Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Vision (10/19/17): What drives you?

Image: Apple doughnuts from Carter Mountain Orchard, Charlottesville, Virginia

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 4:31-38.
But he said to them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of (John 4:32).
What is it that drove the Lord Jesus in his earthly life? What moved him? What motivated him? It was to do the will of the Father who sent him (cf. John 3:16-17).
This is perhaps best epitomized in his prayer in the garden: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
What fed, what satisfied the Lord Jesus Christ? Doing the will of the Father. We speak of both the active and the passive obedience of Christ. His will was in perfect sync with the Father’s so that he might fill in all the inadequacies of our imperfect adherence to the Father’s will.
Specific insight into Christ’s doing the will of the Father, as applied to this situation, is revealed in John 6:
John 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. 39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
The point is that in talking to the Samaritan woman at the well about the living water he had partaken of a more satisfying food: capturing the heart of one of God’s elect!
In light of Christ’s example, consider now what it is that drives you. Is it to do the will of the Father? Is it to be used as part of the means to bring others to Christ whether by preaching (for officers) or by witness and invitation (all God’s people)? Is it the simple satisfaction of living the Christian life? On one hand we need to remember that we are not Christ and can never be like him. On the other hand, we need to recognize that he lived his life as a model for what ours should be. And one day by God’s grace we will be conformed to his image. To what end do you live?
Brethren, we have a food to satisfy us that other men know not of. Let us be driven by this and not by lesser things.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Orientation to the 2017 Keach (Knollys) Conference

The 2017 Keach Conference was held Friday-Saturday, September 29-30 at Covenant RBC in Warrenton, Va. I was given the task again this year of a giving an "orientation" to our meeting at the start of the conference. Here are my notes from this year's orientation.

Orientation to the Keach Conference
September 29, 2017

Dear brethren,

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.

I am Jeff Riddle, pastor of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Louisa, Virginia, and I have been given the task again this year of extending a warm welcome to you on behalf of the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia and of offering an orientation to the annual Keach Conference.

This is the sixteenth consecutive fall season in which a group of believers, church members and officers, from various congregations across the Old Dominion and beyond, have gathered to enjoy edifying fellowship and conversation and to hear concentrated doctrinal teaching and preaching on the most precious faith “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).

During these years we have met in various locations across the commonwealth, from Virginia Beach (FBC, Virginia Beach, in our first meeting), to Northern Virginia (Good News Baptist Church, Alexandria), to Richmond (All Saints Presbyterian Church), to Harrisonburg (Providence BC, last year).

Our meetings have included various participants over the years. Some have attended only once or twice. Others have become regular fixtures. Some have never been able to attend in person but have faithfully listened to the messages online (last year’s messages alone have received around a thousand collective downloads).

In the early years, we called our gathering the “Evangelical Forum,” reflecting our desire to rekindle interest in the Biblical evangelion, or gospel. Eventually, our interest became more defined as we moved from focus on soteriological Calvinism to a more full-orbed, Reformed, confessional Christianity.

One evidence of this shift (one might even call it growth or maturity) is the fact that eleven years ago (in 2007) we decided to make the theme of our conference a consecutive chapter by chapter study of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689). Thus, last year our conference theme was “Of Effectual Calling” (chapter ten).

Another evidence of this shift, was the fact that we changed the name of the conference in 2010 from “Evangelical Forum” to the “Keach Conference,” calling the meeting after the influential English Particular Baptist minister Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), a man who had suffered public pillory for his preaching of credo-baptism, one of those present at the assembly which adopted the Second London Baptist Confession, and the only Baptist whose profile was included in Joel Beeke and Randal J. Pederson’s book Meet the Puritans.

We have been blessed over the years with some outstanding and gifted speakers who have agree to come to our humble gathering, often at little compensation other than covering their travel costs. This has included men like Greg Barkman (Scripture; Beacon Baptist Church), Joseph Pipa (God; Greenville Presbyterian Seminary), Derek Thomas (God’s decree; then at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss), David Murray (Creation, Puritan Theological Seminary); Joel Beeke (Providence, Puritan Theological Seminary), Malcolm Watts (Providence, Emmanuel Church, Salisbury, England), and Jim Savastio (Of Christ the Mediator, RBC-Louisville), to name but a few. We have also been blessed to hear gifted pastors from Virginia, including Lloyd Sprinkle, Bryan Wheeler, and Steve Clevenger (again, just to mention a few).

With regard to respected and able speakers, this year’s conference is no exception as we welcome Pastor Poh Boon Sing of the Damansara RBC of Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, along with his wife Goody. Pastor Poh will be introduced later, but let me say something about our speaker at this point, if I may.

In 2015 I had the privilege of visiting Pastor Poh, staying in his home, located above the church meeting hall, and speaking in an annual theology conference hosted by his church for Reformed ministers and local church members (we might call it their “Keach Conference”). Delegates attended from various places in southeast Asia and beyond (from Malaysia, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Pakistan). In that visit, I got to see first-hand the ongoing ministry and fruit of Pastor Poh’s labors within his own church and beyond, where he serves as a sort of Baptist “bishop” (I know that’s not part of our ecclesiology; ok, let’s call it “mentor”).  I saw and heard, in particular, the wide range of Pastor Poh’s labors in the vineyard, as I watched him move, with ease and competence, from capably explaining complicated doctrinal topics to eager theological students, to preaching the simple gospel to scores of Nepali migrant workers, gathered in a single crowded room (we would call it a “flop-house”) or to Indonesian construction workers living in what we would call make-shift slums.

Pastor Poh is, in fact, a recognized expert in the field of both English Particular Baptist historical theology and in Reformed Baptist ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. We are honored to have him here.

In light of this year’s speaker, I want to point out one change to our program and I want to suggest another change:

First, let me point out a change we’ve already made in the program:

According to our previously adopted thematic plan, this year we would have been looking at chapter 11, Of Justification. This certainly might have been very fitting given that this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (October 31, 1517-2017). When we discovered that we might be able to have Pastor Poh come to speak at the conference this year, however, we decided that though we might have had him address chapter 11, it would only be fitting if we skipped ahead to chapter 26, Of the church. Rest assured, next year we will return to chapter 11.

Pastor Poh, no doubt, will be quick to acknowledge that he is first and foremost a student of Scripture and that good and sincere men and churches might not always agree completely in their views on church government. As our confession acknowledges in chapter one, paragraph 6, “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to all human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”

We look forward to this opportunity to listen to and learn from a man who has given much time and attention to this topic.

Second, let me suggest a change.

If you have read Pastor Poh’s important 2013 study A Garden Enclosed: A historical study and evaluation of the form of church government practiced by Particular Baptists in the 17th and 18th centuries, you know that he suggests that Benjamin Keach and, later, John Gill were primarily responsible for what he believes to be an infelicitous departure from the Independent church government model of John Owen which had been adopted by the first generation of Reformed (Particular) Baptists.
According to Poh, Keach was only a “second generation leader” (A Garden Enclosed, p. 126), a “controversial figure” (p. 168), who relished being “engaged in all controversies” (p. 176).  He was “a prickly, rash, and independent-minded personality” (p. 176).  He held to a “mixed theology” and often straddled the line between the General and Particular Baptists, on various issues (p. 206).  Among Particular Baptists, he was a “virtual loner” (p. 220).
Poh’s hero, on the other hand, is Hanserd Knollys [pronounced Knowles] (1599-1691), one of the few early Baptist pastors with a university education. He suggests that Knollys was “most influential among the Particular Baptists,” and he can even speak of his influence as “the Knollys’ factor” (p. 180).  He further suggests that Knollys’ influence has been unjustly downplayed by more recent Baptist historians.  In truth, Poh argues, “[William] Kiffin was the Hermes and Knollys the Zeus of the Particular Baptist community” (p. 183).  Of the three so-called “mighty men” among early Baptists (Knollys, Kiffin, and Keach), “Knollys was chief of the three” (p. 183).
In light of these convictions and in deference to our speaker, I suggest that we refer to our 2017 conference as the Knollys conference, rather than the Keach Conference (but that, for the sake of consistency, we go back to Keach next year).
So, welcome to the 2017 Knollys conference! May the Lord richly bless and encourage us as we meet together and learn about his church, which he himself founded upon Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ!” and against which, as Christ has promised, the gates of hell shall not prevail.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Calvin on Papists, Mahometans, and the Sufficiency of Scripture

I’ve been reading Calvin’s commentary on John as I preach expositionally through the Fourth Gospel. In those sermons I only get to refer to a fraction of the Geneva master’s insights. One overlooked comment from recent sermons on John 4 was Calvin’s contrast of the woman at the well’s simple trust in Christ (turning from the corruption of Samaritan religion) with that of “Papists” and “Mahometans” in his remarks on John 4:25:

I wish that those who now boast of being the pillars of the Christian Church, would at least imitate this poor woman, so as to be satisfied by the simple doctrine of Christ, rather than claim I know not what power of superintendence for putting forth their inventions. For whence was the religion of the Pope and Mahomet collected but from the wicked additions, by which they imagined that they brought the doctrine of the Gospel to a state of perfection? As if it would have been incomplete without such fooleries. But whoever shall be well taught in the school of Christ will ask no other instructors, and indeed will not receive them.

….There is, therefore, no danger that he will disappoint one of those whom he finds ready to become his disciples. But they who refuse to submit to him, as we see done by many haughty and irreligious men, or who hope to find elsewhere a wisdom more perfect—as the Mahometans and Papists do—deserve to be driven about by innumerable enchantments, and at length to be plunged in an abyss of errors….

Notice that Calvin sees the problem with both groups to be their tendency to make “wicked additions” to Scripture in order to bring it to “perfection.” For Calvin, the Scriptures are sufficient and complete as they are.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thoughts on the St. Michael Golden-Domed Monastery

Image: Views of the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery complex, Kiev, Ukraine, August 2017.

This summer I visited the St. Michael Golden-Domed Monastery in Kiev, Ukraine. The vivid sky-blue facades and the glistening domes are a distinctive landmark on the slopes of the Dnieper River. To our surprise, however, we discovered that though the current impressive structures do indeed stand on a traditional Orthodox monastic site that dates back to 989 AD (and before the advent of Christianity, it had been a site of pagan worship), the current main building, reconstructed in the thirteenth century Ukranian Baroque style, was only completed in December 1999. It is, in fact, a nearly brand new building (albeit on ancient foundations) made to look old!

While there I picked a guidebook which I partly read as we toured the grounds and only fully read last week. The guidebook was originally written in Ukrainian and later translated into readable but slightly imperfect English.

The book explains the “period of decline and destruction” that happened under communism (pp. 34-35).

This story began with Bolshevik bombing of Kiev’s landmark churches January 17-26, 1918. “Seven heavy shells hit St. Michael’s Cathedral,” which “smashed one of the central arches, which kept the dome.”

When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1919 “the monastery buildings were transferred to other ‘owners.’” The guidebook author notes that the nationalization of the monastery was, in fact, “folly embezzlement of property” and that there was a veritable “scramble for it among the various Soviet institutions.”

He adds:

In 1922 all residential buildings of the monastery were turned into dormitories for students at Kyiv high schools. After removing domes and the cross of the Refectory Church, and whitening the paintings [I assume this means painting over the church’s artwork and icons], a dining room was placed here. In the monastery was the Institute of Red professors, editors of several newspapers, and magazines, and various research institutions.

This was not the end, however, of the communist effort to erase the Ukranian and Orthodox Christian heritage represented by the monastic complex:

In 1934-1935 they quietly dismantled St. Basil (Three consecrators) church, and when it came to the Monastery, the public began to sound the alarm. The Cathedral was offered to eliminate on the grounds that it had no special historical or aesthetic value, as it had been in the Baroque style.

It continues:

During 1934-1936 a bell-tower, most of the wall to the economic gate, the Bishop’s house, all commercial buildings of the court were dismantled. In the Spring of 1935 the Bolsheviks began to strip the church: the golden leaves of copper from the domes was removed, a silver sanctum of St. Barbara was given for melting, the baroque iconostasis was destroyed. The Cathedral was destroyed on August 14, 1937 at 9 pm.

Take note of that last line. The building had to be torn down in darkness for fear of the people’s reaction. One is reminded of Orwell’s depiction in 1984 of a socialist state, bent on secretly erasing history for the “good” of the people.

The account ends with Psalm 137-esque codicil:

History teaches that abuse of the Holy Temple of God does not pass with impunity, but the eyes of the destroyers were blinded. Most of the party functionaries, who had decided the fate of the cathedral –P. Postyshev, V. Balytskiy, V. Zatonsky, J. Pysmenny, G. Bordon—were shot by their accomplices in 1937-1938. The Head of People’s Commissars of Ukraine committed suicide. S. Kosoir was shot, the same fate befell the the head of Kyiv City Council R. Petrushansky.

The apostle Paul’s citation of the Scriptures in Romans 12:19: “for as it is written, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord'” comes to mind.

I was struck by this account not because of any perceived inherent spiritual importance in St. Michael’s physical structures per se. Though I can appreciate the aesthetics of the buildings, as a good Particular Baptist I stand by our confession’s statement that “Neither prayer nor any other part of religious worship, is now under the gospel, tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or toward which it is directed; but God is to be worshiped everywhere in spirit and in truth….” (Chapter 22 “Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day,” paragraph 6). I was struck, rather, by what it says about the conflict between the socialist state and symbols of religion, history, and nation. Even when suppressed, at least in Ukraine, they seem to have come back.


Friday, October 13, 2017

The Vision (10.13.17): God is a Spirit

Image: Worship at the Lynchburg Reformed Baptist Mission (10.8.17)

Note: Devotion take from sermon on John 4:24-42 on October 1, 2017.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

The conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well continues in v. 24 as Jesus announces the spirituality of God: God is a Spirit.

This verse is a key prooftext in chapter 2, paragraph 1 of our Second London Baptist confession which affirms that God is “a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions.”

 Contrary to the ancient pagan religions which saw the gods as creaturely beings, and contrary to modern religions, like Mormonism, which claim that God has “a body of flesh and bones” as we do, Jesus says that God is a Spirit.

What about the incarnation, the Word made flesh? Does not the second person of the Godhead, even now, inhabit a resurrection body? Yes, but remember Christ is one person with two natures, fully God and fully man. With respect to his humanity he has a body, but this, in no way, invalidates the truth that God the Father is a Spirit.

Jesus reiterates the point made in v. 23: that God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Worship is spiritual. The focus in worship is not in the physical. There are no “holy places.” God can be worshipped in a church meeting house, or in a storefront, or in a field. We do not need the props of external stimuli to worship God. In fact, such things might well mislead.

Worship is also in truth. That is, it is guided by true belief, true doctrine. The standard for true worship is not sincerity. One can be very sincere about false beliefs. What matters is truth. God is not only honored but also glorified, rightly worshipped, when his people embrace his truth. God is glorified by orthodoxy.

God is a Spirit; let us worship him in spirit and in truth.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Comparison Facts on the Synoptic Gospels

I’ve been reading Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer, eds., The Synoptic Gospels: Four Views (Baker Academic, 2016). The four views and their proponents in this book: Two Source Theory (Craig A Evans); Farrer Hypothesis (Mark Goodacre); Two Gospel Hypothesis (David Barrett Peabody); Orality and Memory Hypothesis (Rainer Reisner). I’ll hopefully write a fuller review when I finish.

I am less inclined to see any direct literary relationship among the Synoptic Gospels (independent development view).

Here, however, are some Synoptic Gospel comparison facts from the introductory chapter by the editors (from pp. 6-8):

90 percent of Mark is shared with either Matthew or Luke or both.

Nearly all of that 90 percent of Mark is found in Matthew.

About 50 percent of Mark is found in Luke.

Of c. 665 verses found in Mark, 600 appear in some form in Matthew or Luke.

Matthew and Luke share 230 verses not in Mark.

Mark can be divided into 88 pericopes. Of those, only 5 do not appear in either Matthew or Luke.

As for that final point, on there being only five pericopes, in Craig A. Evans' chapter in this work, he lists eleven distinct passages in Mark (p. 35). Here is my summary of those:

Introduction: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”
Mark 1:1
Jesus saying: “the sabbath was not made for man, but man for the sabbath”
Mark 2:27
Jesus accused of being “beside himself”
Mark 3:20-21
Parable of the secretly growing seed
Mark 4:26-29
Jesus’ disciples accused of eating with “unwashen” hands
Mark 7:2-4
Jesus heals a deaf and dumb man
Mark 7:32-37
Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida
Mark 8:22-26
Jesus’ saying, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting”
Mark 9:29
Jesus’ saying on being “salted with fire”
Mark 9:48-49
Jesus’ call to watch
Mark 13:33-37
The naked young man flees at Jesus’ arrest
Mark 14:51-52


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Radio Interview with Pastor Poh on Rob Schilling Show (10/5/17)

Image: Rob Schilling from the Schilling Show

Last Thursday, while visiting our area, Pastor Poh Boon Sing did a radio interview on the Rob Schilling Show on local talk radio WINA AM 1070 in Charlottesville, VA. In the interview he gives his testimony and speaks about the Christian experience in Malaysia, a majority Muslim nation.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Confessional Baptist’s Reading of Thomas Howard’s Evangelical is Not Enough

I recently read Thomas Howard’s Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament (Ignatius, 1984). Howard is emeritus professor of English at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass. He was raised in a prominent evangelical family and is brother to evangelical writer Elisabeth Elliot. In his 20s he became an Anglican and at age 50 Roman Catholic. This book was first published in 1984 by Thomas Nelson, a year before Howard swam the Tiber, so much of it is an explanation of his movement to Anglicanism. A postscript describes his transition to Rome.

Howard’s critique of evangelical worship:

The center of the book is a critique of the vacuity of much evangelical worship and liturgy.

In Anglican worship, he was impressed by the fact that the vicar “hardly addressed the congregation directly during the act of worship… He did not greet us, and he did not smile at us. No attempt was made to create a feeling of familiarity or welcome” (45).

The experience “did not depend in the smallest degree on atmosphere nor on the minister’s establishing any sort of contact with the congregation. The notion of group dynamics would have seemed grotesque, irrelevant, and embarrassing” (46).

He reacts against the evangelical tendency to focus on the personality of the minister. According to Howard, “the less individuality we have to cope with in the minister, the better” (60).

Howard observes that the “extempore prayers” of evangelicals are “made up of stock phrases strung together,” suggesting that “spontaneity is impossible sooner or later” (48). He adds that as an evangelical he had “little appreciation for the whole Church as a praying body, with its own prayers suitable for perpetual use” (49).

He later adds: “But I have wondered whether in its stress on earnestness, and even fervor, evangelicalism has not to some extent overestimated most of us” (76).

In contrast, Howard notes the appeal of ritual:

That ritual might actually be a relief, and even a release, is almost incomprehensible to [evangelicals]. That the extempore and impromptu are eventually shallow, enervating, and exhausting seems a contradiction to these people, who so earnestly believe that nothing does not spring from the authenticity of the moment is actually fruitful (96).

He concludes, “Evangelicalism, stalwart as it is, had in effect left me with nothing but the Bible and the modern world” (58).

Some confessional responses:

There is much in Howard’s critique with which I resonate and which we would do well to hear and ponder. I too have come to find much that passes as evangelical worship to be superficial, vacuous, and sometimes even outright silly.

Yes, evangelical ministers or “worship leaders” sometimes try to act as “hale fellows well met,” liturgical masters of ceremony, more intent on massaging the egos of the “audience” than leading them before a holy God.

There are, however, also some problems with Howard’s critique. God’s people are his ekklesia. They are his “called out” ones. And one aspect of corporate worship is the assembling of God’s people (cf. Heb 10:25).

Yes, there are problems with much superficiality in evangelical worship, but, from what I have observed, superficiality might also seep into so-called “liturgical” worship. This is why many young persons who comes from such traditions are often attracted to what they find to be more personal, welcoming, and authentic in evangelicalism (even if, later on down the road, they tire of its weaknesses and drift away).

Howard’s critique of Reformed Worship:

Within the general critique of evangelical worship, Howard also strikes out at what he perceives to be the weaknesses of Reformed worship.

He finds Reformed worship to be too austere, too cerebral: “It is Buddhism and Platonism and Manichaenism that tells us to disavow our flesh and expunge everything but thoughts” (37).

The “sparse and intellectual approach,” according to Howard, “treats us as though we were disembodied intellects” (102).

He disavows a religion that says to us, “No. Sit still. Or stand and sing…. But your main job is to think about the event and hear a sermon about it. Don’t do anything” (146).

Some confessional responses:

At one point, Howard draws an analogy to a birthday party, noting that on such occasions we make much of ceremony (candles, cake, dimmed lights, etc.), asking why we would expect less in worship (see 102). The problem with this analogy is that a birthday party is not worship. It is not something the Lord has commanded.

This is a general problem with Howard’s approach. Though many of his critiques of broad evangelical worship are on target, his understanding of the Regulative Principle is less precise. Perhaps this is because Howard was more exposed to broad evangelicalism, even a Calvinistic tinted version of it, but not Reformed confessionalism.

Christianity and its worship is about the renewal of the mind (Rom 12:2), and it is about hearing the Word (cf. Rom 10:14, 17). Hearing is doing! He accuses Protestant worship of being like Buddhism, but does not note that the RC liturgical tradition might just as well be compared to the sensuality of Hinduism!

Along these lines, we might note that Howard is also less secure in attempting to marshal Biblical arguments to support his shift in views. For example, in an effort to support the idea of prayers for the dead and post-mortem spirituality, he claims the Bible is largely silent, neglecting obviously relevant passages like the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, among others.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, though, I find Howard’s critique of evangelical worship to be at times painfully accurate. I do not agree with him that the answer is to embrace Rome. It is a shame that Howard did not dig deeper into his Protestant, Biblical heritage, before making this move.

He raises an alarm, however, that we should heed. Evangelicalism, for many, holds an initial appeal that often dissipates over time due to lack of depth. It is like a sweet dessert that gives a quick sugary high but ends up with a crash, emptiness, and hunger. Some leave it for nominalism or nothingness. Others, like Howard, drift to the liturgical churches, whether Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, or RC, looking for something with more heft.

Howard senses this unease: “Nonetheless, something is causing thousands of stoutly loyal evangelical men and women to inquire into matters of the greatest antiquity and gravity” (149).

The challenge for confessional ministers is to embrace, teach, and embody a rich and soul-satisfying experience of Protestant, confessional worship, regulated by Scripture.
Howard also raises another grave matter: ecclesiology. He jibes that Pentecost was not “the birthday merely of a clutter of conventicles, all jostling and jockeying and clamoring with a multitude of voices but no real authority or unity” (150).

In his postscript (composed after his embrace of Rome), Howard writes: “the question, What is the Church? becomes, finally, intractable….” (157). He concludes: “Yes—I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the Ancient Church. I accept its claims” (158). We, as Protestants, must be able, charitably, to explain the ways in which Rome does not reflect the ancient church, as evidenced in how it is presented in Scripture and point out that it does not, in fact, provide the authentic unity which only Christ may give (see John 17:20-22).

So, we must strive for a coherent and winsome theology and practice of worship but also of the church. Evangelical is, indeed, not enough, But neither is Rome.


Monday, October 09, 2017

Gleanings from George Grant's Technology & Empire

I recently read George Grant’s Technology & Empire (Anansi, 1969). This is George Grant (1918-1988) the Canadian Anglican philosopher, not the contemporary Presbyterian minister of the same name.

Here are some gleanings:

On the influence of the Protestant, Christian tradition in North America and its modern decline:

Calvinism provided the determined and organized men and women who could rule the mastered world. The punishment they inflicted on non-human nature, they had first inflicted on themselves (24).

Now when Calvinism and the pioneering moment have both gone, that primal still shapes us (26).

North American liberalism “is filled with remnential echoes of Calvinism” (26).

If one is raised in the North American dream one so wants one’s society and its institutions to have potentialities for nobility. For example, I had hoped for years that our ecclesiastical organizations (being the guardians of the beauty of the gospel) might continue to be able to permeate this society with something nobler than the barrenness of technical dynamism. I hoped for this when every piece of evidence before me was saying that it was not true. I could not face the fact that we were living at the end of Western Christianity…. (44).

To understand English modernity one must look above all at that unique meeting of Calvinistic Protestantism and the new secular spirit of the Renaissance (65).

[Max Weber] sees with great clarity how Calvinism provided the necessary ethic for capitalism; what he does not understand is that deeper movement of the mind in which Puritans were open to the new physical and moral science in a way the older Christianity was not…. The union of the new secularism and Protestantism brought forth the first great wave of social modernity in England and its empire (66).

Canada’s founders were “that extraordinary concoction, straight Locke with a dash of Anglicanism” (68).

It is a long and complex road from the liberal Protestant believers of Massachusetts to the end of ideology (130).

On the definition of religion:

The origin of the word, of course, is shrouded in uncertainty, but the most likely account is that it arises from the Latin “to bind together”... That is, as that system of belief (whether true or false) which binds together the life of individuals and gives to those lives whatever consistency of purpose they may have. Such use implies that I would describe liberal humanists or Marxists as religious people; indeed that I would say that all persons (in so far as they are rational beings) are religious. It is impossible outside a treatise on the philosophy of religion to justify this broader use of the term as against the more limited one. I can, however, raise on difficulty about the narrower definition which leads to suspicion of its use. Are we not to call Buddhism, or Marxism, religions? Yet neither of these in their purest form make any reference to a “higher” divine power (46).

On modern Christians and the public sphere:

Though it might be a “necessity,” if religious people (Christians) are “forced to retreat from the public square and concern themselves simply with what they consider to be true religion” leaving it to “the advocates of the religion of progress and mastery, to do what they want with it,” the result will be “a sad one.” It will not only imply “an admission of the impotence of human charity, but also a total admission of the barren future of our civilization” (49-50).

On the definition of technology:

By technology I mean “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity” [from J. Ellul, The Technological Society]. The dynamism of technology has gradually become the dominant purpose in western civilization because the most influential men in that civilization have believed for the last centuries that the mastery of chance was the chief means of improving the race (113).

On the “great factories” of academia in the humanities:

In English literature there are many great factories pouring out editions, commentaries, and lives on all but the minuscule figures of our literature…. If one has a steady nerve, it is useful to contemplate how much is written about Beowulf in one year in North America. One can look at the Shakespeare industry with perhaps less a sense of absurdity; but when it comes to figures such as Horace Walpole having their own factory, one must beware of vertigo. The difficulty in the research orientation is that whereas research in the progressive sciences produces discoveries which the public sees as useful, this is not so in the humanities (124).

On meaning and modern art (entertainment):

…. the central role of the humanities will be increasingly seen as handmaiden to the performing arts…. Purpose for the majority will be found in the subsidiary ethos of the fun culture…. One is tempted to state that the North American motto will be “the orgasm at home and napalm abroad,” but in the nervous mobile society, people have only so much capacity for orgasm, and the flickering messages of the performing arts will fill the interstices…. The public purpose of art will not be to lead men to the meaning of things, but to titivate, cajole, and shock them into a world where the question of meaning is not relevant…. (126-127).

When truth in science seems to teach us that we are accidental inhabitants of a negligible planet in the endless public spaces, men are forced to seek meaning in other ways than through the intellect. If truth leads to meaninglessness, then men in their thirst for meaning turn to art (127).


Friday, October 06, 2017

The Vision (10.6.17): Come, see a man

Image: Tomatoes and peppers, North Garden, Virginia, October 2017.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 4:24-42.

Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did: Is this not the Christ? (John 4:29).

Notice the words of the Samaritan woman to her fellow citizens. I see in this a model strategy for introducing Jesus to those who do not know him. It is the ministry of invitation. What does a believer say when he speaks to unsaved friends, family members and relatives about Christ? Come see a man who knows me through and through. Notice that this is an invitation not an argument. We can’t make anyone come to Christ, but we can invite everyone to consider Christ. Jesus told John’s disciples “Come and see” (John 1:39). Philip told Nathanael: “Come and see” (John 1:46).

Notice that the woman’s invitation is joined with a question: Is this not the Christ? This, again, is not an argument. It is a suggestion to consider who Jesus is. Jesus himself used this question with his own disciples at Caesarea Philippi, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Mark 8:29). Evangelism is often best expressed simply by inviting unbelievers to come into Christ’s presence and to consider who he is.

We are later told in v. 39: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in him for the saying if the woman, which testified, He told me all that I ever did.”  We often talk about witnessing and giving a testimony. Here is a Biblical proof for both those terms. She did not preach a sermon. She gave a witness or a testimony in her own words to her experience of Christ. She was not an apostle. Calvin notes that she did not assume the office of a teacher but did “the office of a trumpet or bell to invite others to come to Christ.”

Imagine if you had an illness of some kind. Perhaps you had suffered with that illness for a long time, till one day you came across a cure or treatment that healed your sickness and took away your suffering. And imagine if you had friends and family members who also suffered under the same illness. Would you not tell them about the relief you had found? Would you not direct them to go to the place where you found your medicine? Or, would you sit there dumb? Would you rationalize: “They probably don’t really want to hear about this.”? What an act of cruelty that would be if you remained silent!

Now, let us consider the example of this women and be bold in pursuit of a ministry of invitation.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle