A helpful interview with Michael Sandel, author of “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,”

This is at After Words, a noncombative, intellectually inquisitive program. It explores how far capitalism can go as an economic model. To put it another way, can our society reach agreement of things it will not commodify? Is there anything wrong with paying inner city children to read or to get a C? Should people be able to take out life insurance on third parties as an investment? Is selling blood a good idea? Is altruism a real thing that we should seek to preserve in the face of market forces? The questions go on.

Sandel is a thoughtful Harvard prof. I use his videos and writings in my ethics class, as well as in philosophy.

Are the Neo-Puritans calling us back to the Gospel or is there another agenda?

Gospel is a good word. A Bible word. A Jesus word. A Paul word. Who wouldn’t want to be constantly called to the Gospel? It is our life, our daily food, the air we breath. (If I keep heaping up phrases this is going to sound like a song by Bread).

The number of books with Gospel in their title or as their focus is like a dam has burst.

The Explicit Gospel, Matt Chandler

Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Matt Chandler

Counterfeit Gospels, Trevin Wax and Matt Chandler

Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Tullian Tchividjian

Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, JD Greear and Tim Kelle

What Is the Gospel?  Greg Gilbert

Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson

The Gospel as Center, DA Carson

The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Jerry Bridges

The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith?, John MacArthur

The Naked Gospel: Jesus Plus Nothing. 100% Natural. No Additives. Andrew Farley

The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, NT Wright

God Is the Gospel, John Piper

In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life, Sinclair Ferguson

Gospel Clarity, Ligon Duncan

Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, CJ Mahaney

Getting the Gospel Right, RC Sproul

And then there are the conferences and organizations:

Together for the Gospel (T4G)

The Gospel Coalition

Of course, one would expect a lot of books, conferences and organizations with the word “gospel.” After all, Jesus is Gospel, Good News. And yet there is more going on here, a larger field of concern.

The Neo-Puritans are trying to recover the word for more explicit Calvinistic purposes, which they fairly believe to be the best way to explain what Gospel means. (In the words of one of their own, Benjamin Warfield, Calvinism is Christianity come to its own). What is really going on in some of these books is a fresh packaging of High Calvinism. No one is against the Gospel, but the vast majority of Christians continue to have problems with the Neo-Puritan equation of Gospel with the middle three letters of the TULIP acrostic: unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. They are also making a renewed effort for the Two Kingdom model of the church. In this model there are more opportunities for drawing a heavier line between the church and the world and fewer opportunities to confuse the two. The church in the Two Kingdom model is simply a carrier and steward of the simple Gospel message. The political, economic, racial, and social meanings of it are not first order business for the church. There is to be a very heavy line between world and church, not in the older fundamentalist way of legalism, but in the way of keeping the church out of the societal transformation business at the ecclessial level.

NT Wright and Scot McKnight are pushing back. Even though their books are not explicitly dealing with soteriology and the ordo salutis (the order of salvation), they are definitely concerned to demonstrate that Gospel should not be restricted to personal salvation but broadened to include societal transformation in which Jesus as Lord and King is establishing a kingdom with political, social and economic overtones. Caesar has been replaced by Jesus and through the church as salt and light announces a new state of affairs in which the world is being put to the right with God. The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord and King. How we are saved and brought into the kingdom is not itself the Gospel, though certainly its outworking.

What this spate of books from the High Calvinism camp means is that unless a more determinist soteriology is preached, which seems to naturally incline it to a two kingdom model, there is no real Gospel being preached at all. So while the general impression is given that this movement of books and conferences is a renewed call to Gospel believing, it is in fact a renewed call to Calvinism and a rejection of Evangelicalism’s Gospel. Of course, this is fair to do and an intellectually viable project. These things are up for discussion and reevaluation. But readers should be aware that these gospel books are not your familiar, old time call to the Gospel under the big tent. Some of them are a trumpet call to a particular version of the Gospel, one which has never fully captured the Christian imagination.

See my post A Rejoinder to Mack Stiles’ criticism of InterVarsity at 9Marks

Also see Scot McKnight’s review of Matt Chandler’s new book  The Explicit Gospel

Matt Taibbi on the Keiser Report talking about Gangster Banks

What banks and many in the financial industry get away with (Jon Corzine) is mob-like criminality. And the fact is that most Americans don’t even think that what they are doing is criminal. They think it is the way capitalism works.  Any business, left to itself, will create a monopoly and then change all the rules so that its monopoly and unreasonable profits are protected. So here we are at the “too big to fail” moment where banks are given legal space to steal.

I hear almost nothing from Christian publications about this. They are stuck on race issues. I wonder what would have happened if John Piper’s recent book, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, was instead Banklines: Your Money, Legal Theft and the Christian. Think anybody would buy it. Race sells. A case can be made that bank theft has done more damage in recent history than any racism. It just doesn’t feel as good to say it, and no one is going to read your book.

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone tracks this stuff. Below is his interview by Max Keiser at the 12:30 mark.

Also, see Taibbi’s post, Free $10 Million Loans For All! and Other Wall Street Notes. The game is rigged, folks. Who loses is already in – you.

I’m not sure some of the Neo-Puritans are really able to “get it” – Colson takes a dive

Tim Challies, a blogging machine, evaluates Colson’s legacy. For him Colson’s role in Evangelical Catholics Together is just too big of a black eye. In classic understatement Challies writes, “Don’t hear me say that Colson was a complete villain…” Complete villain? Villain? Are these words even to be used when discussing Colson’s legacy? Too much darkness in those words, too big of a hint of sedition and subterfuge, Screwtape like.

How about an honest difference? How about unnecessary accommodation? How about an unwise shortcut? But villain? Even if not a complete villain? Challies goes on to write,

At heart, ECT made the Reformation a mistake or an over-reaction and sought to draw Protestant and Catholic back together. It made little of the gospel, suggesting that there was no unbridgeable difference between the gospel of the Reformation and the gospel of Roman Catholicism. This had potential to do terrible damage to the church and its gospel witness. Remarkably, the obituary at The Gospel Coalition mentions ECT along with Colson’s other accomplishments as if it is substantially the same as Prison Fellowship. Most others do not mention it at all.

Some of the Neo-Puritans cannot comprehend that the straw they use to drink from the well that is Christ is not the only straw. They attempt, as do others, to do the best they can do to understand how salvation in Christ operates. In large measure, in a Reformation way, I am on their side. I remain convinced that my Arminianism is Reformed theology, not in the Theodore Beza sense or Turretin sense, for neither Beza nor Turretin speak for all of Reformed Theology. I continue to believe, as Wesley did, that classic Arminianism is but a hairbreadth of distance from classic Calvinism.  But exactly how Christ saves is not the exact thing as Christ saves. Sure, there must be content to the “how” or otherwise we are left with a crossless Christ. But to identify the Gospel in such a way that only a very few million across the globe are biblical “gospelers” is a circle too small. On the face of it, it can’t be true.

Colson pressed at the boundaries of that circle in a way that pointed to the saving Christ. I think the unintended consequence of Challies’ type of approach is to push people, not to Christ, but to a formula that the large swath of Christians, who deeply love Christ and trust in him alone for salvation, will see as a good faith effort to comprehend Christ but for all that only one of many efforts.

Challies can’t see it. And once again a Neo-Puritan rejects its humble place at the Evangelical round table.

John Cleese reads CS Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters”

This is a classic work of CS Lewis read by a classic media presence. The best of all combinations. Listening to an audio book read by someone whose voice grates or for any number of reasons does not do justice to the book is a serious misjudgment. Even if you do not listen to the rest of the book, you will always identify what you formerly believed to be a great book with an irritation. This cannot be good.

When I find a reader whose voice is “just right” I will look for other books he or she has read and purchase from that barrel. It ends up making the book more than a book. It becomes a companion, a conversation partner, a nice place to be.


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Chuck Colson is what we mean by Evangelicalism

Today I begin teaching a series at the Christian Formation hour at church on “I Am An Evangelical.” I am an Evangelical Christian, that is. Even the best of seminary educations and the most scholarly of all seminary profs could not convince me that Evangelical was too broad of a term and better left behind in order to find my way into what I considered a room too small. I am a Baptist, an Arminian Baptist. And yet I find in my heart a deeper identification that is primary to me – belonging to that great cooperative movement among Bible-believing Christians who teach the necessity of the new birth, hold fast to Holy Scripture as inspired of God and infallible, focus on the cross as the means of atoning for sin, and the continuing mandate to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth because without explicit faith in Christ all are lost.

I am an Evangelical because of men like George Whitefield and John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, the former two being Anglican and the latter a Puritan Congregationalist. And I am an Evangelical like Chuck Colson who passed yesterday at age 80, being struck by a brain hemmorhage while he was at the lectern. Through them Christianity burst beyond the bounds of denominationalism and the narrow confines of precisionist confessionalism and to transform nations.

In one of Whitefield’s more famous sermons, he asked:

“Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians?”

“No!” the people roared.

“Any Presbyterians?”


“Any Independents or Seceders. New Sides or Old Sides, any Methodists?”

“No! No! No!” the crowd shouted in reply

Whitefield called out, “Whom have you there, then, Father Abraham?”

Heaven replied, “We don’t know those names here! All who are here are Christians– believers in Christ, men who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony . . .”

Whitefield concluded, “God help me, God help us all, to forget having names and to become Christians in deed and in truth.”

This is my heart. I believe more than what all Christians agree is the core. I believe as much as I can about all that I can about Jesus Christ. I want to know and love more than I now know and love.

But as Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart, then take my hand.”

I extend this hand to the Roman Catholic laity, as Colson did and got large bruises for it, (particularly from RC Sproul and the Neo-Puritans who could never understand that Roman Catholics could be included in the Great Hallway of Faith),  who believe themselves to be cast solely upon Christ for salvation and love him wholly and completely, though the Council of Trent be, in my view, highly defective and damaging to assurance in Christ and clear views of justification and sanctification.

Colson represented the best of Evangelicalism, and his book, Born Again, is one of the most clear models of conversion that our 20th and 21st century spiritual literature has produced. His Prison Fellowship Ministries demonstrates the outworking of the love of Christ in the soul. Colson was a Baptist, as am I. He practiced a faith that was more specific and at the same time broader than a mere Evangelicalism. And yet he built coalitions for Gospel ministry beyond the narrow borders of denominations to stand as one before the dark night of western civilization.

Colson was the 20th and 21st centuries version of William Wilberfore, the Evangelical British politician who fought and won, on his deathbed, the great war against slavery. In many of the decisions I faced as a pastor and Christian, I often first asked, what would Colson do with this? He was focused enough to think biblically and thoroughly. He was no sentimentalist. But he was broad enough to seek the the whole tradition of Classic Christianity, orthodoxy, as it were.

One person has said that Colson was our Apostle Paul of modern times. I agree. As one of the elite he met Christ on his Damascus Road and did a 180. From Nixon’s White House to following Christ in prison and then living out his faith serving the most rejected and humbled of peoples, prisoners, here in America and across the globe.

I will reread Born Again soon as reminder of what happens when any man, any woman, any boy and any girl meet the resurrected Jesus as the Savior and Lord of all. Well done, Chuck Colson. May your tribe increase.

A New England site for you dog lovers

From the Boston Globe, 4/14/12

Founded by the late picture-book author-illustrator Stephen Huneck and his widow, Gwendolyn Huneck, Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury is a must visit for animal lovers. Huneck is best known for his series of picture books based on his black lab Sally (“Sally Goes to the Beach,” “Sally Goes to the Vet,” and “Sally’s Great Balloon Adventure,” to name a few) and for his singular woodcut artwork. Set on 150 acres on a private mountaintop and free and open to the public, Dog Mountain has hiking trails and ponds and visitors are encouraged to bring their dogs. The grounds also have a gallery and Dog Chapel, a churchlike space, where dog lovers can come to remember and celebrate pets loved and lost. A welcome sign at the door states: “All Creeds All Breeds No Dogmas Allowed.” (www.dogmt.com)