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.

The Christian Apologetic toward New Atheism and Its Attack on God

PassionateIntellectbookScientific atheists often challenge Christians to prove the existence of God, as if Christians understand God to be an object within the world – such as an additional moon orbiting the planet Mars, a new species of newt or an invisible unicorn. Perhaps they think Christians imagine God to be like an Olympian deity, sitting on the top of Mount Olympus, waiting patiently to be discovered. Of course, for the Christian, God is not an ‘entity’ alongside other entities in the world but rather the source, ground and explanation of all that exists. God is the creator of all things, not a member of this class of things.

…What a word means needs to be determined by the way it is used. Dawkins [Richard, the avowed “new” atheist and ardent opponent of the Christian faith] understands one thing by the word God, and I understand something quite different. The new atheism conducts its polemic against a notion of God that bears little resemblance to that of Christianity. Christians will not find their faith shaken by evidence or arguments that make assumptions they do not share and consider to be completely wrong. The atheist ‘critique’ of Christianity at this point amounts to little more than a circular argument concerning the internal consistence of atheism, rather than a considered engagement with what Christians believe about God.

Taken from Chapter 7, “The Natural Sciences” pp.110-11), in Alister McGrath’s book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010), a book I picked for review a few years ago and have picked up again to continue reading.

How shall we respond to the sins of our land? – Prof. B. Gritters

SB-Jan15-2018-coverWe live in very wicked lands. Of course, we must not partake of their evils or we will perish with them. But how do we respond to these evils? Are we aware of the danger of a self-righteous anger very similar to the one we criticize in others? How should I, as a Christian respond?

I will begin by expressing to God sorrow for the sins of the nation of which I am a part. …I am a citizen of this land and thus guilty of her sins by corporate responsibility. We start there, humbling ourselves before God and confessing our nation’s sins. If righteous Daniel in Babylonian captivity could confess as his own the sins of Israel, of which he had no active and conscious part (Dan.9 is one of the most moving confessions in all of Scripture), citizens of a country do well to confess their guilt for the country’s sins.

Then, we will ask what active part we have played in the sins of the nation. In what do we participate? In its sexual sin? On television, in video games, on the Internet, in books? In what way do we approve of or find pleasure in its violence? What part of the lie do we willingly partake in by judging rashly, or believing every word we hear in the politically conservative news? Does our use of social media always comport with the call to speak the truth in love?

And what of our own sinful nature? Full of corruption of every sort, with the potential of sin of every kind, burning with lusts no different than those of any unbeliever, we confess that we are evil, born in sin. We are, in our nature, so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of performing any good and inclined to all wickedness. We confess this with sincerity, and deepest humility and shame.

We see the flood ready to overwhelm us.

By faith, though, we do not despair. Certainly, we do not look with self-righteous pride at everyone else, but with shame at our own sins and sinfulness. And then we flee from this destructive flood to Jesus Christ and to His church, the ‘ark’ where is safety.

Quoted from the closing portion of the editorial of Prof. B. Gritters in the January 15, 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer. The title of this article is “What has happened to the United States?” Look for more on this in the issues to come (Feb.1 and Feb.15).

Abortion: The Infamous Decision, the Prolonged Sin, and the Steadfast Christian

Psalm139-14Today marks the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Woe v. Wade, the infamous ruling legalizing abortion on demand in our country (Jan.22, 1973). It is a day that most Christians and most Christian churches (except the most liberal) rue. On that date our state sanctioned the murder of the unborn, contrary to the law of God and its testimony in the conscience of the human soul (cf. Romans 1:18ff.).

Since that day Christians have consistently protested that decision and in opposition proclaimed a pro-life message. While the specific grounds for that pro-life message may vary among Christians, they are united in their conviction that life is the gift of God alone and that death too is in His hands, so that the senseless taking of the life of the unborn is murder, plain and simple. Abortion is man taking to himself the prerogative of God, bringing on himself the judgment of the very One he pretends to usurp.

Today our pro-life president Donald Trump declared this to be National Sanctity of Human Life Day. While we can easily criticize such declarations, we ought at least recognize the attempt to set things right in terms of life and death with regard to the unborn and many others whom our society judges unfit or unworthy of life. Here is part of what President Trump said today:

Reverence for every human life, one of the values for which our Founding Fathers fought, defines the character of our Nation. Today, it moves us to promote the health of pregnant mothers and their unborn children. It animates our concern for single moms; the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled; and orphan and foster children. It compels us to address the opioid epidemic and to bring aid to those who struggle with mental illness. It gives us the courage to stand up for the weak and the powerless. And it dispels the notion that our worth depends on the extent to which we are planned for or wanted.

Science continues to support and build the case for life. Medical technologies allow us to see images of the unborn children moving their newly formed fingers and toes, yawning, and even smiling. Those images present us with irrefutable evidence that babies are growing within their mothers’ wombs — precious, unique lives, each deserving a future filled with promise and hope. We can also now operate on babies in utero to stave off life-threatening diseases. These important medical advances give us an even greater appreciation for the humanity of the unborn.

Today, citizens throughout our great country are working for the cause of life and fighting for the unborn, driven by love and supported by both science and philosophy. These compassionate Americans are volunteers who assist women through difficult pregnancies, facilitate adoptions, and offer hope to those considering or recovering from abortions. They are medical providers who, often at the risk of their livelihood, conscientiously refuse to participate in abortions. And they are legislators who support health and safety standards, informed consent, parental notification, and bans on late-term abortions, when babies can feel pain. These undeterred warriors, many of whom travel to Washington, D.C., every year for the March for Life, are changing hearts and saving lives through their passionate defense of and loving care for all human lives. Thankfully, the number of abortions, which has been in steady decline since 1980, is now at a historic low. Though the fight to protect life is not yet over, we commit to advocating each day for all who cannot speak for themselves.

But, of course, as Reformed Christians we go deeper and further in our evaluation of abortion. In a Standard Bearer article penned in August of 1994, 21 years after Woe v. Wade, Prof. David Engelsma wrote an editorial with the title “Some Other Thoughts on Abortion.” Here is part of what he had to say in his important message on this subject:

From this world, the Reformed believer is called to separate himself by the Word of God. Abortion is an urgent reminder. For there is divine wrath upon this wickedness. An impenitent Justice Harry Blackmun, main framer of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, lauded upon his recent retirement as a great jurist, will shortly stand in judgment before the Judge of all the earth. The sentence will be the everlasting death due a man who has done evil, not only in decreeing the death of scores of millions of boys and girls but also in betraying his office as minister of God, charged to punish evildoers and protect well-doers.

Wrath falls upon the nation. Every storm, earthquake, and natural disaster; all the social and economic trouble; and, particularly, the increasing violence are God’s punishments of the nation for the national sin of abortion, as for its other transgressions. In the end, the nation will perish, perhaps in a judgment of God in history, certainly in the Day of Christ.

Abortion makes loud to the Reformed ear the call of God in the gospel, Come out, my people, and be separate, “that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). This call the Reformed believer obeys, not by any physical removal to a remote place or to another country, certainly not by any revolutionary behavior, but by living antithetically in the power of the Holy Spirit. He refuses to amuse himself with the world’s pornography; he keeps himself from the television programs, movies, and books that entertain by means of violence; he will not allow the state’s schools to teach his children the goodness of adultery, the lawfulness of abortion, and the necessity of the deifying of man; he sees to it that his thinking on sex, marriage, children, state, justice, killing, and bearing (rather than escaping) responsibility is formed exclusively by Holy Scripture; and he most assuredly leaves, indeed, flees, the church that is unable unequivocally to condemn abortion, as well as the sexual unchastity for which abortion is the world’s panacea.

In this separation is nothing of pride. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures . . . .” (Titus 3:3). Resentment of our own children, when they come, is heart-abortion. Reformed Christians who now vehemently (and rightly) condemn abortion will soon be put to the test concerning the genuineness of their abhorrence of the destruction of the unborn. When the pill is marketed in North America that enables a woman to destroy the unborn child soon after conception in the privacy of her bathroom, without any trip to an abortion clinic, the Reformed young woman who has sinned and is sorry, but dreads being found out, and the Reformed couple who have convinced themselves that they cannot bear the responsibility of yet another child will be tested whether their hatred of abortion was rooted in the love of God.

Grace rescues us from this present, evil, aborting, heaven-storming, perishing world.

Only grace.

In its own way, abortion brings home to us Reformed Christians the reality of the grace of God to us and our children.

The world butchers its own offspring.

Reformed believers obediently have children in marriage; thankfully receive them; gladly rear them; and joyfully fellowship with them in the family.

The grace of God in the covenant with believers and their children makes the difference.

This is the difference. Either parents bury their children in the blood of Christ in baptism, or they choke them in their own and their mother’s blood in abortion.

We have it so good in the covenant. The covenant means life for us and for our sons and daughters.

We must be thankful.

Outside the covenant, it is horrible: grisly death for unbelievers and their children.

Well may we pray the petition of Psalm 74:20: “Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.”

In humility, may we all repent of our murderous sins and seek refuge in that sin-removing, guilt-covering, and wrath-sheltering grace of God.

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.”