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.

Tweeting synodically (cynically?)

As you may have heard, the RCA’s General Synod and the CRCNA’s Synod are in full swing. The RCA is meeting in Holland, Michigan at Hope College. The CRCNA is meeting in Palos Heights, Illinois at Trinity Christian College.

Monday was a busy day for both synods. In fact, I expect proceedings to continue into the evening. Follow the hashtags #rcasynod and #crcsynod for comments and reactions. Here are some highlights.

How the CRC Synod Stole Christmas

No Christmas shoe boxes for you! I think this a referendum on Franklin Graham more than anything else. On the other hand, it’s possible that the CRC Synod does hate Christmas gifts.

RCA #StaleStream

The RCA stream is running on a 30-minute delay because of swear words and wardrobe malfunctions, obviously.

Do Justice [As Instructed by the Bible]

Classis Minnkota’s overture relates to denominational oversight of the Do Justice blog’s content. This overture caused much discussion and has not been resolved. I kind of want to be like Classis Minnkota when I grow up.

Minnkota to the United Reformed Church?

Dr. James K.A. Smith has had enough of your intransigence.

RCA Membership

The RCA does need to figure out what can be done to stop this nasty trend.
RCA Statistics

The RCA has always been the progressive older sibling of the CRCNA. Through its actions, such as elevating the Belhar Confession, the RCA has invited fights over social programs and political preferences. There are macro headwinds to be sure, but some decline has been self-inflicted.

Choose your own adventure: CRC or RCA or URC

Did you know that the CRCNA and the RCA will hold a joint session next year? Is this not the future? The conservative classes and churches remaining in the CRCNA and the RCA should join the URCNA, as suggested by James K.A. Smith, and the remaining classes and churches of the CRCNA and the RCA should merge. Do it.

Dr. R. Scott Clark explains covenant theology on the Theology Gals podcast

Dr. R. Scott Clark is one of my heroes. If you have not yet read Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice, you’re really missing out. Dr. Clark also maintains an excellent blog.

Recently, Dr. Clark was interviewed by the Theology Gals for their weekly podcast. In the episode, Dr. Clark explains covenant theology, paedobaptism, covenant kids, and more.

Listen here.

I absolutely love this quote at around the 35 minute mark. “We can’t take our American individualist view of salvation back into scripture because it isn’t there. In scripture, salvation is administered to groups.”

Dr. Clark goes on to say that Abraham is the father of all believers. Moses, meaning the law, is temporary. Abraham, meaning the promise of circumcision/baptism, is permanent.

This is the promise to Abraham. “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Genesis 17:7 (NIV)

We know from the New Testament that believers in Christ are the descendants of Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham is everlasting and unbroken.

Covenant theology is the foundation upon which the confessional Reformed church is built. Listen to the Theology Gals podcast and get a quick primer.

Machen on tolerance and liberty

I am ashamed to admit that until this weekend I had not read Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. This book would have proven very helpful during my college experience. I found the Reformed confessions in my flight from social gospel fundamentalism. Machen was in my bones.

While I love Machen’s theology, there is also much to like about Machen’s political thought.

Machen deeply understood and valued freedom of association. Voluntary associations, such as confessional churches, must be free to set their own boundaries and definitions. This basic point is widely misunderstood.

For example, the “I Love German Shepherds Club” of Grand Rapids, Michigan must be allowed to accept or reject potential members based on the person’s pet preferences. Frankly, many people believe that freedom of association means that the cat lover should have the right to join the I Love German Shepherds Club. This is just flat wrong. If you love cats and not German Shepherds, the club must have the right to exclude you. Otherwise, the club is meaningless.

Machen outlines this argument in his chapter on “The Church.”

Involuntary organizations ought to be tolerant, but voluntary organizations, so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else cease to exist. The state is an involuntary organization; a man is forced to be a member if it whether he will or no. It is therefore an interference with liberty for the state to prescribe any one type of opinion or any one type of education for its citizens. But within the state, individual citizens who desire to unite for some special purpose should be permitted to do so. Especially in the sphere of religion, such permission of individuals to unite is one of the rights which lie at the very foundation of our civil and religious liberty. The state does not scrutinize the rightness or wrongness of the religious purpose for which such voluntary religious associations are formed—if it did undertake such scrutiny all religious liberty would be gone—but it merely protects the right of individuals to unite for any religious purpose which they may choose.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism 142 (2009).

To put it simply: the state must be tolerant; the church must be intolerant. The alternative is that there is no liberty and no church worthy of the name.

God and Michigan’s Dutch Reformed

I’ve argued before that we, meaning Reformed Christians, should use the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation to recover what makes us Reformed. Reading R. Scott Clark’s book,  Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice, is a great start. Closer to home, we could also learn a lot from our Dutch Reformed forebears in West Michigan.

Aleida J. Pieters dedicated a chapter of her book, A Dutch Settlement in Michigan, to the religious life of the Van Raalte settlement in Holland, Michigan. Pieters’s descriptions of the various aspects of the settlers’ religious life are fascinating and add context to modern piety, which is entirely embarrassing in comparison. Early settler doctrine, piety, and practice should certainly humble our hearts and minds.

Doctrine

The Dutch settlers knew that they “stood squarely upon the Confession of faith and the Canons of the National Synod of Dortrecht of 1618-1619, and further that they considered the Bible as the inspired Word of God and the infallible rule of conduct.” Aleida J. Pieters, A Dutch Settlement in Michigan 112 (1923).

Pieters recounts that during the Civil War a Dutch mother was distressed that her son wanted to join the Federal army. She opposed his enlistment. “Her mind was at ease and her conscience was quieted when she remembered the words of the Lord to Moses commanding him to number the children of Israel ‘from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel.'” The woman’s son was eighteen at the time, so her consent was thus properly withheld. Pieters at 113.

Piety

Family Worship

“Every meal was begun with a petition for God’s blessing, offered by the head of the house. At the close of the repast even if it was but corn bread,  there followed a reading from the Scripture, the singing of a psalm, and a prayer of thanksgiving.”  Pieters at 113.

Sabbath Observance

Sermons in these days were no twenty minute exhortations. The service began in the morning at nine-thirty and lasted from two to three hours. Those who came from a distance brought a lunch and ate it at noon so as to be on hand for the afternoon service beginning at two.  . . . Sunday was a day of rest from all worldly occupations, none save necessary work was done. The housewife spent her Saturday in baking and cooking so that none of that work need occupy her time on Sunday. To the children it was often a long day, for no games were allowed, but to the elders it was a day of spiritual and intellectual uplift.  Pieters at 114-15.

Lord’s Supper

After the sermon, during the singing of a psalm, the minister came down and took his place at the middle of the table facing the congregation, and the people one by one took their places around him. In the earliest days, elders watched to see that no one who had not the right to partake of the sacrament took a seat. After the usual service of the blessing and prayer, the bread and wine were passed around the table, and then with the singing of another psalm, these people returned to their seats and others took their places. Pieters at 116.

Practice

The Church Council

The Dutch Reformed followed the presbyterian form of governance. The local church was led by the church council composed of elders and deacons. Because almost everyone belonged to the church, the council was essentially a form of local government, handling spiritual and worldly affairs.

Pieters provides some interesting anecdotes on this score. In one matter, a young man went into the forest and chopped down a tree from the woodlot of another man. The father of the young man was brought before the council and “directed to go home and read the story of Eli and his sons so as to prevent any further occurrences of the kind.” Pieters at 118.

In another matter, a man complained about his mother-in-law. The council appointed a special committee to interview the woman. Pieters at 119.

Office of Elder

“With religion playing so important part in their lives, it is not surprising that when a layman was elected to the office of elder he was considered to have reached the goal of his earthly ambition.” Pieters at 116-17.

A story is told of an elder in the church who arose one Sunday morning and with tears in his voice announced that he would have to resign his position as elder because the Bible said that an elder should rule his own household, and he had failed, for his son had the evening before gone to a dance. To them [the Dutch settlers] life and religion were not only serious matters, but all important ones, before which every other interest paled into insignificance. Pieters at 121.

Examination

These anecdotes and descriptions pricked my conscience. As sinners, we tend to be quick to pat ourselves on the back and slow to seek instruction. We should ask ourselves some basic questions.

  1. Does the average lay person have a basic understanding of the Canons of Dort and the Remonstrant controversy?
  2. Can the average lay person recount specific scriptures like the concerned Dutch mother?
  3. Are we encouraging and promoting family worship and the singing of Psalms?
  4. What has happened to our Sabbath observance?
  5. Are we taking care to honor the Lord’s instructions as to the administration of the sacraments?
  6. What is happening in our church councils? Are we resolving disputes among believers and leading our flocks?
  7. Is the position of elder the pinnacle of earthly ambition for godly men in our churches?
  8. Are elders held to the standards that Paul gave to Timothy and Titus?

We have plenty of work to do to. Thankfully, God has provided all that is necessary for us to reform our doctrine, piety, and practice.

On Republicans and Presbyterians

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government . . . .

U.S. Const. Art. IV, §4

The Founding Fathers were equally skeptical of kings and mobs. The government established by our Constitution was designed to avoid either extreme. As time has gone on, we have drifted away from that careful balance and moved toward a system that is closer to both direct democracy and monarchical rule. This is a strange development.

Signing Room Independence Hall

In states like Michigan, voter-initiated proposals make law. While the proposals are written by the politically connected, the voting public has the power to enact law. This is basically direct democracy.

At the same time, the growth of administrative agencies and “regulatory law” has pushed us toward something like monarchical rule. The first month of the Trump administration illustrates this point. An Executive Order effectively creates law that can disrupt our lives.

Direct democracy and monarchy are anathema to the substance and spirit of the Constitution. The Founders intended that Americans have a republican form of government at the federal and state levels. Representative democracy is the essential characteristic of republics.

One of the byproducts of the Reformation is that the Founding Fathers had an organizational system that was already republican in form: the Presbyterian Church. The anti-Rome and anti-Anabaptist impulses of the Presbyterians ran parallel with the anti-monarch and anti-mob impulses of most of the Founding Fathers.

Russell Kirk makes this point in his book The Roots of American Order. Kirk writes, “The presbyterian form of Calvinism especially would become a forerunner of democratic institutions, even though in the beginning it had more nearly resembled the ancient Hebrew concept of theocracy.” Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order 236 (2003).

The presbyterian form of church organization is essentially a representative democracy. The local church elects or nominates members to serve on a governing council ⇒ The church council elects representatives for a regional body ⇒The regional body elects representatives to serve in a national or international governing body. The local church is the “grassroots.”

For the first 100+ years of our nation’s existence, the election of U.S. Senators was conducted in the state legislatures. This is the small “p” presbyterian model. The citizens of a state would elect state representatives and those representatives would, in turn, elect capable representatives to serve as U.S. Senators.

Though U.S. Senators are now directly elected in the states, traces of the presbyterian model are preserved. U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators serve as representatives of their various constituencies and not as general representatives for the entire country. You could imagine an alternative scenario whereby the entire country votes for Senators and Representatives and the people with the highest vote total would be elected.

The spirit of representative democracy is woven throughout the fabric of America. The only clergy member to sign the Declaration of Independence was the Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon. John Witherspoon was also the president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and tutored the “Father of the Constitution” James Madison.

Defending the “republican” form of government is a good and worthy end for conservatives. It also makes sense to give a tip of the cap to the Presbyterians. Few things are more American than Presbyterianism.

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?

Luther and Calvinist movie trailers

Last year, I enthusiastically backed two film projects on Kickstarter: Luther and Calvinist. The trailers for both films were released over the weekend, and I’m excited! Interestingly, both trailers feature the one and only R.C. Sproul.

This October will mark the 500 year anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses. There is renewed interest in the life and work of Martin Luther. It appears that Stephen McCaskell is putting together a beautiful film. I love the trailer and the stunning shots of Wittenberg.

Where Luther focuses on “The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer,” Calvinist documents the growth and popularity of Calvin’s theology in a particular cultural context. Reformed theology is an excellent antidote to the excesses of American evangelicalism.  Calvinism is on the rise in America. Why? I’m happy to see R. Scott Clark, R.C. Sproul, and Michigan’s own Kevin DeYoung in the trailer.

Tuininga and Wolterstorff on human sexuality

While the Tuininga-Wolterstorff debate over at Perspectives Journal will likely never make as much noise on the issue of human sexuality as BuzzFeed, Chip and Joanna Gaines, or Jen Hatmaker, it is significantly more important, and I encourage you to check it out.

Back in October, Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff spoke at an event sponsored by All One Body, an organization that promotes “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members in their Christian Reformed Church homes.” In his address, Wolterstorff announced that he had come to the conclusion that Scripture does not teach that homosexuality is always and everywhere wrong. Therefore, Wolterstorff concluded that it would be unjust to deprive homosexual couples the “great goods of marriage.”

It was this October address that spurred Dr. Matthew Tuininga, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, to write a response for the Perspectives Journal. Dr. Wolterstorff added a rebuttal.

It is practically impossible to discuss the issue of human sexuality without a shared framework or foundation. In this case, both Tuininga and Wolterstorff draw from the same biblical texts and from the same theological tradition. The common ground makes this discussion fruitful and interesting.

It’s important to remember that first century Christians set themselves apart from culture with a robust sexual ethic. In Christianity, human sexuality has a specific telos. It points us to the eternal relationship of Christ and his church. Is there value in preserving this distinctiveness? I think that there is, which is why I’m excited about Tuininga’s contribution to the debate.

As Tuininga states, “[human sexuality] is not a peripheral issue nor is it a secondary issue over which good Christians might disagree. As a church we must stay united and we must get this issue right.”

A robust Christian sexual ethic can be placed in stark opposition to the view that human sexuality is just another battleground in the ongoing war for disembodied subjective expression. In our culture, the human body is just a medium to be cut, poked, mutilated, and discarded. The objective reality of the body is bent to the will and pleasure of the subjective self. Nothing is real except that which I will to be real.

Submission is a dirty word to the world. On the other hand, submission is at the heart of Christianity. We pray: thy will be done, Lord. What if Christians can be lights to the world by submitting (1) to a robust Christian sexual ethic and (2) to the objective realities of our bodies?

Yeah, I know. This is difficult work, but it is eminently more fruitful than arguing over at BuzzFeed.

 

What happened in Grand Rapids?

From the beginning of the primary season, I underestimated Donald J. Trump. Even as Tuesday became Wednesday, I thought Trump might still lose the election. I stayed up for the Milwaukee and Detroit returns because I thought those cities would flip their respective states. It didn’t happen.

The post-election reflections are plentiful, and I don’t have a “hot take.” The Barack Obama coalition apparently failed to turnout with the same enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. That’s about it.

Nevertheless, I am interested in what is going on in my city. Grand Rapids is a diverse urban center, but it is still part of “West Michigan” and all of its cultural idiosyncrasies. I had a general sense that Trump was never going to play well here. Indeed, even in the primaries, the Dutch largely resisted Trump.

The election returns tell the story.

 In 2012, President Obama received 21,967 more votes in Grand Rapids than Mitt Romney. Romney won 12 out of the city’s 77 precincts.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton received 27,301 more votes in Grand Rapids than Donald J. Trump. Trump won only 6 out of the city’s 77 precincts.

Trump performed significantly worse than U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R), who had only nominal opposition this cycle. In total, 33,746 city residents voted for Amash. Only 25,151 city residents voted for Trump.

Douglas Smith (D) received 12,850 more votes in Grand Rapids than Amash. Amash won 20 out of the city’s 77 precincts.

This pattern holds if you zoom out to Kent County.

In 2012, Mitt Romney received 155,925 votes in Kent County.

In 2016, Trump received 148,160 votes in Kent County. Meanwhile, 174,222 Kent County residents voted for their Republican U.S. Rep. (Amash or Huizenga).

Trump’s countywide margin of approximately 10,000 votes is less than half of Mitt Romney’s 22,000 vote margin.

Keep in mind that Romney lost Michigan by some 450,000 votes and Trump won Michigan by a narrow 10,000+ margin. Trump also made a late night stop in Grand Rapids on the eve of the election.

What happened in Grand Rapids?

This is a stark result, and it reinforces the perception that the West Michigan or Grand Rapids Republican is just different. There must be something in the water (besides fluoride) or in the CRC.