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.

What, then, defines us and them?

We all could feel it. The 2016 election cycle was strange and not in a good way. It had a bad smell to it.

In “Breaking Faith,” from the April issue of The Atlantic, Peter Beinart examines the religious and political trends happening in America right now: declining church attendance, the twilight of the old culture war, the rise of Trump and Bernie, and secular political fights.

On Facebook, I noted the following takeaway points from the article:

  1. The left won the “culture war,”
  2. Nominal Christianity is dying quickly, and
  3. The political fights between right-wing secularists and left-wing secularists will be nasty and brutish.

A quick note on secularism. “Secular,” “secularist,” and “secularism” are tricky words because they are used in many ways and definitions vary. In this article, Beinart uses “secular” to mean no allegiance to a traditional, organized religion. It’s a short-hand, though imprecise, way of saying, not Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.

The twilight of the culture war and declining church attendance have not brought about a new day of peace. No, human nature is what it is. There is no solution for discord this side of the eschaton.

Beinart notes, “As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.”

The average American’s religious identity is sitting in the background gathering dust like great-aunt Gertrude’s old KJV Bible, while other traits, like ethnicity and national origin, fill the void. Today’s partisans find their purpose in extra-biblical sources.

Read Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari’s famous Breitbart.com essay, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It contains five references to “tribe,” seven to “race,” 13 to “the west” and “western” and only one to “Christianity.” That’s no coincidence. The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

Beinart sees a similar trend on the left. According to a recent survey, 73 percent of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. 73 percent! Not surprisingly, Bernie Sanders’s popularity was fueled by Democrats who do not attend religious services.

I am old enough to remember when there was such a thing as the “Christian left”!

Black activists, meanwhile, are discarding the spiritual motifs, such as the biblical exodus, that motivated the civil rights leaders of the last century.

African Americans under the age of 30 are three times as likely to eschew a religious affiliation as African Americans over 50. This shift is crucial to understanding Black Lives Matter, a Millennial-led protest movement whose activists often take a jaundiced view of established African American religious leaders. Brittney Cooper, who teaches women’s and gender studies as well as Africana studies at Rutgers, writes that the black Church “has been abandoned as the leadership model for this generation.” As Jamal Bryant, a minister at an AME church in Baltimore, told The Atlantic’s Emma Green, “The difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil-rights movement is that the civil-rights movement, by and large, was first out of the Church.”

. . .

Black Lives Matter’s defenders respond that they are not interested in making themselves “respectable” to white America, whether by talking about Jesus or wearing ties. (Of course, not everyone in the civil-rights movement was interested in respectability either.)

These are frightening trends. Say what you will about the failings of the Christian church, it was a unifying and moderating force in American politics. At the end of the day, accountability matters, and Christians are accountable to their God. To whom and what are the members of the alt-right and the new left accountable?

Beinart concludes the article on a dark note. “For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.”

Future political fights will be nasty and brutish. This postmodernism looks a lot like premodernism. The future is the past. The historian is the oracle.

 

 

Partisanship makes you dumb (Vol. II)

I wrote the first installment of partisanship makes you dumb in January. That post explained that partisanship is an intellectual impairment. Partisanship actually prevents you from reasoning well. The example in that case was a tweet from Rep. Keith Ellison implying that the ACA was somehow responsible for a drop in the cancer death rate over a 20+year period. Dumb city.

We return today to the matter of the Affordable Care Act. Nothing brings out the dumb like the ACA. Here is the second entry in the partisanship makes you dumb series.


This fun quote is from December 2015.

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, on Thursday said Republicans will introduce a plan to replace Obamacare next year.

“There are many things to do, but most urgent is to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said in his first major address as speaker at the Library of Congress. “We think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare.”

Republicans are frustrated, Ryan said, because the GOP has not controlled the White House in seven years. The newly-elected speaker suggested his party will have to offer concrete plans in order to win it back.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/speaker-ryan-gop-will-introduce-obamacare-replacement-next-year/

“[W]e are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare.” Speaker Paul Ryan, December 3, 2015.

Remember, President Obama was in office in 2015. Speaker Ryan is making this bold proclamation with zero skin in the game because the outcome of any repeal bill was predetermined. President Obama would have obviously vetoed such a bill.

Ok, let’s fast forward to March 2017. A lot has happened. President Trump is in office. The Republicans control both chambers of Congress. The sea has parted for Speaker Ryan.

The #RepealAndReplace moment has arrived.

Result?! Womp. Womp. Womp.

This is what we know: (1) #RepealAndReplace was just another misleading partisan slogan and (2) “Replace every word” sounds nice and tough when you have no skin in the game.

Trump fans certainly should revise expectations for #BuildTheWall. I’m thinking that #RepairThatOneFence might be more appropriate.

Partisanship makes you [dishonest or] dumb. 

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?

Your sign is a house on sand

In our political discourse, we assume too much. It’s a big problem. Let me explain.

To one person, a remark is witty and axiomatic. While to another person, the same remark is rude, offensive, and clearly false. Snarky remarks and sloganeering political ads rely on a thousand assumptions, but are delivered with the confidence of the gospel.

We form tribes, camps, factions, and parties around slogans. Ideology becomes doctrine, and we preach to our own choirs. We expel heretics and venerate saints.

This behavior is understandable. We got our epistemology from Jefferson and our history from the progressives. However, in our religiously pluralistic and ethnically diverse country, there are an endless number of starting points and an endless number of destinations.

It’s exhausting to fully understand ourselves let alone others. We take shortcuts and make leaps instead of proceeding carefully and with small steps. If Trevor Noah actually had to explain the nuances of a particular controversy, The Daily Show would sound like an academic conference.

Our political discourse consists of nothing more than naked statements. Houses on sand.

There will be no unity or understanding until we admit that our own political positions are contingent, debatable, and most definitely not self-evident. These examples illustrate my point.

  • Why does a baby outside the womb have a different legal status than a baby in the womb?
  • The government regulates your body all of the time. Why is abortion different?
  • Why does the USA have a responsibility to accept refugees?
  • Why is it legal for the government to take my money and to give it to someone else?
  • How can you prove that religion is a “private matter”?
  • Why must the childless fund public schools?
  • Why should the privileged care about the rest of us?
  • Why should I give any weight to what the “founding fathers” have to say about a particular issue?

Our answers to questions like these would reveal foundations and core beliefs.

I believe that (1) God created the universe and (2) that He has a plan for my life. Those factual claims inform my outlook on every issue. Someone who believes that life has no purpose is just going to begin reasoning from a different zip code. The Christian and the atheist could both be rational and thoughtful, but they aren’t going to arrive at the same destination.

Your political sign or snarky meme is just not convincing to someone with different assumptions about what is good, true, beautiful, and holy. Your political point is not a self-evident truth.

 

 

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.

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.

 

Partisanship makes you dumb (Vol. 1)

This is the first installment of a fun new series on the blog. The series will consist of me pointing out illustrative examples of the partisanship makes you dumb axiom.

Partisanship brings out the dumb in the best of us, so please don’t be offended by the partisanship makes you dumb series. This will be a helpful, insightful, and bipartisan exercise.

“Dumb” is a colloquial term, so allow me to explain what I mean. By “dumb,” I mean the capacity to make and celebrate gross errors in reasoning.

For example, let’s say that Professor Wayne Fontes is standing in his kitchen looking outside through a window. Professor Fontes observes that it is raining. A smart response to this observation would be to grab a jacket before leaving home. Instead, Professor Fontes, prompted by his observation, calls his mom to tell her that Aaron Rodgers has a stupid smile. Professor Fontes has made a gross error and will likely get wet.

That is a silly example, but we make gross errors in reasoning all the time in the name of partisanship. Partisanship affects our ability to reason well. I wrote about that problem here.

I think that you get the point, so let’s turn now to the first entry in the partisanship makes you dumb series.


Partisanship makes you dumb (Vol. 1)

Check out this excellent partisan tweet from Rep. Keith Ellison.

rep-keith-ellison

This is peak Make-Me-DNC-Chair-Because-I’m-Snarky tweet style from Ellison.

Sitting at his computer, Ellison notices an article about cancer death rates. Instead of extending praise and thanks to researchers or the American Cancer Society, Ellison’s immediate reaction is to use this article to partisan advantage by implying that the Republican push to repeal the Affordable Care Act will lead to higher cancer death rates.

So good. So dumb.

If you actually read the article or the original press release, you’ll notice that the American Cancer Society tracked cancer death rates between 1991(!) and 2014, noting a 25% decline over that time span. The very first paragraph of the article lists a couple of contributing factors.

 Cancer death rates in the United States have declined steadily over the years, thanks to improved screening guidelines and falling smoking rates, among other factors, according to a report released Thursday by the American Cancer Society.

To recap: Rep. Ellison takes an article about a 25% drop in the cancer death rate between the years 1991 and 2014 and uses it to imply that the Republican effort to repeal the ACA will somehow reverse this progress. The evidence does not support that conclusion. Partisanship makes you dumb.

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.