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

Confidence in God and Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”

Everything that could go wrong did. The plague had come to his city. Their infant daughter died within a few short months of her birth. He had felt the pain of betrayal. He was still reeling from the throes of a war, with both sides feeling as if he had somehow let them down. He had started a movement that was nearly drowning him. This was one of the most difficult years of his life. The year was 1527, and Martin Luther wondered if he could survive it.

Time-for-confidence-nichols-2016-2So begins Stephen J. Nichols in the second chapter of his new book,  A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society (Reformation Trust, 2016). The title of this second chapter is “Confidence in God.”

In that light, Nichols asks and answers the question, What was Luther’s response to these dark days he was experiencing? Quite simply, he trusted in God! How did he demonstrate this trust? By writing one of the great hymns of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

As Nichols goes on to say,

Luther knew the reality of human limitations. He was nearly omnicompetent, a driven individual. He was a larger-than-life personality. Yet, he knew his own limitations. In 1527, as stormy events surrounded him, he knew he needed to look beyond himself, past his own strength and ability. He knew that God alone is our ‘mighty fortress,’ our ‘bulwark never failing.’ He knew how futile it would be to trust in our own strength.

To which the author adds this wonderful summary of Luther’s theology tucked away in that grand hymn:

The point of this entire book is captured in this one hymn from Martin Luther. Luther based the hymn on Psalm 46, which thunders, ‘The God of Jacob is our fortress.’ That phrase is not abstract; it is richly textured. This is the God of Jacob. We know of the foibles of Jacob. We also know of God’s tender and never-ending care of Jacob. This is the God who sees, hears, knows and cares. This is not a far-off, aloof God. This God who cared for Jacob is our fortress. This phrase from Psalm 46 prompted Luther to think of all the benefits that belong to us.

From there, Nichols takes each line from that majestic song (“Who is on our side? “The Man of God’s own choosing.” What abides? God’s Word abideth still.” And the last line; “His kingdom is forever.”), ending with these thoughts:

That is the resounding truth that anchored Luther in the storms of 1527. It is God. It is His Son. It is His Word. It is His Spirit. It is His kingdom. This is what matters [pp.21-23].

The question for us is, Does it matter for us too, in these days? And will it matter in those times of difficulty and persecution that are sure to come? Ponder the truths of Psalm 46 and have confidence in God, as Luther did. The God of Jacob is with us and for us.

The Presbyterian Philosopher, Gordon H. Clark (2)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today we return to a brief look at the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

Last time we looked at some of the introductory material in this book; this time we look at some of the content of chapter 1 – “The Presbyterian Heritage of Gordon Clark.” Douma opens the chapter with this:

Gordon Haddon Clark (1902 – 1985) was born into the Christian tradition of Old School Presbyterianism. Known for requiring ministers to subscribe to the system of Protestant Christian doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), Old School Presbyterianism shaped Clark’s understanding of the world. In his career as a theologian and a Christian philosopher, Clark defended the Confession and sought to keep his own philosophical views in line with its teachings. In fact, it could be said that he was a philosopher of the Westminster Confession, truly a Presbyterian philosopher [p.1].

Then after relating the solid Presbyterian background of his parents and their influence on him (his father, David Scott Clark, was a Presbyterian pastor), Douma writes,

Gordon Clark embraced his Presbyterian heritage. When he was a child his father taught him the Westminster Shorter Catechism – a question and answer summary of the basic beliefs of the Presbyterian church. He also followed his father’s interest in theology by reading from the many books in their home library [I hope you make special note of this fact.]. Local neighborhood children associated Clark so strongly with the church, that they gave him the nickname ‘Clerg,’ a dig at his father’s status as a member of the clergy. Looking back on his Presbyterian heritage later in life, Clark recalled:

Well, I’ve known about Scottish Presbyterianism from both sides of my family; I guess you call it a heritage. So many of us are blindly proud of our heritage without knowing what it is. But in my experience I think heritage is like a bedtime story of grandpa’s reminiscence. It’s really kind of a naive thing like the Jews remembering the wilderness and the walls of Jericho. It’s to give you a respect for courage as well as a feeling of worth as a descendant of Abraham [pp.7-8].

As I continue to make my way through this important biography, I am learning much about Clark the person as well as about Clark “the Presbyterian philosopher.”

Spiritual Warfare: The Gospel of Peace Footwear

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we will gather again for fruitful fellowship and discussion with our Sunday night discussion group. We are continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 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.

We are currently treating the chapters that explain the armor of God as laid out in Eph.6:13-17:

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Tonight we looked at the third part of the armor – ” [having] your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v.15). In the book this is explained in chapter 7 – “The Gospel of Peace Footwear.”

The authors take the position that this “preparation” is to be understood both offensively and defensively. That is, this preparation is first of all a “readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace” to sinners taken captive by Satan. This is, in part, how they explain this idea:

…God’s people today must… [go] forth into enemy quarters shod with the combat boots of the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord.Wherever we go and at every opportunity God grants, we must seek to assault Satan’s kingdom, telling men and women who are under his power (Eph.2:2) that spiritual freedom is found in Jesus [p.61].

I believe that is an important element of this weapon, one perhaps we do not emphasize sufficiently.

But secondly, according to the authors this preparation is also a defensive weapon in our spiritual battles. This is how they explain this aspect:

Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev.12:10) and is relentless in his attacks on us. He lives to make our lives miserable. How do we stand against such a fearsome foe? The answer is the gospel of peace. Just as the gospel is a powerful means for advancing God’s truth and delivering many from Satan’s clutches, it is also a powerful means for stabilizing us as believers, helping us to stand against his attacks. The gospel of peace, like the shoes of the Roman soldier, gives us firm footing in life and the ability to stand in the spiritual war [pp.61-62].

And they add this paragraph to show how this is so from a practical point of view:

It works practically like this: When the devil seeks to plague our consciences with guilt after we have confessed sin, we remember what the gospel of peace tells us: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ ( 1 John 1:9). When the devil condemns us, we are to bring to mind and soak our hearts deep in the comprehensive truths of the gospel and remember that God has no dispute with us because of Christ (Rom.8:33). When the devil attacks our assurance, we must remember that we are in an unbreakable union with the living God through Jesus and that nothing will be able to ‘separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39). When the devil tempts us to sin, we must push back and resist his enticements, recalling our deliverance from such things and our newness in Jesus (2 Cor.5:17.) [p.62].

Which leads them to end with these thoughts about how important this gospel of peace is for us:

As Christians, we must live day-by-day in the gospel. That is, we must let its truths regularly pervade and control the citadel of our souls. God’s great grace and love for us in Jesus must be our firm foundation throughout our entire lives [p.62].

So then, how well are putting on and using this gospel of peace footwear? Today gives us another opportunity to receive that gospel of peace and be equipped for the battles. May God give us grace so to do.

Early March Madness for PRC Ministers and Seminary Students

Our “Friday Fun” item for this week comes a day late. But it is no less fun on Saturday morning. 🙂

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As you know, March in the U.S. is known as “March madness” time, because of all the basketball tournaments – both at the high school level and at the college level.

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Last week Saturday (March 4) saw a very special version of “March madness,” as down in Dyer, IN (Hoosier-land!) a group of PRC ministers from that area and a group of PRC Seminary students  (“Sons of the Prophets”, I have now learned) from up here combined to form a team to play against the basketball teams of Heritage Christian High School (the Defenders!). The big game was a fundraising event put on by the young people of Cornerstone PRC.

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Thanks to some pictures taken by Prof. R. Dykstra, who was in the area to preach last Sunday, we can show you some highlights.

DSC_0013Ryan VO and Ted A at the scorer’s table. Do you have a tape of the game?

After seeing his album of pictures and hearing who did the announcing (Ted Andringa) and listening to the stories of the contest at Seminary coffeetimes this week, I wish I had been there. Sounds like a great time was had by all – and for a good cause!

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Rev. G. Eriks shooting a big freethrow with the game on the line.

Who won the game? Well, just check out that last picture here.

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The scoreboard doesn’t lie – our students contributed to the one-point victory! Perhaps it was Coach “R” and his smart maneuvers throughout the game (That would be Sem student Stephan Regnerus). Go “Sons of the Prophets”! Are there any other challengers out there?!

In any case, thankful to report that there were no serious injuries. But I can imagine there were some mighty sore muscles Sunday morning. 🙂

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Published in: on March 11, 2017 at 8:33 AM  Comments (2)  

It Happened Today – SPCK, March 8, 1698

One of my daily emails is “It Happened Today,” a summary of notable events in church history for each day produced by the Christian History Institute (which also produces Christian History Magazine). Each post contains a featured event followed by other significant events for that date.

Yesterday’s (March 8) featured SPCK – an acronym for an important publisher of Christian literature that goes back to the 17th century. In the Seminary library we have a number of books published by this society. I did not fully know its origin and background until yesterday. As an aside but related, if you want a list of SPCK books available online (free), check out this Internet Archive section.

For our history post on this Thursday, this will be our focus – SPCK – the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, a company still in the Christian publishing business. Here is the information the CHI posted:

Wednesday, March 8 – Daily Story

The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

Thomas Bray

THE SOCIETY for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) is the third oldest publishing house in England. Only the universities of Oxford and Cambridge have published longer. It came into existence on this day, 8 March 1698.

The bishop of London had chosen Thomas Bray, an Anglican priest with a reputation for character and drive, to investigate religious conditions in the American colony of Maryland. Unable to sail for America at once, Bray used the delay to recruit young clergymen to travel with him as missionaries. Because these young men tended to be very poor, they could not afford the libraries they would need to continue their studies and meet the needs of their people with sound knowledge. Books were needed.

The founders of the SPCK believed their primary purpose was to “counteract the growth of vice and immorality,” which they ascribed to “gross ignorance of the principles of the Christian religion.” With the help of many contributors, and the donation of £500 of his own money, Thomas Bray led the SPCK in acquiring books, and was able to donate small libraries of sixty titles for the use of churchmen.

Bray sailed to Maryland, establishing thirty-nine libraries there and in other colonies. The library he established at Annapolis was the largest collection of books at the time in Britain’s American holdings, and was the first lending library in its colonies. Bray quickly realized, however, that he was more useful in England than in America. He sailed back after only ten weeks in the New World.

From that small beginning, the SPCK provided the first printing presses for India, published religious books, pamphlets, and tracts for farmers, sailors, prisoners, military men and other groups, and continued its work of establishing Christian libraries both at home and abroad.

The society also backed schools for the poor in Britain, sent the first printed books to Australia, helped produce the first New Testament in the Tamil language of India, and engaged in many other projects, almost all involving literature or literacy in some form.

To sign up to receive these daily posts along with a list of important church history events, visit the link below.

Source: It Happened Today | Christian History Institute

Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 10:42 PM  Leave a Comment  

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

Teaching Our Children About Work – Rev. A. denHartog

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (March 1, 2017) is once again filled with interesting, instructive, and challenging articles. And one of them provides a good follow up to yesterday’s post about a new book on the Bible’s teaching about work.

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As you will see from the table of contents on the cover, under the rubric “When Thou Sittest in Thine House” (taken from the title of a devotional work on the Christian family by Abraham Kuyper), Rev. Arie denHartog writes a second installment on “Teaching Our Covenant Children about Work.” In it he touches on a number of aspects that this instruction ought to take, from the example of our own work as parents to giving our children responsibilities and chores to do in the home to helping them do their homework well.

I also appreciated the emphasis in this section of his article:

Training in the home must encourage our children to develop their God-given skills and talents in the days of their youth. This will enrich the lives of our children and also prepare them for their broader calling in life in the church and in Christian society. A significant example of this is training our children in musical skills, perhaps in playing a musical instrument or developing the gift of singing. What a blessing it is for the Christian home when children have been trained to accompany and support singing at the piano or organ or with other musical instrument! Such training will manifest the Christian joy of the home mentioned by Paul in Colossians 3: 16. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

And, as you might guess, I also support the encouragement about reading in this paragraph:

Foundational to such a broader perspective on life is reading. Parents do well for their children’s future when they instill an eager interest in reading at a young age. This too, of course, must always have spiritual perspective. Guiding our children to read good books including directly Christian books, is so very important. In most cases the leaders in the church among us must be well read in sound doctrinal books. That begins in our homes. We must train the future church leaders in our covenant homes. Theological study and discussion helps greatly to accomplish this purpose.

Are you and I teaching our children (and grandchildren) about work in these ways?

New Title: Work and Our Labor in the Lord

Work-Hamilton-2017One of the recent Crossway publications sent to me for review is Work and Our Labor in the Lord by James M. Hamilton, Jr. (2017, 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 and on marriage) are designed “to serve as bite-sized  introductions to major subjects in biblical theology.”

The publisher gives this as a brief description:

About Work and Our Labor in the Lord

“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.”
—Psalm 128:2

Work has been a part of God’s good creation since before the fall—created to reflect his image and glory to the world. What are we to make of this when work today is all too often characterized by unwanted toil, pain, and futility? In this book, pastor, professor, and biblical scholar James Hamilton explores how work fits into the big story of the Bible, revealing the glory that God intended when he gave man work to do, the ruin that came as a result of the fall, and the redemption yet to come, offering hope for flourishing in the midst of fallen futility.

The author, professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church, covers the following topics according to the table of contents:

Introduction

  1. Creation: Work in the Very Good Garden
  2. Work after the Fall: Fallen, Futile, Flourishing
  3. Redemption: Work Now That Christ Has Risen
  4. Restoration: Work in the New Heavens and the New Earth

In his “Introduction” Hamilton states the following:

How did the biblical authors view work? To answer this question we need to understand the place of work in biblical theology. Biblical theology, in my view, is the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. To attempt to understand the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors is to attempt to understand their worldview. …Understanding the worldview of the biblical authors requires the ability to see the ways they intended their statements to be read against a wider understanding of the history of redemption….

Because this is a biblical theological study of the topic of work, the structure of the canon will play a less explicit role. For our purposes here, the following questions will help us to seek the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors on the topic of work:

  • What part did work play in the big story of the world through which the biblical authors interpreted their lives?
  • What propositional truths about work did they understand to flow out of and back into that big story?
  • Do the biblical authors understand work to symbolize something beyond mere labor? [11-12]

If this is a book you would be interested in reading and reviewing for the Standard Bearer, let me know. Otherwise, I will reference it here a few times this year.

Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (1)

listen-up-ashWe have now finished going through the seven main points of Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January and February of this year).

But, as we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well. So, it is worth our time to face this as well, since we have all heard at one time or another bad sermons.

At the outset of this section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” I believe this is a fair and important way to distinguish “bad sermons.” And these distinctions will also properly help us know what our responsibility is in each case.

We begin where Ash does – with “dull” sermons. This is a sermon “that leaves a lot to be desired in its style or presentation,” to which he adds some more detail. But then he also goes on to say,

Let us suppose, however, that this dull sermon is biblically faithful and accurate, and delivered by a preacher who believes the truth, has prepared as best he knows how, and that the sermon is surrounded both by his prayers and yours. If this is so, we ought to do all we can to listen with the aim of profiting by it (p.25).

The author does grant that there is a place here for encouraging the preacher to “get help with his presentational skills” and to pray for improvement – and express appreciation when there is some.

But what I like is the fact that he puts the onus on us listeners to listen better in these circumstances. Listen up to this counsel from Ash:

But above all, we must search our own hearts and come to the sermon praying for God’s help to listen as attentively as our bodies will let us…. My advice is not to worry that quite a bit of the sermon may go over our heads or bypass our consciousness, but to ask God that some part of it may stick and be turned in us to repentance and faith.

Isn’t that a proper, spiritual response to “dull” sermons? That’s a sign of maturity on our part, a mark of being willing to submit to the authority of the Word of God even when it comes through weak means (which it always does).

In addition, Ash has some practical advice:

Try taking some notes, or at least having paper and pen with you, with the aim of jotting down a verse or truth that you can take home and respond to. Try going with a friend and agreeing together not to spend lunch lamenting the preacher’s inadequacies, but rather, sharing positive Bible truths that you have learned or been reminded of, and praying together for God’s help in putting them into practice (p.25).

Since we are accustomed to worshiping and hearing the Word with our spouses and families, this should not be difficult to carry out. Instead of “roast preacher” for Sunday dinner, let’s have “discerning, delightful, and delicious milk and meat” – the milk and meat of our Savior’s gospel (look up Hebrews 5:12-14 and 1 Peter 2:2).