Nathan Zekveld

Redemptive Historical Preaching Under Fire

What does that plan of redemption involve? Scripture teaches us to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, it teaches us about grace, it teaches us about the fruits of grace in that Christ teaches us how to live in this world as He also saves us from our old ways and patterns of life, it also teaches us to hope in the future as history comes to its close wherein we will be finally delivered from this sinful world. Christ is all over the pages of Scripture as He teaches us how to serve and witness to Him in a sinful and evil world.

One of the debates that has entered the Presbyterian & Reformed part of Christendom over the last 50 years is the debate over preaching. And one of those fields of debate is over what is called “Redemptive Historical Preaching.” The debate is especially in the area of RH preaching as it pertains to moral teaching in the church. Some believe that moral teaching should be emphasized more than often happens in RH preaching. Others believe that RH preaching is a guard against moralism.
It is always good to pick a fiery example of the opposition to rigid redemptive historical preaching, since everyone’s heart starts to beat a little faster and the temperature in the room starts to rise. One of those opponents is the Presbyterian pastor down in the States, Pastor Tim Bayly (This brother has done good work within the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches at large). He writes in one article: “Redemptive-historical browbeaters are scholastics out to destroy the Reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture.” He continues (commenting on the history of David and Goliath): “But nowhere and never does such lifting up of Christ require silence concerning the many vices, virtues, morals, and laws these same stories record.”
Redemptive Historical Preaching heavily emphasizes the reading of Scripture through the grid of history at the center of which is Christ. It provides an emphasis on the metanarrative for a postmodern world. Tim Bayly rightly points out that men like Michael Horton, Tim Keller and Bryan Chappell all espouse redemptive historical preaching. He forgets too mention in this article that the early proponents of this homiletical style came from the Netherlands: men like Klaas Schilder.
My dad and uncles and many pastors that I grew up around were trained within the Redemptive Historical method at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. I was also trained within this tradition at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. It runs thick through the churches that come from the Dutch tradition and has caught on especially among those who desire that preaching be Christ-centered.
I don’t necessarily buy Pastor Bayly’s critique of the redemptive historical method as much as I can see how there may be a critique of some redemptive historical preaching.
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Act Like Men: Part II – Truth-Telling

Some men may speak less, but do a better job at this act of truth-telling. In the life of action, there is a deeper wisdom, than in a life of word without this action. It takes a manly courage and a sense of humility before God to persist in this truth-speaking in the home, in the church, in the work-place. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can persist in speaking the truth in love. Act as men. Speak the truth and speak it in love.

In my last blog post, I spoke about facing giants, and acting like men in doing so. I focused on a lot of personal or internal characteristics of a man who acts like a man in battle: prayer before God and the destruction of idols of the heart (selfishness, pride, self-pity). But what does that look like in the real world? It seems that certain visible skills must be cultivated.
I want to focus on what acting like a man looks like in the realm of truth-telling. This is one of the primary battlefields for the modern Christian man.
There are many issues in the culture, in the church and in the modern family. But how can men in the church begin to effect the change that they want to see in the church and the world? The assembly is under attack. A Biblical and creational understanding of man and woman is under attack. Pornographic material saturates the world and weakens men spiritually and morally. The inherent dependence on government weakens men in their responsibility to work hard and provide for their families. We look to the government and to leaders for solutions, rather than accepting this core truth: I must take responsibility to serve God fearlessly and boldly within my own spheres of influence.
That responsibility begins with speaking the truth to myself and then within my environment.
In I Corinthians 16:13-14, a man is commanded to let all that he does be done in love. The truth is under attack in our culture and in our homes, just as when Satan crept up on Adam and Eve in the Garden: did God really say? Adam as the head of the home bought into the lie, when he should have laid down his life for his wife. Of course, even this truth-speaking must be done in love: “Rather, speaking the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15)
This is one of the hardest parts of learning to be a man. It is easy to veer into one of two ditches. Either we promote a spineless love that is unmoored from the truth. Or we present the truth in ways that are less than upbuilding. For example, a man must tell his wife the truth and lead his family in truth, but he does so recognizing that she is the weaker vessel, and having patience with the immaturity in his children. He does so to build her up. It is done in selfless love.
I have seen an issue in the “manosphere” that at times when men want to “tell the truth” so to speak, they do it with filthy language and insults. Somehow dropping crass language makes it more courageous. I am not saying that there is no place for strong language. For example, Paul tells the Judaizers in Galatia essentially that they should castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). But it was well aimed along the lines of their beliefs that that they could only fellowship with those who were circumcised. And so Paul is telling them to just circumcise themselves from the Church if they want to got that far in their practice. But the vast majority of what is arising in our culture is simply filthy language that does not build up but tears down. Much of it does not make sense within context and so it is not truth-telling, but simply filthy language.
Back to the ditches. Fear of consequences, can make a man harsh in telling the truth on one hand, or make him compromise in telling the truth on the other hand. Both responses are a symptom of fear. It takes courage to speak truth in love in a culture where, the consequences might put you in a place where you are without a job.
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Wokeness and the OT Civil Law

The woke gospel is a false gospel. The gospel that we teach is a Biblical gospel that does not reject the principles of the Old Testament law. It is a gospel that is focused on Jesus Christ. That gospel sets us free to establish order and justice under the good and gracious rule of King Jesus. 

I have been reflecting on the civil law in the Bible and wokeness in our current culture. I recently wrote on Christianity and wokeness more generally here in a mix of commentary on and book review of Dr. Strachan’s book “Christianity and Wokeness”.
Now what do I mean here by “civil law”? I am using the term “civil law” here as a distinct category from both the “ceremonial law” and the “moral law”. The ceremonial law existed in the Old Testament as shadows and pictures that pointed forward to Christ who would fulfil it (Hebrews, BC Art. 25, HC LD 6). To go back to these laws would fall into the heresy of the Judaizers whom Paul condemns in his various letters to the churches in the New Testament.
The civil law is the law that was meant to order society in Old Testament Israel. The moral law was the basic principles for morality: the 10 commandments.
But to make these distinctions does not mean that these laws are hermetically sealed. There is some overlap between the ceremonial law and the civil law in the Old Testament. For example, it seems that there was a ceremonial aspect to the specific practice of stoning. But while those ceremonial aspects have passed away (they still teach us about Christ which means that they are still valuable), there are still principles to learn from the many OT civil laws that should protect us today, including against the woke mob. In the civil law we find many practical applications of the moral law (10 commandments) which remains unchanged in these New Testament times. The law of love does not replace these 10 commandments. The Law of Love simply summarizes the 10 commandments. In the 10 commandments and the civil law, we learn how to love God and our neighbor.
As we have seen especially in the last 10 years, wokeness seeks to separate the laws that govern men from the changeless laws of God that establish Biblical justice and equity in the land.
For example, while the MeToo Movement may have arisen from real cases where male power was abused in the workplace, it forsook certain rules that protected employers and co-workers from false allegations of sexual harassment. In the Old Testament civil law, an allegation had to be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:1-7). This is affirmed in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul in his exhortations to the church in Corinth in II Corinthians 13 as a timeless principle. As such, the church should be a model to the secular world, of true justice and equity.
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Book Review – Christian Counter-Attack: Europe’s Churches Against Nazism

The commitment of so many Christians to suffer for righteousness sake is astonishing and puts a contemporary pastor like myself to shame. The book is a fair data based over view of the conflict with Nazism up until 1943. The intent is not to emphasize the persecution but the spiritual resistance and it achieves this goal. May God grant us the boldness of these leaders and grant us revival.

The book “Christian Counter-Attack: Europe’s Churches Against Nazism” was written by four men to relay a factual account of the response of the churches across Europe to the invasion during WWII by the Nazi Germans. It is written in 1943 and so provides a unique perspective on the War since it was written during the War.
The book covers the Roman Catholic and Protestant response in Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France. It also covers the response of the Eastern Orthodox churches in Yugoslavia, Greece, and occupied Russia. Finally it touches on Italy, Finland, and Hungary. It concludes with a few questions about the future.
The writers of the book seem to have a hope that Roman Catholics and Protestants might be united in their common witness to Christ. It is interesting how the War awakened this hope as Roman Catholics and Protestants have also stood side by side on matters of life and sexuality in the last 50 yrs in North America.
In the introduction the writers make a number of points that display a common approach in the response of Europe’s Churches. (1) The Christian Church survives in spite of insidious and furious attacks. (2) The resistance of the church was primarily on spiritual and not political grounds. (3) The War created a Christian self consciousness or togetherness in Christ. They point out that ”the action of the Church leaders, though based on deep Christian grounds, has led to collaboration with others who care for human dignity and freedom.”
Throughout Europe you see how many church leaders saw the antithesis between Christianity and Nazism as a tension between light and darkness, Christianity and paganism.
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Tyranny and the Seeds of Persecution

A tyrant then is not necessarily a sinner (we are all sinners) or even an unbeliever. A tyrant is one who defies not only God’s Law in the 10 commandments, but also the created order. In this, he destroys civil and social life and so is responsible for unrest in society as people are pitted against each other, left without freedom of movement or assembly, and have their livelihoods threatened. We were made to work, to worship, to live in relationships.

One of the challenges to understanding the times that we live in is related to our definitions. What exactly is tyranny? What exactly is persecution? How does God call us to live during times such as these?
There is a saying that is attributed to the Scottish Reformer John Knox: “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” For those who know more of the history surrounding this reformer, images might be brought to mind of the fiery reformer preaching to Mary Queen of Scots, persecutor of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. This man offered stout resistance to tyrants.
Most fundamentally, a tyrant stands opposed to the law of God as it is laid out in the 10 commandments and in the summary of the 10 commandments in the Law of Love. But while tyranny may end in a black and white opposition to the Word of God, it often begins in the grey. And so we must understand that tyranny is connected to something more fundamental to who we are as human beings before it stands in direct opposition to the law of God. Most fundamentally, tyranny is the fruit of unbelief that has blossomed in places of power.
In its initial expression, any form of tyranny stands opposed to God’s created order. In this, it also stands opposed to the law of God which is intended as a rule to order things again. There are kings and emperors in history who were not Christian and sinners who ruled well, relatively speaking. But how do we distinguish between those and other kings who have not ruled well, whether Christian or not? Johannes Althusius is a Calvinist lawyer in the 1600s who writes this: “So not every misdeed of a magistrate deprives him of his sceptre, but only that in which he, having accepted and then neglected the just rule of administration, acts contrary to the fundamentals and essence of human association, and destroys civil and social life….”
There are a couple important aspects to this quote from Althusius.
The first is the principle of equity. You can find this principle commanded throughout the book of Deuteronomy. The Bible often speaks of the call to rule with equity and points to Jesus who is the only King in history who has ruled with equity in the fullest sense of the word (Psalm 45/72). It is the just rule of administration that maintains this equity in the land and there is no partiality that is shown to one person or the other based on something outside of what is defined by God as evil or good.
The second principle that Althusius speaks of here is something that is fundamental to being human. There is an acting contrary to creational realities (ie natural law). The civil authority acts contrary to the fundamentals and essence of human association and in so doing destroys civil and social life.
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Contending Against Wokeness

We contend against wokeness not just for the sake of the church but also for the sake of the world. True justice, true unity, true reconciliation, true authority, is found in the Word of God. It is the Word of God that renews the world. In its patterns for justice, unity, reconcialition, authority, you find the life that flows from the gospel: the good news that Jesus saves from sin and misery by grace. 

I want to encourage my readers to read a book entitled “Christianity & Wokeness” by Owen Strachan. I just finished the book a couple weeks ago and it helped me to put together a lot of what I have seen in online discussions, in academia, and even in the Church over the course of the last 12 years since I began college and travel. I am told that Voddie Baucham’s book “Fault Lines” is also sound.
It is important for modern day Christians to be aware of wokeness and a Biblical response to it (which is why the above books were written). Wokeness is defined in our culture as being “awake” to the injustice that is going on around us. It is connected with social justice movements and debates over race and ethnicity. The teachings of Marxism play an important role in wokeness.
I will attempt a definition of “wokeness” here from what I have read and observed. Wokeness defines truth by feeling more than fact. Wokeness places a core sense of identity in external things like nationality and race. Wokeness defines justice, less by a set of rules and regulations external to oneself, but defines it more by the local culture and the feelings of the person who has observed an injustice. Wokeness rejects authority. Particularly God’s authority and the order that He has set in place for creation in Genesis.
Having grown up in a church where I went to worship shoulder to shoulder with Christians from Africa and Asia, I sometimes struggled to understand some of the racist or maybe sometimes ignorant comments I heard from other professing Christians. Christians should condemn racism, Christians should be compassionate, Christians should be generous in every way. And yet, the flip-side is almost as bad or worse, where some Christians start to feel guilty for having a “white” church even when the local geographical area is culturally European in background. Just because you are white and you attend a church that is 99% or more white, that doesn’t make you a racist.
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Is the Church in China being Persecuted?

This gentleman declares his fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ and his burning desire to live faithfully according to his Word: not just as an individual but also as a member of the church of Jesus Christ and particularly as an ordained leader within it. He is being persecuted for preaching the gospel, He is being persecuted for faithfully gathering the people of God for worship (even if it is illegal in China), He is being persecuted for the sake of righteous and godly living.

Some of you may have heard of Pastor Wang Yi from Early Rain Covenant Church in China. On December 30, 2019, Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years in prison, deprived of his political rights for 3 years, and 50,000 RMB of his personal property were seized. The charges were ‘inciting to subvert state power’ and ‘illegal business operations’. Neither charge was directly related to the preaching of the gospel. Was it for preaching the gospel? Maybe he is not being persecuted for preaching the gospel.
So what was the background to these charges? As a result of his leadership of the Early Rain Covenant Church in China, he was arrested as part of a sting from the Chinese government on “unauthorized” religious groups that were meeting. Of course, his church was among a number of churches that met independently of the Chinese “state” church. Protestants are only allowed to worship in churches regulated and overseen by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. You can find more information here. Could he have not just joined the state church? Maybe he is not being persecuted for his faith.
On December 12, 2018, Wang Yi wrote a declaration of faithful disobedience. You can find Pastor Yi’s declaration here. In here he speaks about the evils of the Communist regime. He speaks about a lot more than that, and there is a context to his comments. But there is a decidedly political aspect to his message. He is calling civil authorities to repentance. According to Canadian standards this is dangerous ground to be on. Should he not just “preach the gospel”? Maybe he is not being persecuted for his faith.
He could have kept the number of worshippers under 100 and escaped notice. He could have not run a seminary for all of China. 
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God Loves Cliff-Hangers

GK Chesterton once wrote on why things happen this way: “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” We have a god who knows the way out of the grave. The cross was a place of total and utter disaster for the followers of Christ. That was the mark of a defeated king. But it was only through the cross that this King would conquer the grave. 

The Apostle Paul writes in II Cor. 1 about a time when he and his colleagues experienced a certain degree of affliction in Asia. It got so bad that they despaired of life itself. What was the purpose of all this? It was intended to teach them, yes, even the great Apostle Paul, that he must not rely on himself but on God who raises the dead.
How often do you see this theme repeated throughout Scripture? A man is brought to the precipice and is ready to plunge to his death only for God to show forth His power and glory through weakness.
You might recall the history of Gideon and his men as they were preparing to face the Midianites. Over the course of Judges 7, the Lord cuts down an army of 22000 men to 300 men. When their clay pots break open, the light streams out, and the scene astonishes the enemy soldiers who then go down to complete and utter defeat. Remember. We have this treasure in clay pots. The treasure of the gospel. So that when we are broken open, the Lord spreads His light to a watching world (II Cor. 4).
You may recall the history of Israel passing through the Red Sea and the mighty armies of Egypt being swallowed up as they came in hot pursuit. You may recall the armies of Sennacherib being destroyed by the angel of the Lord. You may recall the many harrowing and dangerous situations King David found himself in, only to have it proven to him, again and again, that the Lord was fighting for Him and rushing before Him like a mighty wind through the trees (II Sam 5:17-25).
It was only when in prison that the angel came to break Peter out of jail. How many times did Paul and Silas bring men to Christ when in prison?
But think also of Christians throughout history. Athanasius was only 28 years old at the council of Nicaea. His life was marked by accusations of murder and he was exiled 5x. Or Calvin who was exiled from Geneva only a couple years after being commanded by the fiery Farel to take up his work there. In the face of imminent disaster the Lord used these men as earthen vessels to spark the light of Reformation, when they were smashed and broken open.
GK Chesterton once wrote on why things happen this way: “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.” We have a god who knows the way out of the grave. The cross was a place of total and utter disaster for the followers of Christ. That was the mark of a defeated king. But it was only through the cross that this King would conquer the grave. Trudeau and Biden have no power over the grave. But Jesus does.
And so Christians do not fear in the face of imminent disaster knowing that God loves cliffhangers, knowing that God loves to use all the circumstances of our lives to advance His kingdom. Those imminent disasters are meant to teach us to rely, not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.
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