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LUTHER 500: Sola Scriptura

LUTHER 500

The 500th Year of Luther’s Reformation

The 15th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Fest

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 6-8, 2017

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


LUTHER 500:  Sola Scriptura

C. S. Lewis recognized that, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to making certain mistakes.” We’re all stuck in our own age, the only age we experience. So, it’s easy to miss where we’re mistaken – especially as we flatter ourselves into assuming that we’ve progressed beyond all those dolts who came before us. Then, we ignorantly repeat the mistakes of the past.

So, said Lewis, we “need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that,” he knew, “means, the old books.”

This wasn’t a reactionary conclusion of a crotchety old professor sequestered up in an ivory tower of nostalgia. It’s our only option. One’s own era is inescapably circumscribed within its own setting and its own bent. So, it does make sense to try to rise above one’s own era’s inevitable ignorance and shortsightedness. We’re in need of a cultural diversity that goes deeper than the present tense.

Since no yet-to-be-written books are available, the only options to today’s books are old books. They’re free of our era’s biases and blind spots, but they have biases and blind spots of their eras. Fortunately, the old books come from many different eras.

Unfortunately, and for some time now in American universities, the study of old books, e.g., the ancient classics, Western history, as well as basic principles of rational thinking and logic, have been dropped with high handed disdain for the sake of our day’s pet peeves, prejudice and priorities. That censorship dogmatically deprives us of a diversity of viewpoint and perspectives beyond our own biases and blind spots.

These days, people get themselves anxious and then hostile if they’re presented with anything that questions or refutes their own presuppositions, their postmodern prejudices, and their politically correct and postured pieties. Sadly, since they lack any real ability at skilled reason and argument, they start and end with “Shut up!”

Still, there’s one collection of old books that’s stood the test of time and that’s linked to various eras, authors, languages and cultures, that presents a perspective that claims to rise above any one particular time and place, and, indeed, above all time and space. It’s been received for nearly 2,000 years to be the Word of God. This collection of old books has impacted more people than any other collection. It’s called, of course, The Bible. Read more →

LUTHER 500: Sola Gratia

LUTHER 500

The 500th Year of Luther’s Reformation

The 15th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Fest

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 6-8, 2017

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


LUTHER 500:  Sola Gratia

Well, what did you bring with you this afternoon – besides all that coffee you drank to stay awake? What did you bring with you? What I’m really asking is this: What did you bring with you when you came into the world?

When you came together in your mother’s body, when one of your father’s millions of sperm made it into your mother’s egg – and then and there, you were! – what did you bring with you? The truth is, on your arrival, you brought nothing that you hadn’t been given. And, that’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

What were you given? Gifts galore! And those gifts keep on giving. That’s a given, too. That’s God’s grace.

You arrived packed with protection and promise in your DNA – a random mix of your parents’ genes. They, in their turns, decades before you, inherited their genes from their parents. Their parents inherited theirs from their parents, and so on, back down through the distant and now long forgotten past, probably beyond the seas.

That past, though, is here and now, in you, personally. You got it as a gift. You didn’t earn it. You didn’t intend it. You were totally oblivious to all of these gifts that came wrapped in the gift that’s you. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

In your blissful oblivion, your mother gifted you by keeping you safe, “hooped in her ribs and staved by her spine”, in words by Marilynne Robinson. And you escaped what’s forced on over three thousand pre-born Americans each day, whose lives in this world are cut short. Your life was left as a gift to live out in this world. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

In your mother’s infancy, her tiny ovaries held some two million immature eggs, follicles. By the time she reached puberty, she still had around 400,000 of those follicles. With every menstrual cycle, she lost a thousand, and still, around 400 matured into actual eggs. You, in part, came from among those two million follicles and then from among those 400 eggs. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace.

And even with the more than three million differences between your unique genome and everyone else’s, you nonetheless share 99.9 percent of your DNA with everyone else – even with those in this room! So, be nice. We’re genetically connected with each other – as Scripture, rather more poetically put it long ago: “God made all of us of one blood to inhabit the earth”. (Acts 17:26) And it’s all a gift. That’s a given. That’s God’s grace. Read more →

LUTHER 500: Sola Fide

LUTHER 500

The 500th Year of Luther’s Reformation

The 15th Annual Evangelicals Concerned Preaching Fest

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, October 6-8, 2017

An Introductory Lecture and Three Sermons

Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


LUTHER 500:  Sola Fide

Luther had tried for so long to appease a “Christ” he’d been taught to dread as his final Judge who’d send him to Hell. Sensing that he’d never been able to appease this “Christ” and never would be able to appease this “Christ”, he felt excruciating frustration and anxiety. It was no wonder that he was angry with this “Christ”.

But finally, in his relentlessly searching of Scripture detached from all of the distracting encrustations of the dogma of medieval Rome, Luther found the original Good News in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul cites the prophet Habakkuk and he writes: “In the Good News, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’.” (Rom 1:17; Hab 2:4)

Suddenly, Christ’s crucifixion in the place of sinners, for their salvation, made sense. Luther’s excruciating fears, frustration and despair were mercifully lifted in this profound biblical revelation.

That 16th-century term, “excruciating”, was from the Latin word for the cross where Christ experienced the excruciating ordeal of sacrificial atonement for our sins. These Scriptures revealed that, by faith, there was freedom in God’s free grace for all in Christ’s liberating us on the cross. Luther learned to trust in the crucified Truth Himself, Christ in his battered body, and in the risen Truth Himself, Christ in his resurrected body. This was the Christ he’d feared? Oh, no. This was the Christ he’d come to know and to love.

To Luther, this was the most radical and reviving revelation of his life. Yet this Good News of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross had been there in the Scriptures all along. Crucifixes were ubiquitous in the cathedrals, cloisters and chapels and even on the walls of peasants’ houses. People wore them round their necks and, for some three centuries, they’d fingered them with the beads of their rosaries. Innumerable relics of the so-called “true cross” were the focus of pilgrimages across Christendom. But the true meaning of Christ’s cross never had crossed Luther’s mind. Now, from Scripture, he couldn’t get the true meaning of Christ’s cross out of his mind. By God’s grace, he never would, and never did. Read more →

Immortal Intimacy: Where, When, Who, Why & What of Heaven

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1991, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at the University of Denver.

Copyright ©1991. Ralph Blair, 311 E. 72nd St New York, New York 10021


Peggy Lee sings of going to “the greatest show on earth” when she was twelve years old. She remembers:

“There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.”

And she recalls that:

“As I sat there watching the marvellous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to the circus?’
Then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks down by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
And then one day he went away
And I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t
I said to myself,
‘Is that all there is to love?’”

Have you ever thought like this? Remember your disappointment when the cartoon show flashed those three unwanted words: “That’s All, Folks!” Remember the emptiness late on Christmas Day, after all the presents had been opened and abandoned, and all the excitement that had raised expectations for weeks was gone? I’ve heard it for years in therapy: Is that all there is—to sex? to love? to career? to success? to rational living? to life? And if we don’t go deeper with such questions, we settle for superficial solutions. We sing along with Peggy Lee:

“Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze
And have a ball,
If that’s all there is.”

She goes on:

“I know you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it
Why doesn’t she just end it all.
Oh no. Not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes
And I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is?”

Peggy Lee and The Preacher of Ecclesiastes agree: all is vanity. But one responds with calls to reverence God and the other calls for a ball and booze. But the ball ends. Lust doesn’t last. Does anything? Well, after the hangovers we still fear the futility of life we sought to escape. Said Malcolm Muggeridge: “It would be a terrible prospect, wouldn’t it, to just go on and on and on. Everything is bearable because we die.” Yet who wants to die? We die against our will. We may pretend it’s “death with dignity.” There’s a nice lie: Dignified death—“Cold Obstruction’s apathy!” [Byron]. Read more →

RECORD: Winter 2017

(PDF version available here.)

The 2017 Evangelicals Concerned calendar includes our 30th Presidents Day Winter Weekend Bible Study, our 75th ConnECtion and our 15th Fall Preaching Festival. 

   The Presidents Day Weekend Bible study will be February 18-20 at The Turning Point at Kirkridge Retreat in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.

ConnECtion2017 will be June 2-4 at The Nelson Lodge atop the mountain at Kirkridge.  Todd Komarnicki, film producer and Sully screenwriter, will keynote, as will actress Jane Bradbury, who’ll read from Amy Carmichael’s devotionals.  Ralph Blair will also speak.     

The Fall Preaching Festival, in grateful celebration of the Luther 500th, will be October 6-8 at Ocean Grove on the Jersey Shore.

Gay marriage and an Islamist’s mass murder in an Orlando gay club ranked 9th and 10th among lifetime events that Americans say impacted them most.  This Pew Research found that Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 slaughter was the event that most impacted Americans’ lives.

Christian country superstar Carrie Underwood has voiced wholehearted support of marriage for same-sex couples.  In January, she gave an impromptu performance at Passion 2017, a major 3-day evangelical event where over 55,000 members of the collegiate generation packed the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  Afterwards, she tweeted: “What an incredible night!  Thanks for letting me be a small part of it!”

But Wesley Wildmon, a heterosexually married grandson of the founder of the Religious Right’s American Family Association, wasted no time in sending out his open letter publicly protesting her presence on stage.  AFA’s 27-year-old Director of Outreach blasted the evangelical organizers of Passion 2017 for permitting the appearance of one who supports “those who practice homosexuality”.

Jen and Brandon Hatmaker are two more evangelicals who support marriage for same-sex couples.  Co-stars of a popular real-life family series on HGTV, they’ve now learned how very quickly there can be a costly backlash to such empathy and support.

Jen’s public comments came in response to a question from Religious News Service’s Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical who is same-sex attracted though committed to celibacy.  He asked if she supported marriage for same-sex couples and she replied: “I would never wish anything less for my gay friends”.  She explained, “Just like the rest of us, [they] need marriage support”.  Her husband then defended the position on Facebook.  Ever since, bookstores, e.g., Southern Baptist LifeWay Stores, have refused to carry her books.

Christianity Today’s Kate Shellnutt notes that Jen’s position is consistent with her overall approach, though applying it to same-sex issues was too much for many other evangelicals to accept.  Shellnutt says: “Jen is very sensitive to the outsider … she is so passionate about including others: cultural outsiders, the homeless, racial minorities, people who have been hurt by the church”.  She adds that Hatmaker’s recent comments only “clarify and update what she’s said previously.”

Read more →

Evangelism: Proclaiming God’s Good News—with every bad -ism crossed out

Evangelism: Proclaiming God’s Good News—with every bad -ism crossed out

by Dr. Ralph Blair
This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1994, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Introduction

Have you ever seen the guy who goes to ball games with his John 3:16 sign? I’m sure that at least you lesbians have. You gay men may have been watching a different channel. The John 3:16 guy gets into trouble with sports stadium officials. When they say his evangelism violates “good taste / bad taste policy,” his lawyer gets a judge to say that the policy violates free speech rights. When the Cincinnati Reds then responded by prohibiting all signs that were not related to baseball, he showed up with a sign that said: “Go Reds! John 3:16.” The Reds management then reacted by banning all non-commercial signs, claiming thereby “to protect the family-oriented atmosphere.” The supposedly “family-oriented” beer and cigarette signs remained and the John 3:16 guy has gone elsewhere. According to his lawyer: “It’s unfortunate that the Reds have to take the fun out of baseball.”

Did you ever think of evangelism as fun? To say it’s fun may be to trivialize the gospel, but fun is at least a hint of the joy that is the good news. Too much evangelism is so dreary or full of self-righteous spite and fright that it’s anything but fun—anything but good news. Why shouldn’t it be a real pleasure to proclaim the truly joyous news that “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that no one need be destroyed but, by relying on him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life?”

Last September the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board estimated that 46.1 percent of the folks down in Alabama are going to hell. Now how did that Mission Board know what Paul says all “creation is eagerly waiting to have revealed” only on the last day? (Rom 8:19) Well, the Board did a county by county statistical analysis. They subtracted the Southern Baptists from the population of each county and then estimated the “unsaved” in the remaining churches on the basis of how closely those groups’ beliefs matched Southern Baptist doctrine. Why did they do this? It wasn’t for idle curiosity. It wasn’t only to look good in their own eyes. It wasn’t in order to look bad in the eyes of southern Methodists, Roman Catholics or Crimson Tide secularists over at the University. And it wasn’t in order to be ridiculed by hostile national news media. It was in order to strategize for evangelism.

Last July, strategists from the Southern Baptist Convention, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other rightward religious efforts met in Colorado Springs—the antigay capital of America—to plan what they call “Assessment 2000: A Global Survey of the Unfinished Task” of world evangelization. Read more →

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