A New Podcast

Our very own Matt Carpenter has started a podcast called “The Good Life” that we heartily recommend to you.

Each episode emphasizes one of four areas that make a good life: pursuing God, loving our neighbor, growing in wisdom, and being a good steward of our gifts.

There are many descriptions of a good life, as you can see when you check out the number of podcasts named “The Good Life.” But only God can define a good life, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” 

In the first episode, Matt interviewed Rory Groves, author of the book Durable Trades, along with his wife Becca. In the second episode, Matt interviewed the pastor and author Chris Wiley, author of the book Man of the House.  

The podcast can be found HERE.

Review of Anthony Bradley’s Article on Critical Race Theory

Recently Anthony Bradley published an article at Mere Orthodoxy entitled “Critical Race Theory Isn’t a Threat for Presbyterians.” Bradley argues that the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) doesn’t need a statement or counter-statement to Critical Race Theory (CRT) because in a “confessional denomination, such a statement, or counter-statements, would be unnecessary.” Instead, the PCA (and presumably all confessional Presbyterians) can rely on “the Bible, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the Presbyterian tradition, and covenant theology.” Therefore they can “eat the meat and spit out the bones” of Critical Race Theory (CRT).

One wonders how people will know what meat to eat and what bones to spit out without a statement or counter-statement. Indeed, Bradley’s article itself is a sort of statement about CRT, or a counter-statement to the fact that “six Southern Baptist seminary presidents signed a statement declaring Critical Race Theory to be incompatible to the non-binding doctrinal standards of their denomination.” Bradley later says that when armed with the resources of Reformed Theology, Christians can “propose something even better to account for what we see in the world today on the intersection of America’s racial history with contemporary culture.” Again, one wonders how this proposal is made public without a “statement, or counter-statement.”

Bradley’s article does a commendable job concisely defining CRT. He points to the work of Antonio de la Garza and Kent Ono who explains that “Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an intellectual movement that seeks to understand how white supremacy as a legal, cultural, and political condition is reproduced and maintained, primarily in the US context.” But more than “seek to understand,” Bradley rightly points out the CRT seeks to “centralize the issue of race” in historical interpretation. He also rightly points out that CRT is, well, critical. That is, it scrutinizes how white supremacy is a normalized, assumed, and irrevocable part of America’s past and present.

Bradley then says, “One can (and should) learn what one can from it while rejecting what is wrong … it is not an account we must accept or reject wholesale.” In this, Bradley seeks a centrist view that neither embraces CRT as a complete doctrine, as do the progressives, nor rejects CRT in its entirety, as do the secular conservatives.

This is a common tact in evangelicalism today, namely, to try and find the good and redeemable things in all ideas, even un-Christian ones. The impulse isn’t all wrong. We certainly don’t want to live with a hyper-critical spirit. Sometimes there are redeemable qualities in bad ideas. I, for one, have learned a lot from the monastic tradition, even as I think the Desert Father’s retreat from the world badly missed the mark.

Bradley then interacts with CRT. He starts with the issue of racism in America: Does it exist in American history? Does it exist now? This, we should point out, is an acceptable place to start interacting with CRT, since so much of the theory is built on the premise that the United States is systemically racist even still. On the question of whether or not systemic racism exists now, Bradley says, “it depends.” We need to make a “case-by-case basis.” He admits that white supremacy doesn’t explain everything that is wrong with America. He admits that white supremacy doesn’t explain all statistical disparities between the races. But then he says, “CRT can be and is useful in some limited contexts for identifying where race may be a variable.” He later says, “CRT may have a certain limited usefulness in pointing out analytical blind spots in examining the role of race in American life.”

Bradley’s main thesis is that Christians should “eat the meat and spit out the bones” of CRT. In other words, Christians should find those things in CRT that have limited usefulness. But he never explains why. So I’ll ask it: Why must Christians do backbends to publicly identify that which is useful in CRT, a theory crafted by those who hate the God of the Bible? His article never specifically says what the meat of CRT is. He never says specifically what true things CRT provides.

Bradley says, “CRT simply wants to dismantle racism in an attempt to achieve cosmic salvation from their perception of the worst of all evils. For CRT, anti-racism will set us free.” Later, Bradley says, “Dismantling racism will not rid the world of the evils CRT seeks to purge … It might be helpful in identifying some aspects of some forms of evil.” In this Bradley assumes that CRT merely wants to dismantle racism. In reality, they have, as Carl Trueman says, created “a creedal language and liturgy.”[1] Words like racism have new meanings. Trueman explains that CRT is filled “with orthodox words (‘white privilege,’ ‘systemic racism’) and prescribed actions (raising the fist, taking the knee). To deviate from the forms is to deviate from the faith. Certain words are heretical (‘non-racist,’ ‘all lives matter’). The slogan ‘silence is violence’ is a potent rhetorical weapon. To fail to participate in the liturgy is to reject the antiracism the liturgy purports to represent—something only a racist would do.”

It is not the case that “CRT simply wants to dismantle racism.” Rather, they seek to redefine racism. Consider some of the new vocabularies of CRT.[2] First, the term “anti-racism.” This does not mean someone is against racism. Rather, this is when someone is committed to actively dismantling systems and institutions that produce whiteness. Second, the term “racism.” This doesn’t mean that you look down upon people of another race (hate) and look upon people of your race as superior (pride). Rather, this now means power plus prejudice. In CRT, only majority groups can be racist because racism is impossible apart from power. Third, the term “white fragility.” This is a term unique to CRT. It refers to a posture of defensiveness, anxiety, and anger exhibited by whites in response to discussions of race.[3] Fourth, the term “White privilege.” This refers to a set of unearned advantages that whites experience relative to non-whites, by virtue of their skin color. It also implies that privilege of any kind is wrong. In Scripture, however, the existence of privilege is not sin. Someone may either righteously or wickedly use their privilege. Fifth, the term “whiteness.” This refers to a set of normative privileges granted to white-skinned individuals and groups which is “invisible” to those privileged by it. CRT views whiteness as a problem that needs to be overcome. So it’s the case that CRT is a system that doesn’t simply want to dismantle racism. They are seeking to redefine the entire conversation. It employs duplicitous language. Bradley seems to take it at face value that CRT wants to dismantle racism, not acknowledging that CRT activists have taken their erasers to the dictionary.

Bradley says, “CRT is a reductionistic theory of human evil and suffering. It is precisely for this reason that CRT is not a threat to the PCA! It is woefully inadequate to explain the nature of reality and to offer non-coercive solutions. That is, CRT is not good enough.” It is certainly true that CRT is not good enough to explain reality. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a threat. CRT isn’t just a problem of misinterpreting reality. It is an attempt to redefine it. Consider an example. CRT explains the statistical disparities between blacks and whites by citing racism. In so doing, it fails to account for the disaster that happens when marriage is destroyed and children are raised in single-parent homes.

Economist Glen Loury has argued that marriage is supposed to be the first social context for a child’s life. As Christians, we would add that God’s purpose for marriage is that children are raised with two parents in the home. If the nuclear family is broken, then no subsequent level of society can fully correct it, no matter how pure the motivations are and how much government money is spent. On the issue of statistical disparities between whites and blacks, Christians need to be clear that if the family is broken, it doesn’t matter what government program is passed and how much money is spent.[4] There is no substitute for the family. Glenn Loury makes the point that if you’re going to talk about racial inequality, you have to start by talking about the destruction of the black family.[5] It’s not possible to remediate what’s lost if marriage and family and kinship and community are not intact. It is within the nuclear family structure that children learn to tame their impulses, improve cognitive skills, learn social skills and develop emotional self-control. In other words, it is through home-training that children learn to function in society. The Christian worldview understands that both white and black children born to single mothers have significant hurdles compared with those children born in a two-parent family. Yet CRT deems it racist and bigoted to say that racial inequalities will not be alleviated until there is a return to a culture in which children are born to married couples who stay married and invest their energies in those children.[6]

Bradley says that Christian theology allows us to freely “acknowledge evil where it exists … We are free to protest and invest by unlocking the goodness of creation, blessing our neighbors, and fighting evil.” Christians would all agree to this. In fact, this is why it is essential to oppose CRT, root and branch, whenever we encounter it. It carries on its front a semblance of justice which is false. Good Christians who love justice are deceived.

Bradley wants to acknowledge the helpful parts of CRT and spit out the vices. The error with this strategy is that the vices Bradley wishes to eradicate from CRT are essential features of it. Consider the way CRT sorts people into groups. Each group is divided into Marx’s categories: bourgeoisie and proletariat. Yet critical theory goes beyond the economic groups of Marx, expanding this to include the powerful or oppressed; the advantaged or disadvantaged, and the privileged or discriminated against.

PrivilegedDiscriminated against

CRT studies these groups to find and challenge power structures, which shape the relationships between groups. Sorting people into groups creates divisions between the powerful and oppressed, an analytical technique innovated by Marx and applied in the courts of tyrants.

Thrasymachus, the Greek philosopher, wrongly defined justice as “the interest of the stronger.” Carl Trueman helpfully explains that “Critical theory, whatever form it takes, relies on the concept of false consciousness—the notion that the oppressors control society so completely that the oppressed believe their own interests are served by the status quo…. this allows every piece of evidence that might refute one’s ­theory to be transformed into further evidence of how deep and comprehensive the problem of oppression is.” CRT tries to make minorities the strongest by, as Bradley admits, centralizing “the issue of race.”

The problem is that this isn’t justice. Carl Trueman, again, says, “when that framework flattens our moral judgment and erases distinctions, makes ‘the system’ the culprit, and guards its assertions with a self-certifying account of what must be affirmed, the scene is set not for Christian reconciliation but for cultural intimidation, as all dissent is denounced as racist.” CRT is an analytical framework to analyze institutions and culture. Its purpose is to divide the world into white oppressors and non-white victims. The ultimate goal of the theory’s proponents is to remake society so that the victim class eventually displaces the oppressors and becomes the new ruling class.[7] Within this framework, “white privilege” and its unearned benefits become responsible for economic and social disparities in minority communities.

CRT advances a narrative of blame that declares white America guilty for the plight of blacks. In CRT, there is no way out for whites when it comes to race. For example, Derrick Bell says racism has a permanence to it. Robin DiAngelo teaches people that, “The question is no longer did racism take place, but how did racism manifest in this situation?” All of the core critical race theory texts say that racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society. Critical race theory assumes that racism is permanent and affects every aspect of society, including political, economic, social, and religious institutions.

Blaming the abstract “system” with no hope of forgiveness is decidedly opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the good news of Christ, reconciliation happens through individual confession, repentance, and forgiveness. The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) teaches that the Gospel pattern of forgiveness should be carried out in our daily lives. The point of the parable is that if we claim to be forgiven by Jesus, yet still have an unforgiving spirit, then that proves that we have never tasted the forgiveness of Jesus in the first place. Reconciliation is impossible when repentant individuals are denied forgiveness and kept forever on the hamster wheel of guilt.

And so we return to our question: Why must Christians do backbends to publicly identify something useful in CRT, a theory crafted by those who hate the God of the Bible? And if it is the case, as Bradley says, that Christians armed with the resources of Reformed theology can propose something even better than CRT, why must we affirm something—anything—about CRT?

Rather than being “an excellent oil, which shall not break my hand” (Psalm 141:5), CRT is a hot oil that burns it. Racism exists. We don’t deny that. The point is that Christians don’t need CRT to point out that racism can infect social structures, economic systems, and legal codes. The fact that CRT is unneeded is proven by Bradley’s article. While he calls on Christians to “eat the meat and spit out the bones,” not once does he explicitly identify what meat CRT provides to the Christian worldview. So then why does he insist that Christians should “learn what one can from it”? Addison Meeke, wisely speaking about race relations, says “We do harm to the name of Christianity by trying to please people or be politically correct.”[8]

Bradley tells us to eat the meat and spit out the bones. But first, we must ask if the buffet set before us is food or poison. Failing to differentiate the two is a disaster. Adhering to CRT is not the way to fight for justice. Bradley says, “It might be helpful in identifying some aspects of some forms of evil.” My question is: What specifically does it help identify that the Christian worldview can’t do on its own?

The closest agreement Bradley himself has with CRT is when he says, “There is racism in America and, at times, that racism can take on structural forms.” But he doesn’t tell us where exactly structural racism is found. His statement is a mere abstraction. In the end, Bradley leaves the door open that CRT may be slightly helpful, but he gives no specific examples of how CRT is helpful. Bradley says, “One can (and should) learn what one can from it while rejecting what is wrong.” But he gives no specific examples of what true things are learned from CRT that can’t also be learned without CRT. Bradley says we should approach CRT in a way “that discerns true insights.” What true insights does CRT provide? Bradley doesn’t expressly say. He does say this, “CRT can be and is useful in some limited contexts for identifying where race may be a variable.” But, again, why do Christians need CRT to identify race as a variable in injustice?

He says that “The social sciences are simply attempting to provide replacement narratives” for Christianity. In this statement, he seems to imply that CRT is a replacement narrative for Christianity. This is a savage blow to his claim that CRT is “not an account we must accept or reject wholesale.” If CRT is a replacement narrative for Christianity, don’t we have an obligation to reject it wholesale? Why do we need it?

The church needs leaders and members who are not deceived by the pretensions of justice which usher in the cruelty of divisions, resentment, and rioting. To use CRT in the church, or to adapt it to the Christian worldview, is to dilute the truth. I truly appreciate the critique Bradley makes of CRT, along with his belief in the rich resources of the Reformed Protestant tradition. But he proves too much. It is precisely because of the Christian critique of CRT and the depth of the Christian worldview that CRT is unneeded in the church.

[1] https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/02/evangelicals-and-race-theory?fbclid=IwAR2EYdQNc2b4tqduO6T1NFTb0EpCN7MOKfBs9hOTQzYRdHapnBsHXFKz5Ng

[2] https://shenviapologetics.com/an-antiracism-glossary/

[3] Carl Trueman says, “Critical race theory is extremely ­seductive. Who wants to be guilty of standing on the side of the oppressors rather than in solidarity with the victims of injustice? The theory is likewise hard to oppose, since it denies the legitimacy of arguments that call it into question. The he-who-is-not-­with-us-is-against-us rhetoric ensures that even tentative reservations will sound, well, racist. How many of us want to identify ourselves as not “­antiracist”? Who wants to appear to deny that black lives matter?”

[4] See the book by Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People: From State to Civil Society (Washington D.C.: AEI Press, 1996). Also see the Thomas Sowell book, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality (New York: William Morrow, 1984) for an economist’s explanation for why more than just race explains statistical disparities.

[5] https://www.manhattan-institute.org/why-does-racial-inequality-persist

[6] Consider, further, what Lawrence Mead ably points out in his recent paper “Poverty and Culture.” “Attempts to attribute long term poverty to social barriers, such as racial discrimination or lack of jobs, have failed. Some scholars now attribute poverty to culture in the sense that many poor become disillusioned and no longer seek to advance themselves. More plausible is cultural difference. The United States has an individualist culture, derived from Europe, where most people seek to achieve personal goals. Racial minorities, however, all come from non-Western cultures where most people seek to adjust to outside conditions rather than seeking change….These differences best explain why minorities—especially blacks and Hispanics—typically respond only weakly to chances to get ahead through education and work, and also why crime and other social problems run high in low-income areas….The black middle class has converted to an individualist style and thus advanced, but most blacks have not.”

[7] BLM co-founder is rather transparent about this goal in her book The Purpose of Power: How we Come Together When we Fall Apart (New York: One World, 2020).

[8] https://decisionmagazine.com/the-stated-goals-of-black-lives-matter-are-anti-christian/

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

One Little Word Shall Fell Him

Comedian Roy Rogers used to say that he only knew what he read in the papers. Well, if you’ve been reading the paper lately, or the online paper, there is a decided trend against Christianity. For a few recent examples click here, here, here, and here.

What are we to do? Chesterton once warned that if the right idea becomes less powerful then the wrong idea becomes too powerful. Right and wrong mean true and false. That which is true is communicated through words, as is that which is false.

The message of this essay is simple. Christians can do the job of making the right ideas more powerful by refusing to conform to society’s newspeak. This requires that we speak the Christian conscience rather than conform to the vocabulary of the moral revolution.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

Reader’s of George Orwell know that “newspeak” refers to the language of Oceania, the totalitarian nation that is the setting of his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a restricted vocabulary designed to restrict the individual’s concept of reality. When the main character, Winston Smith, is sent to a re-education camp, he has to learn doublethink, also designed to defy reality, as seen by the three slogans of—”War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’”

John 18:37

So it’s not just that Christians should speak the truth, but that they should speak the truth about those things that are no longer deemed acceptable by those who do the deeming. Norm Chomsky—admittedly not one of the church’s favorite thinkers—explained that “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow lively debate within that spectrum.” For example, it’s acceptable to debate whether or not the next Covid stimulus bill should be $1.2 trillion or $2.1 trillion. It’s not acceptable to ask, “What if we balanced the budget and opened the economy back up?” (Now, you at home come up with your own examples, maybe as a family discussion at the dinner table. Everyone thinks of one thing that is acceptable to debate in 2021 and one thing that is outside the permitted spectrum).

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.”

Ephesians 6:14

Language means things and implies things such that a difference in semantics matters. Language shapes beliefs. If inaccurate language is used, then that weakens the church’s ability to speak in a distinctively Christian way. Why? Because over time, the words we use and the categories we accept change the way we think. Once we accept the terms of certain language, we have changed our beliefs to match the words. In his book The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity, Charles Taylor argues against the Darwinists who say that language merely vocalizes thought processes. Taylor argues that language does more. Language creates thought. As Taylor puts it, language development is constitutive of thought, not merely descriptive of already existing thought.

George Lakoff, a professor in cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, explains that people possess “frames.” These frames shape the way people see the world. Once a frame is solidified in the neural circuitry, certain languages, images, and ideas come. The point is that differences in language, even minor differences, really do shape people’s thoughts and their interpretation of their experiences. Language creates plausibility.[1]

Many Christians, no doubt, find it easier to just play along with newspeak. Maybe they wonder why Christians don’t just adopt the secular worldview and somehow make it Christian by baptizing secular language in a few bible verses. They may say, “What’s the harm if we adapt our language to the newspeak?” The harm is this doesn’t make the worldview Christian or biblical.

Other Christians, not willing to conform to newspeak, may default to silence, thinking this is the path of least resistance. True that may be, but only in the short run. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn confesses that when the communists came to arrest him for not being a communist, he kept silent because there were too few people present to make any difference. He thought there weren’t enough people present to justify speaking up. Later, in prison, after comparing notes with the others who didn’t speak up, he came to regret his silence. If he had cried out to the few that could hear him, and if the millions of others that were unjustly dragged off to the Gulags had cried out to the few that could hear them, then millions of people would have heard the truth about what the communists were doing.[2]

Likewise, too many Christians today think it’s not worth it to speak up. After all, they don’t have a platform. Only a few people would hear them anyway. They think it’s the job of the preacher with a book deal to speak up. But if every Christian started telling the truth about reality—that we have a Creator who ordered the universe, that there is a biological difference between boys and girls, that the Supreme Court doesn’t have authority to redefine marriage, that legislation is not a substitute for the nuclear family,[3] that a gentle answer turns away wrath—then millions would hear the truth. C.S. Lewis, talking about encounters between Christians and non-Christians, wrote “there comes a time when we must show that we disagree. We must show our Christian colours if we are to be true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent or concede everything away.”[4]

“Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

1 Corinthians 5:8

On the surface, it may seem as if newspeak just gets the masses merely repeating new catchphrases, words that are, as C.S. Lewis once said, all smudge and blur. But if language shapes beliefs, and beliefs shape expectations, and expectations shape experiences, then it is more than just a surface-level problem. When one starts speaking the new vocabulary, it’s difficult to disentangle from what’s being said. George Orwell explains, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.”[5]

So I encourage you to speak the Christian conscience, to tell the truth, to use terms and categories as God has given them to us in the Bible. When we are in a conversation with people who use newspeak, our default shouldn’t be to keep quiet. There are times where we should speak up and say, “That’s not what that word means. I refuse to use that term. I refuse to organize my thoughts with those categories. I can’t share those assumptions, and I don’t think you should either.”

[1] George Lakoff, The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014).

[2] Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 18.

[3] See the book by Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People: From State to Civil Society.

[4] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 262.

[5] George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” The collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angos, Vol. 4, ed. 1 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, 1968), 127-140.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Six Principles of Christian Fasting

NOTE: This blog post is based on teaching notes from the sermon on 4.18.21. If you would like to listen to the entire sermon, click here.

First, fasting is a matter of Christian freedom

The NT says little about fasting. Aside from this passage in Mark (and the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke), there are only a few other passages that talk about it. Perhaps this is why Calvin warns against thinking of fasting as a work commanded by God. Fasting is a matter of Christian freedom, not an obligation. There is an assumption that Christians will fast (“they will fast” Mark 2:20), but not a command.

In practice, what does it mean to say that fasting is a matter of Christian freedom?

Fasting can be used as an expression of repentance, but repentance doesn’t require fasting. Fasting can be used as preparation for prayer, but prayer doesn’t require fasting. Fasting can be used to deepen devotion to God, but devotion to God doesn’t require fasting.

And so we say this:

On some occasions fasting is appropriate and on other occasions, it is not appropriate. When Jesus is present, the wedding feast is happening, and so fasting on that occasion is inappropriate. But when Jesus is absent, fasting may be desirable, though, the rarity of fasting references in the NT means it is not necessarily a regular Christian practice. Yet, we have to restate that Jesus does assume Christians will fast. Thus, if after 40 years of being a Christian you discover you have never fasted, that may be a spiritual shortcoming and you should engage in self-examination on the matter.

Second, fasting is for times of yearning and aching and longing

We were told, in Mark 2:20, that the time to fast is when our Christ is gone. That time is now. And as we eagerly await the Second Coming of Christ, we live in a broken and sinful world. Sin remains in our lives and our world. And so our hearts will yearn and ache for certain things, as we wait for the Lord. In particular, our hearts will yearn and ache for the manifestation of Christ’s victory to be seen on earth now. When you find your heart longing for this, fasting is appropriate.

Third, eating or not eating is nonessential in itself

Don’t get me wrong, the most basic definition of fasting is to go without food. To be more precise, fasting can occur in three ways: by eating no food for a period of time, by eating lesser quality of foods for a period of time, or by eating a smaller quantity of food for a period of time

In each of those three cases, fasting has occurred. But the point isn’t the lack of food. Fasting is an activity of frugality and sobriety. Fasting withdraws us from our normal regiment of eating IN ORDER TO intensify our love, dependence, and satisfaction in Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:3-6; Col. 2:16; 1 Cor. 8:8).  In other words, fasting should get to the heart, not just the body. In fasting, you are depriving the body to intensify the heart’s commitment to the Lord decisive victory. This leads to our next principle of fasting.

Fourth, fasting is feasting

Fasting is designed to intensify the focus of our faith on what Christ accomplished and on what he will accomplish. And so, fasting is a spiritual feast on what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection in application to the thing the Christian conscience is burdened to pray for. Our physical hunger awakens a taste for God and for what God has given in Jesus Christ, the bread of life.

Fifth, fasting is part of disciplining the body

1 Cor. 9:26-27 — “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control.”

Do you have a problem with self-control over your body?

Perhaps the sin of lust repeatedly takes control of your body. Perhaps you are wasteful with how you spend your money. Perhaps your tongue says more than it should.

Do you have a problem living aimlessly?

Does figuring out what to watch next on Netflix take up a lot of your time? Do hours of your week disappear into the activity of scrolling? The Christian life is meant to fervently counteract the modern problem of aimlessness, the modern problem of lack of discipline, the modern problem of no self-control. If you find yourself running aimlessly or undisciplined or lacking self-control, then realize that God has given us fasting as a way to train your body, cultivate your soul, and discipline your life. It may be unpopular in evangelicalism to say this, but apparently, the NT regards some ascetic habits as useful weapons in the fight of faith. Fasting is one such weapon.

Sixth, fasting is not about willpower

Willpower-fasting is precisely the thing Jesus is criticizing. If your fasting stirs up your spiritual pride more than it stirs up confidence in the Lord, you are guilty of willpower-fasting.

The entire point of fasting is to remind us of the feebleness of our body, to remind us of our brokenness, to remind us of our spiritual poverty, so that we may look to Christ and his sweet mercy. Unless fasting creates an inner commitment to the Lord, it is of little value. Indeed, Calvin calls such willpower-fasting “useless.” We must be greatly warned against using fasting as an outward signal of holiness. God does not esteem fasting as such. In other words, God does not esteem fasting for the sake of fasting. The design is that it would renew and intensify our trust in the decisive victory Christ won in application to the particular thing our Christian conscience is burdened to pray for.  

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Partial Bibliography:

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. 2 vols. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960.

Piper, John. A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. Wheaton, ILL: Crossway, 1997.

Questions This Dad has for the State University Recruiter who has Come for my Child

In your experience, are Christian students more likely to win unbelievers to Christ or lose Christ altogether?

Will my child be taught critical theory at your school?

Do your professors teach that life accidentally sprang from non-life in a primordial pond of goo while also thinking those that disagree are stone-agers that need a course correction?

Does your college think my child’s Christian school is bigoted and regressive?

Does your college think my family’s church is bigoted and regressive?

During the average four-year undergraduate program, how many undergraduate classes are taught by graduate students, rather than a professor, as the main instructor? (HT DF)

Jesus said when students are fully trained, they will be like their teacher (Luke 6:40). Do your teachers model the Christ-life for their students?

Will my child be taught that gender identity is separate from biological sex?

Is the intellectual climate one where Christian ideas are an option or one where those with Christian ideas are put to shame?

In your estimate, out of every 100 Christian students that arrive on your campus, how many leave as Christians?

How do you handle a situation where a sophomore shows up at the campus clinic seeking an abortion?

Is the environment fostered at your school one where sex is viewed as a beautiful gift from God when expressed within a marriage between one man and one woman?

Would you describe the culture of your school as that of “simple faith” in the God of the Bible or “simple hate” of the God of the Bible?

Would you characterize the outlook of your professors as secular, Christian, or something else?

Will my child be taught that two men can marry and that those who disagree are hateful bigots?

How are professors reviewed annually? What role does research funding have in that review process? (HT DF)

How many sexual assaults are reported on your campus each year?

Have you found that most students who arrive on campus as Christians are salt and light, meaning they subtly sow seeds that counteract the spirit of the age?

Are guest speakers of a conservative or Christian worldview welcomed on campus or are they opposed by a shouting army of students?

John Dewey said the goal of government-run schools should be to separate students from the prejudices of their parents. Do you agree?

What is the full cost of tuition, room, board, and books for a four-year degree?

What is the percentage break down of how tuition money is allocated to the following groups:  professors, athletics, administrators, diversity officers, and equity bureaucrats? (HT DF)

What is the average amount of student loan debt students graduate with?

Would your school hire a professor who was a member of my church’s denomination?

How would you compare the number of students who stop attending church with the number of students that start attending church?

How many hands do you need to count the number of students who graduated from your school last year without having sex outside of marriage?

Is white supremacy defined as a person raised in a family with two loving parents?

Do your professors tend to oppose Christianity in a private, hushed voice, or with open, hostile rhetoric?

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Fuddled Worship: Why Virtual Worship is no Substitute for In-Person Worship

This is a companion article to “Why Haven’t we Canceled Worship Services?” which can be found by clicking here.

American Christians of recent vintage are eager to live as if the fourth commandment no longer applies—adopting a Lord’s Day theology revolving around the question of how much activity Christians can get away with on any given Sunday. This has become the enabling doctrine for the notion that virtual worship is a sufficient substitute for in-person worship.

Virtual worship is when churches use online video and/or audio streams to allow the church to go through the rudiments of worship over the internet. Sometimes the church’s worship band and pastor live stream themselves on the church stage singing songs and preaching a sermon. Sometimes they record the songs, prayers, and sermon ahead of time and provide a link for members to access. Beginning in the year 2020, many churches decided to substitute virtual worship services for in-person worship to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

It is our conviction that these two things—the virtual and the in-person worship service—are not the same thing, and the church must no longer pretend that two things, so different, can be substituted for each other. The chief difference is that of real presence. In-person worship has a live preacher, preaching to a live congregation. There is the real presence of the body of Christ singing together—singing to one another. There are the real elements of bread and wine which are real participation in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16).

When a church member attends an in-person service, the elders are in charge of the service, including the songs that are sung and how many, the prayers that are prayed and how many, the sermon that is preached and how long. When church members stay home for virtual worship, they seize control over the service. They now control exactly what is viewed. They can skip things if they get bored. They can more easily check their phone for the news flash. They can turn down the volume or openly consult the wife about afternoon plans. They can put their dog on their lap and wonder what he is thinking.

The church member is now in control. Why? Because they have removed themselves from the work of attending church. They didn’t have to get dressed or arrive on time. They didn’t have to smile at their friends when they greeted each other. They didn’t have to sit up straight in the chair or wait until the service is complete to get lunch. In sum, they have removed themselves from the formality of attending worship on the Lord’s Day. They’ve cut the cost and the inconvenience and the hassle of attending church.

At its best, virtual worship is an approximation of the real thing. It is fuddled worship, which tricks people into thinking they are worshiping with the people of God, when in fact they are watching other people worship. In evangelicalism, many worship services are little more than songs, a prayer, and a sermon. Songs can be played on Spotify. Prayers can be heard via recording, as can a sermon. And so, the sheep can be forgiven for confusing a “virtual service” for the real thing. Some of the confusion amounts to thinking that worship is more about the transfer of information than the transformation of the person. It is decidedly the latter (Rom. 12:2), which requires the work of the Holy Spirit among the real presence of God’s people and God’s minister. The praise and prayer of the Lord’s Day are to occur “before those who fear him” (Ps. 22:25). Lord’s Day worship is a transformative experience rather than a middleman of knowledge.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes said, “Particular visible churches under visible pastors . . . now are God’s tabernacle.” Because church is a physical assembly of people, it’s not something that can be replicated at home. We were told to use the Lord’s Day to stir one another up to love and good deeds. We were told to assemble to encourage one another (Heb. 10:24-25). This isn’t fulfilled when talking brains log on and commence data transfer. Elijah gets strength when he learns there are still 7,000 people in Israel who worship the Lord (1 Kings 19:3 – 18). David finds shelter only “in the midst of the congregation” (Ps. 22:22). He later proclaims “the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation” (Ps. 40:9). The physical gathering is where faithfulness to God is passed down “to another generation” (Ps. 71:18). God’s people are specifically warned against concealing their worship and praise from the congregation (Ps. 40:10).

Virtual worship cannot be substituted for in-person worship unless the core remains unchanged. And since the core of worship—the assumption of corporate worship—is the real presence of God’s people, virtual worship is an unsuitable substitute for in-person worship, even in the times of the coronavirus. Think of how many Bible passages don’t make sense if we can substitute virtual for physical worship. The pages of Scripture primarily emphasize the corporate aspect of worship. Psalm 27 doesn’t make sense unless it is physical. As David looks around him, he sees several reasons to wait confidently for God’s deliverance. One reason is that he is surrounded by the people of God with whom he offers shouts of joy. How many “virtual worshipers” are filled with inexpressible joy as they cue up the next Spotify song?

In the Old Covenant, the sacrificial offerings were the central part of Israel’s temple worship, something that occurred physically, in the presence of the people (Leviticus 9). In the New Covenant, we approach God’s throne through Christ’s sacrifice. We take the physical elements of the bread and wine and physically eat and drink them (Luke 22:14-23). By faith we have union with Christ and present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), kneeling before God among the people of God (Ps. 95:6).

During corporate worship, the church is supposed to address and admonish “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). There are two duties required when singing with the congregation. One is to make a “melody” to the Lord. The other is to address “one another.” This means that not only is there a duty to God, but a duty to the church. Obligations abound vertically and horizontally. Worship extends to the entire Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit. Encouragement extends to the entire body—hands, feet, and unpresentable parts. The first praises God. The second gives courage to the saints. Neither can be replicated on Zoom. 

The Westminster Confession of Faith’s instructions about worship also assumes that Lord’s Day worship is a physical gathering,  “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear,(r) the sound preaching(s) and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence;(t) singing of psalms with grace in the heart;(u) as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God” (WCF, 21:5).

Since eternal rest with God is our future, the Lord’s Day, which points to our eternal future, is not optional. Sunday worship is not only the result of salvation, it is the ongoing means of grace that forms the soul in preparation for eternity. Just like a husband and wife aren’t supposed to be apart for long, but “come together again so that Satan may not tempt you” (1 Cor. 7:5), so too Christ and his bride are supposed to gather the first day of the week to renew the covenant and halt Satan’s devices.

When Christians mutually agree to not physically gather for Lord’s Day worship, when they mutually agree to disobey God’s instructions to physically gather for worship, they are saying to one another that they don’t prioritize worship enough to gather in the face of a physical threat. It says that the elders and deacons don’t prioritize worship enough to assemble the flock. They are satisfied to allow the substitute of “virtual worship services” to carry on. What are the people in the church to conclude? They are told to conclude that staying home is “loving your neighbor.” Instead, questions arise. How is keeping people from the physical assembly loving? Do all groups, institutions, and religions have a lukewarm commitment to their own things? Why are the race rioters so committed to their ideas that they refuse to stay home, but the church isn’t? Why do rioters take their ideas more seriously than Christians? Do I want to stake my identity with a group that isn’t committed to their own ideas? Why don’t they care enough about their central activity to keep doing it?

The church is being watched by not just those inside, but also those outside the church. When the church stops physically gathering for Sunday worship, the watchers see that Christians are compliant with restrictions that forbid gathering. Many in the world see the restrictions as proper and the Christians who comply as humane. But even then, what do they see? They see that Christians would rather be humane—in whatever way the world defines it—than assembled for worship. In this they learn something false about Christianity: that complying with the world’s definitions is more important than gathering for public worship.

The primary task of the church is to worship God. The church, not just individuals, is to do this, which necessarily means the church must be physically and corporately gathered. Mark Jones writes, “The most important thing a Christian can do is worship God together with the body of Christ. We come together each Lord’s Day as a unified army, fighting the Lord’s battles in different ways, knowing that God is fighting with us and for us.”[1] Gathering physically testifies that the church is worth preserving. The Greek word for church—ekklesia—means congregation or assembly, which denotes if the church fails to assemble, the church won’t be the church. We worship as much as we believe, and in so far as we don’t gather to worship Jesus, we can’t much hope for persevering belief.

[1] Faith, Hope, and Love, pg 189 (Crossway, Wheaton, ILL.; 2017).

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

The City Unveiled—Encouragements in Family Devotion

Somewhere a faithful Christian father leads his family in evening devotion. He looks across the room over which he presides. Before him stretches chaos. One child is rolling on the ground. The firstborn is sitting with her hands in her lap—anxious to begin because she is anxious to finish. Father turns around and sees a third child discretely coloring the family hymnal. Experienced parents might define devotion less as glory descending from above and more as embarrassed majesty rising from a sea of uncooperative and argumentative children. They might forget that this, even this, is a City making progress.

Richard Baxter said that marriage is where parents “faithfully join as helpers in the education of their children.” Part of the warp and woof of Christian discipleship is the family devotion, sometimes called family worship. For English-speaking Christians, the habit of family devotion goes back to the seventeenth century Puritans, who introduced the devotional practices of the Christian family in England. Despite the common caricature, the Puritans were cheerful people with a deep sense of joy in God. They developed the idea of the Christian household as the pattern of parents teaching children the Bible and how to pray. This form of the Christian family has passed into American evangelicalism, where family worship and prayers are the responsibility of the father and mother as the spiritual leaders (Eph. 6:1-2).

Yet it is an intimidating thing for parents to conduct family devotions, especially if they are unaccustomed to the practice. Thankfully, the Puritan ethos of patient nurture charts a path forward. The Puritan family raised children with the principle of nurture that patiently trained children in the way they should go, caring for the soul like one might care for the body. Each devotional time resembles a football huddle more than a weekend conference.  Devotions need not carry on too long, especially with the younger children. The design is to draw attention to the successive folds of truth as they slowly and gradually slide into view. After many years of simple huddles, you will have uncoiled a length of biblical truth that stretches the entirety of mere Christianity.

Parents feed children several meals a day, but not all at the same time. Not all the month’s meals are eaten in one sitting. I trust you recognize we’re talking about more than food. Such a diet won’t nurture disciples who love Christ, hate sin and fear God. Disciple-making requires the patience of a farmer. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7b-8a).

So, we’re admitting that this isn’t easy, which is good since perfection is not the goal. God is content to allow human weakness to intrude while the Spirit does his work.  How can family devotion help “establish … hearts”? In other words, what are the goals of family devotions? While admitting there are many, consider these four goals.

First, growing in knowledge and love.

Devotions are most useful when they fortify the foundations of Christian knowledge and love (2 Pt. 3:18), training the family in the practical use of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16) while also stirring up love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

Second, fortifying foundations.

In today’s world where religious cynicism is the norm and believing isn’t easy, family devotion is one of the many things needed to head off unbelief off at the pass. This involves establishing biblical structures before false ones emerge and teaching lively faith before dead formalism obtrudes.

Third, choosing a good name.

Since most Americans aspire toward riches, and since a good name is better than riches (Proverbs 22:1), family devotion is the time to protect the reputation of the family name. Not just Smith or Jones, but the name of Christ. Christ is our family name if we are Christians. And if the Smiths are a Christian family, then the honor of the Smith name matters too. We cooperate with the world’s religious scoffing when we drag the family name through the mud of hypocrisy. We should suffer the reproach of the world for doing good rather than for doing evil (1 Pt. 3:17). So, train covenant children to do good and endure the name-calling of the world in the process.

Fourth, sharing your joy.

A child instinctively knows what their parents think is important. G.K. Chesterton said that children often reject what their parents say, but they never reject what their parents really think is important. Maybe we should call it the osmosis affect—children gradually absorb what’s most important in the house, even if those things are unstated. So, in addition to teaching your children to have joy in the Lord, you should actually have joy in the Lord in the presence of your children, rather than brooding when family devotion borders on disorder.

One way to show—while simultaneously saying—Jesus is the most important, is to sing hymns as a family. What’s that, you say you don’t sing well? Even better! Then your children will know that you aren’t singing because of your love of music. You are singing because of your joy in the Lord.

One of the secondary benefits of family devotion is that it encourages those moms and dads who think their gifts are too small. It is not the case that those without a ministerial calling have no calling at all. Every Christian is called to diligently perform their private calling in family life. When parents speak of divine things, when they feed the souls of their children, when they lead the family in prayer, they feel the reality of the things they speak. This will encourage them that the ordinary practice of family devotion has great value. And since they are leading something of great value, God is using them to advance the Kingdom.

Recommended resources

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Shorter Catechism by Starr Meade

This book of short daily readings is based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It explains the catechism in simple language, includes key Scripture readings, and takes just a few moments each day.

Every Moment Holy by Douglas McKelvey

This book of prayerful liturgies has something for every season of life

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions compiled by Arthur Bennett

This is more than a book of written prayers. It is a prompt and tutor for Christians who want to pray living prayers.  

Cantus Christi

Our affections are shaped and molded by the music we sing—or don’t sing. When you own (and use!) a copy of your church’s hymnal (at TRC we use the Cantus Christi) you are preparing your family for the great victories and tragedies that befall God’s people.

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Principles for Distancing: Or, When do I Stop Ministering to that Person?

ThirdMill’s Biblical Perspective Magazine featured an article from our own Jason Cherry – check it out at the link below!

Readers of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress will remember when Christian and Hopeful encounter Atheist. Mockingly, Atheist says, “I laugh to see what ignorant persons you are, to take upon you so tedious a journey, and yet are like to have nothing but your Travel for your pains.” After trying to convince Atheist of the error of his ways, Christian and Hopeful make the excruciating decision to leave Atheist behind, reasoning, “As for this man, I know that he is blinded by the God of this world. Let thee and I go on, knowing that we have belief of the Truth, and no Lie is of the truth.” Bunyan then writes, “So they turned away from the man; and he laughing at them, went his way.”

To read the rest of the article, click the link below:


Why Haven’t We Canceled Worship Services?

There was an outbreak of the plague in Scotland in 1645. Roughly half the population died. There was another outbreak in 1647. The local Presbyterians organized a six-day festival of repentance. My, my how times have changed.  There was an outbreak of coronavirus in 2020. Roughly 0.6% of infected Americans died. Churches of all stripes voluntarily canceled Sunday services for months at a time.

The habit of forsaking Lord’s Day worship settles and roots in the habit of Christian families. It’s one problem if tyrants forbid Christians from worshipping. It’s another problem if Christian custom, habit, and society (plus civil law) train people to forsake Sunday worship services. It’s the latter problem that needs addressing.

How is it that four hundred years ago Christians responded to horrific sickness by gathering for worshipful repentance and now they respond to sickness by hiding in homes? What accounts for this change? Or to frame the question biblically, why do Christians today assume they can disobey the Lord and neglect to publicly worship together (Heb. 10:25)? Here are two reasons to consider.

First, American evangelicals care for the physical more than the spiritual

Since the fearful are prone to exaggerate, let’s say (for sake of discussion) that Johns Hopkins doctor Amesh A. Adalja, M.D. is correct and the fatality rate is 0.6% (The exaggeration comes from the fact that there isn’t an exact count on the number of people who have contracted COVID-19 and been asymptomatic). Should churches cancel Lord’s Day services? Many are saying “Yes, the risk is too great, we must love our neighbor and cancel services.” What are they assuming? They are assuming that the risk of someone catching COVID-19 is more perilous than the danger of not attending Sunday worship.

But the assumption isn’t a fair trade-off. Yes, someone might indeed catch COVID-19 if they attend a large group gathering. But it is guaranteed that no one will attend public worship if services are canceled. When church services are canceled, no one has the choice to worship. When church services are held, the high-risk congregants have the choice to stay home.

Many American evangelical leaders are operating with the principle that they can’t be wrong to cancel public worship and keep people from getting sick. The new principle of evangelical leadership is this: Keep people from physical harm. Aversion to physical risk is now the defining principle of evangelical decision-making. Aversion to spiritual risk used to be the principle (remember the aforementioned plague outbreak of the 1640s).

“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.”

Hebrews 10:24f

In Hebrews 10, the author anticipates Christians will be persecuted, afflicted, and imprisoned (Heb. 10:32-39). Yet they were still commanded to not neglect to assemble (Heb. 10:25). Why is it worth the risk to gather for worship and face imprisonment but it is not worth the risk to gather for worship and catch COVID-19?

Throughout the world, Christians gather for worship under direct physical threat. In Nigeria, Boko Haram looms as a threat to murder, rape, and kidnap Christians who gather for worship. In India, Hindu extremists threaten to afflict and murder Christian leaders who gather for worship. In China and Hong Kong, Christians face a threat of imprisonment and hardship for participating in public worship gatherings. In many places, the risk of being killed or raped is higher than 0.6%. Yet they still gather for public worship! And American evangelicals hold these Third World Christians up as models of faithfulness. So why is it worth the risk to gather for worship and face murder but not worth the risk to gather for worship and face COVID-19?

The seventeenth-century Scottish preacher Robert Bruce famously said, “I think it’s a great matter to believe there is a God.” Which, in turn, means it is a great spiritual activity to worship God. But according to the new principle of evangelical leadership, it isn’t spiritually great enough to risk a 0.6% physical death rate.

Second, American evangelicals live in fear rather than faith

There is not one passage in Scripture that commands Christians to live in fear of death. Cowardice is a sin (Mt. 8:26; 10:28, John 12:42, 1 Pt. 3:14, Rev. 21:8). Why? It’s a Christological reason. The mother of all fear is death, and Christ defeated death (2 Tim. 1:8-14). Through faith in Christ, believers defeat death. So, the person who lives in fear is functionally denying the power of Christ’s death-defeating power.

Practically, then, Christians ought not to suppress their fear, but overcome it. This is done not with ignorant bravado, but with the hope that overcoming fear leads to firmer faith. Christians ought to battle fear with the expectation of a more mature faith, something thicker, something tougher, something battle-hardened.

Does this mean a church member might catch COVID-19 at church? Yes, that is possible. But strength comes through weakness (Rom. 8:26) and weakness comes through wounds (Heb. 11:34).  It’s not that Christians should be irresponsible or cavalier. It’s that Christians need to stop being cavalier with their spiritual needs. What faith will be left when the CDC finally permits Christians to pull their head out of the quarantine?

What if the burgeoning sectarian chaos is a test from the Lord? What if the test is specifically for those who spent decades in church blithely claiming Christ and anemically singing songs? Jesus said people can either stand on a firm foundation or a sandy one. When opinions are abundant—one saying masks are a commie conspiracy, another saying that people are insane to leave their house and worship publicly—it makes church members pick sides. It’s not the job of the elders to hear all the opinions and make a decision that accommodates the spectrum. When truth and falsehood grapple, we can’t call it a tie. It’s not the job of the elders to respond to the whim of the people. It’s the job of the elders to lead the flock to solid ground. There may be causalities along the way. While evangelical leaders are worried about the physical casualties, they have all but forgotten about the spiritual casualties. What’s more important? Saving people’s lives or saving people’s souls? Is it worth it to hollow out people’s souls if it means they can preserve their physical life a while longer?

Meanwhile, the faithful will inquire after a firm foundation. Which sounds more like a house built on sand? Publicly worshipping God with the people of God OR staying home and watching other people worship God on the live stream?

The fearful aren’t supposed to influence the faithful (Dt. 20:8). When Sunday services are canceled, those at high-risk spiritually (i.e. everyone) are forced to neglect their treatment. When Sunday services are held, those at high risk physically are given the choice to stay home. The former choice harms everyone spiritually. The latter choice protects the most vulnerable physically (we understand there are complex medical decisions some people have to make that might lead them to feel conscience-bound to stay home. Maybe they should stay home. But it’s important to realize it’s “maybe” rather than “must.” There is a line and each person must ask where it is drawn). The former choice loves the mortal thing. The latter choice loves the immortal thing.  The fearful have made up their minds to neglect the spiritual, and then turn with relief to state that they have protected the physical.

And so our decision is this: Just as Nigerian Christians continue to gather for worship at the risk of someone being raped and killed, churches ought to hold Sunday services and risk someone catching COVID-19 rather than neglect Sunday services and no one catch COVID-19.

It is because this decision has been neglected by many churches that fearful faith is the new normal of evangelical Christianity. Jesus said this,

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:31ff

In other words, the Christian who publicly renews his soul each Sunday, as God commanded, understands righteousness. The man who despairs of the public, weekly renewal, does not understand righteousness. Worship is life’s primary activity and the Lord’s Day assembly is the primary way to worship (Ps. 87:2). When the church voluntarily forsakes assembling on the Lord’s Day, gone is the primary way souls are renewed. Gone is the primary way Christians are discipled. Gone is the primary way righteousness is established in the political, domestic, and cultural realm. Gone is the primary way to sanctify the arts and sciences.

And this leads to the pandemic’s great revelation: Christians no longer think of corporate worship as the central religious activity during the week. They see little connection between corporate worship and discipleship, little connection between corporate worship and national godliness, little connection between corporate worship and sanctifying the arts and sciences. Church leaders across the nation are worried that once the pandemic is over, church members won’t return to church. Yet by forsaking the assembly, they have taught their people that Lord’s Day worship is optional for spiritual health, and they have taught that the physical matters more than the spiritual.

Once upon a time, Christians took the physical risk to worship amid a legitimate plague pandemic. They saw the death wrought by the pandemic much like Jesus saw the death of those upon who the tower in Siloam fell, signaling the need for repentance (Luke 13:1-5). If the church today is going to turn from their sin, they must return to physical corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. That would be only the first act of repentance necessary.

Heavenly Father, we pray that you would grant us repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25).

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

The Danger of a Half-Gospel

Sometimes trying to put things right is when you are most vigorously putting them wrong. One of the current trends of evangelicalism is so-called “Gospel-centered preaching” (GCP). This is a method of preaching that purports—wait for it—to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center. The problem is not the goal. The problem is that many who practice “GCP” put a reductionistic Gospel at the center of their preaching.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that Christ came to save sinners. Saving sinners refers to salvation. Salvation implies saved from and saved to.

What does “GCP” say you are saved from? The “GCP” I’ve heard has less to do with sin before God and more to do with failure before man. The message is that through Christ you are unconditionally loved, so no matter your failures, shame, or embarrassments, Jesus loves you. You are saved from failure before man. You are saved from not measuring up to the person more talented than you. You are saved from feeling sorry for yourself. You are saved from the guy one cubicle over who personally slighted you.

What does “GCP” say you are saved to? The “GCP” I’ve heard says you are saved to freedom. Freedom to feel no failure before man, freedom to feel like who you are is enough, and freedom to boost your self-esteem. The Pharisees preached a similar message that emphasized justifying yourselves before man. Jesus used the a-word to combat the error calling it an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).

So you have the damning situation where much “GCP” is nothing of the sort, kind of like how family-friendly programming has a family with two dads. Not so family-friendly by God’s standard. Not so Gospel-centered, by God’s standard.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Romans 6:16-18

What does the Gospel save sinners from? Slavery to sin. What does the Gospel save sinners to? Slavery to righteousness. It’s not that Paul doesn’t talk about freedom. He does. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Notice what “freedom” is contrasted with. A “yoke of slavery” (referring to slavery to sin) and “opportunity for the flesh” (another reference to sin). When Paul talks about freedom, he means slavery “to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:19). In other words, through faith people are saved from sin to righteousness.

What does this mean for preaching that truly has the Gospel at the center? It means that to preach the Gospel is to preach justification and sanctification. It is a message that proclaims forgiveness in Christ’s name, where through faith one is made right with God. But preaching can’t stop there. Preaching must then, as Jesus said, teach “them to observe all that I have commanded” (Mt. 28:20). Teaching the commandments of God is part of preaching the Gospel. It’s the saved to part of the Gospel proclamation. Jesus is very clear that preachers who fail to teach the commands of God “will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Preachers who preach a full Gospel, including the commands of God “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:19). While it is true that preaching the doctrine of justification by grace alone should invite the question, “Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1), the answer should be a Christo-centric “by no means!” 

Now for a bit of tedious spadework. No one at this fine establishment opposes preaching that truly has the Gospel at the center. We oppose the common practice of talking about grace in such a way that leads people to think they are free from the need for future obedience. We oppose preaching that hopes to change man, yet renounces the right to bring God’s Word to bear on what the new man should look like. There is a problem when justification by faith is less about God accepting you and more about you accepting you. There is a problem when the third use of the law is ignored. Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains that for Christians the law is “a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly.”

Preaching that doesn’t call God’s people to repentance silences the life-changing Gospel in favor of a puny one. It is common now to think that proclaiming the commands of God and calling God’s people to repentance is the opposite of “Gospel hope.” Preaching repentance is likened to legalism. John Stott had a word of rebuke to such a likening, “To teach the standards of moral conduct that adorn the gospel and insist that our hearers heed them is neither legalism nor pharisaism but plain apostolic Christianity” (Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 35).

Christians are justified by faith, through Christ’s work alone. This means that Christ’s work on the cross—Christ’s work alone—pays the penalty of sin and makes a believer holy and blameless before God. Faith is the instrument that connects believers to Christ’s work. Thus, the Reformation slogan sola Christus—justification is in Christ alone.

In the work of sanctification, while Christ enables obedience (Phil. 2:13), it is the individual believer who carries out obedience (Phil. 2:12). The individual Christian prays (1 Thess. 5:25), loves their neighbor (Mark. 12:31), and resists the devil (James 4:7). Christians walk by faith, depend on grace, and live by the Spirit’s power. The Christian does these things. And it’s Christ enabling the Christian to do it. If the Christian makes a habit of not doing these things, then that is evidence they are not “born of God” (1 Jn 3:6, 9). It is legalism if you call people to obedience without acknowledging divine enablement. It is antinomianism if calling people to obedience isn’t the natural consequence of justification. Notice what Peter said, “[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pt. 2:24).

Preaching that emphasizes justification and sanctification is Great Commission preaching. If the preacher proclaims that Christ is mighty to justify but not mighty to sanctify, then the preacher has preached a half-Gospel, a half-Christ. When the preacher proclaims that Christ saves from sin and to righteousness, he has preached the whole Gospel, the whole Christ. William Gurnall once said, “There is nothing more unworthy than to see a people bold to sin, and the preacher afraid to reprove them.” The shortest way to cultivate presumptuous sin is to relax the least of God’s commandments, and the surest way of refuting brazen sin is to teach all the Christ commanded from the high ground of Golgotha.

Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.