Rinse and Repeat: Encouragements to Press On

Introduction

If the genesis of Calvinism lies in the sovereignty of God, the genesis of fatalism lies in the failure to understand the companion reality of the responsibility of man. The uncoupling of the two creates suspicion of the need to stick with the ordinary tasks of life. After all, reason reasons, if it’s God’s will he will see it through.

The only case for fatalism is to point to the passages about God’s sovereignty and ignore all the rest. It’s a hermeneutically provocative revolt that can draw believers into trouble. The preparatory stage of trouble starts when the mind falls into the habit of wondering: What’s the point of doing the right thing? Why should I wash the dishes again? Why should I maintain that friendship? Why mow the lawn? Why persist with moral earnestness? Why comply with the habits of grace, or church attendance?

It’s a frightening sensation when the mind is overcome with a sense of icy inevitability. On a practical level, it assumes that since God is sovereign over all things, it doesn’t matter how we live as long as we don’t transgress the obvious boundaries. It’s the feeling that your light has dimmed, your purpose is undefined, your motivation subject to fluctuations outside your control, and your hope stripped bare.

The good news is that those who have cleared away everything but God’s sovereignty can, if they like, put back everything else. Only then can the eyes see that life is more than a frozen formality. Fatalism is a perversion of the sovereignty of God, perverted precisely because it forgets that God works through means. Divine grace works through the means of Word, Sacrament, and prayer. The doctrine of God’s Providence is that God’s will is carried out in heaven and earth. Fatalism forgets that this happens through God’s purposeful and personal action both in means and ends. It is true that God wills everything. This means not that God eliminates human choices, but that God is sovereign over them.

There is a way forward for those Christians who have slipped into the sub-Christian mindset that says Que será, será, or “What will be, will be.” The way forward is to recover a distinctly Christian view of the future. This requires learning to consider the present life as a pilgrimage with necessary eternal consequences. Since all actions on earth, including Jesus’ death and resurrection, are preparing man for a future life in a New Heavens and Earth, the true nature of life will not be appreciated unless it is lived in the light of eternity.

Consider three biblical encouragements to resist fatalism

First, practice patient endurance with an eye on the heavenly

Patience is possible when the end is certain. God has set before each Christian a race to run (Heb. 12:1). As different as the races may be, they must all be run the same way, with endurance, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Endurance describes the patient perseverance when things are hard. The model racer is Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Notice that Christ endured because he connected the eternal result with the present pain. Christian endurance during the mundane tasks of life springs from a vital connection with the heavenly life to come. The earthly and the heavenly are not two spheres that only touch at death, they are two spheres permanently connected by Christ coming to earth.

Modern evangelical churches meet the runner on the path offering only psychological remedies as if the Kingdom of God was easy. Jesus would be surprised that faith is now little more than an echo of a modernized world that hates God. The church ought not to hide the fact that Christianity is deep (Eph. 3:17-19) and demanding (Lk. 14:33). The source of Christian patience isn’t to re-define the race but to import supernatural energy that enables faith to run over the banalest terrain. Christ ran his race fixated on the joy set before him and so should we.

Second, sow to the Spirit

It’s a fixed law of nature that you reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7). If you plant tulip bulbs you won’t grow Dutch Iris. In everything you do you plant something. You either sow to the flesh or sow to the Spirit. The former leads to corruption. The latter leads to eternal life (Gal. 6:8). Therefore, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Fatalism is a disorienting hamster wheel. It’s as if life is turning in meaningless circles, making human hamsters too dizzy to remember that sweat now, even in the mundane things, has meaning for eternity. It causes people to “grow weary,”—as Paul says—to become faint, lose heart and go as slack as a loose guitar string. In the past you ran the race with endurance, faithfully fulfilling the repetitious tasks of life. But over time you’ve run out of gas. The good news is that God “gives power to the faint” (Is. 40:29). The reason that’s good news is that when Christ returns, he will “repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).

As life carries on there is potential for double fainting. One of the body, which every Christian experiences. The other of the soul, which every Christian must fend off. Spiritual fainting is that which impeaches the good and makes all labor vain. The fainting of the soul is, as Anglican Ralph Cudworth once said, the flaking and remitting of the race set before us.[1] One problem with fatalism is it suspends progress. In defense against the threat of spiritual fainting, let us heed the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones when he says, “We need to look ahead, to anticipate, to look forward to the eternal glories gleaming afar. The Christian life is a tasting of the first-fruits of that great harvest which is to come.… Go on with your task whatever your feelings; keep on with your work. God will give the increase, He will send the rain of His gracious mercies as we need it. There will be an abundant harvest. Look forward to it. ‘Ye shall reap.’”[2]

Third, seek joy in the humdrum tasks of life

There are two refrains in Ecclesiastes which shape the meaning of the entire book. The first refrain is under the sun, which occurs 33 times. This phrase refers to life under heaven, a life of vanities lived without reference to God; life only on the human horizon. The second refrain is the great gift of God. Some version of this refrain appears at least 13 times.[3]

Ecclesiastes addresses the problem of the vanity of life (1:2) that results from the onerous repetition found in nature (1:2 – 11) and human experience (2:1 – 11). The incessant busyness of the world can feel as meaningful as digging a hole and filling it in. For those who fear God, he gives the gift of enjoying this world of redundancy. Most of the holes you dig in this life will be filled eventually, by someone or something. Yet the wise man can still enjoy the digging. This is the gift of God.

When these two phrases are brought together you get the overall point of Ecclesiastes. Under the sun there is vanity. Yet, for those who fear God, he gives the gift of enjoying life despite the many futilities. There is a season for everything (3:1). God has apportioned these times and seasons (3:10). And he doesn’t just apportion, he makes them beautiful in their time (3:11). In this way, God’s work endures forever.[4]

God has apportioned our lot, and our human lot is repetitious. How many times did you brush your teeth last year? How many dinners did you prepare? How many bottoms did you spank? How many times did you sit down to pay bills, catch up on the news, or send that text message? Every night you get ready for bed and the next day you do it all again. From the limited perspective, the mundane repetition of life is vanity. When everyone is moving in a circle of repetition, life seems headed for nowhere. That’s why God’s children need to see things from the eternal view, from above the sun. When you do, the repetition of life won’t stop, but in God’s grace, you will find joy in life’s recitals.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.


[1] George, T. F. (2011). In G. L. Bray & S. M. Manetsch (Eds.), Galatians, Ephesians: New Testament (Vol. 10, p. 217). IVP Academic.

[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 201.

[3] For example 2:24, 3:12, 13, 22; 5:18; 6:2; 8:15; 9:4, 7, 16, 17, 18; 10:19.

[4] Wilson, Douglas. Joy at the End of the Tether: The Inscrutable Wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

Launch out into the deep

Luke 5:1-11 presents the story of Jesus calling some of His apostles. It reads as follows:

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they caught a great multitude of fish: and their nets brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.

The fishermen were undoubtedly tired from their long night of fishing. They were washing the nets, likely in disgust from such effort that yielded nothing. In the meantime, Jesus was pressed by crowds, so He stepped into Peter’s boat. He didn’t ask permission; He simply stepped in and took charge, asking Peter to row further out so He could teach. Peter’s first work of ministry was rowing a boat – how’s that for a first job? Nevertheless, he obeyed.

Once Jesus finished speaking, He issued the famous command, “Launch out into the deep.” Certainly they wondered when Jesus became an expert in their fishing. They had fished all night without catching anything. Was there really any point? Peter says as much. Yet despite their questions, for the second time in the story, they obeyed. The response was overwhelming – they couldn’t hold all the fish and they had to ask for help from their partners. The haul of fish filled both ships to the point they both began to sink. Peter immediately fell to his knees and worshipped. Jesus then called the three of them (Peter, James, and John) to follow him, but the call is prefaced with the reassuring words, “Fear not…”

Luke’s recounting of this story is a lesson in discipleship. From the beginning, we see that Jesus doesn’t ask our permission when He steps into our lives. He comes at His pleasure, not ours. Then He tells us at times to do things we don’t understand, as He did with the fishermen. We think we know what’s best for us, but we are shortsighted.

Next, we see that God trains us one step at a time. Here it begins with stepping into the boat and the call to row a little way out, but it doesn’t stop there. Next is the call to “launch out into the deep.” This means more than just “Go to deeper water.” It is what Jesus is calling these men to do with their lives. He proved Himself capable of providing when He supplied the abundance of fish. When they obeyed in the thing they understood, He called them to go further, to give their lives to following Him. Even here, He began the call to discipleship with the words, “Fear not…” We know that, despite the rocky course of their time following Jesus, the harvest of souls of these “fishers of men” was even more abundant than this miraculous harvest of fish.

We don’t always like it when Jesus steps into our lives, upturning our expectations, asking us to put aside our goals and pursue something greater. When He calls us to launch out into the deep, to risk our comfort and go where we can’t see the result, we are tempted to fear. But He is only asking us to follow, to do what He has already done. Forgiving that person, witnessing to that coworker, showing grace when you don’t feel like it, moving to a place where you don’t know people, Jesus doesn’t call to do it alone. When He calls you to launch out into the deep, you can do so with confidence, for the ruler of the wind and waves is with you. You don’t know how it will play out, but that’s not up to you. His words to you are simple: fear not and follow me.


Matt Carpenter taught history for fifteen years and has served in pastoral ministry for ten years. He is married to Amanda and they have four children: Phoebe, Simeon, Emmaline, and Olivia. In his spare time he enjoys cooking, reading, hiking, and fishing. 

What to Do About the Secular Takeover?

This is the question that Christians continue to ask. What are we to do about the growing secular influence, especially within the church? The answer is that we must be thoroughly Christian, in every respect.

At the present moment, the pressing need of the American evangelical church is not to send out foreign missionaries or bring in diversity officers. The need is the recovery of faithfulness itself. The prevailing outlook now is to compromise with the world. But there is another choice, to take the road “less traveled,” as Robert Frost said. Jesus called it the “narrow” path (Mt. 7:14). When the church is marginalized and on the run, when the church loses its influence, when Christian preaching no longer moves the spiritual needle, when the indifferent outnumber the faithful during Sunday worship, when the moral decline is openly celebrated, when the Bible ceases to arrest the spirit of the saints, then the first need is to organize the professing Christians that remain and thoroughly practice Christianity.

Some may object. Is it not narrow and sectarian to imply that not all who claim to be Christian are, in fact, thoroughly practicing their faith? Can’t different groups of Christians compromise with the world in different ways to keep Jesus relevant? Doesn’t Christian love mean we should regard them all as equally Christian?

The wholesale acceptance of this objection proceeds based on the argument that the New Testament itself does not clearly reveal what the Christian life should look like. Faithfulness, according to this aberrant interpretation, is a matter of preference, context, and God’s secret will for your life. What is a Christian supposed to be and do? It depends, announces the up-to-date Christian, because there is a breadth of opinion on the subject.

The problem with this objection is that the New Testament does in fact settle the question of what the Christian life should look like. Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to this effect when he writes “For in it [the gospel], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17). In other words, the Christian life is living by faith in the power of the gospel under the revealed righteousness of God. Since there are 66 books in the Bible, that is an awful lot of revelation and definition. The doctrine of Christian liberty has been perverted to mean that Christians can redefine Christianity in whatever direction the wind is blowing, something Paul explicitly forbids, “We may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). 

In Scripture we read about the gospel, what Paul calls “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Salvation is when the person of faith experiences the forgiveness of sin and receives a new life. By the power of the Spirit, sin is repented of and a change is accomplished. This change is both all at once and continually throughout the rest of life. Repentance from sin becomes a lifelong habit. Since faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), repentance is granted through the power of God’s Spirit (2 Tim. 2:25). A new life of obedience and love follows God’s acceptance of Christ’s finished work for all those who believe in him. This secures for every believer a place in God’s family where they are called children of God.

God, through the Scriptures, also reveals how the children of God are to live. They must love their enemies (Lk. 6:27), love the truth (Jn. 14:17), love the Bible (Lk. 4:4), and love those who have wronged them and forgive them (Mt. 6:12; Col. 3:13). They must flee pornography (1 Thess. 4:3), selfishness (Mark 10:42-45), and idolatry (Rev 21:8). Salvation brings a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4) that is revealed in the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). Christians set out to learn about God, God’s Word, and God’s world. This starts in the local church. In the history of the church, epochs of spiritual decline are due to the failure to teach and live out what the Bible says.

Living a thoroughly Christian life is not merely a changed opinion. It is also a changed life. The history of the Protestant Reformation testifies to the transformation that happens when the whole Christ is recovered. In 1521 Philip Melanchthon wrote about the need to thoroughly practice Christianity, “If a man knows nothing of the power of sin, of law, or of grace, I do not see how I can call him a Christian. It is there that Christ is truly known. The knowledge of Christ is to know his benefits, taste his salvation, and experience his grace … To know him to purpose is to know the demand of the conscience for holiness, the source of power to meet it, where to seek grace for our sin’s failure, how to set up the sinking soul in the face of the world, the flesh, and the devil, how to console the conscience broken.”[1]

Given the present moment, consider seven practical things you can begin doing immediately to thoroughly practice Christianity. Ponder these things, talk about them with your spouse and friends, and faithfully put them into practice.

  1. Don’t apologize for what the Bible says
  2. Use family devotion to teach your kids
  3. Reclaim the Lord’s Day
  4. Read good books
  5. Trust the promises of God—no, really trust God’s promises!
  6. Strategically resist woke ideology
  7. Get along with other Christians

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.


[1] Quoted by P.T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ (London: Independent Press, 1948), 220f.

A Brief Theology of Possessions

The problem of “stuff” in modern American life is not that we have too much of it, but we have the wrong view of it. Put again, the problem isn’t stuff, but our misuse of it. What is stuff? The English word “stuff” comes from the Old French word estoffe, which means material. Stuff is matter forged out of its original shape into something perceived to be more useful.

Christians are well versed in the polemic against stuff. Shouldn’t Christians repudiate the accumulation of stuff? Shouldn’t things be sold and the proceeds given to the poor (Mark 14:5)? Shouldn’t we have a dim view of stuff’s ability to make us happy? These are the usual questions Christians are trained to answer “yes” to in our materialistic age. The trouble is that it’s peskily antithalian. And since the world routinely regards Christians as dour no-funners, it’s time to resurrect a healthy Christian materialism, not to prove to the world we are “fun,” but to prove to God we faithfully desire the future City he has planned.

Certainly, there is danger in consumerism. Secular culture’s nihilism is spackled over by accumulating toys and gadgets. Materialism is a cover for the meaninglessness of the godless life. Over time, accumulated stuff fails to conceal what lies behind it, which is a dark and sardonic engagement with disengagement. Stuff provides a temporary shroud for the modern contradiction, that we are made for fullness but choose emptiness (Lk. 12:15).

The common Christian solution to this genuine problem is out of joint with the reality of God’s world. To argue that matter is bad and spirit is good is an ancient gnostic heresy. God created us to live in a world with things. That’s why God redeems the material world by entering it. God doesn’t diminish the physical in favor of the spiritual. Paul said to the Romans, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The spiritual realities are seen through a physical world. The moment Christianity is reduced to only spiritual things, it is lost. God made physical earth and filled it with physical people. Those people ate of the tree. Death came. Creation was subjected to futility. God the Son took on a physical human form and died a gruesome physical death. But the physical death was accompanied by spiritual separation from God the Father to pay the penalty of sin. Then there was a resurrection. Not a spiritual one, but a physical one that was a preview for the physical regeneration of the world. By grace through faith, people believe in the sin-crushing effect of that physical death and physical resurrection. People are born again to a living hope and a life of good deeds in a material world.

Therefore, the Christian critique of stuff needs to be far more than just “Stuff bad; spirit good.” It’s up to the church to have a rightly ordered sense of what is good and true and to use possessions to advance each. Christians need not necessarily repudiate the stuff they own (1 Tim. 4:4-5). It was Judas who wanted to sell stuff to “help” the poor (Mark 14:5). You should enter your home of stuff like God entered his physical world, not to judge it but to save it (Jn. 3:17). The question is whether Christians can possess stuff without being corrupted by it. The question is whether we will get tired of our possessions before we have time to rescue them.

The purpose of stuff is the same as the purpose of life, namely, restoration. God’s purpose for the world is not destruction, but re-creation. God’s sovereign plan calls not for the removal of material, but the recovery of man as body and soul, as physical and spiritual, as celestial matter.  That’s why the Christian answer to the materialistic age is not to care about stuff less, but to care about it more.

Caring about caring is a decidedly Christian enterprise. God commands his people to take care where they go (Ex. 19:12), who to pay attention to and obey (Ex. 23:21), what to speak (Num. 23:12), what to sacrifice (Num. 28:2), to not forget (Dt. 4:9a), to teach their children (Dt. 4:9b, 28:46), to watch yourself (Dt. 4:15), to remember the covenant (Dt. 4:23), to learn God’s statutes and do them (Dt. 5:1, 28:58, 31:12) turning neither to the right or the left (Dt. 5:32), to not be deceived (Dt. 11:16), to not follow the nations (Dt. 12:30), to guard against profane thoughts (Dt. 15:9), to love the Lord (Dt. 19:9; Josh. 23:11), to build the Lord’s house (1 Chron. 28:10) and care for the golden lampstand (1 Chron. 13:11), to do what we say we will do (Dt. 23:23), to guard against sickness (Dt. 24:8), to not take bribes (2 Chron. 19:7), to observe your surroundings (Prov. 23:1), to hear (Lk. 8:18), to avoid covetousness (Lk. 12:15), to walk in wisdom (Eph. 5:15), to look after the afflicted (1 Tim. 5:10) and widows (1 Tim. 5:16) and to practice good works (Titus 3:8).

Christians must shun carelessness. God has given us stuff as the daily tutor we need. Possessions are evidence of what we care about. Even a minimalist doesn’t discard the possessions she cares most deeply about. How does the right use of stuff train us to shun carelessness? The NBA player makes crunch-time free throws because he cares enough to shoot hundreds of free throws a day. On the flip side, the boy will not learn craftsmanship by “building” a city block in SimCity. The movie is less likely to make an indelible mark if all you have to do is turn on Netflix, plop on the couch and flip the switch. A stake in the venture requires care, it requires effort, and when you go to the theatre, the effort is reinforced. The root of so much trouble today is that people, young and old, don’t care. Which is another way of saying they are unprepared for effort. Yet, everyone wants the results.

Property owned without effort and creativity is a diversion from the type of care God calls us to cultivate. The reason children grow up to be good little consumers rather than anti-fragile producers is that their stuff requires them to ignore the details rather than attend to them. They get the results of machine-stamped plastic fakery rather than the delight of the details that are the thing itself. They have results—an artificial gadget or some clever technology—but the particulars are lost in consumption. For example, if you pour your dinner out of a can you can’t be called a chef. If you shoot zombie aliens on a screen, you can’t be called a soldier. The way to train the next generation of spaced-out consumers is to give them results without the details of effort and creativity.

This also relates to why people today are miserable with their abundance of stuff. There is a reason the kid with the fullest playroom is as unhappy as the obese man making his fourth trip through the buffet line. The first struggles to grasp the delight of play, moving from one thing to the next. The second fails to find food satisfying for the same reason. His God is his belly, as Paul warns in Philippians 3:17-19, and he goes through the line as an enemy of the cross of Christ.  

Whether playing or eating, God’s purpose is to move us closer to the truth of things, and that requires delight in the thing itself. God gives people appetites for spiritual reasons as much as physical ones, so they will taste goodness and reproduce it until the earth is “full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9).

When stuff is a superficial diversion, it draws us away from the truth because it trains carelessness. We must pay attention to the details of things because children can’t be raised in the discipline and admonition of the Lord without details (Eph. 6:1-2). Husbands can’t love their wives without details (Eph. 5:22-33). A carpenter can’t handcraft a table, a baker can’t make a Danish, a pastor can’t care for his flock, without details. And what are details if they are not active habits?

This is what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote, “The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack.” In other words, God has given human beings different skills and desires which are not sinful. The fulfilling of those skills and desires often involve material possessions. Are we sure we should throw away everything? To eradicate all personal tastes associated with possessions is to eradicate the sort of elusive humility and self-forgetfulness that comes when someone enjoys something in the world for its own sake.

The “subtlest modes of attack,” as Lewis put it, are when our possessions turn us passive rather than active. There is a place for Christians to enjoy things in this world, such as hiking along the riverbank, constructing furniture for their kid’s bedroom, drinking a warm beverage with a friend at their favorite coffee spot, or reading a book because they enjoy it and not to make brainy remarks to their co-workers. These are real pleasures, each tied to stuff. It’s a work of restoration to convert your stuff into active rather than passive living (Heb. 10:37-39). Otherwise, it’s better to give it away rather than train passive habits.

Our lives are preparation for what is to come. Paul says we shouldn’t set our hope on uncertain riches (1 Tim. 6:17a). Rather, we should set our affection on things that are above (Col. 3:1-4). But since God has richly provided all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17b), that means we can enjoy God’s gifts without setting our affections on material idols. The way to do this is not to “name it and claim it.” We don’t seek earthly blessings for their own sake. The greatest blessings of this world point to the greater blessings in eternity. But here’s the catch. Those blessings are not enjoyed by disembodied souls in either place. In this life, we enjoy friends, family, music, architecture, books, chemistry, cooking, and possessions because of the excellence of God’s creation. God’s goodness now is a preview of that Day when Jerusalem is New indeed.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board: Plain Talk about Marriage (Simon and Schuster, 1965), 110-127.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Harper One, 1996, orig. 1942), 63-67.

G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (Pantianos Classics, 1910), 29f.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.

A Short History of Evangelical Confusion

The Second Great Awakening, beginning at the turn of the nineteenth century, established Christianity as the cohesive moral force of the country, but it failed to unite Christians as one people. Rather, it had the effect of applying burgeoning democracy and commerce to Christianity. Competition wasn’t just part of the emerging marketplace, it was a uniquely Americanized race to win converts into a growing number of denominations.

During the first one hundred years after the Reformation, there was no denominationalism, at least not as we understand it today. There were different Reformed sects, such as the Reformed-Swiss and the Lutheran-Germans. There were national Reformed churches in Switzerland, Hungary, Scotland, and England. But it wasn’t denominationalism. Instead, there were established territorial churches. The term “denomination” didn’t come into popular use until the nineteenth century, replacing the word “sect.” The change in terminology tracks with the process of disestablishment. As churches became disestablished in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, their political relationship with the state changed. “Denomination” was more of a politically neutral term compared with the politically charged word “sect.”[1]

American denominationalism emerged in the throes of Colonial America. Immigrants would sojourn to the New World with religiously compatible people, sometimes even members of the same congregation back in Europe. Upon arrival, groups settled and procreated. The original clusters disintegrated over time. The promise of free unsettled land was too great to keep like-minded communities together.

More ships arrived. More people went inland. More cities were formed. Unlike the territorially separated groups in Europe, the different groups in America were simultaneously spread out from each other yet nearer to the widening diversity of other religious and ethnic groups. American pluralism was born. To counter the mobility and diversity, Pastors of like-minded groups formed inter-colonial associations. American denominationalism arrived. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, these denominations competed for members and converts.[2]

When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, nine of the thirteen states had established religion. For example, the established religion of Virginia was The Episcopal Church and in Massachusetts, it was the Congregational Church. This meant the state had formal relationships with those churches, which included monetary and legal support. The last state to disestablish was Massachusetts in 1833.

As states were disestablished, churches could no longer rely on state support. They were forced to compete for converts. The older denominations—Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists—were challenged by the new energetic denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists. In the process, Christianity was fragmented and privatized even more. It was the natural result of American individualism.

The rise of individualism played out in many different areas. In the political area, it led to a fight for liberty, a fight that pitted the American colonists against the hierarchical authority of King George III. In evangelicalism, the shift from Calvinism to Arminianism emphasized the supreme authority of each individual’s will. Each person was thought to bring about their own salvation.[3] Once saved of their own action, each person was their own theologian, unbounded from catechisms and creeds. It was an evangelical defiance that matched the political defiance of the War for Independence.

Christians were liberated from the bondage of the church—as they saw it—to follow their conscience. They had a relationship with God. Just them and God and no pastor or church were to interfere. Christianity was redefined to be merely personal, based on the consent of each person. People were free to move from one church to another, searching for the signs and promises that spoke to the preference of their sovereign spiritual sentiments. Churches struggled to hold their members as new denominations shattered into other denominations. Now there were many stripes of Presbyterians (Old School Presbyterians, New School Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, Springfield Presbyterians, and Reformed Presbyterians) and Baptists (General Baptists, Regular Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Separate Baptists, Dutch River Baptists, and Permanent Baptists). Competition for congregants was fierce and specialized. Churches were socially homogenous. For example, the Unitarian and Episcopal churches attracted the elites while the Baptists and Methodists attracted the commoners.[4]

With the dispersion of authority came a dispersal of truth. Every person was told that his ideas and preferences were just as legitimate as the learned men. The American epistemological crisis was born, one where people were confident that they could determine their own truth and mistrustful of anything they didn’t experience for themselves. As this epistemology normalized within the Christian conscience, only a thin consensus united American Christianity, namely, that Christians can think whatever their spiritual conceit tells them to think.

The resulting problems today are many: lack of connection to the local church, viewing other faithful churches as competition rather than brothers and sisters in Christ, trusting what “God spoke to me” in the prayer closet more than the words God spoke in Scripture. Canadian sociologist Charles Taylor has documented that the rise of pervasive individualism, such as that found in the fragmented evangelical church, comes at the cost of rejecting all hierarchical authorities.[5] If each Christian embraces the power of the self and is true to that power, then each person becomes their ultimate authority. And if each person is their own ultimate authority, how can the God of the Bible be their ultimate authority? This is the abiding evangelical confusion. Overcoming it requires overcoming hundreds of years of history. That’s why you need to know the story.


[1] Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998), 32.

[2] Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Grand Rapids, MI.: Brazos Press, 2016), 56 – 59.

[3] Jason Cherry, The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call (2016), 25.

[4] Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 330 – 333, 362.

[5] Charles Taylor, The Malaise of Modernity, in the CBC Massey Lectures (Toronto: Anansi Press, 1991).


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.

Announcing the Deacons Fund

The Deacons Fund is money set apart in the annual budget for the primary purpose of helping TRC church members and those connected to TRC. God cares about the entire person, body and soul. Jesus fed the hungry with physical and spiritual food.  The purpose of the Deacons Fund is to meet physical needs that come to the deacon’s attention. Physical needs can arise for different reasons: job loss, unexpected medical situations, errant government policies, family tragedy, and more. The God who sits in heaven salts the earth through his church. The church extends God’s love by meeting physical needs. On one level, meeting a physical need might be a one-time thing, like paying rent for a single mother who has fallen on hard times. On another level, this reminds her of the eternal truth that God is not detached from everyday affairs. He is actively involved in his world through the Spirit and the church.

The deacons are the managers of these funds. They will determine who will receive disbursements, in what amount, and for what duration.  Elder approval is not needed to spend this money, though elders may make recommendations and request an accounting of all disbursements. Individuals may make a special contribution to the Deacons Fund over and above their regular tithes.

Since the purpose of the Deacons Fund is to minister to people during a time of hardship, assistance may also include financial counseling, training in household budgeting, and/or other education that helps people avoid potential hardships in the future, if such hardships are deemed preventable.

If there is any money left at the end of the fiscal year, deacons can roll the money over to the next year, donate the money to a local mission (for example the Downtown Rescue Mission or the Women’s Resource Center), or a combination of both.

A partial list of examples of how the deacon fund can be used:

  • The emergency expense for a family in need (utility bill, car maintenance, medical treatment, etc.)
  • K-12 Christians school tuition assistance for a family in need
  • Food, clothing, and other basic needs
  • Legal fees arising from obedience to the Lord

A partial list of examples of how the deacon fund may not be used:

  • Business investments
  • Debt payment and/or late payments (in most circumstances)
  • Gambling debts
  • Legal fees arising from criminal or immoral behavior

Announcing Our Visiting Scholars Program

We are excited to announce the addition of Pastor Chris Wiley to our ministry team.  Pastor Wiley is the first to serve in this newly-created role at TRC called “Visiting Scholar” where he will be visiting Huntsville for approximately one week every other month to teach, preach, regularly contribute content to TRC’s blog and other media outlets. Pastor Wiley’s first visit to Huntsville will be January 15th thru 21st, 2022.  Members of the community are invited to hear Pastor Wiley teach at the following free, public events:

  • Saturday, Jan 15th at 6pm – TRC’s Weekly Cultural Apologetics Dinner Study (FULL)
    • Topic: Discussion of the opening chapter of Wiley’s latest book project, The Boniface Option, entitled “The Wager” (inspired by Pascal’s Wager)
  • Sunday, Jan 16th at 9:15am – TRC Sunday School – 183 Shelton Road, Madison, AL, 
    • Topic: The Nature of Imagination in Art
  • Sunday, Jan 16th at 10:30am – TRC Worship Service – 183 Shelton Road, Madison, AL, 
    • Topic: Ecclesiastes
  • Thursday, Jan 20 at 7:30pm –  TRC Theology on Tap Bible Study – Fractal Brewing (3200 Leeman Ferry Rd SW, Huntsville, AL 35801)
    • Topic: Live Taping of “Theology Pugcast” podcast – (topic TBD)
  • Fri, Jan 21 – “In the House of Tom Bombadill” reading, Q&A hosted by Matt Carpenter, and book signing Piper and Leaf (109 Gates Ave SE, Huntsville, AL 35801)
    • Topic: His new book “In the House of Tom Bombadill”

* For updates, please contact office@trinityreformedkirk.com to be added to our mailing list.

C.R. Wiley serves as Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Battle Ground, WA where he resides and has been happily married for over 30 years and he has three grown children.

TRC is especially excited about Pastor Wiley’s involvement because his work has already made a big impact on our church, particularly his work on the concept of recovering the productive household, which he has explored in three recent books: “Man of the House”, “The Christian Household and the War for the Cosmos,” and his latest book, “In the House of Tom Bombadil.” 

TRC Ruling Elder, Larson Hicks says, “I believe that the recovery of robust, productive households is perhaps one of the most vital and strategic missions for the church in the times we are living in currently.  A house divided cannot stand.  Far too many husbands and wives are beholden to separate employers whose missions drift further and further from those of the Kingdom of God with every year.  What if our churches were made up of robust households – homes where the children are educated and mentored and where the home is not simply a place to recreate, but is itself an economically-productive enterprise where husband and wife work side-by-side to build an inheritance that their children can take possession of when they come of age?  This is exactly the kind of vision that Pastor Wiley is at the forefront of advancing today and TRC wants to link arms with him in this work.”

Pastor Wiley has written for Touchstone Magazine, Modern Reformation, Sacred Architecture, The Imaginative Conservative, Front Porch Republic, National Review Online, and First Things, among others.  Besides writing and pastoring, C.R. Wiley is an illustrator and a landlord.  He has also been a college professor, a commercial real estate investor, and a building contractor.


His short fiction has appeared in The Mythic Circle (published by the Mythopoeic Society) and elsewhere, and the first book in his young adult fantasy series, The Purloined Boy was published by Canonball Books (2017). He is a board member of the Academy of Philosophy and Letters, as well as New Saint Andrews College.

He is the host of the weekly “Theology Pugcast” podcast with co-hosts Dr. Glenn Sunshine and Dr. Tom Price which has been described as “3 over-educated Reformed guys riffing on philosophy, theology, and stuff that bugs them.”  A live taping of Theology Pugcast is scheduled in Huntsville on Wednesday, January 19th at 7pm. 

You can learn more about C.R. Wiley’s work on his website here

TRC plans to add another one or two Visiting Scholars to the team in the coming months. 

Why do we Recite an Ecumenical Creed Every Sunday?

American evangelicalism, which has boasted in creedlessness, is failing chiefly through the lack of them. In one sense, of course, fixed creeds are inescapable. The moment you take a stand against creeds, you’ve firmly fixed your own. You stand by it, under it, and for it. You identify with it. This is what creeds do. They establish a framework consensus.

One misconception about creeds is that they produce narrow Christians. The reverse is the truth. G.K. Chesterton explains, “For while men are and should be various, there must be some communication between them if they are to get any pleasure out of their variety … If we all start with the agreement that the sun and moon exist, we can talk about our different visions of them.” In other words, we can’t talk about our differences until we espouse our agreements.

When Christians agree on a core, they may respect differences elsewhere. Chesterton said, without the “liberty of dogma, you have the tyranny of taste.” In other words, without the creed, it becomes about the tyranny of preference, which, in evangelicalism, is announced through catchphrases. Evangelical jargon—doing life together, God spoke to me, God laid it on my heart—is the replacement for the creeds. The cocksure pride of evolving past creeds foreruns a paralyzed inability to get beyond clichés. This is why the ubiquitous tyranny of personal preferences stalks the American church.

Why does it happen like this—that the creedless impose the “tyranny of taste” (as Chesterton called it)? Consider the effects of those who embrace a creed and those who don’t. In the case of those who profess a creed, they pronounce openly and unabashedly. This creates a big tent for all confessors—birds of a feather flock together, so the saying goes, even if the birds lack identical appearance. The creed determines the essential DNA that connects them all, allowing for cooperation between all the different-looking birds of that feather. But for the creedless, whose creed is pretended tolerance, the tyranny of unwritten rules causes the birds of the scarlet red feather to form a clique and the birds of the ruby red to form another. Once the cliques are formed, with their podcasts and protests, they shun heresy or disagreement. They cast stones at the candy apple red clique, chirping about tolerance in a strongly-worded Relevant Magazine article.[1]

The lack of a creed means the different groups are always competing to establish the essential DNA. Without the recurring figures of church history, their ballast is their whims. The problem is there is no such thing as a corporate whim. By quoting the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed you embrace the bond that held together Augustine, Athanasius, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lest you misunderstand, that bond is Jesus Christ. Without that bond, each church—No! each professing Christian—gravitates to his own idea. This doesn’t work for the simple reason that we were told to be the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31). We were told to be the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:9, 16f). That’s part of the reason we recite an ecumenical creed every Lord’s Day, because a people without root beliefs aren’t a people.

In 2022 we will change from reciting the Apostles Creed to reciting the Nicene Creed, which can be found below.

Christian, what do you believe?

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven;
           he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
           and was made human.
           He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
           he suffered and was buried.
           The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
           He ascended to heaven
           and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
           He will come again with glory
           to judge the living and the dead.
           His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the Lord, the giver of life.
      He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
      and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
      He spoke through the prophets.
      We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
      We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
      We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
      and to life in the world to come. Amen.

Here are some of our other articles about Corporate Worship

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.


[1] G.K.Chesterton, The Miscellany of Man (New York; Dodd, Mead and Company, 2017 Orig. 1912), 47ff.

Why Teach on Baptism?

One of the convictions of Trinity Reformed Church is catholicity. It means we are committed to getting along with other Christians such that we do not divide over the credo vs paedobaptism issue. Some sincere and genuine Christians baptize their infants. This is called paedobaptism. Some sincere and genuine Christians don’t baptize their children until there is a profession of faith. This is called credobaptism. Because neither group teaches that baptism justifies, we do not divide on this issue.

In practice, it means that credo-Baptists will not be treated as second-class Christians. To practice charitable catholicity on this issue requires admitting both paedo-Baptists and credo-Baptists are concerned to be faithful to Scripture. Both groups make plausible biblical arguments for their viewpoint. For those who desire to delay the baptism of their children until there is a confession of faith, the TRC session joyfully defers to the head of each household, while standing on our paedo-Baptist conviction.

Avoidance is not the strategy of catholicity. We don’t keep unity between paedo and credo Baptists by tiptoeing around the issue. We have convictions that are outlined in Chapter 28 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which confesses paedo-baptism. That is the official position of Trinity Reformed Church. It is one of our convictions just as catholicity is one of our convictions.

As we prepare for our January Sunday School about baptism, the goal is to explain, not divide. There will be a mixed audience. For those who are settled credo-Baptists, the goal is to help you see that your paedo-Baptists brothers are not inventing doctrines apart from the Bible. The experience of many credo-Baptists is to read the New Testament, especially the book of Acts, see that only people who repent and believe are baptized, and conclude it is crazy to baptize infants. Other Baptists resist paedo-baptism because they think it is that leaky doctrine that overpromises and underdelivers, in that it promises salvation to infants who then leave the faith.

So the aim is not to berate the settled credo-Baptists until they become paedo-Baptists. The aim is to establish some of the theological frameworks that support paedo-baptism. This will enable us to plumb the depths of the meaning and significance of baptism. In so doing we hope to simultaneously make headway in two of our convictions: catholicity and paedo-baptism.

OVERVIEW OF JANUARY SUNDAY SCHOOL ON BAPTISM

First week (Jan. 2 @ 9:15AM)

Baptism in the OT: Part One

Why did the first century Christians start baptizing? Did they just make baptism up out of the blue? No. They got it from the Old Testament. During week one our goal is to see that the Old Testament has something to say about baptism. The objective is to demonstrate, first, that a type of baptism was practiced in the Old Testament, and second, the authors of the New Testament assumed the Old Testament taught about baptism.

Second week (Jan. 9 @ 9:15AM)

Baptism in the OT: Part Two

The debate between paedo-Baptists and credo-Baptists revolves around the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paedo-Baptists see a continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament that makes them conclude that the covenant sign should be applied to infants in the New Covenant just like the covenant sign was applied to infants in the Old Testament. Credo-Baptists, in contrast, have to argue for a discontinuity between the Old Testament and New Testament such that the covenant sign no longer applies to infants in the New Covenant. The objective this week is to review the paedo-Baptists arguments for continuity and the credo-Baptists arguments against continuity.

Third week (Jan 16 @ 9:15AM)

Special Guest Chris Wiley is teaching Sunday School

Fourth week (Jan. 23 @ 9:15AM)

Mode of Baptism

Two questions are related: (1) The question of the mode of baptism, and (2) The question of who should be baptized. If baptism must be by immersion, then infants can’t participate. Credo-Baptists argue that baptism must be by immersion. By this they mean the person must be dipped in the water, their head fully immersed, and then raised out of the water. We will review the Baptist’s four main arguments for why they think baptism must be by immersion.

  • Does the word baptizo means “dip” or “immerse”?
  • Does baptism symbolically commemorate the burial and resurrection of Christ?
  • Does the baptism of Jesus provide a model for immersion?
  • Does the language of “came up out of the water” point to baptism by immersion?

Fifth week (Jan. 30 @ 9:15AM)

The mode of baptism sends signals about the meaning of baptism. We will consider the following:

  • First, baptism symbolizes the Spirit being poured out on us
  • Second, baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant

Related to the second question, paedo-baptism is often mischaracterized as saying that a baptized believer is elect and automatically saved. This is not the case. Baptism is a gift of God, whether for a professing Christian or the child of believing parents. It does not internally change the person’s heart, but brings the person into the covenant of God, with all its privileges, promises, blessings, and curses. It is a sign of what Jesus has done (washed His church) and will do for everyone who trusts Him. This does not mean all who are baptized are saved or will become believers. It means they have the promises of God and participate in the covenant community, where God’s Spirit dwells. Those who are baptized as infants have the privilege of being raised in God’s covenant. What are those privileges? They know from an early age that they belong to Him. In their life, they will either affirm or reject the covenant promises. If they are converted and walk by faith, they receive the blessings of the covenant. If they disobey the Lord, they receive the cursing of the Lord. All who are baptized must believe the promises of God and walk by faith.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. 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.

Books!

Here it is, a list of books; the best books we’ve read in 2021, which are different from the best books published in 2021. Why give you a list of books? Because we think reading is important and we think Christians ought to be reading books. If you have time for Instagram and Netflix, you ought to make time to read soul-shaping books. Here are a few books we read this year that we commend to you.

Jason’s List

Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture (Crossway, 1990).

Christians face the constant need to discern the culture around them. We can all see the basic trends: tolerance, diversity, equality, welfare, consumerism, bureaucracy, scientism, Marxism, psychotherapy, narcissism, and revolution. But these trends are not just words on a list. They are the idols of individual American’s. Over the many decades, the evangelical church has chosen to befriend these idols rather than snuff them out. Schlossberg pulls back the layers of the common idols in American culture, showing what’s beneath the surface of American idolatry. For example, one of the controlling assumptions of secular culture is “ressentiment,” a mash-up of resentment and sentimentalism.

Excerpt:

Ressentiment begins with perceived injury that may have a basis in fact, but more often is occasioned by envy for the possessions or the qualities possessed by another person. If the perception is not either sublimated or assuaged by the doing of some injury to the object of the feeling, the result is a persistent mental condition, stemming from the repression of emotions that are not acceptable when openly expressed. The result is hatred and the impulse to spite and to say things that detract from the other’s worth … the rejoicing at another person’s misfortune … it is not content to suffer quietly but has a festering quality that seeks outlet in doing harm to its object. Ressentiment has its origin in the tendency to make comparisons between the attributes of another and one’s own attributes … Any perceived difference is enough to set the pathology in motion. Ressentiment whispers continually: ‘I can forgive everything, but not that you are—that you are what you are—that I am not what you are—indeed that I am not you.’” (pp. 51f)

Alec Ryrie, Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt (Belknap Press, 2019).

This book traces the history of unbelief, more specifically, the history of atheism. How did the once-Christian West change into post-religious societies? In the Medieval Age, the Christian framework was entrenched in the West such that it was, as Charles Taylor has said, “virtually impossible not to believe in God.” In the twenty-first century, it is a situation that, as Friedrich Nietzsche claimed, “God is dead.” Ryrie’s work of original history tries to answer the question, who killed God, when, and how? As Ryrie argues, the answer involves the interwoven stories of anger and anxiety. The most helpful takeaway from this scholarly book is that unbelief is not based on reason, but emotion.

Excerpt:

And so the years around 1660 are when our main story ends: for this is when unbelief finally came out into the open and claimed philosophical respectability for itself. The intellectual history of atheism that follows from then until now is both important and fascinating, but we should not let it fool us. Behind and beneath it lies the deeper, emotional history we have been tracing. Its two streams now mingled and reinforced one another: On one side was the stream of anger: the unbelief of suspicion and defiance, refusing to be taken in or ordered around by priests and their God. That kind of unbelief was eyecatching, but it only became dangerous when it began to assert an ethical framework of its own … The second emotional stream of unbelief: the stream of anxiety, in which earnestly pious men and women found themselves beset with fears and uncertainties which could not be reasoned away, because they were not in the end based on reason.” (pp. 181f)

John Williams, Augustus (New York Review of Books, 1971).

This novel is historical fiction at its best, opening up an entire historical era centered around the real-life Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. John Williams, the author, sticks to the known facts of the real story while providing imaginative insight into the elusive man born originally as Gaius Octavius Thurinus in 63 B.C. Williams introduces the reader to other real-life characters such as Cicero, Ovid, Marc Antony, Vergil, and Augustus’ daughter Julia. Each is presented real to life. However, the novel is more than a humble suggestion of the past. It’s a story about individual responsibility in a complicated world, the effect of power on individuals, and the unforgiving burden of leadership that draws the lines of enmities and friendship in unexpected places. God’s Providence often leads to unexpected lives that create friction between duty and selfish ambition. Wise Christians label this as sanctification. God’s plan, though something we would not have chosen, is the only way our stubborn sin nature will be stripped of the prideful illusion of self-determination. This book matters not because every idea is Christian, but because the themes of the book are the things Christians should be wrestling with.

Excerpt:

I was never so foolish as to believe that my laws of marriage and adultery would be obeyed; I did not obey them, nor did my friends. Vergil, when he invoked the Muse to assist him in the writing of The Aeneid, did not in any substantial way believe in her whom he invoked; it was a way that he had learned to begin the poem, a way to announce his intention. Thus those laws which I initiated were not intended so much to be obeyed as to be followed; I believed that there was no possibility of virtue without the idea of virtue, and no effective idea of virtue that was not encoded in the law itself.” (pg. 292)

Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, 2015).

The worldview of the biblical authors was far more supernatural than modern readers of the Bible. This is why American evangelicals miss so much of what Scripture reveals about the spiritual realm. My repeated experience reading the book was, “How have I overlooked this for so many years?” Michael Heiser is an expert in the ancient cultural context of the Bible and the Hebrew language. Only in a few instances does his Arminian theological bias interfere with his conclusions. The book is full of insights that will open up parts of the Bible that were previously closed to you. Consider a sampling of the subjects Heiser explores:

  • Why wasn’t Eve surprised when the serpent spoke to her?
  • How did descendants of the Nephilim survive the flood?
  • Why did Jacob fuse Yahweh and his Angel together in his prayer?
  • Who are the assembly of divine beings that God presides over?
  • In what way do those beings participate in God’s decisions?
  • Why do Peter and Jude promote belief in imprisoned spirits?
  • Why does Paul describe evil spirits in terms of geographical rulership?
  • Who are the “glorious ones” that even angels dare not rebuke?

Excerpt:

Psalm 82 is especially interesting since elohim occurs twice in that single verse. In Psalm 82:1, the first elohim must be singular, since the Hebrew grammar has the word as the subject of a singular verbal form (“stands”). The second elohim must be plural, since the preposition in front of it (“in the midst of”) requires more than one. You can’t be “in the midst ofone. The preposition calls for a group—as does the earlier noun, assembly. The meaning of the verse is inescapable: The singular elohim of Israel presides over an assembly of elohim. A quick read of Psalm 82 informs us that God has called this council meeting to judge the elohim for corrupt rule of the nations … The text is not clear whether all of the elohim are under judgment or just some. The idea of elohim ruling the nations under God’s authority is a biblical concept that is described in other passages we’ll explore later. For now, it’s sufficient that you see clearly that the sons of God are divine beings under the authority of the God of Israel.” (pp. 26f)

Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (Random House, 2015).

Three words: Honor. Duty. Country. These are the words that shaped the life of George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States. And he lived long enough to see the world pass him by. He was raised in a world where honor, duty, and country meant something. They were virtues that made truly great men. He died in a world where honor, duty, and country meant nothing. Honor – There can be no such thing in a world of egalitarianism. Duty – The only duty is to get famous as fast as possible. Country – Why would you seek the prosperity of a country that is systemically unfair, unjust, and racist? As Jon Meacham explains, George H.W. Bush is one of the great American lives—he had strong parents, a sparkling education, heroic service in World War II, success in Texas oil, US congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, director of the CIA, VP of the United States, forty-first president, and the only president since John Adams to see his son win the presidency.

Evangelicals have wasted far too much time scrutinizing whether George H.W. Bush’s doctrine was orthodox enough to be one of us. The same can be said for evangelicals and Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The issue before us is do we have what it takes to produce public servants that serve with honor and duty the way Bush did. Maybe if we spent less time scrolling through inflammatory headlines and more time sitting at the feet of high-character statesmen like George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and George H.W. Bush, evangelicals could once again produce a politician to be proud of. Chesterton once said, “I doubt whether the best men ever would devote themselves to politics.”[1] The point of reading this book isn’t that Christians will agree with every policy decision Bush made. The point is to remind us that decent and selfless men can be politicians.

Excerpt:

Even in the dark, he tried to look ahead. It was late, and he knew he should sleep, but he just couldn’t—not yet, anyway. Too much has happened; too much was on his mind. In the Houstonian Hotel’s suite 271 on the evening he lost his bid for a second term as president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush climbed out of bed and slipped into an adjourning wood-paneled living room. Weary but restless, he settled on a small sofa. The room was empty, his heart full. There he sat, alone, struggling to make peace with the news that he, an American president who embodied the experience of the World War II generation, had just been defeated by Bill Clinton, the Baby Boomer Democratic governor of Arkansas. In his private, tape-recorded diary, Bush dictated: ‘I ache and I now must think: how do you keep your chin up, keep your head up through a couple of difficult days ahead.’ He kept his voice low: Barbara, his devoted wife of forty-seven years, was asleep back in the bedroom. ‘I think of our country, and the people that are hurting, and there is so much we didn’t do’ Bush told his diary. ‘And yes, progress … we made, but no, the job is not finished, and that kills me.’ (pg. xv)

Matt’s List

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God (NavPress, 2017).

All Christians say they trust God, but that trust is put to the test when we face suffering. Whether large problems or small, suffering is a part of life that no one likes but we all face. Jerry Bridges was a businessman with the heart of a pastor. He wrote several books in addition to this one, most notably Transforming Grace, and The Pursuit of Holiness. Reading Trusting God is like sitting down with an older saint who has faced many trials and understands exactly what you are going through. He writes in an easy-to-understand manner, emphasizing three primary points: God is sovereign in all things, God’s wisdom is infinite, and His love is perfect. It’s hard for us to reconcile those points when times are dark, but Mr. Bridges points us always back to Scripture and the wisdom of faithful saints in the past. The main points may seem simple, but if you lay them to heart you will be prepared when the storms of life come. Trusting God is a great book to read, whether you are facing suffering or if you know someone who is.

Excerpt:

Sometimes afterward we can see some of the beneficial results of adversity in our lives, but we seldom can see it during the times of adversity. Joseph could surely see after he had become prime minister of Egypt some of the results of the affliction God had allowed in his life, but he certainly could not see it while going through it. To him the whole painful process must have seemed devoid of any meaning and very contrary to his expectations of the future, as given to him through his dreams. But whether we see beneficial results in this life or not, we are still called to trust God that in His love He wills what is best for us and in His wisdom He knows how to bring it about.”

Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016).

The claim of this book is simple – you must dedicate times of full concentration to accomplish significant tasks. He defines deep work as, “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” He begins by citing the philosopher Carl Jung, who was trying to develop a theory of psychology that would overtake the theories of Sigmund Freud. To accomplish this, Jung had to reduce the time he spent with patients in the summer and live alone in a cabin he had built in the forest of Switzerland. He would work distraction-free throughout the morning, then meditate, take walks, and leisurely read in the afternoon and evening. This focus gave him the ability to accomplish the task he set for himself. Though there is much to disagree with in Jung, we must acknowledge that his work transformed the field of psychology over the last hundred years.

Newport lists reasons for us to pursue deep work, then at the end tells us how to do so. Much of it centers around eliminating distractions, especially technological distractions. He is no Luddite, calling for the elimination of technology, but he is circumspect as to its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the need for concentration. This book motivated me to change several of my habits and I have already seen fruit from those changes. He cites numerous examples of people who practice this and how they were able to accomplish much while maintaining a good family life. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Excerpt:

In an age of network tools, in other words, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative – constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers – with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction. Larger efforts that would be well served by deep thinking, such as forming a new business strategy or writing and important grant application, get fragmented into distracted dashes that produce muted quality.”

James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small (Griffin, 2014).

I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend this classic by Alfred Wight, better known by his pen name, James Herriot. Wight was a veterinarian in the Yorkshire region of the United Kingdom (northern England, just below Scotland) from 1940 until his death in 1995. All Creatures Great and Small begins his story as a vet just out of college who gets a job in Yorkshire working for a quirky, sometimes exasperating, yet loveable boss. The stories of the interesting animals and their owners, in addition to his evocative descriptions of the lovely countryside in Northern England, make it a delightful, funny, and memorable series of stories. If you like this one, be sure to read the other three volumes in the series (All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All). Please note there are uncensored descriptions of animal anatomy and occasional language that you don’t want your children using. But a little verbal editing (if you read it to your children) will take care of that.

Excerpt:

A maid answered my ring, beaming on me as an honored guest and led me to the room, crammed with expensive furniture and littered with glossy magazines and the latest novels. Mrs. Pumphrey, in the high-backed chair by the fire, put down her book with a cry of delight. ‘Tricki! Tricki! Here is your Uncle Herriot.’ I had been made an uncle very early and, sensing the advantages of the relationship, had made no objection. Tricki, as always, bounded from his cushion, leaped onto the back of the sofa and put his paws on my shoulders. He then licked my face thoroughly before retiring, exhausted. He was soon exhausted because he was given roughly twice the amount of food needed for a dog of his size. And it was the wrong kind of food.”

Rory Groves and Allan Carlson, Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economics that have Stood the Test of Time (Front Porch Republic Books, 2020).

This is a solid, well-researched, and easy to read book. The author, Rory Groves, gives a clear call to pursue family economies. Mr. Groves writes from the heart, and his care for home economies shines through. That call isn’t new, as books by Allan Carlson, C.R. Wiley, and others have already made similar cases. What makes this book different is the degree of practical insight it contains. He researched the durability of dozens of jobs that have remained with us for hundreds of years. For each trade, he rates each one in the following areas: how family-integrated they are, how durable (long-lasting) they are, how resilient they are in hard times, and their income potential. Many books of this sort boil down to a call to an agrarian life – this is not one of those. It is a practical guide for people who want to financially build their households. It’s a mini-encyclopedia of tried-and-true home economies.

Excerpt:

What should our response be to brittle systems and future (and present) challenges? How do families build their houses on the rock in a time of shifting sands? What will last and what will crumble under its own weight? These are the very questions I originally set out to answer – for my own family first, and then for the benefit of others who ‘see danger coming and (want to) take refuge.’ The process has been illuminating, both in identifying the causes of decline in historical family-based businesses and in discovering why some family-centered economics have stood the test of time…But there are lessons from the past. We are not the first society to face these problems, and we will not be the last.”

David Hackett Fisher, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford University Press, 1989).

If you’ve ever wondered why various sections of the U.S. are so culturally different, you’re not alone. There is indeed a difference in the culture of the various regions of the country, but those differences aren’t new – they have been with us since we were British colonies. This is the thesis of historian David Hackett Fischer, one of the oldest colonial historians alive today. In this book, he presents the four British cultures that migrated to North America: the Puritans of New England, the Quakers of the Delaware Valley, the Cavaliers (high society British) of the Virginia Tidewater region, and the Scotch-Irish of the lower South. He demonstrates the various folkways of each group, i.e., parenting, religious practice, political philosophy, and courting and marriage, to only name a few. But first, he demonstrates how each of those folkways was present in the groups when they lived in Britain. The application of those cultures to today is where it gets interesting. Have you ever wondered why New England seems okay with government intrusion but the South resists it? Have you ever wondered why the coastal states usually vote blue, whereas “flyover country” votes mostly red? Reading Fisher will go a long way toward answering those questions. It’s easy to think that our ideas are right; after all, they make good sense to us. Whereas our neighbor from a different part of the country may have views that strike us as odd. But neither of our opinions are arbitrarily chosen. Fisher reveals how many of our views are culturally inherited. Understanding this principle can help us appreciate, or at least be more forbearing, towards our neighbors.

Excerpt:

Independence did not mark the end of the four British folkways in America, or of the regional cultures which they inspired. The history of the United States is, in many ways the story of their continuing interaction. Most broad areas of consensus in American life have grown from values that these cultures shared in common. Many major conflicts in American history have developed primarily from their differences. Every presidential election shows their persistent power in American politics.”

Jonathan Pennington, Jesus the Great Philosopher: Rediscovering the Wisdom Needed for the Good Life (Brazos Press, 2020).

When you think of philosophers, you probably think of Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, or Confucius. When Christians especially think of Jesus, they think of God, the Bible, and “the founder of Christianity.” Certainly, Jesus is all of those things, but He is also, in the ancient sense, a philosopher. For the ancients, a philosopher was one who loves and practices wisdom, who thinks about and lives a good life, and who teaches the path toward that life. Anyone who calls Himself “the way, the truth, and the life,” anyone who teaches the key to happiness, anyone who points people to eternal glory would be considered a philosopher, and that’s exactly what Jesus did.

Jonathan Pennington expounds all of these ideas clearly and concisely in his book, “Jesus the Great Philosopher.” Pennington elaborates what a philosopher is, how he spoke, what he talked about, and how Jesus epitomizes those things. The author, who teaches at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is no liberal. He does not reduce Jesus to merely a great teacher, as He is viewed by some other religions. Pennington exalts Christ as God in the flesh, while helping us to see that as this perfect giver of wisdom surpassed all previous and future philosophers in his teaching.

Excerpt:

But it is worth noting that in contrast with John the Baptist, Jesus was described as eating and drinking, and indeed was maligned as a glutton and wine-imbiber, a friend of publicans and sinners. He went to a lot of dinner parties. There is nothing to indicate that he was habitually sorrowful, dour, and overly serious. After all, people – regular, nonreligious people – were very attracted to him. He must have been accessible, warm, and joyful.”

Larson’s List

Jerry Bowyer, The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said about Social Justice and Economics (Fidelis Books, 2020).

What did Jesus have to say about economics?  Weren’t some of his messages anti-profit/capitalism?  I went into this book expecting it to be somewhat of an exegetical hackjob – trying to put the modern, conservative movements’ words into Jesus’s mouth.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this book is, in fact, a VERY well researched exegesis of the Gospels and reveals that Jesus was frequently speaking very directly to today’s most relevant issues: the abuse of political, ecclesiastical, and economic power by elites at the expense of the poor and middle class. One of the most delightful aspects of the book is how Bowyer reveals the import of the “throw-away” parts of the verses that we don’t even tend to pay attention to where Jesus went to Galilee or Judea, etc.  He shows that modern readers should see that, in those verses, the Gospel writers are actually prefacing Jesus’s messages with something like “then Jesus went to Washington DC” or “then Jesus went to Silicon Valley” or “then Jesus went to Wall Street” – critical context that should absolutely color our reading of Jesus’s message (like the fact that the “camel through eye of a needle” comment was made to a powerful senator).  This book is important because it provides essential context to a lot of the most common “proof texts” used to argue against free markets.  It is also essential because it reveals how incredibly important these issues were to our Lord – He was anything but silent on these topics. 

Excerpt:

“Judas perfectly encapsulates the Judean/Jerusalem elite economic philosophy: talk piously, engage in status one-upmanship, centralized control of money, and then plunder the money box for your own benefit…..

“For the poor will never cease to be in the land;..  -Deuteronomy 15:11

     “So Jesus is taking the conversation back to the Torah and reminding Judas the class he is a member of, or aspires to join, already stands condemned because if they had been obeying Torah, there would be no poor; certainly not enough as to stand as a highly visible image to use to goad people into giving in to a temple system that would not actually care for the poor.

     “Jesus’s statement about the poor always being with “you”–meaning Israel’s leaders, Judas’s friends, not all humanity–unmasks the whole crooked system of monetary redistribution upward, accompanied by rhetoric about redistributing it downward.” (pg.73-74)

Jean-Marc Berthoud, Authority in the Christian Life (Independently Published, 2020).

This book is one of the most relevant (and quotable!) books I’ve read in a long time.  Berthoud does a wonderful job of establishing a clear understanding of how Christians are to operate in relation to God and the authorities that He has established at every level: the home, the church, and the magistrate. This is certainly a book I will be reading over and over. It is short (142 pages) and dense. Christians need to read this book right now in order to get our heads screwed on straight with respect to how Christians should participate in politics and all levels of leadership and submission to authority. 

Excerpts:

“One of the most common and most harmful errors of our time is that which seeks to oppose the lawful exercise of power to love.  This error is the corollary of that which claims to desire to oppose the love of God, men and creation, to detailed obedience to God’s commandments.  Such errors proceed from the modern notion that love fro God and one’s neighbor is a feeling.  No.  Contrary to what prevailing romantic and existentialist humanism claims, true love is not a feeling–which would make it a passive and subjective phenomenon–but an act of the will directed toward good.  This is what a carefull reading of the New Testatment compels us to declare.  It often speaks of love, but not as a feeling, always as an act of the will, regenerated and upheld by God, toward good.  The joy of love comes as the fruit of right action.  Thus we can affirm that an authority which in its actions conforms to good reveals God’s love for His creatures–even, and above all, when it justly punishes those who do evil. 

“My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Prov. 3:11-12)” (pg. 48)

“What about when the civil power which should only apply justice as defined by God’s Law (appropriately applied to time and place) replaces God with itself as the source of law and becomes a law to itself, thus changing evil into good and good into evil?  Our parliaments and legislatures have long declared themselves to be a source of law.  They can declare anything–just or unjust–to be law, and the magistrate is then obligated to enforce that law.  The magistrate’s task is unenviable, for it is he who must put such laws into execution, ultimately encouraging the evildoer and punishing those who do good.  A Christian magistrate who does not wish to be judged by God for his evil works as an iniquitous judge on the Las Day has no choice but to refuse to enforce such iniquitous laws.”  (pg. 73)

         “To take a recent example, after the suicide of a conscientious objector in prison, we saw young pacifists brandishing the slogan ‘Prison kills, Kill prison!’  This is the purest form of Rousseau’s ideology: evil proceeds from the institution and not the heart of man.  According to this philosophy, we must merely overturn the institutions that kill, and man will be regenerated.  The result: the Terror of the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Gulag Archipelago and, today, the riots on the streets of many cities across the United States.  

        “Those who work for the abolition of police and military power in their country–if they aren’t being bribed by foreign powers–are possessed by a utopian vision of the natural goodness of man, a completely unrealistic and gravely dangerous vision.  For they labor–consciously or unconsciously–to deliver their country into the hands of the most voracious and most powerful foreign military power, just as those who work toward the dismantling of civil power work to deliver defenseless law-abiding citizens into the hands of criminals.  Moved by unrealistic, wicked optimism, all these utopian idealists who deny the reality of sin in all men work to destroy the authority structures established by God for the good of men.  

    “We must repeat: the power of the sword is a blessing and a good.” (pg. 74-75)


[1] G.K. Chesterton, The Miscellany of Men, pg 21.