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A Parable on Pursuing Holiness

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A man began to mow his yard.  

The reels of the mower were sharp and spun effortlessly. At first, it was easy and the grass cut without difficulty. The man breezed along, finding enjoyment in the work he had been given.  But soon, the work became difficult.  Though much of the grass was still being cut down by the blades, the man began to notice some spots that needed extra work.  And as he continued, he became aware of some stubborn weeds that seemed to remain no matter how many times he went over them.  The man became frustrated, and began to tire.  

At that moment, the man was interrupted by his wife, who gave him a glass of water.  He took a few minutes to rest, and to think about why he was putting in such hard work.  Then, he started again, going more slowly over the weeds.  To his delight, he noticed that when he went more slowly over them, the weeds would be cut down.  As he finished, the man rejoiced, knowing he had done well, but not without the help of the mower, his wife, the water, rest and reflection. 

 

[This was previously posted at Tyler Helfers' former blog, Brevity and Clarity in May 2014]

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Weaving Science and Creation Together for Human Flourishing and the Glory of God

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"Belief in creation and the practice of and belief in science are often thought to be antithetical. Doubtless there are today challenges in the relationship between the two and I do not intend to try and solve all such challenges. What I do want to do is to try and show that the doctrine of creation, correctly understood and science, correctly understood, complement each other in vital and exhilarating ways."

With these words, Dr. Craig Bartholomew began this year's Areopagus spring lecture at Iowa State University, entitled, "The Doctrine of Creation and the Exhilaration of Science: A Different Approach." And while it was surely a lecture about creation and science, it proved to be far more. In this lecture, delivered to a crowd of fifty university students and faculty members, as well as members of the Ames community, Dr. Bartholomew challenged Christians and non-Christians alike to critically examine their presuppositions when coming to the biblical text, the science lab, and the marketplace of ideas (the public square of the university). 

Dr. Bartholomew began by examining Genesis 1 & 2, showing that the doctrine of creation is not a simple thing. In a very clear and succinct way, Dr. Bartholomew walked through some of the contemporary scholarship on these chapters, laying the foundation for his four main points about this crucial piece of the biblical drama that would have a bearing on the rest of his lecture: 

  • The Genesis account leaves us with a profound sense of God as the all-powerful, majestic king who speaks creation into existence.
  • Genesis 1 portrays a universe that is ordered, given its structure, by God's "let there be's"
  • The creation account gives an astonishing description of what it means to be human with our meaning and purpose wrapped in being image-bearers of God called to image him in this created world
  • Finally, the opening chapters of Genesis portray a world that is not only filled with wonder and awe, but a world that we can know!

Without dismissing the common questions about origins, it was made clear that the doctrine of creation presents us with so much more that this, including a great deal that contributes to the sciences. And this is where Dr. Bartholomew turned his attention to in the remainder of the lecture.

"So powerful have the discoveries of science been that it is easy to expect science to provide the answers to all the questions we have about life. Indeed, a tendency in modernity has been for science to ally itself with naturalism and to relegate religion to the private spheres of our lives, with no public consequences, including in education and university life."

This statement is but one of many that highlight the ways in which our world and life view frame our approach and give shape to our lives, including in the classroom, laboratory, coffee shop, and church. Rather than adopting the prevailing narrative, Dr. Bartholomew proposed that the doctrine of creation presents us with the true basis for all human understanding, including in the sciences. Though it does not provide all the answers to the sciences (and never claims to do so), the doctrine of creation "encourages contemplation and curiosity and provides us with confidence to pursue the truth about the world." And as we engage in the work of science with this framework in mind, we can be truly hopeful about our exploration and learning about the world in which we find ourselves.

"GenESIS 1 enables us not only to pursue science with appropriate confidence but also as a divine calling, an imperative from God, to think, as it were, God’s thoughts after him, to discover his ways in his world."

Turning again to his main points about the doctrine of creation, Dr. Bartholomew encouraged everyone to recognize the vocational component. He challenged those in the sciences to consider why they chose to study biology, physics, chemistry, or astronomy. Motivations born out of amazement and wonder are appropriate, but also love and respect. Love for God and his creation, as well as respect for the task entrusted to his image-bearers to unfold its potential for human flourishing and the glory of God. 

Drawing on Kuyper, he brought the lecture to a conclusion by pointing to that which follows the doctrine of creation in the redemptive narrative: the Fall. Sin has caused us to become estranged from the previously organic, natural unfolding of the scientific vocation. Just like the doctrine of creation, science is complex, and much more than merely "collecting facts into our bucket to be arranged in later in a logical order." Rather, drawing on Karl Popper, a better approach to science is that of a torch, understanding that "our identification of the facts and their interrelationship will be heavily influenced by the light we cast upon that which we are studying." Therefore, we have to critically examine ourselves, and the matrix out of which we practice science (our presuppositions) and consider how we account for them. At the end of the day, the doctrine of creation, and a world and life view rooted in the redemptive drama of the Triune God, forms a powerful, hopeful, and exhilarating basis for the practice of science. 

Below are a few of the comments from the event:

"I found this a very fascinating perspective on the relationship between religion and science."--Kyra

"I thought the discussion about the purpose of university was most interesting...this is something that needs to happen more."--Sebastian, Physics

"Dr. Batholomew's explanation of the meaning of Genesis 1 was so helpful and very encouraging to my faith."--Ben, Aerospace Engineering

"As a Christ follower, this lecture has allowed me to think more about how we think, and how to approach others with the teaching of creation and its relationship to the gospel."--Luke, Mechanical Engineering

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Lectures Reflecting A Christian World and Life View

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This week, we have the privilege of hearing from Dr. Craig Bartholomew, who will deliver our spring lecture this Thursday. Dr. Bartholomew serves as Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, and is senior research fellow at Tyndale House (Cambridge, UK). Previously, Dr. Bartholomew has also served as H. Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer University College, and written a number of books including The Drama of Scripture (with Michael Goheen), Beyond the Modern Age: An Archeology of Contemporary Culture (with the Dutch economist, Bob Goudzwaard), and Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction. In his lecture, Dr. Bartholomew will explore the foundational role the Christian Doctrine of Creation plays in our engagement in the sciences.  

Dr. Bartholomew's lecture is representative of the kinds of lectures that Areopagus seeks to bring to the university. In my time at Iowa State University, we have had speakers address the topics of race and the criminal justice system, delight in the academic pursuit, and the Christian notion of vocation. Of all the things we could do, we choose to bring in speakers, and address these topics, for two reasons:

1. Because Areopagus exists to minister to the university

2. As a witness to the all encompassing nature of the rule of Christ and the Kingdom of God

First, we see our annual lecture as a blessing to the university and one of the means by which we minister to it. In bringing top scholars and experienced practitioners to the campus to speak to their work, we strive to challenge students, faculty, and staff, and contribute to their intellectual, practical, and spiritual development. Our lectures serve to challenge those who come to consider their world and life view, and how it intersects with their studies, research, future plans, and end-goals (telos). Furthermore, our lecture functions as a window in the unique place of our reformed campus ministry at the university, and an invitation to further explore the Christian faith with us. 

However, as the second point makes clear, our lectures seek to provide a witness to the fact that Christ has called his people to go out into every corner of the earth--and every sphere of life--witnessing to his already-not yet kingdom through faithful obedience and service. We have been called to unfurl the latent potential embedded in God's great created universe, to proclaim the good news of Christ, His Kingdom, and the restoration of all the cosmos to its intended purpose(s), and we have been renewed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to do both of these things. So we invite speakers who reflect this holistic mission and grand vision--professors, lawyers, authors, teachers, ministers, ethicists, and engineers (and in the future, God willing, artists and athletes, politicians and businesspeople, and so many more)--and make it clear that the gospel is good news for everyone in every area of life for all of creation. 

So if you are in the Ames area this Thursday, drop on by. We would love to have you and for you to hear about our great God, the beauty of His creation, the impetus it provides for science, and the hope of the gospel. Check out the Facebook advert HERE, or further explore our website to learn more about Areopagus at Iowa State. 

 

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A Call to Reformed Discipleship

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"Occasionally a voice is raised among us to the effect that the sole task of the church is to bring the gospel to the unsaved. How foolish! If the Christian Reformed Church should take that position, the day would not be far off when, for lack of a strong home base, it would find itself incapable of effective evangelism. [1]"
 

In my last post, we examined R.B. Kuiper's understanding of the motivations for evangelism, and gave a call for reformed churches to passionately pursue evangelism. This week, we turn our attention to that which undergirds the evangelistic efforts of the church (as institute and organism): discipleship.

If the church is going to engage in evangelism well, her members must be built up in the faith; matured through faithful teaching (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy). The creeds, confessions, and the redemptive-historical trajectory of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation) are not simply fences for testing whether one is "Christian" or "reformed," but also powerful tools for helping us better understand Scripture, and find our place in the unfolding drama of redemptive history. Furthermore, they challenge us to practice charity, unity, loving-service, and faithfulness in every sphere of life.  

Discipleship takes the shape of family worship, of catechesis, and participation in corporate worship. Through such activities--which serve to shape our hearts and minds--we are equipped for evangelism and service (living out the virtues of Christ). We can neither afford to ignore the formative impact of these tools and practices--rejecting them as antiquated, outdated, or irrelevant--nor fail to participate in them because we are "too busy" or "disinterested." 

Sadly, as Kuiper points out, this is all too often the case:

There are churches round about us, evangelical churches at that, which strongly stress evangelism but neglect almost entirely the religious education of their own children and the building up of the adult members in the faith. [2]

The consequence? Kuiper goes on to describe how such a failure leads to a down diminution of the doctrine of the church, and the gospel itself. Like the pendulum of a great clock, church history reveals the way the church has swung between periods of great evangelistic fervor and doctrinal controversy. For the purposes of his book, Kuiper reflects on the rise of protestant liberalism and the social gospel, which arose in the wake of the Second Great Awakening. A lack of discipleship can lead to the "adjustment of Christian message," "a willingness to remove the offense of the gospel," and the watering down of worship.  

However, a lack of discipleship can also lead to other consequences: namely, the degrading, distress, and disillusionment of the faith among new Christians. I cannot count the number of times in which I've witnessed new Christians thrust into the evangelistic endeavor only to be beaten down by the questions, objections, and/or ridicule of non-Christians (let alone the physical, emotional, and spiritual effort it takes to do such work). How can one be expected to be prepared to give a reason for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15) so that they are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the cunning and craftiness of those who oppose the Christian faith (Eph. 4:14) unless they are being trained in sound doctrine and practices that reflect Christ and the kingdom of God? 

It's important that our churches not become lax in adult education: participation in worship, Bible study, mentorship, and Sunday school. It's important that we continue to catechize our young people, and to engage in family worship. It may require reorienting our lives, cutting things out of our busy schedules, or being creative in the ways we engage in such things, but neglecting these things is not an option. Both are part and parcel of God's calling for the church, and central to her fulfilling her mission in the world. 

Evangelism and discipleship exist in a delicate balance. Failure to do one affects the other. This ultimately leads our churches down the broad road that begins with impotent witness, followed by sickness, and ending in death. However, if we make it our mission to glorify God in both evangelism and disicpleship--both as individuals and the church--we will find ourselves on the narrow way towards powerful witness, flourishing, and blessing. So, may we take up the task not only of reformed evangelism, but also reformed discipleship.  

 

[1] R.B. Kuiper, To Be or Not to Be Reformed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959), 82-83
[2] Kuiper, To Be or Not to Be Reformed, 82. 

 

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Forging a Third Way: On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Theological Journey

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"Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away and new systems of justice and equality are being born. In a real sense ours is a great time in which to be alive. Therefore I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that we face a world crisis which often leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the spirit of God may yet reign supreme." [1]

This quotation comes from an article written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for an ongoing series in Christian Century on the theme: "How My Mind Has Changed." In it, King chronicle his intellectual and spiritual development, revealing the third way he sought between the fundamentalism he grew up with and the liberalism he adopted early in his adult years; a third way that synthesized theological systems and was contextualized to his experience and circumstances in the American South of the 1950s and 60s. 

Having been raised in a strict fundamentalism tradition, King found the allure of liberalism, with its "devotion to the search for truth, its insistence on an open and analytical mind, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason," intellectually satisfying. Through his early life and time at seminary, King uncritically accepted the teachings of Protestant Liberalism with its gospel of love working through reason. However, the more King examined the Scriptures, the world around him, and began to engage the social issues of his day, he quickly found theological liberalism wanting:

It was mainly the liberal doctrine of man that I began to question. The more I observed the tragedies of history and man’s shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin...[I became] aware of the complexity of human motives and the reality of sin on every level of man’s existence. Moreover, I came to recognize the complexity of man’s social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil. I came to feel that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism. I also came to see that liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin.

Much of this came to light through King's study of Reinhold Niebuhr and the neo-orthodox movement. Neo-orthodoxy presented a sobering assessment of humanity's sinfulness, and the insufficiency (or, rather, inability) of human reason properly applied to solve the problems of the age. For the neo-orthodox, one needed more than objective truths or reason, one needed an "encounter" with Christ. And, yet, King could not completely give himself theologically and intellectually over to neo-orthodoxy. Instead, he sought a third way that synthesized the "truths" of both: reason and experience, love and power, tangible and spiritual. What this yielded, in terms of the gospel, was a holistic vision that encompassed the "whole man":

The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.

Whether one agrees with his theological perspectives or not, King's critiques and journey can prove instructive for us today as we seek to proclaim the power of the Gospel--the good news concerning Christ and the Kingdom of God--over and against the hate, racism, and injustice that persist in our age. We must wrestle seriously not only with Scripture, but also with the evils of our age, and the struggles faced by our fellow human beings. We must recognize our presuppositions and the presuppositions of those we encounter. We must consider how to formulate a theology that is not merely concerned with biblical orthodoxy, but also orthopraxy (belief and practice). 

I'm convinced that our hope is firmly rooted in a concern for the "whole man," for we believe that God in the person and work of Christ is at work redeeming and reconciling all things to himself. Our Gospel is one that celebrates the truth that grace restores nature, broken and marred as it is by sin. This restoration includes, but is not limited to, human nature and our relationship with the Triune God. It also includes the restoration of institutions, systems, and the creation itself as the church (institute) proclaims the gospel and administers the sacraments, and the church (organic) is sent out to serve the risen Christ in all spheres of life. Redeemed and renewed by the power of the Spirit, we can live out our divine callings and begin to see glimmers of the future to come: a world radiating with love, righteousness, justice, and peace. 

And we can pursue this with a sure hope, because we know (to borrow and slightly amend Dr. King's words) that in a dark, confused world the Spirit of God does, and will, reign supreme. 

 

[1] This and subsequent quotations from "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Christian Century 77 (April 1960), 439-441. 

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A New Year, A New Semester, A New Study

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"What is remarkable [about Deuteronomy] is the detailed extent to which God has utilized this legal instrument of human kingdoms for the definition and administration of his own redemptive reign over his people."
-Meredith Kline, The Treaty of the Great King[1]

Standing on the precipice of the land God had promised, the people of Israel stop. They stop to covenant with God--to renew their relationship with the One who chose them out of all the peoples of the world, delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, and brought them to this place flowing with milk and honey--and remember their calling given by God.  

Covenant lies at the heart of, and is the foundation for, all biblical religion. As Gordon Spkyman writes:

Covenantal religion defines the fundamental structures undergirding all human relationships and every societal calling. It is not limited to a few highly "spiritual" moments in life--the birth of a covenant child, the sacramental signs and seals of the covenant, covenant training, or the covenant community at worship. It embraces every earthly institution--marriage, schooling, labor, social service, science, art, even politics. [2]

Thus, Israel was intended to be a "display people," a contrast (covenantal) community guided by the creational will and ways of the Lord God. And Deuteronomy, as a covenantal document, would provide the foundation for the life of this people, balancing an open-ended vision of the kingdom of God (the restoration of God's rule in the world) with practical provisions for dealing with a frail and fallen people. [3]. Through faithfulness to God expressed in obedience to his law, flourishing would come to the people and the land. 

However, there is more to the story than that. Blessedness and flourishing were not intended merely for Israel, but rather, were to be extended to the ends of the earth; to all peoples. Israel was chosen for service, or, to put it another way: Israel was chosen for a calling. Deuteronomy serves as a "call to communal transformation not merely for their own sake as God's people but also for the sake of her often hostile neighbors" by way of justice and grace [4].   

As we begin a new year and a new semester, we also begin a new study, considering the ongoing significance of this book--Deuteronomy--for us today. Because, as those united to Christ, the Chosen One and True Israel of God, we are grafted into the spiritual history and heritage of those who renewed the covenant at Gerizim and Ebal. How does this book display the progressive unfolding of God's redemptive work and how does it speak into our contemporary context? What should our modern, Western churches look like as we seek to faithfully live out the biblical story, and into our calling as those covenanting with the Triune God? How do we live in the world--amidst the joys and sorrows of those around us--for its flourishing, without losing our distinctiveness? How do we remember, celebrate, and trust our God, and what does it look like to reflect justice, grace, and truth to our neighbors, classmates, co-workers, family, and friends? 

These are some of the themes, topics, and questions we will examine this semester in our study, entitled, "Covenant and Calling: A Missional Study of Deuteronomy." Meets at 7PM in the Memorial Union, Room 3517. 

 

[1] Meredith Kline, Treaty of the Great King (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), 41-42.
[2] Gordon Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 359. 
[3] J.G. McConville, Deuteronomy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002)
[4] Mark R. Glanville, "A Missional Reading of Deuteronomy: Communities of Gratitude, Celebration, and Justice," in Reading the Bible Missionally, ed. Michael W. Goheen (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 124. 

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A Year in Review: 2017

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Each year, we look back at the most popular blog posts and make recommendations for reading over the winter break (and beyond). Below are the most popular posts from this past year as well as a few book recommendations for the upcoming year. 

BLOG POSTS

A Doubleshot of Bavincks (A Guest Post at the Kuyperian Commentary)
(April 8, 2017)

Reformed and Always Reforming
(May 3, 2017)

With Eyes That See, and Hearts of Love: Wisdom on Sharing the Gospel from J.H. Bavinck
(August 24, 2017)

Recovering the Priesthood of Believers
(November 8, 2017)

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction by Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic)
This book serves as a great introduction not only to the work of Abraham Kuyper, but also some of his contemporaries and successors. Writing in a clear  and engaging manner, Bartholomew has given the church a tremendous gift in the form of this book, providing a standard for the study of the Kuyperian tradition for years to come. 

Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics by Gordon Spykman (Eerdmans)
I began reading this book earlier this fall as a possible text for the Areopagus Leadership Training Initiative (ALTI). And while the jury is still out on whether it will be one of the main texts for ALTI, I have no reservations about recommending it to anyone seriously wanting to study theology through a Christian/Reformational philosophical lens. Though it may dense at times, it is well worth the work, and bears the fruit of a renewed vision for a Christian world and life view founded upon the Word of God. 

The Works of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald (Doubleday: Black Lizard)
If you like detective fiction and haven't read either Raymond Chandler or Ross MacDonald, you need to pick up some of their work. Through the work of their private eyes, these two authors give us a picture into sin, corruption, and injustice at work in the world, and the hard, gritty work necessary to bring some semblance of redemption/resolution. They're always entertaining reads, but can prove to be reflective as well. 

An Introduction to the Science of Missions by J.H. Bavinck (P&R Publishing)
The last recommendation is a work by the late missiologist, J.H. Bavinck. In this book, Bavinck lays the foundation for engaging in missions in a way that takes theology, culture, and history seriously. This book is extremely practical for anyone engaged in vocational ministry, as well as those who desire to engage others with the gospel of Christ (whether next door or around the world). Few books have been as helpful and encouraging to me in my own ministry. 

There are also a few books I'm looking forward to tackling in the new year, including: Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (James K.A. Smith), Gospel Witness (Joseph Boot), and Dune (Frank Herbert).

 

BONUS: MUSIC To CHECK OUT

Caroline Cobb: a Home & a Hunger

Lissie

 

I hope you find these resources and recommendations helpful and a blessing to you as we wrap up 2017 and look ahead to what the Lord has in store in 2018. If you find any of these particularly helpful or encouraging, please leave a note below, or send us an email. We would love to hear from you. Also, if you have any recommendations of your own, please feel free to add them to the comment section. 

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Annual Areopagus Semester-End Christmas Party

Last week, we hosted the annual Areopagus semester-end Christmas party. I wanted to post a few of the pictures from that night (just click on the image to scroll through). They can also be viewed at our Facebook page, here.

As 2017 wraps up, we rejoice in the ways God has worked in and through Areopagus to reflect the gospel and a Christian worldview into the university. We celebrate the new students who have found a home in our ministry and at Trinity Christian Reformed Church. And we praise God for the start of our new leadership training program (ALTI) and the students participating in it.   

We also look forward to seeing how God is going to work in the year to come. In particular, we are looking forward to our spring lecture (featuring Dr. Craig Bartholomew), the Dordt Day of Encouragement, and our Bible study series entitled "Covenant and Calling: A Missional Reading of Deuteronomy." Join us in praying for God to use these to further his mission in the lives of his people, on the Iowa State University campus, around the world, and in all facets of life.  

From all of us at Areopagus, we thank you for your partnership and support of the ministry. Merry Christmas!

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