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I’m reading faster than I’m blogging on The Wonderful Works of God. Such is the nature of life. From Christ’s nature Bavinck moves to Christ’s wonderful works in successive chapters on His humiliation and His exaltation. Christ’s incarnation, by itself, does not save us but make our salvation possible in that it makes His saving works as Mediator possible. It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition. He then must do certain things to accomplish our salvation (not simply making salvation possible).

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

The incarnation of the Son of God, therefore, without anything further, cannot be the reconciling and redeeming deed. It is the beginning of it, the preparation for it, and the introduction to it, but it is not that deed itself.”

The Work of Christ in His Humiliation

The death of the Son is just as necessary as the birth of the Son for our salvation, and not simply a death of due to illness or old age. Bavinck follows Calvin in discussing the work of Christ in both humiliation and exaltation through the lens of the three offices (munix triplex): prophet, priest and king. This view has received criticism at times, largely rooted in misunderstanding. Just as we struggle with understanding the two natures and the one person, we struggle with the three offices and the one person. Jesus didn’t take these offices on and off like a pair of clothes, or some hat, to indicate “now I work as priest”. Bavinck notes that “essentially Jesus was at all times and places busy in all three offices simultaneously.” There are some moments when it is more clear that He is busy in a particular office.

“Because He Himself is prophet, priest, and king, He in turn makes us prophets, priests, and kings unto God and His Father.”

God the Son subsisted eternally and prepared a human nature for Himself through the Spirit in Mary; Jesus was not subject to the covenant of works. By this Bavinck means He was not subject to original guilt and corruption. I’m not sure he intends to say that Jesus didn’t fulfill the covenant of works for us. Jesus didn’t inherit a fallen condition because Adam was never His covenant head. Yet, Bavinck still affirms the weakness of His human nature that He might be tempted, learn obedience, struggle in order to empathize with us as a compassionate Great High Priest. Jesus is not some kind of hero who “overcomes every obstacle, and finally achieves the pinnacle of his fame.” The incarnation was the beginning of a long humiliation, a long descent, that ended with His death upon the cross bearing the curse.

The anointing for office was at His baptism. The Spirit came upon Him to fulfill the duties of His three offices. His “emptying” was one of dependence upon the Spirit showing us how to live as redeemed people.

He was not simply one prophet among many, the latest in a long line of prophets. He was the Prophet to whom the others testified and from whom they received their message. He is the perfect revelation of God not only in His message but also in His person. He fulfills the earlier prophecies. Jesus didn’t abolish the law but purified it from “false interpretations and human additions, and by bringing them to their full actualization in His own person and work.” While earlier prophets preached the Gospel, Jesus was the Gospel. He is grace and truth, not merely a preacher of them. In this way the priestly office is related to the prophetic office.

The priestly office is also related to the kingly. Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6), and Jesus will make us such a kingdom (Rev. 5:10). His kingdom is established by the sacrifice, not the sword. He doesn’t supplant Herod or Caesar in His humiliation. In His exaltation He will bring all His enemies under His feet, but we’ll get there later.

“During His sojourn on earth, too, He never yielded any of His Divine or His human rights. He did not try to get His rights by violence, but wanted to arrive at them solely by way of a perfect obedience to God.”

His whole life of prophetic, priestly and kingly activities culminated in His death, and as I noted a specific kind of death. Jesus surrendered Himself to death, and death on a cross. It was not a death He sought, but one which was inevitable due to His faithfulness to God and His mission. The disciples struggled to understand this mission, this impending death, until after the resurrection and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost.

The words of Samuel to Saul, that to obey is better than sacrifice, mean that Jesus’ obedience was vital to His sacrifice having any meaning. Jesus must die for our sins, not His own. His obedience merits eternal life for all those who are united to Him by faith. The covenant rests upon God’s gracious election, but the law and sacrifices serve the promise of salvation. They reveal the guilt and corruption of sin. They reveal the necessity of ransom. This shed blood of Christ is the “effective cause of the atonement, forgiveness, and purging of our sins.”

The church, Bavinck notes, has struggled with the active and passive obedience of Christ. Various generations tend to emphasize one over the other, sometimes at one’s exclusion. It is like a see saw back and forth. They go together, however. Both are essential to our salvation. The perfect, unblemished Lamb of God would die for our sins, to remove our guilt and pollution.

The Work of Christ in His Exaltation

The salvation accomplished by Christ must also be applied. The benefits achieved by Christ must also be applied. Christ continues to work in the application of redemption in His exaltation. He seems to shift back and forth between the offices much more in this chapter. Here, oddly enough, Bavinck speaks much of propitiation. One statement caught my eye that I wish were expounded upon more clearly as to what he did and didn’t mean. That is this:

“Because Christ by His death has covered our sin and averted God’s wrath, God changes His attitude towards the world into one of reconciliation, and He tells us this in His gospel, which is therefore called the word of reconciliation.”

Truly, we are only accepted in the Beloved. Apart from Christ’s death we are still in sin and under the wrath and curse of God. But, did God change His attitude? Does this undermine divine simplicity and immutability? Or does he mean it in a way in keeping with them? I honestly don’t know and can’t tell from this text. God’s attitude toward the elect never changes. God loved and sent the Son to be our propitiation. He states this elsewhere but doesn’t necessarily connect it to God’s attitude. The Father sent the Son because He was mercifully disposed, not that the Son might change His attitude towards us. Our disposition changes as we see the kindness and mercy of God (as well as His justice) in the death of Christ for our propitiation.

Perhaps Bavinck is guarding against the idea of eternal justification. That, I think, would be noble, but not the best way to explain it. Justification, as an act, is applied to us at conversion rather than when the decree was made in eternity. Those elect will surely be justified but they aren’t yet justified until the instrumental cause effects the change in our status.

Bavinck does not use election to avoid the proclamation of the gospel but sees it as the justification for the promiscuous preaching of the gospel. He advocates a preaching without distinction to all whom He sends us. The preaching of the gospel is accompanied with the twin commands to repent and believe. Jesus then sends the Spirit to empower His people to bear witness to those nations as part of His exaltation. As He completes the New Testament through the Apostles who wrote it under the power of the Spirit, and proclaims the message through us, He exercises His office of prophet in His exaltation.

“Jesus by His Spirit Himself continued the work of prophecy in the hearts of His disciples.”

The recipients of Christ’s blessings are the church, the true Israel, the true seed of Abraham: Jew and Gentile. There is no sharing in the blessings apart from Christ, and apart from the church. His application of the blessings to His people is His wonderful work in His exaltation. This work is just as essential to our salvation as the work in His humiliation.

In this context he addresses “the descent into hell” providing the interpretations given by Rome, the Lutherans and the various views within the Reformed heritage. The Reformed view has abandoned the view that Jesus traveled to hell to set the prisoners free for either experiencing the agonies of hell on the cross (Calvin) or being under the power of death (WLC). He also delves in to false views of the resurrection since the resurrection is the beginning of the exaltation of Christ.

Jesus goes before us in His resurrection, guaranteeing our resurrection. He paves the way for humanity’s presence in heaven with His ascension as well. “Therefore the conquest of death could take place only by a man. A man had to effect the resurrection of the dead.” He’s not being Nestorian but pointing out the necessity of Christ’s humanity in accomplishing these wonderful works. The Son must be the God-man to die and rise for us. No mere man can do this, but a man must. There is not simply a spiritual resurrection but a physical one.

He expresses a “double grace” like Calvin in that there is “no forgiveness without a succeeding sanctification and glorification.” Okay, a “triple grace”? All those who are justified are also sanctified in the same Christ who cannot be torn asunder.

In Christ’s ascension we discover a triumph over creation, over the laws of nature. It is also a triumph over the forces of evil who become captives. The ascension sees Christ seated at the right hand of the Father to rule over all of creation, heaven and earth. This is Christ fulfilling the office of king in His exaltation. He works to subdue His enemies by converted the elect through the gospel and putting the reprobate under His feet. He will continue this great work in the exercise of judgment at the end of time.

In terms of His priestly office, the emphasis is on intercession in His exaltation. Bavinck begins with discussion of Melchizedek to point us to Christ as the priest who lives forever to intercede for us. He no longer offers sacrifices for us, but pleads the one sacrifice for us as we continue to sin. His one sacrifice gained Him entrance into the true & heavenly tabernacle in order to appear before the Father on our behalf. Our Great High Priest also grants us mercy and grace in our time of need from His throne of grace.

Bavinck returns to the kingly office of Christ, and makes a helpful distinction for us.

“Within the pale of this one kingship Holy Scripture makes a distinction. There is a kingship of Christ over Zion, over His people, over the Church, and there is also a kingship which He exercises over His enemies. The first is a kingship of grace, and the other is a kingship of power.”

There is Christ’s rule as Creator over all things which He rules by power or providence. There is also His rule over His people by grace. Here he delves into the union of Christ and His Church. Each local church is a body of Christ. We are related to one another as members of that one body. Christ brings each body to maturity as we work for one another’s benefit. Through the Church He gathers, rules and protects His people. As He does this He will also triumph over His enemies through His kingship of power so that every knee will bow and call Him Lord either willingly (thru grace) or unwillingly (thru power).

There was plenty of important material here. At times Bavinck reminded me of The In-Laws, moving serpentine in fashion. He moved back and forth instead of straight ahead. At times it is difficult to address one office without address another. There were also a few ambiguities and potential problems in this material. I do stress potential over actual. We must guard the immutability and simplicity of God. We must also, I think, guard against eternal justification (though many of my continental Reformed brothers will disagree). We must not sacrifice one for the other. I’m not sure he did that, but we shouldn’t.


I took a short break from Bavinck’s The Wonderful Works of God in order to finish up some books I began during Study Leave in December. This week I returned to reading Bavinck, but I still had an unfinished blog post since I read The Divine and Human Nature of Christ back in December. I vaguely recall it being a very good chapter.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

We must begin with the testimony of Jesus regarding Himself which was developed and confirmed by the Apostles through their preaching and teaching. The disciples struggled with the reality of Jesus’ two natures prior to Pentecost, and so do many people. “By nature everybody stands in enmity to this confession, for it is not a confession natural to man.” The Spirit must enlighten our understanding. And even with enlightened understand the Church spent time trying to understand this confession: what it meant and didn’t mean.

Jesus died for blaspheme and sorcery. He claimed to be God according to the priests and elders, and performed miracles by the power of Satan. That the Church claimed Jesus was God and man should not surprise us. Until regeneration people only know Him according to the flesh- and see a man, just a man.

“But before the resurrection He was Messiah in the form of a servant, in a form and shape which concealed His dignity as Son of God from the eyes of men.”

Christ testified that the Son of Man would be seated in glory, and the Apostles declared He was seated at the right hand of the Father. He has been exalted, not to a new place, but to the former glory He enjoyed prior to the Incarnation. We can see it is greater in the sense that we now see more clearly He is Redeemer. Bavinck then moves to the great works and attributes given to Jesus, which make sense in light of His high place. These are divine attributes and divine works which together help us recognize He is divine. The invisible God made Himself visible in Christ. He is the exact or perfect image of God.

Even during the days of the Apostles we see that false views of Christ crept into the Church. In 1 John we see him arguing against a form of docetism. In Colossians there were false teachers advocating additional mediators as though Jesus wasn’t supreme and sufficient.

Bavinck explores the heresies to come in terms of the tension between His humanity and His divinity. Each heresy stresses one at the expense of the other. He puts it this way:

“At one time the Divinity of Christ is sacrificed to the humanity; at another it is the humanity that is sacrificed to the Divinity. There are always extremes which sacrifice the idea to the fact, or the fact to the idea. They do not comprehend the unity and harmony of the two.”

Arianism

The Arians stressed the unity of God. God was coterminus with the Father. The Son therefore was not God and was a creature like us, though apparently better. As the first creature He was the greatest creature, but still a creature and therefore to worship him would be idolatry. For Arius there was a time when Christ would not exist. Arius, and the cults today that espouse similar doctrines, the divinity was completely sacrificed for the humanity.

Modalism

Modalism is an attempt to maintain the divinity of Christ, and the unity of God. Reactions often fall into an opposite error. Sabellious is the most famous of the modalists and so it is often called Sabellianism.

While Arius, so to speak, identified the being of the Godhead with the person of the Father, Sabellius sacrificed all three of the persons to the being of the Godhead. According to his (wrongly spelled “His”) teaching, the three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are not eternal realities, contained in the being of the God-head, but they are forms or manifestations in which the one Divine Being manifests Himself successively in the course of the centuries: …”

Taken at face value we should not worship the now non-existent Father or Son. We may worship the Spirit or just plain God. But we don’t see the Apostles, living in the age of the Spirit speaking or acting this way. They affirmed the continuing subsistence of all three and the worship of all three in the present.

Nestorius

The Council of Nicea rejected both of these positions but did not fully resolve the issues involved in understanding and expressing the reality of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. There were new questions raised, and other unsatisfactory answers. Notorious Nestorius is known for arguing that two natures must mean two persons. The unity of the person of Christ was sacrificed for the distinction of the natures in his thinking.

Image result for conor mcgregor strut
Did Nestorius strut like Conor?

Monophysitism

Eutyches also wrestled with questions pertaining to nature and personhood but came up with an opposite error. He affirmed the unity of person (good!) but therefore the unity of nature (bad!). The two natures were co-mingled to form one divinized man or humanized God. He was a blending or fusion of the two natures into one new unique nature. Eutyches maintained the unity of the person but lost the duality of natures.

Chalcedon

The Church responded with the Council of Chalcedon and the resulting Chalcedonian Formula. It addressed the Christological controversies by affirming two distinct natures that remain unchanged and unmixed (contra Eutyches) but not divided or separated, rather forever united (contra Nestorius). These two natures exist, united in one person.

The Church struggles to understand this and apply it. Reformed Protestants are called Nestorians for affirming the two natures are distinct and don’t share attributes in the one person. This is in light of the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation and the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. This view also draws the ire of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Reformed Church sees their views as falling into a form of Monophysitism since they think that human nature has been divinized since it can be omnipresent. Isn’t Church life fun sometimes?

Bavinck reminds us that neither Council, while ecumenical, can claim to being infallible. They use terms not found in Scripture to express concepts found in Scripture.

“All those expressions and statements which are employed in the confession of the church and in the language of theology are not designed to explain the mystery which in this matter confronts it, but rather to maintain it pure and inviolated over against those who would weaken or deny it. The incarnation of the Word is not a problem which we must solve, or can solve, but a wonderful fact, rather which we gratefully confess in such a way as God Himself presents it to us in His Word.”

Banvinck tells us that history teaches us that those who attack the Doctrine of the Two Natures use terms far poorer and value and strength. They often do injustice to the incarnation as found in Scripture. Some liberals deny the divinity of Christ altogether. Others may see a divine grant given to a man (a form of adoptionism). Mormonism for instance sees a man who became God rather than the Eternal Son becoming flesh. This denies the incarnation.

“The separation between God and man is not a gradual difference but a deep gulf. The relationship is that of Creator and creature, and the creature from the nature of his being can never become Creator, nor have the significance and worth of us human beings of the Creator, on whom we are absolutely dependent.”

As Banvinck expresses it: “Christ was God, and is God, and will forever remain God.” He did not stop being God when He became man. He remained the Only Begotten. Prior to the incarnation, the Son was the brightness of the glory of the Father. In the incarnation He was unrecognizable for one only saw Jesus expect by faith. The incarnation, according to Bavinck, also means that He remained what He was when He became man. This is a positive expression.

The incarnation is a great work of God by which He reveals Himself to humanity is a new way, and in a way that enables His death as Savior and Redeemer. The human nature of Jesus did not exist before the incarnation. It was not brought down from heaven into Mary. He notes that the Anabaptists use this to explain His sinlessness. This is Gnostic, not covenantal. Scripture teaches us the goodness of creation, and that sinfulness is connected to the headship of Adam. Jesus took His humanity from Mary. Bavinck distinguishes between assuming a human nature and assuming a human person. We affirm the former but not the latter to maintain the duality of natures and unity of person. Passages like Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 can only be upheld if both natures are distinguished, and they place their properties and attributes in the service of the one person.

As he ends the chapter he notes that the gifts of the Spirit were not give all at once, but “successively in ever greater measure.” He had to learn things. He possessed a “not-able-to-sin” nature, yet due to a weak human nature could be tempted, suffer and die. This was a common view until later in the 20th century. Sproul, among others, would argue that a “not-able-to-sin” nature cannot meaningfully be tempted. We are deep in a mystery here. Is Sproul overly distinguishing the two natures or are others communicating the inability to sin to His human nature thereby confusing the two? If His humanity was weak, how was it not able to sin? We will not resolve this, and perhaps should not try for rocks seem to be on either side of this conundrum.


Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale by George Orwell comes to a crescendo. Unlike the ad for the old animated movie, it doesn’t make me laugh. Orwell intended the end to fill you with fear.

Image result for animal farm

Chapter IX

The animals have just rallied to repel an attack from the men but not before they had destroyed the windmill. It had come at a cost. Boxer was one of the injured animals. He took no time off and hid his pain from everyone but Clover. Benjamin advised him to slow down. Boxer wanted to push through until he reached retirement. The age for pigs and horses was 12, but no one had actually enjoyed the rather liberal agreed upon pension. It would be another year before he could retire.

The winter was as cold as the previous one. But the rations were smaller. Except for the pigs and dogs. Squealer was busy convincing the animals that the ration was actually the same as before. When he read the production reports the numbers were better than in previous years. Lies become second nature when you aren’t held accountable for them. Lies become easy when the people can’t remember history. It is frightening how short people’s memories are these days. For example, some people not much older than me claim to not remember the rape allegations against then-candidate Bill Clinton. I am astounded that so many don’t know this. It also speaks to the power of the media to control what you do and do not know, especially if you rely on only one source.

The population of the farm had grown, but the resources hadn’t. The school for the young animals had not yet been built. Napoleon instructed the piglets. One day in February the animals enjoyed the aroma of what they thought was warm mash. It was actually beer. The pigs had claimed the barley production for themselves and enjoyed a ration of beer.

Napoleon declared “spontaneous celebrations”. Napoleon and Clover carried a banner declaring “Long Live Comrade Napoleon” and the sheep bleated “Four legs good, two legs bad”. The celebrations took their minds off the fact that they were hungry.

After Boxer’s hoof healed he worked harder than ever, some people feel a heightened sense of responsibility even in the face of diminishing returns. But he was aging fast. As spring approached their hopes for Boxer to regain strength were squashed. Still he declared “I will work harder.” One night during the summer Boxer collapsed, blood trickling from his mouth. Napoleon promised to get him into the best of hospitals. The others were skittish because the only animals to have left the farm were Snowball and Mollie. When the truck came to bring Boxer to the hospital, it had “Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler” on the side. Horror spread through the animals on the farm. Spin control went active- the hospital bought it. And they animals bought the tale he spun. On the evening of the funeral, a case was delivered. Somehow the pigs got the money to buy themselves some more whiskey.

Chapter X

Orwell hit the fast forward button for a few years. The only animals left that remembered life before the Revolution were Clover, Benjamin, Moses the raven and some of the pigs. Snowball and Boxer were forgotten. Napoleon and Squealer were older, and fatter. Squealer was so fat he could barely see.

But the farm was more prosperous. There were more horses, and they bought some fields from Mr. Pilkington. The windmill had been completed, finally. Unfortunately it was not generating electrical power as promised. Instead it was used for milling corn. Another was in the works, which would be used to generate electricity. Would it be another in a long line of broken promises, changed stories and mental manipulations?

“Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer- except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.”

The pigs and dogs didn’t produce anything themselves. There were many of them and their appetites were big. For the rest, life seemed to be as it always had been. Their memories of the past were largely constructed by others. Benjamin was the only one who claimed to remember the old days.

After all these years, and the hope of spreading the revolution, had come to nothing. Animal Farm was still the only farm to follow the tenets of animalism. Unlike other animals, their fate was in their own hands not those of humans. They solace in the fact that “all animals were equal”.

One day the sheep followed Squealer to the other end of the farm. The sheep were there for a week, and Squealer spent most of the day with them.

Just after the sheep returned, the Farm was unsettled by Clover’s neighing. The animals gathered to see what Clover had witnessed: a pig walking on its hind legs. Not just any pig, but Squealer. Then a long line of pigs walking on two legs emerged, followed by Napoleon and his dogs.

“There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched the long line of pigs march slowly round the yard.”

Suddenly there was bleating. “Four legs good, two legs better!” The bleating continued for 5 minutes. The reason for Squealer taking them away was clear.

When it was over Benjamin felt Clover nuzzling his shoulder. She brought him to the barn to look at the Seven Commandments. To her aging eyes the wall looked different. On her request, finally he broke his usual practice, and read. All that remained was one commandment.

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Image result for animal farm

The next day the pigs were carrying whips. Napoleon was wearing the Joneses clothes. A week later a group of farmers arrived and entered the farmhouse. The noise piqued the curiosity of the other animals who discovered 6 farmers and 6 pigs seated together at the table. During a toast Mr. Pilkington expressed his admiration for the farm, and its ways. Some of their techniques would be introduced to their farms.

In response Napoleon announced that it was no longer Animal Farm but once again Manor Farm. The other animals walked away until an outburst drew them back. Both Pilkington and Napoleon had drawn an ace of spades prompting the argument.

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the face of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The pigs became the new boss, and the new boss was the same as the old boss. The majority of the animals were still enslaved, but by other animals instead of humans. The pigs had become the new ruling class.

In Russia the Politburo had replaced the Tsars. In China the Party had replaced the Emperor and nobles. They were just as cruel and oppressive, perhaps even more so when you consider how many millions of their people were killed in gulags and “re-education camps”. Revolutions generally replace one tyrant with another.

In this fairy tale the farmers are impressed with how the pigs got the animals to get so much done with so little in return. In other words, they were even more shafted in communism than in capitalism. The principles of socialism began to be adopted by neighboring European nations. In both systems the ruling class only cares about the ruling class. As long as they prosper it doesn’t matter how well or poorly the masses do.

Today it is common to hear promises of utopia, a tearing down of the system to build a more equitable one. History indicates that the result is not a more equitable nation but a new ruling class as oppressive as the first. The promises are false but they find fertile soil in disaffected hearts. Beware, the dream inevitably becomes a nightmare.


You can’t gather 2 or 3 pastors together these days without someone mentioning The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart by Harold Senkbeil. This 2020 Gospel Coalition Book of the Year winner is a hot read right now. Perhaps it is a result of the effect of Covid on pastors and ministry. It is also because this is an excellent book.

One of my ruling elders gave me a copy. I looked at the subtitle and wondered, “Is he trying to tell me something?” No, he’s not. He’d been reading it and found it both convicting and encouraging. That is a good way to sum it up.

The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor's Heart

The Author

Senkbeil is a Lutheran pastor. As a result he holds to a simple “Word and sacrament” view of ministry. That isn’t all we do, but he does keep bringing us back there as the two main tools Jesus has given us to care for His sheep. He’s not writing to Lutherans. He tries to avoid Lutheran slogans, phrases and terminology so those not in his tradition can understand what he is talking about. The one exception is probably his baptismal language. Lutherans make much of the Christian as a baptized person. They speak of “improving” your baptism which can best be understood as living as a baptized person. This is connected with our union with Christ, which he also mentions at points. One point of disagreement I had was concerning “private communion.”

Senkbeil is an old-school Lutheran pastor. He is an older man with tons of experience. He is not advocating new methods. It isn’t trendy. His approach has stood the test of time. It is person-centered, not event centered (aside from the corporate worship of God’s people). This is a book that has stick-ability.

Senkbeil is a conservative, old-school Lutheran pastor. He communicates solid understanding of doctrine like justification. He speaks of the double transfer (double imputation). The Word is communicating these doctrines to people according to their need. One other thing I noticed is the exclusive use of masculine pronouns in speaking of pastors. It is common now to alternate genders, recognizing that egalitarians will read your book too. Not so with Senkbeil. I am not sure if this was conscious or not, but it communicates a complementarian view of ministry.

Senkbeil is the son of a farmer and it shows. He draws much upon the nature of farming to illustrate the nature of pastoral ministry much like Jesus and Paul. He speaks much of habitus throughout the book. Growing up on a farm he understood the habitus of farming, seeing it through his father. He didn’t just do farmer things, he understood and lived as a farmer. New pastors do pastoral things and hope to develop the pastoral habitus: intuitively or unconsciously thinking and acting like a pastor. You do it because it feels natural to you rather than something you are trying to do. This is because of extended periods of time doing them.

“Christ’s sheep are not all that easy to tend. They have minds of their own. They tend to wander off in strange directions and get lost in the most dangerous predicaments.”

What is a Pastor?

He begins with the true center of pastoral ministry: Christ. While we have a vigorous Christology in Scripture, the creeds and church history, if you were to meet Jesus you wouldn’t know it. You’d see a man. You’d hear an amazing teacher. You’d see some amazing miracles. The God-man is a mystery revealed to us in Scripture, not according to flesh and blood. Pastoral ministry is mysterious too, he says. God moves, as Cowper wrote, in mysterious ways; hidden ways. We don’t see all God is doing. He is much more busy than we give him credit for. He reminds us that we are called to both evangelize and shepherd, not one or the other. He will repeatedly assert that much of our work is in the area of sanctification, however.

“No pastor can give to others what he himself has not received. Turn that around and you have the very core of what pastoring is all about: giving out the gifts of God in Christ that you yourself receive by faith.”

As stewards of God’s mysteries, we are servants of Jesus. Senkbeil warns us not to simply see ourselves as servants of the people, satisfying all their whims. We are to give them what they need. And love them through that process instead of being deaf to their feelings. Being servants of Jesus means we serve in the Spirit.

The Word of God

As part of a classical view of ministry he holds to the importance of the Word of God. It is the source and standard of ministry. All our teaching is centered on the Word of God. He also discusses Jesus as the embodied Word and the Reformational stress of Word and Spirit. Senkbeil reminds us the Jesus’ ministry was founded in the Word of God. This is not the strongest chapter in the book. It is foundational but there was nothing that made me go “I hadn’t thought of that.” The rest of the books has plenty of those though.

We pray by means of the word; we bless by means of the word. God’s word is the golden thread woven through the tapestry of all pastoral life and work.”

The Cure of Souls

Sadly ministry has been reduced to managing programs. Not for Senkbeil. This is an important chapter. We offer people the Word of God, especially the living Word Jesus, to people for the cure of their soul. Curing souls requires accurate diagnosis and then applying the proper cure from the Word. Proper diagnosis takes time. Pastors often don’t take the time to make a proper diagnosis. They have more meetings to get to. As a pastor in the PCA, I think we need more men like this. We’ve been too captivated by the business model of ministry. Our people expect the business model, which complicates things. We may need to re-train our people.

Faithful pastoral care of the soul starts when one heart discloses itself to another heart- then the healing ministrations of God’s word and sacraments may be most effectively applied.”

Listening is an important part of the pastoral habitus. But this means we must learn to listen, and Senkbeil provides us with some direction. Listening helps us get to the core problem, not simply the symptoms. The cure of souls is not symptom (or sin) management. It is not the interrogation of a lawyer, but the care of a doctor. Too often we seem to act as though we are going down (or afraid to go down) the road to discipline instead of care.

Pastoral care also addresses providence as people struggle with not only their sin but the sin of others. Our job isn’t to peek behind the curtain to give them special insight into their suffering. We do call them to entrust themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. We do help them see their sinful responses and call them to repentance. We help them to know God better in the midst of their affliction.

Senkbeil then gets into the cure, seen as intentional treatment, developed thru a series of theses. The cure is not you- or your insight. The cure is Christ and discovered in his Word. This calls the person to faith apart from which there is no cure applied. His next thesis that faith comes by hearing. Our job is to speak God’s word to them which creates faith in them. Another reality is that “the devil, world and flesh conspire against faith.” There are many obstacles to faith as a result, and these are addressed with the person. We seek to speak the right word that addresses these obstacles as well. He notes that we aren’t simply addressing emotions, but souls. Here he brings in baptism, reminding people to live by “daily repentance and baptismal living.” The Lutheran tradition focuses on the words of absolution more than the Reformed tradition, and here he makes much of their need to hear words of absolution as part of the cure of their soul. They also need the Table (here focused on as communal in contrast to our culture’s focus on the individual). We also teach them to pray in light of God’s promises.

Sheep-Dogging and Shepherding

Much of pastoral effectiveness is hidden. This can create issues for the pastor struggling with a sense of futility and apparently fruitlessness. Into this he brings the image of the sheepdog. The dog aids the shepherd in his work. The sheepdog serves the shepherd, not the sheep. This means he serves at and for the pleasure of the shepherd. Pastors need to remember they are sheepdogs, not the Shepherd. The sheep are not ours, but His even while under our care. The authority is not ours, but delegated from Him. Caring for the sheep is an act of love for the Shepherd. This is one of the most helpful chapters in the book. He delves into the application of justification in ministry to the conscience of sheep. Without referring to Calvin, he essentially discusses the double grace since those who have Christ’s righteousness are also being made holy.

Every baptized believer lives each day on a battlefield in this fallen world, contending not just against the devil but also wrestling with the compulsions and obsessions of his own sinful flesh… the Christian is always under siege and at war with the devil, this sinful world, and his own sinful flesh.”

As sheepdogs we gather the sheep and tend to them. As noted already, “mission and ministry go together”. He gets into more theology to be applied in pastoral care. This time it is the atonement as he discusses propitiation and expiation. He removes God’s wrath and the reason for God’s wrath. This leads us into another helpful discussion, this time of guilt and shame.

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Sam Always Protected the Sheep

Guilt and Shame

This pair go together just about everywhere. His working definition is: “Guilt is sin committed; shame is sin suffered.” It is a bit more complex than that, but it is a good place to start anyway. Much of pastoral care is addressing guilt and shame. Shame is more connected to the pollution of sin: you feel dirty and worthless either as one who has sinned or as one sinned against. He does spend time with Adam and Eve’s sin and how both guilt and shame result.

Senkbeil returns to the baptismal fount as the cleansing portrayed in baptism is essential to dealing with both. We’ve been forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Christ according to John (1 John 1:9). As a pastor it can take listening to the message behind the message to know which they are dealing with. In discussing addiction, which is often driven by shame, he brings us to the active and passive obedience of Christ.

For cringing, cowering hearts bearing wounds of shame deeply engraved in their souls by the sins of other people, baptismal therapy brings cleansing and renewal as they are enwrapped over and over in the royal robes of Christ’s own holiness.”

Holiness and the Cure of Souls

“Pastoral work is carried out routinely in the realm of sanctification.” This is because we all sin daily in thought, word and deed. We therefore struggle with guilt and shame, feeling defiled and unworthy. In light of this he begins with our objective and positional sanctification. Christ provides holiness to us, and sets us apart as His.

It is in this context that he delves into the topic of sexual sin. The society in which we serve is returning to the sexual chaos of the Roman Empire. Internally our hearts are tempted to sexual sin of all kinds. Temptation is internal and external not only for the parishioner but also the pastor. God’s will is our sanctification which includes controlling our bodies (1 Thes. 4). The word used there was often used for “penis”. Paul is being blunt to these Christians. Sanctification includes our sexuality and sex organs. Our society privatizes sex, but Paul doesn’t. It affects our brothers and sisters in Christ. Faith in Christ does not deny our desires but seeks to be faithful to Christ in light of our desires. Discipleship will include talking about sex and sexuality, bringing them under the yoke of Christ.

Drawing Near to God

He continues with sanctification as he begins to talk about our emotions. Without saying it, this is Relational Wisdom’s other- and self-awareness. We must be aware of their emotions and ours to correctly diagnose and cure. Lack of self-awareness often results in either retreating in man pleasing or attacking in judgment instead of coming alongside to help. But he also brings us to the temple to understand drawing near to God as an aspect of holiness. There is talk of sacrifices as well as a liturgical life. When God is near things are different. Our goal is to see them draw near to God, and to remember that we need to keep close to Jesus.

Your job is merely to bring people to Jesus and Jesus to people. If you do that, though you may be hard at work, Jesus is working with you and through you all the time. And he does all the heavy lifting.

Invisible Powers: Spiritual Warfare

I’m glad he included this as a chapter. A number of books I’ve been reading lately have been on this subject and reminding us that all of Ephesians (and therefore life) is about spiritual warfare. He takes a more defensive posture in his approach. For instance, the word used for sword is that for garrisoned soldiers. Yet, I consider that the Gates of Hades shall not stand, and those gates are defensive. That means we are also on the offensive. Unlike Powlison and Duguid, he doesn’t bring us back to Isaiah and the armor that Jesus as the Servant wore. His emphasis on ministry as spiritual warfare and that the people we serve are engaged in similar warfare is important. Ministry hassles are part of that battle. There is more going on than meets the eye in our congregations. In this context, following Paul, he speaks of the importance of prayer.

One less than helpful thing for this former Catholic is the section on the sign of the cross. Luther’s instruction about beginning and ending the day with the sign sounds like warmed over superstition to me.

Far more helpful was his discussion of acedia or a lack of care. Pastors can begin to go through the motions, just like everyone else. Autopilot isn’t made for battle. He gives some helpful warning signs that you are struggling with acedia.

Christ’s “Other Sheep”: Mission and the Care of Souls

He has earlier mentioned that we both gather and tend the sheep. With our culture’s increasing specialization pastors are subtly forced to choose one or the other. Senkbeil’s goal here is for us to return to gathering the sheep as part of our calling. It can all blend into one. To gather effectively you need to tend to them as well. Formerly gathered sheep can also wander off and need to be re-gathered. This means we deal with their sin and their suffering. We make both law and gospel known to them for faith and repentance.

Mission is nothing more than the church in motion to dispense the gifts of life and salvation that in Christ Jesus.

Shepherding the Shepherds

Pastors need shepherding too. Our should I (he) say that sheepdogs need care too? Covid finds weakness in a body and seems to attack there. Culturally is also exposed many weaknesses. This is true for pastors. So many pastors are hurting. They’ve sought out idols and addictions to numb the pain they feel. As lockdowns began I knew that I’d experience these temptations and needed to pray and be vigilant lest I drink too much and too often, or put on a Covid 15, 20 or more. Until about mid-summer my wife and I walked together most mornings, which was good for us and me.

Covid overwhelmed pastors with decision fatigue as well as being in the middle between the people demanding our churches conform to either of the two extremes. Pastors are depressed, stressed and coming part.

It is important that we utilize wise practices of self-care, but also that we have people to watch over our souls. Not just “accountability” but providing care. This is difficult for pastors. People know we struggle but don’t necessarily want to know how we struggle. Some friends can’t handle it and begin to take the role of the accuser of the brethren instead of those holding up Moses’ arms. We need to find men who will love us and speak truth to us.

He returns to the topic of prayer here. He advises that we pray out loud. All I can think of is Ladyhawke, as Gaston carries on a seemingly endless conversation with God. His goal is developing the habitus of prayer in us. He encourages prayer kneelers and advocates for Luther’s prayer wreath as we read Scripture (instruction, thanksgiving confession and supplication). He also encourages regular exercise, particularly since our jobs mean we sit. A lot.

Ladyhawke Poster

Always be Steady: Equilibrium in Ministry

We need a healthy balance regarding the past while in the present. He speaks of the power of memory. He seems to remember all the good times of his youth. He waxes nostalgic. He and I are different. I remember the traumatic at least as much as the good stuff, maybe more.

His point is that there were no glory days of the church. If we think they were we will be overwhelmed by that fact that we are in declension now instead of realizing the church is always in some state of declension. We are called to minister in the present, not the past, as we lead people into the future. We neither follow the culture nor react to the culture but say along the road laid out for us. Without saying so, he points us to Luther’s theology of the cross opposed to the theology of glory.

Steadfastness doesn’t leave the path when a storm arises, or during hardship. It stays the course because you know that there are good and bad days, seasons and years in ministry. We can’t control outcomes but we can control whether or not our hands remain on the plow.

I was preparing for what I imagined a fruitful time of ministry when Covid hit. We had been pruned, so I thought, and we developing some new processes to be more effective in discipleship. Then we weren’t meeting. I was preaching to our music team and tech crew as we figured out live streaming. I began to do nearly daily Facebook live devotionals. I stayed steadfast though it wasn’t easy. His grace was sufficient even though some days I was filled with fear including when a wildfire raged in the mountains near our facility. Like everyone else, I had to fix my eyes on Christ or I’d get lost.

I’m reminded of a car ride many years. I was a senior in high school and my first girlfriend was in college. I went to visit her in Keene, NH shortly before she dumped me. While I was there, the snow began to fall. By the time I left there was plenty on the roads. It was getting hard to see, and drive, and I was in unfamiliar territory. Then came the plow. All I had to do was follow the plow and driving was much safer and I’d stay on the road. Steadfastness only comes from fixing your eyes on the trailblazer, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Ministry is a long-haul. As a sheepdog you stay in earshot of Jesus, and keep the people close to Him.

This was the Gospel Coalition Book of the Year for good reason. This is an important and helpful book from an experienced pastor. You won’t always see eye to eye with him but he keeps bringing your back to the ordinary means of grace and pastoral care to real people. This is an honest book, and a book that keeps pointing you to Jesus.


As we’ve seen, Gaslighting, was a feature of the Animal Farm. It is a common feature in totalitarian states. The government controls the media (in soft totalitarianism they can be in cahoots), and therefore the narrative. It can be as simple as selectivity: which stories will and will not receive coverage. Sound familiar?

More dangerous, and part of Gaslighting, is changing the narrative. This can be leaving out pertinent facts, changing facts and the like. We see this in how Squealer contradicts everyone’s memory of Snowball’s heroism. Slowly Snowball is turned into someone who was a traitor from the beginning rather than someone Napoleon removed from the community with his dogs. If you speak the lie often enough people start to believe it is true. That is Squealer’s role: to tell the lie early and often.

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Chapter 7

The fairy tale resumes in winter, and a bitter winter it was. The work to rebuild the windmill was slow. Snowball was blamed, as you may recall, for the destruction of the windmill. The humans believed otherwise, or at least stated so. That Snowball was in league with them was part of the report Squealer repeated. The humans claimed that the walls were too thin, but the animals knew better.

See how lies take over a community. The conspiracy theory has taken root and the far more common sense cause is rejected. The pride of the animals ties into an openness to conspiracy theories. When you don’t want to admit the truth because it makes you look bad you settle for the scapegoat to blame all the problems on. Snowball was that irrational scapegoat despite the sacrifices he did make for the community. He was not the domineering figure that Napoleon was but we know not what he’d become.

Despite the fact that the humans were just plain wrong about the walls they made the walls thicker this time.

The food supply was failing. Rations were being cut. First it was claimed that potato rations would increase to compensate for the smaller corn ration. Then it was revealed that the potatoes were not covered in time and frost damaged the crop. The story keeps changing, as well as the expectations. 2020 was filled with similar events. But at Animal Farm, the reality of starvation was staring them down.

Not only can the other animals not know the truth, but the rest of the world cannot know the truth. Why? It would reflect poorly on our beloved leader. After all, “Napoleon is always right.” The Soviet Union frequently kept the truth from its people and the world. Admitting famine was not an option. The Grand Experiment must succeed. China still hides the truth about many things from its people and tries to control the news in the rest of the world. The glorious leaders must not be exposed for the cruel and incompetent lot that they are.

Napoleon decided to use Mr. Whymper to tell the “truth” about the farm in order to combat the rumors flying about the humans. They used a ruse to convince Mr. Whymper that they had plenty of grain. Napoleon was in as short a supply as the grain. Squealer would speak for him, but on rare occasions he would appear with his dogs surrounding him. In order to get grain until summer the hens would have to surrender even more eggs in trade. This led to the first rebellion as some hens protested. Their rations were stopped and nine hens died before they relented.

The hope was grain was tied to the story about Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Frederick competing to buy some aged wood. When Napoleon leaned toward one farm, Snowball was said to be hiding at the other. Enemies and alliances seemed to change often. In the spring it was “discovered” that Snowball would infiltrate the farm at night.

Not only is Snowball the scapegoat for all their ills, but he becomes something of a boogeyman. The threat posed by Snowball, through no action of his own, kept the people focused on something besides the failures of Napoleon and the other pigs. You won’t think about his inability to sell the wood for grain if you are worried about Snowball. He was everywhere! The cows were claiming he snuck in and milked them in the middle of the night. While they were asleep. The rats were claimed to be Snowballs allies. Napoleon would claim to be able to smell him- he was here last night!- cue the growling dogs.

Totalitarian leaders focus on the dangers posed by some other leader. The other leader is real, but the threat is largely imaginary. The “Great Satan” really isn’t trying to destroy you but it is better than allowing people to realize the glorious leader is the great pretender.

The lies were getting so thick that even Boxer “Napoleon is always right” the horse began to question them. Squealer spoke of how the wound Snowball suffered in the battle was part of the ruse and plot against the Farm. Snowball was a spy for the humans long before the rebellion, claimed Squealer invoking Napoleon.

When some of the pigs began to question Napoleon, the dogs dispatched them. When the lies don’t work, they result to brute force to maintain control by spreading fear. But the dogs even went after Boxer who pinned one under his hoof while the others ran away. The four pigs, it was alleged, were part of a rebellion. They needed to confess their crimes. Their confession and execution began a series of confessions by the people.

The Cultural Revolution in China witnessed similar forced confessions. Dissenters in Russia were sent to the gulags where many millions would die for the high crime of disagreement. Purges are another great way to maintain control over a population that starts to question you.

The bloodbath was a boundary breaker. No animal had killed an animal yet. The enemy was “out there” but now the enemy was “in here”, even if it was only in the illusion put forth by the leadership. Many of the animals gathered on the knoll by half-built windmill to lament this turn of events. As they began to sing Beasts of England even this was taken from them as Napoleon declared it be sung no more. Challenge the elites and they keep removing the things you love, the things that build community. Could things get worse?

Chapter 8

After the trauma, some of the animals regained their senses in a few days. They remembered the 6th commandment: No animal shall kill any other animal. They didn’t dare mention this to the pigs, but Clover asked Benjamin to read it to her. The stubborn donkey refused to get involved, but Muriel read it to Clover. It was not as she remembered.

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Clover and the others wondered why they didn’t remember the “without cause.” It didn’t dawn upon them that the commandment had been changed to fit the circumstances. The pigs had altered the law to excuse their actions rather than living within the law or suffering the consequence for breaking the law. But they didn’t just change it, but did so secretly. This continued the institutional assault on their community’s memory. They animals thought it was their fault for not remembering rather than the pigs’ fault for changing the law without notice. While this happens in totalitarian regimes, it can also happen thru bureaucracy. Laws are not changed in the way prescribed but thru a bureaucrat. With no legal recourse, the citizens suffer for the convenient changes made by the ruling class.

With the massacre legalized, the animals worked even harder. The actions of the pigs we accepted but the fear lived on. This could happen to any who challenge them.

Squealer would give reports each Sunday on the incredible increases in production. Their ever-weakening memories no longer had the capacity to determine if Squealer told the truth or more lies. When the people can’t tell truth from a lie, the government can do whatever they want. They can lead the people into thinking that life is far better than it really is. The rise of “fake news” should frighten us. People have no way of knowing when they are being lied to. Ever-changing pronouncements by government agencies have the same effect. Was the CDC right in March? Or in July? What about now?

Napoleon became even more distant from the animals, even the other pigs. His living quarters were separate and he took meals alone. He was like a king in a palace utterly disconnected from the circumstances of those he claimed to serve. He was much like those in Washington who are clueless about the heartland of America and seemingly concerned only about the needs of the cities on the coasts. This separation between Napoleon and the others was codified in his title: Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon. They were not his equal. A poem was written declaring his praise to further the internal propaganda.

Still the pile of timber remained unsold as negotiations continued. Three more hens “confessed” to a plot to assassinate their Leader, Comrade Napoleon. As summer wore on rumors swirled about an impending attack from Frederick and Pinchfield Farm. The animals so distrusted and hated him, based on rumor, that “death to humanity” became “death to Frederick”. After weeds were found in the wheat, sown no doubt by Snowball, a gander confessed to being party to the plot and committed suicide. This, of course, before the community could learn of his treason and he could be put on trial. How convenient.

Things seemed to be on the upswing as the windmill was completed. Two days later Napoleon announced that the timber was sold … to Frederick. The ‘friendship’ with Pilkington had been part of Napoleon’s ruse to get a better price. Now it was “death to Pilkington”. The higher price would allow them to buy the machinery for the windmill. The cache of banknotes was ceremoniously displayed before the animals as Napoleon was “enthroned” on a bed of straw. It was only a few days later when Mr. Whymper arrived in a rush to reveal they were in fact counterfeit. Once again the cry was “death to Frederick.” My, how could these poor animals keep up?

It was the next day that the attack finally came upon Animal Farm. Fifteen men, 6 with guns, stormed through the gate. The animals, many wounded, were forced into retreat. They watched helplessly as the men put holes in the windmill in order to plant explosives in the wall. Their labor, and supplies, were all for naught as the blasting powder did it’s dastardly work. Enraged, the animals charged despite the guns. A number of them would die but the men were chased off.

Squealer framed this as a victory for the animals despite the windmill being a pile of rubble and the casualties. The party line was “we’ll just build another.” Boxer was disheartened by the prospect of building yet another windmill.

The pigs discovered some whiskey. It seemed that Napoleon was near death at one point but recovered after a day or so. There was a commotion by the barn where Squealer was found sprawled next to a toppled ladder with a lantern and paint brush. In the dead of night. Later the animals were puzzled. The Fifth Commandment read “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.” They couldn’t remember those last two words being there. If a play works, you keep running it until it doesn’t.

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Ad for the 1954 animated film

Orwell’s tale of a farm portrays many of the patterns of government run amok. This is not a government for the people, but people existing for the needs of the government. The government, however, is able to maintain the charade that it is for the people through the manipulation of memories with false accounts, deception and controlling the flow of information. Dissent is no longer tolerated but crushed lest it spread.

But Orwell’s fairy tale is not through. You probably won’t laugh, but cry, if you have any empathy for the animals..

Considering Mark 10:6-9


Each month our congregation has a memory verse. Or text in this case. Each month I’ll try to blog about that passage. This will help us to understand the text and why I chose the text for us to meditate upon for a month.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark 10

This is spoken in the midst of a discussion on divorce. Jesus wants to bring the discussion back to the framework or design of marriage as an institution God created for our well-being. Our culture may treat marriage as social construct to be shaped like a putty nose based on our changing desires. The scribes had similarly shaped divorce to suit their own dark desires. Well some of them.

For the Christian, what matters is God’s design as revealed here. Jesus quotes from Genesis 1 and 2 in a way that affirms them. For Jesus creation, and the creation mandate, matters. Our practice of marriage is to be shaped by God’s design. We will have to grapple with sin which will include the temptation to divorce without just cause, or committing sin(s) that break the marriage covenant.

The first part is found in Genesis 1. Humanity was made “male and female”. They complement one another. If you only have one sex there is no sex and therefore no procreation. Well, who cares? The creation mandate was to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and rule it. Adam couldn’t do that alone. He needed a helpmate, not just a friend. God took from Adam a rib and gave him back a wife. She was like him in contrast to the animals. But she wasn’t identical to him so she could complement him. Equal and yet different, something our society has forgotten.

I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry falls for a woman just like him. He thinks he’s finally found his soul mate. Then it dawns on him: “She’s just like me. I hate me!” And it was over. She has to be different, and not just biologically.

Our culture doesn’t agree. Jesus affirms God’s design for marriage as heterosexual. This is essential for fulfilling the purposes of marriage which are far deeper than our romantic desires.

The man, Moses says, leaves and cleaves. He leaves his former way of life. His primary human relationships must change. He leaves to cleave. They become one flesh, bound up together in a mysterious way.

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But there is another mystery here. Paul says that this speaks to Christ and the Church, His bride (Eph. 5).

Leaving and cleaving is a picture of the Christian life. We leave our initial covenant head, Adam. We leave our master, Satan. We leave our sinful practices.

We cleave to a new covenant head, Christ. We cleave to our new master, Christ. We cleave to obedience and the fruit of the Spirit.

We leave, for instance, our covetous and idolatrous love of money and cleave to Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us. We leave our adultery, whether in the heart or in the body, to cleave to Christ the Faithful One. We leave our anger and hatred for our spouse and cleave to Christ who gives us pardoning and purifying love to share with our similarly angry spouse.

Consider your marriage. Does it reflect God’s design and purposes or have you begun to settle for some cheap imitation? If you are considering divorce, are you running from the very lessons about forgiveness, kindness and long-suffering God wants you to learn?


I was reading Animal Farm while donating plasma but a medical deferral due to a test meant I wasn’t donating for a few weeks. Time to blog was sparse but it is time to return to Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale.

The egalitarianism of Animalism meant that differences between the animals were not generally recognized. They did not work according to their abilities but rather according to the needs of the community. Egalitarianism does this frequently. Equality does not mean people are identical. It means they have equal rights, not equal abilities or gifting.

Animal Farm

The only animals that didn’t get stuck in the egalitarian stew were the pigs. Their reasoning was that someone had to supervise and due to their superior intelligence (so much for egalitarianism) they were the ones most suited for it. You see here that oppressors always find a reason to pull the strings.

Chapter 5

Mollie the horse is not really liking the “new farm order” and Animalism. She longs for the old days when she just had to do her job, not everyone else’s too. She found reasons to take extra-long breaks. Finally Clover confronts her because she noticed Mollie gazing longingly at the Foxwood Farm. As she denies it Clover notes that the man was stroking her nose. Clover decided to inspect Mollie’s stall and found a lump of sugar and some ribbons for her mane. She missed the perks of having an owner care for her. This did not bode well.

Three days later Mollie would disappear. She defected to the “enemy”, missing the old way of life too much.

The animals tried a form of democracy. Policy was made by the majority, or supposed to anyway. But the differences of opinion between Napoleon and Snowball dominated everything. In the meetings Snowball was more persuasive but Napoleon was better at garnering support in between meetings. The sheep, bleating out “Four legs good, two legs bad”, seemed to shut down discussion. Snowball was studying how to improve the farm using tools and and plans. Napoleon had something else in mind entirely.

Napoleon seemed content to undermine Snowball’s plans, seemingly biding his time. Their biggest battle was over the windmill. Snowball wanted to put one on the highest point of the farm land and use it to generate power for electric tools. Finally Napoleon came out against the windmill. He argued they needed to increase food production first. Stubborn old Benjamin refused to believe that food production would increase or that the windmill would save them work. The animals were divided.

One Sunday it was time for the big vote. While Snowball was speaking a loud ruckus was heard outside the barn. Dogs were barking, growling and yelping. The pups that Napoleon had taken for himself were no longer pups but nearly full-grown and came right for Snowball, chasing him out of the barn and indeed off the farm.

The dogs wagged their tails in response to Napoleon much like how the dogs in the old days wagged theirs for Mr. Jones. Napoleon called a temporary end to the Sunday meetings. They were a big waste of time (now that he’d assumed control). The aptly named Squealer let the animals know the new deal and how they should all appreciate the extra labor Napoleon had to do now that Snowball had run off.

Immediately Squealer began to downplay Snowball’s role in the battle. He wasn’t so heroic as we first thought, Squealer began to say. The other animals never quite knew how to respond to Squealer’s arguments. Boxer often said “Napoleon is always right” and “I’ll work harder”. This set the mood for most of the animals: trust Napoleon and work harder. They were unable to think for themselves and put their blind faith into Napoleon.

Three weeks later Napoleon announced that the windmill was to be built. It was, after all, his idea in the first place. Squealer let the others know that Snowball’s plan had been stolen from Napoleon.

We begin to see the process of gaslighting. The animals’ memories are consistently challenged. While they correctly remember what had happened, Squealer works hard to let them know they are actually wrong. A different narrative of events is brought forth and soon the actual narrative of events becomes lost.

This is one of the main ways that the pigs maintain control of the other animals. They act as if their version is what everyone has always known and fool them into going along. They stop thinking for themselves and just do what they are told. All good is attributed to Napoleon, and everything wrong begins to be blamed on Snowball.

Chapter 6

“All that year the animals worked like slaves” is how the chapter begins. Once slaves of Mr. Jones they are now slaves of Napoleon even if they can’t see it. The animals worked 60-hour weeks but never seemed to get ahead. Part of that was because of the windmill but they were also less productive in general. The work on the windmill was voluntary and yet those who didn’t work on it had their rations cut. Two fields had not been sown and the others were not as productive. A hard winter was in the offing.

While there was plenty of limestone for the windmill, breaking it up into suitable pieces was difficult work. The windmill was going slower than anticipated. Boxer continued to push harder and harder despite the warnings of Clover regarding his health.

As shortages began to appear, Napoleon declared that they would now trade with neighboring farms. This was a complete turnaround from earlier policy. This is similar to the early independence of the USSR that conveniently changed when they experienced numerous shortages. Trading with those horrible capitalists was acceptable for the right reasons.

In this case the trade was for supplies to complete the windmill. This was now the essential task for their long term survival. The Soviets had a number of technological improvement projects represented by the windmill. The hens would sacrifice more eggs to trade, but this meant the next generation of hens wouldn’t be as big. They were robbing Peter to pay Paul. Time to cue the sheep and for Squealer to begin working the crowd to persuade them this was the best plan. Farmer Whymper showed up each week for eggs while Napoleon was said to be in negotiations with Pilkington and Frederick.

Suddenly the pigs moved into the farmhouse despite the earlier prohibition. Squealer began to inform them that their memories were not accurate. There had been no such prohibition and the pigs just needed a little more room. Boxer continued his mantra but Clover tried to read the Commandments, enlisting the help of Muriel.

The commandment that Clover remembered as ” No animal shall sleep in a bed” now had “with sheets” at the end. As long as the pigs didn’t use sheets, apparently it was okay. We see that power continues to change the rules to fit its needs and desires. It doesn’t announce it as a change but often makes it seem as if it has always been that way. You are crazy or prone to conspiracies because we won’t accept what Napoleon or Squealer tells you. History is rewritten and it is those who notice who are considered troublemakers.

Hay and corn were sold for supplies to make the windmill as well. There didn’t seem to be much left for the animals. They had less than they did when Mr. Jones ran the place, even though they worked harder.

This is what happens. The people are pushed harder and harder, receiving less and less while the elites enjoy more and more off the blood, sweat and tears of the people. Yet, this is considered better than capitalism. No longer are the evil capitalists getting rich off you, the Party is.

After a big storm they discovered the windmill was in ruins. But it was not the storm, it was Snowball. The traitor was now also saboteur. He was turned into Napoleon’s scapegoat, responsible for all that ailed Animal Farm.

That very morning the work would resume.

Failure is always someone else’s fault, someone outside of the community. It is never the fault of leadership. Bad decisions are never owned. This is not particular to totalitarian regimes, for we can see it on our 2-party democratic republic. For one party the current leader is “our glorious leader” and for the other they are “the devil himself”. The opposing party is to be blamed. For a regime, it is an exiled leader or the leader of another nation that is the Great Satan. Governments control people in this way. Beware of those who never admit they are wrong, especially those with great power.


I enjoy reading the series by Crossway about various theologians on the Christian life. The theologians and pastors had different emphases often in keeping with their life. When I studied psychological theory I discovered that many theorists’ issues were laid out in their theory. They were struggling with their problem. The emphasis of some theologians is similar. Luther, racked by guilt, emphasized justification. His doctrine was not wrong, but had he not wrestled with guilt and a righteous God the light likely would have never gone on. What we believe can be a function of the questions we ask.

The latest volume I read is Augustine on the Christian Life: Transformed by the Power of God by Gerald Bray. This was not quite the book I was expecting it to be. I’m not even sure he answered the question of the series in a way that shapes how we live the Christian life. It seems more about the power of the Christian life with very little on our Gospel imperatives or implications.

Augustine on the Christian Life: Transformed by the Power of God (Theologians on the Christian Life)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I read it. I learned quite a bit more about Augustine and his time. Much of it was timely and provided me with illustrations for sermons later in the week. It helps me as a Christian and a pastor.

This volume is one of the shortest in the series at just over 200 pages. There are only 5 chapters so they are rather long. This makes it harder for the busy person to read. I generally like to read a chapter at a time but I needed to read portions instead. The chapters tend to focus on the roles Augustine played rather than his theological constructs of emphases in life like devotional disciplines. This lends the volume a more academic feel to it than the others in this series. At times Bray zigs and zags between topics. He’ll speak of the fall of Rome, for instance, and then return to the City of God later. As I’ve summarized what he said, at times I’ve rearranged content, or rather how I discuss it.

Augustine is one of those guys you hear about all the time. Many of the Reformers were highly dependent on him. Both sides in many a controversy claim him. He was THE theologian in the west until Aquinas. It is amazing that we have so many manuscripts of his books, and that he wrote so many that are still read to this day. He likely never would have imagined his impact on the western world while he preached and wrote in North Africa.

The Life and Times of Augustine

The book, like the others in the series, orients you to his life and times. He was born and raised in North Africa (in what is now known as Algeria) and returned there after some time in Rome and Milan leading up to his conversion. Augustine the teacher of rhetoric struggled. He was not a much sought after teacher in Italy. But I get ahead of myself.

He father was a Roman official. He was familiar with the Roman way of life. His father was a pagan until he was on his deathbed. His understanding and practice of marriage was very Roman. Wives were for status (dowries) and heirs. Sexual pleasure was often sought from others. While Monica loved him and lived a life of Christian piety before him, Patricius cheated often (and she forgave much). In the minds of many back then, adultery was committed by husbands against their wives, but only against men. Outside the Church, men were free to engage in sexual activity with any woman who wasn’t married, or a married woman from a lower status. Wives generally had to tolerate it.

Augustine was not baptized until his conversion in his 30’s. After leaving Thagaste to study in Carthage Augustine took a concubine. This was normal for a man in his day. He was faithful to her, and had a son with her. But she was not “marriage material” for the son of a Roman official. For 9 years he adhered to Manicheeism, a dualistic religion. He then discovered neo-Platonism which provided him a bridge toward Christianity.

He would leave Rome for Milan, where the Emperor lived at the time. The local bishop, Ambrose was a gifted speaker so Augustine began to attend to listen to him. He took catechism classes to better understand Christianity. He famously converted in a garden after he heard children sing “take up and read” and he opened to Romans 13:13-14.

13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

His mother was relieved to learn of his conversion. His “unsuitable” concubine was put away and a marriage suitable for a man of his status was arranged. She was 10 to his 30. The marriage could not take place until she was 12, and in the interim Augustine broke it off and embarked on a life of celibacy. He seems to have rejected the Roman corruption of marriage more than the biblical model of marriage. His past also seemed to be haunting him.

Upon moving to Hippo, he was impressed into the service of the church as a new bishop. He would serve there until his death the day before Hippo itself fell to the Vandals. He would preach nearly daily, and as a man without a family had time to write about the issues of his day: Manicheeism, Donatism (a sect limited to N. Africa), Pelagian views and the Trinity. His Confessions was unique as a long meditation on his early life and conversion.

Augustine was not a gifted linguist which lead to criticism from contemporaries like Jerome. He was “bound” to the Latin translations of the Scriptures and the writings of Eastern theologians. In the Eastern church he was therefore minimized for many centuries. The Latin translations often had scribal errors which are evident when he quotes them. Some misinterpret this as Augustine bringing paganism into the Scriptures, not realizing the limitations of the man and availability of translations. Yet, as Bray notes, Augustine’s doctrine and understanding of the unity of Scripture resulted in him coming to the right conclusions despite the errors in translation. There should be great comfort in this for the ordinary pastor. You don’t need to master the original languages or have a perfect Bible translation before you. You must master the Scriptures and have a sound theology so that you will continually teach and preach in a way consistent with the Scriptures instead of being bound by a particular text/translation.

It should be noted that Augustine, bound to translations, believed the Apocrypha were inspired since they were in the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament. Jerome, a Hebrew scholar, rejected them since they were not in the copies of the Old Testament in Hebrew. In this the Western Church sided with Augustine. During the Reformation, many of the Protestants preferred Jerome’s reasoning on the canon.

Augustine the Believer in Christ

Bray moves into Augustine the believer, looking at his conversion, devotional life, values, and lifestyle in more in depth. Augustine believed he was found by God rather than finding God. He came to understand his great sinfulness including the rejection of his instruction in the faith as a child. He began to see how thoroughly sin warps our hearts and therefore actions. He lived at a time when the church was still sorting some doctrines out, including baptism. His views often represent the tensions between the different contemporary views. He did view baptism as removing sins, but also that people needed to be engaged, believing, to receive salvation. Baptism itself didn’t save, there needs to be faith and repentance as well. As a result, Augustine focused more on the time of conversion than the moment of baptism.

“You give us delight in praising you, because you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

His conversion and subsequent discussion of it led to the end of a valuable friendship. This person wanted nothing of his new faith. This led Augustine to think more of love, and rest in the unchanging, steadfast love of God.

Bray delves into Augustine’s attempts to resolve the dualism of good and evil found in the teachings of Manicheeism. This process is important for his conversion. Yet it was the call of God in that text of Romans that resulted in his conversion, not the solution to the philosophical problem. By this I mean resolving the problem of dualism didn’t make him a Christian just like believing in Creation didn’t make me a Christian. Those were important in the process, but through the Scripture he heard the call of God to faith in Christ which alone makes one a Christian. In this same time frame, Augustine began to accept the Scriptures as the Word of God.

In terms of his devotional life, we discover that he loved corporate singing which had been introduced to the western church while he was in Milan. He recognized the temptation to be moved more by the singing than the words sung. He viewed devotion as withdrawal from the world. The cult of martyrdom in N. Africa began to be replaced with acseticism and then monasticism as Christianity was legalized throughout the Empire. In this we see his view that Christianity was an experience to be lived, not simply ideas to be analyzed.

Augustine and Luther both focused on faith. They were asking different questions, and so did their contemporaries. It is impossible to know what Augustine would have thought about “justification by faith alone but not a faith that is alone.” Bray rightly notes it is folly to try and sort out if Augustine would have been a Protestant. Faith was intellectual belief, but faith brought one into union with Christ. He did make much of our union with the person of Christ. It is in this discussion that we find shades of the Mandalorian.

“This is the way. Walk in humility so that you may come to eternity. Christ as God is the country to which we are going; Christ as man is the way by which we get there.”

Augustine focused on the sacrifice of Christ which saves. Pelagius seemed to focus on the sacrifice as one to be imitated. This key difference, according to Bray, drove the disagreement between them. Augustine inherited a tradition, in the best sense, that saw Adam as having fallen in that the image was corrupted. Grace restores the image. Pelagians viewed grace as completing, not restoring, nature. For Augustine it wasn’t simply a return to Eden but to something better. It isn’t about self-improvement. There is a newness of life that arises from the waters of baptism (Rom. 6). It is not in imitating Christ that we saved, as Pelagius seemed to teach, but in being united to Christ in his death and resurrection that we are saved.

Augustine the Teacher

Early in his life, Augustine rejected the Bible. He compared its prose to that of Cicero and found it beneath him. He later admits that the real problem was his pride; a pride which rejected the Scriptures and believed almost any myth the world had to offer.

Ambrose believed, and taught, that as made in God’s image we had the capacity for reasoning and for knowing God. Ambrose also moved beyond the superficial meaning of the text. Augustine, like many of his day, believed that the truth was often hidden. He welcomed Ambrose’s more allegorical approach to the Scriptures. Many believed that the Bible was objectively true but that there were also spiritual lessons to be learned hidden in the text. What Bray describes sounds more like what we call typology than allegory since there was a truthfulness of the text. They were real events and an original meaning not simply fanciful ideas disconnected from reality. People generally weren’t focused on history and historicity. Yet we find the call of gospel effecting in transforming sinners into saints. The truths of Scripture were communicated and could be understood on different levels of meaning.

“The whole Old Testament Scripture, for those who really want to understand it, has been handed down with a four-fold sense- historical, aetiological, analogical, and allegorical … According to the aetiological sense, we are shown that there no conflict between the Old and New Testaments. According to the allegorical sense, we are taught that not everything in Scripture is to be taken literally, but must be understood figuratively.”

While philosophy played an important role in Augustine’s shift from paganism to Christianity, he would come to believe it tries to explain things that go beyond our competence and ability. Scripture, on the other hand, was a mirror of the soul to teach us the way of salvation. It was about everyday life and love rather than delving deeply into metaphysics. It assumes God, reveals what we can know about God and what He requires of us. Bray notes that Augustine loved the Psalms and used them to express his own devotion to God. The Psalmists’ relationship to God struck a chord with him. He saw them as all about Christ, and that He was the key to understanding them.

Augustine affirmed the miracles of the Scriptures as proof of the gospel’s truth. He rightfully noted that if they still continued in such number people would be seeking them more than the message they authenticated. This was true in the days of Jesus and the Apostles.

Augustine had no desire to scholarship like Jerome. He didn’t concern himself with textual problems. In some ways he was like a brilliant Fundamentalist. The Creeds were coming into prominence during his lifetime but did not really shape his thinking or practice. There were no systematic theologies as we know them until nearly a thousand years later with Peter Lombard’s The Sentences which were based on the broad writing of Augustine. Bray notes that Augustine found the obscure passages were placed there by God to test us and make us think and pray for understanding.

“Christ meets and refreshes me everywhere in those books.”

He had a Christ-centered understanding of the Scriptures long before it was popular. What struck Augustine about the Gospels was the humanity of Christ. He hungered, was tired. On the road to Christianity he struggled with WHY the Son of God would become man. Finally Paul & John got through to him that Jesus came into the world to save on account of His love. The necessity of the incarnation for atonement changed everything for Augustine. The cross became both the way of salvation and the Christian life. Christ saves us through His cross, and we imitate Him in self-denial because we’ve been saved. United to Christ in His death which destroyed the body of sin, it is possible for us to put our flesh to death.

In this discussion Bray brings us to Arius and Augustine’s foundational work on the Trinity. The image of God in man, for Augustine, was more about the three-ness of God than the oneness of his being. It points to the relational nature of God since “God is love.” It is because God is relational that He made us relational and can have a relationship with us. His meditations on the resulted in De Trinitate.

“The trinity of the mind is not the image of God just because it remembers, understands, and loves itself, but because it is also able to remember, understand, and love the one by whom it was made. It is when it does this that it becomes wise.”

This understanding of the Trinity rooted in “God is love” transforms much of our theology. When I read Delighting in the Trinity Reeves grounded mission in God’s love. This was an emphasis I found missing as I was reading The Mission of God by Christopher Wright (admittedly I didn’t finish it but as a foundational matter it should have shown up early).

Bray then brings us into Augustine’s view of predestination. As sinful people, God must choose if any are to be saved. This was not a major focus on his teaching though. As the Westminster Confession advises, it should be taught carefully. Augustine provided similar advice. The earlier church focuses on divine foreknowledge. In his writings against Pelagianism he worked through more of the implications of predestination. Man, as sinner, will not choose salvation because man as sinner hates God. Man must be born again to believe. Sadly, Augustine didn’t believe that God gave the grace of perseverance to all whom He gave the gifts of regeneration, faith, hope and love. But we should not, he thought, focus on who is or isn’t elect but rather preach the word to all.

Augustine the Pastor

Augustine spent 34 years as the bishop of Hippo, a port city on the coast of North Africa. As bishop his role in that age was not administrative but focused on the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. He was more like the lead pastor of the church in Hippo, not over a large geographic area. There were smaller churches or chapels scattered in town and the metro region. He would have delegated pastoral responsibilities to elders.

He never attended an ecumenical council. Invited to the Council of Ephesus he passed away for it was held. One of the most influential theologians, if not the most influential, never traveled farther than Carthage during his years of ministry.

North Africa, the site of many persecutions in the time of the early church, was vulnerable to the cult of martyrs. Their honor of martyrs could be taken to excess. This meant that those who fled persecution or compromised to avoid it were viewed as cowards. The Donatist movement arose in N. Africa as many churches refused to welcome them back after the persecution was over. Both the cult of martyrs and Donatism were issues of pastoral concern for Augustine. The former was within the church, and the latter was a schismatic sect that rejected the authority of the rest of the church. They were not differently doctrinally, this was ultimately about their inability to forgive their weaker brothers and sisters. Hippo was strongly Donatist when Augustine arrived and that conflict marked about half of his ministry.

Augustine used Cyprian’s formulation to counter their claims. They cut themselves off from the Church (they were not found outside N. Africa) and therefore could not have salvation no matter how pure their doctrine. He made much of the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ. They weren’t simply another denomination or congregation (church) but claiming to be the Church to the exclusion of other Christians throughout the world. This spirit has not died, sadly. The Boston Church of Christ held this position though lately they’ve been open to the possibility of there being other Christians somewhere. The Russian Orthodox Church has also expressed this sentiment.

When Rome fell to the Vandals in 410 many of the wealthy who escaped showed up in Hippo. The fall of Rome presented the pastoral concern of dealing with growing opposition to Christianity for making Rome weak. This resulted in The City of God tracing the history of religion and developing a 2 kingdoms doctrine to understand history. There was also the pastoral concern faced by many when rich and influential people show up on your doorstep.

He did not believe that Rome had been singled out for special condemnation because of its sins, and before long he was doing his best to put a positive spin on what had occurred.” Gerald Bray

Augustine was criticized for not being patriotic because he did not “identify the cause of Rome with the will of God.” Rome was not the City of God. Empires had come and gone, and would continue to do so. As we struggle with the relationship between Church and State in America we also need to remember that America isn’t the City of God. Its interests aren’t the same as the Kingdom. Yet, just as Augustine struggled to imagine a world without Rome as its political center, we struggle to conceive of a world without America as a world power and sender of missionaries.

In the course of human history on earth, the two cities are intertwined and cannot be separated from one another. Members of both live and sometimes die for the honor of their country or family, and it may be impossible for observers to know the real motivations of each.” Gerald Bray speaking about The City of God

One of Augustine’s tasks was to move people from cultural Christianity (really the first generation of it) to authentic faith. There were many who remained catechumens indefinitely. Many delayed baptism to wash away their sins just prior to death. But this was a risky proposition in those days. Augustine would remind them that union with Christ through baptism would provide them with strength necessary to live and serve faithfully. Those who simply wanted to keep sinning as long as they could found his rightful rebuke.

Augustine placed great emphasis on the Lord’s Prayer. This was a model for our prayers. He seemed to think prayer was “natural” to the Christian. Perhaps it came easier to him than to many of us. Prayer is opposed by the world, the flesh and the devil precisely because it is a means of grace. Communal or congregational prayer does not seem to have been an important part of worship services in his time.

Preaching was an important part of worship in his day. While there were services daily, very few attended except on Sunday. Feast days were also well attended. Acoustics were not great so noise in the congregation could drown out his voice. His sermons would last as long as he think he needed to cover the material. The people would generally stand to hear the sermon and this could sometimes take over an hour (a sermon on Psalm 73 lasted over two hours). There are times when he stopped a sermon in the middle to continue it the next day. Most sermons were about 40-60 minutes. He did not read off a manuscript but wanted to engage the audience. He viewed his role as feeding the people Christ in his sermons.

Sermon texts were not to be treated in isolation. Every text had a context that included the rest of Scripture. While examining a tree, one should not lose sight of the rest of the forest as Bray puts it. Preaching requires exegesis of a text and the use of systematic (and biblical) theology lest one verse be removed from that context and be used to teach error. Augustine used many word plays that get lost in translation.

In his time, sexual immorality was prevalent even among those who listened to him. The mores of Rome were still very different from the standards of the Scriptures. When addressing sexual sins he often got push back and excuses. Bray includes this “justification” from such a person:

“My woman is no prostitute, she is my concubine. Holy bishop, you have called my concubine a prostitute! Do you really think that I would resort to a prostitute? I would never do that, nor would I touch a woman who belongs to someone else. The woman whom I keep is my own maid. Can I not do what I want in my own household?”

Sexual immorality and divorce were common in Roman society, and Augustine often chastised people for their laxity. He called them to repentance and to receive forgiveness for such sins. He understood this was counter cultural. Roman society viewed domination of many as a sign of manhood and great status. He called the men to use their strength to remain faithful to their wives. He called wives to be less tolerant of their husbands’ infidelity. This means teaching that both spouses had conjugal rights and the spouse was the only one who should satisfy their rights. Yes, wives had such rights too (1 Cor. 7) and should exercise those rights rather than tolerate mistresses and prostitutes.

Augustine’s honesty about failings did not end with Confessions and the sins committed prior to conversion. He noted the temptations he experienced as bishop, particularly to pride. This is important if we are to actually point to Christ instead of ourselves. Our sin must be on the table rather than coming across as merely theoretical sinners.

Augustine Today

The final chapter assesses reputation and legacy. His contemporaries can compare to his reputation and impact upon the Church. This is no slight upon them. In the providence of God we have so much more of Augustine’s work than theirs. One of the strengths of his books and sermons is the self-revelation. You can get a good sense of the man.

There were big changes are the fall of the empire ended antiquity with its centers of philosophy and theology. What remained of his work, particularly The City of God, would become a main source of knowledge about the world before Augustine. His books were copied by scribes and read by scholars for over a thousand years before the invention of the printing press. Many important theologians plundered Augustine though too often for their own purposes irrespective of the context of a particular statement. As a result, both sides of an argument may bring him up in defense of their view. Particularly when the debate is between Rome and the Protestants.

In the East he remains largely unknown. He is viewed as something of an outsider since he didn’t really interact with the Greek fathers. This doesn’t mean he was ignorant of them. The language barrier often made it difficult for him to understand how or why they used the terminology they did at times. They were far more ignorant of him until De Trinitate was finally translated to Greek in 1282. At that time there were questions of reuniting East and West.

Augustine faced different questions than the subsequent generations of churchmen and theologians. We try to fit him into our holes to support our agendas. This issue continues in discussing his legacy and our tendency to canonize or demonize those from other eras.

“Had we been his contemporaries, we would have been influenced by the same things that shaped him and would have behaved in ways much like his than like ours now. Everyone is a child of his age and background, and it is unfair to judge someone so unlike ourselves in these respects by the criteria that we would apply to ourselves and to our contemporaries. … What we can never know is whether we would have felt that way at the time.”

It is too easy to judge them based on our standards, which include our own blindspots. We talk about being on the right or wrong side of history based on our own sliver of history instead of the unchanging Word of God. It is notable that Augustine’s most famous writings were connected with his present: circumstances and controversies. He wasn’t generally butting into earlier ones and judging people by the standards he held at the time. Yet, this is what we so often do. We struggle to see life through another’s eyes.

This book helped me to see more of his life through his eyes. Some of his decisions which didn’t make sense to me before make more sense now though I might not agree with them. I’m trying to see them through his eyes and not merely my own. That is a significant contribution even if the book didn’t necessarily help me understand how he viewed “the Christian life” apart from the fact that God transforms us.


God’s answer to Adam’s sin and death was the covenant of grace and it’s mediator. Those are the next two subjects that Bavinck addresses in The Wonderful Works of God. In this he follows the Westminster Confession instead of the Belgic Confession.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

Sin brings with it the problem of justice. God is just and man has sinned. God and man are at war and for his rebellion man deserves to die.

Humanity also has a longing for justice because we are made in the image of God. Bavinck argues that despite numerous advances, civilization can’t scratch our itch. Religion, formal and informal, is there as well. Redemption is a theme in all civilizations. Where they differ is the nature of the evil involved and the method of redemption offered to people. Fallen people misrepresent God, seeks Him wrongly but seemingly seeks Him. In this Bavinck communicates the centrality of religion and a world view shaped by religion.

In biblical religion it is always God who seeks man. In the beginning He beat the bushes looking for Adam and Eve who are hiding due to guilt and shame. In Christianity God becomes man to seek and save the lost. Bavinck brings us back to God’s unbreakable, immutable and almighty will and decrees. He mentions three matters of concern: election, the plan of redemption or counsel of redemption, the working and application of redemption. The basis of election is never those elect but rather the grace of God. The plan of redemption is not just who is redeemed but the Mediator who redeems them. The Spirit brings us into fellowship with the Father through the Son. We see Bavinck referring to elements of the economic Trinity this way:

“As Mediator He is subordinate to the Father and obedient to Him. He has a command and a work to fulfill which the Father has assigned to Him. And as the reward for His finished work He received His own glory, the salvation of His people, and the highest might in heaven and on earth.”

This plan of redemption, by which the elect are saved, contains the who and the how. Election itself does not save people, but God ordains the means of their salvation too.

“We are convinced of this comfort of election even more when we remember that the counsel of God is a work of His mind not merely, but also of His will, is not a thought merely which belongs to the realm of eternity but also an almighty power which realizes itself in time.”

Bavinck begins with what he calls the “mother promise” but which others call the proto-evangelion in Genesis 3:14-15. This he calls “the announcement and institution of the covenant of grace.” This promise of the seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent is the essence of the covenant of grace. God breaks, he says, the covenantal relationship between Satan and man forged in Adam’s rebellion by putting enmity there which culminated in the Seed. Man’s role is to trust that God will work. “Promise and faith are the content of the covenant of grace which is now set up for man.” These basic principles govern all the administrations of the covenant of grace.

The covenant of grace reverse the covenant of works given to Adam. Here’s how he puts it:

“The order is reversed. Before the fall the rule was: through works to eternal life. Now, after the fall, in the covenant of grace, the eternal life comes first, and out of that life the good works follow as fruits of faith. … Then the working days preceded the Sabbath; now the Sabbath begins the week and hallows all its days.”

Many struggle with election, unknowingly destroying the covenant of grace in the process. Bavinck reasons thusly:

“When the covenant of grace is separated from election, it ceases to be a covenant of grace and becomes again a covenant of works. Election implies that God grants man freely and out of grace the salvation which man has forfeited and which he can never again achieve in his own strength. … Man must then satisfy some condition in order to inherit eternal life. In this, grace and works stand at opposite poles from each other and are mutually exclusive.”

Election, he argues, is not the sum of election but it is the “first and principle part.” In the counsel of redemption the members of Trinity agree to the plan and each fulfills their task for the salvation of the elect.

Bavinck speaks of the unity of the covenant in terms of its essence. But as God reveals more there are differences in form and administration. “The one, great, all-inclusive promise of the covenant of grace is: I will be thy God, and the God of thy people.” This is the great thread thru the center of all the administrations of the covenant. He then explains this in a brief summary of biblical history.

Adam, as head of the covenant of works, has plunged us all into sin and death. Christ comes as Adam the Second, a new covenant head, to fulfill all Adam didn’t but also to satisfy the demands of the law for humanity. In discussing this Bavinck covers some important ground.

“The promise never concerns a single believer alone, but in him his house or family also. God does not actualize His covenant of grace by picking a few people out of humanity at random, and by gathering these together into some sort of assemblage alongside of the world. Rather He bears His covenant into mankind, makes it part and parcel of the world, and sees to it that in the world it is preserved from evil. As the Redeemer or Re-Creator, God follows the line which He drew as Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of all things. Grace is something other and higher than nature, but it nevertheless joins up with nature, does not destroy it but restores it rather. Grace is not a legacy which is transferred by natural birth, but it does flow on in the river-bed which had been dug out in the natural relationships of the human race.”

Here we see the “you and your seed” principle expressed throughout Reformed and Covenantal Theology. God often works through multiple generations. This doesn’t mean people are saved by bloodlines or that all children of believers are saved. But it does mean that God often works through family. Often, not occasionally. We also see that grace does not destroy nature but rather restores it. Grace makes us fully human, not superhuman.

“The Gospel is sheer good tidings, not demand but promise, not duty but gift.”

His work on the covenant reflects the work of Witsius. We can’t fairly compare it to any recent works since the archeology on which the work of Kline and others hadn’t happened yet. It is perhaps not as detailed as some may like; for instance the elements of a covenant. But he gets the main things that reflect the work of Witsius and the Westminster divines: one covenant, various administrations. The goal of that covenant is that “I will be their God and they will be my people.” The promise of the land is subservient to that greater promise of salvation, much to the consternation of some of our Baptist brothers.

And with this Bavinck begins to address the Mediator of the covenant of grace.

The covenant of grace and the decree of election are made in eternity but play out in time. Here he identifies three main issues: the Mediator who accomplishes salvation, the Spirit who applies salvation and the people to whom salvation is applied according to the eternal decree of election. In this chapter he deals with the first.

“Christianity stands in a very different relationship to the person of Christ than the other religions do to the persons who founded them.” Jesus is not an innovator or first confessor of an idea. He is the King and yet the One who was sent to save His people. His is the work that saves. He doesn’t simply point the way to Christianity, but instead He is the way (John 14:6) as well as the truth and the life.

Bavinck discusses Jesus’ self-awareness. He knew, and declared, Himself to be the only Begotten Son, beloved of the Father whom He obeyed as Mediator for our salvation. This self-awareness is unfolded in the witness of the Apostles. He redeems the creation which was made through Him.

History was the preparation of the world for the coming of Messiah to Israel. The Angel of the Covenant was a revelation of God to the people of Israel. The Angel lead them into the way of grace. Bavinck asserts the way of salvation as the same for Old Testament and New Testament saints. The Spirit of Christ was active in the prophets to reveal the His person and work to Israel. They promoted Messianic expectations and therefore expectations for the future kingdom. As part of the covenant of grace, disloyalty and unfaithfulenss of God’s people cannot invalidate God’s faithfulness. “When, therefore, the people do not walk in the way of the covenant, God can for a while abandon it, subject it to chastisement, judgment, or captivity, but He cannot violate His covenant.” He applies the sanctions of the covenant, as seen in Deuteronomy, but then restores His people as is also seen in Deuteronomy. The means by which He ultimately does this is the Mediator, the Messiah.

As our God, He places us in the Kingdom of His Son which is full of peace, joy and righteousness through the Holy Spirit. While these promises are expanded in the prophets, they are found in basic from in the Mosaic covenant, which is what the prophets applied to the circumstances of God’s people.

Bavinck spends time developing the promises initially fulfilled in David but which await the final and greatest son of David to come. He draws on biblical history and the Psalms to develop some of these ideas. On the one hand this is the kingdom of David ruled by the son of David, but on another it is the kingdom of God ruled by the Son of God. These are joined in the One who according to the flesh descended from David but was also declared to the the Son of God by the Spirit (Romans 1).

In Isaiah in particular we see how the merely human sons of David continue to lead the kingdom astray and eventually bring it to ruin in 586 BC. God strips them of all earthly hope that He might provide a better hope. There is plenty of applied biblical theology in this section reminding us that biblical and systematic theology best complement one another.

While Bavinck will later focus on the two natures of Christ, he does cover the reality that “(H)e is a human being in the full, true sense , having a body, a soul and a spirit, a human mind, a human will, the human feelings of joy and sadness, wrath and mercy, and the human needs of rest and relaxation, food and drink …”. The people who met Jesus did not doubt His humanity. They thought Him merely human, not less than or other than human. This stands in contrast to numerous heretics later who denied the humanity of Jesus in a variety of ways. We cannot separate the historical Jesus and the Christ of the church as many have tried in the last 100 or so years. Bavinck goes on to defend the Apostles from charges of bearing false witness by creating a Jesus of their imagination.

Jesus is not a member of the kingdom but the Lord of the kingdom. He’s the heir of the vineyard as Son. He’s the sinless One who was falsely charged by His enemies. We are not sure how Jesus achieved His self-awareness but there is no indication that others talked Him into it. Rather, people were consistently talking Him out of it. He continually corrected the misshapen Messianic expectations of the disciples. He was to meet the Father’s expectations, not theirs.

In many ways Bavinck doesn’t finish his discussion of the Mediator of the covenant. He’ll develop the person and work of the Mediatior in the next few chapters. We’ll have to be content here to know that He is the only Mediator between God and man, the God-man Jesus Christ.


This is a letter I sent to our congregation in light of some discussion we had at our Session (elders) meeting last night.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore. Psalm 133

This Psalm was part of my devotional reading this morning. Unity is a great blessing: good and pleasant indeed. There are two pictures of this given: refreshing oil and life-giving dew that feeds the headwaters at the base of Hermon.

The Session longs for the church to dwell in unity. Last night we discussed the latest of events from the last 9 months that creates disagreement among us.

Disagreement is to be expected in matters not directly addressed in the Word of God. Discussion about matters of disagreement can be help us understand one another better. Discussion isn’t always helpful, and the helpfulness is determined by the manner in which it is carried out.

Let’s be honest for a moment. We will not all agree on a number of issues that have been hot topics in the last year or so. Among these areas of disagreement will be:

  • The effectiveness of masks or other Covid safety protocols.
  • The powers and limits of the government to take particular actions in a health emergency.
  • Whether or not to get the vaccine.
  • Whether or not violence or rioting are justified in a given set of circumstances.
  • Whether or not all the votes cast were legal and the election was fair and secure.

Unity does not require uniformity of opinion on these things. Unity is about standing together in the midst of disagreements not central to the gospel. Uniformity requires agreement as a condition for fellowship. Unity offers fellowship despite disagreement upon such matters. There are hills to die on, and these don’t seem to be hills to die on within a church.

This, as I noted, doesn’t rule out discussion. We can care about these things and dialogue about them. As I’ve repeatedly said, the way in which discussion is carried out in public (social media for instance) does matter. The fruit of the Spirit can be on display in disagreement. Indeed, they must. We shouldn’t squash disagreement or dissent. We also shouldn’t permit sin in the way we carry out discourse.

The pain and fear we experience personally can come to the surface in how we discuss such things. Or not discuss them. We are different people. Some process these experiences through social media as they “think out loud”. Other process internally, alone and where no one sees nor helps. We look at these issues differently based on our experiences, our generational outlook, our social and ethnic background. We bring different data and experiences to the questions and will arrive at different answers. We can help one another understand why we see it the way we see it. We can seek to understand others. We can seek to provide a fuller picture to others or seek to get a fuller picture ourselves. These are better than shutting up and shutting down.

What isn’t helpful is requiring everyone else to think and act like you without biblical warrant.

Here are a few thoughts to hopefully help and they are rooted in Paul’s discussion of things of indifference in Romans 14.

  • Your view is just that: your point of view. It isn’t gospel truth to be accepted and obeyed by all.
  • You have control over your beliefs and actions.
  • You don’t (and shouldn’t) have control over the beliefs and actions of others.
  • Therefore, make the best decisions for you (and your family) based on your point of view & your circumstances.
  • Recognize that your choices will have consequences: positive & negative, intended & unintended.
  • Allow others to make the best decisions for themselves based on their point of view & their circumstances.
  • Therefore don’t judge those who act differently. This means maintaining fellowship.
  • Recognize your weaknesses and act on them. Use snooze buttons, perhaps even unfriend/unfollow people if their online discussions hinder your “in person” fellowship, or get off social media if it stresses you out too much. (And don’t judge others who act differently.)

Let’s look at the bigger picture briefly. For that we look at Paul’s instruction to Timothy for the churches under his care.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Timothy 2

Pray, and pray often, for your brothers and sisters and church leaders as we navigate all kinds of cultural change and challenges. Pray, and pray often, for those in authority who literally have the livelihoods and health of others in their hands. Paul’s goal was that we’d be able to lead “peaceful and quiet lives” rather than be engulfed in conflict and distress. That those lives would be “godly and dignified” rather than sinful and depraved.

Ultimately we need to trust God with all of these issues. This means trusting that He is working good out of all these things for those who love Him. You don’t have to understand these things on this side of heaven. That really is what faith is about: trusting in His character and promises when life is hard and makes no sense to our feeble minds. He’s got this, even when we disagree about things. Therefore love God, and love one another.


Perhaps everyone was distracted by the bad in 2020, but I haven’t noticed many “best books” lists this turn of the year. Maybe all “those” folks unfriended me as another part of the ugliness that was 2020.

I did, however, read some good and great books in 2020. I probably didn’t read as many as I normally do or as many as some others have read. I wasn’t stuck at home and tired of binging on Netflix. Since I’m often alone in the office anyway, I just kept going since we did live stream for the time we couldn’t meet for corporate worship. I was busy.

My Favorite Book of 2020: Gentle and Lowly

One book stands out, and I gave quite a few copies of that book away. That is Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. The timing of this release was fortuitous for many since so many suffered, and stay-at-home orders resulted in many sins rising to the surface. This is about Christ’s heart for us who struggle (meaning we are repentant rather than hard-nosed sinners). It is basically gospel-centered therapy. It is a book that hearts discouraged or dismayed by hard times, sin & misery, need to hear.

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers - Ortlund, Dane C. - 9781433566134

A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience and Peace by Edward Welch was another timely read. The chapters were very short, examining an aspect of our hearts with regard to anger, patience and peace. He kept driving the reader to Jesus. This was like the EMT showing up to help each day.

Maturity by Sinclair Ferguson. Anything I read by Ferguson will end up on my “end of the year” lists. He is, by far, my favorite living author of things theological and ministerial. He writes with a pastor’s heart so my heart as well as my mind are engaged. This is an updated and expanded version of his very first book. One of the highlights was his discussion of Owen on temptation and sin. As a friend as proverbially said: he puts the cookies on the counter (not in the cupboard), so people can reach them.

Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith was a helpful book on emotions. We need to thinking more clearly about emotions and these men help us do that. In particular, their section on anger was helpful. This is not simply a psychology book but one for pastors to read so they can be more helpful in ministry.

The Whole Armor of God by Iain Dugiud is a short book on spiritual warfare which works through Ephesians 6. I’m adapting this into a Sunday School lesson for the spring. He centers on Jesus, our Champion, and not just us. This is a great little read on an important subject. One premise is that all of Ephesians is about spiritual warfare, and therefore all our lives are about spiritual warfare.

The Creaking on the Stairs by Mez McConnell sort of defies categories. It alternates biographical chapters with theological chapters unpacking abuse of various kinds and building the foundation of the gospel message. The biographical sections are often hard to read. Yet we see how God delivers people from the deepest pits of sin and misery. This is an important book to read.

2020’s Best Ministry Reads

Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home Through Time, Moments and Milestone by Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin was a very practical read on the subject of discipleship. Essentially there are the regular rhythms of discipleship- what we do regularly- the providential moments of discipleship as we deal with particular issues and problems, and celebrations of milestones that provide opportunities for discipleship. In includes material at the end of chapters for parents to work this out for a plan. It is very helpful and I gave copies of this away to our families at church. This is also something for churches to keep in mind: discipleship in those 3 aspects of time.

Making Kingdom Disciples by Charles Dunahoo. Yes, this has been around for awhile but I hadn’t read it. I like the kingdom focus, particularly as our congregation works thru The Vine Project to establish a culture of discipleship. There was plenty to chew on that I’m still chewing on.

Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud. I read this coming out of a difficult stretch of leadership. I was taking too much of the blame for something (I think) and some people were putting too much of the blame. Cloud applies his boundaries material to leadership, as the title suggests. There was plenty of material to mull over and try to apply to be a healthier leader and organization.

2020’s Best Biographical Reads

J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken was a very good and encouraging biography about one of the most important authors, theologians and churchmen of the 20th century. He was all of those, not simply one or two. Yes, he had flaws. Yes, I disagreed with some of his choices. But there is no denying his incredible impact on the best of evangelicalism in England, Canada and the U.S., as well on me personally. As I noted in my review, at times it was repetitive but it was a great read nonetheless.

A Life of Gospel Peace: The Biography of Jeremiah Burroughs by Phillip Simpson is about one of my favorite Puritans. Burroughs was very influential through his sermons, writings, work as a churchman in the Westminster Assembly and his example. This was an excellent biography of Burroughs.

2020’s Best Non-Christian Read

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This was nearly my best read of 2020. I want to read more of Haidt’s work. He has plenty of evolutionary under-pinnings but he explains his moral philosophy in terms people can understand. He’s generally fair and avoids partisanship even though you know his political leanings. Insightful and meaningful.

Considering Isaiah 9:6


We’ve begun to have a memory verse of the month. I thought I’d blog on that verse each month.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I’m not going to repeat my sermons that set this passage up, or on this passage. I want to spend some time applying this passage.

Christmas is about the Child but the Child brings a kingdom with Him. We can’t separate the two ultimately. This Child is King of kings and Lord of lords. His first public message would be “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

If He is a king then you are either a citizen of that kingdom or in the domain of darkness. Believing in, or receiving, Christ not only gives us the right to be God’s children (John 1) but also transfers us into the kingdom of the Son. We enter on the basis of His merit because He qualifies us (Col. 1). He meets the terms of citizenship for us. He is the obedient king who lived under the law on our behalf.

So what’s the point?

The point is: “Who runs your life?”

Sin creates a situation in which we either want to be in control (a God-wish) or abdicate responsibility. Adam, God’s vice-regent, was responsible to rule in keeping with God’s authority. God was the ultimate authority, and Adam had delegated authority. Eve’s sin was to take ultimate authority from God. Adam’s seems more to be about abdicating his authority. Either way, Adam’s sin plunged us into darkness: sin, misery and ultimately death. Both Adam and Eve abdicated responsibility when confronted by God. People generally want to be in control or not responsible. This is what makes the point pertinent.

Salvation unites us to the Savior, but also places us in the kingdom. As citizens we should live as good citizens of the kingdom. This is similar to but more extensive than living as good citizens of your/our nation. As good Americans we pay our taxes, follow the various laws, vote our own conscience and defend our nation to the best of our ability when necessary.

As citizens of heaven, we discover that sometimes God’s commands and the state’s commands (kings, presidents, governors, mayors etc.) are at odds. When they do, God wins. Or He’s supposed to.

God’s commands are also more extensive. They include our thoughts. We don’t yet have Orwell’s thought police in America. But God knows our thoughts and those too should align with His law, not simply our actions.

But let’s bring this back to the text. His great name reminds us that Jesus is God. This is implied in “Wonderful” whether you pair it with “Counselor” or not. He’s also the “Mighty God” or “Warrior God”. Both point us to the fact that Jesus, while fully human, is no mere man. As the Divine King He is worthy of full obedience over every area of our lives. He is the fulfillment of the great covenantal promise: I will be their God and they will be My people.

He doesn’t just rule our lives by authority (law) and power but by wisdom. Kings and presidents have a number of advisors because they obviously can’t be experts on everything. Jesus needs no advisors. He is a Council unto Himself. He is the wisdom of God. He provides us with wisdom for life decisions, big and ordinary as well.

He also rules by love, like the love of a father. As Everlasting Father He is the head of God’s new humanity (Eph. 2:11ff). A good father rules by love. This means a commitment of His people revealed in “steadfast love”, a keeping of covenant promises. He doesn’t simply care about Himself like so many earthly rulers. His laws are for our good rather than being arbitrary or whimsical exercises in power. He possesses the wisdom they lack so they really are for our good: good for us.

He also rules by peace. As the Prince of Peace, Jesus established peace by His atoning death. He extends that peace by bringing people under His peaceful realm. But He also extends that peace by helping His people to study and pursue peace in their relationships. In other words, “blessed are the peace-makers”. We proclaim His peace and keep the bond of peace in the Spirit (Eph. 4:2).

Who runs your life? Do you to try and run it yourself, like Eve? Does your spouse or other person, like Adam let Eve run it? Do you just go with the flow of society (which Paul says is under the power of the prince of the air)?

Christianity begins with repentance, coming under the protection and rule of King Jesus. But it continues in the growing awareness of that rule and its implications in our lives. We grow in our submission to Christ, recognizing His wise, loving, peaceful and righteous rule.


As I consider Animal Farm, I thought about a 1b to contain the things I wish I’d said in part 1 but didn’t or didn’t address in sufficient depth. So before I get to Part 2 I’ll say a little more with regard to chapter 1 in particular.

Oppression is a real thing. As a Christian, and a Reformed Christian at that, I affirm the universality of sin and what we call radical depravity (sin affects every part of us, at the root). Therefore sin is systemic in this world. It runs thru everything: every person, every family, every neighborhood, every class, every race, every nation, every culture etc. Systemic sin produces things like systemic racism and oppression. Sinful people create sinful structures and systems. At times it is oversight, not realizing the consequences of the laws or systems we put into place. Other times it is purposeful by at least those who form the system but not necessarily all who participate in administering the system.

People groups generally consider one of the two more extreme positions: resignation and revolution. Resignation is the response of despair. It is for people with no hope or vision for a better system. It is extreme in passivity. It goes along to get along. It doesn’t make waves.

Revolution is the other extreme. We see the animals, due to Old Major, tossing off their resignation to their fate with hope of a new system. It is not about finding peace and reconciliation while fixing the flaws in the system but replacing the system and removing the oppressors. It is a complete reversal and overturning of the system.

There is a third way. It is the quest for equality, not superiority. This was the road chosen by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights advocates of the 60’s. This is the road advocated by John Perkins: the road of love for one another. That is why this is the road not often chosen. Love is harder than revolution. Hate is easier than love. Hate simply wants to destroy while love wants to find a mutually satisfying solution. Love often requires repentance on both sides, even if more guilt falls on one side than the other.

One of the things that is unclear in this fairy tale of George Orwell’s construction is whether or not the animals could communicate with the humans. They learned to read and some of them learned to write. They had a common language among them. Yet, they never presented any demands or petitions to Farmer Jones. There was never an attempt to find a mutually beneficial resolution and system. They went right for the nuclear option: revolution (or rebellion).

The rebellion was preceded by the demonization of the oppressor. Sadly we see this today in the anti-racism movement. The problem is not the sin of racism/prejudice found in all human hearts. The problem seems to be “whiteness” as though only white people are prejudiced. Here in America, we tend to be myopic and see things only in terms of our experience (a common problem for cultures). Racism and prejudice exist in every culture. There is majority privilege in every culture. It isn’t about whiteness but about sinful humans. But the materialist can’t grasp this. Marx put it in terms of class, and the oppressive class had to be removed. CRT often puts it in terms of “whiteness”, and homosexual activists see the oppressor as the church (the majority religion of America) while basically giving Islam as pass despite being more brutal internationally because here they are a minority religion.

The animals prevailed over the oppressive humans and have established the seven commandments of animalism. The last is the most important: All animals are equal. Let’s continue to see if their grand new animal society continues. Or rather, how it continues.

Chapter 3: The Rise of the Pigs

The animals all had particular jobs prior to the rebellion. They were suited to the nature of the particular animals. That seemed unjust to them, however. Theirs was to be an egalitarian society in keeping with the seventh commandment.

All the animals worked together to get the hay in. This was a new kind of work for them but it was very hard and they all had to adapt. But we see that the pigs were working in a supervisory role. They, after all, were the brains of the rebellion. They would remain the brains in the new society.

This continued through the summer, and the animals were never happier than they were. They enjoyed all the benefits of their labor. Each worked according to their capacity. There was no envy, stealing or grumbling. The animals all worked hard, except maybe Mollie the horse. She struggled to get up early and then found reasons to stop working early.

Old Benjamin, the donkey, was true to his nature and obstinately did as he’d always done. He was not up for a new order.

There was no work on Sundays. It was used to restructure the grand new society. Part of their new order was a flag to represent the forthcoming Republic of the Animals. It was raised every Sunday morning. This was followed by the Meeting. The week’s work was planned and issues were raised and debated. The pigs, as you may imagine, dominated the meetings. Snowball and Napoleon, their leaders, did not seem to agree. On anything. The Meeting would end with the singing of The Beasts of England.

This is a godless version of church in many respects. It was meant to draw them together around the common vision and prepare them for the work ahead. They were saved, not from sin and death, but from humans.

The harness-room was repurposed by the pigs as their headquarters. They would study books on carpentry, smithing and other tasks necessary for running a farm. Snowball formed numerous Animal Committees seemingly one for every task that had to be done.

The pigs had learned to read and write well. The dogs learned to read but focused on the commandments, being good dogs and aiming to please. Most of the animals struggled to learn to read. Some, like the sheep, weren’t even able to memorize the seven commandments. The first commandment was reduced to “Four legs good, two legs bad!” as wings were considered legs.

Napoleon seemed less interested in these committees. He focused on the young, and new born pups in particular. He took the 9 weaned puppies to the loft to train them by himself. It was learned that the milk was added to the pigs mash. Many thought this unfair until it was explained to them that the leadership of the pigs was necessary to keep them free of Farmer Jones. As a result they were granted this additional privilege due to their vital role in the safety of the community.

Chapter 4: Farmer Jones Strikes Back

News of the rebellion was spread via the birds to animals throughout England. But Farmer Jones spent his time at the Red Lion drinking and complaining about the injustice done to him at the hands of his animals. The other farmers felt bad for him but seemed more intent on working this to their advantage, not his restoration. The adjacent farms lived in fear of the rebellion spreading to their farms.

Tales were told of cannibalism among the animals, that they tortured one another and had their females in common. In some ways this is reminiscent of the lies told about the early church. Restlessness spread far beyond the Animal Farm in a variety of incidents.

In October the corn had been harvested and was in process of being threshed when Farmer Jones along with all his men and 6 more from the neighboring farms appeared. They all had sticks except Jones who had a gun.

The animals had expected this and prepared for it. They were ready. Snowball called them to their posts for the engagement to begin. He led the first attack upon the men. He also signaled retreat as the men’s sticks and hobnailed boots seem too much for the animals. This was what Snowball had planned to lure them deeper into Farm. It seemed like Russia’s general strategy to allow your enemy to be swallowed up by Asia. Yes, the men committed one of the two great blunders.

Snowball led the next charge, and despite taking some buckshot from the shotgun took out Farmer Jones’ legs. Boxer reared up and kicked men with his hard hooves. Soon all the men had turn and fled except the stable boy, accidentally killed by Boxer.

The animals gathered to share their tales of battle. They buried a dead sheep with Snowball reminding them they all needed to be ready to die for Animal Farm. It was decided to create a medal, Animal Hero First Class, to be bestowed upon Boxer and Snowball for their valiant and effective efforts in the battle. These medals would be worn on Sundays and holidays.

Farmer Jones’ gun was found, along with its cartridges. It was fired off twice a year in honor of Rebellion Day and the Battle of the Cowshed.

Nature abhors a vacuum. This includes vacuums in leadership. In Animal Farm this leadership vacuum was filled by the pigs. In Russia it was filled by Lenin and Trotsky (head of the Red Army) at first. Stalin was younger and waiting in the wings.

photographs of Trotsky from the 1920s

But the new order wasn’t that different from the old order. The milk and a special supply of apples were reserved for the pigs, the new ruling class. The ruling class will always have privileges. Party members in communist countries have historically enjoyed perks and benefits the average person did not. They functioned no differently from monarchies and democratic republics in this sense.

There is something in humanity that creates a nobility of some kind. George Washington, among others, feared this. The founding fathers didn’t want a political class for this reason. Sadly, we’ve moved from professionals who served terms in government to professional politicians, a ruling class which with the bureaucrats form what we call the “deep state”. They live by different rules., just like communist party members.

All societies are stratified. Some are just more stratified than others. Some have more or less mobility than others. In America you can move up the ladder. In a caste system like India’s, you cannot. In communist countries the road up is party membership.

We see this beginning in Animal Farm. The pigs are gaining power, forming cracks in the egalitarian ideal. Snowball is vocal, and the visible leader despite his debates with Napoleon. But Napoleon is like a shark, waiting for his moment.

On a different note, I discovered that Animal Farm has a graphic novel version. This may be the way to get the next generation to read and learn.


There is something weird about calling sin and death wonderful works of God. The tension is so thick you can cut it.

The Wonderful Works of God is a systematic theology and if we are to understand salvation, and what has gone wrong with the world we experience, we must understand that from which we are saved: sin and death (which is an expression of God’s wrath toward sin). That He delivers us from them is a wonderful work of God.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

Sin is not simultaneous with creation. Sin came later. We aren’t sure how much later. The fall of the angels indicates that sin started in heaven. Mutable man was approached by the fallen serpent and deceived. God did not make Adam sin, but did test him. “But when someone fails in the test, he is immediately inclined to charge God with the guilt of the fall and to say that God tempted him, that is, tried him with the intention of making him fall, or put him to a test in which he must necessarily fail.” This is part of the deception of sin. God doesn’t test us to cause us to sin. He provides a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). God intends for good, but Satan for evil.

Scripture tells of the fall into sin, and its continuing effects including the darkening of the understanding. The sins we commit assume a sinful condition due to their universality. Adam and Eve had no such sinful nature or proclivity to sin. They were made upright though mutable.

Bavinck interacts with the psychological approaches to sin. One instance is the circumstances of our sin. “These do not justify the sin, but they do limit the measure of guilt.” Adam and Eve didn’t experience any circumstances that limit the measure of their guilt. Sin is forever in conflict with God, and our own conscience (unless it is seared). For instance, a parent may take the circumstances of their child’s disobedience into account. It remains disobedience but there may be mitigating factors: peer pressure, illegitimate command from an adult, illness etc. I recall one time I broke curfew. My watch battery had died, rather inconveniently, without my realizing it. Surely the alcohol didn’t help but I wasn’t trying to stay out too late. Those circumstances however did not lessen the consequences.

The pair of sin and misery should be obvious from our experience, not simply from Scripture. The creation groans every moment declaring to us the reality of this dynamic duo.

Some externalize sin, as though it is connected to our circumstances, our environment or the society (forgetting that people created that society). If sin is external to us we just need to fix the circumstances and people won’t sin anymore. So we hear that education or raising people out of poverty will fix crime. This reminds us that just as Adam and Eve immediately shifted blame, people continue to avoid accountability for their action. Something or someone else made us do it. He notes that in the eighteenth century people’s eyes were opened to political and social corruption and saw revolution as the answer. Other forms of government would be free of corruption since it was the form of government to blame, not the people who form governments and run them.

Other views are Platonic, putting sin in the material world. The spirit is good but the material world is bad. Evolutionary theory sees such behavior as remnants of our past animal condition (our lizard brain as some say today). Sin becomes outdated behaviors previously necessary for survival. Others turned to dualism, two gods who co-exist in perpetual conflict.

Scripture “vindicates God and implicates man” regarding sin. It is part of God’s eternal decrees in providence. It didn’t “take place outside the scope of His foreknowledge, His counsel, and His will.” It is something He willed to happen but not something He made happen. Sin is not a substance or thing, but a moral quality or departure from the ethical norm established by God for us. Therefore evil can only come after the good, not at the same time or before the good.

Man was changed by sin but did not cease to be man. His gifts were no longer used to glorify and serve God but as “weapons against God and put in the service of unrighteousness.” Bavinck drops a big indictment: “If anyone could see man as he is, internally and externally, he would discover traits in him which resemble Satan more than they do God.” Sin is not part of creation, but was introduced into this world by man. We made a mess of things (see Gen. 3 & Rom. 5).

Bavinck then moves into the first sin. Adam could not avoid consequences or knowledge that he and Eve had sinned. “They saw each other as they had never before seen each other. They dared not and could not freely and unreservedly look into each other’s eyes. They felt themselves to be guilty and impure, and they sewed fig leaves together in order to cover themselves against each other.” The internal sense of guilt and shame prevailed, as did the thought, “Can I trust that person?” They were immediately alienated from themselves and one another since they had lost the image of God in the narrow sense of righteousness.

They were also alienated from God which they realized as soon as they heard Him coming. They hid instead of running to meet Him.

Bavinck spends time addressing this self alienation, the guilt and shame we experience as consequences not only of that sin but every sin. We lose a sense of “inner, spiritual spontaneity and freedom”. It is tied to our relationship with God. The Puritans distinguished between union with God (which does not and cannot change due to the covenant of grace) and communion or fellowship with God which does change. As I explain to my congregation, my love for my kids will not change (union) but my experience of their relationship is affected by our behavior towards one another (fellowship). When we sin we lose a sense of fellowship. We feel guilty and impure in His eyes too.

Bavinck then traces this reality through Scripture to explain the universality of sin. As he notes, “the whole preaching of the gospel is built on this assumption.” Yet, how is it that we all share in this sinful condition?

The Problem of Pelagianism

He begins with the Pelagian explanation of imitation. Each sinful act is isolated and does not change the nature of the person nor humanity in the case of Adam. People are born innocent and remain free, always to choose freely between good and evil with no proclivity. People sin, often, because they follow the example of others (disregarding the consequences they see, I guess). And yet the only sinless one was Jesus. Bavinck finds this view refuted on nearly every page of Scripture as well as our own experience. Sin is not like a dirty garment that can be changed and we feel clean. Guilt and shame persist even when no one else knows what we have done.

“Sin makes us guilty and it makes us unclean; it robs us of peace of mind and heart, is followed by regret and remorse, confirms us in the inclination, the listing, towards evil, and gets us into a condition in which, finally, we can no longer offer resistance to the power of sin but succumb to even the slightest temptation.”

He continues to note that a bad environment could influence us unless we had that disposition toward evil in our hearts. This also explains why good environments often produce rotten children. We have actively responding hearts which are tainted at the core. Bad examples may cause us to move in a different reaction, or follow along the path of least resistance. I know people who had horrible upbringings. They resolved to not be like their parents, and they weren’t. But they weren’t necessarily godly either.

Consider the responses to sexual abuse. We can think of a person’s response as active or passive, permissive or prohibitive. An active permissive response is the person who actively pursues promiscuity and/or exhibitionism. This is the woman who ends up in some version of the sex trade, male predator or the sex addict of various kinds. The passive permissive can’t say “no” because they have no boundaries: their body and sexuality are community property. I counseled someone who asked if it was okay if the janitor at work touch her breast. She was passively permissive. The active prohibitive person actively rejects their sexuality either because they take the blame or think all others of the offending sex are predators. So some move into homosexuality or destroy themselves so they won’t attract unwanted sexual advances. Passive prohibition is the frigid person. They relate to others and may even get married but suffer from sexual anorexia. They don’t want sex and only engage in it reluctantly if they do. We see a variety of sinful responses to the sin done to us.

Bavinck reminds us that the environment provides occasions to sin but that the desire to sin is in our hearts. Sinful thoughts and images may appear unbidden by us or our environment. These rotten fruits don’t make us bad trees, but are produced by us because we are bad trees.

The Insufficiency of Semi-Pelagianism

He then shifts to the semi-Pelagian or Arminian view. They affirm moral corruption proceeding from Adam’s sin. They don’t seem to follow this to its natural conclusion of radical depravity, however.

Bavinck chases down the notion of lust or desire. Semi-Pelagianism sees these desires as part of our human nature and neutral or good. Calvin distinguished lust from desire. Desire was not sinful in itself. The desire for sex itself is not sinful. But sexual lust is desire for the wrong person (not your spouse), wrong gender (same sex attraction), wrong creature (bestiality) or an inordinate desire meaning it controls you rather than you controlling it. Our desires have been corrupted, or flow from a corrupted heart.

In Romans 7 we see that Paul measured his desires by the law of God. It was then that he realized that they were corrupt and he was guilty. It caused him to cry out for redemption.

Both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagian seek to discover the cause of universal sinfulness in each individual. “According to semi-Pelagianism each man falls by himself alone because quite by his own choice he takes the inherited but not sinful desire up into his will and converts it into a sinful deed.”

He then introduces the spread of ideas similar to Buddhism with the pre-existence of the soul. We see this in Mormonism as people knew God but when sent to Earth they basically had their memory wiped and had to discover the truth about God (what a horrible way to view life). Like the seed theory of human existence, this merely begs the question. How did the pre-existent souls fall?

Radical Depravity

Humanity, he argues, is not simply the aggregate of individuals. We are a unity. Though there are many branches, we are of one tree. Physically we descend from one couple. Juridically we are one because of the covenant of works in which we all find ourselves. A more clear expression of Adam as our covenant head would have been helpful. He gets there when he begins to unfold Romans 5 but that should be in big neon lights, from my perspective. This one man’s sin brought sin and death into the world not simply because Adam was the first man but our covenant head. It is this same principle, in Romans 5, which reveals how we are saved through the Second Adam as He is head of the covenant of grace.

All men die in Adam. He made us all mortal beings. We live as “dead men walking”: we are on death row awaiting the execution of our sentence.

Grace comes not after one sin but a multitude of sins. Grace is greater than all our sins, as the song goes in reflecting Paul’s explanation in Romans 5.

“The whole history of the world is proof of the fact that mankind, both in its entirety and in its individual membership, is guilty before the face of God, has a morally corrupted nature, and is at all times subject to decay and death.”

Original sin, therefore begins with original guilt and includes original pollution from which our actual sins do flow. We are depraved, unable to do any spiritual good for our salvation. We are prone to wander, attracted to sin. Faith stops looking back at Paradise lost to charge Adam but looks to the cross to see the abundant love of Christ who offers us His glory.

Original Sin Unfolded

His discussion of original sin is very helpful. It is the ruined root of our actions. It is an unholy fountain producing actual sins. “All such sins have a common origin: they stem from the heart of man.” Though there are thousands of sin, the seed of the all is in the heart of every person. Yes, what you think unthinkable in this moment is a sin you may actually commit in the “right” circumstances. It won’t simply be the circumstances but the overflow of your heart.

He discusses the various classifications of sins that we use (thought, word and deed; omission and commission; private and public etc.). He warns us that sin is a slippery slope. We cannot go down partway and expect to come back up easily. His explanation of James 1:14-15 is perhaps the best I’ve read, and by best I mean helpful.

“When someone is tempted to evil the cause of it does not lie in God, but in his own lust. This lust is the mother of sin. This lust is not in itself, however, enough to bring forth sin (that is, the sinful deed, whether of thought, word or deed). It must first conceive and become pregnant. That happens when the reason and the will are united with the lust. It is then, when lust is impregnated by the will, that it brings for the sinful deed. And when this seed in turn grows up, develops, and reaches its maturity, it bears death.”

Not all sinners or groups of sinners are the same. Families and even nations will struggle with different sins. “Every class and status in society, every vocation and business, every office and profession brings with it its own peculiar dangers and its own peculiar sins.” We need to reckon with this. It is easy to see the sins of other people and groups. This breeds the animosity we see between groups of people because we fail to see the sins of our people and groups. We use the sins of the other to excuse the sins of our own. Oppression is the reason some riot, and the rioting provides justification for the oppression since that group is obviously out of control. Round and round it goes instead of each group repenting of their sins and seeking forgiveness (macro- and micro-) for those sins. We walk the path of retribution rather than reconciliation. This is what original sin produces.

“In sin too there is a system.” This was helpful for me in addressing systemic sin that manifests itself in systemic oppression and racism in a recent sermon. Sin is systemic and produces sinful systems. This does not exclude personal sin but recognizes we are both individuals and part of groups. Sin is expressed individually in personal transgressions and systemically in sinful systems that oppress others. It is not either/or as some forms of fundamentalism or cultural Marxism want us to think. As I used to have on the wall of my cubicle at Ligonier: It all leads back to depravity.

“The history of the world is not a blindly operating evolutionary process, but an awful drama, a spiritual struggle, centuries-long in duration, a warfare between the Spirit from above and the spirit from below, between Christ and anti-Christ, between God and Satan.”

Degrees of Sin

The wages of all sin is death, but as has been noted by many, not all sins are equal in kind and decree. I usually go to differences between sins of property (theft) and person (adultery or murder) as explored in the civil law and its penalties. The punishment for theft and fornication is restitution. The penalty for murder and adultery is death.

Bavinck talks about the differences between sins of ignorance and presumption, which is an important distinction in Numbers. He notes the differences between the two tables of the law. He notes the different circumstances. “Therefore not all sins are equally grave nor deserving of the same punishment.” He continues to discuss the difference between sins against the ceremonial law versus those against the moral law.

They all begin, as we’ve noted repeatedly, from the same source. They are all sin, bearing guilt and producing shame. Yet, Bavinck affirms civil righteousness. “Not all who walk the broad way walk equally fast or make the same progress.” The reason for this is not in ourselves. The reason is found in the restraining grace of God. He has not abandoned the reprobate completely but restrains sin for their good, the good of society and the good of the elect. People are like wild animals under the harness, he says. Family, neighborhoods, government with their ideas of decency, peer pressure, punishment etc. restrain sin as secondary means. People do “civil good”. Bavinck returns to the Canons of Dordt to remind us that confessionally we can do no spiritual good for our salvation, not that we are unable to obey the laws instituted by government or families. He sees this as part of the common grace of God. But these institutions cannot renew man or even prevent all sins. There is a struggle between sin and grace in the hearts of individuals, in families and societies.

In this context he discusses the hardening of the heart as both by God and man. Humans harden their hearts by resisting common grace and become not simply implicit but explicit enemies of God. God hardens hearts judicially by withdrawing restraining (common) grace. In this larger context he (rightly) understand the blasphemy of the Spirit as a conscious rejection of God’s rich revelation and illumination by the Spirit. In other words, this is not a sin of which the doubting Christian is guilty.

This is a lengthy and exhaustive chapter. He touches on more than I’ve laid out here. In the interests of time and space I’ve tried to hit the highlights. Alas there are so many. This is a book and chapter well-worth our time.


When I was in school we had to read Animal Farm by George Orwell. Not only that but we read 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 amidst all the Shakespeare and The Hobbit. Sadly many public school systems don’t require students to read this books. Apparently they aren’t concerned about totalitarianism like our school system was. I ended up buying copies of these books. It is time read them again.

While donating plasma, I’ve begun to read Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale. It is an easy read with relatively short chapters. Since many of you, my dear readers, seemingly have not actually read this book I will blog on it as I go.

George Orwell was the pen name for Eric Blair. He was a novelist, critic, and journalist. I think he was an atheist though his paternal grandfather was a clergyman. His great-grandfather was a wealthy countryman who was an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica. His father worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. How’s that for a background?

As a child he went to a school run by Roman Catholic nuns. After school he worked in Burma for a number of years as a police man. There he became familiar with oppression. After returning to London he spent time investigating its poor neighborhoods to see how the poor lived. He then moved to Paris, lived in a working class neighborhood and began to write novels. It was written toward the end of WWII and released in 1946.

Orwell opposed totalitarianism through his writing. Oddly, he supported Democratic Socialism. The latter is probably a result of seeing the oppression of others. Animal Farm is an allegory that surely seems to be based on the Bolsheviek revolution. Orwell did fight on the side of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. As a result, color me confused. But let’s look at Animal Farm.

Chapter 1: The Dream

This novella takes place on the Manor Farm in the English countryside. It is owned by Mr. Jones who seemed to like his alcohol a bit too much. His drunken neglect led to the animals to begin meeting to plot his demise, or at least overthrow.

England was a stratified society with very little social mobility. We see this, or at least I do, in the different roles the animals had. Each had their place on the farm and they were not interchangeable. In a capitalist society, you often find work according to your abilities. You don’t last long if you can’t do the job unless you worked for the old Xerox Business Services where you had to rob a client blind to get fired. Each animal had a task suitable to its nature and physical make up. Horses like Boxer and Mollie pulled things, chickens laid eggs, cows produced milk and pigs got fattened up. Dogs protected the animals and herded them.

We are introduced to Old Major, a pig, on a raised platform to speak to the barnyard animals. Like a good Communist, he addressed them as “Comrades”. He shared a dream he had and spoke about their “miserable, laborious, and short” lives. No animals in England were free according to Old Major. Mr. Jones oppressed and exploited them. They were alienated from the fruit of their labor and often their loins.

Here we can see some of the problems that emerged with the industrial revolution. Work was hard and you got a wage rather than the profits of what you sold like in an agrarian and trade society. There was less risk, and therefore less opportunity accumulate wealth unless you had wealth to invest already. Oddly, Mr. Jones was not a wealthy farmer. He was getting by, and that’s about it. He wasn’t a good manager of his farm or his wealth. Not all capitalists were and the people they employed suffered. Some were wise, at least with money, and built empires. Others also helped their employees (see The Search for God and Guinness)

Russia, however, wasn’t quite a capitalist nation. It was mismanaged by the Czars. They did live well, at the expense of the people.

Old Major identifies human beings as the enemy and oppressor. In Marxist thought (political or cultural) if you just get rid of the oppressor all will be well. “Almost overnight we could become rich and free.” Sound familiar? This same lie is being floated today after the collapse of nearly every Communist country except China who integrated some measure of capitalism (among the elites).

This polarization has often led to genocides. One group of people (Jews, Armenians, Christians, Tutsi etc.) is dehumanized and demonized prior to being slaughtered. These are not ideas interested in reconciliation, compromise and peace. They lead toward extermination.

Old Major isn’t sure if the wild animals were on their side or not so he asked for a vote. But he was clear that no animals were to imitate humans. He continued: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him. Even when you have conquered him, do not adopt his vices. No animal must ever live in a house, or sleep in a bed, or wear clothes, or drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco, or touch money, or engage in trade. All the habits of Man are evil.”

Old Major is a theorist, an idealist. He is an ideologue. He defines enemies who must not be won over but destroyed. You don’t build your own business, but destroy the “oppressor” who built the world you despise. “No animal must tyrannize over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers.” He concludes by teaching them a song, Beasts of England.

Chapter 2: The Rebellion

Three days later Old Major died in his sleep. The animals began to prepare for the Rebellion. The role of teaching and organizing “naturally” fell upon the pigs. Two rose to the top: Snowball and Napoleon. Snowball was the talker but Napoleon had a way of getting his way. Along with Squealer they turned Old Major’s lessons into a system of thought they called Animalism. While Mr. Jones slept they’d teach the other animals. They were practitioners: putting theory into practice. Snowball and Napoleon appear to represent Trotsky and Lenin respectively.

One Sunday in June, Mr. Jones stumbled home from the pub. While he collapsed on the sofa, the animals had enough. The Rebellion was on. Smashed doors awakened him. Mr. Jones rushed out to help his men but they were kicked and butted. Mrs. Jones, witnessing this, packed her bags and fled.

As the ribbons were tossed into the fire, one of the horses, Mollie, began to realize this was not the Paradise she was promised. She loved those ribbons in her mane. As they plundered the main house, she was found admiring a ribbon she found in the bedroom. Her longing for the past had begun. The farm house was declared to be a museum to remember the cruelty of the past.

The pigs then revealed that they had reduced the teachings of Animalism into 7 commandments:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

These were crudely painted on the wall of the barn for all the animals to see, when they were taught to read. These laws were more about not being human and about being an animal.

Soon reality struck home again when they discovered that no one had milked the cows. There was no one to milk the cows. The pigs figured out a way to do it “fairly successfully.”

I am reminded of the end of colonialization in Africa. It needed to end, don’t get me wrong. But the Europeans hadn’t trained people to run the country. They learned tasks, not leadership and the allocation of resources. In places like the DRC, the infrastructure has rotted. Libraries collapsed, trains were kept shiny in depots instead of carrying freight or people. In a revolution in which you kill or exile the ruling class no one has the necessary expertise to manage a country.

The animals rejoiced that they had 5 buckets of fresh milk. It was declared that it would be poured in their mash. Napoleon told them to not worry about it and get to work since it was time to bring in the hay. He would take care of the milk. He did, and they didn’t get any as promised.

From the beginning, the leaders (aka the pigs) showed they were not equal to the rest of the animals. They had privilege. Someone always has privilege. Some gain it by hard work, others by by theft and others by manipulation. The pigs took it feeling entitled since they had risen to the ruling elite.

Animal Farm was influential in the writing of the Pink Floyd album Animals. This album is lost between Wish You Were Here and The Wall. The songs are long and filled with anger, fitting Roger Waters’ mood at the time. Interestingly enough, this was when Waters began to take over the band much like Napoleon. It is an album I enjoy but after that tour they seemingly refused to play anything from the album in future live shows.

Animals

I was tempted to handle the subjects of the The Origin, Essence, and Purpose of Man as well as Sin and Death in separate posts. That is because these two chapters in The Wonderful Works of God are quite lengthy. They are firmly packed, much like the rabbit Hawkeye used for the pregnancy test in MASH. But … here we go!

M*A*S*H Notes — (*DISPATCH*) s06e19: What's Up, Doc?

The Origin of Man

The origin of man covers familiar territory as Bavinck again returns Darwinism as a possible explanation for the origin of man. But he also mentions that Scripture is silent about the creation of the angels. I noted in my margin that the Scriptures are written to men, not angels, and our origin is very important to that audience and the origin of angels… not so much. We are curious but it is not important for us to know. We may decide what we want to know but God decides what we need to know (see Genesis 2-3 and that whole Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thing).

God deliberates with Himself prior to the creation of man which we don’t see elsewhere in Genesis 1. The result of this deliberation is to make man alone in the image of God. Bavinck reminds us that it is not man alone who bears the image but both man and woman in interdependence who bear God’s image. As God’s image they are to rule the earth as vice-regents. Eden, in light of this, is a land grant from the Great King & Creator to Adam. Land wasn’t granted to serfs but to nobles. Adam is a king, and Eve is a queen.

When he gets to the second account of man’s creation it is almost as if Bavinck anticipates the Framework Hypothesis. Some mistake it as a second creation story. They tell the same story but have a different focus. Chapter 1 is the whole stage that is set, the context into which Adam will be created in greater detail in chapter 2. Chapter 1 deals with creation, and chapter 2 with Paradise. The common element is that humanity is the crown of creation, the one for whom these environments were made.

In Genesis 2 we also see the probationary command. There are other commands he must follow. He is to keep the Garden: cultivating and preserving it. There is the provision of food through his work. The sole prohibition has to do with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam gains dominion through his work, but he must submit to God in that work. He serves his Creator and Lawgiver in dependence upon Him.

We also see the gift of a woman and the institution of marriage. He was not created to be alone: “He must be able to express himself, reveal himself, and give himself.” As many have discovered “Solitude is poverty, forsakenness, gradual pining and wasting away.” This is why solitary confinement is so painful a penalty. Many lose their minds, and as we see in Papillon (the account of French prison colonies by Henri Charriere) many waste away and die in solitary confinement.

Papillon: Charriere, Henri: Amazon.com: Books

Adam is the “source and head” of the human race. Woman is created out of him, and for him. Yet they are dependent on one another.

“She is out of Adam and yet is another than Adam. She is related to him and yet is different from him. She belongs to the same kind and yet in that kind she occupies her own unique position. She is dependent and yet she is free. She is after Adam and out of Adam, but owes her existence to God alone. … She is his helper, not as a mistress and much less as a slave, but as an individual, independent, and free being, who received her existence not from man but from God, who is responsible to God, and who was added to man as a free an unearned gift.”

Yes, he says far more about women than most conservative theologians of the 20th century!

Humanity can’t stop wondering about its origins. If one discards Scripture and therefore creation something must fill the gap. “Evolution is the magic word which in our times must somehow solve all problems about the origin and essence of creatures.” They proceed from the assumption that matter, energy and motion are eternal which is fairly arbitrary. He did not have the benefit of AI to help prove the statistical impossibility of evolution. The odds of positive gene mutation successfully mutating, based on a recent AI experience and subsequent article is 1 times 10 to the 77th power. And yet, science is believed to render God unnecessary. Some inexplicably argue for an endless creation out of nothing. It makes more sense to them for life to be seeded by an alien civilization (yet not explain their life) or our universe to be an experiment by an alien society (outside the universe, obviously) which again begs the question.

Bavinck distinguishes between the facts to which evolution appeals and the philosophical view with which it interprets them. In other words, the facts are viewed through presuppositions. The question is: is the presupposition reasonable? He argues this hypothesis (many evolutionists hate this word) came first and is used to interpret facts rather than facts driving the hypothesis. But this hypothesis sees life as struggle, the struggle for existence. Bavinck reminds us that life also includes cooperation and help. And love. The sacrifice of love would seem to argue against the drive to survive as ultimate.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

The Essence of Man

He speaks at great length about other issues concerning our origin. I want/need to move on to the essence of man. What you believe about the essence of man flows out of what you believe about his origin. “If man is not of Divine but animal origin and has gradually “evolved” himself he owes everything to himself alone, as his own lawgiver, master, and lord.” Man, in this view is autonomous and all morality is social construct (though he doesn’t use that term). Biblically, on the other hand, the essence of man is the image of God. Ideas, as Sproul often said, have consequences.

He contrasts man with the animals. Man is not a descendant of other animals but rather a “great gulf” called the image of God separates them. This also separates men from angels. He briefly describes the nature of angels as revealed in Scripture. There is no covenant head for angels. Those lost are lost forever since they have no Redeemer who has taken their nature.

Bavinck argues that image and likeness amplify each other. They support one another. Man is “a perfect and totally corresponding image of God. … As creature man is absolutely dependent upon God and yet as man he is a free and independent being.”

In this context he turns to 1 Corinthians 11 which some see as denying woman as part of the imago dei. “Hence man is the image and glory of God directly and originally; the woman is the image and glory of God in a derived way in that his is the glory of man.” There may be a typo there: hers is the glory of man? He argues that she receives the image of God because she is created from man. This is largely a passage about headship, or covenant relationships, not ontology.

He then moves to the meaning of the image. After the Fall man continues in the image of God as we see from Genesis 5:1-3 and 9:6 (as well as James 3). Yet, that image must be renewed or restored in salvation (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. He, therefore, distinguishes between a broad and narrow sense of the image. This is a distinction that Lutherans don’t make. They focus (in Bavinck’s day) on the original righteousness of man, the narrow sense. He then argues that “the religio-moral life of man is held to be a special and isolated area. It is not related to, and it exercises no influence upon, the work to which man is called in state and society, and in art and science.” I wonder if this is the root of what is called R2K (radical 2 kingdoms view). I am not read up on that position but my superficial understanding sees that disconnect between faith and life in the kingdom of men which troubles me. But I need to spend time looking into R2K.

Rome, on the other hand, make the distinction between the two senses. They externalize it instead of internalizing it, however. This explains their dependence on natural law, religion and morality. Grace is added to nature, not given to restore fallen nature. Following Aquinas they use a nature and grace formulation. Man didn’t lose anything in sin, but grace can be added to him. This means, for Bavinck, that “it serves as a restraint upon the flesh, and it clears the way for merits to heaven.” Grace enables salvation rather than brings salvation.

In Reformed Theology, man loses original righteousness. He continues to be man, bearing the image in the broader sense. Sin is not inherent in human nature but is a property of fallen humans. Grace comes to bring salvation and restore the narrow sense of the image.

Bavinck then talks about the soul, which he sees as spirit. Due to the spiritual nature of a human soul man is immortal.

The Purpose of Man

In looking at the purpose of man we must go back to Genesis 2, the origin and essence of man. We see that we work as part of the image of God. We don’t work without plan or purpose. Without purpose or plan we work hopelessly. Adam worked to expand the Garden to the glory of God (this is more Beale than Banvinck). He worked under the authority of God, in the way appointed for him. “He lived in paradise, but not yet in heaven. He still had a long way to go before he arrived at his proper destination.” He was to trust and obey God. We work to glorify God. Work is worship as a result.

As the Shorter Catechism puts it, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Our origin, essence and purpose are all tied together. Though distinct they can never be separated. A man with accidental origin has the essence of other animals and no purpose. He comes from nothing, goes to nothing and amounts to nothing. This is the sad consequence that evolutionary thinking leads us to. Philosophers have tried to rescue us from such hopelessness by the “will to power”. Others have merely told us to live in the existential angst.

Christianity holds out to us a meaningful and sensible origin story, a unique essence and a grand purpose that alone answers the longings of the heart (which shouldn’t exist in an evolutionary world view). Humanity is a wonderful work of God, not the result of random accidents in a meaningless universe.

Since Bavinck dealt with these issues so exhaustively, for what is supposed to be an abridged version (much my copy of Papillon) I’ve decided to change course and address Sin and Death in another post.


CavWife periodically says something like this: “I’m just trying to understand the way you think.”

I get the idea that she isn’t the only one. Some people seem to think “What’s his problem?” Or “Why can’t he just let it go?”

One of the keys to understanding me, and how my mind works is what John Frame calls “cognitive rest”. This is the idea that one’s mind will not rest until it finds “sufficient answers”. I often experience this as I write sermons. What I’m saying doesn’t make sense, yet. There is a missing piece that brings all these thoughts together. I could be I’m not fully grasping the text, not making a logical connection explicit or expressing it in a way that the average person will “get it”. The light bulb hasn’t yet gone off in my head, so I shouldn’t expect it to go off in their heads.

I’ve got some of that now. I write sermons on Thursdays. Yesterday’s took too long. Something wasn’t right, yet. I lacked cognitive rest, my mind was therefore still working the problem. On my walk this morning I may have finally found that “sufficient answer” to my sermon problem as I processed Bavinck’s chapter on sin as I walked. Well, it started as I read some of Bavinck this morning. I think I’ve got the idea that pulls it all together now, and my mind can rest.

Some people have a higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance. They can live with answers that just don’t quite measure up. I. Can’t.

It is a blessing, and a curse.

The quest for cognitive rest is what drives many to genius. Okay, they were geniuses but that dissonance drive them to discover new answers to replace the old, insufficient and sometimes patently wrong answers. It can also drive others to madness if they lack the ability to put the pieces together. It can drive even geniuses to madness if it is the unsolvable problem.

2020 has been the year of cognitive dissonance. It did start a bit early with some personal relationships that went awry and I couldn’t make sense of all the data. Something was missing. Still is.

Image may contain: Steve Cavallaro, sitting
2020 is breaking bad on us all.

Then people in my life started dying. This times the cries of pandemic were matched by nightly death tolls. But not all the data matched up. Then there was an election, which used the pandemic as an excuse to change all the rules, and the results still don’t make sense of other data.

It has been the endless quest for cognitive rest about masks, government mandates, elections and the role of fraud, racial issues and on it goes. While I may find cognitive rest for Sundays’ sermons there are other scenarios about which my brain still churns.

Some people are mad (angry) or going mad (insane) because of my quest for cognitive rest.

Why?

Another part of who I am is that I am an external processor. I think out loud.

This has gotten me in plenty of trouble in the past. One girlfriend (#4) assumed my external processing was the final conclusion. As a result she became ex-girlfriend #4 which is much better than ex-wive #___.

One of the dangers of pastoral ministry is that I largely work alone. There is no one to talk to in the next room. Other pastors have lives too. Our times together can’t be dominated by my quest for cognitive rest. Nor can our Session meetings etc. Being a pastor is a lonely experience.

One reason I blog is to process ideas. I’m thinking out loud.

The same goes for Facebook. Sometimes I think out loud, I’m trying to make sense of these things that don’t add up to me. Perhaps they add up for you, but my mind hasn’t or can’t put those pieces together. What satisfies you has not satisfied me. It could make me stupid. Or proud. Or inquisitive. Or …

To complicate things there are those who try to shut down the quest for cognitive rest. There is simple dismissal, outright opposition and the joy of personal attacks. “Why can’t you just shut up and get with the program?” is basically what some people try to say to me. Not, “Here’s where I think you’ve taken the wrong turn…”.

This is not something you “get over”. It isn’t like nursing a hurt. That is stuff to let go, and if you can’t see a counselor to help you. That is a conclusion you didn’t like. That is about grief.

I’m thinking about the reason for the conclusions. I’m following facts and they don’t add up. Do you get the difference?

The “year that makes no sense” has met the “brain that seeks to make sense of things.” Unstoppable force vs. immovable object. But this is who I am, and these are the unchangeable circumstances we find ourselves in right now. Either I’ll gain the insight I seek, or people will finally say “you may be onto something” or it will break me. Or maybe, in the providence of God, these things won’t matter much anymore.


From the source of knowledge of God, Herman Bavink shifts to the actual knowledge we have about God in The Wonderful Works of God. You could call this section The Wonderful God Who Works, but he didn’t. The primary purpose for Scripture in the WSC is to know what we are to believe concerning God.

Scripture doesn’t tell us everything we want to know about God. There are things unrevealed that belong to God, but what has been revealed is for us and our children (Deut. 29:29).

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

Bavinck lays out two methods for such inquiry. We can listen to the Christian as he speaks in something like the Heidelberg Catechism, or we as Christians can “trace out what order is objectively present in the truths of the faith themselves.” He reminds us that we do either not in isolation but in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. Theologizing is a community project. As one of my professors stressed, that community is not limited to the present but includes those of the past.

We cannot ultimately disconnect the doctrine of God from the doctrine of salvation. Jesus said that eternal life was knowing the One, True God and the One He has sent (John 17:3). Those who have eternal life are not content with their knowledge of God, but long to know God more and better. This is because, as Bavink notes from Scripture, He is the fountain of salvation. “In God we find all our well-being and all our glory.”

Those who reject the authority of Scripture try to reason their ways to God either rationally or empirically. They inevitably end up claiming to be agnostic, claiming God to be unknowable, but Bavinck sees this as practical atheism, a denial of the existence (better, subsistence as Sproul would say) or at least the importance of God. He notes that Calvin warns us against trying to wrest God’s secrets from Him (he loved Dt. 29:29).

Scripture does not reason to God, or explain His origins like some Marvel movie. He is. We immediately see His transcendence over creation as He speaks it into existence. He merely speaks and it exists. The nations, which seem so large and important to us, are a mere drop in the bucket to Him.

As creatures, the knowledge we have of God through the books of nature and Scripture “is limited, finite, fragmentary, but it is nevertheless true and pure.” He notes that Rome prefers to speak of negative and positive attributes, Lutherans of quiescent (being at rest, still or inactive) and operative attributes. They both get at what Bavinck notes as the difference between transcendence and immanence. Transcendence saves us from polytheism and pantheism. Immanence preserves us from deism and atheism. Reformed Theology has called these the incommunicable and communicable attributes. We distinguish between them, but they do not stand apart since they are all attributes, and “His attributes coincide with His being.” They are who He is, both communicable and incommunicable. “He is everything that He possesses and is the source of everything that creatures possess. He is the abundant source of all goods.”

Incommunicable Attributes

These demonstrate that “all that is in God exists in Him in an absolutely Divine way, and is therefore not susceptible to being shared by creatures.” These, in English, are the attributes that are not shared with creatures. These include aseity or independence or self-existence. He is not contingent, meaning He relies on no one and nothing to subsist. He has life in Himself not from someone or something else. He is unchangeable or immutable, not subject to the variableness of creatures. He is simple meaning that He has no parts. Being eternal, God transcends time, penetrating every moment of time. He is also omnipresent or transcends space while also sustaining all space by His power. While he affirms the omniscience of God elsewhere, it is missing here. God knows all things perfectly, including Himself.

Take any of these attributes away and He is but a creature, identified with creation. “God is the one God and the only God only if no one and no thing can be what He is alongside of Him or under Him.” Only if He is God in this way can He be the object of our faith and salvation.

Communicable Attributes

These attributes tell us who God is in relation to His creatures. Additionally those attributes can be shared, in a lesser degree (not infinite) by His creatures. He is wise, just, mighty, holy, gracious and merciful. We also can be such but not perfectly or immutably in this life. Some of these attributes are reflected in names like God Almighty, or the God who Provides.

The love of God, for instance, finds its source in Him and not in us. It is “independent, unchangeable, simple, eternal, and omnipresent.” It doesn’t depend on our loveliness and isn’t produced in reaction to some great deed done by us. It neither grows nor wanes as human love does.

The idols of men have no such attributes. They do not see nor speak. They do not hear nor act. People love such illusions because they can treat these gods as they please and manipulate them. Idolatry makes no sense being born of sin. Why worship a god you can control? Why worship a god who can’t really be God? But in the atheistic flight from accountability, people either kill God or fashion a manageable god.

But He is the living God. As such He is the fountain of life. Simple, He is Spirit and has no body or parts.

Holiness is closely related to righteousness and justice. He has no fellowship with sin but rather it kindles His wrath. As a result, He cannot hold the guilty guiltless. “His wrath is kindled against native and actual sins, and He wants to punish them both temporally and eternally by way of a righteous judgment.” Justice is satisfied as mercy is poured out because the wrath of God has been poured out on the Son. “But while the ungodly conceal their sins or gloss over them, the saints acknowledge them and confess them.”

The Divine Trinity

From the Divine Being he moves to the Trinity. The temptation is to think that the Trinity is a human construction. But we are “dealing with God Himself, with the one and true God, who has revealed Himself as such in His Word.” The Church has always confessed a Triune God, and we give ourselves fully to all three persons in faith. The Church has been entrusted with this treasure for safekeeping.

He reminds us of the progressive nature of revelation. More was revealed over time. What was revealed was not contradictory but a fuller picture of the truth. It becomes clearer and more glorious. In the OT we see the focus on the unity of God, particularly through the Shema. Because He is One, His people must love Him in wholeness (all your heart, mind, soul and strength) rather than in divided fashion reserving some love for Baal or Molech.

In the OT revelation we also encounter the Angel of the Lord or the covenant. This Angel appears at key moments. He is distinguished from God and yet also bears the name of God (see Gen. 16:13 for instance). This Angel is a mediating presence for God. “The revelation of God in the Angel of the covenant and in the Spirit of the Lord proved inadequate: if God wanted to confirm His covenant and fulfill His promise, another and higher revelation would be necessary.” And we see the Servant of the Lord arise in the prophets. His coming will bring a richer dispensation (administration) of the Spirit.

While the Trinity was progressively revealed, culminating in the NT revelation of the Father, Son and Spirit we should recognize that these relationships existed (subsisted?) in eternity. The Father has eternally begotten or generated the Son, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. While they are united in willing salvation for the elect, we see different roles in the economic Trinity: the Father elects & sends, the Son is sent & accomplishes salvation and the Spirit applies that salvation.

While the Church as held to the Trinity from its beginning in Acts 2, there have been challenges as the Church has sought to fully understand what has been revealed and confessed. On the one hand there was a rejection of the Trinity through views of those like Arius. He believed that the Son was the first created being through whom the rest was made. Similarly, the Spirit was a creature or an attribute of God but not God. On the other hand was the stress on the three at the expense of the one: Sabellianism. He taught that God appeared as three successive modes: Father, Son and Spirit. They were not co-eternal but successive.

As they Church grappled with these ideas they used terms not found in Scripture. “For the Holy Scripture was not given to the church of God to be thoughtlessly repeated but to be understood in all its fullness and riches, and to be restated in its own language in order that in this way it might proclaim the mighty works of God.” So go ahead and use words like Trinity, hypostatic union, and cherioperisis. But, he notes, we should remember these terms are imperfect because they are the tools of men to describe the infinite wonders of God.

“In the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is contained the whole salvation of men.”

Creation and Providence

God reveals Himself to us in His words and works contained in Scripture, and we learn to glorify Him from them. The living God works to create and then to sustain and govern all He has created. God does this freely. No one and no thing forced Him to create and sustain. God took counsel in Himself and willed these courses of action. “The fact that things and events, including the sinful thoughts and deeds of men, have been eternally known and fixed in that counsel of God does not rob them of their own character but rather establishes and guarantees them all…” Bavinck delves into the eternal decrees as well as the use of means and the doctrine of concurrence.

In terms of creation, Bavinck addresses the origin of all things. Shortly before he wrote there was a seismic shift in science thanks to Charles Darwin. “Science can supply no answer to it. Science is itself a creature and a product of time. … Science cannot penetrate to the moment when they were given reality.” He is not anti-science. He recognizes the limitations of science as work done by finite and sinful human beings. There are questions is can answer and questions it cannot. Both here, and later in his discussion of humanity, Bavinck interacts with and critiques evolutionary theory. “It is at best an expression of the process through which things go when once they exist.” Evolution cannot explain how we got here, nor the differences between species. We can see small scale evolution: the development or change of a particular species through “natural selection”. But we find no evidence (then and now) for development from one species to another.

Materialism argues that matter was “primary, eternal, and having always had energy as its potential.” Pantheism, on the other hand, argues that energy is primary and that matter is a manifestation of energy. Scientific man, avoiding God, places his hopes in explanations that can’t really explain. They are no better than the gods of the nations. God is being, but the world has become and is always becoming. Scripture helps us to not confuse God and creation. The world is contingent or dependent upon God. Made by God, creation continues to be dependent upon Him to maintain it.

Space and time are part of creation. Bavinck notes that Augustine was right: God did not make the world in time, but together with time and time with the world. From here he moves into Genesis 1. He rejects the gap theory (Thomas Chalmers) since the world was without form, not that it had form but then became without form. God made the earth precisely so humanity would live on it. He separates and fills creation for this express purpose.

God did this in the span of six days, not as Augustine thought six view points of the instantaneous creation. Bavinck does note that the first few days were different from the rest because there was no sun to revolve around. He also ponders about the length of the 6th day since so much seemed to happen on that day. “However all this may have been, the six days remain the creation week within which the heaven and earth and all their hosts were made.”

Bavinck rules out “theistic evolution” but not development. “Creation and development do not therefore exclude each other. Creation, rather, is the starting point for all development. … All such evolution takes its point of departure, and at the same time its direction and its purpose, for this creation.” This creation, for Bavinck in submission to Genesis 1, includes the many kinds of animals and plants. It is not a creation in which protozoa emerge from a primordial soup eventually developing over millions or billions of years into the wide variety of animal and plant life we see today.

Scripture, he says, tell us the world is finite. It had a beginning. It was created along with time. The world will have no end. While not eternal, the world is everlasting. Bavinck seems far less concerned with the age of the earth. He recognizes that the more recent science of his day “infinitely (?) extended our field of vision; the world has become an awesomely bigger place than it was for our forefathers…” This should bring delight to us, as it did him, to behold more of God’s wonderful works in creation.

The world, also from Scripture, is good. He found that statement requiring faith in his day as eighteenth century optimism had given way to the pessimism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This was before the War to end all wars, the Spanish Flu, nuclear proliferation, the rise of communism and the slaughter of tens of millions to bring in such utopias. “Others surrender themselves to discouragement and world-weariness or in visionary dreams hope for a future, a socialistic Utopia, a bliss beyond the grave, a nirvana.” He had seen the beginning of the socialist/workers’ struggle with the rise of unions. But he hadn’t seen the Bolshevik revolution when this was written (1909). But the point is that the creation is good, though now subject to futility thanks to the sin of Adam and the subsequent sins of the sons of Adam.

“For just as the creatures, because they are creatures, cannot come up out of themselves, so too they cannot for a moment exist through themselves. Providence goes hand in hand with creation; the two are companion pieces.” The rejection of this leads to deism (belief in God without revelation), which he argues gives rise to Pelagianism, the idea that salvation is achieved us, not only as a possibility but as a necessity because God is not engaged with creation, with you.

Providence is the almighty and omnipresent power of God to uphold and govern creation and all the creatures therein. Nothing can exist or act apart from His power and will.

While Bavinck insists on maintaining a connection between creation and providence, he also insists on distinguishing them and maintaining that distinction. Here he again warns of pantheism which erases the distinction between God and creation. Deism, he notes again, erases the connection between God and creation through providence.

“At creation something is accomplished and so is completed. True, as was indicated before, the resting of God is not a desisting from all work, for providence, too, is work.” God ceased from creating but not from sustaining and ruling. Creation would collapse if He did.

While God is sovereign over sin (governing all His creations and all their actions), He is not the Author of sin. He touches on this mystery only briefly here. “The man who becomes a slave to sin debases himself and becomes a sheer instrument in His hand. Hence it is possible for Scripture to say that God hardens the heart of man, that He puts a lying spirit into the mouth of the prophets, that by means of Satan He spurs David on to count the people … that He gives men up to the uncleanness of their sins … and that He sets Christ for a fall of many.” God also watches over sin. The cause of sin is in men, not God. God is the “overflowing fountain of all that is good and pure.” Sin is under God’s governance but is charged to the perpetrator of said sin maintaining the distinction between Creator and creature. He introduces cooperation or concurrence. “By this term theology means to do justice to the fact that God is the first cause of all that happens but that under Him and through Him the creatures are active as secondary causes, cooperating with the first.”

There are also many circumstances and events that are “oppressive and that rob(s) us of the strength to live and to act.” Separated from a knowledge of providence, we are prone to discouragement and despair. We trust not that they are the work of a faithful Father. They become either random, or God our enemy.

This section, like the first, was chock full of ideas to chew on and wrestle with. For the sake of brevity, I shall stop here.

Considering Worship


Today at a local pastors’ lunch we talked about worship. In particular we discussed the use of ancient liturgies, creeds and songs.

It got me to thinking because I’d recently had a conversation about our worship with a member. I pondered the most influential books for me in terms of my views and vision for the worship of the local congregation

The first is Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World. Around 2002-3 RTS Orlando hosted a seminar by Webber on Ancient-Future worship. A few members of our music team came with me to listen and then discuss what we’d heard.

It is important for us to not live in the past, nor in the present. Our faith is an ancient faith. Our faith also exists in a variety of cultural contexts in the present (as well as in the past). Our worship should not be culture bound. Our worship also shouldn’t neglect our culture and time.

We should reflect our ancient faith by using creeds, songs and liturgical forms from the past. This is why we sing the Gloria Patri, the Doxology and many old hymns. We also confess our faith using the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. Some of our communion prayers are borrowed from older liturgies and pastors from the past.

We also sing newer songs, hymns that have new arrangements, and confess our faith. We don’t have an age minimum, or maximum on elements of our liturgy. What matters is that they communicate the truth about God, man and salvation as revealed in the Scriptures.

The second book that was highly influential is Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practices. The key is in the subtitle. Our worship practices should communicate the fullness of gospel. They should bring us from God’s glory to our sin and then to Christ’s work for our salvation.

Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice Chapell, Bryan cover image

This is why we have a Call to Worship, a Confession of Sin, the Pastoral Prayer, the sermon and then the Sacraments. As I type this I wonder if we should have the pastoral prayer after the sermon wherein we speak most clearly of Christ’s work for us, in us and through us. We utilize Scripture, ancient and newer liturgies and songs.

This means that people used to a “low church” environment often don’t understand what we are doing. They are used to a bunch of songs, time to greet each other, a sermon and maybe an offering. They don’t understand the need to walk down this road each week as, like Luther, I try to remind us of the gospel each week since we are so prone to spiritual amnesia.

The third “influence” was more affirmational than influential. That is Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith & Krystin Getty.

Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church Getty, Kristyn; Getty, Keith cover image

The main point of this book that I took away, and why I gave it to all of our music team members a few years ago is that in terms of our music, the point is congregational singing. It is not about choirs, or the praise band. The musicians are intended to facilitate congregational singing. I love well-performed music. And I love the “joyful noise” of congregants lifting their voices in praise to our God and Savior.

This is our focus: congregational singing. We occasionally have special music by ensembles but that is the exception, not the norm or regular. We want to worship of the people, not just the musically competent. We do want to use the gifts God has given to our members. So we have a number of people playing a variety of instruments in our music team. This has been a priority for me during my ministry.

Our congregation’s music, and overall worship, will not be identical to any other congregation’s. There will be similarities but it will reflect a particular mix of ancient, old and contemporary as well as the particular personalities and gifts present in our congregation. What I do want to do is to utilize the best I can find that regularly communicates the gospel to us in a way we can understand.


Way back when in seminary Dr. Kelly had us read The Doctrine of God by Herman Bavinck. Not much by Bavinck was available in English at the time. I think that was basically it.

That has all changed in the past few years. His multi-volume Reformed Dogmatics has become available. Bavinck also produced an abridged version for laypeople called The Wonderful Works of God which is perfect not only for laypeople but busy pastors. It is not a dry theological tome. There is a warmness to this volume.

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press.

My intention is to blog as I go, helping me process the information and make it available to my faithful few readers. The first big chunk of about 100 pages centers on revelation, general and special. But Bavinck begins with Man’s Highest Good.

Simply put, God is man’s highest good. He says it in the first sentence. And then explains it over the course of the chapter. His is our highest good because He is “the source of all being and of all life, and the abundant fountain of all goods.” We owe our existence to Him and Him alone. Unlike the animals we have knowledge not only of the earthly but the eternal, not only the visible but the invisible. We long for the eternal order precisely because the temporal order cannot satisfy us. Science and philosophy can make this temporal order better, to a degree, but they cannot fix our fundamental problem, or satisfy the longings of our heart. “For knowledge without virtue, without a moral basis, becomes the instrument in the hands of sin for conceiving and executing greater evil…” We see this played out in numerous stories about cloning including the The Clonus Horror, its remake The Island and The 6th Day with Arnold which the older CavSon and I watched the other night. People don’t heed the warning in Jurassic Park, being more concerned with if we can than if we should.

Art, like movies, expresses our creativity and longings. It can comfort us, lifting up the soul. It can also be an instrument of sin, not simply portraying sin but glorifying sin and tempting us to sin. Pornography isn’t simply about the beauty of humanity but the objectivization of that beauty, the portrayal of private acts for public and prurient display.

Due to sin man is a contradictory being: “all men are really seeking after God… but do not all seek Him in the right way or at the right place.” “They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him… They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.” This, as he notes from Pascal, is our greatness and misery. “Man is an enigma whose solution can only be found in God.”

That we can discover this is found only in revelation from God, not the speculation of man.

The Knowledge of God

The great organizing promise of the Bible is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” God gives Himself to His people so we can give ourselves to God. To do so we need to know Him. Such knowledge is not rooted in science and speculation. God reveals Himself in creation and through the prophets and Apostles. Eternal life is knowing God, and ultimately this comes through the Son who shows us the Father (John 17). Even the Old Testament comes from the Spirit of Christ moving the prophets. Christ was sent by the Father for this purpose. “At His cross the full content of the faith of the Old Testament is unfolded: Gracious and merciful is the Lord God, longsuffering and abundant in goodness.”

He grapples with our knowledge of God. We have a real, though incomplete knowledge of God. It is real because we are made in the image of God and are able to understand what He communicates to us. It is incomplete because we are finite and His is infinite. But knowing God is not simply informational or intellectual. To know God is synonymous with loving Him. We don’t really know God unless we also love Him.

General Revelation

We can know God because God wants us to know Him. He chooses to reveal Himself. Unlike the demands of many an atheist in a debate, God doesn’t show when we demand He does, however politely or forcefully. “A knowledge of God is available to man only when, and in so far as, God freely chooses to reveal Himself.” It is an expression of His love, and His freedom. He is sovereign in His revelation which reveals, in part, His sovereignty.

Our knowledge of God is not identical to His self-knowledge. The latter is perfect, complete. We cannot apprehend it. What He chooses to reveal is intended for us to glorify and trust God.

“In the general revelation God makes use of the usual run of phenomena and the usual course of events; in the special revelation He often employs unusual means, appearances, prophecy, and miracle to make Himself known to man.”

Bavinck held that the content of general revelation is common grace, and that of special revelation is saving grace. Creation itself, including our creation, is an act of revelation. “Every creature manifests something of God’s excellencies and perfections.” By this common grace God preserves humility so He might gather His people from among them.

General revelation is the world itself, as well as its laws and ordinances, the consciousness of people particularly of a Supreme Being and that man is a moral being. These “proofs” of God are not sufficient to compel people to believe, particularly in the God of the Bible.

The Value of General Revelation

Bavinck warns us of two extremes: over-estimating general revelation or under-estimating it. Revelation from God is always under attack, to under-estimate it, and sometimes the Church is tempted to over-correct. When we over-estimate general revelation we limit the need for and use of special revelation. He notes that while distinguished from one another, these two forms of revelation are alongside each other.

One thing that confused me in the early sections of this chapter was his repeated use of Canaanites as opposed to Sethites. I was expecting Cainites but perhaps there was some precedence I am unaware of at this time. The true religion was preserved among the Sethites but was corrupted among the descendants of Cain until they were characterized by unbelief, not simply superstition. Bavinck here is discussing the giving of special revelation, in some sense, prior to the writing of the Scriptures themselves as he explains the pre-patriarchical history.

The Noahic Covenant is a common grace covenant to preserve the earth as a stage for redemption. It is part of the progressively revealed Covenant of Grace but extends to encompass all of humanity and creation. Humanity’s sinfulness continued after the flood and provokes God in innumerable ways. Yet He vows not to flood the earth again. “He obligates Himself to maintain the creation despite its fall and rebellion.”

After further rebellion by failing to fill the earth but gathering at Babel to ascend to heaven, they people were scattered. “Mankind is divided into races who challenge each other’s existence, are determined to destroy each other, and live, century in and century out, in cold or open warfare.” Unity can only, and will only, be accomplished in the second Adam who creates a new humanity out of Jew and Gentile rather than man’s utopian and globalistic spirit. This arises out of sinful humanity’s efforts to save itself through religion, science, philosophy and politics in various turns. While these efforts may produce periods of flowering they are followed by decay as the project crumbles.

The Manner of Special Revelation

“The inadequacy of general revelation demonstrates the necessity of special revelation.” Common grace is not saving grace. For the latter to be known, there must be special revelation. That there is special revelation reflects God’s desire to save His people and give them eternal blessedness.

Special revelation also helps us to interpret general revelation more accurately, correcting our sinful biases and blind spots. Without general revelation, particularly the imago dei and the ability to use language, we couldn’t understand special revelation.

“The great difference between this speaking on God’s part in the general revelation and then in His special revelation is that in the first God leaves it to man to find out His thoughts in the works of His hands, and that in the second He Himself gives direct expression to those thoughts and in this form offers them to the mind of man.” In other words, God is seeking us by revealing Himself to use more directly.

Special revelation teaches us that God and the world are never separated, though distinguished. God is not creation, and creation is not God. But God sustains creation and works in creation directly and through secondary causes. For Bavinck, “miracles are not a violation of natural laws.” Rather, God makes “this created world serviceable to the carrying out of His counsel. What the miracles prove is that it is not the world but the Lord that is God.” Miracles reveal judgment for the unbelieving and godless, but deliverance for His people. They demonstrate His power over nature, the consequences of sin, sin itself and the domination of Satan. We, on the other hand, are powerless before them.

The Content of Special Revelation

Bavinck reminds us Abraham was not the first to receive special revelation. We see others like Enoch and Noah receiving revelation. The primary emphasis of the special revelation in the Old Testament was “that God who is one, eternal, righteous, and holy had bound Himself in covenant to be Israel’s God.” He traces the development of this from the promise to the covenant, Abraham’s justification by faith, and the giving of the covenant sign of circumcision. Judaism was a religion of faith which was not obliterated by the giving of the law.

Bavinck argues that the law was given only until the time when the true seed of Abraham appears. Some saw the law as the essence of the true faith and required Gentiles to become Jews through circumcision and the law. Others despised the law and denied any gracious intention of God in giving the law to His people.

Because it was given by God it “is holy, and righteous, and good, and spiritual.” It can, however, not save due to man’s sinfulness. It has no power and strength in itself. The law makes sin (corruption) visible through transgression and more severe due to penalties. It therefore creates a longing for redemption which we cannot accomplish for ourselves.

“But now the law has fenced Israel in, segregated her, maintained her in isolation, guarded her against dissolution, and has though created an area and defined a sphere in which God could preserve His promise purely, give it wider scope, develop it, increase it, and bring it always closer to its fulfillment.”

The law is subordinate to grace, or the promise. The Mosaic covenant is a “dispensation of grace under the law.” The law was given to people redeemed from slavery and therefore is a law of gratitude.

Sadly, Israel would struggle with persistent temptations to stray. The law had cultic functions to provide provisional relief from the guilt and pollution from sin. The law had civic functions to protect the people from the spread of the most heinous sins. In terms of the three types of law, “in making these distinctions we must not forget that the whole law is inspired and sustained by moral principles.”

After discussing the law as a law of liberty, Bavinck gets into the structure of Israel centered on the household. “But in Israel the man was regarded first of all as a member of the family, and his task was first of all to care for the family. As such he did not stand over against or high above the wife, but beside her. She together with him, laid claim to the respect and love of the children and she was in her own right deserving of the praise of her husband.” We discover here a picture of marriage between equals, king and queen, not master and slave.

Bavinck continues to trace the history of special revelation and God’s people until he gets to the relationship between the new and the old. “Thus the whole revelation of the Old Testament converges upon Christ, not upon a new law, or doctrine, or institution, but upon the person of Christ.” The focus is not the Lutheran law-gospel distinction. It is “promise and fulfillment, of shadow and body, of image and reality … of bondage and freedom.”

One point of disagreement, as least in terms of semantics is “Israel is supplanted by the church…” He then mentions the new man out of Jew and Gentile. I guess I’d say supplemented by the inclusion of Gentiles in the assembly (ekklesia) accompanied by the exclusion of unbelieving Israel. The key there is “unbelieving”. Believing Jews are united to Christ the true Israel and remain a part of the true assembly. This translation as “supplanted” give fodder for accusations of “replacement theology.”

The Holy Scriptures

Bavinck notes that our knowledge of both general and special revelation depends on the Scriptures. Not all special revelation was recorded and is found in the Bible. He argues this, in part, from the fact that not everything Jesus did and said was recorded in the gospels.

“Scripture is therefore not the revelation itself, but the description, the record, from which the revelation can be known.” Yes, this sounds confusing. It is the recording of some of special revelation. Some separate instead of distinguish between revelation and Scripture. Think of revelation and Scripture as 2 concentric circles with revelation being larger, rather than 2 overlapping circles.

Even in his day people were saying that the Word of God is contained in the Scriptures to communicate that not all of the Scriptures are the Word of God. We must, in their view, distinguish between the two.

He covers inspiration and illumination in this chapter as well. The leading of the Spirit is common for all Christians, but the moving of the Spirit in inspiration is granted to the prophets and apostles. Though they were moved they also spoke. It isn’t just God’s Word but also spoken of as their word. This leads us to dual authorship. He also addresses the reality of progressive revelation here. He also develops the different genres or categories of Scripture (history, prophecy and wisdom).

Scripture and Confession

Without Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, the gospel “hangs suspended in the air.” It has no grounding. The Bible is essential to the existence of the Church. He discusses some issues of canonicity here. One things lacking is that of the Apocrypha, and why the Protestant OT is different than that in the Roman and Eastern churches.

Confessions exist to maintain the Scriptures against individual caprice. They direct our knowledge as summaries of Scripture. They can be revised as we grow in our understanding of the Scriptures. He explains briefly the difference between the Lutheran Reformation (limited to the restoration of the preaching office), and the Reformation in Switzerland that looked at all of church life. It was also more extensive concerning it’s spread throughout Europe and beyond.

This is not an exhaustive systematic theology. He doesn’t cover everything you might want him to cover. There is plenty here to chew on though. It is generally in a warm, pastoral fashion, not in a dry, academic tone.