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Bio, Books, and Such: Andy Naselli

Jul 05, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly–today is Saturday). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Andy Naselli who serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary.

1. Where were you born? San Jose, CA

2. When did you become a Christian? Probably when I was 8 or 12 years old

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? Don Carson

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Mark Minnick

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? Before the Throne of God Above

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Biographies

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Grudem, Systematic Theology

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? (a) The Chronicles of Narnia; (b) Harry Potter

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Unbroken (though it’s not entirely non-Christian)

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Richard L. Mayhue, ed., Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics?  John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Timothyand Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Bunmi Laditan, The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? Bach, especially this and this

17. Favorite food? Chipotle chicken burrito bowl with guacamole

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? BDAG

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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Jul 04, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

It has often been said that America was founded upon an idea. The country was not formed mainly for power or privilege but in adherence to a set of principles. Granted, these ideals have been, at various times in our history, less than ideally maintained. But the ideals remain. The idea persists.

If one sentence captures the quintessential idea of America, surely it the famous assertion contained in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Almost every word of this remarkable sentence, 238 years old today, is pregnant with meaning and strikingly relevant.

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity-whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them-no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree-by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

And what are these rights? The Declaration mentions three: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Obviously, these rights are not untethered from all other considerations. Life should not be lived in a way that means death for others. Our pursuit of happiness should not make others miserable. The Declaration is not calling for anarchy. It believes in government, good limited government rightly construed and properly constrained. But the rights enumerated here are still surprisingly radical. No matter how young, how old, how tiny, how in utero, or how ill, every person deserves a chance at life. Every one deserves a chance at self-governing. Everyone has the right to pursue his self-interest. There’s a reason the Founding Fathers did not wax eloquent about safety and security. It’s because they believed freedom and liberty to be better ideals, loftier goals, and more conducive to the common good.

I understand the dangers of an unthinking “God and country” mentality, let alone a gospel-less civil religion. But I also think love of country–like love of family or love of work–is a proximate good. Patriotism is not beneath the Christian, even for citizens of a superpower.

So on this Independence Day I’m thankful most of all for the cross of Christ and the freedom we have from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But I’m also thankful for the United States. I’m thankful for the big drops of biblical truth which seeped into the blood stream of Thomas Jefferson and shaped our Founding Fathers. I’m thankful for our imperfect ideals. I’m thankful for God-given rights and hard-fought liberty. I’m thankful I can call myself an American.

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Two Cautions for Conservatives

Jul 03, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I am a conservative. I am a conservative in religion, politics, family values, and even fashion. I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, prefer less government to more government, believe marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life, and believe men should never be allowed to wear open-toed sandals. I am by all accounts, a conservative. I don’t wear it is a badge of honor or as my identity. I am happy to move from any position I hold if convinced by a contrary argument, whether it is considered a liberal, moderate, or conservative position (though, you will never convince me that men should show their hairy toes in public). However, having said this, I find that I am usually one of the more conservative people in any given room. This has led me to watch and observe others who tend to lean conservative. There are two cautions that I would offer to myself and others who tend to be consistently conservative.

First, conservatives shouldn’t get nervous when someone is to their right in thought, ideology, or position. Young conservatives seem especially prone to this anxiety; as if there is something wrong with not holding the most extreme conservative position on any given issue. When some conservatives find a position to the right of their current conviction, they feel compelled to move with wild abandon to this more conservative belief. My friends, the furthest right position is not always the right position. This is true in theology, politics, family values, and “yes,” even fashion.

Second, conservatives have to work harder at getting their points across, because rightly or wrongly, we are often considered to be “cranks.” There is almost something natural in concluding that someone to the right of us is harsh, uncaring, and judgmental. Sometimes it is warranted, but often it isn’t. However, this perception is common.

Therefore, if I want my point of view to be heard as a conservative, I need to be more careful than others with how I express it. Now don’t get nervous! This isn’t motivated by “fear of man” or worry about offending. Rather, it is motivated by the goal we have in expressing that opinion. A good conservative shouldn’t want to express their view just to express their view. Rather, the goal is that others might hear the point and hopefully being convinced by it. Therefore, in most circumstances my conservative voice needs to be overly gracious, winsome, and careful. As the proverb says, “He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as a friend” (Prov. 22:1). Or as the writer of Ecclesiastes stated, “The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor” (Ecc. 10:12). How do you speak the truth with grace and winsomeness? I don’t know that we can give a ten-step “how to” list, but we all know when we have seen it done well.

Having said all of this, it doesn’t mean we need to pander, shrink, flatter, or be apologetic. In no way does it mean that we shy away from our convictions, refrain from speaking, or pressing our beliefs in conversation, print, or meetings. It just means that we need to be careful and thoughtful about how we do it in order that the message itself is not lost by throwing unnecessary impediments into the way of its hearing.

At the very least, these cautions are what this lone conservative thinks are helpful considerations. But sometimes, I am just not very gracious or winsome. I can be a crank. At times, I gladly run to the most extreme conservative position and it is warranted. On that note, men, cover up those nasty, hairy, big, sweaty feet of yours. Socks were invented for a reason!

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10 Promises for Parents

Jul 01, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

You probably have a book mark somewhere with promises to pray for your children. You probably have good kid verses on your refrigerator about obedience and kindness and sharing with others. You probably have a few standby verses you share with the little ones when they start to get defiant and lippy. All good.

But do you have any verses for yourself?

My kids need Bible promises, but on most days I need them even more. I’m prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I want them to love.

So here are ten promises from the Bible that every Christian parent should remember, especially the Christian parent writing this blog.

1. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Since the verse refers to trials of various kinds, I assume that James is talking about more than martyrdom and death. Sleepless infants, tortuous bedtimes, muddy feet, spilled orange juice, moody teens–they all count too. And we should count them all joy, even when they feel like the biggest pain. God promises he’s at work to produce steadfastness.

2. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). You’re tired, scared, defeated, weary beyond all reckoning. Good. Get low, and God promises to lift you up.

3. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). It doesn’t depend on me. It’s not about me. My kids are not for me. Stop freaking out. Stop trusting in horses and chariots.

4. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). They are. They really, really, truly, actually are. Whether you have one child or two or ten or twenty, God has given you those children because he loves you. The world thinks they are burdens. God tells us they are blessings.

5. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Yup, that verses is for parents too. The anger in our kids is from their hearts, but the mouthy way they learn to express that anger may be from our example. Why do I think my gasoline will help put out their fires?

6. “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). The only way to be a strong parent is to be a parent with self-control.

7. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Parenting is hard work. Period. But parenting up to the expectations of your (fill in the blank: mother, mother-in-law, girlfriends, next door neighbor, own little taskmaster) is impossible. Parent for Christ’s sake. He promises not to weigh you down with impossible burdens.

8. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). God knows that you sacrifice your time, your desires, your sleep, your money, and often your own dreams for your children. He sees and he smiles.

9. “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4). Everything is a mess, all the time. What else did we expect? We have dirty oxen running around. But there’s joy, memories, laughter, sanctification, and gospel growth from those wild animals too.

10. “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6). Ah, sweet grace. Grace to forgive your impatience (again) and your laziness (again). Grace to get you off the ground. Grace to get you walking. And grace to lead you home.

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Hobby Lobby and the Liberty of Conscience

Jun 30, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The Hobby Lobby case was not ultimately about abortion or contraception. It was about religious liberty more broadly, and, as far as my untrained legal eyes can tell, about three disputed matters in particular.

Here is a good summary of the issues as presented in the Amicus brief filed by Michigan, Ohio and eighteen other states in support of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel:

The threshold question here is whether for-profit, secular businesses may exercise religion and therefore fall within the religious liberty protections of RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and signed by President Clinton in 1993]. It is a question that is basic to American democracy. Its answer requires this Court to return to first principles. And the answer is a simple one.

Americans may form a corporation for profit and at the same time adhere to religious principles in their business operation. This is true whether it is the Hahns or Greens operating their businesses based on their Christian principles, a Jewish-owned deli that does not sell non-kosher foods, or a Muslim-owned financial brokerage that will not lend money for interest. The idea is as American as apple pie. And RFRA guarantees that federal regulation may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion absent a compelling governmental interest advanced through the least restrictive means.

Any contrary conclusion creates an untenable divide between for-profit and non-profit corporations. All sides admit that RFRA extends its protections beyond individuals to at least some corporations. Despite assumptions made by certain of the judges below, nothing in the relevant state laws restricts corporate endeavors to the sole purpose of maximizing revenue at all cost. There is and should be no general federal common law of corporations. And nothing in RFRA limits its application to administratively certified religious entities.

The argument put forward by the United States is predicated on a view that seeking profit changes everything. Not so. The Hahns and the Greens, as do others, seek to operate their family-owned businesses according to religious principles. That they seek also to earn a profit does not nullify or discredit their beliefs. The federal courts cannot rewrite state law on corporations somehow to change this reality.

The Mandate also imposes a substantial burden on these family-owned businesses. Conestoga, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel are guided by religious principles affirming the inviolability of human life, and no one questions the sincerity of those beliefs in these cases. Courts should not become enmeshed in evaluating the interpretive merits or proper doctrinal weight of religious principles. Their religious propriety is not for the courts to second guess. And the government lacks a compelling interest justifying the substantial burden it seeks to impose when the businesses adhere to these guiding religious principles. The Affordable Care Act includes several sweeping exceptions. The claim that the Mandate must be applied to entities with a sincere religious objection is belied by the fact that it already excludes tens of millions of plan participants.

Government directives cannot confine religious liberty to the sanctuary or sacristy. Such a truncated view of religion threatens to create a barren public square, empty of the religious beliefs of ordinary Americans. This is an important principle, and it protects all persons.

So what does all that mean? There are three crucial points:

1. Individuals do not relinquish their First Amendment rights when they associate together in a for-profit business.

2. The healthcare Mandate imposed a “substantial burden” on the businesses in question.

3. Any compelling interest the government may have in providing contraceptives was not “advanced through the least restrictive means.”

That last point is especially important. When religious persons wax eloquent about the inviolable liberty of conscience, the quick rejoinder is “Yeah, but what if your conscience doesn’t allow you to cover blood transfusions or your religious conscience tells you it’s okay to discriminate against ethnic minorities?” Point taken. The appeal to conscience is not a right to unchecked liberty at any cost. Religious freedom does not mean we are free to do whatever we want. The government will sometimes burden the free exercise of religion, but, according to RFRA, only if  it has a compelling interest to do so and advances this interest through the least restrictive means.

In the end, the Court decided in favor of Hobby Lobby on the three crucial points listed above:

We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the  Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships. The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.

Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.

The free exercise of religion and liberty of conscience are God-given rights. We would surely miss them more than we know if they were done away with. We can give thanks that today, when they could have easily been undermined, they were instead upheld.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jun 30, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

For most Americans, the World Cup doesn’t feel legit unless at least one of the announcers has a British accent. Why not these guys?

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Books, Bio, and Such: David F. Wells

Jun 27, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with David F. Wells, Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

1. Where were you born? Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia

2. When did you become a Christian? Cape Town University, 1957

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? John Stott with whom I lived for 5 years

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Francis Schaeffer (with whom I worked briefly) and Martyn Lloyd-Jones whose church I attended twice a week for some years.

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Biographies

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? I like Bavinck’s Our Reasonable Faith as a brief statement; I still like Charles Hodge’s for a deeper statement; and I always read the relevant sections in Barth’s Church Dogmatics when beginning a project to get the wheels turning.

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? I read widely and promiscuously. It is hard to nail down one or two.

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Well, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote his Chronicles of Wasted Time after he had become a Christian but he was writing the story of an unredeemed person. These are favorite volumes. Muggerridge was unable to complete the final volume—too painful.

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Probably Stott’s Between Two Worlds.

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Most recently, I appreciated Jerram Barrs’s book.

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Schaeffer’s work—multiple books—in his own time. But times are a’changin’, as Dylan sang! In terms of understanding and method, I very much appreciate Os Guinness’ various books. There is not one in particular but I like his constant analysis of, and engagement with, the whole fabric of modern like from a specifically apologetic stance.

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? Undoubtedly, Valley of Vision.

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Too late for books. I have been married 49 years!

15. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? Bach and Beethoven’s violin concertos and, in particular, Bruch’s.

16. Favorite food? Scallops.

17. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Probably Spurgeon’s (multi-volume) The Treasury of David.

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PCA General Assembly 2014 Report

Jun 26, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Location: This year’s General Assembly was held in Houston, Texas.

Moderator: Dr. Bryan Chapell was elected Moderator of the PCA’s 42nd General Assembly. Dr. Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois. He is the former President and Chancellor of  Covenant Theological Seminary. Dr. George Robertson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia nominated Dr. Chappell.

2013 Numbers:

Churches & Missions:         1,808      (increase of 21 from 2012)
Professions of Faith:           9,327
Membership:                    367,033     (increase of 3,014 from 2012)
Total Family Units:            139,364 (increase of 2,033 from 2012)
Long Term Missionaries:   620      (decrease of 21 from 2012)
Two Year Missionaries:      118
Missionary Interns              276      (decrease of 78 from 2012)
Two Week Missionaries:    4,810      (increase of 62 from 2012)
RUF:                               145 campuses in 39 states and in 60 Presbyteries

Major Issues/Actions of this Assembly

  1. Insider Movement: Last year’s assembly ended with a great deal of confusion over the actions of the Assembly in relation to the Insider Movement Committee Report. A minority report emerged from the committee and the Assembly found itself in a difficult position when it tried to receive and approve both the committee and minority reports. In the end, last year’s Assembly chose to refer the matter back to the committee and ask it to report back at the 42nd General Assembly. At this year’s Assembly, the majority report was approved overwhelmingly and the minority report was not. The PCA General Assembly took a very clear stand on the Insider Movement. Dr. David Garner was an able and learned voice that presented the material clearly and pointedly on the floor of the Assembly.
  2. Child Protection: Most of this year’s overtures were related to child protection. Overture #6 was overwhelmingly approved by the Assembly as a strong resolution encouraging churches to screen child care workers, maintain child protection policies, faithfully report abuse, review its policies at a denominational level related to child protection, and teach against the sin of child sexual abuse.
  3. Support & Prayer: The overtures committee voted against an overture from Savannah River Presbytery calling for an expression of gratitude and prayer for those “facing fines, penalties, and ostracism for declining out of religious conviction to provide their services” for same-sex “marriage ceremonies” or taking a stand for the sanctity of human life. A minority report emerged from the Overture’s Committee that resolved to expresses its gratitude and pray “to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage.” The minority report was approved by the Assembly after becoming the main motion on a 445-395 vote tally. The vote seemed to take a turn when one commissioner rose to express his own past struggles with same sex attraction and expressed gratitude for those willing to confront him in love.
  4. Theistic Evolution/Historic Adam & Eve: Once again, the General Assembly chose not to make an in thesi statement regarding theistic evolution. However, it should be noted that in the Overtures Committee and on the floor of the Assembly there was no one who actually advocated for theistic evolution. It appeared that most of the opposition to issuing such a statement was that the Westminster Standards were sufficient in speaking to this matter already.
  5.  Agencies: Christian Education and Publication had its proposed name change approved by the Assembly. It will no longer be CE&P, but rather, the Committee on Discipleship Ministries. Reformed University Ministries saw a new coordinator elected to its helm with Rev. Tom Cannon’s official approval.

Personal Encouragements

  1. The irenic spirit of General Assembly debate is always a blessing to this Presbyterian’s soul. “How good it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).
  2. Theology and pastoral concern were but both present in the Assembly’s actions. Adopting the Insider Movement Committee’s report was the PCA at its theological best. It unashamedly pointed out error, warned the church of the dire consequences of such compromise, and spoke the truth with theological precision. The clear pronouncement and action related to child sex abuse was a pastorally sensitive and timely action taken by the Assembly. The willingness to show gratitude and thanksgiving to God for those taking a Biblically faithful stand on marriage and human life at the expense of suffering for that commitment was also a theologically and pastorally rich action by the Assembly.
  3. Dr. Derek Thomas’ sermon on Wednesday evening was Christ-exalting and faith-encouraging.
  4. The Gospel Reformation Network hosted a series of seminars and a luncheon at the Assembly. Each of these events was well attended. The doctrine of sanctification has received much attention within the Reformed community over the past few years and the heavily attended Gospel Reformation Network events was an encouraging sign.
  5. RUF’s continued growth and impact upon the campuses of the United States is one of the most encouraging signs regarding the present and future ministry of the PCA.
  6. The PCA is transitioning. New and younger voices seem to be emerging in the PCA General Assembly. Over the past few years there has been a growing absence of the Founding Fathers’ presence at the General Assembly. The older generation has been giving way to the younger generation. This year’s Assembly seemed almost absent of the voices of the Founding Fathers. This is not an encouragement as much as it is a reality of time and a natural transition. We are witnessing a real change in the “voice” of the PCA. In addition, many of the heads of our committees and agencies has changed over the past couple of years: Covenant College, Covenant Seminary, CE&P (and its new name), RUM, and Ridge Haven. MTW will be transitioning in the next year. It will be interesting to see whether this new generation of leaders is as faithful as the last.

Personal Concerns

  1. **(Clarification–I want to be very clear that there is no discussion in the PCA about whether homosexuality is acceptable or not a sin. No one in the PCA is advocating for the acceptance of homosexuality.**) A great deal of concern was expressed over issuing any statement related to homosexuality. The overture under discussion was actually expressing gratitude and prayer to God for those who were suffering for their stand on “homosexual marriage” and abortion. It was not a statement about homosexuality and it was far from harsh in its wording. Yet, there was a large minority voice that was vocal against passing such an overture. However, in many ways it was similar to the action taken by the Assembly on child sex abuse. They are both transcendent moral issues in our culture, have affected the church greatly, and have been issues brought to the church’s door. It seemed pastorally wise and timely to speak to both of these issues as a body. The vehement concern expressed on the floor of the Assembly about issuing such a statement seemed unwarranted. There are times that the church needs to speak to issues within its culture and fear of backlash should not be a deterrent.
  2. Within the Overture’s Committee and on the Assembly floor, it would be encouraging to hear more arguments from Scripture and less from personal experience. We should value personal experience. It is often very helpful to hear, but we should value Scripture more.
  3. As I stated in a previous year’s report, “The reluctance to issue a statement regarding theistic evolution was disappointing. The arguments were numerous: the PCA has spoken to this in previous assemblies, our Standards already speak to the issue, an in thesi statement does very little and is non-binding, etc. I have sympathies with each of these arguments. However, I think a true opportunity was lost. The PCA had an occasion to speak to a current theological issue that has arisen in our own circles. Have we spoken to this before? Yes. Do our Standards speak to the issue? Yes. But could we speak again? I believe the answer to that question, is, “yes,” as well.  Making a declarative statement in the midst of a popular and growing discussion would have hurt nothing and could have actually been a loud and resounding voice in the midst of this cacophony.”
  4. The number of commissioners and especially ruling elders has been decreasing each year. There were only 1,050 delegates to this year’s Assembly. Of that number, only 237 were ruling elders. Houston isn’t in the Southeast, but it also isn’t hard to reach for most presbyters. Years ago, part of the Strategic Planning Commission’s recommendations was to streamline the Assembly by moving floor debate to the Overture’s Committee. Part of the rationale was that most ruling elders find floor debate tedious. However, I have found that most ruling elders no longer want to attend the Assembly, because there is no substantive debate on the floor! In my humble opinion, this was a mistake. Either we need to return the debate to the floor or the denomination may need to consider an alternative to our annual Assembly (delegated, bi-annual, etc.).
  5. In my opinion, the overtures addressing the issues related to the Standing Judicial Commission were rightfully voted down. However, we still have some struggles in this area that need to be ironed out. The PCA needs to find a way to keep integrity and accountability in the forefront of its courts.
  6. The decrease in missionaries is of some concern. It is not a significant number, but as the PCA grows, so should our number of missionaries. It is also concerning that it appears that fewer and fewer PCA missionaries are engaged in planting Presbyterian and Reformed churches in their fields of labor. We should be thankful for many types of mission endeavors, but planting solid Presbyterian and Reformed churches should be our primary task in the mission field.

Overall

The 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America won’t create headlines around the world or be noted in histories of the Presbyterian Church. However, it was a good Assembly as the church conducted its very routine and ordinary business. We made theological pronouncements, exercised pastoral concern, worshipped, fellowshipped, and encouraged the mission of the Church. May God keep the PCA true to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

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William Cowper: Epitaph on a Hare

Jun 25, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

About the same time I read Justin Taylor’s blog post on poetry, in which he linked to this op-ed about teaching poetry in our schools, I came across a touching and surprising poem by William Cowper. Many Christians know of Cowper as the sometimes melancholy, only sometimes sane friend of John Newton’s and author of God Moves in a Mysterious Way, but did you know he wrote many other hymns and poems?

One of those poems is entitled Epitaph on a Hare (for a different kind of animal-themed poem, see also The Retired Cat). By the end of these simple stanzas you may better understand the power poetry has to do what other mediums cannot.

And you may miss your pet bunny terribly.

*******

Here lies, whom hound did ne’er pursue,
Nor swifter greyhound follow,
Whose foot ne’er tainted morning dew,
Nor ear heard huntsman’s hallo’,

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domesticate bounds confined,
Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
His pittance every night,
He did it with a jealous look,
And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
And milk, and oats, and straw,
Thistles, or lettuces instead,
With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
On pippins’ russet peel;
And, when his juicy salads failed,
Sliced carrot pleased him well.

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
Whereon he loved to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching showers,
Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out all his idle noons,
And every night at play.

I kept him for his humor’s sake,
For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
He finds his long, last home,
And waits in snug concealment laid,
Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more agèd, feels the shocks
From which no care can save,
And, partner once of Tiney’s box,
Must soon partake his grave.

—William Cowper (1731-1800)
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Justification, Holiness, and Historical Perspective

Jun 24, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

photoI hope you’ll put on your thinking caps and practice a little patience as I try to connect the world of my doctoral studies with the world of our contemporary blog disputes.

For the four of five of you who are left, I want to introduce you to John Witherspoon’s Essay on the Connection Between the Doctrine of Justification by the Imputed Righteousness of Christ, and Holiness of Life.

First published in 1756, the short book which began as two sermons would go through three editions in the next twelve months. In 1764, the essay was published again, this time with a new and longer piece from Witherspoon, A Treatise on Regeneration. These two treatises would be reprinted together numerous times over the next fifty years, including an 1830 edition with an introduction by William Wilberforce in which he commends the two Witherspoon essays, noting that their “excellence” was “far too well established to render necessary any eulogium of mine.”

Although largely forgotten now, Witherspoon’s Essay on Justification was much beloved in a previous century.

Putting Things in Context

Prefixed to the Essay on Justification is a letter to Rev. James Hervey, an Anglican Rector in Northamptonshire and a friend of Witherspoon’s. In the prior year (1755), Hervey published his magnum opus, Theron and Aspasio, a ponderously titled, massive three-volume work which, through a series of dialogues between two men (Theron and Aspasio) promoted and defended a strongly Reformed understanding of justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Years earlier, before becoming a Calvinist, Hervey had been a part of the Holy Club at Oxford and was mentored by John Wesley. Until the publishing of Theron and Aspasio, Hervey and Wesley were close. After 1755, not so much. Before Theron and Aspasio went to press, Hervey had sent a draft of the work to Wesley asking for his comments. Wesley offered several criticisms. Hervey, it seems, did not change the manuscript (perhaps he was only looking for stylistic help, not doctrinal correction). After publication, Wesley continued to write Hervey, and Hervey continued to ignore his mentor’s advice. Finally in 1758, Wesley published his last and longest letter to Hervey, a tedious point-by-point rebuttal of specific lines quoted “chapter and verse” from Theron and Aspasio. Sadly, Hervey died on Christmas day 1758, still fretting over a response to Wesley.

Wesley’s main objection to Theron and Aspasio was that it taught justification by imputed righteousness, a doctrine Wesley considered an obvious recipe for antinomianism. It’s reasonable to think that even before the book was published in 1755, and certainly before Witherspoon’s essay came out in 1756, both Hervey and Witherspoon were aware of Wesley’s disdain for imputation and his fears of antinomianism. And Wesley wasn’t alone. Jonathan Edward’s pupil, Joseph Bellamy–on different grounds, but also related to the charge of antinomianism–would lambast Hervey in the years head. Theron and Aspasio caused quite a stir. It was loved by some and hated by others.

Which is why Witherspoon’s dedicatory letter to James Hervey is significant. It was, according to Witherspoon, “a public declaration of my espousing the same sentiments as to the terms of our acceptance with God.” The Scotsman was coming to the defense of his English friend. Witherspoon acknowledges in the letter to Hervey that the “most plausible” and “most frequently” made objection against imputation is that “it loosens the obligations to practice.” Whether Witherspoon thought the critics were entirely unfair or whether he thought Hervey had left himself vulnerable to the charge of antinomianism is unclear. What is clear is that Witherspoon wrote his Essay on Justification to stand in the gap and answer the objections that Wesley and others were raising against a Reformed doctrine of justification.

A Little Bit of History Goes a Long Way

One of the great things about studying history is that it can illuminate the present. The debates of the eighteenth century are not identical with our debates. We cannot substitute our good guys (whomever they may be) with their good guys (on whichever side) and read the events of their day like a fable for our day. On the other hand, the same theological issues come up over and over again.

What’s particularly instructive about Witherspoon’s essay is how:

  • He was coming to the defense of a robust understanding of justification and imputation.
  • Yet, he was concerned that the doctrine not be misunderstood.
  • He was passionate about justification and holiness of life.
  • He saw justification connected to sanctification not in just one way, but in many ways.
  • He wanted to avoid extremes. Even in the midst of controversy, he tries to be balanced, nuanced, and careful.

How Justification and Sanctification Are Connected

The central concern for Witherspoon is to answer the objection that says “the obligation to holiness of life” is weakened “by making our justification before God depend entirely upon the righteousness and merit of another” (Works, 1:46). He feels the need to defend the doctrine of justification because it is too often despised by enemies and promoted poorly by friends. Among this latter group, he sees two kinds of errors.

Some speak in such a manner as to confirm and harden enemies in their opposition to it: they use rash and uncautious expressions. . . .in the heat of their zeal against the self-righteous legalists seem to state themselves as enemies, in every respect, to the law of God, which is just and good. (1:48)

That’s one mistake: being so intent on routing the legalists that you run off the law altogether. The other danger is to so safeguard the doctrine of justification that no one ever feels scandalized by it.

Other, on the contrary, defend it in such a manner as to destroy the doctrine itself, and give interpretations to the word of God, as if they were and known to be so, the objection would never have been made because they would not have been so much as an occasion given to it. (1:48).

In other words, some friends of justification are so scared of legalism they end up with no place for the law, while others are so scared of antinomianism they do nothing to alarm the legalists.

After the introduction, the bulk of Witherspoon’s essay consists of six reasons the doctrine of justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ strengthens rather than weakens our obligation to holiness.

1. “In the first place, he who expects justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ hath the clearest and strongest conviction of the obligation of the holy law of God upon every reasonable creature, and of its extent and purity” (1:52). For the imputation of Christ’s obedience to be necessary, there must be an obligation to obedience upon everyone made in the image of God. The law is shown to be good and holy by the act of imputation itself.

2. “In the second place, he who believes in Christ and expects justification through his imputed righteousness, must have the deepest and strongest sense of the evil of sin in itself” (1:55). If sin were not so heinous, so to be feared, so to be avoided, so be killed, there would have been no need to Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice to turn away the wrath of God.

3. “In the third place, he who expects justification only through the imputed righteousness of Christ, has the most awful views of the danger of sin” (1:60). Witherspoon is aware that “many readers” will consider this point about the danger of sin to be “improper” based on the believer’s new status in Christ. Fear, he anticipates some to object, can have no place as a motivation for Christian obedience. But elsewhere, Witherspoon distinguishes between filial fear and slavish fear (1:134). We do not fear God as judge, but we ought to fear displeasing him as our Father. Because we need to be justified through the atoning death of Christ, we can see sin in all its awfulness. Witherspoon, therefore, rejects as “un-guarded and anti-scriptural” notions that we are “justified from all eternity” or that “God doth not see sin in a believer” or that “afflictions are not punishments, and other things of like nature” (1:60-61).

4. “In the fourth place, those who expect justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ have the highest sense of the purity and holiness of the divine nature” (1:63). Our need for a redeemer and for the righteousness of another ought to impress upon us the holiness of the God we serve and are to emulate.

5. “In the fifth place, those who expect justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ must be induced to obedience in the strongest manner by the liberal and ingenuous motive of gratitude and thankfulness to God” (1:66). This is where our discussion often starts and stops. But for Witherspoon, gratitude is only one of many ways in which justification spurs us on to a life of holiness.

6. “This leads me to observe in the sixth and last place, that those who expect justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ must be possessed of a supreme or superlative love to God which is not only the source and principle, but the very sum and substance, nay, the perfection of holiness” (1:70). Or to put it more succinctly, “love is the most powerful means of begetting love.” The love of God is what compels us to be holy, entices us to be holy, and what is meant by being holy.

A Final Thought (In Two Parts)

After finishing the main body of his argument, Witherspoon offers one last “general observation.” He fears that diligence in personal holiness is to easily undermined by “despair of success,” and so he concludes with two gospel encouragements (1:77).

First, we ought to have hope of acceptance with Christ (1:78). We are sinners. We will sin. We still need a Savior. So let us not despair that Christ will forgive us when we sin.

Second, we can have “diligence in duty” because the Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us in all duty (1:79). We are saved by grace and will be sanctified by grace. Therefore, we should not despair: Christ will be there when we fail and the Spirit will help us to succeed. Witherspoon loves the doctrine of “redemption by free grace” because in all aspects it “gives less to man and more to God than any other plan” (1:81). It is meant to cut our hearts and kill our pride.

And so Witherspoon concludes with a strong exhortation to keep preaching this good news. The best defense of justification by imputation is “zealous assiduous preaching the great and fundamental truths of the gospel, the lost condemned state of man by nature, and the necessity of pardon through the righteousness [of Christ], and the renovation by the Spirit of Christ” (1:91). What the world needs in its sin, and the church in all its weakness, is for this “everlasting gospel” to be preached in all its purity and simplicity (1:92).

Sounds good to me.

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