Monthly Archives: September 2005

Higher Education in America

The current issue of The Weekly Standard (October 3, 2005) has a marvelous article by James Piereson entitled "The Left University" (www.weeklystandard.com). It is must reading for serious Christian thinkers who care about the future of higher education in this country. It also explains the history of our universities by surveying the periods of greatest change, concluding that the period between 1965 and 1975 was plainly our most radical period of change. It was during this period that our universities moved from being liberal research institutions to ideological proponents of the social and political left. It was also during this time that "diversity" ideology became the mantra for most of our major schools.

Piereson believes that this is finally changing. Why? He offers several reasons within both modern history and culture. He concludes that "to a great degree, university faculties outside the sciences have lost the capacity either to understand or to influence the outside world." This is forcing university boards and leaders to rethink the role of such radical ideology on the campus, especially within their

By |September 30th, 2005|Categories: Culture|

Interpreting the Bible: The False Assumptions of Modernism

An excellent new book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005), by Professor Peter Enns of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), has begun to stir controversy in very conservative circles. This is particularly sad to me since I know Professor Enns to be a careful scholar who is totally faithful to the authority of Holy Scripture. [A review of this book will appear in our Reformation & Revival Journal in a forthcoming issue.]

The first review that I have seen of Inspiration and Incarnation appears in the current issue of New Horizons (Octoebr 2005), the magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This magazine, read by many OPC pastors and elders, as well as by other conservative Reformed ministers, will have some influence. I can only hope it will have very little negative influence with regard to this very excellent book. Let me explain.

Dr. Enns writes for Christians who think deeply about the nature of Scripture and who are also committed to a confessionally high view of inspiration. He believes, however, that there are

By |September 29th, 2005|Categories: Hermeneutics|

The Soul of True Science

The methods of modern science rest upon an assurance that the world is both rational and contingent. Science advances by the observation of phenomena and through induction from the results of this observation. Nature is really real and scientists can give us the practical insight into how it works.

Over the course of the past few hundred years, however, science has also sought to provide an ultimate explanation of all things. This is where it has finally failed us. Charles Darwin, the high priest of the modern movement’s ideology noted: "A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections—a mere heart of stone." Darwin wrote as a rigorous scientific rationalist.

The church does not do science. It should respect science and not fight it. But the church provides what science cannot—clear testimony that someone, from outside our natural world, has spoken and this word can direct our public and private lives. When science has only "a mere heart of stone" it denies that there is someone who creates, sustains, judges and redeems. When it denies a personal God it

By |September 23rd, 2005|Categories: Science|

A Godly Man Seeks Office

I do not make it a practice to "endorse" political candidates. I believe active Christian ministers, who serve the gospel as their primary calling, should speak faithfully and prophetically to all parties, all practices and all viewpoints, without aligning themselves or their ministry with political decision making. Ever so often I have a friend who feels "called" to enter the political arena out of faithfulness to God’s call upon his or her life. Such is the case with Jerry Zandstra in the state of Michigan. Jerry is seeking the Republican nomination for the U. S. Senate in his state. Jerry Zandstra’s candidacy is a long shot but it is one that I pray for almost daily. Win or lose I am glad he took the risk and followed his sense of God’s calling in his life.

I met Jerry Zandstra, a forty-two year old Christian Reformed Church minister, through the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids. Jerry is a keen thinker, with world class experience. He has spent a good deal of time in the developing world, visiting countries as varied as Zambia,

By |September 22nd, 2005|Categories: Politics|

Politics Does Not Change Culture

Perhaps the most eggregious error being made by conservative Christians, with regard to our present attempts to promote morality and Christian witness in the public sphere, is the false notion that politics can actually change culture. Make no mistake about it, politics is important in a culture. But it is not primary in importance. The long absence of evangelicals in the realm of politics, for many decades, had tragic effects. I am personally grateful for the good men and women, both Democrats and Republicans, who feel it is a divine calling to pursue service through elected office. But if given the choice I would much rather teach and make disciples through the ministry of the church personally.

My reasons for this preference are not what you might think. I do not see ordained Christian ministry as a "higher calling" at all. We need Christian lawyers, Christian artists, Christian teachers, Christian shop owners, Christian government workers, and Christian servants in general in all capacities of life. Work is itself a vocation of God and thus a good thing.

The problem here

By |September 21st, 2005|Categories: Culture|

Three Vital Qualities for Ministers

One of my dearest friends, a fellow minister of the gospel, regularly challenges both my mind and heart about gospel ministry. The two of us have walked together as brothers and best friends for nearly thirty years. In conversation yesterday, and after writing the blog that I posted on ambition (September 15), my friend’s three point test for good ministers is one that I feel worth sharing.

The three qualities that you should look for in every minister, and that every minister must cultivate in their personal life, are:

1. Humility

2. Self Critique

3. The ability to listen

I can’t think of any qualities in a person that are more vital to true success in true pastoral ministry than these. In fact, when one or more of these is missing the pastor will fail over the long haul, even though outwardly there may appear to be real success. (Don’t be confused by a minister’s great gifts since gifts do not make a true minister.) If you are searching for a minister for a local church make these

By |September 16th, 2005|Categories: The Christian Minister/Ministry|

The Danger of Ministerial Ambition

I give a great deal of my personal time to ministers. I love ministers. I love the church even more. Because of these two great loves I sometimes have real conflicts. If forced to choose, and thankfully I am not usually forced, I will always choose the church as my higher priority. The reason for this is very simple. The minister exists to serve the flock, not vice versa. The flock must be protected, loved and shepherded, even if the minister fails. I might better say, especially if the minister fails.

Martin Luther wrote a great deal on the minister and the ministry. He was a shepherd who cared for the souls of real people thus his pastoral insights are often balanced and wonderfully bracing in their directness. It was Luther who once said of the ministry: ambitio praedicatoris est ecclesiae pestis. Simply translated the Latin sentence means, "The ambitious preacher is a pestilence to the church."

If I see anything that regularly alarms me about some of the most important role model evangelical preachers in America that disturbs me

By |September 15th, 2005|Categories: The Christian Minister/Ministry|

Newbigin: A Modern Prophet?

In teaching my class on apologetics for evangelism at Wheaton this term I am daily afforded the joy of thinking about how to defend the faith in a Western, and increasingly postmodern, context. One figure in the twentieth century stands out as the most influential person in the West for my thinking about culture, gospel, and communication with modern man. I refer to the late missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin.

Newbigin served as general secretary of the International Missionary Council and as the associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches. He is the author of many helpful books, most still in print. He was a Reformed biblical thinker who served in India for many years and then returned to Great Britain, where he wrote, taught, and influenced many Christian leaders around the globe for several more decades. He died just a few years ago. A spate of doctoral projects are being done on his work even as I read him here in my own study this morning. I believe Newbigin’s corpus of written work is massively important for the church in

By |September 14th, 2005|Categories: Culture|

A Day in Pittsburgh with Two Faithful Friends

I went to Pittsburgh today for a short visit with John Rodgers, the former president and dean at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, and Philip Houghton, the pastor of an Episcopal parish church in Bedford, Pennsylvania. John has been a leading voice for orthodox conviction and Christ-centered ministry in his church for five plus decades. When I asked him how and why he joined the Episcopal Church, after being a Presbyterian as a child, he told me of a visit to a local Episcopal church youth group for the purpose of meeting girls during his high school years in St. Louis. When John discovered the solid Reformed heritage of The Thirty-Nine Articles, beautifully linked with liturgical worship, he was hooked. Phil, on the other hand, was a Roman Catholic as a child, came to saving faith later, served in Vietnam, and then went to Westminster Seminary. He had more than one struggle with some of the more rigid Reformed stalwarts during his three years on the Philadelphia campus during the 1960s. But at Westminster he eventually came into the Episcopal Church as

By |September 12th, 2005|Categories: Personal|

Personal Reflections on Mainline Evangelical Churches

The Protestant "mainline" is a common description used to refer to churches in America that are in fellowship with the older, historic denominations rooted in early American history; e.g. Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, etc. These groups are the ones that now struggle mightily for their collective soul since liberalism, and compromise with culture, has eroded their witness for many decades. I am deeply attracted to these mainline churches and to the possibility that real spiritual renewal will include some of them. I do not think these denominational entities will necessarily be renewed, at least as ecclesial structures. I do believe that hundreds, indeed thousands, of churches/congregations within these communions can, and I pray will, undergo spiritual renewal.

I was reminded of this prospect again today as I drove home from a two-day weekend ministry in a mainline congregation, Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Rockford, Illinois. Westminster is thriving spiritually. It has three morning services, includes keen and earnest people from across a wide age spectrum, and has a healthy diversity in style. The church will soon enter a beautiful new

By |September 11th, 2005|Categories: Renewal|
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