Three ways to live

Which is your way?

This is where it had all begun

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 4:51 am on Monday, December 24, 2007

Bethlehem, December 24, the Christmas procession in Manger Square

Bethlehem. Greek Orthodox priests in high hats and festive robes in shades of gold and purple waiting in Manger Square for the arrival of the Patriarch on Christmas Eve. Waiting for the Archangel, who is the Patriarch, symbolizes waiting for the Messiah.

Evangelicals vs Eastern Orthodox vs Catholics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:52 am on Sunday, December 23, 2007
As you probably aware from my earlier posts, I am intensely interested in understanding the difference between major Christian denominations, in particular Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox and Catholics. I have a good resource of Eastern Orthodoxy from A. Kuraev, but even studying him I realized that it’s not that easy to understand where the boundaries lie.

So I was very happy to dug up a few jewels from Trevin Wax’s archives, who, it seems is interested in exactly the same question. 

Here is Trevin’s interview with two of his friends, one a convert from Baptists to Eastern Orthodox and the other exactly the opposite. Very helpful in understanding Evangelical vs. Eastern Orthodox divide.
And here are six written exchanged between Trevin and his Catholic friend, which helps to highlight the differences between Catholics and the rest.
I find these to be a much better way to understand the differences and similarities, compared to a dry list of theological issues. 

Are you sure you are saved? Part 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:26 am on Friday, December 21, 2007

Before I finally get into the book, I want to make one more important clarification concerning Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of salvation, without which everything else in the book will make little sense. Edwards was a devout Calvinist, hence believed that

  1. There is nothing you can do save yourself. God must draw you to Himself (doctrine of total depravity)
  2. At the point of true conversion Holy Spirit enters the person and begins its regeneration (sanctification) work in him/her.
  3. Just accepting the gospel and/or saying you believe in Jesus does not mean you are truly saved. The only proof of true salvation is that Holy Spirit started the regeneration work in you
  4. There is nothing you can do to lose your salvation, once you have been truly saved. Holy Spirit will always finish the work he started in you (doctrine of perseverance of the saints)

Let me also state that I consider myself Reformed and completely support these views. What’s interesting is that very often I hear people say they are Reformed or attend a church that adheres to Reformed doctrine, but pay only lip service to these beliefs. They may say, Oh yeah, of course we cannot save ourselves, only God can do it – by sending his son to die on the cross. But that is not what total depravity means, it means that no good moral behavior or saying you completely accept the gospel can guarantee your salvation. Salvation is fully of the Lord, to the degree that He decides who should be saved and who should not. Moreover, he decides this before you are even born and has a chance to do anything good or bad.

These doctrines do not bear many practical applications for everyday life. So what if you cannot lose your salvation – you still try to live a good life as commanded in the Bible (even though it is probably the Holy Spirit in you who urges you to do that). So what if God elects people to salvation – you would never know whom He elected anyway, so cannot pick and choose whom to proclaim the gospel to. But one important application of these doctrines is that there might be people in your church, right now, who have been attending as long as you did, who are not saved. Even scarier, there could be people in your bible study group, who are not saved. The scariest thought, maybe you yourself are not saved! How can you be sure?
Let’s find out what Jonathan Edwards can teach us in this matter.

Are you sure you are saved? Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:04 am on Thursday, December 20, 2007

Before getting into the book, let me clarify a few points:

  1. Many people give up reading Jonathan Edwards due to his convoluted way of writing and that’s a pity. Personally, I can handle his writings but still wish it could be simpler. However, I have decided to base these posts on a recent interpretation of the book by Sam Storms, entitled “Signs of the Spirit”. Basically, Sam rewritten the whole book removing some of the difficult language and convoluted parts but preserving, as much as possible, the original intention of the author.
  2. Concerning the title “Are you sure you are saved?”, Edwards clearly states in the book that there never be a time or system or standard of analysis that would guarantee foolproof answer to the question. To think that we are able, without error, to determine who is a true believer and who is a hypocrite is clearly an arrogance. It was God’s design to reserve this knowledge for himself. Yet, not be able to obtain 100% assurance should not stop us from striving to get more knowledge and understanding of our salvation. 

Are you sure you are saved? Part I

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:43 am on Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A pastor of a small town church has noticed that non-Christians suddenly feel an urge to attend his church. At the same time the worship services are greatly enlivened, with more sincere praise and singing. Sometimes, the preacher would have to stop the sermon because of loud weeping and sobs. Visions and trances became commonplace. All of a suddenly, people get convicted of sin and of God’s love and mercy. Even many of those who are in town on business could feel the presence of something so attractive that they found it hard to resist. Many backslidden came back, people got converted on a daily basis and those who did went immediately to proclaim the good news to others.

Yet others became suspicious of the whole affair. A pastor of one of the most influential church in the region contended that religion was primarily a matter of the mind, not emotions, and was characterized by self-control and moral behavior.

Sounds familiar? When I first read this, it reminded me of a Toronto revival, which was labeled as a demonic deception by many in the conservative Christian world. Yet, the story is about the first Great Awakening revival (1740-1742), the small town pastor is Jonathan Edwards, one of most famous puritan theologians of all times, and the critic is Charles Chauncy.

Yet, as always happens, revival has ended and Spirit withdrew its power. Surprisingly, many people who were just so excited about their new found faith started to fall away. So, maybe Chauncy was right and emotions cannot be trusted? Yet there were others who kept their faith. What would you do if you were Edwards? Staunchly defend you revival as authentic or admit your mistake?

Edwards did neither. Instead, he wrote a book, “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections”, in which he addressed two important issues that arose in relation to his experience. First, what is the nature of true religion? Is it only about the mind or our emotions also play a role? Second, by what criteria can one distinguish a true and false Christian, a person who has been an object of Spirit’s regenerative work from another subjected to Spirit’s non-saving activity?

These questions are something that have been on my mind for a long time. In the next series of posts I want to slowly walk through the Edwards’ book and help us apply its lessons to our lives.

Why evangelize?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:09 am on Saturday, December 15, 2007

Here is an excellent find by Trevin Wax, an excerpt from a sermon by Paris Reidhead on what should motivate us to do evangelism. I have blogged about something similar in my earlier post – God’s glory should be the main motivation for everything we do. But Paris puts it in much clearer terms.

You can read the whole sermon here.

Bible Browser

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:33 am on Friday, December 14, 2007

Here is another cool product from OpenBible.info, Bible Book Browser. It’s technology is quite similar to web albums appeared in the recent MacOS update. Check it out!

Do YOU steal Tim Keller’s ideas?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 11:24 pm on Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Evangelical churches and ministries across America are reeling today after a lower court in Manhattan found the defendants guilty in the “U.S. vs. ‘Rev. John Smith'” sermon sharing case.

On April 1, 2007 the justice department filed charges against thousands of pastors and seminary students across America. Due to the large number of parties involved, the justice department simply designated the defendant as “Rev. John Smith” to represent the whole.

At the center of the suit are the sermons and writings of Rev. Timothy J. Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. After an intensive three year investigation the justice department uncovered an extensive network of pastors, seminary students and other church workers who downloaded hundreds of sermons by Rev. Keller, distributed them and preached them regularly in churches across America.

Read the whole thing here.

Guilty as charged. Maybe I should shut down my blog before authorities get to me… :)

Update: Well, just want to clarify that this article is intended as a joke. I know it’s sounds very realistic, but it’s not real.

Matt Harmon on New Perspective on Paul

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 4:00 am on Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Have you heard about New Perspective on Paul or NPP? I haven’t until about half a year ago, when one of my friends brought the subject up. Since then I spent considerable amount of time trying to understand the issue and still cannot claim I am there.

If you are like me, you might find a series of posts (part 1,2,3) by Matt Harmon very useful. His is probably the best summary I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many). I believe he plans more posts, so keep watching.

Wondering where I stand? Well, I have not made up my mind yet. I do think it is an important issue. It does pose danger to traditional understanding of justification by faith. Should we utterly reject it as nonsense? I can’t; too many very established scholars support it. And as D.A. Carson, an expert in the subject, pointed out during recent talks I attended, “Not everything in the New Perspective on Paul is wrong”. I agree with many that in trying to correct some mistakes of the “traditional” doctrine NPP probably went too far in the other direction. Yet, it does contains some truth.

I am quite excited that we are starting on book of Romans next month with our bible study group. Romans is central to the doctrine of justification by faith and NPP scholars tried hard to re-interpret it in the light of their findings. So it will be a great opportunity for me to learn about NPP, as in addition to 4-5 traditional commentaries on the book I also own a Word Biblical Commentary volume written by James Dunn, a well-known NPP theologian. Watch this space.

Twelve quotes by C.S. Lewis

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:09 am on Sunday, December 9, 2007

Raffi Shahinian, a blogger I have just stumbled upon, mentions his 10(+2) favorite C.S. Lewis’ quotes.

If I were to choose one out of these, it would be:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

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