Talks

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

The 2016 Evangelicals Concerned

Ocean Grove Preaching Festival

Columbus Day Weekend

October 7-9, 2016

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

“1516, 1616, 1716, 1816, 1916”

John Foxe   John Owen   John Berridge   Francis Asbury   J. C. Ryle   Eugenia Price

 Including Three Sermons by Dr. Ralph Blair
“Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One”, “Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us” and “Participating in His Providence”

Dr. Ralph Blair, Speaker

(PDF version here)

Next year is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On the last day of October, 1517, a 33-year-old Wittenberg University theologian, Martin Luther, took his courageous public stand for the Gospel. He posted ninety-five arguments against what he contended were Rome’s unbiblical teachings, such as the papal “indulgences” that he saw as simply scams for enriching the church hierarcy through fiancial payments for the forgiveness of sin. He argued that these shameful shakedowns mocked our “treasury of merit” in Christ alone.

Having long agonized over his own sins, and having finally found full relief in God’s unmerited mercy in Christ, he committed himself to confront the ecclesiastical establishment and comfort the ecclesiastically exploited.

In his liberating discovery of God’s grace in Christ alone, clearly revealed in the Bible, he was moved to provoke a return to the Christian witness of the early apostles and to move that witness forward into the future.

As we look forward to the Luther Quintcentenary in 2017, we pause here in 2016, to gratefully reflect on that 16th-century revival’s fruit in continued preaching of God’s Good News through each generation since Luther’s day.

Tonight, we’ll glimpse the ministries of six faithful Christians whose work sprang from the influence of that historically biblical Reformation. These faithful Christians were born or died in 1516, 1616, 1716, 1816 or 1916.

 

John Foxe (1516 – April 18, 1587)

In Germany, in the year before Luther posted his call for Gospel purity, there was a call for purity of another staple on Luther’s table. He’d quipped: “Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, doesn’t sin; whoever doesn’t sin, enters Heaven! So, let’s drink beer!” Germany’s Beer Purity Law, Das Reinheitsgebot was adopted in 1516. It became the world’s longest lasting food quality control for more than four and a half centuries – until 1987, when it was ditched by some bureaucrats in the European Union.

Over in England in that same year of 1516, a boy named John Foxe was born. It was the year that England’s Master of the Posts, predecessor of the Royal Mail, was set up and the year that Thomas More finished Utopia, his fictional “nowhere”, so often mistaken as a “good place”. Over at Basel, Erasmus was publishing his Greek New Testament, Hieronymus Bosch, the artist of intoxicating triptychs, died, and the cleric and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced the latest of his world maps. His 1507 version had depicted a newly discovered continent that he designated, Americi.

In Venice, Jews were being forced to reside inside a district called the “Venetian Ghetto”, ever after lending its name to all restrained residential neighborhoods. The Ottoman Empire declared war on other Muslims in Egypt and Syria and defeated the Muslim owned slave-soldiers of Gaza.

Luther died when Foxe was 30 years old, so, Foxe’s more immediate contemporaries among the Protestant Reformers were really Calvin, Beza and Bullinger.

We honor Foxe for his life’s consuming work, Actes and Monuments. It’s a multivolume history of centuries of persecuted Christians. First published in Latin at Basel in 1554, and reprinted for centuries since, it’s known today as, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. For many years, among the poor, it was the one book they owned besides the Bible. A century later, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress would become the third volume in those little libraries.   Read more →

Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One

“Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One”

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

Dr. Ralph Blair, Speaker

(PDF version here)

Martin Luther said: “The Bible is alive. It speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me, it has hands, it lays hold of me.”  The very most significant legacy of the Protestant Reformation is the prominent position of the Bible in Christians’ everyday lives ever since.

Having, last night, noted this biblical importance in several ministries over the centuries since Luther, today and tomorrow we’ll look into this same biblical influence in our time, through what, evidently, are our day’s three most popular Bible verses.

In the spring, Christianity Today published a report, “Scripture as Spam”. We were told that, “of the 200 billion messages sent on Twitter in 2015, 40 million featured Bible verses.” Who knew that, out there in the Twitterverse, there were also Twitter verses?

Every generation of this weekend’s honorees – back to the 16th-century – was familiar with birds that were said to “twitter”. They also knew that nervous people were said to be “all atwitter”. But none of them ever heard of the “Twitter” that comes to our minds when we hear that word. Even I know more about Twitter than they did, and I’ve never ever twittered or tweeted or whatever. Even in the late 20thcentury, Eugenia Price did not use an electric typewriter. She hammered out all of her letters, her many devotional books and her over-700-page best-selling novels on her manual Underwood. And just in case the manufacturing of new manuals might be discontinued, Genie had bought herself an extra manual.

Earlier generations probably were more familiar with Bible verses than many Twitter aficionados are today. Of course, many probably misunderstood what they read, but to misunderstand something, one has to know at least something about it, even if only to recite it. The biblically illiterate can’t even misunderstand what they’ve never ever heard or read.

   The most frequently tweeted Bible verses were found to be, from first place to third: Philippians 4:13, John 3:16, and Jeremiah 29:11. Maybe you can quote John 3:16, but can you quote the Philippian and Jeremiah verses?

It also was found that, of 1.6 billion page-views of searchable online Bibles at BibleGateway.com, with more than 160 million visitors, these very same three Bible verses were the top three searched, though they ranked in a different order. At BibleGateway.com, John 3:16 led as the most frequently searched, followed by Jeremiah 29:11 with Philippians 4:13 ranking third.

There’s no doubt that “Post-Christian” Americans can’t quote these verses, though even they might make a stab at John 3:16. Sadly, many have never even heard these verses, or could easily understand them if they heard them. They’d have no reasonable context for understanding them. However, none of this means that the biblically illiterate don’t have know-it-all opinions on all they know nothing about – a common symptom of ignorance complicated by self-serving self-righteousness, especially on anything about the Bible.

Still, it can be surprising to us who live in the isolation of a secular center of elitists such as New York City, that Barna Research finds that twenty-five percent of American teenagers read the Bible at least once a week and ten percent spend 45 minutes or longer reading the Bible at one sitting. Thirty-five percent of teenagers believe that the Bible “contains everything a person needs to know, to live a meaningful life”. Sadly, though, this “is a statistically significant drop in six percentage points” from a year ago. Read more →

THY Kingdom Come”

“THY Kingdom Come”
by Dr. Ralph Blair
Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 2016, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains.

(PDF version here)


Have you noticed how “un-Presidential” presidential campaigns can get? Instead of what we might assume befits a wannabe president, we get mere precedent and more prestidigitation. Huh? Dirty card tricks of class, sex, gender, faith, ethnicity and race!

Political “establishments” are accused of offering “been there, done that” that doesn’t do it. So, there’s an opting for outliers as if they’re from a whole different realm. Dah!

But, whether “establishment” or “outlier”, voters fall for the idiocy of idolatry – worshipping at shrines of two ancient temptresses, Nostalgia and Fantasy. Nostalgia’s stuck in her delusions of the past, swamped as ever, in her historical illiteracy and self-serving selective recall. And habitually blindsided Fantasy, too, is stuck in her delusions – her expectations of all she blindly predicts and then projects, though it’s nothing but figments of her delusional daydreams or nightmares. So, whether wistful, wishful or worried, voters flock in lockstep, following in the faltering footsteps of Nostalgia or Fantasy, while getting hung up on politicians’ plans and promises.

Well, what else do most folks know to do? What is there to do, if politicians’ plans and promises are the only options? Indeed, these are the only options, if there’s insufficient or no awareness of the Hope that’s ours in the Reign of God, already here, with so much more on the way.

In Christ’s return to reign, Bob Dylan is mindful of what so many resist. As he puts it: “Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned. He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne when He returns.”

Keep this in mind. Before we conclude, we’ll return to this blessed Hope of Christ’s return to reign, while others are adrift, unanchored and awash in nostalgia and fantasy of mere political hope. In the prayer Jesus authorized for us, we petition: “Thy Kingdom come!” Bring Your Reign! And we have his assurance that we’re asking by his authority, and so, it will come to pass. (John 14:13) Read more →

A Time and Place For Us

A Time and Place for Us

by Dr. Ralph Blair

A Time and Place for Us is an expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions2001.

(PDF version available here)


Frasier has dragged Niles and their father to a basketball game for “a good night of male-bonding” as only Frasier could fantasize. He’s trying his best to whip up their interest but dad is preoccupied with an old unsolved murder case and Niles is preoccupied with the music in his headset. A burly fan arrives late, plops down next to Niles and grunts: “What’s the score?” Niles lifts his headset and pronounces: “West Side Story.”

What’s the score? That depends. What’s the question?

One of the numbers from West Side Story promises “a time and place for us.” “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there; hold my hand and we’re half-way there.” That may work for infatuation—at least on Broadway, but let’s frame the question more broadly than Broadway. Not the narrow and harried world of lovers or the iso1ation of Frasier, Niles and their dad—all at the same game but each in his own world and each in his own time zone. Instead, let’s think of a time and place for us all in the deepest and widest of worlds.

We’re all enmeshed in time. It “weighs us down, every moment,” as Baudelaire complained about tick-tock time. When we’re younger or bored, time drags; when we’re older or having fun, time flies. There’s the life-giving time of pulse and brain waves and the life-stealing time of aging. In “Queer as Folk,” the narcissistic Brian rejects time with his sperm-donated son, complaining that a baby is just a “wrinkled little time clock ticking away reminding you you’re getting older by the minute, by the second.” Time is a mystery, always on the move in all directions at once. It’s what one scientist calls “the deepest of all enigmas in physics” [Malcolm W. Browne], what a classicist calls “the most nostalgic of elements.” [Robert Eisner] To ask: “What’s the time?” is like asking “What’s the score?” It all depends on what we mean. For some purposes we think of eons and light-years. For other purposes it’s enough to know what year it is or what day or what hour. At other times we must know the time down to billionths of a second. It’s the same if we ask “Where are we?” “Are we there yet?” That depends on what we mean. What are our expectations? What’s the question? Where was Niles? Was he at the basketball game or on a fire escape of a tenement in Hell’s Kitchen? Or was he sailing on a sphere called Earth, somewhere in the Milky Way?

God’s Time and Space

Many of you think you’re too old. But you’re even older than that. You did not begin on the day you were born. Biologically speaking, each of us began life at conception. All the raw material that we would ever be was there then. But we’re not simply nine months older than we thought we were. We’re much older than that. All the stuff that the universe would ever be was there in that split-second called the Big Bang. Each of us was there then—in all that everything—some 14 billion years ago. But we’re much older than that. We go back, not just to the beginning of time and space but, as Scripture reveals, we spring from the eternal purposes of God from “before the creation of the world.” No wonder we’re feeling our age!

“In the beginning of time, the Word already was.” “And all things came into being by that Word.” The Word came to expression in all worlds. The Concept created the cosmos. “In the beginning of time, the Word already was, … and the Word became flesh” in Jesus Christ, and “apart from Him, nothing has come into being that has come into being.” [John 1: 1-3 and 14.; cf Gen 1:1 and I John 1:1]

As Christians, we believe that God, in Christ, made time and space. And we believe that God made a visit as a man in time and space—2,000 years ago. Says a Bible translator: Christianity’s “starting point is the most important event in the whole of human history. The Christian religion asserts that … two thousand years ago, God, whose vast and complex wisdom science is daily uncovering, visited this small planet of ours in Person. … This is the heart and center of the Christian faith.” He goes on to say that “Nothing must be allowed to distract us from considering with adult minds and hearts whether this is true history or a beautiful myth. The decision is so important that it must not, indeed cannot, be avoided. Yet,” he observes, “this is the point at which so many people take evasive action.” [J. B. Phillips] Read more →

Your Story in His Story

Your Story in His Story

The 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove

October 9 – 11, 2015   Thornley Chapel
Commemorating the Centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby,

William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington

Including Three Teachings by Dr. Ralph Blair
“The Bible Tells Me So”, “This is My Story” and “To God be the Glory”

(PDF version here)

It’s 1915

It’s 1915. “The Great War” rages in Europe while the U.S. resists involvement, though 123 Americans are among over a thousand dead in Germany’s sinking of the Lusitania. All warnings were ignored, believing that a passenger liner carrying civilians was safe in an active war zone. There’d not even been a lifeboat drill.

The Ottoman Caliphate slaughters millions of Armenian Christians. Ignored, this genocide will spur Hitler’s pursuit of his “Final Solution” against the Jews, sneering: “Who remembers the Armenians?”

A hundred years hence, Islamic claimants to the allegedly final Caliphate, will kill thousands more Christians in one year than the Romans killed in 300 years, and they’ll leave millions homeless. The Ayatollah of Iran’s theocracy will call for annihilation of Israel, death to America and to all who will not bow to worldwide Shariah.

Meanwhile, amid the dead in Belgium, surgeon and poet John McCrae pens memorable lines while he mourns the death of his beloved young friend, Alexis. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, / Between the crosses, row on row, / That mark our place; and in the sky / The larks, still bravely singing, fly / Scarce heard amid the guns below. / We are the Dead. / Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, / Loved and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders fields. / Take up our quarrel with the foe: / To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high. / If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.”

It won’t end until the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In its wake, 9 million are dead, 21 million wounded and millions more die of disease and starvation. Even then, it won’t end. From 1939 to 1945, unresolved self-righteous resentment will break out in still more deaths and destruction called World War II. That will give the present conflict its lasting designation, “World War I”. After that, there’ll be yet more “wars and rumors of wars” – in Korea, Southeast Asia, the New Middle East and elsewhere. (Matt 24:6)   Read more →

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Dr. Ralph Blair

Evangelicals Concerned 73rd Connection, May 30, 2015

In 1946, a 20-year-old Flannery O’Connor came north to take part in the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. But, privately, she was writing prayers: “Dear Lord, please make my mind vigilant about [loving others]. I say many, many, too many uncharitable things about people every day. I say them because they make me look clever. Please help me to realize practically how cheap this is. I have nothing to be proud of yet, myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule. Please help me to stop this selfishness. … I do not know you God, because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

She wasn’t yet the popular storyteller she’d become before she’d die just 19 years later. Her fellow believer and author, Marilynne Rob­inson, in a 2013 New York Times review of the posthumously published prayers, writes: “The brilliance that would make her fictions literary classics is fully apparent in [these early prayers].”

What else is fully apparent is the young O’Connor’s honest sensi­tivity to her own self-righteousness. But secular reviewers of these prayers tend to miss this. Sadly, that’s largely due to their self-righteous distaste for her serious Catholic faith and her having grown up and remained in the rural and segregated south.

Now, nobody holds the patent on self-righteousness. Human history is the history of self-righteousness. It’s a predisposition of all men, all women, every race, ethnicity, nationality, class, political stripe, ideology, gender identity and sexual orientation. Self-righteousness is rife in secular and religious realms. Even a public mea culpa can be infected and indeed, induced, by self-righteousness. The passive, “mistakes were made,” and similar self-righteously unapologetic “apologies” are the real mistakes.

Well, as Schiller knew: “The history of the world is the judgment of the world.” Aware of this history, Pope Francis says his central concern is “massive amnesia in our contemporary world.” In such stupor, the Right longs for what it romanticizes as the past while the Left lauds what’s replaced what it scorns as the past. Both are but self-serving figments of illiterate imagination – one in the nonsense of nostalgia, the other in the nonsense of narcissism.

As self-righteous know-it-alls, we refuse to accept what we refuse to know. Averting attention from what stares back at us from all the accusing mirrors of our minds, we try manipulating into mantras of “self-esteem.” We try to swallow shibboleths we can’t swallow. We try to think we’re good or, at least, better than “them,” so as to sanitize “us” and disparage “them.” But who needs to sanitize or disparage if we really think we are as good as we pretend to be? There’s something afoot. Read more →

Self-Centered to Serve:

Self-Centered to Serve:

From Selfish Self-Centeredness to Self-Centeredly Informed Service for Others

Ralph Blair’s Keynote for connECtion2014

At the time, it was called the “greatest single event in human history”.  That was in 1964.  Guess what it was!  If you were born in 1964 – that wasn’t it.  Since it was only 50 years ago, you can be sure that it was not the “greatest single event in human history”.

With 1964 came The Civil Rights Act and The Great Society. In Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement was launched – long since gagged by ever-restrictive speech codes. In 1964, 76 percent of us trusted government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time.”  Today, 19 percent do. Both Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama were born in 1964. The Beatles arrived for their first tour in America as Broadway welcomed Funny Girl and Hello Dolly.  Then, instead of fixating on genitalia as antigay clergy do today, a great evangelical theologian, Helmut Thielicke, affirmed: “Very certainly [homosexuality is] a search for the totality of the other human being.  He who says otherwise has not yet observed the possible human depth of a homoerotic-colored friendship.”  Thielicke urged, a la Jesus’ parable that we think of it “as a talent to be invested so that the homosexual in his actual situation can achieve the optimal ethical potential of sexual self-realization.”

But none of these was what was called, at the time, the “greatest single event in human history.”  So, what do you think it was?

Here’s my self-centered focus. In 1964, I got my MA from USC, got my first full-time job on IVCF staff at Penn, and was soon told I’d not be reappointed since I was advocating evangelical support for same-sex couples.  Those were surely milestones in my life and pointed to my life’s calling, but, to label any of them, the “greatest single event in human history”, would make no sense at all. Read more →

Preaching Festival 2012

1912 ~ The Centennials ~ 2012

Lottie Moon – William Booth – Francis Schaeffer – Jacques Ellel

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2012 Preaching Festival.  The 2012 weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all.  Sermons from the weekend are available here.


In the Year of Our Lord, 1912

We’re commemorating centenaries of the deaths of Lottie Moon, Baptist missionary to China, and William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. We’re also commemorating the 100th anniversaries of the births of apologist Francis Schaeffer and French sociologist and legal scholar, Jacques Ellul.

The year is 1912. New Mexico and Arizona are admitted as our 47th and 48th states. In another 47 years, we’ll have Alaska and Hawaii, too. First Lady, Helen Taft, plants the first cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. In November, in a four-man Presidential race between William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Eugene V. Debs and Woodrow Wilson, Wilson wins.

Times Square has a new attraction. It’s called the Automat. You get the food through little lift-up doors, for just nickels a serving. A new cookie’s come out in Hoboken. It’s called Oreo. Read more →

Understanding and Implementing the APA Task Force Paper on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation

by Dr. Ralph Blair – The American Psychiatric Association Convention, May 7, 2012

An integration model for cognitive therapy with clients experiencing dissonance between same-sex orientation and faith commitment is discussed.
For optimal psychological coping, clients need a coherent understanding of themselves. Since experienced dissonance is evidence that clients are torn between telic congruence and orgasmic congruence (in the American Psychological Association Task Force terms), it is suggested that, in many cases and more often now than ever before, rather than having to choose between contending pressures as clients understand these when presenting for therapy, a balanced integration that safeguards what clients find most relevant in each of the valuations be explored through a more nuanced inquiry toward a coherent resolution.
Without achieving such an integrated resolution, clients can be left with continuing conflict and stress over perceived sexual misbehavior that, try as they might, they find difficult to curtail, and over discarded, or at least discounted, faith they find difficult to live without.
From over forty years of practice in cognitively integrated therapy with same-sex oriented clients, two case histories are presented to illustrate this integration model: one case that worked out well and one that did not.

Malcolm Muggeridge was seen as the quintessential insider. But he saw himself as an outsider. In his Chronicles of Wasted Time, he describes, “standing in the wings of a theatre waiting for my cue to go on stage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this play at all, but belong to a quite different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder frenziedly what I should do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way on to the stage, and there look for guidance to the prompter, whose head I can just see rising out of the floor-boards. Alas, he only signals helplessly to me, and I realize that of course his script is different from mine. I begin to speak my lines, but they are incomprehensible to the other actors and abhorrent to the audience, who begin to hiss and shout: ‘Get off the stage!’ ‘Let the play go on!’ ‘You’re interrupting!’ I am paralyzed and can think of nothing to do but to go on standing there and speaking my lines that don’t fit. The only lines I know.” Read more →

Preaching Festival 2011

1911 ~ The Centennials ~ 2011

Hannah Whitall Smith – Carry A. Nation – Mahalia Jackson – Bob Jones, Jr.

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2011 Preaching Festival.  The 2012 weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all.  Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Four Christian Departures or Arrivals in 1911

The year is 1911.  None of us has yet been born, much less born again from above. Yet all of us are on God’s timeless Mind and in God’s timeless Heart.

In 1911, were we to ask: “What’s new?”, we’d hear that Orville Wright kept his flying machine in the air for a record 9 minutes, 45 seconds.  Wow!  A Model T hits a new record in hill climbing and gasoline sales now surpass the sale of kerosene.  There’s another new motorcar – the Chevrolet.  And Studebaker is offering something else that’s new, customer credit.  The Stock Exchange now lists car stocks.  A Computer Tabulating Recording Corporation has been incorporated in New York.  100 years from now, it’ll be IBM, the world’s Number 1 “green company”.  You’d think that with a hundred years of experience it would no longer be green!   Read more →

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