A Short Treatise on Reformation

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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
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Mercy Triumphs over Judgement

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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

Christians are Judgemental

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Relationships are complex and one of those areas of complexity comes into play in the area of judgement. I have often heard the comment that Christians are judgmental. The Christian with moral conviction can easily be tossed off to the side as a moral prude, an intolerant intellect, and overly dry apricot. The hypocrisy among many Christians compounds this stereotype, and we find ourselves wading through the complex depths of human relationships

One of the most popular verses in this field is the verse “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). I’ve even had unbelievers cite this Bible verse to me. I’m glad that they recognize the Bible to be authoritative! Of course, something that many fail to recognize is that this Bible verse is in itself a judgement. It is a judgement of hypocrisy: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5).

So are we all hypocrites and thus completely incapable any sort of judgement? A verse, that many have forgotten about in the midst of the accusations is John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Of course, right judgement often comes from a higher standard of authority, from God’s Word.

But now, before God’s Word we are all hypocrites, sinners, and we fail. These verses in the gospels are not supposed to be an excuse for us to justify ourselves and our sin, by telling people not to be judgemental. Instead they are an inditement of those who justify themselves: the Pharisees and the rest of us. So we now find ourselves looking for righteousness judgement and the way in which to judge with righteous judgement, rather than judging everything and anything around us for judging us.

This righteous judgement is found at the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. That’s the only place to find true mercy and true justice. The power of the cross cuts through social standing, appearances, and intellectual ability. To judge with righteous judgement is to point to that cross where a man or a woman’s wickedness is nailed. This is the place where all those who will be saved feel condemned, but feel the mercy of God to a much greater level. And then they to can go out and judge with righteous judgement, because by turning from sin to cross, they have taken the log of their own eye. And the glory of Christ will be maximized because then the only way to deal with the speck in a brother’s eye is at the cross.

There is a wrong way of being judgemental. Barring people from forgiveness, from Christ. Focusing on externals rather than internals (although internals change externals). Those who are lacking in love and truth, forgiveness, and Christian mercy are the wrong kind of judgemental.

But then those who are under this judgement should question what they are being judged for. A Christian leader once asked a group of us young guys: if you are feeling judged, what exactly are you feeling judged for? If it’s nothing, then forget about it. If it is something that God’s Word is also judging you for then go to the cross. If we are serving God and standing firm under His Word, then the praise of God serves for much more than the praise of men. Every Christian is called to daily repentance and turning to Christ.

Yes, Christians are judgemental, and more often than not we are the wrong kind of judgemental. But when the glory of Christ fills the Church, we are in training to be judgemental in the right way. Does it make sense to me? Not really. Does it change everything? Absolutely.

Note: I have written a follow-up post talking about judgement and mercy.

The Rejuvenation of Creationism

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I have to say that I am pretty excited. Over the last couple years we have seen the comeback of Creationist literature at quite a substantial scale. I am a fan of the work that AIG and CMI is doing, but it is good to see a whole wealth of theological, philosophical, historical, and of course scientific, arguments put back on the table by a larger variety of organizations and church leaders.

3 New Movies

In 2017, Thomas J. Purifoy released a new documentary entitled ‘Is Genesis History?’. In this movie, Del Tackett interviews a number of creation scientists, and ends off with some solid historical points. He and a number of others also started a website for those who want to dig deeper and ask the hard questions. One of Purifoy’s most genius posts is this one. I would encourage you to read it.

Another new movie has just been produced starring my biology professor from college, Dr. Gordon Wilson. I have not watched it yet since most showings have been down in the States, but from what I understand, its intent is to be an artful and cinematic celebration of creation, in the genre but not in the philosophy of BBC’s Planet Earth. My professor recently has also published a textbook.

I have seen reviews and reports of another creationist film I haven’t watched. I won’t say to much about it since I don’t know too much, but I will attach a link. It is called ‘Genesis: Paradise Lost’ and it stars scientists and Christian leaders such as Dr. John Baumgardner, Dr. Voddie Baucham, Dr. Danny Faulkner, Ken Ham, and many more. You can find the web page here.

Website:

I would also direct you over to the website ‘Creation Without Compromise’. This matter of creation & evolution never ceases to be a matter of debate in any denomination or church community seeing as the teaching of evolution is so prevalent in North America. This website (based out of the Canadian Reformed Churches) is in part a response to the work of the Reformed Academic blog, with the broader aim of teaching.

The editors are Dr. Ted VanRaalte, Rev. Jim Witteveen, Mr. Jon Dykstra, and Dr. Wes Bredenhof. Rev. Ken Wieske is listed as an author. These men are a group of pastors, missionaries, professors, and Newspaper editors. From the States, Canada, Tasmania, and Brazil. I would strongly recommend their work to you.

And of course, My Take On the Matter!

I am trying to put together a few thoughts on Creationist matters. Of course, when I look at all the above resources, my thought definitely has to develop a lot more. But in the mean time I have enjoyed publishing these bites of interaction, and I enjoy my continued studies on the matter:

When Science Goes Unchallenged: link

Time In Genesis? link

Does Your Interpretation of Genesis 1 Have Gospel Implications? link

I have found that a robust doctrine of creation provides the groundwork for a robust view of creation and outworking of Christian theology. We shouldn’t hesitate to ask hard questions, but the question of literal 6 day creation is one of those hard questions for those who would seek to gravitate Christian theology across the spectrum towards evolutionary thinking. I strongly believe that evolutionary dogma loses it’s momentum when it meets some of the many arguments above.

Pass Me Another Joint: Christians and Wacky-Tobacky in Canada

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I want to jot down a few questions and considerations for the upcoming legalization of marijuana in Canada. I personally don’t get too wound up about it’s legalization, simply because the government can’t possibly have the final say on morality. That’s not their job.

I’m a little more surprised that the main argument against its use which I have heard from many Reformed Churches, has simply been that it is criminalized by the government and we have to obey the government. Yes, we have to honor those in authority over us. But are there other arguments that are circulating against the use of marijuana? I assume there are.

I have never smoked weed, and I don’t believe that I need to “at least try it” to be able to speak out against it’s use. That’s the kind of logic that ends up with a Canadian kid who has his tongue stuck to a frozen flag pole, simply because he has “never tried it”.

I recently listened to a defense of marijuana usage on the Tom Woods podcast (generally an interesting podcast show to listen to), and I totally disagreed with the conclusions of the guy being interviewed, despite some interesting arguments. It was largely a feelings based argument: it has improved so many people’s lives by making them feel happy (You can listen to his argument here).

I have inquired into this matter with a number of leaders including leaders in California and Idaho in the States and also leaders here in Ontario, Canada. I have come up with a couple observations which are out there for you to debate.

1) Marijuana seems to be closely connected to the party culture. It lifts the individual out of the troubles of life in the same way as 6 or 7 beers might do to a lightweight. Of course, there is always the moment where you have to step back into reality. Marijuana seems to be used as an escape from reality rather than an embrace of reality and a fight to have reality transformed by the power of the gospel.

2) There has not been a lot of scientific research done into the long term effects of marijuana. There are a lot of myths, but there are also a lot of murky waters. Don’t be the guinea pig.

3) I have talked to people who claim to have had demonic experiences while under the influence of marijuana, and I have talked to people who claim that it hardly affected them. It seems that smoking a joint of marijuana has a different effect than enjoying a single glass of wine or a single shot of whiskey.

4) Being filled with the power of marijuana is opposed to being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. This conclusion could be drawn through its many connections to the occult, or it could simply be drawn through the perceived effects it has on an individual.

I’m not necessarily a fan of wasting tax dollars on busting marijuana businesses, but I do believe that there is a better way to live life, and that is by living a life forgiven by Christ and producing the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The truly good life can only be produced by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Servant Leadership. Without Permission.

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I recently read an article by Pastor Douglas Wilson criticizing the usage of the term servant leadership. Of course, that wasn’t the main point of the article, and I recognize that he wasn’t criticizing the spirit of servant leadership. The main point of the article was to defend the necessity of being masculine without permission. In the spirit of pastor Wilson’s article, I want to defend servant leadership without permission. I will do it with all due respect.

I would define servant leadership as an imitation of Christ who was a servant. And a leader. I really appreciate Pastor Wilson’s definition of masculinity: “masculinity is the glad assumption of the sacrificial responsibilities that God assigned to men.” Now, the main place where we can understand better what it meant for Christ to be a servant leader is in the book of Mark and in Phillipians 2. Mark 10:45 reads: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  The Apostle Paul recognizes this pattern in Phil. 2:8 “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Here is my argument. The term ‘masculinity’ is not used in the Book of Mark, the term ‘servant’ is. I’m not even sure if the term ‘masculinity’ is used very much in the Bible. We hear about being a man, but our cultural fascination with ‘masculinity’ is a bit strange. To say the least. Now, to not use the term ‘servant leadership’ any more, is to ‘dumb down’ all the glory of the Book of Mark. Of course Jesus had a back bone, and yes, he was being a servant leader without any permission at all. Even his disciples totally misunderstood what it looked like, hence, His reason for explaining it so thoroughly in Mark 10. Jesus cast out demons, healed the sick, rebuked the Pharisees, took a whip to those who turned the temple of God into a den of thieves. He was a leader. He was a servant. He was the Son of God. He was the Servant King.

We see the pattern of this Servant King in the lives of men who follow Him. Men (as well as women) are called to take up their cross and follow Christ. The “masculine” men of this world can turn this joyful life of service into a pale, vapid, and sickly image if they want (ask Nietszche for his thoughts). But James says to count it all joy (James 1). And of course Jesus commanded it. He also exemplified it. And if Christians call it vapid, then they are confused.

Jesus sent out His disciples to be servants. He also sent out His disciples to be leaders. He never sent them out to be masculine. Yes, male leadership is an important and necessary principle to be drawn from Scripture. And yes, there are male roles: i.e. servant leadership. And yes, homosexuality is sin (I Cor. 6:9) as well all the deviations of character (and of course actions) and sexuality that lead to it.

Yes, Timothy was called to be tough: definitely spiritually (2 Tim. 2:3-5). But of course, we are not disembodied spirits and so spiritual toughness is connected to emotional, mental, and physical toughness. This does not mean that a man who cries or an academic type cannot be a leader. Having emotions disciplined by the Word is manly. Having massive academic abilities disciplined by the Word is manly. Read Paul’s writing. While physical discipline is of some gain for Timothy, the spiritual disciplines are the most valuable (I Tim. 4:8). This means that a man with brawn and bluster and no discipline is a hollow shell of worldly glory that reeks of dead flesh.

If someone mocks you for being a “servant leader,” don’t back down. Use the term. Without permission. Be a servant without permission. Be a leader without permission. Be proud of it. Be joyful. Cultivate discipline in all areas of life, but keep Christ right at the center or it is all worthless anyways. Service means humility, not the false ‘servant leadership’ which seeks to get accolades from women and some men. Be a man and act like a man (2 Sam. 10:12, I Cor. 6:10), which means Christ calls you and me to serve. And He calls us to lead. And He calls us to stand firm.

Is Ecclesiastes Unorthodox?

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What I love about the structure of Ecclesiastes, is that this is the way people think as they struggle with confusion. A confused person does not fixate on a specific line of reasoning, and find his way directly to a conclusion. A confused person will often explore different options. This doesn’t mean that exploring these options is necessarily right, this is just what many people do. And God will sometimes use those meanderings to uncover what they are looking for. The author of Ecclesiastes is wise because he has found ‘the eye of the storm’. He learns how drink a good beer and eat a thick steak after a hard days work, while kings rise and fall and the philosophers quibble and fight. He does this because he fears God and desires to keep His commandments. He is able to enjoy life whereas the immoral and arrogant are intolerably prudish and hollow men.

M.J.C. Blok refers to the view of some scholars that Ecclesiastes is a debate between many speakers and so you get both orthodox and unorthodox statements, forming a fragmentary book.1 I will argue along with Blok and Richard P. Belcher for the full orthodoxy of Ecclesiastes. In fact, many of the statements that don’t sound so orthodox will bring the reader to a deeper understanding of the orthodoxy of this book. The issue with people questioning the orthodoxy of Ecclesiastes is a problem with their view of orthodoxy. It is not exactly what many might imagine. As G.K. Chesterton states: “People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or exciting as orthodoxy.”2

Derek Kidner writes: “Wisdom – quite practical and orthodox – is his basecamp; but he is an explorer. His concern is with the boundaries of life, and especially with the questions that most of us would hesitate to push too far.”3 Many parents and leaders in the church become afraid when their children and young people “push the card” when it comes to orthodoxy and asking the deeper questions of life. But here, we see Solomon take leadership in asking the hard questions, making the tough observations. But it doesn’t end there. He also uncovers the answers. It might even remind the reader of Proverbs 2, where Solomon urges his son to cry out for wisdom and insight. If he does so, Solomon promises him that he will find the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God (Prov. 2: 3,5). It is these answers that Solomon urges upon his son in Ecclesiastes: “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12:11-13).

In 7:15-18 and other sections, Solomon asks the same hard questions that Asaph asks in Psalm 73. Why do the righteous die and the fool and the wicked succeed? What reward is there for the righteous? He has an unorthodox conclusion: do not be overly righteous. He has a very orthodox conclusion: do not be overly wicked. But he runs up the middle with another command (which is very much orthodox): fear God. I recognize this struggle. I have been rebuked for being overly righteous. I recognize my pride. But do I be wicked? No, I must follow Solomon’s exhortation to fear God.

Ecclesiastes is punctuated by paradox. Solomon has struggled with paradox his whole life. Solomon is an old man speaking to young men. He doesn’t focus so much on the authority of his learning, but the authority of his observations.4 Not everything needs an answer. There is mystery: because God is God and we are not. This wise elderly gentleman has learned from observation and experience that a lot of what young men do is just plain sad. He often puts himself in their shoes, because he has been there. He points out that sometimes shiny things are corroded on the inside. And so he gives exhortations to these young men towards the good life: faithfulness, joy, obedience. He also gives us exhortations away from being arrogant and idiotic. Life is best lived in humility and joy before the face of God.

1M.J.C. Blok, Ecclesiastes: 15 Outlines (London: Inter-League Publication Board, 1988), 8.

2G.K. Chesterton, The Project Gutenberg Ebook of Orthodoxy (accessed March 1, 2018), https://www.gutenberg.org/files/16769/16769-h/16769-h.htm.

3Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1976), 13.

4Van Pelt, Miles V., ed., A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: the Gospel Promised (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 450.

 

Sex-education in the Public Schools: Parents are not Just the Primary Educators; they are the Educators

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My inner libertarian will come out a bit here.

I’m watching the Ontario PC leadership election unfold with some interest. I don’t find myself convinced of Mulroney and Elliott’s conservative integrity and I know Doug Ford will axe government but will waffle on social issues. Tanya Granic Allen is bringing a number of important issues back into discussion, particularly focusing on the sex-education curriculum that Kathleen Wynne is trying to get forced into the school system. Now, I like many of Tanya Granic Allen’s policies and that she is a social conservative, and I would be a fan of Ford axing government until it gets a little closer to a reasonable size. I’m interested in particular in Allen’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum.

Allen plans to consult parents on the sex-ed curriculum. And her principle in the foreground is that parents are the primary educators. This is all well and good. We need principles such as these to play in this political game. But notice that all this relies on the assumption that the government has any role in education.

To take a quick look at the bigger picture. There are a lot of people in North America who believe that the parents are the primary educators. But this is not found primarily in the public school system. Parents delegate leadership in Christian schools, or in other cases they homeschool their kids. Many of these parents recognize that most government does a really bad job at educating children (particularly secular governments).

So Tanya Granic Allen wants to axe Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum. I’m left scratching my head wondering why she doesn’t want to axe public education and work towards privatizing education. By assuming that the government is responsible for educating our children, she is setting us up for future problems, where after a good government is out, a bad government can do what they want again. More or less she is polishing the deck for a sinking ship. I can commend her for wanting what is right within the school system, but the question is if this is even the government’s task.

There are other solutions to this problem. My parents did more to axe Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum by educating me and my siblings at home through Tree of Life Homeschool. They also have worked with various Reformed churches in Ontario to offer a viable alternative to the Public School system for parents in Northwest Toronto who don’t want their children’s heads being filled with odious ideas in public school. There is now a new gradeschool: Hope Academy. The Canadian Reformed Churches have a school system that goes across Canada offering a viable alternative to public education. Other Reformed Churches across Ontario privately educate their children through schools such as PRC. Classical Christian schools have made a showing in Ontario in places like downtown Toronto: Westminster Classical Christian Academy.

Much more could be said about privatized higher education.

Everyone has their plan. We should ask what the task of government is as compared to parents and churches. Is education even the task of the government? I would give the answer ‘no’. If you find yourself realizing that this isn’t even the task of government, then we should start by presenting other alternatives. So many individuals have already done that through private schools and home schooling in Ontario. A wise government might start by giving those who privately educate a total cut on their taxes that they would otherwise benefit from by sending their kids to public schools. I would recommend against public funding, because then we still recognize that this is the task of the government, and is built on a poor economical model called Keynesian Economics. And then they might work to privatize their public schools by putting them into the hands of families and therefore communities.

This way the government can focus exclusively on reforming their court systems. According to Romans 13, that seems to be the main task of what we would call government.

Billy Graham, the Gospel, and the Preacher Behind Your Pulpit

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North America has been remembering the blessing of God upon the work of Billy Graham. We see an example of the power of the gospel, and a pointed message that calls men and women to repentance and faith. We all have our theological quibbles, and there were some with Rev. Graham. But whatever could be said for those quibbles, his essential message was one of good news. It was a message that focused on the work of Jesus in changing hearts that was concise, to the point, and that hit right between the eyes. Any such message is relevant, no matter how many people mock.

But as I consider his legacy, I am also forced to consider the force of the gospel as it has been preached from the pulpits I looked up to every since I can remember. I was born into a Christian community, and the light never came upon me in the same way as it came upon many of Billy Graham’s listeners, because the light was always there through faithful teaching, parenting, rebuke, and a call to look to Christ who takes away the sins of the world. I was always reminded of my baptism which was intended to direct me to Christ. I grew, I faced trouble, I had to be rebuked, but I can’t remember not knowing Christ personally.

It was emphasized on me while growing up that I should listen to and honor the Preacher in the pulpit in front of me, rather than glorifying a pastor I don’t even know. That didn’t mean I had to accept everything he said mindlessly, but to have a soft heart towards those words spoken from Scripture. I have done a bit of traveling and listened to quite a number of preachers. I don’t want to name names because then I would be missing the point. But I have heard many clear explanations, pointed rebukes, and a call to faith from men who were not particularly well known, but were no less lacking in passion and faith and clarity.

If God has blessed you with a preacher who opens the Word of God on the pulpit in front of you, then you are called to listen and learn. Sure, you might disagree with him on a couple doctrines. His personality might irk you. But your call is to hear the Word of God, and his call is to speak it.

We shouldn’t idolize men like Billy Graham and R.C. Sproul (I John 5:21). We shouldn’t idolize anyone anyways. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore them either. It means that we have to have soft hearts when we are listening to the Word of God being preached wherever we are at. That is the aim of preaching: by the power of the Spirit a heart of stone will be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Yes, we need to search the Word of God like the Bereans in Acts 17 and always test the spirits (I John 4:1). Preachers are also under authority. The aim is never to glorify the preacher, but to be transformed from glory to glory, as we gaze upon the face of Christ, revealed in His Word. This is where the preaching of Billy Graham received its strength.

May God raise up more men of conviction, men who are under the authority of the Word, men who won’t back down from their calling to be courageous for God both in word and deed.

Chapel 02/16/2018: Putting the ‘Fun’ Back Into 21st Century Fundamentalism

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Below is a chapel I delivered yesterday:

2 Corinthians 10:1–6 “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

This passage is one of the primary passages used by men who teach and seek to form a defense for the Christian faith. My Dad introduced me to Van Til and Bahnsen and the tools for presupositional apologetics. Douglas Wilson and David Wood are two excellent apologists with atheism and secularism. Dr. Mitch Stokes, a student of Alvin Plantinga, directed our class in a Plantinganian branch of apologetics with definite presuppositional vibes. Lewis and Chesterton teach the art of beautiful and humour filled apologetics. Dr. Van Raalte has brought us here at CRTS to a deeper understanding of natural law and the role it plays in apologetics. These apologists come to the table with different assumptions and tools, but all see the Word of God as authoritative in tearing down strongholds.

And that of course is where the battle is the fiercest. What does it mean for the Word of God to have authority? Does it have authority? How do we deal with questions of backgrounds, cultures, even text criticism? The Word of God is authoritative, but the question always slips in: did God really say? Science says this, history says this, archaeology says this, but did God really say? This is the question that seminarians must wrestle with, because we have to be able to engage with the questions from young guys and young ladies attending university who are asking these questions and looking for answers. And they will often keep their mouth shut about their struggles because we will either shut them down or give answers that don’t make any sense, and of course, they might just not like the authority of God’s Word.

An Attack on Authority:

My question for chapel today is: is it rational to believe in the authority of God’s Word? Or are we just a bunch of crazy radicals who believe in something akin to the Great Pumpkin in the Sky? To us this question sounds blasphemous. To an atheist or an agnostic at the University of Idaho or UofT or Capilano University in Vancouver, this is a legitimate, rational question. You might be told by an atheist: you only believe that because that’s the way you grew up, that’s what your parents told you, it is simply irrational. Let’s analyze this statement.

Immanuel Kant once said: “Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!” As Immanuel Kant also described the Enlightenment: it is “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage”. I might describe the Enlightenment as the intellectual child of the Renaissance. The Renaissance went back to the sources, and the Enlightenment liberated itself from the shackles of the sources. Don’t let your parents and pastors and Christian leaders tell you what to think! Think for yourself! Yeah, but what if they are right? And why aren’t your teachers at university allowing you to think for yourself?

On one hand, I am appreciative of the “enlightenment” more broadly speaking. Proverbs 25:2 states: “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” I can legitimize Kant’s attempt to get people to think. Some people simply don’t think. People blindly accept traditions. I have been taught to honour the authority of God’s Word, but when it comes to traditions, I was taught to think, to search, to look for deeper answers to deep questions, to test everything with the authority of God’s Word. I was taught to look into things when a fight breaks out. The Father in Proverbs on one hand calls on his son to bind the instruction of his parents to his heart, on the other hand he sends him out to wrestle with the darkness in the world. He tells him to call out for wisdom and insight. The father recognizes that he is not in control, and that his son must fight and search and seek to the glory of God.

On the other hand, I cannot legitimize the enlightenment and where Kant’s challenge went. While the Enlightenment sought answers, it also cast a cloud of doubt over those answers, because it overthrew authority. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path when we see it as authoritative. But when we lift ourselves above it, then we become doubters, we become agnostics. Renee Descartes used doubt as that foundation for knowledge. He said: “I think therefore I am”. He was a smart dude, and there is much we can learn from him. But we see the foundations for doubt being laid in the enlightenment as all authority was challenged, and reason was glorified. This might be akin to our day where reason is glorified, and science is deified, we raise altars to science and reason in our academic journals.

Higher Criticism and evolution in the 19th century took an axe to the authority of God’s Word. Dare to know became dare to doubt. Protestant denominations died a slow and painful death. In a last ditch attempt to save the Scriptures, many preachers and teachers became largely academic, trying to save the Word from the challenges of the critics. Others became unacademic. But in attempting to save it from their challenges, they began to take on their assumptions, and fell away from the truth. God was faithful. Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were revivals through the work of men like Kuyper, Bonhoeffer, and Barth, but at least Bonhoeffer and Barth struggled with the authority of God’s Word, and God still used them through their wrestlings. This is because His power is in the Word.

Where are We Today?

Today, science and the logic of science holds a crucial role in academic discussions. Many of the challenges of Higher Criticism have been answered by further discoveries in archaeology. Many have not. Questions still linger. Evolution has been a matter of debate, and the debate isn’t over. Especially for evolution, this might just be a matter of time before more evidence comes up. But the Word of God will never stop being under attack. This is why in the discussion of God’s Word and man’s Word, we must go deeper than the data. There are philosophical underpinnings, there are assumptions at stake.

I am a skeptic when it comes to science. The arguments a logical and persuasive element, but is their foundation authoritative? When you dig deeply into the philosophy of science and the philosophy of math, you are left with more questions than answers. These philosophers and scientists are accepting an authority that has a lot less basis than the testimony of Scripture. Rather than simply looking at the phenomenological data and drawing conclusions for the present, many re-write history, define gender, and try to cast the authoritative decisions on how we interpret Scripture. Yes, the Holy Spirit can use science, but the authority of the Holy Spirit works apart from Science, in the Word of God to shine the light on Christ in whose face we see the glory of the Triune God.

Yes, this statement is unscientific, it is unacademic, and it would never be published in a fine and scholarly journal piece. We must challenge man’s unbelief. There are very intelligent folks out there, who will find freedom when they submit to something other than their own intellect. We have just read in the passage above that the weapons we are using have divine power to destroy strongholds. And yes, this passage would not be published in a fine academic journal. And that is a problem when the Apostle Paul has less authority than academia. I do believe that there is a time for academic engagement, study, sensitivity in discussion. I loved reading Darwin and Lewis Thomas in college both of whom are atheists and evolutionists. I enjoyed reading Hitchens and all the new atheists. I love talking about the data and learning about radioactive dating, and Biblical manuscripts and all the ins and outs of these debates. But all these discussions can be used as a ruse. Yes, we have to be loving. But we have to be honest with ourselves and with the Church. The biggest stronghold that must be destroyed is unbelief. And only the pure preaching of the holy gospel from the inspired and inerrant Word of God can do that.

We believe testimony so often. It would be irrational for me to say that I was not born in London even though my parents have so often told me that I was. I could scientifically test it, but at this point all I have is testimony and I have to believe it. I don’t believe it would be irrational for me to believe it. My parents are a trustworthy source. I believe by testimony that I was born in London Ontario. I believe that when I get up in the morning, gravity will hold me down. It makes sense. To question these testimonies would be irrational.

Christianity cannot be compared to schizophrenia or other such mental illnesses, because the gospel wires us into reality. It is fully rational to believe in the testimony of God’s Word, and I would wager that it is more rational than to have your ultimate authority as reason or science. I have everything to lose if I reject this testimony. I have nothing to lose if I retain it.

Weapons

The weapons of our warfare are capable to destroy strongholds. We have now moved beyond the data into spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:10–13 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” The Word of God is mentioned in vs. 17, which is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” Science is good. Reason is good. But the Spirit with the Word of God will take those disciplines, the Spirit will take academia, transform them, and take them captive for Christ. The Spirit of God is not limited to academia, but transforms academia. Once the evolutionist atheist hears a sermon, he will have to make a decision: to believe or not to believe. Belief would be the best choice he could ever make.

So academics is warfare. God’s Word cuts through academia. It cuts through my heart and through yours as we seek to fulfill our kingly role of seeking out what God has hidden. It takes all of our thoughts captive for Christ, rather than captive to the thoughts and philosophies that demand our allegiance in opposition to Scripture. But notice, if you accept foreign philosophies and assumptions blindly, you have been taken captive by something different than the Word of God.

When God’s Word transforms our academic pursuits, academics leads to doxology. In Mark 1 Jesus enters Capernaum, and the people respond: Mark 1:22 “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Are we astonished by his teachings? Are we astonishing our communities with His teachings and their authority? Or are we teaching them that they are impossible to understand unless you have the same level of learning as the scribes and the Pharisees? Are we prepared to take every thought captive? Or will we join the agnostics? Will we sit on the sidelines and criticize Jesus as He heals the souls of sinners by the power of His Word? Will we be more interested in academic accolades than the divisive nature of the gospel, which brings about repentance before it saves? When we rest on God’s Word, preaching will have authority. When we rest on the accolades of academia, preaching will be built on sinking sand. As the Word worked its destruction on the papacy while Martin Luther and his friends were drinking a pint of Wittenburg beer, so we can preach the Word and ask that God would work its power into the lives of those we come in contact with.