Eating Locusts Will Be (Benedict) Optional

I would like to propose an alternative way of thinking of past Christianity which may help us at this juncture. Perhaps what has been historically normative for over 1500 years in the West—a Christianity enjoying worldly power and influence, broadly conceived—is in fact theologically exceptional. As such, what we are witnessing is not the overthrowing or the jeopardizing of the church but rather a return to “business as usual” as the Bible and the nature of the gospel and of the church would lead us to expect.

 

On Friday I had the pleasure of being a guest at the annual conference of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, to hear Rod Dreher speak on—yes, you guessed it—the Benedict Option. I had a number of questions about the details of the Ben Op, and many of these were answered on Friday. Indeed, having read plenty by Rod on the Ben Op and now having heard him, I am perplexed by those who think he advocates withdrawal from all civic engagement. Perhaps the monastic analogies he favors have gripped the imaginations of his critics and distorted their reading of him.

I have been accused of defeatist and separatist views myself, within my small Reformed subculture. Certainly Rod and I share a number of convictions. We both believe that the culture war is over and that “our side” has lost. We both believe that it is pointless simply to shout Bible verses louder, or to base arguments on the private religious convictions of the Founding Fathers, or to huff and puff that we must be taken seriously because Christianity was important way back when. And we both believe that the language of exile is appropriate for the imminent condition of Christians in the USA. But these beliefs do not logically demand that we withdraw into the mountains, dress in animal skins, and live on locusts and wild honey. Rod and I both still believe that Christians should be involved in their communities, cast votes in elections, and be “in the world but not of it.”

The talk on Friday night made all of that clear. And it offered an outline of the assumptions of the Ben Op, which might be summarized as follows:

  • Conventional politics will not save us. Nota bene: This is not the same as saying that political engagement must cease. It is simply a claim about the limited expectations we should have regarding political engagement, particularly at the national level.
  • The church is not the world. As Rod merely agrees with Jesus on this point, it should not be too controversial.
  • Christians must retrieve their own traditions as the fundamental sources of their identities. Again, with the Apostle Paul on his side here, Rod is hardly breaking dangerous new ground.
  • Christians must prioritize the local community as their sphere of action. Once more, nota bene: This is not, repeat not, the same as saying that Christians should head for the hills. It is simply to say that they should be far more concerned for what is happening in their neighborhood than on Capitol Hill.
  • What we face is not a struggle within a culture but, strictly speaking, a clash of alternative cultures. This is where the language of the end of the culture war needs to be understood correctly. It is not that we are to surrender to the dominant culture. It is rather that we are to model an alternative culture. And we are to do so first in our local communities.

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Married Lesbians Sue Tennessee Over Spousal Definitions

Advocates say the simple law mandates words in state legal codes not be extended or changed beyond their natural definition. One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Rep. Andrew Farmer, told NBC News the legislation had “nothing to do with same sex-marriage or gender.” But LGBT activists are calling the law “sneaky,” arguing it “clearly targets LGBTQ Tennesseans” by requiring words like “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” and “father” in state law apply only to opposite-sex couples. 

 

(WNS)–Four married lesbian couples in Tennessee are fighting a new state law they say denies their parental rights.

The couples, each expecting a baby this year, filed a lawsuit last week against a law mandating that undefined words in state statutes be interpreted to have “natural and ordinary” meanings. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure into law May 5.

Advocates say the simple law mandates words in state legal codes not be extended or changed beyond their natural definition. One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Rep. Andrew Farmer, told NBC News the legislation had “nothing to do with same sex-marriage or gender.”

But LGBT activists are calling the law “sneaky,” arguing it “clearly targets LGBTQ Tennesseans” by requiring words like “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” and “father” in state law apply only to opposite-sex couples.

“Make no mistake. The intent of [this bill] is clear,” Jim Obergefell, the primary plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage, said in a statement urging Haslam to veto the bill. “This bill is not about protecting the rights of all Tennesseans. Its intent is to harm LGBTQ Tennesseans and their families.” Obergefell said the law conflicts with federal and state laws that require gender-specific words now be interpreted as gender inclusive.

At least one Tennessee judge agrees.

Days before Haslam signed the “natural and ordinary meanings” law, a Knox County judge granted the legal parental rights of a “husband” to Erica Witt, a lesbian woman fighting for parental rights to a child her former wife conceived by artificial insemination.

Under Tennessee law, a “child born to a married woman as a result of artificial insemination, with consent of the married woman’s husband, is deemed to be the legitimate child of the husband and wife.”

During divorce proceedings, attorneys for Erica Witt’s ex-wife, Sabrina Witt, argued the artificial insemination law does not grant Erica Witt any parental rights to the child because she was not the “husband.”

In July 2016, state appeals court Judge Greg McMillan agreed and ruled against Erica Witt.

Three months later, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed a memorandum in the case, disagreeing with McMillan’s ruling.

Slatery stated that, construed literally, the artificial insemination statue runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision because it only accounts for a male spouse, excluding same-sex couples from marriage on the same “terms and conditions” as opposite-sex couples.

But Slatery offered a simple solution: Just interpret the law to mean “spouse” instead of “husband.”

“The legislature’s use of the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ merely reflects the fact that only opposite-sex marriages were recognized in Tennessee when the statute was enacted in 1977. After Obergefell, of course, that is no longer the case,” Slatery wrote.

In early May, McMillan reversed his previous ruling and granted Erica Witt parental rights, including an obligation to pay child support.

But the “natural and ordinary” law threw the whole issue into question again.

The four lesbian couples suing the state say they want the law overturned. They also want a court order clarifying that married same-sex couples and their children should be treated the same as married heterosexual couples and their children, receiving health insurance coverage and social security benefits, granting them equal hospital visitation, and if they divorce, custody rights.

The current struggle—figuring out what to do with marriage-related words—is the result of the fact that “our law has abandoned the natural meaning of marriage,” said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee. “The problem is that giving a word a meaning contrary to its natural meaning requires us to give a new meaning to all the words associated with that word.”

The attorney for the plaintiffs said a hearing date has not yet been set.

© 2017 World News Service. Used with permission.

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Five Reasons Why Stability Is Bad For A Church

Members of stable churches want the focus to be on their preferences. They want church “the way it’s always been.” They are more concerned about getting their way with music style, room temperature, and precise starting time of worship services. In their latter years, they are able to sing, “I did it my way” rather than “I did it God’s way.”

 

Change or die.

That is reality for churches today.

Of course, I am not talking about Scripture, doctrine, or spiritual disciplines changing. Those things are constants, never to be compromised.

But much of what we do in our churches must change. And, unfortunately, many church members and leaders resist change. They seek stability and comfort over obedience and sacrifice.

Let’s look at five key reasons why stability is bad for a church.

  1. A stable church is not a church on mission. The very nature of the Great Commission means our churches should be in constant change. A church member blasted a pastor for his efforts at leading the church to reach unbelievers in the community. She castigated him because “those people are messing up our church.” Sigh.
  2. Comfort is the enemy of obedience. Review all the examples of obedient persons in the Bible. In every case, they had to get out of their comfort zones. Too many church members want stability because they don’t want to experience the discomfort of obedience.
  3. Stable churches are not reaching their communities.
  4. Stable churches do not create new groups.
  5. Members of stable churches want the focus to be on their preferences.

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Van Til and Christian Philosophy

For Van Til the reformed Calvinist system was the correct interpretation of the revealed Word of God in the Bible. And the Bible, as it presents a Christian worldview, is not only rational but it is the only rational worldview to base one’s life on and that can adequately explain the world we live in. He also criticized the Arminian and Roman systems as insufficiently Biblical since they acknowledge and incorporate unregenerate man’s ability to reason rationally about God.

 

First Things has published a piece online highlighting the work of Alvin Plantinga and his recent award of the Templeton Prize. This award is given annually to any living person judged to have made an exceptional contribution to life’s spiritual dimension. The award is not limited to academics or even explicit Christians. But that is no matter.

Alvin Plantinga is a Christian philosopher of the Dutch Reformed tradition. The subject matter of his works has included a defense of the rational belief in God through the ontological argument and answering the problem of evil. His work on the latter subject is widely hailed. But what struck me about the article was a quote from one of Plantinga’s students describing the poor state of Christian philosophy in the 1950s – when Plantinga began his work – to the quality and quantity in which it exists today. A result the student attributes to Plantinga. Now, he may well be right. Plantinga might justly be considered to explicit Christian philosophy what Justice Antonin Scalia is to originalism and textualism in the legal realm. However, I took a little umbrage to the idea that the Christian philosophy of the 1950s was in a poor state.

Simply put, before Plantinga there was Van Til. The problem, I suspect, is that Cornelius Van Til might primarily be considered a theologian or Christian apologist and not a Christian philosopher. But the problem with that, as anyone who has read Van Til knows, is that he dealt in explicit philosophical terms. His use of philosophical language, i.e., the Transcendental argument, the ontological Trinity and its epistemological and metaphysical implications for Christianity, the problem of the one and many, his frequent casting of other theological systems as Kantian or Hegelian, and the fact that his academic duelists included philosophers of one degree or another all serve to show that predominantly Van Til was a Christian philosopher. His published books frequently discuss the nuances of Kantian, Hegelian and Aristotelian thought as applied to historic Christianity and to Calvinism. It also cannot be denied that Van Til was deeply influenced by the School of Amsterdam which included preeminent Christian philosophers such as Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

Rev. Van Til died in 1987, 14 years after the establishment of the Templeton Prize. While Prof. Plantinga rightly deserves such an award it is unfortunate that Van Til never received it and that his thought and legacy remains largely confined to the unapologetically reformed denominations of America. Why he never got such an award I cannot say. But what seems interesting to me as I perused and read summaries of Plantinga’s work is that it seems his subject matter is more frequently theistic rather than Christian. That is not true in all cases as he does have a published work explicitly defending the Christian system. But that work only came after he first published a book defending the belief in God in general. I read that and immediately knew what Van Til might say: “The belief in a god and the belief in the Trinitarian God revealed in the Bible are two completely different things and defending the former only to get to the latter after is sinful.”

This gets to why Van Til has not got his due credit in the larger Christian world much less academic philosophy in general. For Van Til the reformed Calvinist system was the correct interpretation of the revealed Word of God in the Bible. And the Bible, as it presents a Christian worldview, is not only rational but it is the only rational worldview to base one’s life on and that can adequately explain the world we live in. He also criticized the Arminian and Roman systems as insufficiently Biblical since they acknowledge and incorporate unregenerate man’s ability to reason rationally about God.

But for Van Til total depravity was just that and it could not possibly be expected that a non-Christian could come to rational beliefs about the God of the Bible by first convincing him of theism only then to be persuaded to the Christian system. Of course, he recognized that this happened in fact all the time. But he rejected that such persons could rationally explain in principle such a method and still be true to the Bible. If after reading that you are scratching your head that is perfectly understandable. But this is not the time or the place to get in depth about Van Til’s apologetic. I encourage the reader to pick up one of his many books edited by K. Scott Oliphint or by Greg Bahnsen and to learn about his thought in his own words and the helpful footnotes of his students.

For now I think it is enough to say that while Christian philosophy did not have as wide a range publishing-wise in the 1950s as it does today it was nonetheless in a healthy state and that is because of Cornelius Van Til. Plantinga may have helped it gain a wider acceptance among the secular philosophers but if that is the case then the question that should be asked is how so? Was he being explicitly Christian in his presentation like Van Til or did he sand down the rough edges and dilute the message in order to make it more palatable to Gentile philosophers who love wise words but are stumbled by the Cross?

Timothy J. Glass is a member of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, KY, and is a J.D. Candidate 2017 at the University of Kentucky College of Law.

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Why Young Christians Can’t Grasp Our Arguments Against Gay ‘Marriage’

Five years ago it was easy to find readings that challenged and even offended the evangelical college students “considering the secular bent of contemporary gender studies.” But today, things are different. “Students now,” she says, “arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant.”

 

For five years, Dr. Abigail Rine has been teaching a course on gender theory at George Fox University, an evangelical school in the Quaker tradition.

At the beginning of the semester, she tells her students that “they are guaranteed to read something they will find disagreeable, probably even offensive.”

Writing at FirstThings.com recently, she related how five years ago it was easy to find readings that challenged and even offended the evangelical college students “considering the secular bent of contemporary gender studies.”

But today, things are different. “Students now,” she says, “arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant.”

And what do they find “intolerant”? Well, in her class, an essay entitled “What is Marriage?” by Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson, which was the beginning of the book “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.”

In their article, Girgis, George, and Anderson defend what they call the conjugal view of marriage. “Marriage,” they write, “is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other … that is naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together.” They defend this view against what they call the “revisionist view” of marriage, which redefines marriage to include, among other things, same-sex couples.

“My students hate it,” Dr. Rine wrote. They “lambast the article.” “They also,” she adds, “seem unable to fully understand the argument.” And again, these are evangelical students at an evangelical school.

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The Remaking Of Protestantism

The trend of realignment among mainline churches can be seen in the formation of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (2012), the North American Lutheran Church (2010), and the Anglican Church of North America (2009). Both ECO and NALC were formed from networks of ministers and churches that had decided that renewal from within existing Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Anglican denominations was no longer possible. This realignment first began with the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (1973).

 

The last time we saw such a massive shift in Protestantism was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the Holiness and Pentecostal movements spawned over ten major denominations. When one adds to this the formation of the Wesleyan Church (1843), the Free Methodist Church (1860), and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870), all of which came out of the old Methodist Episcopal Church, it is easy to see just how large the divisions and realignments were.

It now seems apparent that something similar is occurring in the final decades of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. Not only are there new denominations forming, such as the Association of Vineyard Churches (1982), networks of churches are emerging that are quickly becoming a nucleus for local congregations leaving mainline Protestantism.

The trend of realignment among mainline churches can be seen in the formation of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (2012), the North American Lutheran Church (2010), and the Anglican Church of North America (2009). Both ECO and NALC were formed from networks of ministers and churches that had decided that renewal from within existing Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Anglican denominations was no longer possible. This realignment first began with the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (1973).

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Review of the Ad-Interim Committee’s Report On Women Serving In The Ministry Of The Church

My suggestion is that the Assembly thank the committee for its work and send the report to the Presbyteries for study. The report establishes guidelines for in-depth discussion. If there are any substantive actions to be taken, they must come from the Presbyteries. Because, even if the report is adopted, it would have no binding significance.

 

The issue of men’s and women’s respective and complementary roles in the life of the church is one that has invited perennial controversy. Sadly, that integral feature of mankind which God has designed as a great gift to His creation (see Genesis 2:18-25) has been a cause for disruption in the church in our day. The denomination of which I am a part – the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) – has recognized that there is a widespread confusion and dissatisfaction with regard to how gender roles are understood in modern evangelicalism, and rightly so. Evangelicals seem to be confused about what the Bible teaches about the roles of men and women in the life of the church.

The 44th General Assembly of the PCA decided to address this confusion by forming an Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church. As we prepare to come together June 12-16, 2017 to evaluate and discuss the report from this committee, many dear friends and former students of mine have asked me to produce an article with my response.

I write this article, as many will recognize, as one who was opposed to the appointment of the Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in The Ministry of The Church. I continue to think that the appointment of the committee was wrong on procedural grounds, even if well intentioned. Nevertheless, I thank the committee for its diligent work and desire to root its work in biblical exegesis and the historical practice of the Church. I also appreciate the pastoral tone of the report.

For the most part, I do not take exception to the committee’s exegetical work. I would, however, like to point out a few concerns. My first concern is with the sections dealing with women in the Old and New Testaments. With regard to the women in the Old Testament, the report draws certain conclusions that do not seem to be warranted by the text. For example, with regard to Huldah (2 Kg. 22:14-20) the report claims: “Huldah did not decree a course of action, but she proposed the course that king and nation followed” (Line 27, 28 page 2410). What evidence is there in the text that she proposed a course of action? Or as the report states with respect to women prophets: “However, they did serve as gifted leaders and teachers. Some had an exceptional ability to navigate situations wisely and train others to do the same. Huldah, Zipporah, Miriam, and Esther testify to the God-given talent and leadership ability of women in the Lord’s church” (Line 18-21 page 2410). Do the references to these women warrant such a broad-sweeping conclusion?

With respect to women prophesying in the New Testament, it would be helpful to note the distinction that John Owen made between the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy (Owen IV. 451, 452). The office of prophet, Eph. 2:20; 4:11, was an authoritative office in the church possessed only by men.  It was only said of women that they prophesied (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). If a woman prophesied, she was a receptacle of God’s message and offered no comment. In 1 Cor. 14:29, Paul referred to the office of prophet. Hence, women would not be among those listed in verses 30-33. As to the prohibition in 1 Cor. 14:34, 35 for women to keep silent, the report says the prohibition applies only to preaching or passing judgment on prophecies (line 8 page 2416). The prohibition, however, seems much broader: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves just as the Law also says (see 1 Tim. 2:13, 14). If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” The word “improper is “shameful” or “disgraceful.” Asking husbands at home does not fit with passing judgment, nor would passing judgment by itself be shameful. Paul seems to prohibit any public speaking in worship apart from prophesying (in which the woman is only a receptacle for the Spirit) or unison speaking or singing.  Paul’s referenced to the law is unpacked in 1 Tim. 2:13, 14. Moreover, one should interpret 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 in light of Paul’s clear prohibition in Timothy. 2:11, 12 for a woman “to remain quiet.”

I appreciate the report’s dealing with 1 Tim. 2:11-15. However, line 22, 23 page 2418 is unguarded: “Paul sometimes lets women teach men. He permitted female prophets to speak in Corinth and listed female coworkers.” The first part is true, if one distinguishes informal teaching, like Priscilla and Aquila, but where does Paul allow a woman to teach a man in a formal setting?  As to the second part, as is pointed out above, the New Testament does not refer to a woman as a prophet.

As to the grounds of Paul’s injunction, I would have liked to see the report deal with verse 14, where Paul gave as his second ground that the woman was deceived. There seems to be a direct correlation between Paul’s injunction and the woman being deceived. (Read more on an interpretation I offer of this in another recent article). Moreover, there is a hint in verse 15, reinforced by verse 10, as well as Titus 2:3-5 and Mk. 15:41, that a woman’s primary role in the church is domestic, including teaching women and children, counseling women and children, serving, and assisting deacons.

The report does a very good job with 1 Tim. 3:11, although I wish they did not use the word deacon and women deacons in the narrative for the work of women. A reference to female deacons in the context of this report is not useful (line18 page 2427).

With respect to chapter four, encouraging a robust and gracious complementarian practice, I would have liked the committee to affirm that the wife’s calling is to be a helper corresponding to the need of her husband, with a robust endorsement of a married woman’s unique role in the home and thus her domestic role in the congregation (see 1Timothy 2:15).

Although approving a good portion of the exegesis, I have serious problems with several of the recommendations. I appreciate the pastoral tone of number 2, but it ignores the fact that there are some congregations in the PCA that are violating our standards: some churches are commissioning female deacons in a manner that is impossible to distinguish from ordination (reported on the floor of the 44th Assembly), and others are allowing women exhort in public worship. Moreover, in the blogosphere, some PCA women are pressing for ordination. It would be useful for the report to specifically and formally address and recommend that the Assembly prohibit these activities. In fact, a more thorough development of the arguments for male office bearers also would have been helpful.

Recommendation 3 goes against our historic commitment that we govern the church at presbytery and General Assembly levels by committees made up of ruling and teaching elders and not Boards or Agencies. I think the recommended overture is contrary to our founding principles. Surely women may and should serve on committees of the local church. Furthermore, they may serve as advisors for committees of Presbyteries and General Assembly. But there seems to be no warrant to place them in authoritative non-ordained positions at presbytery and General Assembly.

I concur with recommendations 4 and 6, although I find no biblical warrant for commissioning.

I think recommendation 5 is ill advised for two reasons: First, it does not consider the regulative principle of worship as to what should go into a worship service. Second, I think Scripture teaches that only ordained men and men being prepared for ministry are to have any leadership in worship (praying, reading scripture, administering the Lord’s Supper). I lay out the exegesis for this in my article mentioned above.

I am opposed to recommendation 7. The only grounds offered are the practice of the PCUSA in 1938.  That denomination was well on the road to theological Liberalism at that time. Where is the Reformed historical and exegetical warrant for such a practice? In connection, I would never encourage a woman to get a M.Div. degree (line 20 page 2457). Moreover, with so many impoverished seminary students preparing for the ministry, it seems that the church’s priority ought to be to finance their training.

In recommendation 8, why single out women? The church should affirm all underprivileged members and use their gifts (James 2:1-7).

My desire to keep this response brief is not a reflection of my view as to its importance. Rather, I think – as I hope the content of my remarks make clear – that this is a crucial issue and worthy of discussion and clarification.  I pray that these remarks contribute to further discussion of this important issue.

My suggestion is that the Assembly thank the committee for its work and send the report to the Presbyteries for study. The report establishes guidelines for in-depth discussion. If there are any substantive actions to be taken, they must come from the Presbyteries. Because, even if the report is adopted, it would have no binding significance. Moreover, if studied by the Presbyteries, Ruling Elders will be able to be involved in the discussion and any subsequent actions taken.

Dr. Joseph A. Pipa is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and is President of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors, SC. This article is used with permission.

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Don’t Pursue Feelings. Pursue Christ.

God has created us as emotional people. There is a time to weep and laugh, to mourn and dance, to hate and love (Eccl. 3:1–8). Neither stoicism nor emotionalism are marks of healthy faith. What is needed is robust, biblical theology that informs and transforms our emotions.

 

Human beings are emotional creatures. We love or hate, feel happy or sad, angry or joyful. And yet Christians sometimes struggle with integrating emotion into their spiritual lives and end up falling victim to dangerous tendencies when it comes to their emotions. These tendencies occupy two ends of a spectrum, and they have led many into a superficial kind of Christianity. We see these tendencies at both the personal level and at the corporate level.

One danger is emotionalism, in which we allow our feelings to interpret our circumstances and form our thoughts about God. This is putting feelings before faith. The other danger is a kind of stoicism, where faith is rooted in theology but void of affection. This tendency removes feelings from faith altogether. While it is true that our emotions should not lead our theology, it is vital to our faith that theology lead to a deep experience of our triune God.

Good doctrine is critically important to the health of the Christian and the church. But the church doesn’t need men and women who can merely define repentance. Rather, the church needs people who hate sin and love righteousness. Memorizing our catechisms is important, but it is useless if it isn’t also producing in us awe, humility, love, and worship. The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is not only something to affirm and defend, but it should also be something in which we rejoice. Yes, “zeal without knowledge is dead,” but knowledge without deep affection is just as lifeless.

It should be obvious that Scripture calls us to be a people who feel what we believe, who not only know truth but experience it. There is an order to this. Our feelings and emotions must be governed and guided by truth. We are to fear the Lord, hate evil, love the truth, mourn over sin and injustice, and rejoice in our sufferings. These are not naked commands but precepts given by God in light of who He is and what He has done. We are supposed to feel the weight and the power of the truth revealed in Scripture. Theology should do more than inform us—it should warm and stir our hearts. And if it doesn’t, then we have missed the connection that God’s revelation is designed to make between head and heart.

The key is not to pursue feelings themselves but to pursue the Lord Jesus Christ by looking to Him, knowing His ways, pondering His promises, and obeying His commands. Faith is what gives birth to feeling. The emotional component of the Christian life isn’t always as present as we would like. It often lags behind. As the English Reformer John Bradford said, “Faith must first go before, and then feeling will follow.”

Consider how often we find ourselves afraid when we face the unknown or the dangerous. When we run up against the fragility of life or the potential of loss, anxiety and fear are right beside us, working their way into our hearts. This is precisely when God calls us to “fear not.” yet the hope for relief from fear is not found in ignoring what lies ahead, but in looking to the God whose sovereignty is certain and whose promises are sure. It is when we seek the Lord and ground our faith in Him that our fears are overcome (Ps. 34:4). The trouble itself may not disappear, but the knowledge of God conquers what makes us afraid. His love for us, demonstrated in His adoption of us in Jesus Christ, is just one of the truths that replaces fear with comfort and confidence (Rom. 8:15).

Pain and suffering are not only common to all, but for the Christian, they are to be expected as a consequence of following Jesus. We know the feeling of dread that can accompany severe trials. But the lifting of our heads and the courage of faith is tied to God’s character and promise. We know that He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We can cast all our anxieties on Him because we are assured that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

When we struggle with assurance and long for a confident hope in Jesus, we must learn to trust Him more. The assurance of our salvation is first and foremost based on the mercy and merits of Jesus Christ. We fix our eyes on Him by faith and find in His life, death, and resurrection all the hope necessary to stand before the face of God without the threat of judgment. Christ alone is our surety. This transforms us from a people who despair over our sin into a people who sing the praises of the Savior who has delivered us from our transgressions.

God has created us as emotional people. There is a time to weep and laugh, to mourn and dance, to hate and love (Eccl. 3:1–8). Neither stoicism nor emotionalism are marks of healthy faith. What is needed is robust, biblical theology that informs and transforms our emotions.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. This article is used with permission.

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Van Til and Christian Philosophy

For Van Til the reformed Calvinist system was the correct interpretation of the revealed Word of God in the Bible. And the Bible, as it presents a Christian worldview, is not only rational but it is the only rational worldview to base one’s life on and that can adequately explain the world we live in. He also criticized the Arminian and Roman systems as insufficiently Biblical since they acknowledge and incorporate unregenerate man’s ability to reason rationally about God.
 
First Things has published a piece online highlighting the work of Alvin Plantinga and his recent award of the Templeton Prize. This award is given annually to any living person judged to have made an exceptional contribution to life’s spiritual dimension. The award is not limited to academics or even explicit Christians. But that is no matter.
Alvin Plantinga is a Christian philosopher of the Dutch Reformed tradition. The subject matter of his works has included a defense of the rational belief in God through the ontological argument and answering the problem of evil. His work on the latter subject is widely hailed. But what struck me about the article was a quote from one of Plantinga’s students describing the poor state of Christian philosophy in the 1950s – when Plantinga began his work – to the quality and quantity in which it exists today. A result the student attributes to Plantinga. Now, he may well be right. Plantinga might justly be considered to explicit Christian philosophy what Justice Antonin Scalia is to originalism and textualism in the legal realm. However, I took a little umbrage to the idea that the Christian philosophy of the 1950s was in a poor state.
Simply put, before Plantinga there was Van Til. The problem, I suspect, is that Cornelius Van Til might primarily be considered a theologian or Christian apologist and not a Christian philosopher. But the problem with that, as anyone who has read Van Til knows, is that he dealt in explicit philosophical terms. His use of philosophical language, i.e., the Transcendental argument, the ontological Trinity and its epistemological and metaphysical implications for Christianity, the problem of the one and many, his frequent casting of other theological systems as Kantian or Hegelian, and the fact that his academic duelists included philosophers of one degree or another all serve to show that predominantly Van Til was a Christian philosopher. His published books frequently discuss the nuances of Kantian, Hegelian and Aristotelian thought as applied to historic Christianity and to Calvinism. It also cannot be denied that Van Til was deeply influenced by the School of Amsterdam which included preeminent Christian philosophers such as Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.
Rev. Van Til died in 1987, 14 years after the establishment of the Templeton Prize. While Prof. Plantinga rightly deserves such an award it is unfortunate that Van Til never received it and that his thought and legacy remains largely confined to the unapologetically reformed denominations of America. Why he never got such an award I cannot say. But what seems interesting to me as I perused and read summaries of Plantinga’s work is that it seems his subject matter is more frequently theistic rather than Christian. That is not true in all cases as he does have a published work explicitly defending the Christian system. But that work only came after he first published a book defending the belief in God in general. I read that and immediately knew what Van Til might say: “The belief in a god and the belief in the Trinitarian God revealed in the Bible are two completely different things and defending the former only to get to the latter after is sinful.”
This gets to why Van Til has not got his due credit in the larger Christian world much less academic philosophy in general. For Van Til the reformed Calvinist system was the correct interpretation of the revealed Word of God in the Bible. And the Bible, as it presents a Christian worldview, is not only rational but it is the only rational worldview to base one’s life on and that can adequately explain the world we live in. He also criticized the Arminian and Roman systems as insufficiently Biblical since they acknowledge and incorporate unregenerate man’s ability to reason rationally about God.
But for Van Til total depravity was just that and it could not possibly be expected that a non-Christian could come to rational beliefs about the God of the Bible by first convincing him of theism only then to be persuaded to the Christian system. Of course, he recognized that this happened in fact all the time. But he rejected that such persons could rationally explain in principle such a method and still be true to the Bible. If after reading that you are scratching your head that is perfectly understandable. But this is not the time or the place to get in depth about Van Til’s apologetic. I encourage the reader to pick up one of his many books edited by K. Scott Oliphint or by Greg Bahnsen and to learn about his thought in his own words and the helpful footnotes of his students.
For now I think it is enough to say that while Christian philosophy did not have as wide a range publishing-wise in the 1950s as it does today it was nonetheless in a healthy state and that is because of Cornelius Van Til. Plantinga may have helped it gain a wider acceptance among the secular philosophers but if that is the case then the question that should be asked is how so? Was he being explicitly Christian in his presentation like Van Til or did he sand down the rough edges and dilute the message in order to make it more palatable to Gentile philosophers who love wise words but are stumbled by the Cross?
Timothy J. Glass is a member of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, KY, and is a J.D. Candidate 2017 at the University of Kentucky College of Law.
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Five Reasons Why Stability Is Bad For A Church

Members of stable churches want the focus to be on their preferences. They want church “the way it’s always been.” They are more concerned about getting their way with music style, room temperature, and precise starting time of worship services. In their latter years, they are able to sing, “I did it my way” rather than “I did it God’s way.”
 
Change or die.
That is reality for churches today.
Of course, I am not talking about Scripture, doctrine, or spiritual disciplines changing. Those things are constants, never to be compromised.
But much of what we do in our churches must change. And, unfortunately, many church members and leaders resist change. They seek stability and comfort over obedience and sacrifice.
Let’s look at five key reasons why stability is bad for a church.

A stable church is not a church on mission. The very nature of the Great Commission means our churches should be in constant change. A church member blasted a pastor for his efforts at leading the church to reach unbelievers in the community. She castigated him because “those people are messing up our church.” Sigh.
Comfort is the enemy of obedience. Review all the examples of obedient persons in the Bible. In every case, they had to get out of their comfort zones. Too many church members want stability because they don’t want to experience the discomfort of obedience.
Stable churches are not reaching their communities.
Stable churches do not create new groups.
Members of stable churches want the focus to be on their preferences.

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