On angels and guardian angels
Does everyone have a guardian angel? Many people are convinced that they have an angel as their special protector. In the film City of Angels
Gender roles, Theology
No, complementarianism is not inherently misogynistic
Complementarianism is the belief that God made male and female different and gave them different but complementary roles in the Church and in marriage
Humor and the life of faith
"And I knew there could be laughter On the secret face of God" – G. K. Chesterton
What does it mean to be Reformed?
The religions of the world are many, each offering their own understanding of the deity or deities (as the case might be). The persons behind this website are unashamedly Christian, and so believe in triune God as revealed in the Bible. This sets us apart from adherents to Islam or Hinduism or Shintoism, etc. The Christian faith is in turn represented in today’s world by many schools of Christian thought. Each of these schools of thought embrace and defend their own understanding of who God is, and so of how He is to be served. The persons behind this website are unashamedly Reformed – which in turn sets us off from Christians of Anabaptist or Roman Catholic or Pentecostal or Arminian persuasion. What, then, does it mean to be Reformed? History The term ‘reform’ captures the Biblical concept of ‘turning’, and is used to describe a return to the ways God revealed in His revelation. One speaks, for example, of the ‘reformation’ King Hezekiah initiated in Israel, when he sought to turn the people away from service to idols to revere again the God who claimed them for Himself in His covenant of grace established with them at Mt Sinai (see 2 Chronicles 29-32). In the course of Church History the term ‘reform’ is used specifically in relation to the ‘reformation’ in the 16th century. In this ‘reformation’ countless thousands in Europe, under the leadership of reformers as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and others, distanced themselves from the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and returned to the simple instruction of Holy Scripture. Those who followed the reformer John Calvin came to known as ‘Reformed’, in distinction from those who followed Luther (Lutherans) or Menno Simons (Mennonites), etc. Churches of continental origin in the mould of Calvin’s thinking tend to have the term ‘Reformed’ in their name, while Calvinist churches of British origin tend to have the term ‘Presbyterian’ in their name. Both are theologically ‘Reformed’ in their thinking. Distinctive What, then, is distinctive of ‘Reformed’ thinking? Typical of Reformed thinking is specifically the way one sees who God is, His God-ness, if you will. This one central principle of Reformed thinking has several flow-on implications that I list below. 1. God Reformed thinkers, and so faithful Reformed Churches, take God for real. He is not the product of human thought or hopes, but very real and living. Unlike our world, He has been from eternity, one God in three Persons, having no need outside Himself – and so not needing mankind either. That Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one true God is to Reformed believers an incomprehensible riddle, but in no way a problem ‒ for the creature man can never be ‘big enough’ to understand the Godhead of the Creator. The Reformed thinker is content with that, for a God he could understand is not worthy of worship, let alone trust. This almighty God fashioned the world through His word of command in the space of six days, and He has upheld the world He made ever since. The force of the term ‘upheld’ is that if almighty God were to withdraw His supporting hand this world would immediately collapse again into the nothingness it was before He made it. All creatures, then, are fully dependent on Him for existence itself. Further, the God who upholds this world does more than keep the world existing; He also governs it so that history happens according to His pre-arranged plan. Earthquakes and hair loss come not by change or through scientific necessity, but instead by His Fatherly hand (whereby pressure on tectonic plates and one’s genetic makeup are simply the means God uses to bring about the earthquake or the baldness). And if one seeks to understand why He allows earthquakes to happen (and some people to lose their hair), the Reformed thinker does not insist that God give account to man – for God and His wisdom is so exceedingly far above what any man can comprehend. (And if it were not so this God would not be worthy of worship and trust…). 2. Man The second central tenet of the Reformed faith is the smallness of man. Unlike God, man is but a creature, and therefore limited by time and space in what he can understand. Even before his fall into sin, the creature man –simply because he’s a creature‒ could never begin to wrap his mind around God; the distance between the creature and the Creator is simply too great. The fall into sin, of course, rendered man’s ability to understand the Creator more impossible still – and at the same time made mankind so arrogant as to think that he could understand God or call Him to account or even deny His existence. 3. Covenant The third central belief of the Reformed faith is that this God of overwhelming and eternal greatness did not ignore the creature He made but established a bond of love with mankind. This eternal and holy God, in whose presence angels cover their faces, fashioned mankind for the purpose of being bound to Him and so this God of glory adopted the creature man to be His child! Here’s a marvel one cannot begin to fathom; why would eternal God, sufficient in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, form a covenant with a creature-of-dust?! The question becomes the more pressing –and incomprehensible‒ after mankind broke that bond of love with his fall into sin: why would eternal, holy God (sufficient in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit!) re-establish this covenant with sinful man?! How wonderful and awesome this God is! 4. God’s Mercy The bond of love between God and man was and is fully God’s doing. Neither before the fall into sin nor after the fall into sin was there anything in man that drew God to love him. Indeed, how could it even be that eternal God should find something in the creature man that would earn His love?! Whatever man has or is has come from God to begin with. It is God Himself who in mercy initiated a covenant bond with man in Paradise, and equally God Himself who in greater mercy reached out to man again after he spurned God’s covenant love in Paradise. To re-establish this bond of love, the Lord God had to ransom sinners from Satan’s grasp as well as ensure that the penalty for sin be paid; the creature man, after all, did not have the wherewithal to free himself from Satan’s grasp and did not have the wherewithal either to pay for sin. In the face of man’s bankruptcy and weakness the Lord did not leave man in his misery (though He would have been justified in doing so), but determined instead to become man Himself in the person of the Son so that Jesus Christ –true God and true man‒ could atone for sin, deliver sinners from Satan’s might, and reconcile sinners to God. Redemption, then, is in no way the work of man; salvation is instead the gracious work of sovereign God to those who don’t deserve it. And this mercy, of course, points up the more how wonderful this glorious God is! With redemption, then, so fully God’s work and God’s grace, with no person having the slightest claim to such redemption (both by virtue of his being a creature of God’s making as well as by virtue of his having spurned God’s covenant love in Paradise), no person has any right to criticize God for determining who will benefit from His mercy in Jesus Christ. Both the number of those who are saved as well as the specific identities of those who are saved are fully and totally up to sovereign God. This is predestination, the teaching that God determines who are saved. This teaching is, in fact, a subset of the reality of God’s providence – the teaching that nothing in God’s creation happens by chance but all comes about by His Fatherly hand. That includes the movement of earth’s tectonic plates and the loss of my hair, and includes then too whether I hear the gospel of redemption or not, as well as whether I believe the doctrine of redemption or not. 5. Our Responsibility The final characteristic essential to what ‘Reformed’ means is the notion of human responsibility. Though man is but a creature-of-dust (and now sinful as a result of the fall also), God fashioned him with the ability to make responsible decisions. Since God endowed man in the beginning with this ability, man is responsible to act in agreement with this ability – and God holds him accountable to act according to this standard. It is true that, with the fall into sin, man lost the ability to act responsibly-before-God, for all his actions (and words and thoughts) have become defiled by sin. But since this inability is not because of a weakness in how God made man, but is instead because of man’s deliberate disobedience in defying the Creator’s demands, God continues to hold all people responsible for all their actions – and eternally punishes those who act irresponsibly before Him. Though sovereign God controls all things (including what I eat for breakfast and who will be saved), I am responsible for all my conduct (including that I eat well and that I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ). My inquisitive human mind hungers to rationalize how God can be 100% sovereign and I be 100% responsible at the same time, but this is a riddle no human can solve – simply because we are finite and God is sovereign. The Reformed thinker accepts this reality, takes his responsibility seriously, and praises his God for the good decisions the Lord enables the believer to make. In Sum What, then, does it mean to be Reformed? In sum, to be Reformed is to have great thoughts of God, small thoughts of man, and deep, deep gratitude for God’s boundless mercy to sinners in Jesus Christ – a mercy directly specifically to me that I am allowed to be His child for Jesus’ sake! Lord’s Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism catches the resulting comfort so well:
… I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.
Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.To be Reformed: what a privilege!
Rev. Clarence Bouwman is a pastor in the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church.
Mike Ditka and Abraham Lincoln’s temporary comfort
Pithy bits of folks wisdom are everywhere – kitchen counters, business meeting room walls, even email tag lines display sayings like "Everything in moderation, and moderation in everything" or "Actions speak louder than words." Usually, there's some truth to these aphorisms, but this past week, when I received a promotional email from Thinkspot.com, I was struck again by how insufficient they often are. Thinkspot is the Facebook alternative that Jordan Peterson and others are trying to put together, and in this email they shared examples of the content they'll have, including one nugget from a Beta user touting the merits of the mantra: "This, too, shall pass." Football fans of a certain age might remember that phrase from famed Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. When he was fired he told reporters and fans again and again that, “This, too, shall pass.” The aphorism seemed a comfort to him that no matter the pain and disappointment he was feeling, it was only going to be temporary. Ditka attributed the phrase's origins to the Bible, but it can’t be found there. Instead, there is a connection to Abraham Lincoln, who, while not taking credit for it, also thought it a fantastic line. In an 1859 speech he presented it to an audience of farmers, perhaps because of the frequent ups and downs of their weather-dependent occupation:
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”The reason Ditka and Lincoln and many others have been helped by this phrase is that there is truth to it. Whether we’re changing our sixth dirty diaper of the day, or celebrating with family and friends at our wedding, it is worth reflecting that both are only temporary. Knowing it is only for a time can help us endure trials and keep us grounded in triumphs. But, like so much of man's wisdom, this aphorism gets it only partly right. This is the stoics’ comfort, which keeps us from falling too low only by keeping us from rising too high. But Christians know – and need to share with the world – that not everything will pass. There is a lasting joy, and a complete comfort, to be found in knowing that whatever else might be temporary, our God is, always was, and always will be. As David in Psalm 23 proclaims:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
“Whose am I?”
Are you your job? Does your gender define who you are? Your ethnicity? Your feelings? Or is your identify found in a truth far more substantial and stable…and controversial?
*****Crazy, out-dated, offensive– these are a few of the words we could expect to hear if, in the midst of our culture’s identity debates, we offered up this answer: “I am not my own…” This is the first line of the very first answer in the Heidelberg Catechism and it’ll seem all the more absurd when we share the question that prompts it: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”It’s common enough for people to struggle with their purpose in life, and to want to know what happens after death, so the world can appreciate a question like this one. But the answer? That’ll strike most as incredibly out of line with 21stCentury thinking! I couldn’t agree more. A stumbling block… The first question and answer in the Heidelberg Catechism is more relevant and more revolutionary today than when it was first penned. Here is Lord’s Day 1 in full:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.The confession that “I belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” may be a stumbling block for many. My body is not my own? My life is not my own to do with as I please? What do you mean, “Christ has fully paid for all my sins…?” He bought you and He set you free? How does that work? Doesn’t His purchase of you, make you His? If you are His, are you really free? Isn’t it hyperbole to suggest that “without the will of your heavenly Father not a hair can fall from your head?” Why would God care about such minute details? If God controls all these things, are you experiencing true freedom? These are real objections that people utter when they consider what it means to become a Christian. They find the instruction of Christ in Luke 9: 23- 24 too much:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”While Christians understand that their identity is in Christ, others cannot fathom giving up their autonomy, denying themselves, or submitting their entire being to Him. They would rather create their own sense of identity, and they might even consider adding a slice of religion to their life…but only a slice. Christians confess Christ as Lord of their whole life but the world says, “I am my own god. They put self at the center, and rank everything else by how relevant it is to the all-important me. Whether it is my job, my sexual orientation, my race, my religion or lack thereof, my children, my spouse, etc., these are just aspects that contribute to my self-made identity. When we are Christ’s it changes everything When we die to sin and self, and have Christ as Lord of our life, it’s then that we find our true identity. As a result, it is not my job, my spouse, my children, or my race that give me my meaning. It is belonging to Christ, living by the power of the Holy Spirit, and being a child of the Father, that sets me free! The implications of this are profound! This changes how I view my wife, a fellow believer and saint belonging to Christ. She is not simply a spouse; she is a sister-in-Christ, with whom I have a very special relationship. She is a gift of God and I must treat her as Christ treats the church. I must do all that I can to husband her and to cause her to flourish. This has implications for me as a dad. I do not just have children; I have covenant children. My wife and I must work in harmony with God’s Word and Spirit, together, to train and instruct our children in the way that they should go. When they grow older, this training will not leave them (Prov. 22:6). I need to disciple my children and care for them as a representative of the Father’s perfect love for us. It impacts my work. I am not simply a teacher – I am a teacher of God’struth, and I need to work hard to ensure that this is what students receive. I am a teacher of God’s covenant children and need to assist parents in training the youth of the church in godliness, training them to fulfill the calling they have as children of God. This also has implications for how I treat my physical self. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the living God! My body, heart, soul, and mind belong to him! I need to be intentional in what I let my body and my mind ingest. I have to treat my body as God so desires and that means being faithful to my wife, even prior to marriage. I have to be careful with my heart, fighting against covetousness and discontent. That means waking up every day with an attitude of gratitude – this day provides me another opportunity to serve Him; may all my efforts be directed rightly! Conclusion The list could go on and on, couldn’t it? There is not a single corner of my life that is not under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The way I spend money, time, and other resources, the kinds of friends I keep, the movies I watch, the attention I give to my Winnipeg Jets – all of this is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! This is truly a marvel: I am not my own, I belong to Jesus Christ; He paid for me and He set me free! He set me free to serve Him, to find my identity in Him. My life, my entire life is hidden in Christ! I am free indeed! If this freedom eludes you, reach out to those you know who have this joy. It is not frivolous, meaningless, or constant. This joy ebbs and flows with the challenges of every day life. But it is deeply rooted and gives true meaning and purpose to life. This joy and freedom lets us live in joy under our King, Jesus Christ. I am not my own, I belong to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ. To Him alone belongs all glory!
Countering Tim Keller's case for evolution
Examining Tim Keller's white paper Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople
****Tim Keller’s trusted place among Reformed and Presbyterian folk is well-earned, but not when it comes to his views on evolution. In a discussion paper of some years ago for the Biologos Foundation he provided Reformed scientists with a theologian’s suggestions about how one might apparently help others keep the faith and accept evolution. His 13-page white paper, entitled Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, has been referenced favorably by scientists and theologians in conservative Reformed churches.(1,2) In his paper, Keller explores the critical questions of concerned Christians and deals with them head-on. While his forthrightness is commendable, most of his answers are not. What this debate is not about It’s important to situate accurately our debate with Keller. The debate between us is not whether the Christian faith and current science (or what is claimed to be science) are irreconcilable, for we all agree that in many respects they are reconcilable while in some respects they are not. The debate, rather, is in what particular respects they are and are not able to be reconciled. The debate between us is not whether evolution is a defensible worldview that gives us the basis of our views on religion, ethics, human nature, etc. We all agree that it is not the “grand theory/explanation of everything.” We all agree that there is a God and he is the God of the Bible – Triune, sovereign, covenant-making, gracious, atonement-providing, and bringing about a new creation. Nor am I debating whether Keller is an old-earth creationist aka progressive creationist or an evolutionary creationist or a theistic evolutionist. His own position is a bit unclear so I will simply deal with what he has published in this paper.(3) The debate between us is not whether matter is eternal; whether the universe’s order is by sheer chance; whether humans have no purpose but to propagate their own genes; whether humans are material only; whether human life is no more valuable than bovine, canine, or any other life; whether upon death all personal existence ceases; or whether ethics is at root about the survival of the fittest. We all agree that none of these things are the case – Scripture teaches differently. We are not debating these points. What it is about – 3 key questions Our differences emerge in the compatibility of Scripture with biological evolution, namely, whether Scripture has room for the view that humans have a biological ancestry that precedes Adam and Eve. Is this a permissible view? The first thing to realize as one reads Keller’s paper is its context and purpose: Delivered at the first Biologos “Theology of Celebration” workshop in 2009, Keller lays out 3 concerns that “Christian laypeople” typically express when they are told that God created Adam and Eve by evolutionary biological processes. Keller advances strategies to help fellow Biologos members allay these fears of Christian laypeople. The context thus is that biological evolution is a permissible view; the scholars just need to figure out how to make it more widely accepted. Keller deals with the following “three questions of Christian laypeople.” If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally? If biological evolution is true – does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes and everything about us can be explained by natural selection? If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from? These are excellent questions! But what sort of answers does Keller propose? Q1. IF EVOLUTION IS TRUE, CAN WE TAKE GENESIS 1 LITERALLY? Keller’s first question is, “If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?” Keller’s short answer is,
The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking or agenda on them.At first glance this is a solid answer – the Bible has authority! But Keller has more to say. Genre and intent He expands upon his answer first by delving into the genre of Genesis 1 because “the way to discern how an author wants to be read is to distinguish what genre the writer is using.” “How an author wants to be read” is a bit ambiguous, but I’ll take it to refer to authorial intent – Keller’s point is going to be whether or not the author wants us to read Genesis 1 literally and chronologically. The link he proposes between genre and authorial intent, however, is not straightforward. Someone can use widely differing genres to communicate the same intended message. Consider this example: If I use poetry to communicate to my wife how much I love her, my intentions are just the same as if I had written it out in a regular sentence or two. I could even send the same message via a syllogism:
All my life I have loved you; Today is a day of my life; Therefore I love you today.Whether poetry or prose or syllogism (or, as my wife would call it, a silly-gism) my message remains the same. Now it’s true that in poetry I’m more likely to use figures of speech but that doesn’t mean poetry as a genre can’t recount history. See Psalm 78 for a good example of poetry replete with historical truth. Genre of Genesis 1 Keller next asks what genre Genesis 1 is and starts his answer with the conservative Presbyterian theologian Edward J. Young (1907–1968) who, he says, “admits that Genesis 1 is written in ‘exalted, semi-poetical language.’” Keller correctly notes the absence of the telltale signs of Hebrew poetry. Yet he also points out the refrains in Genesis 1 such as, “and God saw that it was good,” “God said,” “let there be,” and “and it was so,” and then Keller adds, “Obviously, this is not the way someone writes in response to a simple request to tell what happened.” He completes this part of the arguments with a quotation from John Collins that the genre of Genesis 1 is “what we may call exalted prose narrative. . . by calling it exalted, we are recognizing that we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.” Thus this argument is now complete: Keller is saying that the genre of Genesis 1 prohibits us from reading it literally. Misleading appeal to E. J. Young However, if we follow the trail via Keller’s footnote to E. J. Young’s, Studies in Genesis One, we discover that Keller sidestepped Young’s real point. Here’s the fuller quote, “Genesis one is written in exalted, semi-poetical language; nevertheless, it is not poetry” (italics added). Young continued by pointing out what elements of Hebrew poetry are lacking and by urging the reader to compare Job 38:8-11 and Psalm 104:5-9 to Genesis 1 in order to see the obvious differences between a poetic and non-poetic account of the creation. Prior to this paragraph Young had written,
Genesis one is a document sui generis [entirely of its own kind]; its like or equal is not to be found anywhere in the literature of antiquity. And the reason for this is obvious. Genesis one is divine revelation to man concerning the creation of heaven and earth. It does not contain the cosmology of the Hebrews or of Moses. Whatever that cosmology may have been, we do not know . . . Israel, however, was favoured of God in that he gave to her a revelation concerning the creation of heaven and earth, and Genesis one is that revelation.Young elaborates further,
For this reason we cannot properly speak of the literary genre of Genesis one. It is not a cosmogony [creation account], as though it were simply one among many. In the nature of the case a true cosmogony must be a divine revelation. The so-called cosmogonies of the various peoples of antiquity are in reality deformations of the originally revealed truth of creation. There is only one genuine cosmogony, namely, Genesis one, and this account alone gives reliable information as to the origin of the earth (italics added).With these words of Young guiding our hearts, we turn back to Keller’s statement that it is “obvious” that someone would not compose an account in the exalted style of Genesis 1 “in response to a simple request to tell what happened.” Really? But what if the things therein described happened exactly in that exalted way? Of course, we are reading “exalted prose” – precisely because the things described are so wonderful! The literary style not only fits but even reflects the miraculous events. God is glorified repeatedly, all the more because it is literally true. An old canard: Genesis 1 versus Genesis 2 Keller’s second reason – and strongest, he says – why he thinks the author of Genesis 1 didn’t want to be taken literally is based on “a comparison of the order of creative acts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.” This argument is a bit more complicated and deserves closer scrutiny than I will give it here. But the basic point is that Genesis 2:5 apparently speaks about God not putting any vegetation on the earth before there was an atmosphere or rain or a man to till the ground. This, says Keller, is the natural order. Genesis 1 is the unnatural order, so it’s not literal. His argument is an old canard, but really it is a lame duck. Let’s examine it: Keller says that Genesis 1 has an unnatural order because: light (created on Day 1) came before light sources (created on Day 4) vegetation (Day 3) came before an atmosphere and rain (which he says was created on Day 4) Let’s consider this second point first. Keller reads the text too quickly here, for the separation of waters above and below occurs on Day 2, thus allowing rain before vegetation. And even if there was no rain, a day without light or water wouldn’t kill these plants anyway. Now regarding the first point, the “light before lightbearers” problem, it might strike us as interesting that God created light on Day 2 before there were any light sources – the sun moon and stars were created on Day 4 – but why should it strike us as a difficulty? God has no need of the sun to make light (Rev. 21:23). To continue: the order of events in Genesis 2, especially verse 5, is not in the least contrary to Genesis 1. Rather, whereas Genesis 1:1–2:3 refers only to “God” and focuses on the awesome Creator preparing and adorning the earth for man, Genesis 2:4–25 focus on this God as “Yahweh” who lovingly and tenderly creates the man and the woman, prepares a beautiful garden for them, and who thereupon enters into a loving relationship with them. Each chapter makes its own contribution to the story, with chapter 2 doubling back in order to more fully explain the events of the sixth day. This is a common occurrence in Hebrew prose. Further, we can easily fit 2:4–25 chronologically in between 1:26, “Let us make man in our image” and 1:27, “So God created man in his image . . . male [Adam] and female [Eve] he created them.” Finally, Genesis 2:4 begins the first “toledoth” or “generations of” statement, which after this becomes a structural divider in Genesis, occurring nine more times. Young argues that we should translate “toledoth” as “those things which are begotten.” If we follow this suggestion, we see that Genesis 2:4ff tell us about the things begotten of the heavens and the earth, such as the man, who is both earthly (his body) and heavenly (his spirit), or the garden, which is earthly, yet planted by God. When Genesis 2:5 states that “no shrub of the field” had yet grown and “no plant of the field” had yet sprouted, it portrays a barrenness which sets the stage for the fruitful garden (2:8–14) and the fruitful wife (2:18–25). Further, the “shrubs” and “plants” of the field likely point to cultivated plants that require human tending. Adam will be a farmer. If so, the point of 2:5 is not the lack of vegetation altogether, but the lack of certain man-tended kinds, such as those Yahweh God would plant in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, we ought to conclude the very opposite of Keller. Whereas he argues that we cannot read both chapter 1 and chapter 2 as “straightforward accounts of historical events” and that chapter 2 rather than chapter 1 provides the “natural order,” we most certainly can read both as historical and literal. Keller pulls together both the genre and the chronology arguments and concludes,
So what does this mean? It means Genesis 1 does not teach us that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days. Of course, it doesn’t teach evolution either . . . However, it does not preclude the possibility of the earth being extremely old.However, both of Keller’s grounds for not taking Genesis 1 literally have been exposed as weak at best.(4) In contrast, E. J. Young’s strong arguments for the literal, historical reading of Genesis 1, a few of which we reviewed here, remain firmly in place. Exalted prose indeed, and true! Whose authority? Before we move on to Keller’s second question, a word about the authority of the text: Keller states that we must “respect the authority of the Biblical writers.” His wording is similar to that of John Walton’s in speeches Walton gave at a conference I attended in September 2015.(5) Walton frequently spoke of “the authority of the text” and stated that it rested in the original meaning “as understood by the people who first received it.” But missing from both Keller and Walton is the recognition that all Scripture is breathed by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and that therefore the primary author is the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). We are not called just to respect the authority of human writers or of the text, but of God himself! That’s why there are passages of Scripture for which the first intention of the human writer – as far as we can discern it – does not reach as far as the divine intention. (Consider, for example, certain Messianic Psalms such as 2 & 110, or the injunction about the ox not wearing a muzzle as it treads out the grain – Deut. 25:4; cf. 1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). In fact, Peter tells us that the Old Testament prophets searched with great care to find out the time and circumstances of the things they prophesied about Christ – implying that the prophecies went beyond the knowledge of the prophets themselves. He adds that these are things into which even angels long to look (1 Pet. 1:10–12). Thus, it’s clear that the primary author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit and that the authority of the text resides in his intentions first of all. This is why one of the primary rules of interpretation is to compare Scripture with Scripture. This book is God’s Word! Let us take great care in handling the Word of God – greater care than Keller does on this point. And let us conclude that the text of Genesis 1 itself clearly indicates it is to be read literally, historically, and chronologically (Keller, at least, has not proven otherwise). Q2: IF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION IS TRUE, DOES IT EXPLAIN EVERYTHING? So let us move on to Keller’s second question. This “layperson” question really gets at a problem: “If biological evolution is true, does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?” Keller’s provides this short answer, “No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.” Two senses of “evolution” – EBP vs. GTE In explaining this question and his response, Keller distinguishes evolution in two senses. Evolution as a means God used to create. Or as Keller puts it, “human life was formed through evolutionary biological processes” (EBP). Evolution “as the explanation for every aspect of human nature,” which he calls the “Grand Theory of Everything” (GTE). The problem Keller is addressing is that self-described “evolutionary creationists” – such as those at Biologos tend to be – end up hearing the same critique from both creationists and evolutionists: both argue that you can’t hold the theory of biological evolution without at the same time endorsing atheistic evolution as a whole. Essentially both critics assert that evolution is a package – a worldview, a big-picture perspective – and you can’t just isolate one part of it. Keller suggests to his fellow Biologos members that most Christian laypeople have a difficult time distinguishing EBP from GTE. They have a hard time understanding that it is possible to limit one’s commitment to evolution to “the scientific explorations of the way which – at the level of biology – God has gone about his creating processes” (Keller quoting David Atkinson). “How can we help them?” Keller asks, for “this is exactly the distinction they must make, or they will never grant the importance of EBP.” He simply states that Christian pastors, theologians and scientists need to keep emphasizing that they are not endorsing evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything. Keller’s helpful critique of evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything To support this, Keller provides a brief but helpful analysis, showing that evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything (GTE) is self-refuting. He touches on this in the paper, and expands on it in an online video from which I’ll also quote. Basically, according to those who hold to evolution as the explanation of everything (GTE), religion came about only because it somehow must have helped our ancestors survive (survival of the fittest). In fact, they say, we all know there’s no God, no heaven, no divine revelation. Such things are false beliefs. But if that is the case, argues Keller, then natural selection has led our minds to believe false things for the sake of survival. Further, if human minds have almost universally had some kind of belief in God, performed religious practices, and held moral absolutes, and if it’s all actually false, then we can’t be sure about anything our minds tell us, including evolution as the grand theory of everything. Thus, with reference to itself, evolution as the GTE is absurd. In the online video Keller is dealing with the problem that opponents of Christianity and of religion generally try to “explain it away.” He states,
C.S. Lewis put it this way some years ago, “You can’t go on explaining everything away forever or you will find that you have explained explanation itself away.”Keller, following Lewis, illustrates “explaining away” with “seeing through” things: A window lets you see through it to something else that is opaque. But if all we had were windows – a wholly transparent world – all would be invisible and in the end you wouldn’t see anything at all. “To see through everything is not to see at all.” How does that apply to our discussion? Keller then shows that many universal claims are self-refuting.
If, as Nietzsche says, all truth claims are really just power grabs, then so is his, so why listen to him? If, as Freud says, all views of God are really just psychological projections to deal with our guilt and insecurity, then so is his view of God, so why listen to him? If, as the evolutionary scientists say, that what my brain tells me about morality and God is not real – it’s just chemical reactions designed to pass on my genetic code – then so is what their brains tell them about the world, so why listen to them? In the end to see through everything is not to see.(7)As usual, Keller is an insightful apologist for the Christian faith. He helps us oppose evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything. Just the same, I heard another prominent evolutionary creationist, Denis Alexander, answering questions at a recent conference (2016) and musing about our lack of knowledge as to when “religiosity” first evolved among our ancestors. So, Keller’s helpful critique notwithstanding, at least one of his co-members at Biologos appears to think that religiosity is an evolved trait (or at least allows for this view). But Keller doesn’t prove that EBP doesn’t lead to GTE Although I’ve highlighted something helpful in Keller’s white paper, the main point he needed to do was to prove that one’s commitment to the theory of evolutionary biological ancestry for humans (and all other living things) does not entail holding to evolution as the grand theory of everything. He didn’t prove this, and didn’t really make the attempt. He might not have felt the need to, because of the setting in which he spoke – he delivered this speech to Biologos, an organization which is committed to EBP but wants to avoid GTE because the members are Christians. Nevertheless, this is the real point at issue. Can and will Christians be able to hold to EBP without moving to GTE? I seriously doubt that Christians can or will be successful in adopting evolution as EBP while avoiding the trajectory that moves toward evolution as GTE. Here’s why, in short. It seems to me that as soon as one adopts EBP, the following positions come to be accepted (whether as hypotheses, theories, or firm positions): Adam and Eve had biological ancestors, from whom they evolved – some sort of chimp-like creatures. These “chimps” in turn had other biological ancestors and relatives, as do all creatures. In fact, there is an entire phylogenetic tree or chain of evolutionary development that begins with the Big Bang. All living things have common ancestry in the simplest living things, such as plants. At some point before that the transition was made from non-living things to the first living cell (some evolutionary creationists assert that God did something supernatural to make the transition from non-living things to living).(8) Evolving requires deep time. “Multiple lines of converging evidence” apparently tell us the universe is 14.7 billion years old; the earth is about 4.7 billion, life is about 3 billion, and human life is probably about 400,000 years old (these numbers may vary; I happen to think 6-10 thousand is rather ancient as it is!). Humans do not have souls; they are simply material beings. This is being promoted by Biologos and other theologians and philosophers.(9) Not all evolutionary creationists would agree; some say God gave a soul when he “made” man in his image, others that the soul “emerged” from higher-order brain processes at some point in the evolutionary history. The world is getting better, on a continual trajectory from chaos to increasing order, or from bad to good to better to best. This creates great difficulties for one’s doctrine of the fall, redemption in Christ, and the radical transition into the new creation. The earth, as long as it has had animal life, has been filled with violence. Keller admits in his paper how critical this is: “The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops.” This presents enormous difficulty for one’s doctrines of the good initial creation, and the fall into sin. God must have been more hands-off. The universe’s order arises mainly due to the unfolding of the inherent powers and structures God must have embedded in that initial singularity called the Big Bang. There is a movement toward Deism inherent in the theory. Much of what the Bible ascribes to God’s creating power and wisdom actually belongs to his providential guidance, which itself was probably a rather hands-off thing. God’s nature needs to be understood differently – particularly his goodness – if creation was “red in tooth and claw” from the beginning.(10) Scripture needs to be reinterpreted. The authority of God’s Word falls under the axe due to the exegetical gymnastics required to accommodate EBP. Scripture apparently no longer means what it appears to mean. This opens up the reinterpretation of everything in the Bible. Where is the line between? In sum, Keller provides a helpful critique of evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything (GTE). However, he fails to demonstrate that holding to evolutionary biological processes (EBP) does not, in itself, open one up to evolution as the GTE, and may in fact ultimately make it impossible to avoid more and more of evolution as the GTE. This is surely because for the most part evolution as such depends upon atheistic presuppositions. And in fact, it’s actually quite hard to determine just where the line is between evolution as EBP and GTE. I’m afraid that’s a sliding scale, depending upon which scientist or theologian presents his views. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent... you know the rest. The academic and religious trajectories of scholars who were once orthodox and Reformed shows how hard it is to maintain evolution as EBP only. I’m thinking of such men as Howard Van Till (who is now more of a “free thinker”),(11) Peter Enns (who now only holds to the Apostles’ Creed and treats the Bible as arising from the Israelites, not from God)(12) and Edwin Walhout (who advocated rewriting the doctrines of creation, sin, salvation, and providence).(13) There are whole swaths of theologians and scientists associated with Biologos, the Faraday Institute, and the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation who are trying valiantly to hold together their Christian faith with evolutionary science. And the money of the Templeton Foundation will ensure that pamphlets, presentations, conferences, and books, will bring these views to the Christian public. Holding to Dooyeweerdian philosophy’s sphere sovereignty may help some of these Christians compartmentalize their biology, geology, and their faith, but that philosophical school has been subject to severe criticism in our tradition, and on precisely this point.(14) I fear that the dissonance of EBP itself with the historic, creedal Christian faith will prove to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Christians to keep their faith and EBP together. I also doubt that one can very easily maintain evolution as EBP only. Q3: IF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION IS TRUE, WHENCE SIN AND SUFFERING? One question remains. Keller words this “layperson” question as follows, “If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?” He responds in short,
Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.Keller finds the “concerns of this question much more well-grounded” than the first two questions. With reference to the first two, he summarizes, “I don’t believe you have to take Genesis 1 as a literal account, and I don’t think that to believe human life came about through EBP you necessarily must support evolution as the GTE.” But as regards this third question he wants to maintain that Adam and Eve were historical figures and not mere symbols. In this regard he differs from those who are more liberal with the text of Genesis 1–3. In part agreeing with Keller As with the last question Keller entertained, I again find him making some strong and valid points but ultimately proposing solutions that don’t work. He is concerned that if the church abandons belief in a historical fall into sin, this might “weaken some of our historical, doctrinal commitments at certain crucial points.” Two such points are the trustworthiness of Scripture and the scriptural teachings on sin and salvation. He correctly asserts that, “the key for interpretation is the Bible itself.” He adds that he doesn’t think Genesis 1 should be taken literally because he thinks the author himself didn’t intend this. However, we have earlier weighed his case and found it wanting. His principles sound good, but he doesn’t practice them. Moreover, he fails to talk about the ultimate author of Scripture, the Holy Spirit. When Keller favourably quotes Kenneth Kitchen to the effect that the ancients did not tend to historicize myth, that is, think that their myths really were history, but rather tended to turn their history into myths, celebrating actual persons and events “in mythological terms,” we can again agree. This supports the view that the original message is the truth we find in Genesis, and that the myths of the surrounding nations adulterated this.(15) The Derek Kidner model In 1967 Derek Kidner, a British Old Testament scholar ordained in the Anglican Church, published a commentary on Genesis in which he surmised that the creature into which God breathed life (Gen 2:7) could have belonged to an existing species whose “bodily and cultural remains” (fossils, bones, cave drawings, I presume) show that they were quite intelligent but were not up to the level of an Adam. Keller concludes, “So in this model there was a place in the evolution of human beings when God took one out of the population of tool-makers and endowed him with the ‘image of God.’” However, a problem arises regarding all the other tool-makers. They would have been biologically related to Adam but not spiritually related. Kidner then proposed a second step: “God may have now conferred his image on Adam’s collaterals, to bring them into the same realm of being.” Then, if Adam is taken as the representative of all, they might all be considered by God to be included in the fall even though they are not physically descended from Adam and Eve (this sort of move, by the way, has been welcomed by certain Reformed theologians who emphasize Adam’s federal or covenantal headship, though historically Reformed theologians never separated this from his physical headship). “Let us make man in our image” What is lacking in Kidner’s account and Keller’s consideration is more attention to the language of Genesis. God did not simply appoint an existing being to be endowed with his image. Rather God conferred within himself and specifically uttered his determination, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule . . .” (Gen 1:26). Then verse 27 three times uses the word “created,” when it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Thus, God spoke of “making” and “creating” man in chapter 1, while in chapter 2 the manner of this creating was specified in that God “formed the man of dust from the ground” and “fashioned/constructed a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man” (2:7, 22). Speaking of a mere endowment or bestowal of God’s “image” on an existing hominid, Neanderthal, or whatever it was, doesn’t do justice to such terms as “created,” “made,” “formed,” and “fashioned.” Suffering and death before the fall? Moving on to the problem of death before the fall, Keller acknowledges that this is a very prominent question. He doesn’t propose a fulsome answer, but offers a number of points by which his Biologos fellows could help Christians overcome these concerns. He does this by highlighting aspects of the creation which, in his view, show that “there was not perfect order and peace in creation from the first moment” (italics added). These aspects include the initial chaos which God had to “subdue” in the successive days of creating, the presence of Satan, the fact that the world was not yet “in a glorified, perfect state” and the view that surely there had to have been some kind of death and decay, else the fruit on the trees would not even have been digestible. What response can we give to this? First, we must emphasize what the Scriptures emphasize, “And God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31), the climax of all the other affirmations of the goodness of creation in that chapter (Gen 1:4,9,12,18,21,25). Second, we can agree that good bacteria were present, to digest food, for God gave all the plants for food (Gen 1:30; cf. Gen 9:3) and even in the new creation the tree of life will bear fruit every month and its leaves will be used for healing (Rev 22:2). Although Revelation describes this symbolically, the idea of plant death in some sense is not averse to the new creation (cf. Isa 65:25). Thus digestion and plant death before the fall are something good, not something evil. Third, God did not have to subdue the chaos as though it were an active power against him. Rather, he took six days to form and shape what he had initially produced on the first day so that he would set the pattern of our lives and manifest himself as a God of power, wisdom, order, and love. Finally, the presence of Satan did not make God’s creating work as such incomplete or evil. Rather, Satan had chosen to rebel, had destroyed the peace of heaven, but had not yet instigated our human rebellion. So none of Keller’s points stand and certainly none of them provide any scriptural evidence whatsoever of suffering and death before the fall. We must shun any suggestion that God is the one responsible for sin, evil, and suffering, or that suffering and evil are just natural developments and not a result of our sin. Spiritual death, not physical? One final attempt by Keller to find some room for suffering and death before the fall emerges from the distinction between physical and spiritual death. If one treats the threat of death in Genesis 2:17 and the curse of death after the fall as simply indicating spiritual death, then all of the hundreds of thousands of years of animal death before Adam and Eve are no problem. As Keller writes, “The result of the Fall, however, was ‘spiritual death’, something that no being in the world had known, because no one had ever been in the image of God.” Note that this is simply a consistent application of the idea that God “bestowed” his image on at least two hominids (or whatever they were) and thereby “elected” them to be humans. Before this all creatures were only animals. However, this separation of physical and spiritual death is artificial. The refrain of Genesis 5, “and he died,” underlines how the curse on creation was effected in a very physical way. We realize that Adam and Eve did not drop dead physically, the moment they disobeyed. But at that very moment they put themselves on the path of death, rebelling against God, and running from the Author of life. Only in the promise of the Seed could they still find hope – both physical and spiritual. Conclusion I don’t think Kidner’s model or Keller’s attempts to provide rhetorical suggestions to his fellow Biologos members have any scriptural weight behind them. These are attempts to accommodate theories that simply do not fit the message of Scripture. Nor do I agree with Keller that the right attitude for the church is to have a “bigger tent” in which we can peacefully discuss together the ways in which we as Reformed Christians might accommodate to Scripture the view that humans descended from other species by evolutionary biological processes. I am convinced that such views are serious errors that need to be kept out of the church of Christ. They disturb the peace. Defending the church against them preserves the peace within. While I appreciate many of Keller’s writings on apologetics and church planting and have expressed my appreciation in particular for the way in which he pointed out the absurdities of holding to evolution as the “explanation of everything,” I hope that this review essay will help Reformed and Presbyterian churches maintain adherence to their confessional statements. God created all things good in the space of six days. He made us – from the moment of our existence – as his vice-gerents, representing him to creation and responsible to him. We pledged allegiance to his enemy when we yielded to Satan’s suggestion. Thus we are responsible for sin and death; it is our fault, not God’s. But thanks be to God that his work of grace in Jesus Christ has opened the way for forgiveness, new life, and ultimately, a new creation. Footnotes 1) Keller’s paper can be found online at http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf. Accessed 25 Mar. 2016. 2) See http://reformedacademic.blogspot.ca/2010/03/tim-keller-on-evolution-and-bible.html. Accessed 27 Feb 2016. 3) For this debate see https://adaughterofthereformation.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/is-dr-tim-keller-a-progressive-creationist/. Accessed 27 Feb 2016. 4) In addition, Keller’s note 17 on page 14, linked to a different section of his paper, asserts that prose can use figurative speech and poetry can use literal speech. It appears, then, that he undercuts his own argument. 5) See my blog entry at http://creationwithoutcompromise.com/2016/02/03/the-lost-world/. 6) See, for instance, http://reformedacademic.blogspot.ca/2010/03/response-to-clarion-s-ten-reasons.html. Accessed 24 Feb 2016. 7) See http://veritas.org/talks/clip-explain-away-religion-tim-keller-argues-we-cant/?ccm_paging_p=6. Accessed 24 Feb, 2016. 8) As an example of an evolutionary creationist attempting to defend the evolutionary link from egg-laying reproduction to placenta-supported reproduction, see Dennis Venema’s recent essays on vitellogenin and common ancestry at Biologos. See http://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/vitellogenin-and-common-ancestry-does-biologos-have-egg-on-its-face. Accessed 25 Feb 2016. 9) See my essay entitled, “In Between and Intermediate: My Soul in Heaven’s Glory,” in As You See the Day Approaching: Reformed Perspectives on the Last Things, ed. Theodore G. Van Raalte (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 70–111. 10) See https://sixteenseasons.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/evolution-and-the-gallery-of-glory/. Accessed 27 Feb 2017. 11) See https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/howard-van-tills-lightbulb-moment/. Accessed 26 Feb 2016. 12) See his book, The Evolution of Adam (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press 2012), ix–xx, 26–34. 13) See https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/walhout-gets-it/. Accessed 26 Feb 2016. 14) For example, see J. Douma, Another Look at Dooyeweerd(Winnipeg: Premier Printing, 1981). 15) See remarks from E. J. Young in the discussion of the genre of Genesis 1.
Dr. Ted Van Raalte is the professor of Ecclesiology at the Canadian Reformed Seminary in Hamilton. This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue under the title "Countering a Reformed conservative’s case for evolution: Examining Tim Keller’s white paper 'Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople'" and a slightly different version of this article can be found at CreationWithoutCompromise.com.
Science - Environmental Stewardship, Theology
Global warming crisis? A brief biblical case for skepticism
The media tells us that the question is settled, there is a 97% consensus, and that anyone who has questions is a “denier,” likened to those who are either so foolish, or malicious, as to deny the reality of the Holocaust. But there are reasons to question. And while climate science might be beyond most of us, God has given us another means – a far more reliable means – of discerning truth, via His Word. Gender: the Bible shows the way Sometimes it doesn’t take much Bible study to be able to discern truth from error, and that’s certainly true in today’s gender debate. Young children are being surgically mutilated and hormonally sterilized and yet the government, doctors, psychologists, and media are applauding. While it might not be at 97% yet, the consensus is growing such that fines are being issued, teachers fired, students expelled, and Twitter mobs set loose on any who disagree. Despite the pressure, few Christians are being fooled, though that might be due as much to the newness of the debate as it is that Evangelicals are turning to their Bibles for guidance. But if they do open His Word it won’t take a believer long to figure out God’s position. In Genesis 1:27 we learn it is God, not Man, who determines our gender:
“So God created Man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”Population: following the Bible would have saved tens of millions The overpopulation crisis has a longer history to it and, consequently, many more Christians have bought into it. Since the 1950s we’ve been hearing that sometime soon the world’s population will outstrip the planet’s resources. In his 1969 book The Population Bomb Paul Ehrlich warned:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”You would think that by now it would be easy to see that these overpopulation fears were mistaken. As economist Arthur Brooks has noted, what’s happened is the very opposite of Ehrlich’s dire prediction:
“From the 1970s until today the percentage of people living at starvation’s door has decreased by 80%. Two billion people have been pulled out of starvation-level poverty.”Yet the overpopulation hysteria has never gone away. And the damage it has done has been on par with that of a Hitler or Stalin – tens of millions have been killed. Under threat of this crisis China implemented their infamous one-child policy, with its fines and forced abortions for couples who tried for two. And the deaths weren’t limited to China; overpopulation fears were used to justify the push for legalized abortion in countries around the world. Murdering your own children wasn’t cold and selfish anymore; now it was a woman doing her part to save the planet. Christians opposed abortion, of course, but some believers started questioning whether overpopulation concerns might be correct. Maybe God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply” and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28) was just a temporary directive that we’ve fulfilled and should now treat as being over and done with. But it takes only a little more digging to find out that’s not what God thinks. Overpopulation proponents saw children as more mouths to find – they saw them as a problem – but God speaks repeatedly of children as a blessing (Ps. 113:9, 127:3-5, Prov. 17:6, Matt. 18:10, John 16:21). And opportunities present themselves when we see children as God sees them. When we understand they are a blessing, then we realize that not only do children come with a mouth that needs filling, but they also have hands that can produce even more than their mouth consumes. And they have a brain to invent and problem solve. When we see children this way – as a blessing and not a curse – then we'll realize there’s a real practical benefit in having lots of them: as we’ve been told, many hands make light work, and two heads are also better than one! That’s why it shouldn’t have surprised Christians when in the 1950s and 60s a group of inventive sorts, led by American Norman Borlaug, helped develop much higher-yielding strains of cereal crops. This “Green Revolution” turned wheat-importing countries into wheat exporting countries by more than doubling yields. And while there are no prophecies in the Bible specifically mentioning Norman Borlaug, Christians could have seen him coming, and in a sense some did. Those who continued having large families, despite the dire predictions, could do so confident that any problems caused by the innumerable nature of their progeny would be solved by something like the Green Revolution happening. Today, decades later, we can look back and see that a country like China, that ignored what God says about children, is facing a different sort of demographic crisis. A young Chinese couple will have two sets of parents and four sets of grandparents to look after and support, but have no siblings or cousins to help them. As soon as 2030 China will see their population start to decline, with not nearly enough working age citizens to provide for their aging population. It’s not all that different in the Western world where, even without government coercion, our families have been shrinking and women are averaging far less than two children each. We aren’t as near the crisis point as China, but by aborting a quarter of the next generation, we’ve created our own coming demographic crisis. Global warming: a biblical case for skepticism The population and gender debates remind us that the Bible is more reliable than any-sized consensus no matter how big. They also teach us that the world can get things not just completely wrong, but monstrously so, leading to the deaths of tens of millions. That’s why when it comes to global warming, where we’re being told once again that the fate of the planet is at stake, we want any and all guidance we can get from God’s Word. Cornelius Van Til once noted:
“The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication.”The Bible does speak to global warming, but not directly. This isn’t like the gender debate, which runs smack up against Genesis 1:27 (“male and female He created them”) or the overpopulation crisis, which directly opposes the very next verse (“be fruitful and multiply”). When it comes to global warming the Bible isn’t as direct. But there are lots of implications. Time and space only allow me to present a half dozen texts. I’m not pretending that any one of them makes the definitive case for skepticism. But I do think that together they start pointing us decidedly in that direction. "You will know them by their fruits" – Matt. 7:15-20 In Matthew 7 Jesus tells us that we can tell a good tree from a bad one by the fruit on it. His concern wasn’t with trees though, but with telling false prophets from good ones. When it comes to global warming the science is beyond most of us, but we can evaluate the people. So let’s return to this 97% consensus we’ve heard so much about. This statistic is used to argue that there is no question but that the planet is headed to catastrophic climate change. But is this a reliable number, or is it like the greatly exaggerated 10% figure commonly given for the homosexual population? The figure has a few different origins, but one of the more commonly cited is a paper by John Cook and his colleagues reviewing 11,944 published peer-reviewed papers from climate scientists. Did 97% of those papers’ authors agree with the statement “humans are causing global warming”? That’s what we would expect. But instead of 10,000+ papers with that position, there were 3,894, or approximately 33%. So how did the 97% figure come out of that then? Well, it turns out only approximately 34% of the papers took a position one way or the other, with just 1% disagreeing or uncertain, and 33% agreeing. Thus, of the 34% who took a position, 97% agreed that humans are causing global warming. Is it honest to ignore the two thirds who didn’t state a position, and say there is a 97% consensus and no room for a debate? How this statistic has been used reminds me of a trick from another debate – equivocation about the definition of “evolution.” In his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins notes that when poachers shoot elephants with long tusks, the next generation is liable to have shorter tusks. Okay, but creationists also believe species can undergo changes over time. We’re the folks arguing that the array of cats we see today are all modified versions of a single cat kind brought on the ark. Dawkins has presented “minor changes over time” – a definition of evolution so broad that it enfolds even creationists into the evolution camp – as if it were proof of the from-goo-to-you sort of evolution that is actually under dispute. Similarly, the 97% consensus is being presented as if all those counted hold that the warming is catastrophic, humans are the primary cause, and there is a need for immediate, drastic, global action. But the agreement was only that “humans are causing global warming.” And that’s a statement so broad as to enfold even many of the so-called “deniers.” So on a statement we can verify – whether there really is a 97% consensus on catastrophic global warming – we find “bad fruit.” There are many other facts and claims we can’t evaluate, but doesn’t this tell us something about the “tree”? “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” – Proverbs 18:17 God says that to find the truth good questions are helpful. That’s not going on here, where questioners are likened to Holocaust deniers. But here’s a few questions worth considering: Aren’t there bigger priorities than global warming, like the millions who will starve to death this year, or the billions who lack basic access to clean water and sanitation? If fossil fuels are harmful, and solar and wind problematic, why aren’t we turning to nuclear? How will the world’s poor be impacted by a move away from fossil fuels toward more expensive alternatives? Are we again (as we did in response to overpopulation fears) seeking to save the planet by harming those who live on it? Samuel’s warning against kings – 1 Samuel 8:10-22 President Obama’s chief of staff famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” and if you want to understand what he meant, looking no further than Justin Trudeau’s proposed ban on single-use plastics. This past year a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up deep inside his nose went viral, alerting the tens of millions of viewers to the growing problem of plastics in our oceans. The movement to ban plastic straws has taken off since then. But will Trudeau’s single-use plastics ban save turtles? No, because our straws don’t end up in the ocean. Of the mass of plastic in the ocean it’s been estimated the US is responsible for one percent, and it’d be reasonable to conclude that Canada is responsible for far less. So how, then, does all the plastic end up in the ocean? It turns out that the vast majority of it comes from poorer countries that don’t have proper trash disposal. They simply dump their waste into the ocean and into their rivers. Trudeau’s ban will do nothing to help the turtles…but it will expand the government’s reach. The proposed solutions for climate change all involve expanding the government too, giving it a larger role in directing all things energy-related. So, how is 1 Samuel 8 relevant? Here we find Samuel warning against an expansion of government – get a king and he’ll start intruding into all areas of your lives. If there is a biblical case to be made for limited, small government (and there is) then Christians have a reason to question crises that seem to necessitate an ever-expanding role for the State. “…and it was very good.” – Gen. 1:31 While we no longer live in the perfect world Adam and Eve started with, we have only to wriggle our toes, or watch a ladybug crawl across the back of our hand to recognize that God’s brilliant design is still evident and at work all around us. We are on a blue and white marble, spinning at just the right angle, and orbiting at just the right distance from the sun, for it to rain and snow in season. We have a moon just the right size, and circling at just the right distance for us to study our own sun, and to bring the tides that sweep our beaches each day. And our planet is graced with a molten iron core that generates the very magnetic field we need to protect us from the solar winds, which would otherwise strip away the ozone layer that protects us from ultraviolet radiation. It is wheels within wheels within wheels, and while we can do damage to it, when we appreciate how brilliantly our world is designed we aren’t surprised there is a robustness to it. Meanwhile, the unbeliever thinks our world is the result of one lucky circumstance after another – a tower of teacups, all balanced perfectly, but accidentally. If the world did come about by mere happenstance, then what an unbelievable run of happenstance we’ve had, and isn’t there every reason to fear change? Sure, the teacup tower is balanced now, but if we mess with it, how long can we count on our luck to hold? “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker” – Prov. 14:31 At first glance, this text might not seem to provide much direction in this debate. After all, couldn’t a Christian who holds to catastrophic man-caused global warming cite it in support of their position too? Yes they could. If climate change is real, then the oppression it would bring on the poor would be a reason to fight it. Yet this text does provide a very specific sort of direction. It lays out limits on what sort of global warming plans Christians should view as acceptable: any plan to save the planet that does so by hurting the poor is not biblical. That means increasing energy costs has to be out. Millions are starving already and raising energy prices will only increase those numbers. “Be fruitful and multiply” – Gen. 1:28 Children come with an inevitable “carbon footprint” which is why some global warming proponents echo the same sentiments as the overpopulationists before them. “Save the earth; don’t give birth” is catchy, but if that was the only possible way we could lower carbon emissions then Christians could, on that basis, conclude there was no need to worry about CO2. Because God tells us children are a blessing, not a curse. Of course there may be other ways to lower carbon emissions. But the more we hear people portraying children as a problem, the more we should recognize there is an element in the global warming movement intent on attacking God’s Truth, rather than taking on any real problem. Conclusion Other passages could be mentioned like Genesis 8:22, Romans 1:25 and Psalm 102:25-26 but this is good for a start. And that’s what this is: a start. My hope here is to encourage an exploration of what Scripture says that’s relevant to the issue of global warming. The Bible isn’t silent on this topic; we need to look at global warming biblically.
The Bible doesn’t have a lot say about ___________
We often hear it said, "the Bible really doesn't have a lot to say about ________" Into this blank liberals will insert terms such as "homosexuality" or "creation" or "gender" and, as Douglas Wilson has noted, they'll make this claim because they are the sort of liberal that still professes God's Word as authoritative, and they know that if the Bible does speak to their cause, then they really should listen. But they don't want to so they pretend God has not spoken. Then when we see what they're doing we get frustrated. How can they ignore what God has so clearly said? Not a business manual, but.... But conservative Christians also talk this way and sometimes for the very same reason. We know that God is sovereign, but there are some areas of our life where we want to rule supreme. For some it might be the type of music they like, or the movies they prefer. For others, it could be the way they treat their spouse, or the way they discipline their children. Of course, we know better than to say, "You can have it all Lord, but not this one part." So, instead, we pretend He has not spoken when the truth is we haven't looked and we don't want to. Other times Christians dismiss the Bible's relevance out of ignorance. We insist the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about business, or the environment, or painting, or playing sports because, in our daily reading, we’ve never noticed chapters on business, the environment, painting, or playing sports. A fellow might say, "The Bible doesn't have a lot to say about being an executive – it's not a management manual after all." And there is some truth to that since the Bible doesn't contain all there is to know about life, the universe, and everything. But what it does contain are God's very thoughts about the purpose of life, the universe, and everything. Might that have some relevance to business practices? It's easy enough to answer with a "yes" and leave everything there – a hypothetical acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty in business too, but then we don’t go any further. We don’t pursue how exactly His rule works itself out in the boardroom. That’s why the better question here is one that apologist Del Tackett loves to ask: "Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?” Do we believe God really is sovereign over every square inch of creation? And do we believe that God really is wise, and really is loving? Do we really believe He knows what is best for us? That’s what we say we believe. But do we really? Because if we do, then instead of dismissing His relevance to whatever we are doing, we should be eager to search out what He does have to say. Even if it is only a little, we know it is brilliant and completely reliable (and what business books can say that?). God has a lot to say for anyone who has ears to hear If we start that search, the results are sure to be astounding. When we eagerly comb through the Scriptures to find every last thing God might have said about our particular interest – when, instead of avoiding his authority over our favorite activity, we look to see how we can place it under His rule – then we'll find God gives us more guidance than we ever realized. Yes, the word "business" is hardly ever mentioned in the Old and New Testament, but the Bible has lots to say about office life. One example: in a recent post by business blogger David Mead, he writes about what to do when you are in a meeting surrounded by brilliant folk and you're feeling intimidated. You feel like you really don't belong here "at the adult table." Mead lays out our two choices. We can either: "Show up in an attempt to prove that we're good enough, smart enough, experienced enough, or educated enough to be there..." "Show up knowing that we don't yet belong at the adult table and use it as an opportunity to learn, ask questions and contribute..." He then notes that if you try the first approach, you're likely to find "others in the group will take some pleasure in knocking you down a few pegs." But if you go with choice two, you may just find "the group will take pleasure in helping you gain..." I don't know if David Mead is a Christian but I do know this advice is. I can state that with confidence becuase God has given His people the means to evaluate such advice – we can verify that Mead got it exactly right, even if we've never been in a boardroom. How can we be so sure? Because in Luke 14:8-11 Jesus says the same thing. In this passage, Jesus is talking about a wedding feast, not a business meeting, but his point speaks to human nature, which remains the same everywhere.
"When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”Maybe David Mead was trying to build on Luke 14. But whether he was or was not, we can. And we should because we will never find a more reliable foundation than God's Word. Car mechanic The same holds true for any profession, any recreation, our food choices, the typical time we head to bed, the friends we choose – anything! For some, the everywhere-and-everything reach of God’s sovereignty will strike them as an imposition – there’s no square inch of creation left for us to call our own! But when we understand that God loves us, and is smarter than us, then we’ll see this not as restrictions, but as a comfort. God is watching out for us and has guidance for us, no matter what we are doing. So let’s try this again. Can we think of any subject, any area, any endeavor that the Bible doesn’t speak to? Let’s try and think of the toughest possible example, by focusing on something that the Bible couldn’t possibly speak about because it hadn’t even been invented in biblical times. What about cars? Wouldn’t it make sense for someone to say: “The Bible doesn’t say a lot about being an auto mechanic – after all, it isn’t a car repair manual”? The answer is still no. The Bible might not speak about cars, but it does offer warnings about the pull of idolatry, which may be a concern for any young gearhead whose interest is bordering on obsession. This is also a profession where most of the work he does has to be taken completely on trust. A client’s automotive knowledge may well end right where the front of the car begins, so the client won’t understand the problem, let alone have a clue as to the best solution. They are depending on an honest man giving them honest advice and putting in honest work. And the Bible has a lot to say about honesty too (Prov. 16:11 for example). Conclusion The Bible isn't an accounting textbook, or a self-help guide, or a cookbook – the Bible doesn't contain all there is to know about all of life. But God is sovereign over all of life, and what He says speaks to all of life. So, in whatever we do, the question is not whether God has something to say, but rather what is it that God has said? This is the calling and the privilege of being one of God’s own: we get to seek out God’s thoughts on math and bookbinding, art and child-rearing, environmental stewardship and counseling, and so much more! Of course, that doesn’t mean we are going to understand everything perfectly. We might seek God’s thoughts, and have a hard time figuring out what He has to say on a particular topic. We are not omnipotent – we will never know it all. But that speaks more to our own limitations than to the Bible’s. So enough with “The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about _________.” We know God really has spoken, really is Ruler of all, and really does love us. That’s why we have every reason to seek out how God’s Word speaks to every aspect of our lives.
Church history, Theology
Original Sin: Luther’s other life-changing doctrine
Every Reformation Day we remember how God used Luther to teach the Church that we are justified by faith alone, not by what we do. But often overlooked is how God used Luther to revive another forgotten, life-changing, doctrine.
****Martin Luther is more than another dusty historical figure – he has become a symbol of the Reformation itself. His legend is vivid enough to obscure the details of the actual man and the world in which he lived. The legend tells us the story of the tight way his life mirrored his theology, in his journey from the bondage of doubt to freedom in Christ. Yet this is not the only legend told – a man as famous as Luther collects negative portrayals as well as positive ones. Not all Roman Catholics would see Luther as a man to celebrate.1 In fact, Martin Luther has been characterized as a coarse man, a divisive man – worse than that, a man who allowed his own personal struggles with his faith to split the church. He was offered every comfort in the church he was raised in. His priest confessor grew tired of listening to the litany of sins he had committed, sins so minor they were hardly worth the breath it took to confess them.2 Why couldn’t Luther find comfort in his faith? It is said of him, that surely he must have been of a depressive temperament, or mentally unstable.3 Surely he was a peculiar man, an unusual man, and not a man others should've followed. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a great shock to anyone that a Roman Catholic might disparage Martin Luther as being unhealthily obsessed with sin, even as a Protestant might respect him as a great mind. Yet what we are after in this article is an honest evaluation of the life and thinking of this pivotal figure who has had such an enormous impact on Christianity. So this is the necessary question:was Luther unhealthily obsessed with his defects, or was this an important piece in the formulation of his theology? Awareness of the full horror of our sinful inclinations Luther’s theology is well-known: justification by faith alone. But to focus on justification by faith alone is to miss the rest of the story. It misses Luther's awful awareness of sin, and his dawning realization that sin was not limited to his conscious actions but was linked to the very nature of who he was. In fact, Luther suffered because he was aware not only of his actualsin, but also his sinful nature. And the comfort his church offered him all the years he struggled as a monk was rooted in a very different view of humanity's original sin, a view that did not provide him with the strategies to address his own sinful nature as the fountain of his sinful impulses. This is not a mere scholastic discussion. Not only does one’s opinion of Martin Luther as a human being affect the way one views the Reformation, but it also affects the way one approaches anyone who experiences distress, as Luther did, over their sinful inclinations. Luther’s understanding of his sinful nature, can give comfort to those who are also rightly realizing the full horror of the sinful inclinations running through their every action. This is an important point. Understanding the sinfulness of our nature is necessary if we’re going to give true comfort to believers who produce sin continually. To neglect to define human nature as actively inclined to sin, even after conversion, leads to spiritual distress. Luther’s life illustrates this, and Reformed theology further confirms this. Consequently, it is necessary to first look at the doctrine of original sin as the Roman Catholic Church understood it, and then how Luther differed and how it affected his life. A sinful nature or an ungoverned one? Did Roman Catholics in Luther’s time, then, not think humans had a sinful nature? It is perhaps better to say they did not talk in terms of a sinful nature at all. Theologians defined original sin as a lackof a special gift God had granted at creation. This special gift, which is often called “original justice” in their writings, enabled man to conform his will to God. And as a result of original justice, man’s will could be rightly directed towards God. Then, when man fell, this special gift was removed, and therefore man in his nature was wounded and no longer directed to God.4 Man’spassions became unleashed as a result of losing original justice in the Fall, and these passions were no longer rightly directed by man’s will and reason. This ungoverned desire or passion was not in itself regarded as sinful unless it resulted in an actual sinful action. Therefore there did remain in man the “tinder of sin” or “concupiscence,” from which actual sins sprung, but which was not sin itself.5 Concupiscenceis not a replacement for the Reformed understanding of man’s sinful nature, but rather a separate concept, separated from man’s will and reason, and not something active in every part of a man. This illustrates that medieval theology had quite a different formulation of the nature of man, and used these divisions to explain original sin in a very different way than later Protestant theology. This doctrine had developed throughout the Middle Ages, with theologians such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas increasingly defining original sin as a lack of something, rather than an active inclination against God, as Augustine had.6 In one sense their move in this direction makes sense, because to define original sin as a lack and a removal of a special gift appears to preserve the justice of God. If God only took back what had never been essential to man’s nature, God is not unjust because he may grant or not grant gifts as he wishes. A division of the nature of man was one way to address this, and medieval theology was further influenced by philosophical traditions of the time.7 This conception of original sin was carried over by the Nominalist theologians that Luther reacted most strongly against. In this school of thought, God adapted his righteous requirements to mercifully accept the very best acts man could do, and that God would, in return, give grace to man if man did his very best.8 This has obvious implications for justification, but it affects original sin as well, as it teaches that man, after the fall, is still able to detest sin and seek God.9 It was asserted that man in his natural powers could achieve selfless love out of his own will, and God would graciously respond to this.10 This theology can only result from a conception of original sin as a lackof something, rather than an activeinclination to rebel against God. Luther’s struggle When expressed this way, the division between the usual Protestant and Roman Catholic view of Luther becomes clearer. Our opinion of Luther might hinge on the nature of the sinful inclinations Luther detected in himself. If God did nothold Luther guilty for his concupiscence, all of Luther’s fellow priests were right to be exasperated by his continual struggle with his worry over it, and Roman Catholics today are right to dismiss Luther’s obsession as anxious mental instability. But if he truly stood condemned before the face of God, as he felt he was, then he was justified in his terror and his struggle to find a source of comfort. As a result, the Reformation that resulted from his shift in theology was justified, and more than justified– it was necessary! Luther suffered deeply as he grew more and more aware of the sea of sinful inclinations inside him. He would confess his sins daily – for as long as six hours – searching his memory and analyzing his every motive to be sure he had not missed a single one. While his priest grew exasperated with listening, Luther grew more and more frightened that he could go on thinking of new sins even after six hours. Roland H. Bainton underscores this in his biography of Luther, Here I Stand:
“There is, according to Luther, something much more drastically wrong with man than any particular list of offenses which can be enumerated, confessed and forgiven. The very nature of man is corrupt. The penitential system fails because it is directed to particular lapses. Luther had come to perceive that the entire man is in need of forgiveness.”11This realization plunged Luther into terror. Philip Watson describes Luther’s state like this:
“The scholastic theologians, it is true, taught that concupiscentiawas not in itself to be regarded as sin… But this again occasioned questionings and apprehension in Luther’s mind. Had his will not consented? … Was he really in a state of grace – for he could perceive no evidence of its effective working in him?”12The comfort offered by his priests – that God was a merciful God – did little to alleviate this burden. To Luther, this kind of mercy diminished God’s righteousness, and he refused to conceive of God’s justice in such human terms.13 But was Luther’s problem his own sinful inability to accept mercy, or was there a flaw in his theology that needed to be rectified? Luther came to believe there was a flaw in his theology, namely, that every action a person takes, even those which outwardly appear to be good ones, are shot through with sin. One could easily conclude Luther’s conscience was overly sensitive, and that he suffered for nothing.14 It might even be comforting to conclude Luther could not have been in his right mind to have been so bothered by how he fell short of God’s standards. Everyone falls short, after all, and it is comforting to assume God will overlook small shortcomings. And Luther was a monk – he’d devoted everything to being a good one. But it is better to conclude that Luther had the valuable ability not to take his sins lightly. Perhaps his sensitive conscience was necessary to correctly depict a God who doesn’t make compromises with sin. Luther himself mused in this way later in his life.15 Luther experienced intense distress, and part of his distress was a direct result of the way theology was framed at the time. Defining original sin as a loss rather than an active inclination did not give him a conception that equipped him to understand the sinful inclinations he could see in himself. When he felt the desire to curse God, the only way he could fit it into the theology he knew at the time was in a way that damned him. If he truly was a believer he should be moving towards a deeper understanding of God, but despite all his spiritual acts he never felt his sinful impulses lessen. He knew what was inside him was an active inclination. The sins he confessed constantly were active rebellion, an active rebellion against God. And he needed a theology that could incorporate this rebellious inclination that he could not deny was in himself, and yet still grant him the comfort of being saved. Luther’s freedom began when he, finally, not only faced the reality of his depravity, but also grasped that Christ’s sacrifice had the power to atone for not only his actual sins but also his sinful nature. “Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise.”16 It was only after this realization that he was freed from his constant inner reflection to be able to go out into the world and actually, by the grace of God, to change it. Luther’s concept of original sin When it comes to original sin it is clear that Luther objected to the church’s doctrine of original sin on two points: first, that natural man can take even a step towards loving God, or make any motion that God could condescend to respond to with grace; second, that even after conversion man still possesses sinful desires that are present even in outwardly good works. Luther never systematically pulls all of his theological ideas together in one work, but he discusses original sin throughout his writings. In particular, his early lectures on Romans are crucial in the development of his ideas on original sin because in connection with Romans he spends a lengthy amount of time considering this doctrine.17 Luther argues on the basis of Romans that original sin was not just a lack of a quality in the will or a lack of light in the mind, but a total lack of uprightness and power of everything in body and soul – a complete inclination to evil.18 The scholastic trend Luther discerned was an attempt to replace divine grace with light of human reason.19 Luther argues, in response, that using human reason to discern what is good will only define the best things according to humans, not God. “[W]e should call ‘natural’ the fact that we are in sin and death and that we desire, understand, and long for things that are corrupt and evil,” Luther states in another one of his works. He then insists, “Who does not see the contradiction between the statement that the natural powers are perfect, and the statement that nature is corrupted by sin?”20 Human nature will result in doing “good things in an evilway.” Good things performed by natural capacity are good in an evil way, performed not for service of God but in service of the creature.21 In this work on Romans, Luther also works out the sinfulness of believers. One of the reasons Luther was so radical is related to his second assertion, that an active sinful nature still operates in a believer, and that therefore a person can be simultaneously saved and a sinner. Yet his lectures on Romans should utterly destroy any notion that Luther preached righteousness through faith alone in order to dispense with good works: Luther argues that a sinner has the beginning of righteousness and continues to seek more and more of it. In other words, while a man knows he is a sinner and knows every moment that he is entirely incapable of doing anything good, he continues to follow the will of God in his life. He continues to walk the path God has set out, because God’s grace has shown him the first step. Every intentional step a sinner takes is an intentional movement from sin to righteousness.22 Luther was convinced that defining original sin in terms of privation (or lack) alone was a reductionist approach and did not express the real severity of the Adam’s sin. He argued sin is not a localized part but in the whole person, as well as a positive reality and not privation.23 This doctrine needs to be intimately connected with salvation – Christ is the second Adam, and just as the penalty in Adam leads to condemnation, believers receive the gift of grace through Christ to avoid condemnation.24 Roman Catholic response It is clear Luther’s view of original sin was one of part of his theology that Rome objected to. In 1545 the Roman Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent specifically to deal with the theology of Luther and other Reformers. The Council’s decrees state:
“This concupiscence, which the Apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy council declares the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin in the sense that it is truly and properly sin in those born again, but in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin. But if anyone is of the contrary opinion, let him be anathema.”25Here the Council declares that even when Paul laments that he is inclined to actively commit sin, he is not talking about something that is sin in and of itself. Due to conflicting streams of Roman Catholic thought on original sin at the time, the definition of original sin by this council is perhaps more vague than it could have been, and yet it still rejects any formulation of original sin that could fall in line with Luther.26 It is defined as a loss (of justice and holiness), and underscores that the origin and possible effect of concupiscence is sin, while concupiscence itself does not incur guilt – under this definition it is then possible for believers to do good works free of sinful inclinations. More clarity on the decrees of the Council of Trent is provided in TheCouncil of Trent: Catechism for Parish Priests, written soon after the Council of Trent ended. This catechism continues to define concupiscence as the “fuel of sin” and not sin itself.27 It confirms that when concupiscence is used to refer to the remains of sin after baptism, it is not conceiving of concupiscence as identical to the Reformed conception of the sinful nature. It is interesting to note is how concupiscence is defined as the remains of sin after baptism (the “fuel of sin” or the “tinder of sin”), and yet in this Catechism it is also defined as merely a desire for something one doesn’t have. Certainly a desire for warmth when one is cold should not be considered a sin, but can this desire be thought of as a remainder after original sin is removed? It seems more likely that the term concupiscence can be used in two ways, first as a more benign term which refers to desire, and then as a more negative term referring to the unbridled desires that man loses control over as a result of his wounded nature. The Reformed definition of sinful nature would not be a loss of control over human desires, but rather the active sinful bend in every human desire. And this parish priest catechism goes on to highlight the issues with understanding concupiscence in this way, when it goes on to define sinful concupiscence as concupiscence that conflicts with spirit and reason. The Reformed interpretation would emphasize that spirit and reason are bent away from God as well, and so a conflict between desire, spirit and reason would be meaningless as a barometer of sinfulness before God. The medieval Roman Catholic interpretations of original sin flow out of understandable concerns – concerns to preserve the voluntary nature of original sin, and to prevent an overly deterministic understanding of sin. There is an impulse to encourage believers to do good works, and fight against their actual sin. However, the solution runs up against obvious problems. If the radical nature of sin is diminished, and man’s nature is affected by the fall only by the loss of something, any active rebellious tendencies are left without an explanation. Our Comfort How, then, should original sin be defined? As with any doctrine, there are many different ideas about it. But a definition of original sin needs to be practical, and speak directly to the individual believer who sees in themselves a sin-streaked nature. This is why the Reformers formulated confessions to be used in the church, and these define sin clearly. First, the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes man is unable to do good because he is by nature inclined to hate God and his neighbour. This active turning away from God is at the heart of both our sinful nature and every actual sin.28 The Belgic Confession also devotes an article to the doctrine of original sin, and emphasizes in the same way that man is a slave to sin.29 Original sin, according to the Belgic Confession, corrupts the entire nature of man:
“As a root it produces in man all sorts of sin. It is, therefore, so vile and abominable in the sight of God that it is sufficient to condemn the human race. It is not abolished nor eradicated even by baptism, for sin continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source.”30This formulation does a few things. It insists original sin corrupts the entire nature of man, not just one part of it. And it does not diminish the radical nature of human nature’s corruption. The Belgic Confession uses as scriptural evidence not just Paul’s well-known passage about doing the sin he does not want to do, but also Romans 5:12, which declares through Adam all were made sinners. Adam’s sin resulted in more than just a potential from which true sin could spring, rather it produced real sinners. This is necessary to grasp, and the various explanations of original sin must hold onto this central concept. Therefore in the Belgic Confession humans did not just merely lose something because of original sin, just as Luther insisted man did not just merely lose some quality in the will or light in the mind. “For whatever light is in us has changed into darkness,” the Belgic Confession agrees. Scripture supports this by showing the corruption of the will and of every part of man: the heart of man is polluted, the mind of man is set on sin, and the desire of man is contrary to God.31 Humans of themselves are by nature rebellious and always turned away from God – “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The Belgic Confession insists the effects of sin are so radical and so widespread, especially in man prior to conversion, that it is impossible to imagine how man can take even a step towards a right relationship with God again. And it underscores Luther’s understanding that even in a believer this sinful nature will continue to produce sin, as it states:
“the awareness of this corruption may make [believers] groan as they eagerly wait to be delivered from this body of death.”Therefore our confessions present to us a necessary formulation of the biblical passages on original sin – and, in addition, it provide unspeakable comfort. See, for example, the declaration in the Belgic Confession:
“We believe that, when He saw that man had thus plunged himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, our gracious God in His marvellous wisdom and goodness set out to seek man when he trembling fled from Him.”32This is utterly realistic about humanity. It does not shy away from the worst of our nature. Yet it magnifies God. God does not meet us halfway – God goes farther and actually saves those who are actively running away. In conclusion, this confession – and this entire doctrine of original sin – directly reassures those who are distressed because they are real sinners with active rebellious inclinations against God. Just as Luther looked at himself and despaired at his progress toward loving God, unable to leave behind sin and unable to make progress in ridding himself of his sinful nature, so too many believers may look at themselves in discouragement. In order to move on from despair, Luther needed to both acknowledge the bend of his own nature away from God – radically affecting every ounce of him – and to accept this inclination as true sin. Then he could fully grasp the even greater length God reaches, and find the assurance of astonishing forgiveness in Christ. Christ’s blood covers the guilt of our sinful nature just as much as it covers actual sins. Just as in Adam man fell so fully, so man was so united with Christ as to be absolutely saved. And believers today can follow in this comfort. They no longer need to be paralyzed by an inward focus on the depth of their sin, but they can move on from the depth of their sin to look outward to Christ. And this truly frees a believer to live and act. End notes 1 This is not to deny many Roman Catholics do, in fact, view Luther positively despite his excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church. 2 “Look here,” said [Luther’s confessor, Johann von Staupitz], “if you expected Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive—parricide, blasphemy, adultery—instead of all these peccadilloes.” Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, (New York, Abingdon Press, 1950), 54. 3 For examples of modern speculations on Luther’s mental state, including diagnoses of scrupulosity, see http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1, and http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/, for two examples. Accessed November 6, 2017. This Roman Catholic view of Luther stems from writings such as the above, as well as personal interaction with individual Roman Catholics. It is important to note no one view of Luther is unanimous. 4 George Vandervelde,Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation, (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1975), 30. 5 In medieval theology, the Fall did result in original sin; however, the guilt and condemnation of original sin is removed by God in his grace in baptism. The doctrine of original sin is intimately connected with the doctrine of baptism, however to explore the meaning of the sacrament of baptism in depth is beyond the scope of this paper. According to Roman Catholic theology, baptism remits original sin. 6 There were various theological strains on the doctrine of original sin within the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, with different scholars following Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic formulations of the doctrine. There was not one defined, dominant view. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 27, 28. 7 Jairzinho Lopes Pereira attributes Augustine’s lack of influence among the Scholastics (those Luther opposed) to Aristotelian philosophical influence. Jairzinho Lopes Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner(Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 267. 8 Ibid., 269-270. Gabriel Biel, who spoke of a ‘pactum’ between God and humans, where God promises to reward with grace those who do their best, not because humans deserve grace, but because God is merciful. Luther wrote against this, and others in the Nominalist school of thought. 9 Ibid., 275. 10 Another theologian Luther was likely reacting against was Duns Scotus: see Philip Watson’s description of Luther’s interaction with Scotus’ theology. Philip Watson, Let God be God: An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948), 50. 11 Bainton, Here I stand, 55. In Luther’s work on Psalm 51 he also describes his struggle to understand the doctrine of original sin, and his conviction that natural man could not will the good. He lectured on the Psalms early in his career, prior to lecturing on Romans. From this passage, it is not clear whether he finds much comfort in this conception of man’s sinful inclinations. He does not move on to justification in his explanation, but rather asserts an explanation of original sin is a mystery. A correct understanding of original sin needs to be tied to salvation in Christ to bring comfort. See “Psalm 51,” in Selected Psalms 1(ed. Jaroslav Pelikan; trans. Jaroslav Pelikan; vol. 12 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 351. 12 Watson, Let God be God, 16. 13 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 322n.3. 14 Bainton goes on to address the question of Luther’s mental state, admitting many aspects of Luther’s state at the time do compare with mental disturbances. However, he maintains, Luther’s mental struggle never affected his tremendous work output. In addition, the issues Luther struggled with were real issues that existed in the religion he lived and worked with, and more than that, he did make progress through his struggles to clarify what religious solutions actually addressed his struggles and which were unhelpful. Later, Bainton shows Luther’s mentor, Staupitz, must have considered Luther fundamentally sound despite his exasperation with Luther’s inability to find comfort, because Staupitz told Luther he should assume the chair of the Bible at the university. Despite all Luther’s struggles, he was entrusted with teaching others, and Staupitz appeared to have confidence that by teaching the source of their religion, Luther would learn about what help the Bible offered him in his struggles. Bainton, Here I Stand, 56, 60. 15 Ibid., 361. Throughout his life Luther eventually worked out a technique for dealing with his spiritual depression. One important part was that he came to believe that sensitive believers could, by going through such struggles, understand their beliefs in a deeper way. Sensitive believers could then share these beliefs with less sensitive believers in a way that leads them to agree with the truth of it. 16 Bainton, Here I Stand,65. 17 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 28, 31. 18 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia(ed. Hilton C. Oswald; trans. Jacob A. O. Preus; vol. 25 of Luther’s Works; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 299. 19 In Luther’s work on Psalm 51, he also describes being taught that man had only lost grace and that if man followed the light of his nature he would be given grace. Luther rejects this formulation. See Luther, “Psalm 51,” 351. 20 Ibid., 351. 21 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 338-339. 22 Luther, Lectures on Romans,260. 23 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 331-332. 24 Pereira, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, 335. 25 Council of Trent, Session 5, June 17, 1546, Decree concerning original sin, in The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, trans. Rev. H. J. Schroeder (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978), 27-28. 26 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology(Grand Rapids: 1949), 258, http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf Vandervelde argues that the reason the Council of Trent was somewhat vague in its definition was that there were participants from Augustinian, Anselmian and Thomistic traditions. They agreed on which errors to combat, but less so on what ideas to defend (p 33). It is interesting to note one of the participants at the Council of Trent, Seripando (who was an Augustinian), opposed defining concupiscence as “a morally neutral human drive” instead of a “morally qualified inclination to evil.” However, he was not successful. Vandervelde, Original Sin, 40. 27 Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982) 183-184, 469-470. 28 “The Heidelberg Catechism,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 309. 29 “Belgic Confession,” in Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919), 3:398-400. Hereafter I will cite the Belgic Confession in the form BC Article 14 with the volume and page number of Schaff following in brackets, e.g., BC Article 14 (3:398-400). 30 BC Article 15 (3:400-401). 31 See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 258, as well as Jer 17: 9, Rom 8: 7, Gal 5: 24. 32 BC Article 17 (3:402). Bibliography Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand. New York, Abingdon Press, 1950. Beattie, Trent. http://catholicexchange.com/from-scrupulosity-to-lutherosity-part-1. Accessed November 6, 2017. “Belgic Confession.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:383-436. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: 1949. PDF. http://downloads.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf. Catechism of the Council of Trent. Translated by John a. McHugh and Charles J.Callan. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1982. “Heidelberg Catechism.” In Creeds of Christendom: with a History and Critical Notes, edited by Philip Schaff, 3:307-355. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919. Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia. Edited by Hilton C. Oswald. Translated by Jacob A. O. Preus. Vol. 25 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972. Luther, Martin. “Psalm 51.” Pages 301-410 in Selected Psalms 1. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Translated by Jaroslav Pelikan. Vol. 12 of Luther’s Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955. Miller, Leila. http://www.catholicstand.com/scrupulosity-a-little-bit-of-hell/. Accessed November 6, 2017. Pereira, Jairzinho Lopes. Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther on Original Sin and Justification of the Sinner. Bristol: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013. Trent, Council of. Decree concerning original sin. Session 4, June 15, 1546. In The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, translated by Rev. H. J. Schroeder, 21-28. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1978. Vandervelde, George. Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 1975. Watson, Philip. Let God be God: An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther. Philadelphia : Muhlenberg Press, 1948.
The painting is Ferdinand Pauwels' (1830–1904) "Luther discovers the bible."
#4: the forgotten commandment?
In Celebrating the Sabbath pastor Bruce Ray warns that there are two ways to fall off the horse when it comes to Sunday observance: legalism and lawlessness. LEGALISM [caption id="attachment_8784" align="alignright" width="356"] 138 pages / 2008[/caption] Our churches used to lean in the legalistic direction, turning this gift from God into a day of “don’ts.” Riding a bike, going to the lake after church, or playing some basketball with friends were all things that “we niet doen op Zondag!” ("we do not do on Sunday!") LAWLESSNESS But today the pressure is coming from the lawless side. It seems as if Christians in most other churches don’t have a problem with working on Sunday. Sure, many do take the day off (who doesn’t like weekends off?), but if the boss wants them to come in, they won’t object. And when they get to go to church, they think nothing of going to brunch right afterward and putting cooks, waitstaff, and dishwashers to work on their behalf. The 4thCommandment has become a forgotten commandment. It’s curious. It’s as if the Western Church believes there should now be just the Nine Commandments. It's argued that the 4thCommandment was part of the Old Testament ceremonial law, and that like the rest of the ceremonial law it was fulfilled with Jesus’ coming. But as Pastor Ray points out, the Sabbath rest has a history that extends to long before God gave the Ten Commandments. It begins right in Genesis 1 and 2 with Creation.
…the Sabbath was ordained before the Fall, for all people of all time. It cannot be confined to the ceremonial law appointed specifically for the nation of Israel, but was intended to be a celebration of creation for Adam and all his posterityBLESSING So, no we are not down to just Nine Commandments….and that is a very good thing. God knows us, and in this command He gives us what we badly need. In Celebrating the Sabbath Bruce Ray includes a good quote from M. J. Dawn about how the 4thcommandment is a blessing.
…it forces us to rely on God for our future. On that day we do nothing to create our own way. We abstain from work, from our incessant need to produce and accomplish, from all the anxieties about how we can be successful in all that we have to do to get ahead. The result is that we can let God be God in our lives.So let’s embrace this commandment as both a rule for our lives and as the gift it is, given by our loving Heavenly Father who knows what we need.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Theology
On the proper role of Government (and the footnoted Belgic Confession article 36)
A review of P.J. Hoedemaker’s Article 36 of the Belgic Confession Vindicated Against Dr. Abraham Kuyper
*****Anyone who has ever studied the Belgic Confession, even on a superficial level, is aware of an oddity in article 36. This is the only place in the Three Forms of Unity where we find a footnote in most versions of the Confession. Whether it is the United Reformed, Canadian Reformed, or Protestant Reformed Churches in North America, or the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, all have an additional footnote. Article 36 is titled “The Civil Government” or sometimes “Of Magistrates” and addresses what we confess about the role of the government. The relevant text in the body of the confession originally read:
[The government’s] task of restraining [evil] and sustaining [good] is not limited to the public order but includes the protection of the church and its ministry in order that all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed, the kingdom of Christ may come, the Word of the gospel may be preached everywhere, and God may be honoured and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word. (Italics added)But the clauses that I've italicized above were moved from the body and relegated to footnote status a century ago, as is explained in the Canadian Reformed edition here:
The following words were deleted here by the General Synod 1905 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland): all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed.I’ve been a pastor in both the Canadian Reformed Churches, and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and to my knowledge, neither federation has ever made an official decision about the status of this footnote. Do we confess this or not? It is an odd ambiguity in our Three Forms of Unity (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort). FOOTNOTE'S BACKGROUND That’s why it was with great interest that I began reading a small book, recently translated, on this very topic. Article 36…vindicated against Dr. Abraham Kuyper comes from the controversy which led to the words being deleted in 1905. It provides some of the historical background, illustrating that the deletion was not without its opponents. This book also provides an occasion to reflect on whether it may be time to revisit the matter in an official, ecclesiastical way. The author, Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker (1839-1910), was a curious figure. While he grew up in a family with roots in the 1834 Secession (in which a number of congregations split from the Dutch national church) he himself became a minister in the Dutch national church. However, unlike so many others in the State church, Hoedemaker was a conservative, and confessionally Reformed. This book is a response to a series of articles written by Dutch theologian and journalist (and future Dutch prime minister) Abraham Kuyper in his newspaper The Herald in 1899-1900. In these articles, Kuyper argued against the original wording of article 36 – he did not agree with the civil government being called on to address idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of the antichrist. In 1896, Kuyper went a step further. Together with other notable theologians in his denomination (the Gereformeerde Kerkenor Reformed Churches), including Herman Bavinck, Kuyper put forward a gravamen against article 36. A “gravamen” is an official objection to a point of doctrine. These eight ministers alleged that article 36 did not conform to the Word of God and they asked the Synod of 1896 to make a judgment on the matter. The Synod decided to appoint a committee to study the matter, a committee which bizarrely included Bavinck and Kuyper (!). It was the work of this committee which would later result in Synod 1905 deleting the allegedly unbiblical words. GOING BACK TO THE ORIGINAL? [caption id="attachment_9170" align="alignright" width="200"] Let me make a few comments about the translation. There are a few idiosyncrasies that readers should be aware of. When Hoedemaker refers to "Lord's Days" in the Heidelberg Catechism the translator literally renders them “Sundays” instead. And instead of the Secession of 1834 (Afscheiding), he uses the term “Separation.” Elsewhere he uses the term “Nonconformity,” and I believe he is translating the term "Doleantie." Aside from those sorts of minor things, the book reads quite well in English.[/caption] In his book, Hoedemaker argues for the original form of article 36. Or, more accurately, he argues against Kuyper’s objections to the original form of article 36. He maintains that Kuyper was inconsistent. On the one hand, Kuyper wanted to honor King Jesus as the Lord of all of life. But on the other hand, Kuyper was arguing that King Jesus has no crown rights over the responsibility of the civil government with regard to idolatry, false worship, and the kingdom of antichrist. Hoedemaker alleged that this inconsistency was owing to political expediency. Abraham Kuyper was getting into politics and article 36 was an embarrassment in trying to build bridges with Roman Catholic politicians. Early on Hoedemaker makes a point I find especially compelling. He alleges that the discovery of “the fatal defect” in article 36 is “not the result of the ongoing investigation of the Scripture; but exclusively causes which lie in the times, and in apostasy from the living God.” He states repeatedly that Kuyper and others were not arguing from exegesis, but from pragmatic considerations and false inferences. The pragmatic considerations had to do with Dutch politics. The false inferences were along the lines of the Confession requiring the civil magistrate to persecute unbelievers and false believers. Hoedemaker is especially persuasive in addressing that notion. CONCLUSION I should note that this book is not exclusively about Belgic Confession article 36 – it also serves as something of a polemic against the 1886 Doleantie (another church split). Hoedemaker writes, “The first step on the road to Reformation is the recovery of the normal relations of church and state.” But in wanting to undo the 1886 Doleantie, he’s arguing that all Reformed believers should have gone back to the national church despite its waywardness! So who should read this book? I would especially commend it to those with an interest in politics. When we have so little in our Three Forms of Unity about politics, what little there is should get our attention. Is it time to revisit the formulation of article 36? This is where I believe office bearers and especially ministers would do well to give this book a read too. Perhaps we need a proposal to a synod to clarify the status of the footnote and perhaps even to restore it. Note well: we are not talking about changing the Confession or adding something to the Confession that was never there to begin with. This is something completely different. In a 1979 article for Clarion, the Canadian Reformed Churches’ Dr. J. Faber argued for completely rewriting that part of article 36. That is a possibility. But if the footnote can be re-examined from a biblical standpoint, perhaps it would be as simple as cutting and pasting the text back into place.
Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where a slightly longer version of this review is available here. He is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania.
Anger is not your friend
Anger: sometimes it just feels right. Anger is happy to assume its place as your advocate, your defense against unfair actions. And we are all too happy to welcome it. It just feels right!
When your spouse is insensitive, when the kids are selfish and squabble constantly, anger stands ready to come to your defense. When others are selfish, anger is there to encourage you. When your pride is wounded, anger offers its supposed “healing power”.
But the reality is that when human anger is embraced, good things will not happen.
But what about righteous anger? Paul says in Ephesians 4:26 that in your anger you should not sin. So, since it is possible to be angry and not sin, it easy to welcome anger like a friendly ally when others sin against you. But righteous anger results in God being honored, not you being justified.
Ephesians 4:26 is not all that Paul has to say about anger. Read just a few more sentences down to verse 31 of chapter 4 and you see that Paul commands that you must get rid of all anger! Is Paul contradicting himself? No, he is not. Anger does have its place, but that place is not one of self-defense. When anger leads to justification for your sinful responses, it is never a good thing.
Paul says that you must be clothed in kindness and compassion towards others. You must follow the example of Christ. Anger will be of no help here. This is why he says to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. Relational anger will keep you from showing the love of Christ to those whom you love.
You must learn to ask this one question when anger offers you its assistance: “Am I showing the kindness and compassion of Christ or am I justifying my behavior?”
Instead of engaging in anger, show the compassionate love of Christ when you think others fail you. Isn’t that what God does for you when you sin against him? If God treated you as your sins deserve, you would not survive another minute!
Take another look at Ephesians 4:31-32. Anger is not your ally. It is a tool of the enemy to damage your relationships, causing you to feel alone and bitter. Listen carefully to Paul. Get rid of your anger!
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children and Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.
People we should know, Theology
Jonathan Edwards: The pastor who packed them in the pews while preaching the wrath of God
Much like today, during the early colonial years in America, preachers rarely spoke about the wrath of God – this did not seem the type of topic to draw in the masses. One man, however, thought very differently. He brought the message of God’s wrath and, in doing so, ignited a revival which spread throughout the colonies. Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut and began preaching in 1722. Although hell and God’s wrath are unpleasant topics, Edwards became one of America’s best-known evangelists by preaching on just these topics. We can get an understanding of how God used him to spark a revival across the colonies by looking at three specific sermons Edwards delivered at different points throughout his ministry. Through these sermons he taught the reality of God’s wrath by: showing how it will destroy unrepentant sinners explaining that it is the power of God which can save them from this wrath warning that those who do not glorify God are deserving of destruction Edwards knew that the themes of wrath and hell needed to be taught to cause the hearts of those listening to be convicted about their sins and to realize the reality of eternal punishment. #1: When the wicked have filled up the measure of their sin… He began preaching on the subject in May 1735 when he delivered his sermons “When the wicked shall have filled up the measure of their sin, wrath will come upon them to the uttermost.” Edwards’ text was 1 Thessalonians 2:16, which reads, “To fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” He immediately presented a picture of hell and never let go of that illustration throughout the sermon. He clarified that God enacts His wrath “very dreadfully in this world; but in hell wrath comes on them to the uttermost.” God executes his wrath on the sinners in this world to a smaller extent, either outwardly on the body or inwardly on a mental or emotional scale. However, “these things are only forerunners of their punishment, only slight foretastes of wrath.” When God’s full wrath comes upon them, it will come with no restraint and no moderation of degree, for “His heavy wrath will lie on them, without any thing to lighten the burden or to keep off, in any measure, the full weight of it from pressing the soul.” Perhaps the most powerful point Edwards made in this sermon is that once the day of judgment comes, the wicked are sealed in their punishment eternally. There is no longer any chance for repentance or forgiveness once death has come. This is a message that the content Christians in the pews needed to hear. Without knowing the reality and severity of hell, the sinner did not feel a need to repent. Edwards concluded by noting how dreadful the wrath will be, for it is given by the One who created the universe, shakes the earth, rebukes the sea, and shines His majesty over wicked men. The judgement of God is certainly coming, but it will not be known until it comes. Therefore, Edwards begged everyone listening to “haste and flee for their lives, to get into a safe condition, to get into Christ.” This sermon carefully presents the danger of those who are content with living in sin, and it presses the message of hell to convict them of their rebellion. The reaction to this sermon inspired many in New England to change their lives. However, much more was to come when, six years later, Edwards preached his most famous sermon. #2: Sinners in the hands of an angry God On July 8, 1741 Edwards delivered “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” in Enfield, Connecticut. He was not supposed to preach that night, and he had preached that same sermon before at his home church. He happened to have his manuscript with him, and after receiving the last-minute request to fill in for the pastor, he preached a message that had an amazing effect on many of the hearers, spurring on a revival. [caption id="attachment_8171" align="alignright" width="231"] Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut to his father Reverend Timothy Edwards and his mother Esther, the daughter of Reverend Solomon Stoddard. Stoddard would become a mentor to Jonathan. Edwards attended Collegiate School, later called Yale College, graduating in 1720. In 1722, he accepted a call to a Scotch Presbyterian church in New York. He then went to Bolton, Connecticut in 1723. In 1724, he became a teacher at Yale College, and finally succeeded his grandfather Reverend Stoddard at Northampton, Massachusetts in 1727.[/caption] The text of this sermon was Deuteronomy 32:35, which says, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” Edwards opened his sermon by saying:
“In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who lived under the means of grace…yet remained void of counsel.”He began by stating that all sinners are exposed to destruction, a destruction that is unexpected and brought about by the sinner himself. The only reason why this destruction has not yet come is because of the mere mercy of God, which He gives under no obligation but by grace. Edwards was keen on portraying the power of God by reminding his listeners that even the strongest man has no power over God, and not even the mightiest fortress can defend against Him. He emphasized the fact that sinners deserve to be cast into hell, saying that they are the objects of the anger and wrath of God. He painted a vivid picture by declaring:
“the wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them.”Edwards revealed the reality of death and claimed that God is under “no obligation by any promise” to keep sinners out of hell. God is provoked by sin, and nothing can be done by sinners to appease that anger. Edwards was trying to “awake unconverted persons in the congregation… who find [they] are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it.” Edwards ended his message by urging the congregation to consider the danger that they were in, that if they did not change their lives for Christ they were in danger of suffering an everlasting wrath, where “it would be dreadful to suffer…one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity.” The Christians of the early British colonies had forgotten that if God withdrew His hand from them, they would fall into the depths of hell. This is what it means to be in the hands of an angry God, that sinners are born again and made new creatures because the God of wrath and justice found pleasure in making the damned soul worthy of salvation. Edwards pushes the reality of God’s wrath and hell, a topic which was rarely preached. It is this topic which ignited a revival. The effect of this sermon was immediate and powerful. According to one listener, even before the sermon was done “there was great moaning and crying out – ‘What shall I do to be saved?’…[the] amazing and astonishing power of God was seen.” Another eyewitness, Stephen Williams, wrote:
“Mr. Edwards of Northampton…preached a most awakening sermon…‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth…went out through [the] whole [Church].”Edwards was able to vividly portray the wrath of God on sinners, causing those who heard him to know the true condition of their hearts. A revival swept through the towns. Hymns were sung, taverns were closed, and young people poured into churches. Congregants arrived at church hours before the service in order to get a seat in the sanctuary. It is estimated that 10 percent of New England was converted during this time. That is equal to 28 million people today. Clearly, Jonathan Edwards sparked a revival in Enfield. #3: Wicked men useful in their destruction only While that might have been Edwards’ most famous and impactful sermon, he continued to tell the people of New England about the reality of God’s wrath. In July 1744, he preached a sermon called “Wicked men useful in their destruction only,” and as the title suggests, his main point was that “if men bring forth no fruit to God, they are wholly useless, unless in their destruction.” His message was from Ezekiel 15:2-4, which asks what the worth of a dead vine is. The answer is that “it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned” (Ezek. 15:4). Edwards expanded on this passage by comparing sinners to the vine, saying that the dead vine which is good for nothing deserves the same fate as a dead sinner: utter destruction. Edwards claimed that the only two ways in which a person is useful is either in acting or in being acted upon. A person is useful in acting when they display the “fruits of the Spirit” and use them for the love of God and neighbour. If, however, a man does not do this, then there is no purpose for him to exist. Yes, there are other uses for mankind, as man was made for one another to be friends and neighbours. However, these are inferior ends and are subordinate to the main purpose, which is to serve and glorify the Creator. Therefore, since a wicked man cannot glorify God, he is only useful passively by being destroyed. Edwards claimed that it goes against God’s justice to let wicked men “live always in a world which is so full of divine goodness…that this goodness should be spent upon them forever.” Even though the world is full of sin, so much of God’s undeserved blessings can be seen and enjoyed. The rest of creation is made subservient to mankind, which is wasted on men who bear no fruit for God. The only use that wicked men can be is in their destruction for God’s glory, by both having God’s majesty and justice acted upon them and by being an example to the righteous, giving them “a greater sense of their happiness and of God’s grace to them.” Edwards applied his point so that all may learn the justice and righteousness of God. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but no one blames a farmer who cuts off a tree which no longer bears fruit. Edwards is calling his congregation to consider all the good things God has bestowed on them, including having a soul which houses the Holy Spirit and by having hosts of angels working for them. All of creation works for man’s pleasure, so “how lamentable it is, then, after all these things he should be a useless creature.” The one who is useful will experience pleasure in this world, and the pleasures will be even more wondrous in the world to come. However, those who do not continue “to bring forth any fruit to the divine glory, hell will be the only place fit for [them]…[where] nature ceases to labour any more for sinners.” Again, Edwards is stressing the point that God’s wrath is real, and unrepentant sinners will suffer it. Conclusion Jonathan Edwards inspired many revivals through his preaching by talking about God’s wrath and hell, topics that were unpopular to the crowd and avoided by other preachers. Through this unpleasant topic, Edwards ignited a fire of repentance in the hearts of the people of New England. His sermons presented God’s wrath by showing how He will destroy unrepentant sinners utterly, how it is the power of God which can save them from His wrath, and how those who do not glorify God are only useful to be destroyed.
Texts are quoted as Edwards translated them in his sermon manuscripts.
Adult biographies, Theology
A passage from "The Hiding Place" I can't manage to read out loud...
Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical The Hiding Place is best known for its account of her war time experiences. But one of the many powerful sections in the book is about something that happened decades before, in the year 1919. Corrie's describes her Tante Jans as a Christian social activist, who helped the poor, and also wrote tracts and pamphlets decrying such evils as mutton sleeves and bicycle skirts. In other words, a busy, well-meaning, but generally humorless lady, who was trying to earn her way to heaven. When the doctor diagnoses her with diabetes it is quite a shock as there was no real treatment at that time. It meant that Tante Jans had very little time left, maybe a few years. Her response? "And from then on she threw herself more forcefully than ever into writing, speaking forming clubs and launching projects." But then one day her weekly blood test came back black. Black meant she not longer had years or months, but merely days, three weeks at most. The family learns this before Tante Jan, and as they consider how to tell her Corrie's father hopes that: "Perhaps she will take heart from all she has accomplished. She puts great store on accomplishment, Jans does, and who knows but she is right!" So upstairs to her room they all go. "Come in," she called to Father's knock, and added as she always did, "and close the door before I catch my death of drafts." She was sitting at her round mahogany table, working on yet another appeal... As she saw the number of people entering the room, she laid down her pen. She looked from one face to another, until she came to mine and gave a little gasp of comprehension. This was Friday morning, and I had not yet come up with the results of the test. “My dear sister-in-law,” Father began gently, “there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty- handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!” “All your clubs…,” Tante Anna ventured. “Your writings…,” Mama added. “The funds you’ve raised…,” said Betsie. “Your talks…,” I began. But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” And then as we listened in disbelief, she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all – all – on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”
Whom Do You Serve? Sphere Sovereignty and the need for limits on power
Children are often told to obey many different folks. Listen to your mom and dad. Listen to the policeman. Listen to your teacher. Listen to the pastor. Adults too are encouraged to obey various authority figures. Which raises a question: what happens when demands of the State and demands of other authorities clash? Whom do we obey? The Dutch philosopher, theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper developed a system of thought to assist in understanding the authority structures in the world. The system is called “sphere sovereignty” and it helps answer the question, “Who do we obey when various demands on us and our behavior clash?” GOD OVER ALL Kuyper argued and demonstrated from the Bible that God has created in society a number of different institutions or spheres, each with their own respective roles and responsibilities. Three of the most important institutions created by God are: the CHURCH– starting with Adam, and continuing through Noah, Abraham, the people of Israel and the New Testament church the STATE– whose role is set out in various places including Psalm 72 and Romans 13 the FAMILY – begun with Adam and Eve In the Bible, God gives each of these spheres a distinct task and role. So, for example, the sphere of State is sovereign in matters properly within its jurisdiction as given and defined by God. Some of those matters would include criminal law, national defense, and maintaining a fair and impartial justice system. The sphere of Church (or synagogue/mosque/temple/monastery, etc.) is sovereign over areas within its jurisdiction: theology and doctrine and church discipline and membership. And within the sphere of family lies responsibility for issues of child education and discipline, religious instruction, sexual ethics, moral development, etc. In the graphic accompanying this article, you’ll notice other spheres: a larger sphere of Society and smaller spheres which are each sovereign in their own right: the market, the academy, charities and the individual. Academics will argue over how many separate spheres there might be, but while the number and boundaries of the smaller spheres is a source of debate, there is agreement about the obvious biblical basis for the first three. God has instituted the Church, the State and the Family and invests each with its own specific sphere of authority. There is, of course, some overlap from sphere to sphere. Fraud can’t be limited to the market sphere; it requires the State criminal law power to protect the consumer. Physical assault of a child can’t be limited to the family sphere; it requires the State criminal law power to protect the child. Restorative justice can’t be limited to the State sphere; it requires the family sphere and the church sphere to mend broken relationships. However, there are also boundaries between the spheres. These boundaries are critical. History has taught us that great harm can be done when one sphere takes over the role of another. For example, problems abound when the State interferes in church doctrine issues. This was the greatest problem during the bloody Reformation era. The State used the sword to enforce church doctrine, which was a total abuse of its power, and a violation of the principles of sphere sovereignty. A modern example would be the Ontario human rights tribunal ordering a Roman Catholic bishop to explain himself to the Tribunal for not allowing an openly gay man to serve as an altar boy (this occurred in Peterborough, Ontario in September 2009). A similar violation of the boundaries between the spheres happened when the Ontario Minister of Education, standing outside the Ontario Legislature, declared that Christian schools could not teach that abortion is wrong, since such a teaching was “one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.” (That statement was made by Minister Broten in October, 2012.) And in the not too distant past, churches and families tried to keep certain criminal acts (child abuse, for example) quiet and internal, when it ought to have been reported immediately to the State. Having shown the boundaries that exist between these spheres, we need to turn our attention to the key of Kuyperian sphere sovereignty: over each and every sphere reigns Christ as sovereign. Kuyper’s famous saying applies here: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” As a Christian country, we once recognized this, and it wasn't even that long ago. The preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (added to our Constitution in 1982) still states, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law…” Recognizing the supremacy of God is necessary in public policy because, when we fail to do so, someone or something else will take God’s place as supreme authority. THE STATE/LAW OVER ALL For example, take a look at the concept of sphere sovereignty through the eyes of our former Chief Justice, the Right Honorable Beverley McLauchlin. We can see in some or her statements a recognition that there are some spheres in life which are distinct: the sphere of society, spheres of religious communities and families and the sphere of the State. But we should take careful note of where, in her mind, the State sits in relation to the other spheres. In a speech delivered in October 2002, Her Honor stated that
the rule of law exerts an authoritative claim upon all aspects of selfhood and experience in a liberal democratic state… influenc[ing] local, community, and familial structures. The authority claimed by law touches upon all aspects of human life and citizenship… It makes total claims upon the self and leaves little of human experience untouched.These “total claims” on us as legal subjects, she said, “flow from a conception of authority rooted in the sovereign [State].” Invoking Kuyper, one could paraphrase what the Chief Justice said in this way: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which the Law, which is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Admittedly, Her Honor does believe that Law must carve out space for religious communities to live according to their particularities. However, it’s Law (and the State, as the authors of the Law) who makes space and accommodations for religion. For our chief justice, law remains the supreme authority. So there remains a tension between the Law of the State and religious precepts, familial obligations, and individual responsibilities. THE ROAD TO TYRANNY Without something (or, more properly, Someone) over all spheres, tension breaks out between the spheres, and a struggle ensures to see which sphere will reign as supreme. Now, of all of the spheres (the State, the Church, the Family, the Market, etc.) which has the most power? Quite obviously, the State does. As the Apostle Paul once wrote, it “bears the sword.” It has unlimited financial resources, it has coercive powers, it writes the laws, and it has lethal force. So, if God is removed as sovereign, who becomes sovereign? The State does. This is absolutely evident in every officially atheist country from the last century: the USSR, China, North Korea, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy. When the State raises itself above God, then God becomes a problem for the State. And know this: as the State replaces God, or makes itself god, then it naturally also begins to compete with the family, substituting itself for the family. (It’s no coincidence that the leader of North Korea is referred to as “father.”) And when we, free citizens in a free country, begin to think that the State will provide everything for us, not just national defense or a fair justice system (as it ought to) but also total healthcare, education, food, clothing and shelter, unemployment wages, settlement of petty disputes with our landlords and employers, and on and on, then we are looking to the State not just as god, but also as savior. Lord Acton once wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That dictum is true for all of mankind because of our innate sinfulness and our covetous lust for more. This may be why the LORD never allowed all three offices of the Old Testament to be vested in a single person, though there were exceptional cases where a single person was both a prophet and a priest. Think, for example, of the punishment of King Uzziah when he tried to act as priest and burn incense before the Lord (2 Chronicles 26). Applying this anecdotal evidence for division of power to our civil government, we see a three-fold division of power there too, between the judiciary, legislature, and executive. The Canadian Constitution holds all three branches of government in check – each have power to limit the powers of the other. But if that balance is ever upset such that one person (or one small group of people) becomes lawmaker and law interpreter and law enforcer, we will have tyranny. Expanding out from the Biblical offices and expanding out from civil government, we see that there is a natural protection against tyranny in the dispersion of power. Lord Acton also wrote, “Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.” So we see that for mankind’s good, God gives some power to the church, some power to families, and some power to the State. But if the ultimate power concentrates (as it is tending to do these days) in one of these spheres, we also have tyranny. One example would be in the realm of education: God gives authority over education of children to parents, with the church assisting parents in that calling historically. But in the last century, the State took over, first from the church, and now more and more from parents, such that even the most intimate and personal educational material is being taught by State bureaucrats, often without parents knowing (think of some of the graphic sex education curriculum for grade 3 and 4). REMINDING OUR NEIGHBORS OF GOD'S PLACE One of our responsibilities as Christian citizens in a free country is to keep the State in its proper place, and to remind fellow citizens of what their responsibilities are apart from the State. This is where you come in. Use the graphics in this article to show your friends and colleagues that we all must be under some ultimate authority. The question is simply, which one? Are we willing to submit ourselves fully to the State? Isn’t the Lordship of Christ infinitely better? We must remind our fellow citizens of what their responsibilities are apart from the State, and explain to them the effect of subjecting everything to the ultimate authority of the State – it means losing the freedom to live as we ought to live. Failure to understand this important concept means subjecting our institutions, our businesses, our families, our churches, subjecting even our very selves to the sovereign will, not of God, but of the State. So, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this philosophical discussion – who do we obey when demands of the State and demands of parents or pastors or professors conflict? The answer is: it depends. It depends on whether the parents or the professors or the pastors or the State are authoritative in the sphere in which they are making the demands. This approach to understanding the very limited authority of the State should not be interpreted as a proposal for anarchy. I once swore an oath of allegiance to the country I love, my Canada, an oath which I stand by to this day. I pray for her leaders every day. I strive to obey all her laws. But here’s the rub: when those in power begin to legislate in areas over which they have no jurisdiction, my trust in the government plummets. And when those in power dare to legislate in such a way that I must either obey the State’s law or violate my conscience, then I say loudly with the Apostle Peter, “I must obey God, rather than men.” One key to a free, prosperous, democratic society is for the State to back off from taking authority unto itself that was not its to begin with, to not arrogate unto itself powers which are not its own. When the State learns restraint, we can and do enjoy freedom. When our society and culture recognizes a Sovereign high above the State, as we once did, then we certainly will enjoy freedom.
This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue under the title "Whom do you serve? Sphere Sovereignty and the need for limits on power." Illustrations were created by Lynn VanEerden. André Schutten is the Director of Law and Policy for ARPA Canada.POSTSCRIPT: QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER While sphere sovereignty is a helpful tool, like any other tool it has limitations. For example, while the first three “spheres” of Church, State and Family are quite clearly instituted by God, we could have endless debates about just how many other spheres there might be. In Canada we could list the federal government as one sphere, and the provincial governments as another, but what about towns and cities? Do they get their own sphere? Is Academia a sphere? What about the Market? Also, while the spheres are a helpful concept, defining the exact borders between each of them is hard to do. So the author wants to emphasize that this is not meant to be the Reformed paradigm through which Christians ought to view the world, and he welcomes feedback on the ideas expressed here. What is helpful about this model, and how might it be improved? André Schutten talks about the sphere of the Church as separate from Family and State. Where does a mosque, synagogue or temple fit in? God instituted the State, the Church, and the Family, but did He institute the mosque? We don’t think the State should interfere with mosques, synagogues and temples so they do seem to exist in a separate sphere apart from the State, but is that separate sphere grouped with the Church, or is it, perhaps, under the Family? Or might it be something else entirely? In Western countries it often seems the State that is trying to take Christ’s supreme position. What might the interloper be in countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran? And if a libertarian were going to make their own sphere sovereignty model, who would they put in place of Christ?
Criticizing like a Christian
“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do” – Dale Carnegie
*****In his bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People Dale Carnegie begins with the story of “Two Gun” Crowley, a famous killer from the 1930s. When authorities tracked him down:
…150 policemen and detectives laid siege to his top-floor hideaway. They chopped holes in the roof; they tried to smoke out Crowley, the “cop killer,” with tear gas. Then they mounted their machine guns on surrounding buildings, and for more than an hour one of New York’s fine residential areas reverberated with the crack of pistol fire and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns.Shortly before, Crowley had been parked along a country road, kissing his girlfriend, when a policeman had walked up and asked to see his license. Crowley responded by immediately shooting the officer several times, grabbing the officer’s gun, and shooting the now prone man with his own gun. He then fled to his hideaway where he was soon discovered. Though completely surrounded Crowley shot back incessantly, but also found time to write a letter, addressed “To whom it may concern.” In this letter Crowley described himself as a man with “a weary heart, but a kind one – one who would do nobody any harm.” When he was finally caught, convicted and sentenced to the electric chair he continued to think highly of himself. Instead of admitting this was the consequence of his sins he said: “This is what I get for defending myself.” The moral of this little story? It is human nature for us to avoid admitting to faults. Even when our guilt is clear, we will find ways to justify our actions and convince ourselves that someone else must be to blame. Or as Carnegie puts it “ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong [they] may be.” A solution? Carnegie has it exactly right. It is human nature to try to elude criticism, and when we can’t manage that, we will at least try to spread the blame around. After all, we know we’re good, so if we did something bad it must be someone else’s fault.
“…but you made me lose me temper!” “They had it coming.” “You wouldn’t believe what she said first…”We are all prone to presenting “the devil made me do it” excuses and justifications as if they were valid reasons for our behavior. Carnegie concludes that because we all hate criticism, and pay so little attention to it, “Criticism is futile.” He suggests that, as a general rule, we “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain” and instead focus on the positive and the praiseworthy. God’s thoughts on criticizing Most of us could benefit from taking a large dose of Carnegie’s advice. But does it work as an absolute rule? Should we never criticize? While Jesus spoke against quick, thoughtless, and hypocritical criticism (Matt. 7:1-5), He also called on listeners to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15), which is a decidedly critical message. It demands that people stop and turn from the evil they are doing! So, clearly then, sometimes criticizing is a necessity. Thus for Christians it is not a matter of whether we should ever criticize, but instead when and how we should go about doing it. And when we look to the Bible for guidance, we find at least four questions to consider. 1. Is criticism needed...or grace? To those all aware of their sins and already sorry for them, further fault-finding isn't needed (though some who say they are sorry for their sin are simply sorry they were caught). If a person is already broken, then we can make them aware of our Saviour – we can skip the criticism and get right to grace! It is only those who don't know the bad news – who as Carnegie puts "don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong [they] may be” – that we need to first bring to Moses, the law, and the evidence of their sinfulness, before we bring them to Jesus. 2. Are we doing it in love? There are so many wrong reasons to criticize – because we are angry or frustrated, because we want to feel superior, because we want to defend ourselves and don’t want to listen to someone’s criticism of us. That’s why when we are going to criticize it is important to question our motivations. Do we want to build this person up, or tear them down? Are we doing this out of annoyance, or out of love? A good rule of thumb might be that, if we really want to criticize, we probably aren't doing it with the right motivations. But the reverse is also true. If we see a friend, our spouse, a brother or sister, or our children, heading off down the wrong path and we don't want to speak up, that's also a good time to question our motivations – are we being apathetic and cowardly, and, consequently, unloving in not going after a straying sheep? Now, in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 we read that love is patient and keeps no record of wrongs. And 1 Peter 4:8 communicates a similar thought – love overlooks a multitude of sins. If we are to lovingly criticize one another this means we will only speak up about something substantial – something that matters – and won’t keep a running tally of petty grievances. Criticizing lovingly also means doing so inclusively – a matter of coming alongside rather than lecturing from high atop our pedestal. As Paul Tripp puts it, we need to make it clear we are “people in need of change helping people in need of change.” How might this look in practice? Street preacher Ray Comfort, when confronted by a homosexual, will talk first about the sins they hold in common. He will ask whether the man has ever stolen anything, ever lied, ever hated someone in his heart. By starting with the sins they hold in common, rather than the sin they do not, Comfort makes it clear he has no delusions of grandeur. He knows he is in need of this same promise of forgiveness he’s preaching. 3. Are we criticizing with care? We should criticize with care. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus condemns how quick we are to judge others by standards that we don’t measure up to ourselves.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.This rules out casual critiques. We too easily evaluate the faults of those all around us, and know just what they should do to fix their hair, their wardrobe, their children or marriage. But this sort of flippant evaluation isn’t done out of love. We aren’t looking to help our neighbor; we point out their flaws so we can feel superior to them. It also rules out reactive criticism. Jesus wants us to consider our own problems and sins – the “plank in our own eye.” So when these problems are pointed out to us, it is may be human nature to respond in kind with a snap assessment of our critic, but that isn’t the godly response. 4. Have we tried it privately? Whenever possible, we should offer criticism privately. In Matthew 18:15 the first step in correcting a sinning brother involves a private meeting “just between the two of you.” This is the approach Aquila and Priscilla used when they wanted to explain the “way of God more adequately” to Apollos, who “knew only the baptism of John.” They invited him back to the privacy of their home to talk and teach. None of us like to be criticized but we especially don’t like to be criticized publicly. In the spirit of doing unto others as we would like them to do unto us we should offer our criticism privately. This is just as true for our children. We clearly have to criticize and correct them – that is a parent’s God-given role. But we can try to do this in private as much as possible. Spankings can be administered in a room far from guests or other children. Talks, too, can be done behind a closed door, away from the ears of their siblings. Matthew 18 makes it clear that not all criticism can be done privately, but when it is possible it is best. Conclusion We should criticize carefully, lovingly and privately, but we most certainly should criticize. God has put us together in a community so that we can “teach and admonish one another” (Col. 3:16). Sometimes there can be a temptation to stay quiet, even when we have some godly wisdom to offer a brother having problems. We can even fool ourselves into thinking we are simply “minding our own business” (and that our silence has nothing at all to do with cowardice). But minding our own business isn’t exactly a Christian virtue - we are our brother’s keeper and we must be concerned with his welfare. So if we love him, and he is in need of correction, silence is simply not an option.
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death…” – James 5:19-20
A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.
****Postscript: How should we receive criticism? As Carnegie notes, it is human nature to bristle at criticism and ignore it, but human nature is sinful, so the way we do react might not be the way we should react. God tells us that it is simply stupid to hate correction (Prov 12:1). We know we are far from perfect, and clearly in need of improvement, so we should “listen to advice and accept instruction” (Prov. 19:20). So how do we overcome our defensiveness? How can we learn to welcome criticism? We need to ask God to make us want to be wise, rather than foolish. We need to pray for a growing awareness of our own sins, and our need for correction. It is only when we understand how needy we are that we will embrace the help that is offered. That doesn't mean listening to every critic – many are fools. But it does mean we need to recognize that criticism of the godly sort is a precious, if not always pleasant, commodity.
BAPTISM DEBATE: Credo vs. Paedo
On Sept. 27 two Reformed pastors debated “SHOULD WE BAPTIZE INFANTS AS WELL AS ADULTS?” The edited version of this video is now available to watch above. It is approximately 100 minutes, or a little under 2 hours long. Pastor Jared Hiebert, of the Covenant Reformed Church of Stienbach holds to Adult baptism / believer’s baptism / credobaptism. This is the belief that while someone need not necessarily be an adult (“adult baptism” is a bit of a misnomer) before being baptized, they do need to be old enough to be able to understand, and confess, their dependency on and devotion to our Lord. Pastor James Zekveld of the Canadian Reformed Church in Niverville holds to Infant baptism / paedobaptism. This is the belief that God’s covenant promises are available to the children of believers, and thus these promises can be given not only to adults, but to infants – baptism is for babies too. Reformed Perspective holds to a paedobaptism position, and in preparation for the debate we’ve shared a list of some of the very best resources available in defense of infant baptism.
Choosing Evolution: Bad reasons for a big departure
How I Changed My Mind About Evolution is a recent book featuring 25 evangelical theologians and scientists, each taking a chapter to explain why they have adopted the theory of evolution. The editors note at the outset that fully,
“69% of Americans who faithfully attend church weekly believe that God created humans in their present form less than ten thousand years ago.”The goal of this book is to reduce the number of evangelicals holding this view. Instead of laying out the evidence of Scripture and the findings of scientists, they opt to tell their stories. And while each contributor has his or her unique story, one can notice that a number of themes recur in the stories. I want to note three major ones. 1. JOHN WALTON'S REINTERPRETATION OF GENESIS 1 & 2 John Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 & 2 was raised by several of the authors, who echoed his argument that the Genesis account only attempts to answer the “who” and “why” of creation, not “how” God did it. Walton claims that Genesis is simply the Hebrew version of an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) origins account and that such accounts are only intended to teach the function and purpose of each part of the created world. The origins of the material stuff of creation, and the way the world was brought into being, were not the concern in such accounts. And since, according to Walton, Genesis is like these other ANEs, it wasn’t trying to explain how the world was made either, but was only trying to point to who did it. Genesis thus sets out to refute the views of surrounding nations by attributing the existing world to the Hebrew God instead of the pagan gods, and presenting the earth as God’s dwelling, his temple. These claims of Walton have been soundly refuted by Noel Weeks in an article in the Westminster Theological Journal (78:1 , 1–28). Walton incorrectly interprets the ANE texts, brings together ANE texts from extremely diverse times and contexts, and, I might add, presents an exegesis of Genesis 1 & 2 that overlooks all the points that don’t fit with his interpretation. He also makes words like “create” and “make” mean things they simply don’t mean. I’ve listened to Walton deliver his insights in several long speeches and I’ve read one of his books. Unfortunately, John Walton has had a dramatic effect in terms of opening the way for Christians to hold to an evolutionary account of the origins of the universe, and even of the origins of life. As, J.B. Stump, one of the book’s contributors wrote, Walton’s scholarship “has been a gateway for me (and many others) to consider a more sophisticated treatment of Scripture.” More sophisticated? Walton’s interpretation may appear to be more sophisticated than that of the average Bible reader. But it’s patently incorrect. 2. THE "TWO BOOKS" ARGUMENT Quite a few of the contributors referred to Scripture and Creation as “two books”: the book of special revelation (the Bible) the book of general revelation (God's Creation) Theologians are said to draw from the first; scientists from the second; and both of these “professionals” are supplying us with interpretations of divine revelation. This metaphor – of equating certain scientists' conclusions as being God's general revelation, and then calling this "revelation" complementary to the message of Scripture – has been around for some time. It may originate in a misuse of article 2 of the Belgic Confession, where the "the creation, preservation, and government of the universe" is said to be like a "beautiful book." One contributor even speaks of “reading the big book of creation alongside the little book of Scripture,” telling scientists that they are “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Another says that the “book of [God’s] works is one that He desires us to take, read, and celebrate.” But the Scriptures never speak of general revelation in this way. Rather, the general revelation that is available to all people in the world is enough to make them know that there is a God, and that he should be served and praised (Ps 19:1-6; Acts 17:24). This revelation leaves them without excuse when they suppress the knowledge of God and substitute idols in his place (Rom 1:18–20). Meanwhile, the discoveries of scientists are not revelations from God, but human interpretations of data that are fitted within particular theories. The Lord never promised a correct interpretation of nature, but he did promise to lead his people in the rich pastures of his Word by the working of his Holy Spirit. Further, since all people, because of sin, suppress the knowledge of God from creation, Scripture must correct those misconceptions; thus, the clear message of Scripture must have precedence. 3. STRAW MAN ARGUMENTS Finally, the third major theme I picked out was not a theme the authors themselves highlighted, but rather, something I noticed. It felt to me that the arguments they mentioned against evolution were some of the weakest; they were blowing over straw men. For instance: dinosaurs never existed Satan buried the bones that testify otherwise “Job invented electricity” But these are not the actual arguments used by “young” earth creationists! N.T. Wright’s contribution – an excerpt from one of his books – tries to trivialize the entire young earth position by treating it as if it were merely a tempest in a North American teapot. He speaks as if only unsophisticated revolutionaries would ever treat the biblical text in such a fundamentalist way. Similarly, another contributor states,
“Despite twenty-five centuries of debate, it is fair to say that no human knows what the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 was precisely intended to be.”I would have expected the editors to excise such nonsense. Readers must also endure the expected jab at Bishop James Ussher, who concluded that God created the world in 4004 B.C.. In fact, Ussher was one of the most learned men of his time, and sought to determine creation’s date because this was an exercise that many other scholars around him had sought to do. Indeed, many Jews still give today’s date as determined from the moment of creation – today, as I write, it is 17th of Tishre, year 5779 since creation began. Finally, all sides in this debate ought to agree that pat responses such as “with God one day is like a thousand years,” will never suffice, and, in fact, represent a misuse of Ps 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8. CONCLUSION How I Changed My Mind About Evolution was never intended to marshal all the arguments in favor of evolution. Rather, it tells the stories of various evangelical theologians, pastors, and scientists. As such, its style is completely in line with the purpose of its publisher BioLogos, which aims to “translate scholarship on origins for the evangelical church.” In other words, the book seeks to make evolution seem acceptable by holding up this collection of twenty-five models for evangelical believers to follow. They hope to reduce that statistic of 69% that was mentioned at the outset. However, the book only leaves me unimpressed, inasmuch as some of the strongest arguments, the three that recur the most often in the book, the ones that seem to have opened the way for these 25 evangelicals to change their minds about evolution, turn out to be very bad arguments.
A version of this article first appeared at CreationWithoutCompromise.com, Dr. Ted Van Raalte is Professor of Ecclesiology at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.
The limits of the “two-books” metaphor
There is an idea, common among Christians, that God has revealed Himself to us via “two books”: Scripture and the book of Nature. The Belgic Confession, Article 2 puts it this way:
"We know [God] by two means:"First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature, as the apostle Paul says in Rom 1:20. All these things are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse. "Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation." But what happens when these two “books” seem to conflict? This happens in the Creation/Evolution debate, where the plain reading of Genesis 1 and 2 conflicts with the evolutionary account of our origins. So, as Jason Lisle notes, that has some Christians thinking that since:
“…the book of Nature clearly reveals that all life has evolved from a common ancestor….we must take Genesis as a metaphor…. we must interpret the days of Genesis as long ages, not ordinary days.”Analogies have their limits But that's getting things backwards. While the Belgic Confession does speak of Creation as being like a book, metaphors and analogies have their limits. For example, In Matt. 23:37 God is compared to a hen who "gathers her chicks under her wings" – this analogy applies to the loving, protective nature of a hen, and should not be understood to reveal that God is feminine. That's not what it is about. Clearly Nature is not a book – the universe is not made up of pages and text, and it's not enclosed in a cover or held together by a spine. The Belgic Confession is making a specific, very limited, point of comparison when it likens God's creation to a book. How exactly is it like a book? In how it proclaims "God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature." It does so with book-like clarity, "so that people are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). But in the Creation/Evolution debate some Christians extend this book analogy in a completely different, and entirely inaccurate, direction. It has been taken to mean that Creation can teach us about our origins with book-like clarity. This misunderstanding then presents us with a dilemma: if we have one book saying we were created in just six days, and another saying it took millions of years, and both are equally clear on this matter, then what should we believe? We need to understand that this dilemma is entirely of our own making. Creation is not like a book when it comes to teaching us about our origins. As Dr. Lisle has noted, it does not speak with that kind of clarity on this topic. Only one actual book here In contrast, the Bible is not merely like a book, it actually is one! It is there, and only there, that we get bookish clarity on how we, and the world around us, came to be. So, yes, the two-book analogy remains helpful when it is used to illustrate the clarity with which God shows "his eternal power and divine nature" to everyone on the planet. But when it comes to the Creation/Evolution debate, the way the two-book analogy is being used is indeed fallacious. God's creation simply does not speak with book-like clarity regarding our origins. We can be thankful, then, that his Word does!
Jon Dykstra also blogs on Creation at CreationWithoutCompromise.com.
Should we baptize infants? Resources that make the case
On the evening of Sept. 27, 2018, two Reformed pastors debated "Should we baptize infants as well as adults?" (A 2-hour edited recording of that debate is now available here). Pastor Jared Hiebert, of the Covenant Reformed Church of Stienbach holds to Adult baptism / believer's baptism / credobaptism. This is the belief that while someone need not necessarily be an adult ("adult baptism" is a bit of a misnomer) before being baptized, they do need to be old enough to be able to understand, and confess, their dependency on and devotion to our Lord. Pastor James Zekveld of the Canadian Reformed Church in Niverville holds to Infant baptism / paedobaptism. This is the belief that God's covenant promises are available to the children of believers, and thus these promises can be given not only to adults, but to infants – baptism is for babies too. Reformed Perspective holds to a paedobaptism position, and in preparation for the debate we shared a list of some of the very best resources available in defense of infant baptism. Audio Baptism debate with R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur (2 hours) Two Reformed stalwarts go head to head in this debate, with each given an hour to lay out their best case. R.C. Sproul argues for paedobaptism, and John MacArthur makes the case for credobaptism. Article-length treatments A brief defense of infant baptism by Kevin DeYoung Why I changed my mind on infant baptism, by Liam Goligher Not your average paedobaptist by Jared Oliphint Books worth buying Jesus loves the little children: why we baptize children by Daniel R. Hyde 96 pages / 2006 At under 100 pages, this book by United Reformed pastor Daniel Hyde can be read in just a few evenings, and it provides a solid foundational understanding. Children of the promise: the biblical case for infant baptism by Robert R. Booth 190 pages / 1995 This will take some time to work through, but with short narrative bits to start each chapter, it is incredibly readable. And with recommendations from Greg Bahnsen, Vern Poythress and Douglas Wilson, it seems everyone likes this book. Baptism: three views edited by David F. Wright 200 pages / 2009 Able defenders of three views – paedobaptism, credobaptism, and the dual view (that both are legitimate) – make their case, and then get to interact with the other two as they critique the offered argument. Video Paedobaptism vs Credobaptism (6 minutes) This, from the producer of the documentary Calvinist, gives a very brief and balanced presentation of the two sides. The intent here is to help define the two sides of the debate, rather than to defend one side or the other. Why baptize infants? A Reformed perspective (8 minutes) R. Scott Clark points to the pattern of Abraham, and argues that it continues in infant baptism.
#3 - The unknown Commandment
“You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7
*****It takes just a quick flip through the TV channels to find someone using God’s name in vain. CLICK! An old Friends rerun, and there’s Phoebe using it as a synonym for “okay!” CLICK! A few channels further one of Doctor Who's companions is using God’s name instead of exclaiming “oh no!” CLICK! On the sports channel a commentator decides that “Wow!” just doesn’t suffice. Yes, it’s easy to find people using God’s name in vain, but it’s hard to figure out why they do it. It doesn’t make sense. While TV writers and producers regularly offend viewers, they rarely do so without reason. In a show like Game of Thrones, for example, the producers show a steady diet of sex and violence, knowing it will offend some viewers. But even as Christians are turning off the program, countless others are tuning in for the sex and sleaze. So TV producers are willing to offend, as long as it get them more viewers than it loses. That’s why it’s hard to understand why anyone swears on TV. Using God’s name in vain is sure to offend some viewers, but it’s doubtful anyone out there really watches a show for the swearing. So why do they do it? The same question could be asked in a number of other settings as well. Why is God’s name misused in newspapers, at the office, and in casual conversations? In many of these same settings the dialogue will be remarkably free from crudities – the f-word and others are strictly off limits. But God’s name is still open to abuse. Why? Ignorance isn’t bliss I’m convinced the answer is ignorance. God’s name is abused because Christians don’t object, and because we don’t object, TV scriptwriters, newspaper columnists and even our friends don’t realize that using God’s name in vain is offensive. They’re totally clueless. How clueless? Some years back, when I screwed up the courage to ask a teammate on my rec-league basketball team to stop swearing he was quite willing to oblige. So the next time he missed a shot, instead of stringing God’s name together with the word d--n (as was his usual habit) he restricted himself to just misusing God’s name. He knew d--n was a swear, so he stopped using it, but he continued using God’s name in vain because no one had ever told him it was offensive. Not everyone is this clueless, but it is surprising how many are. It is even more surprising how willing people are to accommodate a request not to swear. When our basketball team’s manager called an impromptu meeting about swearing everyone agreed to try and curtail it. (One player noted that a similar request had been made when he played college ball. Interestingly enough, on that team it wasn’t a Christian who had made the request, but a Mormon.) The non-Christians even had a bunch of questions about which words were more and less offensive. Many of them still swore afterwards, but it was a habit they were trying to break. And all we had to do was ask. How do you ask? The toughest part is the asking. How do you bring it up without sounding holier than thou? The manager on our basketball team took the straightforward approach. He announced that since there were a number of Christians on the team, we would appreciate it if people didn’t swear using God’s name. He said it, everyone agreed, and it was done with. He made it look so very simple. And it should be simple. Not easy, mind you; as simple as it looked, he was the only Christian on the team to actually get up and say what needed to be said. It still takes courage. One of my aunts uses a rather different technique. When someone misuses God’s name while talking with her, she interrupts and asks, “Are you praying?” This generally prompts a very puzzled reply, something to the effect of, “What? Why would you think I was praying?” “Because you just mentioned God’s name, and since we weren’t talking about God, well, why else would you be mentioning God? Or were you just using God’s name for emphasis? Maybe you don’t know, but using God’s name like that is very offensive to Christians, and to God Himself. Please don’t do that.” A friend has written to a popular newspaper columnist who blasphemed. He alerted her to the offensive part of her column and then continued:
…many people don't know this, but the way you used God's name there would actually be a violation of the third commandment - You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.
Obviously it would be fine to use God's name if you actually were addressing Him, but in this instance you used it more like an expletive, or as a way to emphasize your point. I know that columnists don't seek to offend without purpose (sometimes they do so with purpose, but that is part of the job) so I thought I would make you aware of this, and ask you to please be careful about it in the future. Thank-you.The columnist never replied but, in the days and weeks that followed, did not abuse God's name again. Conclusion Not everyone is going to honor a request to stop swearing. Some will swear just to tick us off. But our friends and neighbors will care. Employees will listen, if only to cozy up to the boss. Waiters will want nice tips. TV scriptwriters want us to watch their shows. All these people have reasons to listen to what we like and don’t like. We don’t like it when they use God’s name in vain, so let’s let them know.
PAUL vs. JAMES? Dealing with Bible difficulties
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” - Paul, writing in Romans 3:28 “You see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” - James, writing in James 2:24
****Supposed contradictions in the Bible can be unsettling. I had a few aggressive professors in university who offered up Biblical contradictions in a proselytizing sort of way. They were looking to win converts to their atheistic (or, in one case, theistic evolutionary) ways by attacking the trustworthiness of the Bible. I had attended a Christian high school and had almost entirely Christian friends, so I’d never run into this type of attack before. I didn’t know how to respond. Did trusting God mean just ignoring these challenges? Should I just keep believing despite all these seemingly irreconcilable difficulties being offered? Well, contrary to some popular Christian notions, our faith in God isn’t meant to be blind. We trust Him, not despite the evidence, but because of His track record – He has proven Himself trustworthy again and again. And because we can trust Him, we can go all “Berean” on these supposed contradictions. We can look at them closely, without fear, knowing that because God is true, these contradictions are no contradictions at all. Now, not only can we proceed without fear, we can even delve into these with a spirit of anticipation. Why? Because some of these “contradictions” are among the most enlightening passages of the Bible – we can look closer knowing that by better understanding these difficult passages we are learning more about our God. A CLOSE LOOK AT ONE DIFFICULTY One of the most illuminating “contradictions” occurs in James 2. It’s here that James seems to take a direct shot at much of what Paul writes. In Romans 3:28 and James 2:24 the contrast is clearest. Here Paul takes a stand for faith apart from works, while James is certain that both faith and works are needed. This is a big problem here – the Bible appears to contradict itself about the most important of matters: how we are to be justified! We aren’t the only ones confused. In his book Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament Robert H. Stein calls James 2 the one biblical passage that has “probably caused more theological difficulty than any other.” Martin Luther, who loved Paul’s book of Romans, also had problems with the book of James, in part because of this seeming works vs. faith dilemma. ENGLISH TEACHERS TO THE RESCUE? There is a problem here, but it turns out it is the sort of problem that can be solved by any decent high school English teacher. It was your English teacher who taught you words can have multiple meanings. For example the word bad means both not good (“You are a bad boy!”) and very good (“You is bad boy!") depending on the context. While words have a degree of flexibility to them, there are limits to this flexibility – if a word could mean absolutely anything, no one would know what it meant (the word bad might mean both not good and very good but it doesn’t mean blue, root beer, or canoeing). FAITH The word faith also has a degree of flexibility and even has numerous dictionary meanings. As Robert Stein notes, it can mean any one of the following: a religion (the Hindu faith) a branch of a religion (the Protestant faith) a specific set of theological doctrines (A church’s statement of faith) a living vital trust in God (she has real faith) The problem that many people have with James 2 and the contrasting passages written by Paul, is that they assume both James and Paul are using the word faith in exactly the same way. This isn’t so. If we take a look at the context in which Paul uses the word we find him speaking of: faith that seeks to please Christ (2 Cor. 5:7-9) faith coupled with love for the saints (Ephesians 1:15) a faith like Abraham’s (Romans 4:9) and a faith that is accompanied by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:14). James uses the same word quite differently. He talks of: a faith that allows Christians to see brothers in need and ignore them (James 2:14-16) a faith that is purely intellectual (James 2:19) and a faith that even demons have (James 2:19). James and Paul are not using this word the same way! WORKS There is also a notable difference in the way that James and Paul use the word works. Paul talks about works as something men boast about before God (Romans 4:2) or as a legalistic way of earning salvation (Gal. 5:2-4) or as something that people rely on instead of God’s grace (Romans 11:6). James on the other hand talks about works as the natural outgrowth of faith. James’ use of the word works includes Rahab’s hiding of the spies (James 2:25) taking care of the poor and other acts of compassion (James 2:15-16) and works as acts of obedience to God (James 2:21). So again, Paul and James’ meaning is significantly different. THE VALUE If Paul and James mean different things when they use the words faith and works, then the apparent contradictions between Romans and James, turn out to be no contradictions at all. But it is only by studying these “contradictions” that we can get a proper understanding of the relationship between works and faith. James’ book can be seen as a rebuke to Hyper-Calvinists – people who take the doctrine of salvation by faith alone to mean they don’t have to do good works. Paul’s many letters are a rebuke to people on the other end of the spectrum – Pelagians who believe that they have to earn their own way into heaven by doing good works. And in between these two polar opposites are Calvinists who know that faith without works is indeed dead, but that our works do nothing to earn us salvation. It is indeed by faith alone. And by grace alone. The result of wrestling with this seeming contradiction is that we’ve gained in our understanding of what God has done for us, and what God expects from us! CONCLUSION So how then are we to deal with supposed Biblical contradictions? Ignorance is not bliss. We don’t need to turn a blind eye. God is trustworthy and that means we can trust that His Word will not contradict itself. We can trust that examining the Bible closely will not be dangerous, but only to our benefit. Trusting God also means that when answers are not so easily had, or just aren’t coming at all, that shouldn’t lead to doubt. We will be able to resolve the vast majority of troubling texts presented to us but we also need to understand some difficulties will remain, and some questions may not be answered for years. Why is that so? Because omniscience is one of God’s attributes, not one of ours. We aren’t going to understand everything. But even if we are limited, there is still so much more we can learn about God. So trust Him enough to seek solutions to any biblical difficulties you’re presented with. And trust Him enough to be content when you only get 9 out of 10 questions answered.
There are a number of very helpful books for digging into Bible difficulties including Robert Stein's "Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament," James W. Sire's "Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible," D.A. Carson's "Exegetical Fallacies," and Jay Adams' "Fifty Difficult Passages Explained."
What a wonderful word! Yet, what does it mean? How do you grant forgiveness; and, for what? As much as Christians talk about forgiveness, you’d think they could tell you all about it. Yet, there is hardly one in a thousand who can give sound, Biblical answers to the questions above. Forgiveness of others is to be modeled on one’s own forgiveness by Christ: “… forgiving one another just as God, in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Forgiveness must be extended to all who say they repent – even if the offense has been repeated (Cf. Luke 17:3). But it is only to be granted to those who confess wrong-doing, claim to be repentant, and ask forgiveness (Prov. 28:13). In Mk. 11:25, Jesus tells you to forgive those who wronged you when you pray, thereby avoiding bitterness and resentment (Eph. 4:32). But, that is different from granting the wrongdoer forgiveness. You do that only when he repents. Forgiveness of others must reflect god’s forgiveness; He forgave you when you repented. Forgiveness is others-focused Some Christians advise forgiving another whether or not he confesses sin. But they misunderstood forgiveness. They urge this to benefit the one who forgives. Yet, it was for your benefit that God forgave you. Their self-centered concept of forgiveness is unbiblical. God did not forgive you until you repented, admitted you were a sinner, and believed. Indeed, even now, when God dispenses parental forgiveness, He says, “…if you don’t forgive men, then your Father won’t forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15). Some think when Christ prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” He forgave apart from repentance. But Jesus granted no one forgiveness by those words. He was asking God to forgive. Did God answer? Yes. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of those same people were converted, and their sins were forgiven. But, that did not happen apart from the means. Peter called on them to repent and believe in order to receive forgiveness (Cf. Acts 2:38). Pre-emptive forgiveness prevents pursuit Because in forgiving one promises not to bring up the offender’s sin, to him, to others, or to himself, it is not right to forgive before repentance. Jesus requires you to confront an offender (Matt. 18:15ff) in order to bring about reconciliation. If he refuses to listen to you, instead of forgiving him, you must tell one or two others. If he won’t hear them, then you must tell the church. Indeed, apart from repentance, the matter, must be brought up to an increasingly larger number of persons. Why? Through their aid to win the offender. In love, true forgiveness seeks not to relieve the forgiver, but to deliver the offender from his burden of guilt. Out of concern for the other person, the offended party pursues the offender until the matter is settled before God and men. Any bitterness on his part, Jesus said, must be dealt with in prayer. Because forgiveness is a promise not to refer negatively to the offender’s sin any more, it would be utterly inconsistent to forgive an unrepentant person before Church discipline has been successfully used. People who try to be kinder than God, end up becoming cruel to others. The kind thing is not to focus on relief for one’s self, by forgiving others whether they repent or not, but by every Biblical means to win offenders. It may seem unkind to bring matters up again and again when an offender refuses to be reconciled, but you must do so, not to irritate, but to help relieve him of the burden of his sin. To ignore him and focus on one’s self, saying, “feel better since I forgave Bob, even though he didn’t seek forgiveness,” is the epitome of the modern, self-centered psychological heresy. Apologizing is not repenting Seeking forgiveness is not apologizing. There is nothing in the Bible about apologizing – the World’s substitute for forgiveness that doesn’t get the job done. You apologize, and say “I’m Sorry,” but have not admitted your sin. The offended party feels awkward, not knowing how to respond. You are still holding the ball. You asked him to do nothing. But, confess your sin to him saying, “I have asked God to forgive me, and now I’m asking you,” and you pass the ball to the other person. You ask him to bury the matter for good. Jesus commands him to say “yes,” thereby making the promise that God does: “Your sins and you iniquities will I remember against you no more.” That brings the matter to a conclusion. Apologizing does not. Don’t wait! Is there someone to whom you should go ask forgiveness? Has someone sought it from you to whom you said “Once, yes; twice, maybe; three times, no!”? Perhaps there is someone whom you have never confronted about a matter that has brought about an unreconciled condition between you. Are any of these problems outstanding? Then you have business to attend to. Why not settle the matter today? You don’t have to feel like it to forgive. Forgiveness is a promise that you can make and keep, whether you feel like it or not. And, it is easier to forgive another – even when he sins against you seven times a day – when you remember Christ’s great sacrifice for you sins by which He forgave you. And, then too, remember how many times a day He forgives you ever since you have become a believer. One other fact may help. If you have truly forgiven, it isn’t the fifth, or the third; it’s not even the second time. If you have truly buried the matter, truly forgiven – it’s always the first.
Dr. Jay Adams is Dean of the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and the author of more than 100 books. This post first appeared on his blog at www.nouthetic.org and is reprinted here with permission.
Should a Christian ever be discontent?
She sat across from me, sipping coffee, her forehead wrinkled with unhappiness. She’d struggled for two years in a job that clearly made her miserable, and which everyone else thought she should quit. But she couldn’t quite agree, wondering if there was a reason God had blessed her with the position. “I’m trying so hard to be grateful,” she said. “I just want to be satisfied with what I have.”
****My friend’s words hit me right in my chest. I didn’t know what to say, because I’ve struggled with the exact same issues. When is it okay to give up on the path you’re currently traveling on? When is it okay to quit and change what you’re doing? We know God has a reason for everything He brings into our lives, so doesn’t it just make sense that we should figure out that reason – figure out how to glorify Him in this situation – before we think of moving on to something else? But like so many other situations in life, we often don’t understand the invisible plans of God, or know what His goal is for us in our current season of life. And so we can be left unsure if it is okay to move on to something else, or if God means for us to learn contentment where we are. Often, when we find ourselves feeling like I or my friend felt in that moment – recognizing the strain of dissatisfaction running through our lives – we respond with guilt. We might think this discontent points to a lack in our spiritual lives. But is discontent always wrong? Dissatisfaction certainly can be caused by a spiritual lack. We humans never are satisfied with what we have. We never have enough. If we had the power to change everything in our lives, we still would not feel fulfilled. But this does not mean we should never take our discontentment seriously. Discontent might be the motivation to change something in our lives that needs changing. The value of discontent When we look at other people’s lives, it’s easy to recognize what’s causing them unhappiness, and it’s easy to say they should change these things. In fact, we often wonder why they don’t. This person is still young, so why don’t they try a new career? Or this person has the freedom to move, so why don’t they try living in another city? But when it comes to ourselves, we see how hard it is to justify our choices to make changes. Is “unhappiness” really a good enough reason, when we know we’re called to be content? To get here we've struggled, we've prayed, we've relied on God to achieve things – and by the grace of God we have achieved them. We know, because our strength was so weak and we needed God's strength so much to get where we are today, that our current situation is straight from the hand of God. What we need to know is if we can be grateful for God’s gifts while still choosing for change. No wonder people hesitate to make a change! One way forward is to consider when feelings of discontent have value. This is not to say discontentment should be embraced, but that the feeling can point us to areas of our lives we do actually have power over. So let’s look at discontentment a bit more closely. We shouldn’t be content with just this world First, there are some obvious things God intends for us to be discontent about. We are not supposed to be content with the fallen state of the world. We are supposed to be content that all things are in the hands of God, but we are not supposed to look at injustice be pleased about it. Some of our dissatisfaction points us to the new creation we are looking forward to. When we recognize that we never feel fully fulfilled, we also recognize that we are waiting for eternal fulfillment. We live with “eternity in our hearts” – we have a vision of an ideal kingdom this world cannot live up to. This also means that life’s frustrations, dead ends, and futility were never meant to be part of God’s good creation. No wonder we react so strongly to them. And yet, while we understand this, we also understand God is still holding all the threads of our lives in His hands. We cling to His promise that in him everything that seems meaningless has meaning. We shouldn’t be satisfied burying our talent There’s another aspect of discontentment to consider. Contentment ought to be separated from passivity. A wrong emphasis on contentment can make us believe we’re not allowed to change anything in our lives. But contentment and passivity are not the same thing. Perhaps discontentment may be a challenge to us. We may hide behind “contentment” because we’re afraid to take the risk of change, because we might fail if we try something new. But our dissatisfaction could hint that we are not reaching for goals that we could try to reach. We are not risking the bumps and falls that might develop our skills. Discontentment might tell us we are meant to challenge ourselves. And if we are taking the easier path without really thinking it through, our emotions may be a sign something is wrong. We should consider whether we need to choose a more challenging goal. If we do not separate contentment and passivity, it can result in a fatalistic determinism. We might conclude that wherever we happen to be, that is where God placed us so it must be where He wants us to be, and therefore we should be content. But this cuts off the possibility that God also blesses us with opportunities. Determinism leads us to say—You’re still single? God must not want you to be married. You’re poor? God must not want you to be rich. Don’t try to achieve anything. Just wait peacefully. Don’t try to change. Everything you’re meant to have will just happen if it’s meant to be. But clearly this is an unbiblical message. Learning contentment from Paul Contentment is still a good thing, and it is a virtue to be pursued in our lives. After much struggle, I’ve realized that while there may be something behind the vague sense of discontent that so often crops up in our lives, and that these reasons can be addressed, contentment is still the goal, not discontent. How, then, should we pursue contentment while avoiding utter passivity? There are a few things to keep in mind. Content even as we strive First, contentment is about where you are in the present moment. It is not a denial of any change in the future. When Paul talks of being content in all circumstances, he was working towards a goal, and the circumstances occurred while he was attempting to achieve it. Having a goal does imply you expect to cause change in the future. So perhaps it is not the goal you’re supposed to avoid having, but the discontent over the difficulties that spring up on the way to the goal. It may in fact turn out to be that the goal is not one you’re meant to achieve, but contentment in all circumstances includes contentment during the deep disappointment that hits when you don’t achieve your goal. In other words – strive! Keep striving! But be ready to be content with what the Lord brings you. Content in suffering Another caveat is that contentment in Scripture, including the contentment passage in Philippians 4 (“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”), is mentioned in relation to suffering. It is an approach to situations that are not in Christians’ control. When life is hard, especially when life is hard as a result of being Christians, Christians are to be content. So the intent is not to say, “don’t change your life path,” but rather, “I know you’re suffering, and this is where you can find comfort.” These passages also emphasize that no circumstances of life ever prevent us from being saved by God – whether in chains or free, whether rich or poor – no one needs to be discontent because their circumstances prevent them from truly being Christians. If such circumstances did exist they would surely be reason for despair—but thanks be to God there are none! We can be content because our circumstances do not prevent our salvation. Content when we have choices and when we don’t We all suffer in some way, but in comparison to many Christians in the Bible we are faced with an endless array of choices – we can choose a career, we can choose a spouse, we can choose where we want to live, we can choose to travel, we can choose our level of education. It’s not a surprise the Bible doesn’t predict that we in the future would be faced with this array of choice, and advise us on how to wrap our minds around the dizzying display. And therefore it is not a surprise when we try to apply biblical principles to our choices instead of our sufferings, and end up at the conclusion that we should never desire anything, and never try to achieve anything. But rather than arriving at this conclusion and automatically accepting it, we should think about whether this is really correct. We are to be content in situations we can’t change, including those which are really, really hard. But our contentment in the present moment doesn’t prevent us moving from one choice to another in the future. Second, we often think contentment means being stationary unless we’re sure God means for us to move. But Paul did not always sit and wait until absolutely sure that God was sending him somewhere else. If he was called by the Spirit he followed, but he continued to work and preach in all places while waiting for the Spirit’s call. He often made plans to go to different places, or to start new missions. When the Spirit of God prevented him from preaching throughout Asia Minor, he continued trying in place after place until he reached the sea – only then did he realized he was being called to Macedonia. In other words, sometimes we are not sure what we should do, but we do not necessarily have to wait for a firm confirmation from God before every action. Content in the day-to-day faithfulness Lastly, we are often discontent with our lives not because of the goals but because of the mundane tasks and the drudgery. Our actions seem so little, and so dull. We cry, like me and my friend did when we were having coffee, “I just want to work in God’s kingdom!” But perhaps the cathedral builders did the same, as they painstakingly placed stone on stone for hundreds of years, unable to see the buildings we’d gasp at in wonder today. Perhaps our grandparents did the same as they struggled to get their children to listen to a Bible story, not knowing if the generations who’d follow would do the same. When we ask God to use our lives according to His plans, we sometimes suppress a fear that God doesn’t want us to go anywhere, or do anything. This is our fear when we walk into the office and face a mountain of paperwork that needs to be done but hardly seems worthwhile – am I really contributing to God’s kingdom, we wonder? But our God is not a God of waste. If we are to be ordinary, it will be worthwhile. Our call to contentment brings us to a new understanding, where ordinary labour is not undervalued. We are not pressured to all conform to the mould of world-changer. We can put our hand to the task in front of us without fear our efforts will be washed from the earth, because we know they’re seen by the eyes of God. Conclusion What, then, is contentment? First, it is a focus on the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the world. It shifts our focus from yearning for the things of this world, such as money, fame, or power. We can trust there are eternal things that we are building, and contentment means that we can rest. Second, it is not a struggle with God over what can’t change. While we are not called to passivity, in our lives we will sometimes be told “no.” This is where we are most often tempted to fight, not necessarily with our actions, but with a rebellious spirit that insists on despising the situation forced on us. Only by looking to God in His Word and in prayer will we find the strength to turn back to contentment again. When my friend and I left the cafe, our lives were still the same as when we had come in. Yet somehow Christian company and very good coffee gave us new capacity to rest in the goodness of God.
Harma-Mae Smit blogs at HarmaMaeSmit.com.
On envy and its disguises
A few weeks ago two of my daughters were fighting over a stuffed animal, both insisting it was theirs. I wanted to stop the fight but this struck me as a teachable moment...and I knew I had just the right story to share. “Do you remember when two women came to King Solomon and both said a baby was theirs? King Solomon was going to use a sword to cut the baby in half, so that each woman could have half.” Then came the mike drop moment: “Would that be a good idea to do with your stuffie?” The story didn’t impact my girls like I’d hoped: both agreed that splitting the stuffie lengthwise was the way to go. Hmmmm… I was left wondering what Solomon would have done if both women had said, “Sure, go ahead.” The best I could come up with was to have the toy bear come stay with the “king” for a while – instead of half a stuffie for both, it was no stuffie for either of them. Kids have a hard time seeing it A few days later I came across another illustration, and because of the less than satisfactory conclusion to my earlier conversation with the girls, I wanted to share this with them too. In the June 6 “Nearer to God Devotional” Pastor Mark Stewart shared an old Jewish folktale, in which an angel visits a businessman known for being envious. The angel wants to encourage the shopkeeper to give up his envy so he tells the man that he can have one wish but with one condition: whatever he wishes for, his neighbor will get twice as much of it. The spiteful man considers the offer for a few moments, and then makes his request: “Please make me blind in one eye.” Both my girls were shocked, and then somewhat amused. What a clever, but ever so wicked, man! He would be blind in one eye, but his neighbor would be blind in both. This story reminded me of another, so I shared an old Cold War joke – something Ronald Reagan might have said. One day a genie visited a Russian peasant and told him he could have one wish. The peasant was quite excited and told the genie about how his neighbor had gotten a goat. He shared how the goat provided the neighbor’s whole family with milk, and goat’s hair for clothing, and was also a wonderful pet for that family’s children. “So you want a goat too?” asked the genie. “No,” said the peasant, “I want you to kill my neighbor’s goat.” In the Bible the words covetousness and envy seem to be used interchangeably. But if a distinction were to be made, we might describe envy as taking covetousness one step further. The merely covetous man wants what his neighbor has – he wants to be rich too. But the envious man isn’t as concerned with his own state as that of his neighbor’s. He won’t be satisfied until his rich neighbor is poor. Adult can miss it too I shared these stories with my daughters because there were obvious connections to be made. There are going to be times when one child gets something – whether it’s piano lessons, a new toy, an opportunity to visit a friend’s house, etc. – that the other siblings doesn’t get. And many a time those other children will have a hard time being happy for their sibling’s opportunity. They’d be happier if only their sister’s “goat” was killed. Among adults this destructive envy is harder to spot but that’s only because we’re better at hiding our sins – we’ll even present them as virtues. One example: As I finished sharing the second story my wife noted, “This sounds like the Canadian healthcare system.” In the great white North we aren’t always pleased with our healthcare; wait times can be not simply burdensome, but even deadly. However, one thing Canadians take pride in is how it is the same healthcare for everyone. Politicians and voters stand united against queue-jumping and against a two-tiered healthcare system. Consider though, what we are doing when we try to prevent someone who uses their own money from buying better care than is available to the rest of us. Aren’t we wishing his “goat” was dead? Trying to improve healthcare is a noble desire. But trying to prevent others from seeking better healthcare for themselves is envy disguised as principle. This same “envy as virtue” is behind complaints about income inequality. We live in a time and a place where we are richer than we have ever been – every house has conveniences that even a hundred years ago were luxuries for only the richest of the rich...if they existed at all (running hot and cold water, central heating, phones, computers, TV’s, dishwashers, washing machines, vacuums, etc.). So how can the Devil get us to overlook the many ways we have been materially blessed? By getting us looking over the back fence at the new toys in our neighbor's yard. The 10th commandment (Ex. 20:17) forbids just that, but to obscure that clear commandment the Devil presents this sin as something noble. “This isn’t coveting; this is about equality,” he tells us. “This isn’t coveting; it is about compassion for the poor!” Poverty is a problem. When some don’t have enough to eat, or a place to sleep, that is a real concern, and an evil to be fought. But income inequality is simply envy – anger at how much more someone else has than us. Conclusion Covetousness and envy are sins of ingratitude, of not recognizing how much we’ve been given. Would income inequality be an issue if “poor” protesting college students understood they are richer than 85% of the world? Would my daughters fight over one stuffed animal if I had them first go count their dozens of other stuffies? More to the point, would we envy even Bill Gates if we understood what we’ve been given in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? As Pastor Stewart writes:
“Secure in the love of Jesus Christ and our identity as the Father’s children, I have no need to envy my brother or sister. I am a recipient of favor and kindness and grace that I could never earn or pay for. There is no higher or better privilege to reach for…. Content in what the Father has chosen to give to me, I am now freed up to want the best for you.
Adult non-fiction, Theology
Calvinist vs. Arminian: a tale of two books
Why revisit the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism? Isn't it a waste of precious time to discuss these differences even as the world is aflame with political unrest? No, this is a debate that should always generate interest and discussion. Dr. J. I. Packer once observed that the very terms Calvinism and Arminianism represent opposition:
“The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other."Arminianism had considerable influence in Anglo-American theological developments and, on the surface, Calvinism might seem to have lost the battle in the theatre of American evangelicalism. Many evangelicals even believe that Calvinism is “irrelevant.” They say, “Christianity cannot possibly teach that.” With a commitment to egalitarianism and the rejection of the traditional doctrine of original sin, American culture is receptive to Arminianism. The Arminian emphasis on individualism and self-determination dominated much of 20th century American evangelicalism. Billy Graham, for instance, uses the language of Arminianism in his crusades when he asks attendees to "make a decision for Christ" – language that Calvinists find utterly foreign to their understanding of salvation. Revival of Calvinism So it seems clear that Calvinism does not fit the American ideal. Why would anyone be a Calvinist then? The reason is quite simple. The gospel of Jesus Christ is countercultural. Perhaps this is why Calvinism seems to appeal to young people, especially college students. There is also a renewed interest in Calvinism among the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. What is at stake? But why should we know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism? Because they represent stark opposing theological visions, at the heart of which are profoundly different views of God. Two books, published as a set of sorts, highlight just how profound the differences are: What I am not a Calvinist, by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, and Why I am not an Arminian by Robert Peterson and Michael Williams. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist believe:
“...the heart of the matter is how we understand the character of God. The issue is not how powerful God is but what it means to say he is perfectly loving and good.....The breathtaking vision of God's Trinitarian love is obscured by the Calvinist claim that God passes over persons he could just as easily save and thereby consigns them to eternal misery."The following questions then, are at issue: How are we saved from our sins and granted eternal life? Are human beings so fallen that they must be saved exclusively through the unilateral and unconditional actions of God? Is it possible for human beings to successfully resist the saving approaches of God's grace? Can any who were once truly redeemed through faith in Christ fail to receive final salvation? The tone of the debate Considering the seriousness of the differences, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the history of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism has been one of intense and often "mean-spirited" confrontation. However, Why I am not an Arminian's authors aims to treat their Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ as they would want to be treated. They also note that the Synod of Dordt was right to condemn the Arminian misrepresentation of the saving ways of God. "Yet we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate." They observe that Calvinists and Arminians are brothers in Christ. In other words:
“The issue of the debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contribution of both God and man in human history."And Why I am not a Calvinist authors rightly say,
"We should all speak with a measure of care and reserve when delivering our interpretative conclusions."Why I am not a Calvinist So what type of argument do the authors Why I am not a Calvinist make? They first provide some background. Arminianism has its roots in the work of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). It teaches that salvation is available to anybody who exercises faith; it contrasts with the Calvinist understanding that God alone determines who is and who is not among the elect. Arminian popular belief tends toward the overestimation of human ability and the human redemptive contribution. Traditional Arminianism believes that the death of Christ provides grace for all persons and that, as result of his atonement, God extends sufficient grace to all persons through the Holy Spirit to counteract the influence of sin and to enable a response to God. But, they argue, it is possible for sinners to resist God's initiative and to persist in sin and rebellion. Arminianism believes that God's grace enables and encourages a positive and saving response for everyone, but it does not determine a saving response for anyone. Furthermore, an initial positive response of faith doesn't guarantee one's final salvation:
“It is possible to begin a genuine relationship with God but then later turn from him and persist in evil so that one is finally lost.”In 1610, the disciples of Jacobus Arminius produced a manifesto called the Remonstrance, which they regarded as a corrective to the Calvinist doctrine of election. The authors view the divine election of Israel and Christ as “that tree of redemption into which all persons can be incorporated by faith.” They state:
“God doesn't unconditionally predestine particular persons to salvation. Rather, election is in Christ, and all are saved who do not knowingly and persistently refuse God's gracious offer of life.”Interestingly, Why I am not Calvinist's authors go beyond traditional Arminianism, and seem favorably inclined to Openness Theology, also called Open Theism. Advocates of Open Theism have argued that while God knows everything that can be known, He cannot have exhaustively definite knowledge of the future. Since the future will involve decisions made by genuinely free creatures, knowledge of the future is said to be impossible, by definition. Since God doesn't know future free choices, the future is not completely settled. Clark Pinnock, a noted Open Theism advocate says, “Some prophecies are conditional, leaving the future open, and presumably, God's knowledge of it.” And Richard Rice argues, "Where human decision is presupposed, God cannot achieve his purpose unilaterally. He requires our cooperation.” Open Theist theologians acknowledge “the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all,” but in His freedom and desire to enter into a relationship of love with humanity has “decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions.” They also believe that God is “dependent on the world in certain respects.” Consequently, they propose that the traditional view of God's infallible foreknowledge is a conviction that should be dispensed with. Open Theist theologians seem to highly esteem people while limiting God. For example, according to Pinnock human freedom can be won only by surrendering divine foreknowledge. I agree with those theologians who call Open Theism radicalized Arminianism. And if our future free actions cannot be known with certainty, even by God, how can we believe in the fulfillment of prophecy? Why would God "promise" anything if He cannot know the future or guarantee it by His almighty power? For the authors, the doctrine of election does not seem to hold any mystery. In fact, an appeal to mystery scandalizes them. They claim that some Calvinists “make a hasty retreat to mystery” when faced with charges of inconsistency. And they argue, “It isn't a sign of true piety for one to be willing to dispense with logical coherence in the name of mystery.” They critique John Piper's declaration that the potter has absolute rights over the clay, and if God chooses not to save some persons, it is not for us to understand but simply to adore. Interestingly, on the one hand the authors state that Calvinists have been zealous evangelists and missionaries and have contributed powerfully to the cause of winning the lost for Christ. On the other hand, they argue that Calvinists can't make coherent sense of their claim that God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to persons he has not elected for salvation, nor can they explain how God can truly have compassion for such persons. They claim, “the consequences for evangelistic preaching are profound indeed.” Why I am not an Arminian What are the counter arguments from the authors of Why I am not an Arminian? In their carefully reasoned, understandable exposition of Calvinism, they address the historical context, theological concerns, and biblical texts in a readable manner. In fact, they are Bible-centered in their presentation. They point out that the question of ecclesiastical authority and the integrity of the church as a confessional body was an intense bone of contention for both sides in the struggle between the Calvinists and the Arminians within the Dutch church. The Calvinists argued that a Reformed church is a confessional church. Hence they pleaded for the maintenance of particular confessional standards. Following in the tradition of Erasmus of Rotterdam, however, the Arminians championed the liberty of the individual conscience relative to doctrinal standards. The authors show that Calvin was not the first one to talk about reprobation or the absolute sovereignty of God. They point to the church father Augustine who emphasized the utter dependence of man upon God alone for salvation and the supremacy of grace to the exclusion of all human contribution. His teaching has proven a problem for many Christians throughout the centuries, and it still lies at the heart of the Arminian rejection of Calvinism, which was in many ways a 16th century revival of Augustine's teaching on sin and grace. The authors show that Calvinism stands for the doctrine that all humankind is sinful. Human beings will not and cannot make their way to God, retrieve their own lives or earn their own salvation. If humankind is to be saved, God must act. God must be gracious. Human beings are utterly dependent upon the saving grace of God. And apparently, God has not acted on behalf of all. He has not chosen to be gracious to all human beings. Sovereign in His grace, God showered His redemptive love upon a Jacob but not on an Esau. It is a mistake, therefore, to pit individual and corporate election against each other. In other words, egalitarian fairness – treating all persons the same – may be a cultural ideal for the modern West, but there is no biblical reason to suppose that God shares it. The authors write:
"For his own reasons, God assumes the right to save one and not another – a Jacob, for example, and not his older, more talented brother; for Esau, left to himself and his sinfulness, is deserving divine wrath.”Why does God elect some and others are passed by? God does not elect Abraham and Jacob based on foreseen merit or even foreseen faith. The basis of their election is God's love and will. The authors also show that both individual and corporate election are taught in the Old Testament. God chose Abraham and Jacob, also the nation of Israel. As fallen human beings, Calvinists struggle with a sovereignty that stretches and often transcends our abilities to discern the redemptive ways of God. Scripture leads us to the contention that divine sovereignty – God always prevails – is compatible with human freedom. God is not rendered idle by a world ruled by human freedom. Furthermore, in the new heaven and earth:
“the ultimate life of the redeemed will not include libertarian freedom, the ability to choose sin rather than obedience, apostasy rather than faithfulness.”The authors also show that Calvinism is much broader in scope than the TULIP doctrine. The five points of Calvinism do not sufficiently define Calvinism, and certainly do not say all there is to be said about the Reformed faith. They affirm the five points of Calvinism but also a Reformed understanding of the church and sacraments. They explain the particular Reformed contribution to Christian reflection on the covenant and the kingdom of God. They also stress the church as the people of God with a call to seek a cultural life in the world that is typified by justice, mercy, and a transformational vision for individual vocational life. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that not all believe. One person hears the gospel as the word of life; another sees it as foolishness. But the authors of Why I am not a Calvinist critique Piper's rejection of "the wider hope," which holds that saving grace is available to all persons, not just those who have heard the gospel in this life. The Cannons of Dordt follow Augustine in their explanation. God has sovereignly chosen to save some but not all. And unlike Arminianism, Calvinism believes in the perseverance of the saints. The Canons of Dordt judged the Arminian agnosticism regarding perseverance as a hopeless position. If our salvation depends on us, whether it be our merits, our will or even our striving to keep in step with God's grace, we are most surely lost. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist claim that an emphasis on God's sovereignty in salvation hinders evangelism, yet that emphasis encouraged the apostle Paul to continue preaching. In the line of Paul, Calvinists believe that the message of the cross is to be presented to all in order that they may believe and be pardoned. The good news of a provided forgiveness is to be as universally proclaimed as is the command to repent. God commands us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to every person in it. The Synod of Dordt did not see the doctrine of particular atonement as compromising preaching in the slightest. "God wants all to hear the gospel, but He intends to save only some. Why that is the case, we don't know." As evidence of the compatibility of belief in limited atonement, and a fire for spreading the gospel, Calvinists can refer to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles H. Spurgeon and Francis Schaeffer. They proclaimed a redemption that is definite and yet good news and offered an invitation addressed to all. Much more can be said about the differences between Calvinism and Arminians. I hope that this summary review will enhance our readers' love for our Calvinist heritage and the rich doctrines of sovereign grace.
Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections.
How are we to understand the Bible?
3 approaches to consider: foundationalism, postmodernism, and something in between
*****Some years ago I attended a three-day conference on the topic how to read the Bible. Actually, the conference organizers used a big name for the topic: hermeneutics. But they explained what they meant with the term: how does one correctly handle the Word of truth in today’s postmodern world? The conference included professors from three different seminaries. Half a dozen winged their way across the Atlantic, from the Theological University in Kampen. This university trains ministers for the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. Two professors from Mid-America Reformed Seminary (MARS) in Dyer, Indiana – which contributes to the ministerial supply in the United Reformed Churches – braved wintery roads to add their contribution. The host was the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, whose faculty also did what they could to supply a clear answer to that vital question. Conference background I am a minister in the Canadian Reformed Churches, which has Dutch roots. Specifically, many of our parents or grandparents were once members of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. There is, then, a very strong historic and emotional bond between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. The reason for the conference was the concerns, slowly growing in our churches, about developments we saw happening in these Dutch churches in general and in the Theological University in particular. Given the historic link between these two denominations, it was considered right before God to do a conference with these men in order to understand better what the Kampen men were thinking, and to remind each other of what the Lord Himself says on the subject. How does one read the Bible? There was some common ground. All agreed that the Bible comes from God Himself, so that what is written on its pages does not come from human imagination or study, but comes from the Mind of holy God Himself. So the Bible contains no mistakes; whatever it says is the Truth. Yet this Word of God is not given to us in some unclear divine language, but infinite God has been pleased to communicate in a fashion finite people can understand – somewhat like parents simplifying their language to get across to their toddler. As we read the Bible, then, the rules common for reading a newspaper article, a book, or even this article apply – i.e., you get the sense of a particular word or sentence from the paragraph or page in which it’s written, and when some word or sentence is confusing you interpret the harder stuff in the light of easier words or sentences elsewhere in the article. That’s the plain logic of reading we all use. So far the professors of Kampen and Hamilton and MARS were all agreed. Genesis 1 Differences arose, however, when it came to what you do with what a given text says. In the previous paragraph I made reference to a “toddler.” We all realize that the use of that word does not make this an article about how to raise toddlers. Genesis 1 uses the word “create.” Does that mean that that chapter of Scripture is about how the world got here? We’ve learned to say that yes, Genesis 1 certainly tells us about our origin. (And we have good reason for saying that, because that’s the message you come away with after a plain reading of the chapter; besides, that’s the way the 4th commandment reads Genesis 1, and it’s how Isaiah and Jeremiah and Jesus and Paul, etc, read Genesis 1.) But the Kampen professors told us not to be so fast in jumping to that conclusion. Genesis 1, they said, isn’t about how we got here, but it is instead instruction to Israel at Mt. Sinai about how mighty God is not the author of evil. Just like you cannot go to the Bible to learn how to raise toddlers (because that’s not what the Bible is about; you need to study pedagogy for that – the example is mine), so you cannot go to the Bible to find out how the world got here – because that’s not what Genesis 1 is about, and so it’s not a fair question we should ask Genesis 1 to answer. Or so they argued. 1 Timothy 2 A second example that illustrates how the Dutch professors were thinking comes from their treatment of 1 Timothy 2:12-13. These verses record Paul’s instruction:
“12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve….”This passage was featured on the conference program because a report had recently surfaced within the Dutch churches arguing that it’s Biblical to ordain sisters of the congregation to the offices of minister, elder and deacon. 1 Timothy 2 would seem to say the opposite. So: how do you read 1 Timothy 2:12 to justify the conclusion that women may be ordained to the offices of the church? The Dutch brethren answered the question like this: when Paul wrote the prohibition of 1 Timothy 2, the culture Timothy lived in did not tolerate women in positions of leadership. If Paul in that situation had permitted women to teach in church or to have authority over men, he would have placed an unnecessary obstacle on the path of unbelievers to come to faith. Our western culture today, however, gives women a very inclusive role in public leadership. If we today, then, ban them from the offices of the church, we would place an obstacle in the path of modern people on their journey to faith in Jesus Christ. Had Paul written his letter to the church in Hamilton today, he would have written vs. 12 to say that women would be permitted to teach and to have authority over men. That conviction, of course, raises the question of what you do with the “for” with which vs. 13 begins. Doesn’t the word “for” mean that Paul is forming his instruction about the woman’s silence on how God created people in the beginning – Adam first, then Eve? Well, we were told, with vs. 13 Paul is indeed referring back to Genesis 1 & 2, but we need to be very careful in how we work with that because we’re reading our own understandings of Genesis 1 & 2 into Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2, and we may be incorrect in how we understand those chapters from Genesis. So vs. 13 doesn’t help us understand vs. 12. Or so they argued. Confused… I struggled to get my head around how brothers who claim to love the Lord and His Word could argue for such positions. A speech on the third day of the Conference, by one of the Dutch professors, helped to clarify things for me. The audience was told that the old way of reading the Bible might be called “foundationalism,” describing the notion that you read God’s commands and instructions (eg, any of the Ten Commandments), and transfer that instruction literally into today so that theft or adultery or dishonoring your parents is taboo. This manner of reading the Bible does not go down well with postmodern people, because it implies that there are absolutes that you have to obey. The alternative is to disregard the Bible altogether and adopt “relativism,” where there are no rules for right and wrong at all – and that’s obviously wrong. So, we were told, we need to find a third way between “foundationalism” and “relativism.” This third way would have us be familiar with the Scriptures, but instead of transferring a command of long ago straight into today’s context, we need to meditate on old time revelation and trust that as we do so the Lord will make clear what His answers are for today’s questions. If the cultural circumstances surrounding a command given long ago turns out to be very similar to cultural circumstances of today, we may parachute the command directly into today and insist it be obeyed. But if the circumstances differ, we may not simply impose God’s dated commands on obedience or on theft or on homosexuality into today. Instead, with an attitude of humility and courage we need to listen to what God is today saying – and then listen not just to the Bible but also to culture, research, science, etc. After prayerfully meditating on the Scripture-in-light-of-lessons-from-culture-and-research, we may well end up concluding that we need to accept that two men love both each other and Jesus Christ. That conclusion may differ from what we’ve traditionally thought the Lord wanted of us, but a right attitude before the Lord will let us be okay with conclusions we’ve not seen in Scripture before. Analysis This speech about the “third way” helped clarify for me why the Dutch professors could say what they did about Genesis 1 and 1 Timothy 2. They were seeking to listen to Scripture as well as to what our culture and science, etc, were saying, and then under the guidance of the Holy Spirit sought to come to the will of the Lord for today’s questions. To insist that Genesis 1 is God’s description about how we got here (creation by divine fiat) leads to conclusions that fly in the face of today’s science and/or evolutionary thinking – and so we must be asking the wrong questions about Genesis 1; it’s not about how we got here…. To insist that 1 Timothy 2 has something authoritative to say about the place of women is to place us on ground distinctly out of step with our society – and so we must be reading 1 Timothy 2 wrongly. As a result of deep meditation on Scripture plus input from culture etc, these men have concluded that God leads us to condoning women in office in our culture, accepting a very old age for the earth, and leaving room for homosexual relationships in obedient service to the Lord. This, it seems to me, is the enthronement of people’s collective preferences over the revealed Word of God. Our collective will, even when it is renewed and guided by the Holy Spirit, remains “inclined to all evil” (Lord’s Day 23, Q&A 60; cf Romans 7:15,18). There certainly are questions arising from today’s culture that do not have answers written in obvious command form in Scripture, and so we undoubtedly need to do some humble and prayerful research and thinking on those questions. But the Bible is distinctly clear (not only in Genesis 1) about where we come from, and distinctly clear too (not only in 1 Timothy 2) about the place of women, and distinctly clear also on homosexuality. To plead that we need different answers today than in previous cultures lest the Bible’s teachings hinder unbelievers from embracing the gospel is to ignore that Jeremiah and Micah and Jesus and Paul and James and every other prophet and apostle had to insist on things that were “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). One questioner from the audience hit the nail on the head: the Dutch brethren were adapting their method of reading the Bible to produce conclusions accommodated to our culture. Where does this leave us? There was a time when the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and their Theological University in Kampen were a source of much wisdom and encouragement in searching the Scriptures. Given that all the men from Kampen spoke more or less the same language at the Hermeneutics Conference, it is clear to me that those days are past. It was fitting that at the Conference we prayed together as brothers in the Lord, but it’s also clear that we now need to pray that the Lord have mercy on the Dutch sister churches – for this is how their (future) ministers are being taught to deal with Scripture. I was very grateful to note that the professors from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (and MARS too, for that matter) all spoke uniformly in their rejection of Kampen’s way of reading the Bible. They insisted unequivocally that
“the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Westminster Confession, I.6).Postmodernism does not pass us by. May the Lord give us grace to keep believing that His Word is authoritative, clear and true.
A version of this article first appeared on the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church blog where Rev. Bouwman is a pastor of the Word.
What is humor?
What is humor? It seems a simple question, with a very obvious answer: humor is whatever makes us laugh or smile. But then what of all the cruel pranks and the sacrilegious gags that make so many laugh? Even the crudest of comedians can get big laughs. The fact is, we laugh at a lot of things that just aren’t funny. So we aren’t interested in simply what makes us laugh. Instead we’re going to explore genuine humor, the sort of humor that gets laughs but can be shared without shame – we’re going to explore Christian humor. DEFINITION OF HUMOR Humor is a term used in English since the early eighteenth century to denote a type of writing or speech whose purpose it is to evoke some kind of laughter. So laughter is a key element. But we want to go deeper – we want to go beyond the knock knock joke. Instead of being something merely light or superficial, the best humor depends upon profundity. "A humorous rejoinder, " said Kierkegaard, "must always contain something profound." For example here’s a joke about a person getting their just deserts (as described in Galatians 6:7-8):
While doing his daily rounds a prison chaplain stopped in on a prisoner who had been assigned the task of making pillowcases for the entire 5,000 inmate prison.
“Good morning,” said the chaplain, “Sewing, eh?’
“No, Chaplain, “ replied the prisoner with a grim smile. “Reaping.”Elton Trueblood observed that humor takes intelligence: "It is not possible to have genuine humor or true wit without an extremely sound mind, which is always a mind capable to high seriousness and a sense of the tragic." THE NEED FOR HUMOR Sometimes humor is dismissed as being trivial but genuine humor is an important and effective tool in many settings. Properly used, it can allow us to see our lives in more realistic proportions, restrain an explosion of anger, and deliver us from pessimism and despair, and do so much more. For example, it can be a wonderful educational tool and a means to restoring order in a classroom with a smile. It can even be a way to ensure better parent/teacher relations as a wise Grade 1 teacher was said to have done by sending the following note home on the first day of school:
"If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I'll promise not to believe everything he says happens at home.”Humor is a necessity within the church as well. When we lose our sense of proportion and humor, controversies in the church become battlefields. We look for "heretics" in each corner and even tend to look under our bed before we dare to go to sleep. We can be so busy with controversies we can no longer hear the footsteps of our approaching Lord, whose coming is at hand. And how sad it is to see people spend time and energy to paint their position in bright colors and put others in worse light than warranted. We may not build bomb-free shelters where criticism cannot enter. Humor should not be overlooked in evangelism either. It is easy to visit people who are with you, but it is hard when they are filled with bitterness against the Lord and His church. With tact and humor we can make contact with people who are filled with criticism against church members, and especially ministers. Real humor blossoms only where God's Word has taken root. "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones," says Solomon (Prov. 17:23). So a Christian remembers that he is always in the presence of God, and his speech is the gift of the Creator. As Augustine put it:
"Speech is not simply our possession; it is God's gift to us. To recognize and acknowledge this gift in truthful words is to offer grateful praise to the One from whom it comes."LAUGH AT YOURSELF All of us ought to be ready to laugh at ourselves because all of us are a little funny in our foibles, conceits and pretensions. What is funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously. The ability to laugh at oneself shows we understand some of our imperfections. A Christian who understands he is living his life under the judging eye of God does not boast about his moral achievements. He understands that is pride and folly. One of the qualifications of a missionary is a sense of humor - while learning a new language and new customs it is easy to make embarrassing blunders. When we were serving in the Philippines, I made my share, and a good laugh at myself helped me survive. But there is another side to laughing at oneself. If we keep laughing when we have done something wrong, if we cannot recognize the real evil of sin, laughter turns into folly. If we continue to laugh after having recognized the depth of evil we have committed, our laughter becomes the instrument of irresponsibility. DISTORTED HUMOR It is easy indeed for humor to be distorted. A.D. Dennison, a Christian cardiologist, says in his 1970s bestseller Shock it to me Doctor that he recalls one man who sped up to a drugstore and asked the druggist if he had anything for hiccups. The druggist, without a word, hit the man between the eyes and knocked him to the floor. The man slowly got up and graciously asked again, "Sir, do you have anything for hiccups?" The druggist replied, "You don't have them any more do you?" The man responded, "No, I never did, but my wife out in the car does." This may be a clever joke, but it’s is devoid of compassion and respect for others. Is this Christian humor? A type of humor often used during war is called "gallows humor." Soldiers are known on occasion to engage in hysterical laughter when nerves are tense before the battle. They speak flippantly of the possible dire fate which might befall this or that man of their company. "Sergeant," a soldier is reported to have said before a battle, "don't let this little fellow go into battle before me. He isn't big enough to stop the bullet meant for me." The "joke" was received with uproarious laughter by the assembled comrades. But when the "little fellow" died in battle the next day, everyone felt ashamed of the joke. At any rate, it was quite inadequate to deal with the depth and breadth of the problem of death. But as the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr points out: "If we persist in laughter when dealing with the final problems of human existence, when we turn life into a comedy, we also reduce it to meaningless. That is why laughter, when pressed to solve the ultimate issue, turns into a vehicle of bitterness rather than joy." HUMOR IN THE BIBLE If we are going to investigate true humor, then we must not overlook the Bible. The Bible deals with very serious subjects – heaven, hell, sin and salvation - but that should not cause us to overlook its literary beauty, and the humor in the Bible. There are critics who regard the Bible as deficient in the sense of humor and they can point to the fact there is little laughter in the Bible. But the Bible is filled with humor. Humor in the Bible appears especially when idolatry is mocked. One powerful example occurs when Isaiah pokes fun at a man who carves an idol from wood. In chapter 44:15-17 he describes in some detail the absurd process:
"It is a man's fuel for burning, some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares a meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, 'Save me; you are my god.'"GOD LAUGHS The only instance in which laughter is attributed to God occurs in Psalm 2:4, which says, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” This is not a happy image – God is pictured laughing at man and having him in derision because of the vanity of his imagination and pretensions. God mocks kings who plan to divide the world amongst each other, while God says to the Messiah, " I will make the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession" (vs. 8). But the humor in the Bible is not limited to that of derisive laughter. Throughout Scripture God reveals a real sense of humor. When the human race wanted to build a city with a tower that reaches the heavens so that they could make a name for themselves, "the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building (Gen. 11:5). God acts as if the tower of Babel is so small that He can't see it from heaven – He had to come down to see it. And when Israel is threatened by the Philistines, God uses a most unlikely means to save His people so that the Messiah could come in the fullness of time. What does He do? God writes history with a small stone from a brook. Young David with a small stone smites Goliath and Israel was rescued. JESUS AND LAUGHTER The Heidelberg Catechism confesses that the eternal Son of God took to himself, “a truly human nature so that he might become David's true descendant, in all things like us his brothers except for sin” (Q&A 35). So when we speak about Jesus and humor, we are not disrespectful, We accept His incarnation as real. He was seen as the carpenter's son. Christ's characteristic humor depends, for the most part, upon a combination of ideas rather than upon a combination of words. But it is very important to understand that the purpose of Christ's humor is to clarify and increase understanding rather than to hurt. When Jesus teaches His disciples about being light bearers in this dark world, he uses sly humor about where to put light. The message is about the necessity of witness, but the failure to be a witness is rendered laughable when Jesus asks, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushes, or under a bed, and not on a stand?" (Mark 4:21). Since the lamp mentioned has an open flame, and since the bed is a mattress, it is easy to see that in this situation the light would be suffocated or the mattress would be burned. The appeal here is to the patently absurd. The sensitive laugh; they get the point. When Christ said not to cast pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6), He was again employing the patently absurd to make His point. Christ tells us that we are not to waste precious words or time or effort on those who chronically resist the Gospel. We must remember, of course, that the joke about casting what is precious before the pigs was even more preposterous for a Jewish audience than it is for us. The rejection of pork was deep-seated in their consciousness. Christ's major weapon against the Pharisaic attack was laughter, and He used it fully. The point at which they were most vulnerable was their manifest self-righteousness. There is no one more ridiculous than the sinner who claims to be perfect. Jesus asked the Pharisees, who accused Jesus of casting demons in the name of Beelzebub, "If I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?" (Matt. 12:27). Jesus pokes fun at the critics, since everyone who listens will realize that the subtle question has no possible answer. Christ's question really means, "By what demonic agency do you perform your miracles?" It is easy to see that the humorous question is a far more effective rejoinder than a serious argument about demons. The severest critics of Christ could not stand ridicule, for seriousness was their central strength. CONCLUSION What then is the secret of true humor? The answer is found in the Gospel. It is to know that you are a forgiven a sinner, to have no illusions about the self, and no inclination to appear morally better than you are, either in the sight of man or of God. Our release from bondage of sin gives joy. This joy expresses itself in an exuberance of which laughter is not the only one, but certainly one, expression.
Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections.
Adult non-fiction, Theology
Heaven: what can we know?
A summary review of Randy Alcorn's Heaven
****Christians don't seem to speak about Heaven as much as in the past. There is more interest in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth than in preparing for the afterlife. SLOPPY THINKING When Christians do think about Heaven, they seem disconnected from the Scriptures. According to popular thought, where Christians go when they die is the same place they will spend eternity. Even contemporary believers base their thinking on Heaven more on sloppy, syrupy, sentimental television programs than on any clear teaching of Scripture. There is a hint in our attitude toward Heaven that it will be "angelic," that we will end up playing harps on a misty cloud in the "heavens." We will be wearing long white robes, and talking pious talk forever and ever. Some even picture Heaven as a boring place. But these conventional caricatures of Heaven do a terrible disservice to God and adversely affect our relationship with Him. Heaven is not a sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever. Hell will be deadly boring. Heaven is exciting! Everything good, enjoyable, refreshing, fascinating, and interesting is derived from God. When we have an infinity of newness to explore, we can never be bored. THINKING ABOUT HEAVEN [caption id="attachment_5954" align="alignright" width="197"] 560 pages / 2004[/caption] So why think about Heaven? Because the Scriptures remind us to think on things above. Doing so gives us insight into the brevity of our time on Earth and the value of life eternal. The doctrine of Heaven then, should not be marginalized by the church. Rather, it should be preached, taught, studied and loved. In calling us to this end, theologian/novelist Randy Alcorn, prolific author, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, has made a beautifully written contribution with his book Heaven. Is Heaven a real place? It's as real as a morning cup of coffee. Ah, but will we drink coffee in Heaven? Alcorn asks, "Can you think of any persuasive reason why coffee trees and coffee drinking wouldn't be part of the resurrected Earth?" His answer? "No." Despite biblical references that this Heaven and Earth will pass away, Alcorn strongly argues – from Scripture, word studies, and historical theology – that the "destruction" of the current Heaven and Earth will be temporary and partial. He firmly believes in the literal fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies about the Messiah's second coming and the New Earth because Isaiah's detailed prophecies regarding the Messiah's first coming were literally fulfilled. The ultimate fulfillment of hosts of Old Testament prophecies will be on the New Earth, where the people of God will "possess the land forever" (Isaiah 60:21). Alcorn states, therefore, that God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on Earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with the resurrected Jesus. THE RESURRECTION The key to understanding the New Earth is the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are told that Jesus' resurrected body on Earth was physical, and that this same, physical Jesus ascended to Heaven, from which he will one day return to Earth (Acts 1:11). Alcorn states that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption – both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ's resurrection and what it means – an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth – there is no Christianity. Because we know that Christ's resurrected body is physical and that our resurrected bodies will be like his, there isn't a compelling reason to assume that other physical depictions of the New Earth must be figurative. Consequently, the predominant belief that the ultimate Heaven that God prepares for us will be unearthly could not be more unbiblical. Earth was made for people to live on, and people were made to live on Earth. Alcorn also believes that Christ's redemptive work extends resurrection to the far reaches of the universe.
"The power of Christ's resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe – mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars, nebulae, quasars, and galaxies."THE INTERMEDIATE STATE Christians often think about Heaven as their final destination. However, this belief is not based on Scripture. Alcorn explains the difference between the present (or intermediate) Heaven, where Christians go when they die, and the ultimate, eternal Heaven, where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth. When we die in Christ we will not go to Heaven where we'll live forever. Instead, we'll go to an intermediate Heaven. In the intermediate Heaven, we'll wait for the time of Christ's return to Earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth. The intermediate Heaven then is a temporary dwelling place, a stop along the way to our final destination: the New Earth. In the intermediate Heaven, being with God and seeing His face is its central joy and the source of all other joys. We will be fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other. We will know what is happening on Earth. We will be distinct individuals, live in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God's promises. We will be reunited with believing friends and family. We will be one big family. We will be aware of passing of time. But we will never be all that God has intended for us to be until body and spirit are again joined in the resurrection. CHRISTOPLATONISM Why do we find it so difficult to grasp that the intermediate Heaven is not our final destination? Alcorn rightly blames the influence of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that material things, including the human body and the Earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and Heaven are good. He asserted that the spirit's highest destiny is to be forever free from the body. This view is called Platonism. The Christian church, highly influenced by Platonism, came to embrace the "spiritual" view that human spirits are better off without bodies and that Heaven is, therefore a disembodied state. From a christoplatonic perspective, therefore, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally – or even ideally – live in a disembodied state. Christoplatonism has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth. The Bible, however, contradicts Christoplatonism from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. It says that God is the Creator of body and spirit; both were marred by sin, and both were redeemed by Christ. THE NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH The New Heaven and Earth is a real, tangible place. The New Earth has dirt, water, rocks, trees, flowers, animals, people, rain, snow, wind and a variety of natural wonders. An Earth without these would not be Earth. Alcorn believes there will be animals from various nations. He believes these animals have souls, though not the same type as humans. Alcorn firmly believes that we will be eating and drinking in the New Earth. However, there won't be marriages. Alcorn notes that the institution of marriage will have fulfilled its purpose. The only marriage will be between Christ and His bride – and we'll be part of it. The city at the centre of the New Earth is called the New Jerusalem. The ground level of the city will be nearly two million miles. Alcorn suggest that we will walk on streets of real gold. The New Jerusalem will be a place of extravagant beauty and natural wonders. It will be a vast Eden, integrated with the best of human culture, under the reign of Christ. More wealth than has been accumulated in all human history will be spread freely across this immense city. We will also have our own homes. In this New Earth we will also enjoy periods of rest. Alcorn says that God prescribed rest for sinless Adam and Eve, and He prescribed it for those under the curse of sin. Hence, regular rest will be part of the life to come in the new universe. Alcorn argues that there will be a government on the New Earth. The need of government didn't come about as a result of sin. God governed the universe before Satan fell. Likewise, He created mankind as his image-bearers, with the capacity for ruling, and before Adam and Eve sinned, God specifically commanded them to rule the Earth. On the New Earth there will be no sin. Therefore, all ruling will be just and benevolent, devoid of abuse, corruption, or lust for power. As co-rulers with Christ, we'll share in the glory of the sovereign ruler himself. We will become the stewards, the managers of the world's wealth and accomplishments. Alcorn believes in the transformation of the entire universe. If the new creation is indeed a resurrected version of the old, then there will be a New Venus, after all. In the same way that the New Earth will be refashioned and still be a true Earth, with continuity to the old, the new cosmic heavens will likewise be the old renewed. It will provide unimaginable territories for us to explore and establish dominion over them to God's glory. And if Christ expands His rule by creating new worlds, whom will He send to govern them on his behalf? His redeemed people. Some may rule over towns, some cities, some planets, some solar systems or galaxies. Alcorn comments, "Sound far-fetched? Not if we understand Scripture and science." CULTURE Alcorn notes that Scripture is clear that in some form, at least, what's done on Earth to Christ's glory will survive. But he also argues that cultural products of once pagan nations will be brought in by its people "proclaiming the praise of the Lord" (Isaiah 60:6). Treasures that were once linked to idolatry and rebellion will be gathered into the city and put to God-glorifying use. Alcorn believes that Isaiah and Revelation indicate that these products of human culture will play an important role on the New Earth. But the idea of bringing into the New Heaven and Earth cultural products is also a much disputed idea. Will we still want these treasures when our whole environment will be different? He says that there will be technology, machinery, business and commerce. There will be music, dancing, storytelling, art, entertainment, drama, and books. We will design crafts, technology, and new modes of travel. We will not only work in the New Earth, we will keep on learning. Alcorn looks forward to reading nonfiction books that depict the character of God and the wonders of his universe. "I'm eager to read new biographies and fiction that tell powerful redemptive stories, moving our hearts to worship God." Interestingly, he also believes that the Bible will be in Heaven. "Presumably, we will read, study, contemplate, and discuss God's Word." But why would there be a Bible in Heaven? The Bible serves God's people in this world as a guide for their lives and to strengthen their faith. In Heaven there is no need for the Bible. We see then God face to face. We witness then the fulfillment of His promises. ETERNAL REWARDS Alcorn argues that God will hand out different rewards and positions. He says that our works do not affect our salvation, but they do affect our rewards. The rewards hinge on specific acts of faithfulness on Earth that survive the believer's judgment and are brought into Heaven with us. Alcorn believes that the position of authority and the treasures we're granted in Heaven will perpetually remind us of our life on Earth, because what we do on Earth will earn us those rewards. IMAGINATION AND SPECULATION Alcorn asserts that God expects us to use our imagination in describing Heaven, even as we recognize its limitations and flaws. He states that because the Bible gives a clear picture of the resurrection and of earthly civilization in the eternal state, he is walking through a door of imagination that Scripture itself opens. He writes: "If God didn't want us to imagine what Heaven will be like, he wouldn't have told us as much about it as he has." But at times his imagination gets the best of him. He repeatedly uses the words "perhaps" and "speculation." For example, he claims that perhaps intermediate bodies in the intermediate Heaven – or at least a physical form of some sort – serve as bridges between our present bodies and our resurrected bodies. He suggests that our guardian angels or loved ones already in Heaven will be assigned to tutor us. We could also discuss ministry ideas with Luis Palau, Billy Graham, or Chuck Colson. He also argues that we will explore space. He suggests that to view the new heavens, we might travel to the far side of the moon and other places where stargazing is unhindered by light and atmospheric distortions. HEAVENLY MINDED. EARTHLY GOOD. Thinking about Heaven should impact the way we live on Earth. Alcorn comments that understanding Heaven doesn't just tell us what to do, but why. It is incentive for righteous living to the glory of God. Anticipating our homecoming will motivate us to live spotless lives here and now. In other words, what God tells us about our future lives enables us to interpret our past and serve Him in our present life. EVALUATION Alcorn quotes frequently from the writings of many Reformed authors, including Francis Schaeffer, Al Wolters, Anthony Hoekema, Herman Ridderbos, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Cornelis Venema, Paul Marshall and Richard Mouw. He is also greatly indebted to writings of C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer. His work clearly shows the impact these scholars made on him. But Alcorn also adds his own perspectives on the life to come. He writes: "I will try to make the case carefully and biblically. There is plenty in this book for everyone to disagree with." I have already stated a few of my disagreements, so let me now state a few more. Alcorn overly quotes from his own writings. His "works equal rewards" theology is questionable. I can't find any Biblical support for his suggestion that God might create new beings for us to rule over in the afterlife. The rich concept of Sabbath rest gets short thrift – rest is not something physical; it is spiritual. It is not negative, what we do or not do, but positive, something we have. This rest is a gift from God, something we enjoy in close association with Him. I suggest that Alcorn thinks about Heaven too much from an egocentric viewpoint – focusing in on what interests us the most. With all the discussions of what we may do in Heaven, we easily forget that Heaven is the place of habitation of the Triune God. I also have questions about the purpose of Alcorn's speculations. We must not say more than Scripture. God has not revealed to us what the new cosmos will be like. We don't know anything about extra territorial space travel. We easily forget that the apostle Paul says: "No eye has seen no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:9,10). But my critical observations don't take away the appreciation I have for Alcorn's work. He gives new insights, and makes you think about the best that is yet to come for God's people.
Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. This article first appeared in the 2005 July/August issue.
Did Abraham really exist?
Evangelicals are debating the historicity of Adam, but they are too timid. It is time to reject fundamentalist distortions of the Abrahamic narrative just as decisively as we have abandoned literalistic readings of Genesis 1–3. Clinging to discredited biblical accounts of Abraham as if these events actually happened makes us look like Neanderthals, undermines the plausibility of our witness, and ultimately overturns the Gospel. To defend the Gospel and uphold the authority of the Bible, we need to reckon with the myth of Abraham.So starts a brilliant piece of satire by Dr. Peter Leithart, a minister of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. Here are some further excerpts:
The historical evidence is overwhelming and need not be rehearsed here. It is sufficient to point the curious reader to Hans Georg Unglauber’s definitive study, popularly known as Die Suche nach dem historischen Abraham but originally published as Abraham: Historie oder Pferd-Geschichte? Unglauber shows that there is not a shred of independent evidence for the existence of Abraham, much less for any of the events recorded in Genesis.
But our faith does not stand or fall on the uncertain deliverances of historical scholarship. Scripture is our rule. The biblical writers deployed the full arsenal of ancient literary conventions, and their texts are full of sly authorial signals that they are not supposed to be taken literally...
The story of Abraham’s exodus (Gen. 12:10–20) is obviously modeled on Israel’s Egyptian sojourn and exodus (which most likely never happened either). By shaping this narrative to mimic later myths, the author indicates that the episode is not to be taken seriously as history. Genesis 12, like the exodus narrative, teaches that God delivers. It does not matter whether or not God has ever actually delivered anyone. The moral stands: God is our deliverer...
After we dispose of Adam and Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah are next. And why stop there? Like Genesis, the Gospels are ancient literature. The Evangelists were no more concerned about facts than the authors of the Pentateuch, and for those enlightened enough to see, the Gospels are replete with hints that they are mythic symbolizations of profound, enduring truth.
Only when it is stripped of the mythology of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus will the Bible be firmly established as our inerrant rule of faith. We must die to our modern demand to know “what happened” and recognize that Scripture is infallible only when it is thoroughly de-historicized. Then we will arrive finally at the fullness of Christian faith, the Church of Christ Without Jesus.The full article, "The Abraham Myth", was published at First Things. Addressing Faulty Hermeneutics Dr. Leithart's parody is aimed at Biblical scholars, such as Dr. Peter Enns, who question much of the historicity of Gen.1-11. For example, Enns has argued:
Paul, as a first-century Jew, bore witness to God’s act in Christ in the only way that he could have been expected to do so, through ancient idioms and categories known to him and his religious tradition for century upon century. One can believe that Paul is correct theologically and historically about the problem of sin and death and the solution that God provides in Christ without also needing to believe that his assumptions about human origins are accurate. The need for a savior does not require a historical Adam....
....A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors – whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis. Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment. – The Evolution of Adam, p.143Enns has in fact responded to Leithart, defending his approach. Interestingly, Enns doesn't rule out Leithart's argument that Enns' demythologization of Adam might equally well apply to Abraham:
Even though the literary styles of Genesis 12 and chapters 1-11 are consistent with each other, thus suggesting one narrative, their content is quite different, which is why biblical scholars don’t call the Abraham story “myth” but something else – like legend or political propaganda. In other words, what holds for the Adam story may or may not hold for the Abraham story.Leithart, in his reply to Enns, stresses his main point: that the same sort of arguments that Enns and others use to dismiss the historicity of Adam can equally well be applied elsewhere in Scripture. Also, he notes that Enns often accepts as fact that which is merely archaeological conjecture or scholarly fad. Moreover, Enns is mistaken to think that we can give up Paul's belief in a historical Adam while retaining Paul’s doctrine of Adam. The Bible is not a collection of stories illustrating doctrine and morals. It’s a record of God’s actions in history for the redemption of the world. We cannot peel off the historical husk of the Bible and retain its nourishing didactic kernel. Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? And why stop at Abraham? Richard Klaus has remarked on the close similarity between the argumentation used by Enns to argue against an historical Adam, and that of others to argue against the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both maintain, for example, that the mythological worldview of ancient Israel has been invalidated by modern science, that we should not read the Bible in a naive literalist sense, that the Bible writers were just children of their time, that the Bible's theological truths don't demand historical veracity, etc. Consider, for example, an interview with retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong insists that Christianity doesn't need a supernatural miracle to be established:
I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation, I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence — not his body — was manifested to certain witnesses.He thinks the Resurrection must be placed in its proper context to be correctly interpreted and understood:
I tried to help people get out of that literalism... When people hear it, they grab on to it. They could not believe the superstitious stuff and they were brainwashed to believe that if they could not believe it literally they could not be a Christian.
A Christian is one who accepts the reality of God without the requirement of a literal belief in miracles...What the Resurrection says is that Jesus breaks every human limit, including the limit of death, and by walking in his path you can catch a glimpse of that.
And I think that’s a pretty good message.It's no message at all, according to Paul: "If Christ has not been raised then your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor.15:17). Here, with Spong's denial of the Gospel, we reach the logical conclusion of Enns' demythologizing trajectory. Happily, Dr. Enns still affirms the physical resurrection of Christ. But on what basis? Not on the grounds of a simple, "because the Bible tells me so."
This article is reprinted with permission from a 2016 post on Dr. John Byl's blog Bylogos. The picture is by Guido Reni with his “St. Joseph” standing in for Abraham.
Dealing with the Bible’s troubling texts
Whether it's passages about slavery, or gender roles, or the imprecatory Psalms, some sections of Scripture make Christians uncomfortable. God’s command to kill all the Canaanites in Deut. 20:16-18 is one example. Here we read:
But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.When confronted with a text like this, a liberal Christian will offer a full-throated apology. “The text doesn’t mean what it says,” he’ll explain, “because the writer was confused about what God wanted Israel to do – God didn’t want anyone killed.” The conservative Christian, who professes the Bible to be the Word of God, knows better than to explain away the passage. If God said it, it must be right – that’s what our heads tell us. But our hearts might say something different – this is genocide! So we split the difference and instead of an apology, we are simply apologetic. We try to modify the apparent nastiness by focusing on whatever good we find, maybe noting that this was just a one-time command, for only a particular situation. And we’ll point out that this same God who is punishing the Canaanites is also the loving God who took our deserved punishment on Himself by coming to earth in the person of the Son. Good points, all. But there is more going on here, and being apologetic is getting in the way of understanding what God is telling us about Himself, and about ourselves in this passage. It’s only when we approach a troubling text like this in humility, with a desire not simply to get past it but actually understand it, that we can search its depths. A closer look at Deut. 20:16-18 will reveal that God’s command here should be understood in the context of Genesis 15:13-16. It’s there that God tells Abraham his ancestors are going to have to wait 400 years to take possession of the land of Canaan. Why so long? Because “the sin of the Amorites [the then residents of Canaan] has not yet reached its full measure.” What was this “sin of the Amorites”? Leviticus 18 details it as including incest, adultery, homosexuality, child sacrifice, and bestiality. So, it’s by digging into these passages on the Canaanite destruction that we learn: God is holy – We minimize evil, especially when it’s our own. But God will not overlook evil. We think we’re not so bad – In objecting to the destruction of the Canaanites, we misunderstand our sinful nature. Sure, as Christians, we speak of deserving hell…but we don’t really believe it, not of ourselves, and not of the Amorites. We object to their destruction because we think they couldn’t actually have deserved it. But in sharing this passage, God wants to clear away that kind of delusion… about the Amorites, and ourselves. God is patient – He waited 400 years to deliver a deserved judgment, and today too, even as the West kills millions of its own unborn children each year, God is being patient. But as Proverbs 29:1 makes clear, if we stubbornly reject His rebukes, our destruction could happen suddenly. We should not put off our own repentance. God is gracious – There is a reason these lands were taken from the Amorites, but the Israelites hadn’t done anything to deserve getting them. It goes to show there’s lots to love in troubling texts! And if we avoid a passage like Deut. 20, then we rob ourselves of a better understanding of our own depravity, our need for a Savior, and the holiness and graciousness of God. Worse when we are embarrassed by such passages we are judging God and saying, at least implicitly, that He isn’t living up to our standards. That is an arrogance that we need to repent of. Now, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend there are no troubling passages in the Bible. It only means we need to recognize the fault lies with us, not God.
What the Oregon Trail taught one pioneer about Sunday rest
My town of Lynden, Washington has a mother, Phoebe Judson, who founded our city, arriving here in 1871. She promoted Sunday closure. Here’s why. In May, 1853, Phoebe and her husband Holden joined a covered wagon train near Kansas City hoping to reach Washington Territory by mid-October, a distance of more than 2,000 miles over the rough Oregon Trail. Like all wagon trains, they elected a captain. His word was the law. Well, they chose Rev. Gustavus Hines, only to be surprised one Saturday night when he announced the train would never travel on Sundays. Phoebe was shocked. They had half a continent to cross, at oxen pace (15-20 miles per day on a good trail), with at least four mountain passes and innumerable river crossings ahead of them. She sat in her wagon and just fumed. One family deserted the train and joined another. On their first Sunday, while they stood still, one train after another passed them by. But, being the daughter of a minister herself, Phoebe felt they had no choice but to honor their captain’s scruples. They started out again on Monday, bright and early, only to reach their first river cross on Tuesday evening. A long line of wagons stretched out ahead of them, waiting for the single “ferry” to carry them across. They waited 3 days. On Saturday they resumed the journey, only to be told they would still rest the whole next day. Phoebe was livid. This made absolutely no sense to her. Still, the minister’s daughter obeyed. Then, a few weeks later she began to see scores of dead oxen, mules and horses along the trail. They had been driven so relentlessly, they had collapse and died. She grudgingly admitted that perhaps the animals needed a day of rest. A few weeks later, she ruefully admitted that maybe the men needed it too, since they walked most of the time. Then she slowly began to notice that as they worshipped, ate, rested and even played together on Sundays, it had a remarkably salutary effect upon people’s spirits. There was less grumbling, more cooperation. She even noticed that they seemed to make better time the other six days. Finally, what totally sold her on the value of the Sabbath happened one Sunday evening: the family that had deserted them came limping into their campsite, humbly asking to rejoin them. She had assumed they were at least a week ahead; in fact, they had fallen behind. Their own wagon train had broken down! Of course they welcomed them back. And so it happened that they reached their destination in plenty of time, as friends, and out of the 50 head of cattle with which they began, only two were lost.
This an excerpt from a Pastor Ken Koeman's longer article on the 4th Commandment which you can read here: Practicing the Sabbath.
The best news ever!
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:32-43)
****Three people were taken that day to a hill outside Jerusalem to be crucified. One died in sin. One died to sin. One died for sin. Two were guilty. One was innocent. Two were paying their debt to society. One was paying our debt of sin. Consider, for a moment, the one who died to sin: the repentant thief. He made some remarkable observations. His was a remarkable conversion. Of all the converts among the rich, the religious and the rejected, his is the most amazing. Both of these men asked Jesus to save them. One of the men being crucified said, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (v.39). His words were sarcastic and sneering. The other man said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (v.42). His words were simple and sincere. Hear the response of Christ: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." The repentant thief rebukes the other criminal. He recognizes his own guilt and admits that he and the other man both fully deserve death, “we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong" (v.41). Pilate and Herod said this but did not respond appropriately to that knowledge. There was one essential difference between these two convicted criminals. One sought to be saved from his situation. The other sought to be saved from his sin, and he would hear the best news ever, “...today you will be with me in Paradise." Conviction comes before conversion Notice how conviction comes before conversion. The repentant thief says, “…we are receiving the due reward of our deeds” (v.41). What was happening in this man’s life? Was he afraid of falling into the hands of the living God? The Bible says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). He understood what was happening. He sensed the eternal significance of the occasion. Scripture also says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight" (Proverbs 9:10). Here in this unfolding drama there are two very different attitudes to Christ. The repentant thief admits his own sinfulness. What led to his conviction and conversion? Was it fear or was it that he heard Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (v.34). Was it the fact that Jesus forgave His tormentors? Maybe he had heard about Jesus. God was certainly working in his heart. He not only rebuked the other thief, he not only admitted his guilt, but he confessed Jesus as the innocent one. And then he did one more thing for which he will always be remembered. He said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (v.42). He looked at the battered and bruised body of Jesus and saw a king! And he anticipated Christ's resurrection, and coming of his kingdom. What a remarkable insight! He didn’t ask for a place of honor. All he dared to ask was to be remembered. But he was speaking to the one who is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine. In all his agony and anguish Jesus had time to win one more soul. The promise of paradise is great news. We know so little about this man. What we do know is that at this point in his life he recognized he was a sinner and that Jesus could help him. That is all he needed to know. Two responses to Christ and the cross Our personal prejudices will sometimes have us writing off this person or that as "not salvageable." Perhaps we have our petty excuses for not reaching others. But in all the discomfort of the cross Jesus reaches out to this undeserving man. This shows the selfless nature of Christ. This shows that the excuses we offer for not reaching out to others are so petty. We should never give up on sinners. The paths of three men met in death. Much of humanity is represented in these two responses to Christ and the cross. The cross is not good news for everybody. One of the dying men mocked Christ. The words of the hymn Three Crosses by Helen Franzee Bower, put this idea beautifully:
Three crosses on a lonely hill, A thief on either side, And, in between, the Son of God... How wide the gulf, how wide!
Yet one thief spanned it with the words, "Oh Lord, remember me"; The other scoffed and turned aside To lost eternity.
Forsaken is the hilltop now, And all the crosses gone, But in believing hearts of men The center cross lives on.
And still, as when these sentinels First met earth’s wondering view, The presence of the Lord divides. Upon which side are you?Christ’s Empire This repentant thief looked at Jesus and saw himself as he really was. When we look to Jesus we too see ourselves as we really are. This thief was deemed unfit to live in the Roman Empire but God gave him a place in his empire. Remarkably, the man who asked to be remembered expects Jesus to complete his work. All those who trust in the completed work of Christ can have the same assurance, “...today you will be with me in Paradise.” This passage of Scripture shows us that it is possible to have (in this life) the assurance of sins forgiven and that we can be sure of heaven after death. This must be the best news ever!
Practicing the Sabbath: on living out the 4th Commandment
It is not uncommon. Under pressure at the office or on the job, at school or right at home, vacation can’t come soon enough. “Ah,” we console ourselves, “Three weeks away from it all, filled with hiking, camping, touring, biking, sailing, and maybe even a trip to Disneyland itself.” When it finally arrives, we throw ourselves into our leisure, making the most of every moment, wringing every last drop of excitement out of our all too brief respite from the drag of our daily grind…and come home plumb worn out. We go back to working, lamenting the brevity of our respite, grudgingly facing the unwelcome demands of the job once more, trapped into knowing we have no other choice: it’s the only way to keep the wolf from the door. Whatever happened to real, solid rest, the kind that refreshes our spirits so deeply it reinvigorates us all the way down to the very depths of our beings, or, as Psalm 23 would describe it, “restores our souls”? Vacation is not enough What happened is that we confused rest with respite, as if a 30-second timeout in the fourth quarter makes athletes as full of energy as when the game began. A vacation is merely a respite (which we all need, just like a good night’s sleep); it’s far from the kind of deep rest the Bible calls a “Sabbath.” Vacations don’t cut it; real Sabbaths do. No wonder our Father commanded that we practice Sabbath every week and he used plenty of words to insist upon it. Have you ever noticed that in the NIV, the Exodus 20 version of the 4th commandment is 99 words long? The final five commandments, altogether, take up just 53 words. God has almost twice as much to say about remembering the Sabbath day than He does about murder, theft, adultery, lying, or coveting combined, suggesting to us that one of the most powerful defenses against immorality of all kinds is (did this ever occur to you?) a soul saturated to the full with God’s kind of deep rest. And then, as if to give it even more firepower, would you observe that it’s the only commandment which reinforces its demand by insisting that we face up to the compelling reality that this is what God Himself did, as if to both warn us that we best follow our Creator if we know what’s good for us, and besides, call us to humble ourselves enough to learn just how to do it from His example. If you came home tired from vacation, or, more seriously, if you sense a weariness in your soul so deep that not even a full night of sleep (induced by medication), or a day of surviving demands (eased by your regular dose of Xanax) gives you the kind of relief you crave, perhaps it’s time to seriously reconsider practicing Sabbath as devoutly as you practice your fitness routine. In other words, have you ever considered fitting, into the rhythm of your week, a 24-hour period where you stop living as a human “doing” and actually enjoy living as a human “being”? If you’re even slightly curious enough to keep reading, then let me be audacious enough to prescribe for you the pathway to deep rest: watch how God rested, and then, go and do thou likewise. The commandment makes it as simple as imitating God. Of course, where it gets complicated is trying to figure out just how God did it. But He has not left us without a description: He finished his work: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing (Gen. 2:1-2a). He savored the goodness of his workmanship: “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Gen. 1: 31). He ceased from all working: “…so on the seventh day He rested (NIV footnote: “ceased”) from all His work. …because on it He rested (NIV footnote: “ceased”) from all the work of creating He had done (Gen. 2:2b, 3b). Each dimension deserves such careful scrutiny, we’ll ponder them one at a time. Finished work God entered into his Sabbath by first having completely finished the work he set out to do during his “work week.” If we are to enter into deep rest, we simply must get our work done first. The commandment is firm on this: Six days you shall labor and do all your work. Finish your homework, your housework, or your assignments at the office. If you have work that was supposed to have been finished during your six days of labor, and could have been finished, but wasn’t due to your own procrastination, I can virtually guarantee this: that undone work is going to infect any rest you try to find on your “day off.” It will weigh on you. It will preoccupy you. You’re compromised! Now I can just hear it already: “My work is never done.” A mother’s work is never done. A farmer’s work is never done. A teacher’s work is never done. True enough, but then God’s work is never done either. Jesus said that his father was always at his work to that very day (John 5:17). But, what was finished was the work of creating. That was completed. True enough: much remained to be done in this creation. There was no pizza or lasagna. Nobody had written poetry yet, and the only music came from birds because there were no violins. There was so much yet to do, which we call culture. But the work of creation itself was fully completed. Every day has its task; every week, its duties; every meeting, its agenda. You want to know what really kills our rest? Work that should have been finished, and could have been finished, but isn’t finished. Unfinished assignments absolutely bar the way into joyful rest. So, be like your Father. Do it. Get ‘er done, even if you have to work extra hard as your particular work week approaches its final day or hours. Nothing relaxes us more than being able to look back upon a truly finished task, be it anything from a reading assignment, having made the required number of sales calls, or having done our rounds in the hospital. The finest picture of such profound rest in Scripture is the utterly still body of the One who had just said, “It is finished” lying quietly and calmly in a borrowed grave even while His spirit savored the joys of Paradise. Imagine the depth of His holy rest having fully drunk the cup of God’s wrath to the very last drop! Can there be any rest deeper than that? The wonderfully good news of the gospel is that, through Jesus, we are called and welcomed to enter into and savor that finished work. There is no richer Sabbath. Savoring accomplished work When He finished creating, God savored his accomplishment. Scripture puts it like this: “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1: 31). That is how He entered into His rest. Now that is something most of us moderns hardly take the time to do. Look back? Savor what you’ve done? Who has time for that? Who even thinks of that? Especially on our days off! We’re just glad to be away from the scene of the grind. I recall a breakfast I had with a friend, a highly paid professional in a tough line of work: lawyering! His iPhone lay next to his plate. His eyes darted toward it frequently as we munched on our muffins. I could tell he was preoccupied. I asked him, “Don’t you ever give yourself a break from that thing?” “I can’t,” he said; “in fact, I can’t afford to.” “When do you ever rest?” I probed. “Well,” he said, “I try to rest on the weekends but….” I waited. “But what?” Then he opened a glimpse into his uptight world I’ve never forgotten. “I never get a full weekend of rest because already on Sunday afternoons, right around 3, every week, it starts,” he continued. “What?” I asked. “This tightness in my gut; I can just feel the pressure rising. The stuff waiting for me in my office on Monday morning starts forcing its way into my mind, and from that point on, I’m toast. I can forget about getting any more rest.” “In other words,” I gently teased, “you actually show up at the office about 17 hours before your body gets there?” “You’re not kidding!!” he moaned. I suspect my friend has plenty of company. Our driven hearts are forever pushing us forward, even to the point that we are so focused on what lies ahead, Monday pushes itself up into our Sundays, as unbidden as acid reflux, and as sour. Not so the Trinity! As God entered into His rest, this is the exercise He went through at the end of the sixth day: He looked backward. He surveyed his workmanship. He paused to delight over it. He admired the beauty of Eve, marveled at the masculinity of Adam. He saw all with His all seeing eye and rejoiced over every one of His works. That’s the exercise God Himself went through as He entered his rest. He studied what He had done, and celebrated it. In fact, He ended every day savoring what He had done on that particular day, but at the end of the sixth day, He savored the whole panorama of His creativity, from the light He created the first day to the light-clothed humans He created on the sixth, and He rejoiced over all his works (Psalm 104: 31). A second key to entering a place of deep rest calls us to imitate God and look back, savoring all that He enabled us to do during the previous six days. The doctor looks back in her imagination upon the faces of the patients she has treated. The waitress, the customers she has served. The trucker, the loads he delivered. The teacher, the lessons his students learned. Looking back moves the soul from anxiety to celebration as it disciplines itself to survey the beauty of a steady stream of accomplishments, each a trophy to the God who was right there empowering us every step of the way. That simple exercise has immense power to lay a soul down into deep rest by stiff-arming the intrusions of future “undones” as it relishes the joys of past “dones.” For what the soul is doing at such moment is supercharging itself with wonder and gratitude at the remarkable faithfulness of God who was right there with us during every moment of those six days past, assuring it that so much went well, once again. I wonder if my neighbors just might think I’m nuts. Like all good Lyndenites, I edge, trim and mow my lawn faithfully every Saturday. It’s a rite around here. When finished, I stow my equipment and then do something which, if they are watching, might suggest to them I’m a little “off.” I take a good ten minutes and just walk around my lawn, and yes, frankly, I admire what I and my equipment have just achieved! I marvel at the sharp edges around the flowerbeds and savor the smells of newly mown turf. Odd? No. Like God? Yes. Now God did something there that is crucial to being able to rest. He affirmed his work as valuable; He gave it worth. He savored its beauty. He celebrated His accomplishment. The three persons of the Trinity rejoiced in what They had made, rejoiced in Their workmanship. They stopped, turned around (unlike the other six days which were all forward looking, this was backward looking; from all the undone work ahead to the finished work behind), looked back, and They delighted in Their finished work. Do you ever do that at the end of your work week? Your day of rest begins by looking back. Let’s say you deliver and pick up mail. Do you ever think back to all the people you serve every week by bringing them their mail? Think of the hundreds of people who every week find something in their mailbox they have just been waiting for – and you brought it to them. Now that is something to savor, to celebrate. Most of us try not to think about our work on our day off. Not God. God entered his Sabbath by ruminating, savoring, delighting in what he had just done. One of the key elements of deep rest is savoring a sense of accomplishment. This is what shelters us from the tyranny of future tasks charging in and infecting our rest. You rest when you learn to resist this “Oh, there is so much I have yet to do” (which is very true for all of us) to “But look at what we have managed to accomplish.” We are so driven by the demands of the future that we have forgotten to pause and take delight in the regular accumulation of the accomplishments of our lives. Ceasing from all work There is a third Sabbath practice to consider, but be forewarned: you may not like this. In fact, you may think I’m just being a fussy old legalist. We cannot truly Sabbath, unless every 7th day we totally cease, as much as is reasonably possible, our daily work for 24 hours and refuse to come anywhere near it. We don’t even check our phones for work-related text messages. Why? Because of the explicit prohibition in the commandment itself: “On it you shall not do any work.” Worship? Yes! Play? Sure. Work? None. Zilch. Nada. When deadlines, demands, homework and duties bear down on us relentlessly this may seem hard. Who can afford this, especially in today’s highly competitive, low profit margin, economy? Close up shop, one day a week? Ridiculous. Students stay away from studies a full day in every seven? Sure way to flunk out! Really? Are you so sure it’s ridiculous? Have you checked that with conservative Southern Baptist Truett Cathy, who, from the beginning in 1946 insisted that his fast food Chick-fil-A restaurants be closed every Sunday? Today there are over 2,200 of them, and they are flourishing. In 2014 the chain was #9 in total profit among all fast food restaurants, but #1, by far, in profitability per store. Each store earned $3.2 million vs. second place McDonalds at $2.6 million. They have been #1 in customer service for years. Rested and cared for employees are much more industrious and compassionate, and the result is customer loyalty that creates long lines in the drive-in lane and tidy profits at the bank. And they are closed everywhere, every Sunday. But perhaps that’s not convincing. Then consider this remarkable story. My town of Lynden, Washington has a mother, Phoebe Judson, who founded our city, arriving here in 1871. She promoted Sunday closure. Here’s why. In May, 1853, Phoebe and her husband Holden joined a covered wagon train near Kansas City hoping to reach Washington Territory by mid-October, a distance of more than 2,000 miles over the rough Oregon Trail. Like all wagon trains, they elected a captain. His word was the law. Well, they chose Rev. Gustavus Hines, only to be surprised one Saturday night when he announced the train would never travel on Sundays. Phoebe was shocked. They had half a continent to cross, at oxen pace (15-20 miles per day on a good trail), with at least four mountain passes and innumerable river crossings ahead of them. She sat in her wagon and just fumed. One family deserted the train and joined another. On their first Sunday, while they stood still, one train after another passed them by. But, being the daughter of a minister herself, Phoebe felt they had no choice but to honor their captain’s scruples. They started out again on Monday, bright and early, only to reach their first river cross on Tuesday evening. A long line of wagons stretched out ahead of them, waiting for the single “ferry” to carry them across. They waited 3 days. On Saturday they resumed the journey, only to be told they would still rest the whole next day. Phoebe was livid. This made absolutely no sense to her. Still, the minister’s daughter obeyed. Then, a few weeks later she began to see scores of dead oxen, mules and horses along the trail. They had been driven so relentlessly, they had collapse and died. She grudgingly admitted that perhaps the animals needed a day of rest. A few weeks later, she ruefully admitted that maybe the men needed it too, since they walked most of the time. Then she slowly began to notice that as they worshipped, ate, rested and even played together on Sundays, it had a remarkably salutary effect upon people’s spirits. There was less grumbling, more cooperation. She even noticed that they seemed to make better time the other six days. Finally, what totally sold her on the value of the Sabbath happened one Sunday evening: the family that had deserted them came limping into their campsite, humbly asking to rejoin them. She had assumed they were at least a week ahead; in fact, they had fallen behind. Their own wagon train had broken down! Of course they welcomed them back. And so it happened that they reached their destination in plenty of time, as friends, and out of the 50 head of cattle with which they began, only two were lost. Conclusion May I be so bold as to caution us about spiritualizing the meaning of the Sabbath commandment so much that we forget its literal and physical side? Bodily stepping entirely away from all work for 24 hours is clearly what is prescribed. Its benefits are enormous. For one day, it moves us from life as a “human doing” to life as a “human being.” For one day, it compels us to recalibrate our hearts back to the stubborn fact that “…God is the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor His gifts can do us any good without His blessing” (L.D. 50, Q&A 125). For one day it allows our souls to catch up with our bodies, or vice versa! For one day it arrests our drive for profits by reminding us that our real wealth is not in what we have but in whom we love and in who loves us. For one day it slows us down enough to ease our anxiety over reaching our destination to actually enjoy the journey. And for one day it brings us back to that Light, in Whose Light, we see the light which brightens every day.
Rev. Ken Koeman is a retired pastor living in the quite restful town of Lynden, WA. A version of this article first appeared in Christian Courier and is reprinted with permission.
The Bible on angels
Who are those mysterious angelic heavenly beings who live in the presence of the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe? Can we know more about them? Yes, certainly! When we carefully collect the Scriptural data, we receive a marvelous insight into the world of angels – we can learn a good deal about these wonderful beings. Yet angelology has been frequently dismissed as futile speculation with no practical relevance for the Christian life and mission. And those who write about it at any length are said to divert believers from the weightier matters of the Christian faith. Let's be clear: this is no indulgence into New Age escapist fascination with spiritual beings. Rather, it is to see how God is at work in His world. The task of angels is to direct us beyond them to God. That said, it is true that undue concentration upon the angelic world does distracts us from Him. In this context John Calvin's rule of modesty for his treatment of angels is worth noting:
Let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God's Word. Furthermore, we ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification.Created by God We know that the angelic world is real, not because we have verified it in experience but because God has said it. The heavenly realms in Scripture are not planets, dead stars, moon rocks or planetary rings, they are personal beings populating the universe. They are unseen spirits having different ranks, attributes and tasks. The physical as well as the spiritual world owes its origin to the Triune God. Through His Son God made the universe (Heb. 1:2). "Through him all things were made," writes the apostle John (1:3). The apostle Paul declares the same truth, "all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible...were created by him (Jesus Christ) and for him" (Col. 1:16). The most extended passage on angels, Hebrews 1:5-2:9, makes a special point of establishing that our Lord is superior to them. Because they were created through Him and for Him, they belong to Him. He is their head and the center of their world. Little is said about the origin of angels in the Bible. All that it says about the creation of angels is that "God commanded and they were created" (Ps. 148:2,5). The angelic world then is an enormous gathering of solitary, heavenly beings. They are neither male nor female. They neither marry nor are given in marriage (Mark 12:25). They don't have offspring. Their number is complete (Matt.22:30). They are not eternal as they have a beginning. And they are not omnipresent as God alone is everywhere present. Theologians have speculated when the angels were created, but not one has arrived at a definitive answer. We just don't know. Louis Berkhof argues that no creative work preceded the creation of heaven and earth. And he states that the only safe statement seems to be that the angels were created before the seventh day. But I believe it is not too bold to argue that heaven with its inhabitants were complete at the very beginning of creation. Even before the creation of the material universe there was a vast world of angels and they still exist today. They sang praises unto God when they saw the wonder of God's handiwork. As God said to Job, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?...On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone - while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"(Job 38:4-7) Angels then existed prior to man. But Man is the crown of creation (cf. Ps. 8). The Number of Angels Do we really need to know the exact number of angels? No, the very existence of angels testifies already to the greatness of our God. But we can consider some of the popular notions. The Pharisees, for example, seem to have an exaggerated view of their numbers. It was said among them, "that a man, if he threw a stone over his shoulder or cast away a broken piece of pottery, asked pardon of any spirit that he might possibly have hit it so doing." Some medieval theologians claimed to know the exact number: one said 266,613,336, after the 133,306,668 followed Lucifer and fell; another said that there was an angel behind every blade of grass. But the Bible does not give us definite figures. We are told that there is an enormous company of heavenly beings. Daniel 7:10 says 10,000 times 10,000 stood before the throne of God, which would amount to 100,000,000, but the point here is to speak of the vast array, rather than the particular amount. Hebrews 12:22 speaks of the city of the living God and an innumerable company of angels. We also know a great company of heavenly hosts appeared to the shepherds, praising God for the birth of the Savior (Luke 2:13). After His arrest in Gethsemane Jesus told Peter that His heavenly Father could put twelve legions of angels at His disposal. (Matt. 26:53). Again, this does not mean that Jesus said that there were literally 120,000 angels. Jesus used the number to tell Peter that He had myriads of angels who were ready to come to His aid. Fallen Angels So innumerable hosts of perfect angels follow their Creator. But not all angels remained faithful to Him. Satan, the mightiest of the angels, became proud. He led a revolt in heaven and was cast out and innumerable fallen angels entered the service of the wicked Deceiver (Matt.25:41; 2 Cor. 12:7; Rev. 9:11; 12:7-10). Their punishment? The apostle Peter said that God did not spare His angels when they sinned "but sent them to hell" (2 Pet.2:4). Jude notes that the rebel angels "did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day" (vs. 6). When we consider fallen angels, we can also take comfort in the presence of perfect angels. Because they were in the presence of Satan before his fall, they know the powers of the demonic better than any human being. They understand their wicked ways. Shakespeare, the astute observer of human nature, was well aware of Satan's pride and tempting powers. "Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition; By that sin fell angels; how can man then, the image of his Maker, hope to win by it?...How wretched is that poor man that hangs on princes' favors!... When he falls, he falls like Lucifer, never to hope again" (Henry VIII). The evil spirits and their leader are constantly opposing the advance of the Kingdom of God. One of the greatest missionaries of all times, Ludwig Nommensen (1834-1918), settled among the Toba Bataks, in Northern Sumatra. Central to his belief was that by faith in the living Lord, Christians share in Christ's victory over sin, death, and Satan. Nommensen was very sensitive to the reality of the spirit world. He taught fellow missionaries, "After one has come to understand the people and to be understood by them, one has to begin with the preaching of the Gospel in having a twofold work, namely to pull down the bulwark of Satan and to build up the house of truth." The Nature of Angels Although there are abundant references to angels in the Bible, they are not meant to inform us about their dazzling nature. When they are mentioned, it is always in order to inform us further about God, His actions, and how He works out the plan of salvation. What then can we say about them? They are not omnipresent. They are not restricted by time or space. Angels are without bodies and hence invisible. And although they are pure spirits, they can take on human form. We see this happening when two angels came to Lot in the form of men to tell them to get out of Sodom (Gen.19). Also, on the day of the resurrection the women who went to the tomb saw two men "in clothes that gleamed like lightening" (Luke 24:4). Matthew records that an angel rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow (Matt.28:2). Angels are endowed with great intelligence (2 Sam. 14:20). Since they are in the presence of God they have a far clearer view of and deeper insight into the meaning of all that happens in this world than we do. Our knowledge is always limited, even in our age of computers, Internet and other amazing technological advances. But angels do not act on their own; they function and intervene in the world only as God commands. Their amazing knowledge and power, like that of all other creatures, are dependent on and derived from Him. They are capable of great feats of strength, whether it is in slaying more than 180,000 in one evening, or setting an apostle free from prison (2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12). When the Bible speaks about heaven and earth, it often links angels and human beings. Our Lord taught us to pray, "Our Father in heaven... your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"(Matt.6: 9f). The presence of angels encourages Christians to obey God. As the angels carry out God's will in heaven so should we do the same on earth. The third request in the Lord's Prayer means, says the Heidelberg Catechism, "Help everyone carry out (his or her work)... as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven"(Q&A 124). The angels do more than sing; they also speak. Paul said to the Corinthians, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). But we must not spend time in speculating about the nature of the language which angels use in communicating with one another – this is an exercise in futility. The question is, are we ready to listen when an angel addresses us? God sent an angel to prepare for Israel the way to the promised land. He told His people, "Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him"(Ex. 23:21). When an angel spoke to Zechariah the priest, and foretold the birth of John the Baptist, Zechariah did not trust his message. He said, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years"(Luke 1:18). There is always the tragic possibility that the voice of an angel will come to us but we refuse to listen. Conclusion With joy the angels obey the will of God (Ps. 103:21). Our loving God sends His angels to support His people on their often arduous journey to the heavenly city. From the throne room in heaven He commands His angels. They do His bidding. After his miraculous rescue from prison, Peter said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches" (Acts 12:11). The angels before whom Zechariah, the virgin Mary, and the shepherd fell to the ground in fear and awe are actually our unseen helpers. As we mature in our faith, we will increasingly see the beauty and wonder of our Lord's mighty work on our behalf, and gain in our understanding of the role of His ministering angels in our lives.
Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections.
Heaven-bound: What will it be like?
We've all been told there's no such thing as a stupid question. And we all know that just isn't so. That may be why in our desire to avoid the embarrassment of asking that big dumb one, many seemingly silly, but actually good, even important, questions go unasked. And I think that's particularly true when it comes to the topic of heaven. So, for example, many of us may remember back in our younger years, wondering if heaven was going to be boring. The idea of strumming on a harp and singing all day, every day, isn’t appealing to most children (nor to many musically inept adults). But while this question bothers many kids, few will ask it out loud – even at a young age they’ve discovered asking these sorts of questions can be embarrassing. Adults also have “heaven questions” that go unasked. What is heaven going to be like? When we get there will we remember our time here on earth? And will we recognize each other in heaven? When these questions are raised they rarely get treated with much respect. Instead of garnering thoughtful responses, questions about heaven are usually answered with another question: Does it really matter? After all, we’re going to get to heaven soon enough and then we’ll find out exactly what it’s like, so what’s the use in thinking about it now? What’s the point? Comfort and correction Well, when we turn to Scripture we find out there are at least two reasons to learn more about heaven. First, many of the heavenly descriptions are a means of comfort to us. Those who weep now will laugh in heaven . Mourning, crying and pain will end and God himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes . Yes, here on earth we may have to suffer, stumble, and endure but we can do so knowing that God has prepared a heavenly reward for us . And God does more than comfort us with His descriptions of heaven – He also uses them to correct our misdirected desires. You see, Satan loves to use our desires, even our desires for God and heaven. If he can twist them, just a bit, he can use them to point us in exactly the wrong direction. For example, a friend recently told me about his desire for a “great teacher.” He had learned from some of the smartest men alive, and yet, ultimately, they had all disappointed him. They might provide great insight in one area, and yet be blind in another. This friend wanted to be able to sit at the feet of a great teacher, and just learn. He was very surprised when I told him that what he was really looking for was Jesus. He had wasted all this time trying to satisfy a desire that couldn’t be met here on earth; it was one that could only be fulfilled in heaven. In his book In Light of Eternity Randy Alcorn gives another example of this misdirected desire. A couple in his congregation wanted to give more to the church but also had a strong desire for a “perfect home” in the country. Was that desire wrong? “Not at all,” Alcorn noted. “In fact the dream of a perfect home is from God. It’s just that such a dream cannot and will not be fulfilled in this life.” That perfect home does exist though, but we have to look to heaven for it, where Jesus has prepared just such a place for us . All of us have misdirected desires. We might be looking for that special someone who will finally complete us, or the friend who will totally understand us, or that career that will fulfill us. All of us are busy storing up treasures here on earth, investing our time and energy into things that will rust away or be broken, the sorts of things that will be destroyed by fire  when Christ returns. If we focused more on heaven, talked more about it, and thought more about it, perhaps then we would start trying to store up treasures there instead of here. So will heaven be boring? That’s why it’s worthwhile thinking about heaven. Now what will it actually be like? Let’s try and answer a few of those questions. When we get to heaven will we remember our time here on earth? It would seem we will have to remember our time on earth, as we are going to be called to give an account for our every earthly word and deed . Works done in faithfulness will follow us into heaven, where we will be rewarded for them . so it seem clear we will remember these acts as well. Revelation 6:9-11 gives a glimpse into heaven where the martyrs there remember what happened to them on earth – they call out to God to avenge their blood. And the fact that the crucifixion scars remain in Christ’s eternal resurrected body seems to be conclusive proof that we will remember earth. These scars will forever bear witness to what He did for us; they will be a constant reminder of just how undeserving we were, and how gracious and merciful God is. Since we are gong to remember our time on earth that means what we do here is a foundation for our eternal life. This is only the beginning, but it is a beginning we will build on later in heaven . Will we recognize each other in heaven? Some think that since in heaven we will “no longer marry nor be given in marriage”  we will no longer recognize our marriage partners or any of our other past relationships made on earth. But that reads far too much into a single text. Many other passages in the Bible would suggest that we will recognize each other. For example, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus , the rich man recognizes both Lazarus and Abraham in heaven. When Moses and Elijah come down from heaven for Jesus’ Transfiguration  they were still recognizable as Moses and Elijah. And according to Luke 16:9 the friends we make through our generosity here on earth will remember us in heaven and welcome us into their eternal dwellings. So friendships, interrupted for a time by death, can continue on in heaven. Will heaven be boring? One of Satan’s biggest lies is his portrayal of heaven as a tedious place of idleness and enforced endless singing. We are not going to be idle in heaven – we’re going to reign with Christ, and be assigned responsibilities based on what we did on earth – and when we sing it will be because we can’t contain the praise within us (and even the musically inept will now be able to carry a tune). Have you ever been to a wedding where the bride beamed happiness? Where the joy just spilled out of her? Her joy is but a pale reflection of the greater Joy we will experience in heaven. Everything good and amazing here on earth, from the Niagara Falls to the Grand Canyon to the intricacy and wonder of a single living cell, reflect only a tiny part of the glory of their Creator. And in heaven we will finally be able to see Him face to face . Face to face! Heaven will be the very opposite of boring!
Though most every reader will find some points of disagreement, Randy Alcorn's book "Heaven" is a great, biblically-rooted look at what God has planned for us after this life. It is an encouragement and challenge to Christians - highly recommended!https://youtu.be/zOL8jkWy8MY
Did Adam have enough time to name all the animals?
Some people argue that the activities assigned to Adam on the sixth day, described in Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:19-20, were too many for him to have been completed in a single 24-hour day. The activity of naming all the animals, in particular, would have needed much more time. And if he couldn't have done it in 24 hours, then this would contradict the literal interpretation of the six days of creation, forcing us to opt for a non-literal interpretation of these days. Let us examine this argument more closely to see if it is valid. Adam finished the task In Genesis 2:19-20 we read:
"Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him."According to this text, Adam actually finishes naming the animals that God has shown him – he completes all this activity even before the creation of Eve. We can see, then, that this wasn't a task Adam was supposed to accomplish over the course of the rest of his life, or which he could have shared with his future wife, or which he could have passed on to future generations (as it was the case for the mandate to rule over the earth and over the animals). Adam indeed named all the animals that God has shown him before the end of the sixth day. God presented the animals to Adam So we can see that Adam had some tight time constraints. But we also read, concerning the animals that Adam had to name, that God "brought them to the man." This detail is not trivial. Adam did not need to go everywhere looking for these animals. The Lord brought them to him. We can well imagine that this would make greatly increase the speed at which Adam could name the animals, greatly reducing the duration of the naming process. The species of animals named were limited We should remember that Adam wasn't called to name every animal. The animals named were "all livestock," "every bird of the heavens," and "every beast of the field." The latter category may correspond to terrestrial mammals. The text doesn’t say anything about Adam naming the fish of the sea, other marine organisms, insects, arachnids, reptiles or dinosaurs (distinguished from terrestrial animals in Genesis 1:24), which excludes a large number of species. For example, the arthropods – excluded from this list – are by far the phylum that counts the greatest number of species of the animal kingdom (80% of known species, more than one and a half million living species: trilobites, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, etc.). For this first exhibition of animal kind, God left aside the strangest "creeping and crawling" creatures and presented to Adam only the most useful (livestock) and beautiful (birds, mammals) specimens of His collection. Thus Adam named only a small fraction of all the animals created by God, which greatly reduced his work. The sort of naming Adam was doing On the sixth day, Adam was not doing taxonomy, in the sense that he did not need to describe the living organisms or to classify them in a specific system. All that God proposed to him was to name them. It was not necessary for Adam to give names that would be used as a basis for a rigorous classification. Furthermore, it seems that God did not give any specific orders to Adam about this activity. The text simply says that God "brought them to the man to see what he would call them." Adam did not have to give specific names to each animal neither was he requested to follow a rigorous method. It is therefore possible that God presented to Adam successive groups of birds gathered according to what we call genus, family, or even order. Genesis says that Adam named all livestock, all the birds of heaven, and all the beasts of the field. However, this can be achieved in various ways. Today the class called "birds" lists almost 10,000 known species, distributed in 29 orders, including more than 200 families and 2,200 genera. As for the class called "mammals" (including marine mammals), it includes more than 5,400 species, distributed in 29 orders, 153 families, and 1,229 genera. God may have presented to Adam a first group of birds that included every type of pheasants, partridges, cocks, quails, that Adam could have generally named chickens. Then God could have presented another group of birds including mergansers, scoters, mallards, teals, etc., that Adam could have all named ducks. It was legitimate for God to do so for practical reasons of simplicity and efficiency. Although less detailed than if he had named all the specimens to the species, this way of naming fully complies with the nature of the activity of naming according to the Bible. There was no problem, therefore, to do all this work in less than half a day. There were fewer species We must also understand the phenomenon of speciation, which took place during the period of time between the creation of the first "kinds" of animals and today. Speciation is a rapid increase in the number of species due to the loss of genetic information in the genera originally created by God. This is a phenomenon that goes in the opposite direction to the transformism taught by the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Evolution in the technical sense (and not the blurred meaning of "change"), involves a slow but significant increase in genetic information in order to achieve the tremendous transformation involved in the production of a man from the first tiny living cell (a phenomenon never observed by any modern scientist, admitted by Richard Dawkins). Speciation, in contrast, is a scientific phenomenon frequently observed, that some Christians mistakenly call "micro-evolution" (a very unhappy and confusing designation, since speciation has nothing to do with evolution, which goes in the opposite direction). For example, the initial "canine" genus created by God on the sixth day could have contained in its genetic material all the genes capable of producing all the many breeds of dogs and wolves that we know today. In order to subsequently see the appearance of the many breeds of modern dogs, with the observable traits of each race (phenotype), the process of speciation had to happen. To have dogs with short legs only, it was necessary to remove from the line all individuals with long legs, thereby eliminating the genetic information "long legs" from this line. This loss of genetic information occurring in only a few generations has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of subspecies. In many cases, speciation is so marked that it is impossible for different lines coming from the same original "kind" to reproduce together. It is quite possible that in the beginning God created a couple of big cats, producing thereafter all extant species of cats (lions, leopards, tigers, etc.) through the rapid process of speciation. The same applies to other kinds of mammals and birds. In short, the species included in the "livestock," the "birds of heavens" and the "field animals" that God presented to Adam were probably far fewer than today. Obviously, God gave Adam less work than he gave to modern taxonomists. Adam was smarter than us Theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists often make the mistake of projecting the conditions of life as we know them today on the special and unique period during which God performed His creative works. Thus they think that Adam had similar capabilities to ours. But what do we know exactly about Adam’s intellectual capacity to claim that he was unable to perform the task of naming the animals in only one day? It is extremely difficult for us to imagine a man who could have had much greater intellectual abilities than us. But the brain of Adam was undoubtedly greatly superior to those of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein together, because man had not yet suffered the destructive effects of sin greatly affecting our present intellectual capacity. We must let Adam have the freedom to have been much smarter than us and to have been fully capable of naming in a single day all the animals that God has shown him, without even becoming tired. Why would God made Adam languish? Note that the activity of naming the animals is surrounded by the "problem" of Adam’s solitude. First, God noticed this loneliness and expressed His intention to create a companion for him. "The Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (2:18). Then God came to present the animals to Adam, to see what he would call them, which Adam did (2:19-20). Finally Adam himself expressed his newly discovered emptiness, as a clear conclusion of his naming of the animals. "But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him" (2:20). From this text it seems clear that one of the main purposes for which God presented to Adam the animals was to awaken him to the reality of his solitude. As he watched all these animals that were passing before him, Adam must have realized that they were all male and female, while he had no "female" with him. In sum, the development of a taxonomic system was not the sole purpose of the presentation of these animals (otherwise God would have asked Adam to also name all the fish of the seas and all the other small terrestrial creatures). This exercise was also intended to make Adam sigh and to prepare him to be grateful for the wonderful gift that God had already planned to give him. So why would it have been necessary for God to impose upon Adam an activity requiring a long period of time? This would have suggested either the stupidity of Adam – who would have needed a lot of time before realizing he had no companion of the opposite sex with him – or the perverse pleasure of God in making Adam languish before finally giving him the companion after which he sighed. Adam was not stupid and did not need a long time before realizing his loneliness. As to his Creator, He had no malicious intent and even longed to give him this much needed companion. God therefore had no reason to prolong the activity of naming the animals before finally giving him the gift of a wife and of marriage. This activity was accomplished in less than one day In conclusion, the argument claiming that Adam had to do too many tasks in one day – supposedly causing a problem to the literal interpretation of the days of creation – seems to be an ad hoc argument, created from scratch to annoy and disrupt those who believe in literal days. There is no reason to doubt or to question that all the activities of the sixth day – listening to God’s mandate to keep the garden, being ordered not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, naming the animals and finally rejoicing with his wife – have occurred within a day of normal length, the literal sixth day of creation. All this to the glory of God alone and to the greatest good of man… and woman! End notes For a complete catalogue of the birds of the whole world, one may consult with profit and wonder the fabulous website The World Bird Database, administered by the Quebec ornithologist Denis Lepage For a complete catalogue of the mammals of the whole world, see the wonderful website Mammal Species of the World See the list of pure and impure animals in Leviticus 11, named according to broader categories than the species, nevertheless sufficient for the Israelites to be able to clearly distinguish them. We know the example of the mule, a hybrid of a horse and a donkey, but unable to reproduce. It is astonishing to see some scientists today who can produce what they call "zorses" (hybrid zebra/horse), "zenkeys" (hybrid zebra/donkey), "ligers" (hybrid lion/tiger), "wholphins" (hybrid whale/dolphin). An eloquent testimony to the speciation that happened not so long ago! I suggest that you consult the famous website creation.com and that you look for the word "speciation." You will find many articles about this subject. We may say something similar about the number of species that embarked into Noah’s ark.
Rev. Paulin Bédard is an ERQ minister, and pastor of the Reformed Church of Saint-Georges, Quebec. He is the author of In Six Days God Created, which analyzes and rebuts the Framework Hypothesis, and tackles other figurative interpretations of the days of creation.
What leads to true repentance? Godly vs. worldly sorrow
A child caught stealing a cookie may burst out in tears. But what is it that they are crying about? Is it for their sin? Or is it for getting caught? And even if they are sad about what they've done, is that any assurance that they won't be back at the cookie jar once their guilt feeling fades? Adults, too, feel sorrow when they are caught sinning. But is this sorrow evidence of true repentance? Charles Spurgeon addressed these questions in a July 31, 1881 sermon exploring what God tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10:
"For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death."There we learn that there are two kinds of sorrow for sin, and that only one of them produces true repentance. What follows is a modernized excerpt from his sermon.
*****Some seem to think that merely being sad about a sin is repentance; but it is not. Read the text, and you will at once see that it is not. "Godly sorrow produces repentance." It is an agent employed in producing repentance, but it is not itself repentance. Sorrow is not repentance We see that out in the world, where there is a great deal of sorrow on account of sin that is certainly not repentance, and never leads to it. Some are sorry for only a time; they are convicted of guilt, but that soon passes. Others are sorry for their sin because of the consequences it will have on their lives here on earth, while many more are brought to grief thinking about sin's eternal consequences – they are afraid of hell. This last group would be delighted if it could be proved that there is no God. They are actually fond of their sins and would love to keep on committing them, but they sorrow because they know how a just God will deal with them. That kind of sorrow is also not repentance. A moth may burn its wings in the candle, and then, full of pain, fly back to the flame. There is no repentance in the moth, though there is pain; and so, there is no repentance in some men, though there is in them a measure of sorrow on account of their sin. Do not, therefore, make the mistake of thinking that sorrow for sin is, or even necessarily leads to, repentance. No repentance without sorrow Next, do not fall into the other mistake, and imagine that there can be such a thing as repentance without sorrow for sin – there can never be such a thing! I heard a person say, quite flippantly, that it was a great thing to know the Greek language because then you could discover that repentance "simply means a change of mind." Yes, it does mean a change of mind, but what a change of mind! It is an entire and total change of mind, a turning of the mind right around, so that it hates what once it loved and loves what once it hated – it no longer puts bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; darkness for light, and light for darkness. It judges righteous judgment, for the change of mind is thorough and complete; I therefore say that there is no repentance, that is worth anything, which is not accompanied by sorrow for sin. Just consider the matter for a moment. Here is a man who says, "I repent." But are you really sorry that you sinned? "No," he replies. Then, my dear sir, you cannot have truly repented, for even someone who has not yet repented will often still be sorry for having done wrong. So much more then, when a man is convinced that he has transgressed against God, he ought to be sorry. So if you tell me that there can be such a thing as spiritual repentance, and yet no sorrow for having broken the law of God, I tell you that you do not know what you are talking about. The thing is clearly, on the very face of it, impossible. There must be a deep hatred of the sin that you have committed, and even of the thought of ever committing that sin again. There must be sincere sorrow that you should ever have transgressed against God, and that you should be liable to transgress again. If there is no such sorrow as that in your heart, one of the things which are necessary to a genuine repentance is absent. No threshold that must be met I have tried so far to correct two mistakes, but there is a third that I must point out to you. Some seem to think that we must reach a certain point of wretchedness, or else we are not truly repentant. They imagine that we must grieve up to a certain level, or we cannot be saved; and they watch the convicted sinner to see when he gets near to what they consider to be a sufficient measure of brokenness of heart. But there are different methods of measuring this state of the spirit and some apply a very long measure indeed to all cases of this kind. I remember that one young friend, after I presented the gospel to him plainly and simply, said to me, "But is that all I have to do? I have only to believe in Christ in order to be saved? Why, my father was troubled to the depths of his soul for six long months before he could find the Savior, and part of the time he was so bad off that he had to be put in a lunatic asylum." Yes, that is the kind of notion some people have: that there is a certain amount of alarm, distress, apprehension, and fear which a man has to feel before he is up to the mark in this respect; but there is nothing at all in the Word of God to support that idea. I will not waste time by dwelling upon it, because it is altogether a baseless supposition. We are not saved by any feelings or alarms that we may have. The source of eternal life is yonder, on that cross; and he who looks there shall find salvation. So away with the notion that there is a certain degree of wretchedness we must feel before we can come to the Savior! It isn't just one-time Then, again, there is another mistake made by many: that this sorrow for sin only happens once, as a sort of squall, or a hurricane, or thunderstorm, that breaks over a man once, and then he is converted, and he talks about that experience all the rest of his life, but he has nothing more to do with it. Why, dear friends, nothing could be a greater error. For myself, I freely confess that I have a much greater sorrow for sin today than I had when I came to the Savior more than thirty years ago. I hate sin much more intensely now than I did when I was under conviction; I am sure I do. There are some things that I did not know to be sin then, that I do know to be sin now, and therefore I strive to be rid of them. I have a much keener sense of the vileness of my own heart now than I had when first I came to Christ, and I think that many other believers here will say that it is the same with them. It is a sweet thing to be sorrowful for sin, to be sorrowful for impurity, to be sorrowful for anything that made Jesus sorrow; it is not a thing that happens once, and then is done with; the godly sorrow of a believer lasts throughout his life. Godly sorrow is no misery I want also to correct another mistake, namely, that sorrow for sin is a miserable feeling. The moment the word "sorrow" is mentioned, many people suppose that it must necessarily be grief of a bitter kind. Ah, but there is a sweet sorrow, a healthy sorrow! In honey, there is a sweetness that cloys after awhile. We may eat too much of it, and make ourselves ill; but in repentance there is a bitter sweetness, or a sweet bitterness – which shall I call it? – of which the more you have the better it is for you. I can truly say that I hardly know a diviner joy than to lay my head in my Heavenly Father's bosom, and to say, "Father, I have sinned, but you have forgiven me; and, oh, I do love you!" It does not spoil your happiness, my brother or sister, to confess your sin; the unhappiness is in not making the confession. The older ones among us can recollect that, when you were boys at home, and you had done wrong, you sometimes said, "I won't own up to it." And all the while that you hardened your heart against repenting, you were miserable – you know that you were! You missed your father's goodnight kiss and your mother's smile; and although, as long as you stubbornly held out you thought yourself very brave, yet you were very miserable. But do you also remember what it was like, afterwards, to go and say, "Father," or "Mother, I was very wrong to do what I did, and I am truly sorry"? Then, as you received the kiss of full forgiveness, I do not suppose you ever felt more happy than after that. That is the way for God's child to always act: whenever you have done wrong, go at once to your Heavenly Father, with godly sorrow for that sin, and receive again the sweet kiss of his forgiving love. That is not misery; it is happiness of the highest kind! Godly sorrow is concerned with God We are told there is a godly sorrow, which "produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted." This is the sorrow that recognizes the enormity of what has been done, because this sin has been committed against God. That is the very heart of godly sorrow, as penitent David cried, "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight;" and as the prodigal said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight." Any hypocrite is sorry for sin that hurts his own interests, or which may damage his reputation among men. But men do not generally trouble much about wrong done to God. A crime is usually a wrong done to man, so we think it is a horrible thing. But a sin, inasmuch as it is against God, is something many people don't care about at all. Let me illustrate further – if I were to say, "You are a sinner," you would reply, "Yes, that is true." But if I were to say to you, "You are a criminal," you might become angered. After all, a criminal is one who offends men, and that is, in our view, a very horrible thing; but a sinner being only one who offends against God, that is not, according to most people's notion, anything in particular, so they do not care much about it. However, when a man is really awakened, he sees that the enormity of offense is that it is an offense against God; that is the worst part of the offense, as he rightly judges, and he therefore sorrows over it. This is a sorrow which is to be cultivated by us, the mourning over sin because it is committed against God. SUMMARY: Godly vs. worldly sorrow Godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to salvation is: sorrow that recognizes the enormity of the offense done to God sorrow that understands no payment is sufficient, but seeks to repair what has been broken and heal the harms they have done, so much as they are able sorrow arising out of an entire change of mind sorrow which joyfully accepts salvation by grace sorrow leading to future obedience sorrow which leads to perpetual perseverance – the sinner now flees from sin The sorrow of the world that produces death is: sorrow that is self-centered, despairing at the consequences faced (either here, or in the hereafter) rather than the harm done sorrow that seeks forgiveness from, but not healing for, those they have injured sorrow arising from the shame at being found out sorrow which seeks self-justification, by pointing to the sin of others (Genesis 3:12) sorrow leading to a return to their folly (Proverbs 26:11) sorrow which does not concern itself with fleeing from temptation
Spurgeon's collected sermons amount to more than 20 million words, or the roughly the equivalent of the complete Encyclopedia Britannica. This sermon has been abbreviated and modernized by Jon Dykstra, and cut from its original 7,000 words to just under 2,000. If you want to read the original (including some very good material that had to be cut only for space reasons) you can find it at here.
After Evolution: 4 Reformed figures who accepted evolution and kept on moving
What follows are very brief bios of four prominent Reformed figures who have accepted evolution and gone on to accept increasingly unorthodox positions. Peter Enns Enns once taught at Westminster Theological Seminary (1994- 2008) from where the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) gets many of their ministerial candidates. After accepting evolution he now has a very different understanding of the Bible, claiming, “God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites.” Howard Van Till Van Till taught at the Christian Reformed Calvin College (1967-1998) and was for a time one of the best-known Reformed defenders of evolution. He no longer holds to the Reformed confessions, and, according to a 2008 piece in The Grand Rapids Press seems to have migrated to some form of pantheism, seeing “God not as a transcendent, separate creator, but an active presence within and inseparable from creation.” Edwin Walhout Walhout is a retired Christian Reformed Church (CRC) pastor, and was once the denomination’s Editor of Adult Education. In 1972 he suggested
…it may well be that science can give us insights into the way in which God created man, but it can hardly discover or disclaim that man is an image of God.In a 2013 Banner article "Tomorrow's Theology," he was far more definitive, proposing that in light of evolution the CRC needs to re-examine the doctrines of Creation, Original Sin, the Fall and Salvation, as well as whether Adam and Eve were real historical people. Deborah Haarsma Haarsma was a professor at Calvin College from 1999 until 2012. In 2007, along with her husband, she authored a book that discussed various views on origins and, while endorsing none, treated evolution as at least credible. She is now the president of Biologos, a think tank that aggressively promotes evolution as true and that questions Original Sin, the Flood, the Fall into Sin, and whether Adam and Eve were actually historical people. Moving in just one direction? Does this mean that accepting evolution always leads to liberalism? Couldn’t we counter this list by coming up with one made up of Reformed luminaries who have accepted evolution and stayed generally orthodox? We could come up with such a list and Tim Keller might be at the top of it. But the problem is that twenty years ago Peter Enns might also have been on such a list. He didn't reject orthodoxy immediately. Any such "counterlist" might simply be a list of evolution-believing Reformed figures who don't reject orthodoxy yet. Only time will tell. No, if we're going to try to make the case that evolution and orthodoxy are a natural fit, then the better counterlist would be that of liberals who, after embracing evolution, moved in a more orthodox direction. That would be a good answer to this list. But does that ever happen?
A Dutch version of this article can be found here.