Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Heading to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

I am very pleased to have been accepted to the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. I will begin ThM work in systematic theology this Fall and in approx. 1.5 years, PhD work in Historical Theology, Lord willing. My thesis work will focus upon the theology of the English Puritan, Stephen Charnock. I am thankful for the spiritual support of the elders at the Plymouth Church of Christ and for recommendation letters from my good friends and mentors, Rusty Tugman and Jim Dvorak. I am also deeply grateful for the ongoing and patient support of my wife Rachel and our children for the academic work and ministry. Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Heart Aflame: On Piety and the Glory of God

Few people enjoy being called pietistic today. The word piety has become a pejorative term today. Classifying someone as “pietistic” most often connotes excessive religiosity, self-righteousness, or a holier-than-thou attitude. The etymology of the word piety, however, is more positive. The Old Testament term for this word means “the fear of the Lord,” and its equivalent in the New Testament, eusebeia, means “reverence for God” and “godliness.” The Latin term for piety (pietas) indicates conscientiousness and scrupulousness with regard to one’s duty to God, to family, and to the fatherland (patria). As such, pietas is rooted in love and shows itself in loyalty, kindness, honesty, and compassion. The German word (fromm) signifies “godly and devout” or “gentle, harmless, and simple.” The English word implies pity and compassion.

We don't use the word piety very much today. Nowadays, the word spirituality is used far more often. This latter term originated from Roman Catholic sources during the seventeenth century, but has since become the dominant term for describing how people approach religious things. Pop culture figures as diverse as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and Oprah Winfrey talk about spirituality as a means of connecting with some "higher power," religious truth, or even themselves. 

But many in the Christian tradition, particularly Protestants, have preferred the term piety. Part of the reason for this is that piety often communicates "reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces" (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.2.1). But piety also stands for a whole realm of practices that shape our reverence and love for God. Practices such as worship, prayer, singing, and service help form and guide the way our reverence and love for God express themselves. These practices also remind us of Christ's benefits granted to us through faith in him; they thus become a means for inducing piety. As might now be obvious, a discussion on piety is also a discussion on how the Christian life should be lived. On piety, Calvin wrote, “The whole life of Christians ought to be a sort of practice of godliness”—or, as the subtitle of the first edition of his Institutes states, “Embracing almost the whole sum of piety and whatever is necessary to know of the doctrine of salvation: A work most worthy to be read by all persons zealous for piety.” 

So, why is piety important? The goal of piety is to recognize and praise the glory of God—glory that shines in God’s attributes, in the structure of the world, and in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The desire to glorify God supersedes even the desire for personal salvation in every truly pious person. We were created that God might be glorified in us, and the Christian should yearn to live out this purpose. Furthermore, God redeems, adopts, and sanctifies His people that His glory would shine in them and deliver them from impious self-seeking. As a result, the pious person’s deepest concern is God Himself and the things of God—God’s Word, God’s authority, God’s gospel, God’s truth. A Christian yearns to know more of God and to commune more with Him. 

Much of what passes for the evangelical understanding of the Christian life separates knowledge about God (doctrine) from knowing God personally (life). But the Christian life is a way of life that is based on doctrine; or, to put it another way, our practices are based squarely on our beliefs. Whether it was sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin writing his Institutes as a manual of piety, nineteenth-century theologian Charles Hodge spelling out the basics of the Christian life in his The Way of Life, or twentieth-century theologian J. I. Packer leading people through a well-wrought discussion of the attributes of God in his Knowing God - many have stressed that the means for "experiencing God" in our lives is through a proper understanding of who God is, who we are, and what Christ has done for and in us. 

This dual emphasis of nurturing the mind and the soul is sorely needed today. On one hand, we confront the problem of dry, Christian orthodoxy, which correctly teaches doctrine but lacks emphasis on vibrant, godly living. The result is that people bow before the doctrine of God without yearning for a vital, spiritual union with the God of doctrine. On the other hand, Pentecostal and charismatic Christians propose emotionalism in protesting a formal, lifeless Christianity, but this emotionalism is not solidly rooted in Scripture. The result is that people put human feeling above the triune God as He reveals Himself in Scripture. What is needed is a marriage of theology and piety that marries head, heart, and hand to motivate one another to live for God’s glory and our neighbor’s well-being.

Piety understood in this sense is not something to be despised or shunned; rather, we are called to promote it in the Reformation teaching of holy, dependent, loving, and godly living. Being called “pious” or “pietistic” in its true sense is a compliment! If we think otherwise, we need  to reconsider our definition of piety. 

Does our definition stem from its proper use in Scripture or from its improper application in much of contemporary society? Godliness, spirituality, or piety is not a means to an end (i.e., eternal, felicitous life), but an expression of this life merited by Jesus Christ. For this reason, the cultivation of piety is preeminently connected to the means of grace. In short, piety means experiencing sanctification as a divine, gracious work of renewal expressed in repentance and righteousness, which progresses through conflict and adversity in a Christ-like manner for all of a believer’s life, anticipating the day when piety will be perfected in eternal sanctification in heaven.

Friday, March 17, 2017

God's Providence Manifested in Four General Ways

God exercises his role over every sphere of life. One of the ways we typically express this belief is through the idea of providence. The idea of God's Providence is addressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith:
We confess that God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his Sean Michael Lucas. On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, And Stories (Kindle Locations 283-285). Kindle Edition. most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (WCF 5.1)
God's providence has to do with four types or categories of divine activity: upholding, directing, disposing, and governing

God the King is upholding "the universe by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3) in such a way that, if he were to stop doing so, the world would cease to exist. Another way of putting ting this is that "in him all things hold together"; in a way that we don't really grasp, God in Christ is sustaining the world so that we live and move and have our being "in him" (Col. 1:17; Acts 17:28).

God the King is also directing the events of human history. Most importantly, God orchestrated human history so that "when the fullness ness of time had come, God sent forth his Son" (Gal. 4:4). All of ancient history led up to the moment of the incarnation of Jesus Christ: the preservation of the Messianic line, the administration of the old covenant and Jewish kingdom, the movement of world powers to return the Jews to Palestine, even the call for the worldwide census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem from their native Nazareth-each event was part of God's directing of human affairs. God the King continues to fit together his larger story of salvation with our smaller life-stories in such a way that it is a grand mosaic proclaiming his glory.

Further, God the King disposed events to turn out a certain way in line with his perfect and secret plan. God disposed that it would be Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau; Moses, not Aaron who would uniquely lead his people. God disposed that Pharaoh would react in certain ways so that God would demonstrate that he alone was the true God (Ex. 4:21). In ways that we cannot fully understand, God even disposed that Adam would sin in the garden of Eden and thus begin the entire story of redemption (WCF 5.4). 

Finally, God the King governs human beings and their actions. We can say this because we that no part of God's creation is exempt from God's providence. It is not as though Pharaoh was under God's control, but Adam was not; or Cyrus was under God's control, but Augustus Caesar was not. All of God's creatures are under his control. Even inanimate objects and forces are under God's control.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Planned Parenthood and the Lie of Prenatal Care

With Planned Parenthood's funding on the line, the conversation around America's largest abortion provider is getting heated. Congress has introduced a measure to prohibit Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood for a period of one year, and the abortion giant is fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain its bottom line. Many people truly believe that defunding Planned Parenthood will hurt women. As the debate over Planned Parenthood’s public funding intensifies on Capitol Hill, here are five important talking points to consider when discussing the issue: 

1. Planned Parenthood is America’s biggest abortion chain, committing over 34 percent of abortions in the United States. According to its own 2014-2015 annual report, the corporation committed 323,999 abortions last year —that’s 887 abortions a day, or one abortion every 97 seconds.

2. Planned Parenthood lies about the scope of health care services it provides. The abortion giant only does 0.97 percent of Pap smears and 1.8 percent of breast exams in the United States. In contrast, it commits over 34 percent of abortions in America. Planned Parenthood does not offer any mammograms, which President and CEO Cecile Richards was forced to admit to before Congress, contrary to previous claims. In addition, prenatal care is virtually non-existent at facilities, as are ultrasounds for pregnant women who want to keep their babies.

3. By redirecting taxpayer dollars away from Planned Parenthood would mean that the over 13,000 community health clinics, which outnumber Planned Parenthood 20 to 1, would receive funding. These more worthy centers offer comprehensive health services and holistic care for women and their families.

4. Planned Parenthood is a scandal-ridden corporation. In addition to lying and misleading the public, Planned Parenthood has been exposed for its gruesome fetal parts harvesting practices. It has also been caught covering up sex trafficking and statutory rape, condoning sex- and race-based abortions, giving medically inaccurate information about fetal development, and coaching kids on risky sexual practices. The corporation promotes its abortion-first ideology at all costs — even lobbying against infanticide and protections for babies with Down syndrome and disabilities.

5. Planned Parenthood and its supporters emphasize that federal funds are not legally allowed to be used for abortions; however, money is fungible. With its over $500 million in taxpayer funding, Planned Parenthood is able to free up expenses to expand facilities, lobby lawmakers, etc.