Author Archives: Wes Bredenhof

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania.

Seven Wondrous Words — International Shipping

A couple of days ago I announced the release of my new book Seven Wondrous WordsI provided this link to the publisher for the print edition.  If you’re in Canada, that would be no problem.  However, for folks in other countries, there is currently an issue with the international shipping.  The publisher is aware of the issue and is working on a solution — when it’s found, I’ll share it here.  In the meantime, Seven Wondrous Words is also available as an e-book at this site.

Book Review: Know Why You Believe

Know Why You Believe, K. Scott Oliphint.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.  Softcover, 221 pages.

There’s a need for different types of books on apologetics.  We need the books on theory – and there are plenty of them.  Several efforts have been made over the years to write books specifically addressed to unbelieving skeptics.  However, so far as I’m aware, there haven’t been too many books written for believers at a popular level.  I’m talking about the kind of book you could give to your teenage son or daughter when they start asking hard questions about the Christian faith.  This is that book.

As a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Oliphint is well-qualified to write this kind of work.  He has a great grasp of the background philosophical and theological issues – and this is evident in his more scholarly apologetics books.  Yet he also has a track record of accessible writing for popular audiences – for example, some years ago I reviewed his great series of biblical studies entitled The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith.  He’s done it again.  Except for a couple of more technical sections, most of Know Why You Believe should be comprehensible to the average reader from young adults upwards.

The book launches with this profound quote from C.S. Lewis at his best:  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  That really sets the tone for everything following.  One of the reasons I really love this book and can highly recommend it is because it takes God’s Word seriously.  It takes Psalm 36:9 seriously:  “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”  God’s light especially shines forth in his Word.  If you want to see clearly, you need to see things God’s way.  This is also true when it comes to the reasons for believing the Christian faith.  The best and most trustworthy reasons come from God himself – the faithful God who never lies.  That’s the basic approach undergirding Know Why You Believe – a biblical, Reformed approach to apologetics.

Oliphint covers 10 questions we might struggle with:

  • Why believe in the Bible?
  • Why believe in God?
  • Why believe in Jesus?
  • Why believe in miracles?
  • Why believe Jesus rose from the dead?
  • Why believe in salvation?
  • Why believe in life after death?
  • Why believe in God in the face of modern science?
  • Why believe in God despite the evil in the world?
  • Why believe in Christianity alone?

Each chapter deals with one of these questions.  It explains the reasons and then also addresses responses or objections that might arise.  There are also “Questions for Reflection” and recommended readings with every chapter.

Just touching on one chapter, the second last deals with the problem of evil.  It describes the problem and then explores two ways in which Christians have tried to address it, albeit unsatisfactorily.  Instead, Oliphint attempts to offer biblical reasons as to how evil can co-exist with a good God.  He points out that God has recognized the problem of evil from before creation.  Furthermore, God created human beings in his image as responsible agents.  When Adam and Eve fell, God rightly judged their sin.  The real blame for evil is on them, not God.  He then points out how God himself has dealt with, is dealing with, and will deal with the problem of evil through his Son Jesus Christ.  This is a good explanation, but Oliphint might have said more.  For instance, he could have added that because God is good, he must have a morally good reason for allowing whatever evil there is to exist.

Not every Christian ponders the deeper questions of why we believe what we do.  But if you or someone you know does, this will be a great read.  It would also make a great gift for consistories to give to young people who make public profession of faith.

Now Available: Seven Wondrous Words

From the publisher’s blurb:

The “Seven Wondrous Words” of Christ on the cross are truly “wondrous” – they reflect the wonder of who our Saviour is and what he has accomplished for us in his crucifixion. When we contemplate these sayings, we cannot help but be in awe of what God has done for our rescue. In this book, Rev. Bredenhof focuses on one Word at a time, and highlights the wonder of the gospel, and our salvation. (Seven outlines, each with questions.)

Click here to order.

Liberation Theology and the Social Gospel

In 1999, the World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission held a missiological consultation at Iguassu, Brazil.  This was one of the statements issued:

In a world increasingly controlled by global economic forces, Christians need to be aware of the corrosive effects of affluence and the destructive effects of poverty.  We must be aware of ethnocentrism in our view of economic forces.  We commit ourselves to address the realities of world poverty and oppose policies that serve the powerful rather than the powerless…We call all Christians to commit themselves to reflect God’s concern for the justice and welfare of all peoples.

Note the attention to affluence versus poverty and the powerful versus the powerless.  Setting up these kinds of oppositions is typical of thought influenced by liberation theology.

When you hear the term “liberation theology,” you might be inclined to think of the Liberation of 1944, an important event from our Dutch church history.  But you’d be quite wrong.  Liberation theology is quite removed from any Reformed theology.  The latter is biblical and God-honouring, the former not so much.

Liberation theology has had quite an influence on the way some Christians think about mission.  Whereas biblical mission is about the proclamation of the gospel to save sinners from the wrath of God, liberation theology holds that God’s mission in this world is to deal with injustice and oppression.  Biblical mission is about a gospel of salvation – liberation theology is about the social gospel, a pseudo-gospel.

Liberation theology originated in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s.  This was a time of radical social upheaval in that region.  Social revolutions were fuelled by Marxist and socialist ideology.  That way of thinking also forms the background to liberation theology.

If we’re looking for a succinct definition, Millard Erickson’s is on the money:

Liberation theology is a collection of theological movements which put more emphasis on deliverance of human beings from various types of temporal bondage – economic, political, and social – than on personal redemption from sin.  It tends to draw upon social sciences rather than biblical and theological bases. (Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology)

I would note especially that last statement.  What the Bible says is not a high priority for liberation theologians and those influenced by them.  When they do consider what the Bible says, more often than not, they read their theology back into the text.

History and Influence

Not surprisingly, given its Latin American roots, the term “liberation theology” was coined in Roman Catholic circles.  It first appeared around 1968, in the context of Roman Catholic discussions about how to address political oppression, poverty, and sickness in Latin America.  In 1973, a Roman Catholic theologian from Peru, Gustavo Gutierrez, published “A Theology of Liberation.”  In the early 60s, faced with rampant violence and social upheaval, Gutierrez had embraced Marxist social analysis.  That led him to break with traditional Roman Catholic theology and develop his new theology of liberation.

While liberation theology was especially in vogue in the 70s and 80s, its influence remains to this day.  Emphases of liberation theology can often be heard in evangelical missiology.  Evangelical authors such as Ronald Sider are well known as having drunk from the fountain of Gutierrez and others.  Liberation theology terms like “preferential option for the poor” are oftentimes heard in evangelical discussions in the area of mission.

Main Features

The most important feature of liberation theology is that it starts from below with the situation of the oppressed and poor.  It doesn’t begin with the Bible as an authoritative source.  Instead, it uses the human situation as its text.

That human situation is fundamentally seen as a matter of class conflict.  This is how Marxist and socialist ideology is at the roots.  Liberation theologians such as Gutierrez follow the idea that there are tensions in society, there are exploited social classes, and a new world order will result when these exploited social classes engage in revolution.  In their way of thinking, the major issue in life is about who has the power.  It’s about a class struggle.

Theologically, liberation theologians assert that God is on the side of the oppressed and the poor.  This is where we encounter the language of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”  Liberation theologians maintain that God prefers to work with the poor and oppressed.

As far as Christ goes, he is but an example.  He struggled for the poor and the outcast, and so we must do likewise.  He became totally involved in a historical situation of conflict and oppression.  The cross has nothing to do with reconciliation with God.  Instead, it’s a picture of the suffering experienced by God when people are downtrodden.

What becomes of mission?  It’s sharing with people the fact that God also suffers when they are oppressed.  God wants them to be free of poverty and oppression.  The gospel is purely social – it’s something happening on a horizontal level.  Sin is no longer about offending God.  It’s purely about human oppression and suffering.  The mission of the church is simply to follow the example of Jesus and show God’s commitment to the poor.

Brief Evaluation

Any system of theology which has Scripture as an afterthought is obviously flawed from the start.  Liberation theology’s presuppositions rest with Marxist thinking rather than any biblical faith commitment.  With these Marxist presuppositions, humanity’s fundamental problem is the class struggle and social, economic and political oppression.  With biblical presuppositions, humanity’s basic problem is the sin which alienates us from God.

In liberation theology, salvation is all about freedom from oppression.  Sin has been redefined in Marxist terms.  Christ is merely an example of how we can confront economic, social, and political oppression.  He has nothing to do with rescuing fallen humanity from the wrath of God against sin.  When you abandon the Bible as your authoritative source for theology, this is one of the hellacious places you may end up.  It’s a denial of the true gospel.

But Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

If we take the Bible as our infallible authority, what is the truth about where God stands in regard to the poor and oppressed?  And how does that impact mission?

The justice and love of God surely compel him to frown when there is injustice and oppression.  However, we cannot say this without immediate qualification.  Poverty and oppression are the result of the fall into sin.  Sometimes they can also be God’s judgments upon sin.  The truth is, apart from Christ, everyone deserves poverty, oppression and suffering.  These things exist in the world because of human sinfulness.  They also exist to faintly point to the reality that something far worse awaits those who unrepentantly continue to rebel against God.

There is far more to say.  But let me finish with Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  There are numerous passages in the Pentateuch commanding God’s people to show compassion and love, also to the foreign sojourners dwelling among them.  Likewise, we are commanded to care for those around us who are hurting.  God will use our care and compassion to open doors for the gospel, so that people are brought into fellowship with him through Christ.  That’s the main thing.

There is a limited sense in which God is on the side of the oppressed – and so we should be too.  However, it would be ill-advised to build a theology around that.  Letting this thought define and direct Christian mission would likewise be misguided.  Mission is about proclaiming the gospel of salvation – and Reformed churches ought always to keep this in view.

Ten Ways to Help Your Children Love and Stay with the Church

If you’re in a faithful gospel-preaching church and you have children, wouldn’t you want your children to love that church and stay with it?  I’ve come up with a list of ways to help Christian parents help their children do that.

 I should say at the outset that I share these first of all because, if your church is faithful, the gospel is at stake.  It’s vitally important for our children to stay in a church where the gospel of Christ is proclaimed in Word and sacrament.  Children get discipled for Christ in such a church.  We can never take this for granted.  Second, I’m writing this to remind myself of how important it is to disciple my own children.  I should also say that there’s never any guarantee your children will remain with the church, or that they’ll be responsive to the gospel promises.  You can do everything right, but the Holy Spirit must regenerate the heart, also the hearts of our children.  It’s all grace.  But, from a human perspective, if you do one, some or all of these ten things, you certainly improve the odds your children will stay and love their gospel-focussed church. 

Be positive about the church and your relationship to it. Make sure your children hear and see your positive attitude.  Remember to pray regularly for the church and for the pastors, elders, and deacons.

Regularly attend worship services.  Communicate to your children that you need the ministry of the Word and sacraments and they need it too.  There’s always room for growth.  God’s call to worship applies to your family just as it does to everyone else.

Be committed to your local church. Have your children involved as much as possible in the activities of your local church.

Make church attendance mandatory for everyone in your home. If they don’t feel like going to church, they should be going anyway (unless they’re sick, of course). There are some things we might not feel like doing (like going to the dentist), but they’re good for us and our parents forced us to because they loved us.  Love your children the same way.

Similarly, make catechism attendance mandatory.  If they don’t feel like going, again you have to insist.  Support the efforts of your pastor to catechize your children.  Check to make sure they’re memorizing the catechism, check to see if they’re doing their homework, and make sure they’re prepared for class.

Sing at home what you sing in the church’s public worship. Communicate to your children that you actually appreciate the Psalms and hymns of the church.  You want them to embrace these songs and value them.  Teach your children the meaning of what they sing.

As much as possible, live close enough to the church so that you can be meaningfully involved in the life of the church.  If you live further out, look for and take opportunities to move closer.

Teach your children about the importance of giving your first fruits to the Lord. Speak to your children about financial contributions to the church.  Be sure to set them an example by faithfully giving yourself.  Be a cheerful giver!

Send them to the Christian school the other children from the congregation attend. This will help them to develop connections and friendships with peers in the church community.

Give helpful guidance with regards to their friends and potential marriage partners. Encourage them to have believing friends and to find marriage partners who love the Lord, but also love his church.

In short, do everything you can to communicate that the church isn’t some human organization or a club where you can come and go as you please.  Make it clear that the church is your spiritual mother (Gal. 4:26), the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), the bride for which Christ died and which he loves (Eph. 5:25), and the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).