The main body of Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus Williams is comprised of 4 sections, each of which addresses 3 questions on the subject. These questions are intended to help us distinguish between Social Justice A (aka biblical justice) and Social Justice B. As a result, the bulk of the body is “critical” or discerning. In the appendices Williams hits particular subjects for justice.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

This post will examine the 3rd of the 4 sections in the main body. This section focuses on the question of Sinners or Systems? It will cover issues of wealth, race and the gospel.

He introduces this section with a discussion of his friend Sid who used to hold to Hinduism and reincarnation. This is a radical form of individualism in which our present life’s conditions is based on our performance in the previous life. So, if you were born in a New Delhi slum you had been a very bad person. If you were born in an upper class family you lived well previously. It is essentially a meritocracy, but one that begins again in the next life. You are always under review as each life affects the next. This is how they process issues of “unfairness”.

Other people root “unfairness” in systems. Life is bad for some people because of the system: capitalism, Christianity, white supremacy or some other system. There are times when the system is rigged. Systemic injustice happens because sinful people can make sinful laws and systems. If all injustice is systemic, then you’ve got to fight the power.

Is this an either/or or both/and proposition?

That depends on whether you embrace Social Justice A or B.

The Disparity Question: Does our vision of social justice prefer damning stories to undamning facts?

He is getting to whether or not your view is rooted in all the facts or just the convenient narrative. The Bible doesn’t use the term “systemic” but we can see systemic injustice in the pages of Scripture. Jews were enslaved by Egyptian law, for a very famous example. Scripture’s commands are not limited to personal piety, but include how we treat others, and how laws are to be applied (without favoritism to rich or poor, citizen or sojourner).

Williams defines systemic injustice from a Social Justice A perspective as “any system that either requires or encourages those within the system to break the moral laws God revealed for his creatures’ flourishing.” Laws that allow no exemption for conscience sake are systematically unjust. Forcing Christian healthcare workers to perform abortions would be an example.

For Social Justice B, injustice is seen by outcomes. Disparity = Discrimination. He provides 3 examples: women in the Silicon Valley work force (15.7%), black drivers on the NJ Turnpike getting twice as many tickets for speeding, and mortgage lenders rejecting twice as many loan applications from blacks than whites.

They are unequal outcomes. Are they the result of discrimination? Solely or partially? Can we even tell?

Ibram X. Kendi, an anti-racist advocate in residence at my alma mater, argues they must be the result of racial discrimination. Having identified discrimination, the system must be overthrown. Williams notes that for Christians who embrace it, you call it a “gospel issue”.

“Automatically equating disparity with discrimination is not just something that happens in six-hundred page bestsellers or in many sociology and humanities departments around the US. It has gone mainstream as the way most conversations about social justice are framed in the twenty-first century. That includes conversations in the church.”

The problem is that we begin to assume the worst about others rather than displaying charity and at the expense of facts. So Williams begins to share facts about each of those three examples. He notes the Speed Violations Survey of the New Jersey Turnpike: Final Report. The sample size was 38,747 drivers on the southern portion of the turnpike. I find some of these results hard to believe because I’ve driven on the turnpike. Far more people speed than they seemed to find. But 2.7 of black drivers were speeding compared to 1.4 of white drivers. The disparity grew was the speed did. While blacks were 16% of the drivers they were 25% of the speeders where profiling complaints were made. In NJ the black population is much younger than the white population, and younger people drive faster than older people. Other factors beside race were are in play and must not be neglected.

The US Commission on Civil Rights that found banks rejected loan applications from blacks twice as often as whites, also discovered white Americans were rejected nearly twice as much as Asian Americans. Black-owned banks also turned down black applicants at a higher rate than white-owned banks. Systemic racism does not seem to be the issue.

Other factors play into many of the inequalities we recognize. Geography, age, and birth month can play into inequalities. He notes an inequality among professional hockey players between those born in January to March, and those born in December. December is under-represented. Do scouts and GMs hate December? No, January 1 is the cut off for Canadian youth hockey programs. The kid born in January is older than the kid born the same December, and often more mature and better. The kids born in December are less likely to be promoted as a result. This also happens in European soccer and American baseball, which explains why I’m not a professional baseball player like I wanted to be.

“When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around you.”

To further illustrate his point he breaks out the “magic equality wand”. Pretend the “great reset” has taken place and there is no discrimination left in our world. We each have a million dollars in our bank accounts. Apply this to the characters of Parks and Recreation. “Donna expands her real estate business. … Ron buys gold and buries it in the woods. Tommy throws a lavish red-carpet party, complete with six open bars, a Bengal tiger, and a shrimp wall.” And so on. We would immediately see inequalities as Donna flourishes while Tommy and Andy flounder. Their different priorities and choices result in different outcomes. While racism can be a factor in outcomes, so can personal choices. We are foolish to ignore this.

Parks and Recreation TV Review
Parks and Recreation

There is a biblical concept at work. We do reap what we sow (there can also be outside factors like oppression and calamity that affect outcomes). The sluggard doesn’t get rich (apart from inheritance). Differing outcomes are not necessarily unjust. Identical outcomes for the diligent and the lazy would unjust. If we want equal outcomes, we must take away freedom and replace it with collectivism. Such cries of equality led to the destruction of the French Revolution among other dystopian nightmares.

“Working to free the world of some inequalities is just, good, and biblical. Working to free the world of other inequalities will just turn us into monsters who think of ourselves as angels.”

To sum up this chapter, Williams notes:

“There is real racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the world. It is damnable and should be vanquished. If we aren’t willing to put in the effort to thoughtfully separate damning disparities from the undamning, then we don’t take discrimination and its victims seriously enough.”

The Color Question: Does our vision of social justice promote racial strife?

Black lives are made in the image of God just like other human lives. They matter, just like others do.

Many blacks don’t feel like their lives matter. One issue, but not the only one, where this emerges is policing. This is a complex issue. Racism can be involved, but it isn’t necessarily involved. It is an emotional discussion that focuses on some facts and ignores others.

Between 2016 and 2019 an average of 1,000 people were shot by police officers. About 1/2 were white and 1/4 were black. 4% of those killed were unarmed. This means an average of 25 unarmed white people, and 18 unarmed black people per year. 16 of those whites were not fleeing and 8 blacks were not. Those not fleeing nearly all were physically attacking the police, typically under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Yes, these still don’t match population demographics. The location of a crime often indicates whether it is violent or not. Police usually don’t have to pull weapons on white-collar criminals since they are less likely to resist arrest. Those guilty of or suspected of violent crime are more likely to resist. Sadly, there are drastic disparities regarding violent crime rooted in poverty, not race. There are more factors involved than racism.

“But ideas have consequences, and false ideas have bad and even fatal consequences for real people.”

Again, racism is a real problem but not every inequality or incident is the result of racism.

“How can we reconcile the Social Justice B narrative that America remains systemically white supremacist to its core when Indians, Taiwanese, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, Iranian, Japanese, Pakistani, Filipino, Indonesian, Syrian, Korean, Ghanian, Nigerian, and Guyanese earn more income on average than whites in the United States?”

One of the issues for both white and black communities is the rise in single parent homes. Fatherlessness is tied to increase in violent crimes, poverty and mental health issues. The rates of single family homes are much higher in the black community but are rising in the white community. These are not conditions for flourishing (there are always exceptions). Oddly enough the conditions for flourishing follow a biblical pattern aside from the first. Finish school, get a steady full-time job, get married before having kids and you are unlikely to end up in poverty apart from personal calamity. The poverty rate for married black couples was LOWER than that for married white couples.

Williams contends that the “black voice” is a white liberal voice. Many of the common phrases were coined by liberal whites. Those include “whiteness”, “white privilege”, and “white fragility”. The newer definition of racism as “prejudice plus power” was devised by a white liberal. Additionally, conservative black voices are silenced and/or demeaned. The voices of people like Sen. Scott, Thomas Sowell and others are silenced by racist accusations. Racial strife is furthered.

When it comes to color, the anti-racist movement roots evil in “whiteness”. Ekemini Uwan says “the reality is that whiteness is rooted in plunder, in theft, in slavery, in enslavement of Africans, genocide of Native Americans …. whiteness is wicked. It is wicked.” This blinds us to the universality of human depravity, and the fact that God calls all men (and women) to repentance. The focuses on the follies of white persons, and denies the positive contributions of white persons. This is inflammatory speech, and untruthful speech.

“Social Justice B singles out a physical feature that God gave some people and not others. It then uses that feature not as a physical descriptor but as a mark of evil.”

The Gospel Question: Does our vision of social justice distort the best news in history?

Williams begins by addressing first and second things from C.S. Lewis. The first are most important. Many seek the second things, hoping they’ll get the first but it doesn’t work that way. Lewis asserts “You get second things only by putting first things first.” Jesus taught this in terms of “seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” You don’t get the kingdom by seeking food, money, power or pleasure. Or justice. But if you seek the kingdom you will get justice (which ultimately can only be found in the kingdom consummated at Christ’s return).

This means that the gospel is part of the first things. It is about what Jesus has done for sinners. Gospel logic (Sinclair Ferguson) begins with gospel indicatives before moving to the gospel imperatives. If you lose the indicatives, the imperatives become part of the self-salvation project that is doomed to fail. The Judaizers corrupted the gospel by adding the imperatives to the indicatives. They made justification dependent on the imperatives.

Williams connects this to an episode of The Good Place. The show has a faulty understanding of salvation which is based on a point total (works). It turns out that for centuries no one has accumulated enough points to make it to the Good Place. Life had gotten more complicated as the human-friendly demon Michael finally puts it together.

“It’s impossible for anyone to be good enough for the Good Place. … These days just buying a tomato at a grocery store means you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, contributing to global warming.”

In the face of this one of the humans, Tahani, laments it “feels lie a game you can’t win.” This is not just the musings of a sitcom. Social Justice B professor Richard Day speaks about “infinite responsibility.” Every choice is not simply an ethical decision before the face of God but a question of social justice and corruption. Due to the interconnected nature of life, we are all guilty of contributing to injustice.

Four Lessons in Bridge-Building from “The Good…

“If everything is unjust all the time- since Social Justice B interprets all inequality as injustice- we end up in the chronically frazzled state of mind well described by an ex-radical: “Infinite responsibility means infinite guilt, a kind of Christianity without salvation: to see power in every interaction is to see sin in every interaction.””

This means we are constantly feeling either guilt or are searching for the guilty party. Many white people feel a constant guilt because they are part of the oppressor race. Others constantly feel aggrieved and point the finger. Williams notes that the alt-right plays a similar game, blaming those who are darker skinned.

God has been replaced as Judge by the every-capricious mob. The mob pounces on any mis-step. Your transgressions mean that you are not worthy of life, or at least a good existence. Separated from a God of mercy, there is only rage against those who don’t get the latest understanding of injustice.

Gal Gadot: Wonder Woman actress receives backlash over Middle East tweet
Actress Gal Godet was attacked for supporting her homeland in the Middle East conflict

Justice is important to the Christian life. Justice isn’t the Christian life. The Christian life is faith and repentance. Because I love God I will seek to act justly (Micah 6:8). I will treat people as they should be treated, and repent when I don’t. I only have control over my actions, not “the system” unless like William Wilberforce I am a person with the power to influence law and practice. Sadly, many young Christians have been taken by Social Justice B and left their faith behind. There is no faith & forgiveness, no hope in future justice instituted by Jesus, no mercy. The gospel is abandoned for condemnation.

If we get back to the question for this section. In Social Justice A, we both sinners and sinful systems established by those sinners. In Social Justice B, it is the system that matters and those systems must go.

It remains for us to examine Part 4 and then the appendices.

In Part 1 of Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth by Thaddeus J. Williams, he formulated his material around three questions about worship. Here in the second part, Unity or Uproar?, the three questions center around the question of community. Social Justice should build community rather than fragment or destroy it. In particular, church community.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

In Part 2 he addresses the problem of tribalism in which “we should divide people into group identities, then assign undesirable or evil traits to that group…”. People are no longer viewed as individuals (not the same as individualism) but only as members of groups. Some groups are good, and the others are bad.

God is love and has always subsisted in a community of love: Father, Son and Spirit. Made in His image, we were created for community as well. Sin has twisted that drive toward community so we now have mobs, gangs, cults, hate groups, partisan political parties etc. Tribes become self-righteous and seek to vanquish the “opposition”. Perhaps it would be better to say tribes are an expression of our self-righteousness.

The Collective Question: Does our vision of social justice take any group-identity more seriously than our identities “in Adam” and “in Christ”?

Williams shares the story of Christian Picciolini who used to be a member and leader of the Chicago Area Skinheads. He felt abandoned by his nation. He was looking for an identity, a community and a sense of purpose. He found the wrong ones until after his first child was born. He left white supremacy and co-led a group called Life After Hate.

In terms of the far left he introduces us to Conor Barnes who was 18, “depressed, anxious, and ready to save the world.” Williams notes that Barnes’ description of the group he found makes it sound like Fight Club pursuing Project Mayhem. He soon was burned out and seeking true freedom.

Secret Theatre- Project Mayhem - 1185 Films - Documentary Film Production
Fight Club: Project Mayhem unfolds

“Christian Picciolini and Conor Barnes are mirror images. Both were swept up in groups that used categories like race, economic status, and oppression to see themselves as angels and others as demons, although one man’s angels were the other man’s demons.”

Social Justice B offers answers to these longings we all have. For those without church or disenchanted with church, it fulfills the role of church to provide identity, belonging and purpose.

Social Justice B rejects the reality of original sin. They consciously or unconsciously follow Rousseau’s “natural goodness of man” and that institutions are the problem. Evil flows from institutions, not people. Ironically, they form institutions (groups) to take away power from the individuals they see as comprising the bad institutions. They divide the world into good groups and bad groups. Those groups may focus on gender, color, economic status or other factor but they ignore the fact that these are human problems all. All humans struggle with these problems, and we can’t reduce the world’s problem to one of them but all of them and more.

A popular book these days is Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States which is written from the perspective of the oppressed. The oppressed are good and oppressors bad. There are no shades of grey like we find in history (go back to the Aztecs and Conquistadors for example). Unbalanced history is no way to evaluate a problem.

The Reformed doctrine of human depravity lays waste to such notions that my side is faultless but theirs is full of fault. Williams brings us to Paul to see three unifying truths he taught groups that experienced historic grievances. The first is that sin is a human problem, not exclusive to the oppressor. The second is that “in Christ” we have a new identity that transcends other group/cultural identities. In Galatians 3, for instance, it isn’t about race, gender, economic state or culture- all are one in Christ. The third is that forgiveness only comes through the substitutionary death of Jesus.

Williams then contrasts this with James Cone, the father of black liberation theology. He see whiteness as the source of sin, and people must be converted from their whiteness to struggle against white oppressors. His is a view of black supremacy or as some say now sovereignty. White people will submit to black people. Williams summarizes an excerpt from Cone as inverting Paul’s teaching.

“Any and all righteous status we have is solely in Jesus, not our color, not ethnicity, not gender, not the amount of oppression we or our ancestors have or haven’t experienced, not our good works, our ticking the right squares on the ballot, or our height on a hierarchy of privilege or pain; it is nothing but Jesus. The cross of Christ forms the spear through the heart of both far-right and far-left ideologies.”

The Splintering Question: Does our vision of social justice embrace divisive propaganda?

Propaganda has been used to turn people against one another as a violation of the second greatest commandment. It was used by Nazis to dehumanize Jews, by the Hutu to dehumanize the Tutsi, the KKK to dehumanize blacks and the Khmere Rouge to dehumanize its opponents.

Williams identifies three common marks of propaganda. 1. a highly edited history designed to paint the other group in the worst possible light, 2. encouraging you to treat all members of that group as guilty of the sins of the group, and 3. provides a way to blame all life’s troubles on that group and its members.

His contention is that Social Justice B uses propaganda to demonize groups. He illustrates a revisionist history in terms of slavery. He draws on the work of Thomas Sowell in “The Real History of Slavery.” Slavery was so widespread that we find it in nearly every culture. China had one of the largest slave markets in the world. It is estimated that there were more slaves in India than all of the Western Hemisphere, and that slavery existed there before the Spaniards showed up. The first civilization to begin to reject slavery was Western (largely Christian) civilization which also helped end slavery in other parts of the world. You won’t learn any of this from the 1619 Project. Obviously this doesn’t excuse the chattel slavery practiced in America and the British Empire. It does provide a more balanced picture of reality, however.

“So I say again: slavery, racism, and sexism are inexcusable, and anyone who has participated in such sins should repent and run as fast as possible to the cross of Jesus.”

To present only the sins and not the virtues of a group of people is to be guilty of bearing false witness through selectivity.

In terms of individuals as group exemplars he compares an article in the Washington Post with one in Wake Up from Rwanda. The first is about sexism condemning all men, and the second condemns all Tutsi. Each advocates that those groups lose all power, that they not be trusted, that they be re-educated, shown no mercy and that feminists and Hutu FIGHT.

People are not treated like image bearers, but as something to be exterminated. Williams critiques their views, not calling for the destruction of these people. He finds their ideas problematic, not that they should be exterminated.

Then he shifts to scapegoating which is used by groups on the far-right and far-left. It is used by racists and anti-racists, men and women, rich and poor. Both sides play the same blame game and want you to join them. All these groups are presenting a form of theodicy, making a group to blame for the woes of the world. Social Justice B is a secular form of theodicy. Williams wants us to recognize the body count produced by these theodicies in the 20th century before we go down this similar road.

The Fruit Question: Does our vision of social justice replace love, peace, and patience with suspicion, division, and rage?

This is the chapter that presses in to all of us. One of the works of the flesh is divisions, quarreling and factions. This is not a problem just for Social Justice B. The difference is that Social Justice B exists on these works of the flesh. They seem to be the goal.

“For quick-to-quarrel, easy-to-offend, clique-forming people to have any hope of experiencing real community, of gathering, of doing church together, then we need love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control to deal with other far-from-perfect people. … Without the Spirit’s fruit, we fall into tribal default mode.”

He offers the example of Corrie ten Boom after a speaking engagement being approached by a former guard at Ravensbruk. He sought forgiveness for the cruel things he did. She struggled in the moment but chose to forgive him. She noted that those who forgave were able to move on and build lives after the camps. Those who couldn’t became spiritual and emotional invalids. She had to cry out to Jesus to help her, but cry out she did.

This, Too, Is In His Hands - Corrie ten Boom - Renovare
The ten Boom family

He also brings us back to Charleston, SC and Dylan Roof’s attempt to start a race war by murdering 9 African-Americans worshiping in church. Instead of returning his murderous rage, the families of victim offered forgiveness.

Social Justice A rejoices in forgiveness and reconciliation. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

In Social Justice B their is little to no forgiveness as grievances new and old feed the call for justice, meaning judgment. It revels in the rage, wanting to destroy those if finds responsible.

As an example he provides Gloria Watkins’, writing as “bell hooks”, essay “Killing Rage”. She tells of having upgraded to first class with a friend. A mistake was made, however, and her friend was asked to return to coach and an apologetic white man sat next to Watkins. In her mind, the friend was treated horribly and it was all this man’s fault. She saw this as sexist and racist and wanted to kill him. His sin was having paid for a seat before her friend did.

Williams notes it is an extreme example but illustrates three things. First, she never questions if racism and sexism are the best or even only explanations for what happened. They form the presuppositions driving her rage. The unwillingness to even consider less heinous reasons or grant the benefit of the doubt to another human being is common for advocates of Social Justice B.

Second, “throughout the essay, individuals become exemplars of entire groups and those groups’ cumulative injustices.” The object of her rage was an anonymous white man. He may have been one who sought justice and served minority communities, but he was viewed like the Grand Wizard of the KKK.

Third, the essay is not just about rage but revels in rage. There is no regret for the rage. No grace, kindness or attempt to seek peace. This is quite different than the gospel call to forsake rage, malice and bitterness.

Watkins never looks at her own heart. Hers is assumed to be a righteous rage. Her revenge fantasy is assumed to be righteous instead of a manifestation of sin in her own heart.

“What if someone were to question her killing rage? It would only prove their white supremacy. Says hooks, “To perpetuate and maintain white supremacy, white folks have colonized black Americans, and a part of that colonizing process has been teaching us to repress our rage, to never make them the targets of any anger we feel about racism. Most black people internalize this message well.” If white people question hook’s rage, they are oppressors; if black people question her rage, they are victims of colonization who have internalize white racism.”

Certainly paints people into a corner while justifying yourself.

We see this often. There is no other reason for a police encounter gone wrong. It can only be racism. Presuppostitions of supremacy drive the rage about perceived injustices. No time is given to ascertaining real motives or taking other data into consideration.

Consider the lamentable murders of the Asians (and Whites) in Atlanta day spas. It was immediately labeled an act of racist violence. Still the other factors seem to not matter as he’s been charged with hate crimes in addition to the hate crime of murder.

I said at the beginning of this section that this presses into us all. You don’t have to be a Social Justice B advocate to think this way. It is a part of our polarization. We quickly succumb to tribalism. Our rage at Social Justice B can be just as wicked, and blind us to the logs in our own eyes.

We need the grace of God to move beyond the rage for justice to seek reconciliation, confess our own sins, and seek mutual understanding.

Much is made of white fragility these days. I prefer to call it human fragility because none of us like to face our faults and we self-righteously point to the grievances done to us (or our group) to weigh it all in the scale. This perpetuates the problem that only repentance and forgiveness can heal. Killing rage does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

In the early chapters of 1984, Orwell introduces us to Newspeak which looms large in the story of Winston Smith. In some instances Newspeak makes language meaningless or contradictory. In other instances Newspeak redefines terms according to its interests and agenda. We see some of this in the Party slogan.

Why Did Orwell Choose Freedom Is Slavery, Instead of Slavery Is Freedom as  the Second Slogan in 1984? - Owlcation
Party Slogan

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some sort of Hegelian dialectic but the Party is gaslighting the people because nothing is as what they thought it was . These re-definitions are contradiction.

The one who controls the language controls the future by manipulating the present. The Party controlled the language through the Ministry of True (Minitrue). Winston worked in Minitrue, as we’ll see, changing history through cut & paste work. They controlled history, and language. Such is the power of totalitarianism. By doing this they control the populace.

“They were the homes of the four Ministries between which the entire apparatus of government was divided: the Ministry of Truth which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education and the fine arts; the Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war; the Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order; and the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economics. Their names in Newspeak Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty.”

I love the irony expressed in the Newspeak here. It reveals something of their contradictory purpose regarding the names. Little truth, little peace, little love and little stuff. They don’t work for their names but against them by policy.

It has humorously noted that churches generally lack what is mentioned in their name. Faith Baptist would lack faith, for instance. This is a society that lacks truth, peace, love and plenty. It is all a big lie. Similar to Animal Farm, they report great production and simultaneously reduce rations. They don’t provide what is needed in terms of staples and yet prohibit the markets beyond government control.

I recall a number of years ago a Democrat Congressman wanted to change the Department of Defense to the Department of Peace. I’m not sure he got how ironic that would be, and how Orwellian. My kids have not known a day when we were not at war. Thankfully I have but we’ve been at war for an entire generation, 20 years and counting. Like Oceania we are seemingly in a constant state of war.

Conservatives conserve. This is viewed as preserving the status quo and fighting against progress. They think that some “progress” isn’t really progress at all but regression to a less civilized time (think of the sexual revolution which is returning us to a very Roman sexual ethic). They want to conserve or preserve language and the meaning of words.

One of the efforts of the progressives is to change the meaning of words and thereby change how people think about certain things (marriage equality, who doesn’t want that?) to change society. Like the Party, language becomes a putty nose in their hands. Don’t say abortion but pro-choice. It sounds better and choice is good (except when you choose to murder innocent human beings). It is similarly about control, to bring the populace increasingly under control by making them dependent on the government. Amsoc, people.

More recently we’ve seen new phrases and redefined terms in the discussion of racism, largely by liberal white women scholars: whiteness, white privilege and white fragility. Racism is prejudice and power, so minorities are only guilty of prejudice, not racism since they have no power. They control the terminology and the narrative to control people, their thoughts and actions.

It is with a sense of foreboding that the Narrator describes the home of Miniluv.

“The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one. There were no windows in it at all. Winston had never been in the Ministry of Love, nor within a half kilometer of it. It was a place impossible to enter except on official business, and then only by penetrating through a maze of barbed wire entanglements, steel doors, and hidden machine gun nests. Even the streets leading up to its outer barriers were roamed by gorilla-faced guards in black uniforms, armed with jointed truncheons.”

This was the home base for the Thought Police who used the surveillance and spies to uncover those whose thoughts were unorthodox. They were a secular version of the Spanish Inquisition.

In Scripture we learn that the moral law is the law of love (see Romans 12 and Mark 12 for instance). God’s law is summed up in loving Him and your neighbor. There is little love in the society of Oceania. People must hide who they are, what they think and conceal what they do lest they end up in Miniluv.

Love is redefined for allegiance to Big Brother whose mustache probably reminds you of Stalin. Secret police and imprisonment with torture and brainwashing are standard fare for totalitarian dictatorships of all stripes. Yet, our cancel culture is a form of thought police where you are ruled unorthodox for your ideas, ostracized and in some cases sued. Legal action for violating the new orthodoxy produced by the elites is not far behind. And it all starts with language. Language isn’t just shaped by our thoughts but also shapes our thoughts when we manipulate it. Voter beware.

1984 was one of the influences for Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

I read 1984 about 40 years ago. I can’t quite remember which year of school we had to read it. While I found it tedious at times, it definitely made an impression on me. Since I’m calling this the Year of the Dystopian Novels of Old, it is time to read 1984 again.

Unlike my more exhaustive blogging on Animal Farm, this will be more selective because it is a bigger book. I want to hit the things that hit me, not so much the plot line. This will be a sort of stream of consciousness affair rather than a highly structured endevour.

1984 (Essential Orwell Classics)

The second paragraph paints a bleak picture of Winston’s surroundings.

“The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. …It was no use trying the lift. Even in the best of times it was seldom working, and at the present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week.”

I skipped the poster of Big Brother with his big mustache and eyes that follow you everywhere declaring “Big Brother Is Watching You”. This government official lives in a dump. The area around his apartment building is in disrepair as well with collapsing walls and boarded up windows. Most of London appears to be a ghetto produced by Ingsoc, Newspeak for English Socialism.

The description of Winston drinking Victory Gin made we never want to try gin. The Victory cigarettes fall apart easily. His kitchen is small and prone to need repairs, as is everyone else’s apartment as evidenced by helping his neighbor with a clogged sink.

Hate Week says it all. This is a culture that feeds on hate, as a tool of the government. Big Brother is watching and wants to see you hate his enemies. The first chapter includes the daily Two Minutes Hate, a break in the day in which the people are encouraged to express their hate, particularly for Emmanuel Goldstein. He reminds one of Snowball who reminds one of Trotsky. He was a member of the leadership that lead the rebellion but ended up disappearing mysteriously and yet was a Boogey man who was behind all manner of rebellion against the oddly beloved Big Brother.

1984 (1984) - IMDb
Two Minutes Hate in the 1984 movie with John Hurt

“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash face in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.”

Winston’s hate was secretly for Big Brother rather than Emmanuel Goldstein. He also hated the girl with the dark hair and the sash wrapped tightly around her waist that declared she was a member of the anti-sex league. He hates her because he wants her, and can’t have her.

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present the past.”

Winston can’t tell us how Ingsoc came to dominate Oceania, which includes England. His memory is fuzzy, probably because the government keeps changing history. As long as he can remember Oceania has been at war. They are currently at war with Eurasia. The State claims they always have been, but Winston remembers being at war with Eastasia a few years earlier. The ever-shifting history erodes people’s memory. Winston thinks it is 1984, but isn’t really sure.

Newspeak - Wikipedia

Big Brother doesn’t just appear to watch you in the poster. He watches you through the TV (sound familiar?). Winston has to find the blind spots in his apartment to subversively write in his diary. You never know when they are watching, and during the mandatory morning exercise he’s chastised for not touching his toes. Children are Spies, not Scouts, trained to identify traitors. People are disappeared in the middle of the night. All records are erased, as if they never existed in the first place. Winston’s parents were part of the first purges. He barely remembers his mother and little sister.

Our description of Winston is of a man old before his time. He’s short, and hobbled by an varicose ulcer on his right ankle. He’s skinny and the uniform doesn’t quite fit because he’s so thin. Of course, they keep cutting rations, usually after the new of a great victory that may not have actually happened.

Winston has a depressing life in a depressing nation in a depressing world filled with hate, war and suspicion. Personally it was a boring and unfulfilling life, but all that was about to change.

In the forward to Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth, John Perkins offers four admonitions to the those who confront injustice: start with God, be one in Christ, preach the gospel and teach truth!

As Thaddeus Williams begins his book he has taken these admonitions to heart. Before he gets to the first part, and its 3 questions, he answers why he’d “write about the most explosive, polarizing, and mentally exhausting issues of our day?” He begins with the “nonjudgmental spirit” of the ’90’s. Amazingly we’ve turned into “one of the most judgmental societies in history.” Theocracies have nothing on the “religious zeal” of secularists, apparently. Much of this is made possible by social media where we can say some of the worst things about others without accountability, as long as you are from the right tribe. We are devouring ourselves as a nation.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

“I wrote this book because I care about God, I care about the church, I care about the gospel, and I care about true justice.”

He wants to advance true justice in a way that glorifies God and draws people into Christ-centered community. These are lofty goals.

What Is “Social Justice”?

Like a good professor, he begins by defining the most important term in the book. Social justice is the controversy of our day. It has moved beyond the classroom to the street.

Williams believes that social justice is not optional, particularly Christians. We were made for community. Justice is about the relationship of one person or group with another. Justice gives each its due. Injustice affects others. He then cites a number of Scripture passages admonishing us to pursue justice.

“The same God who commands us to seek justice is the same God who commands us to “test everything” and “hold fast to what is good.””

Our pursuit of justice is to be discerning. It is not about being fashionable, or getting big press. It is about doing right, as God sees it.

Into this he introduces Social Justice A and B. Everyone, it seems, champions justice. Justice shouldn’t be so vague that anyone can claim it in a world filled with injustice. Social Justice A is used in this book to refer to biblically compatible social justice. He uses Social Justice B to refer to the politically charged banner for groups that advocate violence against those who think differently than them, with a form of justice that separates people into the oppressed and oppressor. This form of social justice has its roots in the Frankfort School, “the deconstructionism of Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida, and the gender and queer theory of Judith Butler”.

This type of social justice seeks to dislodge the traditional family from importance. It wants to force nuns to have birth control and abortion as part of their health insurance plans. It can’t tolerate the moral standards of Christian universities. Anything connected to the power of the past must go, go, go.

No one is championing injustice. They champion their version of justice which means we have to ask what are the “issues behind the issues.” Different groups supply different answers to life’s big questions. One’s view of justice is a product of one’s worldview, what which we believe deep down and act on in daily life. Our differing worldviews crank out different political conclusions.

Williams brings up the question of Communism. Communism sought to pursue economic justice. Their starting point was flawed when it came to the question of humanity. They didn’t understand what makes people people. They denied the reality of sin, and blamed everything bad on evil systems. You need to examine the presuppositions of worldviews to see where they go awry, because eventually they will do much damage as a result. In Communism the evil was viewed as capitalism rather than greed. Greed continued as the Party lavished themselves in luxury at the expense of the people just as much as any rich, capitalist pig. But it got worse because they sent millions to gulags and re-education camps because they disagreed with the powers that now were resulting in millions of deaths in the name of Communism. Justice pursued for the wrong reasons, will be justice pursued in the wrong ways resulting in grave injustice.

The people who are hurt are image bearers in a Christian worldview. Williams will introduce 12 questions to help us discern what is and isn’t compatible with our worldview. He wants us to discern Social Justice A from Social Justice B that we may pursue the former and not the latter.

Each section of the book will address the “Newman Effect”. In 2018 Jordan Peterson was interviewed by Cathy Newman who consistently misrepresented his views with “So you’re saying …”. We all have the tendency to do this and disrupt the unity of the church.

“The result is rampant self-righteousness, a loss of humble self-criticism, widespread confirmation bias, a loss of real listening required to reach nuanced truths, and pervasive partisanship, a loss of real community that requires us to give charity and the benefit of the doubt to others.”

His goal is biblical justice, not the policies of any particular political party. Since one party waves the social justice banner more fervently, he admits the book will necessarily be more critical of that party but this shouldn’t be taken to mean full alignment with other party.

“Please don’t take anything said here as an attack on you as a person. Please don’t use anything said here to attack other people.”

A Matter of Worship

The introduction to part 1 begins with the 1st commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

One of his fundamental premises is that the root of all injustice is a problem with worship. “Theistic justice- bowing down to something that is worth bowing down to- is not a justice issue; it is the justice issue from which all other justice blooms.” Conversely, failure to worship the One worth worshiping blooms into numerous injustices.

He tells the story of when Cortes decimated the Aztecs. He describes the Aztecs’ inhuman worship resulting from worshiping created things. But Cortes also worshiped created things. The idolatry of the Aztecs led them into human, including child, sacrifice. The idolatry of the Spanish (wealth) led them to murder, rape and enslave Aztecs. Both committed injustices rooted in idolatry.

“In short, social injustice is first and foremost a matter of misplaced worship.”

If you don’t start with God, you don’t understand justice and will commit injustice.

The God Question: Does our vision of social justice take seriously the godhood of God?

For anyone familiar with the second half of Romans 1, the idolatry of the Aztecs should come as no surprise. It is a function of the human condition common to all people groups, genders and skin tones. Favoritism or prejudice, self-interest, hatred and murder are pretty much par for the course thanks to Adam’s sin. The 20th century reveals this clearly as we witnessed the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, gulags, Mao’s cultural revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia and the Rwandan genocide. Extermination camps covered the century.

To understand all this we must keep God in the picture. In all of these genocides rulers or governments made themselves to be gods and answerable to no one. They destroyed those they hated for racial or political reasons. When we don’t give God His due, we won’t give people made in His image their due either. We begin to treat God’s image alike garbage.

This evil begins in the human heart but is manifested in numerous utopias gone wrong. Utopian dreams usually seek to end one injustice and commit others in the process. Because it is a sin issue it won’t be removed by education, revolution, social engineering or elitist policy changes (as seen in any number of dystopian novels and movies). The envy, strife and deceit that produce such malicious behavior and policy remain intact.

“(White supremacy) makes race, not God, supreme. It worships and serves created things rather than the Creator. Racism, therefore, is not merely horizontally unjust, depriving other creatures what they are due; it is also vertically unjust, failing to give the Creator his due by making race an ultimate object of devotion. Why is racism so evil? If we leave God out of our answer to that question, we will fail to grasp the true diabolical depths of racism and find ourselves boxing ghosts of the real problem.”

He makes the very Martin Lutherish statement that “all injustice is a violation of the first commandment.” The injustice we commit is a window into what we really worship. The conquistadors were Roman Catholic and Hitler used Christianity and the statements of Luther as justification, but they didn’t worship the One, true God.

The Imago Question: Does our vision of social justice acknowledge the image of God in everyone, regardless of size, shade, sex or status?

Williams begins with Charles Taylor’s “immanent frame” meaning that we tend to live as if the universe is a closed box. We try to make sense of stuff in the box with other stuff in the box. Various thinkers have reduced life to biology, physics, psychology, economics, sex, technology, entertainment or any other aspect of creation. The problem is that nothing inside the box serves as sufficient grounds for dignity, equality and value. Those only have basis in the image of God unless as good existentialists we will to value. “I am therefore I matter. At least to me.”

When we remain in the box we don’t have the proper goals and means for justice. As Christians we must reject the immanent frame for the Creator’s world.

He brings us to Augustine who said “Love God and do what you will” since the love of God will shape our will. My wants will reflect my love for God. This means I will love my neighbor made in His image. This means I won’t exploit my neighbor for my own interests. Idolatry is mother of all injustice as a result.

Naturalism sees us as nothing more than our bodies. Existentialists like Jean-Paul Satre have supported this viewpoint. Charles Darwin saw no foundation for human equality, and his theory of evolution argues against it (you’ll find it in The Origin of Species, and The Descent of Man). It serves as a good foundation for racism.

Origin of Species | work by Darwin | Britannica
“preservation of favored races”

Today there is a tendency, due to postmodernism’s rejection of individualism, to reduce people to their groups or ideologies. We fail to see image bearers, but Neo-Nazis and Social Justice Warriors. Perhaps we treat people based on their gender or skin color, if that is what matters most to you.

“As we seek a more just world, if we see those who disagree with us as Republicans or Democrats, progressives or conservatives, radical leftists or right-wing fundamentalists first and image-bearers second, or not at all, then we aren’t on the road to justice. We’re on history’s wide and bloody road to dehumanization.”

At the end of this chapter he includes Walt’s Story. He was a man engaged in groups exalting European man. He was in a racist hate group. He, and so many, reacted to the common negative attitude toward men and particularly men of European descent. He only escaped both lies by grace found in Jesus our Creator and Redeemer.

The Idolatry Question: Does our vision of social justice made a false god out of self, the state or social acceptance?

Williams begins with John Calvin’s famous statement that man is a factory of idols. We make all kinds of things into idols and these blur our vision. The Hindus boast of having more than 33 million deities. In the individualistic West there are probably as many gods as there are people. We go through a series to idols as we move through stages in life: acceptance, career, marriage, children, retirement and more. Idols often begin as good things but as ultimate things become destructive things.

Both political left and right have their idols. Social Justice B is on the political left therefore its idols will be addressed throughout the book, but the right’s idols include “stuff, solitude, sky, and the status quo.” When you add skin tone you get the alt-right.

“A super-spiritualized Christianity that has no implications for real pain in the here-and-now is hardly worthy of the word Christian.”

Social Justice B has abandoned traditional religions, thinking they are part of the problem. Williams quotes Camille Paglia that since were irresistibly religious they turn their causes into a form of religious fanaticism. Andrew Sullivan notes that CRT and gender theory have become “the orthodoxy of a new and mandatory religion.” This religion is just as fanatical in rooting out heresy as the Spanish Inquisition.

Intersectionality can be seen as a “quasi-religous gnostic movement”. It accounts for brokenness, has a saving story (but no Savior) and gives meaning to life.

So we see that the most pressing social issues are really worship issues. Williams brings us to Francis Schaeffer who warned that most Christians are wringing their hands over singular issues and failing to see they are but a symptom of a much bigger problem. And then Solzhenitsyn who pointed out the moral and spiritual root of our legal and political problems and issues. By this we make room for the triumph of evil. And then he brings us to Abraham Kuyper who saw the city of man struggling with the city of God in the midst of these smaller struggles (the Struggle in his day was that of Marxism).

Most Americans worship the self, among other idols. Self-actualization, self-determination, and more. This is the moral and spiritual root of the ever-expanding sexual revolution, rising divorce rate, increase in fatherlessness and so on. But from a biblical perspective we are “authored beings”. We don’t create meaning but have it bestowed upon us by the Creator. This is a God-sized task that we keep trying to rip from His hands.

In Social Justice B literature, God is absent and humans create the goals of the story. We make our identity rather than receive our identity in Christ.

“Herein lies one of the deepest problems with idolizing the self as sovereign. The omnipotence-demanding task of constructing an entire person’s nature is forced onto our all-too-shaky and finite shoulders.”

Williams notes that churches will begin to be trauma centers for those crushed by this demand for self-creation.

Many of those who feel the weight of autonomy refuse still to come to Jesus and seek refuge in others instead. They moved from the individualism of modernity to the collective of postmodernity. They seek the power of the government to protect their constructed identities. Williams quotes Chesterton here: “Once we abolish God, the government becomes God.”

People seek their justification not from Christ but others. Self-justification needs others to approve. And self-justification must eliminate those who seek justification in Christ. The guilt grows and the ones who inadvertently poke the wound must be eliminated. They must no longer bake their cakes, attend their schools with their own worldview, or sell their chicken sandwiches because they are evil for not celebrating what we celebrate.

Political power must be invoked if one is to accomplish their goal of truly canceling those who disagree with our self-justification project. This has been tried and found wanting, numerous times and with millions of casualties.

“Make no mistake: Social Justice B seeks a theocracy, a theocracy of creation worship that seeks to silence its heretics.”

He then moves to the idol of social acceptance. People want to be liked, even Christians. People want to “be on the right side of history” even if we can’t be on the right side when we reject God’s Word and wisdom. Our idols shape us, we become them as one Christian thinker put it. Our thinking about injustice never happens in a vacuum but is always influenced by our idols.

“We must decide in our hearts who we answer to- creatures or the Creator.”

At the end of this chapter he lets Becket Cook tell his story of moving from a self-created identity as homosexual to a God-given identity in Christ and the loss of social acceptance. Interestingly those who disagree with “Side B Christianity” hold up Becket as a model even though he’s living as a celibate, not married, man. Just an observation. He should be seen as a faithful Christ-follower who is taking up his cross and denying himself. It is just that some who find it acceptable for Becket seem to dismiss it in others. Oh, what crazy cats we are.

All the chapters in the book end with similar stories so we can see the truth fleshed out in a life. This is great. Each chapter also ends with questions for person or group study. They can be pointed.

Each part includes “So You’re Saying…” as well as a prayer. In “So You’re Saying…” he puts into words the expected mischaracterizations of what he has said, a device used by Paul in Romans and other letters. It may be helpful to remember these objections because you will likely hear them if you offer a critique of Social Justice B to others. So, I’ll positively paraphrase them, or answer them I guess.

The pursuit of social justice is not optional for Christians (but we must be wise about it).

People who reject the Scriptures can make some meaningful contributions, but also dangerous ones.

Christians should be known for the gospel and social justice, not social justice posing as the gospel.

Christians can agree with the political left about particular problems, but may often disagree about solutions.

Right-wing politics has its own set of problems too since they often don’t submit to Christ and the Scriptures either.

For many the Church does not seem to be a wonderful work of God. They see the obvious blemishes of the visible church: enculturation (not just an American thing), seeking power and prosperity, trying to maintain image. Over the centuries the visible church has been a political animal (many popes tried to rule over kings). There have been sex scandals galore (I brushed up on the Bakkers for a recent sermon). The Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant groups have covered up child sexual abuse by clergy. I can understand why many would think it was not a wonderful work of God.

But they are only seeing part of the picture. Having finished with the doctrine of salvation proper, Herman Bavinck moves on to The Church of Christ in The Wonderful Works of God. It is a wonderful work of God when we see the whole picture which includes the invisible church, the church triumphant.

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

Holy Community

Salvation does not occur in a vacuum. God calls unbelievers to Christ through the Church and into the Church. We are sanctified in the context of the Church, nurtured by God there, sustained there and serving there. Just as there is no salvation outside of Christ, there is not salvation apart from the Church of Christ. His is the essential work for our salvation. He alone is the Savior. He also places us into the Church which is His Bride, His Body, His living temple and more.

“The believer, therefore, never stands apart by himself; he is never alone.”

This has led many a theologian to state that the Christian must have the Church as his mother. We are not made for “independence, isolation, and solitude.” We were made (creation) for community, and redeemed for the holy community. We need holy company to grow in holiness. We long for this by both creation and redemption. In most religions the “holy community” is formed along tribal or national lines. It cannot stand apart from these other ties to keep people together. The Church transcends tribal or national boundaries, as well as language and cultural barriers.

In the New Testament we see the words synagogue and ecclesia used for the church. In the Septuagint we see ecclesia used for the assembly of Israel. The early church continued to meet in the temple, and we see they were devoted to one another, the apostles’ teaching, prayer and the breaking of bread. These are the foundations for church life, and the church that neglects them is in trouble. Today this is called “ordinary means” ministry which de-emphasizes programs for Word and sacrament.

The Church Universal

The church was initially predominantly Jewish. Over time more Gentiles entered the church and it became predominantly Gentile. This began with Peter’s visit to Cornelius. This paved the way for Paul to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. First the Jews, and then the Gentiles. These Gentiles are not second-class citizens but fully sons of the Promise (as he elaborates in Galatians). This was a large part of the mystery of the gospel. Many thought Messiah would subdue the nations as vassals, not full citizens and co-heirs.

The local church would generally meet in groups in homes. This was a matter of practicality at the time, not prescribed as some writers today seem to think.

The Apostles wrote to actual churches. These churches, like ours, were defective. Our salvation is in Christ, not our sanctification either personal or corporate. Due to justification and our union with Christ, we are seen as perfect. Just as our imperfections are pardoned in Christ, so are the Church’s. The Church is becoming holy as the Spirit works in it.

One of the ways the Spirit works in the church is through gifting individuals for ministry. We have different gifts to foster interdependence. Sin uses these differences, and cultural differences, to divide us through pride.

The Holy Church

We are separated from the world and united to Christ and His body in conversion, and baptism is the sign and seal of this. Bavinck spends some time talking about baptism in this context. As a baptized person we should a very different view of the world. Our old associations (for the convert) are broken, or at least re-valued, and new associations are spiritually profitable. We don’t withdraw completely from non-Christians. We do need to be wise lest bad character corrupt our good morals. A new convert may have to navigate marriage with an unbeliever, extended family that doesn’t believe, and work with unbelievers.

Bavinck briefly discusses church discipline as a means to maintain the holy character of the church. When we see the many scandals, financial and sexual, there is often a toleration of sin due to position that short-circuited God’s plan of church discipline. Many churches and parachurch ministries forget that some sins are also crimes and should not only be treated by the church but also the legal authorities. It is crazy to protect child molesters!

In discussing the catholicity of the church, Bavinck begins in the Garden. Gospel promises were given to the disobedient couple. The narrowing down was important for the coming of the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman and Abraham, but was always intended for people of all places and races. This leads into a discussion of the kingdom. Jesus spoke primarily of the kingdom and only occasionally of the church. This seems to be flipped by the Apostles. “His apostles have been called and qualified by Him to gather the church by means of the gospel of the kingdom.”

“The church is not bound to a land or a people, to a time or a place, to any given generation, to money and property; it is independent of all earthly distinctions and contrasts.”

He returns to the imperfection of the church as he discusses the ministry of the church. The church ministers to imperfect people to move them closer to the perfection of Christ. For instance:

“After all, the church, so long as it exists on earth, is still imperfect; each of its members and all of the members together must constantly be fighting against sin and following after holiness; at all times these people require instruction, guidance, direction, strengthening, comfort, admonishment, and chastisement. And not that only, but the church must also reproduce itself from generation to generation; it does not always have the same members, since it daily loses those who are transferred to the triumphant church, and is constantly augmented by new members who are nurtured in it, and who must be introduced into the life of the church.”

Here he necessarily shifts to the law given to develop our sense of sin. It revealed our need for repentance and forgiveness. It reveals a life pleasing to God; the life of love to God and neighbor. In this context there is a confusing statement he makes, one that sounds like neo-nomianism but he earlier rejected that, so call me Vinnie Barbarino.

“Nevertheless He came in order that by thus keeping the law He might fulfill it and so place a different burden on the shoulders of His disciples from that of the hard yoke of the law.”

I’m not sure Jesus is referring to the law alone but the law and the tradition of the elders whom Jesus condemned for playing heavy burdens on people. We are released from the condemning power of the law. We are not justified by keeping the law, but Jesus’ law keeping for us.

Church Government

Bavinck also interacts briefly with the Roman position that Peter was the greatest of the Apostles as the foundation for the office of the pope. Odd, then, that he would essentially disappear in the latter portions of Acts, and even in Acts 15 plays a role subordinate to James.

Each congregation has elders to rule it. There was interaction between the churches on matters of common importance, as in whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised. The apostles functioned, according to Bavinck, as the consistory or session of the Church.

In the early church there were also the “extraordinary offices of apostle, evangelist, and prophet.” They received these offices for the founding of the church. After the founding, elders and deacons governed the church. He seems to neglect the on-going work of establishing the church in new places by evangelists/apostles (lower case, no new revelation just fulfilling the role of bringing the gospel to a new people group or place). He notes that in the second century the overseer or bishop arose as a separate office from elder. They were higher in rank than elders and deacons. This was not simply a Roman thing but we see it in Eastern Orthodoxy as well. But he presses on to the office of pope in Catholicism.

Bavinck alludes to the two kingdoms in some of the differences between the Lutheran and the Reformed. While the Lutherans “restored the office of preaching” they did not restore the rule of the church and care of the poor to the church but kept it in the hands of the civil magistrate. The Reformed resumed rule of the church with the session and care of the poor with the deacons.

“Of all forms of church order, the presbyterian system as it was restored by Calvin, corresponds best to that of the apostolic time.”

Spiritual Power

The power of the church is limited. We have no worldly power, though we are often tempted to pursue it. The weapons of our warfare are not guns and bombs but spiritual in character. There is a very brief discussion of the armor of God. Our primary weapon is the Word of God, a double-edged sword. He notes Calvin that the Word is the soul of the church. The Reformation restored the Word to its primary place. The sacraments confirm the Word and therefore strengthen our faith. Sacraments are signs and seals of the covenant of grace. They don’t have the power to grant grace not given by the Word nor accepted by faith.

“Although baptism and the holy supper have the same covenant of grace as their content, and although both give assurance of the benefit of the forgiveness of sins, the holy supper differs from baptism in this regard that it is a sign and a seal, not of incorporation into but of the maturation and strengthening in the fellowship of Christ and all His members.”

To the Word and sacrament he adds the exercise of discipline AND the service of mercy. The church has the power of the keys and the responsibility to care for its vulnerable members. The church is where the strong (in one way) minister to the weak (in that way). Faith expressing itself in love reveal professing Christians to be true Christians and churches to be true churches.

This seemed to be a bit meandering. Bavinck tends to double back. Not circle back since that apparently means not addressing the subject. He doubles back to look at things from different angles and connections. As one more familiar with the British expression of Reformed theology, it is refreshing (generally) to hear his different formulations.

There is one more chapter which I hope to blog on soon to wrap up this series.

We live in a time of great social consciousness and social unrest. There are many viewpoints on how to address the various injustices that have been identified. This discussion has created a great degree of conflict in many churches.

I began to read Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice by Thaddeus J. Williams. The book has a preface by John M. Perkins. This was a selling point for me since I didn’t know who Thaddeus Williams is. I was looking for a balanced book, not one that was critical of social justice itself. I was looking for one that had a biblical perspective on justice (which is social), but also examined the ideas behind or underneath descriptions and prescriptions. John Perkins is a civil rights leader and a committed Christian.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice - Williams, Thaddeus J - 9780310119487

Perkins’ forward begins with his credentials: born on a Mississippi cotton plantation in 1930. His mother died of malnutricion just 7 months after he was born. His older brother was murdered by a town marshal when John was 17. As an activist, he was nearly beaten to death and tortured.

God changed his heart. Jesus saved him from hate, and other sins. “He saved me from what could have easily become a life of hatred and resentment.” It is from this place that he offers four admonishments to the next generation of those who pursue justice. He offers this to the current generation that is seeking justice.

Dr. John Perkins – Embrace Multiethnic Church Conference
John Perkins

First, start with God!” God is just, and calls us to “act justly”. As just, He defines justice and the means to pursue justice. He does want justice to roll down. As we look out at this world and see the enormity of injustices we should see that it is far beyond us. “The problem of injustice is a God-sized problem. If we don’t start with him first, whatever we’re seeking, it ain’t justice.”

Sadly, many social justice warriors don’t even have God on their radar. If they do, they think He’s part of the problem. Many Christians who are concerned about social justice are being influenced by those who don’t share our worldview. They misdiagnose the problem, and resort to sub-biblical means and goals.

Williams illustrates this in the first chapter of his book. For instance:

“(White supremacy) makes race, not God, supreme. It worships and serves created things rather than the Creator. Racism, therefore, is not merely horizontally unjust, depriving other creatures what they are due; it is also vertically unjust, failing to give the Creator his due by making race an ultimate object of devotion. Why is racism so evil? If we leave God out of our answer to that question, we will fail to grasp the true diabolical depths of racism and find ourselves boxing ghosts of the real problem.Thaddeus Williams

Second, be one in Christ!” He has a great burden for the unity of the Church. We are united in Christ regardless of our race, economic class and other things that tend to divide people. There is one Lord, one God and Father of us all, one Spirit and one baptism. “That oneness is how the world will know who Jesus is. If we give a foothold to any kind of tribalism that could tear down that unity, then we aren’t bringing God’s justice.”

Many in the church are currently letting tribalism rip us apart. We seemed more concerned about support of groups not the Church nor groups connected to it. Some are disconnecting their quest for justice from their faith. They are pursuing justice by the flesh, not the Spirit. The problem isn’t simply a disconnect from faith, but also, in some cases, love. Yelling at people is not “speaking the truth in love” which is our calling, even in the face of injustice (see Romans 12).

Third, preach the gospel!” Social justice isn’t the gospel. The pursuit of justice is a fruit of the gospel. Redeemed by Christ we walk in the good works that God has prepared for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10ff). We can’t leave the gospel behind because we are seeking to change hearts not just actions, and only the gospel changes hearts. The good news is that Christ has redeemed people from every tribe, nation, tongue and language.

We have to approach the pursuit of justice like the gospel is true. As a result, “(w)e’ve got to stop playing the race game. Christ alone can break down barriers of prejudice and hate we all struggle with.” The gospel enables reconciliation through repentance, not blaming and accusing. We need to stop picking at wounds and get busy repenting and forgiving.

“If we replace the gospel with this or that man-made political agenda, then we ain’t doing biblical justice.”

Fourth and finally, teach truth!” Truth is a necessary requirement for justice. You can’t build justice on lies, half-truths and fables. We can’t assume that media narratives are true. Too often they have been discovered to be myopic. Our feelings are not the arbiter of truth. Polls aren’t either. “God’s Word is the standard of truth.” We need to examine truth claims by Scripture.

“If we’re trying harder to align with the rising opinions of our day than with the Bible, then we ain’t doing real justice.”

These are important things for us to consider as we think about pursuing justice in our world. These admonitions are reflected in Williams’ book (so far anyway). Even if you don’t read this book, these are some good words to keep in mind to provide a motive for justice, and evaluating means of justice.

I have a confession to make. I am one of the increasing number of people who struggles with perfectionism. It isn’t new to me, but studies indicate that the percentage of people who are perfectionists is increasing. This and more is found in The Dangerous Downsides of Perfectionism.

What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism isn’t simply trying to do your best. Perfectionism isn’t simply having high standards. Perfectionists often are hard workers, diligent and exhibit desirable attributes. Perfectionism is tied to the voice you hear in your head when you fail, or don’t meant your expectations for yourself.

“Working hard, being committed, diligent, and so on – these are all desirable features. But for a perfectionist, those are really a symptom, or a side product, of what perfectionism is. Perfectionism isn’t about high standards. It’s about unrealistic standards. …Perfectionism isn’t a behavior. It’s a way of thinking about yourself.” Andrew Hill

Perfectionists are not understanding with themselves (and sometimes others as well). The internal dialogue with one’s self can be brutal in the face of unmet demands: “Idiot!” The unseen tongue lashes out with a brutal verbal assault.

When I was in Cub Scouts I signed a project (macaroni art) “To mom from your dumb son.” Something must have happened at school which I’ve forgotten. It wasn’t about the quality of my macaroni masterpiece. I felt dumb. Not that I did or said something dumb, but was dumb. I don’t think anyone else has ever called me that. The voice doesn’t match reality, but it shapes your perception of reality. That voice bounces around for days sometimes.

The Toll of Perfectionism

In the article they address the toll that perfectionism takes on a person.

“Perfectionism, after all, is an ultimately self-defeating way to move through the world. It is built on an excruciating irony: making, and admitting, mistakes is a necessary part of growing and learning and being human. It also makes you better at your career and relationships and life in general. By avoiding mistakes at any cost, a perfectionist can make it harder to reach their own lofty goals.

“But the drawback of perfectionism isn’t just that it holds you back from being your most successful, productive self. Perfectionistic tendencies have been linked to a laundry list of clinical issues: depression and anxiety (even in children), self-harm, social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, hoarding, dyspepsia, chronic headaches, and, most damning of all, even early mortality and suicide.”

It seriously affects one’s mental health which often affects one’s performance which begins as downward spiral. Since no one is an island, there is a ripple effect which damages relationships (especially if you hold others to similar exacting standards).

“Faced with failure, “perfectionists tend to respond more harshly in terms of emotions. They experience more guilt, more shame,” says Hill. They also experience more anger. … They give up more easily. They have quite avoidant coping tendencies when things can’t be perfect.”

Too often the symptoms are treated rather than the real problem: the warped sense and expectations of self, and sometimes others. This means the person remains in their perfectionism which may manifest itself in other ways.

Being the parent of another perfectionist is tough. I see my child exhibiting some similar patterns. The voice in their head is similar to the one in mine. I don’t recall procrastinating as much with regard to homework, but maybe my perspective is wrong.

My issue isn’t avoiding mistakes so much as a tendency to have trouble moving forward when I fail. It isn’t just sermons that aren’t as awesome as they could have been. It’s the social faux paux that I can’t let go. It’s the personal conflict that eats me up. It’s the wondering when someone will discover I’m so seriously flawed.

Before seminary I enjoyed playing guitar with a group of musicians in a fellowship. I was still learning and my mistakes didn’t stand out at all. When I went to seminary I was asked to play guitar for a retreat. I’m still not sure how this happened since I’d never led singing and I’m a horrible singer. It went horribly, at least from my perspective. It was nearly a decade until I played in a group again. I never mentioned that I played to the church planter I interned under. When I was a solo pastor I started to play because I knew the piano would cover my mistakes.

When I struggle with insomnia, it is often the internal dialogue running rampant. I’ll turn the situation over in my mind a million different ways. I’ll try to figure out what went wrong. Or I’ll be trying to figure out what could go wrong so it doesn’t.

I am usually my own worst critic. One of my counseling professors once told me “Be kind to yourself.” Apparently even though he was an adjunct professor flying in for class he saw this in me. The counselor I’ve been seeing asked at our last session, “Are you hard on yourself?” I should have laughed. I think I am getting better because I’m aware of the situation but it is such a part of me that change seems so hard.

Oh, I have my blind spots like everyone else. Some criticism will take me by surprise. It is what follows that is revealing. I can spend days mulling it over, listening to that condemning voice in my head. My wrath is generally worse than theirs.

So much about church growth is outside of the pastor’s control. Yet, it gets personalized. I have failed, and this opens me up to depression, shame and anger.

If the only one calling you an idiot is you, you’re a perfectionist.

Perfectionism in the Pastorate

As the rates in the general population grow, so will the rates of perfectionists among pastors. The pastorate can be a hard place to be a perfectionist. We prepare all week to fulfill an upfront role which many feel can make or break a congregation. Corporate worship is the center of congregational life and all eyes are on you. There are visitors present and they may only give you one shot.

You can easily feel like you are swimming with the sharks, or the gators. How is that to feed anxiety, depression and shame? Every word can be subject to re-examination afterward. Yes, it is helpful to see where things have gone wrong in a service, and make changes to reduce problems. But this is not a team of people sitting around a table having a conversation. This is the inner law firm prosecuting its case against you.

Live and Let Die (1973)
Live and Let Die

It is hard not to think that all mistakes will be laid at your feet. You are the person up there, and responsible. You are the one who manages the people who do everything else, or at least the people who manage the people. You can quickly begin to think that it all reflects on you and every mistake becomes an indictment of you. You’re in even more trouble if there are a few people who share that sentiment.

Our personal interactions are also a mine field, if we let them be. When someone leaves the church we often wonder if it was something we said or how we said it. This is amplified by the fact that most people either don’t really know why they are leaving or aren’t fully honest. These are seeds of self-recrimination that can grow.

Years ago there was a family in which mother and daughter played piano, but not at church. Both played very well. But not at church. I was told the daughter didn’t want to play due to anxiety. My off-hand comment was “like her mother?”. True it was. Wise and thoughtful? No. Was that part of the reason they, who had so warmly welcomed me when I got there, left shortly thereafter? I don’t know. But that will result in some sleepless nights. That will result in lots of self-recrimination that no one sees.

In this sense it is like domestic abuse. Often no one sees or knows. This is a problem that remains largely hidden because it is in your head.

The Path of Repentance

We are to make no provision for the flesh because we’ve put on Christ (Rom. 13:14). There are things we can do that reduce opportunities to fall into the pit of perfectionism. Refusing to do your job isn’t the answer, obviously.

Constructing the Life-Sucking Machine in The Princess Bride | The Current |  The Criterion Collection
The Princess Bride

One way is how you structure time. Many pastors take Mondays off. I take Fridays off. The reason is that I couldn’t think of a worse way to spend my day off than to ruminate over my sermon. On Fridays I can think about ways to improve it, but Monday would simply be self-criticism, thinking about what I should have done and said. It is bad enough that I spend part of Sunday night criticizing my sermon.

That’s what happens. In seminary we had to watch ourselves on video. I hated it. I still don’t want to listen to my sermons. I have; very rarely. Every mistake is a big deal to me. I don’t need the additional discouragement of an internal pig pile.

The doctrine of justification is important in trying to unravel perfectionism. There was a Perfect One whose perfect obedience is substituted for my failures and mistakes. Our experience of it isn’t always rational. The perfectionist, pastor or not, needs to preach the gospel to themselves regularly. Our acceptance before God is founded on Christ’s performance, not our own. Since it is God who justifies us, none can condemn us. Even ourselves.

“Yes, but my heart condemns me still.” The Apostle John understood this reality in our lives.

20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 1 John 3

The inner man may condemn but we have to remind ourselves that it is ultimately God’s verdict, not our own, that matters. He does know of every little failure and yet chooses to see us as perfect in Christ. As our sense identity increasingly conforms to the theological reality of our identity in Christ (sanctification of the mind) we are able to relax because our identity isn’t on the line every moment. We progressively think more in line with the realities of justification.

Mistakes are made in worship services. Words are misspelled, misspoke and forgotten. Technology fails. You can just plain have a no-good, terrible, horrible day. Remembering that your anger won’t accomplish the righteousness of God helps. Lashing out or blaming others won’t help. And those visitors really won’t come back. You need to learn to laugh at yourself and the imperfections of the worship service. If the church really is family, we don’t have to be “on”. We can lighten up.

Recently there was a difference between my copy of the Order of Worship and what was put up on the screen. There was an obvious problem. How to handle that? You look like an idiot. But it isn’t like I made stuff up on the fly. I did joke about it. There was no seething because someone made me look stupid in front of these people. No banishment to the gulog.

This should be seen as progress. But there is still progress to be made.

Here I am, looking for the perfect ending to this blog post. This is the second version of this post. The first was horrible. It was a complete mess. I’m tempted to tinker, obsess to find just the right ending that wraps all this up. But like life, I will leave this with tension, uncertainty. The end is yet to be seen for it lies years down the road.

If you ask any pastor about the biggest problems they face, they will likely talk about church membership. Individualism and consumerism have eroded a high view church membership. People take vows, but many seem to not take those vows seriously- or at least act like they do. Pastors have heard some very strange reasons for changing churches.

Just as there are legitimate reasons to get divorced, there are legitimate reasons to change churches. Usually they are connected to the church breaking its promises to you. People seem to change membership far too frequently which means they aren’t taking membership seriously.

Some churches don’t take membership seriously either. They have no process or status of membership. No vows. This means, in my mind, there is not ability to exercise church discipline beyond rebuke.

This is what makes Devoted to God’s Church by Sinclair Ferguson such an important book. This is a companion book to his earlier release Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. Devotion to God should include devotion to God’s people gathered into the Church. The subtitle for this book is Core Values for Christian Fellowship. These are the values that shape a community and hold it together. There are hallmarks that Ferguson will identify that “should be stamped on all of our churches” regardless of time and place. He seeks to move beyond cultural expressions to biblical norms.

Devoted to God's Church: Core Values for Christian Fellowship - Ferguson, Sinclair B - 9781848719767

Family Life or What Is a Church?

This is the appropriate starting place. We need to know what a church really is so we can discard the fakes and choose the real deal. You can’t belong to Christ without belonging to a church (at least not for long). I say this as a man who left a great church to attend seminary and floundered for years trying to find another great church. Part of my struggle was cultural, and some was theological. I struggled more than I should have during seminary because I was not part of a church family. It is not simply an organization, but a family.

Families are organized, but families aren’t just about “doing your job”. While there is a division of labor in a family, what binds a family together is love, not the achievement of some goal. Yes, this family is on a mission (the Great Commission)but one in keeping with any family: growing in number and maturity as people are nourished.

If Christ is the center of our life then the church should be the center of our Christian life. Too often it is treated as an add-on, rather than one of the hubs around which our corporate lives revolve.

“Our life in the church lends its atmosphere to our social life; it energizes us in our vocational life to be salt and light in the world; and it is the basic dimension of, not merely an optional add-on to, our family life.”

For people who are single, like I was in seminary, the church IS family or should be. As a single adult who was the only Christian in my family, I benefited greatly from time with families in the church. The Church will be our forever family. The earthly family is temporary (though quite important). The earthly or nuclear family needs the church family for its own growth and health. You and your spouse were never meant to raise your kids alone. You need help, and the church promises to help during the baptism ceremony for a child (or dedication for my baptistic friends).

Ferguson pushes us to ask “How do we fold our lives into the life of the church?” instead of the question we usually ask, “How is church life to be fitted into my plans?”. When we love our families we wouldn’t think of missing family dinner except for something important, but some people miss family time aka church services on Sunday for all kinds of reasons. They don’t shape their week around Sunday but fit Sunday into their plans, maybe.

Blue Bloods' Star Bridget Moynahan on the Reagan Family Dinner Scene
In Blue Bloods Sunday dinner binds the 3 generations of family together thru thick and thin.

“Family is what the church is.”

Different parts of the extended family of the church will have different traits. They will have different ways of singing, praying and preaching. How they go about ministry and priorities will be a little different. Just as how my family does things isn’t the way yours does, my congregation won’t do things exactly the same way yours does.

Because Ferguson has such a high view of the church he sets the bar high: “in our local church we need to feel that there is no other church family to which we would rather belong- even if our congregation is far from perfect.” That’s why I struggled to find a church home in Orlando, I’d left such a good, though imperfect, one but couldn’t find a similar congregation that “felt like home”. In my Christian infancy God granted me a sense of being home the first Sunday I’d attended that church in NH.

What Is Your Story? or Are You a Christian?

Ferguson begins this chapter with some allegorical couples being interviewed for church membership by the elders. People may want to join a church for a variety of reasons, but membership is for Christians (believers and their children). Each of us should have a story that communicates the Story. Ours may be boring but faith in Christ is its center.

Ferguson focuses on Saul whom we more commonly call Paul. His was a dramatic story of how Jesus stopped him in his tracks on the way to persecute His followers. We see the story told by Luke in Acts, and we get Paul’s perspective in some of his letters. The accounts all focus on moving from unbelief to belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Savior.

His story helps us to understand and communicate our story. In Philippians 3 Paul describes himself by nature or who he was by birth and experience, outside of Christ. Paul then discovers the truth about himself, the fact that his righteousness was full of holes. Here Ferguson tells of how he heard the story of a businessman who discovered that the best worker in the typing pool (a thing of the past) was a Christian. That businessman was struck by this and that led to him becoming a Christian, and his story helped Ferguson become a Christian. I thank God for that woman!

Paul then shares what he discovered by grace. He discovered who Jesus was. He discovered the benefits of the gospel. He discovered there was life in the Son and only in the Son.

You have a story. Does your story find its resolution in Christ? If so church membership is for you.

Follow My Leader or Being a Disciple

Christians are disciples or apprentices of Christ. We submit our minds to Him, and walk in His footsteps. Jesus is to be imitated. It is not all our work, for God conforms us to the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:28).

Church membership is a declaration that we are disciples of Christ. Discipleship is not just for the elite members. Unlike Costco there are no levels of membership in a church. All are baptized and taught to obey everything Jesus has commanded (Mt. 28).

The pattern of life together may differ, but the goal should be the same: following Jesus. The church is a cross-bearing community. It is a group of consecrated (devoted) people with settle priorities formed by Jesus’ teaching. This is rooted in the reality that Jesus bore our sins upon the cross because He loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20). He died for us that we should no longer live for ourselves but for Him who loved us and died for us (2 Cor. 5). The church life, and membership, must reflect these realities.

Many churches have closed because they didn’t reflect these realities. They became no more than social clubs and people seek the clubs with the best amenities.

“We have domesticated the whole thing into a religion, a series of personal accomplishments or disciplines, an insipid moral code- something far removed from the sense the Creed conveys of the greatness of God and his mighty in-breaking into history and then into our individual lives.”

A Glorious Addiction or What Is a Member?

Ferguson brings us to Acts 2:42-47 to see the devotion of the early Christians. Their life was centered on the church as they met every day in the temple. They devoted themselves to 1. the apostles’ teaching, 2. fellowship with one another, 3. the breaking of bread, and 4. prayer. They joined together and grew together by commitment to teaching, fellowship and prayer. These are to be the fundamental commitments. People seem to focus on other things in picking a church (music, programs, buildings, etc.). Ferguson notes that little kids can often be more enamored by the gift wrap (or the box!) than the gift.

They saw church life as central to their life. It was not some spectacular program but “ordinary” means of grace. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds, by being loved and loving, and by prayer. If you want to see your life changed, these are the things to be committed to.

We tend to neglect fellowship and prayer. Many come in as late as they can and leave as soon as they can. Devotion to fellowship frees us from our self-centeredness. As we meet the needs of others we are freed of our greed. Ferguson references a study that indicated that “most American Christians are remarkably ungenerous.” They claim that 20% of professing Christians do not give to their church. This is evidence of a consumer mentality and not being devoted to the fellowship. We are addicted to self and money.

Have You Ever Arrived at Church? or Worship

He asks the odd question if you’ve arrived at church. The focus on this chapter is a commitment to worship rather than seeking the external quality of music and liturgy. Ferguson wants us to focus on God and his presence rather than the style, volume and rhythm of the songs. This is not intended to be a denial of the Regulative Principle but recognizing not all who read this book will agree with it, or even know what it is. His goal is not simply to teach a pattern of worship.

He brings us to Isaiah 6 where Isaiah’s life was transformed by encountering God. He knew about God’s glory, sovereignty, holiness and mercy from Torah. But then he experienced them first hand as God brought him into the heavenly temple.

True worship isn’t about warm fuzzies but can feel like you are about to come undone. You realize you are not in control of your life and that you are completely at the mercy of God.

“Sin’s most sinister work is in the way it weaves itself so insidiously into our strengths and abilities.”

Isaiah is deconstructed (woe is me, I am undone) and reconstructed (the angel touches his filthy lips with the coal) in that worship. We are intended to be dealt with similarly in worship. God transforms us as we gaze upon His beauty, mercy, love and grace. We respond with a desire to serve out of grateful love.

“What is more, the whole Christian life involves an ever repeated cycle of discovering fresh layers of sin to be dealt with and fresh supplies of forgiveness and cleansing.”

This means that the confession of sin (and words of absolution), and gospel-centered preaching are vital elements of worship that transforms sinners the way God intended. Worship is not a concert and a pep talk. It is gathering as God’s family to meet with the heavenly Father and experiencing His life-changing grace through faith and repentance.

Are You Hearing Me? or The Bible

The church lives under the authority of God as expressed in the Scriptures. Pulpit ministry can make or break a church. The Word of God, living and active, penetrates people, exposing their hearts and redirecting their hopes.

The Scriptures speak to us about salvation through God’s great promises and the sacrifices. Here Ferguson makes a minor faux paux: “The promises and the sacrifices were parallel lines of revelation that would eventually meet in the person and work of the Lord Jesus.” I know and agree with what he’s getting at, but any geometry student will tell you parallel lines don’t meet. They both terminate or find their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.

He brings Timothy and his conversion before us. Timothy learned the Scriptures from his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois. He learned of the promises and sacrifices. Then he met Paul who led him to see Jesus fulfilled them both. And so salvation came to Timothy.

Scripture has this authority and power because it is breathed out by God. It is God speaking to us- telling us a great Story about creation, fall, redemption and consummation through a number of smaller connected stories. Made in His image we are able to understand the words He speaks, regenerated by the Spirit we are able to believe those words which the Spirit also illuminates.

He remains in 2 Timothy 3 to communicate the usefulness of this Word spoken by God to us. It is useful to teach us, admonish us, correct us and train us to be fruitful. Devoted to Christ and His people includes being committed to His Word to His people.

“The word deconstructs us. It does so, not to destroy us, but to clear the ground to deal with everything that distorts our lives and draws them away from the Lord and his blessing.”

“Correction” is a word used for setting broken bones. The loudest cry I’ve heard is when I worked in an ER and they reset a compound fracture. Being set right is often painful, and we need one another as this painful process works for our good.

As we compare the preaching we hear to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we may find that the sermons (or SS & Bible studies) are failing to fulfill the purpose of Scripture. There may be no balance or elements may be completely absent. For example, some churches only come under withering rebuke while others never hear admonishment.

Much of this material is expanded in Ferguson’s book From the Mouth of God.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible Ferguson, Sinclair B. cover image
The subtitle says it all.

Does It Help to Know Some Latin? or Christian Baptism

Ferguson shares as story he’s told in other contexts that culminates in the words Baptizatus sum. This mean “I am a baptized man.” Luther would say this to himself when experiencing affliction and temptation. He reminded himself that he belonged to Jesus. The significance of baptism doesn’t end with the rite but marks us for life.

“The question is: Whatever view of baptism I hold- what impact has it had and what difference has it made in my daily life? … We may make too much of the ‘moment’ of baptism and too little of its long-term significance for the rest of our lives.”

He also notes that we can “make too little of its importance and too much of disagreements about it.” The debate should not matter as much as the fact that you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ to newness of life. Instead we can focus on who should be baptized (not an unimportant question), how much water is needed and how many times it must be applied. In his letters Paul focused on the theological significance of this sign and seal of the covenant.

Church members are baptized people. The name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit has been placed on them. This is a call to live as disciples, meaning our whole life is related to God and His grace given to us.

Baptized people are also cleansed people. We are regenerated and united to Christ. Baptism doesn’t accomplish this but is the sign and seal of God’s promise to do this. It is accomplished by the Spirit like circumcision of the heart.

In this context Ferguson summarizes his argument in another book for infant baptism from Colossians 2 (though here he doesn’t press that issue). The circumcision that “mattered” for Jesus, or that Paul is focused on, is not the one he received in his flesh on the 8th day. It is when Jesus was cut off on the cross. This is the same as his real baptism or trial by ordeal.

“Thus, the meaning of circumcision, the circumcision of every male seed of Abraham- and especially Jesus’ own circumcision- and the meaning of every baptism- and especially of Jesus’ own baptism- point in the same direction and to the same event: the death of Christ for our sins and his resurrection for our justification and new life. Circumcision pointed forwards while baptism points backwards to Jesus Christ.”

Ferguson does press the issue that baptism isn’t about my faith but rather the good news to which Abraham’s faith responded (see Romans 4). Baptism isn’t pointing to me but to Jesus and all he’s done to rescue sinners. It is a sermon calling for faith and repentance.

He has an appendix on “improving our baptism” which is a phrase from the Westminster Larger Catechism #167.

The Christians Native Air or Prayer

This is a return to something Ferguson began to address in explaining Acts 2. Church members should be devoted to prayer. He begins this discussion of prayer with Psalm 109:4b. “… but I give myself to prayer.” This is in response to accusations of others. Churches and Christians should give themselves to prayer as well. Prayer expresses our inmost thoughts and feelings. Prayer expresses our dependence on God.

Perhaps that is why we avoid prayer; we hate admitting we aren’t self-sufficient. Only those brought to the end of their rope pray. They are the people who see how great, powerful and loving God really is.

In this chapter there is a sentence that doesn’t make sense to me. I think there is an editorial error, perhaps after a sentence was re-worked. Or maybe I’ve been hit on the head and I can’t put this together correctly.

“Our wise forefathers in the faith used to say that our greatest need is not to feel we have any need, and not realizing that Jesus’ words are true that ‘apart from we you can do nothing’ (John 15:5)- not even pray.”

Perhaps that is our greatest problem. Or our greatest need is to feel we have any …. oh, well, you get it.

Ferguson writes of prayer as a way of life and draws upon Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. This will cause some (not me) to look at him sideways. He admits the book has flaws but that the premise gripped him. Lawrence prayed as he worked. Too often we think we need to get away into some private, quiet space. But if God is with us all the time we can pray to Him all the time. It is much like Gaston’s never-ending conversation with God in Ladyhawke. Someone in my household prays while washing the floors though they might not have read Lawrence. It is redeeming the time.

To pray is also work and requires discipline (another reason so many of us struggle with prayer). He tells the story of one man who prayed incessantly for the children he taught in Sunday School, long after they were in his class. Due to a wellness check the police found him on his knees. He had died while praying for others.

From there Ferguson spends some time interacting with the Lord’s Prayer as a good place to start. I thought he’d cover the need to pray for the church and pastor more thoroughly. He does affirm that corporate prayer is important to the life of the church, not just the prayer of individuals. We help one another to prayer as we gather together. Sadly, it is often hard to get Christians to gather just for prayer. I’ve seen prayer meetings that were really Bible studies. I’ve tried so many ways to foster corporate prayer and they all sputter out.

“We have not yet come to an end of ourselves to see or feel the deep-seated need we have of God, and to see that prayer expresses our weakness not our strength. It is hardly surprising then that we do not gather together as a church to cry to God for his help.

The View from the Foot or Christian Service

Church membership includes service to one another, not simply being served by others. We often see the need but expect someone else to meet it. He expresses this by a story of a wedding in which a friend reminds him that he could help rather than wait for someone else. The “someone” is often us.

He then brings us to Jesus washing the feet of His disciples after no one else took initiative to meet that need. This was in preparation for the greater service He would perform of giving His life as a ransom for many. He puts this in parallel with Philippians 2. Jesus served out of a clear sense of His true identity, not because He didn’t know who He was. Jesus had no sense of entitlement. We are to have the same mind set that He did.

In a family, everyone serves unless prohibited by age or infirmity. It is about love for the people you serve, and the God in whose name you serve. Our faith is expressed by love manifested in self-denial.

“If you are not planning to serve in the life of a congregation, you should not be planning to join it!”

There are plenty of places to serve in a church. People who “can’t find” a place to serve are generally not asking. There are people who’d love to get a few things off their plate. Often people are looking for recognition and status, and therefore a visible place of service. They aren’t willing to do what needs to be done, but focused on what they want to do. Often this is teaching. When gifts are not combined with humility, the person often becomes destructive to the community.

Is There Anything Special for Supper? or Communion

Communion is an important part of church life. Members have access to the Table. The church, and its members, should be devoted to the Table.

To discuss communion, Ferguson brings us to 1 Corinthians 10-11. Jesus comes to commune, have fellowship with His people in communion. Though we eat bread and drink wine, these signs point to our participation in the body and blood of Christ. He shows us the height and depth, length and width of His love for us.

Communion points to our reconciliation with God through Christ. It also calls for our reconciliation with one another through Christ. One of the ways we can eat and drink in an unworthy manner is refusing to reconcile with someone.

Communion proclaims the death of Christ until He returns. It is an enacted sermon. Jesus drank the cup of wrath so we can drink the cup of blessing. We receive a benediction as a result of His experience of malediction.

Communion also consecrates us. In the early church there was often intense pressure to compromise. Guilds and other groups would pressure people to participate in their “toasts” to gods of the guilds. One cannot drink to the gods and the cup of Christ as well. Christ calls us to flee the gods of the nations.

This was an additional way people could drink in an unworthy manner. But we also see the serious moral issues in Corinth. To treat the table as just a symbol, and deny the presence of Christ is to make a big mistake. To not repent is another big mistake, and some of them “fell asleep” as a result.

Our fellowship with Christ and one another is strengthened as we gather for the family meal.

Home and Away or Christian Witness and World Missions

One of the purposes of the Church is to bear witness to Christ, including to send out believers to other locations to bear witness where there is little to no witness. We are all witnesses, but we have in mind here the corporate witness to Christ undertaken by the church in which all members share in a variety of ways.

In the gospels and Acts we see Jesus on trial by the world. Those who believe bear witness to His true identity and His work for our salvation. It was true then and is true now.

Ferguson offers some critique to many modern manuals for evangelism which, in our individualistic society, focus on personal evangelism. They offer tips on beginning gospel conversations. This runs contrary to what we find in Peter’s letters, particularly the first. His letter sees people as asking us for the hope we have based on the very counter-culturally manner of life found in us as people, families and especially the church. It is the onlooker who begins the gospel conversation.

Let me say that I know people who have a gift for evangelism. They can start gospel conversations with anyone, anywhere. They are evangelists, missionaries wherever they find themselves. This is not to undermine what Ferguson says but to recognize that he is speaking to congregations filled with ordinary people who sometimes feel an undo pressure to initiate such conversations.

For most of us, we should be trained to share our faith to respond to questions in response to how we live. This assumes, of course, that we are being salt and light. We bear witness, in 1 Peter 1, by how we suffer. We bear witness, in 1 Peter 3, by the character of our lives including believing wives to unbelieving husbands.

“Our friendships and marriages, our homes and families are something of a puzzle to them. … The hidden agenda that shapes our lives as Christians is loving, honoring, enjoying, and serving Jesus Christ. But the non-Christian knows nothing of that.”

We see in 1 Peter 2 that our lives perplex people. We live as sojourners and exiles according to Peter. The motive of our lives, the character of our lives are different because we are citizens of heaven. When we live according to the priorities of the kingdom bear witness to Christ and His kingdom.

We provide answers to their questions in our words. We explain our hope in a broken and hopeless world. We provide answers in our lives, our actions. We treat people differently.

“This cannot be emphasized too strongly. How much damage has been done by people whose lives contradicted their Christian profession; how much blessing has been brought by Christians whose lives have shone with gospel beauty!”

The gospel imperatives are given to us in the second person plural. It is a community activity supported by each person according to their gifts: hospitality, service, mercy and more. He provides an example of this in Christianity Explored. This subject of witness in a post-Christian world is more thoroughly explored through 1 Peter by Elliott Clark in Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land.

Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in our Own Land cover image

The local congregation is also committed to world evangelism. This began in the Garden with the creation mandate. It continues today in the Great Commission. Through the children of Abraham, the families of the world will be blessed. Jesus is with the Church as they engage in this commission locally and everywhere else. Being devoted to Christ’s church means being devoted to the growth of the church through missions and evangelism.

Concluding Thoughts

As we think about the church we must keep in mind that:

We are not a social club but rather a family devoted to enjoying deep fellowship with one another.

We are not a service club like Rotary but rather a family that is devoted to helping others in need.

We are not a self-sufficient family but one that is devoted to calling upon the Father in prayer.

We are not a voluntary organization but devoted to one another because Christ has joined us together.

We are not a philosophical club but devoted to the teaching of the apostles about Christ.

We are not a political action corporation but devoted to bearing witness to Christ as the Savior of the world.

Ferguson’s book is not exhaustive. There are topics that have been overlooked. For instance, he doesn’t discuss the important role of church discipline. You cannot say everything or the book may be too big and intimidating. Tough choices are made.

But what he does cover he does well. This is a book deeply rooted in Scripture. He provides many good illustrations to help us understand his points. As usual, Ferguson writes in a manner that lay people can understand and appreciate. This is a help to communicate the value of church life and commitment.

Hopefully he will release a video series that could be used in church groups like he has The Whole Christ.

It is unfortunate that the publisher didn’t include a subject or Scripture index to assist in the usefulness of the book.

In The Wonderful Works of God, Bavinck tackles the realities of redemption applied. Having discussed justification he now moves on to sanctification. The first is the restoration of our relationship with God. The latter is the restoration of His image in us in true holiness. The first deals with the guilt of sin. The second deals with the pollution of sin. Justified by Christ’s imputed righteousness, we then have righteousness imparted so we become personally righteous as well as positionally righteous.

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

Bavinck, after that little introduction which distinguishes the two, discusses the word “holy”. It is commonly understood to refer to something that is set apart for special use. Created things, like people, are not holy in themselves but become so through the deliberate action of God. God, frequently called the Holy One, alone is holy in Himself. It is not a particular attribute but refers to “His divine greatness, sublimity, majesty, and unapproachableness.” This holiness manifests itself in all His relationships as He sets apart people, places, times and items.

Sanctified in Christ

“… we have no weakness but He knows of it, and no temptation but He can help us.”

Bavinck grounds our holiness or sanctification in the new covenant in which He circumcises our hearts, gives us the Spirit and causes us to walk in His ways. This new covenant is cut in the cutting off (circumcision) of Christ in His baptism on the cross. As the God-man He was personally holy and achieved holiness for us. Bavinck returns to Christ’s humiliation for us. As Mediator He learned obedience from the things He suffered. By perfecting Himself He is able to perfect us for whom He died.

Faith receives Christ as our sanctification just as it receives Him as our justification (1 Cor. 1). Christ works in us what He has worked for us until we fully share in eternal life and blessing. Bavinck returns to the active and passive obedience of Christ for us. Initial sanctification is positional, but progressive sanctification infuses us with holiness. Like Calvin, Bavinck uses “regeneration” to refer to both being born again and our sanctification or renovation. Much of this section has to be read that way or you will misunderstand him. Like Calvin’s “double grace” formulation, he argues justification and regeneration/sanctification can not be separated but must be distinguished. We receive both in Christ.

“For Christ is not to be divided and His benefits are inseparable from His person.”

Sanctified through the Spirit in the Church

God sanctifies us. He does this through the Spirit and in the church. Here is a healthy reminder that our sanctification takes place in community, the community of created by the Spirit. We are being made a living temple.

While sanctification is a work of God, we are not passive. As Paul says to the Philippians, God works in us so we will and work. Like Paul describes ministry to the Colossians, we work in His mighty power.

In sanctification our nature is restored, not removed. With our heart of stone replaced we begin to walk in God’s ways. Through His power we bear good fruit in keeping with salvation. Such obedience gains us no merit. We are to be grateful, not boastful, for both our justification and our sanctification.

“This Christ gives Himself to us through the Holy Spirit, and joins Himself with us so intimately as does the vine with the branches, as the head with the body, as the husband with the wife…”

We are to trust Him. We are sanctified by faith, not grit and guts. The Spirit works thru faith. He sees sanctification as “a continuous activity and exercise of faith.” We are not sanctified by the law but unto the law, meaning that the law remains a rule of life. The law contains no power to sanctify us. The law and its threatened curse do not motivate us. Gospel promises motivate us; promises received by faith.

Herman Bavinck - Wikipedia

Sanctified thru Faith

Bavinck continues to discuss the importance of faith in the next section. The work the Father requires of us is to believe. The gospel calls us to faith. He explains how it works. “… true, unfeigned faith breaks off our false self-confidence, knocks our pride off its pedestal, and makes an end of all self-righteousness.” The natural man, who rejects faith, vacillates between legalism and license, pride and despair. Faith alone ends this. Faith produces good works rather than being produced by them. In this sense faith is both receptive and active. The gospel, in this way, restores and establishes the law to its proper place.

This faith works through love, but which we are bound both to Christ and one another. Growth in love is evidence of sanctification. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Rome added “advices” (I’ve not seen this term used before. I’m not sure if it is reflective of Dutch theology or Bavinck himself) to the law, viewing Jesus as the new and greater law-giver. These advices gradually produced the distinction between the religious and the laity. The moral law was for all, and the advices were followed by the religious orders. These advices included chastity, poverty, and abstaining from a variety of things.

The Reformers rejected this distinction. Holding to depravity they recognized that we cannot obey the law perfectly. Sin taints all we do. We can’t, in other words, achieve the advices just as we cannot achieve the law. We distinguish between law and duty. The law is the same for all, but “duty is the particular way in which the general moral law must be applied by each individual in accordance with his nature and circumstances.” The law addresses us as creatures with a will. The 10th commandment exposes the root of sin in us. The natural man resists the law’s righteous demands.

Progressive Sanctification

As new creations we enjoy a new life which like all created life grows. It is, as Bavinck says, bound to the law of development. People grow at different rates and but through relatively predictable stages. John Newton wrote about this process using the illustration of the corn. Those that feed spiritually on Christ will grow healthily and normally. They will regularly receive grace through the means of grace Christ has provided.

This doesn’t mean it will be peaceful and quiet. Just as children struggle and then prevail with any number of challenges, so does the Christian. It is a struggle with enemies without and within. The natural man struggles as well, but it is a rational struggle, not a spiritual struggle. The reason and conscience struggle against the will and desire. This battle is only against some sins, usually external and those offensive to others.

The struggle of the Christian is between flesh and Spirit (or spirit), the old man in Adam and the new man in Christ. The battle is against a variety of sins including those that are internal with a focus on them being offense to God. The battle is deeper. Looking at the nature of one’s struggle may be a clue for assurance of salvation.

Progressive sanctification rejects the idea that we can achieve perfection in this life. We cannot subdue every sinful deed and inclination. In an ironic twist, some of those who most loudly argue for our continuing corruption can often speak as through we can be free from certain sinful inclinations. There seems to be a selective perfectionism at work regarding particular sins with which others struggle. The glorious titles given to us point to our position in Christ, not our personal perfection and glory.

God forebears with us as we struggle with sin. He does this because the blood of Christ covers the sin of His people. It is the guarantee of our full and complete salvation. Oh that we might be able to bear with one another in our struggles with sin.

Bavinck notes another irony- that those adhering to perfectionism often hold to the possibility of apostasy. How can one have a second blessing of perfection and then fall away?

Grace Received

Bavinck then addresses how God infuses the righteousness into us (for those uncomfortable with “infuse” see the WLC regarding sanctification). He begins with God’s admonishments to a holy walk. Ferguson points us to “gospel grammar” mentioned to many before: indicative-imperative or gospel facts => gospel commands. The Word is the main means of sanctification. We receive grace as we read, study, meditate and listen to the Word preached in faith. Prayer is another means of grace vital to sanctification. Our prayer is guided by the Word, as are our singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. One question: where are the sacraments? This is a glaring omission for this chapter.

The necessity of faith frees us from a mechanical view of sanctification.

We have put on Christ, and continue to put Him on. We have crucified our passions and continue to put them to death by the Spirit.

“He grants abundant grace not that we should instantly or suddenly be holy and continue to rest in this holiness, but that we should persevere in the struggle and remain standing.”

Preservation in Grace

Saints have but a small beginning in holiness. We are still inclined toward sin and stumble in many ways. We are tempted in numerous ways, and can sin big.

We live in a world in which man’s assessment does not match God’s. What the world sees as insignificant God views as great. The sins the world considers most awful may be judged differently by Him. He also includes the circumstances and conditions in which sins are committed.

Thankfully it is God’s assessment that matters, and if He has justified who can condemn? Christ remains active on our behalf. He preserves us from the Evil One. Though we stumble we need not fear that the grace of God has been exhausted but rest in His eternal covenant.

If Christ did not preserve us there could be no assurance of salvation. One would live in constant fear of apostasy. Saints would live in misery, haunted by the accusations of the enemy.

Bavinck returns to the nature of faith. The Reformers had very different views of faith, justification and assurance than Rome. For Rome, faith was assenting to the teaching of the Church; justification was the acceptance of one who was personally righteous due to the infusion of grace through the seven sacraments. Assurance is a heresy.

Among the Lutherans and Remonstrance assurance was only relevant to the present experience of the saint. It was not to be taken as assurance of final or complete salvation, preservation. Among the Reformed assurance is about the present and the future due to the covenant of grace and the completed work of Christ. He refers to the Canons of Dort:

“The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing within themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God- such as- a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.”

Assurance is something that is a fruit of faith. It arises from the new man in Christ. Doubt, on the other hand, arises from the old man in Adam. Faith is from the Spirit, and doubt from the flesh. The Spirit testifies to and operates in us through the means of faith. He does not operate outside of the faith, and faith. There is no salvation apart from the Church, or (ordinarily) faith.

This survey of sanctification is similar to other chapters. Bavinck has a tendency to double back around, or circle back, to subjects. He lacks a linear feel to his arguments as a result. This makes for longer arguments. He also interacts with divergent views, particularly but not limited to Rome. This is a chapter that could have been a bit more practical. He could have described what this heady stuff looks like in someone’s life. These weaknesses don’t render this useless or less than helpful. He does provide a sound theological orientation to our understanding of sanctification.

As the civil rights movement was growing in America, C. Herbert Oliver wrote No Flesh Shall Glory: How the Bible Destroys the Foundations of Racism. With the recent increase in racial tension, P&R decided to re-publish his book and added the transcript of his lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary called “The Church and Social Change”.

No Flesh Shall Glory: How the Bible Destroys the Foundations of Racism - Oliver, C Herbert - 9781629959016

The Author

C. Herbert Oliver was born and raised in Birmingham, AL subject to the Jim Crow laws. He attended Wheaton College and then Westminster Theological Seminary. While writing this book Oliver was the pastor of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ludlow-Smyrna and Houlton, ME. In 1959, the year the book was originally published he moved back to Birmingham to work in the civil rights movement. In the mid-60’s he moved to Brooklyn, NY to pastor Westminster Bethany United Presbyterian Church (now PC USA) and was on the school board. He was a man whose faith was active in seeking justice for himself and others.

This is a timely re-release as we struggle not only with racism but anti-racism. I think this volume speaks to both, powerfully. His was a time of segregation with interracial marriage being a controversial issue. We are on the verge of a new period of segregation, by choice not law, as many African-Americans are weary to the issues that come from living in the majority culture. Many are leaving out loud. Just as being black was denigrated, now many criticize and blame ‘whiteness’. I think this book speaks to these issues.


Oliver speaks about freedom of thought in his introduction. Such freedom of thought was at work in breaking the bonds of racial tyranny. Racial tyranny was founded on lies which were part of the established thinking of the time. He notes that Luther and Calvin were freeing people from religious tyranny. True freedom is one that affirms divine revelation. Those who reject God’s Word are bound by sin and ignorant of their bondage to worldly thinking.

He addresses his use of the word “race” in the book. At times he uses it in the common usage. The concept of race is one he will challenge. He seeks to destroy the ground that racism stands upon.

“As a Christian my deepest sympathies lie with the claims of God and His Kingdom, which Kingdom will ever prevail over all opposition, Jew or Gentile, black or white.”

The Unity of the Human Race

Oliver begins with Genesis 1 and the declaration that God created man in the image of God. This is one of the “great foundational truths of revealed religion.” God has filled the world with great variety, and that includes people who are made in His image. He quietly appeals to both special and general revelation in this early section.

In creation we see the unity of humanity. We don’t see different groups of people created but they all come from Adam and Eve. In Scripture all people groups trace their roots back to Noah and ultimately to Adam. To separate people groups is anti-Christian, meaning working against the purposes of God in creation and redemption.

We see it in redemption in that Jesus has purchased people from every people group to enter His kingdom (Rev. 5). People from every people group and background will be in the one Kingdom, united together forever.

At the time he wrote this book “racial solidarity” was used to justify separation. Some use it today to refer to solidarity between races against racism. He uses it to speak of solidarity of a “race” as opposed to the other races. He’ll touch on this problem later in the book.

Racial solidarity is the cohesion of a group around a few physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, and facial features. It seems that color ranks highest in importance, though Darwin truly called it the most fleeting of all characteristics.”

He speak of the racists’ goal to promote their race to the dominant position in a society. This is why he or she fears “intermarriage” since it breaks racial solidarity. When Christians advocate or acquiesce to racial solidarity they fall short of biblical Christianity. He argues that “the notion of racial solidarity itself must go.” The solidarity of one group tends to create an equal and opposite reaction for solidarity in other racial groups. Two systems of ethics emerge: one for the majority and one for the excluded group(s). Christians should be quick to see the problem of this, but sadly don’t always. He argues that “a convinced mind can be changed, but a convinced conscience is almost unmovable.”

“The fury of mobs in Algeria or Hong Kong is not directed against Europeans because they are white, but because as whites they have engaged in extending their solidaric relationship and dominance to the hurt of peoples excluded from that relationship.”

The ban on interracial marriage was the last fortress of racial supremacy. From Oliver’s perspective, no doctrine has been as successful in separating humanity into racial groups as evolution. Note the title page of The Origin of Species with the subtitle “the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. Evolution does not view all men as equal, but some as more developed than others. It divided people into the civilized and the savages. He concludes “as evolution has failed to discover the true dignity of all mankind, it has failed to discover the true dignity of any part of mankind.”

We are all united in Adam, having a common ancestor. Because we are united in Adam as our covenant head, we share in a sinful condition. We are united in being under the curse of God unless we have been ordain to eternal life through the work of Christ.

The Bible and Color

Oliver notes that in western Christendom, civilization is assumed to arise from Caucasians and Christianity is part of civilization. Adam is assumed to be white which makes it easier to enslave non-whites based on a misunderstand of the curse upon Ham.

Because African civilizations tended not to write histories, some wrongly assumed there were not African (black) civilizations. “People make history. The historian remakes it. And he remakes it according to the presuppositions under which he labors.”

I certainly understand the reality of remaking history. This is done to maintain power. Reading 1984 in middle school left an indelible mark upon me. But I’m foreign to the presuppositions of white supremacists. I’ve never really thought of the race of people in the Bible mattering. Or should I say skin color. I think of them as middle eastern- not white. I haven’t tried to recreate them in my image. But, sadly, many do.

Oliver mentions the attempt by the Book of Mormon to connect black skin with God’s curse. But it isn’t just the Mormons who did this since they were a product of their 19th century culture which struggled with race prior to the Civil War.

Biblically, the curse on Ham resulted in the destruction of the Canaanites in the conquest. Oliver is not trying to make the Bible a black man’s book, but is trying to free us from the assumption it is a white man’s book which is a lie fostered by white racists and black reactionaries.

Oliver argues that the Israelites were very dark skinned or black. Historical accounts indicate early Egyptians were black prior to being conquered and the resulting intermarriage with Europeans. Joseph was indistinguishable from the Egyptians according to his brothers. He didn’t stick out like a sore thumb due to the color of his skin. Moses was also thought to be an Egyptian by the Midianite shepherds, and not just because of his clothing.

Oliver addresses Song of Songs 1:5 as the KJV translates the text as “I am black but comely”. Other translations are similar. He argues this since the LXX uses “kai” (and) to translate the Hebrew conjunction which is ambiguous (either “and” or “but”). The issue I have with this is verse 6. She connects her darkness to working in the vineyards, not race. This issue here seems to be class, not race. She’s a working girl and the Lover is not.

This doesn’t negate his overarching point from extra-biblical sources like The Greatest Story Ever Told that European Christians have been servants or defenders of Western imperialism in the past. The Bible does not confirm the prejudices of racism unless greatly distorted. Christians should flee to the Bible so their minds are renewed and set free from the worldly conceptions of racism and racial superiority.

The Significance of Shem, Ham, and Japheth

I found this the weakest link in this book. At times it was confusing. The point does remain that many read racist attitudes and doctrine into the Bible. They assume their prejudices are explicit in the Scriptures. He looks at a number of commentaries to show how they do this. They include Keil and Delitzsch, George Bush, Murphy, Pink and many more. They extend the curse on Canaan to all the Hamites.

He does provide a few commentators who don’t do this. The (J.C.?) Ryle Cambridge Bible Series and Leopold (a Lutheran) are two examples of those who reject the extension of the curse to all of Ham and therefore a justification of chattel slavery.

“Only the Christian faith has the framework for universal harmony among peoples. Let the Christian rise to the occasion today and make practical the great doctrines of the Bible, which truths can transcend the narrow bounds of race.”

The Biblical History of Shem, Ham, and Japheth

Many commentators, like Matthew Henry, exclude Ham from all heavenly blessings contrary to the message of the prophets and Revelation. God chose to bless all the nations through Shem and his descendant via Abraham: Jesus. Gentiles is a term used not only for Japhethites but also Hamites. It is also used for the descendants of Shem other than Abraham’s line. The Bible does not mention the color of Japheth’s skin and to conclude he and his descendants were white is unwarranted.

Racism, Oliver argues, is not an ancient concept but a modern one. Because Egypt was a great empire many historians classify them as white. But Oliver warns that God will bring down to the dust all those nations that don’t worship Him regardless of the color of their skin.

Any marriage lines drawn between the three sons of Noah’s descendants had to do with faith, not skin color. Those who worshiped YHWH were not to marry those who did not.

As we think about God judging wicked nations, we should see that He frustrates false hopes including those rooted in racial solidarity. Oliver saw the discord in America as God frustrating those corrupt hopes.

“Policies of separateness can succeed only as the segregated group is kept in ignorance and economic weakness. And is it Christian to impose ignorance and poverty on anyone?”

He sees segregation opposed to love of neighbor and a denial of God’s creation of all humanity in His image.

Does this mean we should cancel those in the past who held some racist views? Should we tear down statues of Lee and Lincoln, for instance?

I don’t think he’d want us to do that. He recognized the presence of racism in them and their actions. But he also recognized better notions as well, actions inconsistent with the racist ideas they expressed at times.

“Among such systems, however, there are those who rise above their narrow and perverted surroundings and make unforgettable footprints in the sands of time. We cannot forget a General Lee who did not scruple to kneel with his black brother to receive the communion of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot forget the humble Lincoln, ever looking forward on the lowly penny to a better day in human relations. Though these men were not completely free of the racism of their day, they rise so high above the masses of their time as to deserve perpetual and warm memory.”

Christian Ethics and Segregation

He begins with a brief discussion of ethics. Idealistic Ethics focuses on self-realization whether as individuals or a nation. The Ethics of Evolution focuses on what contributes to the survival of the species. This, he believes, is the ethics that justifies segregation.

Christian Ethics are differentiated from these, and all other, ethical systems. Commitment to Christ shapes one’s ethics and provides the deepest and most lasting joy. Apart from faith this is no Christian Ethics.

“Man’s chief end is neither pleasure, nor self-realization, nor survival; it is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

The natural man, on the other hand, aspires to wealth, culture, prestige and power. These aspirations are often pursued in light of racial superiority. We want them for ourselves and our race. Oliver brings in Abraham who had wealth and was given a great name. His hope however was in God, not these things.

The ethical standard for us is the Law of God. The Pharisees, Oliver notes, thought they kept the law while in fact they externalized it, and often substituted the tradition of the elders for Law.

Why in the world is he talking about this? Precisely for the fact that the Bible does not command people to be segregated by race. This principle is contrary to Christianity, severing bonds created by God. That segregation is not supported by God’s law does not keep one from choosing one’s own friends. That is true for everyone: black, Asian, Native American etc. You may choose your friends based on race due to freedom of association, but you can’t legalize such discrimination (but shouldn’t as a Christian). You also reject the blessing God has for His people. Oliver says that “a complete system of segregation can hardly prevail in a land where Christian teachings are accepted.” I want to know what he meant by that. Where truly understood, I agree. Many Christian teachings were accepted in the segregated South (as well as northern cities after the migration).

He addresses the reality of institutional racism. “Institutions have their source in ideas, and ideas have always been slow to change, and more so institutions.” Where the idea of racism is common, institutions will be shaped by it. While individuals may change rapidly, institutions do not. While people in America may be generally less racist, the institutions in America may still have left over influences from racism.

He brings into the discussion the “problem of stability and progress.” They are interdependent. The Constitution is “a system of government that is both stable and progressive.” It is stable because the document is hard to change, but it can be changed when most states agree to change it. The 3/5ths Compromise, for instance, is no longer in effect. The right to vote has been extended to all people groups who are citizens. Our government has adapted to the shift from an agrarian to an industrial society.

Into this he brings the Jubilee in the Old Testament. It broke the cycle of debt and periodically reset the society. Oliver advocates for some similar system in Christian nations. Jubilee “worked” (we actually have no record of it being celebrated) because land was inherited. It was not simply about debt forgiveness, and the release of slaves, but a return of the family land. Sojourners could rent land, buy a home in a walled city, but not own land for farming. I’m not sure how an industrial economy could operate in this way.

He shifts into the problem of identifying the segregated group. These laws become arbitrary and contradictory. “But if one drop of ‘Negro’ blood makes a white person a Negro, then by all laws of logic, one drop of ‘white’ blood would made a Negro white.” Negro was a social concept, not a biological one (Gunnar Myrdal).

The psychological constitution of sinners regularly requires that there be someone to look down upon. Whom that is will differ in various cultures. Here in the West blacks are commonly looked down upon. That is not universal. In the past, Koreans, valuing ethnic purity, looked down on all non-Koreans and the Amerasian children born during and after the Korean War which initiated the international adoption movement. In many Chinese action films we can often see the Japanese occupiers denigrating the Chinese. When we recognize that we are sinners, we can more easily reject disdain for others of different races.

Oliver returns to Jefferson and Lincoln. Both saw a time when there was no slavery, but thought it impossible for the two groups to live in the same government as equals. “May the good that Jefferson and Lincoln have spoken live long. May the evil of their statements above lie interred in their bones.” Oliver also looks at the Dred Scott decision and how the Constitution never defined a citizen. We must remember that there were free Blacks before and after the signing of the Constitution. They therefore should have been included in the “free persons” that comprised the citizenry. The Dred Scott decision gave states the right to confer citizenship on a person, but no other state had to honor that citizenship. A mess indeed. Thankfully the decision was overturned.


Oliver begins with Amos 3:3- “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”. This is to introduce his criticism of segregation. He wants there to be harmony, which depends upon agreement. They must blend together like a great duet. In order to have agreement there must first be understanding. In order to have understanding you must have time together and communication, or association. Segregating people leads to misunderstanding, lack of agreement and disharmony.

Association ==> Understanding ==> Agreement ==> Harmony between Groups

Christians, wanting racial harmony, cannot oppose association. When the love of God dwells in our hearts, we will, according to John, love our brothers. Segregation is rooted in a lack of love. That lack of love means there is distrust, fear and any provocation (real or perceived) results in conflict. It is a toxic relationship.

Some argue for physical separation through legal means such as the Jim Crow laws. Oliver addresses mental segregation, those who hide “behind a mental wall of segregation” which can be more sturdy than the physical wall. What he is addressing is now called “kinism”, keeping with your own kind or kin. There is no interest in experiencing other cultures for this is seen as dilution of your race. Stay with your own kind, they say, especially in marriage.

“Good human relations are impossible where free and voluntary association is denied by legal enactments, but just as difficult when discountenanced and punished by social ostracism.”

He argues that differences should be studied, understood. Racism divides so this can’t happen. Recognition of the unity of humanity enables those differences to be understood. In this context, he returns to the problem of evolution which “establishes permanent differences between so-called inferior and superior races”.

Evolutionistic racism overemphasizes similarity in the animal and plant kingdoms, and overemphasizes dissimilarity in the human sphere.”

He rejects racial dominance as a goal. He rejects blending as a goal. Integration for Oliver means that racial ideas are disturbed and rejected. He says many things that challenge the current anti-racist movement which makes “whiteness” the great sin. For instance:

“To replace a white racist ideology with a black racist ideology is not the road to good human relations. What we need is not another race ideology, but freedom for all racism.”

With the societal opposition to association, he argued that it has only been through agitation and pressure that change has come. I don’t read this in the same way as I read “Burn it down” as contemporary leaders say. Protests are not the same as riots. Speaking out is not the same as beating people and burning buildings.

Human Marriage

In addition to freedom of association, Oliver sees freedom of human marriage as important in moving toward understanding and harmony. Segregationists opposed marriage between blacks and whites. They still do. Racial superiority strives for racial purity. Human harmony strives for the freedom for two people to be married to the person of the opposite sex they want to marry. That freedom should not reside with only one sex, nor only one color.

Racial Solidarity <== Racial Preservation <== Racial Superiority

There are considerations of religion, culture and common interests. Those are obstacles in some cases, but not all. Some of the objections are that it is unnatural, children will suffer, it destroys the majority white race and that we must respect the feelings of those who are offended. Oliver refutes each of these in turn. He doesn’t provide complex answers because these are not complex objections.

“Prejudice of any kind is self-destructive. It destroys those who sustain and nourish it, like the dog that conceals a thousand fleas under his hair.”

He also provides a warning to the Christian who holds to segregation or superiority.

“We are not as close to God as we think when our religion becomes warm toward those of our own color, and progressively cool as the color difference increases.”

Appendix: The Church and Social Change

This appendix is a lecture at Westminster Seminary. He is addressing the stance of various groups in the church regarding the civil rights movement of the ’50’s and ’60’s. Too bad we can’t bring him into the present to address the current civil rights movement.

“The church may institute change or resist change; it may be carried along by it, or it may strengthen the good elements of change; it may seek self-preservation by an act of withdrawal from society, or it may lose its unique identity by conforming to social patterns which defy basis biblical concepts. Whatever choice she makes, one fact is certain- there is no real refuge from society, not even in lonely withdrawal, for there is no happiness there.”

This is just as pertinent now! We should not resist change, but neither should we be unthinkingly carried along by it. We should seek change consistent with Scripture, not worldly change. Too often in the past we’ve resisted worldly change AND biblical change. Or we’ve fully embraced worldly change.

This is true not only true of the question of race but also the sexual revolution. We tend to polarize rather than weigh, assess and act with wisdom, love, and prudence.

Oliver looks to past philosophical and political thought. He brings up Aristotle who viewed slavery as vital to the economy of his day. He thought the citizens should be able to live lives of leisure and the slaves should provide that opportunity for them. This sounds so much like communism to me. The Party thrives and the people labor. Aristotle thought some people were born to be slaves. He, Epictetus, and Aristides portray a grotesque society as well-ordered.

For the Church, we believe the Son became a slave to redeem us from slavery to sin. Slaves could know the love and salvation of God. Masters had to reckon themselves slaves of God. Those the world disregarded and disparaged “found a glorious home in God.” We recognize the sinful tendency among humans to strive for earthly supremacy of some sort. We see it “in doctrines of national, racial, and economic superiority.”

He then shifts to the degrading nature of Medieval class distinctions. Serfs were little better than slaves to the nobility. Labor was seen as beneath the elites. It took a Reformation to change how work and station were viewed. Class distinctions were rejected.

“Calvinism emphasized its dignity. Over against the contemporary view of the divine right of kings, Calvinism place the king under divine law and laid out his limitations. Over against the contemporary doctrine of the inherent inequality of men, Calvinism emphasized the inherent equality of all men before God. Thus was the church, by being the church, the instrument of social change.”

Oliver sees the Reformation very differently than many modern scholars. He sees positive social change resulting from the theological reformation. This doesn’t mean that the church continued to live up being the church. The Aristotelian ideal rose again with the rise of race-based slavery. Much of the church in America bears shame for endorsing, supporting or ignoring the realities of slavery.

He returns to Calvin and the doctrine of the lesser magistrate to protect people from tyrannical abuses. Calvin doesn’t recommend civil disobedience to remove tyranny. However, viewed from the perspective of religious authorities Calvin was viewed as an agitator, a seditious rebel who sought to subvert society. This is the lot of all who question the status quo

The church should be where there is association, understanding in increasing measure, agreement and harmony. We should be showing the world the way produced by the gospel which places us all on level ground. Applying our convictions in the voting booth would provide the larger societal change necessary. The church should be leading the way in example, and Christians shaping government.

Oliver shares a story from his life of being hungry while sitting in his car. He was a U.S. citizen with sufficient money to buy food. He was law-abiding, tax-paying and a pastor. Yet, he was unable to address his hunger despite smelling the aroma of tasty food in the air. As a black man, he was not permitted to enter those establishments and buy food.

Thankfully this is not the case today, but let’s not think the work is completed. There is more to do.

“We must not forget that the American Revolution did not destroy England. It only released the energies of a great people and enabled them to try the wings of nationhood.”

Oliver didn’t want to see America destroyed. He wants to see all its citizens released to expend their energies in the pursuit of liberty. Too many seem to want America to just burn, as though their version will be sin free. He warns against extremism, which is often born of finding one’s identity in race instead of in Christ. He wanted to see America come into full possession of its ideals rather than condemn the whole nation.

My Final Thoughts

This is an important book in many ways. I don’t agree with every jot and tittle but J. Herbert Oliver is generally spot on. He shows “how the Bible destroys the foundations of racism.” We need to hear this. I believe the gospel is the only message that enables us to move beyond the racial superiority that plagues just about every nation on earth. Worldly ideologies replace one form of superiority with another. White supremacy or sovereignty is replace by black supremacy or sovereignty. This merely perpetuates the problem. The gospel produces love, a consideration of the interests of others and self-denial. It produces forgiveness that breaks the cycle of reprisals and provocations.

This short book could have delved deeper into that, but it is a short book. It is a book that gets us moving in the right direction.

I find it odd that so many white Christians are so ignorant of black history. I did not grow up with “enlightened” parents. I did love stories which meant I watched movies, many of which touched on racial themes and some of them focused on historical events. I used to watch Sidney Pottier movies like In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (dealing with interracial romantic relationships. I watched movies like Mississippi Burning, Rosewood and more on the effects of racism.

My concern is that many who are just discovering this historical reality get swept up in unbiblical movements and agendas. This is a book that can point out the folly of departing from the Scriptures in looking for solutions to this problem.

Bavinck has begun the application of the redemption Christ accomplished for us in The Wonderful Works of God. Today we are looking at the wonderful work of justification (to be consistent with the title, not refute the WSC). He begins with a discussion of righteousness: “Righteousness is the justness which a person himself possesses and the just action which he does in relation to others.” God is ascribed righteousness for His inner disposition and works that flow from the inner disposition of justness. We declare His righteousness because it is revealed in the Scriptures. This righteousness of His is the foundation of all the laws given to His people. When thinking of His people, righteousness conforming to this law in our person and conduct.

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

We lack righteousness since the disobedience of Adam. We don’t have an inner disposition nor conduct that conforms to God’s law. This would not be a problem except that God, being righteous, will judge all of us by that standard and find us all guilty. This prompts the question that is both practical and existential: how can a man be righteous before God?


As we look at the Scripture we see that Noah was called righteous and blameless. Job is declared to be blameless before God by the narrator and God in response to Satan. The Psalms repeatedly refer to “the righteous”. These are people who fear God and look to God, who is righteous, for salvation. How can this be since there is none who is righteous, no one who does good?

Blamelessness is not moral perfection, but a moral integrity “which has its ground and source in a religious integrity, a righteousness of faith.” This is seen most clearly in the life of Abraham. Abraham believed God’s promise of offspring (this is connected to the promised Seed of the woman) and “it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15). Later after the failure with Hagar, God comes to His justified friend and tells Him to walk blamelessly before Him (Gen. 17). Justification precedes obedience or blamelessness. This is central to Paul’s argument in Romans.

Later, when Israel is in the wilderness after the exodus and about to enter the Promised Land, He reminds Israel that they are loved not for their righteousness or size but because God chose to love them and He will keep His covenant to them.

“The righteousness of God, consequently, to which a saintly Israel constantly appeals in it oppression is an appeal to that attribute according to which, by virtue of His covenant, the Lord is obligated to deliver His people from all their enemies.”

God confines Himself to His word by His covenant and character. His help is undeserved or gracious. Jesus comes as the embodiment of God’s grace. He heals the sick, raises the dead, casts out demons, proclaims the good news of the kingdom and even forgives sin. Salvation is described, in part, as living in this kingdom. It is a kingdom He qualifies us for by granting us the righteousness He has earned. Jesus confers all the benefits of the kingdom as the Messiah appointed by the Father.

After the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost the Apostles began to preach this message of the free justification of God through faith in Jesus as God’s Redeemer. This message comes to ungodly sinners, to the helpless, to His enemies. As we’ve seen in previous chapters, the law cannot make us righteous. It gives us knowledge of our sins and reveals that we are under the curse of God as a result. In this way the Law prepared the people for the Redeemer who was to come.


Justification is the gift of God, not accomplished by us through the works of the Law. Grace is the ground and cause of our justification. Righteousness and grace, Bavinck argues, are inter-related. We see something like Calvin’s secret justice from his sermons on Job. “In this the idea is contained that God, the God of justice, has in the gospel created another order of justice than that which obtained under the law.” (I’m not entirely sure what either of them means.) As a result, “the gospel is,…,at one and the same time an order of justice and an order of grace.” Put another way “justification is both a judicial and a gracious deed of God.”

Our justification is achieved by Christ in His atonement, and Jesus’ seamless satisfaction of the law’s demands. The works produced by the Christian after justification arise from faith and are still tainted by sin which is pardoned by Christ.

The righteousness that justifies can’t be had apart from Jesus because it is inseparable from Jesus. Jesus doesn’t give us isolated gifts, but gives us Himself and those gifts are in Him.

God is our Creator and has a rich relationship, a many-sided relationship, with His creation as the many metaphors indicate. They all contribute something to the rich intimate relationship we have with Him. Bavinck returns to the concept of law as written upon our hearts and that the covenant of works operating in the heart of man still. This relationship is not ended by the gospel but rather restored and fulfilled. So he returns to the law-gospel distinction.

“The difference between law and gospel is not that in the law God manifests Himself solely as Judge and in the gospel solely as Father. And even less can the difference between the law and the gospel be equated with the difference between the Old and the New Testament. For in the Old Testament, too, God revealed the gospel of His grace and mercy to His people Israel; the law stood in the service of the covenant of grace, it followed upon and it was subordinate to the promise …”

A Gracious Declaration

Justification is gracious as well as juridical. It is a declaration in which we are acquitted of guilt, freed from punishment and given the right to eternal life. For the Church of Rome, the claim is that the declaration must be based on our righteousness, not Christ’s or it is a “legal fiction.” Justification for Rome follows the impartation or infusion of righteousness through the sacraments. However God is just and the justifier of the ungodly who believe. No charges can be brought against them because Christ has died for them. So we see that this is a legal action of imputation. This declaration works on the consciousness of a person to free them from the sense of guilt.

He addresses the issue of “eternal justification”. In a sense, he says, our justification has taken place due to the decree of election. The work on which our justification is based and the election that means we receive it have taken place. But this does not mean that one is already justified until they come to fruition in conversion. This is the point in time in which God justifies on the basis of Christ’s justifying work on the basis of His election unto salvation.

The idea is that our justification is eternally certain due to the counsel of His will. Justification is possible because of the work of Christ for us. Justification occurs when one believes in Christ.

Justification and Sanctification Differentiated

They are not the same though they are both grounded in the same decree of election and work of Christ on our behalf. Eliminating the distinction between them once again sets up a “self-righteousness in man, and does injustice to the completeness and adequacy of the righteousness of God which has been manifested in Christ, change the gospel into a new law, robs the soul of man of its only comfort, and makes salvation depend upon human merits.”

Rome conflates justification and sanctification so that one cannot be justified unless they have been sanctified first. This reverses the order and roots justification in a combination of grace/faith and works. Neonomianism maintains that faith itself justifies, not through receiving the righteousness of Christ but by being the new law in a form of Arminianism. This makes faith a work of obedience which justifies.

It is not faith which justifies, but the object of saving faith Christ the Righteous One who was presented as a propitiation for our sin. Christ, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, is our righteousness, wisdom, sanctification and redemption. We receive them all in Christ, but they are not identical. He is the fount of many blessings.

Forgiveness and the Right to Eternal Life

These are two benefits that come to us in justification. They are related to one another and are connected to the passive and active obedience respectively. In the former Jesus removed the consequence of Adam’s disobedience. In the latter Jesus accomplished what Adam failed to do. We minimize forgiveness when we forget that we sin against God and God forgives us. Those who seek forgiveness outside of or apart from Christ come up empty.

Bavinck cautions against what is commonly called “once saved, always saved”. In such a view one is always saved by justification even if one doesn’t repent of known sins and may even stop believing in Christ. Unlike in Reformed Theology, justification is isolated from the other works of Christ. The persevering Christians appropriates forgiveness for the sins to enjoy the assurance and comfort of justification. In this way the truth keeps us humble, and we grow in gratitude. This is encouraged in the Lord’s Prayer in which we are to pray for forgiveness of our sins, and to forgive those committed against us.

The Puritans would address this in terms of our communion with Christ. Our status as God’s children through union with Christ never changes but our experience of communion or fellowship does grow or wane. When we don’t seek forgiveness emotional distance grows until we do confess our sins. Our experience/consciousness of justification continues though justification itself is a one-time declaration.

The Benefit of Justification

Justification provides a rich comfort for the Christian. Our justification does not depend our our holiness, or degree of holiness we achieve in this life. It is rooted in God’s grace manifested in the redemption of Christ. He alludes here, and other places, to the Heidelberg Catechism which indicates even the most holy of us make only a small beginning in obedience. True faith returns the guilty sinner to Christ the mercy of God manifested for forgiveness and cleansing from guilt and pollution.

We are, put another way, freed from the curse of the law not simply from sins committed before conversion but those committed after as well. We grow in our understanding and experience of this. We become more firmly rooted in Christ our redemption. The believer endeavors for renewed obedience establishing the law.

“We live out of faith and we act according to the law because we enjoy it according to the inward man.”

The world and the devil seek to rob us from this the enjoyment of justification. They accuse us of our sin, as though it is not pardoned. We hear that we cannot really be a Christian because we sin, as though our status was based on our obedience rather than Christ’s.

“The believer who is justified in Christ is the freest creature in the world. At least, so it ought to be.”

At times his treatment of justification is not as clear as I would have hoped. It is all there. At times it felt like “would you just get to the point?” It seemed too roundabout, the long way home. I thought, for instance, the Ryle’s treatment was more direct and clear. Bavinck’s was not quite biblical-theological and not quite systematic theological. Maybe that makes sense. Maybe not.

Bavinck has been moving through the work of Christ for our salvation, and that the Spirit applies the work to us in The Wonderful Works of God. In the next series of chapters Bavinck will address how the Spirit applies it and the great acts and works of God that produce salvation.

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

How does one actually come to faith and receive salvation? This the the subject of The Christian Calling. Perhaps this is not clear from the title but this is the calling of the Christian which includes the general call as well as the effectual call that results in faith and conversion.

Word and Spirit

He begins with the close connection between the Word and the Spirit, and the different ways this has been viewed by Christians.

The Pelagians believe that the preaching of the Word is sufficient in and of itself. Christianity is a doctrine and Jesus an example. Christianity becomes a new law.

Others, going by names like zealots, antinomian, enthusiasts or mystics, stress the role of the Spirit in conversion. They underplay the role of the Word. The Spirit works directly upon the hearts of men and women in conversion. Scripture remains unessential in living the life of a Christian. People ask of the Spirit for wisdom without looking to the Word for that wisdom. As the Christian withdraws from the Word he inevitably withdraws from Christ. The mystic unknowingly relies more on him or her self, and, Bavinck argues, develops into a rationalist.

For the Roman Church Word and Spirit are kept together, at least officially. Due to their affirmation of ecclesiastical tradition as equal to Scripture as the source of truth. Grace is not received by faith in what the Word says but through the sacraments.

The Reformation restored faith in the Word to its central place: the Spirit helps us believe the Word and receive Christ. Some of those who left Rome fell into the earlier heresies of Pelagianism, Arianism and mysticism. So the Reformers (and Rome) battled the Socinians and Anabaptists.

In Lutheranism, Bavinck argues, Word and Spirit are so united that they risk losing the distinction between them. The Spirit only comes by the Word.

The Reformed wanted to maintain the distinction between the Word and the Spirit without denying their interdependence in our conversion and consequent Christian life. The Spirit ordinarily works by the Word. The Westminster Confession of Faith makes room for extraordinary works by the Spirit for those who cannot understand the Word (elect infants dying in infancy or the developmentally disabled), and I would include those without access of the Word (for instance people in Muslim nations with no access to the Word or worship proclaiming the Word). Christ lives not in the Word (as in Lutheranism) but in the Church. The Spirit penetrates the deepest parts of us so we’ll believe the Word.

The Material Call or God Speaking Thru General Revelation

Having developed the relationship of the Spirit and the Word in our conversion, he moves to discuss the various callings of individuals. God makes use of the Word as a means. His Word accomplishes His purposes for it. God speaks in Word and creation (Psalm 19), and especially through His Son. We can understand because we are made in God’s image. God has also put the moral law on our hearts as a part of creation. After Adam’s sin, humankind lacked the power to keep this law.

Having covered this ground he moves into the “material call” which seems distinct from the external call in that it is creational and providential rather than through the proclamation of the Word. This is a call through general revelation, not special revelation. As such it is inadequate for salvation. Bavinck ties this to common grace. It is a preaching of the law which convicts.

“God does not leave man to himself, and man cannot get away from God.”

Bavinck indicates that this call while external and objective, it is also internal and subjective in that “it morally obligates each individual person to that revelation.” Through this call God curbs sin.

The Special Call

The material call, or general call, isn’t contrary to the special calling by the word of the gospel. They work in harmony with one another, complement one another.

In this context Bavinck discusses law and gospel as “two component parts”, not the Old and New Testament. They are distinguished but never separated. Both are woven through the whole of Scripture. The Law refers to the covenant of works, and the gospel refers to the covenant of grace.

“The covenant of grace is, however, not the discarding or annihilating, but rather the fulfilling, of the covenant of works.”

The law remains, not that we might earn salvation, but that we might know our sin, guilt and misery, in order that we might seek our refuge in Christ the law-keeper and curse-bearer. It also remains that we might know how to live in the newness of life Christ provides by His resurrection.

The material call, then, is connected to the covenant of works. The general and effectual calls are connected to the covenant of grace. The material or general call (he uses them interchangeably and it seems differently than the English Reformers) comes to all men and the special call (utilizing special revelation) comes in Christendom (where the gospel is known). These calls differ not in degree but in kind. One is by nature, and the other by the Word. The first communicates the law, and the second the gospel.

With 10 pages down and 15 more to go this seems like a very lot to say about the Christian calling.

The special call comes to people who are corrupted by sin and frequently object to its content. History tells us that God separates people. There are those who serve God through Christ and those who don’t. There is the distinction between the world and the church, but also the visible and invisible church.

“Not only is there a sharp contrast between church and world, but in the church there are thousands who indeed hearers of the word but are not doers of it.”

Some have tried to explain this by free will. They either teach a Pelagian free will untouched by sin, or a semi-Pelagian will restored by “prevenient grace” through a universal atonement. Bavinck affirms the counsel of God in election unto salvation. Destroying this for “free will” is a bridge too far for Bavinck. The differences among men are not accounting to the will of man, alone, but the counsel of God accomplished through the will of men. In all of this people have dispositions and previous decisions that affect them and their will. In this Bavinck brings us to the difference between the external and internal calling. Yes, this is seemingly different from the external calling he discusses which is found in the material call.

He doesn’t want to minimize the power and worth of the external call. Referring to the Canons of Dort, God “earnestly and seriously promises” eternal life to all who come to Him in faith. Because the promises of God are being rejected, resisting the external call has consequences in terms of increasing guilt. They reject the gospel because they still think they can, and want to, save themselves. The fault lies in them, not God, for their hard hearts which become increasingly hard.

“Christ who is the content of the gospel leaves no one in a neutral state: He brings a crisis, a judgment, a division of into the world, and by His word, which penetrates to the inmost being of man, He reveals the inclinations and thoughts of the heart.”

To explain the insufficiency of the external call Bavinck discusses the darkened mind of man, that we are slaves to sin as well as dead in sins and trespasses. The difference between the external and internal call is the operation of the Spirit in addition to the Word. This happens at the time of conversion since an elect person may hear the gospel many times before conversion.

“… the Reformed church confesses that when God carries out His good pleasure in the elect and works the true repentance in them, He not only has the gospel externally preached to them, and not only powerfully enlightens the mind through the Holy Spirit, in order that they may rightly understand and discriminate the things that are of the Spirit of God, but He also penetrates to the inner man with the powerful operation of the same regenerating Spirit.”


Bavinck takes an unexpected turn in all of this as he discusses regeneration. He talks about Hindus (he says “Indians”) and reincarnation. People are reborn as new people with new lives in accordance with karma rather than becoming a new creation via grace in Christ. Biblical regeneration grants us a renewed ability and desire to embrace Christ as He is presented to us in the gospel.

In the Old Testament regeneration is spoken of by “circumcision of the heart” so they are no longer stiff-necked. This is an act of God upon them. In the New Testament Paul speaks of the regeneration was washing by the Word. Regeneration creates a break with the old way of life, and the old ways of seeking salvation. The old mode of existence ends and spiritual life begins.

Saving Faith & Repentance

He shifts to a discussion of saving faith which includes an explanation of the the Parable of the Sower. Some have a historical faith: a moment they look back to in the past but no living faith in the present. Some have a superficial faith that gains no root in their heart. It is temporary. He calls another category the miraculous which isn’t about the reality of their faith but their focus on the miraculous whose life is choked out by the cares of the world since they never bear their cross. These are common grace gifts, not the gifts of saving faith. They are given to natural men, not spiritually reborn men.

Faith includes knowledge, for something must be believed, that is personal (it is about us and for us), profound, absorbing and practical. It is a knowledge that changes how one views life and lives life. It works in those who receive it, driving them to Christ. One receives Him, not just the the message.

“Historical faith stops at the external report and does not penetrate further. Temporal faith sees a certain beauty in the report, and delights in it, but really refuses acknowledgement to its real content and meaning. And the miraculous faith attaches oneself to the signs and wonders, but is essentially indifferent to the One who works them. … saving faith cannot leave us empty and fruitless.”

Saving faith seeks Jesus in the Word. The Spirit continues to reveal Christ to them in the Word. Apart from the Word we have no norm for testing any message or thought we have about Christ. We continue to need the Scripture

Repentance is part of the practical response of faith. The Lord sent His servants the prophets to call Israel to repentance: to turn from wickedness, trust in Him and walk in His ways as revealed in the Law. While some repented, some didn’t repent with their whole heart, and others didn’t even pretend to repent. The internal change of regeneration produces the external change of life. They were meant to go together.

As with Israel, the visible church has its share of false professors, strugglers and steadfast believers. To deal with the continuance of sin the sacrament of penance emerged. Repentance was externalized by the Roman Church. Faith and repentance were separated. Luther kept a separation between faith and repentance, according to Bavinck. As Luther expressed it repentance had regard to the Law, and faith came by way of the gospel. Reformed Theology connects both faith and repentance to the mercy of God revealed in Christ.

“We should not dare to turn around towards God if we did not trust inwardly in our souls through the Holy Spirit that as a Father He will accept our confession of sins and forgive us. The true repentance stands in inseparable connection with the true, saving faith.”

Faith and repentance are inevitably expressed by one who is reborn by the Spirit. They are distinct but inseparable fruits. A person cannot have one without the other. One of the practical realities is that having received this gift of spiritual, not simply eternal, life “we do away with the practice of judging others according to our puny measure.” Odd that he puts that in there, but alas ’tis true.

As a man in my 50s I have been talking about politics for quite some time. Thankfully there are moments when the discussion moves beyond particular policies and candidates to a discussion of theory. Everyone has a political theory, even if they can’t articulate it.

I took a poli-sci class in college. I’ve kept the text and looked at it periodically. As I consider it these days I realize that it failed to consider changes in theology and religion that shaped politics in Europe (in particular). Since I wasn’t a Christian then, it didn’t bother me. You shouldn’t think of the Tsars without taking into account they saw themselves as the new Caesars over a new holy “Roman” empire. There was the lengthy battle between Popes and kings throughout Europe. You can’t really understand Western politics without considering religion and its effects. You can’t neglect theology.

In the last decade the discussion of R2K has been going on. Honestly, I can’t seem to grasp what the R stands for. I’ve been meaning to read into that more but my hunch is that it may be a more Lutheran 2 kingdoms than a Calvinist 2 kingdoms view (both are dependent on Augustine’s work in The City of God).

I’ve wanted a book that develops a theology of government since I saw this as the main issue of the differences between my friends and myself. We need to look beneath the surface of the water instead of simply the part of the iceberg above the water (policy). Policy is still better than simply talking about the “character” of the candidates. Face it, they are all tremendously flawed. It is just more obvious in some.

David Innes, who teaches politics and government at The King’s College is a PCA teaching elder. He has written a recent book Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life. It is likely the textbook for his class and provides an introduction to a theology of government. As a textbook it does have vocabulary and study questions at the end of each chapter. I am in the process of adapting it into an adult SS class. This ought to indicate that I liked the book and found it helpful.

Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life

I really like the material Innes does cover. Perhaps that is simply because we seem to be on the same wavelength. He handles plenty of Scripture. In addition he injects plenty of theologians (Augustine, Calvin, Beza, Aquinas, Lewis et. al) and political theorists like Locke, Hobbes, de Touqueville and others. There is a breadth of resources that he uses. His goal is not to focus on American politics. This is not a book about the Constitution. Innes grew up in Canada so he observes our political struggles as something of an interested bystander (he may be a naturalized citizen now). He addresses some of our struggles, but is not focused on them. His goals are broader and bigger than that.

The weakness is what Innes doesn’t cover, or rather what he does not interact with. He does not interact with R2K (VanDrunen is listed in an appendix for additional reading). This would be a subject of particular interest within the Reformed community. This issue has caused division in some churches. Innes also doesn’t spend time with the Westminster Confession of Faith. Within our churches this is particularly helpful in discussing the relationship between church and state.

Innes does take a redemptive-historical approach. This means he looks at politics thru the theological grid of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. This means that government is not a result of the fall. It is clearly affected by the fall but not produced by the fall.

The Kingdom of God

Innes, like the Bible, begins with the Kingdom of God. We tend to think of the kingdom as coming with Christ but we see the kingdom in creation. God is the eternal king. He rules over all He created. The creation mandate indicates that Adam was tasked with “subduing and ruling” the earth. This is kingdom or governmental language. Adam was intended to be the vice-regent, ruling on God’s behalf and under His authority. The fall initiates the kingdoms of men who live in rebellion to God and His kingdom. There is the promise of the Seed who will ultimately come to redeem His people and re-establish the kingdom. He will reign at the Father’s right hand until all His enemies are brought beneath His feet.

“Politics is worth dying for, but not worth living for. The wise Christian is careful not to seek by political means what can be accomplished only by God through the Holy Spirit applying the work of Christ, and not, as theologians say, immanentize the eschaton.”

In that first section Innes focuses on Genesis 1 and 2. Even in the kingdom of creation there would be government to manage resources and activity to fulfill the creation mandate as humanity filled the earth. Someone has to be in charge. That’s government. In creation it would only have a positive function. These positive functions continue after the fall, but additional negative functions are added due to the sinfulness of humanity.

Innes notes that in his commentary on Genesis, Bruce Waltke differentiates between God’s universal and particular kingdoms. Bavinck saw something similar in the kingdom of power (or providence) and the kingdom of grace. God still rules over the kingdoms of men through providence and power. He reigns over His people through grace. Through that grace we are able to better fulfill the creation mandate. Our temptation is to try to accomplish our great hope through the kingdoms of men. The reality of the kingdom of God is necessary for us to understand the kingdoms of men in which we live.

The Authority of Government

Innes shifts to the nature of authority; the right to rule. Modern western political theory focuses on the consent of the governed: authority is granted by the people through elections. This is established in our Constitution, but it isn’t a biblical idea. “Authority is a person’s moral right to direct others.” All are equal since we are all made in the image of God. Yet, God also places some people in authority over others. We are not left to selfish chaos where might makes right aka anarchy. God continues to mediate His authority (by virtue of His being or essence) through human beings as an aspect of His providence.

Innes notes that this does not affirm the “divine right of kings”. The only form of government we find in Scripture is monarchy. Some may think this prescriptive, but outside of the theocracy of Israel it is only descriptive. Leaders are not only answerable to God but also to other magistrates. Innes briefly mentions the doctrine of the lesser magistrate here, which he develops further in a later chapter.

Innes then introduces Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty. “For the government of human affairs, he established authority in four separate, though not independently sovereign, spheres: individual, family, church, and political community- the personal, domestic, ecclesiastic, and civic sphere.” Individuals are self-governing in many ways: where they will work, live, what they wear and eat etc. There are decisions they make on their own that affect them. Families are governed by a parent or parents. Parents have authority over their families. Each family is self-governing. One family doesn’t rule another. Ecclesiastic authorities exercise government over the members of their churches in spiritual matters. Then there are civic authorities that enforce the law in a community. An individual is often a member of a family, may be a member of a church and is also under civic authority. David Koyzis notes that tyranny involves one sphere intruding into another without just cause. The tools for compliance differ between these spheres. Only the civil authority may place someone in prison or take their life. This is contrary to what we see in theocracies and the problem of honor killings by family members in some Muslim societies.

“Fathers do not depend on either the church or the state for their parental authority. It would be wrong for the state to license parents or for the local church to have a commissioning ceremony for new parents. Despite this teaching of both God and nature, modern governments have been eager to supplant fathers in housing, feeding, and educating their children.”

Roman Catholicism has a similar doctrine of subsidiary. But Catholicism has also struggled with whether to church should rule the state or the state rule the church. In Protestant countries the church has never been greater than the state.

Innes then moves into “The Romans 13 ‘Authority’ Problem”. He notes, paraphrasing Augustine, that “many governments resemble criminal organizations.” Yet, God does provide for government generally and governments in particular. Even unjust governments provide some good. In Life of Brian there is a great scene when the rebel leader asks “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Slowly members of the rebel group pipe up: roads, aqueducts, reduced crime… The world learned that even Sadaam Hussein provided some level of “good” over the anarchy into which Iraq devolved after his removal. A bad ruler is preferable to no ruler at all.

The Purpose of Government

God has instituted government for our good. He notes Rep. Barney Frank said, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” Frank neglected to mention that people choose to do things together with churches, families and other voluntary associations because he was essentially a statist (my addition to Innes’ observation). Innes looks at Romans 13 to see the purpose of government: to punish the wicked and reward the good. Our responsibility toward the government is to pay taxes and respect. Government is one of the ways God gains vengeance on the wicked (Romans 12-13) since it bears the sword. It is one way He governs us for our good.

“Indeed, politics may be defined as the shared life of liberty that involves ruling and being ruled in turn among equals from the common good: life, prosperity, piety, and morality- or, to speak more accurately, the protection of life and the conditions suitable for prosperity, piety, and moral flourishing.”

He then sorts through the “good”. It is unrelated to our fallen condition. It must be genuinely common. It must be something that people can’t do for themselves. This sounds like infrastructure. Yes, the very thing our nation seems to neglect for “goods” related to our fallen condition.

Milton Friedman, he notes, discusses three alternatives in how these goods are provided: private monopoly, public monopoly and regulation. Private monopolies put the power into the hands of a few people unrestricted by law. Public monopolies are owned by the government who alone can provide the goods. Utilities or goods can be provided by private companies with regulation. The importance of governmental regulation of infrastructure became apparent during the recent polar vortex that crippled Texas. Regulation need not be equated with control. Regulation can guard against our baser instincts (though can also be used to impede flourishing). Where I live there is a public monopoly on water in most of the city, a private but regulated monopoly on power and cable, and regulated oligopoly for internet. Friedman notes that the government may have the responsibility to care for those who can’t care for themeselves (and whose families can’t either). Private charity seems ill-equipped to cope with mental illness, natural disasters and pervasive poverty.

De Toqueville addressed poverty in Memoir on Pauperism which Innes quotes at length. Public charity is important in such cases. His focus is on temporary assistance, not permanent assistance, except in the worst of cases. Long-term assistance breeds a number of new miseries which we’ve seen in the war on poverty. It undermines human dignity. There is room for well-intended debate on these issues, and that is one of the roles of politics and elections.

In terms of goals of government due to the fall we get to praise and punishment. Peter addresses this in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Punishment of crimes may include sins that are also treated as crimes. Not all crimes are necessarily sins but most are applications of the moral law. The government may choose not to punish some violations of the moral law (adultery, abortion and sexual deviancy of which there are many). This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care or approves of how the government handles its penal code. The government should not exercise control of people’s inner life. He notes the thought crimes used by state to silence dissent in Orwell’s 1984, a problem that is arising as government tries to eliminate prejudice in the heart as well as public actions.

Punishing Evil

Having introduced the concept, Innes now devotes three chapters this role of government. There is a chapter on life and property, one on piety and morality, and a third on liberty. Moral formation begins in the home and most people don’t need the threat of governmental threats to not kill and steal. But we see murder, assault and theft which must be punished by the state or anarchy via blood feuds erupt (think the Hatfields and the McCoys or Roadhouse). When government steps back in its role, evil runs rampant and public trust evaporates as we’ve seen in the riots of recent years. The government can’t protect “everyone” because the police aren’t omnipresent and is wise to allow people to protect themselves within reason (responsible gun ownership, for instance). The government should take particular interest in protecting those who can’t protect themselves: widow, orphans, the poor. They have lost their natural protectors.

“Governmental protection of a woman’s purported right to choose abortion services is thus the most monstrous perversion of civil authority.”

When thinking of property he criticizes the notion of public ownership since people tend not to treat things well unless they own them. Some people are responsible to care for public property but too many aren’t. Biblically he mentions that we provide for ourselves and also help those who may be going through a difficult time and lack financial resources. This brings us back to how much charity should be private (dependent on generous hearts) and how much public (compulsory). When the state replaces the church, public charity essentially replaces private charity through higher tax burdens.

When government protects property rights it is protecting the conditions for prosperity. Government can’t provide prosperity (though it is often tempted to promise to) but only the conditions for prosperity. Economies do tend to do better with enforcing laws rather than governments trying to control economies. In free societies there is equality of opportunity. When equal of outcome becomes the norm there is less freedom, and fewer property rights as the government feels free to take more from some to give to others who may or may not actually combine their gifts with hard work to provide for themselves.

“Good people produce. Bad people plunder. And good government protects the producers from the plunderers.”

In terms of piety the government also provides the conditions for piety rather than enforcing piety. In the Old Testament false religion was punished but in the New Testament we see Christianity competing with legally sanctioned religions. God will address the pursuit of false religions. Good government enables people to live peaceful and pious lives.

With a state church, there is generally no freedom of worship or to worship as you believe the Scriptures teach if the state church disagrees. The other extreme which is growing more popular due to statism is the freedom from religion and the prevention of piety in the interests of the state. De Toqueville and the founding fathers believed that a religious people was necessary to maintain a free people. Innes notes the rise of civil religion which is not true religion but a counterfeit. Civil religion has fooled many into thinking this is a Christian country. We have been influenced by Christianity as a nation, but America is not in covenant with God and has free exercise of worship including non-Christian religions and cults. This is why government provides the opportunity for faithful observance but not the requirement of faithful observance. The gospel is more readily spread through civic friendship rather then enforce adherence to a faith.

People should also be free to practice the morality of their faith, or lack thereof, unless they impinge upon the rights of life and property of others. Pluralistic republics are not theocracies. There will be practices that we see as sinful which are permitted in society. Innes does argue that those sins often work against a good society: sexual immorality, drunkenness, and divorce to name a few destabilize families and therefore the social order of society. Godly people are right to want godly laws even as they recognize that laws don’t make people godly. A more moral society can function with less government. Wicked societies require larger government to police a people who lack internalized police.

“Government action cannot make people moral, but it can protect the conditions in which people most easily thrive morally.”

Innes begins to address liberty and the call of government to punish attacks on liberty. “Government by its nature restrains and controls. It is an ordering authority. But its mandate is not comprehensive. God did not ordain it to control everything for safety’s sake.” He notes that there are more options than life in the wild and the zoo.

Made in the image of God we were made for liberty under God’s law. As we mature we experience increasing liberty. Humanity, not government, is to subdue and rule. Liberty is not the highest good, or only good, but it certainly is an important good.

“… if (magistrates) wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk … they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance.John Calvin

Christ came to give us spiritual peace, restoring us to salvation and the kingdom of God. He restores us into God’s image so we can live as intended. Freedom is living within the confines of one’s nature, not outside it. Government is intended to protect the liberty of people, not infringe upon it.

This brings Innes into the concept of freedom itself. Freedom is self-government, not enslaved to the passions of the flesh. It includes the ability to order one’s affairs according to what is right and good. He lists four forms of liberty: national, public, private, and moral. National liberty is not being under the thumb of a foreign power. Public liberty is our self-government within community with one another. This means that liberty is not doing whatever your want when you want, unless you are on a deserted island.

“Moral liberty is also necessary for public liberty. Although someone can be morally free without living in public liberty, a people cannot enjoy public liberty (at least not for long) if they refuse to be morally free, that is, if they allow themselves to become slaves to their appetites and impulses.”

This is the problem our nation currently faces. Our lack of moral liberty has put our public liberty at risk.

Praising Good

This is admittedly a short chapter. Government should recognize those who do what is good. This requires that government recognize good, and approve of it. They can discern it from general revelation (natural law) as well as familiarizing themselves with special revelation. In Paul Robert’s painting “Justice Instructing the Judges” she points them to the Word of God.

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Paul Roberts: Justice Instructing the Judges

This does not that government is charged with doing the good. The people do it, and the government recognizes it. Innes postulates that “When government moves from praising the deed to providing the good, the good disappears and evils follows.” Government should excel in praising the good. This mean it publicizes it. More often that State of the Union addresses.

The Problem of Government and the Modern Solution

This chapter begins with trust and distrust. To live together we need trust: civic friendship. Where there is trust you feel safe. Where there is little or none people lock their doors. Innes quotes Aristotle, “When people are friends, they have no need of justice.” Justice involves neighbors, a shared life that doesn’t rest on love and mercy. Trust is essential to good government and politics. Trust is built when politicians keep promises. Trust is eroded when they don’t. The trust is also maintained when politicians are held accountable by the press and the electorate. When neither happens, a society is on the precipice. When there distrust of the media and the electoral process, like there is currently, any government is in a danger they have likely brought on themselves. When people trust government without qualification they are generally on the path to dictatorship and oppression.

“A free people know that government is necessary but also, by its very nature, dangerous.”

The political problem is expressed by Jesus in Matthew 20:25-28. It is people lording it over other people instead of serving them. In God’s kingdom the Son of Man serves by giving His life as a ransom for many. Earthly government needs restraint in addition to power. They exist in tension (just like freedom and safety). This is the political problem Innes refers to. He brings us from Lewis and Plato, Madison and Kuyper to explore some of this. The problem of selfishness must be addressed. He lays out four ways. 1. Suppress selfishness through moral training and the use of shame/honor. 2. Use noble lies to deceive self-interest. These lies make people more governable. He calls civil religion one of these noble lies. They are propaganda though. 3. Through moral reformation in the heart which is ultimately God’s great work of salvation. 4. Exploit selfishness instead of fight it. “Modern politics presupposes it, harnesses it, and turns it to public purposes.” It gains power by offering you “free stuff” without telling you the bill will eventually have to be paid. It offers you power at the expense of others who it claims have oppressed you.

Modern liberalism builds political life on a “rights-based conception of justice.” Hobbes introduced “natural right” which Locke pluralized. The Enlightenment also brought individualism. I, and my rights, became more important that us including you and your rights. This gave birth to “government by consent.” Innes describes a bit of a winding road which ends with Locke limited government. It is limited by the rights of the people excluding preference for faith or regulation of morals; limited by the laws; limited by consent granted through elections. Innes is critical of where this has brought us. We’ve been “reduced to an association of mere human-being-units who desire and choose.” He lays much of the blame on American Protestants who became seduced by individualism themselves. A breakdown in discipleship and covenantal thinking has gotten us to sell our birthright for a bowl of porridge. Liberalism turned out to be more like a cancer whose success destroys the body.

The Problem of Government and a Christian Response

At the end of the previous chapter he discusses a stronger ecclesiology and multigenerational discipleship are biblical and important to a vibrant church. In this chapter he speaks of Christian Republicanism. Older morality has been replaces by new cultural norms based on “radical, group-based egalitarianism”: racism, sexism, classism, and on and on. We must recall that governed and governing are sinners. Government should be limited by consent AND purpose. The restoration of God’s purposes will limit the power of government. The rule of law, seemingly on its last legs, must be restored. The constitution of a nation must not be a putty nose to make whatever the currently elites say is right.

Innes seeks to put forth a Christian doctrine of rights. These rights would be discerned from Scripture rather than simply asserted. They must be more than the post-modern will to power. A theology of rights begins with the image of God which includes the concept that we are more than individuals but made for community life, to sacrifice for one another. Liberty is to be used to fulfill the creation mandate. “True liberty is always in the service of vice-regency.”

“Moral rights direct how we ought to treat one another and what we may fairly expect from one another. Political rights restrict the sphere of government action with respect to the governed .. and specify in broad terms what service the government owes the governed, such as the protection of people’s lives against assaults from their neighbors.”

Justice must be objective and transcendent once again rather than an appeal to a voting block. What he doesn’t really say is how to get from here to there.

The Problem of Government: Submission and Resistance

Since government does not have absolute power, and can be unjust, the issue of submission and resistance must be addressed. Our default mode ought to be submission. Submission has to do with disagreement. You aren’t submitting if you agree with what should be done. But governments don’t always do what we want or like. Innes notes that this is the cross of self-denial applied to the political realm.

The issue for the Christian is not simply an unjust law, or one that permits unrighteousness. The issue for a Christian is a law that requires disobedience to Christ on the part of His people. The Scriptures have examples of people like Daniel and the Apostles who refused to obey laws that would cause them to violate their conscience. They disobeyed and were willing to endure the consequences. They were not advocating “resistance, riot, or revolution.” Augustine counseled indifference to whom ruled as long as they did not compel impiety or sin.

“God belongs to no particular nation, but owns all nations and judges them by his righteousness.”

As citizens of heaven, our allegiance to the earthly kingdom in which we live can cause conflicts. No earthly kingdom is God’s kingdom. Innes notes that laws do have moral content. Citizens and officeholders can’t ultimately separate their convictions from their actions and policy decisions. Christianity isn’t politics but you can’t necessarily separate it from politics. They are neither the same like the Erastians imagine, nor strictly separated as if we are gnostics.

Here Innes traces the development of the theory of the lesser or popular magistrate more fully. He begins with Calvin who agreed that popular rebellion is a denial of the faith. The Magdeburg Confession, a Lutheran document, developed the thoughts of Calvin into this doctrine of the lesser magistrate who has the responsibility to protect the people under his care from tyranny. Beza, Calvin’s successor, brought this more developed idea into Reformed thought. Innes applies this to the American Revolution in which the colonies had their own magistrates, and together had the Continental Congress, to represent them. The Revolution was not carried out by private individuals but these lesser magistrates, which is why it was often called the Presbyterian Revolution in England.

The Practice of Government: Citizenship and Statemanship

Innes addresses both side of the equation here. Citizens have responsibilities in practicing government. There is a moral component which is often neglected when we approach government as consumers. This is one of the issues today in our country. This is to live for oneself, not to live for the good of the nation. We shouldn’t vote what is best for ourselves but the nation. We should ask who will help the most people flourish and live godly lives. A good citizen will not go along with a wicked government, but there should be a willingness to submit to government and the law.

Statesmanship is a lost art. It was a major issue in the last 4 years. Trump was not a politician, but many were tired of the political status quo. While I think he was unusually effective, many longed for a return to statemanship and decorum in the office. He holds out Churchill and Reagan as examples of statesman. Churchill was not necessarily what we’d think since he could be abrasive. But he was persuasive. He sees the statesman as “principled, patriotic, prudent” as well.

In this context he addresses the “IvI Gap.” This is the gap between ideals and institutions, principles and practice. The good statesman used prudence to close that gap. Unwise officials think they can immediately close the gap. In this sense they put principle above people, doing damage to the republic in the process of fixing the problem.

This book doesn’t attempt to deal exhaustively with all these issues. It is an introduction. This means there are things you will wish he had spent more time fleshing out.

He does lay out a vision for a limited government that upholds the rule of law and provides the conditions for people to flourish. It is a moral government, and the citizens are moral. The Christian is not required to leave their faith at home, but acts in the earthly kingdom in a way consistent with their faith but without binding others to the practice of our faith. He provides a cogent apologetic for what I believe the Bible teaches us about the role and practice of government.

I was at a widow’s home. Her husband had died unexpectedly a year earlier and she had gotten around to downsizing. She asked me to go through his library and take anything I wanted or could give away. Among the books was Calvin’s Teaching on Job: Proclaiming the Incomprehensible God by Derek Thomas.

Calvin. Job. Derek Thomas. What’s not to love, especially since our community group was going through Job. So I kept it and began to read it.

The book is thick so it is easy to feel intimidated. Many pages are filled with end notes. This is because the book is Thomas’ Ph.D. dissertation. Some of those notes are lengthy and there are plenty of them. Some are in Latin or olde English. For instance, the brief introduction has 10 pages of end notes.

Being a dissertation, this book is not written on the popular level. There are no great stories to help the material connect. This is academic reading. It is worthwhile reading, but don’t expect it to be a breeze. Keep in mind this is Thomas analyzing Calvin’s 159 sermons on Job. For a more popular treatment by Thomas on Job there is a DVD series put out by Ligonier Ministries you may want to keep in mind.

The Book of Job, DVD

Those 159 sermons by Calvin were translated into English. Many years ago. They are in olde English. Thomas did not modernize them and they can be difficult to read but you get the hang of it after a while. Here is a sample:

“It is in that hee knoweth, that God dothe not euer punishe menne according to the measure of their sinnes, but hath his secrete judgementes, whereof he maketh not vs priuie, and therefore that it behoueth vs to wayte till he revuele unto vs for what cause he dothe this or that.”

Did you get that? You begin to pick up that a “v” is often a “u”, a “u” is a “v” and other patterns.

This passage hits the point of Calvin’s sermons. God has his secret judgments. He doesn’t tell us why we experience suffering when we do. We may have to wait until eternity to learn why. Like Job’s counselors we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. “Secret judgments” is never quite defined (or I missed it, which is possible). We need not think of it in terms of “judgment” but “decisions” or “decrees”. But then again …

“Also Gods iustice is knowne in his secret iudgments, when wee see God smite and torment such folke as had no notable faults in them, but rather they had some vertues in them.”

The issue seems to be the judgments of unknown cause. The sins are secret, hidden and not obvious. But we get ahead of ourselves.


In Thomas’ introduction he gives some background for the discussion that lays ahead. There have been numerous studies on Calvin’s view of providence but they seem to overlook his sermons. Those studies focus on the Institutes and his commentaries while bypassing the 159 sermons on Job (that’s an average of 4 per chapter by the way). Much of this, I imagine, is not of great interest to the average reader. But he does introduce the idea of “double justice” in the overview. He also introduces the incomprehensibility of God.

“What emerges in these sermons is a twofold inability to comprehend God, arising in the first place from metaphysical reasons of finitude and creatureliness, and in the second place from ethical culpability due to the Fall rendering man intellectually and morally unable to fulfill that role for which he was created.”

Calvin’s Understanding of the Book of Job

Thomas seeks to provide the historical setting for the sermons, discuss recent literature on the sermons and highlight the major theological and pastoral themes.

Six months before embarking on the series on Job in 1554, Servetus entered Geneva. He arrived at St. Pierre to hear Calvin preach. The events surrounding the execution of Servetus by the magistrate (Calvin was a witness for the prosecution, not the prosecution nor the judge) provided the long-awaited opportunity critics had wanted. In a letter to Bullinger he notes how this issue still plagued his relationship with the Council.

In 1552 the Libertines stirred up opposition to Calvin throughout the city. Calvin didn’t feel he could leave the city to attend a friend’s wedding. But the impending death of Farel was enough to get Calvin to travel. The Libertines, led by Ami Perrin, challenged the policy on ecclesiastical discipline. By July 1553 Calvin asked permission to resign, and was denied. In September some Libertines arrived at a worship service with arms, it was thought to seize the sacrament which Calvin (rightfully) refused to the excommunicated.

Throughout this period Calvin struggled with his health as well. His speech in 1553 was described as asthmatic. Struggling physically and emotionally. Job seemed like a good place to turn.

We also have sermons on Job from men like Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Aquinas. Thomas notes that it quickly becomes clear that Calvin was taking a different approach. He avoided an allegorical approach for a literal approach and focused on God’s providence. He wanted people to trust in the providence of God.

These sermons were recorded by Denis Raguenier, who was a professional stenographer. They were published in French in 1563, after the Massacre of Vassy in 1562, apparently to provide comfort to Protestants in France. The English translation appeared in 1574, having been translated by Arthur Golding. The English translation went through 4 editions in the first decade. It was outselling the Institutes in England.

Thomas briefly covers studies by T.F. Torrance, Richard Stauffer, Mary Potter Engel, and William Bouwsma. Calvin had a “running commentary” approach similar to the homilies of the Church Fathers. The themes that Thomas identifies include the image of God. Calvin differs from Aquinas in sin’s effect on the image. The image is damaged by Adam’s sin rather than just losing grace which was added to nature. He gets into the doctrine of revelation and the idea that God accommodates to our understanding when He speaks to us.

“For Calvin, providence is a belief that God overrules everything that happens. What happens may be beyond our ability to grasp and understand; the suddenness and complexity- the abyss of providence, even the seeming harshness of it, may call into question our assurance of God’s rule, but not the rule itself.”

Job is also a model of perseverance for us. Not all who suffer will persevere. There is a possibility of apostasy among professing Christians. God’s election guarantees that those so chosen will persevere. In trials the Christian battles their inner vices as well as outward sins. It also produces a longing for the eternal state.

The Incomprehensible Righteousness of God

It is common to focus on Job as a theodicy: a defense of God. This is different from a treatise on providence in the life of a man to instruct us all. As Thomas begins this subject he discusses Calvin’s relationship to the medieval era. He sums up the issue this way: “how can God’s righteousness be maintained in view of the fact that Job suffers as a ‘righteous’ man.” Calvin does not think Job sinless. Calvin does think Job has a good case. Calvin discusses the idea of “double justice” to make sense of this. There is a secret righteousness in God apart from the Law. This secret righteousness can find even angels unrighteous. I’m still trying to sort this out in my head. This is a distinctive of Calvin’s approach to Job.

The wager has to do with the basis of Job’s obedience. Satan says it is rooted in God’s blessing, which stripped will result in Job cursing God (as his wife encouraged him to do). This means that Job may sin during his trial without necessarily giving Satan the victory. Job’s afflictions are “unjust” in that they are not connected to a particular sin and are not punitive. Job’s friends hold to “instant retribution” whereby the wicked suffer in short order. As a result they stubbornly accuse Job of having sinned because he suffers. Calvin, with Job, rejects this notion. Calvin rejects perfectionism and instant retribution. He cites Augustine in arguing that the punishment of many sins awaits the final judgment. Many get away with their sins in this life. And many suffer despite not being notorious in sin (including one might think the poor, widows and orphans that Job is accused of exploiting and destroying by his friends). God does punish some now so we will trust in future judgment. Justice will come because it is an attribute of God.

We struggle when we view delays in justice as acquittal. We see, for instance, the elites and wealthy avoid punishment from the law. We have to leave the timing of His justice to His wisdom in governing not only those individuals and society.

In “double justice” there are two standards of justice: the Law and a higher, secret standard. This is highly speculative and seems to go contrary to Calvin’s use of Deuteronomy 29:29. He asserts it but doesn’t quite explain it. But is it something God has in fact revealed for us and our children? Calvin sees this in places like Job 4:18 during Eliphaz’s first speech. Since this includes angels it cannot simply be the difference between corruption and transgression. Because he sees it mentioned in Job he affirms it even if he can’t define that standard. One thought I had during reading was finite vs. infinite or Creator vs. creature distinction. Both would include the angels. Thomas seems to affirm this: “Their problem is ontological, not moral. Theirs is a liability to fall, apart from the beneficence of God. Their righteousness is not a se.”

Thomas then discusses Christ as the eternal mediator. This was a topic that occupied Calvin’s thoughts for some time including a response to Fancesco Stancaro. He was the lamb slain before the foundation of the world. But for Calvin this mediatorship was universal as well as eternal. It doesn’t seem sufficient since men and some angels still fell. He falls back on the doctrine of incomprehensibility just as he ultimately did with secret justice or righteousness. It is to that incomprehensibility that Thomas then turns.

The Incomprehensibility of God

Calvin seeks to walk the road between the ditches of rationalism and mysticism. Our true knowledge of God is rooted in His revelation. He seeks to avoid “theological triumphism” in advocating for a God beyond our comprehension. Our inability to comprehend God (who is infinite) is metaphysical (we are finite) and harmartological (we are sinners). In terms of the latter we suffer from the noetic effect of sin. For Calvin, the incomprehensibility of God is a primary message of Job.

In laying this out, Thomas discusses Luther and Aquinas’ disagreement on this subject. He then moves into the 1559 edition of the Institutes. Calvin raises the issue in discussing providence and prayer. He then moves into looking at Calvin’s Commentaries. Calvin reminds us to trust in the God who is more powerful than we can comprehend. In all this there is the revealed will of God (commands) and the secret will of God (His decree or counsel of His will). Thomas then sets out to “prove that Calvin makes the incomprehensibility of God not only a theme in the organic development of the sermons, but its unifying tenet.” Calvin begins with the very first sermon. God veils His secrets lest we become too bold. They caution us to shut our mouths lest we impugn God’s integrity with our speculative discourse like Job’s miserable counselors. This means that God AND His ways are incomprehensible to us.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11

Interpreting the Hand of God: Calvin’s Pastoral Understanding

Thomas then shifts more directly to Calvin’s pastoral concerns. Because God’s providence is incomprehensible to us, we can “misread” providence. Again, this is the problem with the miserable counselors- they misread God’s providence and continually accused Job. The Spirit must work in our hearts so our afflictions work God in us.

Calvin is consistently critical of Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar. On the other hand he is generally supportive of Zophar. Elihu does not view Job’s suffering as punitive but as pedagogical. God works to prompt repentance, dependence and prayer. “Afflictions are part of God’s ‘double means’ whereby he humbles us” despite being stirred up by Satan. Elihu, who shows up mysteriously, provides much of the benefit of Job for Calvin.

Suffering drives us to cry for more of God’s help, draw us to Him, tame us and teach us to pray. They can be our trials or another person’s. They can bring hidden sins to the surface. “Providence is proof of God’s interest.” For the person who believes this, the Spirit softens our hearts.

Thomas begins discussion of submission, meekness, patience, joy, prayer, self-denial (very important in Calvin’s understanding of the Christian life) and the spiritual battle that occupies us. There is lots of good interaction with Calvin here on these and other subjects.

Thomas brings us some eschatological concerns. Trials remind us that death is not far off by reminding us of the uncertainty of life. Death is nearer than it appears.

A Christological Focus?

Thomas then asks if Calvin has a Christ focus in his sermons on Job. His argument is that Calvin is not preoccupied with Christ. He keeps Job in the Old Testament and does not look for connections to Christ even when they seem obvious to many of us. Puckett and Battles argued that Calvin provided a middle way between the extremes of Jewish interpretation and the more Lutheran Christocentric interpretation.

Thomas discusses allegory, typology and prophecy. He rejected the Roman Catholic tendency to interpret the New through the Old. He also rejected the Anabaptist tendency to ignore the historical context of texts. Calvin did see that Christ was present in typology in much of the Old Testament. Christ as Mediator is present for the blessing of God’s people from the very beginning, prior to the Incarnation. He did reject allegory. “But for Calvin, the justification of typology rests just as much on the authority of Scripture itself.”

Thomas notes that Calvin only closes 17% of his sermons on Job with a christological focus. Some, he notes, are simply allusions of Christ. Calvin would fail the homeletics course in many seminaries today for not preaching Christ in each sermon from Job. He doesn’t ignore Christ or the New Testament. At times he uses the New Testament to shine some light on the Old. But this is neither dominant nor consistent in this sermon series.

“Calvin did view history in terms of divine providence, and this greatly affects his exegetical methodology. Additionally, he viewed God as accommodating himself in human words, an idea central to his entire interpretation of Job’s predicament. But whatever tensions may exist at points of detail, Calvin is primarily concerned to explain the text within the boundaries of historico-grammatical exegesis; the need to see Christ was given second place.”

Thomas notes that this was Calvin at the “peak of his powers”, not early in his career nor on his death bed. They are part of his mature thought. Calvin sticks to the text and the context of his congregation.


Since Calvin allowed the text to determine his homeletical emphasis, these sermons are primarily about God’s character. Job is about God’s providence which reveals the incomprehensible character of God. “For Calvin the very heart of godliness is submission to a God who cannot ultimately be fathomed.”

This was very interesting for a doctoral dissertation. As I noted earlier, the quotations in older English made it tougher.

I did find this helpful as I teach Job and that is ultimately what matters.

Perhaps you are like me and are suffering from political fatigue. Politics interests you but the way in which politics is discussed, particularly on social media, has you weary and discouraged. You can feel barraged, attacked, by people who are more liberal AND more conservative than you are. You may feel condemned in this new age of the cancel culture for how you voted even if you didn’t vote that way for the reasons the accuser alleges.

What I mean is that people vote the way they vote for complex reasons. Media, and often our own minds, want to simplify those reasons. People assume why you voted the way you voted instead of asking why you voted the way you voted (in this video I discuss why people vote the way they do from Jonathan Haidt on the subject).

As I told a friend at lunch the other day, I’m feeling pretty defensive these days. I’m weary of people putting me in a box I wouldn’t put myself in.

Part of that fatigue means that for my own sanity’s sake I’ve greatly reduced my intake of news and talk radio. This may come into play later in this attempt to process how to do this better and particularly in line with my Christian faith. Sadly, many seem to leave their faith behind in how they use social media. They may argue for Christian values in a very unChristian way. Let the truth drive people away, not the lack of love revealed in your argument.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1

Jesus Cares About Your Words

Scripture is filled with warnings about our words. We find such warnings in Proverbs (particularly reckless words, complaining, boasting etc.). In Numbers we see that murmuring against Moses was murmuring against God as well. The issue was not that Moses has been unjust or wicked, but that the preferences of the people were not met. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus warns us about words that come from angry hearts. We will be held accountable for those words we say not only in person but online. James reminds us that the tongue that isn’t bridled can set fires and burn down churches, families and neighborhoods.

19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10

Words do have a context. I may joke with someone in a way that I should not speak in anger. I can use words in a private conversation that I wouldn’t use in a public conversation. I speak with my closest friends in ways I would not and should not on Facebook (I’m not on other media except greatly neglected LinkedIn) or in a sermon. The words I’m focused on are the words we use, particularly about other people, on social media. Words that are abusive or slanderous.

Jesus Cares About Your Heart

Words come from your heart, they are part of the overflow. This is why we are to guard our hearts. The words you use reveal the condition of your heart. Those words also reveal something of the purposes of our hearts as we interact with others on social media.

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12

Jesus holds us accountable for the purposes of our hearts just as much as for our words. The reality of grace should not lead to social media license. Discipleship matters in church life and public life. Discipleship matters in social media as a form of church life and public life. We are called to speak the truth in love. We are not called to simply speak the truth. We are not called to simply speak in love. We are to speak the truth in love. There is strength and tenderness. Our purpose leads me into the first question we should ask ourselves when we go beyond pictures of kittens and our favorite music on social media. These should not only help with politics but other controversies.

Ask: Why Am I Posting This?

We can engage in discussion on social media about politics or other matters of interest for a variety of reasons. Much of where we go wrong is right here. We don’t stop and wonder why we are posting something or why we are responding to a person. Some of our motives can be just plain wrong, others mixed and others noble.

“I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take it anymore!”

In the movie Network the anchor loses it and wants his equally fed up audience to scream this out their windows. Many of us use social media as our window to express our frustration and outrage about the things that frustrate us. This is dangerous. In our anger our tongues are not bridled and we resort to name-calling, can bear false witness (often we are imputing motives to people which are accusations of sin) and alienate people. You may be right (truth) but there is no love and so you won’t build people up. You will just divide people. And you often know that some of those people are fellow Christians. You are breaking the bond of peace not by the truth but how you communicate it. (In the Matthew quote Jesus is rendering a vivid judicial assessment which we are incapable of doing.)

“This Breaks My Heart”

The motive is lament rather than angry tirade. It addresses the impact of something on you and our culture. This is safer. It can morph into angry tirade when someone challenges you, but there is a place to express the truth in love. The other day I lamented the firing of an official in the EEOC who valued religious freedom as we are close to seeing the Equality Act passed, which many believe will erode or destroy religious freedom. I lamented, in just a few words. I could have easily gone on the attack and spewed hatred toward those who vote for this Act, the administration that promised to sign it, etc. I would have unnecessarily alienated those who disagree with me about the Act. I think that in our pluralistic society we can guard both the rights of what are now called sexual minorities and the rights of religions to hold to and act upon their theological and moral beliefs in their voluntary association (we don’t have a state church and if you don’t believe something you don’t have to worship there or work there). The focus is on the policy, not the people. The policy isn’t an opportunity to trash the people.

“Come, Let Us Reason Together.”

We can desire honest discussion. This is a good thing in and of itself. Just as important is the manner in which it is carried out. This means you don’t just want to explain but also to understand. If we are honest that last part is not always on the agenda. We want THEM to understand us. When you feel misunderstood you will be tempted to lash out. A good discussion can quickly be hijacked by a few poorly chosen words that take it to another level.

James reminds us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” If you really want to understand, you will listen. You will ask questions. You will use those questions to explore reasons behind the other person’s view. In order to make any serious progress you need to explore presuppositions and assumptions. This is a bigger investment of time and energy than “I want you to understand what I think.”

Those questions will help you sort out the basic assumptions made. This helps you to realize where your arguments need to be made- their foundational views. When we don’t grasp their assumptions we often argue past each other. We are not arguing in the same universe; we aren’t talking to each other. We become like Job and his friends who went around in meaningless circles because they saw the world in very different ways.

Feelings get hurt quickly when “I want you to understand” hides behind “let’s reason together.” Don’t fool yourself. Do you really want a give and take?

If you do, leave the straw men at the door. Make sure that your expression of their views actually represents their views. Criticize arguments rather than people.

When you seek to understand you may find that you misunderstood. It can be humbling. Don’t run from that.

“Building Others Up”

This is different than wanting you to understand me. This is connecting people to truth in a loving fashion so they can grow. It’s what I’m hoping to do with this blog post. It might include politics but is generally more about the impact of faith on politics, morality or some other matter.

Additional Cautions

In this day we need to be careful of our sources. With the multiplication of “media” outlets and opinions some of them are deceptive. They can speak to your concerns and suck you into what is really dangerous stuff. I’m talking about shadowy groups. Many well-intended people have been sucked into groups like QAnon. They are like parasites that suck the life out of you. When you use such questionable sources you lose credibility.

I avoid the “discernment” blogs for this reason as well. They are people with axes to grind and they often see their victims in the worst possible light. We see this in the church and with theology. There are political blogs that are similarly partisan and see others in the worst possible light.

In a world of partisan mainstream media it is increasingly hard to find the truth in the public square. I have admittedly become quite skeptical these days. This tempts us to enter the echo chamber, to find media sources that confirm our biases. If a source has been saying “Hillary will be arrested next week” for a few years, or kept banging “Russian collusion” down your throat you may want to avoid it or verify it with other sources that don’t drink from the same stream. If that is the only source reporting it, reader beware.

On the flip side, don’t accuse others of being in an echo chamber unless you actually know they are in one. You can shut down conversation with this. You can damage relationships with this. Ask about their sources. One time I was accused of this when I was still listening to NPR, and would watch CNN and MSNBC while at the gym. Not quite a Republican echo chamber.

When in doubt, offer questions, not accusations. Generally speaking, offer questions, not accusations. Don’t assume the worst about them, let them prove it. Don’t put words in their mouths.

If you aren’t sure if you should post it, don’t. There are many times I haven’t posted, and some posts I wish I hadn’t. This is especially true when you are angry. “Be angry and sin not” is difficult for us. We frequently sin in our anger. Unloading on someone is sinning in your anger.

26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4

Our faith should affect our use of social media. It shouldn’t be left at the door even if we aren’t talking about our faith. Just as our faith should inform our politics it should impact how we talk about politics. We begin to exercise relational wisdom: awareness of God, others and self.

Epiphany (noun)

  1. (initial capital letter) a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi;

2. Twelfth-day.an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.

3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

4. a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight.

I had an epiphany at community group last night. We were studying Job, but I had a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality of Job, and much of life lately.

I recommended we study Job in light of all that was going on in 2020. As we’ve gone through the rounds of debate between Job and his friends that revealed they were miserable counselors I felt stuck. So much felt hauntingly familiar. It was dredging up a host of previous situations.

My brain was churning to put it all together, to make more sense of it. But as I said, I was stuck. I felt like my leadership of the group was mediocre at best.

Christopher Ash talks about the Scheme that Job’s friends held to. It can be described as a mechanistic view of God and the world. God is just and so sinners suffer the (immediate) consequence of their sin. Job is suffering, therefore Job has sinned.

Ash is right, as far as he goes. But I felt like this was not getting far enough or deep enough. Something was missing. I felt like I was just repeating myself. In a sense Job’s counselors were too.

Last night we began the 3rd and final round of this debate, focusing on Eliphaz and Job. I forgot my study guide at the office so I had to “wing it”. Suddenly as we were talking it all fell into place. I had a gestalt moment and the mental sluggishness fell away. The context of the text made more sense as we discussed it. I want to stress “we”. In the course of our discussion the pieces fell into place.

On the surface this debate is like this:

Job’s “friends”: You are suffering because you are a sinner. Repent and it might end.

Job: I didn’t sin. Not all who suffer have sinned.


The narrator and those who read it know that Job is right. He is blameless, fears God and turns away from evil. But the friends just keep fortifying their arguments and get increasingly harsh with Job accusing him of increasingly wicked actions. In this third exchange Eliphaz accuses Job of exploiting the “least of these”, the must vulnerable or the widows, orphans and poor. Though a “great man” who is supposed to care for them, they say (without any evidence) he has neglected, exploited and destroyed them. The evidence, in their minds, is his suffering.

Suddenly, I got it. I’ve felt not just the escalation of disagreement found here, but also the sense of being in a different universe. In their universe Job is all to blame. In Job’s universe, God has brought this without cause. Their debate is not going anywhere because they have different presuppositions about life. Job’s universe had room for unjust suffering. Suffering can be at the hands of the wicked. He has experienced both moral evil (the Sabeans and Chaldeans robbed him) and “natural evil” (wind and lightning storms destroyed his property and killed his kids). Suffering can have redemptive or purifying purposes, not simply punitive purposes.

On a deeper level, Job’s friends are operating and arguing on the basis of the covenant of works. Job is operating and arguing on the basis of the covenant of grace. They are in different universes. These universes have different operating systems and this is why the debate stalls and gets more entrenched much like in WWI. In WWI the conflict stalled, trenches were dug and for years the front essentially didn’t change despite the loss of so many lives.

I’ve been in so many of these conflicts in recent years. People get entrenched and don’t evaluate the presuppositions driving their position. In this case they were not arguing the finer points of theology but a basic, foundational point. There was no common ground to be found because they had different operating systems or different lenses through which to interpret life.

Reading Meaning Into Suffering: Job's Friends and the Limits of Proverbial  Wisdom | by Jason Stephens | Medium

Ash and our study guide note that for Job to concede would be to fall into the Satan’s premise in chapters 1 & 2. Job doesn’t recognize this, but he won’t budge because he absolutely believes they are wrong. They are unwittingly the mouthpieces of the Satan, just as the Sabeans and Chaldeans were his instruments earlier. William Gurnall, in The Christian in Complete Armor, reminds us from Paul that our struggle is not between flesh and blood. That is the enemy you see, but not the real Enemy.

The light burned brighter, so to speak. If Job loses his faith and life by conceding so do his friends. In their minds they can’t be wrong. To be wrong about Job is to be wrong about God, life, the universe and everything. Their whole world view would shatter. They would move in one of two directions.

They could move toward truth via faith and repentance. Larry Crabb, who recently passed away, addresses this in Finding God and Shattered Dreams. Conversion is, in part, God dismantling your world view so you begin to adopt a biblical world view. God brings you from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace. Even as Christians, we can still reason along the lines of the covenant of works, and there are circumstances that help us to see we are the elder brother so we repent.

But not all convert. Some fall into despair. Job’s friends don’t want to be wrong because they don’t want to be in Job’s shoes: suffering without cause. They don’t grasp the glory of grace, they see only a God who doesn’t to control things and moral chaos as the option. They don’t see that God is in control, but that His providence is mysterious to us because His purposes are more complex than simply punishing the wicked.

I likened it to Les Miserables. Javert is the epitome of the covenant of works. People don’t change. Once a criminal, always a criminal and Jean Valjean is a criminal. Javert hounds him. He is Ahab and Jean Valjean is his white whale who must be destroyed.

And then Jean Valjean saves Javert’s life. He is not the man Javert thought he was. He lived in the covenant of grace which made no sense to Javert. But Javert can’t escape the fact that he was wrong. He is filled with despair. Instead of arresting the man who saved him, he throws himself into the canals of Paris to drown.

What we can all learn from Inspector Javert | Salt + Light Media

Job’s miserable counselors are in the midst of a similar existential crisis. If Job is right they can’t face the consequences. They have been not simply wrong but wicked. Eventually God will catch up with them. They can’t face this possibility. They don’t want to move from the universe they currently exist in for the one Job lives in. So they angrily press their flawed argument.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment.[1] It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.” Wikipedia

When you have that sense of being gaslit, this can be what is happening. You may live in one universe and they live in another. They may not be lying to you (as in gaslighting), they may sincerely believe what they are saying. But you begin to question your memory, perception and judgment because you are told it’s all your fault (the message of the miserable counselors). This is a result of different operating systems. You have to examine your operating system to make sure you are seeing life accurately. Are you viewing life through a secular or biblical world view? On the basis of the covenant of works (must you hide your fault) or the covenant of grace (can you own your fault)? Is God trying to explode the box you’ve tried to put Him in or the one they’ve put Him in? Are you Job or one of his miserable counselors? Either way, they both needed Jesus.

In Job this third round peters out. When you realize you live in two different universes and neither changes, it really makes no point to continue. It is a waste of time and destroys relationships (which is unavoidable if one plays accuser of the brethren). It only begins to be profitable if you begin to address the differences in universes, world views, the character of God and presuppositions. Just don’t keep treading over the same old ground, time after time.

As we continue in Bavinck’s The Wonderful Works of God he continues with the works of Christ in His exaltation with a chapter on the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift was promised to God’s people in the OT as part of the (re)new(ed) covenant and was given to the Church on Pentecost for the application of the redemption Christ accomplished in His humiliation.

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

It is important to keep in mind that Bavinck is addressing the economic Trinity not the ontological Trinity. The context is the gift of the Spirit from Christ as part of our salvation. There are some statements here that would be woefully misunderstood if we removed them from that context. We would do a disservice to the honor and glory of the Spirit.

In the economic Trinity the Father blesses and empowers the Son by the Spirit to accomplish the work of His earthly ministry. The Son earns the gift of the Spirit for us as our Mediator. The Spirit places Himself at the disposal of the Son. It is through the Spirit that “Christ gives of Himself and His benefits to the church.”

The Spirit leads the church into truth and pours the love of the Father into our hearts. The Spirit works in the world to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Bavinck then addresses, briefly, the question of the sign gifts. He ties those gifts to the early period of the disciples. He notes that the example of tongues in Acts 2 is a miracle of speech rather than a miracle of hearing. This differs from Corinth because those tongues aren’t understood unless there is an interpretation. God is not, in that instance, addressing people in their native language. These gifts do indicate that a great event has taken place. “They were necessary in that first period to provide entrance for the Christian confession in the world.” They were to be exercised in love for the benefit of others rather than for the exaltation of self. This is for all the gifts which are differentiated but all come from the same Spirit, distributed according to the will of the Spirit. All the gifts should help us to confess and understand that ‘Jesus is Lord’.

Through the Spirit both the Father and the Son dwell in Christ’s disciples. By the indwelling Spirit the mutually indwelling God dwells in us. Through the Spirit the Church has fellowship with Christ, and is held together in one body.

“There is no sharing in the benefits of Christ unless we share in His person, for the benefits are not to be separated from the person.”

This sounds just like Calvin and a host of other Reformed theologians. And we have Christ through the Spirit. So the Spirit mediates both the presence of Christ and His benefits. These benefits are not given to us by a pope, a priest or a sacrament but the Spirit. “In Him the Father turns His friendly, gracious face to us, and that is all our salvation.”

This salvation is a fullness that can never be exhausted because it is received with Christ. Bavinck speaks of the “fulness (sic) of grace in His living and dying”, “in His resurrection”, “in His ascension”, “in His intercession” “unto forgiveness, regeneration, renewal, comfort, preservation, leading, sanctification and glorification.” Christ is full of grace and truth and He gives them to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Some of this grace prepares us for the covenant of grace by granting us a willing heart in “calling, regeneration, faith and repentance.” There are benefits the Spirit brings that involve a change of status: “justification, forgiveness of sins, adoption as children…”. There are graces that change us and renew us in the image of God. Bavinck will explore these in subsequent chapters.

I feel like there was more to be said here. While what was said was profitable there is a sense that something is missing, that he moved on too quickly. As he addresses those changes in status and condition, he may develop the role of the Spirit in them more clearly and thoroughly than here.

Considering Mark 10:45

This is our congregation’s verse of the month for memorization and meditation.

45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10

The context of this verse was the sons of Thunder rumbling with a request to the the best seats when Jesus sits on the throne to judge the tribes of Israel (see the parallel passage of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:28). The disciples seem to think that when Jesus gets to Jerusalem the work of judgment will begin. They couldn’t be much farther from the truth as it turns out. Jesus returns to the work of Messiah in His earthly ministry.

The greatest in the kingdom is the one who serves according to Jesus (vv. 43-44). It is the one who puts aside his/her will for the will of God and the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). The disciples might think that the Son of Man is exempt from this.

Even the Son of Man” is how Jesus begins this statement. The Son of Man, Himself, was not exempt from this but will actually be the greatest example of service. Jesus serves His people. Even Jesus.

Caesar wouldn’t think of serving his people. They existed to serve him. He had any number of servants to clothe him, feed him, clean the palace, fight in his armies, provide resources for the empire and on and on. Caesar wouldn’t wait on tables as the word to serve indicates. He wouldn’t be a slave to all.

Jesus, on the other hand, don’t equate greatness or dignity with being served. The Son of Man came to serve, not be served.

The form His service takes is paying a ransom.

He didn’t pay that ransom with gold or silver. He’d pay that ransom with His life; His blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). He service was His death, or should I say culminated in His death. He served in many ways before that: teaching, healing, casting out demons, providing food, saving people from storms.

Paul follows this line of thought in Philippians 2 as well. He became as a slave and was obedient even to death, death on a cross.

No one forced this out of Him; He gave it.

Ransom: the price paid for the release of a slave, prisoner or debtor.

We were slaves to sin, prisoners on death row because our life was forfeit, and have an incalculable debt. Jesus paid it. There are no more sacrifices left for sin. Faith embrace Christ and His sacrifice as paying our debt in full. It rests in that payment instead of trying to add more.

WSC Question 86: What is faith in Jesus Christ?
Answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

WSC Question 87: What is repentance unto life?
Answer: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

This ransom doesn’t feel necessary or important unless you feel a sense of your slavery, debt or recognize you are on death row. This is not something we can conjure up. It is something the Spirit works in us when we hear the law which can only be alleviated by the Gospel. People generally fight a sense of guilt. We don’t want to feel guilty. If we do we try to talk ourselves out of it. We can be fighting the work of the Spirit intending to draw us to Christ. Submit to the work of the Spirit revealing your never-ending need for Christ as you read the Word and your sin is exposed.

The Green Mile Photo: Dead man walking | Dead man walking, Miles movie,  Mottos to live by

“… a ransom for many.” Many stumble over this. It is a text that figures into the debate over the intent and extent of the atonement: for whom did Jesus die? In rabbinic usage it refers to the elect of God, His eschatological people. This would be consistent with what we find in John as Jesus lays down His life for His sheep (10), those who were given to Him. There are particular people in view, a definite intent.

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.