The TWU Law School and the Myth of the Secular State

benjamin-smith-656474-unsplash.jpg


Many Christians across Canada are disappointed with the latest supreme court ruling against the TWU law school. You can read about it more here, from Ray Pennings, the director of Cardus.

I’m really not surprised by its results. It’s not that I am a pessimist, or that I think the world is any worse than it was before the decision. I’m not surprised, because this is the logical conclusion of the way Canadian politics and legal issues are conducted. As such, when the Christian faith is part of legal education, it is a threat to their state. Notice, that I say their state. It should be made clear that this is distinct from the state as independent from ungodly ideologies and wicked men.

What is a secular state? Wikipedia defines a secular state in this way: “A secular state is an idea pertaining to secularism, whereby a state is or purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion.” Essentially, the cornerstone of a secular state is neutrality in matters of religion and maybe even morality.

I would argue that the concept of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are very distinct from secularism. This is because, they are not neutral concepts. They are basic recognitions of right and wrong, and I would argue, Christianity has made all of these things possible.

But men want to have peace in society on their own terms. Maybe this means the rule of the majority, or even the rule of the minority, like the LGBTQ community who see themselves as the victims of a tyrannical society, and then wield their victimhood to acquire more power. And thus, freedom of speech and freedom of religion, becomes the freedom to do whatever you want, because we have to maintain an “objectivity” and “neutrality” in society.

But men and women never remain in a state of neutrality. Society is fluid, ideas are being formed, changing, and morphing into something new. Morality may be determined by Christians or some community trying to lobby their personal sin. Either way, the state is never neutral, it is never truly secular. Ultimately, the whole concept of a secular state is a myth.

Christianity is not a threat to our country, as a country. Christians are called to pray for their leaders (I Tim. 2:2), to obey their leaders (Rom. 13:1), and we are called to have an ambition for a quiet life, minding our own business and working hard (I Thess. 4:11). In a utopian society, the Christian would then be the ideal citizen.

Of course, Christianity is also a threat to their idea of politics. Christianity does not recognize a secular state, but declares Jesus as Lord (Phil. 2:11). When we recognize this, we can see clearly the joke that the idea of a secular state is, and that without the Lordship of Christ, there will always be ideas and ideologies at war with each other in Canada. We are not creating the fight, we are just pointing out that the fight is there, and that even as men and women in Canada are spending their days hating and being hated, the goodness of God has appeared in Jesus Christ (Titus 3). Yes, you can blame the Christian for introducing foreign terminology, but is anything any better now? In that case, because we love our country we must fight, and we must fight with wisdom and integrity.

I support the code of conduct that TWU wants its students to adhere to, even in the realm of law. It is crucial that lawmakers in our country have personal integrity. If justice is perverted in the life of a lawmaker, why would they stop from perverting justice in the nation? I pray for TWU. I also pray for the Supreme Court after the foolish decision they have made to permit injustice into the ranks of those who are called to promote justice and integrity in this land. I trust that TWU will stand firm and will not compromise their Christian principles. If they do decide to compromise, the Church will continue to be part of the problem.

In the meantime, we can recognize that any concept of neutrality or objectivity towards Christianity is dead and gone. This is means that Christians also cannot live under the illusion that they can be at peace with a secular state. This is excellent, because now we can start building in the ruins.

Advertisements

Using Social Media for the Advance of the Gospel

william-iven-19844-unsplash.jpg


I have mixed emotions about the benefits of social media. I have been posting Christian materials over social media of various forms for about 6-9 years now, sometimes in larger quantities and sometimes in smaller quantities. And of course, sometimes too much.

Why do I have mixed emotions about social media?

1. There is a lot of pretension on social media. You get appearances, but not necessarily reality. Just because someone confesses the Lord Jesus Christ on social media, that does not mean they are confessing Him with their lives and their thoughts.

2. There is a lot of envy over social media. It is easy to compare the number of likes and shares.

3. There are a lot of conversations that become fights rather than discussions. I wouldn’t doubt that there have been a few church splits that have involved miscommunication through social media. That would go for relationships between husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, families, and other friendships as well.

4. People seem to become much bolder behind a laptop screen. Somebody who might be a quiet person in general is much more willing to call you an idiot over social media. Also, once it hits the web, it is a lot harder to take back.

A couple years ago I read an article by Russell Moore entitled ‘Fake Love, Fake War’, on the sins of pornography and video gaming. While social media is a different ball field, I strongly believe that it is all to easy to become involved in fake relationships over social media. That is why our world is so interconnected and yet so lonely. Depression rates are sky-rocketing, and I don’t doubt that social media plays a part.

And yet, I do believe that social media can be used for good, and by seminarians and pastors as well. Yes, we can become busy-bodies, conflict junkies, bold behind the computer and yet cowards in real life, carried away on certain hobbie-horses that are unedifying, and total and utter fakes. But I have a list of thoughts here about how I seek to use social media. I have not always used social media in this way, but there is always room for reform. Also, I am also open to private or public feedback with your thoughts for the use of social media.

  1. I seek to stick strictly to theological and religious posts along with the odd joking post. I don’t think it is necessary and even unwise to divulge all the details of my life over social media. Be assured, I find weaknesses of character in myself and I find myself repenting in day to day life. There have been hard things to deal with on a year to year basis. But I probably didn’t even need to say that.
  2. Sometimes it is good to post an article, or something that will engage the minds of at least a few readers, even if it only gets 2 ‘likes’. To be honest, I have found the most appreciative responses to certain material from people who neither ‘like’ or ‘share’.
  3. Thanks to my good wife, I now try to avoid as much as possible the more conflict oriented discussions on social media. There is a time for conflict, but social media is not always the best place, because individuals dig their heels in the sand. Also, people cannot see whether I am smiling, whether or not my tongue is in my cheek, or that I am still typing in Christian love even if I disagree 100%x10. I try to focus on discussion, and I am willing to delete comments/posts when people start getting nasty.
  4. My principle is that if I wouldn’t say it in real life, then I won’t say it on internet. I have not always held to that standard, and sometimes it may have made me overly bold in real life (yes, when I believe something to be important and crucial I can be quite honest and stubborn).

All in all, I don’t mind if people stay off social media, if they drop it, or if they get involved in more intense debates. The reasons are the most important factor as Christians use their Christian Liberty and discern the spirits. But the ends should also make us think about the means. Also, there are a lot of relationships that can suffer as a result of social media, and conversations can develop that can be less than edifying. And I am sure I have contributed to that, and in the places that I have, for that I apologize.

In the end, I plan to keep using some of the forms of social media (except Twitter because it is completely and utterly shallow and annoying). And may it be to the glory of God.

 

 

Don’t Leave Your Brains at the Box Office

vince-gaspar-503209-unsplash.jpg


I recently wrote a post challenging Brooklyn 99, and it’s patterns of moral debauchery. It received a couple objections, criticisms, and positive remarks. To be fair, I should respond to some of the objections and criticisms, and explain further the danger of entertainment.

Q. Why challenge Brooklyn 99 of all shows?

  • Because I just finished watching Season 5.

Q. ‘Duh’

  • If you have a moral compass, this article would demand the ‘duh’ response. But even then, those with a moral compass should be cautious about what they are feeding themselves with. As the cliche goes: the bigger you are, the harder you fall. Phil. 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
  • On the other hand, someone may be struggling with certain issues in their life, and the lies in Brooklyn 99 can present some very alluring lies. In other words, I would never assume that ‘duh’ is the best response, although I can appreciate it, because it shows that some people recognize the issues.

Q. “This is the dumbest thing I’ve read in a while”

  • I’ll just go ahead and trust that this is one of the more discerning responses. Hopefully some of the discussion below, will engage some of your reasons for reckoning the thoughts to be dumb.

One thing I have learned over course of my brief existence, is that there is a lot of sexual craziness in Reformed & Presbyterian communities. And there are a couple ways we can respond to it. We can ignore it is there. We can throw everybody out of the church. Or we can speak the gospel into the situation, which means recognizing the problem and beginning to recognize some of the symptoms.

I would argue that one of the largest contributing factors is pornography. But we can never isolate these things to one issue, and one of the issues is entertainment. There is wealth, pride and such as well, but the focus of my challenges to Brooklyn 99 is entertainment.

In her book ‘Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert’, Rosaria Butterfield quotes Ezekiel 16:48 “As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.'” She then points out the role that entertainment has played in our lives (ie abundance of idleness), and in bringing about sin.

We underestimate the powerful role of entertainment. I have heard people memorize songs and movies after watching/listening once or twice. They really do form the wallpaper and soundtrack of our minds. I am not morally opposed to the viewing of ‘Brooklyn 99’ for the same reason as I am not morally opposed to working in the oil fields. The difference is that one is unproductive and the other is productive. We do have to know what is coming in and how it affects us, and that is between the Christian and God.

Think about the Christian life as a garden that needs fertilizer. Paul encourages us to contemplate on what is noble, good, lovely, true. This has implications for what is not noble, good, lovely, true. How will we respond to entertainment? How will we respond to the Apostle Paul?

I agree. We should not remove ourselves from the world. We should be culturally aware. And the key is to actually be aware, which many people are, and many more think they are. And we have the least to fear because we have the Spirit and Jesus. And yet, naivete has killed many Christians. I have also caught myself slipping into naivete when watching movies and listening to music. The Devil also targets Christians because he wants to make them fall. And the road to Hell is paved with many self-justifications and excuses.

In other words, don’t leave your brains at the login when you type in ‘Netflix’ and hit ‘enter’. You are still in control of the exit and delete button. At least, I hope so.

How our Culture Grooms us for Sexual Abuse

sam-xu-560979-unsplash.jpg


I just finished watching season 5 of Brooklyn 99, and I have to say it is one of the most wicked, perverted, disgusting shows I have ever watched. I’m not proud to say I watched it, but here is a few thoughts on the show for other Christians who are probably enjoying it with alarm bells going off in the back of their head. I know some Christians who would tell me: wow, you nice sheltered boy, you haven’t even scraped the bottom of the barrel. Don’t hear me wrong, there was no nudity as far as I can remember, the character development was excellent, and the characters are witty, funny. Also, the authors have an excellent grasp of human nature and the way people interact.

And that is the issue. It is quite well done, providing an excellent medium for its filthy agenda. This film is anti-God, anti-morality, and wallows in human depravity, while putting on the air of understanding the world, and making sin quirky and loveable.

Isn’t this the definition for grooming for abuse? The dude or gal comes to you and minimizes the weird things, trying to put a towel over the moral smoke alarm. But the gospel is there to rip the towel off the smoke alarm so that the sirens will start screaming throughout the entire building. The word grooming is used most particularly of a pedophile, but it can be used more broadly as well in the world of sexual activity, which is also linked into pedophilia in various ways because sexual sin cannot be compartmentalized in the way that we want to it to be to justify our sins. It means: to prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity.

And that is what the show Brooklyn 99 is doing. It assumes that adultery and fornication are the norm and that jokes about sexual immorality are funny. It doesn’t assume that homosexuality and bisexuality are the norm, but it seeks to normalize it in various ways. It does this by playing artfully with stereotypes and using the norms for sexual deviance that it has already established within the film. Ultimately, it is preparing or training its audience for specific sexual ways of looking at the world and treating each other. And what is the next level of sexual weirdness that they will normalize? The question is whether the discerning or undiscerning Christian viewer (or general viewer) will be lured into the trap.

Captain Holt is a gay captain who has struggled to get to the point where he is, because of homophobes in the New York Police Department. He is a nice lovable guy who acts as a father figure to one of the main characters, Jake Peralta. In season 5, a important actor, Rosa Diaz, who has been a promiscuous heterosexual, comes out as bisexual. She faces “persecution” from her very traditional parents, and she receives cautious acceptance from her co-workers.

The show can’t even imagine a Christian response to all these issues. A response of love, truth, and firmness. They still have the institution of marriage, but it is based on feelings and emotion, and it is the result of years and years of sex before marriage.

In the end, I have now seen enough of this show to recognize the militantly anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-morality agenda. It is a show aimed at the destruction of any sexual norms, including the beauty of sexuality in the marriage relationship between one man and one woman. And don’t be deceived, the producers of this show want nothing less than the corruption of our society including yourself and myself. Sure, they might be nice people who help elderly ladies across the road, but that doesn’t make the perversity of this show any less sinful. They might not call it corruption but remember the verse where God calls out wicked men like these in Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Photo by Sam Xu on Unsplash

Jordan Peterson and Toxic Shame in Evangelicalism

tom-pumford-254867-unsplash


I just read an article by Anthony Bradley from King’s College on the role that Jordan Peterson plays among young, evangelical men. I doubt that I agree with all the psychology in here, but he lays his finger on an interesting point. I’ll allow him to speak for himself: “With Peterson, young men get a truth-telling sage who empathizes with their suffering, compassionately cares about their hearts, invites them to greatness instead of niceness, and calls them to hope and humility without shaming.”

He lays out some of the shame-tactics used on young men and men in general of the last 50 years of the church in North America. He describes the Promise Keepers of the 1990s: “The well-intentioned Promise Keepers movement, in part, set out to save men, retrieve ‘biblical manhood,’ and put men in ‘accountability groups’ that would restrain their masculinity from growing sinfully out of control.” He talks about John Eldredge of ‘Wild at Heart’ who reduced masculinity to living out West in the outdoors. He points out how the Young Restless and Reformed pastors with their flannel-shirts and beer-bottle in hand berated young men for porn addiction, video games, singleness, and not ‘manning up’. He talks about how we were also berated for wasting our lives in the early 2000s.

Now, I am cautious to diss these movements as much as he does, because there were and are a lot of godly men working in these movements, including John Piper and Kevin DeYoung. He paints these movements along the lines of the more extreme fringes like Mark Driscoll and men like him. He also doesn’t take the time to note the gospel nature of these movements. But I agree with Anthony Bradley that there has been a tendency towards ‘toxic shame’ in evangelical circles. As he writes: “Toxic shame, then, leads men to self-assess as pathetic, weak, worthless, stupid, cowardly, foolish, inadequate, insufficient, or never good enough.” We all know that feeling, and the morbid introspection which has also been at times encouraged among men (and women) even in Reformed, Presbyterian, and evangelical circles.

Jordan Peterson does not have the same view of sin as Christians do, otherwise he would confess Christ. He is not a Christian. But the way in which he challenges men without shaming them is something that we can learn from. Christian men must function essentially as fathers in our culture because there are a huge lack of fathers. If a father continually shames his son, his son will go in a bad direction. If he points his son to his new identity in Christ, or the possibility of a new identity in Christ, his son will see his sin, but not wallow in the shame.

One of the aspects of my church tradition that I love is that the worship begins with a reading of the law (conviction of sin), followed by a time of confession (usually in song), and then an assurance of pardon. The assurance of pardon is one of my favourite parts of the worship service to lead, and the opportunity to read off a new text from Scripture every Sunday, letting people know who Christ is. Shame is never a good motivator. Grace in the middle of shame is the greatest motivator.

Jordan Peterson, cuts through a lot of the crap and the sap and just tells men to get off of their butts and do something. But, of course, I learned exactly the same thing from my parents and authors like Kevin De Young (Just Do Something) and many more Reformed pastors and leaders. Jordan Peterson has a lot of practical advise for our age. But he misses out on the scandalous edge of the gospel, the love of a Father shown in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that Peterson will find that adoption as a son. Ultimately, it is the grace of God which cuts through the crap.

We can learn from Peterson, but we can also recognize that he is missing out on one of the central ingredients of raising godly men in a godless culture. In fact, I would like to thank him for his very practical rebukes, but also offer to him the only way to salvation, the way of the gospel. The only way we can move beyond toxic shame is by coming to reckon with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. And this comes by being truly evangelical. There we take real responsibility for our sin and when that happens, we then enter into a new world of forgiveness and life. This is also where we can do real self-examination without wallowing in shame. We can take responsibility and look at our sins with an objective eye, because that is not our primary identity. We are not victims of our sinful nature. Rather, we are servants and soldiers of Jesus Christ.

Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

We Should Stop Loving Evangelism

whoislimos-265482-unsplash.jpg


The journalist PJ O’Rourke once wrote: “Everybody wants to save the world, but nobody wants to help mom with the dishes.” To translate this quote into Reformed speak: everybody wants to be involved in evangelism, but nobody wants to love their neighbor.

I have had a number of conversations in the last couple years about the culture of missions/evangelism/church-planting in the United Reformed and Canadian Reformed Churches. I have met a lot of people who are doing a lot and have a real love for different ministries. But I often smell a very critical air about the current ministries and mission works in our collective body of Churches.

The fact is, there are ways in which we could be more organized in our church plants and mission works, there are more things that we could do to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to more areas of our culture. But there are also many ways in which we could be more organized as established churches, there are many fields to work on and improve in. It is a matter of taking personal responsibility as churches.

As a young seminarian, I can look out and realize that I will face a number of different issues that are challenging the church of our day. Let me start naming them: church unity, worldliness, care of the elderly, care for the disabled, evangelism, secularism, eastern religions, immorality, laws being passed against the church. Are things worse than they used to be? Maybe they are worse than certain times in history, but these issues are not a reason for fear, but for courage as the church marches forward underneath the banner of our Ascended Lord Jesus Christ. The question is: how will we respond to the culture that we are in, the culture that is right in front of us?

I had the opportunity and privilege to grow up in a mission church in Rexdale, Toronto. I grew up seeing my Dad’s love for our Lord Jesus Christ and a love for people and a desire that everyone would know His Savior. He is labouring in a young congregation called Hope Centre. I grew up knowing Pastor Mitchell Persaud, who is labouring in Scarborough, Toronto. He also has a continuing desire to see those in his region to come to know Jesus Christ. He is labouring in a young congregation called New Horizons. Pastor Richard Bultje is another godly pastor I grew up knowing and he labours in the Niagara region in a small congregation called River of Life. That being said, I have visited Streetlight Ministries where Pastor Paul Aasman works to bring the gospel to the people in downtown Hamilton, and this is an excellent work. Pastor Daniel Ventura is planting a church in Waterdown Ontario, called Living Hope URC. My brother James Zekveld is planting a church south of Manitoba, Ambassador Canadian Reformed Church, and Pastor Tim Schoutten continues a church planting work started by Pastor Jim Witteveen in Prince George, BC. In August, I hope to intern with Pastor Brian Cochran who is planting a church in Regina Saskatchewan. And of course there are men like Mr. Pete Wright who is working as an evangelist with United Reformed church in Edmonton Alberta.

What I have learned from various men in this group of leaders and from many pastors in established churches is that love for God, love for the gospel, and love for people precedes a love for evangelism. The topic and the concept of evangelism becomes an airy far off concept that we are trying to attain to rather than realizing that it is right in front of us, before our churches and our church plants and mission works. Evangelism starts with the street you live on and the street that your church building is on.

The question is: will we love evangelism or will we love our neighbor?

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash

Men, Marriage, and Calvinism

ben-rosett-10609-unsplash.jpg


Ever since I got married a little over 10 months ago, I’ve had people ask me how marriage is going. I usually say “marriage is great” or “being married at seminary is way better than being single” or “man, I’m thankful I got married”. That being said, I thought I would blog about this thing we call marriage.

Chesterton once wrote: “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” Now of course, Chesterton challenged me to be a man of honour, but for some reason due to this weird tradition in the Roman Catholic Church which he was a part of, I would not be able to be this man of honour seeing as I’m in seminary. But I’m Protestant so I can become a man of the cloth as well as get married. My theology is something akin to Calvinism infused with Chestertonianism.

To illustrate my point, on our honeymoon, my wife and I ran into this Roman Catholic guy from Mexico down in Los Angeles who told us if he didn’t find someone to marry, then he would enter the priesthood. I told him to become Protestant so that he could do both. At this point we got into a theological discussion, and I didn’t get very far with challenging him that the priesthood and marriage could be wed. He was thankful for me though that I got to experience the “sanctifying sacrament of marriage.” I was thankful too.

In Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” (careful, it is rated above PG13), Benedict says about love “May I be so converted and see with these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not.” In other words, he must make some important decisions to enter the state of holy matrimony. The decision might be to become Protestant, or just make a decision. Decisions really aren’t as hard to make as people make them out to be.

“If you like it, you should put a ring on it.” It is still a favorite one to quote. I generally don’t quote pop culture, I generally prefer advice of Chestertonian calibre. But this point from Beyonce is an important one. Once you have committed to buying her coffee and dinner once a week or how often you so choose, why not save some money and buy her a ring? It is an economically feasible thought.

I will stop bombarding you with nonsense. Of course, there are various reasons not to get married: you have the gift of singleness (a rare thing indeed), God has called you to preach the gospel to ISIS (another rare thing), or you are way to young to even start dating/courting (like 15-19). The fact is, we live in one of the most economically and politically comfortable times in world history to get married, and yet the number weddings are far too low. Let’s change that.

Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

A Few Thoughts on Abraham Kuyper: A Book Review of Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat

ian-608005-unsplash.jpg


Introduction:

“I will thus paint Kuyper warts and all – both the real ones and the ones that might seem like blemishes only to us. As a real Calvinist he would understand such a portrait, even though he might not like it.”1 James D. Bratt writes an honest and perceptive biography of the life of a very important theologian and politician in Reformed history: Abraham Kuyper. It is entitled Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. The purpose of this book as a biography is to help the reader understand exactly who this man was. The strength of this biography may not necessarily be how concise it is, but Bratt uses the timeline of Kuyper’s life as a window into his teachings, and his many roles as politician, pastor, journalist, as well as the many other hats he donned during his lifetime.

Summary/Structure:

James Bratt uses the person of Kuyper as a lens into three aspects which dominate the life and teachings of Kuyper: the contemporary nature of his efforts, his creativity, and the comprehensiveness of his work. This was a project which had massive contemporary implications: for all the intellectual pursuits. As Kuyper drew his logical lines from principle to application, he was remarkably creative and instinctive. But Kuyper large scope of work which was quite comprehensive. All things must come under the sovereignty of God: from science to art to politics and of course the church. As he himself stated with passion and vigour: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”!2 This statement has become so popular because it is essentially the thesis statement of Kuyper’s life work.

In the first section of the book, ‘Foundations (1837-1877)’, the James Bratt outlines some of the preliminary stages of Kuyper’s life. He was born into a pastor’s family, and into a divided political and church world. By 1863, Kuyper had a doctorate. During his education he struggled with theological discontent and was steeped in German philosophy and literature, but in 1863 he experienced his first conversion. Following this were his first years as a young pastor, his conversion to Calvinism, and then his budding career as a politician. This was also a time where he made contact with the Holiness Movement in England, fell in love with it, and then was disillusioned by it when his hero fell into sin. This disillusionment lead him deeper into Calvinism.

The period of ‘constructions’ (1877-1897) was a time of great movement. He organized a political party, founded a university, lead a split from the Dutch Reformed Church called ‘the Doleantie’ (the Weepers) and united with a branch of the church that split in 1834, became a great theologian, wrote on many cultural issues, and became known for his views on Christian democracy. He spoke of the strength of Calvinism, and pushed this into many different areas of life. His massive abilities lead to many changes and reforms.

As his life neared its end in the third section of this book ‘shadows’, we see more of Kuyper’s very obvious weaknesses. In 1898, Kuyper went on a speaking tour in America. The next year his wife died, and he wrote extensively on death. In 1901, he became Prime Minister and hit the peak of his power. During this time, he called on the people of God to extend the claims of Jesus Christ into every area of society. As he sought re-election after his loss of the PM seat in 1906, it became clear that there were many dilemmas for the Christian democracy that he was seeking: including in-fighting, and other issues. Finally, after a life of contending for the Lordship of Christ in the Netherlands, he died in 1920.

Christian Democracy?

I find the “paradox” of Abraham Kuyper as a Christian Calvinist and a modern Democrat quite fascinating. I say “paradox” because it left me wondering about how one can be both democratic and as staunchly Calvinist as Kuyper was at the same time, especially in a nation that is becoming increasingly secular. It could seem like a contradiction. Bratt writes about this in his chapter entitled “the Dilemmas of Christian Democracy”. Obviously one of the dilemmas was the decay of his powers as he was growing older,3 but I am more interested in the external challenges to his ideologies. As we wrestle with how to bring the Word of God to bear on our own governments, we have much to learn from some of the difficulties that faced Kuyper’s system.

Bratt underlines some of the external challenges facing Kuyper. He introduces Kuyper in the context of a world growing more secular: secularism, “Kuyper argued – violated the authenticity of the Christian faith or the equity of the modern public order, or both.”4 In chapter 17, he shows Kuyper standing alone against those external challenges with socialists to the left of him, his own Christian Democrats, and then simply the sway of modern mass movements (the perennial difficulty of democracy).5 He was working in a governmental system based on the sway of the masses, and that was swiftly pushing away from Calvinism.

Calvinism had always been Kuyper’s rallying cry in the middle of opposition from secularists and leftists throughout the country. His speech for opening the Free University was such a speech which focused on Calvinism as the core and also the foolishness (in the I Cor. 1 sense of the word) of the nation.6 This core was his rallying cry for his split from the Dutch Reformed Church, and the formation of the Doleantie. This Calvinistic core was his rallying cry for the Free University, his political party, and his view of art, science, etc.

But within the bounds of Sphere Sovereignty, he realized that Calvinists would have to make some unions to be elected. In the big picture, they were a minority. But they could still use a democratic system in their favour. One such union was between the Calvinists and the Roman Catholics to be united in the political realm. They needed the Roman Catholic vote to even have a chance at being elected.7 This is of particular interest to us in the 21st century, because in our time as well, Protestants have had to make alliances with their religious “opponents,” the Roman Catholics. The pro-life movement is an example of this. In early 1900s Netherlands, this union was necessary to contend against encroaching secularism.

It seems that James Bratt focuses heavily on Kuyper’s failure in this area of seeking a Christian democracy. I would argue that Bratt is right to see Kuyper’s failure in contending against encroaching secularism in the Netherlands. But he is weak in upholding Kuyper as a pillar for principle and truth within a secular world. You may or may not agree with what he was doing in certain details, but I don’t believe his overall project was a complete failure. His teaching had a major impact in America through his stone lectures, and has inspired many North American Christians to be a voice for principle and truth in both the United States and Canada. And those voices continue to ring loud and clear in the halls of power through organizations such as the Association for Reformed Political Action, and from more Reformed pulpits and organizations in the States. He also enlightened us to the fact that Roman Catholics make political allies in a world that is agnostic and often even antagonistic to the truth, especially when it comes to social issues such as the pro-life movement.

Many of the details of what Kuyper wanted to bring to bear on politics failed. But Kuyper was more of a ‘big ideas’ guy. He was more of a philosopher than a scientist. He gave the principles, and Reformed people have had to make the applications. Some of these applications have left the bounds of orthodoxy (such as some in the Christian Reformed Church), while others have taken his principles and applied them in a helpful and upbuilding manner for society (such as the Association for Reformed Political Action in Canada).

The seeming “paradox,” the seeming contradiction, between Calvinism and democracy can be aligned in the sense that Calvinism provides a system of truth in a world that is often ruled by mass opinion. It is a logical and coherent system, which when studied in depth, coheres within itself and corresponds with reality. And so, while Calvinism might not always be in “places of power”, as long as it stays grounded & rooted in the Word of God (to put it in Kuyper’s words), it can always provide a lively and viable alternative for the vapid secularism that so often wafts through the halls of power in our day. Hence, Kuyper may have eventually lost the Netherlands, but he left solid Biblical principles for modern Calvinists to develop and shape and form their political theory under the Lordship of King Jesus in avowedly secular and agnostic states.

Academic Value:

James Bratt has contributed much to the study of Abraham Kuyper in the English language. Rather than commenting on just one of Kuyper’s many ideas pulled out of the context of Kuyper’s times – sphere sovereignty, Christian democracy, his writings on baptism – Bratt looks at his teachings through the lens of the zeitgeist of Kuyper’s world and through the lens of Kuyper’s strengths and weaknesses as a person. He has done a large amount research to narrate the intricacy of movements happening in church and politics, so that we can accurately understand Kuyper’s teachings in their historical context.

Other books focus on details of Kuyper’s thought. Luis E. Lugo edits a book entitled “Religion, Pluralism, and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the 21st century” which is a grouping of scholarly articles bringing Kuyper’s principles to bear on the 21st century. James Bratt also has a book entitled “Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader” where he has a variety of chapters where he introduces a speech or a sermon or a writing of Kuyper. James E. Goldrick has a much shorter biography on Kuyper entitled “Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man,” which is heavily oriented towards Kuyper’s ideas. There have been a number of other works on Kuyper including translations of his works into the English language.

In his biography of Abraham Kuyper, James Bratt has achieved his goal of giving us a window into the life and world of Abraham Kuyper, and also into his theology. This book may be especially helpful for those in highschool or at a post-secondary level who are interested in historical studies. It could also be helpful for the student of political theory in general, and even more so for the Christian student of political theory who has an interest in how Calvinist/Biblical principles can be brought to bear on a “secularizing” society. As a seminarian, I have learned a lot about Church history and the teachings of Kuyper through this biography. I find his works quite important in theological/church discussions as well as political discussions. It is not necessarily a light read, but if you want to put up your feet and do some reading in the evening with a coffee or a beer, you will learn a lot from this book.

Conclusion:

James D. Bratt also leaves us with the weight of Kuyper’s views for the 21st century world. He quotes the South African theologian Allan Boesak who called on Kuyper in his fight against apartheid in South Africa.8 Bratt specifically focuses on the impact of Kuyper’s teaching on South Korea and Africa. But we can also see its impact in North America. As Bratt concludes his book: “There is much we can all learn from a person who asked the right questions and gave enduring methods for seeking, and finding, their answers.”9 I must agree that Abraham Kuyper gave modern Christians the tools to discern truth and contend for it in an increasingly secular and agnostic age.

1 James D Bratt, Abraham Kuyper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013)., xxiii.

2Ibid., xx.

3Ibid., 345.

4Ibid., xv.

5Ibid., 345.

6Ibid., 130.

7Ibid., 348.

8Bratt, 382.

9Ibid.

Photo by Ian on Unsplash

A Short Treatise on Reformation

ben-white-197668-unsplash.jpg


Individual reformation begins when a man or a woman takes responsibility. To take responsibility means to say that I am guilty before God. It is does not mean assuming the guilt for all the other individuals around me, only Jesus does that on the cross when men and women turn to Him seeking forgiveness. To assume responsibility means taking a look at the mess, and then saying I am 100% responsible for my own sin. It does not mean assuming the guilt of those who are involved in this mess. And yet, there is no blame shifting, no excuses, no justifications. Full stop. The cross stands between the Christian and his or her excuses.

The Prophet Nathan understood this principle when King David fell into the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. He came to challenge the king on his sin. He told a parable about a rich man who stole a little lamb from a much poorer man, and then prepared it as a meal. Of course King David’s anger burned against this man, at which point the Prophet Nathan stares him in the eye and shouts: “you are the man!” Of course, David ended up taking responsibility for a very particular sin, and we have to take responsibility for particular sins.

But we also have to take responsibility for corporate sins. Nehemiah, when he sees the sin of His people in leaving the city of God in ruins, weeps and mourns and fasts and prays to God for a number of days. When he sees the corporate sin of the people, he repents with them: “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” Nehemiah is truly grieved when he sees the sin of his people and he confesses that he is responsible for this corruption. And then he utilizes his place of power to serve God’s people by leading them back to the city of God, rebuilding, and seeking the advance of the kingdom of God.

As we seek reformation in North America, it is easy to be given to complaining. Nehemiah even had people complain against him. Whose problem is this? The consistory? The pastor? The seminary? The synod? Is it our style of worship? Is it the guy in my parish who likes to go on month-long vacations while I have to slave away at home? No. It is my problem. Even I and my father’s house of sinned. I am the complainer. I am the grouchy Dutch guy. I am the hard-head. I am the bigot. I am the compromiser. I am the one who focuses on the peripherals. It is not those external structures that are the ultimate problem it is my relationship with God. If the walls of Jerusalem are in ruin, then I must also repent of my responsibility in this mess and lay it on Jesus Christ. He is the only head of the Church anyways.

Are you ready for reformation? I am. Just listen to the terrible stories of sin and unbelief that keep coming out of Christian high schools and universities, the schisms between Bible-believing churches, and the number of unbelievers who walk away from Church wondering what to think of our legalisms and stumbling blocks. Or you may be one of those many people looking for Christ because you were hurt and condemned in a sinful way by those in the Church.

Does this mean that there are no people working for this? Of course not. I know many godly people in many churches and denominations. But the question is: who will I be in this narrative?  Am I Tobiah and Sanballat? Am I an imposter? Do I grow afraid and run when I hear threats and mockery? Am I just the annoying guy who criticizes from the peanut gallery? Or am I willing to jump on the wall and start moving stones? Am I willing to cut my hands on the stones and have them covered in blood all the while being mocked and taunted and threatened? Am I willing to suffer in service of the great Nehemiah, the Leader and Savior of the Church, Jesus Christ?

What is wrong with the Church? I am. What needs to change in the Church? Who needs to be reformed according to His Word? I do. The more people there are who answer in this way, and commit themselves to being trained in righteousness by the grace of God, the quicker this momentum will grow. Of course, this knowledge of God will begin to transform and/or bring new meaning to everything else from relationships to education to worship.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Mercy Triumphs over Judgement

jack-sharp-579583-unsplash.jpg


I just wrote a blog post working with what it means for a Christian to be judgemental, how to deal with judgemental Christians, and the verse that calls us to judge with righteous judgement. It seems that ruling and reigning in justice is one of the central aspects to being a Christian, seeing as we are united to the reigning Christ. And yet, this doesn’t encapsulate the full story, because we have to think about how Christ reigns in justice.

James writes in James 2:13 “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” He is writing in the context of Christians showing partiality. They see a rich man come to Church and everybody wants to be his friend, while a poor man comes to Church and he has to go on to look for another Church, because he is lost in the masses. James writes: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). Ultimately the Christian community is being judged by God’s Law for their treatment of some people over others.

We must be characterized by mercy, because of the mercy of God shown to us. We must be characterized by mercy because mercy triumphs over judgement. He says again in 3:17-18: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” In 5:19-20, James writes again: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

In order to judge with righteous judgement, for us who are judged under the law of liberty (James 2:12), we must desire to show mercy. We already know that judgement is without mercy to the ones who show no mercy (James 2:13).

And so in the Christian Community, mercy ought to triumph over judgement. In other words, it ought to be a community characterized by repentance and forgiveness, characterized by a willing giving of ourselves so that we might see the growth and even the salvation of others. The Law of Liberty doesn’t give people to the right to do whatever they want, but the ability to do what is right, to be free from sin including that of partiality.

Ultimately the call to righteous judgement is not a call to legalism (Do’s and dont’s), or nationalism (we are Dutch first then Christian), or elitism (Our church is a middle class church). If it is defined by those things, then it loses the righteous element. It is a call to live lives that are an out-pouring of the mercy of God. It is a call to see the mercy of God and then to go out and live out this mercy, to let the mercy of God shape our lives into mercy shaped lives. Sin binds our lives, distorts them, and eventually destroys an individual. Mercy shapes our lives, transforms them, molds and crafts them into little images of Christ, serving, standing firm, and speaking the truth in love, living in joyful fellowship with God.

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash