WORLD’s Top 25 articles and columns for 2017

As we end the year of your Lord 2017, we reflect on the many events that have transpired in our lives, in our churches, and in our nations.

We know that nothing happens by chance or without purpose, but all by the hand of our almighty Father and all for the good of His people and the glory of His name.

World magazine has posted its top 25 articles for this year (part of its “Saturday Series”), and it is worth remembering these stories and how they impact us as believers. And, of course, we remember these stories and reflect on them in the light of God’s Word, our spiritual lens for all things that happen.

Here is World’s brief introduction, followed by three stories from the list. Use the link below to read the rest.

In 2017, we witnessed tragedy and scandal. We celebrated a theological anniversary and said goodbye to a gifted Reformed communicator. As Christians, we responded to issues concerning our origins and the way God made us. As Americans, we fought for our rights to life and liberty. WORLD covered these stories throughout the year in our magazine, on our website, and on our podcast. Here are the Top 25 articles and columns that grabbed your attention the most.

6. Burying vs. burning

A preference and a proposal for Christians to choose burial instead of cremation

by John Piper 
July 8 | WORLD Digital | Saturday Series

5. Esther’s story

In a state known for legal assisted suicide, one terminally ill young woman instead chose to live each God-given day to its fullest

by Sophia Lee
Oct. 14 | WORLD Magazine | Features

4. Walt’s story

Walt Heyer is a man again, and he has a manly purpose: protect the vulnerable from the transgender movement

by Sophia Lee
April 15 | WORLD Magazine | Features

Source: WORLD’s Top 25 articles and columns for 2017

Antithetical Living in Benzonia, Michigan – B. Catton

…To meet the nagging problems of this world while you are thinking about the requirements of the next does not always come easily; nor does constant preoccupation with such matters make you popular with your neighbors [Catton is referring especially to the effort of his town’s fathers to establish a Christian community through Christian education.]. Benzonia was not well liked by the rest of the county. We were suspected of thinking ourselves better than the other folk, and of having standards that were too high for any earthly use, and probably there was something in the charge.

I remember one time a baseball team from a nearby town came over to play our team. Our team was badly beaten, and afterward I watched a wagonload of out-of-town fans start off on the homeward trip. These people were jubilant, and a woman sitting beside the driver called out gaily: ‘We came here to see Benzony get trimmed, and by Jolly they did get trimmed.’

This was bad to hear. There was malice in it; furthermore, the woman had said ‘by Jolly,’ which was simply a thin disguise for ‘by Golly.’ No one knew just what ‘Golly’ was a euphemism for, but it clearly was some sort of profanity, and no woman in Benzonia would have used the word. It appeared that the children of darkness had triumphed over the sons of light. [p.24]

waiting-train-catton-1987Taken from Bruce Catton’s second essay “Our Town” in the book Waiting for the Morning Train: An American Boyhood (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1987). This is the author who is a noted Civil War scholar, author of A Stillness at Appomattox and This Hallowed Ground, and who at age 70 wrote this book (Waiting for the Morning Train) on his childhood life in Benzie County, Michigan, specifically the little town of Benzonia. I recently came on this book in a local thrift store and am finding it a good read on life in the northern part of our great state!

As you can tell from this quote, Catton is reflecting on the Christian environment in which he grew up in Benzonia, “our town.” We might even say he had a sense of the antithesis.

The Death of Scholarship – Commentary

This powerful article on the current state of scholarship in the major universities and colleges of the U.S. appeared in the online version of Commentary magazine on Nov.13, 2017.

In it, author Warren Treadgold speaks forthrightly about how the left in America has taken control of the academic world and with its “progressive” ideology removed not merely the voice of conservative thinking (and any contrary thinking) but also the opportunity for conservatives to speak. They have done so by killing any true scholarship.

While the author’s point has broad application in the academic world, it also has narrower application for those of us who are Christians and function in the academic world. But it also has implications for all Christians and their voice in the “public square.”

Below are a few segments from Treadgold’s piece; find the rest at the link above.

Leftist professors have no such inhibitions. In their opinion, there can be no legitimate reason for scholarship except to pursue “the concerns of the present” and conduct “a search for new meaning and a rigorous testing of old bromides.” The works of Shakespeare or any other great men are of no use except to illustrate currently fashionable ideology. Moreover, since the only point of scholarship is to advance ideology, questions of accuracy are irrelevant. In combating racism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, elitism, and other evils, the genuine study of literature, political science, philosophy, history, art, and religion is quite incidental. Scholarship done for nonideological purposes, perhaps especially if it faithfully represents the past in its own terms, can only serve to reinforce an unjust society and culture.

This attitude inevitably dominates not only academic scholarship but also college teaching. In 2015, the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni denounced Republican efforts to cut funding for higher education by describing how he had been “transformed” by a marvelous course in Shakespeare he took from an outstanding teacher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid-1980s. He promptly heard from his old teacher, now at the University of Pennsylvania, that such courses on “dead white men” are thoroughly out of favor in English departments today. “Shakespeare,” she told Bruni, “has become Shakespeare and Film, which in my cranky opinion becomes Film, not Shakespeare.” She advised him to look at the current course offerings of Penn’s English department—“Pulp Fictions,” “Sex and the City,” “Global Feminisms,” “Comic Books and Graphic Novels,” “Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Film,” and “Literatures of Psychoanalysis.” The sort of class that Bruni loved 30 years ago is not the sort that universities now teach.

Theistic Evolution vs. the Word of God: An Article and a Book

This part Saturday (Nov.18, 2017), as part of its “Saturday Series” on significant books World magazine posted an article by Elizabeth Handford titled “Evolution vs. the Bible,” in which this pastor’s wife, mother and grandmother, licensed pilot, and Bible teacher takes on noted Christian theistic evolutionist, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and founder of BioLogos, a Christian scientific think-tank.

Collins also wrote an influential book, as Marvin Olasky, World’s editor-in-chief explains:

After she [Elizabeth H.] read Francis Collins’ The Language of God (Free Press, 2006) and saw how it undercuts the inerrancy of Scripture, she carefully examined its premises and evidence and sent me the essay that follows. It’s important, because 10 years after publication the paperback edition of The Language of God is still ranks in the top 10 of Amazon’s “Science & Religion” category. Please read Elizabeth’s essay and think hard.

Today we post part of Handford’s important article, as we believe it strikes at the heart of the “debate” on the origins “question” among professing Christians and churches. That heart is the authority and accuracy of the Bible as God’s inspired, infallible Word. The entire essay is worth your read (not very long), but we pick it up in the middle, where Handford states this:

If a reader of Scripture can decide for himself what is true and what can be ignored, he is setting himself as arbiter over the Scriptures. He becomes the decider of truth. This is indefensible if the Bible is truly God’s inerrant Word. Scripture is not “of any private interpretation.”

This puts Collins in an ambiguous position. If a number of individuals began the human race, as he believes, then Adam and Eve are myths. But that puts in doubt New Testament Scripture that have serious theological implications. Chapter 5 of Romans asks, “How could the death of one man, Jesus, pay for the sins of the world?” The answer? “Because sin, and death, came into the world by one man, Adam” (Romans 5:13-21). If Adam did not exist, then all the Scriptures that refer to him (Genesis 5; 1 Chronicles 1:2; Job 42; Luke 3; First Corinthians 15; 2 Timothy 2; and Jude) must be stricken from our Bibles.

…The issue here is not which scientific theory on the origins of life is correct. Our focus is only to show that the inerrant, verbally inspired Word of God cannot be reinterpreted simply to make it fit any theory of science.

In her closing paragraphs, Handford puts the cap and crown on her basic argument:

…Francis Collins yearns for a safe place for perplexed Christians to find answers for their questions concerning Biblical truth and science. I also yearn for a safe place for people to express their doubts and get sure answers. But there is no “safe place” anywhere if human being must carry the burden of deciding which parts of Scripture are true and which are not. Thank God, He has given us His Holy Word, without error of any kind, trustworthy far beyond what our puny minds can understand.

All of us need humility of mind and heart, admitting that we are fallen human beings without the capacity to understand all God is. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NKJV).

True science and the Bible do not conflict. They cannot conflict. We simply do not yet know enough science to discern the answers. Meanwhile, we can trust our great and holy God to teach us everything we need to know about this wonderful world. After all, He created it simply by His command. He sustains it (Hebrews 1:3). He knows how it all fits together. We can trust His infinite wisdom and goodness.

I simply want to add, well said, Elizabeth.

In this connection, I also point out a new book on this vital subject. Crossway has just released Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, edited by J. P.Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem (2017, 1008 pp.). The publisher gives this description:

The debate about biological origins continues to be hotly contested within the Christian church. Prominent organizations such as Biologos (USA) and Faraday Institute (UK) insist that Christians must yield to an unassailable scientific consensus in favor of contemporary evolutionary theory and modify traditional biblical ideas about the creation of life accordingly. They promote a view known as “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creation.” They argue that God used—albeit in an undetectable way—evolutionary mechanisms to produce all forms of life. This book contests this proposal. Featuring two dozen highly credentialed scientists, philosophers, and theologians from Europe and North America, this volume provides the most comprehensive critique of theistic evolution yet produced. It documents evidential, logical, and theological problems with theistic evolution, opening the door to scientific and theological alternatives—making the book essential reading for understanding this worldview-shaping issue.

The comprehensive table of contents is available at the Crossway link above, which you are encouraged to consider.

I have received a review copy, which I am eager to see one of our science specialists examine and review – either for the PRC Seminary’s Journal or for the Standard Bearer. Contact me if you are interested.

Why Luther? ~ G. Veith

Last Wednesday, Oct.18, 2017, this article by Dr. Gene E. Veith (director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN) was posted on Ligonier’s Tabletalk website.

At the beginning of the post Veith raises this matter of “Why Luther?”:

Rarely has a single individual had the historical impact that Luther did. But why Luther? What was it about this particular monk, university professor, and struggling Christian that made him such a spiritual and cultural catalyst?

And he seeks to answer it by considering various angles on Luther’s life and times – how things were educationally, politically, and ecclesiastically, and how these were factors in why Luther became the Reformer he was. But in the end, Veith traces it to a fundamental truth Luther also discovered in the Bible – that of vocationthe divine calling to do this or that at a specific moment of history.

Pay attention to this in the following paragraphs. And praise God it was so.

And then be encouraged to fulfill your own vocation, with the gifts God has given you and in the time and place that He appoints.

But again, why Luther?

When Luther himself was asked about this, he would say that he did nothing. God did everything. Specifically, God’s Word did everything:

I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip [Melanchthon] and [Nicolaus von] Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.3

Here we might see an allusion to one of Luther’s most significant teachings—the doctrine of vocation. Luther taught that God works through human beings to govern His world and to bestow His gifts. God gives daily bread by means of farmers and bakers, creates new immortal souls by means of fathers and mothers, protects the innocent by means of earthly authorities, and proclaims His Word by means of pastors.

God’s callings are mostly quite ordinary—everyday relationships in the family, workplace, church, and community—in which Christians live out their faith in love and service to their neighbors. But God sometimes works in extraordinary ways as well, and when He does, He works by means of vocation; that is, through human instruments.

The best answer to the question “Why Luther?” is that God called him.

Source: Why Luther?

Giving an Answer – August “Tabletalk”

The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) uses 1 Peter 3:15 as the basis for its focus on Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord.

You will remember how that text calls us to this:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

And so the theme of this issue is “Giving an Answer.” Editor Burk Parsons introduces the theme with his article “Searching for Truth.”

The ten featured articles respond to questions often raised by questioners in the world today: Is the Bible the Word of God?, Does God Care?, Is There Only One Way of Salvation?, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?, to give you but a few.

The opening article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, and it answers the question “Is There a God?” Here is part of his excellent answer:

➝ 1 God the Creator is the only solution to Gottfried Leibniz’s and Martin Heidegger’s ultimate riddle: “Why is there something there, and not nothing?”

Ex nihilo nihil fit—“Nothing comes from nothing.” Let us note that nothing is not a “pre-something”; it is not “something reduced to a minimum.” Nothing is NO thing, no THING. Nothing—a concept impossible for the mind to comprehend precisely because nothing lacks “reality” in the first place. To transform Rene Descartes’; famous dictum Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) we can say, Quod cogito, non cogito de nihilo (Because I am, I cannot conceive of nothing). That leads to another Descartes-esque thought: Quod cogito, ergo non possibile Deus non est (Because I think, therefore it is impossible that God does not exist). The cosmos, my existence, and my ability to reason all depend on the fact that life did not and could not come from nothing, but requires a reasonable and reasoning origin. The contrary (time + chance = reality) is impossible. Neither time nor chance is a pre-cosmic phenomenon.

➝ 2 This God must be the biblical God, for two reasons. The first is that only such a God adequately grounds the physical coherence of the cosmos as we know it. Second, His existence is the only coherent basis, whether acknowledged or otherwise, for rational thought and communication. Consequently, the nonbeliever of necessity must draw on, borrow from, indeed intellectually steal from a biblical foundation in order to think coherently and to live sanely. Thus, the secular humanist who argues that there are no ultimates must borrow from biblical premises in order to assess anything as in itself right or wrong.

Source: Is There a God? by Sinclair Ferguson

Browse around on the Tabletalk page at the Ligonier site and benefit from the variety of articles found there on our calling to “give an answer” to those with questions around us – even the atheists and skeptics.

O, and the daily devotions this month are on the Reformers’ doctrine of the church! Tolle Lege!

The Place of Entertainment in Our Lives – M. Wittmer

TT-July-2017As already noted here this month, the July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment.” The final featured article is by Dr. Michael Wittmer, who teaches systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary here in town.

In “Glorifying God and Engaging Entertainment” Wittmer answers two questions relating to the Christian’s proper use of entertainment – when to engage it and how to engage it. When he answers that first question of “when,” he points out that we may enjoy entertainment regularly. But to that he also adds this adverb: selectively.

Under that second point he has some good thoughts that I share with you today.

Besides the amount of time spent on entertainment, we must also consider its location [place in our lives]. Solomon says there is ‘a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,’ and so on (Eccl.3:1-8). There is a time to create and a time to consume what was created. Let’s not give our most creative moments to passively consuming entertainment. I am most productive in the mornings [I can relate to that!], and I guard that time from videos, websites, and even books that don’t require my best. I try to devote my peak periods to creating content – I’m writing this sentence in the morning – rather than consuming what someone else has produced.

When are you most fresh? Protect this time, and its regular structure will supply space for your creativity to flourish. Use this time to produce things and to serve people for the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors. Create until you run out of steam, then refresh yourself with a song, story, or other creation that someone else has produced.

isn’t that a helpful point to guide us in when to use entertainment? I don’t think I ever looked at using leisure time that way before – using it to be creative and productive instead of just using someone else’s creativity and productions. I find that insightful and instructive.

Now, about the two appeals to “common” grace in this issue in defense of the Christian’s use of entertainment: I would also like to comment on that in the near future, because grace and entertainment certainly have an intersection; it’s just not “common.”

Herman Hoeksema on the Twofold Kingdom | The Heidelblog

This interesting quotation from Robert Swierenga’s article, “Herman Hoeksema and the ‘Flag in Church’ Controversy,” was first published in Origins, the Christian Reformed Church archives-history periodical.

R. Scott Clark quoted a section from it on his blog last Friday (June 30, 2017), which I reference here. While Clark uses it in support of the Reformed “two kingdom view,” I find it also significant in connection with the Reformed view of church and state in light of our celebration of the U.S.A’s 241st birthday yesterday.

Here is a small portion of the quotation as found on “The Heidelblog”:

Hoeksema insisted that the Christian church, “as the manifestation of Christ’s body on earth, is universal in character; hence the church as an institution could not raise the American flag nor sing the national hymns.” The flag could be flown in the church edifice during choir concerts, Christian school graduation exercises, and similar events, but not during worship services. Members should also raise the flag at home, on the streets, and on all public and Christian school buildings. Hoeksema insisted that his congregants, as Christian citizens, “are duty bound to be loyal to their country” and to answer the call when needed for military service. Finally, he declared, “anyone who is pro-German in our time has no right to the name of Calvinist and is a rebel and traitor to his government.”

For the rest of the quotation by Clark, visit the link below.

I also did a post on this when this same article by Swierenga was republished in Leben magazine (the full article is now found online there). For that post, visit this link.

Source: Herman Hoeksema On The Twofold Kingdom | The Heidelblog

A Look at Calvin College, Betsy DeVos’s Alma Mater – The Atlantic

As discerning readers, you know how much scrutiny our new United States Education Secretary, Mrs. Betsy DeVos, has generated (a West Michigan native). Not merely due to her wealthy background and associations, but also due to her strong Christian (and Reformed – Christian Reformed Church) background, Mrs. DeVos has come under the public’s critical eye, both during her confirmation hearings and now that she has begun her service as head of the Education Department.

That scrutiny now also includes her alma mater, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. In a major piece written by Emily DeRuy for The Atlantic on March 1, 2017, Calvin as both a Christian and Reformed college is closely reviewed. Her Kuyperian neo-Calvinistic philosophy is openly displayed, something our readers will also have a keen interest in.

Below is a portion of the article, available in full at The Atlantic link below.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—It would be easy enough to drive past Calvin College without giving Betsy DeVos’s alma mater a second thought. Six miles southeast of downtown, the school is a sprawling cluster of nondescript buildings and winding pathways in a quiet suburb. But to bypass Calvin would be to ignore an institution whose approach to education offers clues about how the recently appointed U.S. education secretary might pursue her new job, and about the tug religious institutions feel between maintaining tradition and remaining relevant in a rapidly diversifying world.

DeVos is now Calvin’s most famous alum, and in recent weeks, the school has been painted in some circles both online and in conversation as a conservative, insular institution that helped spawn a controversial presidential-cabinet member intent on using public dollars to further religious education. But that is a grossly simplified narrative, and one that obscures the nuances and very real tensions at the school.

And a bit further in her article DeRuy writes, referencing one of Calvin’s professors,

“Our faith commits us to engaging the world all around us,” said Kevin den Dulk, a political-science professor who graduated from Calvin in the 1990s, during an interview in the DeVos Communication Center, which sits across from the Prince Conference Center bearing the secretary’s maiden name. (Her mother, Elsa, is also an alum.)

Den Dulk’s words aren’t just PR fluff; it’s a concept borne out by the school’s 141-year history and the Dutch-influenced part of western Michigan it calls home. The Christian Reformed Church is a Protestant tradition that has its roots in the Netherlands and has been deeply influenced by the theologian Abraham Kuyper, a believer in intellectualism—specifically the idea that groups with different beliefs can operate in the same space according to their convictions while respecting and understanding others. “Fundamentalism is really anti-intellectual and Calvin is the exact opposite,” said Alan Wolfe, the author of a 2000 Atlantic piece about efforts to revitalize evangelical Christian colleges.

Source: A Look at Calvin College, Betsy DeVos’s Alma Mater – The Atlantic

Secularism Everywhere – March “Tabletalk”

TT-March-2017With over a week gone into this new month, it is time to reference the March issue of Tabletalk. The theme this month is another timely and significant one – “Secularism.”

Editor Burk Parsons introduces it with his article “The Religion of Secularism,” pointing out among other things that

Secularism is not only a problem out there in the culture, it is something we must fight in our hearts, our homes, and our churches. We are too easily tempted to forget God and to avoid conflict with the world. It sometimes seems easier to live as if God really isn’t there, to go about our days without reflecting on His authority and that we’re called to live all of life coram Deo, before His face. But if we forget Him, we’ll forget who we are. We are His people, and we are called to stand firm against the creeping darkness of secularism, declaring to our hearts, our homes, our churches, and our nation that the Lord God Almighty has authority over all and that, unwaveringly, in God we trust.

The first featured article is written by Thomas Brewer, managing editor of Tabletalk, and is titled “Secularism Everywhere.” For this Wednesday, we post a few paragraphs in which Brewer shows how secularism cam easily influence us as Christians. I think you will agree that these are areas we need to battle personally and daily.

Secularism, being a subtle atheism, recognizes the material world as the only world. There is no spiritual world or afterlife. In such a world, material pleasure is the highest good. Such a mindset lends itself to worshiping money as god, for what greater way of acquiring material pleasure is there than money? Such a materialist mindset is especially apparent on TV, on the radio, as we browse the web, and even as we drive down the highway. Commercials, TV shows, celebrity culture, and billboards incessantly demand that we buy some-thing—anything—to make us happy. Too often, Christians believe the message that material things will fill the void in our lives. That “thing” will make us happy. If our thoughts incessantly dwell on our money, what to buy, and when to buy it, we have likely adopted our culture’s way of thinking. If our joy is tied exclusively to our next purchase, we are not worshiping God. Rather, we have abandoned God and substituted a secular idol in His place.

Secularism has entered our thinking in other subtle ways. Given our materialist mindset, many of us ignore or forget the realities of the spiritual world. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that our struggle isn’t fundamentally against powers of this world but against “spiritual forces of evil” (v. 12). Christianity is a religion that believes in the supernatural. That is, we believe in a world beyond this world. We believe in angels and demons. We believe in heaven and hell. We believe that God, a spiritual being, created the heavens and the earth. If the loss of our material resources causes us utter hopelessness because we believe we have nothing left, we have forgotten the Lord. If our prayer life is nonexistent or merely compulsory, we’ve misunderstood our spiritual situation. Instead, having a biblical mindset will give us an eternal perspective on this life, allowing us to claim with Paul that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8). It will cause us to pray without ceasing while giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:16–18), for we know that our Lord has conquered the spiritual forces arrayed against us.

For the rest of this edifying article, visit the Ligonier link below. And for a preview of the entire issue, visit the Tabletalk page.

By the way, the daily devotions this year are on core Reformation doctrines in connection with the 500th anniversary. This month features the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, beginning with His eternal decrees, providence, and so on.

Source: Secularism Everywhere by Thomas Brewer