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.

Working out of Love for God – J. Hamilton, Jr.

Work-Hamilton-2017On this Labor Day holiday in the U.S., we reference a new book published by Crossway this year titled  Work and Our Labor in the Lord by James M. Hamilton, Jr. (paper, 123 pp.).

Part of a new series, “Short Studies in Biblical Theology,” this title along with the others (so far on Jesus the Son of God, marriage, and the covenant) are designed “to serve as bite-sized  introductions to major subjects in biblical theology.”

I introduced this review book (still available!) a few months ago, and after reading a few more chapters last night with a view to the holiday today, I decided to post a nice section from chapter 3, where Hamilton treats work from the viewpoint of “Redemption,” that is, “Work Now That Christ Has Risen.”

Under the section “Work as an Expression of Love for God” the author gives these four (4) profitable summary points based on NT passages:

  1. Work to please God: the parable of the talents (Matt.25:14-30). In the parable of the talents Matthew presents Jesus commending initiative, diligence, and even savvy attempts to earn interest on one’s money (Matt.25:20-23, 27). He likewise discourages a slothful, fearful failure to be fruitful (25:26-30).

  2. Do all for God’s glory (1 Cor.10:31). First Corinthians 10:31 communicates Paul’s view that all things should be done for God’s glory. God created the world to fill it with his glory, and those who would make God’s character known should join him by pursuing his renown whether eating, drinking, or doing anything else.

  3. Do all in Christ’s name (Col.3:17). The name of Jesus is about the character and mission of Jesus. To work in the name of the Lord Jesus, then, is to work in a way that reflects his character and joins his mission. To  put the character of Jesus on display is to be transformed into the image of the invisible God (2 Cor.3:18; Col.1:15). This means that for Paul to speak of working in Christ’s name is another way for him to urge working for God’s glory.

  4. Work from your soul for the Lord (Col.3:23). In addition to working for God’s glory, Paul instructs the Colossians to work from the soul (ek psukes [my transliteration of the Greek]) for the Lord. This appears to mean that they should put all they are into their work rather than merely doing things to preserve appearances before men. Christians should employ their creative capacities and soul-deep energies as they seek to serve God in their work. With God’s glory as our aim, nothing less will suffice [pp.84-85].

So you see again that the Christian perspective on work – according to God’s Word, our only standard and guide also for our earthly labors – is fundamentally different from that of the world about us. May we so work, today and every day, according to God’s principles.

A Little Book for New (All) Theologians – K. Kapic

little-book-theologians-kapicA small and brief book I found in a local Thrift store recently is Kelly M. Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012).

I decided to put it into the seminary library, then took it home to read a bit in it this weekend. I read a couple of chapters and found it interesting and informative. Kapic is professor of theological studies at Covenant College (PCA) in Lookout Mountain, GA. The publisher gives this overview of the book on its website:

Whenever we read, think, hear or say anything about God, we are doing theology. Yet theology isn’t just a matter of what we think. It affects who we are.

In the tradition of Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, Kelly Kapic offers a concise introduction to the study of theology for newcomers to the field. He highlights the value and importance of theological study and explains its unique nature as a serious discipline.

Not only concerned with content and method, Kapic explores the skills, attitudes and spiritual practices needed by those who take up the discipline. This brief, clear and lively primer draws out the relevance of theology for Christian life, worship, mission, witness and more.

“Theology is about life,” writes Kapic. “It is not a conversation our souls can afford to avoid.”

Today I give you a few samples from the book for your profit. I see this book as useful not only to those new to theology but also to those who want to be reminded of the significant place theology ought to have in our lives even as mature Christians. Read on and then pick up some good theology to read!

Theological questions surround our lives, whether we know it or not. A wife and husband facing infertility inevitably struggle through deep theological questions, whether or not they want to voice them. College students working through issues of identity, culture, politics and ethics struggle – in one way or another – with theological convictions and how to live them. Our concepts about the divine inform our lives more deeply than most people can trace. Whether we view God as distant or near, as gracious or capricious, as concerned or apathetic, the conclusions we reach – whether the result of careful reflection or negligent assumptions – guide our lives.

Keep in mind that Kapic is talking generally about the role of theology in that paragraph. But he goes on to say,

Christians must care deeply about theology. If the true God is renewing our lives and calling us to worship him ‘in spirit and truth’ (Jn.4:24), then such worship includes our thoughts, words, affections and actions. Do we want to worship Yahweh or waste time and effort on a deity we have constructed in our own image? [p.16]

A little later he adds:

Theological reflection is a way of examining our praise, prayers, words and worship with the goal of making sure they conform to God alone. Every age has its own idols, its own distortions that twist and pervert how we view God, ourselves and the world. …We aim not to escape our cultures, however, but to recognize that God calls us to respond faithfully to him in our place and time, whatever our particular social and philosophical climate. We, not just our ancestors, are invited to know and love God – and thus to worship him. [p.18]

Perhaps we can return to more of Kapic’s thoughts in the future. For now, that’s it for this Monday morning.

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.”

Entertainment and Worship – July 2017 “Tabletalk”

The July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment,” and though I am just getting started with the articles in it, I have profited from what I have read so far about this complex and difficult subject.

In his editorial “Discerning Entertainment” Burk Parsons touches on the proper place of entertainment as well the dangers of it for the Christian:

Entertainment of all sorts can be a wonderful way to rest and recuperate from the busyness, noise, and struggles of life. Entertainment allows our imaginations to travel the world and explore the universe, to go on adventures with hobbits and knights in shining armor, to go back in time and experience history, and to better understand people and our culture. But we must always guard our eyes and our hearts. For we cannot even begin to understand all the ways that Hollywood has affected us. Entertainment affects our minds, our homes, our culture, and our churches. Consequently, we must be vigilant as we use discernment in how we enjoy entertainment—looking to the light of God’s Word to guide us and inform our consciences.

In Joe Thorn’s article linked here for the rubric “Pastor’s Perspective,” he addresses the danger of bringing entertainment into our worship of God.

Below is part of what he has to say about the current trends found in the church today and what our focus ought to be when we enter the Lord’s presence:

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at. Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

To read the rest, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Entertainment and Worship by Joe Thorn

I might also add that the daily devotionals this month are on the Reformed-biblical view of the law, or as the issue has it in its introduction to the devotions, “The Right Use of God’s Law.”

World-Tilting Gospel: God’s Grand Salvation Plan Accomplished by Christ

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsThe truth of God’s saving plan and its culmination in Christ makes us world-tilters because we now know where our rescue comes from. What did mankind contribute to this operation? What was our part?

We contributed:

  • The traitor
  • The corrupt politicians
  • The religious hypocrites
  • The lynch mob
  • The soldiers
  • The whips
  • The thorns
  • The cross
  • The nails
    …and, most especially…
  • The sins under the burden of which Christ groaned, suffered, bled and died

So we know that the world is wrong in looking for deliverance within its own corrupt and deceitful heart. We know that the world is wrong in whistling past the graveyard, kidding itself that sin is not a big issue to God. The world is equally wrong to deny God, or to seek Him within or in nature.

We know that God is transcendent and holy. And we know that He has launched one and only one rescue operation. We know that the plan was laid in eternity. And we know that it was executed by the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that He accomplished what we could not.

But too much of the church is wrong, too. Those parts of the church that sideline Christ’s saving work, His Gospel, this age-spanning rescue plan of God, are terribly wrong. …Eager to be accepted by the world, they offer the world what the world wants on the world’s terms with just a light sprinkling of God-dust.

Given that Christ and His cross are central to God, they must be central to the church of God as well. Given that God pivots everything on the person and work of Christ, the church of Christ should do the same in its preaching, thinking, worship, and practice.

To put it bluntly: If we think we have something better to offer, then we think we know something God doesn’t know.

Taken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 6, “God’s Rescue Operation Executed” (Kindle version), which I read tonight. I simply had to share this end-of-chapter quote with you on this Sunday night.

Are we truly thankful for this world-tilting gospel of our sovereign God?! Let it be plain in all we say and do as those redeemed by the Lamb’s precious blood.

World-tilting Truth: God is Wise

If Creation is an act of unimaginable power, it is no less a work of immense wisdom. Every vast and staggeringly complex movement issues from His mind. He needs no manual, counsel, or outside authority.

…When you watch those marvelous nature specials [on TV or the Internet], you are beholding an exhibition of God’s wisdom. Though the narrator blathers on about ‘Mother Nature,’ you should know better. These are the works of God’s hands, and He made them all in wisdom (Ps.104:24).

….God has both an infinite array of facts at His command, and infinite wisdom concerning the meaning, significance, and weight of all those facts in every possible arrangement. He has that knowledge, because He created them and rules over them.

All of this is also a world-tilting truth. The current mind-set makes much of the supposed meaninglessness of ‘life, the universe, and all that.’ The common subtext of many media’s storylines is that life is meaningless in itself; that we must choose our meaning and define ourselves. But history itself has no aim, meaning, or purpose.

This truth [that God is wise and possesses perfect wisdom] demolishes that notion, insisting that we have neither the right nor ability to redefine the universe, since it is a created universe, and since every fact has a value assigned to it by the Creator. Including us. We have neither the right nor ability to assign meaning to the universe. Its Author is the one who assigns definition and meaning. At best, we discover and uncover that meaning.

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsTaken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 4 “The God Who Plans” (Kindle version).

In this chapter, Phillips is preparing the way to introduce God’s amazing salvation plan for lost sinners fallen in Adam (see my previous post on this book). He discusses three of God’s attributes – holiness, love, and wisdom – to explain how they come together in His sovereign purpose to save sinners – that’s chapter 5 – next time! The above quote is from the section where he treats the wisdom of God, especially as it relates to His work of creation.

 

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