Hashtag winning. Global missions and personal evangelism is all about winning. Winning is the word Paul loves to use, as you can see in a text like 1 Corinthians 9:19–22. There Paul wrote,
Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. [And] to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.
So what does Paul mean when he uses win five times in four verses? Here’s Pastor John to explain Paul’s word, and why it matters for our evangelism today.
Now the word win in English is ambiguous. You can win a prize, and you can win an argument. What does Paul mean by win — win all these people? If you win a prize, you gain it: “I’ve got it. I have it. Mine!” If you win an argument, you defeat somebody.
What’s Paul’s meaning? There’s no doubt what his meaning is. It’s on the face of it, but it’s even more clear in the original language. He means, “I win a prize. I gain a prize.” How do I know that? Well, it’s just obvious from the context, I think. But test me on this, the hundreds of you who know your Greek. Kerdainō is the verb for win. It’s almost always translated gain (except for here and one other place), like in Matthew 16:26: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” That’s kerdainō, the word win here. Or Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ.” That’s the word win here.
Our Expansive Joy
So his point is, “I want to gain Jews. I want to gain Gentiles. I want to gain the weak. I don’t want to gain money. I don’t want to gain power and rights. The gospel has assured me that I get great gain in fully enjoying Christ, so what can I add to that? More enjoyers of Christ for me to enjoy.”
“I want to gain people, all kinds of people, so that I can be a sharer with them as they enjoy gospel blessings.”
What does that even mean? And he tells us what he means by the reward of gaining people in 1 Corinthians 9:23: “I do it all for the sake of the gospel [here comes the purpose statement], that I may share with them [that is, with all those people that I gained] in its blessings.” So he wants to gain more and more people so that he might share in the gospel blessings with them.
Now, notice the wording carefully. He does not say what I would expect him to say (and it would be true): “. . . so that they can share with me in the gospel blessings.” There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s absolutely true, right? Missionaries go out to bring people to share with them in the gospel blessings. That’s not what he says. He says, “. . . that I may share with them in the blessings of the gospel.” I want to gain people, all kinds of people, so that I can be a sharer with them as they enjoy gospel blessings, that I might enjoy their enjoyment of Christ.
Now, what does that imply about the nature of joy in gospel blessings? What do I mean by “gospel blessings”? Forgiveness of sins; declaration of your righteousness before Christ, before God; removal of all condemnation; reconciliation with God; adoption into his family; fellowship with Christ; hope of eternal life. What does what Paul just said imply about my enjoyment of that, those gospel blessings?
Here’s what it implies: our gospel joy is authentic and satisfying only if we desire to taste this joy in the hearts of other people. I’ll say it again. Our gospel joy in those blessings is authentic and satisfying only if we desire to taste those blessings and that joy in the hearts of other people as they experience those blessings. “I want to gain people. I want to gain people of all kinds in order that I might share in their experience of gospel joy.” Do you?
‘I Want You’
Let me just pause here, because this is relevant for missionaries, it’s relevant for every believer, and I just have a little practical, earnest plea. Most of you have shared the gospel with a dad or a mom or a brother or a sister or a son or a daughter or a roommate or a colleague or a friend or a stranger.
“Our gospel joy is authentic and satisfying only if we desire to taste this joy in the hearts of other people.”
And if you’ve never done this, I really encourage you to do it. Next time, when the situation allows it — that is, there’s enough solitude and earnestness — you sit down across the table at a restaurant, and you look them in the eye, and you say, “I want you. I really want you. I want you to be my friend forever. I want you to be my brother, my sister, forever. I want to gain you. I want your joy to be my joy.” They’ve never heard anybody say that to them. Many people have explained the facts to them, right? How many people have looked into their eyes and said, “I want you — I want you to come in, be in my life, be in my church, be in my forever”?
That’s, I think, what Paul was saying. “I want to gain people.” And I would just say, right here, to the unbelievers in the room, “I want you.” I know about some of you. We’ve had emails. You’re here. You may still be resisting. And just hear John Piper say, “I want you forever, my brother, my sister, my friend.” I mean it.
Saved by God from God
Did you notice where I stopped in my list of people that he is trying to gain? You should have said, “Why did he stop there?” Because there was another thing. I stopped right in the middle of 1 Corinthians 9:22. What did I leave out? Let’s pick it up in the middle of 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that I might [and he switches from win to save] save some.” What does save mean for Paul? “I want to save people.” Well, he doesn’t mean that he’s the Savior. He doesn’t mean he’s the means of people’s salvation. What does he mean?
Romans 5:9: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Or 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “Jesus . . . delivers us from the wrath to come.” Being saved, in biblical language, means first and fundamentally — those are two important words: first and fundamentally. There are other things it means, but first and fundamentally, it means that God, by means of the substitution of Christ bearing our condemnation, saves us from God. And if you don’t get that, I don’t know how you get the gospel at all. We are saved by God from God. We’re saved by the love of God from the wrath of God. And Christ was sent by God to reconcile us to God and lead us out of wrath.
In 1 Corinthians 9:23, Paul says, “I want to share with them, those that I’m saving, in their enjoyment of the gospel blessings” — meaning, “I want to share with what happens when they hear the verdict in the courtroom, ‘not guilty,’ and they run out of the courtroom and do handsprings down the sidewalk in front of the court, saying, ‘I’m not going to be executed! I’m not going to be killed! I’m not going to be spending eternity in hell! I am free!’”
“I want to be there,” Paul said. “I want to share in that. I want to watch that happen all over the world with Jews and Gentiles.” Do you? If it only happens to one person in your life, it will be one of the sweetest moments of your life to have a person thank you and watch them come into the enjoyment of no condemnation forever.
I have been saying it for years: there is still a place for blogs. Even while many new forms of communication have come our way in the past 10 or 15 years, and while each of them may have its own place in the media ecosystem, none can exactly duplicate the unique strengths of blogging. A few years ago I shared some Random, Granular Tips for Bloggers that were meant to help bloggers grow in their craft. Today I am offering an additional list of tips that I hope will accomplish the same goal.
Don’t botch the opening lines. The first line or two of any article are the most important because they are the ones that will determine whether people will continue to read or just go on to the next piece of content begging for their attention. A common but ineffective way to begin an article is with something like, “This is part two of a series on…” or “in the last part of this series I covered…” Not only are those uninteresting sentences, but they immediately tell readers that unless they have already read the previous articles, they won’t get much from this one. It is far better to begin with words that stand well on their own and will draw in new readers. After you’ve got them interested you can remind them of the previous articles. (Like in a sermon—first give a great introduction, and then remind people where you’re at in the series.)
Don’t botch your title. In a similar vein, make sure your title is strong—not clickbait or misleading, but also not drab and ineffective. One way you can go wrong is to put something like “Part One” or “Part Two” in your title. There is nothing wrong with writing a multi-part series, but by advertising it as such you may drive off people who haven’t read previous entries or who may not want to read the first part of a series when they don’t know when or if they will read the follow-ups. Make the article strong enough to stand on its own and let people know it is a series after you’ve proven that it will be worth their while to invest the time and effort in reading it. (Further to this, remember when you write a series to go back to earlier entries to add some way to navigate from one to the next. Also, remember that you can change titles later on to add “Part One,” etc.)
Consider not using the words “Book Review” in your title. I have covered this one before, but want to circle back to it. I suppose it relates to what I have already covered, but I will say it nonetheless. In general, I recommend avoiding explicitly titling an article as a book review. There are exceptions, of course, if the book is very well-known and the kind people are already interested in or if you are writing for a more academic audience. But as I explained previously, in most cases, a headline that beings with “Book Review:” is not going to make much of an impact. Consider, for example, two options for Tara Isabella Burton’s look at the rise of the “Nones” and how they are creating and adopting new forms of spirituality. The first might be “Book Review: Strange Rites” and the second, using the book’s subtitle, “New Religions for a Godless World.” I rather suspect the second option will prove more effective. (A book’s subtitle often makes a great title for the review since where a title is often clever, a subtitle is usually far more descriptive.)
Make sure readers can subscribe via email. Though many bloggers use RSS readers to subscribe to blogs, the average reader does not. If they want to be notified of your new material it is likely they will want to do so via email. For this reason it makes sense to have some kind of an email list that will push your new content to subscribers. For smaller lists and less frequent writers you may want to do this manually; for larger lists and more frequent writers you may want to automate this. Services like Feedblitz will do this for you.
Understand the medium. Blogs are (generally) not an academic medium. Neither are they formally published books. While you should obviously never plagiarize, neither does it make the most of the medium to cite sources as if you have written a term paper. The better approach may be to relate to sources in a similar way as a sermon, explicitly mentioning when you are directly quoting another person or leaning substantially on their work. But otherwise I think the medium permits a more casual relationship to citations, perhaps by simply noting who you have drawn from or been inspired by at the end of your article. In most cases, it is unnecessarily distracting to fill an article with this  kind  of  citation. For good or ill, most blogging platforms just haven’t developed good ways of creating helpful citations.
Make the ordered list your last resort rather than your default. I sometimes joke that there’s no problem a blogger can’t solve with 5 numbered points (and no problem he/she can solve without). The point is that the ordered list (or listicle) has long been a mainstay of blogging. Yet, in my view, it is rarely the best way to communicate. Listicles were created to be shareable, not to be helpful or edifying. So though there really are times to use them, there are often superior ways to package up your ideas. This is especially true when dealing with difficult, emotional, or controversial topics. So make that format your last resort rather than your default. You’ll become a better writer for it.
Mix content creation and curation. Most bloggers set out to create content. Well and good. But there is also a lot of value in curating content—pointing people to articles, videos, podcasts and so on that exist on other sites. While I’m sure there is a “business case” to be made for this, the best reason is simply to recognize and honor others for their hard work. Learn to spread your focus from just your site to others.
And finally, let me loop back to a key tip I shared last time: Ignore most of the “rules” for blogging. There are lots of sites (and even books) about how to start a successful blog and how to gain a large audience. But what you need to keep in mind is that most of these resources will teach you how to create a blog that primarily benefits you. They will teach you the rules that will gain an audience but not necessarily benefit that audience. They’ll teach you to create material that is viral but not necessarily edifying. As Christians, our main concern should always be loving others and doing what is beneficial to them. You may find the best way to do this is to toss many of the “rules.”
The Lord be with you and bless you today.
Westminster Books has a deal this week on a new edition of a true classic.
Today’s Kindle deals include a few interesting titles.
The Importance of Theological Pairs
This is a really interesting look at theological pairs in the Shorter Catechism.”Many disagreements in theological matters come from only holding to one of two complimentary theological truths. When we grasp both we’ll be able to refute theological error and minister more effectively to others with theological precision and care.”
Marxism’s Long Shadow
This is the second part of a two-part article on Marxism.
Love Is Not a Finite Resource?
“Linguistic tricks are often used to smuggle in destructive ideas.” Indeed. Here’s a new one.
Travel Photographer of the Year Ltd.
There are some lovely photographs on display in the Travel Photographer of the Year awards.
“There are moments in scripture that are easy to miss, but they are deeply profound if we take the time to consider them. One of those moments happens on the road to Emmaus. Jesus speaks two words in light of the context that reveals a world of encouragement.”
Preachers Should Measure Twice and Cut Once
Erik Raymond: “Measure twice and cut once. For generations, the veteran builder has spoken these words over a sawhorse to their younger apprentice. Because as the saying goes, when you spend extra time being precise on your measurement, you won’t waste time (and wood) by repeating it over again. What’s true in the wood shop is also true in the study. The preacher must measure twice and cut once when preparing to make an argument.”
Flashback: Pornographic Detachment
Pornography makes sex about self—about personal pleasure and personal satisfaction that has no reference to the pleasure or satisfaction of another person.
Good hospitality is making your home a hospital. The idea is that friends and family and the wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. —Kevin DeYoung
If you are a Christian, you are trusting in the One who is truly trustworthy. Jesus is the only One who really is. He really did pay for your sins. There are many people in this world who have faith in something, probably stronger faith than you do, yet they are trusting in the wrong thing.
Christians love to use the words ‘grace’ and ‘faith’. You would be hard pressed to listen to a Christian sermon or sing a Christian song without mention of one of these words. But what do they mean? Can you come up with a short and simple definition of each one? Sometimes we assume we know what words mean but cannot explain them well; these are words we need to be crisp and clear about.
Grace is getting something good that we don’t deserve. When it comes to God, this word is especially applied to what God has done for us in Jesus. If we trust in Jesus, we do not only have our sins forgiven (though that is terrific!), we also get incredible blessings we don’t deserve. We get adopted into God’s family, we get God’s favour not his anger, and we get a certain hope, only to name a few.
Faith is the companion word to grace. Having faith in something or someone is simply to trust them. It is a relational word. So, when we say that we have faith in Jesus, we are saying that we trust that Jesus is who He says He is, and He has done what He says He has done. Faith is our response to God’s grace. God gives us what we don’t deserve, and we receive it by faith.
The church stands under the authority of the sufficient and perspicuous Scriptures, and if a church starts to disobey these Scriptures, it must be rebuked, and if it persists, it must be rejected. May God give us the courage to stand up for the truth, the humility to recognize our failings, and the resolve to correct them in a spirit of repentance.
The error of women’s ordination has stalked, cursed, and haunted Anglicanism for nearly half a century and no matter where we go or what efforts we make to correct our wrongs, we cannot seem to fully rid ourselves of it. For many conservative Anglicans, women’s ordination is like the relative you cannot stand but have to put up with because no matter what they will be coming to every family gathering. However, I believe that if we follow Scripture faithfully and assent to the Anglican Formularies, then women’s ordination cannot be tolerated; it must instead be rebuked, and every effort must be made to eradicate it from the church before it is too late.
1. The Church Is Bound to Scripture
In the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Article XX says that “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written.” The use of the word “ordain” here seems rather providential, as it was the Anglican Communion’s decision to “ordain” woman as Priests and Bishops, despite the fact that Scripture forbids such a thing, that helped bring about its demise. There is no need to explain at length how Scripture prohibits women from ordained Church leadership, simply quoting a few passages will suffice:
Man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:8‒10)
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:33‒35)
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:11‒14)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife. (1 Tim 3:1‒2)
Of course, egalitarian Biblical scholars will try to overturn these passages by appealing to others that are all vague and have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Article XX condemns this very method, saying “neither may [the church] so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” When egalitarian scholars bring up Aquila and Priscilla’s explaining of the “way of God more accurately” to Apollos (Acts 18:26) or the possibility that St Paul might have called a Junia an “apostle” (Rom 16:7), in order to undermine the clear and explicit teachings of these passages above, they are making some parts of Scripture repugnant to others.
Moreover, the claim that these passages are so mysterious that they cannot be understood without the esoteric and sometimes even Gnostic insights of Biblical scholars also undermines the qualities of sufficiency and perspicuity which the Formularies attribute to Scripture:
In holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do, and what to eschew… We may learn also in these Books to know God’s will and pleasure, as much as (for this present time) is convenient for us to know… Although many things in the Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the self-same thing in other places, is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned. (A Fruitful Exhortation to the reading and knowledge of holy Scripture)
The passages quoted above (1 Cor 11:8‒10, 14:33‒35; 1 Tim 2:11‒14; 3:1‒2) are without question the ones that speak to women in church leadership the most clearly and directly. Therefore, to undermine their meaning being sufficiently known from a plain sense reading, or to use obscure passages to make those clear passages unclear, is to go against the hermeneutic given to us by the Anglican Formularies. Following this Anglican hermeneutic, we must conclude that Scripture forbids women to preach and teach the word in church or to have authority over a congregation. Since these duties are essential parts of a Priest’s vocation, we must as Anglicans who assent to Article XX deem it unlawful for churches to ordain women to the Priesthood.
It must also be said that there is no sense in which the Anglican Formularies themselves could be understood to have an egalitarian reading of Scripture. It is true that the Formularies nowhere explicitly forbid women from being ordained, but this is simply because the idea of that happening was unthinkable to their writers. However, the Ordinal assumes that a “man” is the one being ordained and patriarchal gender roles are taught throughout the Formularies. The BCP’s Solemnization of Matrimony directs the bride to vow to “obey, serve, and honour” her husband, and the Homily of the State of Matrimony says “wives must obey their husband and perform subjection… God hath commanded that ye should acknowledge the authority of the husband and refer to him the honour of obedience.” The Homily goes on to say that a woman must cover her head in church to signify that “she is under obedience of her husband, and to declare her subjection.” It thus seems very implausible that the writers of the Formularies would be happy to know that in the future women would be ordained as Priests and Bishops within the Church some of them died to defend. Some Anglican Divines did, however, speak against the possibility of such a thing happening. The great Anglican Divine, Richard Hooker, made the throwaway comment that “to make women teachers in the house of God were a gross absurdity,” and the Bishop and Martyr John Hooper said “the preaching of the word is not the office of a woman, no more is the ministration of the sacraments.”
While it is clear that the Formularies rule out the possibility of allowing women to become church leaders, one could of course argue (and some have argued) that since they never spoke directly to the issue it must not be an important one. This is to ascribe the quality of sufficiency to something that is not Scripture. The writers of the Formularies were not blessed with the ability to foresee the future, and the Formularies were not inspired to sufficiently touch on all matters of later importance. However, the Ordinal tells us that the Priesthood is so “weighty an office” and so “great a treasure” that an “horrible punishment will ensue” if it is misused (cf. James 3:1) This is because, being “Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord,” a Priest’s office is “appointed for the Salvation of mankind,” and therefore to distort it is a serious offense.
Returning to Scripture, after St Paul tells us that women cannot speak in church (1 Cor 14:34), he says that “what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” and that it is given so that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor 14:37‒39). Because the church is called to worship God “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23), God takes our worship very seriously, and He demands that our worship be conducted in an orderly fashion. This is why Nadab and Abihu’s offering of “strange fire” to the Lord led to Him incinerating them (Lev 10:1‒2). It is precisely because of how God has ordered the sexes (rather than cultural concerns) that women cannot teach in church (1 Tim 2:13; cf. 1 Cor 11:8‒9), and so the ordination of women to a position of authority God forbids them from having is to have worship be led in a disordered way. If God was enraged by the offering of strange fire, or the fact that it was not the Levites who carried the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chron 15:2, 12‒13), He will surely be enraged when people He has forbidden from leadership lead the congregation in offering to Him the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist. We must then ask what this means for churches that ordain women, and whether it makes them run the risk of losing their lampstands (Rev 2:5), to answer that question we need to turn to the Homily Concerning the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost.
2. The Marks of a True and False Church
The Homily identifies three marks that define “the true church,” which are “pure and sound doctrine, the Sacraments ministered according to Christ’s holy institution, and the right use of Ecclesiastical discipline.” The error of women’s ordination concerns all three of those marks. To say a woman can be a Priest is to make a doctrinal statement about not just spiritual leadership and the Priesthood, but also the church itself, and the very nature of gender and humanity. To ordain women to preside over and lead Holy Communion, directly affects the administration of the Sacraments. And finally, to allow women to violate God’s commandment that women shall not “teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12) is to fail to exercise proper discipline, and to in fact encourage this sin on an institutional level is to fall under God’s condemnation, as we see happen in Isaiah 3:10‒14. Right away then, the Homily’s vision of a true church does not seem to perfectly resemble the churches who ordain women.
The only example the Homily provides of a false church is Rome, which it says is “so far wide from the nature of the true Church, that nothing can be more.” The reason why Rome is labelled as a false church is—it is claimed—because they have not followed the Scriptures in their doctrines, administration of the Sacraments, or discipline, but have “so intermingled their own traditions and inventions, by chopping and changing, by adding and plucking away, that now they may seem to be converted into a new guise.” And what is women’s ordination but the introduction of a man-made—or rather, a feminist-made—tradition and invention into the church? What is it but the chopping and changing of the passages we looked at above? The Homily claims that if a church follows “their own decrees before the express word of God… they are not of Christ,” and what is the ordination of women but the disobeying of God’s explicit commandments in order to follow the decrees of feminism?
There has always been a degree of persecution for us in one place or another, and it is highly likely, even in countries where civil liberties are defended, that religious liberty will begin soon to be chiseled away. If the church is forced underground, it must have ready an organization that will avoid the evil of tyranny and dictatorship and yet maintains unity and cooperation.
It would appear that I have been around Westminster Theological Seminary as long as anyone else here. It might, therefore, be useful to note what such a person sees of temporal contrast in the activity of an institution and a faculty that still, I think, considers its purpose to carry on the work of Princeton Theological Seminar as it existed before 1929.
Vision of a Christian Nation
American religious history really begins with the Puritans. Their keynote was not repression, as most people appear to think, but was, instead, the relating of everything to the purpose of God. They intended to build a Christian commonwealth. To a great extent, they succeeded, and England became something of a pattern to the world.
A century later, Jonathan Edwards saw America as the primary scene of a millennial kingdom that would spread its glory over all the earth. His prominent disciple, Samuel Hopkins, reinforced the vision, and the idea that America would become a great, powerful, and glorious Christian nation, a pattern for the whole world, spread throughout the colonies.
That vision survived the Revolution and took on new life with independence. A great Protestant republic with Christian principles penetrating its every action was to evolve.
No less a person that George Washington informed the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1790 that “it is rationally to be expected from [all men within our territories]…that they will all be emulous of evincing the sincerity of their professions by the innocence of their lives and the benevolence of their actions.” (Minutes of the General Assembly of the PresbyterianChurch in the U.S.A., 1790).
In 1802, the General Assembly adopted a report which said, among other things: “Though vice and immorality still too much abound…yet in general, appearances are more favorable than usual; the influence of Christianity, during the last year, appears to have been progressive…The aspect of an extensive country has been changed from levity to seriousness; scoffers have been silenced, and thousands convinced ‘of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment’ to come…The prospect of the speedy conversion of the Indian tribes appears to be increasing; and the Assembly cannot but hope that the time is not far distant, when the wilderness on our borders, shall bud and blossom as the rose; when the cottage of the pagan shall be gladdened by the reception of the gospel, and the wandering and warlike savage shall lay the implements of his cruilty at the feet of Jesus. Delightful period! When sinners shall flock to the Saviour as clouds and as doves to their windows! When an innumerable multitude, gathered from among all nations, shall sing redeeming love, triumph in the hope of a happy immortality! When the church shall ‘look forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners!’” (Minutes, GeneralAssembly, 1802)
To accomplish this end men joined together in stalwart voluntary societies to circulate the Bible, found Sunday schools and churches, lay down a saturation barrage of tracts, to uproot the evils of slavery, of prostitution, of secret societies, to build a wall against Rome. Human bondage would be done away. Demon Rum would dry up. Sex prejudice would be eliminated.
The results were favorable enough to give some substance to the dream. After the war of 1861–1865, slavery was ended. Northerners poured into the South to make freedom a reality.
The moral fervor of Americans seems to have been impressive. Francis Grund, a native of Germany, is quoted as saying: “Change the domestic habits of the Americans, their religious devotion, and their high respect for morality, and it will not be necessary to change a single letter of the Constitution in order to vary the whole form of their government.” (Francis Grund, The Americans in Their Moral, Social, and Political Relations, in Commager, America in Perspective, 75; see also G. L. Hunt, Calvinism and the Political Order, 99).
Building the Kingdom of God
But for the present, work began on the next stage of the realization of the vision: the elimination of the saloon and the intoxicating beverage. In these excitements weariness overcame the task force that was performing the more important task of working for black education in the South, and racial relationships began to return to an approximation of their former state.
In addition to this dedication of the church to the cause of prohibition, there was the growing emphasis on interdenominational mass evangelism. Biblical doctrine was being eaten away by radical literary criticism, but few paid any attention.
As prosperity mounted after the 1870s, the great dream resumed its sway over the American Protestant imagination. We were building the kingdom of God. State and county prohibition covered more territory, evangelistic meetings drew more people, the impact of Christian principles on social evils began to be noticed. Interdenominational efforts became more comprehensive. The W.C.T.U., the Prohibition Part, the Anti-Saloon League were founded. A little later came the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, then the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. The individual and the social gospels were making America a Christian nation in a finer sense than ever before, thought many unsuspecting men and women in the pew.
Ernest L. Tubeson quotes the late Senator Albert J. Beveridge, about the beginning of this century, as saying:
God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No. He made us master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigned. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for such a force as this, the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the redemption of the world (Redeemer Nation, p. vii).
The Dream Begins to Wilt
The first world war and its aftermath began to open the eyes of the Christians in the nation. Peace was not secured. The League of Nations was not joined by the United States. The World’s Christian Fundamentals Association reminded all Christians that doctrine was still the heart of the Christian faith. The dream of inevitable advance began to wilt with the deaths of Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan. J. Gresham Machen sounded a call to remember that Christianity was a religion that did not exist without its historical foundations.
It was in this period that Westminster Theological Seminary was founded. Many convictions undergirded its structure. Some of them came from the experience of Princeton Seminary before 1929. Others were developed by the founders. Among them was the intention to develop and train men for the parish ministry; the conviction that life flows from belief, from doctrine; the assurance that the basis of the Christian faith is the inerrant Word interpreted as a group of historical documents; that this basis is indispensable to the continuance of the Christian church; that truth can best be understood by contrasting it sharply with error; that teaching and library facilities are more important than luxurious or grandiose buildings; that knowledge is an indispensable foundation for the sound practical application and accomplishment; that standards of learning must be maintained at high levels; that the Christian church was founded upon and has always continued to maintain the necessity of a biblical system of truth; that honesty and frankness are of great value in the church.
Decades of Radical Change
In the more than forty years since the founding of Westminster, it is likely that the world of the mind has changed more radically than in any previous forty-year period in its known history since the creation. The church and theology have not been exempt from this change. Its beginnings were earlier. C. G. Jung is quoted as saying: “Long before the Hitler era, in fact before the first World War…the medieval picture of the world was breaking up and the metaphysical authority which was set above this world was fast disappearing.” (C. G. Jung, Essayings in Contemporary Events [Eng. tr. 1947], 69; in E. R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, 4).
It has now been alleged that God has died. The Father is no longer needed. Parently authority has gone. The Son is but a human example who was mistaken about the future. The Holy Spirit is reduced to attempting to communicate in meaningless gibberish.
For more learned people, religion has ceased to be relevant to the task at hand. It is to be discarded as possibly formerly helpful but now misleading at best and deleterious at worst. Such people see nothing in their world to lead them to believe in God. The shape of the future will be outlined by natural science of human inspiration. Ethical questions are to be solved by mechanical study of procedures and their results in the world of nature. N. H. G. Robinsons says, “There is certainly no factor left in man’s world that is plainly and unambiguously identifiable with God or his will” (F. G. Healey, ed., What Theologians Do, 276).
The outcome of these trends is not entirely to be deplored. The dream that America is to be the great crown of Christian civilization and a pattern for the rest of the world is now very difficult to sustain, and rightly so.
The present upsurge of interdenominational evangelism may be temporarily refreshing but its permanent value depends upon how effectively it is accompanied and followed by more penetrating biblical instruction.
The overwhelming, tyrannical ecumenical combines and “trusts” of the ecclesiastical world have lost a little of their self-confidence. It has even come to the point where a few of their supporters have thought that it might show a profit, in the long run, to offer some charity and attention to the evangelicals of the world. Thomas Carlyle said that the French aristocracy thought little of Rousseau’s ideas, but the second edition of The Social Contract was bounded in their skins. Perhaps something like that might inadvertently happen to the ecumenical aristocracy.
A Future on Scriptural Principles
Woodrow Wilson once said that “education puts men in a position for progress, but religion determines the line of [that] progress.” (Journal of Presbyterian History, v. 49, 330). Westminster Seminary is both an educational and a religious institution. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider the prospect for the future for a bit on the basis of what we have indicated about the past. This does not mean that I am about to assume the role of a prophet. An historian is not a prophet, though he is constantly mistaken for one. An historian uses the past as a guide for action rather than for an attempt to read an inevitable future from it. He urges people to action rather than telling them what is sure to happen.
We no longer need prophets in the way in which God’s people needed them in Old Testament times. Revelation is complete. There are few chairs of prophecy in educational institutions, even in Christian ones. Most professional prophets work in “think tanks,” and their work is usually not trumpeted abroad. But if America is to have a future of promise under God, it must be upon the basis of the eternal principles of the Word and quite different from the rosy dreams of the earlier centuries.
So it seems useful to ask how Westminster Seminary should fit into that future and how it should help to prepare for it. My aim is to be specific and forthright.
Independence and True Knowledge
Basic to the Seminary’s work is its independence from external control. This is partly a matter of the promotion of intellectual honesty. The institution must itself determine what the application of the Bible and the secondary standards to the problems of the day brings forth. It may not leave this decision to any church, any philanthropic agency, or any regulatory commission. The Seminary alone must determine what the Bible says in any given area. And it must be free to say what its findings are.
There is a further reason why it may not be under church control. A school does not exist for the purpose of developing the spiritual lives of its students. That may be and probably everyone here, including the speaker, hopes that it will be a concomitant of the years in school. But it is the formal responsibility of the church with which the student affiliates himself. Every Seminary course provides material that can be used by the church to that end. That is the objective of the church, of every church that is doing its job. So the Seminary is primarily making the acquisition of knowledge possible, and if it is true knowledge, it will bear fruit in spiritual growth.
In presenting true knowledge, the Seminary contrasts it with error. The observer sometimes confuses this with intolerance. Not at all. The search for truth is open to all, and the presentation of honest results is the responsibility of every man making the search. The contrast with error makes the truth stand out; black type on white paper is sharper than gray type on pink paper. Let us continue to make the contrast vivid. It is important.
If God is not sovereign, he is not God at all. If something can be decided or determined apart from, outside of, or before God, then that means that there is something out there that is greater than God. And if something is greater than God, then God isn’t God at all.
A hurdle many Christians cannot seem to get over is accepting and embracing the doctrine of election, or predestination. By nature, we don’t like the fact that God is the one who does the choosing. We want to be the masters of our fate and the captains of our soul. Yet Paul seems to make the case very clearly in Ephesians 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined usfor adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.”(Ephesians 1:3–5; emphasis added)
What brings Paul to doxology is distasteful to many. R.C. Sproul accurately describes the feeling of most people towards the concept:
The very word predestination has an ominous ring to it. It is linked to the despairing notion of fatalism and somehow suggests that within its pale we are reduced to meaningless puppets. The word conjures up visions of a diabolical deity who plays capricious games with our lives.
Yes, this is a hard truth to come to terms with, but such a fatalistic view tragically eclipses the beauty of God’s work for undeserving and incapable sinners like you and me. To help us grapple with and grow to love this essential aspect of the gospel, consider the following three points about election.
1. Election is a biblical doctrine.
First, the doctrine is biblical. This should seem evident enough, as it is clearly spelled out in the section of Ephesians 1 quoted earlier. Nor is this the only place we run up against the concept in Scripture. Just a few verses later on Paul will say—even more bluntly—that we have been “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). In Romans 8:29-30 we read,
For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he predestined, these he also called; whom he called, these he also justified; and whom he justified, these he also glorified.”
These are places in which these theological terms are used explicitly, but if we broaden our radar to also pick up allusions to and themes of choosing, predetermining, and electing, the list gets longer.
There are some out there who have a false notion of predestination and election, namely, that it was the invention of some ancient French madman named John Calvin. No doubt, Calvin would mourn the fact that history has dubbed this doctrine “Calvinism,” as though it somehow belonged more to him than to God.