The Failure of Academia

I have always had a love-hate relationship with academia. Don’t get me wrong. I am looking at it as a whole and not at the individual parts. I am friends with and look up to and learn from a number of academics. You might even call me an academic to some degree (I know some academics who might strongly contend with that). I love reading and studying and learning more. But I never have really cared about getting published in academic journals. I might be interested in getting a doctorate some day. But not because I care about the credentials. I would do it for the rigorous scrutiny. That being said, a pastor is not first an academic, but a servant of Christ, or as Paul says, a slave of Jesus Christ.

I want to demonstrate in this post, what is the failure in much of modern academia and how this failure stems back to their rejection of Christian and Biblical principles for education.

In my third year of college, I was particularly fed up with academics. That is, not the people, but the pursuit. Maybe it was because I was studying the philosophy of math and I had a really good professor who was trying to make us think deeply about reality. This lead me into the Book of Ecclesiastes, and I ended up writing a paper on Ecclesiastes for theology while studying the philosophy of math and other classes like the history of western philosophy and art. One verse caught my attention: “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecc. 12:11-12)

If you look through some of my philosophy of math books from that year, I wrote a number of comments about the vanity of life in the margins. Weirdly, Ecclesiastes never led me to stop reading and studying, but led me to do it more…

One of the central ideas of Ecclesiastes is that vanity looks like a shepherd trying to shepherd the wind. The Preacher applies this to academia as well in the first chapters. Over the last couple months as I watch leaders who have been trained in 20th and 21st century academia try to respond to the current crisis, it looks a lot like shepherds trying to shepherd the wind, to corral it, to tame it. I appreciate many of their efforts. I am sure there have been things learned. But I also hope that we have spent some time seeking to analyze academia itself, what it is based on and where it is heading.

I often think of Ecclesiastes as presenting a holistic view of life and even education. In Ecclesiastes 5 we are brought into the temple, to consider God’s sovereignty over all things. Before, the preacher pursued knowledge in a segregated universe, that had no unifying factor. But then as he grows in His understanding of the sovereignty of God, he also steadily develops a greater appreciation for how everything fits together in the world. He redevelops a childlike love and wonder for all the moving parts in God’s creation. He recognizes that this world is sinful and broken, but that God is sovereign over all that sin and brokenness.

And here is where I put in a plug for New Saint Andrew’s College, a liberal arts college in Moscow Idaho (https://www.nsa.edu/). In the last couple months I have seen a huge amount of flux in academia. The conflicts over whether or not UofT psychology prof, Jordan Peterson, would use people’s preferred pronouns, heralded a coming confusion. As I write this, universities and colleges are suspending departments and laying off staff for the year of 2020-2021. Gender has finally been redefined in the supreme courts of the USA. Scientists are presenting conflicting reports about viruses. Church leaders are butting heads over the appropriate responses. Academic Institutions are wracking up debt and struggling with conflicting reports from their beloved scientists about how to proceed in the coming school year. It all feels so much like vanity and grasping after wind. Meanwhile, I have been watching the most recent series of promotional videos coming from NSA. They are willing to state obvious truths as riots rip through the States and as governments oppose and contradict one another. They may be one of the few liberal arts programs that thrive. Marxism doesn’t work. Scientism doesn’t work. And they have not just stated these things privately. They have openly challenged the rippling fear with the truth that God is Creator and the truth that He is sovereign.

There are certain truths that should be axiomatic to all of education. God is sovereign and man is not. In Christ, all things hold together (including science and theology). While all universities should start with these truths, yet, one can still hold to these truths even if a university rejects them. My wife received two art and graphic design degrees at two secular universities in BC Canada. Even though I went to a private Christian liberal arts college in the States and she went to two secular universities in Canada, it is important and I would dare say even crucial, that we agree on these axiomatic truths. These truths bring all of our unique studies together in a beautiful harmony that operates under the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

I believe that there is a failure in much of modern academia and this failure stems back to their rejection of Christian and Biblical principles for education. Even much of modern seminary education struggles to speak with authority into modern academia because at root their is a deep antagonism between the mind-set of modern academia and basic Biblical principles. Even in modern orthodox and conservative seminaries there is a struggle with how to use or not to use text-critical methodologies. This is not to say that we cannot learn from modern methodologies. But we should be incredibly careful. We may want to be accepted. But it is this caution that brings about the antithesis. And it is this antithesis is crucial.

Christian education should not be used as an excuse to check out of modern debates and discussions. But if we do not begin with the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ in both word and action, then it too will become a vanity and a grasping and a shepherding of the vapor.

Listen to the most excellent wisdom of the preacher in Jerusalem: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.” (Ecc. 5:1-3) Good academics begins with a deep and profound humility. And the primary expression of this humility is when an academic stands before his Creator and listens to Him speak.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Refining our Christian Witness

In analyzing our Christian witness in the 21st century, it is interesting to look back and to consider the charges that the early Christians faced in the Roman Empire. My aim is to show that Christian witness is defined not so much by how the world reacts but by the Word of God.

I quote from Everett Ferguson’s book “Church History”: “The Christian Apologists repeatedly responded to three other charges: atheism, cannibalism, and incest.” The charge of atheism came from their rejection of the Greek gods. The charge of cannibalism came from the language that surrounded the Lord’s Supper. The charge of incest likely came from the terminology of “brother” and “sister” that was used in the congregation. Of course, at root, the very act of Christian worship and refusal to burn incense to Caesar was taken as a refusal to show certain acts of loyalty that the empire demanded of “loyal” citizens. This was seen to be treason.

Comparisons between our present age and the 1st century easily get lost in subjectivity. These are different times. The 1st-3rd century was a pre-Christian era and we are living in a post-Christian era. So how shall we then live? Here are three things that existed in that era that we also need in our era.

  1. There is a great need for Christian Apologists who understand the Word and understand the times.
  2. There is a great need for Christian pastors who do not apologize for Christian language and Biblical terminology just because someone has misunderstood it. Rather pastors should avoid the feeling of being threatened and proceed to explain it patiently.
  3. Christians should learn that obedience to Christ is their greatest witness. If obedience to Christ really is the best way to live, then they will be willing to take slander for it.

I call the century that we live in a post-Christian era, not because I think that Christianity is coming to an end, but because we are facing a cycle of unbelief in the West. There are many who have compromised on essential truths and practices. Those who have not compromised have been caught by a great fear.

So what then is Christian witness?

In Luke 24:48 Jesus told His disciples that they were witness of the events of His death and resurrection and the reality of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Him. In John 20, they met in secret for fear of the Jews, and Christ entered among them and told them not to fear. When the Spirit comes upon them, the witness of the church spreads, through obedience to Christ, in the preaching of the gospel and the worship of the church and acts of love and kindness.

I have always appreciated the reason that the Heidelberg Catechism gives for doing good works. Obviously it begins with a focus on the centrality of Jesus Christ and the salvation that He bought for us with His blood. It also focuses on the centrality of the work of the Holy Spirit. It concludes with these words: “and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.”

I believe that an elder or pastor must be above reproach (I Tim. 3:2). I believe that a good name is better than great riches (Prov. 22:1). I believe that our conduct in the world must be honorable (I Peter 2:12). I believe that if we suffer, it must not be for doing evil, but for doing right (I Peter 4:15-16). But that’s the point. If you do right, you will suffer. As the Puritan pastor, Cotton Mather once stated: “For the faithful, wars will never cease.”

As always, we should be patient and cheerful in our explanations of the truth. King David once asked about how a young man could keep his path straight. It is hard. Young men want respect. But he made a beeline back to the Word of God (Psalm 119:9). That is the only place where men will receive both the praise of God and men (and we must seek the praise of God first and foremost), once they have passed through the finished work of Jesus Christ and have found salvation in Him.

We can always put more work into our Christian witness, to refine our Christian witness. That is part of our sanctification, by which we grow in holiness. For that, the Holy Spirit gives the children of God hard heads and soft hearts. Soft hearts that love and are receptive to the Word of God. Hard heads that break the blows of those who will chastise them for clinging to the Word of God. It all begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ breaking into your life. That’s what it means to be a Christian witness.

Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

Re-Humanizing the Medical System

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In a former post, I brought up my concern that scientists are thinking primarily about medical risk, but not economic, mental health, or spiritual risks. I am still willing to be convinced that the medical risks of this crisis over-ride every other risk. But that is not the purpose of my relentless writing. 

Over the course, of the last couple weeks, the concern came up that Prime Minister Trudeau has joined forces with China to develop a vaccine with china from a fetal cell line from aborted babies. It was concerning to see how many Christians continue to call people to support their governments and then turn a blind eye to some of the ethical issues surrounding such research. 

Of course, to speak out on this matter, brings up a whole host of ethical issues. For example, we use research that was developed during Nazi human experimentation. So can we use research that was developed during Canadian and Chinese human experimentation? Many of those who speak glowingly of Bonhoeffer might tell me to stay silent at this point.

My purpose is not to argue for or against vaccines. My purpose is not to argue for or against the shut-down. My purpose is to pursue a line of argumentation that many Christians should be pursuing.

The American scientist Lewis Thomas wrote in the 1900s. I have three of his books: “The Youngest Science,” “The Lives of a Cell,” and “The Medusa and the Snail.” From my understanding, he was an atheist, but he had some startling insights. For example, he once wrote about scientific reductionism: “Much of today’s public anxiety about science is the apprehension that we may forever be overlooking the whole by an endless, obsessive preoccupation with the parts.”

One thing that you may notice is that there is a thriving medical system that lies on the fringe of the publicly sanctioned medical system. While it is on the fringe, many health insurance programs include naturopathy, chiropractic, etc. I have been in the hospital for bone fractures, but more often I have found medical care through alternative medicine. Through my own experience and the testimony of a large variety of friends I have found that things like rashes, aches and pains, etc, are often better treated outside the public medical system.

So what point am I getting at? It is not my point to discredit the public medical system. They do many good things: surgeries, treating extreme illness, etc. But one wonders why alternative medicine has become so popular.

Much of our modern medical system has accepted the language of what they believe is science. For example, the baby in the uterus, is reduced to a fetus, and can be treated like a useless appendage. Doctor assisted suicide (commonly known as medically assisted dying) for the elderly and infirm has become more popular. Back in January, the government was considering extending this to the mentally ill. You can read about this in the National Post. There is a de-humanizing tendency in our modern medical systems. Whether it is Nazi, Chinese, or Canadian, it is still de-humanizing.

What is man? In a medical system that de-humanizes babies and the elderly, no wonder that we can so coldly use their DNA, and believe that somehow the world is a better place as a result of it. I once heard someone rebuke their opposition for wanting to build an economy on the blood and bones of those who die from COVID-19. We have been building a medical system for at least 50 years (the strains of fetal cells came out in the 60s and 70s) on the blood and bones of the most vulnerable in society. Maybe more people live with vaccines than without vaccines. Maybe more people will live from the shut-down than without the shut-down. But what part of our soul are we willing to give away for that ideal?

Over the last two months I have been haunted by the spectre of what a society looks like under quarantine. There are elderly who have had to die alone. Pastors are not allowed to visit the sick and dying. Hugs and hand-shakes are forbidden at funerals. Weddings have been reduced to 5 attendees. I have been reading about the economic collapse that the northern province of Newfoundland is facing. Churches have been shut down and small businesses are going under while Walmart and Home Depot keep on bringing in crowds and income. And now our Prime Minister is rushing a vaccine that is using aborted babies. It is a dangerous world out there. If you aren’t scared of COVID-19, there are many more dangers at every turn. Of course, I am not advocating fear, but a more humanized medical system, a re-humanized medical system.

We need to relentlessly ask the hard questions. We are not robots. We are not blobs of scientific processes. We are made in the image of God. And that truth changes everything.


Photo by Arseny Togulev on Unsplash

Staying in Your own Lane… ?

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One thing I have heard people remind pastors of in our current cultural milieu is that we are not scientists or epidemiologists. True. Although I do know of pastors with degrees in science and in various fields of intellectual study outside of their studies in theology. Many pastors in my own federation have taken a liberal arts degree of some form before taking an M.Div. Degree. So what does it mean for pastors to “stay in their own lane”? 

Should we focus on the gospel? Of course. The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ give hope for the life to come and deliver us from the fear of death. Of course, the gospel has implications. Jesus is Savior. But Jesus is also Lord. He is currently reigning, seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He has commissioned pastors with a very broad teaching mandate (Matt. 28:20). I was just reading the Political Writings of St. Augustine in the early 400s. They are very Christ-centered, but they also provide real-life guidelines for Christian politicians. 

I am not trained in data analysis. I am definitely not trained in epidemiology or virology. I took 4 terms of natural history and two terms in the philosophy of math that did give me a broader understanding of principles for science. Yet. I recognize the limitations of my knowledge. There are many trained scientists that I look up to as experts in their field.

I have heard a lot of scientists question the “traditional meaning” of Genesis 1 wherein we believe that there is historical and Biblical and even scientific precedent for a young earth. Many of them will be the first to say that pastors are not qualified to speak on the topic of evolution due to the fact that they have no scientific training. But then what qualifies them to challenge the skilled exegete of Scripture and student of languages?

I am not an opponent of inter-disciplinary musings. A scientist can be a skilled exegete of Scripture. And I know at least one pastor who has a doctorate in astrophysics. Maybe my tendency “to dabble” comes from my liberal arts education in my pre-sem studies or my classically oriented education in home schooling. Reading entire books from atheist scientists and philosophers brings you deeper into the questions of ‘why?’ and ‘how?’

In Colossians 1, we learn that all things cohere in Jesus Christ: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) I have always understood that true liberal arts are grounded in a distinctly Christian philosophy. Literacy in the Christian West began with monks who worked with both their hands and their head. For example, the German monk Theophilus, invented the flywheel, wrote De Diversis Artibus, and was a skilled theologian and exegete (Mangalwadi, the Book that Made Your World, 109). A later German monk and then pastor, Martin Luther, brewed beer, did lots of gardening, and wrote large quantities of theology. The theologian, Abraham Kuyper, spent much time applying principles from the Word of God to science and politics. This did not mean they were always correct. But they were fulfilling the commission of the Apostle Paul to take every thought captive to obey Christ (II Cor. 6:5).

The sealing off of intellectual disciplines in our times is a tell-tale warning of a downturn in learning. Our loss of Christ at the center of everything is even more scary. To tell people to be quiet and trust the scientific experts is dangerous to a society.

I recently read an article from a doctor down in the States encouraging people to reflect on the medical risks of COVID-19. It was an interesting read, but she only talked about the medical risks. I have not read or heard many articles from scientists that grapple not only with the medical risks, but also the economic risks, the mental health risks, and above all, the spiritual risks. The few that I have read have been a breath of fresh air and were shortly thereafter censored by YouTube.

Sure, there are a lot of people who are saying very uneducated things and spewing out even less educated theories in our times. There are lies being circulated both among the masses and in the halls of power. But to say that only scientists have the authority to speak to the risks that we are facing in North America at this time is intellectual suicide. My wife came up with a great idea the other day: we need more conversations between disciplines. We need more conversations between pastors, scientists, economists, and world leaders.

I recognize the limitations of my own knowledge. But there are some things that make sense, others that make less sense, and some things that make no sense. There are some things that have begun to make more sense, there are other things that have begun to make less sense. But the liberal arts still run in my blood and I am always wondering how to apply Biblical principles to world events. Should I stay in my own lane? Hopefully that statement makes less sense now than when you started this article.


The Christian Ordinance of Labor

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Recent world events have highlighted the centrality of labour for me again. The last two months have seen unemployment rates skyrocket. I promised that I would do a write-up on the ordinance of labour following my two part series on authority that I wrote over the last 6 weeks: here and here

Ever since I was young, my parents taught me the importance of labour. While I have collected tax returns and tax breaks, I was taught to pick up any job before going on unemployment. This is based on the command of the Apostle Paul to the suffering church in Thessalonica: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (II Thess. 3:10-12). I have worked in greenhouses, in the landscaping industry, in the oil industry, and on farms before entering the ministry.

I realize that there are challenges to the times that we live in. Among many, the serious threat of COVID-19 has come crashing together with socialist political ideology. This puts some men in the position where if they want to care for their family in a responsible way, then they must collect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. If you are doing that and you are frustrated that you can’t work, that is a good place to be. If you are doing that and building a home-based economy, that is even better. Things are messy right now, so the aim here is to focus on principles.

God made men to work. Work was part of the creation mandate (Gen. 1:27). And even though work was cursed when Adam fell into sin, work was still part of his calling (Gen. 3:17-19). I have often heard the 8th commandment cited in reference to the command to work. What is interesting, is that we find a clear positive command to work in the 4th commandment: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,” (Ex. 20:9).

The American theologian John Murray, comments in his book ‘Principles of Conduct’: “If we will, we may call this an incidental feature of the commandment. But it is an integral part of it. The day of rest has no meaning except as rest from labour. it is rest in relation to labour; and only as the day of rest upon the completion of six days of labour can the weekly sabbath be understood.” This is the pattern that we find both in Genesis 1, Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy 5. Work and rest.

As John Murray points out, we see throughout the New Testament, that the Apostles respect this institution of labour. We see this in the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Thessalonica that I quoted above. There we see (1) the man who chooses not to work should not eat; (2) Idleness leads to busybodies; (3) the first command is to work quietly; (4) the second command is to earn your own living. This command is heightened in I Tim. 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

In the context of servants and masters, the Apostle Paul also calls out to employees: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Again, the Apostle Paul commands employers: “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (Eph. 6:9).

I wish that I had time and space and experience/wisdom to apply the principles of Scripture to many different situations. I do want to say that I have seen how hard the regulations of the last months have hit the blue collar workers among others. Those who are making the rules and regulations for our country are in many cases remaining employed. In the meantime, we see the oil industry tank and many farmers are wondering what kind of a hit they will take this year. The restaurant industry and many others will take massive losses (and have already). This gets into economics. But economics are built on the basic institution of labour. Good economics are built on integrity and honesty in labour and on the assumption that people are actually working. 

So what am I getting at here? (1) I want to affirm the Christian desire to work and build. (2) I want to point out that decisions with regard to the ordinance of labour are moral decisions and moral decisions have moral consequences (yes, there are other moral decisions at play, but these moral decisions are part of the equation). (3) I want to condemn the dishonesty and breaking of the 8th commandment made possible by the welfare state (you can find an example here). (4) I want to provide a Biblical basis for Christians to forge a way forward into this brave new world. (5) I want Christians to have a Biblical perspective on work: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31)  

All of this has a higher goal: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (I Tim. 6:17-19)


 

Bridges on the Privilege of Being Early Enlisted under the Banner of the Cross

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Below I share a quote from a commentary on Proverbs 2 from the 19th century Anglican pastor Charles Bridges (you can read the full commentary here):

And now, what serious reader of this chapter can fail to estimate above all price the privilege of being early enlisted under the banner of the cross; early taught in the ways, and disciplined in the school, of the Bible; and early led to hide that blessed book in the heart, as the rule of life, the principle of holiness, the guide to heaven!

Parents, sponsors, teachers of youth; ponder your deep responsibility with unceasing prayer for special grace and wisdom. Beware of glossing over sins with amiable or palliating terms. Let young people be always led to look upon vicious; habits with horror, as the most appalling evil. Discipline their vehemence of feeling, and all ill-regulated excitement. Keep out of sight, as far as maybe, books cal- culated to inflame the imagination. To give an impulse to the glowing passion may stimulate the rising corruption to the most malignant fruitfulness. Oh! what wisdom is needed to guide, to repress, to bring forth, develop safely, and to improve fully, the mind, energies, and sensibilities of youth!

Young man! beware! Do not flatter thyself for a moment, that God will ever wink at your sinful passions; that he will allow for them, as slips and foibles of youth. They are the “cords of your own sins,” which, if the power of God’s grace break them not in time, will “hold” you for eternity. (Chap. v. 22.) Shun then the society of sin, as the infection of the plague. Keep thy distance from it, as from the pit of destruction. Store thy mind with the preservative of heavenly wisdom. Cultivate the taste for purer pleasures. Listen to the fatherly, pleading remonstrance, inviting thee to thy rest—“‘Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, ‘My Father! thou art the guide of my youth?’” (Jer. iii. 4.)


Marriage Under the Cross: the Great Snare for Young Christians (Whitefield)

 

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A warning and encouragement from the 18th century Reformed pastor, George Whitefield in a sermon on the Marriage at Cana:

“But then, we may learn the reason why we have so many unhappy marriages in the world; it is because the parties concerned do not call Jesus Christ by prayer, nor ask the advice of his true disciples when they are about to marry: no; Christ and religion are the last things that are consulted and no wonder then if matches of the devil’s making (as all such are, which are contracted only on account of outward beauty, or for filthy lucre’s sake) prove most miserable, and grievous to be borne…

…I cannot but dwell a little on this particular; because I am persuaded the devil cannot lay a greater snare for young Christians, than to tempt them unequally to yoke themselves with unbelievers: as are all who are not born again of God…

…Let it suffice to advise all, whenever they enter into a marriage state, to imitate the people of Cana in Galilee, to call Christ to the marriage: he certainly will hear, and chose for you; and you will always find his choice to be best. He then will direct you to such yoke-fellows as shall be helps meet for you, in the great work of your salvation, and then he will also enable you to serve him without distraction, and cause you to walk, as Zachary and Elizabeth, in all his commandments and ordinances blameless.”


Preaching Christ at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

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As some of you might know, I spent four years at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary before taking a call to a congregation of the United Reformed Churches in Prince Edward Island. I did internships with 4 consistories and 3 pastors in the United Reformed Churches on my way through seminary and I have always been a member of the United Reformed Churches since I was knee-high, so I am unable to say much about the Canadian Reformed Churches at large. I have heard some excellent sermons from Rev. den Hollander Sr. in Rehoboth URC and some excellent sermons from Rev. William den Hollander Jr. and Rev. VandeBurgt while visiting my wife who was a member of the Langley CanRC while we were dating.

I found that CRTS during my time there had a strong homiletics (the art of preaching) department. This was confirmed by various conversations I had with leaders and members in both the URCNA and Canadian Reformed Churches in the opportunities that I had to preach in close to 35 URCNA and CanRC churches across Canada and into the States (over the course of 3 years and 4 internships).

One of the highlights of taking this particular homiletics program was the 9 sermons (3 per year) that were publicly presented before 1 or 2 professors and the entire student body. There was then a public critique from the professor and the floor was then opened up to our colleagues to bring up questions, concerns, and encouragements. The intense self-reflection following an evaluation was not particularly fun, but I can’t imagine a better way to teach men to preach a message that is faithful to the text and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Another highlight was the two homiletics classes (in 1st year and 3rd year). We read a lot of articles on preaching: anywhere from ones by professor de Visser to Sydney Greidanus and Cornelis Trimp. We also read some great books on finding the glories of the cross and resurrection of Christ throughout the pages of the Bible. We read David Helm’s “Expository Preaching.” We read Timothy Keller’s “Preaching.” We also read Bryan Chappell’s “Christ-Centered Preaching.” We studied and reflected (and yes, debated) each book closely. Various Church Fathers, Reformers, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, and other preachers were also discussed in class.

One of the points that Dr. de Visser underscored to our class in first year is that the difference between good preaching and great preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit in the work of the preacher. We were also encouraged to reflect on that in the grading system. Of course, there an was an effort to grill us based on objective principles for preaching, like whether the text was preached, how we drew our lines to Christ, and how Christ was preached. But an “A” sermon might just be a good sermon, whereas a “B” or a “C” sermon might be a great sermon because the Holy Spirit is working powerfully through it (I believe that Tim Keller also presents this important reminder). 

Between 5 professors and 20 students, a variety of perspectives and intellectual/spiritual gifts are brought to the table. Yes, there are weaknesses and points for growth in both individuals and institutions. And so we see every institution, individual and denomination growing also in conversation with the broader Reformed/Presbyterian and evangelical world. For individuals, mentorships bring further gifts to the table, and prior education also brings various gifts to the table. Seminaries should not operate in isolation from broader ideas and the authority of the local consistory. It was also great to hear lectures from OPC pastor Eric Watkins on redemptive historical preaching at the conferences one year. Over my years at seminary, we heard lectures on various topics from members from the RPCNA, OPC, FRCNA, PCA, URCNA. 

I would recommend the Canadian Reformed Seminary for the Christ-centered nature of their homiletics program and for the way that both OT/NT/dogmatic disciplines also lead to the glory of the cross and resurrection.

I would love to reflect further here on the need for greater union between the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches. Maybe one day I will also reflect further on unity with the many other congregations and federations in North America. I have many thoughts on the importance of organic and geographic unity and the danger of stereotypes and lack of charity. I hope to shape and formulate these thoughts in the coming months and years also in conversation with the wisdom of older pastors and the wisdom of my consistory and other consistories. We must not neglect good debate and healthy communication. Christ-centered preaching leads to Christ-centered unity. Those who preach the cross, after all, must be examples of life under the cross and resurrection. And so we also find unity at the cross, in our worship of the Triune God and on the bedrock of the Bible:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:13–22


Photo by James L.W on Unsplash

Muddying the Waters

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One of the many issues that the young man will have to learn how to deal with over the course of his life is how to deal with interpersonal conflict. I am convinced that one of the reasons why Proverbs is addressed to the young man is because if he sows to the Spirit in his youth, then he will also reap from the Spirit in his old age (see Gal. 6:7-9). Young men face great temptations and young men are establishing patterns of faithfulness that will affect them for the rest of their lives. It is the young man whom Jesus calls to follow after Him for wisdom. Wisdom cries out to the young man in the public square when he is standing there wondering which way to walk (Prov. 1, 7:24-27).

I want to get a couple possible misconceptions out of the way before I get to the point. When applying Scripture, we must be filled with the Spirit of Christ who is the Spirit of wisdom. In other words there is a way to be dumb in the application of Scripture. We don’t simply hold to the doctrine of Scripture alone, but the entirety of Scripture (sola Scriptura and tota Scriptura). We seek to understand things in their context. There are other passages in the Book of Proverbs which balance out those who might take a rash approach to Prov. 25:26. For example, there are many verses which condemn contentiousness and getting into unnecessary fights. Just think of Prov. 26:17: “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” Many more could be stated. But I digress.

Ashley and I just read Proverbs 25:26 at the dinner table: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” This struck me, because this sounds dangerous. Isn’t it better to avoid a conflict? Aren’t we supposed to be peace-makers? Isn’t it better for the unity of the group to live and let live? Isn’t it better to just apologize and move on? These are many of the questions that might come to mind in the context of this passage. These are not bad questions. 

I have been trying to get a better understanding from the Hebrew. The first image is of a well that has been trampled in, so it raises up the dirt, and filled the drinking water with silt. The second image is of a fountain that has been purposely fouled. The man is a righteous man who trembles or shakes or quakes before the face of the wicked. To give way is to back down out of fear. But notice the connection between the second clause and the first clause. That man who actively gives way is compared to that well that has been trampled in. He is compared to that spring that has been fouled. The drinking water is good for nothing. The salt has lost its flavour. The light has been put out. 

I imagine here a situation with a bully in a high school or a grade school. Another guy has stepped between him the person he is bullying. He realizes too late that the bully has 50 lbs on him and has been going to the gym 3x a week. So he stands down and watches the other guy get kicked around. That young man is like a well that has been trampled in and a spring that has been fouled. He has effectively muddied the waters himself by backing down. 

This reminds me of a popular quote from Jordan Peterson: “A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.” I would simply edit the end of this quote with words from Galatians 6: “A good man is a very dangerous man who is under the control of the Spirit and not of the flesh.” Someone might contend with the word “dangerous”, but then I should point out that in the Old Testament whenever the Spirit comes upon a man, he goes to war. The principalities and powers in the heavenly places should flee before the church when it is in the armour of God. A dangerous man is someone who does not stand down before wickedness. 

Wickedness should be terrified by righteousness. Light should shine in the darkness. Christian men should fear God and not men. Wisdom must come into conflict with folly. Truth should militate against error.

There is a time for everything. There is a time to stand down. But don’t muddy the waters. Don’t trample in the well. Don’t poison the spring. Don’t be that poison spring. Don’t be that muddy well. This is what Christ calls His followers to. He calls you away from that spirit of cowardice that stands down when someone is coming at you to intimidate you on a point of godliness. Sure, Christ was perfect and we are not. But He gives us His Spirit, He forgives us for the times that we have stood down before wickedness, and we have the mind of Christ through union with Him. Christian men are in this struggle together, because all must learn to rely on Christ more and more. 

So beg Christ for His Spirit of wisdom, call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, and then take a stand.


Photo by Richard Bell on Unsplash

Victims or Victors?

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Just recently, we have seen a pastor in downtown Toronto going through the court systems for public street preaching. He was released on bail on June 5 and just in the last two months his church was evicted from the public building where they were meeting in downtown Toronto. They were evicted for apparent “hate activity.” We might debate the method of street preaching and/or even the wisdom of street preaching. Regardless of where your opinions fall on that matter, free speech is being crushed in the public square.

In another case, the churches in Edmonton, AB are facing a very broad law against ‘conversion therapy.” While most pastors would condemn abusive forms of conversion therapy, they are now at risk to be seen as being abusive when they counsel someone with gender confusion or same-sex lust and point them to Christ. In cases where someone is offended by this Christ-centered approach to counselling, pastors might face a minimum $10,000 fine. This is being praised in other regions of Canada as progressive.

I am less concerned with the government in this post as how Christians are prepared to respond to this systemic targeting of the public proclamation of the Christian gospel. Many of us might know that secular universities have long been hot-beds for this kind of ridicule of Christianity. I know people who can speak of having their Christian beliefs publicly ridiculed by professors in class. Christians who hold dearly to the value of human life and the value of the human body are often attacked for their beliefs. Depending on where you work, in what workforce you have been given the opportunity to testify to Christ, there will be various responses.

We all too often spend too much time trying to change the system rather than seeking to find ways for God’s Word to shape us. In her book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key, Rosaria Butterfield confronts a Christian victim mentality: “Are Christians victims of this post-Christian world? No. Sadly, Christians are coconspirators. We embrace modernism’s perks when they serve our own lusts and selfish ambitions. We despise modernism when it crosses lines of our precious moralism. Our cold and hard hearts; our failure to love the stranger; our selfishness with our money, our time, and our home; and our privileged back turned against widows, orphans, prisoners, and refugees mean we are guilty in the face of God of withholding love and Christian witness. And even more serious is our failure to read our Bibles well enough to see that the creation ordinance and the moral law, found first in the Old Testament, is as binding to the Christian as any red letter. Our own conduct condemns our witness to this world.

These are strong words, but I recognize what she is saying. I recognize this temptation for Christians to play the victim, to hunker down and wait for the end times. Yes, we should pray “even so, come, Lord Jesus.” But Jesus gave His disciples the promise of His second coming as a reason to go out in faith and boldness, not to retreat in fear and discouragement. 

This is not a fight with our governments. This is not a fight with our neighbors. This is a fight with the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6), and so the call is to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10). Jesus says in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Apostle Paul tells the church in Rome: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” (Rom. 16:20). In Romans 8:37 we read: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

It is these Bible passages that bring a call to take heart. It is time to attend secular university and to take the blatant criticism with a cheerful face and a heart full of the love of God (Rom. 5:5). It is time to throw resources at Christian institutions to stem the tide of mass indoctrination. It is time to have that discussion in the lunchroom at work without “losing it” even if you are the only guy in the room who holds to a Biblical position. There may come a time where churches might even have to consider cheerfully covering a $10000 fine for their pastor (Acts 17:1-10). That is, if he has clearly and cheerfully shared the love of Christ with a man or a woman who is confused in their sexuality.

Will Christians play the victim and cave to the pressures of a society that is beginning to target Christians more and more? Or are we prepared to take a hit for the Name of Christ? We often speak of a culture of victimhood. But the question is: will you play the victim? Will I play the victim? Christians are victors in Christ. We have been given a task to share the love of Christ to men and women created in the image of God. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10)


Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash