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Archive for July, 2011

No one wants to appear flippant in suggesting too soon that some good can come out of the Norway mass killing allegedly perpetrated by Anders Breivik. Yet, it is precisely our ability and impulse to learn good from unspeakable tragedy that distinguishes us human beings among all creatures in this creation cosmos.

As usual, the post-event commentary reveals a lot about the commentators and about our current cultural situation. But such commentary supplies enough to lead all of us to pause for personal reflection.

For someone like me who is committed to advancing a particular worldview, it is more than troubling to hear the word worldview joined loudly with words like ideology, fanatic, paranoia, extremist, along with, in this case, Islamophobe. Such conjoining you’ll find in the rather challenging essay, Breivik’s Warped Worldview, posted yesterday by Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

It’s easy to let yourself get annoyed by such unflattering associative language. Ironically, at one point, Walt cautions against “guilt by association,” of which he himself has been a victim–and in this essay, a perpetrator.

All of us need to pause for some self-reflection. The talking heads and pundits need to acknowledge and reflect on their own worldview, being honest enough with themselves and the rest of us to admit that nobody lives without one. And those of us who confess to holding a Christian worldview need to ask hard questions about the extent to which grace and compassion season justice and rightness in our speech, our look at the world, our view of others around us, near or far.

Unlike your genetic makeup, which is given to you and belongs to nature, your worldview is received and nurtured throughout a lifetime. And your worldview leads to building either orphanages, shopping malls, or terrorist bombs. A worldview always sprouts hands that build, feet that walk, and cultures that live. Or die.

To seize this opportunity for self-analysis, we need harbor no illusion that others will “get it” with respect to our worldview. That is not the first order of business right now. Rather, with a view to those hands, and feet, and cultures, we need—all of us—to continue to think deeply about what is good and worthy of praise, what is true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected. And then do what we learn.

That, my friends, is what Sunday’s worship should be good for.

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You’ll find an essay opening up that rather cryptic title here.

For me personally and professionally, this essay has been among the most formative, life-changing, and vision-inducing treatments I’ve encountered.

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On 12 June 2011, Dr. John Piper addressed a group of law students at a gathering sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund.

I direct your attention to the comments recorded at 36:23 – 41:01 as profitable for reflecting on the relationship between (1) Christianity, (2) the church, (3) preaching, (4) the Bible, on the one hand, and cultural obedience.

Hallowing God’s Name in Public Life (by John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org)

Having listened to that section, I invite you to rewind back to 14:26 – 18:08. Listen and think along with Dr. Piper’s well-crafted analysis.

Now ponder this as well: by the phrase “nested balance,” I have in mind something like what computer programmers call a “nested subroutine.” In this case, it refers to demonstrating the very thing you’re seeking to explain–while you’re explaining it!

Here’s what I mean. While explaining how the gospel impacts cultural structures, Dr. Piper is demonstrating how that happens by speaking these words to law students. He is describing to law students the relationship between (1) – (4) and cultural obedience as a gospel preacher! He wouldn’t be there otherwise. He is modeling the very culture-being-transformed-by-gospel-activity many of us are advocating.

Sadly, the term “transformation” slides across the lips of some people with a sneer, a snort, and a sniffle. What is annoyingly unhelpful is their persistent binary thinking, as though we have only two choices: either (1) we humans/Christians/churches transform culture, OR (2) the church must restrict itself to focusing on “spiritual” things (whatever they are) lest she slip into preaching “the social gospel.”

Here, once again, with Dr. Piper’s analysis, we’re invited to consider a third way.

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Announcement

Press Release
21 July 2011
St. John, IN

Dr. Nelson D. Kloosterman, Executive Director of Worldview Resources International (WRI), has been received as a member and teaching elder by the Chicago Metro Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

In December 2009, Dr. Kloosterman formally announced his plans to leave teaching at Mid-America Reformed Seminary to begin theological translation, consulting, and church leadership training as Executive Director for WRI. He will now do this as a “theological missionary” under oversight within the PCA, a church family eagerly committed to speaking the gospel into today’s culture. The church with which he and his wife will be associated is the Lincoln Square Presbyterian Church of Chicago.

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Anyone tracking contemporary worldview discussions in the tiny Reformed/Presbyterian corner of the cosmos will be helped by these two balanced articles recently published in Pro Rege, a quarterly faculty publication of Dordt College, located in Sioux Center, Iowa: “Worldview, Sphere Sovereignty, and Desiring the Kingdom: A Guide for (Perplexed) Reformed Folk,” by James K. A. Smith, and “Serious Education for Serious Christians,” by Carl Zylstra.

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Dutch Inspiration for Tim Keller
By James Eglinton
Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman

Monday, 11 July 2011
Nederlands Dagblad

. . . New York City clergyman Tim Keller gleans much from British and American authors. . . . But when it comes to his church’s niche in New York City, we hear the sounds of Dutch names: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck.

The Presbyterian clergyman Tim Keller is attracting worldwide attention through his work with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. In his sermons and books, Keller makes frequent use of the British author C. S. Lewis and the American Reformed theologian Jonathan Edwards. “From Lewis especially I have learned a lot about communicating with others, especially with skeptics. And theologically my thinking has indeed been shaped by Edwards.”

But anyone who listens to Keller talk about the wider role of Redeemer within the culture of New York City will hear other names: those of the church father Augustine and of the Dutch neo-Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper.

Unthinkable

Central to the work of Redeemer in New York City is the Center for Faith and Work, a center where Christians are trained to live out of their faith in their work or in their public function. Keller’s vision for this, as he indicates, would be unthinkable without Kuyper. “Kuyper said many helpful things. Especially his idea of sphere sovereignty has helped me. That idea assumes that various social relationships—among persons, families, volunteers, associations, and churches—each has its own responsibility. According to a well-known aphorism, Kuyper discovered that ‘there is not a thumb’s-width in life about which Christ does not say: ”Mine!”’ But that authority of Jesus is carried out through various social connections. Christ’s absolute claim upon human existence does not mean, for example, that the church as church may control the state.”

Keller discovered the Dutch neo-Calvinists in the 1970s during his study in Boston at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. There the Swiss theologian Roger Nicole gave his students Herman Bavinck’s Doctrine of God to read. “I also had to work through a translation of a small portion of Bavink’s dogmatics. I became deeply impressed by the balance and thoroughness of Bavinck’s theology. He was very nuanced. He displayed a healthy piety, but nevertheless was no pietist. And his orientation to the Bible occasionally kept him from adopting traditional positions.”

Keller narrates how one of Bavinck’s basic insights has become foundational for his own theology and vision for Redeemer. “Bavinck’s fundamental idea that grace restores nature was truly a revelation for me. In my opinion, this has enormous consequences for how you look at the church and the world.”

“Many Christian traditions view sanctification as a journey out of the natural world to a spiritual world that has nothing to do with ordinary life and your calling in that life. For that reason, we at Redeemer ask the question: ‘How does your faith affect your work?’ That is really crucial for following Christ. Most evangelical churches in America make believers into disciples of Christ by removing them from the world and bringing them into the church. Discipleship supposedly involves how we study the Bible, how we lead Bible studies, how we pray, evangelize, overcome temptation, forgive, and seek relationships with others, practice fellowship with other believers, how you can work in the congregation. And that is also important. But at the same time, this doesn’t help people lead a recognizably Christian life in society, at work, in art, in media, in the marketplace, etc.”

Neglect

At the same time, Keller is not uncritical regarding the Kuyperian tradition. He points out that many churches in this tradition place heavy emphasis on living according to a Christian worldview while neglecting spiritual piety and evangelism. On the other hand, he realizes as well that some churches move to the other extreme: “They place all the emphasis on piety and evangelism, but neglect the integration of faith and work.” So he is seeking a middle way with the help of Bavinck and Kuyper. “With Kuyper I believe in an antithesis, an opposition between belief and unbelief. Ultimately there is no neutrality. Thinking proceeds from belief in God or from belief in an idol. But at the same time, unbelievers are often inconsistent. Despite their mistaken presuppositions and ideals, they display their goodness and possess many insights, by virtue of God’s common grace.”

It is that balance that has led, in the case of Keller and Redeemer, to a flourishing church in a city that for the most part is secular.

Why are Kuyper and Bavinck at this moment more popular in America than in the Netherlands? To this question Keller supplies a philosophical answer. “C. S. Lewis is much more widely known and read in the United States than in Great Britain. The same pertains to other well-known British Christian authors, like J. I. Packer and John Stott. Lewis, Packer, and Stott are not neo-Calvinists. So I don’t think that the reason lies with the content of the thought of Kuyper and Bavinck. For various reasons, America possesses a far more flourishing religious institutional life and an enormous evangelical subculture. European Christian authors and thinkers simply have more readers in America than in their own countries.”

* * *

The Scotsman James Eglinton obtained his doctorate with a dissertation on Herman Bavinck, and is doing research at the Theological University in Kampen on how Calvinism in the Netherlands and in Scotland have influenced each other.

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Talk about moving the ball downfield . . . this Gospel Coalition conversation shows us the way forward!

Without using even one Dutch word, though mentioning Abraham Kuyper approvingly (!), but not mentioning neo-Calvinism even once! Everyone here accepts as valid and useful the distinction (not separation!) between church-as-institute and church-as-organism. Everyone here agrees that the former has a limited mandate, though related to the latter, which has a culture-salinization mandate.

Do these men say everything anyone could possibly ever say about any little particular snippet of truth relating at all to the theme of Christ-and-culture?

Of course not. They don’t need to. But what they do say is clear and comprehensive enough for all 14 sides of this discussion to agree.

So let’s put our sticks down inside this circle . . . right here, right now. I’m willing. Are you?

Now, then, let’s get on with life, and let the church-as-institute continue using the means of grace for discipling the church-as-organism for cultural obedience.

Waddya think? All in favor, vote “like.”

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