Archive for January, 2016

In his chapter on Local Knowledge in The Imperfect Pastor, Zack Eswine uses the unusual phrase “the gospel waltz”. He is talking about theological culture of your congregation before they got there. This could be when you arrive to a new congregation, but it is also seen when a new person shows up. I found his concept helpful, even if the phrase didn’t quite connect.

The waltz speaks of “three movements in gospel life:

  • confessing our mess (sinning and being sinned against),

  • receiving Christ’s love (turning to Jesus as forgiven and dearly loved children),

  • walking his paths (conforming our lives to obediently following Jesus).

Eswine notes that individuals, and congregations, can miss steps. As a result their whole theological perspective is warped. One of the results is that they avoid talk about the movement they have not embraced. He notes that congregations have various two-step emphases. Conflict revolves around the third. This helps shape the pastor’s teaching and personal ministry.

  • Some are trying to confess and walk without receiving. These folks work hard. They frown on grace, joy and rest. When you talk of grace, they get concerned about you.

  • Some are trying to receive and walk without confessing. These folks stay strong. They frown on appearing needy for forgiveness or imperfect. So when you talk about humility, sharing burdens, feeling emotions, and not trying to keep up appearances, they get concerned about you.

  • Some are trying to confess and receive without walking. These folks want to relax. They frown on obedience. When you talk about the change in direction that Jesus’ grace makes upon our actions and way of life, they get concerned about you.

Their concerns are well worth noting. This gives direction to pastoral ministry. It may not necessarily make it easier. Note the sanctification debate in Reformed circles a few years ago. The “grace guys” were leaving out the 3rd movement (in my opinion). They were reacting against those who left out the first movement. Leaving out either of these three movements leaves your Christian, or gospel, life unbalanced, distorted and less fruitful than it should be.

It is important to note that you, as a pastor or layperson, have a default. There is one you tend to neglect.

mushroom cloudI have found that congregations are generally concerned if the pastor confesses his mess. There are sins a pastor can confess publicly, like impatience. Generally people don’t want to know that their pastor struggles with the same kinds of sins they do: lust, greed, profound self-centeredness etc. Sin stays underground. There it can fester until it eventually explodes in a huge mess.

The other night a member and I were commiserating that as a congregation we weren’t very vulnerable. This is not just about sin, but also burdens. I find that people have been struggling with horrible things but not reached out for help. I have to help us put all these things together: confess, receive and walk. The gospel is our only hope in this. We need to see the goodwill of God toward sinners so we confess; the sufficiency of Christ so we receive His fullness; and the power of the new life the gospel produces so we can walk in a manner pleasing to Him (though imperfectly).

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A while ago one of the admissions guys from our denominational seminary was in town and stopped by. We talked for awhile. A short time later a book arrived in the mail. It was The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine. As a result I read it while on study leave.

I am reminded of the story of Elisha hounding Elijah because he knew it was time for Elijah to “go home”. He asked for a double portion (the firstborn son’s inheritance). As I read this book I got the impression that he is the new Eugene Peterson. This is about the man in ministry and how he goes about ministry. It is not ivory tower theory, but born of the intersection of theology and life.

I am also reminded of the great men in Scripture who thought they would be great on their own terms, and then God humbled them and they became more useful. Zack is not the hero of this story, and neither are we. This is an honest book about the hard lessons he learned.

This is not a “perfect book”, and that is perfectly fine. There is plenty here to encourage, humble and re-direct. He breaks the book into 4 sections: Calling, Temptations, Reshaping the Inner Life and Reshaping the Work. There is an element of who the reader is that impacts how any book is perceived. For me the lag was in the 3rd section. In some ways though I suspect he could make a cottage industry of this with the Imperfect Husband, the Imperfect Father ….. precisely because this material does apply to all of these callings.

“My pastoral desires had become tainted, and I did not realize it. A lot of us don’t. We and our congregations suffer for it.”

The main part I took away from the first section on calling is the intersection of God’s calling and our past. Our history is important because we don’t just shake it off. It comes with us into our calling, and makes our fulfilling that calling more difficult. Our history shapes who we are (grace does too), often in ways we cannot or do not perceive. The more we ignore our history, the more it will impact how we do ministry.

The temptations pastors face, and are sometimes thrust upon them as demands, are important. In this section he has something of a mantra: “You and I were never meant to repent for not ___________. You and I are meant to repent because we tried to be.” His issue is our attempt to be like God, not in terms of His communicable attributes but in terms of His incommunicable attributes. We want to be everywhere (and at the right time), able to fix everything, knowing everything and that everything can happen NOW. Here he quotes Eugene Peterson:

“I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience.”

luke-face-dark-side-caveThese temptations are part of the context of fulfilling our calling. We cannot avoid these temptations, but must face them much like Luke Skywalker has to face the temptations of the dark side. Except this doesn’t happen in a cave, but in the course of ministry.

“When Jesus begins to rescue us from trying to fix it all, know it all, be everywhere for all as fast and as famously as possible, we find ourselves in a hard spot.”

The 3rd section sounds like it has been greatly influenced by The Contemplative Pastor. He encourages speaking less and listening more (James 1:19). There will be a time to speak, but first we must listen. This is made even more difficult in the social media/sound bite world we live in. He offers three thoughts for other pastors for us to ponder in our “detox”.

  1. The boundaries of your calling reveal God’s pastoral care for you. He knows our limitations and capacities, precisely because He gave them to you. He doesn’t expect you to go beyond those limitations. Respect them.
  2. In trying so hard not to miss out, you actually create the thing you fear. Too many pastors are so busy going to conferences that they miss out on their actual calling. I’m not called to go to conferences, but to shepherd people.
  3. Smaller is always better than larger unless, and only if, God extrudes us. I’ve only been a small church pastor. I see some larger church pastors struggling to actually shepherd. They are teachers (and there are times I wish I was primarily a teaching/preaching “pastor”). God does put some people in these larger contexts, but we have to resist the selfish ambition that claws for them, always looking for the next, better & bigger position instead of shepherding the people where you are.

“When the three-fold omni-temptation to be like God takes hold of us with speed, we gradually turn to the Bible as a tool kit to make our programs work or our sermons applaudable rather than as the words of our Beloved meant to help anyone anywhere find the way home.”

The last two chapters, Local Knowledge and Leadership, are among the high points of the book. Ministry does not happen in a vacuum, but in a real place which is different from other real places. So he talks about how to grow in knowledge of your place (made more difficult with the internet which helps us know about every other place). Leadership takes a slower pace, more intentional and contemplative, including training. I’ve done some of this in training- the idea of shadowing and attending meetings to see how the guy fits in and approaches things. I can do more.

So, the bottom line is that I highly recommend this book to pastors and elders. The pastor cannot change the local culture and expectations alone. He needs the help of those in leadership with him. As they embrace the things Zack talks about, the healthier their leadership and churches will become.

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Openness Unhindered is Rosaria Butterfield’s second book. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely autobiographical and took the Reformed community by storm. Her story of how God worked to turn her life from that of a very liberal, lesbian professor of English and Queer Theory to a conservative, Reformed Christian who is married to a Presbyterian pastor. Her book succeeded in annoying many who are not conservative, Reformed Christians. They made some faulty assumptions, like that she think God makes every Christian a heterosexual. In many ways she was a threat to the narrative of the gay community.

Her second book really isn’t like the first. It covers some same ground as the subtitle indicates: Further Thought of an Unlikely Convert- Sexual Identity- Union with Christ. But how it covers it feels very different to the reader. There are portions that seem more like the section in the first advocating for exclusive psalmody. She’s writing much more like a professor teaching us what she used to believe and how it is incompatible with Christianity.

She steps into the sexual identity debate that is going on in the church. The concept is a “gay Christian” is becoming popular on one hand. And one the other some think that a Christian can’t even struggle with same sex attraction (SSA), confusing temptation with sin itself. This is what much of the first half of the book is about.

In the preface, she explains the title in terms of union with Christ. Paul’s union resulted in his being open and unencumbered about his life and struggles. If we are united in Christ, we can be open and unencumbered about our struggles instead of acting as if all is well though your inner life is filled with chaos.

“Even our struggles, our failures, and our suffering are redemptive in Christ. But there is blood involved. There is a cutting off and a cutting away that redemption demands. Stepping into God’s story means abandoning a deeply held desire to make meaning of our own lives on our own terms based on the preciousness of our own feelings.”

She sets up the method, so to speak, in the preface. She argues for God’s created order as one that includes norms and boundaries for life which includes sexuality and gender. They are not social constructions, but about essence. Many, however, are pragmatists and think these boundaries and norms don’t exist and can be manipulated to please ourselves.  These people deny the authority of Scripture. But there are also some who while affirming the authority of Scripture “unbiblically believe that the struggle is the sin (pp. 7).” They believe that conversion experientially restores all boundaries and norms sooner rather than later.

In other words, Christians can struggle with SSA because they are still sinners. The desires they experience are wrong, but they are not themselves sin. Those desires are not innocuous, but neither are they impossible for a Christian. The Christian, when experiencing them, is to put them to death in the power of the Spirit, as they would any other temptation. Christians can experience SSA just like opposite sex attraction, temptation to greed, revenge and any other sin.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1

There is a method as she covers conversion, identity, repentance and sexual orientation. She works through these theological categories. At times she brings us back to her story, but this book is more theological than autobiographical. As she notes, life stories, including her own, “are messy, contradictory, and humiliating. (pp. 12)”  She says she had a heterosexual adolescence. The sexual meat market of college threw her for a loop, and she felt out of control and her sexual desires became tangled and confusing. For 6 years she dated men, but fantasized about relationships with women, “especially my friends from my growing lesbian and feminist community base” (pp. 13).

Here for instance she distinguishes between homosexuality and homosociality. The latter is “an abiding and deep comfort afforded in keeping company with your own gender, and finding within your own gender your most important and cherished friendships. (pp. 31-32)” Lines get blurry at times.

She then moves into identity. So often we carve out our identity from the wrong things: vocation, past experiences, social status etc. Today people build theirs on their sexuality. We have a tendency to hold to Sola Experiencia- where our feelings and personal experience shape our identity, forming the lens through which we see life. These, for instance, judge the Scripture instead of Scripture evaluating our experience.

She argues that a homosexual identity is not removed by a heterosexual identity, but by Christ. We are converted to Christ, not heterosexuality (though that is a norm by the created order). A person may never be free from SSA until glorification, but they are to find their identity in Christ, not their desires.

One of the issues I had with the book was some of the terminology she uses for sanctification. She follows Vos’ commentary on the Westminster Confession and using “infuse”. This is idiosyncratic. Protestants typically use imparted because Roman Catholic theology talks of us being infused with grace through the sacraments. She doesn’t say this, but this former-Catholic struggles with the use of the term. Vos and Rosaria are the only Protestants I know that use it. Not sure why.

Because God gives us grace, we are able to say ‘no’ to our desires for sinful things (see Titus 2). In Christ we have been sanctified and are being sanctified. We don’t have to act on our lust, hatred, envy etc.

She ends the chapter discussing shame which leads her into the chapter on repentance. Shame is about being exposed, reveled as dirty, disgusting and disobedient. Shame for past actions refuses to stay in the past. We feel it now afraid people will discover what we did back them. She points us to confession of sin that we may be cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). She distinguishes this from admission. Confession not only admits our actions were wrong, but also appropriates God’s grace.

In all of this she talks about original sin, which she sees as the great equalizer. We all suffer under it. Sin continues to dwell in us, and produces actual sins. She is highly dependent on the Puritans such as John Owen and Anthony Burgess. Because sin dwells in us, we experience temptation internally. We can either say ‘no’ to it, or ‘yes’ to it and sin.

In the 4th chapter, Sexual Orientation, she gets into theory and the history of sexual orientation. Prior to Freud no one thought in such terms. They thought in terms of behavior: that is a homosexual act. They didn’t think of themselves in terms of identity: I am a homosexual. She argues for this precisely because many Queer theorist and postmodernists argue for this. As a former English professor and Queer theorist she talks about why words matter, building a case against terms like “gay Christian”. This continues in Self-Representation or What Does it Mean to Be Gay?.

While she is very black and white, very theoretical, and sounds dogmatic (not necessarily a bad thing), she isn’t drawing lines in the sand. The next chapter, Conflict, is about her disagreement with other Christians about this. She recognizes that while these terms find their basis in a movement in which she was a mover and shaker, younger people don’t come at it with the same theoretical underpinnings and don’t mean by it what she believes it means. They agree to disagree without consigning one another to the region of hell.

She then moves into the living of the Christian life, focusing on community and hospitality. Her understanding hospitality  “starts with adoption and ends with keeping the Lord’s Day together, because the purpose of our adoption is worship. (pp. 150)” She starts with how community begins, which is important for Christians to remember. Community begins with a group of strangers, who have different ideas, passions and interests. True community is not homogeneous. We have Christ in common, but differ in many ways. Community recognizes that it is dangerous. We are in community with people who are sinners of all kinds. We can get hurt! But the perfect love of God is intended to cast out our fear. Open and unhindered, we share life together even the unpleasant parts of life like grief.

She then talks about how they have practiced hospitality in their neighborhood. I don’t think it would work in mine. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That just means it is an example, not the only way. It is also shaped by her Covenanter convictions. In some ways it seems similar to her defense of exclusive psalmody in the first book. It all seems a bit too perfect (to this admittedly cynical soul).

She then moves into church membership, and why we should take it seriously. She is standing against the consumer approach to membership. She quotes from G. I. Williamson about how there is no perfect congregation, and no perfect denomination (oh that more people in my denomination would understand that!).

“As a pastor’s wife, I have seen the ugliest side of people when they start to believe that the sins of others in our church are intolerable, or when they pack up and leave instead of receiving the repentance of other, or sticking around long enough to work on reconciliation. The people who leave the church because they think they are too good for it have no idea that hurt that they cause- for the people who love them and miss them, and for the people hurt by the things they said and the things they didn’t say when they broke fellowship.”

This is a good book. It is not as easy to read as her first book. It does get more deeply into some very important ideas, theologically and philosophically. It gives those of us who haven’t read gay theorist a summary of sorts from a former-gay theorist.

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It is a new year, and that means I finished last year’s devotional book. I don’t always read a devotional book. In fact, it had been a few years since I’d done it. I both love and hate them. They can re-focus you, moving you to different places than your ordinary reading. At times it can seem routine, as the heart struggles to engage and can’t find the line between healthy rhythm of life and legalistic ritualism. You have that problem too, right?

When I saw that New Growth Press had released Saving Grace by C. John (Jack) Miller, I thought this would be a good one to use. It would keep pushing the gospel into my face. You need that too, right?

The risk with any such devotional is being utterly scattered, lacking any organizational principle. I sometimes feel this with Morning and Evening and it is only January 11th. But in this devotional there are themes that may run through a week or two. I got a good sense of continuity as I worked through this devotional. There were times that emphasized prayer, for instance.

Taken, I believe, from sermons, these are very good excerpts that accomplish the goal. It helps us to engage with God and the gospel. The focus is on grace. Yes, he talks about holiness/sanctification and not just justification. So, if you are thinking of buying and reading a devotional book, I’d recommend this one.

As I consider my 2015, it was filled with challenges. I was involved in a never-ending building project. I was also editing my own book for publication through much of the year. We had a family leave our congregation. Parenting and husbanding is filled with challenges and distractions. In the midst of this, and the ordinary burdens of ministry, this kept bringing me back to the simple gospel I need to make it through each day, week, month and year.

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There was really nothing to say about our flight home except for having to leave for the airport by 3 am. Yes, am. No polar vortex cancelling flights. No big snowstorm stranding us on the tarmac for hours unknown.

It wasn’t until we landed in Tucson that a series of events transpired that led us to want to fly back. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement.

When we landed I got a text message from the friend who was going to pick us up. It simply read: Call me!

So I did. Apparently our van, which she was going to us to pick us up, wouldn’t start. She was running late because she borrowed another friend’s van. You need a van when you have 4 kids who use booster seats or a car seat.

The fun was only beginning.

Everyone said it sounded like the starter, not the battery. The battery is less than 2 years old. So, instead of calling AAA Battery service we waited for friends to show up and look at it. They showed up around 7 pm. Keep in mind I’d been awake since 12:30 am local time. Now it sounded to them like a battery. Since we couldn’t pull my CRV into the garage, we rolled the van out onto the driveway. We jump started the van, and I had a choice. Do I let it charge (run it for 30 minutes) or just call AAA in the morning. I decided to call AAA in the morning.

The next morning I did, and the guy said everything was good. The starter and alternator were working well. There was no heavy draw when not on.  The battery probably drained while we were away (guess I should have run it after they left when I was home alone). But it held the charge overnight.

By the evening it wouldn’t start. This time the AAA check revealed a bad cell. The battery needed to be replaced.

While waiting for the AAA guy to show up in the morning, I had the bagels in the oven. We buy 2 dozen at a time from Brueggers’ and freeze most of them. Thursday is bagel day. I thought they were in there long enough, but lost track. When I took them out, they didn’t seem sufficiently thawed. So I put them back in and took a shower. After my shower I smelled that good blueberry bagel smell while coming down the stairs.

While at the office I got the text that the heating element in the “builders’ special” oven was shot. There was a break in the coil, and it had to be replaced. Heavy sigh.

CavWife found a YouTube video on how to do it. Easy. 5 minutes.

She found the part at a local appliance store. Amazon would not get the part to us until next week, which doesn’t quite work with a family of 6, and when you are hosting community group on Sunday.

I resigned myself to the reality that I would be performing the repair. My back was experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions in anticipation. This is the kind of task my back hates, leaning forward like this.

Friday morning I drove the van with the new battery filled with the 4 kids to the parts store 15-20 minutes away. It was quick and easy since she had them set it aside for me.

When I got home after an interminable errand at PetSmart it was lunch time. I wanted to make sure she didn’t need the stove to make lunch before starting this task. She was home from teaching her exercise class and showering.

After she came down we began the process. She loaded the YouTube video to show me. After he removed the 2 screws, the video had an error. This was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

I went outside to the fuse box and shut off the range. Didn’t want to die doing this.

They all use 1/4 inch screws, so I could just use my racheting screwdriver with nothing in it to remove them. Perfect. Worked great! Maybe this would be a 5 minute task.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

I pulled on the coil and could see the connection with the wires when the one on the right slipped off and disappeared into the insulation. Yeah, 5 minutes.

I could feel the wire in there, but couldn’t get a hold of it. I got the Gerber Diesel and couldn’t get a hold on it. It was too high, and the slot was too narrow and near the bottom of the oven.

CavWife tried to get it. Nope. CavDaughter has narrower fingers, and tried. Nope. I was afraid I’d have to call the repair man. There had to be a way. Think, Cavman, think!

We called CavWife’s other husband, her brother-in-law. The handy husband. He wasn’t sure what to do.

I wondered if I could get at it from behind. There was only one way to check. So I pulled out the stove. This is never fun. It’s easy to do, but then you see all the greasy dust, the stuff that spilled down the side and the toys the kids lost under there.

5 more of those screws later I had the center metal plate removed. Yes! There were the wires. I was able to push the wire through (the other one was duct-taped inside. CavWife used the duct tape to anchor the restored wire inside the oven.

I took out the new part, attached the wires and realized …

the screw holes are in the wrong place. They were not above the coil but more to the side. Not good.

It was now 1 pm. I had promised CavSon that I’d bring him to finally see The Force Awakens matinee at 2:30 that afternoon.

CavWife called the parts store. One of the signs I noticed while there, which was copied on the receipt was “No Returns on Electrical Parts”. Was this an “electrical part”? They went through the process of identifying the oven model. Yeah, wrong part. The one we needed is actually about $5 cheaper (really??? This doesn’t usually happen to me).

It is now 1:05. I have to drive back down to the store, exchange the part, get home, install the part and eat lunch in time to leave for the show (I estimated that I could leave as late as 2:15 thanks to the 45 trailers I don’t need CavSon to see).

So I hit the road. You know what happened. It always happens when you are in a rush and God decides this is the time to reveal the utter wretchedness of your heart to you. Every. Red. Light. And on the highway I kept getting stuck behind slow drivers kicking up stones that ping off my windshield so I wonder which one will crack it.

Amazingly I made good time. Amazingly the guy handled the exchange quickly. I double checked the part to make sure the holes were in the right place.

I returned to the car and experienced most of the same frustrations on the ride home. I feel so unsanctified.

Back at home she’d been cleaning the stove. I connected the wires, and put the screws back in. I re-attached the plate on the back. It really would have been 5 minutes if not for the wire disappearing, and the part being wrong.

It was all done, and I could shove a sandwich down my throat by 2 pm. We would make the move.

Here’s hoping that this is the last thing to break/fail/malfunction for awhile.


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I guess it has turned into something of a tradition here. Most bloggers do a best of … referring to books released in that year. I’m a little different. My best of is of the books I’ve read w/out respect to when they were published.

I don’t have these in any particular order aside from when I finished reading them. Or at least blogged about them. So, here we go!

A Guide to Christian Living by John Calvin. This is taken from the newest translation of the Institutes, which I am currently reading. This is a great book to give away.

Shot All to Hell by Mark Lee Gardner is about the final attempted bank robbery of the James-Younger gang. I found it fascinating. And it has one captivating title.

Antinomianism by Mark Jones. I consider this a must read.

Smart Money with Purpose by Joe Kesler. A short but very good book about money from a Christian perspective.

Calvin and the Sabbath by Richard Gaffin. This is not an easy read, but very helpful in understanding Calvin’s understanding of the Sabbath.

Speaking the Truth in Love: The Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole by David Bailey. I considered it a great privilege to study under Dr. Nicole. It was great to learn more about this godly man.

Legend by Eric Blehm. Blehm tells the story of Roy Benavidez, a Green Beret during the Vietnam War. It centers upon a failed mission in Cambodia. Benavidez jumped on a chopper to help rescue the team. Harrowing historical story. This could also be called Shot All To Hell.

Scribe: My Life in Sports by Bob Ryan. Lots of great sports stories by one of the great sports writers.

Caring for Widows by Brian Croft and Austin Walker. This short book helps a church think through its ministry to widows. A very important thing.

The Song of Songs by Iain Duguid. Yes, it is a commentary on the Song of Songs. Duguid sees it as part of the wisdom literature and more than capably handles the original meaning, as well as connecting it to Christ.

Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ by Tony Reinke. I am a John Newton fan. This is a great book about Newton and how he understood the Christian life. Very helpful for pastoral and lay ministry.

Esther & Ruth by Iain Duguid. This is from the Reformed Expositional Commentary series. These shorter books are well-preached by Duguid. These are good examples of gospel-centered preaching.

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The subtitle to Bavinck on the Christian Life is Following Jesus in Faithful Service. In part 1 John Bolt laid the foundations of creation, law and union with Christ. In part 2 he framed it with imitation of Christ and worldview. In the third and final section of this book, The Practice of Christian Discipleship, Bolt gets to the areas where we follow Jesus in light of a Christian worldview.

For lack of a better term, I’ll use spheres. They could be called vocations, the places were are called. As Christians Bavinck stresses that our faith is not simply lived out in prayer closets and on Sunday mornings. We are to follow Jesus in our marriage, family, work, culture, education and civil service (politics).

In the historical context, Bavinck was often dealing with “the revolution.” It was a time of incredible instability in Europe. The impact of Rousseau and Marx were shaking the foundations of Europe. There were challenges and changes looming  in nearly every arena, sphere or vocation. As a result he was not writing in an Edenic setting or ivory tower. He was not only a theologian and churchman, but also a statesman. In many ways it is a situation that reflects our contemporary situation. Faith does not retreat from cultural challenges, but seeks to imitate Jesus by serving in the midst of such changes. But it always seeks to follow Jesus, not simply embracing change or preserving human tradition. For instance, women’s suffrage was a good thing, a good change reflecting their equal status as made in God’s image in civil society.

As Bavinck wrestled with these changes he doesn’t simply analyze the proposed solution, he brings them back to the real problem. For instance, “inequality” was looked at as the great cultural sin (sounds familiar, right?). He brings us to God’s providence to recognize that inequality is not intrinsically wrong. For instance, God has not distributed resources equally. Some geographic locations are rich in natural resources, and others lack. God has placed each of us in a particular place, to a particular family (with its own resources, or lack thereof).

But this is not the only, final word on inequality. We have to see it in light of the creation mandate as well. We are not to sit fatalistically with our lot in life. If we believe we are called to “subdue and rule” we will seek to maximize the resources and opportunities that do exist. (Either Bavinck or Bolt does not spell this out as clearly as I would have liked.)

Bavinck also brings inequality to sin. Some are motivated by self-love rather than love for God and neighbor. Therefore they oppress, exploit and steal. Some are lazy and refuse to maximize anything at their disposal but live for the present, not the future. There is no eschatalogical pull for them, no deferred gratification for something far greater.

Therefore, the pull toward socialism or the massive re-distribution of wealth doesn’t fix the problem. It fails to address sin (note the gross inequalities in every Communist country we’ve seen). Rather, ways must be found to eliminate oppression, exploitation, theft, laziness and entitlement not “inequality”. Inequality isn’t the problem.

Bolt applies Bavinck’s creational norm to the question of sexuality as well. Marriage is meant to be a reflection of the trinity- unity in diversity. One of the creational realities that must remain in marriage is procreation, unless providentially hindered. In other words, many of our supreme court justices, as well as citizens, don’t really understand the meaning of marriage. The gospel “restores” nature rather than overthrowing nature. It is sin which seeks to corrupt, destroy and overthrow nature.

Because our fundamental problem is sin, Bavinck focused not on social solutions to our problems, but brought us back to the gospel first (not only). People need to be restored to fellowship with God before they can see the real problems in society and apply God’s law to create an increasingly just society (as defined by God’s law which reflects His character). As a result, we must humbly accept the fact that there will be no perfectly just society until the return of Jesus because sin remains. Again, this does not mean fatalism but realistic expectations. It does mean we seek to address the real issues, not just the symptoms.

Bolt ends the book with Bavinck’s only printed sermon “The World Conquering Power of Faith”. This sermon ties a number of these things together. We cannot fix the world with the world’s means precisely because they are part of the world which is in rebellion against God. By faith we are able to “conquer” the world, but only because our faith is in the One who has overcome the world and is currently at work to make His enemies His footstool.

As a result, the Christian life of following Jesus in faithful service often looks foolish to the world. It often feels foolish. It seems so powerless, and the needs presented by the world seem so great: oppression, slavery (sexual & economic), mental illness, terrorism and violence, government corruption, sexual abuse, domestic violence …

People must be united to Christ by faith, seeking to walk in light of the law (justice) and the creation mandate (subdue & rule). This is how Bavinck views the Christian life.

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