Archive for September 24, 2010

Has The Reformation Died?

The ashes of reformation martyrs have grown cold.

In a recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland (pictured left) the pope was greeted as a hero. Throngs of admirers turned out to express their admiration for the bishop of Rome. Even the facebook statuses of many Scots reflected an overly irenic attitude to the theological pronouncements of the pontiff.

I will be the first to admit that Benedict is a good man. He holds many moral positions of which I am in full agreement. There has to be, however, a clear understanding that the Roman Catholic church does not teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This should be especially felt in a place like Scotland where the “church” laid low many of its ministers of the gospel.

If you take a short train ride north of Edinburgh across and around the Firth of Forth you will arrive in the small town of St. Andrews. Now while this quaint seaside town is well known for its golf it should also be noted for its church history. On one of my first trips to the town, I saw three monuments that have remained in my memory many years later. The first two are simple cobblestone letters spelled out in the street. One set of letters spells GW (pictured top left) and the other PH (pictured center left). The GW stands for George Wishart and the PH stands for Patrick Hamilton. Time does not permit me to give an account of the lives of these men sufficed to say it was there allegiance to the gospel against the church of Rome that paved the way for the reforming work of John Knox and led to the reformation of Scotland. Their actions also got them burned at the stake by the “church” and these letters mark the spots in St. Andrews where they died. The third monument (pictured bottom left) is often seen but rarely understood. If you have ever watched the British open you have probably seen the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient golf club and standing beside it is an obelisk that is shaped like the Washington monument. This memorial is to all of the protestant martyrs that were killed in St. Andrews in defense of the gospel. The same gospel that the Roman Catholic church to this day refuses to acknowledge or teach.

I am saddened that men like Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart should be forgotten and the pope of Rome should be adulated. I hope that that same gospel fervor that coursed through the veins of our forefathers would re-invigorate us to live according to God’s Word. I hope that the Reformation that brought light into darkness has not died and our future with it.

John Ross of Reformation 21 Blog has a parallel post entitled, Auld Reekie, reeks no more. I encourage you to pay it a visit.

Confession Or Isolation?

God uses community to help us confess and gain victory over sin.

I recently had the privilege of seeing a very funny and yet very haunting movie. The name of the film was Get Low. It stars Robert Duvall (pictured left) as the lead character, an old hermit named Felix Bush. The film, supposedly based on a true story, depicted how Bush came into town after 40 years of solitude and asked the local undertaker to plan a living funeral. Bush wanted to have his funeral while he was still alive. You can guess how the humor of such a request could be played out on the big screen especially when the undertaker is played by Bill Murray.

I wont spoil the plot but the movie makes many good points. One of the main points that stuck with me as I left the theater is how Bush had to suffer loneliness and solitude needlessly for 40 years because he refused to confess his sins. Ultimately it is up to the individual to confess and repent of their sins but there is also direct bearing on community. God has designed His body to be the means by which we confess and find healing for sin, but often times we care more about the image we project than the vulnerability that we need.

In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states the case with great clarity:

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

Bonhoeffer goes on to say:

The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.

If we are not that confessional outlet for our brothers and sister in Christ, reminding them of grace and assuring them of forgiveness, then we have missed our calling. The community of faith is built on such confession and it is the reason why that so many believers (and not just people on the fringe mind you) are struggling with sin and isolation. We have to take up this charge and show vulnerability and strength for our brothers and sisters. For there is one sure promise that Bonhoeffer makes and that Felix Bush could have used all those 40 long years:

If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere.

Confession or isolation? Which will it be?

Sex Isn’t Selling

Sex is no longer selling. This is good and bad.

This article was written by uber-blogger Tim Challies and has been re-posted here in it’s entirety.

Several months ago, rather on a whim, I subscribed to Canadian Business magazine. It was one of those deals where I’d only pay a couple of bucks for the first 6 months and then the price would increase to normal levels. And for the first time ever, I actually went for it. But it’s worked out well; it’s quite a good magazine and I’ve been enjoying it. The very first article of the very first issue I received gave me a great starting point for a chapter in my book. That alone made it worth it to me.

This month’s issue features an article titled “Sex Isn’t Selling.” Of course it’s long been one of the truisms of marketing—sex sells. But this article contends that, for the first time in recent memory, sex is no longer selling. Sex no longer accomplishes what it once did; sex no longer piles up the profits.

The focus of the article is pornography and its coming decline. It seems that pornography has been unable to adapt to the realities of Web 2.0, realities that dictate that everything must be free. Or nearly everything. Porn producers are saying that they have seen revenue fall 80% over the past three years; Playboy is bleeding money and laying off staff; actors who were once paid $2000 a scene are now being paid just half of that; revenue for major distributors has fallen 30% in just the last year.

Pornography’s woes can partly be blamed on the economy—when people are in danger of missing a mortgage payment or are out of work, splurging on porn can be a bit of a stretch. But even more so, pornography has been victimized by a cultural shift. “The characteristics that once made sexual content a valuable commodity—the inaccessibility, the taboo—have evaporated. Cable television now offers naked vampires (HBO’s True Blood), naked gladiators (Startz’s Spartacus) and naked polygamists (HBO’s Big Love).” Such a change has been rather swift; it wasn’t too long ago that a movie like Basic Instinct was considered shocking and edgy; today it would barely make a ripple. “In 1995, Calvin Klein faced an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department on allegations its advertisements constituted child pornography; now, American Apparel can barely draw press coverage by using actual porn stars in porny poses in its ads.” The dirtiness of what made porn enticing, the allure of it, is now gone, lost in the background of a sexualized, pornified culture. That’s not to say that people don’t want sex and porn anymore—just that they won’t pay for it and that it won’t compel them to spend money. It’s become a boring kind of addiction or obsession, not a particularly interesting or exciting one.

There is a third factor cutting into porn’s profits and it’s the simple reality of Web 2.0—people want everything to be free and if it’s not, they’ll simply take it. We have grown accustomed to hearing that pornography is a business that grosses $10 billion a year in the United States. Pornographers say this is ridiculous; some suggest the actual number could be less than $1 billion. Not only is pornography pirated in a huge way, but it has also been unable to make the leap to Web 2.0. “Porn has been at the forefront of every modern leap from VCRs to the Internet, but Web 2.0, dominated by these tube and file-sharing sites, is the first technology in a century that pornographers have failed to exploit.” The industry has been forced to react by giving away more content for free which necessarily cuts into profits. There’s an old saying on the Internet: if you paid for porn, you flunked the Internet. This is more true today than ever. The new reality on the Net is that if it’s not free, people will either ignore it or pirate it. But they won’t pay.

This article in Canadian Business suggests that the porn industry is not only in decline, but in danger of imminent death. Unless it finds a way of reinventing itself, and doing so soon, it will go into eclipse. The dollars and the cents of it dictate a decline.

This is a good thing, obviously. Of course pornography itself won’t go away entirely. It’s too compelling, too alluring to just disappear. But it seems that, as with so many other areas, it will go from the realm of the professional to the amateur, from the big industry to the cottage industry. Many of us will cheer to see the industry crumble and fall apart.

And yet it’s not all good. What struck me as I read this article is this: I’m glad that the porn industry is struggling. I’m glad that they are going through particularly difficult times and I’m glad that people are beginning to forecast the end of the status quo. And yet I see as well that it is all happening for the wrong reasons. Pornography is suffering because of reasons related to morality, and yet it is a lower rather than a higher morality that is making the difference. It’s not that as a culture we are objecting to pornography on the grounds that it objectifies women or hardens the hearts of men. Rather, the culture has decided that it won’t pay for what it consumes and that it will take whatever it desires. And even worse, the culture has become so hardened to what used to be shocking, that no allure remains. “Sexual content has gone from scandalous to stale. It’s become the background noise of the culture.” Against the backdrop of all the smut around us, the mainstreaming of what used to be shocking, few consumers can muster outrage at much of anything.

In other words, pornography has succeeded so well that it has forced itself into decline. It has made sex so pervasive that it has become boring, so omnipresent that it no longer entices. It has no one but itself to blame.

Why Porn Shops Don’t Have Windows

From John Piper’s message Do You See the Glory of God in the Sun?

Do you know why there are no windows on adult bookstores? Or do you know why there are no windows on certain kinds of nightclubs in the city?

I suppose your answer would be, “Well, because they don’t want people looking in and getting a free sight.”

That’s not the only reason.

You know why? Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky.

You know why? The sky is the enemy of lust.

And I just ask you—you think back on your struggles. The sky is a great power against lust.

Pure, lovely, wholesome, beautiful, powerful, large-hearted things cannot abide the soul of a sexual fantasy at the same time.

I remember as I struggled with these things in my teenaged years and in my college years —I knew how I could fight most effectively in those days. And I’ve developed other strategies over the years that have proved very effective. And one way of fighting was simply to get out of the dark places, get out of the lonely rooms, get out of the boxed-in places, get out of the places where it’s just small me and my mind and what I can do with it, and get out where I am just surrounded by color and beauty and bigness and loveliness.

And I know that when I used to sit in my front yard at 122 Bradley Boulevard with a notepad in my hand a pen and trying to write a poem—at that moment my heart and my body were light years away from the sexual fantasizing I was tempted by again and again in the late-night, quiet, secluded, in-house moments.

There’s something about bigness, there’s something about beauty, that helps battle against the puny, small, cruddy use of the mind to fantasize about sexual things.

And then turn it around: it works this way too. We know from experience that if we give way to sexual fantasies and yield to lusts and dwelling on unwholesome things, our capacities for seeing the sky are cut in half. And then cut in half again. And then cut in half again—until you’re just a little worm on the ground as your language and your mind is nothing but smut. It can happen to anybody!

And so I just commend to you: don’t let that happen. Battle lust—among all the other weapons that you’re given in Scripture—battle it with the upward glance of the magnificent blue and the thunder and the lightning and the sunrises and the sunsets and the glory of God. And say to yourself, “If I give way in this hour to that kind of thinking, I won’t enjoy this, I won’t have a large heart, I won’t have a capacious mind, I won’t be a noble person—I’ll just be an old gutter person.” Preach to yourself like that! And then give yourself over to the ministry of the sky. And let it help you free from lust.

HT: Justin Taylor