Book Review: Post-Christian by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

Below is a Book Review that I wrote for the Haddington House Journal which is based out of Haddington House here in Charlottetown, PEI Canada. You can buy a copy of this journal here.

Book Review: Post-Christian by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

By Rev. Nathan Zekveld

The book Post-Christian: a Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, by Gene Edward
Veith Jr., is a timely and prophetic analysis of culture especially in the Western world. After all the cultural chaos of 2020, this book should help Christian laymen and pastors think through some of the cultural forces that are at work.

This book comes 26 years after Veith published his book Postmodern Times in 1994. He remarks that he thought that the bombing of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, would be the end of postmodernism. Instead it morphed and hardened in various ways. While there still remain modernists and postmodernists, many of the views at work might now be described more broadly as post-Christian. This book is a sequel to his earlier cultural analysis in 1994.

The term “Post-Christian” is not used to refer to the defeat of Christianity in the West. It is rather a term used to describe the way of thinking in the West that was shaped by Christianity, changed by secularism, and may in fact be leading many back to Christianity again. Many of the cultural revolts of the late 1900s have turned out to be self-defeating. This is “the universal wolf” that devours itself as Veith refers to cultural trends in Shakespearian terminology.

He considers the trajectory of thought in the West in four areas. In Part I, he describes this arc in terms of how we conceive of reality in the West: particularly through science, technology and reason. In Part II, he speaks about this in terms of how we conceive of the body in the West: particularly in the area of sexuality. In Part III, he focuses on society: particularly in how we perceive community following the technological and sexual revolutions. In Part IV, he hones in on religion: he focuses on the “nones” and how Christianity can respond to the growing desire to be religious.

The real genius of this book is in how the author finds common ground with many thinkers in this post-Christian age through creational realities. This is known broadly as “natural law” in Reformed theology. He continually points not only to the Word of God, but to the way in which we were created. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 2:12-16, this knowledge is written on the consciences of men and women. Veith writes in the conclusion: “Though the postsecular public will be most interested in personal, inner spirituality – which Christianity indeed can supply them – they are also in need of a Christianity that can take them outside of themselves. They need to recover objective reality, that is, God’s creation.”1

Veith also explains how secularism is being put to the test in our Post-Christian age. We may even be headed into a post-secular age as secularism devours itself. I do wonder about this point. The year 2020 has made increasingly clear the vice-grip that secular science has as it holds both North American governments and churches. This worldview does not recognize the supremacy of God as the Creator. But then again, the author gives hope that the science will show itself to be unmoored from creational realities. By God’s grace, the flux of the times may drive people to ask questions which will bring them to the truth of the Bible.

In the middle of all the dire warnings of the pundits, and the despair of many conservative Christians in the Western Church after years of contending for the faith, this book really does offer a word of encouragement to weary Christians. The author points worn out Christians to the example of a growing commitment to Christ and His Word in countries around the world. He concludes with the testimony of thriving immigrant congregations in the West.

Gene Edward Veith Jr does an excellent job of trying to capture some of the trends in the West. He points to the sovereignty of God in all the instability of the times. His cultural analysis is a good challenge to the Church to think about her duty in the culture. It is a warning about some of the trends that are affecting members in the pew and drawing them away from the pew. He addresses the problem of privatized faith and the concern that the Church in many places has become increasingly secularized.

I would definitely recommend this book. It is great for pastors who want to help the young people in their congregations work through some of the ongoing cultural trends. It is great for high school students preparing for university, and for students going through university. It is an excellent point in time to get people thinking about new trends that have hit hard and fast between 2010 and 2020 and what we can do as Christians to witness to the Name of Christ in 2021 and the coming years. In our world, Genesis 1-3 is a great place to start. Veith puts it well in his introduction: “But Christians should be undaunted at the post-Christian onslaughts, knowing that such onslaughts are ultimately doomed, in this world as well as the next.”2

1 Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Post-Christian: a Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 300.

2 Ibid., 21

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Endowed with Freedom

Below is a quote from Robert Louis Wilken’s book “Liberty in the Things of God: the Christian Origins of Religious Freedom.” I would encourage my readers to get a copy from what I read so far. I hope to post a book review in the next month or two.

“This book does not offer a complete history of the rise of religious freedom in the West. It is an historical essay based on my reading of the sources and my judgments as to which thinkers and ideas best represent key lines of development. It aims to show that religious freedom took form through the intellectual labors of men and women of faith who sought the liberty to love and serve God faithfully in the public square. John Plamenatz, the political philosopher, got things right when he wrote that liberty of conscience arose ‘among people who had been taught for centuries that nothing was more important than to have the right beliefs… This was, no doubt, the source of fanaticism and persecution, but it was also, I suggest the source of a new conception of freedom. Liberty of conscience was born, not of indifference, not of skepticism, not of mere open-mindedness, but of faith.'”

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What do GraceLife and James Coates have to do with Reformed Churches?

Over the course of the last 3 months, an Alberta pastor spent some time in prison. Following his release, he is scheduled to go to trial on May 3-5. His Church, GraceLife Church of Edmonton, is now meeting in an alternate location now that AHS and RCMP officers in Alberta have shut down their building. If I had told you that this would happen in February 2020, I would have been called a conspiracy theorist, or told that I am fear-mongering.

I don’t know Pastor James Coates, or any of his elders, or any of the members in this congregation. So I can’t really vouch for their characters or persons on an “I know that guy” basis. I know the area somewhat having interned in churches in Parkland County and having worked a little further away out of Grande Prairie. But I was not in Alberta long enough to have a thorough understanding of the region.

If you read through all the news sources on this brother and his congregation, it appears that they have proven themselves to be above reproach in many ways. Of course, their incessant refusal to follow health orders in the assembly of believers for worship appears to have warranted the reproach of the premier, public health officials and many pastors and churches throughout Alberta. Each reproach comes from its own unique angle. At the end of the day, these brothers do still have legal protections within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the criminal code.

There have been a number of news reports and articles released that range all the way from inflammatory, to balanced, to defamatory.

Does every church have to do exactly what GraceLife is doing? Of course not. But every church should be seeking to learn from the GraceLife debacle. And there are things for Reformed Churches to learn as well.

  1. There is a debate of over certain principles in the Reformed Churches (re the 5th commandment). There are three basic camps 1) Obey the government; 2) Submit to the government; 3) Rebel against the government. I would contend against the third option, but I understand where people are coming from in both the first and the second camp. It appears that James Coates and his elders are in the second camp as much as many want to put them in the third camp. James Coates and GraceLife have shown a willingness to submit to the government in this situation, especially by submitting to judicial process. But this has warranted a critique from certain leaders in Reformed Churches that they are not following the command of Christ because they are not obeying the governing authorities.
  2. There is a shift in how authority is understood and used in North America as reflected in this thoughtful article by MLA Drew Barnes. Part of this shift in authority is seen in the continued shift away from Christian principles for government towards secular principles for government. The Church and it’s officers no longer hold a central role in the community. It is one of many faith groups. It’s officers hold just one opinion among many faith leaders. Churches that were once approached respectfully as an authoritative body and even took in the sick and infirm are increasingly separated into a private sphere.
  3. There is a heavier emphasis on technocratic powers in North America at expense of the more Biblical focus on courts and those who run them as the proper authorities. This means that society is governed by technical experts. Rather than simply receiving advice from various experts, those experts are given un-elected authority through various emergency response measures. These experts may be experts in their various fields like science, but they are usually not experts in law, economics, or religion. Nevertheless, government officials continue to make theological statements about the nature of worship.

I would love to sit around the table with Pastor Coates and other Reformed pastors in Canada who have taken the position of critics. I am sure that there would be a great and animated discussion. Many of us have similar concerns over how the last year has affected not only churches but also individuals. Some questions for discussion:

What does ministry look like in this brave new world? What does Jesus want from His servants? What does it mean to be the Church? What is the authority that Jesus has given His office-bearers in the sanctuary? What role do we hold in the sanctuary in both Scripture and the Reformed confessions? How can we be a salt and a light for King Jesus in a world where there is so much apostasy, loneliness, abuse, mental illness, confusion, anger, depression, sorrow? Is it possible to be apart, but also together? How can we stir each other up to love and good works in real and tangible ways? What are necessary risks that Jesus calls us to take for the advance of the gospel? Is the gospel advancing? What losses are churches taking? How and why? Above all, what does it look like to place the highest importance on obedience to Jesus Christ and His Word in the world that we live in?

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A Manifesto: Christ is Head of the Church

The phrase “Jesus Christ is Head of the Church” is a Biblical truth that is clearly stated in Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” You will find this truth expounded upon and taught and applied in various parts of the inspired and authoritative Word of God: Eph 1:22, Eph. 5:23, Col. 2:10. The purpose of this short piece is to state the truth that Christ is Head of the Church with clarity in the public square and to define this truth among all other forms of authority in society.

This is why Christians have always been careful not to identify a political party with the kingdom of God. The Church is the vehicle of the kingdom of God. Not the Conservative or Liberal or New Democrat or Christian Heritage or People’s Party of Canada. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He has chosen the humble means of the preaching and the sacraments to communicate His grace in this broken world. Matthew 16:18–19 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The Church is not partisan, it is entirely a different organism, a different institution.

This is a truth emphasized and re-emphasized in Reformed confessions. We read in Article 31 of the Belgic Confession: “As for the ministers of the Word, they all have the same power and authority, no matter where they may be, since they are all servants of Jesus Christ, the only universal bishop, and the only head of the church.” We read in Article 32: “they ought always to guard against deviating from what Christ, our only Master, has ordained for us.” For those of my readers who are unaware of the Belgic Confession, it was written in the France/Netherlands region in the 1500s and is used as one of the three forms that unify Reformed Churches. You can find it here.

The Church then is not partisan and the Church should not be equated with a political party. This of course, does not mean that they are being partisan when a particular political party takes it upon themselves to remove “every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship” as civil leaders acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (BC Art. 36). Those leaders are simply doing their Christian duty. There have been times throughout history that the Church has taken upon itself the need to discipline even leaders who have protected the Church. There have been times throughout history where the civil authority has had to wield the sword in situations where leaders in the church went rogue. The point here is this. The pastors and leaders of the Church must always remain objective and begin with the Word of God in her teaching, her preaching, and her discipline. The truth of God’s Word and the duty of His shepherds to preach the gospel and lead divine worship exists apart from partisan politics.

And so we must distinguish between partisan politics and politics more generally. The statement “Jesus is Head of the Church” is not a political statement. But it does have political ramifications. In other words, to make that statement and truly believe it, will have consequences within society at times. When the civil authority puts obstacles in the way of the preaching of the gospel and every aspect of divine worship, the Church still confesses that Christ alone is Head of the Church. And the confession of the Church is not unrelated to her actions. In fact, we confess our allegiance to Jesus Christ through our actions. Jesus Himself equated our love for Him with keeping His commandments (Jn. 14:15).

This is not a teaching that should be taught in antagonism towards the civil authority. Christians are called to pray for them and even give thanks for them so that we might lead a quiet life. Above all we should pray that they would come to a knowledge of the truth: the truth that there is a Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:1-6). We are called to fear God and honor the Prime Minister. Whoever he may be. This is a teaching that is born of love as we teach all nations to observe all that He has commanded us (Matt. 28:20). Why? Because He has all authority (Matt. 28:18). The Church doesn’t have all authority. Jesus does. We are simply ambassadors of His kingdom that has entered onto the world scene. His Word is truth. It is this truth that all nations must come to know and confess. There really is no other way of salvation.

The example of the Apostle Paul in Thessalonika and Caesar’s Courts serves as an example. In Thessalonika the Apostle Paul simply taught that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God (Acts 17:1-10). But a mob realizes the ramifications of this teaching and so they come with a slanderous condemnation to the authorities that the Christians are turning the world upside down. The charge is that the Christians are trouble-makers and rabble-rousers and even traitorous in their teaching that there is another King: one Jesus. But Jesus Christ did not come to overthrow Caesar’s civil rule. He did come with a call. This call was that Caesar must take a knee before His throne. Even when Paul is in prison in Caesar’s courts, he shares this gospel of the crown rights of king Jesus (Phil 1). The one in chains is then the ambassador for King Jesus. His announcement is that there is another King, one Jesus and even Caesar must worship the Son of God whose kingdom is not of this world.

Christ is the Head of the Church. This is an axiomatic truth. It is an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth. It stands above the fray of politics and fog of our civic dialogue. It is a truth that must be stated in the public square. It is a reality that should be experienced by Christians of all stripes and positions in the Church in society. It is unequivocally not partisan. Regardless of your political party, you are called to confess that Jesus is Lord. Regardless of whether your last name is Singh or O’Toole or Bernier or Trudeau, there is no other Name under heaven and earth by which you can be saved. This is a statement that is born out of love because there is no other Mediator between God and man. The truth then is this: Christ alone is Head of the Church.

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Struggling with Doctrinal Compromise: What is truth?

I want to further address the loss of truth over the course of the coronacrisis of 2020 and 2021. There is so much propaganda coming from all angles that it is sometimes hard to discern what is true and false with regards to the virus itself. But what is crystal clear is the Word of God. As Dr. Aaron Rock in Ontario has commented: we should run to the clarity of God’s Word in the ambiguity of the moment.

In the face of famine, pestilence, war, and persecution, God’s people have gathered in-person in the face of great risk to call upon the Name of the Lord. The true Church has continued to proclaim the gospel, administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and enforce discipline for correction among aberrant members or congregations. It may be one thing to gather underground vs. a public protest. Regardless of the publicity, the church is duty bound to come together and to taste of the communion of the saints even here on earth and to point the earthly cities of men to renewing nature of the heavenly city of God.

In the confusion of 2020, many Reformed Churches in Canada have compromised and confused their doctrine. My wife pointed out from my last article that a church that does not have good practice does not have good doctrine. My first response was to think “well, of course, we have good doctrine” because we have all these profound creeds and confessions. But if you pick and choose what you believe in those creeds and confessions, and compromise and water down other truths within them, then it is true that we no longer have good doctrine.

Belgic Confession, Article 32 states that Christ is the sole head of the Church and the Church must always be on guard against deviation away from what He has ordained for us. The office-bearers of the Church must also guard against commanding human innovations or laws imposed on us in the worship of God. This might also be referred to as “the binding of the Christian conscience.” The focus is on what laws are enforced in the worship service.

The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38 states that I must diligently attend the assembly of God on the Day of rest. The Church is recognized as the assembly or the communion of saints that we find in the Apostle’s Creed and taught on in Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Belgic Confession, Article 31 states that Christ has set office-bearers over the Church and not the governing authorities of the land. Both civil and ecclesiastical authorities should be submitted to, but not as absolute authorities (BC. Art. 31 and 36).

There definitely has been a big focus on LD 39 of the Heidelberg Catechism that has been at the expense of our other confessional statements. Not only has there been a fixation on LD 39, but a fixation on one form of authority at the expense of all other forms of authority. There has also been a fixation on the rebukes that Scripture gives to those under authority rather than to the many it gives to those in authority.

We have introduced a new liturgy into the worship of our churches handed down by the scientific professionals. There is a new liturgy of hand-washing, social distancing, masking, putting caps on numbers. Just because they are introduced by scientists rather than the popes of Rome, that does not make them any less blasphemous than what was introduced by the popes of Rome. In fact, it should be even more black and white when it comes to secular science.

Many have argued, well, it doesn’t go against the Word of God, so go ahead and do it. Well, what if the government ordered a large picture of Justin Trudeau to be set up in all the Churches like you see big pictures of the leader in China and North Korea? It is not directly against God’s Law. So will you still do it? The logic of our approach to worship in coronacrisis is taking us down the road to the State Church of China, where the office-bearers of the Church are answerable to the government in all matters with regards to their buildings and structure which has a real affect how the Church worships together.

When I think of the true Church in 2021, I think less in terms of are you Reformed or not, and more in terms of: are you faithful to the Word of God? There are many virtues that we need in the present: patience, gentleness, reasonableness etc. In this, we are not ultimately answerable to government edicts, but to the rule of Jesus Christ. The Belgic Confession summarizes the true Church in Article 29: “In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church— and no one ought to be separated from it.”

Postmodernism and easy times have made us mushy on truth. When there is no truth, all that is left is raw power. That raw power is increasingly being wielded by the civil authorities. You see that in censorship, cancel culture, and the raw use of authority in fining churches in Ontario hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.

How shall we then live? We must live by truth, not just a part of it, or a watered down version of it, but all of it. When I signed the form of subscription, I made a statement about not only my commitment to the gospel, but my commitment to the nature of the Church, the call to worship and gather, the call to honor authority, the call to uphold Christ and not the chief medical officer as the Head of the Church, the call to not impose the laws and inventions of men in the worship of the Church.

The Anglican Pastor JC Ryle once wrote:

“A jellyfish is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, ‘No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.'”

We have seen the incipient evanjellyfish doctrine of the times creep into even Reformed Churches. We want to be reasonable. But is there anything reasonable about the never-ending encroachment of the arm of the state into the life of the Church and which has caused so much harm in society? Is it reasonable to be told what to do for 10 months moving towards a year with no end in sight? We have seen the fruit of government policies. You will know a tree by its fruit.

What about you? Do you love the truth and speak and confess it openly? (LD 43)

“The Devil’s alternative credo often has a few carefully chosen elements of truth in the mix – but always diluted and thoroughly blended with falsehoods, contradictions, misrepresentations, distortions, and every other imaginable perversion of reality. Add it all up and the bottom line is a big lie.” Pastor John Mac Arthur, the Truth War, p. 41

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The Seminarian and the Local Church

Going to seminary can come with a number of challenges. Seminary is not for the faint of heart, at least, it shouldn’t be… There are spiritual challenges. There are intellectual challenges. There are financial challenges. There are questions about church order and how to seek a call. Trying to learn in an academic environment and in the environment of the church at the same time can also present challenges.

After four years of seminary and almost a year in the ministry, I am convinced of the centrality of the local church in the preparation of students for the ministry. This of course is stated while fully recognizing the importance of seminary education contrary to those who might minimize the intellectual aspect of preparing for ministry.

1. This is where authority over the student lies

In Article 21 of the church order of the URCNA, we make this statement: “The Consistory is the only assembly in the church(es) whose decisions possess direct authority within the congregation, since the Consistory receives its authority directly from Christ, and thereby is directly accountable to Christ.” This principle is laid out practically for the journey of the seminarian into the ministry in Articles 3-6 of the church order. One of the ways that the Church, in subjection to Christ, keeps out the thief and the robber is to ensure that a ministerial student enters into the ministry under authority (Jn. 10:1). I once heard a pastor encourage young women to evaluate the godliness of a man in part based on whether he is willing to submit to authority. In the same way, a church should evaluate a potential minister based on his relationship to the authority of the local church. Is he a thief and a robber or a shepherd?

2. This is where the student should be known the best

This is important. The natural process of things in this world is that some people become more powerful than others. A man should never enter the ministry based on the people he knows and who he becomes friends with. That is a dangerous form of politics. It is the consistory which has the primary responsibility to develop the closest relationship with a man and to evaluate his life and doctrine as best as they can. This then takes stress off the student, to do the work that he needs to do in seminary and in service to the Church, under the oversight and authority of his council.

Of course, the relationship of the seminarian to the church can also be a very rich and rewarding relationship. As the council works in coordination with the seminary and other churches, the opportunities abound for learning pastoral work and preaching, how to train the youth, and bring the gospel to the lost. Life in the congregation can also be very rewarding, presenting opportunities for evangelism, speaking, preaching, learning, fellowship.

Rather than the student being spread out across the federation, the local council can and should then bring a good report to classis and to churches in need of a minister, which will then be affirmed by the classis at classical examinations.

3. This is where the student should be headed

If you are a seminarian, you are headed into local church ministry. A presbyterial form of government is at odds with the positions of bishops and/or bureaucrats. We confess this in the Belgic Confession, Article 31: “As for the Ministers of the Word, they all have the same power and authority, no matter where they may be, since they are all servants of Jesus Christ, the only universal bishop, and the only head of the Church.” There are often times when the teaching ministry of a pastor spreads beyond the local church, or when a pastor is called upon to serve at a classical or a synodical level (in the church courts) or to teach in a seminary, for the sake of the local congregation. This can be a good and positive thing. But the authority in each case is always grounded in the authority of the local congregation, whether the local congregation is at its beginning stages, or more established. The starting point should be the local church, as expressed in the local ministry of the congregation.

A Few Examples…

Since my membership was primarily in Rehoboth URC in Hamilton, ON during my seminary years, I will mention a few examples of how helpful they were. As a student preparing for ministry, I regularly met with elders and deacons in the church. I met on a monthly basis with the pastor. Even though I interned in other URCNA churches, they took primary responsibility to ensure the quality of my training. I was interviewed by my ward elder and then the whole council before approaching classis for my candidacy exam. The council reviewed around 10 sermons that I preached in my home church. My ward elder and pastor checked in to see how my family was doing and how I was doing in my personal life. My deacon would regularly check in to evaluate financial need. Even though I did a lot of preaching around Ontario, I found opportunity for fellowship, and to be involved in various ministries in the congregation over the course of my four years there.

Phew….

I found these points to clarify and ease a lot of tensions as I forged my way through the seminary of another federation and as I approached my classical examinations as well as a call to serve in another local congregation. I am sure that it might create more tensions for the student if a given local council does not understand its role in the education of the seminarian or its role and responsibility within the church courts (classis and synod). But I will always be thankful for the role that the local church (Hope Centre URC and then Rehoboth URC) played in my preparation for the ministry. I love this work of the local church as it serves in subjection to Jesus Christ and brings the good news of Jesus Christ to the next generation and to all nations.

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Re-Humanizing the Medical System

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In a former post, I brought up my concern that scientists are thinking primarily about medical risk, but not economic, mental health, or spiritual risks. I am still willing to be convinced that the medical risks of this crisis over-ride every other risk. But that is not the purpose of my relentless writing. 

Over the course, of the last couple weeks, the concern came up that Prime Minister Trudeau has joined forces with China to develop a vaccine with china from a fetal cell line from aborted babies. It was concerning to see how many Christians continue to call people to support their governments and then turn a blind eye to some of the ethical issues surrounding such research. 

Of course, to speak out on this matter, brings up a whole host of ethical issues. For example, we use research that was developed during Nazi human experimentation. So can we use research that was developed during Canadian and Chinese human experimentation? Many of those who speak glowingly of Bonhoeffer might tell me to stay silent at this point.

My purpose is not to argue for or against vaccines. My purpose is not to argue for or against the shut-down. My purpose is to pursue a line of argumentation that many Christians should be pursuing.

The American scientist Lewis Thomas wrote in the 1900s. I have three of his books: “The Youngest Science,” “The Lives of a Cell,” and “The Medusa and the Snail.” From my understanding, he was an atheist, but he had some startling insights. For example, he once wrote about scientific reductionism: “Much of today’s public anxiety about science is the apprehension that we may forever be overlooking the whole by an endless, obsessive preoccupation with the parts.”

One thing that you may notice is that there is a thriving medical system that lies on the fringe of the publicly sanctioned medical system. While it is on the fringe, many health insurance programs include naturopathy, chiropractic, etc. I have been in the hospital for bone fractures, but more often I have found medical care through alternative medicine. Through my own experience and the testimony of a large variety of friends I have found that things like rashes, aches and pains, etc, are often better treated outside the public medical system.

So what point am I getting at? It is not my point to discredit the public medical system. They do many good things: surgeries, treating extreme illness, etc. But one wonders why alternative medicine has become so popular.

Much of our modern medical system has accepted the language of what they believe is science. For example, the baby in the uterus, is reduced to a fetus, and can be treated like a useless appendage. Doctor assisted suicide (commonly known as medically assisted dying) for the elderly and infirm has become more popular. Back in January, the government was considering extending this to the mentally ill. You can read about this in the National Post. There is a de-humanizing tendency in our modern medical systems. Whether it is Nazi, Chinese, or Canadian, it is still de-humanizing.

What is man? In a medical system that de-humanizes babies and the elderly, no wonder that we can so coldly use their DNA, and believe that somehow the world is a better place as a result of it. I once heard someone rebuke their opposition for wanting to build an economy on the blood and bones of those who die from COVID-19. We have been building a medical system for at least 50 years (the strains of fetal cells came out in the 60s and 70s) on the blood and bones of the most vulnerable in society. Maybe more people live with vaccines than without vaccines. Maybe more people will live from the shut-down than without the shut-down. But what part of our soul are we willing to give away for that ideal?

Over the last two months I have been haunted by the spectre of what a society looks like under quarantine. There are elderly who have had to die alone. Pastors are not allowed to visit the sick and dying. Hugs and hand-shakes are forbidden at funerals. Weddings have been reduced to 5 attendees. I have been reading about the economic collapse that the northern province of Newfoundland is facing. Churches have been shut down and small businesses are going under while Walmart and Home Depot keep on bringing in crowds and income. And now our Prime Minister is rushing a vaccine that is using aborted babies. It is a dangerous world out there. If you aren’t scared of COVID-19, there are many more dangers at every turn. Of course, I am not advocating fear, but a more humanized medical system, a re-humanized medical system.

We need to relentlessly ask the hard questions. We are not robots. We are not blobs of scientific processes. We are made in the image of God. And that truth changes everything.


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Bridges on the Privilege of Being Early Enlisted under the Banner of the Cross

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Below I share a quote from a commentary on Proverbs 2 from the 19th century Anglican pastor Charles Bridges (you can read the full commentary here):

And now, what serious reader of this chapter can fail to estimate above all price the privilege of being early enlisted under the banner of the cross; early taught in the ways, and disciplined in the school, of the Bible; and early led to hide that blessed book in the heart, as the rule of life, the principle of holiness, the guide to heaven!

Parents, sponsors, teachers of youth; ponder your deep responsibility with unceasing prayer for special grace and wisdom. Beware of glossing over sins with amiable or palliating terms. Let young people be always led to look upon vicious; habits with horror, as the most appalling evil. Discipline their vehemence of feeling, and all ill-regulated excitement. Keep out of sight, as far as maybe, books cal- culated to inflame the imagination. To give an impulse to the glowing passion may stimulate the rising corruption to the most malignant fruitfulness. Oh! what wisdom is needed to guide, to repress, to bring forth, develop safely, and to improve fully, the mind, energies, and sensibilities of youth!

Young man! beware! Do not flatter thyself for a moment, that God will ever wink at your sinful passions; that he will allow for them, as slips and foibles of youth. They are the “cords of your own sins,” which, if the power of God’s grace break them not in time, will “hold” you for eternity. (Chap. v. 22.) Shun then the society of sin, as the infection of the plague. Keep thy distance from it, as from the pit of destruction. Store thy mind with the preservative of heavenly wisdom. Cultivate the taste for purer pleasures. Listen to the fatherly, pleading remonstrance, inviting thee to thy rest—“‘Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, ‘My Father! thou art the guide of my youth?’” (Jer. iii. 4.)


The Problem with Authority Part II: Authority and Truth

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Throughout the gospels, we often hear conversation about authority and what it is. Both Mark and Matthew contrast the authority of Jesus Christ with the authority of the Scribes and the Pharisees (Mk 1:22, Matt. 7:29). Luke records that when Jesus heard that Herod wanted to kill Him, Jesus called Herod a fox and then turned to reflect on His own authority (Lk. 13:31-32). John records a conversation that took place between Jesus and the Jews in John 7:14-24. Jesus says in John 7:18 “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

Is truth determined by society? Is truth a social construct? What is truth? A society that asks these questions will struggle with the concept of authority. What happens when authorities cannot agree on truth? What happens when authorities cannot agree if there is truth? A society can still value reason. But when reason doesn’t work then what? When reason proves to have its own limitations then what? When science proves to have limitations then what? I suggest that with the loss of truth, society will gravitate between anarchy and raw coercion. Tyranny becomes the proposed answer to anarchy, because there is no other way to exercise authority than through coercion. Human authority itself is deified, hated and feared. Thus we hear the radical authority claims of the old Roman Empire: “Caesar is Lord!” Thus we hear the radical authority claims of the Roman Catholic Church when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra”.

Where did the Apostles derive their authority? Well Matthew tells us that Christ claimed that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:16-20). He gives His Church the authority to preach, to teach, to disciple, to baptize. We should not be surprised then that the chief priests, the rulers, the scribes and elders in Jerusalem are astounded by the authority of Peter and John: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) If you remember, they had a similar reaction to Jesus: “The Jews therefore marveled, saying, ‘How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?’” (Jn 7:15)

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” (Acts 17:2-3) Acts 17:1-10 is an interesting passage to analyze. 1.) Paul’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ is taken as a threat to Caesar; 2) Paul did not teach revolution, but his message had clear political ramifications; 3) Jason and the brothers pay the fine, giving to Caesar what is due to Caesar; 4) They hide Paul and send him off to Berea, and do not give Caesar access to the messenger of the gospel.

This again gets back to the Romans 13 passage. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Most governing authorities would respond with a hearty ‘Amen’ as I hope Christians would. But the second half of verse has major political ramifications. The Apostle Paul whisks away the secular foundation for our reasoning on the civil magistrate: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Secularism is a modern heresy. Wait, that means that magistrates must abide by an objective truth? For the rest of Paul’s speech in Rom 13:1-10 one is forced to ask some hard questions about our modern day political theory. The Apostle Paul implies that their authority comes from God, that they will indeed be a terror to bad conduct and not to good. We ask questions in the 21st century. What is your standard of good and bad conduct? How does this affect your view of your own authority?

What am I talking about when I talk about the truth? Some vague truth? Some sort of secular argumentation? Reason? What is observable? I am speaking of the Word of God. While God does give Church and State two different types of authority, He does not give them two different laws. After all, “there is no authority except from God” (Rom 1:1). I realize that in modern society, a Christian politician will need to gravitate largely towards natural law arguments in the public sphere. This is permitted, since there are many truths that can be argued to from nature (as we see in Psalm 19). But in the background, is this natural law unbreakably tied into the truth of God’s Word? Natural law is not secular law. In fact, nothing is secular, because all authority has been given to Jesus (Matt 28) and all things cohere in Him (Col 1). He has preeminence (Col 1).

Notice how important good and necessary consequence is to Christian moral reasoning. As we apply the principles of Scripture, we are always returning to the drawing board, as others challenge our line of argumentation. As we stand under the authority of Christ, there is a freedom to argue from across Scripture and allow denominations and pastors to challenge one another to be more precise as we disciple the nations in the truth that all authority has been given to Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:16-20).

The starting point for a pastor ought to be a clear statement of the truth: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (II Cor. 4:2) As a Christian pastor, I want people to see that I have been with Jesus. And then I want them to see His authority over all things and fall on their knees and find salvation and new life in Him. This is the way of life and peace and blessing. Jesus Himself said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:31-32)

P.S. My next post will be on the ordinance of labour.


For a former article on the Problem of Authority, click here.

“The Book that Made Your World” by Vishal Mangalwadi and “Solomon Among the Postmoderns” by Peter Leithart got me thinking about truth and authority in our 21st century world.


Preaching Christ at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

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As some of you might know, I spent four years at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary before taking a call to a congregation of the United Reformed Churches in Prince Edward Island. I did internships with 4 consistories and 3 pastors in the United Reformed Churches on my way through seminary and I have always been a member of the United Reformed Churches since I was knee-high, so I am unable to say much about the Canadian Reformed Churches at large. I have heard some excellent sermons from Rev. den Hollander Sr. in Rehoboth URC and some excellent sermons from Rev. William den Hollander Jr. and Rev. VandeBurgt while visiting my wife who was a member of the Langley CanRC while we were dating.

I found that CRTS during my time there had a strong homiletics (the art of preaching) department. This was confirmed by various conversations I had with leaders and members in both the URCNA and Canadian Reformed Churches in the opportunities that I had to preach in close to 35 URCNA and CanRC churches across Canada and into the States (over the course of 3 years and 4 internships).

One of the highlights of taking this particular homiletics program was the 9 sermons (3 per year) that were publicly presented before 1 or 2 professors and the entire student body. There was then a public critique from the professor and the floor was then opened up to our colleagues to bring up questions, concerns, and encouragements. The intense self-reflection following an evaluation was not particularly fun, but I can’t imagine a better way to teach men to preach a message that is faithful to the text and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another highlight was the two homiletics classes (in 1st year and 3rd year). We read a lot of articles on preaching: anywhere from ones by professor de Visser to Sydney Greidanus and Cornelis Trimp. We also read some great books on finding the glories of the cross and resurrection of Christ throughout the pages of the Bible. We read David Helm’s “Expository Preaching.” We read Timothy Keller’s “Preaching.” We also read Bryan Chappell’s “Christ-Centered Preaching.” We studied and reflected (and yes, debated) each book closely. Various Church Fathers, Reformers, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, and other preachers were also discussed in class.

One of the points that Dr. de Visser underscored to our class in first year is that the difference between good preaching and great preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit in the work of the preacher. We were also encouraged to reflect on that in the grading system. Of course, there an was an effort to grill us based on objective principles for preaching, like whether the text was preached, how we drew our lines to Christ, and how Christ was preached. But an “A” sermon might just be a good sermon, whereas a “B” or a “C” sermon might be a great sermon because the Holy Spirit is working powerfully through it (I believe that Tim Keller also presents this important reminder). 

Between 5 professors and 20 students, a variety of perspectives and intellectual/spiritual gifts are brought to the table. Yes, there are weaknesses and points for growth in both individuals and institutions. And so we see every institution, individual and denomination growing also in conversation with the broader Reformed/Presbyterian and evangelical world. For individuals, mentorships bring further gifts to the table, and prior education also brings various gifts to the table. Seminaries should not operate in isolation from broader ideas and the authority of the local consistory. It was also great to hear lectures from OPC pastor Eric Watkins on redemptive historical preaching at the conferences one year. Over my years at seminary, we heard lectures on various topics from members from the RPCNA, OPC, FRCNA, PCA, URCNA. 

I would recommend the Canadian Reformed Seminary for the Christ-centered nature of their homiletics program and for the way that both OT/NT/dogmatic disciplines also lead to the glory of the cross and resurrection.

I would love to reflect further here on the need for greater union between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches. Maybe one day I will also reflect further on unity with the many other congregations and federations in North America. I have many thoughts on the importance of organic and geographic unity and the danger of stereotypes and lack of charity. I hope to shape and formulate these thoughts in the coming months and years also in conversation with the wisdom of older pastors and the wisdom of my consistory and other consistories. We must not neglect good debate and healthy communication. Christ-centered preaching leads to Christ-centered unity. Those who preach the cross, after all, must be examples of life under the cross and resurrection. And so we also find unity at the cross, in our worship of the Triune God and on the bedrock of the Bible:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:13–22


Photo by James L.W on Unsplash