By In Worship

Prayer: Our Words In The Word

In the beginning the Speaker spoke the Word. The Word went out from the Speaker, carried along by the Breath, and the world was created, formed, and filled. Speaker, Word, and Breath working in loving, powerful union with one another to create from nothing everything that is.

The height of this creative activity was the creation of man himself, the image of God. He is a creaturely word; a revelation of God within the creation. This form fashioned from the dust of the ground was himself filled with the Spirit-Breath of God. This Spirit empowered him to take the creation given to him and, by word and deed, follow in the image of God to create, arrange, form, and fill this creation so that it will one day reflect God’s own heavenly throne room. This is his dominion task.

The dominion man is to take over the world is not some impersonal job handed down to him from a distant God. The man is a part of the divine family. God has called him into the family business of creating. He can’t do this apart from the rest of the family. He is not God himself after all. He, like the Triune God, must work in concert with the family. Man is dependent upon Father, Son, and Spirit–Speaker, Word, and Breath–to take the dominion over the creation.

Central to this mission, therefore, is to be in prayerful communion with the Triune God. Man is a co-laborer with God. God doesn’t do the work apart from man, and man doesn’t do the work apart from God. God has sovereignly chosen to act in this way.

The Divine Family is still working as they did in the original creation, and we who belong to the family now participate in this creation project. We have been united to God the Father–the Speaker–in the Son–the Word–by the Spirit–the Breath. Now being “in the Word” we are “words of God.” Being given the Spirit at Pentecost, we are words of the Speaker being carried along by the Breath of God to create, arrange, form, and fill the world so that it comes to look like the kingdom of God. Our words do this, not because they are mechanical, not because they are always theologically precise, but because we share the life of God himself, the Creator of all. The Spirit helps our weaknesses; when we don’t have just the right words or we haven’t done things just right. Because we share life with him, he is more than making up for our weaknesses.

Within this creation project we share with God, prayer is indispensable. In prayer we are caught up in the Trinity to participate in this power that God himself exercises over and in the world. There are other activities that are necessary to our taking of dominion, but nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than prayer. Nothing can replace it. While we all have different gifts of the Spirit to accomplish the mission of the church, we all share the ability and responsibility to pray.

If the church is to accomplish her mission, then prayer will need to be central to her life together. Prayer cannot be subordinate to all of the other activities that go on in the church. We are not a “house of social gatherings,” or a “house of support groups.” We are first and foremost a house of prayer (Isa 56.7). If the church forgets this most fundamental activity in her life together, we have become only another civic organization. Yes, we may grow great crowds because people “feel connected” or there is so much for them to do. But if prayer is not central to the life of that group of people, the church is not being what she was called to be and her mission cannot be accomplished.

In love our God bids us to join him in his creative work through prayer. He desires that we share the fullness of his life. What could be a higher and more beautiful privilege? Why would we let ourselves be distracted from the disciplines of prayer by lesser things?

You, dear Christian, are imbued with power because of your membership in the divine family. Though many times imperceptible to you, when you pray, the world is changing. Give yourself to prayer. Pray individually. Pray with your family. Pray with the church. Pray.

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By In Books, Politics

Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World

To make the Christian faith plausible to the secular mind, we either have to (1) de-mystify their Scriptures or (2) re-enchant their cosmos. In addition to the later apologetic being more truthful, it’s also more beautiful. In his new book Recapturing the Wonder (available here), Mike Cosper has written a truly beautiful book—one able to re-enchant the world of even the most jaded modern. Drawing on the work of Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Dallas Willard, and Thomas Merton, Cosper shows that there is indeed a path—paved in ancient practices—to transcendence in an age of materialism and consumerism. As a High School teacher, I’ll certainly be using the content of the book in classes for years to come. The book is especially apropos for college students. Were I organizing a reading scheme for a CCO/InterVarsity/RUF leadership team, Recapturing the Wonder would be at the top of my list this semester. To whet your appetite, below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Ours is an age where our sense of spiritual possibility, transcendence, and the presence of God has been drained out. What’s left is a spiritual desert, and Christians face the temptation to accept the dryness of that desert as the only possible world. We have enough conviction and faith to be able to call ourselves believers, but we’re compelled to look for ways to live out a Christian life without transcendence and without the active presence of God, practicing what Dallas Willard once called ‘biblical deism’—a strange bastardization of Christianity that acts as though, once the Bible was written, God left us to sort things out for ourselves.”

“Technology has given us the sense that everything within the universe can be made to appear to our senses and harnessed for our purposes. It may be meaningless, but it can be comprehended and mastered. This mastery, though, is a bit of an illusion as well. The accumulated body of scientific knowledge can tell us all about the canvas, oils, and minerals that combine to make a work of art, but they cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”

“We hunger for that kind of know-how, for a relationship with Scripture that leads to something deeper than head knowledge. We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God, but we’re so afraid of getting something wrong that we either avoid Scripture altogether or treat it as a cold, dead abstraction, unable to connect it to real life.”

“In a disenchanted world, we have our own overarching narrative, and its cornerstone is progress—a sense that the world is moving from disorder to order, that humanity is improving not just biologically and evolutionarily but morally, intellectually, and spiritually.”

“The power of habit is in the way it tunes our body and soul to anticipate a return to the rhythm. We’re primed for it, and when we’re starved of it, we’ll feel pangs of hunger.”

“Regular is a word that needs some redemption in our modern usage. We’re so used to superlatives that we tend to be dismissive and suspect of the ordinary. We don’t want regular; we want super-sized awesomeness. But regular is a good word, and it’s important to embrace it in two senses here. Regular means ordinary. But regular also refers to time. We need solitude to be regular in the sense that it’s repeated— a rhythm we return to as Jesus did.”

“Consuming is about possession, and consuming something uses it up. The end goal of a fast food meal is a pile of empty wrappers. The end goal of most consumer products is obsolescence. We are not meant to dwell with cars, smartphones, and running shoes—not for long, anyway. These things are meant to be used up, and once used up, disposed of or recycled into something new.”

“Reading about the lives of saints, I don’t see immovable giants. Instead, I see Merton falling in love with a nurse and having an affair. I see Brennan Manning fighting a life-long battle with alcohol abuse. I see Charles Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd Jones—two of the greatest preachers in the English language—fighting lifelong battles with depression. But Merton came home to the monastery, Manning died declaring ‘all is grace,’ and Spurgeon and Jones kept preaching the gospel… Somehow, grace abounds in a world full of sorrows.”

“Follow Jesus if you must, seek the face of God if you must, but don’t be surprised if, after a while, it feels like you’ve been battling angels in the darkness. Seeking God’s face in a fallen world is not the easy life; it’s the good life.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By In Politics

Conservatives on the Cutting Edge

Guest Post by Troy Green

In James K.A. Smith’s excellent book, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theologyhe explains recent developments in theology and philosophy among mostly post-liberal (some Catholic) theologians. As with everything Dr. Smith writes, his prose is accessible and written with clarity and precision as he describes the contribution made by some of these post-liberal scholars.

One quote caught my attention. He quotes Wolterstorff saying, “I have long thought, that . . . it’s remarkable that Karl Barth should have arrived in the 1920’s at the views which I characterized as those of the Yale theologians, views which we can now recognize to be….postmodern views. But it’s even more remarkable that Abraham Kuyper should have arrived at postmodern views of academic learning fifty years before that, more than a hundred years ago.”Abraham Kuyper was a brilliant theologian and politician of the latter 19th century who remains in high esteem among conservative evangelical scholars. Yet, Wolterstorff finds it remarkable that Kuyper could be on the cutting edge of theology some 50 years before men like Barth came along and 100 years before Yale theologians.

Question: Is this an anomaly or true to form for conservative evangelical theologians to be so far advanced in comparison to certain philosophical and theological trends of their day?

Smith describes the general consensus of the Radical Orthodox movement: “They are all particularly wary of the danger of adopting secular frameworks for Christian theological and theoretical reflection insofar as such secular paradigms are, ultimately, pagan (i.e., religious but misdirected or apostate).  In short, there is no secular, if by “secular” we mean “neutral” or “uncommitted”; instead, the supposedly neutral public spaces that we inhabit–in the academy or politics–are temples of other gods that cannot be served alongside Christ.”

Wow. There is no secular. There is no neutrality. Since this is the recent big discovery over the past several decades of post-liberal theology, I wonder if we could go back some 50 years and look at some of the conservative evangelical theologians to see what they were saying in the 1950’s and 60’s. A simple reading of anything by Cornelius Van Til one could find similar statements. Of course, this doesn’t even come close to plundering other works–which are replete with such statements–from men like R.J. Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer.

I’m appreciative to see many of these post-liberal theologians stating similar conclusions to that of Van Til. I am delighted to see them make contributions to revive a much needed political ecclesiology—the institutional church—in light of the realization that there is no secular or neutral ground. Conservative evangelical theologian, James B. Jordan, has been pushing an ecclesiocentric theology for decades. This is needed in both conservative and liberal churches as Smith mentions in his book exposing the shortcomings of the fundamentalist and liberal theologians of the modern 20th century.

But before I jump too much in my appreciation of post-liberal thought embracing a virgin birth and the resurrected Jesus, I don’t want to ignore all the areas it’s still wrong (e.g. views on feminism, socialism, homosexuality, etc.). I want to say something to these post-liberal theologians in light of the historical battles – very costly battles – fought by conservative evangelicals defending the integrity of the Bible and the fundamentals of the Christian faith against the claims of liberal predecessors: Welcome! Welcome to the 1960’s. If you are this elated about the discoveries of the sixties, imagine how ecstatic you will be when you reach the eighties and discover cassette tapes, classic rock, and Theonomy/Reconstructionist debates within conservative evangelical theology.

My assumption: Abraham Kuyper is not an anomaly. Neither was R.L. Dabney on EducationJohn G. Machen on LiberalismR.J. Rushdoony on the Politics of Guilt and Pity, and Cornelius Van Til on everything. These men are true to form. To believe the Bible is God’s Word–and to study it as such–is to always be on the cutting edge.

Post originally published at Theopolis.

Rev. Troy Greene is Pastor of The King’s Chapel in Brooklyn, New York.

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By In Film, Podcast

Episode 10: A Review of the Movie Dunkirk

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Pastor Andrew Isker and Sean Johnson offer a review of  “Dunkirk” – a 2017 war film written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Dunkirk is set in May of 1940, when Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, troops were slowly and methodically evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. At the end of this heroic mission, 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were safely evacuated.

Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post described Dunkirk as uncomfortable to watch, “it never relents or relaxes. At the same time, it’s impossible to look away from it.”

Sean Johnson also offered a written review of Dunkirk for FilmFisher.

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By In Politics

Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 3: What Liberalism Implies for the Two Pluralisms

In Part 2 we examined the implications of Kuyperian and liberal pluralisms for ecclesiology, that is, our understanding of the nature and authority of the institutional church. We noted, in particular, that liberalism, following John Locke, is compelled to reduce it to a mere voluntary association of like-minded individuals.

There are two implications to this liberal move. First, it is incapable of accounting for structural differences among an assortment of communities. State and church are not essentially different from the garden club or the Boy Scouts. Whatever differences appear to the casual observer can be ascribed to the collective wills of the individuals who make them up. Proponents are persuaded that, even if different groups of citizens operate out of divergent comprehensive doctrines, they must be made to look beneath these commitments to what are believed to be the raw data of human experience that bind all persons together. These data are, of course, the constituent individuals themselves.

Every community can be easily understood as a collection of individuals who choose to be part of it for reasons peculiar to each member. There is nothing unusual about this approach, the liberal insists. Michael Ignatieff believes himself justified in asserting that liberal individualism is not peculiarly western or historically conditioned; it is human and universal: “It’s just a fact about us as a species: we frame purposes individually, in ways that other creatures do not.” Therefore if the claims of groups and individuals come into conflict, as they inevitably must, Ignatieff confidently concludes that “individual rights should prevail,” despite the contrary claims of nationalists, socialists and many conservatives of a communitarian bent.

The second implication flows logically from the first. If liberals claim that individualism is simply human and universal, then this implies that their own worldview must be privileged above any that denies this. Liberal tolerance is thus conditioned by a worldview that explicitly denies that it is a worldview, and thus finds no difficulty positioning itself as a supposedly neutral arbiter of the competing claims of the other alternative worldviews.

Yet there are those who object to this sleight of hand. Karl Marx, for one, famously denies that such neutrality is possible and argues that political institutions, like all other human agents, always act in behalf of a particular economic class, even if they claim impartiality. There is, in short, no neutrality in the global class struggle. Liberation theologians in Latin America and elsewhere refer to this lack of neutrality as a “preferential option for the poor,” an oft-used expression that does not sit well with the liberal emphasis on the autonomous freely-choosing individual.

However, one need hardly be a Marxist or a liberation theologian to recognize what is at work here. James Kalb points to what he calls the tyrannical character of liberalism, despite its proponents’ undoubtedly well-intended pleas for tolerance of religious differences. The liberal strategy for tolerance requires that the particular claims of traditional religions be softened to more manageable private lifestyle choices. “Even religion, to be legitimate, must transform itself so that it simply restates established egalitarian, rationalist, consumerist, and careerist values.” Moreover, “No religion can claim superiority over any other religion or over irreligion. Each must understand itself as an optional pursuit, and thus as not a religion at all.” Accordingly, the authoritative claims of church institutions will be tolerated only in so far as these institutions accept the norms of a liberal society. The church can continue to claim authority in some fashion over its members, but it cannot do so in a way that might be interpreted to negate the voluntary principle. No one has to belong to a church, after all, and those denominations emphasizing individual choice and free will tend to fit more comfortably into a society governed by a dominating liberal paradigm.

By contrast, an obviously hierarchical church body with a strong confessional identity may be seen as at least potentially disloyal, as was the case with the Roman Catholic Church in nineteenth-century America. As late as 1960, presidential aspirant John F. Kennedy felt compelled to assure the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that he would not be taking orders from the Pope in the conduct of his office. Similarly, in his famous 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame, New York Governor Mario Cuomo explicitly stated that his belief in his church’s teachings on abortion was a private belief with no bearing on his pursuit of public policy.

Of course, it would be unwise to state categorically that all professed liberals everywhere necessarily follow a consistent individualist approach to human communities and religious diversity. With some spectacular exceptions, most people are generally better than their ideological visions would make them if they were to follow them consistently. Remaining open to correction by the real world is key here.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny the historic tendency of liberalism in its various permutations to downplay the significance of nonvoluntary community and to individualize and relativize the claims of traditional religious worldviews. We see this in the increasing trend in the western world to reconfigure marriage as a mere private contract between (thus far!) two persons and to deny any intrinsic structure that might negate this contractual status and even to stigmatize those who adhere to a “thicker” understanding of the marriage covenant. We see it too in judicial efforts to redefine the limited personal liberties found in the English Bill of Rights and its successors (to, e.g., freedom of speech) as a more expansive and normless individual autonomy (e.g., freedom of expression) whose only limit is conceived in terms of John Stuart Mill’s famous harm principle: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

However, Mill’s harm principle, despite its superficial libertarian flavour, has totalitarian tendencies in so far as it is suspicious of those communities bound by standards unrelated to this principle. Liberalism thus negates the very pluralism it claims to uphold. This suggests that another approach is needed.

Part 4: The Kuyperian Alternative

Part 1: Liberalism and Two Kinds of Diversity

Part 2: The Church as Voluntary Association

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By In Worship

What To Pray?

What the world needs now is a crazed Muslim leader in the Middle East who has nuclear capabilities to launch a nuclear weapon at the USA. The world needs Christians to suffer and die at the hands of atheistic Communists and rabid Muslims. America needs abortion to continue to be legal for decades to come. Aunt Lucy needs to be diagnosed with stage four cancer. Uncle Joe needs to be in an accident so that he loses a leg. Henrietta needs to lose her child to leukemia. We and the rest of creation need these horrible things.

Who would ever think such things? Who would ever pray for such things? No one that I know.

However, in the infinite wisdom of God, situations like these may indeed be necessities. I know it is repulsive to you. It churns my stomach as well. But so does the cross, yet it was a necessity. Jesus told his disciples on a number of occasions that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s leaders (cf. e.g., Matthew 16.21). They couldn’t grasp it at the time because it was a category mistake. Messiah doesn’t suffer defeat. He wins. How could this be necessary? To kill the Messiah would be sin. How is sin necessary?

I’m not telling you that I understand why these are necessities. I’m only telling you that they are. God raises up Pharaohs, Assyrians, and Babylonians to oppress his people, and prophets such as Habbakuk have problems with it too. He turns the devil loose on his faithful servant Job to bring him to the point of death. He raises up scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Roman governors to kill his Son. These are all necessities.

But would you pray for such things? No. But then again, you don’t know what to pray for as you ought; you don’t know what the world needs. So says Paul in Romans 8.26. We see the creation groaning. We groan when we participate in the suffering and see others suffering. We pray for deliverance. And we should. We know that this is not the way things ultimately ought to be. The created order is in disarray, and we want it set right. That’s proper. Praying toward that end is the right thing to do. Jesus taught us to pray that way.

But how God is getting us there is just as mysterious to us as it was for the disciples when Jesus told them that it was necessary for him to suffer and die. We don’t know what the world needs exactly in this or that situation. We don’t know what we need. Our perspective is limited, not only because we’re sinners, but because we’re creatures. God has not afforded us the perspective that he has on the world. He is the wise one who knows how everything–even sin–fits together and is working toward the good of his people and the rest of creation. No matter how much wisdom we mature into in our lifetimes, our wisdom will never be God’s wisdom. There will never be a time when we know exactly what to pray; when we know precisely what is needed in every situation.

The Spirit helps us in this weakness (Rom 8.26). However, he doesn’t help us by giving us the exact words to pray so that we can get a grasp on the situation and fix it. The Spirit groans with us, never giving us the relief of putting it into words. He never gives us that leverage over the world. We are called to suffer in prayer with the world, and the Spirit comes and suffers with us, interceding for us.

And the Father understands the Spirit’s groanings. He knows the mind of the Spirit, and he will give us and the creation what we need. We can be assured of that.

In light of this, praying in faith is not claiming this healing or really believing that God will remove this oppressor if you pray long enough. Praying in faith is following the prayer life of our Lord himself who prays, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Praying in faith is submitting all those things we think are necessities to the wisdom of the Father. Yes, we ask him for the things we think we need. But we trust the will of our loving heavenly Father to do what is best for us and the creation. We know that our Father will not give us a serpent when we ask for a fish. He will not give us a scorpion when we ask for an egg (Luke 11.11-12). He will give us good gifts, even when they come in packages of suffering.

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By In Scribblings

Abortion’s Logical Insanity


The now viral five-minute segment with James Franco’s Philosophy Time took a turn for the worst when Princeton Professor Liz Harman attempted to articulate a rationale for abortion. She summarizes:a

But, what I think is actually among early fetuses there are two very different kinds of beings. So, James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us I think we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures. And future of fact that we were beginning stages of persons. But some early fetuses will die in early pregnancy due to abortion or miscarriage. And in my view that is a very different kind of entity. That’s something that doesn’t have a future as a person and it doesn’t have moral status.

The segment highlighted that the abortion logic is bankrupt. The argument is that morality is only endowed to a fetus if we allow the baby to have a future. The if is determined by the mother’s choice to grant the fetus life outside the womb. Over the years, pro-choice advocates have worked hard to establish the right of the woman to not choose life. Of course, the benefits of allowing the fetus to grow all 40 weeks, the benefits of life itself and by what authority a woman’s decision can determine the moral status of a fetus are not discussed. Philosophizing about such ideas would be self-defeating.

In essence, abortion’s logic is insane. For all the talk about morality and status, the abortion academia now proclaims a rationale devoid of morality to prove the morality of killing an unborn human being. This is insane! And I like to think James Franco’s befuddled reaction means he knows it also.

  1. The entire transcript is on Daily Wire  (back)

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