Archive for June, 2021

Imagine, if you will, a train at the station. You’ve been sitting on the train, ready to go. Every time the doors begin to shut a new group of people show up and force the doors open. It seems full but it never seems to move.

Painting of Sisyphus by Titian

That is how I feel about the race issue. I’m ready for progress, for changes. I’m ready for the cities to stop burning. I’m ready for the necessary reforms to policing to take place. I’m ready for people to forgive, reconcile and begin to try and make this whole thing work. But we seem stuck at square one. It’s like Groundhog Day.

Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation by Mark Vroegop seemed like a different kind of book. It isn’t about how white people are horrible, fragile, clueless etc. It seemed to offer a way forward out of this Sisyphus-like mess.

Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation - Vroegop, Mark; Anyabwile, Thabiti M (foreword by) - 9781433567599

Vroegop repeatedly tempers our expectations. He’s not offering a magic bullet. He isn’t saying “do this and everything will be right as rain.” This is an important step that can help us make progress because it will convey empathy (or compassion). It is part of the way forward, but not the totality. Necessary but insufficient. It is important to keep that in mind.

His first book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament is the background of this book. He seeks to apply the work he did there to the problem at hand.

“The biblical language of empathy and exile, perseverance and protest, can open the door for reconciliation.”

In his introduction Vroegop notes that the gospel has produced racial reconciliation in the past. Antioch was a metropolitan city filled with people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. Roman cities, he says, were segregated by design. At its founding there was a wall built to segregate the Syrians from the Greeks. Division and violence were common. The church was THE desegregated population of the city.

Keep in mind, the city itself didn’t experience reconciliation. The church did. The gospel created unity but people who rejected the gospel didn’t experience this unity.

This is not where he goes with it but perhaps we need to keep this in mind. The world CANNOT and will not be reconciled precisely there is no source of unity, no ground of forgiveness, no power for the heart change necessary. The world will continue to devour itself unless it sees the power of the gospel in racial reconciliation displayed in the church and believes.

This is not where any of us want to go with this. But there is some truth there. We can’t expect those who can’t love selflessly to love selflessly. The works of the flesh include divisions, factions, pride and violence. Romans 1:18ff can only be undone by the amazing work of Jesus in Romans 5 by which He died for the helpless, ungodly, weak enemies who fell in Adam. To expect the sons of Adam to act like the sons of God is pure foolishness, unless we are first ambassadors of God imploring people to be reconciled to God so they can be reconciled to one another.

But I digress from this book I read.

Part 1: The Meaning of Lament

Vroegop begins the book by talking specifically about lament, and he begins with prayer as the language of lament. Lament is a type of prayer, and a common prayer, in the Psalms.

Before getting too far he offers a series of definitions. This is good practice since we want to know how he understands particular terms. At times his definitions were frustrating, however. He uses the sociological re-definitions of recent invention. These arise from a different world view, and one that isn’t simply different but I would consider “anti-gospel” at points. While all truth is God’s truth, not all that purports to be true is truth, and many truths have untrue applications (there is a blog post critiquing John Fea’s embrace of CRT simmering in my head).

At one point this embrace of worldly thinking creates a weird series of statements. He quotes Daniel Hill about how whites began to “deemphasize the differences within various European ethnicities and began to describe white people as a human collective that was inherently superior to people of color.” I wrote in my margin “how do we explain hatred of Irish, Italians, European Jews…?” As if he’d heard me, Vroegop notes that the Irish initially formed a bond with African-Americans, but eventually Irish people wanted to be accepted by the majority, embraced racism against African-Americans and “became white.” I guess his definition of “white”, which is unstated, is very different than mine. Mine’s about pigmentation, not oppression because when you associate “white” with sin … you’re racist. Despite being frustrated, I continued.

This is not just frustrating, however. It is an unbiblical concept which is unedifying, inaccurate and feeds the flames of the racist anti-racism movement. Just as a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, racism (or prejudice and favoritism) by any other name remains as foul.

Let’s return to the matter at hand, lament. Lament is not simply complaining but an expression of pain that leads us to trust God. It faces the brokenness of our world and the specific afflictions one experiences, and recommits oneself to God to make things right in due time on the basis of His promises.

Racism and oppression create a complicated emotional space. It is worthy of lament. We recognize, often with tears, that this is not how image bearers are meant to treat one another. It recognizes that we can’t fix this problem, and we are relying on God and His promises to bring this to an end. Vroegop identifies four elements of lament: turning, complaining, asking, and trusting.

Lament is part of the “fivefold path” of reconciliation he also identifies: love, listen, lament, learn, and leverage. And here is why we never seem to leave the station, we keep waking up to the same day and the rock keeps falling down the hill. I lament that there are many who refuse to listen and learn. I feel like the kid who’s ready for multiplication and we can’t seem to get past addition and subtraction.

Too often we don’t listen because we are too busy keeping score. We compare the sins and crimes of individuals committed against people we know with the sins and crimes committed against others because of the color of their skin. We compare apples and oranges (in my mind anyway) and refuse to acknowledge how life could be filled with obstacles for others that don’t exist for you.

This leads to part of my great frustration with the “race problem”. I get the picture. I watched Roots on TV when I was a kid. I watched many movies like Amistad, Rosewood, Mississippi Burning, Glory (and the list goes on and on). I knew about Tulsa years ago. I know there are racist laws (but not the whole system is racist, nor is every white person). I’m ready for us to change the racist laws. I’m tired of talking about what has changed as if it hasn’t (the 3/5ths Compromise is not law anymore- praise God). We can’t seem to accept advancement because that somehow means claiming nothing needs to change. No, some things need to change but we don’t need to “burn it down” either. When you burn down your house, you’ve got no place to live. We don’t need to be homeless, but we need to get the mold out. I do agree with him when he says “the gospel is more foundational than our most painful historical categories”. Let’s live like it instead of picking at the scabs and waiting for the same issues to represent themselves because we’ve done nothing.

American Rhetoric Movie Speech from Glory - Men of the 54th Regiment Gather  for Prayer and Song Meeting on the Eve of the Battle of Fort Wagner
Campfire laments help the story of Glory

“When Christians from majority and minority cultures learn to grieve together, they affirm their common bond as brothers and sisters in Christ. Lament enters into the deep emotions of sorrow, hurt, misunderstanding, and injustice.”

Vroegop wants us to listen, in particular, to African-American spirituals. Listening to their laments can help develop proper empathy, a willingness to recognize that our brothers and sisters are in pain. This is not the only way he wants us to listen, but it is a way to hear the historic pain. He points us to some rappers who share laments as well.

It isn’t just the past that is the problem, but the present. I want to hear about my friends’ experiences. Although I guess friend may be too strong a word since I’m not trusted with their pain. Perhaps I’m not trustworthy. Perhaps they aren’t willing to trust. Getting on the bus together should mean personal, not simply collective, stories.

A cultural (not racial) difference is the individual vs. more collective thinking. White American culture isn’t focused on white people so much as America. THAT is our community identity. On 9/11 people didn’t grieve that white people died in those towers and those planes, but AMERICANS regardless of their pigmentation. Most see nation above ethnicity. When the Marathon bombing took place I wept because that’s my place, my home and Patriots’ Day is our version of Juneteenth because I grew up there. It had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with place. As a result, the focus on race over place, over national identity is hard for many majority Americans to understand. Again I digress with my own little laments.

One powerful spiritual he uses refers to the pain of being sold and separated from parents and siblings, spouses and children. This is generational trauma. Sadly, many now choose this trauma as they abandon women and children. This is not a legacy people choose willingly, but is rooted not only in the realities of slavery but the racist welfare laws of our nation’s “war on poverty”. All this is worthy of lament.

In his own congregation he’s seen reconciliation take place on their civil rights pilgrimage. They traveled South, visited places like the Lynching Memorial. There white people began to see the horrors committed (sometimes in places they grew up), and minorities shared their personal pain. People lamented together and moved closer together.

Local lynching memorial proposed in Birmingham

Part 2: Lament and Majority Christians

He begins with more about empathy, which is a controversial subject lately (and unfortunately). To weep with one another doesn’t mean that we agree with everything they think. We do agree with them that their afflictions are deep and worthy of sorrow. He defines empathy as the “ability or willingness to understand and care.” Lamenting together is sharing pain, and this helps form community.

I can grow in this. He offers a test, quoting a message by Mika Edmonson. My heart wonders about the statistics. This is not a denial of the problem, but questioning the magnitude of the problem. I want my African children to be wise in dealing with the police, but not fearful of police. I don’t think the police are coming gunning for my kids, but I think there are some bad cops who might. I refuse to believe its “open season” on my kids. I do believe that there are evil people who break the law, and they should be punished if they do. Derek Chauvin did and was.

Raising kids, I’m skeptical about the first story I hear. Having watched the news for years, I’m skeptical about the first story I hear. I don’t want to jump to conclusions. Been there, done that and it never works out well. I want to sort out what is actually going on, not simply surrender my mental faculties to emotions. In a world filled with lies, false narratives and wilful attempts to deceive there is sadly cause to be cautious at times. I want to be empathetic but not gullible. I’ve seen cities burn over false narratives. Jumping to conclusions can have disastrous results which are just as evil.

Vroegop addresses six reasons we can choose silence. Fear drives silence for many, and this takes many forms. Uncertainty about the facts of a case (wisdom!) or feelings (??). Many have wounds from past experience. Many are ignorant and don’t understand the layers of injustice and racism. Some are selfish. Some are racist.

Minorities have long been frustrated by silence. We don’t have to speak with all the answers. But we can lament, express sorrow for the way sin has twisted our relationships.

The 6th chapter is called Repent and subtitled Remembering with Remorse. These are not quite the same. Many struggle with repenting for the sins of previous generations. It shouldn’t be an issue when we are part of the same community (example: a church that was formed out of the fear of desegregation), especially for those of us who hold to covenant theology. But at times we aren’t so connected. Expressing remorse may be quite helpful. Lament vocalizes sorrow for past wrong whether we committed them or not. Some of us need to personally repent of racist actions, attitudes or passive indifference. Some of our communities need to repent, as some denominations like the PCA have for support of slavery, Jim Crow laws and other aspects of racism. We can express corporate remorse even if we don’t feel the need to repent. Pastoral laments can go a long way in opening some of the doors for reconciliation in a congregation.

Part 3: Lament and Minority Christians

While this section is about minorities, many “majority” culture Christians should get ready to experience much of what he’s talking about here. He’s talking about the voice of exiles. Christians are exiles, though we’ve been part of the majority culture and thought we weren’t: we are. He errs in thinking that the exiles of the Old Testament were only physical and not spiritual. It wasn’t just a change of geography and custom but they were surrounded by paganism.

Minorities have a sense of exile, “otherness”. It is the sense of not only not belonging but not being wanted. The experience of minorities in many cultures (not just America) is they are not wanted there. This is something Christians of all people should understand, we are generally not wanted in cultures and increasingly unwelcome in America. This lack of welcome is for minorities a cause for lament. Lament does reorient us in our pain. It reorients us to God and His promises. Lament ends in hope, not because the situation changed but because it will. There will be racial reconciliation in the church. We will all be gathered around Jesus, not looking at one another but at Him who made us a new humanity. We have hope, and are a community of hope. Red warned Andy that “hope is a dangerous thing”. It is dangerous for the oppressor, not the oppressed, however. To lose hope is to stop trying to work toward reconciliation.

Perhaps the loss of hope is the result of misplaced hope instead of biblical hope.

At the end of each chapter, Vroegop includes an example of lament, written by a variety of people. He also includes questions, some helpful and some less so, to process the information.

Where he sticks with Scripture and the application of biblical principles, Vroegop’s book is helpful. When he depends on sociological concepts connected to CRT and/or anti-racism the book is less than helpful. There are some bones to spit out but the church could be well served by lamenting together regarding our racial, political and ecclesiastical problems. Some of mine probably made this review harder to read.

Personal Story and Lament

In middle school I road the bus to school. There were some kids from the next street over who decided to regularly tease me for my “greasy Italian hair”. They never did this in elementary school but suddenly I was a target.

Like any middle school boy I was self-conscious. I began to wash my hair with shampoo for oily hair. Problem is, my hair wasn’t oily. My hair became increasingly dry and brittle. I was destroying my hair because some kids who felt bad about themselves decided my being Italian made me less then them, an object of ridicule and derision, unwanted and unworthy.

Father, kids can be so cruel in their desire to fit in, to belong. To float their fragile sense of worth they attack the worth of others. We’ve all done this, and been victims of this. We lament those who’ve been made to feel less because of the color of their skin, because of their accent, or a different kind of church. We lament that this happens every day, under our noses. We lament that the power of the flesh is so destructive and divisive to the beautiful community we could be under the reign of Jesus. We long for the coming of the kingdom in its final fulness, when we stop looking at one another full of envy, jealousy and hatred but love one another because You have loved us to the full. That day when we are focused on Jesus, who sits upon the throne and are overwhelmed with His glory, a glory He shares with all His people. Bring peace to your people from every tribe, nation, tongue and language. Sustain us until then as we feel overwhelmed by the strife and sorrow produced by sin.

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There are not many books on the subject of the fear of the Lord. One of the classics is John Bunyan’s The Fear of God. A more recent treatment is by Jerry Bridges: The Joy of Fearing God.

This subject came up while watching the first Paul Tripp session in his Faithful Men seminar. He noted that our fears can only be driven out by the fear of God, the greatest fear.

Michael Reeves, who is becoming one of my favorite writers, has entered the fray about the fear of the Lord with Rejoice & Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord. This is the first installment in his Union series, and it is joined by What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord? which is intended for lay people. One should not take this to mean that Rejoice & Tremble is academic, lengthy or exceedingly difficult. It really isn’t. It seems to be written at a popular level. The latter book is more condensed, perhaps intended for people who have less time to read. I hope to use it with some of our men in light of the Paul Tripp seminar.

Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord (Union) - Reeves, Michael - 9781433565328

As I said, this is not a lengthy book, clocking in at 8 chapters and 168 pages. He brings us to Bunyan, Flavel, Sibbes and Spurgeon among others to examine what is meant by the fear of the Lord. It is not overly technical as original languages are really only mentioned at two points. I still prefer Jerry Bridges’ book, but that seems to be out of print though Amazon had one copy of the audio book. This is a good book, on an important subject.

Reeves begins with the most common command in the Scriptures: “Do Not Be Afraid!” He notes that “we are both fascinated and repelled by our fears.” Many of us like to be scared, within reason. The Scripture encourages, in fact commands, that we fear God. He quotes John Murray in saying “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.” Apart from the fear of the Lord there is no godliness, nor worship. The fear of the Lord is not to be thought of like other fears, perhaps a fear of spiders, ghosts, drowning or the like. “(The fear of the Lord) frees us from our crippling fears, giving us instead a most delightful, happy, and wonderful fear.”

The Messiah, for instance, delights in the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:3). The Spirit which rests upon the Messiah is “the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Jesus grew in stature and wisdom, which begins with the fear of the Lord. As Messiah, Jesus delighted in the fear of the Lord, a fear we need by lack apart from the grace of God in Christ.

One of the important contributions of this book is the connection with the present spirit of the age. Our is a very anxious age, and is growing more fearful all the time. This, Reeves argues, is because we’ve generally removed God from our society. Where there is no fear of the Lord, the fear of all else is bound to grow. Fear is used by politicians, media and more to control us. Ours is a society that seeks safety above all else (including liberty) becoming more risk and loss averse. Because we can’t deal with fear, citing Frank Furedi, we build more protective fences. This growing anxiety is accompanied by the moral confusion that happens when we no longer fear God. Sexual immorality of all kinds is approved but we go on crusades against plastic, or militant about masks and vaccines.

Reeves then begins to differentiate sinful and godly fear. Chapter 2 focuses on Sinful Fear. Citing Wilhelmus a Brakel, he notes that our fears are connected to what we love. Fear is about losing them or bad things happening to them. The greater fear that drives us lesser fears is not just any old fear of God. Scripture notes two kinds of fear with respect to God. We see this in Exodus 20. They were not to fear God, but they were to fear God so they would not sin. There is a wrong (sinful) way to fear God, and a godly way to fear God. Here is where he gets into the original languages.

The same word(s) are used for both kinds of fear in the both testaments. The difference isn’t simply in a different word. The difference is seen in the context and results: “Moses here sets out a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God: those who have a fear of him will not be afraid of him.” The similarity is the physical component of the root word: trembling. The difference is between trembling in your boots and trembling with delight.

Theologians have contrasted these in a variety of ways: servile vs. filial fear; sinful vs. religious fear; ungodly vs. godly fear. Reeves uses sinful vs. right fear though he explains them.

Sinful fear flows from our corrupt (sinful) nature. It is a function of original sin. It is a fear that drives you away from God, rather than towards God. In addition to this being a function of our sin, it is also a function of Satan’s lies about God. Here we see Reeves covering similar ground as Sinclair Ferguson in The Whole Christ and Dane Ortlund in Gentle & Lowly (the cover of which is very similar to Rejoice & Tremble). It is this fear the drives the new atheism led by men like Christopher Hitchens. They are afraid of the God who exists, rather than denying He exists. Hitchens noted that it would be awful to live in the presence of such a God: “It would be like living in North Korea.”

We also see the early Luther, prior to his discovery of the Gospel, expressing such fear. This is why he hated God, knowing he could not live up to God’s requirements. Luther, like so many, ran from God but not from religion. They used religion as an attempt to keep God at bay, unlike Hitchens. When we are afraid of God, we don’t entrust ourselves to Him and look for security elsewhere (religion, politics, money etc.). Afraid of God, they don’t trust Christ for salvation but seek other mediators (Mary, Joseph and the saints, etc.). Read 1 Samuel 12:20-24 to see the 2 fears in this context.

He brings us to C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce to see that this kind of fear clings to our sin. It is the dread of holiness, and I experienced this for about a year before converting. I didn’t want to give up my sin for Jesus. I had to learn the high price of sin before Jesus became sweet and excellent to me.

Right Fear is produced by the Spirit and draws us to God instead of driving us away from God. This fear is promised to us in the New Covenant (Jer. 32:38-40; 33:8-9). It is sung about by John Newton in his most famous hymn. I think Reeves misses it here though. He seems to argue grace taught my heart to fear and that same fear is relieved by grace. But is was grace that relieved my fears by teaching me to fear God.

This right fear is tied to forgiveness. Because God forgives us we tremble with delight. We delight in His goodness which is seen, in part, in His pardon for sin. We see this in Psalm 130, and the life of Isaac. We see that fear does not soften love, or balance it. They go hand in hand rather than being in tension. “We also love him in his holiness and tremble at the marvelousness of his mercy. True fear of God is true love for God defined: it is the right response to God’s full-orbed revelation of himself in all his grace and glory.”

Fear conveys the idea of being overwhelmed by God, weak-kneed trembling. This is not the romantic love of a man and woman.

Reeves argues that this “right fear is the heart of holiness, making the difference between hypocritical performance and genuine knowledge of God.” The new heart God gives us in the gospel produces a new fear and a very different kind of religion and obedience. “(S)aving faith cannot be separated from the right fear of God, for we will trust in God only to the extent that we have this fear that leans toward him.” The God-fearing heart is a God-entrusting heart.

Overwhelmed by the Creation & Redeemer

Reeves covers God as Creator and Redeemer in successive chapters. While all fear God as Creator, not all fear God as Redeemer. Apart from Redeemer we are afraid of the Creator, exhibiting the sinful fear of God. He roots much of this in Calvin and The Institutes. As Christians we have a right fear of Him as Creator, we are drawn to Him in awe and love. To those who don’t know God as Redeemer, the Creator seems dangerous. We run from Him instead of to Him. Edwards, for instance, “found the knowledge of a Creator to be terrible.” This is tied to our flight from accountability.

The right fear of the Creator draws us out of ourselves. We are not longer the center of the universe. Reeves notes a study published in 2018 under the title Emotion which revealed that the symptoms of PTSD diminish after experiences of awe. In light of this he begins to discuss The Idea of the Holy by Rudolph Otto (cited by Sproul as well). God is awe-inspiring, humbling and mysterious. We need to keep the Creator-creature distinction in mind. Otto stops there, unfortunately. Apart from Christ, Luther wrote, “we see nothing in God but an angry and terrible judge.”

While he moves to Redeemer in the next chapter, the title focuses on the Father. Redemption brings us sonship. The Son reveals the Father to us. Here Reeves brings out some material from Delighting in the Trinity and the relationship between Father and Son in trinitarian development. Redemption, of course, is not the Son sneaking out of the house to appease an angry Father on our behalf but the Father and Son agreeing that the Son would come to satisfy the wrath of God to bring us home.

Here Reeves addresses filial fear, a deeper, richer, and sweeter fear. Filial fear is rooted in God’s mercy. If we begin to rely on our good works our filial fear erodes into dread and terror (quoting George Offor). We lose assurance of salvation until we remember the reality of justification. This is different than Aquinas who saw filial fear as including the fear of offending the Father and losing our salvation. True filial fear is evangelical, resting on Christ’s work for our redemption.

The Son delights in the Father. United to Christ, we share in His delight. We are overwhelmed by the greatness, kindness and goodness of God. We do fear loss of communion, grieving the Father, not loss of union and salvation.

Growing in Godly Fear

Reeves admits that this chapter could be written as a self-help book. There is no 5-step (or 3 or 7) program to grow in godly fear. Reeves brings in Lewis again in terms of “mere morality” as a false goal. We seek an obedience that is driven by a renewed heart filled with godly fear. This will produce genuine or sincere obedience. Obedience itself really isn’t an accurate measure since obedience can be the result of sinful fear as well.

Thomas Boston discussed fear is a matter of our longings: what we love and hate. Filial fear transforms our affections, our longings. Godly fear results in engaged worship, which is why Christianity is a song-filled faith. We can’t help singing. We sing to express what is in our hearts, even if we aren’t in a worship service.

During the Reformation, Luther opposed the Aristotelian view of ethics taught by Thomas Aquinas. In this view we become righteous by doing righteous things. Aquinas cultivated virtuous habits. Luther argued that we have been made righteous and begin to do righteous deeds. Imputed righteousness precedes imparted righteousness.

But how do we grow in the fear of the Lord? The Spirit continues to work in us, as Owen says, “implanting, writing and realizing of the gospel in our souls”. As we behold Christ crucified in the Scriptures, sermons and in meditation our hearts are transformed and grow in the fear of the Lord. The means of grace are utilized but they don’t change us ex opere operato. They are points of contact with the gospel which transforms those who are trusting in the gospel they encounter there.

“The fear of God… that whole worship of God, wherein that and all other gracious affections toward God are to be exercised. … the only motive and encouragement for sinners to engage in it and give themselves unto it, is this, that there is forgiveness with God. Without this no sinner could fear, serve, or worship him.” John Owen

This means that people need a Scripture-filled diet. They need sermons that keep returning to the well to drink of Christ to grow in godly fear. Such preaching seeks to produce godly affections in response to truth.

The Awesome Church

Back to love: what you fear shows what you love. Our fears are sign points, signals about the state of our hearts. What are the signposts that you are manifesting godly fear? He begins with deeper communion with God, rooted in Proverbs 14:27 since the “fear of the Lord is the fountain of life.”

Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, you will also grow in wisdom and knowledge. When we have the fear of the Lord growth in knowledge does not puff us up but enables us to love others well (wisdom). This knowledge is also not sterile but we become more like God. We begin to loathe our sin and long to be like God. We begin to marvel about God more and more. Consider how often people marveled at Christ in Mark’s gospel.

Additionally we find strength. The fear of man robs us of strength as we overcommit because we can’t say ‘no’ (Luther said that learning to say ‘no’ would be of more use to you than Greek or Latin). We are overly sensitive to criticism and comments. Prior to answering the authorities at the Diet of Worms, Luther was advised by friends to fear the One who can destroy body and soul in hell, not those who can destroy the body. He ended his famous speech with the words, “Therefore we must fear God.”

Peter struggled with the fear of man, particular in the courtyard of the chief priest. He discovered the hard way that he loved himself more than he loved Jesus. Like Winston in Room 101 he disavowed the one he said he loved.

Why George Orwell's '1984' is such a timeless novel

When we fear God, the other things we fear shrink. They have less influence on us. God reorganized our perspective. The nearness of God is what kills the anxiety we feel, therefore pray.

“Those who fear God are simultaneously humbled and strengthened before his beauty and magnificence.”

Both Calvin and Spurgeon pointed to the example of Hugh Latimer who defied the King Henry the VIII by speaking of his sin in a sermon. When told to recant in his next sermon he spoke of how he spoke not only before the king but also the Lord God Almighty and must tell the king the truth regardless of the outcome. Henry didn’t take off his head as threatened.

“Satan’s lies would rob believers of their filial fear and leave them with a groveling dread of God and a competitiveness instead of any real fellowship between us.”

Reeves returns to our culture of anxiety. The fear of the Lord among His people will adorn the gospel and attest to its power among the nations. The church is to be a community of those who fear the Lord.

Eternal Ecstasy

The final chapter focuses on the eternal state for those with sinful fear and those with right or godly fear. Everyone trembles before God, it is the character of that trembling that matters.

Hell is a world of fears. Those there experience the reality of the terrifying Judge they feared for so long. The fears in hell are unrelieved, constant and relentless.

Heaven is a paradise of filial fear. That delightful fear is unending, unquenchable and soul-satisfying. We will know God without the distortions of our sinful corruption. There will be no doubts, no misunderstandings.

“In fact, all fears are a foretaste. The sinful fears and dreads of unbelievers are the firstfruits of hell; the filial fears of Christians are the firstfruits of heaven.”

This is a very good book. I would not call it an excellent book. It does what it does well. I wish it had done a little more. It is on a much neglected subject. He hits the main points and is clear. He is edifying. It is balanced in addressing both sinful and right fear, and their results. He doesn’t shy away from speaking of judgment (one of the criticisms of Ortlund’s book). If Ortlund focused on the character of God, Reeves focuses us on our response to that character: rejoice & tremble.

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As I resume consideration of the numerous overtures we will handle at the General Assembly in St. Louis, I move to the slightly less controversial matters.

I won’t look at the overtures about presbytery boundaries. I generally approve them.

Overture 38: Commend Human Sexuality Report

This is a positive overture on the part of Calvary Presbytery and I will vote to approve it. In the course of the overture it summarizes each of the 12 statements found in the report. There are a number of important distinctions and assessments in this document.

“We all stand in need of God’s grace for sexual sin and temptation, whether married or not.”

“Moreover, some persons, in rare instances, may possess an objective medical condition in which their anatomical development may be ambiguous or does not match their genetic chromosomal sex. Such persons are also made in the image of God and should live out their biological sex, insofar as it can be known.”

“Without some distinction between (1) the illicit temptations that arise in us due to original sin and (2) the willful giving over to actual sin, Christians will be too discouraged to “make every effort” at growth in godliness and will feel like failures in their necessary efforts to be holy as God is holy.”

“Nevertheless, being honest about our sin struggles is important. … Christians out to acknowledge their sin in an effort to overcome it.”

“Nevertheless, we recognize that some Christians may use the term “gay” in an effort to be more readily understood by non-Christians. The word “gay” is common in our culture, and we do not think it wise for churches to police every use of the term.

“Nevertheless, we do not support the formation of exclusive, contractual marriage-like friendships, nor do we support same-sex romantic behavior or the assumption that certain sensibilities and interests are necessarily aspects of a gay identity. We do not consider same-sex attraction a gift in itself, nor do we think this sin struggle, or any sin struggle, should be celebrated in the church.”

I think this is a positive step forward for us. It is clear but gracious in recognizing particular struggles in need of greater understanding and assistance from the community of faith.

Overture 3: Amend MTW Manual

Heritage Presbytery returns to an older request that has likely been amended. The manual has a “Statement on Valuing Women in MTW” which was distributed to missionaries. Guidelines opened leadership positions to unordained men and women. They want spiritual oversight for ordained serving in MTW and don’t want them subject to unordained persons. It is an agency of the Church. Should it be run like the Church? That is the basic question.

They want women valued but also those who are ordained to not under the authority of unordained persons. They see “an untenable crisis of conscience for both men and women”. Two years ago I argued against the similar overture. I think I understand the concerns of friends in MTW. Let me say that such an agency was not anticipated in the NT (this does not prohibit its existence). It is run by the Church but isn’t a church though it facilitates the planting of churches. I am sympathetic but still not sold on the overture.

Amending Processes for Pastors and Officers

This begins with Overture 5 by Calvary Presbytery. The BCO requires a majority vote for pastors, elders, deacons from those eligible and present at the meeting. The key is the majority of those eligible to vote versus the majority of votes actually cast. Both GA and Robert’s Rules have focused on votes actually cast. In some cases (larger churches) it may be quite difficult to assess the number of members present. Under the BCO if there are some candidate overlooked by a member they are counted as ‘no’. So they want to substitute “votes cast” for “voters present”. This seems quite reasonable to me.

With Overture 31 from Northwest Georgia Presbytery, there is a desire to amend BCO 22 regarding the process from Assistant to Associate Pastor. Currently there is no process spelled out. The default would be 20-2 which includes a search committee which seems inappropriate for a change in call instead of a change of pastors. They want to add a sentence indicating that those who have served for a least a year may be elected to Associate Pastor by the congregation upon the recommendation of the Session w/out a pulpit committee.

This seems quite reasonable and I will vote to approve this. Even though I want to get rid of the Assistant Pastor option.

Overture 6 from Covenant Presbytery wants to amend BCO 24-1 on the question of timing for exams of officer candidates. This is in connection to a SJC case that declared the “sequence in BCO 24-1 is mandatory”. The nomination period is to be followed by the training of all the nominees, and then they are all examined. Nominees, supposedly, are only to be removed after examination. The SJC recommended changes to the BCO to create more flexibility.

How many of us who read this went “Ooops!”

There is a lack of common sense at work in this mandatory order. Not all nominees are qualified and should not have to go through with training when the Session knows they will not approve of the nomination. Training, well done, should also reveal how well the nominee works with the officers. Why would a person who doesn’t play well with others have to continue this process and waste their, and the Session’s time?

This overture seeks to allow Sessions the flexibility to sequence examinations in accordance with their desires and wisdom. It adds “qualified” prior to nominees (which doesn’t seem to help matters). They strike “then” which is the word that creates the sequence.

Overture 18 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery covers the same ground and for the same reasons. The difference between these overtures is that this one only strikes the “then” in 24-1. It then adds a sentence to clarify: “The Session may render a decision on Christian experience at any point in the process, and based on that decision, may judge him ineligible for that election.” This is a more helpful overture in my opinion. I guess the questions of giftedness and chemistry could fall within that. These are the issues for our Session. We are a small congregation. These are the manifestations of Christian experience that we are most concerned with after the biblical qualifications. This would be the preferred of the two overtures.

Amending the Rules of Assembly

In addition to the BCO and Robert’s Rules of Order, the workings of General Assembly are also governed by the Rules of Assembly (RAO). Two overtures seek to amend RAO 15-6.s.2, 3 to adjust the rules concerning Minority Reports. The Overtures Committee is allowed to have minority reports. This is to permit voice at the Assembly to minority opinions.

This is a delicate balance. Voice should be heard and not just in debating the majority recommendation. But debating minority reports can eat up lots of time. One issue becomes how small a minority should be permitted to present their opinion. At the 47th Assembly the size of the Overtures Committee was more than doubled, while the number of dissenters necessary for a minority report remained the same rather than increasing in proportion. This means a much smaller minority can force the Assembly to follow procedure for their minority view.

Overture 9 from Ascension Presbytery focuses on this problem. They foresee additional growth in the number of presbyteries which permits an even larger Committee. They propose fixing the minority report to a percentage of delegates rather than a fixed number of delegates. This does seem to be a better way “to balance the rights of the minority and those of the majority”. This proposal indicates that at least 10% of delegates, at least 1/3 of them must be ruling elders, must sign the minority report for it to be presented to the Assembly. I intend to approve this Overture.

Overture 10, also from Ascension Presbytery focuses on the content of minority reports. Currently there are no requirements on the content of minority reports. Currently the majority does not see the minority report and often does not have sufficient time to prepare a response to the minority report. They recognize that the minority report may actually present a better proposal and the Assembly would be better served if they had the opportunity to present it to the Committee first. As a result they propose adding two new paragraphs to the RAO.

The first would require that a “proposed action or proposed change in the recommendation from the Overtures Committee” be included unless presented to the Committee. The second limits the minority report to arguments actually presented in the Committee deliberations so the representative of the majority isn’t answering previously unheard arguments. I intend to approve this Overture as well.

Technological Issues

Overture 26 from Philadelphia Metro West Presbytery wants to add a new section to BCO 10 to permit the use of telecommunication as the discretion of the body in question: General Assembly, presbyteries and congregations. This would include the meetings of committees, commissions, and agencies. The newest version of Robert’s Rules includes this provision. This may be unnecessary as a result. But it doesn’t hurt to end discussion and debate (since no all of us are experts on RRO and keep up with changes). I agree in theory. Presbyteries that cover lots of geographic territory have been using technology for awhile with committee meetings. Covid has expanded the use of technology to presbytery meetings.

But I can see problems. I just don’t want one person’s technological limitations or problems to nullify a meeting.

The Overture notes that in 2002, the Committee on Constitutional Business prohibited the use of teleconferencing for presbytery meetings based on the language of 13-4 and 14-5. Unless that language is also changed this will probably be rejected by the CCB.

Overture 32 from Central Indiana Presbytery is a request to form a study committee for Biblical Ethics in Digital Media. Their concern arises from the 9th commandment and the WLC 144 & 145. The growth of social media (FB, Twitter and blogs) has brought out the worst in many. Officers in the church (as well as lay people) should be accountable for their words. The overture wants to study how best to apply God’s commands to internet communication and recommend possible BCO changes.

I do see a great need for this. There have been “discernment” blogs run by PCA officers and members that misrepresent actions and views of others. There are times when men treat others horribly online. Our discourse is not always God-honoring. Attempts to self-police have failed. Moderators are often disparaged in other groups. What we are doing isn’t working and we need wisdom to navigate these new waters.

Overture 15 is from the Session of New Covenant PCA in MD to “Disallow Electronic Communications Regarding Voting at the General Assembly.” It refers to RAO 11-2 communications to General Assembly, as does 11-3. This seems irrelevant to the matter at hand. The messages in question are to individuals, not the Assembly. This Overture alleges the existence of a “political director of the National Partnership”. This seems quite inappropriate to me, the making of allegations as the basis for an Overture. If I can talk to my friend sitting next to me, why can’t I use technology to communicate with my friend on the other side of the building? I’m not the part of the National Partnership. Not all communication in the Assembly is for the Assembly. Are we now wanting to silence and censor those who disagree with us or think disagree with us? I do not support this Overture.

Issues of Race

Overture 36 from Chesapeake Presbytery requests a study committee on white supremacy. Yes, racism is a sin. That includes white supremacy (and black supremacy which member of BLM seem to advocate for in its place). Since we have position papers on other issues, they want us to have one on white supremacy in light of the “recent national events reveal both the ripples of, existing tensions between, and deep wounds within” our nation, congregations and families. Perhaps this Overture is mis-named since they mention “how to make progress toward racial reconciliation”.

I know that the media and some politicians want us to see white supremacy as one of our biggest threats. When I see who’s burning down cities, it isn’t them. I don’t think the KKK has much power and aside from some militia groups in the middle of nowhere, I’m just not seeing it. Admittedly, I could be naive and I don’t spend time in dark web chats.

This is controversial since the goals and foundational ideas supporting this overture are not clear (beyond explaining that racism is a sin). Is this arising from embracing CRT and wokeness? Or, to put it another way is this from Social Justice A (biblical justice) or Social Justice B (non-biblical expression of social justice- see the Thaddeus Williams video below)? Which “social scientists” will be rely on? Why only “white supremacy”? Hopefully these are questions that can be addressed more fully at GA.

I recognize that there are racists and there is systemic racism. I am increasingly convinced that CRT, which rejects a biblical world view, by its focus on groups (oppressors and oppressed, colonizers and colonized etc.) at the expense of individuals, with its focus on power and not hatred, and its worldly solutions is not the way for us go. It is anti-gospel, in my opinion. I am not in favor of an overture that would move us toward wokeness. I would be interested in one that seeks gospel solutions to these problems of sin.

There are three overtures on the issue of “Asian Flourishing” in light of the recent rise in attacks on Asians in America (what about the rise in anti-semitism?). The first is Overture 45 from Metro Atlanta. The next, Overture 46 from Metro NY, is nearly identical.

In previous years we addressed racial issues that had direct connection to our denomination (meaning, our churches and forefathers were guilty and complicit in racism in our churches and communities). Are the Korean churches in our denomination experiencing problems within our denomination? I’m sorry, I’m growing weary of what can seem to be virtue signaling. That doesn’t mean this is simply virtue signaling. I struggle with our perceived denominational need to made statements about every controversy. (Did I mention that one of my kids is from China?) I didn’t think we needed to make one on marriage. I thought the Scriptures and our Confessions were clear on that issue and on this issue: favoritism is sin. Hatred in the heart is condemned by Jesus. Acts of violence are sinful. Scripture also tells us to weep with those who weep.

There are some positive recommendations in the overture, such as the pastoral letter, making information known (though I’m not sure how people couldn’t have some general idea about the racism and oppression experienced by Asian in our country). I am divided.

Overture 48 from the Korean Capital Presbytery also wants us to denounce anti-Asian violence. It does hit home with them, and we should weep with them. Is that accomplished with an overture? This overture highlights some of the most egregious events in our national history (the Massacre of Chinese in Los Angeles in 1871, the Chinese Expulsion Act of 1882, and the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II). Perhaps we should just repudiate the listed activities (scapegoating, jokes, slurs and violence), period. They are wrong regardless of who the victims are. The largest public lynching in U.S. history was in New Orleans in 1891 and the victims were Italian. Polish joke books are common. Irish people were enslaved and hated in America. Our objects of hatred and prejudice is not limited to any particular groups (Hispanics have plenty of events they can mention). Those who hate and exhibit prejudice are also not limited to any particular groups. Spike Lee’s profanity-laden montage in the middle of Do the Right Thing exposes the hatred of people of different ethnic groups for other groups. I think we need to go deeper and broader in how we approach this or we will just address the problem de jour.

Too often such events lead to the comparing of grievances which leaves us more estranged from one another. We use them to justify our actions toward other groups of people. It would be a great day if comparing our scars drew us together as it did Hooper and Quint in Jaws. We all know these actions are wrong- we need a way forward. The Law doesn’t give us the way forward, only the gospel does.

Overture 47 from Chesapeake Presbytery concerns a study committee on Critical Race Theory. Many in the PCA have been embracing CRT, and others have been denouncing it as committing the same sins of favoritism and prejudice that lead to our racial problems in the first place. I have relationships in which disagreement on CRT has created walls. It is so hard to talk about this because rejection or acceptance of CRT is met with equal measures of suspicion. At times assumptions are unfairly made which shut down discussion.

I’m not sure a study committee is the right way to go. Perhaps a debate at next year’s GA would be a better route. It could be preceded by a short tutorial on what CRT is by an advocate. Perhaps this takes place in addition to a balanced study committee that summarizes CRT in a way that advocates affirm. Let us learn from the Federal Vision Study Committee that many questioned in terms of content and tone so we don’t make similar mistakes.

This is an issue that isn’t just “out there” but also within our denomination. We need to address it, somehow, so we don’t bite and devour one another. But fairly, accurately.

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