John Calvin’s prolonged martyrdom

This week, I finished Bruce Gordon’s, Calvin, a highly recommended biography of John Calvin. While there is so much to learn from the book, I have found myself reflecting on one consistent theme from Gordon’s biography: John Calvin sacrificed his life to promote the Gospel. In fact, Calvin’s life was a prolonged martyrdom. We can’t imagine the focused and unrelenting work of the reformers.

John Calvin was a refugee, and he lived a life filled with great passion, political clashes, and endless theological disputes. Calvin did everything from writing biblical commentaries, theological treatises, and polemical tracts to delivering multiple sermons a week, teaching students, leading the Company of Pastors, and traveling to important conferences in Swiss and German lands.

The demands of Calvin’s life wore him down, and he required the assistance of his wife, brother, peers, and secretaries to maintain his productivity. Gordon speculates that Calvin’s work sent him to an early grave. Bruce Gordon, Calvin 339 (2011).

Calvin had the intellectual ability to do anything he wanted in his native France, but his conscience compelled him to flee from all that was known and comfortable. To his fellow Protestants who remained in Catholic lands, such as France, Calvin believed that there could be no compromise with Roman practices. True religion was to be maintained up to the point of exile or death.

While most of us would assume that death would be “Option B,” this sober and illuminating letter from Calvin suggests otherwise.

Believe me, I had fewer troubles with Servetus and have now with Westphal and his like than I have with those who are close at hand, whose numbers are beyond reckoning and whose passions are irreconcilable. If one could choose, it would be better to be burned once by the papists than to be plagued for eternity by one’s neighbors. They do not allow me a moment’s rest, although they can clearly see that I am collapsing under the burden of work, troubled by endless sad occurrences, and disturbed by intrusive demands. My one comfort is that death with soon take me from this all too difficult service.

As quoted in Bruce Gordon, Calvin 233 (2011).

What are we to make of this? Clearly, at that moment, Calvin viewed the demands of his life to be worse than burning. I don’t think that this was some passing lament. Calvin’s situation in Geneva was always tenuous, and his influence across Europe waxed and waned.

To Calvin, the Christian life is a prolonged martyrdom. All Christians must give up worldly comforts and live a life of service to God and neighbor. Some will perish quickly at the hand of the government. Others will pass away peacefully in old age after a long life of faithful service. In all cases, suffering is to be expected.

Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 24:43 is an illustrative example of Calvin’s heavenly disposition. Calvin wrote, “God does not bestow the honourable title of his children on any but those who acknowledge that they are strangers on the earth, who not only at all times are prepared to leave it but move forward in an uninterrupted ‘course towards the heavenly life.'” As quoted in Gordon, Calvin at 335. From Gordon’s biography, you get the sense that Calvin lived in anticipation of death and the life to come.

While it is foreign to us, Calvin’s perspective is not depressing or dour. Death is the fate of every living thing on the earth. To be a martyr for Christ in this life is a small sacrifice compared to the joy of eternal life. Calvin would instruct us to pity not the Christian martyr. Pity instead the man who lives for the insignificant and dies in the fog of his distractions.

Our blessings are complicated

Today, my wife and I will celebrate our 10-year anniversary.

I typically make our anniversary public with a sappy Facebook post and a profile picture update. That’s what we moderns do, right?

I should celebrate my marriage. It’s an incredible blessing. Aside from my life in the church, nothing is more central to my identity. I grew up with my wife. We figured out life together.

At the same time, I want to be thoughtful about the endless celebrations to which we are involuntarily subjected. The fact is that our public celebrations don’t always hit our friends at the right time. Our news feeds and timelines can be cruel.

My wife and I know what it is like to experience great loss. It can be difficult to rejoice with those who rejoice. Some social media posts strike at the most vulnerable sections of our hearts. Sanctification takes a lifetime.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with supportive, Christian spouses.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with loving Christian families.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with many children.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with great health.

I don’t know why God blesses some of us with an abundance of material possessions.

I do know that we don’t deserve any of it. This is a great mystery. 

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11: 33-36 (NIV)

My life happened in May

My life happened in May

Review: The Benedict Option

Rod Dreher is the conservative author who wrote the book that started this great war.

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Well, it hasn’t exactly been a war, but the nasty tweets, reviews, and blog posts have been whizzing like bullets. The point of controversy is Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. The episode has undoubtedly been good for traffic, sales, and small group discussions.

In some ways, the Benedict Option (“Ben Op”) controversy is surprising and unexpected. Dreher has been hashing out the Ben Op for a number of years now. If you’re unfamiliar with the Ben Op, I encourage you to read Dreher’s article “Benedict Option FAQ” from 2015. Dreher provides a succinct definition.  

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents. Put less grandly, the Benedict Option — or “Ben Op” — is an umbrella term for Christians who accept [Alasdair] MacIntyre’s critique of modernity, and who also recognize that forming Christians who live out Christianity according to Great Tradition requires embedding within communities and institutions dedicated to that formation.

If the Ben Op is about intentional Christian community, there isn’t much reason for a controversy here.

Why are some Christians choosing the Ben Op?

Rod Dreher answers this question in the first chapter of The Benedict Option. The opening chapter lacks nuance, but hits on the important points. Christianity and organized religion in general are losing market share. Dreher writes that “[h]ostile secular nihilism has won the day in our nation’s government, and the culture has turned powerfully against traditional Christians. We tell ourselves that these developments have been imposed by a liberal elite, because we find the truth intolerable: The American people, either actively or passively, approve.” Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation 9 (2017).

Furthermore, orthodox Christians have lost a significant amount of cultural sway and influence. See the short-sighted and desperate endorsements of Donald J. Trump. The barbarians aren’t just at the gates, they’re running our institutions, policing our culture, and creating Amazon Original Series. Whether we like it or not, according to Dreher, our kids are steeped in a framework that is antithetical to orthodox Christianity.

If you’ve read Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory or Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self, then I don’t think Dreher’s diagnosis of our culture should surprise you. I’m nothing more than an armchair philosopher, but even I know that there are irreconcilable differences in our society. We protest because we can’t reason together.

What is good?

Dreher relies on MacIntyre’s definition of “emotivism” to describe our moral framework. MacIntyre defines [e]motivism as “the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but (emphasis in original) expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory Second Edition 11-12 (1984).

We’re all emotivists to some degree. When we hear someone talk in absolutist terms about morality or right living, our immediate reaction is to dismiss the speaker as terribly naive. Surely there is a defeater for every moral framework. At least, that’s what we’re taught. Don’t judge because your neighbor’s moral preference is just as valid, warranted, and true as yours. Emotivism is not found in orthodox Christianity, but we can’t avoid being influenced by our environment.

Chapter two of The Benedict Option tries to explain why we’re all emotivists. Dreher provides a tl;dr summary of 2000 years in the West. It’s what you would expect in a popular-level book. This chapter is fine if you want a partisan historical survey. If this sort of thing interests you at all, go read Charles Taylor.

In chapter three, Dreher recounts his visit to the Monastery of St. Benedict and describes Benedict’s Rule. The Benedictines do not live according to the harm principle. No, life in the monastery is strictly regulated.

By living out a life of order, prayer, work, etc., the Benedictines orient their lives around a specific telos and vision of the good. The Ben Op isn’t just about running away. It’s about forming character and thriving in Christian community. “The way of Saint Benedict is not an escape from the real world but a way to see that world and dwell in it as it truly is.” Dreher, The Benedict Option at 77. The Benedictine community is not a Sunday morning social gathering.

What about the rest of us?

Dreher knows full well that most of us are not going to join a religious order as exacting as the Benedictine Order. Throughout the rest of the book, Dreher uses anecdotes to illustrate the practical application of the Ben Op by average, orthodox Christians in the United States.

I enjoyed the story of Lance Kinzer, a former state legislator, who focused on renewal at his church. Kinzer, a member of a PCA church in Kansas, taught a class on Augustine’s City of God and encouraged members to explore the riches of the Reformed tradition. Kinzer provided some prudential guidelines for Christian engagement in politics in the post GWB-Obama era.

Another practical way Christians live out the Ben Op is by sending their kids to Christian schools. Christian parents must face the reality that public schools are not a neutral public sphere. The fact that many public school children begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance tells you all you need to know about the telos of government-provided education. Additionally, many Christian schools are just elitist versions of public schools with some Bible classes sprinkled in. Dreher argues that Christians should send their children to classical, Christian schools if at all feasible.

As a Dutch Reformed guy, I find Dreher’s point here entirely uncontroversial. The first one hundred years of the CRCNA is a case study in thick communities that connected culture, church, and school. I recently read J. Gresham Machen’s, Christianity and Liberalism. Machen, who was something of a libertarian, made a similar point about public education. Machen thought that public schools, and state laws that threatened alternative forms of education, were antithetical to liberty and Christianity.

One final point to mention here is how Christians pursue Ben Op living when it comes to sexuality. Dreher lists the sexual revolution as an epochal event in the West. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but our culture’s re-education project on human sexuality is insidious. Christians in the first and second centuries lived peculiar lives marked by a strict sexual ethic. This was part of the Christian witness. The Apostle Paul repeatedly listed sexual immorality among the public sins from which Christians must flee.

I think the critics who are scandalized by Dreher’s call to fight pornography with everything we have and to reject the world’s definition of sexual freedom are missing the point. The Christian witness on sex is not the gospel. Dreher himself would say that. Nonetheless, a peculiar and wholesome sexual ethic is an essential part of Christian living.   

Conclusion

The Benedict Option is not perfect. It’s true that the overall theme of the book focuses on the experience of white Christians in the West. In contrast, minority communities have been living out the Ben Op since, well, forever. As a retort to this criticism, I think Dreher would say that our current culture is more hostile to all Christian communities.

Additionally, you must account for the fact that Dreher comes from an Eastern Orthodox background. I wouldn’t have chosen a monastic order as the archetype of my book. I can’t follow Dreher everywhere because I affirm the Reformed confessions. Nonetheless, I agree with Dreher and Machen that Confessional Protestants, Orthodox believers, and Roman Catholics are bound together by core essentials. The book is written for small “o” orthodox Christians.

I enjoyed The Benedict Option, and I’m not very sympathetic to its critics. This is a book written to a general audience. There are many helpful anecdotes and strategies. I’m all for little Christian platoons and mediating institutions that focus on faith formation and Christian living. None of this takes away from the Great Commission to preach the gospel to all the world. In some respects, this is exactly the Dutch Reformed model. Dreher and Kuyper are allies, not enemies.

I believe in the resurrection of the body

“I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body.”

For centuries, Christians have confessed this belief when reciting the Apostles’ Creed. While it is possible for many of us to gloss over the belief statements in the Creed, the belief in the resurrection of the body is difficult to comprehend.

How can our earthly bodies, decayed and disintegrated as they might be, be raised and glorified at the final judgment? Aren’t we really hoping for some spiritual existence after death?

No.

The resurrection of the body is an essential doctrine. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15 that our faith in Jesus Christ is useless if there is no resurrection of the dead. For if there is no resurrection, then Christ himself could not rise from the dead. Our faith is built on this foundation.

The importance of the doctrine, however, does not make it easy to accept. John Calvin understood our doubt. He discussed the resurrection of the flesh in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

[W]e are assured of the resurrection of the flesh, through which we enter into possession of eternal life . . . . This is something which is not only hard to believe but is utterly incredible when judged by human reason. Hence although many philosophers were not by any means ignorant of the immortality of the soul, not one of them had the slightest idea of the resurrection of the flesh. For who could possibly imagine that the bodies we have—of which some decay in the ground, some are devoured by worms, birds or other animals, and still others are burned to ashes—must at last be wholly restored?

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1541 edition, translated by Robert White, 287 (The Banner of Truth Trust 2014).

To help our unbelief, Calvin points us to the example of Christ.

The Lord, however, has very carefully averted this difficulty both by bearing very definite witness to the coming resurrection, and also by providing visible assurance of it in Jesus Christ. So what might otherwise appear incredible has been made plain for us to see.

Id.

Christ rose from the dead. Donald J. Trump is the president of the United State of America. These are statements of fact. Our doctrine springs from historical events. Christ’s death and resurrection actually occurred in the first century A.D.  It is reasonable, therefore, to believe in our own bodily resurrection because we know that Christ rose from the dead. We can believe it because he did it.

According to the Heidelberg Catechism, Christ’s resurrection benefits us in three ways:

First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he won for us by his death.

Second, by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life.

Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.

Heidelberg Catechism Q45

The resurrection of the body is a difficult doctrine. It is dishonest to state otherwise. In times of doubt, look to Christ. His resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection. He is risen!

Judah & the Lion on being a “Better Man”

We are living in the golden age of the folk-indie-rock genre, which includes bands like The Lumineers, The Strumbellas, and Of Monsters and Men. It is a great time to be alive.

Lately, I have been listening to the raw and eclectic music of Judah & the Lion. While many of us are familiar with the hit single “Take it all Back,” I really love the song “Better Man” off the same album,  Folk Hop N’ Roll.

The members of Judah & the Lion are Christians, so it isn’t a coincidence that the lyrics of “Better Man” point to the profound mystery of sanctification. The second verse paints the picture of spiritual rebirth.

All my life that I would grow

Like a flower that comes up from a seed that’s sown

The spirit now to rise within

Reign over my carnal skin

Sanctification is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit that enables believers to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. The Holy Spirit frees believers from the slavery of their “carnal skin.”

Article 24 of the Belgic Confession states that “true faith, produced in us by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates us and makes us new creatures, causing us to live a new life and freeing us from the slavery of sin.”

The chorus, “oh, I just want to be a better man as I go,” is actually the cry of every Christian who grows exasperated with his own sins. Even as we live a new life in Christ, we constantly fall victim to the cravings of the carnal skin. We never stop striving “with a free conscience against sin and the devil in this life.” Heidelberg Catechism Q32.

The final verse is a specific request for Christian living.

Oh my hands to serve and love

My eyes to see and not to judge

My spirit now to rise within

And reign over my carnal skin

“Better Man” is a beautiful song about sanctification and a prayer to live a better life devoted to service and love.

Across two Marches

I was reminded this week that the blog has been live for one year. What an eventful year we have had. Thank you for following along. To those who have stopped me at church or other places to mention a post, I really appreciate the encouragement.

I want to use the occasion to review what has happened here. Let’s take a look at some stats and popular posts.

Stats

Posts 43
Views 3,114
Visitors 2,153

Not surprisingly, Facebook is by far the biggest driver of traffic to the site.

Popular Posts

What happened in Grand Rapids? 

In this post, I reviewed Trump’s election performance in Grand Rapids and Kent County. Trump’s vote totals were poor compared to other Republicans on the ballot and even Mitt Romney’s 2012 numbers.

In defense of short-term mission trips

I argued here that thoughtful and appropriate short-term mission trips will help you grow and provide a real benefit to those whom you are serving.

The allure of an old house

This post has two meanings. The literal meaning relates to my beautiful, mid-century home. The allegorical meaning is a plug for conservatism and our intellectual inheritance.

Welcome to Wasteland: Christian, don’t despair

How does one move forward when confronted with the cold, difficult, and unfair realities of life? This post was pure emotion. My only comfort is my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

What are you going to do with that?

The liberal arts are returning to favor. Kids, it is ok to major in history or Latin. Seek the good, true, and beautiful.

Across three Marches

Writing is a pure hobby for me. I’m not selling anything. I’m not running for any office. This is my golf.

My purpose here is not to yell “stop” at the rush of history. Rather, my cry is “wait, what are we doing?” Thoughtful reflection is the thankless task of every conservative. Everyone praises the chef for some exciting innovation, but nobody thanks the faithful laborers in the supply chain for preserving the essential ingredients that make the innovation possible.

In March 2016, I was concerned about the soul of the Republican Party and the unhelpful ideologies of MAGAism.  As the year progressed, events in my life spurred on an introspective streak. Matters of religion took their rightful place as my chief concern.

Sadly, cultural issues threaten to further divide the church in the United States. If Tim Keller has become too controversial for a seminary award, well, then, we are in a sad state of confusion.

In no branch of science would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation of the past seems to be thought essential to progress.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism 39 (2009). 

Over the next year, I plan to defend giants and foundations. I can’t think of a better use of my time. See you next March if the Lord wills it.

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Christianity in one blog post

“Imagine that you are a decaying piece of matter in a decaying universe and nothing more significant than that. How does it follow that we should live a life of love toward others?”

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the skeptical 42 (2016).


From the moment we are born, we begin the slow process of dying. Even the healthiest among us won’t live more than 100 years or so.

The same is true for earth. The sun is currently burning up. It will eventually cease to exist. Earth will eventually become inhospitable for life.

Given these facts, why the heck would I love my neighbor? We’ll all end up as dust particles in the churning, purposeless universe. Isn’t it irrational to spend our scarce resources keeping the elderly alive? Why shouldn’t we start a campaign right now to euthanize the weak? Shouldn’t we devote everything we have to scientific advancement?

It’s impossible to refute the logic of these questions without referring to religious convictions. Even basic rights claims are religious in nature. There is no way to prove a universal right to life by appealing to evidence found in nature. In fact, natural selection seems to support the premise that the strong should eradicate the weak.  

At the same time, this point makes us incredibly uncomfortable. We feel a very real love for others and a desire to live for a greater good. The love of others is intrinsic to our nature. Why?

True self sacrifice is irrational, but we do it all of the time. The only plausible answer is that there must be something more than our decaying bodies and the burning sun. What else could explain our desire to give away our time and treasure?

Throughout history, humans have struggled with this paradox. Our minds tell us that life is meaningless, but we also have a nagging sense that there must be more to the story.

Christianity provides a story of purpose, intention, and meaning. It is one meta-narrative among competing meta-narratives. I believe that Christianity is the best story, and it offers the most hope.

I want to help you understand the Christian story.

The most convincing storytellers know the story like they know themselves. It penetrates the deepest part of their subconscious knowledge. The story comes out as naturally as the memorized piano recital.

Elite athletes practice the fundamentals of their chosen sport all of the time. The best basketball players still shoot free throws after practice. In the same way, Christians need to rehash and recite the fundamentals of the faith. Doctrine should be written in our minds like our native language.

I wrote this short summary for my church youth group. I found the exercise to be extremely helpful, and I want to share it broadly. This is just one attempt to work on the blocking and tackling of my faith.

What do Christians believe?

Our beliefs are summarized in the historic Apostles’ Creed. A creed that unites Christians across cultures, denominations, and generations.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
     creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
     who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
     and born of the virgin Mary.
     He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
     was crucified, died, and was buried;
     he descended to hell.
     The third day he rose again from the dead.
     He ascended to heaven
     and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
     From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
     the holy catholic church,
     the communion of saints,
     the forgiveness of sins,
     the resurrection of the body,
     and the life everlasting. Amen.

Who is God?

God is the only uncreated being. He is the I Am. God is one in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He reveals himself through general revelation in nature and by divine revelation through holy scripture.

What is general revelation?

It is of course the beauty, wonder, and majesty of nature, but it is also our own self consciousness. The questions I asked at the beginning all point us to the existence of God. John Calvin wrote that general revelation provides enough evidence for every human to believe that there is a God. Most ignore or reject the evidence, condemning themselves.

What is the holy scripture?

We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of men, but that holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as Peter says. (2 Peter 1:21)  

Afterward our God—
with special care
for us and our salvation—
commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles,
to commit this revealed Word to writing.
God, with his own finger,
wrote the two tables of the law.
Therefore we call such writings
holy and divine Scriptures.

(Belgic Confession Article 3)

The Bible is composed of many books. All of them are the inspired word of God. No book has greater authority than any other. The Protestant canon is listed in Article 4 of the Belgic Confession. Article 5 states, “We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith.”

What does scripture say to me?

That you belong body and soul, in life and in death, to your faithful savior Jesus Christ, the conqueror of death and despair. This is your only comfort.  (Heidelberg Catechism Q1)

What must I know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

Three things:

First, how great your sin and misery are;

Second, how you are set free from all your sins and misery;

Third, how you are to thank God for such deliverance.

(Heidelberg Catechism Q2)

The law of God sets the standard: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. If you don’t meet that standard, you are guilty of sin. You can’t save yourself. In fact, you increase your guilt every day.

This is a radical point in our day. Popular culture affirms your life choices. As long as you’re not actively hurting others, there is no judgment.

In actual fact, we all stand condemned under the law of God. The message of Christianity does not make sense unless and until you understand your own sinfulness and your inability to make yourself right with God.  

How are we set free and made right with God? Someone else pays our debt. No sinner can pay for the sins of another. Someone who is truly human, truly righteous, and true God paid our debt in full.  (The Heidelberg Catechism Qs12-15)

We thank God by doing good, so that God may be praised through us. We also do good, “so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.” (The Heidelberg Catechism Q86)

We also thank God through prayer. Christians pray “because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.” (The Heidelberg Catechism Q116)

Ok, I believe these things, but do I have to join a church?

Yes!

“We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.” (The Belgic Confession Article 28)

How do I know if a church is faithful to God’s Word?

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks:

  1. The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;
  2. It makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments [Baptism and the Lord’s Supper] as Christ instituted them;
  3. It practices church discipline for correcting faults.

By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it.  

(The Belgic Confession Article 29)

False churches do not preach the gospel. Pure preaching of the gospel should prick you from your slumber and cause you to consider anew how you are living.

The sacraments are how we receive God’s grace. Through Baptism, we are adopted into the visible church of Christ. By the Lord’s Supper, we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, proclaiming it as our hope and salvation.

I understand that church discipline sounds scary, but it is absolutely necessary. A caring father disciplines his child out of love. So it should be in the church. If I am blinded by sin, I pray that an Elder would come alongside me and show me the error of my ways.

If you would submit to the discipline and instruction of a personal trainer or basketball coach, surely you can submit to the necessary discipline in the church.

How do I know if someone is a Christian?

As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely, by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.

They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or the left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of sins.

(The Belgic Confession Article 29)

Christian living is essential. While perfection is not achieved in this life, Christians strive to live lives that are good and bring glory to God. The Holy Spirit works in us and makes us ready and willing to live for God.

Conclusion

Christianity is not a magic elixir or a perfect philosophical system. Life presents us with many tough questions. Suffering and evil exist in the world. At times, the world can feel incredibly cold and purposeless.

I don’t have a clever defeater for every possible question. Nobody does. I do believe, however, that Christianity provides the best possible answers. The values of Christianity are woven throughout our culture, sustaining things like human rights and support for the weak. It is the best story that we have. It gives me meaning and hope. Who doesn’t want that?

Derek Carr on Trump and Christian submission

I was surprised and inspired by this tweet from Raiders QB Derek Carr.

Derek Carr professes to be a Christian, and I greatly respect this humble comment.

Submission is the theme of the Christian life. Christ submitted to torture and to death on a cross. We, though rebellious to the end, submit to the light yoke of his rule. Through Christ, we will conquer death and enjoy his kingdom forever.

Though our primary citizenship is in Christ, Christians are not anarchists. Because of the fall, governing authorities are necessary to carry out justice and to maintain order. Scripture instructs Christians to submit to governing authorities. See Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Article 36 of The Belgic Confession is helpful here.

We believe that
because of the depravity of the human race,
our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers.
God wants the world to be governed by laws and policies
so that human lawlessness may be restrained
and that everything may be conducted in good order
among human beings.

For that purpose God has placed the sword
in the hands of the government,
to punish evil people
and protect the good.

The Belgic Confession Article 36: The Civil Government

Through submission to Christ and to governing authorities, Christians demonstrate our faith. By enduring trials and tribulations in this life, we proclaim the truth of the life to come.

I have never voted for either Barack Obama or Donald Trump. I have strong policy disagreements with each of them. Though it should be obvious to anyone who reads what I have to say here, I’ll say it again. I’m disgusted by President-Elect Trump’s personal excesses and vices.

Nevertheless, I am praying for both men tonight. I wish the Obamas well, and I hope that God blesses them. My prayer for President-Elect Trump is that God would grant him wisdom and discernment throughout his term.

We all should be good citizens. Thanks, Derek Carr, for the reminder.

 

Reflections and suggestions

Heading into the election year, I wrote some suggestions for 2016 that I hoped would be beneficial. I reviewed those suggestions in a blog post. I’ll comment on some of those suggestions and offer new ones for 2017.

Reflections on 2016

Last year, I suggested that we, “[f]lee from any partisanship that would sow division within the church. Your common identity in Christ is more important than your party affiliation.” This was a fail. Trump won. Many people made fools of themselves. Our religious institutions are held in low esteem.

I hate seeing political divisions strain families, churches, and relationships. It’s just not worth it. Are you really going to break off a friendship over a fight you had on immigration policy? Your mother isn’t a horrible racist because she voted for Trump. Your daughter doesn’t hate babies because she voted for Clinton.

While I enjoy discussing and debating political issues with friends and family members, we must realize that such debates are merely for entertainment. It’s akin to arguing over who should play in the college football playoff. Practically speaking, my views on political questions are next to irrelevant. President Trump is not going to seek out my advice or your counsel.

I also suggested that we use our leisure time well. This one continues to be a struggle for me and could be for you as well. I know how to work hard. I enjoy fulfilling obligations and meeting expectations. I do not yet know how to use leisure time well. This blog has been helpful. I’ve been reading more, and I like the practice of reading, thinking, and writing.

Awe, wonder, and joy should fill my heart when I have free time, but they do not. This is the result of sin. The blessings and beauty of the earth should be more than sufficient to fascinate us.

The last suggestion from last year that I want to cover is “[a]void making your earthly family into an idol.” I wrote that suggestion with a much different expectation for how things would go this year. This suggestion is even more important when dreams are deferred. I must now guard against violating the tenth commandment as well as the second.

The church is a great moderating force here because it helps us see beyond our circumstances. As a part of the body, I am responsible for the well-being of my brothers and sisters, including the covenant kids of our congregation. This is a non-negotiable part of the Christian life. Praise God.

Suggestions for 2017

I offer these suggestions for myself, but I hope that you may find something helpful here.

Be an advocate for others. This is so difficult in our age. We’re taught to press our advantage and to be advocates for ourselves and our children. How radical would it be to lobby for someone else’s kid, and not your own, to take the starting point guard spot? How radical would it be to argue that your co-worker should get the promotion instead of you? Yet, isn’t that exactly what the Lord requires of us? “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NIV). See also Luke 14:7-11.

Trim the fat.  No, I don’t mean that fat, but getting into better physical shape is certainly worthwhile. One persistent lie our culture tells our kids is that they can have everything. From a young age, we’re told that we don’t have to sacrifice our careers for a family. The cold truth is that it just isn’t possible to be an exceptional professional, church leader, golfer, friend, homemaker, and father all at the same time. You can’t have everything. For me, 2017 is a time for choosing.

Read a classic novel. I recently finished Thomas Kidd’s God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. I am currently reading Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith. I love reading works of history, theology, and philosophy, but I have neglected the great works of fiction. My wife just finished Anna Karenina and was moved by it. I need to follow her example this year by reading a classic novel. War and Peace?

Memorize the Heidelberg Catechism. When I was young, my family left the CRC for an Evangelical Covenant Church. While there is much to be said about that, the end result is that I never memorized the Heidelberg Catechism.

This is an ambitious suggestion, but I’m going for it. Over the last month, I’ve managed to memorize through Lord’s Day 4. At my current pace, I can memorize the entire catechism this year.

I’m saddened by the fact that so many Reformed churches neglect catechetical training.

404 Q. Why do we neglect the Three Forms of Unity? A. We have a natural tendency to reject the good gifts of God while pursuing shiny objects that are objectively inferior, transient, and occasionally heretical. [NOT AN ACTUAL PART OF THE CATECHISM]

Sell, donate, or recycle stuff. I have accumulated way too much stuff. My wife and I moved into our house over three years ago. We have boxes in our attic that haven’t been unpacked. That should tell you how important and necessary that stuff is. It is embarrassing.

Two years ago, I purchased an Xbox One in a fit of impulsive spending. I’ve played it for about 20 hours total. Modern video games have passed me by. Give me some Mario Cart or Madden 96, and I’m happy. I have no interest in investing hours into a game. Where is the play now option? We don’t need things like lightly used video game consoles. The best thing that I can do now is to put it to productive use.

I think those five suggestions are enough for 2017. I plan to post updates throughout the year to hold myself accountable. Lord willing, I’ll be able to reflect on the successes of 2017.