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

Dead = D.E.A.D. “What is deader than dead?” – D.Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I am currently reading is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been pleasantly impressed with its content and message. I am a couple of chapters into it and find it soundly biblical, edifying, and challenging.

I know I promised something more from Chapter 1, (“Knowing God and Man”), but today I want to quote from Chapter 3 (“, where Phillips treats the fallenness of man and his total sinful depravity.

Soundly and biblically, Phillips grounds this in Adam’s fall and the orthodox teaching on original sin (Adam’s representative headship, etc.). But the author does not use old cliches to describe our total depravity. His section on man’s spiritual deadness will demonstrate that.

Here is what Phillips has to say:

This is how Paul describes our spiritual condition: dead. The Greek word for ‘dead’ means ‘D-E-A-D.’ It doesn’t carry any special, technical, secret nuance detectable only by professional lexicographers. It is used many times – in the NT of sleep-diver Eutychus after his fatal plunge from the third story (Acts 20:9), or in the Greek translation of the narrative about Sisera, after Jael nailed his head to the ground (Judg.4:22)

What do these all have in common?

They’re all dead! As dead as Moses. As dead as King Tut. As dead as Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Augustine, and any other dead person you can name.

Do you really believe it? All Christians who say they believe the Bible have to say they believe this verse [Eph.2:1]. But do they? I wonder.

I thought I believed it, once, as a younger Christian. But I also thought that I was saved by exercising my free will, by my deciding to choose Christ, by bringing something that made God’s offer of salvation work, by coming up with the faith through which I was saved. Yet at the same time, I did have a vague notion that it was all of God… but then, there was my part.

A dead guy’s part.

I was confused. I think a lot of Christians are confused.

But Paul says dead, and dead is what he means. In fact, ask yourself this: If Paul had meant to paint man as spiritually dead and absolutely powerless to help himself or move himself toward God in any way – what stronger word could he have chosen? What is deader than dead?

Isn’t that a powerful – and humbling – description of all of us? Have we forgotten this? It is time we remember. And then listen to this at the end of this chapter (part of Phillip’s “world-tilting” application):

We must deal with the fact: The Gospel is offensive to human pride. If what we preach as ‘Gospel’ is not offensive, we’re doing it wrong. An unoffensive Gospel is a false Gospel, a damning Gospel – because the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel that offends (1 Cor.1:18, 21, 23; 2:2; Gal.1:10; 5:11; 6:12,14).

Save

Toward a Christian View of Economics – Albert Mohler

biblical-economicsAs we start our next six-day work week today, there are many things on our minds. Probably a Christian view of economics is not among those things. We have schedules to keep, hours to fulfill, and, quite simply, jobs to get done. What benefit is a Christian view of economics going to do us?

But, as we know from experience as well as from what we have been taught, perspective makes all the difference in the world. Our world and life view shapes all we do and how we do it, including our daily work.

In the February issue of Tabletalk Dr. Al Mohler penned an article for the rubric “City on a Hill” titled “Toward a Christian View of Economics,” and I believe it is a good piece for us to consider as we start the week.

The principles he sets forth apply not only to corporate economics, but to personal economics as well. When you read these, check your own personal view of work, money, and stewardship with these points. How biblical is your economics?

He prefaces his article with these words:

Regrettably, many American Christians know little about economics. Furthermore, many Christians assume that the Bible has nothing at all to say about economics. But a biblical worldview actually has a great deal to teach us on economic matters. The meaning of work, the value of labor, and other economic issues are all part of the biblical worldview. Christians must allow the economic principles found in Scripture to shape our thinking. Here, then, are twelve theses for what a Christian understanding of economics must do.

And then he gives those 12 theses, the first 5 of which I give you here (find the other 7 at the Ligonier link below). Later in these theses, Mohler has some significant things to say about the family and how healthy families factor into good economics.

1. It must have God’s glory as its greatest aim.

For Christians, all economic theory begins with an aim to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). We have a transcendent economic authority.

2. It must respect human dignity.

No matter the belief system, those who work show God’s glory whether they know it or not. People may believe they are working for their own reasons, but they are actually working out of an impulse that was put into their hearts by the Creator for His glory.

3. It must respect private property and ownership.

Some economic systems treat the idea of private property as a problem. But Scripture never considers private property as a problem to be solved. Scripture’s view of private property implies that owning private property is the reward of someone’s labor and dominion. The eighth and tenth commandments teach us that we have no right to violate the financial rewards of the diligent.

4. It must take into full account the power of sin.

Taking the Bible’s teaching on the pervasive effects of sin into full account means that we expect bad things to happen in every economic system. A Christian economic understanding tries to ameliorate the effects of sin.

5. It must uphold and reward righteousness.

Every economic and government system comes with embedded incentives. An example of this is the American tax code, which incentivizes desired economic behaviors. Whether they work is an issue of endless political recalibration. However, in the Christian worldview, that recalibration must continue to uphold and reward righteousness.

Source: Toward a Christian View of Economics by Albert Mohler

The World-Tilting Gospel – D. Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I am currently reading is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011).

I believe this book was offered free last Fall and I grabbed it, not knowing what to expect. But I have been pleasantly impressed with its content and message. I am a couple of chapters into it and find it soundly biblical, edifying, and challenging.

Chapter 1, “Knowing God and Man,” (with a subtitle that asks “Which Comes First? What Difference Does It Make?”) immediately references John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, pointing out that the magisterial Reformer wrestled with these issues too. Calvin taught that we can look at it both ways: we cannot know God without knowing ourselves, and we cannot know ourselves without knowing God.

But, then, Phillips makes his own case, with a little humor:

It’s impossible to measure without a standard. Its impossible to apply a standard if we don’t know what we’re measuring. But which comes first?

Chronologically, self-awareness comes first, and indeed fills our whole conscious life. No healthy baby has to be persuaded to be self-concerned. Nor have I ever met an infant who would say, ‘You know, some nice, warm milk would be great…but it would glorify God more if I let Mom get some sleep.’ Babies don’t even rise to ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made,’ but rather, ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully wet.’

Yet while self-awareness comes first in time, surely the knowledge of God comes first in importance. Christian readers will grant that our concept of God affects how we see everything. The case I want to make is that our view of ourselves as we stand before God is inextricably interwoven with our view of God.

To which he adds, “Think it through with me.”

More on that next time, because Phillips has some great examples of how our (world)view of God affects how we see ourselves – and our relationship to God. We need to be introduced to Bud Goodheart, Lodowick Legup, and Misty Call.

I said, next time. These are some real (make-believe) characters! 🙂

 

Can Christians Benefit from Books by Nonbelievers? | Desiring God

CsLewis-readRecently, on a Desiring God’s “Ask Pastor John” (Piper) program, a Christian from Kalamazoo, MI asked a question about reading secular literature. Piper gave him an answer that I think is helpful.

Since this is a question that often comes up, especially for new Christians who feel they ought only to read Christian literature (and, certainly, that ought to be the priority throughout our lives), but also for mature believers, we post part of Piper’s answer here. You may either read or listen to the entire program at the link provided below.

If you have thoughts on this subject, feel free to leave a comment for the benefit of others.

Of course, the Bible gives crucial insight into these things that come from nowhere else, but the raw material of knowledge is gained, in large measure, from life experience, and then the Bible takes that common fund of human experience, of reality that we bring to the Bible, and shows how God relates to it and transforms it.

The New Testament assumes that we have not forgotten the lesson of the book of Proverbs that we should go to the ant — a little bug, the ant — consider her ways, and be wise (Proverbs 6:6). In other words, look at the world. Learn reality from the world. Learn something about hard work from the world, learn something about perseverance from the world. Grow your fund of reality experience of a thousand things that are in the world because, when the New Testament mentions those things, it assumes we have some experiential knowledge of them.

But here is the catch. Most of us live lives that are so small, narrow, constricted, and limited — we know so little about so many things — one of the ways, only one, but one of the ways that God has ordained for us to grow in our knowledge of many things, many experiences that we have no immediate experience of is through reading. This means that if we have a wide and deep knowledge of things through reading, as well as through life experience, then when the Bible speaks, for example, of the sorrow of losing ten children, we may have a greater understanding of what it is referring to — I am thinking of Job — if we walked through it ourselves, which most of us won’t. Hardly anybody loses ten children all at once. But we might read about it. We might read the various kinds of horrible things that people have walked through like that and deepen our grasp of the human spirit and the experience of what it is like to do that.

So, let me give you just a little glimpse of how this worked for the original Jonathan Edwards. He delivered a sermon about slavery to sin and what it is like to have Satan as a slave master. Now, he knows that Satan is the most wicked, crude, most fiendish master that ever was. And yet most people gladly walk in his service.

Now, how could Edwards feel this as he ought to? How could he know the reality of what it means to be ruled by Satan as he ought? How could he say it in a way that would help others know the reality? Well, Edwards had evidently done some reading about human sacrifice in the country of Guinea. And here is what it did for him. Here is what he says:

[Satan and his cohorts] do by you as I have heard they do in Guinea, where at their great feasts they eat men’s flesh. They set the poor ignorant child who knows nothing of the matter, to make a fire, and while it stoops down to blow the fire, one comes behind and strikes off his head, and then he is roasted by that same fire that he kindled, and made a feast of, and the skull is made use of as a cup, out of which they make merry with their liquor. Just so Satan, who has a mind to make merry with you.

That is pretty horrible, pretty powerful, pretty unforgettable. Edwards got that knowledge of evil from outside the Bible, and it informed biblical teaching about Satan’s horrible, fiendish, devastating, murderous rule over his people — all the while making them think they are having fun.

Source: Can Christians Benefit from Books by Nonbelievers? | Desiring God

In God We Trust – RFPA Blog

us-motto-in-godHere is another biblical and comforting perspective for us to take as we await the results of today’s election.

Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of the Doon (IA) PRC penned this post, which appeared today on the blog of the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

We quote from the middle of the post; find the rest at the RFPA link above or below.

What are we as Christians to think as we stand in line to vote, as we sit around the computer monitor awaiting the results, as we go about our callings in the next days and weeks?

Remember, Christ is King! In Psalm 2:6, after describing the raging of the heathen, God says, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” That King is the risen and exalted Lord Jesus who rules over all things, both great and small, upon the earth. And he does so for his Zion, his church.

Our confidence is that King Jesus rules today over the election. What determines the outcome of the election is not the candidates and their campaign staff, not the Democratic or Republican parties, not even the American people. The King of kings governs this country and this election, and he will be the one to determine sovereignly who will occupy the oval office for the next four years.

King Jesus will rule over this election guided by the eternal counsel of God. His determining of the next President will serve the grand purpose of God in leading all things to the goal of his glory in his second coming, the judgment of the ungodly, and the salvation of the church.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — In God We Trust

The Gospel Solution for Our Society – Rev.K. Koole

StandardBearerThe September 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer is now out, and in it Rev. K. Koole has an editorial addressing the need our current society has (and has always had!) for the true gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.

He speaks to the bitter enmity, division, and violence that are openly on display in our land, and speaks to the root problem and the only solution: man’s enmity against God and repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is how Rev. Koole addresses the problem:

One can talk about ‘loving the neighbor’ all one wants, loving even those who seem to be your enemy and returning good for evil, but for all that, one has not proposed the Biblical solution for ungodly man.  Such is not the solution that is going to resolve the enmity that permeates our society.

Why not?

Because the root of the problem in our society so filled with violence and division and with hatred and abuse of others is not the lack of love for the neighbor; rather it is rooted in our society’s hatred for God and for God’s good commandments

And when the news media begins to ask us what we think the problem is in our society and what’s the solution, before we start talking about people learning to love their neighbors in a more Christian way, we must point the questioners and reporters to God and our society’s relationship to almighty God.

We must remind those who interview us that we are living in a society that has turned its back on God, denying any truthfulness in Him, and that in a most public and arrogant way.  There is, they say, no God to whom we must answer.  So who cares one iota about His laws?

And where that spirit rules and becomes embedded into a nation’s laws, judgments will follow matter of course.

That’s the problem, the evil let loose in our society.  And our society is reaping a harvest of thorns.  When you go to war against God (and have no humility before Him), you will, matter of course, go to war against your fellow man.

So it is today.

And this is what he has to say about the only solution:

So, what is the solution?

Our answer:  as things stand now, as our society despises Jehovah God, there isn’t any!  At least not along the lines society is looking for, namely, men learning to love their neighbors as themselves and living in unity and peace.  There is only one solution in the end, namely, repentance from the sins of despising the things of God, and turning in faith in Christ Jesus.  Otherwise, all this call for love, and learning to live in love, is doomed to failure.  It’s nice talk, but it is not Biblical Christianity.

Our answer must be along those lines.

There is plenty of other good content in this issue as well. For information on subscribing to the “SB, visit the homepage linked above.

How to Read a Classic – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenHaving finished looking at chap.5 of Leland Ryken’s recent book (A Christian Guide to the Classics; Crossway, 2015), “How Not to Read a Classic,” we can go on to chap.6, where he gets at the positive side of the matter, “How to Read a Classic.”

In this sixth chapter Ryken explains the positive way also under six (6) headings:

  1. Good Practice #1: Read a classic with respect for the momentousness of what you are doing.
  2. Good Practice #2: Understand the nature of the reading situation.
  3. Good Practice #3: Apply what you know about literature generally.
  4. Good Practice #4: Maintain a keen eye for the obvious.
  5. Good Practice #5: Be aware that the classics did not escape the effects of the fall.
  6. Good Practice #6: Be yourself as a Christian reader.

Before looking at some of these points more closely, let’s hear what the author has to say in the “chapter summary” at the end:

As Christian readers of the classics, we need to exercise balance. We need to expect the best of classics (especially in their formal excellence and the writer’s skill in presenting life accurately), but we also need to be critical readers who assess the morality and truth claims of an author. We need to relish the simple appeal of a classic, while also being analytic in our attention to details and our assessment of a work’s viewpoint. We need to value both the form and content of a classic (pp.60-61).

Published in: on September 6, 2016 at 10:30 PM  Leave a Comment  

Don’t Read Only Christian Classics – L.Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenAs we continue to make our way through Leland Ryken’s recent publication A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we have moved into chapter 5, where Ryken begins to answer the question, How should we read the classics of literature?

In this chapter, “How Not to Read a Classic”, you will see that he answers this negatively first of all. He makes his point under six (6) headings, which we listed a few weeks ago. Today, let’s see what Ryken as to say under Bad Practice #5: Read only Christian classics:

The Christian classics naturally hold a very special place in the hearts of Christians – such a special place that it is understandable why some Christians want to limit their sojourns through the realms of gold to Christian classics. The counterpart of this devotion to Christian literature is to be suspicious of non-Christian literature and avoid reading it. But to read only Christian classics results in an unnecessarily confined literary life.

First, God’s common grace… enables non-Christian writers to express the true, the good, and the beautiful also [cf. my note at the end on this]. Much of the world’s greatest literature has been produced by non-Christians, and by virtue of being great, these works have much that can enrich a Christian reader’s life. To be cut off from this tradition is to be unjustifiably impoverished.

…The point at which a writer’s worldview enters the enterprise [of writing great literature which, first, carries a literary form and style “for a reader’s enjoyment,” and second, presents “human experience for our contemplation”] is the interpretation that a writer imposes on the presented material. As a result of this third task, interpretation, we can deduce ideas and ultimately a worldview from works of literature. Even when the interpretive angle is wrong, we can benefit from encountering the ideas of works authored by non-Christians. We expand our knowledge of the world and culture within which we live. We come to understand the non-Christian mind and life. We sharpen our own understanding and worldview as we interact with alien viewpoints of literature generally and hold the line against them (pp.49-50).

I agree with Ryken’s main point here, and find his comments about interacting with worldly worldviews in the last paragraph quite helpful.

But, we need not ground this justification for reading non-Christian classics (or secular literature generally) in a “common” grace of God. There is only one kind of grace according to the Bible – God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ (and that is not a minor, “picky” point).

What Ryken refers to in that second paragraph above is God’s providential gifts – gifts given to the unbelieving as well as to the believing; gifts to write and write well; gifts to understand and portray the creation and human life; even gifts to interpret life properly (to a limited degree, because natural man’s interpretation of life will always be marred by his depravity).

Knowing that the biblical writers read and interacted with the secular writers of their day (cf. Paul in Acts 17:16ff.) also helps us justify reading non-Christian literature.

Of course, we must be careful in this regard. The Reformed teaching on the antithesis (spiritual separation between the mind and things of the world and the mind and things of God) means the Christian does not fill his eyes and soul with the filth of the ungodly (and there is plenty of this available today that is “off limits” to the believer). But he certainly ought to be familiar with the classics produced by worldly men too.

There is plenty more that can be said on this subject, and perhaps we will have opportunity to say more as well. In the meantime, I welcome your input on these points as well.