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By In Theology

God’s Chief End For Man: Glorification

What is God’s chief end for man? To glorify man and enjoy him forever. This is not quite the catechism question we are used to hearing, but it is just as true as the one with which we are familiar. God created man for glory, and he himself would bestow that glory on the man. In the incarnation of the eternal Word we see God’s intention for man realized: glorified flesh. John tells us that “the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1.14) We behold the glory of God in flesh, the flesh of man.

The Hebrew word for “glory” speaks about something that is weighty. Glory is heavy. Glory is the regal robe and crown of the king that sits heavy on his body making him a sight to behold while also reminding him of the weightiness of his responsibility. Glory is the vestments of the high priest in Israel by which he reflects the beauty of God and his people while also carrying the tremendous responsibility to God and for his people. Wherever God adds weight to our lives through privilege and responsibility, he is glorifying us. (more…)

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By In Culture, Politics, Theology

What’s in a Name? Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism and the Fickleness of Labels

A good friend of mine in graduate school was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A confessionally Reformed Christian, he admitted to me that he sometimes liked to call himself a fundamentalist just to see how others would respond. Though we were on the same page in so many ways, I personally didn’t think I could go quite that far.

Nevertheless, I was raised in what might well be regarded as the first fundamentalist denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Established in 1936 by John Gresham Machen and others, it grew out of the controversies of the 1920s and ’30s in the former Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Confessional liberals, who elevated personal experience and rationalism above both the Bible and the Westminster Standards, gradually moved into the ascendancy, with the more conservative elements increasingly on the defensive. These trends had already begun in the post-Civil War era, gaining speed around the turn of the 20th century and achieving dominance after the end of the Great War.

As a result, a concerted effort was begun to forge an alliance among confessional Christians in several protestant denominations, culminating in the publication between 1910 and 1915 of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, consisting of 90 essays bound together in several volumes. The 64 authors were a diverse lot, including B. B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary; C. I. Scofield, whose Scofield Reference Bible disseminated dispensationalism far beyond its original home in the Plymouth Brethren; the Rev. William Caven of Knox College, Toronto; the Rev. James Orr of the United Free Church College in Glasgow; Canon G. Osborne Troop of what was then called the Church of England in the Dominion of Canada; and many more besides.

The project was edited by A. C. Dixon, Louis Meyer and Reuben Archer Torrey, a close associate of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, with financial backing coming from oil tycoon Lyman Stewart, who also co-founded the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, later Biola University.

While the term fundamentalism is nowadays almost always used in a negative sense to dismiss a particular group as narrow and ingrown, the original fundamentalist movement was a broad effort to defend the fundamentals of the faith, such as the Virgin Birth, the Deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, and the unity of Scripture against the fragmenting onslaughts of historical criticism. Any movement bringing together Anglicans, Episcopalians, Reformed Episcopalians, confessional Presbyterians and dispensationalists can scarcely be labelled narrow and exclusive. In fact, the original fundamentalist movement, like its neo-evangelical successor after the Second World War, would be better characterized by this well-known maxim: “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” Over the decades many people were in the habit of describing a congregation or denomination as “fundamental” if it adhered to these fundamentals of the faith shared by all Christians throughout the centuries.

This effort to build a broad coalition of believers from a variety of traditions generally avoided such potentially divisive doctrines as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, predestination, free will and the millennial views (Revelation 20). These were judged less significant than the need of the hour, which was to confront head on the growing secularism in the churches. This makes it somewhat ironic that, a century later, the word fundamentalism is associated with a variety of unlikable groups, including outright terrorists.

Then came the evangelicals. After the Scopes trial of 1925, fundamentalism came to be associated with obscurantism, though a few groups jealously held on to the label, including the independent Baptist congregation where my mother came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in her late teens. Carl F. H. Henry and the Rev. Billy Graham were associated with this new movement, and Christianity Today became its flagship publication. So powerful was this evangelicalism after 1945 that it would eventually come to supplant the rapidly fading mainline protestant denominations four decades later. Evangelicalism as a label had the virtue of plugging into more than one historic movement, including the 18th-century evangelical revivals in the Church of England, the Wesleyan Methodist movement, continental European pietism and, of course, the Reformation of the 16th century. However, its chief defects were its lack of a robust ecclesiology and its emphasis on personal experience, which, while otherwise laudable, would eventually erode the lines between evangelicalism and liberalism, especially after the turn of the 21st century.

Many of us were proud to claim the evangelical label, because of the obvious reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (As Gus Portokalos would tell us, evangelion is a Greek word!) However, increasing numbers of Christians are now coming to reject the evangelical label, because of its association with a certain political commitment. Indeed, those still willing to wear the label are troubled that so many of their co-religionists seem to rank political ideology above the obvious ethical implications of their own faith. Whether these are genuine evangelicals or merely “court evangelicals” is subject to dispute. Wherever the truth lies, some high profile Christians have decided they can no longer describe themselves as evangelical.

It is true, of course, that some labels have been discredited through their abuse, making it virtually impossible for right-thinking people to wear them. (How many good and respectable people were sympathetic to national socialism before 1933?) However, I myself have become wary of discarding an otherwise perfectly good label for fear of association with those people, whoever they might be. Given that we are all sinners standing in need of God’s grace, we might do better to look into our own hearts to determine whether we are worthy to be called by the name of Jesus Christ and his gospel of salvation. On our own strength we are not worthy, of course. That is precisely why we flee to Christ to find our true identity. It cannot be found in political parties or ethnic subcultures. It cannot be found in our own desires and aspirations, which, however legitimate they might otherwise be, are always caught up in the cosmic struggle between sin and redemption.

Labelling is a fickle enterprise. People often label others to discredit them. We label ourselves and expect people to respect those labels, which, of course, they may not. Often the labels do not endure for the long term, eventually being replaced by others that will serve for a time but probably not forever. I am personally willing to call myself a fundamentalist in the original sense, an evangelical, a Reformed Christian or even—tongue-in-cheek of course—a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist. But above all I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and it is by his name over all other names that I wish at last to be called, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

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By In Politics, Theology

The Birth of the King

Every Christmas our thoughts are (rightfully) turned toward the babe in the manger who is the incarnate, eternal Word. We see scenes of that event in nativities set up in various places. Churches across our land tell the story again and again in plays and musicals. It can be a very emotional and even sentimental time; a time to recall those special times of childhood and evoke those nostalgic memories of yesteryear. This is the time of friends, family, and festivities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things (indeed, many of these blessings are the result of what Christ accomplished), the first Christmas was not viewed by many the same way as many view it today. (more…)

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By In Podcast, Theology

Episode 23: RC Sproul

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Pastor Uri Brito and Dustin Messer discuss the life and legacy of the late Dr. RC Sproul. On December 14, 2017, at 78-years-old Dr. Sproul passed away and went to be at home with the Lord.

Dr. R.C. Sproul (1939–2017) was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Fla. In addition, he was copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel, first president and chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. a

 

  1. https://www.ligonier.org/about/rc-sproul/  (back)

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By In Theology, Wisdom

Reflecting on the Life of R.C. Sproul

I recall meeting Dr. R.C. Sproul for the first time. He was sitting with his wife Vesta and a few other scholars at lunch. A friend took me there and introduced me to him. “How are you, young man?” he asked. I didn’t respond to his question. Instead, I uttered with all the courage I could muster: “Thank you for your ministry.” Indeed I was thankful and still am.

Dr. R.C. Sproul died on the 14th of December, 2017. He died the year we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I have read the many tributes to Dr. Sproul in these last several days. Some of them written by people I know well and who worked closely with Dr. Sproul. Death provides a time of reflection. Sproul’s death at the age of 78 brought back many memories of my days in Orlando. His influence continues in my library. I have dozens of his books and an unending selection of Tabletalk magazines and almost a gigabyte of his audio lectures. His legacy will live on for generations to come.

Introduction to R.C. Sproul

I lived in Pennsylvania in the late 90’s. I had arrived to study a year in America. The evenings were cold in December. The only distraction I had at night was an old radio that worked half the time. One particular night, I turned on the radio to the sound of Handel’s Messiah. The lecturer was clear and poetic in his delivery. I listened intently for 20 minutes or so to a lecture on Augustine. “You’ve been listening to Renewing Your Mind with Dr. R.C. Sproul,” the voice concluded after each episode. I retired to my room early every evening to hear his talks.

Though my curiosity increased with each year, my commitments to my synergistic theology prevailed. I could not embrace a theology that took away my liberty to have a voice in my spiritual condition. The following winter I returned to Pennsylvania for Christmas. It was there that I read Michael Horton’s “Putting Amazing Back into Grace.” His brilliant analysis of John’s gospel pierced me and persuaded me to put down my lingering hesitations of Reformed Theology. (more…)

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By In Culture, Theology

Family Matters

“Peace on earth.” This was the proclamation of the angels when they announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds (Luke 2.14). “Peace on earth.” The promise of salvation in the Christ was not escape from the earth, but rather its rescue from the bondage of sin and its rearrangement under the lordship of Jesus. The eternal Son became a man, not so that we could leave this earth, but so that the earth would become everything that God intended it to become.

Creation matters to God. The way he created the world and his purposes for the world have not been abandoned with the incarnation. In the incarnation of the eternal Son, God has affirmed his love for the creation and his purposes for it. Creation is not being abandoned but rescued and glorified. (more…)

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By In Culture, Theology, Wisdom

For the Sake of the Church, Don’t use Transgender Pronouns

The Gospel Coalition published an article last week by Stephen West titled “Speaking the Truth in Love: Can Christians use Gender-Neutral Pronouns?” This article was appalling in a number of ways.

Stephen West is wrong on this issue primarily because he fails to see the bigger issues involved. He takes such a narrow view that he seems to think this issue is merely an academic discussion about the placement of a grain of sand: should it go here or over there? Meanwhile a tsunami is heading our way. This discussion is not primarily about loving people who suffer from transgender dysphoria. This is about the reality of the world and how our culture is trying to reject that basic reality. California already has a law on the books forcing doctors and nurses to refer to patients by their “preferred” pronouns. The law says it is illegal to “willfully and repeatedly fail to use a resident’s preferred name or pronouns after being clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns.” If this isn’t a law straight out of 1984, then I am not sure what is.

West says he is aware of this larger cultural issue: “I certainly do not believe that Christians—or anyone else—should be coerced into using gender-neutral pronouns. I think that we are seeing an abuse of power by people who support an extreme left-wing ideology. Christians need to speak up and take a stand for biblical morality, God’s design in creation, freedom in society, and the danger of Orwellian thought-police using human rights’ tribunals to force people to use invented words.”

But then West fails to realize that the very advice he gives is setting things up so that the “left-wing ideology” can “force people to use invented words”. He seems to think that we can maintain these basic freedoms by freely agreeing to use these invented words. How is that not being controlled by these people? He is suggesting that we don’t have to be coerced to use these words, we will do it gladly ourselves. The title of his article should actually be: “How to use the pronouns the thought-police want us to use.”

(more…)

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