Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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April 24: Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 18:2; Psalm 18:18; Psalm 18:31–32; Psalm 34:7; Psalm 34:17; Isaiah 12:6; Jeremiah 3:23; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Hebrews 13:6; Psalm 23:3; Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Luke 15:4; John 10:27–28; Romans 3:10–12; 1 Peter 2:25...

ESV Bible Devotional - 12 hours 10 min ago
Morning: Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 18:2; Psalm 18:18; Psalm 18:31–32; Psalm 34:7; Psalm 34:17; Isaiah 12:6; Jeremiah 3:23; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Hebrews 13:6

The Lord was my support.

“Truly the hills are a delusion, the orgies on the mountains. Truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.”—The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.—“Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them…. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.—“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”—So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”—For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.

But by the grace of God I am what I am.

Deuteronomy 33:27 (Listen)

27   The eternal God is your dwelling place,1
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.2
  And he thrust out the enemy before you
    and said, ‘Destroy.’

Footnotes

[1] 33:27 Or a dwelling place
[2] 33:27 Revocalization of verse 27 yields He subdues the ancient gods, and shatters the forces of old

(ESV)

Psalm 18:2 (Listen)

  The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

(ESV)

Psalm 18:18 (Listen)

18   They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the LORD was my support.

(ESV)

Psalm 18:31–32 (Listen)

31   For who is God, but the LORD?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
32   the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.

(ESV)

Psalm 34:7 (Listen)

  The angel of the LORD encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

(ESV)

Psalm 34:17 (Listen)

17   When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.

(ESV)

Isaiah 12:6 (Listen)

  Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your1 midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

Footnotes

[1] 12:6 The Hebrew for your in verse 6 is singular, referring to the inhabitant of Zion

(ESV)

Jeremiah 3:23 (Listen)

23   Truly the hills are a delusion,
    the orgies1 on the mountains.
  Truly in the LORD our God
    is the salvation of Israel.

Footnotes

[1] 3:23 Hebrew commotion

(ESV)

1 Corinthians 15:10 (Listen)

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

(ESV)

Hebrews 13:6 (Listen)

So we can confidently say,

  “The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
  what can man do to me?”

(ESV)

Evening: Psalm 23:3; Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Luke 15:4; John 10:27–28; Romans 3:10–12; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 John 1:8

All we like sheep have gone astray.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.—“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;… All have turned aside; together they have become worthless.”

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.—I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”

Psalm 23:3 (Listen)

    He restores my soul.
  He leads me in paths of righteousness1
    for his name's sake.

Footnotes

[1] 23:3 Or in right paths

(ESV)

Psalm 119:176 (Listen)

176   I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
    for I do not forget your commandments.

(ESV)

Isaiah 53:6 (Listen)

  All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
  and the LORD has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

(ESV)

Luke 15:4 (Listen)

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?

(ESV)

John 10:27–28 (Listen)

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

(ESV)

Romans 3:10–12 (Listen)

10 as it is written:

  “None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12   All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

(ESV)

1 Peter 2:25 (Listen)

25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

(ESV)

1 John 1:8 (Listen)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

(ESV)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Albert Mohler - The Briefing - 15 hours 10 min ago
Theology makes its way into the headlines again: Why Joel Osteen’s prosperity theology is an exchange of the true gospel for self-centeredness The four pillars of Joel Osteen’s prosperity theology: How the prosperity gospel actually undersells the reality of life for those in Christ Ukraine overwhelmingly elects comedian as president whose only political experience is portraying a president in a sitcom The post Wednesday, April 24, 2019 appeared first on AlbertMohler.com.

The FAQs: Supreme Court to Decide Whether ‘Sex’ Includes Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Gospel Coalition - 20 hours 6 min ago
What just happened?

On Monday the Supreme Court announced it has accepted three cases involving homosexuals and transgender persons who claim they were discriminated against at work. The Court will rule on whether current federal anti-discrimination laws protect employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

What are the cases about?

In two of these cases, the Court is asked to decide if the phrase “because of . . . sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was meant to protect employees from discrimination because of sexual orientation. In the third case, the Court will also determine whether the word “sex” meant “gender identity” and included “transgender status” when in 1964 Congress enacted Title VII.

The three cases to be considered by the Court are:

Altitude Express v. Zarda

Donald Zarda worked as a skydiving instructor at Altitude Express. After a tandem skydive, Rosanna Orellana told Zarda’s boss she had been touched in a flirtatious manner and that her instructor disclosed he was homosexual and “ha[d]an ex-husband” in an effort to excuse his otherwise inappropriate behavior. Zarda was fired, claims his employers, because he had a history of similar complaints of inappropriate behavior.

Zarda filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming “[he was] not making this charge on the grounds that [he] was discriminated on the grounds [sic] of [his] sexual orientation. Rather . . . in addition to being discriminated against because of [his] sexual orientation, [he] was also discriminated against because of [his] gender.” Zarda claimed that “[a]ll of the men at [his workplace] made light of the intimate nature of being strapped to a member of the opposite sex,” but that he was fired because he “honestly referred to [his] sexual orientation and did not conform to the straight male macho stereotype.”

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia

Gerald Lynn Bostock is a homosexual man who was employed as the Child Welfare Services Coordinator for the Clayton County Juvenile Court System. He alleges his employer fired him after the County learned of his sexual orientation, of his participation in a gay recreational softball league, and of his promotion of volunteer opportunities with the County to league members. He also claims the County falsely accused him of mismanaging public funds as a pretext for terminating his employment because of his sexual orientation.

(Note: The Altitude and Bostock cases have been consolidated and will be considered together by the Court.)

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC

Harris Homes is a small, family-owned funeral business run by Thomas Rost. As a devout Christian, Rost says he “sincerely believes that his ‘purpose in life is to minister to the grieving, and his religious faith compels him to do that important work.’” Harris Homes’ mission statement, announced on its website, says that the company’s “highest priority is to honor God in all that we do.”

Rost hired Anthony Stephens as a funeral director in 2007. At the time, Stephens presented as a man. In a July 2013 letter, Stephens first told Rost that he identifies as female, that he “intend[ed] to have sex reassignment surgery,” and explained that “[t]he first step . . . is to live and work full-time as a woman for one year.” Stephens’s plan was to present as a woman and wear female attire at work. Rost told Stephens that the situation was “not going to work out,” but because he wanted to reach “a fair agreement,” he offered Stephens a severance package.

Stephens declined the offer and filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in September 2013, alleging an unlawful discharge based on “sex and gender identity” in supposed violation of Title VII.

According to court documents, Rost believes the Bible’s teaching that sex is immutable and that he “would be violating God’s commands” if a male representative of Harris Homes presented himself as a woman while representing the company. Were he forced to violate his faith that way, Rost “would feel significant pressure to sell [the] business and give up [his] life’s calling of ministering to grieving people as a funeral home director and owner.” (The EEOC “does not contest [Rost’s] religious sincerity.”)

What is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that states, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Nowhere in the statute does it say that “sex” is intended to include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Why is the term sex presumed to cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity?

Title VII is one of several statutes that prohibit discrimination “because of sex.” For example, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs receiving federal financial assistance. In May 2016, the Obama administration reinterpreted Title IX to make “gender identity” synonymous with “sex.”

The administration sent a letter to all public schools in America notifying teachers and administrators of the regulations they must comply with in regards to their students’ “gender identity.” The letter stated that, to comply with federal law, policies concerning students must be based on their gender identity and not on their biological sex. That was the beginning of the attempt at the federal level to officially redefine the meaning of “sex.”

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have also passed laws that extend the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to homosexual and transgender people.

Why should Christians care about the outcome of these cases?

There are three main reasons Christians should be concerned about the Court ruling that the term “sex” covers gender identity and sexual orientation.

First, it would allow federal agencies to redefine reality. In 1984, the landmark Supreme Court case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. established the standard known as “Chevron deference.” Because of Chevron deference the executive branch, through the various regulatory agencies (such as the EEOC), provides most interpretation of statutes that are passed by Congress (such as Title VII). When Congress passes a new law it usually goes to a regulatory agency to determine how the law will be put in place. Because of the judiciary branch has established the Chevron deference, any interpretation that is deemed “reasonable” is likely to be the standard that is used. If the Court deems it reasonable to use “sex” as synonymous with transgenderism and homosexuality, federal agencies will be able to override the will of the American people on these issues.

Second, it would further undermine religious freedom. As the Harris Funeral Homes shows, Christian businesses would be required to hire and accommodate transgender persons even for roles in which it would violate their employer’s moral and religious beliefs (e.g., such as hiring a man who identifies as a women to work in areas where girls and women undress).

Third, as Alliance Defending Freedom notes, it would undermine equal treatment for women by, for example, allowing women’s scholarships to be given to men who believe themselves to be women. It would also jeopardize the dignity and privacy of women, forcing organizations to open women’s shelters, locker rooms, and restrooms to men who believe themselves to be women.

The Gift of Tongues in Corinth—and Today

Gospel Coalition - 20 hours 7 min ago
1. Preliminary Observations

The issue of tongues is sometimes a matter of controversy and heat. As a result, let me state my intent at the beginning. I want to put forward an argument for the scope of speaking in tongues in the first-century church. But I do so in a tentative way. I hope not to stir up heat.

1.1. Tongues in Acts

Let us start with Acts 2. There are several interpretive views. For simplicity, we follow the majority view. It says that Acts 2 involves distinct languages, mutually unintelligible, rather than merely distinct dialects. But even if they were just dialects, the main point is that the utterances in Acts 2 were in natural human languages. We know that because hearers competent in the various languages were able to identify them.

1.2. Tongues at Corinth

Now we proceed to 1 Corinthians 12–14. For illustrative purposes, we may imagine ourselves sitting in the place of a member of the Corinthian church. What would we hear when other members spoke in tongues? Perhaps on occasion someone was present who recognized the utterance as belonging to a language that he already understood. Then he was able to interpret. That kind of case leads us back to the instances in Acts 2. The language in question was identifiable.

But the letter of 1 Corinthians seems to indicate that at Corinth such an identification of the language was the exception rather than the rule. Most interpretation of tongues seems to have taken place not because a listener confidently understood the language, but because of a special spiritual gift for interpreting tongues (12:10, 30; 14:13). The ordinary listener at Corinth heard utterances that sounded like a communication in language. But he did not know the meaning (14:2). Even the speaker did not know the meaning (14:13–14). For practical purposes, from the point of view of a naive listener, anything that sounded like speaking in tongues was speaking in tongues. “Speaking in tongues” is a loose category that easily covers every kind of language-like utterance in the church service that does not belong to any of the major languages spoken in the church.

READ MORE

WARNING: Objects in Mirror Not so Dire as They Appear

Gospel Coalition - 20 hours 7 min ago

Books about global statistics and trends tend to moonlight as insomnia medication. However, Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, written with the help of his son and daughter-in-law, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, is something of a page-turning thriller. How is that possible?

Such books also suffer an inevitable fate: In the blink of an eye, every chart and data set becomes obsolete, requiring endless new editions. Factfulness will prove useful a generation from now, even if it never produces a second edition. How is that possible?

The recently deceased Rosling, a Swedish global health expert and TED talk phenomenon, seemed an older male version of Pollyanna, a naïve optimist bursting with enthusiasm about his state-of-the-art “bubble charts” that show the world getting better on nearly every available metric. He was actually a determined realist who preferred the term “possibilist.” And with this posthumously published book, the “possibilist” achieved the seemingly impossible: a gripping and evergreen book about global statistics and trends.

Mind-Altering Facts—and Minds That Alter Facts

This he accomplishes by a stroke of genius: Instead of just a book about facts (there are metric tons of those, brilliantly delivered and derived almost entirely from official United Nations reports), he writes about the minds that interpret the facts. Namely, he identifies 10 fallacies of thought that conspire to blind us to reality. He calls them mental “instincts,” and he gives them helpful labels: “The Gap Instinct” (imagining yawning chasms between “us” and “them,” “here” and “over there”), “The Straight Line Instinct” (imagining that trends continue in straight lines), “The Blame Instinct” (always searching for a nefarious single cause), and on and on it goes. Factfulness is about mind-altering facts—many of its charts simply blow the mind, particularly pages 60–63—but it’s also about minds that alter facts.

Factfulness is about mind-altering facts—many of its charts simply blow the mind, but it’s also about minds that alter facts.

And because the book isn’t primarily about the data and the charts, but rather how data and charts illuminate perennial fallacies, Factfulness will retain all of its intellectual punch long after the actual charts are outdated. Bill Gates was hardly exaggerating when he blurbed: “One of the most important books I’ve ever read—an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.”

Weaknesses

There are weaknesses. In a book devoted to whether things are good or bad, better or worse, Rosling makes no attempt to provide an actual moral standard by which we can judge what is “good” or “bad”; he simply assumes moral intuition on the part of readers. There is no ethical “underwriting” for his project. For the most part, this is understandable and unobjectionable—few people view poverty, disease, and infant mortality as good things.

But some topics aren’t so obvious. Is it a good thing that the birthrate has dramatically fallen throughout the developing world? It depends. On the one hand, it indicates lower infant mortality (impoverished people keep having children because they expect many of their children to die) and an increase in economic opportunities for women. Fewer children seems an ideal for Rosling (not that he is worried about “overpopulation”—you’ll have to read why), but he never grounds that ideal ethically, nor does he address the unavoidable tradeoff: widespread below-replacement-level birthrates forecast future economic decline.

The crisis someone is trying to sell you today most likely isn’t. Don’t click.

Related, in this regard, a short passage on abortion sticks out like a sore thumb:

Across the world today, women and girls are still being made the victims of religious condemnation of abortion. When abortion is made illegal it doesn’t stop abortions from happening, but it does make abortions more dangerous and increase the risk of women dying as a result. (218)

The 160 million females—specifically singled out for their femaleness—eradicated globally by abortion might have had something to say about who is victimizing whom. Rosling never explains why high abortion rates signify progress; he just assumes that autonomy equals “good.” Strikingly, this is one of the few places in the book where Rosling provides no accompanying data or charts. In 1974 Sweden outlawed almost all abortions after 22 weeks; has it seen a dramatic rise of women dying from dangerous illegal abortions? No. Thankfully, this kind of unsupported dogma is rare in the book.

Rosling’s enthusiasm for progress sometimes blinds him to the fact that occasionally societies regress right before our eyes. Religion is a complete afterthought for him, not relevant to anything he wishes to measure in a society. But it is a fact that 50 years ago women all across the Muslim world, from Cairo to Kabul, posed for photographs with visible faces, beautiful and smiling. The rise of radical, fundamentalist Islam has altered that picture in the extreme. You can ignore the role of religion in the “progress” of societies, but only by refusing to look at it. It’s polite and maybe particularly Swedish, but it’s not objective or honest.

Benefits and Lessons

The strengths of the book vastly outweigh the weaknesses. It’s mesmerizingly well-written, and for Christian believers it contains a few vital lessons. Too often Christians embrace a “sky is falling” cataclysmic view of world history (it’s never been worse!) that is every bit as wrong and extreme as that of the utopian progressive activist who seems to threaten them. Rosling provides an eye-opening corrective, factually and intellectually: The world is getting better, by far, but our minds won’t always allow us to see and acknowledge it.

Rosling skillfully articulates how all of the incentives (economic, status, and otherwise) in media culture and related institutions reward the proliferation of crises that distort understanding. At a time when we’re so emotionally vulnerable to clickbait, daily outrage, and a thousand other perhaps well-intended yet panic-inducing emotional manipulations, Rosling provides invaluable intellectual and factual tools to widen our perspective. The book is a veritable how-to manual to accompany the famous British World War II poster: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The crisis someone is trying to sell you today most likely isn’t. Don’t click.

Rosling’s book should be used as a resource for the cultivating gratitude. Gratitude should, in turn, make us into cheerful contributors of even more progress.

Consider this maxim, for example: Things can be bad and better at the same time. Yes, the snapshot view of a particular injustice or state of affairs can appear intolerable. But the better question is, “Compared to what?” If we back up the film and view the context before this particular frame—that is, if we look at the trend of said injustice or state of affairs, we will see something different. Yes, extreme poverty is intolerable. But did you know that it has nearly been eradicated globally in just the last few decades?

You can do your own thought experiment on any number of things. Race relations in America can be characterized as bad. But follow up on that thought: Compared to what? Compared to a Civil War that killed more than a half-million people and the dehumanizing segregation that followed, we have so much to be grateful for. Things can be bad and better at the same time. Rosling’s book should be used as a resource for the cultivating gratitude. Gratitude should, in turn, make us into cheerful contributors to even more progress.

Christians should be students of the Word, and also of the world. Rosling is measuring the progress of societies over time and that means he’s really measuring the movements of God’s providence. That is a great service, and it can keep us from being blown about by every wind of hysteria. I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone, high-schoolers and retirees alike. We all need to be made aware of our blind spots and gain wider perspective.

The bonuses are that you won’t be able to put it down, and it will reward you when you read it again long after the charts need updating.

The Ancient New Alternative to the SAT and ACT

Gospel Coalition - 20 hours 10 min ago

Last month, 50 people were charged with scheming to get students into elite universities. While some of the charges involved falsifying student athletic abilities, most revolved around the standardized achievement tests nearly every college student takes: the ACT and SAT.

Some parents paid for false learning-disability diagnoses, which gained their children extra time to take the exams. Others paid “a really smart guy” to take the tests for their children or to doctor wrong answers. Still others provided copies of their child’s handwriting along with their bribe, so a proctor could write a better fake essay on the student’s behalf.

The admissions scandal—which snared celebrities such as Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman—was the largest ever prosecuted in the United States. And it raised a lot of questions about those tests.

“Is the College Cheating Scandal the ‘Final Straw’ for Standardized Tests?” The New York Times asked. The Washington Post wondered the same thing: “Is it finally time to get rid of the SAT and ACT college admissions tests?”

Jeremy Tate and Keith Nix at Veritas School in Richmond / Courtesy of CLT

Probably, says Jeremy Tate, co-creator of the four-year-old Classic Learning Test (CLT). But not because of the cheaters.

Tate has been working in the college admissions arena for years. He’s watched the test—and the public schools it was built for—move farther away from education’s historical aim of cultivating truth, goodness, and beauty.

When the SAT was revamped in 2016, Tate was frustrated enough to co-create a new test. The CLT pulls from authors like Augustine, John Calvin, G. K. Chesterton, and Flannery O’Connor, among dozens of other classic thinkers. (Though the test isn’t specifically Reformed, or even Christian, the author of the initial pilot test is Presbyterian.) It also asks students to solve math problems not by memorizing formulas but by applying logic—testing aptitude instead of accomplishment.

This spring, more than 10,000 students took the CLT. More than 150 colleges—mostly Christian liberal-arts colleges—are now accepting those results.

“It has the potential to be a real disruptor to the system,” said Keith Nix, who heads Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia, and sits on the boards of CLT and the Association for Classical Christian Schools. That’s the same language philosopher Charles Taylor uses, and in some senses, the new test has the same aim.

Taylor says disruptions can jar our modern “buffered” selves—which have mentally closed the door against transcendence—into remembering spiritual reality. In the same way, the CLT pushes against enlightened humanism and puts the focus back on the transcendence of the human soul along with the capabilities of the human mind.

And that disruption, if it continues to grow, could affect the whole system.

Standardized Tests

In the 1800s, the passage of students from high school to college—generally something only wealthy white males were able to do—was a chaotic mess. Every high school had its own curricular standards for graduation, and every college had its own admissions examinations.

In an attempt to organize the system and to make college more accessible, 12 colleges banded together in 1900 to administer the first College Entrance Examination Board test. For the first 15 years, the test covered subjects such as Latin, Greek, French, history, and physics. Students were asked to translate passages of Cicero and to “describe a method of finding the specific gravity of a solid heavier than water; of a liquid.”

A few years later, a Harvard professor used an IQ test to help the military—which was looking for officer candidates—sort more than a million World War I recruits. Impressed, the College Board developed a version for high-school students. It became the first version of the SAT.

The exam was thought to be foolproof in a couple ways. First, since the reading sections in particular were regarded as “probably non-coachable,” it would be impossible to cheat. And second, since aptitude and ethnicity were thought to be linked, it would keep higher education off-limits to those who weren’t white.

Neither turned out to be true, but the test did begin to standardize admissions. For the next 60 years, the SAT grew in popularity, mainly due to lack of competition and skyrocketing demand. In the late-1800s, just 1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds attended college, rising to 15 percent after World War II, then to 35 percent in the 1960s. By 2016, nearly 70 percent of high-school graduates enrolled in college.

But they didn’t all take the same test. Over the years, the math section was taken out, tested separately, and put back in; analogies came and went; the antonym section was reduced and then changed to multiple choice. In 1959, the SAT’s monopoly was broken by the Academic College Testing (ACT), which judged mastery—or what a student had learned in high school—rather than aptitude.

Popular perception is that the ACT is easier; by 2012, more students were taking it than the SAT. Together, the tests have become an enormously lucrative industry. In 2017, the SAT’s Educational Service earned $1.4 billion and ACT Inc. brought in $353 million—not including the billions spent on outside test-prep services.

As the two fought for market share, they began looking more and more alike: The ACT added a reading section and optional essay like the SAT; the SAT dropped analogies and added charts and graphs, similar to the ACT.

And both keep adjusting in order to mirror the changing curriculum and standards of K-12 schools.

That’s exactly the problem, Tate says.

Common Core

Tate spent a couple of years teaching in New York City before he went to seminary. (He wound up taking classes at both Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and also Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington D.C.)

“Through RTS, I became enamored with the way education was called ‘formation’ for much of church history,” Tate said. “It had to do with cultivation, with shaping your heart and mind.”

Tate learned that modern educational theory was largely influenced by atheist and secular humanist John Dewey in the early 1900s. Dewey’s theory that education is fundamentally pragmatic—a way to prepare students for useful careers—changed the course of learning in America.

After graduation, Tate didn’t become a pastor. Instead, he began working with schools on SAT prep. So he was watching closely when, in 2015, College Board president David Coleman announced a major overhaul to the SAT.

Coleman was one of the main architects of Common Core, the state benchmarks for reading and math in grade school and high school. (Tate’s not a fan: “Common core is anti-fiction, anti-classic literature, anti-philosophy.”) Its emphasis on utilitarian skills shows up in the SAT’s “practical, more realistic” math scenarios and the trading of classical literature for passages in social studies and science. In one sample test, students read from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome (written in 1911), Richard Florida’s “The Great Reset” about the economic recession (2010), Ed Yong’s “Turtles Use the Earth’s Magnetic Field as Global GPS” (2011), and a speech by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan on impeaching Richard Nixon (1974).

Observers noted that the new SAT was “a lot more like the ACT,” aiming to test mastery over aptitude.

The idea is to “be more fair” by “rewarding students for what they learn in the classroom,” Tate said. “But which classroom? A Jewish classroom? A Montessori classroom? A classical Christian classroom? They’re talking about public schools. Everybody has to be assessed by public-school standards.”

That’s a problem, because “I was seeing consistent themes of always censoring any Christian or theistic authors,” he said. “In addition, they were censoring any ideas that would possibly be offensive to a student. So you end up with meaningless content—you end up with passages about penguins, because no one says, ‘I had a bad experience with a penguin that is going to trigger me.’”

He hated it. “I thought maybe I could offer test prep for a different test,” he said. “I started researching who was making a new test and found that nobody was doing it.”

He wondered if he could do it himself, and called up nearly a dozen college admissions counselors. They told him that they’d love a different test, but that making one would be nearly impossible. The creators of the SAT and ACT spend years—and millions—painstakingly testing each question that’s included.

Tate didn’t have millions, and he didn’t have years. But he did have an idea motivating enough to attract a “strong and enthusiastic” team.

Classic Learning Test

Tate asked his crew to write questions on the best passages of literature, philosophy, and religion. They added questions that would test mathematical reasoning—such as metaphors and logic puzzles—along with math skills and knowledge.

“On the CLT, the passages to be read came from great works of Western literature, as well as classic novels and essays,” wrote homeschooled senior Olivia Dennison, who took the test in 2017. “It was obvious . . . that the goal of the CLT was to cultivate truth, beauty, and goodness in a student. It was a fun test. It made me excited for the future of testing. The required passages were works that I had either read, or that I would read on my own time. Instead of the ACT passage I read where an author remembered how much fun he had on the beach as a child, the CLT included writings from Boethius and C. S. Lewis. I even answered questions about a scene from The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Dennison’s experience is what the test creators were going for—and, for the most part, are achieving. Ninety-three percent of Veritas students said it was a “more satisfying experience” than taking the SAT, Nix said.

The CLT is meant to be a throwback to the days of the Founding Fathers, when education “was aimed, most fundamentally, at making a person more fully human,” Tate wrote.

It’s also a step into the future, especially given the steady growth of the neo-classical education movement.

Classical Advantage

The CLT is not a perfect solution; for example, it doesn’t solve the racial inequality in education. And students of any race who have studied classically have an advantage.

That’s not new—classical students, on average, already do pretty well on the ACT and SAT. “Our little schools exceeded by 60 to 100 points the average of prep schools on the reasoning component of the SAT between 2000 and 2015,” said Association for Classical Christian Schools president David Goodwin.

But in order to keep doing well as the tests change, “we’d have to change our curriculum to Common Core, which we don’t want to do,” he said. That’s why the CLT has him “jumping up and down.”

“I want a test that can measure verbal and quantitative reasoning—that will be the test that will accurately reflect what we do,” he said.

Courtesy of CLT

The first CLT was administered in 2016, and the content wasn’t the only difference students noticed.

“When you take the SAT, you go to a testing location—usually an unfamiliar, factory-like school—and sign in as a number,” Nix said. “Then you go through three or four hours of testing that you’re told will determine where you’ll go to college, which will determine your whole life. You take it under a tremendous amount of pressure. And then you wait a month to see how you did.”

The CLT is administered on the students’ own campus and takes just two hours. The results are delivered the same day.

“It makes the experience smaller,” Nix said. “It puts things in perspective.”

Because the test is just one part of an imperfect admissions process—an overhyped part, some argue. In fact, a growing list of colleges—including University of Chicago and Wake Forest University—are going test-optional.

“In a perfect world, I wouldn’t want the CLT to exist, because I think that education is fundamentally a humane exercise, and the best way to assess anything is person to person,” Goodwin said. “I’d rather have the schools put forth their best graduates to the best colleges, who accept them on the word of the schools. That keeps education from being a grade.”

Nix is also skeptical of grades; his school just did away with them for elementary school.

But he acknowledges “if it’s a good standardized test, then it’s a helpful check-and-balance on the quality of what you’re doing. If we have a great books list, but the way we’re teaching it doesn’t help kids read classic texts and do some good thinking and demonstrate understanding, then we need to know that.”

Goodwin likes a Luke 6:40 model of education, where a teacher reproduces himself in his students. “I don’t think a test can measure that—not the CLT or the SAT. But the redemptive power of the CLT is it gives us headroom to do education well without being pulled into the vortex that is coming.”

It may do even more than that.

Teaching to the Test

It only took a year before large high schools like Veritas were administering the CLT. At the same time, Hillsdale College had completed a yearlong vetting process, and Wheaton statistics and psychology professor John Vessey “did most of the research on the psychometric properties of the CLT to establish that it was just as reliable and valid as the SAT or ACT to use in college admissions decisions.” (He told TGC, “I believe it to be an excellent alternative.”)

“When Hillsdale endorsed it as a superior test over the SAT and ACT, things were different from that moment on,” Tate said. By 2018, the number of high-school test takers had grown to 10,000. More than 150 colleges now accept the results, including Wheaton College, Baylor University Honors College, Biola University, and Cedarville University.

Tate at Liberty Common High School, a public charter school in Colorado / Courtesy of CLT

The test’s rising popularity could be a harbinger.

“Our goal long-term is to go mainstream,” Tate said. “If we can get to 60,000, then 80,000, then 100,000 students, it’s hard for anybody to stay on the sideline.”

If you’re looking to fill seats, as more colleges are, then accepting CLT test scores sounds like a good idea. Nearly a quarter—22 percent—of CLT test-takers don’t take any other standardized test.

“This is already happening,” Tate said. “We’ve gotten a handful of schools on board who aren’t missionally aligned.”

Tate loves that. Because he knows that teachers teach to the test. So it follows that making a good test—with questions about great texts, ethics, religion, and logical reasoning—will encourage teaching to those standards.

“The CLT has the potential to be a real disruptor,” Nix said.

Kimberly Thornbury, vice president for strategic planning at The King’s College in New York City, uses the same language. King’s was one of the first places to accept the CLT on applications.

“This seems like a strategic disruptor,” she said. “Taking CLT scores is a small way we can take leadership in changing curriculum or affirming a K-12 curriculum we think is going to help.”

Classical Renewal

“There’s a fun classical Christian education revival going on,” said Kirk Vander Leest, who sits on the board of both the CLT and also the Society for Classical Learning. (In April, he’ll join the CLT staff.) “CLT is a huge part of that.”

Courtesy of CLT

Like the original college entrance test, the CLT is organizing and setting the bar for schools, thought leaders, and curriculum providers. The 2018 CLT Summit “was the first time we could get much of the classical Christian leadership into the same room,” Nix said.

And “it does raise the standard on classical Christian schools that have big aims but might not be executing as well as brochure might advertise,” said Nix, who was nervous to get his school’s results. “I was like, ‘I think we’re doing a good job, but how will we do?’” (Veritas placed first in the nation in CLT scores this spring.)

“Tests are so important to how we think about what an education is for and how we assess it,” Classical Academic Press CEO Chris Perrin said. “So if the CLT could perform a similar role—be an important kind of culminating test but be aligned with the curriculum of the great books, great conversations, great ideas, mathematics—this would just help create a kind of energy, drive, and focus for the entire renewal. And indeed, it’s showing itself to be doing that right now.”

That’s exciting for parents, teachers, and administrators who see education as more than utilitarian.

“Our Lord can act—and does—in 10,000 different ways,” Vander Leest said. “We feel this is a movement of his kingdom and his people and for his church. That’s why we’re in this.”

I Want Jesus to Be My Treasure — Is the Wanting Enough?

Desiring God - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 9:02pm

Our satisfaction in God will be in measure, not in fullness, until the day we see him face-to-face.

Listen Now

To the World Through New England: Why John Piper Will Not Forget 1992

Desiring God - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 8:02pm

Forty-five miles west of Boston, a quintessential New England town of fewer than five thousand sits tucked away in the sloping valleys of Worcester County. In 1992, John Piper ventured from the Upper Midwest to Bolton, Massachusetts, to deliver three messages in a series called “Justification and the Joy of God.”

This small, relatively unknown conference in a picturesque church may have seemed like an ordinary speaking engagement, but what Piper did not anticipate was how his trek from the City of Lakes to Beantown would impact the course of his life and ministry. For a brief time, this series of messages echoed only as long as the halls of Trinity Congregational Church would carry Piper’s voice. But in God’s providence, a mundane moment at that conference, tucked inauspiciously between sessions, would help to produce a megaphone for Piper’s mouth, allowing his voice to reverberate for decades to come.

In these three messages, now available for the first time online, Piper lays out his theology of justification. He begins with the ultimate ground, God’s drive for the fame of his own name; moves to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ by which God declares us righteous; and finishes with the instrument of justification, faith alone — being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.

God at the Bottom of It All

According to one recent survey, a mere 23 percent of American adults believe that “even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.” Not only does this pop-theology opinion ignore pivotal texts like Romans 3:23, but it dramatically alters how we think about being right with God. Piper points out in his first message that how we view our fundamental problem really matters.

If you start with man at the center with the natural tendencies of the human heart to assert its rights and wants, you will assess the biblical teaching of justification very differently than if you start with God and with his goal to manifest all that he is, so that he might be known and worshiped with a reverence and awe and joy that correspond to all that he really is in perfect proportion.

Hope for Every Sinner

If God gives us eyes to see that not a single one of us could stand before him on our own merit (Psalm 130:3), and none could “endure the heat of his anger” (Nahum 1:6), then we can begin to understand the gravity of God’s laying on Jesus the weight of our own iniquity (Isaiah 53:6). In the second message, Piper asks,

Who of us ever comes to the end of a day and says, “With all of my strength, and all of my soul, and all of my heart, I have loved God fully today?” Therefore, we are the opposite of Jesus, but God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and ordained a magnificent exchange for his people. Christ would be sin, and we would be righteousness.

Saving Faith Sanctifies

This marvelous transaction of Christ’s own righteousness for our unrighteousness only applies to those who put their trust in Jesus — who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). But why does God require faith?

Piper’s answer is twofold. First, “faith, by its nature, draws attention away from we who are needy and focuses all attention on God who is rich and gracious and strong and wise.” Second, faith satisfies the one who trusts. Understanding faith as being satisfied in God clarifies how justification and sanctification relate.

If sin cannot persuade you that it is more satisfying than God, you won’t do it. Nobody sins out of duty. Sin only happens in your life because you think it will make you happier. If faith is a resting in and a being satisfied with God, the nerve is cut of sin. Therefore, justifying faith sanctifies.

Three Decades Later

When Piper preached these three messages on justification and its effects, what he did not know was that a man named Moe Bergeron had journeyed from a nearby town to sit in the hardwood pews to hear one of his favorite preachers. At the time, John Piper was a largely unknown 46-year-old urban pastor in a distant Minnesota. In between messages, Moe found his way to the young preacher, and without having to wait in a line of greeters asked, “Do you keep your messages stored on a computer?”

While the messages Piper delivered at the Bolton Conference are only just now making their debut online, the impact of that providential meeting between a preacher and a web pioneer has reverberated throughout the world for almost thirty years. Sometime after the conference in New England, Moe received a package from Minneapolis. That box contained floppy disks with text files of John Piper’s sermon manuscripts. Those sermons would eventually make their way to a website called Piper’s Notes as a forerunning free-of-charge impulse of what one day would produce desiringGod.org.

Nearly three decades after that conference in Bolton, Massachusetts, God has blessed Piper’s preaching ministry and touched countless lives with his Christian Hedonistic vision of God, his word, and all of life. In 2018 alone, Piper’s sermons received almost 30 million plays, from nearly every country in the world.

In 1992, at a small conference in a quaint New England town, John Piper had no clue that God would multiply such blessings on his ministry. But Piper did know that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). He did know that the same God who leads us in paths of righteousness for his own name’s sake (Psalms 23:3), and the same God who will one day receive worship and honor from every nation (Psalm 86:9), would take pleasure in answering us as we pray with Jesus, “Father, glorify your name” (John 12:28).

A City Under a Hill: Five Problems with Insider Movements

Desiring God - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 11:02am

Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. Planting churches among the world’s remaining unreached peoples will mean engaging seriously in larger socio-cultural contexts permeated by one of these three major systems of belief and practice.

From a human perspective, such traditional and cohesive societies, with their deeply embedded and communal identity from another religion, pose a host of difficult questions about what it means for Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists in such contexts to become faithful, mature Christians who themselves are evangelistic and discipling others.

Birth of Insiders

Rebecca Lewis has offered perhaps the most commonly used and recognized definition for an approach to pioneer missions that aims to instigate “insider movements” to Christ among such populations. She says,

An “insider movement” is any movement to faith in Christ where (a) the gospel flows through pre-existing communities and social networks and where (b) believing families, as valid expressions of the Body of Christ, remain inside their socio-religious communities, retaining their identity as members of that community while living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. (“Promoting Movements to Christ Within Natural Communities”)

Kevin Higgins, another proponent of insider movements, defines them as

A growing number of families, individuals, clans, and/or friendship-webs becoming faithful disciples of Jesus within the culture of their people group, including their religious culture. This faithful discipleship will express itself in culturally appropriate communities of believers who will also continue to live within as much of their culture, including the religious life of the culture, as is biblically faithful. The Holy Spirit, through the Word and through His people will also begin to transform His people and their culture, religious life and worldview.

To be clear, such an approach emphasizes that those who want to follow Jesus can do so without leaving the previous, native “socio-religious” identity and community into which they were born. They don’t have to change their religion, so goes the argument (which appears a few times even in the much loved Perspectives Reader); just start “following Jesus.”

In fact, Lewis recently has argued that to require a change of religious identity in order to follow Christ is to commit the Judaizing heresy rejected by Paul in his letter to the Galatian church. For her, insider movements (IM) are not optional. They are what biblical contextualization looks like. (Other passages of Scripture that commonly serve as proof texts for IM are 2 Kings 5:15–19; John 4:1–44; Acts 15:1–21; 1 Corinthians 7:17–24; 9:19–22;.)

In Higgins’s definition above can be discerned the aim for a non-Christian religion to be eventually transformed from the inside out into something biblical and God-honoring. Fulfillment theology, the idea that Jesus can be presented to unbelievers, followed by converts, and worshiped as the fulfilment of a particular non-Christian religion that he gradually reshapes, has been around for at least a hundred years (for instance, J.N. Farquhar’s The Crown of Hinduism, 1913). The appearance of more accessible books promoting insider movements is now slowly starting to catch up with twenty years or so of experimental missionary practice and academic publishing in journals. It’s likely that more and more missions-interested church members and Christian young people will be reading or hearing about it.

When the Gospel Hides

Proponents and practitioners of the IM strategy have developed a multi-faceted argument which includes appeals to Scripture, sociology, and Islamic studies (besides articles by Lewis and Higgins is the book Understanding Insider Movements, edited by Harley Talman and John Travis). In fact, because this approach is paradigmatically different from historic, biblical Christian church planting endeavors, it is perhaps more fitting to name such a thorough reconstruction as a full-blown ideology rather than a mere strategy. Ideologies are mental fortresses that won’t be overturned by the rational rebuttal of merely one facet or point. So, a multi-faceted response is warranted.

The range of voices responding well to IM is wide and growing. Missionaries and theologians from Presbyterian, Methodist, Brethren, Assemblies of God, and Southern Baptist circles have sounded the alarm and are proffering their critiques. IM is, admittedly, a minority view and practice. But it is something that leaders in churches and missions agencies should proactively engage and prepare their people to think about correctly.

What follows is an attempt to systematically and succinctly address the dangerous IM ideology. I argue that the insider-movement approach to missions is inherently wrong for the following five reasons (that make up the acronym H.I.D.E.S.).

1. Hermeneutics

IM is predicated on the misguided idea that faith in Jesus as Lord of one’s life can “complete” and be the apex of any religious tradition or religious identity. Jesus is the Yes and Amen to God’s promises in the Hebrew Scriptures particularly (2 Corinthians 1:20); he is the point of the Old Testament law, writings, and prophets, uniquely fulfilling Old Testament Judaism (Luke 24:44–45) and bringing the Jewish religious identity to terminus (Romans 10:4) by affiliation with Christ and his multi-cultural church, the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:14–17).

It is fallacious logic, and contrary to the teaching of Scripture, to claim that because Gentiles in the New Testament weren’t required to become Jews in order to follow Jesus, Muslims today don’t need to reject Islam and become “Christians” to follow Jesus. This, however, is an argument commonly made by IM proponents.

The refrain “one doesn’t need to change his or her religion; just start following Jesus” is misguided. That is true regarding conversion but not regarding biblical discipleship. That refrain is a product of the still largely nominal Christian context of many Western societies where believers sometimes, with good intent, simplistically posit that genuine Christian faith “isn’t about religion but relationship.” But that’s a false dichotomy. Muslims who believe “Christian” means Western need an explanation of the difference between true and false Christian faith. IM can be a tragic capitulation to the Islamic misperception of what it means to be a “Christian.”

2. Integrity and Identity

Core Islamic doctrine explicitly denies biblical doctrines that are central, and essential, to Christian faith. True faith in the Jesus of the Bible cannot be posited as fulfilling a religion that indoctrinates adherents in the assertions that Jesus was only a prophet and not “the Son of God”; that it’s blasphemy to say, “God is three”; that Jesus didn’t die for our sins, or rise from the dead, for our justification; and that God doesn’t make covenants by which a person can find eternal security and assurance of God’s mercy, redemption, and eternal life in glory.

Anecdotal evidence posits that some Muslims who eventually realized the biblical beliefs of “insiders” felt those “followers of Jesus” who remained in the mosque had been deceiving the rest of the mosque community by still calling themselves Muslim and saying Islamic prayers. While recognizing a great diversity among Muslims in belief and practice, we should reject the IM proposal to redefine and maintain Islamic identity based on the erroneous refutation of “essentialism” regarding Islam (meaning, there really is no singular essence of what Islam is and ought to be according to Muslims themselves, and therefore it can be defined as anything, including a socio-religious shell to house orthodox Christian beliefs).

3. Discipleship

The IM approach stunts Christian discipleship and spiritual growth. Studies have shown (for example, as early as Phil Parshall in 1998 and as recently as Jan Prenger in 2017) that insiders, who remain steeped in Islamic teaching and habits that reinforce it, often continue thinking that Muhammad was a prophet, Jesus wasn’t God, and the Quran is God’s revelation, a holy book, even on par with the Bible. Our Great Commission is to disciple the nations, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. This includes faithful participation in a fellowship with other brothers and sisters in the Lord, a “church” (or “gathering,” or “large-group meeting,” or “family time,” or whatever one may want to call it).

New believers should form congregations that strive to be faithful to the New Testament patterns of being a church, who prioritize loving relationships with one another in Christ, and who are growing in their understanding of the “good deposit” (2 Timothy 1:14) as they are shepherded and taught by gifted and godly elders. Missionaries must steward the Scriptures, and the great salvation revealed therein, by communicating robustly and equipping converts to interpret, understand, and teach the Bible correctly themselves.

4. Ecclesiology

One’s identification with Christ should entail identification with all of Christ’s people in the world today and throughout time. That is more fundamental, ultimate, and significant than ethnic, cultural, linguistic, family, or local identity (Galatians 3:28). Despite what some IM proponents claim, “churches” do not exist as natural social networks in a place before the gospel enters. Churches are not natural social networks just waiting for the gospel to be added to them. The New Testament pattern is that local congregations emerge as new aggregate fellowships comprised of converts who join with one another from various backgrounds and pre-conversion networks.

The universal church, comprised of Jew and Gentile — and, one day, some believers from “every tribe and tongue” — is together a new race, as it were (the term “new race” has been used throughout church history by theologians to describe the “one new man,” Ephesians 2:14, comprised of both Jewish and Gentile background believers). Following Jesus cannot faithfully be cast as something thoroughly “indigenous” and local but as the joining of a global and diverse new family that includes even U.S. American and Israeli believers (which would be, understandably, a difficult reality for Muslim persons to naturally embrace). IM is a “hyper-local” approach to discipleship and contextualization in a world that is increasingly globalized and interconnected.

5. Soils and Strategy

Though admittedly difficult in many contexts, religious identity and ethno-cultural identity can and should indeed be differentiated. The former must be given up for Jesus and the church. We should reject the conflation of social and religious identity. The hard work of contextualization entails rejecting, maintaining, and repurposing specific aspects of one’s culture, perhaps including certain religious practices, for the sake of serving biblical ends and without compromising biblical meaning. That said, IM should not be considered “C–5” on the contextualization spectrum. One can be C–5 without being IM (the propriety of the C–5 approach in general is another matter). Labelling IM as “C–5” to supposedly provide it safe cover as controversial but merely “high contextualization” is dubious.

We should object to the framing of IM as the antidote to “extractionism” as a supposed way of doing missions. That argument for IM posits a false dichotomy and the use of a strawman. A significant proportion of Western, Protestant missionaries for generations have pursued indigenous expressions of Christian faith to one degree or another.

Some soils may be extremely rocky, dry, and difficult for gospel seed and Christian identity. That is no legitimization for pursuing the IM approach. Missionaries should indeed counsel and coach both seekers and converts to remain in their families, villages, and other social circles for the sake of their faithful gospel witness to others. But hostilities against them for their new faith, and other factors, may mean that a convert wants or needs to remove themselves to another location and situation. This is not necessarily wrong or a failure of missions.

Decisions should be prayerfully made on a case-by-case basis. We should not allow the missionary goal of a “movement” to Christ among any people group to subvert and contradict what is best for individual converts, sacrificing his or her spiritual growth — and perhaps their physical safety — for the sake of a misguided, over-reaching but underachieving strategy.

Light for All Peoples

Do you know what the agencies you (and your church) support are teaching their “workers” as valid options for disciple-making strategies in frontier missions? To remain faithful to the Great Commission as missionary-sending churches and individuals, let us not be complicit in supporting the IM ideology and its counter-productive practices.

Though proponents and practitioners of it doubtless have good intentions, the Insider Movement actually hides under the bushel of errant missiology the Christ-light of vibrant faith and the Spirit-fructified life of newly planted, healthy churches pursuing together all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 5:15; Philippians 2:15).

April 23: Genesis 22:8; Leviticus 1:3–4; Hosea 14:4; Matthew 20:28; John 1:29; John 10:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:6; Hebrews 10:10; Job 33:24; Psalm 49:6–8; Psalm 86:13; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 43:25; Matthew 10:28;...

ESV Bible Devotional - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 8:00am
Morning: Genesis 22:8; Leviticus 1:3–4; Hosea 14:4; Matthew 20:28; John 1:29; John 10:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:6; Hebrews 10:10

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.”

“God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”—“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”—And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.—“A ransom for many.”

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”—I will love them freely.—The Son of God… loved me and gave himself for me.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—He has blessed us in the Beloved.

Genesis 22:8 (Listen)

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

(ESV)

Leviticus 1:3–4 (Listen)

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

(ESV)

Hosea 14:4 (Listen)

  I will heal their apostasy;
    I will love them freely,
    for my anger has turned from them.

(ESV)

Matthew 20:28 (Listen)

28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(ESV)

John 1:29 (Listen) Behold, the Lamb of God

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

(ESV)

John 10:18 (Listen)

18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

(ESV)

2 Corinthians 5:21 (Listen)

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(ESV)

Galatians 2:20 (Listen)

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(ESV)

Ephesians 1:6 (Listen)

to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

(ESV)

Hebrews 10:10 (Listen)

10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

(ESV)

Evening: Job 33:24; Psalm 49:6–8; Psalm 86:13; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 43:25; Matthew 10:28; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:4–5

For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

“Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior…. I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”—… those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly.—“I have found a ransom.”—But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Job 33:24 (Listen)

24   and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;

(ESV)

Psalm 49:6–8 (Listen)

  those who trust in their wealth
    and boast of the abundance of their riches?
  Truly no man can ransom another,
    or give to God the price of his life,
  for the ransom of their life is costly
    and can never suffice,

(ESV)

Psalm 86:13 (Listen)

13   For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

(ESV)

Isaiah 43:1 (Listen) Israel's Only Savior

43   But now thus says the LORD,
  he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

(ESV)

Isaiah 43:11 (Listen)

11   I, I am the LORD,
    and besides me there is no savior.

(ESV)

Isaiah 43:25 (Listen)

25   “I, I am he
    who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
    and I will not remember your sins.

(ESV)

Matthew 10:28 (Listen)

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.1

Footnotes

[1] 10:28 Greek Gehenna

(ESV)

Acts 4:12 (Listen)

12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men1 by which we must be saved.”

Footnotes

[1] 4:12 The Greek word anthropoi refers here to both men and women

(ESV)

Ephesians 2:4–5 (Listen)

But1 God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Footnotes

[1] 2:4 Or And

(ESV)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Albert Mohler - The Briefing - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 5:00am
New details emerge about the attacks in Sri Lanka: The challenges of understanding the role of technology and the necessity of conversionist Christianity What the response to the Sri Lankan tragedy reveals about secularism in both East Asia and the West New Yorkers are still worshiping this Easter, some by going to church and others by going to brunch The Supreme Court chooses to take up cases on the application of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964: Is the original meaning of a text binding? The post Tuesday, April 23, 2019 appeared first on AlbertMohler.com.

Real Men Diet

Head Heart Hand - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 3:00am


Every choice we make about what to eat or drink either magnifies or minimizes God. Visit the Christian Man Academy for a transcript of this video and to enroll in the Academy.

Themelios 44.1

Gospel Coalition - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:04am

The new April 2019 issue of Themelios has 210 pages of editorials, articles, and book reviews. It is freely available in three formats: (1) PDF, (2) web version, and (3) Logos Bible Software.

  1. Brian J. Tabb | Editorial: Themelios Then and Now: The Journal’s Name, History, and Contribution. Tabb explains that Themelios does not prize theological abstraction but biblically faithful, rigorous scholarship that seeks to magnify Christ as the church’s one foundation and presses to ask for the church today, “So what?”
  2. Daniel Strange | Strange Times: Sad Solo. Strange reflects on the acclaimed film Free Solo and the deeper worldview questions it poses regarding human achievement, meaning, and relationship.
  3. Andrew Wilson | The Continuation of the Charismata. Wilson first defines the scope of the debate over whether or not Christians today should earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. He then offers three key arguments for the charismatic position and concludes by raising and responding to the strongest argument for cessationism.
  4. Thomas R. Schreiner | A Response to Andrew WilsonSchreiner argues that all NT prophecy functioned as foundational and authoritative for the early church and contends that what continuationists today call prophecy should be identified as impressions instead.
  5. Thomas R. Schreiner | It All Depends Upon Prophecy: A Brief Case for Nuanced Cessationism. Schreiner defends a nuanced cessationist position on spiritual gifts, focusing particularly on the nature of prophecy. He reasons that NT prophecy is infallible and inerrant like OT prophecy and concludes that this sort of prophecy no longer exists today since the church’s doctrinal foundation has been laid once for all.
  6. Andrew Wilson | A Response to Tom Schreiner. While substantially agreeing with Schreiner’s exegesis, Wilson notes key disagreements regarding his characterization of NT prophecy and tongues and concludes, against Schreiner, that believers today should heed Paul’s call to earnestly desire to prophesy.
  7. Richard M. Blaylock | Towards a Definition of New Testament Prophecy. After surveying various scholarly positions and analyzing key biblical texts, Blaylock defines NT prophecy as a human act of intelligible communication that is rooted in spontaneous, divine revelation and is empowered by the Holy Spirit, so that prophecy consists in human speech or writing that can be attributed to the members of the Godhead and that always carries complete divine authority.
  8. Vern S. Poythress | The Boundaries of the Gift of Tongues: With Implications for Cessationism and Continuationism. Poythress explains that speaking in tongues potentially includes three subcategories: (1) known language, (2) unknown language, and (3) language-like utterance. He reasons that each of these categories can occur in fallible or infallible form and concludes that it is possible to hold a cessationist view of inspiration (no more infallible utterances) and a continuationist view with respect to noninspired forms.
  9. Ben C. Dunson | Biblical Words and Theological Meanings: Sanctification as Consecration for Transformation. Dunson concludes that biblical terminology for sanctification, while indeed definitive in nature, is also integrally connected in the Bible with the process of spiritual transformation begun at conversion. He then reflects on how the doctrine of sanctification can and should hold together both definitive and progressive dimensions.
  10. Lydia McGrew | Finessing Independent Attestation: A Study in Interdisciplinary Biblical Criticism. McGrew analyzes claims by biblical scholars that an event or saying in the Gospels is independently attested and reasons that such appeals must be alleged and supported more carefully. Her study illustrates the need for cross-disciplinary interaction in biblical criticism.
  11. Michael Allen | Disputation for Scholastic Theology: Engaging Luther’s 97 Theses. Allen unpacks the anthropological and soteriology teaching of Martin Luther’s diatribe “against scholastic theology” in his 97 Theses of September 1517. He clarifies the precise nature the reformers’ objections to scholasticism and concludes by charting a set of four protocols for systematic or scholastic theology today, so as to reconfigure the intellectual practice as an exercise in intellectual asceticism or discipleship that is part of the broader process of the sanctification of human reason.

Book Reviews

How You Can Encourage Adoptive Parents

Gospel Coalition - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:03am

Christians have always cared for orphans. Over the past couple decades, we’ve seen more evangelicals than ever before become excited about and involved with adoption and foster care. Yet along with the joy of welcoming a child into a new family, adoptive parents encounter hardships, both foreseen and also unforeseen.

Adoptive parents Tony Merida, Rosaria Butterfield, and Dennae Pierre sat down to talk about those hardships and how you can come alongside adoptive parents in your church family. When working through challenges that arise for children who have experienced trauma, some adoptive parents instinctually “hunker down” and try to make it through without the support of their church family. But Dennae Pierre insists the best advice she can give to adoptive parents is this: “Don’t do it by yourself.”

Though foster care and adoption are hard, all three agree that children are worth the sacrifices. Of the tens of thousands of children in foster care in America, Butterfield says, “It’s an enormous crisis, and it’s an enormous opportunity for the church to show that the covenant is big and wide and capacious.”

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Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast or watch a video.

Pastor, Don’t Miss Today by Focusing on Tomorrow

Gospel Coalition - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:02am

Church planting is inherently future-oriented, and planning is commended in God’s Word (Prov. 21:5). A church planter who doesn’t prepare for the future is a contradiction in terms.

And yet we must guard against being dominated by what’s to come. An unhealthy focus on the future can cause us to miss the God-given opportunities of today.

An unhealthy focus on the future can cause us to miss the God-given opportunities of today.

I can struggle with this temptation, though, focusing on the future to the detriment of the present. And this has affected our church plant in (at least) a few negative ways.

Plant or Disciple?

In an effort to urgently plant churches, I’ve discovered how easy it is to pit church-planting against disciple-making.

Early in our church plant, I foolishly believed those who said, “Once the church is planted, your people will automatically begin sharing their faith, discipling one another, and engaging in mission.” I allowed that thinking to permeate our own plans, at least in part, because I was snowed under: working full-time, raising a family, and trying to plant a church. In retrospect, I wish I’d more diligently questioned such assumptions.

As church planters, we must guard against making the planting of a physical location more important than teaching and fostering a culture of discipleship in our churches. And of course, these two things need not be at odds.

Shepherd Your Spouse

My wife is my greatest advocate and friend. She’s been part of this with me from the beginning—we’ve pushed one another, cried together, and encouraged one another. On more occasions than I can count, she’s reminded me of the liberating truth that God loves me on the basis of the finished work of his Son, not on how much I achieve in ministry.

Such reminders were crucial early in our plant, when we were just figuring things out. My wife managed a plethora of responsibilities: from updating our website, to running the kids program, to trying to figure out how to track our early giving and managing our next-to-nothing church finances. She did all of this—and more—with gentleness and grace. And that’s not to mention the responsibility of mothering our kids and welcoming people into our home on a consistent basis.

And then our church began to grow. People were coming to faith and maturing in Christ. We were thrilled. But I failed to see how this change would affect my wife—as the church grew and leaders were raised up, she was inadvertently pushed to the side.

Don’t get me wrong: She was delighted to see people stepping into leadership, and she knew the importance of equipping people for ministry. But there was still a kind of grieving that she needed to go through as things changed.

So don’t underestimate the internal pain and loneliness your spouse may experience as she navigates new seasons of ministry. Being overly future-focused can cause you to miss your spouse’s present needs. Brother pastor, if you don’t care deeply for your wife in the midst of change, she may end up feeling isolated, unwanted, and used.

Grace for Today

The future orientation of church-planting can lead us to miss the moment—those times God is powerfully at work—because we’re always running swiftly to the “next thing.” Planting a church isn’t just about engaging people once you get your discipleship plan together or once you’ve reached a certain size. No matter what stage you’re at in planting, ask yourself: Who has God put in front of me now to love and serve?

At times I’ve viewed the people God has graciously allowed me to shepherd as either an obstacle to my plans or a vehicle to meet my church-planting goals. This is wrong, and I’ve had to repent of it.

A faithful shepherd is more concerned about the one needy sheep in his flock than the 99 tasks on his list.

But your sheep are not tasks to be managed; they are people to be shepherded and loved. You’ll always have a to-do list. It will often be full. But a faithful shepherd is more concerned about the one needy sheep in his flock than the 99 tasks on his list.

I’ve missed so many of those evidences of God’s grace today because I was so focused on tomorrow. I’ve discovered that much of my discouragement in church-planting has come because I’ve overlooked God’s small, but powerful, daily graces. In short, I’ve sacrificed the present for the future, leading to seasons of discontentment marked by gross ingratitude.

Power of the Present

Church planting is not all about the future. It’s also about today. Like the saying “hindsight is 20/20,” some things seem obvious to me now that weren’t so from the outset.

Yes, be future-oriented. It’s a good thing. But as you look to the future, don’t miss today. After all, God gives grace in daily measures. And we can entrust every tomorrow to him (Matt 6:25–34).

Does the Universe Require a Cause?

Gospel Coalition - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:02am

Why is there something rather than nothing?

That little phrase, often used to poke fun at philosophical speculation, nevertheless points to a real puzzle. We all assume that particular things we encounter in the world—tables and trees, cats and kazoos—always have a cause. For every object that exists, we believe there’s something that accounts for its existence, some story that explains it.

But is there a story that explains not just the existence of those particular things, but of absolutely everything there is in the universe? Does the cosmos itself require a cause?

The history of claiming that the universe needs a cause is a long and honorable one, found in the ancient Greek philosophers and carried on through the Middle Ages to the present. The universe didn’t need to exist—there might’ve been nothing at all. The fact that there is something rather than nothing requires an explanation, and a causal one at that. Arguments that try to establish God as the best explanation for the existence of the universe are known as cosmological arguments.

Cosmological Arguments

Cosmological arguments have come primarily in two flavors. The first variety emphasizes the contingency and dependence of the universe. It didn’t cause itself to exist, which makes it dependent. Nor is it the kind of thing that absolutely had to exist: it exists, but it might not have, and that is what we mean by contingent. As a contingent and dependent thing, it requires a cause, and in order to explain all the contingent and dependent things, the cause needs to be a necessary and independent thing—just the way Christian theology describes God. One advantage of this argument is that it works whether the universe had a beginning in time or has always existed. The important thing is the contingency of the universe, not if or when it got started.

The second kind of argument focuses on the universe having a beginning, and the need for a cause whenever something begins to exist. The kalam cosmological argument is the most famous and currently popular example of this reasoning. Part of its contemporary success is the widespread agreement among cosmologists that the universe began a finite time ago, a view which replaced the eternal steady-state model prevalent until the early to mid-20th century. The “Big Bang” model, initially proposed by Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaître, seems to fit especially well with the creation account of Genesis, which Christians have traditionally understood as teaching that God spoke the world into being ex nihilo, or out of nothing.

Critiques of Cosmological Arguments

Not surprisingly, there have been criticisms of both kinds of arguments by skeptics.

Philosophers and scientists alike have questioned the inference that the universe requires a cause. Some of the objections are quite technical, but most of them have a few basic elements in common. The first is to question the claim that we know anything about what it would take to bring about a universe. For example, some people say that we have no relevant experience we can bring to bear on the question of universe origins. Since science proceeds on induction, building up probabilities based on repeated observations, it simply can’t address the question of what might give rise to a cosmos. We’ve never observed any universes beginning to exist, so we simply can’t say what (if anything) is required for a cause. The only beginnings we’re familiar with are for things within the universe—never of any universe as a whole. Or, along similar lines, some people argue that we have no experience with beginnings whatsoever; everything we see is simply a rearrangement of previously existing material, not a true beginning at all but a shuffling around of already existing protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Other skeptics might allow that the universe requires a cause, but argue that if it does, there is nothing that requires the cause to be personal or intelligent. The multiverse model, which says that there are untold legions of universes being spit out by an inflationary mechanism, would be an example of an impersonal cause. The cause of our universe could even be a previous state of an oscillating collection of matter, exploding and collapsing and exploding again from eternity past. That would be a cause, but the cause would in some way be embedded in the universe itself.

How Christians Should Argue

So what are we to conclude from all this? Does the universe require a cause? It may be too much to hope for a definitive answer. It’s hard to envision any conclusive scientific evidence or irrefutable philosophical argument one way or the other—the science will always fall short because the question involves things that are unobservable. Can we transcend the universe and look back on it from the outside?

As frustrating as it might be for apologetics, we might be better served by recognizing that reasonable objections to both positions will always be possible. Instead of endeavoring to prove to a skeptic that there must be a God because the universe requires a cause, a more promising tack may be to show that belief in a divine cause for the existence of the cosmos is reasonable given all that we know, and the objections against a creator are equally open to doubt.

As the apostle Paul says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). As children of God illuminated by the Spirit of God we rightly see the handiwork of the Creator in all of reality, and our most promising approach may be to invite others to see things the same way—not to try to prove God’s existence beyond a reasonable doubt, but to present the enduring intellectual power and coherence of the Christian perspective and to pray for God to open their eyes to the reality of his glory.

A Debate Between Andrew Wilson and Tom Schreiner on Spiritual Gifts

Gospel Coalition - Tue, 04/23/2019 - 12:00am

It is a huge privilege to open this discussion on spiritual gifts, with Tom Schreiner and other individuals from whom I have learned so much in so many areas. “The first to present his case seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17 ESV).

Because this exchange is based on two books, rather than one, and because Tom’s book and mine come to different conclusions on the continuation of the charismata, it would be easy for a discussion like this to become repetitive. To try and avoid that, in this article I plan to do three things. First, I will try to define the scope of the debate as simply as possible, so we don’t end up talking past each other. Second, I will lay out the charismatic case in a positive way, with what seem to me the three key arguments for it. Third, I will summarise the strongest argument for cessationism, and then challenge it, before concluding. I will leave a discussion of the other cessationist arguments until we engage with Tom’s book later on.

1. The Scope of the Debate

To crystallize the debate in one sentence, I suggest this: Are disciples today intended to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy? I’m pretty sure that Tom Schreiner and Ligon Duncan would say no, and that Sam Storms and I would say yes. Prophecy, that is, is the most helpful focus for a concentrated discussion. We are not primarily debating the continuation of the ἀπόστολοι, since we would all agree that eyewitnesses of the resurrection have ceased (the sense of ἀπόστολος in Acts 1:21–26 and 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:1–9), and that itinerant missionaries or messengers have not (the sense of ἀπόστολος in 2 Cor. 8:23 and probably Rom. 16:7). It is also noteworthy that in those passages where Paul urges believers to pursue the gifts, he does not include apostleship as one of them. And although we may disagree about the continuation of the gifts of languages, interpretation, healings, miracles, and discerning spirits—although maybe not so much, as we will see!—I think we would all agree that the key question concerns the continuation of prophecy. Should disciples “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy”? Clarifying that might keep us from getting lost in the weeds.

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Philippians 3:7–10: Suffering Can Be an Answer to Prayer

Desiring God - Mon, 04/22/2019 - 9:02pm

Christian, God is working in your suffering. He is working Christlikeness, working trust, working to draw you closer to himself.

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End Your War Against Weakness

Desiring God - Mon, 04/22/2019 - 8:02pm

For a few weeks during my freshman year of college, I was a man at war.

You could find me in the campus library, hunched over a book, my fingers furiously scanning the page. Never had anyone consumed Victorian literature and oceanography textbooks so quickly, so intensely. Nor, perhaps, had anyone retained so little.

The path was well-worn. As with so many other students of merely average reading abilities, I was working to master the art of speed. And, along with the majority, my reading legs eventually couldn’t handle the sprint, and I returned to walking through books.

Looking back, those weeks appear to me now as a skirmish in a larger war — one I’ve been waging for a long time, one many of us give our whole lives to. Too often, we spend our days on the battlefield, waging war against our own weaknesses.

At War with Weakness

By weaknesses, I mean those parts of us that keep us from doing what we want to do or being who we want to be. Unlike sins, weaknesses are morally neutral, traits that usually do not (and need not) change as God’s grace renovates us.

We are, for example, not as intelligent as we wish we were, not as athletic, not as good-looking, not as musically gifted, not as charismatic in front of a crowd, not as witty, not as productive, not as skilled at leading, not as fast at reading, not as creative in writing. Although some of these weaknesses yield to disciplined attempts to overcome them, many of them are firm as a rock face. We may push, strain, and put our shoulder into it with a running start, but we find over time that the rock is going nowhere. This weakness is our lot.

Our war with such weaknesses is understandable. The tamest of them can be embarrassing — the sort of thing that gets you laughed at in middle school. The worst of them can act like a collapsed bridge, keeping you from the only road you ever wanted to take in life. So, instead of learning to boast in our God-given thorns (2 Corinthians 12:9–10), many of us spend our time, energy, and money trying to pull them out.

But Christians need not fight a war we cannot win. While many in the world respond to weakness by gathering more troops for battle, Christians remember that some weaknesses are there not to be warred against, but to be welcomed.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Weak

God, in his good creation and providence, sends us into this world beset with weaknesses. “Who has made man’s mouth?” he asks Moses, the meekest of men with the weakest of speech. “Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). What’s true of our mouths, ears, and eyes is true of the rest of us. None of our weaknesses escaped God’s notice when he stitched us together in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully weak (Psalm 139:13–14).

The new birth, for all of the radical change it brings, rarely erases the weaknesses we received at our first birth. God’s redeemed community, in fact, is a kingdom of glorious inequality, where one’s weakness is complemented by another’s strength (Romans 12:3–5). God has made some of us feet, some hands, some eyes, and some mouths — and he expects the mouth to have a hard time walking, and the eyes to struggle with words (1 Corinthians 12:14). Some in the church can preach, and others shake at the sight of a microphone. Some administer with excellence, and others have a hard enough time remembering their children’s names.

When, for one reason or another, we continue our attempt to overthrow the weaknesses God has given to us, even after all reasonable efforts have failed, we are probably being driven less by faith than by discontentment. And discontentment never did anyone good. If persisted in, we risk spending years of our lives trying to become someone God never made us to be.

Make Peace

There’s only one sane way forward: Give up the war. Raise the white flag. Call for a treaty. Make peace with weakness.

Many of us have spent untold months and years trying to overcome our weaknesses, and now we must embrace them? Even become well pleased with them (2 Corinthians 12:10)? Yes. For when we do, we will find that God never sets a boundary that is not for our flourishing.

We will find that great relief comes from dropping the false standards we have raised for ourselves — perhaps even mistaking them for God’s. Some of us have carried such standards like a boulder on our backs for years and years, and what a relief to cast it alongside the path! The new mom need not be as productive as the seasoned mother of five. The firstborn need not live up to his parents’ vocational hopes. The man made to be a deacon need not become a pastor. The high-school girl need not aspire to look like the prom queen.

What a relief when Peter stops trying to be John, and John stops trying to be Peter, and both hear Jesus say to them, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). Our glory is not to acquire the strengths of so and so, but to pursue actual righteousness with all of our hearts, and to become the most Christlike versions of ourselves — with all of our strengths and weaknesses — that we can be.

Live for His Good Pleasure

When we stop trying to make other peoples’ gifts our own, we can finally embrace those gifts God has given to us (1 Corinthians 12:4–7). The foot, done trying to be a hand, can start to get good at walking. The eye, finished with trying to talk, can hone its ability to see.

Of course, this brings us back to the nub of the issue, because our war against weaknesses so often begins by despising our strengths. Our strengths, we fear, would not go for much at an auction. Perhaps they are mundane, unseen, and underappreciated: we stand in the sound booth and not on stage; we clean the hallways rather than teach in the classroom; we balance the checkbooks instead of leading the meetings. These are the sorts of gifts people rarely notice until they’re gone.

But contentment never comes from having a certain gift or skill over another. Contentment comes, rather, from receiving every gift with thanks, discharging our duties faithfully, and praying all the while that God would take these meager offerings and turn them into something corresponding to his great worth (1 Peter 4:10–11). Contentment comes from making much of Christ — in our strengths, however great, and in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

Teach Me, My God

We would all do well to adopt the posture of that humble poet George Herbert, who prayed,

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee. (“The Elixir”)

Those who can pray such words from the heart, and then use their gifts in God’s strength, will find soon enough that they hear the words “Well done,” whether their talents were ten, five, or just one (Matthew 25:21). And they will feel down to the depths of them that his good pleasure cannot be matched by the world’s applause, though the ovation should last till kingdom come.

The Four-Hundred-Year Flower: Arminius, Dort, and the Battle for Grace

Desiring God - Mon, 04/22/2019 - 11:02am

I grew up in a cultural context that believed — mostly in jest, but not entirely so — that “if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”

We had wooden shoes on the fireplace, Delft blue in the kitchen, and Dutch plates hanging on the walls. My mom liked to ask two questions whenever I was interested in a girl: Is she Reformed? And is she Dutch? (I got the important one right.) Looking back, I don’t think there was ever a serious sense that being Dutch was better than being German or Irish or Mexican or Korean, but there was a strong sense of pride in who we were, where we had come from, and the Reformed tradition we inhabited.

The first of my family to emigrate to America was Teunis P. DeJong, who was born in Holland in 1839 and died in Edgerton, Minnesota, in 1925. The earliest ancestor that has been traced in my family tree is Pieter DeJong, who was born in Dordrecht in 1695 and married Neeltje Liesveld of neighboring Zwijndrecht on August 23, 1716. I’ve searched in vain for a record of any DeJongs who helped shape the Canons in 1618–19, but I’d like to think I had a great-great-great-whatever looking in on the action as the Synod of Dort debated and defended the exact nature of God’s free grace.

Because of my ethnic heritage and my Reformed upbringing, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Canons of Dort, even when many Christians — if they’ve even heard of Dort — have considered it an embarrassment of overwrought sovereignty and doctrinal hairsplitting. And yet, the Canons of Dort are not just for Dutch people, and they certainly cannot be reduced to antiquated theological fussiness. The doctrine defined and defended at Dort touches on the most important elements of who we are, how God works, and what Christ accomplished.

Flower Blooms in Holland

The Synod of Dort is a high-water mark of Calvinism, but it would never have taken place were it not for Arminianism.

Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) began his teaching career thoroughly Calvinistic. After studying for a time in Geneva (1582–87), Arminius moved to Amsterdam to pastor a prominent church in the city. As a pastor, he was called upon to defend Calvinistic teaching against a man with one of those amazing Dutch names, Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert. In preparing his defense of traditional Calvinist doctrine against Coornhert, Arminius became convinced of his opponent’s teaching.

In 1603, Arminius was appointed professor of theology at the University of Leiden, where he was strongly opposed by his colleague, Francis Gomarus. Both Arminius and Gomarus believed in predestination, but they differed over the meaning of the word. At the heart of the disagreement was whether predestination was based solely on the will of God (Calvinism) or based on foreseen knowledge of belief (what would later be called Arminianism). Both men thought of themselves as Reformed, as Calvinists, but they were not saying the same thing.

After Arminius

Following Arminius’s death in 1609, the movement continued under the leadership of Janus Uytenbogaert, a court preacher at the Hague. In 1610, the Arminian party issued a document called the Remonstrance, setting forth the “Five Articles of the Arminians.” Gomarus and others formed a Contra-Remonstrance party (Gomarists) to oppose the Arminians.

The Remonstrance of 1610 was issued to Johan van Oldenbarneveldt, advocate general of Holland and Friesland. Oldenbarneveldt, who was working to secure a better relationship with Spain, wanted toleration for the Arminians. The Contra-Remonstrance from Gomarists was submitted to the States of Holland in 1611. Oldenbarneveldt and the States of Holland decided on toleration. But the Gomarists wanted an official theological pronouncement to settle the issue once and for all.

Over the next several years, the conflict went from bad to worse, with prominent theological and political leaders siding with the Arminians. The Gomarists (who we would think of as the Calvinists) feared the Reformed doctrine would soon be lost in the Netherlands. Prince Maurice, the son and heir of William of Orange, eventually took the side of the Gomarists and had Oldenbarneveldt imprisoned. With the nation on the brink of civil war, the estates general finally called for an assembly to end the conflict.

Five Points

An international synod convened in Dordrecht from 1618–19. Of the approximately one hundred members present, twenty-seven were from Britain, Switzerland, and Germany, while the rest were Dutch. The Dutch contingent was comprised of roughly an equal number of ministers, professors, laymen, and members of the estates general.

In the end, The Remonstrants were soundly defeated at Dort, leading to one of the greatest theological formulations of the Reformation era. On April 22, 1619 — exactly four hundred years ago today — the Synod adopted the Canons and settled, for the Netherlands and for much of the Protestant world in the years to come, what constituted authentic Reformed faith.

The Canons of Dort, in rejecting the five points of Arminianism, outlined five points of their own: the first concerning divine election and reprobation, the second on Christ’s death and human redemption through it, the third and fourth points on human corruption and how we convert to God, and finally the perseverance of the saints.

Centuries later these five heads of doctrine would become the five points of Calvinism known at TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). Although TULIP is an anachronistic summary of the Canons, it can be a handy mnemonic device for important soteriological themes. The Canons do not pretend to explain everything about Reformed theology (or about the Bible for that matter), but rather they set out to declare what was “in agreement with the Word of God and accepted till now in the Reformed churches” concerning “Divine Predestination.”

Champions of Grace

Before the Synod of Dort conducted its business, each member took a solemn oath that “I will only aim at the glory of God, the peace of the Church, and especially the preservation of the purity of doctrine.” They ended with a prayer: “So help me, my Savior, Jesus Christ! I beseech him to assist me by his Holy Spirit.” The delegates at Dort were joyfully serious about promoting and preserving the truth.

Do we care as much about defining and defending grace?

Paul argues that “there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). He then moves to defend and define this grace, maintaining that “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Words mattered to Paul. He was never content to casually speak the same vocabulary as his opponents if he knew they were using different dictionaries. He understood that people can champion grace, laud grace, and celebrate grace, while still losing all that makes grace to be grace.

At its very heart, the Canons of Dort are about the nature of grace — supernatural, unilateral, sovereign, effecting, redeeming, resurrecting grace, with all of its angularity, all of its offense to human pride, and all of its comfort for the weary soul. That’s what Dort wanted to settle. That’s what they were jealous to protect. Some words are worth the most careful definitions, just as some truths are too precious not to defend.

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