N. T. Wright’s “New Perspectives”

Introduction

Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) hosted its thirtieth “January Series” in January 2017. Appearing, he informed his audience, for the fifth time, N. T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham in England, and current research professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, gave a speech in connection with the (Henry J.) Stob lecture series with the title, “The Royal Revolution: Fresh Perspectives on the Cross,” on Tuesday, January 24.

Wright is the most popular contemporary proponent of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), so it is not surprising that he is now offering a fresh (or new) perspective on the cross of Jesus Christ.

Wright’s “New Perspective” on Paul

I report on his latest speech in the “All Around Us” rubric of the Standard Bearer (possibly the March 1, 2017 issue). In this blog, I will briefly review the main tenets of Wright’s NPP.

First, Wright redefines the concepts of “justification” and “righteousness.” The Reformed, biblical, and creedal explanation is that righteousness is a legal status in which one is in harmony with, or in conformity to, the standard of God, which is summarized in God’s law. To be justified is to be declared righteous, that is, to be declared, on the basis of the perfect work of Jesus Christ, to be in harmony with God’s standard. The righteousness of Jesus Christ, his lifelong obedience and his atoning sufferings and death, is imputed, or reckoned to the account of, the sinner, and that righteousness is received by faith alone without works.

Wright denies the possibility or the necessity of the imputation of God’s righteousness. For Wright righteousness is simply God’s covenant faithfulness by which he puts right what evil has done in the creation and keeps his promises to his people. Justification for Wright is not so much a matter of personal salvation, but it is to be declared, on the basis of faith, to be part of the covenant community—the New Israel—which God vindicates now and on the last day.

Moreover, Wright understands Paul’s fierce polemic against the Judaizers in Galatians and elsewhere not as a battle between justification by faith alone versus the notion of justification by the works of the law (because, argues Wright, Paul and his Jewish contemporaries never believed in salvation by works in the sense that the Reformers understood), but as a controversy over how one is declared to be part of the vindicated (or justified) community. Therefore, according to Wright’s reading of Paul, the apostle argued that one is declared a member of the church on the basis of faith, while the Judaizers insisted that one cannot be declared a member of the church—that is, justified—without circumcision and obedience to the (ceremonial) laws of Moses. Therefore, argues Wright, when Paul disputed about circumcision—even to the point of anathemas—he was not disputing about salvation, but about who was a member of the church.[1]

How, then, is one personally justified according to Wright’s NPP? By believing that Jesus is Lord, one is brought into, and declared to be a member of, the new covenant community, the church. At that point, on the basis of faith, one is “justified.” However, to remain one of God’s people, a believer must continue to believe and to be faithful, that is, continued justification and salvation and final justification and salvation depend on good works. On this point, Wright writes:

This declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit—that is, it occurs on the basis of “works” in Paul’s redefined sense. And near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the call of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.[2]

Thus Wright’s position, which includes a denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believing sinner, is simply a scholarly version of the old heresy of justification by faith and works.

Wright is an eloquent and engaging speaker, and undoubtedly many at the Calvin series hung spellbound on his every word, but for all his rhetorical flourishes Wright leaves us with no real atonement, no gospel, and, consequently, nowhere to hide on the day of judgment.

In view of the popularity of Wright, even in Calvin College, where he is hailed as a hero of the faith, those who love the biblical and Reformed truth of justification by faith alone will welcome the imminent publication of a new book by Prof. David J. Engelsma, The Gospel Truth of Justification.

Expect to hear more about Engelsma’s book soon (DV).

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[1] Notice Wright’s avoidance of the phrase “by faith alone,” a fatal omission, and his use of prepositions—justified on the basis of faith. The Reformers, following scripture, teach that justification is by or through faith alone. Faith is not the basis. Faith is the means or instrument of justification.

[2] N. T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 258; cited in John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Nottingham, IVP, 2008), 100. Notice the basis of justification is “the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit”—Believing reader, the life that you lead in the power of the Spirit is the imperfect obedience which you, out of sincere love, but in much weakness, have rendered to God in gratitude for your salvation. Will you dare appear before God on that basis, instead of on the basis of the perfect obedience and atoning sufferings and death of Jesus Christ? That is where Wright’s theology would lead you, which will issue in damnation on the day of judgment.

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This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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Doug Wilson, Federal Vision No Mas

In a blog post entitled “Federal Vision No Mas,” Douglas Wilson says that he no longer will identify himself with the movement in Reformed and Presbyterian circles known as the federal vision.

Wilson is the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, proponent of classical Christian education, and for many years has been identified as one of the prominent theologians promoting the federal vision.

Why this change? Why try to distance yourself from a movement that you have vigorously promoted for years?

The reason is that Wilson believes many critics of the federal vision have been unable to distinguish between the subtle theological differences within the movement. Wilson has tried to describe the range of differences within the movement to the range of differences in craft beer. Some proponents of the federal vision are a dark “oatmeal stout federal vision.” Others are a light “amber ale federal vision.” He places himself in the “amber ale” category.

In spite of his efforts to make this clear, Wilson believes that critics simply haven’t understood the differences. He has some respect for a handful of “fair-minded” critics (he mentions Rick Phillips, Cal Beisner, and Richard Gaffin). But there were others who were “bigoted.” In the past Wilson responded to these “ignorant” critics by defending the federal vision to the hilt. But he feels now that he made a mistake, because he made it sound as if all federal visionists were the same. He should have distinguished the motives of “loyalty” and “manly principle” from “stubbornness and cussedness,” and dealt more with the “fair-minded” group.

But now Wilson sees the error of his ways. And he believes that the only way to make clear that he differs from other federal visionists on certain things is by disavowing the name federal vision. He mentions, for example, differences that he has with the theology of Peter Leithart, another defender of the federal vision.

Wilson does not have a new name yet for his theology, but merely wants to “remain a Westminster Puritan within an irenic river of historical Reformed orthodoxy.”

This is good news, right? Cause for rejoicing in Zion?

Hardly.

Notice what Wilson is doing here. He is merely changing the name of what he believes. As he puts it, “This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe” (emphasis his).

This is emphatically not a change in what Wilson believes. This is no repudiation of what he has written and taught in the past. He will continue to promote the same things he has before, but now simply without attaching to it the name federal vision. He says, “It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe” (again, emphasis his). He adds, “I would still want [to] affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement.”

Wilson even mentions specifically one of the doctrines that he will continue to teach: the objectivity of the covenant. By this he means a covenant established with all the children of believers, head for head, at the moment of their baptism. To put it baldly, he will continue to teach the fundamental doctrine of the federal vision movement, the doctrine from which the movement takes its very name (“federal” means covenant), but he simply won’t call it federal vision.

Wilson’s attempt to distance himself from the federal vision without distancing himself from the core doctrines of the federal vision means nothing. Whether or not Wilson wants to identify with the name federal vision, in the end, means little. The name is of minor importance. What is important is the content of his teaching. And that hasn’t changed. It is still false doctrine. Sure, there may be differences between Wilson and other men of the federal vision on certain points. But in the fundamentals they continue to promote false doctrine.

What is needed by Wilson is not a repudiation of the name, but a wholesale repudiation of the doctrines of the federal vision.

Until then, just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so false doctrine by any other would still stink.

Or, to use a different figure, a wolf might repudiate the pack, but does that make him any less a threat to the sheep?

Let the flock remain on her guard, with her eye on the Shepherd. 

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This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

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The Puritans and the Theater


I recently read a fascinating book on the decline of western civilization entitled Apostate: The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West by Kevin Swanson. In discussing William Shakespeare's contribution to the decline of Christianity in the west the author mentions the Puritan's opposition to the work of the Globe Theater, under Shakespeare's watch, in the early 1600s in England.

I quote from page 204 of Apostate, stating the Puritan's objections to the theater,

For at least sixty years, the Puritans opposed the work of the Globe Theater until it was demolished in 1644. In an article entitled "Puritan Hostility to the Theatre," eminent historian Edmund Morgan summarized the Puritan concerns with the theater.

  1. It provided a poor form of recreation (it was exhausting, dissipating, and rendered the spectators 'effete and effeminate'). ("dissipating" carries with it the idea of squandering, frittering away, wasting; "effete" means weak and enfeebled—AJC)
  2. It was foreign and degenerate.
  3. It was a non-productive form of labor especially for the actors.
  4. It attracted homosexuals and prostitutes.
  5. Its subject matter often addressed adultery and fornication that inspired imitation.
  6. It promoted hypocrisy and deceit.
  7. It competed with the true church.
  8. It brought the saved into the company of the damned.
  9. It would stir up the emotions and cloud the reason.

This was the judgment of the Puritans on theatrical productions four hundred years ago, in England. Four hundred years ago, one had to go to the theater to see live performances. Today, we live in a world awash with the drama of the film and television industries and today’s Hollywood productions are accessible to us and our children in our homes by means of a variety of devices—televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones to name a few.

The Puritans took a hostile stance in opposition to the productions of the Globe Theater. This stance ought to pale in comparison to our condemnation of Hollywood’s productions. Hollywood is a powerful enemy of the Christian faith. Her productions, in the spirit of Antichrist, promote blasphemy, lawlessness, violence, disobedience, covetousness, murder, theft, fornication, adultery, sodomy, lying, deceit, and every other sin that is contrary to a godly walk. It is no coincidence that, during the last election cycle in the United States and marches after the election, lawless Hollywood actors and actresses were among the most outspoken supporters of the candidates who advocated for “women’s rights” (a euphemism for the murder of unborn babies) and “LGBTQ rights” (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning their sexual identity). Hollywood is a mighty engine of propaganda for these sins and perversions as her productions prove.

Hollywood productions (in movie theaters, television, and online) have no place in the life of the child of God and the Christian home. Participation in her dramas, by watching them, is to join the spirit that will bring about the Antichrist, the spirit “that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). By watching the smut of Hollywood, one dulls himself to the antithesis that God has established between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. One becomes numb to the horrors and consequences of sin. Not harmless entertainment, the viewer begins to take on the thinking, speech and behavior of the performers he sees on the screen. If one is not already living in the sins portrayed, the power to resist these sins becomes progressively weaker.

Putting Hollywood dramas out of our homes and lives is the only solution. Compromise is unacceptable. We read in Ephesians 5:3-7, 11-12:

  1. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
  2. Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
  3. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
  4. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
  5. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
  6. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
  7. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

Click to listen to an audio clip from Prof. Hanko entitled: The Threat of Worldly Entertainment to Building a Home.

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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism is one of the most important of all the secondary confessions of many Reformed churches worldwide.
The commentary sets forth the Reformed doctrine of baptism as sign and seal, the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers.

Order your copy today!

 

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Gospel Truth Of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed


AD 2017 marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ. In 1517 the Reformer Martin Luther affixed the ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, the act by which Jesus Christ began his reformation of his church. Essential to this Reformation was the gospel-truth of justification by faith alone. This book on justification is intended by the Reformed Free Publishing Association and the author to celebrate that glorious work of Christ.

But the purpose is more than a celebration of the beginning of the Reformation. It is to maintain, defend, and promote the Reformation in the perilous times for the church at present. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is so fundamental to the gospel of grace that an exposition and defense of this truth are in order always. The true church of Christ in the world simply cannot keep silent about this doctrine. To keep silent about justification by faith alone would be to silence the gospel.
* This book will be sent automatically to Book Club members.

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Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Introduction

  


We are excited to announce another writer that is joining the existing pool of writers for the RFPA blog. Rev. Ryan Barnhill is pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. This is Rev. Barnhill’s first blog post.

 

 

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I intend to write a series of articles on the topic of the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.

Discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose. Discipline is the firm resolution or purpose to do something. This is not foreign to our society. The business world is full of “go-getters.” Many there are who work hard to succeed, who are driven and scheduled, and who are determined to accomplish the tasks before them. What is the motivation behind such discipline? Their goal is to get ahead in the world, to further their reputation, and to receive the praise of men.

But with that kind of discipline we want no part.

As adopted sons and daughters of God, we desire to grow in spiritual discipline. If discipline is commitment, resolve, resolution, or purpose, then spiritual discipline is the commitment and resolve to serve God in his kingdom. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life are activities that arise out of this commitment and purpose, and thus activities that aim at the glory of God and growth in holiness. These activities are many and varied, including, but certainly not limited to, public worship, family devotions, private devotions, and Bible memorization. All the activities can be summed up with one word: worship. We will explore these spiritual disciplines in future posts.

These spiritual disciplines are an aspect of our life of sanctification: our life of separation from sin and consecration to God. These disciplines belong to the category of good works. Our Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 33, defines good works as “Only those [works] which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.”

This pursuit of godliness has a source: true faith. Faith is the bond that unites us to Christ. Only those who are united to Christ (the elect), and have his life coursing through their spiritual veins, will exercise themselves unto godliness. This purpose to serve God in his kingdom is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the fertile soil of the regenerated heart. By the work of the Spirit of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus we are strengthened and enabled to live this life.

This purpose to serve God in his kingdom has a standard: the law of God. The law of God is the Ten Commandments, summarized by Jesus this way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). We seek, in these spiritual activities, to live in conformity to the will of God.

This disciplined life has a goal: the glory of God. The glory of God is the radiating forth of all his attributes. When we make ourselves busy in the things of God’s kingdom, our goal, our aim, is always the magnifying and extolling of God’s attributes, especially the attribute of his holiness. Whatever we do, we do it to please him.

Of course, as is true of all our good works, we live our lives in this disciplined way, not to earn anything with God, but rather to show our thankfulness to God for our salvation in Jesus Christ. Gratitude for God’s grace is what will drive us, day after day, morning and evening, to be consistent and disciplined in these activities of the sanctified life.

The Bible addresses this matter of spiritual discipline, perhaps more than you might think. The scripture does so under a number of different figures, all of which, in some way, carry the idea of spiritual discipline. Paul commands young pastor Timothy to exercise himself unto godliness: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:7, 8). In Hebrews 12:1, 2, we are exhorted to run the race: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” II Timothy 2:3, 4 calls to mind the training and rigorous discipline of a soldier: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” This is only a very short list; can you think of more figures?

Are you disciplined? Do you exercise? Are you a runner? Are you a soldier? God requires of us discipline in the Christian life. How crucial a subject this is!

Next time we will look at the need for discipline. After that, we will consider these spiritual disciplines, one by one.

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Islam 12: Christianity Quiz

We interrupt the series of blog posts on Islam. If you have been following, and if you have comprehended the blog posts so far, you, and hopefully your Muslim contacts, should be able to answer these questions. Quiz yourselves and your families, especially your teenagers in Heidelberg/Essentials catechism class. How well do you understand the Christian faith? Could you prove these important teachings from scripture? 

Part 1: the Trinity

TRUE OR FALSE?

  1. Christians believe in three gods?
  2. Christians believe that the Son of God is a creature?
  3. Christians believe that there are three Creators?
  4. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one person?
  5. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three beings?
  6. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each one third of God?
  7. Christians believe that when Jesus was on the earth, there was no God in heaven?
  8. Christians believe that Mary is a god?
  9. Christians believe that the Father came before the Son and the Holy Spirit?
  10. Christians believe that the Father and the Holy Spirit have physical bodies?
  11. Christians believe the Father first created the Son, who then helped him create the world?
  12. Christians believe that the Father and the Son created the Holy Spirit?
  13. Christians worship only the Father, and do not worship the Son or the Holy Spirit?
  14. Christians believe that the Father adopted the Son at his baptism in the river Jordan, at which point he became God's Son?
  15. Christians believe that Jesus became the Son of God when he was born into the world?
  16. Christians believe that to become a father, God took a wife through whom he bore a son?

 

Part 2: The Incarnation

TRUE OR FALSE?

  1. Christians believe that when the Son of God became a man he was no longer God’s Son?
  2. Christians believe that during his life on earth the Son possessed no divine attributes?
  3. Christians believe that the Son of God was always human, even before the incarnation?
  4. Christians believe that because Mary is the mother of Jesus, she should be worshipped?
  5. Christians believe that the human nature of Jesus consists only of a human body, but not of a human soul?
  6. Christians believe that because Jesus is human and divine, he is or has two persons?
  7. Christians believe that Jesus has one nature?
  8. Christians believe that the qualities of one nature also belong to the other nature in Jesus? For example, Christians believe that the body of Jesus is omnipotent and omnipresent, like his divine nature?
  9. Christians believe that, because Jesus was hungry, thirsty and tired, he was not really God?
  10. Christians believe that, because Jesus suffered and died, he was not really God?
  11. Christians believe that, because Jesus performed miracles, understood the secret thoughts of men, and was worshipped, he was not really human?
  12. Christians believe that Jesus did not really have a human nature; he just seemed to?
  13. Christians believe that the human nature of Jesus was corrupted with sin?
  14. Christians believe that Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience and that he never sinned?
  15. Christians believe that, as a human being, Jesus was obligated to keep God’s Law?
  16. Christians believe that the Son of God on earth prayed to God?

 

Part 3: Sin and Salvation

TRUE OR FALSE?

  1. Christians believe that God tolerates sin and turns a blind eye to it?
  2. Christians believe that God only punishes “serious” sins such as murder or adultery?
  3. Christians believe that the penalty for sin is death?
  4. Christians believe in total depravity, which means that man is totally corrupt, unable to do anything good, and inclined to all evil?
  5. Christians believe that the sin which Adam committed in the Garden affected only Adam?
  6. Christians believe that all human beings are born good, but they become sinful because of their environment?
  7. Christians believe that it is possible to do enough good works in order to earn salvation?
  8. Christians believe that God accepts a work as truly “good” if it is sincere?
  9. Christians believe that a truly good work must be done out of faith to God’s glory?
  10. Christians believe that, because sinners could not save themselves, the Son came to be the Savior?
  11. Christians believe that Jesus obeyed the Law of God in the place of his people because they could not perfectly obey it themselves?
  12. Christians believe that Jesus carried the penalty of the Law of God in the place of his people because they could not carry that penalty themselves?
  13. Christians believe that the penalty that Jesus carried is the wrath (anger) and curse of God?
  14. Christians believe that the Father forced Jesus to carry that penalty against his will?
  15. Christians believe only Jesus was qualified to carry that penalty because he is God in human flesh?

________________

For the answers to these questions, visit the Islam 11 blog post.

________________

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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The Standard Bearer - Watch!

The call is URGENT to KNOW and to LOVE the truth of scripture. Our prayer is that the Standard Bearer may be used to that end.

Are you a Standard Bearer subscriber?
Join the 2,255 that already subscribe!
https://rfpa.org/products/the-standard-bearer-u-s-new-subscription

 

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Ten Technological Traps

We live in a time of great technological advancement. Companies are constantly churning out new products that are hailed as smarter, more advanced, and more innovative. And in many ways we have made ourselves dependent on technology with our smartphones, tablets, and computers, too name just a few.

There is nothing inherently sinful in these things. In fact, they can be powerful tools for good in the service of God and his church, and therefore we can use them with a good conscience before God. “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5).

That being said, we ought to recognize that there are many dangers that these wonders of the technological age present. These dangers ought to make us careful in our use of these good gifts.

What follows are a list of ten such dangers, “traps” of technology:

  1. We can waste an unbelievable amount of time using technology. How many hours are wasted staring at the TV, pursuing pointless information on the internet, looking at pictures on Instagram, and posting on Facebook? Too many, making this one of the top traps of technology.
  2. Technology makes it relatively easy to sin. This is not to say that the same sins weren’t found fifty years ago, for they certainly were. But with technology there are more opportunities to sin and sinful things are more readily accessible. As a wise saint said to me recently, “When I was younger, you had to work pretty hard to get in trouble and access sinful things. Now you can get it in a few seconds on your phone.”
  3. We can very easily become discontent through our use of technology. One area of discontentment is with the technology itself. We are dissatisfied with the smartphone or computer that we have and are always looking for something newer, better, and faster. It becomes an idol in our life. Another area of discontentment is with the things that we view through technology. Seeing the glamorous life of this athlete/actress/friend, I become discontented with my seemingly boring life.
  4. Technology is often the means by which we backbite and slander. One wrong move and soon the news spreads like wildfire across the gossip channels of text messaging and social media.
  5. Through our use of technology we often give a poor witness to the world of our faith. We post pictures of some ungodly musician’s concert we attended. We “like” this popular drama on TV. We let everyone know how excited we are about the release of the latest Hollywood movie.
  6. It is very easy through technology to fall into the trap of unreality. We see pictures of the expensive vacations and fun activities that others are doing, and think that their life must be perfect. Young people might give the impression that anyone who’s anything is hanging out on Friday night, so that the one left at home feels left out and friendless.
  7. In the age of instant information, it seems as if younger generations are losing the ability to read, write, listen, and think critically and deeply.
  8. Our use of technology can weaken our ability to converse and thus hurt our relationships to others. It seems pretty common to go into a restaurant and see a husband and wife sitting across from one another, both staring at their phones. It seems pretty common to try and have a conversation with a teenager while their face is buried in their phone.
  9. There is the danger with technology of over-sharing information. I’m all for getting to know other people better and sharing their joys and sorrows. But I don’t need to know what you just ate for breakfast. I don’t need to know a disagreement that you had with your spouse. I don’t need to know that you’re angry at your coworkers. I don’t need to know (usually) that you’re having an all-around bad day.
  10. One of the dangers of technology is that we are able to retreat into a world without any accountability. When we are at work, we have the accountability of employers and employees. When we are at home, we have the accountability of spouses, parents, children, siblings. When we are at school, we have the accountability of teachers and classmates. But with technology we can often enter a world with little or no accountability. We can say things that we wouldn’t ordinarily say. We can sneak off to our bedroom and watch all sorts of vile things. And if anyone looks over our shoulder or asks to see our device, we hide behind the vault-door of passwords.

What do you think? Are there other traps to avoid?

___________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

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IN REVIEW: The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, by B. Wielenga (Edited by David J. Engelsma and translated by Annemie Godbehere). Jenison, MI: RFPA 2016. 448 pages. $39.95 Hardcover. [Reviewed by Rev. Martyn McGeown]

The publication of this book will interest—and even excite—all those who love baptism, and in particular, all those who love the Form for the Administration of Baptism used in Reformed churches. Many church members and officebearers have heard the Form read, or have used the Form, hundreds of times as baptism has been administered to the covenant seed. But have we sufficiently pondered the beautiful language of the Form?

Bastiaan Wielenga (1873-1949) was a Dutch Reformed minister who not only studied the Form, but who loved the Form, and delighted in its clear, Reformed, biblical, devotional, and pastoral language. He wrote the commentary on the Form not for scholars, but for the ordinary child of God who loves the covenant and the God of the covenant. The RFPA has done the Reformed church world a great service by offering this book—the first English translation of a commentary on this priceless liturgical form—to the reading public.

Wielenga carefully explains (even exegetes) the language of the Form, dividing his material according to the divisions of the Form itself, the doctrinal section (misery, deliverance, and gratitude), a defence of infant baptism, the prayer before baptism, the questions to the parents, and the prayer of thanksgiving after baptism. However, he does not treat the section on the baptism of adults, which, although used on the mission field, is used less frequently in the established church.

Some of the outstanding features of the commentary are the following.

First, Wielenga’s writing is devotional. Wielenga is a very capable theologian and exegetes with the heart and language of a pastor, and even of a poet. The beautiful and moving passages in Wielenga’s writings are so numerous that a reviewer could not possibly do justice to them. Credit for this, of course, must also go to the translator, Mrs. Annemie Godbehere, with whom the reviewer was personally acquainted. Undoubtedly, it was her skill that helped bring Wielenga to life for an English readership. One example of Wielenga’s beautiful turns of phrase will suffice. In this quotation, Wielenga is explaining the need believers have for assurance and the richness of God’s supply in holy baptism:

Do we still need another seal? Does this confirmation need to be confirmed again? The seal sealed?
Yes, it must—because the Lord knows his people. He knows how they lack courage and how feeble they are. He knows that man, because he is in his own existence deceitful, distrusts and disbelieves others, even God.
Hence the Lord God, if he will ever see the mansions filled in his paternal home, cannot be stingy with promises, oaths, and seals. An overflowing source of assurances must let its streams of grace overflow the weak believer. Indeed, our covenantal God repeats his manifold declarations so many times that man, if he were less pathetic, with a dark purple blush of shame about his obstinacy would call out, “Lord, I do believe you; yes, Lord, it is enough, I know it already.”

Because it is exactly the opposite, and the godly constantly ask for stronger assurance, the cry of “Help thou mine unbelief!” does not grow silent before death closes their lips. Thereby God, who takes more pity on us than an earthly father, seals the covenant of grace in baptism. Even with this, he does not account the measure of his undergirding grace full, for in the Lord’s supper he has joined a second and no less royal and divine seal to the covenant (72-73).

Second, Wielenga’s doctrine of the covenant is (mostly) orthodox and mainly in line with our Protestant Reformed understanding. Although he does slip into “agreement” language on occasion, and although he does make a few statements on conditionality within the covenant with which we strongly disagree, Wielenga does view the covenant as an intimate relationship between God and his elect people. “That the Father establishes a covenant with us and adopts us as his children is intimate. That Christ makes us members of his spiritual body is even more intimate. But that the Spirit comes to dwell in us is the most intimate conceivable intimacy” (103).

But baptism, this holy baptism, is a seal and indubitable testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God. It is a covenant not entered into for a time, but rooted in an eternal election. It is a covenant not established on the proof of and dependent on the goodness of men, but anchored in the mediatorial heart of Christ who paid for all the sins of his people and accomplished all obedience.

Note, this is the power and beauty of Reformed doctrine as it shines brilliantly in our form: salvation not promised conditionally, but absolutely guaranteed! (143).

There are places where Wielenga slips into conditional language, but they do not appear so frequently as to mar the book. The astute reader will take note of them.

Third, Wielenga defends that view of covenant children which regards them as regenerate in infancy, and as partakers of a real, spiritual, and not merely external, holiness. This view does justice to God’s promises, rightly explains the language of the Form, and gives great hope to Reformed parents in the rearing of their children. “Just as the children, included in Adam, their covenantal head, are partakers of an internal depravity, so also are the children, included in Christ, partakers of an internal regeneration and holiness” (155). “The compilers of this form also did not regard the children of the congregation as spiritually dead but as spiritually alive” (220). “We are certain that any view other than that of an internal sanctification is out of place in the baptism form and is also not in keeping with the doctrine of the covenant that predominated in the church of the Reformation” (326).

If this child, shortly after baptism, came to die, the parents, if they have come to understand something of the eternal comfort in life and death, may find in this baptism a ground for the hope that their early-deceased darling entered into glory. If the child grows up, the parents may proceed with the rearing from the supposition, or if this word displeases you, from the hope, the quiet expectation, that the God of the covenant has already laid the new germ of life into the child’s heart (407-408).

Wielenga regards the opposite view as Methodism, a Methodism increasingly common in Reformed circles today:

In contrast to the Methodist, who in the rearing only focuses on conversion, making of Sunday school and Christian education a conversion institute, the Reformed parent, who has learned to live out of the covenant, prayerfully looks to the God of the covenant. He pleads the promises of the covenant for his child so that he increases and grows up in the Lord Jesus Christ (408).

Fourth, Wielenga discusses a good number of practical questions concerning the ceremony itself, and there are times when he is unsparing in his criticism of certain practices that had arisen in the churches of his day: should baptism be delayed until the mother recovers or until relatives from out of town can arrive; who should hold the baby; how many times should the water be applied, once or thrice; and should the minister say “Amen” after the baptism? Although some of these matters are historical curiosities to us, some of them are still serious issues today.

Not out of custom! May this reverberate in our ranks. Let us battle against the great enemy of all spiritual life, called custom; against this large monster, which in its cold embrace spiritually smothers thousands—and by its icy breath spiritually murders thousands (286).

Every young parent—especially the fathers, who seek baptism for their children in the consistory room—would do well to read this book. It would be worthwhile for married couples to read this book as they rear the covenant seed. And it would warm the hearts of all Reformed church members to read this book carefully and devotionally, whether they have children or not, for the doctrine of the covenant and of salvation is the joy of our souls.

Reader, may the fruit of the joint contemplation of our precious baptism form be that the word with which this prayer and thus our entire form concludes may find in all our hearts a warm echo. That is to say, on all these truths, promises, and admonitions, may your whole soul pray and worship. Amen (425).

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