Category Archives: Trends

Book Review: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church, R. Albert Mohler Jr..  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2020.  Hardcover, 223 pages.

Albert Mohler has a well-deserved reputation as one of Christianity’s best culture critics.  He has a daily radio program (The Briefing) with thoughtful worldview analysis.  His blog (AlbertMohler.com) is on my must-read list.  When Mohler speaks or writes on a topic, you can be sure of two things:  1) he’ll be starting with the Bible as his foundation and 2) he’ll be aiming for the glory of God through the advance of the gospel.

He does it in this book on our contemporary cultural challenges too.  Here he’s addressing the overarching problem of secularism.  At the outset, I should say he’s writing as an American for an American audience.  I read it as an ex-pat Canadian living in Australia.  Some of the material in the book may seem irrelevant to people like me — the Appendix, for example, deals with the American Supreme Court and the role it plays in political decision-making.  You may have to stop and think about how that transfers to the Canadian or Australian situation (I think it does).  That said, Mohler does pay attention to developments elsewhere in the world.  He writes about situations in British Columbia, Alberta, France, and elsewhere.

The book contains both description and analysis.  If anyone has been paying attention, a lot of the descriptive material is going to be familiar.  He describes how secularism is a threatening storm in regard to civilization, the church, human life, marriage, family, and gender/sexuality.  Mohler’s analysis of these trends is where I found the real money for value in this book.

Let me share a few points of appreciation that might whet your appetite.

Already in the Introduction, Mohler explains that secular doesn’t mean “irreligious” or “non-religious.”  It means “that Christianity, which forged the moral and spiritual worldview of Western civilization, is being displaced.”  In the first chapter, he elaborates:

Secular, in terms of contemporary sociological and intellectual conversation, refers to the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief.  It is both an ideology, which is known as secularism, and a consequence, which is known as secularization.  The latter is not an ideology; it is a concept and a sociological process whereby societies become less theistic, and in our context that means less Christian in general outlook. (pp.4-5)

Elsewhere in the book he illustrates how secularism and secularization have religious and theological values.

The second chapter is entitled “The Gathering Storm in the Church.”  Mohler notes how the prophets of theological liberalism predicted that churches would need to adapt to the culture in order to survive.  He quotes a Baptist minister and lawyer, Oliver Thomas:  “Churches will continue hemorrhaging members until we face the truth:  being a faithful Christian does not mean accepting everything the Bible teaches” (p.30).  However, the truth is quite the opposite:  “it was actually liberal theology that lead to the evacuation of these churches” (p.19).  Mohler doesn’t discuss this, but I’d note that we heard the same canard from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands about women in office.  Some from the RCN argued that the church can’t survive and grow while restricting the special offices of the church to men.  I wonder how that’s going for them.  If you look at the Christian Reformed Church in North America, after their decision to allow women in office in 1992, they’ve been on a steady downward trend in membership.  Adapting to the culture is not a recipe for growth.

That same chapter also issues a cry for the need for creeds and confessions.  Says Mohler, “Churches and denominations that have no confession of faith, or have a confession in name only, disarm themselves doctrinally” (p.36).  Quite right!  Historic Christian confessions which faithfully summarize the Bible are indispensable for keeping our doctrinal heads screwed on straight as the storm of secularism starts blowing in.

The chapter on gender and sexuality discusses the infamous Revoice Conference of 2018.  This conference was held to support, encourage and empower “gay, lesbian, same sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”  This illustrates “the revolution’s demand on the church of Jesus Christ.”  One thing Mohler doesn’t mention is the fact that this conference was hosted by a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.  In fact, the epicentre of the Revoice controversy has been in the PCA and how the church and its courts respond to it.

One of the troubling things about the Revoice Conference was the idea that a Christian can identify himself/herself in terms of being gay or lesbian, etc.  In other words, you can be a “gay Christian.”  Mohler dissents.  The most significant problem “is the idea that any believer can claim identity with a pattern of sexual attraction that is itself sinful” (p.108).  Some associated with Revoice argue that the attraction itself is not sinful.  Mohler’s response to this is worth a careful read:

The issues here are bigger than sexuality.  As Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield rightly explain, we confront here a basic evangelical disagreement with Roman Catholicism.  Ever since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that involuntary incentive to sin is not itself sin.  In the most amazing sentence, the Council of Trent declared: “This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin.”  Don’t miss the acknowledgement that the doctrine of Trent is contrary to the language of the apostle.  (p.109)

That was new to me; both the connection to Roman Catholicism, and how explicitly the Council of Trent repudiated biblical teaching on this point.

Finally, Mohler has a great chapter on the challenges facing our young people.  Again, the description is good, but the analysis is better.  But best of all is the way Mohler lays out a way to “apply the gospel power in order to engage the storm gathering over the coming generations.”  He argues that Christian parents have to lay hold of three things:

  1. Because it’s where the gospel is preached, church has to be the utmost and highest priority for Christian families.
  2. Christian parents need to both understand the challenge of technology, screen time, and social media and rise to meet that challenge.
  3. Christian parents have to disciple their children through family worship and quality family time.  (pp.140-141)

If I could add one item to this list:  recognizing the need for and value of Christian education.  After all, public education is one of the primary ways secularism seeks to indoctrinate our children.

I first became aware of The Gathering Storm through its promotion online through Mohler’s blog and other sources.  However, what really led me to buy it and read it was a friend and colleague from Canada who was doing a course for Christian school teachers on the biblical worldview and contemporary challenges to it.  I’d say that it is a must-read for Christian educators.  But no less so for parents and far more so for office bearers in Christ’s church.  I do wonder whether the storm is still gathering or whether it is upon us.  Whatever the case may be, none of us can be doing the ostrich thing.  We need to see what’s going on and then also realize that if we’re truly Christians, we have the solid foundation under our feet to weather it — and even see the gospel advance despite it.

 

 

 


That morning I listened to Kanye West

I’ve never been a Kanye West fan. About a year ago, I was flipping through the radio channels while driving. I came across a station playing one of his songs. It was one of the most vile, misogynistic songs I’ve ever heard. As we were eating our dinner, I told our kids about what I’d heard earlier in the day. Knowing Kanye better than I did, they weren’t surprised. But they sure were surprised to hear their dad listening to Kanye West last Saturday morning.

I was rather surprised too. His new album had just dropped and the title led me to listen. Jesus is King blew me off my feet. How could it happen that the same man responsible for that horrible song could produce an entire album in praise of the Saviour?

Click here to continue reading at Reformed Perspective’s website…


The Shack

the_shack_film

I try to stay positive and focus on what’s encouraging.  However, from time to time clear warnings need to be sounded about dangerous teachings.  I am not one to use the word heresy lightly (see here for why), but when it comes to The Shack, it is completely appropriate.  I read the book when it first came out in about 2007.  People from my church community were reading it and raving about it.  An uncle passed me a copy and asked me to read and review it.  It was appalling.  Not only was it really bad literature, it was even worse theology.  This led my co-pastor and I to write a warning for our congregation regarding the book.  This was published in our bulletin.  Now there’s a movie being released on March 3.  In view of that, I think it’s worthwhile to republish the warning that the Langley CanRC co-pastors issued in  2008 regarding the book.  Today, I would just add that portraying God in any way, let alone with female actresses portraying the Father and the Holy Spirit, is a violation of the Second Commandment.  As the Heidelberg Catechism says it in Lord’s Day 35, “We are not to make an image of God in any way…God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way.”

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From the Pastors

In a recent edition of BC Christian News, there was a front-page article promoting a novel by William P. Young, The Shack.  It appears that this book is quite popular in broader Christian circles and has been making the rounds in our own circles as well.  As pastors who care for the flock, we must be honest with you:  this book is full of dangerous, erroneous teachings about God.  It contains a perversion of the gospel.

This is one of those books were someone meets with God in person.  In this case, two persons of the Trinity are represented as women.  “Papa” is a large African-American woman.  The Spirit is Sarayu, an Asian woman (Sarayu is a river in India invoked and venerated by Hindus).  Jesus is represented as a Middle-Eastern man.  However, there is also Sophia, an off-shoot of Sarayu.  This book revives ancient heresies regarding the Trinity.  One of those heresies is patripassionism, the teaching that the Father suffered with the Son on the cross.  Another false teaching is found when “Papa” says, “I am truly human, in Jesus, but I am a totally separate other in my nature.” (p.201).  God the Father did not become human in Jesus.  That is the sort of mixing of the persons that the Athanasian Creed stands against.  Next, we might also point out that the “God” of The Shack does not send people to hell – he/she has no concept of justice or wrath.  Consequently, the grace offered in this book is cheap.  Finally, the novel is explicitly Arminian (or Pelagian, which is even worse) throughout.  For example, Young promotes unbiblical notions about the freedom of the human will.  We also find the false teaching that the atonement of Christ was intended to save all (and going one step further, does in fact, save all).  On page 225, we read “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sin against me, but only some choose relationship.”  All these erroneous teachings are not incidental to the book but pervade it – and we could add several more.

Some have argued that this book is a work of fiction, that it is allegorical and is not meant to be taken literally.  However, when the author was recently at Regent College for a book talk, it became very clear that William P. Young is not an orthodox Christian and his book was not written to convey orthodox Christian theology, but rather the opposite.  Brothers and sisters, because the gospel is at stake, we are obligated to warn you:  please do not waste your time and money on books such as this and please do not encourage others to read it.

You can also find a full review of this book at this helpful website.

Rev. George VanPopta has also reviewed The Shack here.


GKV & Homosexuality: More Reason for Concern and a Warning

On the Ref-net (a Reformed e-mail discussion group), someone posted a link to an item on the official website of the Gereformeerde Kerken (Vrijgemaakt) — GKV.  The GKV are sister churches of the CanRC and are also in ecumenical relations with the URCNA and RCUS.  This news item speaks about an organization called ContrariO which is attempting to create more tolerance and understanding for gays and lesbians by addressing students in Reformed high schools in the Netherlands.  Among other things, we’re told that “ContrariO does not speak out about whether or not one should enter into or have homosexual relationships.  ContrariO finds this open to multiple Biblical interpretations and a deeply personal private choice.” (my translation).  Again:  note that this item is on the official website of the GKV and therefore approved by the federation.  ContrariO is a “Reformed club for gays and lesbians.”  You can find more information (translated via Google) here. Part of their aim is to provide a “gay-friendly” environment in Christian schools and promote the visibility of the gay Christian in society and in Christian circles.

Over at Reformed Academic, the GKV are held up as an example of the more tolerant direction that the Canadian Reformed Churches should be moving in with regards to our understanding of biblical authority.  Do not be deceived:  this is the inevitable fruit of the hermeneutical drift taking place in the Netherlands among our sister churches.


Greatest Threat to Christianity

“Lazy minds breed lazy hearts and hands…The greatest threat to Christianity is never vigorous intellectual criticism but a creeping senility that transforms truths into feelings, public claims into private experiences, and facts into mere values.”

Michael Horton, the Gospel-Driven Life, 262.