More helpful voices on race

Given the profusion of regrettable things being said about race by those who are members of reformed churches like “repent of your whiteness” it is necessary to actively support those whose voices are aggressively marginalized. It does not take much to be marginalized in the current climate. Simply suggest that being a white male does not necessarily mean you are a vile racist and you will be told that you just don’t get it (as I was recently by a fellow PCA pastor). Suggest that there may be a problem with a ministry leader in a PCA church publicly praising the terrorist Angela Davis and you will be called a racist. And then watch all the great people of influence in the PCA remain silent lest they risk their influence. Such is the current condition of the race “discussion” in the PCA.
 

So, in a continuing effort to promote helpful voices on race and reconciliation I give you the following links…
 

Lisa Robinson (someone always worth reading) has posted a helpful article entitled “When They Don’t Want to March.”
 

Darrell Harrison was the guest on this week’s Mortification of Spin. We talk with Darrell about race, the gospel, and being called an Uncle Tom.
 

And here is a heads up for an upcoming Mortification of Spin. We are scheduled to interview Ismael Hernandez on his essential book Not Tragically Colored: Freedom, Personhood, and the Renewal of Black America. You really ought to read this book.

Seismic shift or wasted opportunity?

While thinking about the #MeToo movement, and the prominent place being played in it by members of the Hollywood establishment, I have asked myself a couple of times, ‘Is this a root-and-branch reformation of the structure of modern morality or merely something superficial?’  To be more specific, given the way that figures such as Meryl Streep and Whoopi Goldberg have in the past advocated (advocated passionately!) for the convicted child rapist, Roman Polanski, and the manner in which Woody Allen’s many –ahem – “issues” have been ignored or trivialized, I wonder if what we are witnessing is a truly significant moment or not.  This is not to belittle many of those who have been strengthened and encouraged to speak out because of the movement.  That is something for which we can all be grateful.  It is rather to ask whether those who have played a large part in creating this sexually abusive culture are now truly repentant or simply doing what they always do: Carefully marketing their images to an adoring public.

I am not sure we are actually seeing anything other than a shift in taste.  Suddenly Hollywood has woken up to the fact that sexual abuse is bad and has been part and parcel of the way Tinseltown has operated since the couch was first used for a casting call. Many of the knew the way it was, of course, and chose to keep silent or to play along.  And the day of moral reckoning is always delayed, if not deferred indefinitely, for the world of the creative. Artists have always enjoyed what George Orwell compared to the old benefit of clergy, whereby their sins were forgiven or treated less seriously, simply because they produced works of beauty. Those who entertain us tend to be treated as a breed apart, even when it comes to basic canons of moral decency.  But now the weight of public distaste for abuse has tipped the scales to such an extent that this benefit of clergy is, at least for a time and on this precise issue, being withdrawn. 

So are we seeing a fundamental, radical moral rethink?  Well, that will only be the case if we see a fundamental, radical rethink of the philosophy of sex which underpins the modern entertainment industry and which is promoted by the same in somany of its products.  If sex continues to be presented as a recreational activity of no significance beyond the immediate pleasure it provides, then the #MeToo celebrities really have no more credibility than someone who campaigns against drunk driving while making endless movies about the fun to be had getting hammered and driving at high speed through a crowded street as the clubs are closing.

I am a cynic, especially when it comes to Hollywood.  I do not think we are seeing a root-and-branch reformation of the morality which has tacitly enabled sexual abuse and even, in the form of those dreadful Polanski apologists, gloried in excusing it in its most criminal form.  I suspect rather that we are seeing a shift merely in matters of cultural taste which Hollywood is superficially appropriating in order to maintain its status as the moral guardian of the modern world.   Which makes #MeToo not so much a moment of seismic significance but of wasted opportunity.

Sexless, Open Marriages: A New Trend?

Both the secular society and the church have hardly mentioned one, enormous causality of the sexual revolution—friendship. This latest story about a sexless marriage reads like a satire of its neglect, revealing a complete confusion of categories between friendship and marriage. Here is the opening paragraph:

When New York socialites Quentin Esme Brown and Peter Cary Peterson got hitched in Las Vegas over the weekend in front of a small group of friends — including Tiffany Trump, who acted as the flower girl — they knew that people would make some assumptions. Either they were madly in love or drunk, right? In reality, the best friends said they were neither. They’re planning to make theirs a sexless, open marriage, they explained, and this actually sounds like a pretty wise idea to relationship experts.

Quentin Esme Brown and Peter Cary Peterson. (Photo: Instagram/quentinesmebrown)

Sexless? Open? Wise? It’s easy to read this and lament about how they have the notion of marriage all wrong. And they do. But this whole story reveals that these NY socialites and the “experts” interviewed have not only lost the meaning of marriage, but of friendship as well. And a proper understanding of friendship is foundational to build from in something like marriage.

The so-called relationship experts interviewed concur that this is a wise idea. I would think that if one were a relationship expert, one would then know the categorical distinction between friendship and marriage—one is platonic, one is sexual. Friendship is not exclusive. Marriage is exclusive. You don’t have a non-sexual marriage with a friend and have sexual relationships with everyone else, just like you don’t stop making and building non-sexual friendships with others once you enter the sexual union of marriage. But the experts have a different take:

Susan Pease Gadoua, a licensed therapist and co-author of The New “I Do,” has yet to meet anyone else with this kind of marriage, but she says it fits in with the way she sees many people deciding to change the rules to suit their relationship needs…

“Basically, rather than being an emotion-based marriage, it’s a purpose-driven marriage, which is kind of a throwback to how we used to marry before the industrial revolution,” 

First of all, while this indeed exposes the problem with a merely emotion-based marriage, I have to pose the question: what is their friendship based on? The couple uses rather emotionally charged language to describe their friendship. Brown calls Peterson her “soulmate” and elaborates, “we are just each other’s hearts.” 

Peterson explains on his Instagram account, “Esme and I have taken progressive steps towards what we believe marriage should be. I need to be constantly growing, evolving, and progressing…we did this because we want to finalize our commitment to each other as life partners and best friends. Life is short and I just want to be happy.” 

And second of all, I’m pretty sure that part of the purpose-driven nature of marriages before the industrial revolution was that they were both exclusive and sexual. I wonder what the purpose of this non-sexual friend, open marriage is? The language of growing, evolving, and progressing is a bunch of psychological gobbledygook.

And how does one finalize a commitment to a friend? The very thought that one would have to marry a friend to show commitment to them reveals how disposable we view friendship as a whole. And the irony is not lost that a society that views marriage as a disposable agreement looks to it as a virtuous commitment in this case. The secular world has stripped sex from all of its meaning, oneness, relational value, fruit, danger, and commitment. Sex has been reduced to a recreational activity. Whereas, Christians are so reactive and guarded to this romanticized and sexualized age that we set marriage up as the ultimate relationship in which all of our commitment, passion, and intimacy is shared and invested. Friendship is minimized in both cases. 

The result is that we don’t know how to behave as lovers or as friends. If you want to keep a friendship platonic, marrying them is a bad idea! And if you want to make an exclusive commitment in marriage, having a sexual relationship with someone else is also a bad idea!

Friendship indeed calls us to worthy practices and commitment. Peterson and Brown are right not to want to minimize friendship like so many do. But while they are making a categorical mistake by thinking marriage is the highest expression of friendship, they are also on to something that so many have lost. Friendship is something you do. To be a friend, we need to exercise virtue. It requires moral excellence. This is indeed a demanding kind of moral excellence because it is not primarily for the benefit of ourselves, but through our own sacrifices for another. The beautiful paradox is that this others-centered virtue creates what we call friendship, enhancing the souls of all participants. Friends are advocates who promote one another’s holiness. That is a relationship, unlike marriage, that will carry on to the new heavens and the new earth.

Friendship is not merely companionship. It is not merely recognizing affection for another person. C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue” (The Four Loves, 57).  So I hope that marriages do have a foundation of friendship, even as it is a relationship with exclusive additional blessings and responsibilities.

Perterson and Brown are quite vague about their purpose in their friendship and their marriage, revealing their confusion about both relationships. Again, Lewis is instructive in explaining that the focus of a friendship isn’t on the friendship itself, but rather the pursuit of common interests and convictions. This is also what distinguishes friendship love from erotic love. “In some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship” (61). And yet we see the language from Peterson and Brown to be focused on their friendship rather than any actual common pursuit. What is it that they want to evolve to or grow in? 

Another “relationship expert” comments:

“To me it seems like they’re creating a family out of two people; it’s a family member you can always count on,” Maryland-based psychologist Samantha Rodman tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “A lot of these sorts of marriages are in response to society getting increasingly isolated, and people want to create a kinship model. You either have to be married or you have to be blood relatives; otherwise, you can walk away from each other.”

Real friends don’t have to marry to be able to count on each other. But it is very perceptive to note how our increasingly isolated society is longing for a kinship model. This is exactly what God gives us in his church, which is a committed body made up of brothers and sisters in Christ, spurring one another on and promoting one another’s holiness as we grow together in his mission of eternal communion with the Triune God and one another. God reveals himself to his people so that he can make friends with us. How well to we represent this to the watching world by our friendships?

Friendship requires rooted identity, mission, holistic value, purity, maturity, and growth. This is costly. Our Savior thought of the cost to be a friend to us, one that we could never afford, and then warned us to count the cost before becoming his disciples. Because of his sacrifice, I want to represent him by being a good friend.  Aelred of Rievaulx offers a mindset that will help us represent this in our own friendships: “You and I are here, and I hope that Christ is between us as a third…Gratefully let us welcome the place, the time, and the leisure.” (Spiritual Friendship, 1.1, 55).

Wordsworth and Mrs West

I am grateful to Todd for mentioning my upcoming DC lectures and also to RTS DC for their kindness in asking me to present some of the firstfruits of my Princeton work in a public forum.  The two lectures are entitled as follows:

Lecture 1: Acknowledging the Unacknowledged Legislators: From William Wordsworth to Kim Kardashian

 

Lecture 2: True Life among the Death Works: Christians and Contemporary Identity Culture

I have always wanted to lecture on William Wordsworth and also publicly to express my withering disdain for the world of Mrs West.  Never dreamed I would be able to do both at the same time.

Vindicating the Vixens

The Introduction explains that this is a fresh look at some women in Scripture who have been given an unfair bad reputation. It also accounts for the diversity among the contributors: “a team of male and female scholars from different nationalities and ethnicities, as well as educational institutions and religious traditions…’all over the map’ on their view of women preachers and even their approaches to the women explored in this book. But they agree on this: We must visit what the Scriptures say about some Bible women we have sexualized, vilified, and/or marginalized. Because, above all, we must tell the truth about what the text says” (16). For this reason, it was a most refreshing read. “And time and time again, God’s heart for the silenced, the marginalized, the powerless, the Gentile, the outsider, was what had been missing” (16).  

The book isn’t a feminist male-bashing, but a Christ-focused endeavor that upholds the authority of his word. I appreciate how the editor, Sandra Glahn, included the varying views of the contributors. It highlights the unity in the essentials of the gospel, sharpens the reader and drives us to the biblical text, and prevents writing with feigned neutrality. 

The first chapter helps the reader to participate in reading with discernment by outlining the six questions each contributor brought to the text:

What does the text actually say?

What do I observe in and about the text?

What did this text mean to the original audience?

What was the point?

What truths in the text are timelessly relevant?

How does the part fit the whole?

For the most part, I believe this book succeeded in its mission and interacted well with historical interpretations. The vixens they vindicated were Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Deborah (and Jael), Huldah, Vashti, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and Junia/Joanna. I was happy to see Richard Bauckham’s work, Gospel Women, footnoted by different contributors, as it was such fascinating read for me. 

I thought I would highlight two chapters, even though I enjoyed interacting with all of them.

Tamar: The Righteous Prostitute

When you think of Tamar, what’s the first word that comes to your mind? Usually, the first thing we think is prostitute. But Carolyn Custis James makes a good case that righteous is the defining word in this account. That’s a very different word! And it is unexpectantly Judah who calls her this. Tamar’s account is one that we wrestle with. Yes, she secures the line of Judah, the ancestors of Jesus. But she does this by tricking her father-in-law to sleep with her. She seems a bit shady to us. But Custis James points out that Tamar isn’t a “skeleton in the closet” to her descendants. Of all places to bring up Tamar, she is mentioned in the marital blessing of Boaz and Ruth: “Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12, NIV). “Significantly, both Kind David and his son Absalom named their daughters ‘Tamar’ (2 Sam. 13:1; 14:27).

Custis James explains that Tamar’s descendants name their children after her, Judah calls her righteous, and Matthew includes her in the genealogy of Christ because “God chose a marginalized Canaanite woman to put the power of his gospel on display and to advance his redemptive purposes for Judah and the world” (48). We do need to wrestle with this account. “Tamar’s story makes no sense unless we see how she gets caught in the crossfire of primogeniture, both within Judah’s family of origin and among his sons” (34). Scripture exposes the abusive social system that arises in patriarchy. “It mobilizes a marginalized woman to act with extraordinary boldness to reveal a patriarch’s hypocrisy thus leading to his renewal.” While it’s not by any means a “recommendation of prostitution as a means of furthering the redemptive plan of God or in any situation,” Tamar acted in the one way she had power to ensure the duty of childbearing in her dead husband’s name that she was honor-bound to do (48). Tamar wasn’t actually a prostitute, but she was willing to appear and act as one to get Judah to fulfill the law to preserve his son’s family line. And what a family line that is.

Huldah: Malfunction with the Wardrobe-Keeper’s Wife

I was so glad this was a chapter in the book. Sadly, whenever I begin talking about Huldah I get blank stares. And so this chapter fittingly begins with the subtitle, “Huldah Who?” Christa L. McKirland reasons, “Huldah’s vindication comes through the simple act of making her visible once again” (213). True to the that.

I don’t understand how she is so ignored, as if her inclusion as the prophetess sought out for Josiah after the Book of the Law was found was some sort of accidental vestige. There is so much to pay attention to in this 2 Kings 22 passage and 2 Chronicles 34 parallel. Here we have a prophetess, who Wilda Gafney describes as “arguably the first person to grant authoritative status to the Torah scroll deposited in the temple treasury,” authenticating the Word of God, largely accepted as the heart of the book of Deuteronomy (222). Here is a bright and shining account of a woman authoritatively confirming an important text in the cannon of Scripture to “the most righteous king in the divided kingdom’s history” (231). And it wasn’t because there were no good men available. This was the same time that Jeremiah and Zephaniah were prophets—that’s right, I said Jeremiah and Zephaniah!! Huldah “played a significant role in the last major reformation in the kingdom of Judah before its final downfall” (213).

Josiah sends out his dignitaries to inquire of the word of the Lord once the Book of the Law was discovered. It’s sad to read the explanations some commentators give for why they seek Huldah and not Jeremiah or Zephaniah, but I don’t have space to go there. McKirland explains how the sending out of the dignitaries to her rather than summoning her directly to the king should queue the reader in on the respect both the king and his dignitaries have for her. This is a matter of high importance, as Josiah laments, “for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13b). She answers with the “Thus says the Lord” authoritative formula of a prophet, speaks in the first person voice of God, confirms the judgment Josiah anticipated, the details of the charge, and the delay of God’s wrath because Josiah’s “heart was tender and [he] humbled [him]self before the Lord” (vv 16-20).  In this, Huldah authenticates what Josiah recognized as the word of God, the rediscovery of Deuteronomy. “In the same way that women were the first to testify to the resurrection of Christ, the living Word, how poetic might it be that the first person to authenticate the written Word might also have been a woman?” (222)

No, women were not left out of active traditioning in testifying to and passing down the faith. As a matter of fact, in Scripture we see a testimony to the opposite. 

As Bauckham points out, the women’s voice in Scripture corrects any promotion of androcentrism. The canon itself corrects this kind of promotion (see Gospel Women, 15). And as Carolyn Custis James points out, “stories such as Tamar’s, Rahab’s, and that of the sinful woman who wept and poured perfume on Jesus’s feet give the church opportunities to raise the subject of prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse and to confront an issue to which the church cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye” (41). God sees and cares for all of his people. And these gynocentric texts in his word are rich with doctrine-meets-real life, history-meets-experience and depth of insight. 

So I’m thankful for the vindication done by these contributors.

A Thought Experiment

Imagine a man named A. Davis. Mr. Davis is a white nationalist and a former leader in the Nazi Party in the United States. He has had membership or at least close affiliation and sympathy with various domestic terrorist groups. The groups which he defends have been responsible for an array of crimes including drug dealing, money laundering, bank robbery, stockpiling weapons, and the murder of black police officers. But A. Davis is no backwater red neck. In fact he is a scholar with multiple degrees. As such he has been honored by various fascist and white nationalist groups in the United States and Europe. A. Davis also served time in federal prison. His crime? He purchased and supplied weapons used to murder a black federal court judge in 1970.
 

Davis remains unrepentant for his views and crimes. But with his age and the adoration of white supremacists, he continues to speak and deliver lectures as something of an elder statesmen in the white nationalist movement. He continues to decry what he calls “the mongrelization of the white race.”
 

Continuing with our thought experiment…
 

Imagine that an influential voice in the PCA routinely praises Mr. A. Davis. Imagine that this man is not only a member of a PCA church but a graduate of the denomination’s college and seminary. Imagine also that he is a ministry leader on staff in a PCA church. Imagine that he is an active presence in the life of our seminary, even speaking in classes and mentoring students. Imagine that, though he praises A. Davis on social media, celebrates his birthday, and refers to him as “King” and “Teacher” he is still asked to speak at the PCA’s college and Seminary. Imagine that he is asked to speak at gatherings of the more conservative ministers of the PCA who praise him and actively defend him against any and all criticism. Imagine that the session of his church support him. Imagine that the presbytery to which his church belongs remained silent. Imagine that the TE’s and RE’s of the PCA were collectively frightened to speak out.
 

Can’t imagine it? Neither can I.

My Favorite Books of 2017

My pick for book of the year…
Sanctification by Michael Allen
Michael Allen has contributed the third volume in the New Studies in Dogmatics series. It is a feast and my pick for book of the year. I won’t try to describe the book other than to say that Dr. Allen grounds holiness in the doctrine of God, Christology, and the covenant relationship between God and his people. Jesus saves his people not only from the condemnation of sin but from its power as well. This is a must read. You can listen to the Mortification of Spin interview with Dr. Allen HERE.
 

Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation by Robert Kolb and Carl Trueman
What an appropriate subject for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. These two scholars help the reader understand the distinctives of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. This book was a pure pleasure to read. Drs. Kolb and Trueman are at the top of their game. It is an irenic dialogue between two men who understand and are committed to their respective traditions.
 

Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper
It was certainly appropriate to read at least one biography of Luther this year. When some of the world’s notable Luther scholars recommend a biography it’s a good idea to read it. Though described as a feminist historian by some, Roper is a first-rate scholar and her biography on Luther was a delight to read. This is both one of the most enjoyable biographies on Luther I have read and one of the best examinations of 16th century Europe.
 

Not Tragically Colored by Ismael Hernandez
Though published in 2016 I could not help but include it in this list. Hernandez gives us one of the most insightful, compassionate, and courageous books I have read in some time. A native of Puerto Rico and former Communist, Hernandez’ pilgrimage to the United States and rejection of Communism is deeply moving. But that is only the introductory material. The book is subtitled “Freedom, Personhood, and the Renewal of Black America.” I would suggest that if anyone desires to contribute something helpful to the current discussion of race and racial reconciliation they would be wise to read Mr. Hernandez’ outstanding book.
 

All That is in God by James Dolezal
The doctrine of God has received renewed attention in the last couple of years. Specifically, there seems to be renewed interest in those classic categories that many contemporary theologians have rejected, redefined, or not understood. This is an important book. You can listen to the Mortification of Spin interview with Dr. Dolezal HERE.
 

On Human Nature by Roger Scruton
For those not familiar with Scruton’s work, his latest book is a good introduction to the British philosopher. Here, Scruton argues for the uniqueness of humanity. He argues against philosophical and Darwinian materialists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.
 

Retrieving Eternal Generation edited by Fred Sanders & Scott Swain
The debate over the Trinity which began in the summer of 2016 involved a discussion about the propriety of the translation of John 3:16 and the doctrine of eternal generation. This book removes all reasonable doubt that eternal generation is thoroughly biblical and ought therefore to be retained by the church. These series of essays establish the hermeneutical, historical, and dogmatic foundations of this vital doctrine.
 

How To Think by Alan Jacobs
Jacobs is a wonderful writer who I enjoy reading even when I don’t necessarily agree with him. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his latest which is subtitled “A survival guide for a world at odds.” If you get a chance listen to the interview with Dr. Jacobs on Mortification of Spin HERE.
 

Descriptions and Prescriptions by Michael Emlet
Every pastor and elder ought to read this wonderfully helpful book by Dr. Emlet. It is concise and yet highly informative. Emlet gives the reader a much needed tour through the challenges complexities of psychiatric diagnosis. Throughout the author tethers his counsel and conclusions to God’s Word. Watch for the upcoming Mortification of Spin interview with Dr. Emlet.
 

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids by David Murray
The last several years have seen the production of many excellent books for children. David Murray has added a worthy volume to the list. Described as “52 expeditions through God’s Word” Exploring the Bible provides children ages 8-12 with daily Bible readings and brief meditations to guide them through the whole Bible. Parents, this is one you want.
 

Worth Mentioning…
These are books that are high on my “must read” list. Unfortunately I have not had time to get to them. But judging by the reviews and what I have read by these men previously I am looking forward to digging in…
 

Walking Through Twilight by Douglas Groothuis
As I write this list I am in the middle of reading Dr. Goothuis’ moving account of his beloved wife’s descent into dementia. If the second half of the book is like the first then it belongs on a best of 2017 list.
 

Christianity at the Crossroads by Michael Kruger
 

The Last Adam by Brandon Crowe

Mortification of Spin Year in Review

Another year has passed us by, and as always, the Mortification of Spin co-hosts have not disappointed us. These lapsed Baptists now proclaiming the wonders of Presbyterianism have managed to do it again, stoking the fires of controversy while managing to get a good word in now and then. Let’s take a look at what they accomplished in 2017…

Housewife theologian Aimee Byrd continued to bask in the glory of the release of No Little Women, which has promoted a good discussion about the importance of solid, biblically based literature for ladies in the church, as well as ways in which elders can help the women under their care. Aimee also got to work writing a new book about the importance of brother/sister relationships in the Body of Christ. We have great hopes that people will misunderstand it entirely when it is released sometime next year. Nevertheless, Aimee remains committed to increasing our appreciation of the “household” aspect of God’s Church.
Apart from writing books, Aimee spoke at numerous women’s conferences and even one or two that were attended by some men. (The horror!) She wrote many blog articles about what it means to be feminine from a biblical perspective and dove into the controversy surrounding the Pence Rule. On a personal level, she sent her firstborn child off to college, which marked an important transition for the family. She also invented the concept of the “book flight” and continued to bond with her son over their mutual love of martial arts.
Texan Todd Pruitt (for so we must always introduce him) continued in his primary role as teaching elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley (for so we must always introduce it). His church was proud to host the Blue Ridge Bible Conference, which focused on the importance of scripture and the fact that “God has spoken.” As part of this conference, he managed to get both Aimee and Carl in his home at the same time. He also joined a long line of dignitaries who have appeared on the Presbycast podcast.
Never one to shy away from a debate, Todd continued his efforts to call the PCA back to its biblical roots. He wrote about the need for racial reconciliation that is based on gospel truth rather than political ideology or social theory. This attracted some significant criticism, and Todd made efforts to engage with others in a gracious manner without surrendering on the main points. He came away from his visit to the PCA General Assembly somewhat encouraged and has every hope that the denomination can continue to be a strong defender of scriptural and confessional principles. On a personal level, Todd suffered the loss of his beloved father this year, but he was glad to preside over a funeral that was filled with gospel truth in addition to honoring his father’s life.
That brings us to Carl Trueman, token foreigner of the group. As usual, Carl was busier than any human being has a right to be. He celebrated the release of Grace Alone, his new book that is part of the 5 Solas series from Zondervan. As a church historian in a year celebrating the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, he was in high demand as a speaker. This allowed him to share with audiences the importance of the theological principles that drove the Reformation, as well as the remarkable lives of the men and women who participated in it. Perhaps the highlight in this regard was participating in a PBS documentary on the life of Martin Luther.
It wasn’t all about the Reformation for Carl, though. He continued writing for First Things, where he made the somewhat startling announcement mid-year that he had been declared “The Most Dangerous Man in Christendom”. For the most part, he restricted his writing there to addressing cultural issues of the day. For good measure, Carl also released a book with respected Lutheran scholar Robert Kolb called From Wittenberg to Geneva. It examines points of disagreement between the two traditions during the Reformation period. With the arrival of autumn, Carl took on a new role as a James Madison Fellow at Princeton University. He will use this fellowship to write a book on evolving notions of gender throughout history and how they have brought us to where we are today. He also pastors an OPC congregation, by the way. When he was not doing all of this, Carl celebrated his younger son’s college graduation with the rest of his family and spent a lot of time watching Swedish crime dramas. Oh, and he and his wife visited Rome. (Not to convert. Repeat, not to convert.)

On the Mortification of Spin podcast, the two amigos and one amiga managed to interview a number of awesome guests this year, including but not limited to Kelly Kapic, Darryl Hart, James White, Michael Allen, James Dolezal, Rosaria Butterfield, David Helm, and Timothy Witmer. They discussed lustful thoughts, loneliness, Catholicism, social justice, lament, Machen, the doctrine of God, evangelicalism, and perhaps most ironically for Carl and Todd, beauty. We also learned that Todd disapproves of yoga almost as strongly as Aimee likes it. A live show was recorded at the Westminster Preaching Conference, and another show was livestreamed to viewers on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Here is how you can pray for the Spin co-hosts in the coming year:

– For Aimee…Pray for the editing process of her upcoming book and that the result would be both God honoring and helpful on a practical level. Pray for her efforts to encourage women in their pursuit of good theology. Pray that God will honor her desire to serve His Body in this way, and that He will prepare peoples’ hearts to hear the message. Pray for her transition to being the mother of a college kid and only having two birds left in the nest. 

– For Todd…Pray for his continued shepherding of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and that God would continue to protect and bless his ministry and the congregation as a whole. Pray for him to have wisdom as he seeks to address certain difficulties within the PCA. Pray for his family as they also have children in the transition phase from high school to college. Pray that Todd will be an encouragement to his mother at this time when they are mourning the loss of his father.

– For Carl…Pray for his ongoing research as part of the fellowship program at Princeton, and that he will produce a book that brings clarity to the present cultural situation. Pray for Westminster Philadelphia, as it continues to train the next generation of pastors. Pray that he will be able to focus his efforts on those projects where his talents are most needed for God’s kingdom. Pray also for his congregation at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, and that he will be encouraged in his role as a minister of God’s Word.

If there’s spin in 2018, you can be sure that these three will seek to mortify it. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

R.C. Sproul: An Appreciation

The first book I read from a Reformed scholar was The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. It was 1987 and I was a student at a Southern Baptist University. I had no idea what Reformed theology was or what Presbyterians believed. I picked up the book because the title struck me. Also, it was relatively brief. The other reason I decided to read The Holiness of God was because I had heard the name of the author on the radio (Christian radio was a constant presence in my home).
 

It was about 10 years later that I listened to a series of lectures by Dr. Sproul entitled “Chosen by God.” By that time I was wrestling with Reformed theology because as a youth pastor I studied and taught the Bible weekly. I was increasingly haunted by the doctrines of grace and the biblical vision of a God who works all things according to the counsel of his will. Here was a God who did not bow to my will but rather decreed all things which come to pass.
 

I did not consider myself “Reformed” or “Calvinistic” until I was the pastor of a church in the Midwest in the early 2000’s. I no longer had to explain away massive portions of Scripture. I was free to read it all and thrill in a God who sits above the heavens and does all that he pleases. You may not understand how revolutionary that was unless you were raised in the sort of tradition that makes the will of man the power to which God must adjust his purposes.
 

Like so many around the world I was caused to be quiet and reflective by the news of Dr. Sproul’s death yesterday, December 14, 2017. There are men whose lives and works have an impact which is hard to quantify. I can say without hesitation that it was The Holiness of God, purchased on a whim, which planted the seeds of my current vocation as a Presbyterian pastor. It is unlikely that there is anyone in the 20th century more responsible than R.C. Sproul for so many embracing the beauties of the Reformed faith.
 

How grateful I am for the life and labors of R.C. Sproul. In every vital matter of evangelical conviction from defending the inerrancy of Scripture, life in the womb, substitutionary atonement, and justification by faith alone, Dr. Sproul was on the leading edge. In these days of fading conviction may God give us many more who will do the same.

I would encourage you to watch or listen to the message from Dr. Sproul at the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference. It is entitled The Curse Motif of the Atonement and is the most powerful message I ever heard from Dr. Sproul. More than that, it is one the best proclamations of the atonement I have ever heard from any preacher in any venue. At a time when so many in my denomination are throwing overboard the unfathomable riches of the gospel for horrendous errors like the New Perspective on Paul, this message is medicine strong and sweet.