Thursday, November 4, 2021

Actually, Jesus Did Say Something About That

Recently, I have been involved in one of two discussion/study groups here at Harderwyk using Preston Sprinkle’s Grace and Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Gender and Sexuality.  Having this chance to study and ponder Dr Sprinkle's material and then talk it through with a handful of friends has been a really helpful experience for me.

For example, I have often heard people say "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality," and then proceed to discount every other statement in the Bible about the matter.  The truth of it is though, Jesus actually did say something about homosexuality, and what He said is worth considering.

What Jesus Did Actually Say

To be clear, Jesus did not have in His culture or the languages that He spoke the nuanced language or directly translatable words that we now use related to LGBTQ matters.  He did speak directly to issues that should guide our conversations on these issues though.

Specifically, Jesus affirms without hesitation, the Hebrew Bible - or Old Testament - down to the letter.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:17-19

There is no honest way for us to read that from Jesus, and then erase Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 from consideration as if Jesus Himself would do what He condemns.  This passage also means that we can't conveniently erase some other Hebrew Bible statements that we would like to pass over as well.  We must have a Gospel-centered understanding of how to rightly understand the Old Testament in light of the Gospel consistently applied.  By confirming the Hebrew Bible as strongly as He did though, Jesus makes those words, when rightly understood in light of the cross and resurrection, His own.  

What I Have Learned As Well

Two things - of many really - that Preston has helped me see in addition are these:

The Bible Addresses Same-Sex Practice From the Foundation Of Its Affirmation of Marriage - Sure, Jesus spoke directly to affirm the Hebrew Bible which clearly includes statements about same-sex pratice.  Preston helped me see though, that the two Leviticus passages on same-sex practice were best read as applications of the foundational teaching regarding marriage that begins in Genesis 1-2.  There, he points out, marriage is created by God as a gendered-relationship meant to establish a life-giving "one-flesh union" that represents the passionate love of Christ the bridegroom for His Bride, the church.  In Matthew 19:3-6, Jesus Himself builds from those passages in Genesis 2 - “Haven’t you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other, male and female?" - as His foundational understanding of marriage when He addresses divorce.

Faithfulness To The Words of Jesus Includes HOW We Speak His Words On page 106, Preston writes:

"People are rarely convinced of something by logical arguments alone,  .  .  .  If you show no love, no concern, no compassion, no empathy, no willingness to undertand another person's point of view, you will rarely, if every, convince them of the truth."  

As I can say from personal experience, there are times that I have missed WHAT Jesus said, by missing HOW Jesus said what He did.  Being true to Jesus' teaching means being consistent with His delivery.

Like I said, this has been a really helpful experience for me - and I hope for those in the group with me as well.  If you would be interested in working through this material with 6-8 others, let me know by contacting the Harderwyk Office and we can look to find a workable time and some people. It is designed to run for 5 sessions with a chapter to read in preparation, brief video to begin each session, then about 45 min of interaction.

If you would like to know about upcoming Grace & Truth 1.0 Study and Discussion Groups at Harderwyk, CLICK HERE for a simple form to be added to a notification list.

More Resources

The Center For Faith, Sexuality and Gender - CLICK HERE to go to the website of Preston Sprinkle's ministry.  Many resources to purchase or for free.

Grace & Truth 1.0 - CLICK HERE to purchase the book and a variety of support materials.

Why Didn't Jesus Mention Homosexuality? - Is one of a number of Pastoral Papers that address particular questions in more depth and focus.  This one addresses my original question.  CLICK HERE  The paper is free to download, if you register with your email address.

What Have You Heard Lately? - Praying For The Kidnapped American Missionaris in Haiti

What have you heard lately about those 17 American missionaries - including children as young as 5 years old - kidnapped for ransom by a criminal gang in Haiti?  Not much, unless you have gone looking for it.  By my mind, it illumines our current American cultural climate when I observe that this matter has fallen out of the news cycle in barely a week.

By God's grace, it will not fall off of my prayer cycle though.  And I hope you will join all those who are praying fervently for the safety and release of the missionaries as well as just punishment of the perpertrators.  The people of Haiti are terrorized daily by this breakdown in the rule of law.

Here is some information and links that have informed, empowered and directed my own prayer:
  • This organization and these missionaries are from the Anabaptist tradition; a Christian tradition that historically is pacifist.  For example, their statement of faith includes this: 24. We believe that Christians should live a nonresistant life style, without any acts of retaliation, demonstrating the love of Christ in our daily walk. (Matthew 5:39-46; John 18:36; Romans 12:19-21) - CLICK HERE for their complete Statement of Faith.
  • CLICK HERE for their own updates on circumstances surrounding the kidnapping.  These are updated rebularly, so keep checking back.
  • It has been hard to find insightful reporting on these events in many news sources.  The best to my mind (Pastor Bill) have been with  CLICK HERE or HERE and follow any links as they are updated.
  • In the meantime, join together as Christian Aid Mission asks:  Join us in prayer that God’s grace would sustain the men, women, and children who are being held hostage. In a world where violence and force are seen as the solution to problems, we believe in God’s call to Christians to “…not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Pray that those being held hostage could find strength to demonstrate God’s love. The kidnappers, like all people, are created in the image of God and can be changed if they turn to Him. While we desire the safe release of our workers, we also desire that the kidnappers be transformed by the love of Jesus, the only true source of peace, joy, and forgiveness. - October 18

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Reflections on Critical Theory - Applied to Anything

Perhaps you have noticed a growing number of references – both pro and con - to “Critical Race Theory.”  The term is now a point of much contention and a divisive political identifier in our current cultural moment.  “Are you for it or against it?” goes the question, and pre-existing battle lines are then put in place, depending on who asks and how you answer.

What is lost in the fog of culture war, is any understanding of what Critical Race Theory – or as I prefer: Critical Theory Applied to Race – really is and what it means.  Even worse, what I encounter in most conversations, and have even read in our local newspaper, is inadequate to the point of being either unhelpful or dishonest.

So I want to give some background and substance to the question: What is “Critical Theory?” and what would it mean for matters of race in the United States?

 Why Me?  Because I believe I first encountered Critical Theory while a college student in the ‘70’s.  I was a Sociology major and interested in Social Theory, so read A LOT – think “more than I can clearly remember” – of obtuse 19th and 20th century social theorists.  I clearly recall encountering and engaging theologies based on Critical Theory at a mainline seminary in the ‘70’s as well.  I passed my classes back then and moved on to the next seasons of life.  Oddly, now some 5 decades later, I am running into Critical Theory again.

 So, on to the question.


There is a History Here

In his 1867 book Das Kapital, Karl Marx had envisioned a “classless society” as the determined outcome of conflict between the economic Owners (Bourgeoisie) and the Workers (Proletariat).  By the late 1920’s that result was difficult to hang on to.  The "classless society" that Karl Marx considered “scientifically inevitable” was nowhere to be seen.  In fact, the Bolshevik Revolution had begun in 1917 in Russia with Marxist rhetoric but soon proved to be more brutal and totalitarian than the system it replaced.  In the United States, the Workers seemed more interested in getting their “piece of the ownership pie” than in overthrowing the Owner class.  In Germany, the Nazis were growing in power and influence.  It was time for Marxists to rethink their view of reality.

That rethinking had begun in Italy when Mussolini's fascists imprisoned a young leader of the Communist Part of Italy.  His name was Antonio Gramsci.  Out of his Prison Notebooks, came a new thought: perhaps the focus of oppression was not economic classes - Marx's Bourgeoisie and Proletariat - but with other groups representing different aspects of a culture.  The spotlight shifted from economic class to culture groups.

The ideas were picked up by the so-called “Frankfurt School” in Germany.  It was in 1934, with the Nazis consolidating their power in Germany, that director Marx Horkeimer, relocated the school to the safer setting of New York City and Columbia University where Critical Theory continued to be developed.  Horkeimer’s books Eclipse of Reason (1947) and Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) are considered important and representative.

To Be Noted: Critical Theory has been around for quite a while and was began as an effort to improve on Marx’s predictions.  It was “a social theory focusing on critiquing and changing society,” (from Max Horkheimer- Wikipedia.  See also Critical theory - Wikipedia) as opposed to “Traditional Theory” which was oriented only toward understanding or explaining society.  Revolution and Replacement have been a part of Critical Theory from its very roots.

Karl Marx’s Social Theory

Love him or hate him, Karl Marx has ended up being one of the most influential thinkers in the past several centuries.  His story, thought and impact are beyond the scope of even a long blog like this, but let me point out some aspects of “Marxism” that I believe were carried over directly into Critical Theory.

 Remember: Critical Theory began with Marx’s framework of thought.

Central Points Of Marxism:

Completely Atheistic – Marx – and all who followed on from him – sought to explain human society apart from the existence of God.  This is typically couched as being “scientific,” but because Marxism is an all-encompassing theory that cannot be tested and replicated it is not scientific in terms of the Scientific Method.  (See below)  For this reason, many critics of Marxism consider it to function as a form of religion.

History Is Determined – Central to understanding Marx is the concept of “Dialectical Materialism.”  The materialism is the atheistic component.  The dialectical is an idea that Marx borrowed and developed from GWF Hegel.  Hegel contended that human society develops from its current state – Thesis – when a counter movement arises – Antithesis – and then resolves through conflict to a new state of Synthesis.  Don’t get lost in the details here.  Dig into this some more if you like,  (Dialectical Materialism - Wikipedia as a start.) but focus on this: Apart from God, society changes through group conflict – ie. Thesis vs. Antithesis – that resolves – ie. Synthesis – and then continues.  Groups and conflict are central to society and history.

Groups Are More Important Than Persons – People identified as groups are central to Marxism and carried directly over to Critical Theory.  For Marx, the groups were Bourgeoisie and Proletariat – the economic groups of Owners and Workers.  Early Critical Theorists sorted people into different groups than just economic, but maintained the central focus on groups of people rather than on individual persons.  When applied to matters of race, this means that a person who is white is characterized by Whiteness without regard to what they do, decide or think.

Conflict Between Groups Is Reality – Across the breadth of society, Critical Theory will always identify two general groups: Oppressor and Oppressed – that is to say, “Those with power” and “Those without power.”  With regard to race, it is White (Oppressor) vs Non-White (Oppressed).  With regard to sexual orientation it is Straight (Oppressor) vs Gay (Oppressor).  Feminist Critical Theory identifies Men (Oppressor) vs Women (Oppressed).  And so on and on and on.  Because the two groups are opposed, there must be conflict.


Social Theory Not Social Science – A Brief Detour

The Scientific Method is an approach to understanding things based on a process of Observation ⇒ Leading to an Explanatory Hypothesis ⇒ That can be tested.  If the test of the hypothesis is “successful” and can be repeated multiple times, then our observation is considered to be true – or at least reliable.  Chemistry, astronomy, physics and the like proceed in this way.

With “social matters” that same process – Observation ⇒ Explanatory Hypothesis ⇒ Test and Replicate – happens as well.  A simplistic example: I observe that people seem to buy more shiny cars than dirty cars.  My hypothesis is that people have a preference for shiny cars over dirty cars.  I test it by trying to sell several of the same cars, sometimes those cars are clean and shiny, other times those same cars are left dirty.  If, after a number of attempts to sell several cars – sometimes shiny and sometimes dirty – I find that people would rather buy the same car when it is shiny as opposed to when it is dirty, then my hypothesis is considered true.  Social Science tells car dealerships to keep their inventory of cars for sale clean and shiny.

By Contrast, Social Theory is an overarching explanation about society as a whole that encompasses a lot of things.  Any given Social Theory though is so big and encompassing that it cannot be tested and replicated as a whole.  Portions or components might be broken out and tested, but not the entire all-encompassing Theory itself. 

An example from a different field: Charles Darwin developed a Theory of Evolution that used Natural Selection as a means to explain how lower forms of animals – like slugs – become higher forms of animals – like people.  Darwin could test a hypothesis about how Finches on the Galapagos Islands varied from one species of finch to another, but 1) he could not test his hypothesis as it applied to change from slug to human and 2) we have seen over time that there are observations about the difference between slugs and humans that cannot be explained by natural selection.  That is the difference between the Science of Species Variation and the Theory of Evolution. 

Here’s Why That Matters With Critical Theory: Critical Theory can be applied to all sorts is social matters and it may even appear to explain some aspects of those matters.  But there are two shortcomings as a Theory: 1) Critical Theory as a whole cannot be tested and replicated, and 2) It will seek to ignore (shall we say erase or cancel?) matters that it cannot explain. 

To Be Noted: Critical Theory is Theory and not Social Science.  All-encompassing Theories can be helpful in many ways when they are engaged as theories.  They are dangerous when they are treated as if they were established Science.  As pointed out: such theories cannot be effectively tested and replicated as a whole, and they will seek to ignore what they cannot explain.


 Critical Theory Applied to Race – And Other Matters

Thus far, I have attempted to make the case that Critical Theory has a history that is both extensive and Marxist in its roots.  That is the Critical part.  I have also sketched out the difference between working Theory and proven Science.  That is the Theory part.

In our current cultural moment, I would say that classic Critical Theory is being applied to a wide variety of issues: Critical Theory applied to issues of race is called Critical Race Theory.  Critical Theory applied to issues of sexual orientation is called Queer Theory.  Critical Theory applied to women’s issues becomes Feminist Theory.  Would “Critical Wolverine Theory” be used to justify the conflict between the oppressed UofM football team and the oppressing Buckeyes?

 Let me close by pointing out six specific reservations I have as a thoughtful Christian with applying Critical Theory to Race (as well as other!) Issues.

Completely Atheistic – As John Calvin stated in the first chapter of his Institutes, knowledge of God and knowledge of humanity are intertwined.  What you believe about one affects what you will believe about the other.  I believe every attempt to understand, explain or remedy the human condition necessarily involves commitments of some sort regarding divinity.  God exists or doesn’t.  Human society is accountable to something greater than itself or it isn’t.  As a result, I am convinced that any attempt to explain or direct humans and human society that leaves God out is flawed from the beginning.

Groups Matter And Persons Do Not – I think the Scriptures are “Both/And” on this, and not “Only One” as Critical Theory and its derivatives are.  Social groups – families, tribes, nations – are important with regard to history, influence and life.  But individual persons have responsibility and impact.  Persons are certainly influenced by their group identities, but they can also resist, influence and change them.  The Us/Them binary is so embedded in Marxism and the generations of thought following, that there is no ground of shared humanity between the competing groups.  As a result, there is never a hope of the “two (however the groups are defined) becoming one.”  There is as well, a blindness to the shared problem that impacts members of each group and leads to the “oppressed” becoming “oppressors” when circumstances are different.

Conflict – I understand that there is plenty of conflict between people in the world and in the Bible.  The Scripture though is the story of reconciliation, first between the Triune God and His Creation – humans as groups AND as individuals – that then makes possible reconciliation between social groups as well as individuals.  Too often I hear Critical Theory influenced movements shout “Justice” while their non-verbals shriek “Revenge!”  In the Gospel of God’s Grace, I hear the call to costly reconciliation.  That is because conflict is how their system works, not a result of brokenness that needs to be dealt with and overcome.  When those movements talk about “being on the right side of history,” they mean the side that wins the impersonal dialectic.  The Good News that I point to is that history does in fact have a “right side” and it is moving to that endpoint – but it is moved by a personal God Who is loving, just and good Who paid the price of our/my brokenness Himself.

Has Been Tested (And Failed!) – Who has space to name the history of failed – by that I mean inhumane and oppressive as well as murderous – movements based on Marxist theory: Soviet Union, Communist Block nations, Maoist China, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba.  The usual response by American Socialists is that the wrong people were in charge and “you can trust us to do better.” I’m not buying it.  Marxism as a grand Social Theory is a proven failure and destructive of human flourishing and social justice.  Critical Theory simply alters the categories, but has the same failures built in.

Cancels Conflicting Observations – Grand Theories can give an explanation to some things, observations and observers who notice things that do not fit are ignored, resisted or crushed.  Remember Galileo and his observation of the solar system with the telescope?  Ironically, the CRT-based “1619 Project” view of American history wants to leave out stories of white Americans who resisted chattel slavery in much the same way that American Nationalist history ignores the inhumane treatment of enslaved persons.  History is not a story that we are free to edit.  It is “His-Story.”  The people of the God-Who-Is-Grace-and-Truth recognize that every person’s story deserves to be heard, and not just the stories that benefit my agenda.

Passed off as Science rather than Theory – While there might be scientifically Observed - Hypothesized - Tested and Replicated pieces that fit, Critical Theory itself is a worldview that functions to explain all of social reality – not unlike a “religion” actually.  That carries over to all the “intersectional” areas it is applied to.  Have the conversation about different worldviews if you like, but don’t practice the deception of calling a worldview “science” to elevate it out of the conversation.  And don’t teach my second-grader based on your worldview while telling me it is science even when it is contrary to my worldview.

In Conclusion

Because we can observe in history the poisonous roots (Marxism) of Critical Theory and see how they continue to nourish the developing vine (through aspects of group identity, conflict, atheism, etc.), we should not be surprised by the poisonous fruit it is produced when applied to various issues (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).  And I will be direct: Critical Theory proponents engage those challenging issues of our time from a worldview that is both distinct and conflicting with a biblical and gospel-centered worldview.  Proponents of each will understand those issues differently, offer different means for engaging them and finally, arrive at different ends in resolving them.  The two cannot be harmonized because they are distinct and conflicting.

Simply read Why We Can’t Wait by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr or One Blood by John Perkins and then read either White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo or How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and you can see how these two distinct and competing worldviews play out for yourself.  I find the contrast stark.



Since first putting my thoughts to writing, I have continued to reflect and listen to conversations regarding Critical Race Theory.  Of particular interest was a webinar sponsored by Christianity Today magazine moderated by Russell Moore featuring four believing academics of different racial backgrounds.  I deeply appreciate the faith of each and their first hand experience facing the sin of racism.  I’m thankful that they clearly distanced their own use of CRT from Marxism and bring the Gospel to the brokenness of the world we share.  CLICK HERE for the resources and recording of the webinar. Christians and Critical Race Theory | Christianity Today

My reservations with Critical Theory remain though, and it still seems to me that poisonous aspects of Marxism – atheistic worldview, group identity, group conflict and no vision for reconciliation – are “in the DNA” and always present. 

Let Me Say Clearly As Well

Broken People Create Broken Systems - For gospel-centered believers, it is simply a false dichotomy to try and reduce racism to either acts of personal sin or systemic oppression that transcends individuals.  Sadly, sin in all its forms covers both bases.  The truth of the matter is that broken people (sinners) not only commit personal acts of sin, but they also build systems or social patters that are broken.  For example, “Jim Crow laws” develop at one time through the sinful choices of a collection of sinful individuals.  Two generations later, all of the individuals have changed, and even if these individuals have changed their mind about race, they continue to live with “Jim Crow laws” until they change that system.  Individuals will find that sinful habits can easily continue by force of habit and without specific choice.

The Gospel Is Sufficient Framework to Identify Sin – Both Personal and Social – And Its Antidote - The best expressions of Critical Race Theory that I hear are usually willing to distance themselves from Marxism directly and find in CRT an “academic framework” for understanding and eradicating systems of racism.  I’m for “understanding and eradicating systems of racism.”  I just do not find CRT to be needed in order to do that.  A more robust and biblical view of sin – as both personal and systemic – with a greater vision of the doctrine of Imago Dei and Great Commission to bring the gospel to “every tribe and tongue and nation” would serve better to understand and eradicate racism than CRT.

Rejecting Marxism Doesn’t Make Me Comfortable With The “Status Quo” - I have real reservations about the influence of Marxism on Critical Theory and the issues it gets applied to.  My reservations with Marxism don’t make me want to settle for the status quo regarding racism – personal or systemic – or any other issue.  I want to do away with racism without replacing it with a new expression of sin and oppression.

Analysis that I found very helpful:

CLICK HERE for Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism and Biblical Ethics - This is one installment in a series curated by Ed Stetzer and Christianity Today magazine.  The post is itself long and deep, but I found it very illuminating.  Done by an English Professor from Liberty University with background in Soviet poets and Marxism!  Imagine that!!  Took effort, but was well worth the investment.


Finally .  .  .

It’s my guess that this conversation will continue.  The larger culture seems willing to go far down the path illuminated by Critical Theory in search of a solution to the brokenness of our society, so God’s people will want to continue in prayer, study, repentance and proclamation on the journey ahead.  I hope to be part of that reflection as a pastor in a local church invested in the real life questions and decisions of ordinary believers.

As such, I’m willing to include you in the conversation and reflection with me.  Give in touch with me through the Harderwyk Ministries office and let’s find a way have a conversation – over coffee, over a meal, over the phone.  Let’s keep praying, reflecting and talking.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Vision Sermon Series – Beginning Sunday, September 19, 2021

 A New Statement of Vision and Mission

The staff and Council have been at work for several months to prayerfully and thoughtfully put into words our sense of God’s Vision and Mission for Harderwyk for the next several years.  We now want to have the Campus Pastors “preach” the Scriptures that have fed that statement.  Soon, as part of the process, we will have a number of “Round Table” open to all the people of Harderwyk for input, discussion and consideration together.

 We have organized the “preaching” part of this process around six key thoughts organized in 2 triads.  They are:

  • Everyone
  • Joining
  • The Journey


  • Found In Christ
  • Formed By Christ
  • Following Christ

These key thoughts grow out of a number of Scripture passages and Heidelberg Confession statements that we are gathering into a single document as we go along.

Each Sunday we will read and I will preach from our focus text: Ephesians 2:1-10


Here Is Your Opportunity: Join Me For the Next Five Weeks

Take a step forward during this time and consider adding a practice that will enrich your life as we work through this All-Harderwyk season together.  Some suggestions:

  • Each day, read one chapter of Ephesians: Monday – Chapter 1, Tuesday – Chapter 2, Wednesday – Chapter 3, and so on
  • Consider learning and practicing the spiritual practice of “Lectio Devina.”  CLICK HERE for a simple introduction to the spiritual practice of a more personal way of experience the Word through contemplation and reflection.  
  • Consider committing to call a friend for 5 minutes each day to each share with the other one phrase that stood out from your daily chapter.  Maybe try that just one week.  Or a different day each of the five weeks.  Do what works best for you and that friend.
  • Consider memorizing the preaching text – Ephesians 2:1-10 - over the course of the 5-week series.  We have a special bookmark for this series to help.


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Harderwyk Available on YouTube

We're glad to make an increasing number of Harderwyk Resources available on YouTube.  This platform is easily available and makes it possible to view on Smart TVs or pass on to a friend or find from a device as you travel.  Our goal is to make Harderwyk easier to connect to and share wherever you find yourself.

For example: While I was just traveling on vacation, Mary Lynn and I were able to tap the "Celebration-Harderwyk You Tube Channel" in the Sunday Worshp email that we received and in three taps were able to "cast" the service through the Smart TV in our hotel room.

The Overview

We have set up four seperate "channels" that can be easily searched for or subscribed to:

1) Harderwyk Ministries - This is a general collection of Worship Service livestreams from all three campuses as well as "all-Harderwyk" videos, like our recent "Summer Serve Week."

Each campus - Celebration, Watershed & Fusion - have their own dedicated channel with only their Worship Service livestreams and any other campus specific videos.

2) Celebration-Harderwyk

3) Watershed-Harderwyk

4) Fusion-Harderwyk

You can search for any of these four on your YouTube page or on a general search service like Google or Bing.  Type in the channel you want - please note the format of "Campus Name, Hyphen with no spaces, Harderwyk" - and it should direct you right to the channel you want.  Look for the "Subscribe" button, and your YouTube page will set up a folder and automatically receive every new addition to the channel.

Here are direct links to each channel.

CLICK HERE for Harderwyk Ministries

CLICK HERE for Celebration-Harderwyk

CLICK HERE for Watershed-Harderwyk

CLICK HERE for Fusion-Harderwyk

We will continue to have links on to our Sunday livestreams and an archive of previous worship services, but we are glad to add this additional accessibility by way of YouTube.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Cultivating the Life of Prayer, Part 1

If a friend came to you with a pressing need, would you be secure that your prayer life could make a difference for them?  There are two things to consider here:

  • Your willingness to step forward in prayer for them.
  • Your ability to connect their need to Jesus in prayer, not just to your heartfelt sympathy.

On a recent Sunday morning, I asked the people of Celebration-Harderwyk how it is that we learn to cultivate a prayer life that can connect the needs of our friends and family with the situation-changing grace of the Heavenly Father.

One resource that has been helpful for cultivating my own prayer life in this way is the book Praying for Prodigals by James Bank.  He writes:

Mark and Luke tell a striking story of Jesus “catching people in the act” of faith.  Four men brought a friend who was paralyzed to Jesus for healing.  When they couldn’t find a way through the crowd, they climbed up on the roof of the home where Jesus was teaching, removed some tiles, and lowered the man “right in front of Jesus” (Luke 5:19).  Mark and Luke both write that “when Jesus saw their faith,” he healed their friend (Mark 2:5, Luke 5:20).

Notice that both Mark and Luke mention more than just the faith of the man who was healed.  Jesus saw “their faith,” indicating the faith of his friends.  When the man was paralyzed and could do little for himself, the active faith of those around him made all the difference.

When we pray for our prodigal kids, we carry them on stretchers of faith to Jesus.  We do the heavy lifting, but they receive the benefit.  They may be entirely passive or even actively resisting us, but Jesus sees our faith as we bring them to Him.

Jim Cymbala writes of his daughter Chrissy’s return after a long prodigal season.  One Tuesday evening, God moved the church he serves (The Brooklyn Tabernacle) to intercede passionately for his daughter.  He came home that evening and told his wife, “It’s over with Chrissy.  You would have had to be in the prayer meeting tonight.  I tell you, if there is a God in heaven, this whole nightmare is finally over.”

Two days later, his daughter came home to her family and back to God.  She asked one question over and over: “Daddy .  .  .  who was praying for me?  Who was praying for me?” pp.83-84

Remember that resources like this one are most helpful when they serve as a bridge and not as an end in themselves.  It is Jesus who teaches His people to pray.  We join him “who lives to make intercession” for His people (Hebrews 7:25) and learn from Him. There is no magic in praying the words of a book like this or being moved by the inspiration they bring.  As a bridge to our Faithful Intercessor, we join Him in the work that He is about.

CLICK HERE for the Amazon link to this book and CLICK HERE for a 90-second YouTube introduction by the author.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Thomas Jefferson Was A Calvinist?!?

I am not saying that Thomas Jefferson was a Presbyterian minister in disguise.  Nothing of the sort.  And I will leave to others - specifically to God Himself - to determine the state of Jefferson's experience of grace and confession of faith.  But I do think that the world of Jefferson's thought, and the thought of those around him in those colonial times, was deeply formed by the ideas of John Calvin.

Deeply formed in much the same way that as an American in the 21st century my view of the world and the shared conversation regarding values, people and politics is deeply formed by the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein.  Even though I have significant disagreements with two of those thinkers, their impact on my world is such that I am effected.  Like the water that a fish lives in, their thoughts have effected the pond in which we all swim, breathe and live so to speak.  

It was that same way with John Calvin for Thomas Jefferson.  I am not thinking about his own convictions, but the cultural atmosphere in which he lived.

I became aware of this connection by doing three things that I suggest for you.
  • First, read the Declaration of Independence - Click here to do that.
  • Then, read the last chapter of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion entitled "Of Civil Government" - Click here to do that.
  • Finally, read the Declaration of Independence again.
A note to the reader: Expect this to take about 45 minutes - with reading the Declaration twice taking only ten of those!  Understand that Calvin wrote in the mid-sixteenth century in Latin.  We live in a day of sound-bite videos from Sesame Street to Stephen Colbert, so we are unaccustomed to writing that follows a long and careful argument.  This exercise was worth the effort for me, and I would recommend it to you.

Read these two pieces and see if you don't find the same connection that I do.  Jefferson was no theology professor, but the ideas that he wrote from, and the ideas of the people he wrote for and to were deeply informed by the view of reality and thoughts presented by Calvin in his chapter on Civil Governemnt.

It's another study to document further evidence of the impact of Calvinist thought on the forming of the United States.  In this post, I simply want to make the connection and ask a question: If Calvinist thought was the intellectual culture that gave birth to our Declaration of Independence, what are the implications for our liberty and politics when that intellectual culture has changed - which it certainly has?

By the way, at no extra charge, here is a link to a great - and brief - post entitled "The Presbyterian Rebellion."  King George of England connected the rebellion of his colonies with Calvin as well!  CLICK HERE for an artical from the Journal of the American Revolution with an abundance of original source references.