctrine on paper” as Horton says in his previous essay, can not possibly have any legitimate claim on the universal Church. If we would all just dwell on that reality alone until it became undeniable to all, we would then be ready to confront the enormous challenge of agreeing to put our version of “orthodoxy” in the place of distant second to God’s Orthodoxy. No, I’m not going to tell you what that is, I only will tell you that it exists and does not equal any one that is out there “on paper” nor is it in any way “the sum of the parts”.

Here is William Dell speaking about the strength of the Christian which is the gift and function of Christ’s Spirit, who alone creates and nurtures (sustains) this Unity-

“And this unity of believers is their strength; and when GOD shall take away all prejudices, suspicions, jealousies, particular ends and interests, divisions, separations, and schisms, that are among his own people, and the people of GOD shall be reduced into this blessed unity among themselves, and the Lord be one, and his name one, among them all, then shall the church also be of invincible power.”

” So that all they that strive with it shall perish; and all they that war against it shall be as nothing; yea, then shall the Lord make the Church as a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth, and it shall thresh the mountains,” (that is, the kingdoms of the world,) ” and shall beat them small, and shall make the hills,” (that is, the lesser common-wealths,) ” as chaff.”

“But till the churches of GOD attain to this unity, it shall not do any excellent thing, it shall not work any notable deliverance in the earth, neither shall the inhabitants of the world fall. When the Spirit of GOD shall be a Spirit of unity in the faithful, and shall heal all the sad dissensions that are now between them, then also shall it be a Spirit of admirable power in them. ”      – William Dell, Christ’s Spirit: the Christian’s Strength

WHAT is it? And WHO gets to define it ?

Ah, there’s the rub, as they say!

Orthodoxy means different things to different people. Orthodoxy as quoted in the previous piece by Michael Horton means a specific form of Calvinism, for that is basically what The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and those who produce Modern Reformation are all about: Reforming the American Church by calling us all back to that historical version of the Christian faith. There is a great deal of excellent fuel for the fire that we all desire in the form of true God-sent reformation and revival of the churches, in this tradition, their pastors and theologians.

E4 Unity advocates for this very thing, that is a God-sent healing and wholesomeness of His churches. I have said that this will bring the greatest blessing to this old world of ours and untold power in dealing with the terrible plights of humankind today; healthy, churches full of mature believers living not in the flesh of Adam, but in newness of the Life which is in Christ. But my conviction of what Orthodoxy is differs radically from Horton’s. It may look very much the same to the untrained eye. I only mention it here because it involves a fundamental element of our dis-unity and one that absolutely must be addressed in God’s time in order for the churches to celebrate the reality of their unity in God’s new creation. My personal view of Orthodoxy is not worth defending here, at least not for now.

Just to show you how grateful to God I am for all the traditions of Christianity, and the esteem I have especially for the Puritan tradition I want to tell you about an incredible resource that you would do well to bookmark for later reading and consideration. Sinclair Ferguson has been an authority on the Puritans and has written a book on the theology/orthodoxy of one of the most influential, John Owen. It is exactly in keeping with Horton’s original post, an orthodoxy that is thoroughly lived out in every way. The book is called John Owen on the Christian Life.   But you don’t have to buy the book to taste and enjoy a sample of the rich Puritan spirituality that it is filled with. There is an article by Ferguson on-line for you to look through his trained eyes at Owen’s treatment of the Holy Spirit in the Life of Christ. 

I have read this article several times over the last several years and I highly recommend it to every friend of e4Unity. And oh yes, I can’t pass up this opportunity to ask a timely question: Do you think the American press has any idea of how different these evangelicals are from all others they lump together in a certain voting block- say from those associated with Sarah Palin?

Michael Horton, editor-in-chief of MODERN REFORMATION magazine, writing the “Final Thoughts” for the recent September/October issue makes the statement that orthodoxy has always been risky business for the Biblical Christian. This essay has given me new hope. I quote it here at length and think you’ll agree, that in the midst of the present heated debate, we all need to ponder this reality of being

“in the world” and “sent to the world”, while not “loving the world”.  

The Risk of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is risky business. The choice before us, or any generation is not whether we’ll be apostates but to which side of the front we will defect. We will be faithful either to the spirit of the age, delivered through its parodies of God’s Word and sacraments, or to the Spirit of Christ, whose reign brings true freedom.

Either we will surrender to the market, the state, utopian ideologies, pragmatism, and the therapeutic worldview that feeds our narcissism, or we will be called out of ourselves by the surprising announcement that God has accomplished our liberation from the guilt and tyranny of our sins in Jesus Christ.

Ours is not the first generation that has had to decide to fight on. The early Christians might well have survived and thrived in the Roman Empire under the Caesars if it were not for their narrow-minded conviction that Christ alone is Lord and the only Savior of the world. It is never hard to go with the flow. Where did we ever get the idea that orthodoxy is for conservatives?

Today, religious pluralism has become the new orthodoxy of the American empire. But let’s not forget that the civil religion of our supposed glory days was as threatening to the health and vitality of Christian orthodoxy as it was for the era of “Christendom” after Constantine. Postmodernism becomes an easy target for those looking for a easy way of lionizing or demonizing whatever time we happen to be living in by God’s appointment. Yet regardless of our time and place, we are living in that tension of “the present age”, defined by sin and death, and “the age to come”, inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and sending of His Spirit.

Even in circles where we affirm the right doctrine on paper, do our lives indicate to our spouses and our children that we cling to Christ alone for our salvation and hope rather than to the ephemeral fads and fashions of entertainment and marketing? Do our children know by the way we speak and pray at home, in formal and informal ways, that the truth changes the way we think, feel, and live in relevant ways?

Or do they have reason to conclude that orthodoxy stops at the level of assent? Does it change the way we relate to them and to others? Connecting doctrine and practice…has always brought fresh witness to the watching world and service to our neighbors.

“Like the Word that defines it, orthodoxy is “living and active”, God’s true and faithful speech that creates the world of which it speaks. Before we can live it out, we must hear it, receive it, be bathed in it, and fed by it”.



The present political environment has for some time included as never before the religious element. I view this as a necessary part of our national reality and have already spoken about the urgency of addressing it openly and with civility. At a critical time in the English Revolution, what we now enjoy as separation of Church and State was being debated before Parliament by giants such as John Milton. His side did not prevail, and soon England returned to the Monarchy, which among other things, placed the Church under the rule and power of the Crown, and brought men like Milton and John Bunyan prison time for their convictions, which was judged to be HERESY by the State Church.

But the brief freedom once tasted and thoroughly discussed was used to launch what has been called the Free Church movement (Baptists, Congregationists, and Quakers,among the best known) and was largely responsible for America’s founders to insure the Liberty of Conscience among the other basic liberties for all American citizens. Those who would in any way try to undo this separation simply do not understand history and specifically, English/American history of the 1600’s.


                                                          As a primer on the subject which I find incredibly applicable to our present age of confusion both in the churches and in the Nation as a whole, I submit that we can do no better than to read and study great classics such as this treatise by JOHN MILTON presented to Parliament in 1659. Only the dedication follows with the hope that you will get yourself a copy of the entire treatise which is available on the web.                                                                               

                                        I have prepared, Supreme Council, against the much-expected time of your sitting, this treatise; which, though to all Christian magistrates equally belonging, and therefore to have been written in the common language of Christendom, natural duty and affection hath confined and dedicated first to my own nation; and in a season wherein the timely reading thereof, to the easier accomplishment of your great work, may save you much labour and interruption: of two parts usually proposed, civil and ecclesiastical, recommending civil only to your proper care, ecclesiastical to them only from whom it takes both that name and nature.

Yet not for this cause only do I require or trust to find acceptance, but in a twofold respect besides: first, as bringing clear evidence of Scripture and protestant maxims to the parliament of England, who in all their late acts, upon occasion, have professed to assert only the true protestant Christian religion, as it is contained in the Holy Scriptures: next, in regard that your power being but for a time, and having in yourselves a Christian liberty of your own, which at one time or other may be oppressed, thereof truly sensible, it will concern you while you are in power, so to regard other men’s consciences, as you would your own should be regarded in the power of others; and to consider that any law against conscience is alike in force against any conscience, and so may one way or other justly redound upon yourselves.

One advantage I make no doubt of, that I shall write to many eminent persons of your number, already perfect and resolved in this important article of Christianity. Some of whom I remember to have heard often for several years, at a council next in authority to your own, so well joining religion with civil prudence, and yet so well distinguishing the different power of either; and this not only voting, but frequently reasoning why it should be so, that if any there present had been before of an opinion contrary, he might doubtless have departed thence a convert in that point, and have confessed, that then both commonwealth and religion will at length, if ever, flourish in Christendom, when either they who govern discern between civil and religious, or they only who so discern shall be admitted to govern.

Till then, nothing but troubles, persecutions, commotions can be expected, the inward decay of true religion among ourselves, and the utter overthrow at last by a common enemy. Of civil liberty I have written heretofore, by the appointment, and not without the approbation, of civil power: of Christian liberty I write now, which others long since having done with all freedom under heathen emperors, I should do wrong to suspect, that I now shall with less under Christian governors, and such especially as profess openly their defence of Christian liberty; although I write this, not otherwise appointed or induced, than by an inward persuasion of the Christian duty, which I may usefully discharge herein to the common Lord and Master of us all, and the certain hope of his approbation, first and chiefest to be sought: in the hand of whose providence I remain, praying all success and good event on your public councils, to the defence of true religion and our civil rights.

                                                                                       John Milton



You may be surprised, if not shocked, to see how this is playing out in RELIGIOUS RUSSIA, these days. Yep, Russsia. Our “godless” enemy of the cold war era & the main reason that President Eisenhower led congress to insert “under God” in our national pledge of allegience and on our money!


  The first Christians apparently had but one simple and telling term by which to refer to their project. They called it “The Way.” The Apostle Paul deplored the idea that the people of The Way should ever tolerate divisions within their midst. He raked the Corinthians over the coals for allowing schism to rend their fellowship (1 Corinthians 1-4 ), and he blasted those from the Pharisaical party who sought to divide the churches along ethnic lines.

He warned the Romans to watch out for schismatics and have nothing to do with them (Romans 16:17,18). He implored the Ephesians to see that Christ had broken down every barrier to true fellowship, and they should now be concerned to build one another up in the Spirit (Ephesians 2). There is but one Body, Paul insisted (Ephesians 4:4), and it is every believer’s duty to “work hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, my translation).

There is only one Way of salvation—by the grace of God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and one hope of our calling—that we might stand now and forever in the glory of God to the praise of His holy and exalted name. Thus, from the beginning, those who identified themselves as The Way were made to understand the importance of unity, oneness, collaboration, encouragement, and commonality. The first Christians—the followers of The Way—turned their world upside down for Jesus.

We, on the other hand, appear to have dumped our contentious, competitive, fragmented, and frenzied age upside-down on our own heads, making lots of noise and offering lots of activity before the watching world, but with disproportionately little in the way of lasting impact. Increasingly, the Ecclesiastical Highway is forced to run along the margins of society—which, in case we haven’t noticed, runs very near the ledge. Two thousand years after The Way burst onto the historical scene, its legacy has become a thousands-lane highway where people of varying communions putter along or race ahead, sometimes weaving in and out of traffic, but all the while looking out for their own safety above all. Most folks travel along politely enough, but there’s a fair amount of road rage along the great Ecclesiastical Highway, and plenty of abandoned cars litter the shoulder… more 


Were we not a little surprised at how religious topics suddenly have been very openly discussed in the political square? On a national media event the candidates were asked to respond to some specific questions. Among the most interesting was related to the existence of evil and the determination to defeat it. I have to say that I was impressed with Obama’s fuller response than I was with that of John McCain. McCain was short and direct: evil was Alkida and terrorism and he was committed to defeating it “over there” so that it would never be able to hurt us here in the U-S-of A.

Senator Obama’s answer was much more Biblical and in keeping with the world-view of the Apostle Paul. In his answer, he made it clear that evil was not limited to Alkida, not even to the terrorists. It included a number of different forms including the Aids virus in Africa that has caused such human tragedy and suffering. Then he said that evil was present in the cities and on the streets of America. Though he did not say directly, I think the clear message was there; evil cannot be defeated by military force. Sounds exactly like the Apostle to me.

“Concerning the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you…see that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves, and for all.” First Thessalonian letter.

“For the mystery of lawlessness  is already at work…the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” Second Thessalonian letter.

These two letters are generally thought to be among the Apostle’s earliest and go along way toward answering our original question. But please don’t take my word for it. Imitate the noble Bereans and do your own search in the Pauline scriptures this week-end. I’m glad the subject has come up in the run up to the elections.


In my Saints Gallery I pay tribute to three pioneers in Christian broadcasting and with no apologies, I want to call your attention to another religious program that began in July 1929. As I’ve said on this blog, if we want to understand oneanother’s faith system we must listen to those within that practice that system tell us their story.

The Mormon faith that has given us the highest quality religious music, has evidently given us the oldest continuous radio program.

My Favorite Mormon Blog