Ordinary Callings: Cultural Transformation or Loving Service ? M. Horton

ordinary-MHorton-2014The above is the heading of a section of Michael Horton’s book Or-di-nary (see details below), in which he contrasts the gospel’s call to “ordinary” Christian service in the church and in the world, based on Christ’s saving work for believers and the Holy Spirit’s work in them, with the popular idea of transforming society or culture.

Here are a few of his significant thoughts (He makes five of them):

First, the call to radical transformation of society can easily distract faith’s gaze from Christ and focus it on ourselves. Such people hold that the gospel has to be something more than the good news concerning Christ’s victory. It has to expand to include our good works rather than to create the faith that bears the fruit of good works. The church has to be something more than the place where God humbles himself, serving sinners with his redeeming grace. It has to be the home base for our activism, more than being the site of God’s activity from which we are sent and scattered like salt into the world.

…Far too many people hold that it’s not who we are that determines what we do, but what we do that determines who we are. Community service becomes something more than believers simply loving their neighbors through their ordinary callings in the world. It becomes part of the church’s missionary task. It’s not what we hear and receive, but what we are and do that gives us a sense of identity and purpose. We need something more than the gospel to trust in – or at least the gospel has to be something more than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners Apparently, Jesus got the ball rolling, but we are his partners in redeeming the world.

Instead of following the example of John the Baptist, who pointed away from himself to ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29), we offer our own lives and transformations as the good news. But this is to deny the gospel and therefore to cut off the power of true godliness and neighbor love at its root.

And in his next point he makes this solid point:

Second, radical views of cultural transformation actually harm our callings in this world. The most basic problem is that it reverses the direction of God’s gift giving.  According to Scripture, God gives us life, redeems us, justifies us, and renews us. He does this by his Spirit, through the gospel – not just in the beginning, but throughout our lives. Hearing this gospel, from Genesis to Revelation, is the means by which the Spirit creates faith in our hearts. United to Christ, our faith immediately begins to bear the fruit of evangelical repentance and good works. We offer these not to God for reimbursement, but to our neighbors for their good. If we reverse this flow of gifts, nobody wins. God is offended by our presumption that we could add something more to the perfect salvation he has won for us in his Son. We are therefore on the losing side of the bargain, and our neighbors are too, since our works are directed to God on our behalf rather than to our neighbor on God’s behalf.

Taken from chapter 8 of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I am currently making my way through. The chapter is strikingly titled “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.155-57.

Praying Christ’s Prayers in the Psalms – D. Bonhoeffer

How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter [That is, the book of Psalms] together? It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of the human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer.

Who prays the Psalms? David (Solomon, Asaph, etc.) prays, Christ prays, we pray. We – that is, first of all the entire community in which alone the vast richness of the Psalter can be prayed, but also finally every individual insofar as he participates in Christ and his community and prays their prayer. David, Christ, the church, I myself, and wherever we consider all of this together we recognize the wonderful way in which God teaches us to pray.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the second section, “Who Prays the Psalms?” (pp.20-21)

Help and Hope for the Bullys and the Bullied – The March 2018 “Beacon Lights”

Anti-Bully BL-ad-2018

As we pointed out in a post a few weeks ago, the March 2018 issue of the Beacon Lights (the Protestant Reformed youth magazine) is devoted to the subject of bullying. Now that it is out and available, we can encourage you to get it and read it so as to benefit from its timely theme.

This is not an easy subject to treat. Not least of all, because it convicts all of us of the sins of bullying that we have committed. And that exposes us in the sins of hating our neighbor and of hating the God who made our neighbor, as the editor and other writers for this special issue point out.

But is there hope for us? And is there hope for those who have experienced the painful reality of this sin? Yes, indeed there is. And, as we might know, it is found alone in our Savior, Jesus Christ and in His sin-crushing, peace-making, love-producing cross.

The editorial by new editor Dewey Engelsma, “Delivering the Helpless,” is as significant as his story that precedes it, “Murder on a School Bus.” Read the latter first and weep, for yourself and for those we have hurt in such a way. And then read this from Engelsma’s editorial:

Where then for relief, for the bullied, the bully, and bystander alike? For that we must look to the one of which Job was merely a type. And it is that someone greater that not only provides a perfect example of a holy life, but himself gives courage to the redeemed bystander, so that they no longer stand idly by, but jump up to the defense of the bullied person, and show “mercy and compassion every man to his brother” (Zech 7:9).

Where else for relief but the cross that stands at Calvary? At the foot of that cross three parties come together in peace at last, the bullied, the humbled oppressor, and the repentant bystander, all clinging to the One crucified. For it is the bullied child herself, the reed that was not broken, and the flax that was not extinguished, who finally by the grace of their Savior experienced “judgment unto victory” (Matt. 12:20). It is the bully himself who is transformed by God into a blessed peacemaker, and who now is at peace with his God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

And for you, the young person who doubts they have the strength to stand up for the bullied person? You are right. When God’s people rely on their own strength, “even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall” (Isa. 40:30). You don’t have the strength. You will fail time and time again. Until you finally find your strength in the Son of God, the Son who not only stood up for you, but gave himself for you (Gal. 2:20). This is the one who empowers you courageously to defend the weak and powerless, so that when you have against all odds delivered “him that had none to help him,” your victory cry will be, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

In that light we can weep for joy, even as we seek the joy of those wounded spirits among us.

Shall we fight the sin and find the joy in Christ alone?


If you are not yet a subscriber, visit the Beacon Light’s subscription page where you will find information on how to become one. Now would be a good time to join the ranks of young (and old) Reformed readers.

The God who makes His people “incapable of having any other object except Himself.” – B. Pascal

Mind-on-fire-pascalThe Christian’s God does not merely consist of a God who is the Author of mathematical truths and the order of the elements. That is the notion of the heathen and the Epicureans. He isn’t merely a God who extends his provident care over life and property so that men are granted a happy span of years if they worship him. That is the attitude of the Jews.

But the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of the Christians, is a God of love and consolation. He is a God who fills the soul and heart of those he possesses. He is a God who makes them aware inwardly of their wretchedness while revealing his infinite mercy. He is a God who unites himself with them in the depths of their being. He is One who fills them with humility, joy, confidence, and love. Indeed, he is One who makes them incapable of having any other object except himself.

All those who seek God apart from Christ, and who go no further than the observations of nature, either find no light to satisfy them or find no way of knowing and serving God without a mediator, unless they are seduced by either atheism or deism. Both are equally abhorrent to Christian faith.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) in his Pensees (Christian apology, that is, defense of the Christian faith) as found in the anthology of his writings The Mind on Fire, part of the “Classics of Faith and Devotion” series published by Multnomah Press (1989), edited by James M. Houston, with an introduction by Os Guinness.

This quotation is taken from section XIV titled “The Transition from Human Knowledge to Knowing God” (pp.149-150), picking up where we left off last time. I plan to post such portions of the Pensees throughout this year.

What’s the Value in Reading Secular Classics? – L. Ryken

litclassicsAs we continue working our way slowly through Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we are up chapter 9, where he treats “secular classics” (pp.80-90).

After defining what he means by “secular” (“a non-Christian work that does not explicitly endorse a Christian view of reality”, p.80), and distinguishing various types of literature that fall into this category, Ryken seeks to answer the question, “Why should Christians read secular classics?” And he begins with this point:

“One of the values that secular classics offer us is implicit in my labels the literature of common humanity and the literature of clarification. The subject of literature is human experience. Literature overwhelmingly ‘delivers the goods’ in putting us in touch with bedrock human experience. Flannery O’Conner said that the writer ‘should never be ashamed of staring’ at life (Mystery and Manners). The same is true of readers. One of the functions of authors is ‘to stare, to look at the created world, and to lure the rest of us into a similar act of contemplation’ (Nathan A. Scott, Modern Literature and the Religious Frontier). As we stare at human experience, we come to understand it. Literature gives us knowledge in the form of right seeing, and this applies to secular literature too.”

But to that Ryken adds this value:

“Christian and secular classics both give us this form of knowledge, but the clarifying power of literature (its focus on human experience) assumes a larger proportion of the take-away value when we read secular literature. We do not have our souls nurtured in the same way that we do when we read Christian literature, so truthfulness to human experience and clarification of life loom larger as the things that occupy us.”

And finally, the author adds this point concerning the value of reading non-Christian works of literature:

“…Reading secular literature can help us form a bond with the human race, and sometimes this is even truer when we read the literature of unbelief. Literature highlights the human condition to which the Christian faith speaks. Often we feel this more strongly when we know that we are being addressed by an unbelieving author who gives testimony to a viewpoint of experience that we do not know directly.”

GuidetoClassics-LRykenWhat do you think of Ryken’s answer to that question? Is there value in reading secular literature? If so, how should the Christian read them in a distinctively Christian way?

Next time we will consider Ryken’s points about “how not to read a secular classic” and “how to read a secular classic.” His points will certainly help us further answer the question concerning whether we should read secular literature.

Warfare Prayer and Our Need of “All-Prayer”

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we gathered again for fruitful fellowship and discussion with our Sunday night discussion group. We are coming to the end of our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

This evening we focused on the final verses of this section, covering the apostle’s appeal to prayer as a fitting conclusion to our calling to stand while putting on the whole armor of God. Chapter 11 is titled “Warfare Prayer” and the authors give a detailed and profitable explanation of v.18 where Paul writes, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”

The following is part of that exposition:

…Why does Paul focus on prayer so much in this letter?

Clinton Arnold provides a simple, straightforward reason: ‘Prayer is the essence of spiritual warfare and the most important means by which believers are strengthened by God.’ There is a grammatical connection between verses 14 and 18: ‘stand…praying.’ The command in verse 14 is to stand. Putting on each piece of the armor explains how we stand in warfare. That is, we are to stand by putting on the armor. However, when we get to verse 18, we learn that we stand by putting on the armor, and we stand by praying.

Prayer is not a seventh piece of the armor but the means by which each piece is effectively employed. No doubt, Paul mentions prayer last for the sake of emphasis. The passage that begins with ‘be strong in the Lord’ (v.10) ends with ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication’ (v.18). Prayer is the critical component of our warfare, saturating each piece of our armor.

…We can only appropriate the armor through prayer. The armor of God does not consist of literal pieces we can put on; rather, it consists of spiritual truths that the Christian appropriates through prayer. Prayer imparts effectiveness to the armor and employs God’s strength, enabling us to stand [Kindle ed., location 1435-1453].

And the authors end with these fine words:

As trembling pilgrims know, the weapon ‘all-prayer’ is most needful. [The chapter began by referring to Christian’s need of “all-prayer” as he walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress.] The soldier of Christ employs prayer in applying the armor. Once we put the armor on with prayer, it continues to be a fundamental weapon in our warfare, as we, in reliance on the Spirit, constantly call to our heavenly headquarters for help, both for ourselves and our fellow soldiers [location 1541].

A Plea to Read – Reformed Perspective

…or, the story of a boy, a repairman, and the Truth This recent article (posted Feb.1, 2018) on the Reformed Perspective website follows well on the heels of my previous post about the importance of “doing theology.”

In it, Rev. William den Hollander makes a “plea to read” based on the point that we are all theologians. But our theology, he correctly points, is dependent on the sources we use. And that’s where reading comes in. Here’s the point he wants to get across:

So, if we’re all theologians then the important question is what kind of theologians are we going to be? You see, the problem with the atheist isn’t that he’s a theologian, it’s that his theology is coming from the wrong source. If we don’t study theology from the right sources – if we don’t allow our thoughts and words about God to be shaped by the right sources – then our theology is going to be shaped by the wrong sources. If we don’t consciously do theology – that is, if we don’t consciously train our minds in the knowledge of God – we’re going to end up basing our theology either on our own experiences and our own feelings or on whatever else we happen to be taking in.

Because we are reading. Maybe some of us – and I’m talking especially about my generation and younger – are reading more than ever. I’m thinking of social media. Don’t tell me you’re not a reader if you’re on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe those who only use Instagram, which focuses on pictures, can have a legitimate claim not to be readers, but the other social media users can’t. [1]

But the problem with only reading online, and not engaging in books, is that by its very nature the online world tends towards the superficial. Let’s think specifically of theology – of the study of God. If your thoughts are shaped by your reading of little quotes that someone decided to share, taken out of context, written by who knows who, or if all you read are the musings of someone who is just “feeling philosophical” (as the Facebook status often says) then you can’t expect anything but superficial knowledge.

That, I think, is the biggest danger with losing our interest in reading deeply and studying deeply the doctrines of God found in his Word. We end up with an overall superficiality in terms of our theology, what we know about God. Worse, we can rely more on our subjective experiences than the objective truth we find in God’s Word.

Important point, is it not? It applies to reading blogs like mine too, with its short quotations and references to what others say on a given subject. But I hope you know by now that the point of my blog is precisely to accomplish what den Hollander is pleading for – more and better (deeper) reading, especially when it comes to our theology – our study of (learning about) God!

So don’t just read; read longer and deeper, as well as wider. In the Word. And in the words of men who have studied the Word and reflected on it and want to teach us something more about our God. Be a theologian grounded in God’s own self-revelation.

To read the rest of den Hollander’s article, visit the RP link below.

Source: A PLEA TO READ – Reformed Perspective

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” ~ D. Bonhoeffer

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and then we shall be able to pray them. It does not depend, therefore, on whether the Psalms express adequately that which we feel at a given moment in our heart. If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. [That is, “Give us this day our daily bread.”] But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the second section, “Learning to Pray in Jesus’ Name.”

Theology That Manifests God’s “Compassionate Presence” – K. Kapic

Faithful worship must embrace not only God’s highness but also his compassionate presence. It must celebrate not only God’s might but also his mercy in the midst of human sin and misery. …Simply put, a faithful theologian is someone who – like the psalmist – knows that God’s glory is gracious and that his grace is glorious.

…Since it speaks about God, faithful theology must reflect God’s compassion and care for us and our neighbors. If we are to pursue theology faithfully, we must contemplate the value God places on those who are the most vulnerable and in need. We must be, in a word, anthroposensitive. Knowing and loving God leads us to love those he loves and to think and write theology accordingly.

…Knowing God gives the knower a concern for the vulnerable. To know God is to love God, which results in the transference of his interests and concerns to us (1 Jn). When God’s people lose this concern, God declares their theological talk and religious services empty, even offensive. This observation should sober all theologians, professional or lay: God judges our theology faithful or false by our attitudes and responses to those in need. Theology that lacks compassion and action is no theology at all.

God’s love has a particular bent toward those most in need: by extending ourselves toward those who are vulnerable we reflect and replicate the love that met us standing empty-handed before God. We are the poor, the wounded, the needy. When others look more poor, wounded and needy than we, we may perceive them as an inconvenience of threat. But if we neglect them in our talk about God – well, what more emphatic way is there to condemn ourselves? We are prone to lose sight of this in our theologizing, even with how much we talk about ourselves as sinner.

little-book-theologians-kapicTaken from chapter 8, “Suffering, Justice, and Knowing God” in Kelly Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012), pp.80-92.

What Are We Afraid Of? – M.Smethurst

TT-Jan-2018Today before our worship services I did some more reading in the new issue of Tabletalk (January 2018), which is built around the theme of “Fearing God.”

The first main feature article is by Matt Smethurst and is titled “What Are We Afraid Of?” The author does an excellent job of analyzing our human fears and pointing us to the one whom we ought truly to fear.

Tonight we pull a few choice sections from this article to give us some good, spiritually healthy food for thought, both negative and positive.

First, the negative:

The achievements of modern life—medicinal, technological, and otherwise—have given us an ever-increasing sense of control. Actually, more than a sense. We really do enjoy more control over more aspects of life than ever before in history. We’re so accustomed to a convenient, custom-designed, there’s-an-app-for-that quality of life that we’re more shocked when things are hard than when they’re easy.

Without realizing it, this increasing sense of control can begin to feel natural, intuitive, right. Not a gift, mind you—a right. And we start to believe that if we can simply manage our fears, they will never master us.

We are wrong, and we are miserable.

But it’s even worse. Addicted to what we can control, we extend the borders of our kingdom into realms we can’t control. We try to control circumstances, but trials rudely show up uninvited. We try to control people, but they don’t stick to our wonderful plan for their lives. We try to control our future, but He who sits in the heavens always seems to laugh (Ps. 2:4).

And now consider this positive instruction:

So what is the answer to our dilemma? How can we disentangle ourselves from the fears that won’t leave us alone? One answer is the doctrine of inerrancy. Yes, inerrancy. Simply put, if your Bible is not wholly true, then you should be terrified. Why? Because if your Bible is not wholly true, then you have no reason to trust that the One in charge of your life is both great and good.

I’m so grateful that my college campus minister, Dan Flynn, loved to emphasize these twin truths from Scripture. “God can and God cares,” he would say. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but in those simple words he was distinguishing biblical Christianity from every religion on the market. Protestant liberalism, for example, offers a God who is good but not great. He cares, but He can’t. He’s a nice buddy, an experienced life coach, even a world-class psychotherapist, but ultimately He’s just “the man upstairs.” Meanwhile, other religions such as Islam offer the opposite: a God who is great but not entirely good. A God who can, but perhaps doesn’t care.

But when we open our Bibles, something unprecedented happens. It’s stunning, really. We encounter a living Lord who is both great and good, sovereign and kind, who can and who cares.

If God were only good, I would go to bed frightened. How could I worship someone who, bless His heart, means well and is doing His best? But I would likewise go to bed frightened if He were only sovereign. What assurance is there in knowing He’s mighty if He’s not merciful? What comfort is there in a deity who doesn’t care about us?

Strikes home, doesn’t it? What are you and what am I afraid of? What we cannot control. And who has it all under control? Our sovereign, loving Lord. Isn’t it time to stop being afraid and to start fearing the Lord?