Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ronald Reagan's Letter To His Dying Atheist Father-In-Law

Note: This letter began making the rounds on the Internet in September 2018. I have no way of quickly verifying its authenticity, but enjoyed and was comforted by the content.
- The Musing Minister

Ronald Reagan’s lost private letter written while President to his dying atheist father-in-law was found and published in the Washington Post this week. There could be no better words penned to a dying doctor about discovering hope and salvation. A great inspiring read if you have 4 minutes.
Aug. 7 [1982]

“Dear Loyal,
     I hope you’ll forgive me for this, but I’ve been wanting to write you ever since we talked on the phone. I am aware of the strain you are under and believe with all my heart there is help for that.
First I want to tell you of a personal experience I’ve kept to myself for a long time. During my first year as Governor you’ll recall the situation I found in Calif. was almost as bad as the one in Wash. today. It seemed as if the problems were endless and insolvable.
     Then I found myself with an ulcer. In all those years at Warner Bros., no one had been able to give me an ulcer and I felt ashamed as if it were a sign of weakness on my part. John Sharpe had me on Malox and I lived with a constant pain that ranged from discomfort to extremely sharp attacks.
     This went on for months. I had a bottle of Maalox in my desk, my briefcase and of course at home. Then one morning I got up, went into the bathroom, reached for the bottle as always and some thing happened. I knew I didn’t need it. I had gone to bed with the usual pain the night before but I knew that morning I was healed. The Malox went back on the shelf.
     That morning when I arrived at the office Helene brought me my mail. The first letter I opened was from a lady — a stranger — in the Southern part of the state. She had written to tell me she was one of a group who met every day to pray for me. Believe it or not, the second letter was from a man, again a stranger, in the other end of the state telling me he was part of a group that met weekly to pray for me.
Within the hour a young fellow from the legal staff came into my office on some routine matter. On the way out he paused in the door and said: “Gov. I think maybe you’d like to know — some of us on the staff come in early every morning and get together to pray for you.”
     Coincidence? I don’t think so. A couple of weeks later Nancy and I went down to L.A. and had our annual checkup. John Sharpe, a little puzzled, told me I no longer had an ulcer but added there was no indication I’d ever had one. Word of honor — I never told him about that particular day in Sacramento.
There is a line in the bible — “Where ever two or more are gathered in my name there will I be also.”
Loyal I know of your feeling — your doubt but could I just impose on you a little longer? Some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ the ancient Jewish prophets predicted the coming of a Messiah. They said he would be born in a lowly place, would proclaim himself the Son of God and would be put to death for saying that.
     All in all there were a total of one hundred and twenty three specific prophesys about his life all of which came true. Crucifixion was unknown in those times, yet it was foretold that he would be nailed to a cross of wood. And one of the predictions was that he would be born of a Virgin.
     Now I know that is probably the hardest for you as a Dr. to accept. The only answer that can be given is — a miracle. But Loyal I don’t find that as great a miracle as the actual history of his life. Either he was who he said he was or he was the greatest faker & charlatan who ever lived. But would a liar & faker suffer the death he did when all he had to do to save himself was admit he’d been lying?
     The miracle is that a young man of 30 yrs. without credentials as a scholar or priest began preaching on street corners. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back & he didn’t travel beyond a circle less than one hundred miles across. He did this for only 3 years and then was executed as a common criminal.
     But for two thousand years he has ... had more impact on the world than all the teachers, scientists, emperors, generals and admirals who ever lived, all put together.
     The apostle John said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that who so ever believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life.”
     We have been promised that all we have to do is ask God in Jesus name to help when we have done all we can — when we’ve come to the end of our strength and abilities and we’ll have that help. We only have to trust and have faith in his infinite goodness and mercy.
     Loyal, you and Edith have known a great love — more than many have been permitted to know. That love will not end with the end of this life. We’ve been promised this is only a part of life and that a greater life, a greater glory awaits us. It awaits you together one day and all that is required is that you believe and tell God you put yourself in his hands.

Love Ronnie”

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Biology of Music

"The biology of music" from The Economist

Music/biology and health, positive impact; Health/music, positive impact.


Music may soothe the troubled breast.  It might even be the food of love.  But how does it cast its spell?  Romantics can take comfort from the fact that science does not yet have all the answers.  But it has some.

The biology of music

WHEN philosophers debate what it is that makes humans unique among animals, they often point to language.  Other animals can communicate, of course.  But despite the best efforts of biologists working with beasts as diverse as chimpanzees, dolphins and parrots, no other species has yet shown the subtleties of syntax that give human languages their power.

There is, however, another sonic medium that might be thought uniquely human, and that is music.  Other species can sing (indeed, many birds do so better than a lot of people).  But birdsong, and the song of animals such as whales, has a limited repertoire--and no other animal is known to have developed a musical instrument.

Music is strange stuff.  It is clearly different from language.  People can, nevertheless, use it to communicate things--especially their emotions.  And when allied with speech in a song, it is one of the most powerful means of communication that humans have.  But what, biologically speaking, is it?

Music to the ears

If music is truly distinct from speech, then it ought to have a distinct processing mechanism in the brain--one that keeps it separate from the interpretation of other sounds, including language.  The evidence suggests that such a separate mechanism does, indeed, exist.

Scientific curiosity about the auditory system dates back to the mid-19th century.  In 1861 Paul Broca, a French surgeon, observed that speech was impaired by damage to a particular part of the brain, now known as Broca's area.  In 1874 Carl Wernicke, a German neurologist, made a similar observation about another brain area, and was similarly immortalised.  The location of different language-processing tasks in Broca's and Wemicke's areas (which are both found in the brain's left temporal lobe, more or less above the ear) was one of the first pieces of evidence that different bits of the brain are specialised to do different jobs.

People whose language-processing centres are damaged do not, however, automatically lose their musical abilities.  For example Vissarion Shebalin, a Russian composer who suffered a stroke to the left hemisphere of his brain in 1953, was able neither to understand speech nor speak after his illness--yet he retained his ability to compose music until his death ten years later.  Conversely, there are one or two cases of people whose musical abilities have been destroyed without detriment to their speech.  This shows that music and language are processed independently.

On top of this separation from the processing of language, the processing of music (like all other sensory abilities that have been investigated in any detail) is also broken down into a number of separate tasks, handled in different parts of the brain.  As early as 1905, for example, a neurologist called Bonvicini discovered a brain-damaged individual who could identify the sounds of different musical instruments, and also detect wrong notes, but who could not recognise well-known tunes such as his own national anthem.  A detailed examination of music processing, however, has taken place only in the past few years with work such as that done by Catherine Liegeois-Chauvel of INSERM in Marseilles, and Isabelle Peretz at the University of Montreal.

In the late 1990s Dr. Liegeois-Chauvel and Dr. Peretz examined 65 patients who had undergone a surgical procedure for epilepsy which involved the removal of part of one or other temporal lobe.  That not only allowed the researchers to study whether music, like language, is processed predominantly on only one side of the brain, but also permitted them to investigate which bits of the temporal lobe are doing what.

Researchers divide melodies into at least six components.  The first is the pitches (i.e., the vibrational frequencies in the air) of the notes in the melody.  The second is the musical intervals between the notes (the difference in pitch between one note and the next).  The third is the key (the set of pitches to which the notes belong which, in a western key, is a repeating series of 12 for each "octave" in the key).  The fourth is contour (how the melody rises and falls).  The fifth is rhythm (the relative lengths and spacing of the notes).  The sixth is tempo (the speed at which a melody is played).  Dr. Liegeois-Chauvel and Dr. Peretz asked each of their subjects to listen to a series of short melodies written especially for the project in order to study some of these components separately.

The first set of experiments looked at the perception of key and contour.  Each melody was played twice.  On some occasions the second playing was identical with the first; on others, either the key or the contour was changed.  Subjects had to judge whether the first and second playings were the same.

The results of these experiments showed that those people with right-temporal-lobe damage had difficulty processing both the key and the contour of a melody, while those with left-temporal-lobe damage suffered problems only with the key.  This suggests that, like language, music is processed asymmetrically in the brain (although not to quite the same degree).  It also suggests that if one hemisphere of the brain deserves to be called dominant for music, it is the right-hand one--the opposite of the case for language in most people.

The part of the lobe involved in the case of contour is a region known as the first temporal gyrus, though the site of the key-processor was not identified.  In addition, those subjects who had had another part of the lobe, known as Heschl's gyrus, removed, had difficulty--regardless of whether it was the left or the right Heschl's gyrus that was missing--in identifying variations in pitch.

Dr. Liegeois-Chauvel's and Dr. Peretz's second set of experiments looked at the perception of rhythm.  This time, the possible distinction between the presentations of a melody was that one might be in "marching" time (2/4, to music aficionados) while the other was in "waltz" time (3/4).  Again, subjects were asked whether the two presentations differed.  In this case, however, there was no effect on the perception of rhythm in any subject.  That suggests rhythm is being analysed somewhere other than the temporal lobe.

Waltzing ahead

Dr. Liegeois-Chauvel and Dr. Peretz were, of course, using basically the same method as Broca and Wernicke -- looking at damaged brains to see what they cannot do.  But modern brain-scanning methods permit healthy brains to be interrogated, too.  In 1999 Stefan Evers of the University of Munster and Jorn Dannert of the University of Dortmund used "functional transcranial Doppler sonography", a technique that is able to measure the speed that blood is flowing in a particular artery or vein, to study the response of blood-flow to music.  Their subjects were a mixture of musicians (defined as people who knew how to play at least two musical instruments) and non-musicians (defined as people who had never played an instrument, and did not listen regularly to music).

Once again, there was a bias towards the right hemisphere--at least among those with no musical training.  In such non-musicians, blood flow to the right hemisphere increased on exposure to music with a lot of harmonic intervals.  (The researchers picked a 16th-century madrigal whose words were in Latin, a language chosen because it was not spoken by any of the participants, and so would not activate speech processing.)  In musicians, however, the reverse was true; blood-flow increased to their left hemispheres, suggesting that their training was affecting the way they perceived harmony.

When the participants were exposed to music that was strongly rhythmical (a modern rock band) rather than harmonic the response changed.  Rock music produced an equal increase of blood flow in both hemispheres in both groups of subjects, confirming Dr. Liegeois-Chauvel's and Dr. Peretz's observation that pitch and rhythm are processed independently.

In France, Herve Platel, Jean-Claude Baron and their team at the University of Caen have applied a second non-invasive technique called positron-emission tomography, or PET, to focus more precisely on which bits of the brain are active when someone listens to a melody.  Dr. Platel and Dr. Baron study people who are "musically illiterate"; that is, they cannot read musical notation.  In these experiments the subjects were played tunes by recognised composers, such as Strauss's "The Blue Danube", rather than special compositions of the sort used by Dr. Liegeois-Chauvel and Dr. Peretz.  Otherwise the method was similar --play a melody twice, and study the response to the differences--except that in this case each subject was inside a PET scanner at the time.

In general, the results from Caen matched those from Montreal and Marseilles, but because Dr. Platel and Dr. Baron were examining whole, healthy brains, they were able to extend the work done by Dr. Liegeois-Chauvel and Dr. Peretz.  One of their most intriguing results came when they looked at the effect of changing the pitch of one or more of the notes in a melody.  When they did this, they found that in addition to activity in the temporal lobes, parts of the visual cortex at the back of the brain lit up.

The zones involved (called Brodmann's area 18 and 19) are better known as the site of the "mind's eye"-- the place where images are conjured up by the imagination alone.  What that means is not yet clear, though the same two zones are also known, as a result of another PET study by Justine Sergent and her colleagues at McGill University, in Montreal, to be active in the brains of pianists when they are playing their instruments.  Dr. Baron's interpretation is that when the pitches of a sequence of notes are being analysed, the brain uses some sort of "symbolic" image to help it to decipher each  pitch, in rather the same way that the conductor of an orchestra lifts his arm as a symbol for what people think of as "high" pitches (those with frequencies corresponding to short wavelengths) and lowers it for "low" pitches (those with long wavelengths).  That might help to explain why people perceive notes as high and low in the first place.  (By comparison, most people have no sense that blue light is "higher" than red light, even though blue light has a shorter wavelength than red.)

A strange change from major to minor

Music's effect on the outer layers of the brain--the temporal and even the visual cortex--is only half the story, however.  These are the places in which the signal is being dissected and processed.  The place where it is having its most profound effect is in the brain's emotional core--the limbic system.

Music's ability to trigger powerful emotions is well known anecdotally, of course.  But science requires more than anecdote.  So in 1995 Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, decided to see if the anecdotes were true.  He asked several hundred young men and women why they felt music to be important in their lives.

Emotion turned out to be not merely an answer.  It was, more or less, the answer.  Around 70% of both sexes said it was "because it elicits emotions and feelings."  "To alleviate boredom," the next most popular response, came a very distant second.

That music does, indeed, elicit emotions--rather than merely expressing an emotion that the listener recognises--has been shown more directly by Carol Krumhansl, a psychologist at Cornell University.  Dr. Krumhansl addressed the question by looking at the physiological changes (in blood circulation, respiration, skin conductivity).

The ways these bodily functions change in response to particular emotions are well known.  Sadness leads to a slower pulse, raised blood pressure, a decrease in the skin's conductivity and a drop in body temperature.  Fear produces increased pulse rates.  Happiness causes faster breathing.  So, by playing pieces ranging from Mussorgsky's "Night on the Bare Mountain" to Vivaldi's "Spring" to her wired-up subjects, Dr. Krumhansl was able to test musical conventions about which emotions are associated with which musical structures.

Most of the conventions survived.  Music with a rapid tempo, and written in a major key, correlated precisely with the induction of happiness.  A slow tempo and a minor key induced sadness, and a rapid tempo combined with dissonance (the sort of harsh musical effect particularly favoured by Schoenberg) induced fear.

To get even closer to what is happening, Robert Zatorre and Anne Blood, who also work at McGill, have pursued the emotional effects of music into the middle of the brain, using PET scanning.  They attacked the problem directly by composing a series of new melodies featuring explicitly consonant and dissonant patterns of notes, and playing them to a series of volunteers who had agreed to be scanned.

When the individuals heard dissonance, areas of their limbic systems known to be responsible for unpleasant emotion lit up and, moreover, the volunteers used negative adjectives to describe their feelings.  The consonant music, by contrast, stimulated parts of the limbic system associated with pleasure, and the subjects' feelings were incontestably positive--a neurological affirmation of the opinions of those who dislike Schoenberg's compositions.

But perhaps the most intriguing study so far of the fundamental nature of music's effects on the emotions has been done by Dr. Peretz.  With the collaboration of Ms. R, a woman who has suffered an unusual form of brain damage, she has shown that music's emotional and conscious effects are completely separate.

Ms. R sustained damage to both of her temporal lobes as a result of surgery undertaken to repair some of the blood vessels supplying her brain.  While her speech and intellect remained unchanged after the accident, her ability to sing and to recognise once-familiar melodies disappeared.  Remarkably, though, she claimed she could still enjoy music.

In Ms. R's case, the use of a  PET scanner was impossible (her brain contains postoperative metallic clips, which would interfere with the equipment).  Instead, Dr. Peretz ran a test in which she compared her subject's emotional reactions to music with those of a control group of women whose temporal lobes were intact.

As expected, Ms. R failed to recognise any of the melodies played to her, however many times they were repeated.  Nor could she consciously detect changes in pitch.  But she could still feel emotion--a result confirmed by manipulating the pitch, the tempo and the major or minor nature of the key of the various pieces of music being played, and comparing her reactions to the altered tunes with those of the control group.

A lot has thus been discovered about how music works its magic.  Why it does so is a different question.  Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at University College, London, thinks that music really is the food of love.  Because it is hard to do well, it is a way of demonstrating your fitness to be someone's mate.  Singing, or playing a  musical instrument, requires fine muscular control.  Remembering the notes demands a good memory.  Getting those notes right once you have remembered them suggests a player's hearing is in top condition.  And the fact that much music is sung by a lover to his lass (or vice versa) suggests that it is, indeed, a way of showing off.

That does not, however, explain why music is so good at creating emotions.  When assessing a mate, the last thing you should want is to have your feelings manipulated by the other side.  So, while evolution should certainly build a fine, discriminating faculty for musical criticism into people, it is still unclear why particular combinations of noise should affect the emotions so profoundly.  Stay tuned.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Why Hermeneutics Is Essential For The Pastor

September 29, 2018
CONFERENCE THEME: “Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth”


My assignment is to effectively bridge the work of hermeneutics to the end of hermeneutics, which is somewhat more than Grant Osborne identifies it to be in The Hermeneutical Spiral.[1] More than the pastor’s sermon, I would suggest that the end of Biblical hermeneutics should also include Bible lessons, formulating plans for witnessing to the lost, and personal life applications. I think it unlikely anyone will disagree with me about that. I presume that we are agreed that hermeneutics ought to be seen as broader in scope than many believers grant it to be, certainly more important than it is recognized by most to be. Therefore, perhaps I might be given a bit of leeway in my introductory remarks to suggest common ground concerning something that is in one respect preliminary to hermeneutics.
Granted, one aspect of the goal of hermeneutics is personal growth and development as God’s truth in His Word is first unearthed, is then situated in (so as to refine) one’s broader system of theology, and is finally applied to the living of the Christian life. But the other aspect of the goal of hermeneutics is communicating not only the discovered truth but also the application of the discovered truth to others. For now, let me refer to them, to our audience (be they auditors or readers), as learners. To that end, on my way to addressing why hermeneutics is essential for pastors, I would like to briefly mention some simple tools that enable the students of God’s Word to effectively communicate what has been learned with those to whom it is to be imparted, the learners. Those tools were clarified by a Baptist preacher named John Milton Gregory in the 19th century in a work titled The Seven Laws of Teaching.[2]
Have you ever sat under a teacher at a university or in seminary or, heaven forbid, in a church service who was as dry as dust? I think with each one of us someone’s name immediately comes to mind in that regard. Forever in your memory is how tragically boring that one person was to not only you but to everyone else in the class. To be generous, it must be admitted that some topics and courses of study are so ponderous that it is incredibly challenging to acquire and then maintain the interest and attention of the learner. That said, it is generally true that boring anyone with the truth is a sin that ought to be repented of and corrected by not only a greater mastery of the subject matter but also a more insightful consideration of the nature of those who are to be learners.
One particular fellow comes to mind who delivered a message from God’s Word to our congregation many years ago, who I then determined would never again be given an opportunity to so bore people with the truth. Though standing upright and seeming to look at those of us sitting in front of him, it was very clear to us all that he took no note of the physical signs that should have provided important feedback information to him to adjust his presentation somehow so the time he had would not be completely wasted. He was a lovely Christian man. I enjoyed his social company and counted him a faithful brother. But what he had acquired from God’s Word via his hermeneutics he simply could not pass on to others.
I am thrilled this conference topic is about hermeneutics. Truth be told, more such conferences on this topic are warranted. However, of what benefit to the learner is the teacher’s mastery of Bible truths gained through hermeneutics unless he can effectively convey those truths to those we identify as learners? This is the pastor’s question, and I am of the opinion that far too many pastors these days do not resolve the issue in a manner that honors God, but rather resort to manipulative methods to hold an audience’s attention.
How can pastors engage the weapons of our warfare that are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds? How do pastors succeed in casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God? To what degree can pastors, by God’s grace, bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, if we only succeed in creating disinterest or distraction in our topic by failing to reach learners with the truth?[3] A disinterested learner or one distracted by manipulation contrived to hold his attention using entertainment, is not a learner at all, is he? The result is a skirmish in the spiritual warfare that is a loss and not a gain for the cause of Christ. Thus, the reason Paul reminded Timothy of the need to be apt to teach.
Biblical hermeneutics is profoundly important, wonderfully useful, opening up the mine of God’s treasure house to the discovery through hard work of truth. But we must have a cart at our disposal to transport the ore from the mine where God has stored it to the smelter, so to speak, of the learner’s mind. We must cultivate the skill of imparting what we learn to those we seek to teach, so learners might want to grasp the doctrine, embrace the application, and then respond with obedience to the revealed will of God. Psalm 119.11 reads, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” I reckon this verse suggests more than someone hearing with understanding. But for the learner to hide God’s Word in his heart, the process must at least begin with understanding, which is connected to the learner’s interest.
So, allow me to quickly rehearse the seven laws of teaching that the pastor or Bible teacher can ignore at his peril, having become a veritable storehouse of Bible truth through study, that he cannot successfully convey to learners because he violates well-established principles of communication between teachers and learners. I will paraphrase the seven laws with comment but without explanation:[4]
(1)    The teacher must be the one who knows what is to be taught. I suspect this is the most common deficiency of the 21st-century pastor.
(2)    The learner is one whose attention must be acquired and held to learn what is taught. Perhaps this is the most common deficiency in connection with the 21st-century learner.
(3)    The language employed between teacher and learner must be common to both. Is the language common to teacher and learner if what is being said focuses on the fact that the verb is Aorist Middle Imperative?
(4)    The lesson to be taught must be explained regarding truth already known by the learner. Was it Dwight L. Moody who spoke of cookies being placed on the low shelf?
(5)    Teaching occurs when the learner’s mind is aroused to grasp the truth being taught. Interest is crucial, but so many speakers resort to entertainment when they notice their audience is inattentive.
(6)    Learning occurs with an understanding of the new idea or truth to affect future conduct. Application of the truth taught is paramount.
(7)    The test and proof of teaching and learning come with reviewing, rethinking, reknowing, reproducing, and then applying what has been taught. I have heard it said by old southern preachers many times that you must tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.
Forty years of teaching, preaching on average four times each week, explaining, discipling, and counseling have more than persuaded me that these seven laws form an intellectual chain of principles, with the absence of a single one guaranteeing that actual learning will not occur, meaning actual teaching has not been accomplished, with the goal of hermeneutics then being unrealized in anyone’s life but one’s own. How very sad that such egregious failures occur so often. Of what use is the pastor’s diligent study to his congregation if he speaks to them in the unknown tongue of the sophisticated scholar and fails to recognize the importance of attracting and then holding the attention of auditors as Whitefield, Edwards, and Spurgeon were so careful to do? Let us redeem the time on the platform and not just in one’s library, by implementing tried and proven tools for communicating divine truth to both the learned and the unlearned who have come to hear us.
How important it is for the preacher to develop such intimacy with his audience that he becomes familiar with their level of knowledge, so his message from God’s Word does not exceed their grasp from the outset? Should he be like a thoroughbred eager to run like the wind who bolts from the starting gate while leaving his audience behind? Folks may have arrived for worship eager to learn. They may sing energetically and then sit ready. But then the preacher leaves them behind.
The cessationist pastor may one day give an accounting to the Savior and there learn that he unwittingly spoke to audiences in an unknown tongue and there was not one present to interpret.[5] As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.”[6] Granted, Paul refers to the gift of tongues, while I speak of language that is just as unintelligible to the first-time visitor.
In the end, it doesn’t nearly as much matter what the teacher says to the learner as what the learner thinks the teacher has said, which was why Asahel Nettleton[7] and Charles Spurgeon[8] carefully interviewed individuals after preaching to them. It was not physicists and electrical engineers who developed the concept of feedback, but men of God. This is verified by Solomon Stoddard’s A Guide To Christ,[9] which was a handbook to teach preachers how to discover from those who heard them what listeners thought they had said in the sermon. This is far more useful to maintaining a preacher’s relevancy than conducting ministry by market research.[10]
As well, one might ask if the product of hermeneutics demands a rehearsal of the process of hermeneutics. Does every Greek word need pronouncing and explaining? Does every Hebrew word need pronouncing and explaining? Did da Vinci or Rembrandt insist on describing to their patrons the process of mixing the pigments in the paints used in their portraits? Did Michelangelo demand that his patrons accompany him to the quarry to select his raw materials for sculpting? Does the visitor to a worship service or a Bible study need to be shown that the methods used to arrive at the truth are so far out of his present reach that there is a risk he will be discouraged by the gulf you have spanned rather than him being edified by what you have privately learned in your labors?
A personal illustration might serve us at this point. Almost forty years ago I took a young Christian with me to visit someone in his home. Though I had reason to expect the person we were visiting to be somewhat receptive, it turned out that he was very combative, throwing at me Jehovah’s Witness arguments, Adventist arguments, and some Mormonism for good measure. He had a smorgasbord theology that proved useful to his pride as an effective barrier to him receiving the truth.
Here was my terrible error. I felt at the time I had dealt with each argument thrown at me expertly. I parried and thrust with precision and skill. There was not a single objection that I did not meet with Scripture, leaving the man silent in the end, but unmoved and still unyielding. The visit drew to a close, and my young companion and I thanked him for his hospitality, and we parted company after shaking hands. It was when I dropped off my young companion that I came to realize my terrible blunder. Unrecognized by me was the fact that my audience numbered two individuals and not one. And the only thing I accomplished during that visit, besides shutting the mouth of the unconverted man we visited, was to discourage my companion so that he concluded he would never be able to deal with individuals the way I had and therefore he would never engage in such an activity again. I dominated the meeting with my superior learning and thereby lost on two fronts.
What should I have done instead of what I did? I should have known my audience better than I did. I should have considered the unintended consequences of the approach I used. On that occasion, I should have recognized that less might have proven to be more. And I should have demonstrated considerably more humility by displaying markedly less learning. Perhaps a somewhat different approach might have been less challenging to our host while being an encouragement to a young Christian rather than sending him into a pit of despondency.
Having rehearsed (by way of introduction) some of the cautions to be exercised with the product of our hermeneutics, I now move to address why hermeneutics is so important a matter for pastors, under three very broad headings:


At least that is the assumption for my consideration, though I am quite sure there are many occupying the pulpits of America in our day who do not fit that description. Why is hermeneutics important for me as a believer in Jesus Christ, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and as a child of God? You mean besides corroborating my understanding of the Gospel when I was converted to Christ?
I well remember reviewing my understanding of the Gospel again, and again, verifying that my experience was in agreement with what the Bible declares to be so about the salvation of a sinner. Every Gospel sermon I heard during those first months of my new life in Christ drove me to an investigation of what I had recently heard preached, what I had learned from my study of God’s Word, and upon reflection of my own response to the Gospel brought home to me in a powerful way by the Spirit of God after reading the Word of God.
How thankful I was that the conflict I faced when confronted by Charismatic Bible studies at work and solid Gospel preaching at a small Baptist Church on Sunday was rather easily resolved in my thinking by a member of that Church. It was when he responded to a question about his opinion by saying to me, “My opinion is unimportant. Let’s turn to God’s Word to see what the Bible has to say.” Then and there it was crystallized in my thinking that I was exposed to two opposed approaches to discovering the truth. Do I examine the Bible in light of my own experience? Or do I examine my experience in light of God’s Word? That was the first hermeneutical decision I consciously remember making. My experience is not the final authority. God’s Word is the final authority.
There are three reasons that I want to set before you in as simple a fashion as possible why hermeneutics is essential for the believer in Jesus Christ. The reason for stressing simplicity is my past experiences with some extremely bright men and women. Though I am not an exceptional man by any means, God has providentially given me opportunities to observe people of real brilliance in the political realm, in the legal arena, in the scientific realm, in the business world, in the engineering profession, and in broadcasting. My observations of some individuals who were very prominent in their fields have surprised no one more than me. I have been astonished at such people’s return, whenever practical, to the basics, to the simple things. I seek to emulate them now.
First, to know God’s will, one must know God’s Word. This might seem to be so basic a concept that it does not need to be stated. But there are many in our day who have such a view of divine inspiration, revelation, and illumination, coupled with their wildly inaccurate view of their capacities, that they feel very confident that they know God’s will without paying much attention to God’s Word. One man, who was for a year my pastor when I was very young in the Lord, frequently told those who would listen that the most beneficial course of study he ever pursued was when he obtained permission to enroll in the General Motors Corporation management training course. It was only later that I realized that he looked upon ministry and the pastorate as a business enterprise, so of course business practices would be of more value to him than the study of God’s Word. He is by no means an isolated example of this approach. Sadly, it has proved to be the case for him, and for so many others including those who are not pastors, that the Christian life is not intuitive as they had presumed, and implementing best business or marketing practices is not always the way to proceed. Solomon warns in Proverbs 3.5, where he cautions, “lean not unto thine own understanding.” Cleverness and reliance on intuition invariably lead to catastrophe in the Christian life. How many times in Scripture does God make mention of His “ways” in contrast to men’s ways? Where else will someone learn God’s will but in God’s Word? Unless, of course, you are a mystic or a continuationist.[11] Do I repeat myself?
But to know God’s Word one must study God’s Word. Of course, there is a place for the reading and rereading of Scripture. I seem to remember Graham Scroggie’s pattern of reading a book of the Bible straight through without interruption no less than fifty times before he would embark upon a careful study in preparation for expository sermons through that book. There is great value in reading God’s Word, for devotional purposes as well as to gain familiarity with the ebb and flow of Scripture. That said, I remember hearing a pastor who had read God’s Word so many times that he had committed major portions of Scripture to memory, which resulted in him citing long passages throughout his time on the platform. He thought what he was doing was preaching. He was not preaching, which must involve explaining the text. Rather, he would instead quote a chapter here and then a lengthy passage there, and on he would go until time had run out. His practice showed that he did not know how to study God’s Word. How does one study God’s Word? That is the question Dr. Downing wonderfully addresses in his book, is it not? That is the question Milton Terry and Patrick Fairbairn also address, is it not?[12] The answer to that question is outside the scope of my assigned topic this morning, though it is an answer which must be sought and grasped by the faithful expositor.
The study of God’s Word requires a sound hermeneutic. Has it not always been God’s will that His own honor Him by seeking a right understanding of the truth He has entrusted us with? How else are we to know so that we might obey Him? Every child of God must be brought to realize God’s plan for learning to become a more proficient student of God’s Word. And what are those certainties upon which we must agree so as not to diverge from the straight path? God is. God has communicated to us. God’s Word is true. And facts are things. Psalm 119.105 reads, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” One might imagine the nighttime never being completely dark in the psalmist’s part of the world. But my experience in that region is that sometimes “the dust before the wind” lingers after the gale has died down, leaving you in utter pitch blackness after sundown, with no moonlight and no starlight piercing the still dust.[13]
How important it is, then, to employ a sound hermeneutic to make your way through such spiritual darkness by the light of God’s Word correctly understood. Therefore, for our spiritual well-being, we must work to have a sound hermeneutic. To give one illustration, we live in a world in which a great political clash pits the individualists against the collectivists. Some might think they are apolitical, but there is no escaping something when it is in the air we breathe. And since where two or three are gathered together, you have politics, the child of God finds himself immersed in a political environment whenever he is not isolated. It is one’s sound hermeneutic that enables the believer to know God’s will. What must I do when I am in isolation? When I am in a group setting? When I am with the congregation during worship? And when I am with the congregation engaged in service and ministry? And to what extent have I and others around me been influenced by the prevailing trends of our culture?
Because of such influences, we so often see those professing to know Christ who seems to get everything backward. They envision something akin to group conversion followed by a solitary Christian life because their hermeneutic does not correct their warped notions about such things as individualism and collectivism and the rest. Too many people once obtained their views on how to live from billboards showing the Marlboro Man. Secular politics exert influence on all to some degree, but poor hermeneutic leaves so many susceptible to such influences that are uncorrected by God’s Word. I think we would agree that the views of many these days about their commitment to and involvement in their church congregation is appalling, leaving them deprived of the encouragement that God provides for us in no other circumstance. This applies to pastors as much as it does to any other believer. How we should benefit from a sound hermeneutic so that we prepare for and expect from God’s Word, God’s people, and God’s church, the grace that is ministered to us as needy children by these various means.


It is not necessary to take you to God’s Word to relate to you what you already know as well as I do. Therefore, I would like to present to you three real-life examples of godly pastors of formidable reputation whose surprising (to me at least) deviation from Scriptural truth despite their orthodoxy serves as an example to each of us why a sound, Biblical hermeneutic is so crucial:
The first example is Solomon Stoddard. I read John Gerstner’s introductory remarks from Stoddard’s A Guide to Christ:[14]

Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), called the “pope of western Massachusetts” in his own day, is usually known today only as the grandparent of his assistant pastor, Jonathan Edwards. Moreover, it is his unique and original ecclesiastical ideas, that deviated drastically from traditional reformed patterns, that were to cause Edwards’ dismissal after twenty-three years of remarkable ministry in Northampton.
Because “Stoddardianism” was so famous historically, let me detail the steps of his theological thinking.
1.   In 1679, the Reforming Synod was shocked to hear Stoddard not only defend “Half-Way Covenant” thinking, but advocate what came to be called “Converting Ordinances.”
2.   This doctrine stated that persons who confessed faith in Christ and were free of scandalous living (without necessarily relating their “experiences”) were to be admitted to communion. Those who could not confidently relate their experiences had previously been denied communicant membership, though their children could receive baptism. Stoddard would admit their parents to the Lord’s Supper.
3.   Though the Synod was shocked, it went reluctantly along, Increase Mather dissenting.
4.   In 1700, Stoddard’s Instituted Churches spelled out the “Converting Ordinances” doctrine. By 1704, Stoddard was avowing it fully to his congregation; and by 1709 he explained things to Increase Mather’s satisfaction.
5.   Later works solidified Stoddardianism. In 1729, his The Safety of Appearing in the Righteousness of Christ at the Day of Judgment was his final statement before his own appearing before his Lord at death.
6.   In July, 1750, Jonathan Edwards preached his farewell sermon at Northampton, dismissed because of his break withStoddardianism.”
7.   By the end of the century, “Converting Ordinances” became virtually extinct.
This Guide to Christ shows Solomon Stoddard at his very best. He may have been in error on “Converting Ordinances,” but this little book is a guide to the finest Reformed theology. He may have been wrong in guiding to the Lord’s Table, but not in guiding to the Lord Himself.
The only trouble with this Guide is that it is too good! Our century is not worthy of it or its author. Even in its advanced day (nearly 300 years ago), it was written for “young ministers,” and not for those they guided. Today, even our ministers are hardly equal to it. Yet they and we all must become so. It is a classic.
If “young ministers” (and old) are Christ’s appointed guides to Christ, they would do well to take and master this seminary course by Professor Stoddard. If they do so, multitudes of their parishioners are going to find it “SERVICEABLE TO PRIVATE CHRISTIANS WHO ARE ENQUIRING THE WAY TO ZION.”

John H. Gerstner
Ligonier, PA
November 1992

I suggest the cause of Solomon Stoddard’s error by acknowledging that he was a godly man, with a Biblical hermeneutic over most of his ministry, until he faced a prolonged dry spell in which he saw very few conversions. Abandoning the Scriptural assertions that there are “out of season” periods of every ministry, Stoddard contrived an approach to evangelism that he hoped would produce fruit that remained. It did not. I may be wrong about the reason for Stoddard’s departure from the straight and narrow, but I am not mistaken about the fact that he did depart. His grandson, Jonathan Edwards, lost his pastorate at the same church attempting to correct his grandfather’s error, even after the great revival God sent during his tenure. Stoddard’s is an error that each of us must strive to avoid in our own ministries.
The second example is Roger R. Nicole. The late Roger Nicole seems to have been a theologian of a long-standing good reputation as a Reformed theologian and credibility as a godly man. Clearly an inerrantist, he was remembered with fondness after passing by such notables as D. A. Carson and Mark Dever.[15] That said, he was an egalitarian, which is to say that he stood with evangelical feminists against the functional hierarchy in the home and in the church that I am persuaded is so undeniably advocated in Scripture. Of course, the theological implications of such a view of the roles of men and women in marriage and the church are incredible. On what basis did Dr. Nicole adopt his egalitarian stance? I do not know. Was he influenced by feminist ideology in the culture at large? I am not sure. However, I am not persuaded that Biblical manhood and womanhood is well-served by egalitarian notions.[16] By way of honoring our departed brother, I have prepared an eighteen-page handout that he wrote titled “Polemic Theology: How To Deal With Those Who Differ From Us.”[17] I hope you will take a copy, read it, embrace what Dr. Nicole advances in his article, and be warned that the very best among us, but for God’s wonderful grace, cannot only fall into grievous sins, but can also commit tragic hermeneutical errors that result in harm to those we intend to bless.
The third example will remain nameless because he is still my friend and he is still with us. A well-trained man who I am confident Dr. Downing either knows or would recognize from years gone by, he was successful as a church pastor and as a gifted communicator of God’s truth. Interesting, accurate, persuasive, and memorable in his very appropriate delivery style, he was wonderfully blessed of God. He preached for our church many years ago, and the people were informed and spiritually lifted by his preaching and teaching ministry. Living in a different part of the country, to begin with, he then accepted the call to a congregation even farther away, resulting in even less contact with him. However, after three years he did speak once more at our church.
Surprising to me, not only was his approach to preaching markedly different in both content and delivery style, he was so different that I was alone in the congregation who realized he had preached for us before. Our deacons did not recognize him. The man in our church who is the best at listening and following sermons I have ever known did not recognize him. My wife did not recognize him. After the service, as we dined together, I remarked that his current preaching bore no resemblance to the preaching he had employed for more than thirty years. He acknowledged that to be true. And when I asked him how that came to be, he said: “My wife didn’t like the way I preached before.” I was stunned into silence. He was not in any way rude before. He was not at all loud and boisterous before. He was not a brutish fellow before. But he did exhibit a spiritual manliness in his demeanor before, without any wanting of humility. Our conversation led me to conclude that over the years his wife’s views had so changed, and she, in turn, had so influenced him, that he had transformed into a perfectly metrosexual man. That belies a deeply flawed hermeneutic. I have no issue with a godly wife having a profoundly influential and beneficial role in a man’s development as a Gospel minister. However, there is a difference between the godly influence a wife ought to rightly have and a flawed hermeneutic that allows for the influences of feminism to seep into one’s ministry through the spouse one is supposed to lead rather than follow.


We must be careful. We must ever strive to stay on the straight and narrow path of God’s will and God’s way. That can only be done with any certainty if we are diligent to attend to the hermeneutic we employ to discover and then to implement God’s will and way. A good hermeneutic should lead to an even better hermeneutic over time.
Solomon Stoddard was a towering figure in his day. Imagine New England Puritans of that day nicknaming him the pope of New England. Such was their regard and admiration for him. Roger Nicole had a significant influence on many of our contemporaries, particularly on the Eastern seaboard. Both of those men left behind what I would characterize as egregious errors, perhaps brought on by a flawed hermeneutic.
Perhaps Stoddard’s notion of “Converting Ordinances” has gone out of fashion, but his practice of admitting to the Lord’s Supper those with no credible testimony of a conversion experience has won the day in evangelical circles. And the tragic consequences of evangelical feminism’s egalitarianism can be seen all around us.

Pastor, your ministry is incredibly important. Not only are you set aside for the diligent study of God’s Word, but you are also the primary individual responsible for setting the doctrinal course for your congregation and providing the most significant preaching and teaching leadership.
The example you are called upon to set. The instruction you are called upon to provide. The role in evangelism in listening to inquirers, evaluating conversion testimonies, and establishing the approach your congregation uses to authorize the baptism of believers, demands your hermeneutic be Biblical and mature.
Can anyone doubt that when Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders for the last time, telling them to “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,” included in the application of his instruction would be a concern to maintain a good hermeneutic?

[1] Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1991), page 12.
[2] John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws Of Teaching, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, Revised 1954), page 7.
[3] 2 Corinthians 10.4-5
[4] Gregory, pages 18-19.
[5] The cessationist does believe sign gifts such as the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are operative at present.
[6] 1 Corinthians 14.9
[7] Bennet Tyler and Andrew A. Bonar, Nettleton And His Labours, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975 reprint of 1854 publication), pages 301-303.
[8] R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Preaching To A Dying Nation, (Los Angeles, CA: Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles, 1999), pages 201-203.
[9] Reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Ligonier, PA in 1993.
[10] It is sad that the practice of elicitation, so the preacher might learn from the listener following the sermon, has been discarded by most preachers (or rather not taken up because of ignorance). What was a rather common 18th century ministry practice has become a 21st century rarity among gospel ministers. Presently, elicitation is widely used in many professions (law enforcement, medical professions, legal professionals, human resource specialists, engineers) to gather important information, but only rarely by ministers. This is a dramatic reversal of practice over the span of two centuries.
[11] The mystic believes he has a direct connection with God by which means he receives information and guidance apart from the revelation of God’s Word. The continuationist views all spiritual gifts as being operative, including the sign gifts.
[12] Works on hermeneutics for your consideration: W. R. Downing, An Introduction To Biblical Hermeneutics, Patrick Fairbairn, Opening Scripture, Scot McKnight, ed., Introducing New Testament Interpretation, Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, D. A Carson and John D. Woodbridge, editors, Hermeneutics, Authority, And Canon.
[13] Psalm 18.42
[14] Solomon Stoddard, A Guide To Christ, (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications reprint, 1993), pages vii-viii.
[16] See John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Editors, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response To Evangelical Feminism, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1991) and Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth: An Analysis Of More Than 100 Disputed Quotations, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2012)
[17] Available from ClassicalBaptist.Press

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Most Damaging Victory Of The Cultural Marxists?

     Most Americans are unaware and self-absorbed. This is a stunning vulnerability, as events throughout our culture make painfully obvious. One crucial manifestation of this vulnerability is the conspiracy to destroy our culture and way of life by a group of men known as the Frankfurt School.
     The Frankfurt School were a group of Germans in Frankfurt, Germany who realized after the close of World War One, the Great War, that workers of the world would not rise up and refuse to fight each other in their respective armies. The advance of communism had to be achieved by other means.
     With the rise of National Socialism (Nazi) and Adolf Hitler the mostly Jewish Frankfurt School saw the handwriting on the wall and for their own physical safety moved to New York City and affiliated with Columbia University, where they advanced their program of undermining the country they saw as their most resistant adversary, the United States. Once here, they advanced by all means available their tactic of cultural Marxism known as critical theory. Critical theory is the tactic of criticizing everything, at all times, and in all ways. never advance a solution, only criticize, criticize, criticize.
   One ongoing victory in the Frankfurt School's burrowing and infestation tactic has been the abortion industry. What culture would knowingly allow their most treasured resource, their own children, to be systematically destroyed? Yet the USA and West is doing precisely that.
     Want an illustration of the Frankfurt School's role in promoting abortion in the USA?  Look no further than one of their original transplants to this country, Herbert Marcuse, mentioned in the article linked below.

Do feminists know how much they have been played by the Frankfurt School to destroy their nation, using them as unwitting tools? Do they care?

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Irrational And Unscientific Assumptions of Socialism

I like to read. As well, I think it is my duty as a pastor to read. Further, if Spurgeon’s example is any indication, being widely read is of benefit to the spiritual leader as a means of searching out fields of study and thought to which Bible truth and principles can be applied.
It is in that vein that I began reading “Socialism,” written by Ludwig von Mises in 1922. Needless to say, if you recognize his name at all, “Socialism” made a tremendous impact in Europe when it was published and Great Britain and the United States when it was translated into English. Having that in mind as I began to read the book, I was astonished to learn something while reading the preface to the second English edition that explains so many things that had previously puzzled me. Following are a portion of his remarks:

It was at this moment that Marx appeared. Adept as he was in Hegelian dialectic-a system easy of abuse by those who seek to dominate thought by arbitrary flights of fancy and metaphysical verbosity-he was not slow in finding a way out of the dilemma in which socialists found themselves. Since Science and Logic had argued against Socialism, it was imperative to devise a system which could be relied on to defend it against such unpalatable criticism. This was the task which Marxism undertook to perform. It had three lines of procedure. First, it denied that Logic is universally valid for all mankind and for all ages. Thought, it stated, was determined by the class of the thinkers; was in fact an "ideological superstructure" of their class interests. The type of reasoning which had refuted the socialist idea was "revealed" as "bourgeois" reasoning, an apology for Capitalism. Secondly, it laid it down that the dialectical development led of necessity to Socialism; that the aim and end of all history was the socialization of the means of production by the expropriation of the expropriators-the negation of negation. Finally, it was ruled that no one should be allowed to put forward, as the Utopians had done, any definite proposals for the construction of the Socialist Promised Land. Since the coming of Socialism was inevitable, Science would best renounce all attempt to determine its nature.
At no point in history has a doctrine found such immediate and complete acceptance as that contained in these three principles of Marxism. The magnitude and persistence of its success is commonly underestimated. This is due to the habit of applying the term Marxist exclusively to formal members of one or other of the self-styled Marxist parties, who are pledged to uphold word for word the doctrines of Marx and Engels as interpreted by their respective sects and to regard such doctrines as the unshakable foundation and ultimate source of all that is known about Society and as constituting the highest standard in political dealings. But if we include under the term "Marxist" all who have accepted the basic Marxian principles-that class conditions thought, that Socialism is inevitable, and that research into the being and working of the socialist community is unscientific-we shall find very few non-Marxists in Europe east of the Rhine, and even in Western Europe and the United States many more supporters than opponents of Marxism. Professed Christians attack the materialism of Marxists, monarchists their republicanism, nationalists their internationalism; yet they them­ selves, each in turn, wish to be known as Christian Socialists, State Socialists, National Socialists. They assert that their particular brand of Socialism is the only true one-that which "shall" come, bringing with it happiness and contentment. The Socialism of others, they say, has not the genuine class­ origin of their own. At the same time they scrupulously respect Marx’s prohibition of any inquiry into the institutions of the socialist economy of the future, and try to interpret the working of the present economic system as a development leading to Socialism in accordance with the inexorable demand of the historical process. Of course, not Marxists alone, but most of those who emphatically declare themselves anti-Marxists, think entirely on Marxist lines and have adopted Marx's arbitrary, unconfirmed and easily refutable dogmas. If and when they come into power, they govern and work entirely in the socialist spirit.[1]

What does this passage teach me? First, I had not known that socialism was a thoroughly refuted economic and philosophical system, that it had been shown to be scientifically and logically unworkable. Second, I had not known that Karl Marx’s sleight of hand to justify socialism and advance his ideas of communism was to merely deny that logic was universally valid for all mankind and all ages. Brilliant. Diabolical. Secondly, it was ruled (by what authority I do not know) that no one should be allowed to put forward any definite proposals for what socialism would inevitably lead to. Of course, this disconnects activity from future consequences and even the consideration of future consequences.
I have long been of the persuasion that socialism and communism are attempts to create heaven on earth, but I had never before been made aware of the complete disconnect from rational thought that is fundamentally required to be a socialist. I now understand Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein, and others so much better than I did a few hours ago.

[1] Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Second English Edition), pages 6-7.