Brief thoughts on Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (vol 1)

Reformed Dogmatics

You may recall that my big reading project (aside from school) is to reengaging with time-tested works of theology. The first work I chose was Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, of which, after five weeks, I’ve made it through the first volume. (You can see my reading plan here.) Reformed Dogmatics is a fairly massive undertaking, and at my current (fairly aggressive) pace, I should be completing it around the end of May, 2015.

Today, I wanted to share a few of the things I most appreciated in the first volume—and truth be told, narrowing it down was no easy task. I rarely went more than a few paragraphs without highlighting something that was fascinating to me, or finding a quote I needed to interact with, or something that challenged my assumptions (even if simply in his approach to those whose ideas he was challenging). Here are three items in particular that stick out:

1. The background really does matter. Believe it or not, one of the most beneficial parts of the first volume was the editor’s introduction. There, readers are treated to not just an overview of the key points of the book, but a look into the climate that made Bavinck… well, Bavinck. The influence of Abraham Kuyper, the historical backdrop of the rise of 19th century liberalism… all of this is foundational for a fair reading of Reformed Dogmatics.

2. The philosophical discussions are fascinating. This, for me, was perhaps the most enjoyable part of volume one. As Bavinck delved into the history of dogmatics and how others have attempted to articulate the Christian faith—including his very generous assessments of Schleiermacher, Kant, and others—but also how he recognizes the place of philosophy in regard to the development of theology:

Still, theology is not in need of a specific philosophy. It is not per se hostile to any philosophical system and does not, a priori and without criticism, give priority to the philosophy of Plato or of Kant, or vice versa. But it brings along its own criteria, tests all philosophy by them, and takes over what it deems true and useful. (609)

This is so helpful to keep in mind, especially when reading frequent accusations of forcing Greek philosophy onto the Scriptures by post-evangelicals. Theology is not subject to philosophy—philosophy, when viewed rightly, is subject to theology. When we get this confused, the results are disastrous, for it is how we risk losing our grip on the gospel.

3. New problems aren’t that new. The final thing that’s helpful in reading the book is the reminder that, once again, the challenges we face in the church are not new. Heresy doesn’t change, it only gets a cooler haircut.

Thus, the temptations toward mere pietism, to outward morality without inward transformation, to the allegorizing and intellectualizing1 of the Christian faith, even accusations of circular reasoning have long been present. And just as these issues have long been present, so to have their responses.

Bavinck’s response to accusations of circular reasoning regarding the belief in Scripture as the Word of God is particularly helpful. The Spirit witnesses to the divine marks imprinted upon Scripture’s content. He also witnesses directly and indirectly through the Church’s ongoing existence and though the church’s united historical confession of Scripture. And finally through the internal witness within the heart of the believer. And yet, what Bavinck reminds us is that accusations against the testimony of the Holy Spirit are invalid because his testimony is not the ground, but the means of faith:

The ground of faith is, and can only be, Scripture, or rather, the authority of God, which comes upon the believer materially in the content as well as formally in the witness of Scripture. Hence the ground of faith is identical with its content and cannot, as Herrmann believes, be detached from it. Scripture as the word of God is simultaneously the material and the formal object of faith. But the testimony of the Holy Spirit is “the efficient cause,” “the principle by which,” of faith. We believe Scripture, not because of, but by means of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Scripture and the testimony of the Holy Spirit relate to each other as objective truth and subjective assurance, as the first principles and their self-evidence, as the light and the human eye. Once it is has been recognized in its divinity, Scripture is incontrovertibly certain to the faith of the believing community, so that it is both the principle and the norm of faith and life. (597-598)

So far, while it’s been heady (and at times confusing), Reformed Dogmatics has been an absolute joy to read. There is no shortage of material to consider in its pages, whether we agree with everything entirely or not (and let’s be honest, if we agreed entirely with it, we probably aren’t reading carefully enough). If you haven’t started reading this book (or rather, series of books), I’d encourage you to join me on this journey reading time-tested theology. Grab the reading plan, get yourself a copy of Reformed Dogmatics, and get started today.

How to lose the head, heart and hands of your faith

Whole Bible-Bavinck

What is the most widespread error in the church? There are oh, so many, of course: We have professing believers who say they love Jesus but hate the church, his bride. We have apparent Christians who call the work of Christ divine child abuse. We have church-going men and women who believe it doesn’t matter with whom they sleep, what media they consume, or where they go (and heaven help anyone who says otherwise).

These are all pretty serious things, to be sure. But they’re not the most consistently widespread problem. If anything, these are symptoms of the larger error. That error? The rejection of the Old Testament. Writing a century ago, in a time in church history very similar to our own, Herman Bavinck put it this way:

The worst and most widespread error is the rejection or neglect of the Old Testament. Marcionism repeatedly reemerged in the Christian church and plays a large role in modern theology as well. All this arbitrary use of Holy Scripture leads to one-sidedness and error in theology and to pathology in the religious life. In that setting the full and rich configuration of truth does not come to light. Either the person and work of the Father or of the Son or of the Holy Spirit is then sold short. Injustice is done to Christ either in his prophetic, or his priestly, or his royal office. The Christian religion loses its catholicity. The Christian head, heart, and hand are not harmoniously molded and guided by the truth. Only the whole Bible in its fullness preserves us from all these one-sidednesses. (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 617)

I have never met a spiritually healthy, well-balanced Christian who neglects the Old Testament. Chances are, neither have you.

If we ignore the Old Testament, and the rich promise of Christ contained within it, we do so at our spiritual peril. If we teach that it’s no longer necessary, we ought to have millstones tied around our necks. If you overlook it, you impede your ability to respond to objections to it from non-Christians.

In other words, if you want to lose your heart, lose your hands or lose your mind, just ditch the Old Testament.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

This week has actually been a nice, albeit unintended, break from producing new content. A busy conference schedule and travel will do that. Next week, look for lots of new material. In the meantime, here are a few new Kindle deals (and a few reminders) to get you started:

The Dangerous Explosion of Celebrity Pastoring

Mike Leake:

If you’ve spent any time reading books on Christian ministry then you’ve likely read of your share of horror stories. Ministry is tough. The most difficult part of opposition is not the wounds that come from gospel enemies. The most cutting is when our wounds come from those who should be gospel friends.

I’ve read many books on how to get through the snares of gospel ministry. I’ve only read a couple which speak of the dangers which attend popularity. There are many books for pastors which tell you how to grow a church, how to be a successful small group leader, how to preach compellingly, and much more. Yet, there are only a handful of books which warn you of the dangers of being a popular preacher.

2 Factors to Consider Before You Move

Deepak Reju:

A church member or friend comes to me and says, “I’ve got a job offer in another town,” or “I’m ready to do more education and have applied to a few different schools around the country,” or “We’re shopping for a home.” That’s not surprising for a mobile society. In the 21st century, people often move for jobs, or education, or buying a new home. Long gone are the days when a person stays in the same town and maybe even takes over the family business. The average American is said to move as many as 11 or 12 times in his lifetime, most of which come before his mid-40s.

So for this mobile society I’d like to suggest two principles to consider before moving.

Should I Date a Godly Girl I Don’t Find Attractive?

Matt Chandler answers here. What are your thoughts on this?

Anti-vaxxers and epistemological narcissism

Jesse Johnson makes some strong points here (does this post qualify for a trigger warning?).

Why Joshua Harris Kissed His Megachurch Goodbye

Morgan Lee:

Harris, who was homeschooled, has enrolled at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, for the fall of 2015. His last day as CLC senior pastor will be in April. He leaves with his church’s blessing.

Harris began his “crazy, backwards life” in high school when he began publishing his own magazine geared toward fellow homeschoolers. He broke onto the national scene in 1997, at the age of 21, when he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The book became a runaway hit. Shortly thereafter, Harris connected with C. J. Mahaney, the founder of CLC and Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM).

Why Singing Is Essential

Michael Kelley:

There are certain habits that are synonymous with spiritual growth. We call these things spiritual disciplines, and they’re things like reading the Bible, praying, fasting, and others. But one habit that doesn’t make the list very often is singing. That’s a bit surprising given how many times in Scripture we aren’t just asked to sing, but commanded to do so. Indeed, it seems that in the Bible, singing is not an option; it’s a command. And maybe even more than being commanded, singing is essential for the life of the disciple. Let me give you a few brief reasons why I believe this to be true.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Due to my schedule this week, I’ve been a bit behind on taking stock of new Kindle deals. Here are a few that have come on my radar over the last day or two:

Be sure to also check out Westminster Bookstore’s sale on Listen Up (an booklet with lots of advice on how to get the most out of listening to a sermon). And the free book of the month for Logos Bible Software is Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme by Stephen Westerholm.

Jimmy Fallon’s dream finally came true

Yup:

What is ISIS doing to children in Iraq?

This is most definitely not an encouraging (though not unexpected) report.

5 Quick Tips To Win Every Online Argument Ever

Chris Martin:

It’s easy to get caught up in angry Internet discussions. But I think everyone, Christians especially, really ought to consider the ways in which they communicate with others online.

You don’t win an argument by being the loudest person in the room. You don’t win an argument by being the biggest jerk in the room.

On the Internet, you win an argument by keeping the discussion civil. Here are five tips to dialoguing on the Internet in a respectful way.

A discussion of yoga pants

Lore Ferguson and Paul Maxwell:

Rather than taking sides and settling for boundaries or restrictions, we—as women and men—can talk about what it means to approach these conversations with a biblical ethic that respects the people involved, their bodies, and their sexuality, all of which were made by God and declared good. As a girl and guy following the back-and-forth, we see how parts of this debate aren’t actually up for debate.

Why I’m Not A Mormon

Eric Davis:

Living where I do, the topic of the Mormon faith often arises. It’s a religion which is gathering quite a few adherents, especially outside the USA. But if you were to ask me why I do not ascribe to Mormonism, I would begin by giving these three reasons.

Links I like

Links

How pornography is affecting our brains

This is a very interesting:

(HT Adrian Warnock)

New Harper Lee novel

Harper Lee is best known for her up until now only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In just a few weeks, her second will be released, Go Set A Watchman—which is a sequel to Mockingbird, but was actually written before it.

What Sex Trafficking and Gay Marriage Have in Common

This is a good interview with David Platt on his new book, Counter Culture.

Quietness vs. prominence

Ray Ortlund:

The upward glance to the higher place of visibility and recognition destroys quietness of heart.  Francis Schaeffer, in his sermon “No little people, no little places,” counsels us to look by faith beyond our place, wherever it may be, into the greater battle raging in the heavenlies today, the real battle of our generation that bears no necessary relation to the seeming prominence or obscurity of the soldiers involved, and trust that the Lord of hosts is deploying each of us most effectively right where we are, moment by moment.  Human appearances can be false.  Divine strategies are unfailing.

 

Jonathan Edwards complete works available online for free

The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale Divinity School has made these available to view online for all interested in the work of one of America’s greatest pastor-theologians.

Political Outrage and the Kingdom

Nick Horton:

“It’s a lot easier to be indignant than broken-hearted.” Dr. Albert Mohler

When I heard the quote above a few days ago, from the mouth of Dr. Mohler as he gave an address on cultural engagement, I was immediately convicted. I’m an American son, a patriot. I have Army generals and foreign war veterans in my lineage. I’m related to men who stormed Normandy France to defeat Hitler and free Europe. They didn’t fight for THIS America, I thought.

Yet, before all of those things I am a Christian. I belong to God and have a heavenly citizenship in his Kingdom. I am an Ambassador for Christ whose purpose now is to herald the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How should that line up with my love of my earthly home? Just as Dr. Mohler said; broken-heartedness.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Why Does God Love Us?

R.C. Sproul Jr. answers here.

Spending an Evening with Atheists

Douglas Groothuis:

This was easily the most hostile group I have ever addressed in thirty-six years of public speaking. I spoke after an hour and half of anti-Christian propaganda and was on stage with an atheist before an audience of many atheists. Nevertheless, I think my opening comments refuted important claims in the film—I needed several hours to respond to all the errors, many of which were absolute howlers—and I attempted to fairly and calmly respond to all the questioners. I was not stumped by any of the questions or comments, but I always wanted to say more; I am a professor, after all. I tried to give Will ample time to respond, but he often wanted to move on to the next questioner. He seemed quite nervous. At several points, I was able to present the essential gospel message, once in response to a question on hell: Jesus came to save us from that fate.

Champions for life in every generation

Daniel Darling:

When Roe v. Wade is overturned (and we pray earnestly for that day), it will not end the prolife movement. Other threats will emerge and require the same Spirit-fueled fortitude I saw at the March for Life. If every human trafficker were brought to justice, there would still be attempts to treat human life as a commodity. If every immigrant were welcomed, if our communities were perfectly integrated, still you’d see attempts to value one ethnic group over another.

This reality is not cause for despair, but a source of hope, for in our mission as followers of Christ we find distant echoes of the kingdom to come. Because the march for life is not just a once a year protest, but a daily way of life. Because the march for life doesn’t end on the steps of the Capital or the Supreme Court, but in that city whose builder and maker is God. When we march for life, we’re marching to Zion.

 Ask Celebrity Pastor: How Do I Improve My Sermons

Stephen Altrogge offers a long overdue new edition of fake celebrity pastor Tyler Hawk’s advice column. (Remember friends, satire.)

The incomprehensible evangelist

We can't assume pre-existing knowledge

My oldest daughter is very clever and creative. When she was six, she would often have conversations with her stuffed cat, Hershey. Eventually, she developed what she called “kitty language,” even writing down a series of symbols in one of her notebooks. It was cute… but it was also entirely incomprehensible.

Sometimes, we Christians seem like that to outsiders. We have our own special language, much of it derived from what we find in the Bible (though some of it comes from… well, I have no idea where). But there’s a problem: most people today don’t have any clue what’s in the Bible. Reading The Heart of Evangelism reminded me of this. Jerram Barrs writes:

The words that we hear every Sunday in most of our churches and that we use in our prayers are no longer part of the everyday language of our society. People simply do not talk about justification or sanctification, nor about redemption, salvation, or sin. Language that is precious to the Christian is an unfamiliar dialect to most people around us. This means that church as usual and sermons that don’t acknowledge this problem are difficult for our contemporaries to relate to, just as computer language is incomprehensible to many of us! (139)

When considering how to share Christ with others, this is incredibly important: We can’t assume pre-existing knowledge if we want to communicate the gospel clearly. There are some words that we can probably avoid using, to be sure, but what I never want to do is avoid a word like “sin,” for example. Instead, I want to explain it in a way that makes sense. That sin isn’t simply the “bad things” we do, but a problem within our being—a compulsion to pursue anything other than God as most desirable, and to reject him though he has made his existence plain to us through many means.

A lot to take in? Sure. But we have to help people see that there’s a lot packed into a tiny word like “sin,” if we want them to understand the problem they face. But when we fail to consider our context—when we fail to really acknowledge the biblical illiteracy of our culture (and, sadly, our churches)—we risk our words being seen as incomprehensible as my daughter’s made-up play language. And that just will not do.

Pursue unanimity, not uniformity

unanimity

There are times when our doctrinal disagreements can hinder more than help. There are some things that can be set aside for the sake of gospel work.

Just think about competing views on baptism for a moment. Some of us are convinced infant baptism is biblically acceptable; others believe that only those who have confessed faith for themselves should be. And this is important: only one position is right. One is absolutely correct. The other is completely, flat-out wrong.

But should our convictions on an issue like baptism (as important as it is) get in the way of our partnership in the gospel?

No.

I’m not saying we cannot debate, sometimes with great passion. Nor am I saying we can’t disagree strongly. But if we believe the same gospel—that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)—can we not partner together?

One would hope so.

Now, without question there are some we absolutely cannot partner with—fundamentally because we believe a different gospel. Evangelicals cannot partner with Roman Catholics on gospel matters because we fundamentally disagree on how we are made righteous before God. Those who believe there will be judgment for unbelievers cannot partner in gospel work with universalists. Those holding to man’s depravity cannot partner in gospel work with those who deny the existence of sin.

But whether we are continuationist or cessationist, Baptist or Presbyterian, Christian celebrity or one who has embraced obscurity, if the essentials are in alignment,1 we should be able to work together. We may not have uniformity, but we absolutely can and should have unanimity.

One can’t play Scrabble while his partner plays Candyland, after all.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And don’t forget these from earlier this week:

Today is also $5 Friday sale at Ligonier. They have a whole bunch of great resources on sale, including:

  • Why We Trust the Bible teaching series by Stephen Nichols (DVD)
  • The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul (ePub and MOBI)
  • Think Like a Christian teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • When Worlds Collide by R.C. Sproul (ePub)
  • The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends at 11:59:59 tonight.

How Jesus Would Act in a Homosexual Bar?

C. Michael Patton:

I have a family member who lives in an apartment that backs up to a homosexual bar. I can imagine that in the church, there are people who think this is wrong. It’s not that these would assume she might be a homosexual, but that why would she, being a Christian, even dare live in such proximity to such evil. I am sorry to say this, but its very sad—no, tragic—to say that the church is filled with such a mentality. Oh, they have their verses to justify it, but these are always based in unbiblical emotional passions that cannot ever be justified.

Hold on, it gets worse so hang with me.

Lessons from the School of Prayer

An excerpt from D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul:

Throughout my spiritual pilgrimage, two sources have largely shaped, and continue to shape, my own prayer life: the Scriptures and more mature Christians.

The less authoritative of these two has been the advice, wisdom, and example of senior saints. I confess I am not a very good student in the school of prayer. Still, devoting [space] to their advice and values may be worthwhile before I turn to the more important and more authoritative of the two sources that have taught me to pray.

Among the lessons more mature Christians have taught me, then, are these.

“Does God Care if Your Favorite Football Team Wins?”

Derek Rishmawy:

How we answer the question, “Does God care a whole lot about the outcome of football games?” reveals much about how we understand God’s love, sovereignty, and care for the world.Some might hear the question and interpret it, “Well, is God rooting for a particular team?” Unless you’re a total fanatic, convinced that God himself favors your home-team, your gut instinct is “probably not.” It seems inconsistent with his universal love for all. Still, in Scripture, God did pick Israel to be his chosen people, and within Israel, he is seen to bestow special grace on various figures, either for particular purposes in redemption or his own good pleasure. God loves all, but he also seems to focus on particulars.

Christ and Pop Culture LIVE: With Real People, In a Real Space, With a Real Audience (We Hope)

If you’re going to TGC, this could be a lot of fun. Am I going to TGC? That remains to be seen. But if I am, I sure hope to be at this.

On the Christian’s anger problem

Aaron Earls:

Too often we seek to baptize our rage and treat our temper as sanctified, when in reality we are merely trying to find a biblical sounding excuse for being a jerk.

So how do you differentiate between man’s anger in James 1 and the ability to be angry without sin in Ephesians 4? I see three questions that we need to ask about each situation in which we feel anger rising in us.

I think we should treat each one as a gate that has to be passed through to before asking the next one. If the answer to only one is negative, then we should question whether or not our anger is biblical.

Looking for Love in all the Right Places

Lore Ferguson:

Here is what I know about looking:

When I was young, rebellious and caustic, rolling my eyes at my parents at age 10 and sneering at them by age 15, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and I felt seen, exposed.

I knew I was already seen and exposed, but I felt it. I felt it when I saw their disappointment or disapproval or anger at me. When I saw it in their eyes. I felt that. I felt every weight and every sin and every bit of my flesh rolled up and held in their parental gaze. And I looked away. I could not hold that look for long, my sin was too great, their anger too heavy.

The good news in Abraham’s story

good news-abraham

There’s an old children’s song that goes like this:

Father Abraham had many sons
Had many sons had Father Abraham

I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.

I’ve never really liked this song, though, admittedly, I never heard it until I was an adult. 

The problem I have with it at times is the rose-colored glasses view of Abraham himself. He is the man of faith. He is the one who followed the Lord away from all he had known, not knowing where he was to go, and believed God’s promise to bring him to the land he would show him (Hebrews 11:8-10). He is one of the few to be called a friend of God in Scripture (James 2:23).

And yet, when you really consider Abraham… this was one messed up guy. A paragon of virtue, he was not. He grew up a pagan man. And though he believed God, he also had a habit of doing things his own way. On the journey, not once, but twice, he lied and said Sarah was his sister, and she was given to foreign kings as their brides (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Why? Because he feared for his life. Could you imagine if the song included some of the other details of his life?

Father Abraham sold his wife
And pretended she was his sister
It’s kind of creepy
Oh, yes it is
So let’s just praise the Lord.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

But it doesn’t get better. Though he was promised a son by Sarah (Genesis 15), Abraham—at her encouragement—took Hagar as a concubine, and had a son with her, Ishmael, who would be the father of the Arab nations (Genesis 16). So he not only was a liar who prostituted his wife—because he got paid by these kings, too—he was a polygamist, to boot.

How could God use a man like this? How could this man be a part of the family line of Jesus?

Before we get all judgmental and self-righteous on Abraham, it’s helpful to remember: Abraham’s story is, in many ways, ours.

He was not a man of outstanding moral character, it’s true. But neither are any of us. He was not a man who consistently did what was right. Neither are we. He was not a man who, though he believed, even believed consistently. And that can most certainly be said of all of us, too. (Or at a minimum, it can definitely be said of me.)

If his character and actions were the measure of salvation, he would have been damned for all eternity—just like you and me.

And there’s the good news in Abraham’s story. “Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:16; James 2:23a). It was his faith that saved him, that declared him righteous. It was not his character, nor his performance. It was faith alone alone that saved him. And it is faith alone that saves us as well.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

New Fantastic Four trailer

I know purists haven’t been keen on the news they’ve heard about this film, but the trailer looks interesting. Thoughts?

Baptizing “Masculinity”: The Real Reason Men are Leaving the Church

Luke Harrington:

I wonder, if we are serious about attracting men to church, if the solution is less to infantilize them by waving steaks and guns in front of their noses and more to challenge them by teaching the rich ideas and contentious debates from the Christian tradition. Clearly there’s no shortage of important questions to be debated. Is human nature as corrupt as Calvin claimed? Is the will as free as Wesley taught? Is God as transcendent as Aquinas believed? Are the Law and the Gospel as separate as Luther wanted them to be? Is Christ as fully present in the Eucharist as Iranaeus argued?

My Baby’s Heart Stopped Beating

Jasmine Holmes:

As soon as the thought came to my head, I felt horribly guilty. I know you’re not supposed to think those things, and when you do, it’s certainly not nice to admit them. But there it was, clear as day: I was jealous.

13 Ways You Waste Your Money

Good stuff here from Tim Challies.

Addressing Cultural Issues in the Pulpit

Daniel Darling:

How do pastors preach on contemporary cultural issues? Or should they? This is a question every pastor faces as he contemplates both the spiritual needs of his congregation, the questions swirling in society, and the weighty commission to preach the Word of God. When I pastored, I constantly wrestled with when to address certain topics, how to address them, and in what format. I’ve also observed and watched pastors of large and small churches organize their preaching. Here are a few ways I’ve seen pastors address contemporary cultural issues.

How do you get to know unbelievers?

get to know unbelievers

I’m only day into seminary and I’m already challenged.

My first seminary lecture dealt almost exclusively with outlining the requirements of our term paper: a 10-ish page personal letter to an unbeliever with whom we have a close relationship. Now, the challenge for me is not trying to think of unbelievers to write to. I have no less than eight people in my close family to whom I could address this—my parents, my sister, my niece, my in-laws, my sister-in-law and her husband. And then we have a number of non-Christian and nominally Christian friends on top of that.

But as I listened to Jerram Barrs’ lecture, I realized just how easy it is to find yourself in a position where you have no one in your life who is an unbeliever. And if you’re someone like me, who works with Christians, and serves with Christians and meets with Christians… man, it is difficult to get to know non-Christians.

That’s actually one of the things I miss about working outside of a ministry context. While many of my co-workers love that we can pray at work, and that we have staff meetings where we sing together, there is one thing we miss out on, one of the things I think we probably need more than singing songs: the opportunity to build relationships with non-Christian co-workers and share the faith with them.

And it’s actually something I wish I had taken more opportunities to do when I did work in those environments.

Now, at the time, I don’t know what stopped me from being more intentional about this. Maybe it was because these were the same people who knew me before I was a Christian, and saw me working through the mess of my earliest weeks, months and years as a believer… Maybe it was just that I was chickening out. The truth is, I really have no idea why I didn’t, only that I didn’t.

But for me today, it’s harder than ever to meet and get to know non-Christians, largely because I’m not really the type that does small talk or social engagements well. Work made socializing a little easier. So my daughter’s dance class really helps. Making sure I actually talk to baristas at Starbucks (and frequent the same ones) really helps, too.

These ways don’t work for everyone, obviously. But even still, we are all still responsible for getting to know non-Christians. We are called to share the gospel and make disciples. So, friends, who are the unbelievers in your life? How are you intentionally getting to know non-Christians?

Modesty, #ChristianCleavage and me

modesty-post

Some of you may have noticed the hashtag #ChristianCleavage bopping around Twitter. It was started after an unfortunate “modest is hottest” genre post by a pastor named Jarrid Wilson.1

(I must disclose I participated in some of the jesting as well.)

Now, I’m not going to spend time vilifying Wilson, whom I don’t know and I’m sure is feeling pretty rough right now. But the excerpts on Twitter of his original article reminded me of my own time in youth groups in the 90s.

Clothes don’t make the woman(‘s heart)

I wasn’t a Christian, but had friends who were. I had a great time pretending to be a Christian with them at church, at youth group, and Kingdom Bound™. I sat through some pretty weird youth sermons so we could get to the part where we could sing along to Jars of Clay songs, mostly because I liked the sound of my own voice and wanted everyone else to hear how awesome it was. And riding in the flatbed of a truck to get back to town and smoke illicit cigarettes at Tim Horton’s (yes, I am that old) was pretty awesome, too.

I learned pretty fast that sartorial code-switching was going to be required at some of these kids’ houses. I remember calling a friend to vet my outfit before her mom took us to the mall. My jolly roger shirt was’t going to work for that occasion. No fishnet stockings, either.

But you know what? It didn’t matter what I wore. My heart was still dead. I “got with the program” to chill with the church kids, but it wasn’t because of wanting to glorify God.

Sanctification and ostentatious dress

There are many women who, though they are far from Christ, dress demurely. Meanwhile there are new Christians who are filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit, immensely grateful for the free gift Christ has given them, and excited to share the gospel. But, in some people’s eyes, they might still look like worldly women. Perhaps, then, it would be unwise to use modest or immodest dress as our measure for holiness. It’s not that modesty in dress doesn’t matter (it does), but God works on the things in our hearts he deems most important first. A gunshot wound must be tended to before a sprained ankle, after all.

All Christian ladies are being sanctified at their own pace, as God works in them. And as a new Christian, I had to come to terms with a horrible fact: I am a tremendously vain woman. As I was nearing my wedding, I realized I wasn’t interested in looking good for my fiancé. I was interested in being admired by everyone else! My heart really strained against the idea that I had to let go of trying to impress everyone in a three block radius with my looks. But God, in his mercy, gave me three children and a lifestyle that necessitates wearing sweatpants much of the time. I still love dressing up, and I think that’s normal, but I’m no longer trying to win everyone’s admiration.

It’s helpful to remember that if we see a woman at church whom we think is dressed immodestly, she may be a new Christian. Or she may come from a different culture (there’s a subject to write a whole book on!). Or this may be the form of dress modelled for her. Or she may simply be so well endowed up top that anything lower than a turtleneck shows their #ChristianCleavage.

While ostentatious dress is a concern, we can’t forget that we don’t know what else is going on in a woman’s heart. We don’t know where God is working most profoundly. So before we get tempted to point fingers, we might want to consider where he’s working in ours first.

Take away the foundation and lose everything

Inspiration-Bavinck

There are certain statements that are trigger warnings for me—at least, when I see them made by a Christian writer, speaker or pastor. References to 1 Corinthians’ famous “everything is permissible” statements (but only because I almost always see them used in the exact opposite way Paul meant them). Nearly any time someone says Jesus doesn’t judge, so we shouldn’t either (again, because, it’s used in almost the opposite way it’s meant in Scripture). And when someone calls the Bible something like a “different kind of center,” or a people group’s collective and growing understanding of God, or some other such thing… oh boy.

When those kinds of statements come up, I usually know where the author or speaker is going, and it’s always to a bad place. Why? Because they’ve lost their footing, having abandoned the foundation of the Bible’s authority: its nature as “God-breathed,” or inspired.

Herman Bavinck understood this all too well, living through the rise of late 19th and early 20th century liberalism. And he knew exactly where it would lead:

There is in fact only one ground on which the authority of Scripture can be based, and that is its inspiration. When that goes, also the authority of Scripture is gone and done with. In that case, it is merely a body of human writings, which as such cannot rightfully assert any claim to be a norm for our faith and conduct. And along with Scripture—for the Protestant—all authority in religion collapses. All subsequent attempts to recover some kind of authority—say, in the person of Christ, in the church, in religious experience, in the intellect or conscience—end in disappointment. They only prove that no religion can exist without authority. Religion is essentially different from science. It has a certainty of its own, not one that is based on insight but one that consists in faith and trust. And this religious faith and trust can rest only in God and in his word. In religion a human witness and human trust is insufficient; here we need a witness from God to which we can abandon ourselves in life and in death. “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee, O Lord!” (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 463)

This is something we’ve got to get. The arguments we’ve seen re-emerge over the last 20 years or so, the positions put forward by the likes of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell,1 and the like, are little more than the recycling of 19th century (and earlier) arguments by those who’ve attempted to revere the Bible in a sense, while undercutting the foundation of its reverence. We want to treat the Bible as having some sort of limited authority. And yet, unless we take seriously the foundation of its authority—that is, unless we truly embrace its inspired nature in its fullest sense—we’re only going to be disappointed. And worse, if we persist down this road, we’ll be lost in utter darkness.