The Mission of God Through Moses vs. Paul: Bavinck Explains the Black Church Advantage 

For nearly 15 years, I’ve been working hard to encourage evangelical Protestants to considering the fact that social issues in society are not peripheral to the mission of God in the world. That is, issues of justice, economics, public policy, poverty, and the like, are an aspect of God’s redemptive mission as God intends to redeem to entire cosmos, not simply the people in it.

I’ve found the Dutch Reformed tradition to be extremely helpful the liberating evangelicals from their limiting the concerns of the people of God to the saving of individual souls as the sole telos of redemption. For example, in preparation for the Christian Social Congress that met in Amsterdam, November 9–12, 1891, Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck prepared an addressed titled, “General Biblical Principles and the Relevance of Concrete Mosaic Law for the Social Question Today” on this point. While acknowledging that “Jesus did not come, first of all, to renew families and reform society but to save sinners and to redeem the world. . . .," Bavinck is clear that Christians are not simply to set concerns about society to the side or that we care about society only insofar as it explicitly connected to evangelism. For Bavinck, the emphasis in the New Testatment is the salvation of souls whereas the Old Testament helps us understand the more cosmic aspects of redemption. Here's what Bavinck says:

"Now the law is not simply abrogated and set aside, but it is fulfilled in Christ and in this way reaches its own end. For that reason, the New Testament does not give us laws that could as a matter of course be adopted by the state and enforced with its authority. Rather we must go to the Old Testament where the eternal principles are set forth by which alone the well-being of families, societies, and states can be guaranteed. These principles are not written on tablets of stone but penetrate the bodily tablets of human hearts and, through the church of Christ, the world. It is indisputable that the salvation of human souls stands in the foreground of the New Testament. . . .

However, this does not set aside all the differences and inequalities that exist among people in this earthly life. Property ownership does not disappear; the example of the Jerusalem church in Acts is all too often taken by itself and is too exceptional to provide a counter claim. The differences between rich and poor, slave and free, parents and children, civil authorities and subjects, is assumed and honored fully by Jesus and his apostles in their words and deeds."

Bavinck's address helps me see why, in part, it is that the black church in America has never struggled with needing to justify the church's involvement with social & political issues and why evangelicals don't easily see the connection.

American's dominant white culture (esp., 19th-21st-century evangelicals) have never needed the theology of Moses to make sense of their faith (past, present, and future) whereas the black church has had to do so from its inception because of oppression. Here's the tragic consequence (I posted this on Twitter on Jan. 3):

1. Generally in the black church, you learn about Jesus through Moses. Evangelicals, Paul. That's why evangelicals struggle w/social issues.

2. When you get to Jesus through Moses, redemption encompasses all of life. God is redeeming the whole creation. People, places, & things.

3. When you get to Jesus through Paul ("the gospel") redemption is becomes largely about issues of personal salvation & the church.

 4. The Pauline starting point has to do some hermeneutical gymnastics to make a case for how the gospel applies to X because of Paul's scope.

5. Alternatively, the Mosaic starting point is free to articulate why God cares abt personal salvation, economics, business, education, etc.

6. Therefore the black church tradition, had an easier time making a case for why God cared abt slavery, Jim Crow, civil-rights, etc.

7. The black church tradition, generally did not have to defend Christian witness in society light of the contextual priorities of Paul.

8. As a result, modern evangelical systematic theology books (like Grudem et al) are categorically deficient for racial minorities.

9. Leaders of ethnic minorities need systematic theologies w/the priorities of Moses *and* Paul which culminate in the work/person of Christ

10. I now understand why I never really "got" the evangelical insistence that Xianity reflect Paul's priorities. I wasn't raised that way.

11. This is what black liberation theology was attempting to do: provide a non-dominant culture (mainly Pauline) witness of Christ.

12. For the 21st century, African, black, Latin/o orthodox Xian pastors/theologians need collaboration b/c evangelical sources are deficient

13. Black, African, Latin/o Christians need to do more than regurgitate/parrot the theological priorities (& blindspots) of white evangelism

14. Finally, Black, African, Latin/o Christian still need their own movement instead of the dominant one decorated with minority ornaments.

In the end, in the black church you much more likely see a more robust, Bavinckian expression of what Christianity is about in the present and the future from Genesis to Revelation as opposed to the evangelical emphasis on "the gospel" and salvation concerns from the book of Acts, Paul's letters, and the book of Hebrews. 

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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Approximately 15% of married couples struggle with infertility. Of that number, 40% of cases are caused by infertile men. So much of how masculinity is framed in the West revolves around a man's ability to impregnate a woman and raise his own biological progeny, especially sons. This narrative is often interrupted by reality, however. Hundreds of couples in the US are not able to conceive biological children. If you are one of them, hundreds of men need to hear your story.

Anthony Bradley teaming up with licensed counselor in Washington state to provide a resource for couples wrestling with infertility, but from the husband's perspective. Nearly all of the major resources on infertility are written by women for women with little attention paid to understanding how infertility effects men. We looking for a few men who would be willing to answer 7 questions:

(1) How did you come to learn about your infertility (either yours or your wife's) and how did you initially respond?
(2) How did/does the news make you see yourself as a man? 
(3) What issues did this news raise for you spiritually?
(4) Describe what it was like walking though this with your wife?
(5) (a) What are some of the stupid or unhelpful or unwise things have people said/done to you all after finding out? (b) What are some things you encounter that trigger painful reminders of your infertility?
(6) What are some do's and don'ts you would advise for friends and family once they are made aware that a couple is infertile? 
(7) For the guy who just found out that he's infertile, what does he need to hear?

We're asking participants to write about 2,000-5,000 words (which will come easy) and should read almost like a journal entry. We're only looking for contributors to answer the questions directly. You can write anonymously if you'd like. You'll have a few months to write a response. Being a good writer is not necessary, we just need men who are willing to tell their stories. 

We currently have 3 submissions thus far from the US and the UK and we're looking for a few more. Your story could help hundreds of men who need insight regarding the journey of infertility. For these submissions, it does not matter which spouse is infertile (if known).

If you're interested please contact Dr. Anthony Bradley at


AuthorAnthony Bradley

Since 1997, I've been wondering, and seeking clarification on, exactly how it was that Calvinists,  as those who pride themselves on having "right" doctrine, were consistently on the wrong side of the transatlantic slave trade, American slavery (in the North and the South), and supporters of Jim Crow or passive bystanders. Why didn't the power of the gospel work among these Christians in such a way that they championed the dignity and freedom of Africans and African Americans? For my own tribal reasons, I had hoped that Presbyterians would be the ones to lead the rest of evangelicalism in this discourse on race and the gospel in America but I now realize that for many Presbyterians who defend the South the issues of race are simply not too urgent. I do know for some that is not true.  Under the advice of Presbyterian pastors, I have sobered and readjusted my expectations and realize now that the Presbyterians follow the lead of Baptists on the issues of race and justice as allies in the Kingdom. 

The initial response to my queries over the years has ranged from deflection (like talking about the of William Wilberforce or MLK's infidelities or theology), to denial of association ("I wasn't there"), to denial of importance ("why are we talking about the past"), to defensive detachment ("those were not the same types of Christians we are today), or even denying that racists in the pasts were "true" Christians because they were engaged in sin--this is also known as the "no true Scotsman fallacy." Therefore, I am thankful for Dr. King, liberals (progressives), Southern Baptists, and President Obama because if it were not for these voices I'm not certain Reformed evangelicals would be having a broad conversation on race. 

Martin Luther King, Jr: I am thankful for Martin Luther King, Jr. Had it not been for his leadership, of course, it is likely that Jim Crow statutes would not have ended when they did or at all. Moreover, even though white Christians had access to power during the Jim Crow years, there was no "William Wilberforce" for black equality from Reconstruction through the Civil-Rights Movement in the United States.

Liberals and Progressive Evangelicals: On November 2, 2014 Pastor Bryan Loritts wrote a blog post titled, "Praise God For Liberals." In the post, Loritts observed the evangelical impulse to romanticize the past in such a way that conservative, gospel-centered, evangelicals emerge as the untainted heroes of the story. Evangelicals are the heroes and liberals are the villains. However, Calvinists and conservative evangelicals are largely ignorant of the history of racial oppression that is the other side of their own tradition in the United States. Perhaps they are not the untainted heroes of orthodoxy that many are led to believe. Unfortunately, I can honestly say that had it not been for the for the work of Dr. Joel Alvis (Religion and Race: Southern Presbyterians, 1946 to 1983), Dr. Peter Slade Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship, Dr. Stephen Haynes, (The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregationand Dr. Carolyn Dupont Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975 members of the Presbyterian Church in America would likely have ever learned about the role that race played in the formation of the denomination and in the roles of Presbyterians in South during slavery and Jim Crow. Would Presbyterians in the OPC, PCA, EPC, and so on, ever know these stories without the scholarship of "outsiders?" It does not seem likely to me given the fact that I graduated from two schools associated with the tradition and did not know any of that history until a few years ago. The dominate position seems to be craft a narrative of the "true" heroes of the story as those who left liberalism for theological reasons without noting their cultural captivity to other social currents of the day.

Southern Baptists Convention: The Southern Baptist Convention, without question, is the leading conservative evangelical denomination in the America on confessing past racism, being completely honest about being on the wrong side of racial oppression, and taking strides toward racial reconciliation (and led by very visible leaders like Russell Moore). For example, Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition initiated, led, and directed a conversation about the response of evangelicals to the Civil-Rights Movement. The entire series was highly instructive and I was honored that Justin Taylor even thought my question was worth investigating. In a follow-up discussion, Russell Moore and Matt Hall had a courageously public and transparent conversation about the failings of Southern Baptists and posted it on social media--an unprecedented move for two white males, in my experience, with high levels of credibility within conservative evangelicalism. Kudos to them! 

In the 1995, the Southern Baptists led evangelicalism again by passing a racial reconciliation resolution. In 1994, the Missouri-Synod Lutherans released a denomination wide report titled Racism and the Church: Overcoming the Idolatry published by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations. This document is so outstanding that it became of basis of my book Aliens In the Promised Land. The Presbyterian Church In America did their good work on racial reconciliation at the denominational level in 2002.

President Obama: President Obama ignited a helpful conversation about humility by high-lighting that Christians were perpetrators of racial oppression in the name of the Jesus Christ and his gospel.  I agreed with Eugene Scott, that the most disturbing part of the reading many white evangelical responses was reading the mental and theological gymnastics of saying that KKK members, lynchers, and so on, were not real or "true" Christians. Yes, they were.

Tribalism creates these types of blind spots. When your tribe's Christianity is a built on the foundation of "we are always right" and that "the gospel" is the fill-in the blank rhetorical solution to every problem in the world, you lose the ability to say, "those Christians in our own tradition were wrong, deceived, and we need to confess it, apologize and/or repent." You are also, then, vulnerable to believing that salvation rests on your tribe being right.

Believing the gospel does not mean that you automatically think correctly about human flourishing. The gospel does not magically fix people's thinking. The Westminster Divines knew better than to say something as overly simplistic as "the gospel is the answer." WCF 17.3 (HT: MR)

From The Westminster Confession Of Faith:

"Nevertheless, they [the saints] may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God's displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves." (17:3)

 In conclusion, I am grateful for the leadership and forwarding thinking of liberals and progressives, Southern Baptists, and the historical reminders by leaders like President Obama to point evangelicals back to their need for the gospel and the humility to say, "we were dead wrong." Honoring your fathers should not mean white-washing history. Without these voices taking these first initial steps, I'm not certain that the rest of conservative evangelicalism would be discussing these issues. Today, I am grateful for all of them!

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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In réponse to the #BlackLivesMatter discussion, many conservatives attempt to raise the issue of abortion as a way of deflecting the discussion in seems. Instead of engaging the issue, these conservatives attempt to deflect it and raise a separate issue. Abortion rates are a problem and they need to be addressed but the #blacklivesmatter discussion is a larger discussion about human dignity.

What conservatives don't realize is that they will be interpreted as not caring about the issues in Ferguson, MO and New York City but "pivoting" the issue to talk about abortion. It will come across as resistance and unwillingness to treat #BlackLivesMatter, as it relates to law enforcement, as an issue worth discussing. Pivoting will be interpreted as dismissing the issue at hand. Conservatives do things like this (to rally their base) but then wonder why minorities do not trust them.

Therefore, if you come across the abortion deflection please tell them this: if you care so much about abortion rate in the black community then act like a Christian and open up your home and let single, pregnant black women live in your home for free (with their other kids if they have any) for as long as it is needed in order for her to get back on her feet--otherwise feel free to be quiet with the deflection attempt. It's not working.

Pope Benedict explains in Deus Caritas Est what that model looked like for the early church. If you're more interested in highlighting the black abortion rate in response to the #BlackLivesMatter discussion than helping black women yourself, I'll just say this, "faith without works is dead." You may just be a clanging cymbal. Some would say, "put up or shut up."

As the years went by and the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel.
The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word. A few references will suffice to demonstrate this. Justin Martyr († c. 155) in speaking of the Christians' celebration of Sunday, also mentions their charitable activity, linked with the Eucharist as such. Those who are able make offerings in accordance with their means, each as he or she wishes; the Bishop in turn makes use of these to support orphans, widows, the sick and those who for other reasons find themselves in need, such as prisoners and foreigners.[12] 
The great Christian writer Tertullian († after 220) relates how the pagans were struck by the Christians' concern for the needy of every sort.[13] And when Ignatius of Antioch († c. 117) described the Church of Rome as “presiding in charity (agape)”,[14] we may assume that with this definition he also intended in some sense to express her concrete charitable activity.

So, if you really care about black women and abortion rates, you won't protest abortion clinics, you'd be more interested in finding homes for these women and take them in yourself if necessary. And, you also won't use abortion to deflect the discussion about why black lives matter. 

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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 I've been extremely disappointed at the discourse over the deaths Michael Brown and Eric Garner in the mainstream press and within the Protestant space (including Calvin-loving evangelicals). Eric Garner's wife said that she believed race was not a factor in his assault and death. I believe her. Eric Garner became a non-person that day; that's why his breathing didn't matter. Most Americans can only assert that ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ but they can't tell you *why*. "Black lives matter" as a slogan is throwing sand into wind unless we can explain why. What's more important is ‪#‎WhyBlackLivesMatter‬. Blacks lives matter because black people are persons--that's been the struggle since 1619 on this country's soil. If you can't explain *why* black lives matter, your protests won't bring about any sort of structural change in law enforcement or in America in general. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this, but today's protestors aren't starting there. This is why I want to have a conversation about "why black lives matter."

And for you conservative evangelicals who want to use, "it all starts with the gospel" jargon, American history proves you wrong. Knowing "the gospel" and believing "the gospel" does not, and never has meant, that people are going to have good applied theological anthropology. Jonathan Edwards's applied theological anthropology is a terrible model, for example, as he dehumanized the slaves he owned. Evangelical Presbyterians and Baptists in the South for more of US history have been terrible models applied theological anthropology as Southern Baptists and Southern Presbyterians promoted slavery, endorsed "the Curse of Ham" and supported Jim Crow on "biblical" grounds. "The gospel" does not magically translate into right applications of human dignity in Western Christianity. In many cases, if you don't point people to anthropology people will not understand the difference the gospel makes in civil society. Let's have a more dynamic and robust conversation that includes multiple doctrines and principles in the Christian tradition. . . .

In response to all of this I wrote an op-ed title, Why Do Black Lives Matter.

AuthorAnthony Bradley

As I visit parishes from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions over the next year or so for my new book project, I'm noticing that they all missing 18-35ish-year-olds. It's fascinating and makes me chuckle a bit when I read Calvinistic evangelicals with all these "__________ Reasons Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church" blah, blah posts. What makes me chuckle a bit is that the non-evangelical traditions often have the very thing that conservative evangelicals assume to explain why young people are leaving their respective traditions--and vice versa. For example, Catholics are saying that young people need more CCM-ish praise music, conservative Baptists are are saying that young people want more"traditional" worship, etc. 

I'm most fascinated by the fact that (from the evangelical side) that church leaders listen to self-proclaimed gurus (who blog A LOT) who truly believe that they posses the omnicompetence to discern divine mysteries. What if the church catholic is not supposed to figure this out in 3-9 "top reasons?" What if the point is for the church catholic to remain faithful to her primary calling and like Providence and Sovereignty sort out the numbers and "growth projections." I've been thinking about this recently: Twenty years ago, I remember sitting in on "growth projection" meetings in the PCA as if we were at a business sales meeting. What were we doing? Isn't a bit presumptuous to chart what the Holy Spirit is going to do in the future? Just an observation. . . .

AuthorAnthony Bradley

After reading across the Christian traditions, it becomes readily apparent the irreparable damage the combination of Revivalism + Dispensationalism + Arminianism (RDA) rendered to evangelical Christianity in North America. The unfortunate cocktail expunged the end and goal of redemption as God's communion with his entire creation and replaced with a new proof-texted "Great Commission" reduction of redemption as the salvation of individual souls--which is an aspect of the overall mission of God. Protestant evangelicals, especially those not tied to a particular confession of faith, have been vulnerable to following the fads and personal emphases of popular and well-known leaders. For example, the phrase "the Great Commission" did not exist until the 17th-century, thanks to Enlightenment rationalism's fusion with Christianity, and, as demonstrated below, was popularized by the good intentions of one person as essentially an ad campaign. As we arrive in the 21-st century, one could argue that RDA overtime inadvertently disconnected American Protestant evangelicals from nearly 1,700 years of Christian teaching about the eschatological role of love (Luke 10:27) and why love is the greatest thing Christians are called to do here and now (and in the world to come). 

Even the revived emphasis on God's sovereignty in the economy of salvation maintains the reduction of redemption as the story of the destination of individual souls when it is void of a theocentric eschatological cosmology. As a result, there has emerged an emphasis on "being right" (thanks, again, to the Enlightenment) about how souls "get saved," which are important clarifications that need to be made, and, in recent decades, there has emerged a church-growth/church planting movement calling Christians into action on the basis of the "Great Commission." Where is the call to love?

Some could argue that what was neglected was the emphasis on discovering eschatologically what it means to love properly here and now (and, by the way, save your "false dichotomy" comments). The love discourse was given over to the "liberals" while the evangelicals focused on being "Biblical" and being "right" about the gospel. We have also seen successive generations, post-WW II, increasingly walk away from evangelicalism in North America as the redemptive story was divorced from the destiny of the entire cosmos. Here's the point: if kids don't know what their salvation is for, if the destination of the entire cosmos is unclear, and don't know why their day-to-day activities in the home and society matter eschatologically, here and now, should we be too surprised when each generation slowly walks away?  

The Context of Good Intentions

The focus on limiting redemption to the salvation of individuals emphasized in recent years follows those who have strong interests in missions, revivalism, the Great Awakenings, and the like. These were admirable movements by faithful men and women in past who contributed greatly to the spread of Christianity throughout the world. While well-intentioned, it may explain why evangelical Christians often seem to treat those outside the church as evangelistic projects rather than people placed in the lives of Jesus followers for the purpose of loving well in deep communion in accordance with all of their needs as human persons--spiritual (their eternal state), emotional, social, material, and so on. Love became subordinate to fulfilling "The Great Commission" and the historical result is that evangelicals turned a blind-eye to the injustices of European colonialism, the African-slave trade in the Americas, slavery in the US, lynching in the Southeast during Reconstruction, the terrorism of African-Americans during Jim Crow, and sitting on the sidelines during the Civil-Rights Movement, and so on. William Wilberforce is often offered as counter-narrative but the fact his activities came in the late 18th-century should be an embarrassing indictment on British Christianity since Christians in Briton had been involved in the enslavement of Africans in 1520. There are some in the revivalist tradition today who tend to believe that the church has no role, as an institution or community, in participating in the establishment of the conditions that bring about change in local communities for the sake of their neighbors' humanity, save a few issues like abortion and marriage.

Although the phrase, "The Great Commission" is found no where in the Bible, it has been defended by some as the core imperative of the Christian life. The problem exegetically, however, is that the word "go" in Matthew 28:16-20 is not an imperative. It's a participle. The Greek grammar simply does not support "go" as an imperative command unless you are reading an agenda into the exegesis (i.e., D. Wallace draws the wrong conclusions). Properly translated, the verse should read, "Having gone," or "As you go." The aorist participle is not functioning as an imperative in this text and, therefore, the call to "go" is not a particular action by individuals although the church's work in disciple-making is such a distinct call and an exegetical imperative. 

The dominance of the "The Great Commission" as clarion call for the work of the church in the world is a product of Baptist missionary, William Carey.  As Robbie Castleman observes:

It turns out that this passage may have got its summary label from a Dutch missionary Justinian von Welz (1621-88), but it was Hudson Taylor, nearly 200 years later, who popularized the use of "The Great Commission". So, it seems like Welz or some other Post-Reformation missionary probably coined the term "The Great Commission"

While the intentions were good, the attempt to make "the last thing Jesus said" an imperative is neither in the Bible nor in the history of the church across the traditions and has been misused unfortunately to shame and manipulate Christians into much legalism--not to mention the aphorism presents a truncated view of the Christian life and a truncated view of the progress of redemption. I have always wondered why I never really heard Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists and so on, preaching to people about the need for individuals to "go" and participate in evangelistic activities or call people to live a life of disciple-making outside of the normal work of the church in order to fulfill the "Great Commission." Now I know why. 

Susan Smith reiterates the origin,

The foundational importance of Matthew’s Great Commission for modern mission cannot be under-estimated, although as Johannes Nissen points out, “it has been demonstrated that it [Matthew’s ending] was not used as a basis for mission until the end of the seventeenth century.”1 Even though the Reformers did not consider the “Great Commission as binding, no biblical texts appear more frequently in the Anabaptist confessions of faith and court testimonies than the Matthean and Markan versions of the Great Commission ... They were the first to make the commission mandatory for all believers.”
Bosch identifies the Great Commission as the most important biblical motif for understanding the Enlightenment paradigm. He claims that William Carey must be credited “with putting it on the map so to speak,”3 and that it assumed significance for Protestant, especially Anglo Saxon, missionaries from the late 18th century onwards. In particular, it encouraged an expansionist approach to mission, and given that “civilisation” or socialisation into Western culture was an important missionary task, meant that imperial powers recognised that missionary activity often complemented imperial policies. 

So What?

The use of the phrase "Great Commission" is complex and needs to be studied further but we can say that for American evangelicals the Great Commission has inadvertently drowned out perhaps the greatest imperative and command in the entirety of God's special revelation in the whole of redemptive history: to orient the Christian life toward loving God and loving neighbor. The gospel is a means to freeing people so that they can be people of proper love. The pursuit of holiness is purging one's life of anything that prevents someone from properly loving God and neighbor as the church goes about her regular work in the world in word, deed, and in offering the sacraments. This includes evangelism. Christians should desire that every person be in union with Christ so that they can be set free to properly love. As David Jones explains, the goal of the Christian life is the glory God and the motive of everything that God's people are to do in this world is summarized in one word: love.

The call to love (Luke 10:27) includes concerns about personal atonement and how the church functions but points us to much more. The call to love cannot be reduced to God being in communion with individual souls. The story of redemption, the eschatological purpose of love, is a story of God being in communion with his people and his entire creation. The entire cosmos. "It's comprehensive," writes William Edgar. The thriving and flourishing of God's world now and in the world to come is proportionate to the degree that God's people learn how to love, hence the centrality Jesus' command that is initiated first and foremost by God's unmerited act of love. That love, as commanded, will be perfect some day but not yet. However, love is the direction of the Christian life with the Triune God as the end for which love was created.

God's communion with his creation and his people is the end history and will be finally consummated when Christ returns. Now we understand better why "all things" are being reconciled to Christ (Col 1:15-20). That is, the story of redemptive culminates in the eschatological unity of every dimension of cosmos--all of it. Excluding the cosmos from the plan of redemption is neither found in the Bible nor in the Christian tradition save a few rationalistic Enlightenment, revivalist  evangelicals who have no theocentric cosmology. Perhaps, them, it is time for American evangelicals to re-align themselves with nearly 1700 years of Christian teaching rather than a missionary ad campaign inspired by the Enlightenment. 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love(1 Cor 13:13).

For more:

Biblical Christian Ethics by David Jones.

Truth In All It's Glory by William Edgar

New Testament and Mission: Historical and Hermeneutical Perspectives by Johannes Nissen 

Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (American Society of Missiology) by David J. Bosch

Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael D. Williams 

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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Christian Higher Education As Renewal of the Heart, Mind, and Soul 


In Christian higher education, professors are not simply Christians who teach subjects. We are Christians who teach subjects in light of their being derived from God's good creation and their orientation under God’s authority. We teach with an expectation that our content will be used by certain kinds of people in ways that are pleasing to God and good for others. What we teach is inseparable from divine transcendence and eternity.


Part I

Here are a few operating questions that guide the Christian education enterprise: (1) Do our students leave our courses able to explicitly articulate why God cares about the content of our courses and the subject matter’s potential role in facilitating what God intends for his world? (2) Do our students leave our courses able to explain how the course content points to a particular attribute (or attributes) of God as a means by which we can increase our knowledge of the nature, character, and authority of God? (3) Do our students leave our courses having been regularly called and challenged to pursue the personal moral virtues that are required to properly advance the material/ideas/concepts from our courses in ways that honor and glorify God?


A few statements to frame the discussion:

"Sovereign authority flows out from God almighty to all parts of his creation---to air and soil, to plant and animal, to a person's body and a person's soul, and in that soul to one's thinking, feeling, and will; and further, to society in all its organic spheres of scholarship and business; and finally, to families, to rural and urban communities, and to the sphere that encompasses all these spheres and has to safe guard them all: to the state." --Abraham Kuyper, Guidance For Christian Engagement In Government (2013), 20; italics his.

"All culture, whatever significance it may have, just as all education, civilization, development, is absolutely powerless to renew the inner man. For it always works externally, and does not penetrate into the heart of man.” Herman Bavinck, Stone Lectures, Princeton University, 1908.

"Education stands as an external force that can work towards change, but it is not ultimately the catalyst that can cause inner change as this belongs to the role of Christ in the human heart." --Timothy Shawn Price, The Bavinck Review 2 (2011): 66.


Part II

What also makes Christian higher education distinct and unique is the intentional infusion of Christian virtue into the pedagogical experience. Virtues like the following: 

(1) Prudence--If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.—James 1:5

“Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. Prudence is especially the wisdom to choose the best means to a good end, the wisdom not only to do the right thing but to do the right thing well, to excel in moral practice” --Biblical Christian Ethics, David C. Jones (1996), 97.


(2) Fortitude—Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.”—1 Corinthians 16:13-14.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. “Fortitude refers to strength of character manifest in conviction, courage, and perseverance in pursuit of what is right and good. It involves firmness and boldness, endurance of hardship, and the willingness to face opposition and to suffer rejection for the sake of righteousness.” (BCE, 98)

(3) Temperance—For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”—2 Timothy 1:7

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. “As love requires the practical wisdom of prudence and the courage of fortitude to be effective, so it requires also the less visible, more intensely personal virtue of temperance, the discipline of oneself to live a more ordered life for the glory God and the service of others.” (BCE, 99).

(4) Humility—“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.--1 Peter 5:5; Prov. 3:34

Humility, of which Christ is the supreme example, is rooted in a right understanding of one’s nature and calling before God and is manifest in the self-confident service of others, the opposite of self-centered pride (Phil 2:3—Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.).


Concluding questions, then, for Christians in higher education: How do we make moral virtues attractive within the context of our course design? Do students leave us more humble than they were when they arrived? Do they see us as models of what it means to live and practice these types of virtues? How do we cultivate a pedagogical culture of education as renewal of heart, mind, and soul?

With the questions from Part I and Part II, these are ways in which we facilitate students understanding what their salvation is for. . . . 

AuthorAnthony Bradley

Secular progressives have no framework for understanding how white privilege can be a providential asset. What progressives are left to do is shame the beneficiaries of race & class privilege to reduce the impact of their privilege and to assuage their white guilt.

White privilege is something to be owned and embraced as a potential good because it can be leveraged in ways that bring wide spread change for the sake of justice. In fact, properly leveraging white privilege in influential spaces my be a much more effective means of advocating for justice than selling your possessions, joining a non-profit, and moving into an inner-city neighborhood (and gentrifying it).

This may be why you have white privilege.  Why not use it to help people instead of using it for your own comfort, ease of life, and material wealth (the American Dream)? Being the mayor of your town or sitting on a city council where decisions are made for a whole community might be more effective scale and a better fit for you personally. Do it. Starting a business and provide jobs for people might be the best way to deal with low unemployment in depressed neighborhoods.

Aspire to become a teacher or a principal in a elementary school than simply going the non-profit route of helping out with a tutoring program. In fact, do both. Go to law school and work to become a judge in the juvenile court system or become a prison warden. If there's a food dessert, open up a deli or market yourself. The possibilities are endless.

The idea that justice for the poor can only be served outside formal political, social, and economic (for profit) systems and structures is preposterous. Rubbish. We need people who love Jesus and justice inside the rooms where decisions are being made politically and economically. I'm not against non-profits, we need more of them because the provide more effective ways to healing people than large-scale government programs, but I think Christians can be more creative in their approach to justice than the current reduction to non-profits and withdrawal from the political and economic sphere that we often here.

Thurgood Marshal helped the Civil-Rights cause by going to law school. The recounts this story: In 1898, Charles Clinton Spaulding, medical doctor Aaron McDuffie Moore, and ex-slave and entrepreneur John Merrick -- founded the first black-owned and -managed insurance company, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. In 1934 it was the nation's largest black-owned business, and it is still one of the nation's oldest black-owned businesses today.

What the world needs are people wiling to own the fact that they have race and class privilege and then use to make change within social, political, and economic structures by taking leadership roles in them. A tutoring program is good but being a principal or a superintendent means that you could shape an entire institution for the good. Don't be ashamed of your white privilege. You've been given it so that you can love your neighbor with it for God's glory (Matt 22:36-40). White privilege is not a burden, it can be tool and a weapon for narcissist pursuits or for the common good.


Here's a short clip of me explaining this concept:

AuthorAnthony Bradley

If God's sovereign redemptive plan is limited to the saving of individual souls then God's not as big as the Bible teaches, some could argue. Does God not have a plan for the entire cosmos? Does God not have a redemptive plan for his creation as well?

"Big God" theology is a theology that tells the story of a God who is sovereign over every aspect of the redemptive mission, which includes calling his people to himself and setting all things right in his creation so that the entire cosmos fulfill its intended purpose and design. This level of cosmic redemption is indeed a profound mystery because the Bible does not give us all the details in terms of what this looks like here and now. There is much that we do not know. However, we do know that God's ultimate work of redemption in Christ includes people, places, and things. God wants his people to care about the destinies of people and every aspect of his creation.

Henry Van Til, in the book The Calvinist Concept of Cultureobserves:

The Calvinist does not become one-sidely Christological and soteriological in his interpretation of man's calling, but he continues to make the doctrines of creation and providence part of his working capital. He does not believe, as some other Christians seem to do, that God now excuses believers from their cultural calling due to the urgency of the missionary mandate, which calls the church to make disciples of all nations (223).

Abraham Kuyper, in Guidance for Christian Engagement In Governmentobserves,

[S]overeign authority flows out from God Almighty to all parts of his creation--to air and soil, to plant and animal, to a person's body and a person's soul, and in that soul to one's thinking, feeling, and will; and further, to a society in all its organic spheres of scholarship and business; and finally, to families, to rural and urban communities, and to the sphere that encompasses all these spheres and has to safeguard them all.
Thus political authority operates alongside many other authorities that are equally absolute and sacred in the natural and spiritual world, in society and family. Every attempt by political authority to try and rule over one the other areas is therefore a violation of God's ordinances, and resistance to is not a crime but a duty (italics his, 20).

A "Big God" theology that submits to God's sovereign, reign and rule, calling His people to himself and his reign over the entire creation is something, for example, that the tradition black church in America had to embrace in struggle for civil-rights for African Americans. It was God's "bigness" that gave the black church hope that not only would God set people free from the power of the devil but he would also intervene in the structural distortions in creation because he is sovereignly working in all spheres of life for His glory and the good of His creation. The Civil-Rights Movement was an example of the resistance duty Kuyper mentions as black church leaders, recognizing that the whole world belongs to God and God alone, said "no" to a political authority acting in ways contrary to God's design while conservative Protestants passively, and many actively, participated in the evils of American chattel slavery and Jim Crow.

The Westminster Confession of Faith describes God's sovereign providential rule this way:

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

A "Big God" theology that is limited to calling his people to himself without explication his plan to redeem everything in creation that was effected by the mutiny of Fall is not very big at all we might say. God's authority flows to every aspect of his creation, that's how big God is here and now and in the world to come (Col 1: 15-23; Dan 2:21; Heb 1:31, Dan 4:34-35, Ps 135:6; Acts 17; 25-26; Job 38-41; Matt 10:29; Prov 15;3; Acts 15:18; Ps 94:8-11, Eph 1:11; Ps 33:10-11; Isa 63:14, Eph 3:10; Rom 9:17; Ps 145:7).

Read Tim Keller's "Big God" theology of God's people and creation: 

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel.

Now that's some real "Big God" theology right there. God's people and his creation. The revolution continues . . . .


Additional Resources:

Far As The Curse Is Found, Dr. Michael Williams (Covenant Theological Seminary) 

Truth in All Its Glory: Commending the Reformed Faith, Dr. William Edgar (Westminster Theological Seminary)


AuthorAnthony Bradley
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in recent years, I've notice a couple of trends--and, no I'm not saying that correlation equals causation so you can save that objection. Also, spare us the "false dichotomy" objection that will surely come.

At any rate, here are two observations: I find it interesting that (a) Christianity is dying (dead) in countries where Christianity was once strong and dominant and, at some major point in history after the Reformation, the Christian doctrine was used as a rationalization and/or means of politically and/or violently oppressing other people. For example, all the European countries that colonized Africa, Latin America, and Asia under the banner of God's calling to "mission," and in the United States where Christianity was used as a justification for the oppression of Native Americans, African slaves, and later African Americans. I can't think of a Western colonial power that used Christianity as a justification for oppression and is place where Christianity is thriving today.

And (b) that orthodox, traditional Protestant Christianity is also not thriving anywhere in the West that has a large social assistance government run safety net--i.e., large scale, welfare programs. It makes me wonder if there is something necessary about the church meeting people in the midst of their suffering that's beyond mere benevolence. Maybe acts of mercy are more essential to pointing people to Christ than modern, than some Western evangelicals are unwilling to admit. The social assistance state often pushes the church to the margins (and many church are more than willing to let that happen) and the church, therefore, loses contact with many people in need--and who need the gospel. This is seen today in Western Europe and increasingly more in the US.

Also, I am fully aware that there other factors like the enlightenment, anti-supernaturalism, scientific modernism, etc. made a contribution to decline but I'm wondering about these trends as a slow cancer. Thoughts?

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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For the last 12 years I've travelled to several parts of the world and seen some of the worst poverty and cultural decay imaginable. The one principle that I've come away with after being on the ground, and reading thousands of pages of Christian social teaching, is that church planting and preaching the gospel alone do not create the conditions for human flourishing. Many contemporary evangelicals seem to have developed a myopic view of God redeeming the whole creation that reduces human flourishing as a church-based activity--especially the hearing of sermons. The reduction follows this way: if only community X had more gospel centered-churches then the community X would flourish. Historically in the West, there has never been human flourishing without flourishing institutions other than the church like businesses, for example. After all, "work constitutes a foundation for the formation of family life, which is a natural right and something that man is called to," as one tradition teaches. This reduction sadly has had costly implications with respect to what the many churches currently teaches about vocation and calling.

While the church has been the center of social change, and the cultivation of the common good from the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant traditions alike, sustainable social change was never envisioned without the necessary role, creation, and development of other institutions like primary and secondary education, colleges and universities, seminaries, hospitals, orphanages, mental health institutions, business and economic institutions, political governance institutions, philanthropic institutions and charities, social development institutions like the Boy Scouts and the YMCA, and the like. These were seen as necessary means by which the work of the church is enriched by Christians and sustainable social flourishing occurs in the midst a world of pain, suffering, and injustice. Not an "if/then" but a "both/and." Christians established churches and launched schools, orphanages, and so on, concurrently and successively. This was the norm in the West for several centuries. Where is this spirit today?

As Wesleyan University explains:

The earliest universities, in early medieval Italy, trained their students in canon law;       subsequently theology came to be studied, and then the humanities. Almost every university and college founded in the U.S. and Europe until the mid-19th century—and many afterwards—was founded by some religious organization (including Wesleyan, of course). The degree of control exercised by these varied, but it is safe to say that no college or university has been unaffected by the Christian background of the university.
The development of parliaments and other representative institutions was also influenced by Christian institutions, since there was (at least nominal) election of the higher church officials and, besides being constituents in representative assemblies, regularly met in their own convocations or synods.
In most countries relief of the poor was a responsibility of the churches, and modern welfare legislation, although administered by the state, inherits the sense of moral responsibility for the poor which grows out of Christian social teaching. Hospitals also were founded by religious orders, and medical care was overseen by officials of the church. Economic institutions also grew out of the practices of the church (monks invented double-entry bookkeeping) and out of certain aspects of Protestant piety (Max Weber’s famous “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”). The interaction of Christianity and modern institutions continues, and poses a distinctive set of challenges for the choices facing policy-makers today.

Planting churches does not reduce unemployment, teach children math and science, nor build office spaces structurally that affirm humanity dignity, and so on, but the church does shape the people who can make those spaces thrive in ways that glorify God and help people.

What, then, does this mean? Simply this: if you have a heart for justice and community revitalization in areas where there has been injustice and/or people are struggling to survive maybe the best thing you can do is open a business, run for city council, become an elementary school teacher, a police offer or an EMT, and so on, instead of reducing what God does to orient people toward how he intends for them to live only and exclusively inside the church. As we see in the first six chapters of Daniel, God uses his people living in exile, working in all sorts of spaces outside the church, to fulfill his mission in his world. We need God's people seeking God's glory in the church but also outside of it.

Many conservative evangelicals seem to have lost this classical Christian understanding of building ancillary institutions alongside the church so that communities thrive for the glory of God. It's been such a profound disappoint in recent years to hear leaders who are such enthusiastic advocates for the need for church planting and orthodox churches to be the leaders that do not advocate for the building of Christian institutions like schools and other intermediate (mediating) institutions. In fact, some of the these leaders discourage Christians from participating in the building of Christians institutions and discourage sending the church's children to Christian schools for the sake of mission unaware of the fact that Christian schools are an aspect of God's mission in local communities. The result is that we have generation of young adults, especially men, who believe that the most faithful way to serve the mission of the kingdom (Christ's reign over all things) is in the church alone, when it may actually be, for some of them, in the arts, business, or law, just to name a few.


Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, by Al Wolters

Wisdom And Wonder, by Abraham Kuyper

Desiring The Kingdom, by James A. K. Smith

The Tragedy of American Compassion, by Marvin Olasky

For the Life of the World, video series

The Calvinist Concept of Culture, Henry Van Til

God At Work, by Gene Edward Veith

Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by Max Weber

Laborem exercens, Pope John Paul II

The Political Economy of Liberation, Anthony B. Bradley

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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The artists, producers, and staff at Humble Beast and Reach Records represent the most admirable model of what the artist's vocation entails: wisdom and wonder. These record labels exemplify the pillars of art in Abraham Kuyper's framework--wonder, beauty, glory, creativity and worship.

Hip hop artists are priests of art.

From Kuyper on creativity:

The priest of art must stand free, lofty, and independent over against [art that is impurely sensual]. His is not the calling to feed this confused appetite, but to lead it back to the pathway of genuine beauty. But it is exactly this that people living in the temple of art nowadays refuse. People lack character and they surrender. This evil must not be fought by rejecting every enjoyment that art is called to give.

On the contrary, without artistic enjoyment our human living is impoverished. Far rather it is an evil that must be defeated by purification, a purification that art will achieve in no other way than by elevating the human person beyond the domain of art, in his religious and ethical life" (Wisdom and Wonder, 161).

The world of art is much better off because of the tireless hard work and creativity of Humble Beast and Reach Records. Both labels embody wisdom and wonder. The lead us back to Beauty. They direct the human person toward the transcendent.

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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Confessional theology is theology practiced in community. Confessions do not canonize the individual opinions of celebrities to be promoted as the quotable standard. Studying these confessions of faith and catechisms for a year would be far more beneficial than reading any book by a celebrity to understand the larger scope of what your salvation is for:

AuthorAnthony Bradley

If I suddenly became a billionaire one of the first things I would do is set up community and residential programs for youth who are cycling in and out of the juvenile justice system, with an emphasis on catechesis. In my book Keep Your Head Up, Wheaton College professor Vincent Bacote argues that one of the lost transformative resources in the black community is the practice of structured and intentional catechesis. To the surprise of some, the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession Faith provides an extremely helpful framework for what struggling youth need to hear and how they need to hear it.

Here are some facts: In 2010, juvenile courts in the United States handled nearly 1.4 million delinquency cases that involved juveniles charged with criminal law violations. From 1985 through 1997, the number of delinquency cases climbed steadily (61%) then fell 27% from 1997 through 2010. Juve­nile courts handled 17% more cases in 2010 than in 1985. 

I recently watched a PBS Frontline documentary called "Locked Up In America" that featured the tragic story of America's exploding mass incarceration rates due to failed policies like the "War on Drugs" and our tendency to use jail as a means of handling social problems. In that program, viewers will come across a troubled young woman named Christel who shared this gut-wrenching prayer on the eve of facing yet another run-in with the juvenile court system:

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: My life’s messed up. I’m in a school full of bad people, full of bad kids. I’m 15, I’m in the court system, and I probably got, like, six charges right now. I’m going to be locked up. And I can’t do it! I have a lot of problems. Life is not perfect. It’s not perfect.

I wrote a prayer. It’s my prayer to God. “I pray to you, God, just please help me. I don’t know who I am anymore. I need your help. I’m tired and I just want some rest. I just want to sleep. I’m just tired, period. I’m ready to give my life up. I am ready die. I want to do it myself. That’s why I need you, so I know where I belong.”

NARRATOR: Three nights before her court hearing, Christel overdoses on pills she stole from her mother.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: “I’m a lying, evil, crazy, pathetic problem child. I have nothing to live for, or nothing to become. I’m useless. And I’m so ready to go. And if I shall go to hell, then that’s where I was meant to me. I don’t deserve your love or mercy, or life in general. Just please, I beg you, just help me. Amen.”

ROSE TRIBBLE[Her mother]: When I went in to see Christel, Christel was still laying in the bed. She’s been crying a lot and she’s red around the eyes. So I just sat on the— we both sat on the bed with her, you know, and I just talked to her. I felt bad seeing her in there like that, responsible, sort of like I failed her. And I wanted her to be out, too. [weeps]

After hearing this I thought to myself, "if were speaking to an audience of Christel and her friends what would I tell them and in what order?" Her prayer raises many issues to which we could apply the gospel. Christel believes herself be a disgusting and worthless individual so the first thing I am not going to tell her is that she is totally depraved worm who should be thankful that God has not killed her as an object of wrath. Absolutely not!! No way. Instead, I'm going to follow the order of the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith because Christel needs to hear about the scope of redemption and what salvation is for--what her humanity is for.

I would begin by telling her first what God created her to be and do (Q1). Second, I would tell Christel who God is and how he communicates to us (Q2-16). Third, I'd tell her that she is first and foremost made in the image and likeness of God and is placed in his creation for wonderful reasons (Q17-20). I would probably sit here, especially Q17, for a long, long while given her deep sense of worthlessness. Fourth, I would move on to explaining why her life's so messed up in terms of omission and commission (Q21-29) and how God has covenantally bound himself to free her through the work and person of Christ so that she may experience what it means to be truly human (Q30-61), and so on. The Catechism is not exhaustive by any means but it does provide a dynamic framework to know where to begin.

God's covenantal promises to restore the whole creation, including our humanity, is the structure of hope needed for Christel to know that God is not only interested in redeeming her individual soul, but also her entire family, the whole of her life (relationships, vocations, etc.), her household, her housing project, her neighborhood, her city, the criminal justice system, the family, and so one. Christel needs to hear that God wants her to be a whole person. Throwing TULIP at her situation won't address the holistic redemption of all things that she needs to hear so she can understand that she has cosmic purpose because God wants to use her as a full collaborator in the redemption of all things, right here and right now, in union with Christ. God has a purpose for saving her soul and her body.

Christel doesn't know who she is but the covenant story of redemption not only answers that question but also tells her what salvation is actually for, here and now, if she receives the work and person of Christ by faith. 

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

Q. 17. How did God create man?

A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female, formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.

(Hmm, in fact, we could use the same approach for programs with adults.) 

AuthorAnthony Bradley

God saved his people so that they could freely live the greatest mission possible: to love God and love neighbor. Loving God is hard, as we can fully comprehend, but so is loving our neighbor. 

Herman Bavinck reflects on it this way: 

[If] the life of service for humanity, of love for the neighbor, is not rooted in the law of God it loses its force and character. After all, the love for one's neighbor is not a self-vindicating thing which comes up quite spontaneously and naturally our of the human heart.  It is a feeling, rather, and an action, and a service, which require tremendous will-power and which must be constantly maintained against the formidable forces of self-concern and of self-interest. Moreover, such love of the neighbor frequently gets little support from the neighbor himself. People generally are not so lovable that we should naturally, without exertion and struggle, cherish and love them as we do ourselves" (Our Reasonable Faith, 1956, pg. 22).

Loving neighbor properly requires and demands just as much work of grace and the Holy Spirit as does properly loving the Truine God. Loving the neighbor is very, very hard when done properly because we love the other with no expectation of reciprocity. This is highly challenging in a culture that values relationships in a utilitarian sense-- "if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Loving neighbor properly, on the contrary, means that we offer to scratch the back of the other with no expectation or condition that the favor be returned. 

The ways in which we violate and sabotage our love of neighbor includes, for example, the false things we say about others, how we steal from others, or covet the possessions (including character gifts) of others.

The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith explains what our salvation is for in terms of neighbor love with the questions. If you read this carefully you'll see that loving your neighbor requires much grace:

Q. 140. Which is the eighth commandment?
A. The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.

Q. 141. What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
A. The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to every one his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits, and suretiship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.

Q. 142. What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing landmarks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depredation; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us.

Q. 143. Which is the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

Q. 146. Which is the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment is, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's.

Q. 147. What are the duties required in the tenth commandment?
A. The duties required in the tenth commandment are, such a full contentment with our own condition, and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.

Q. 148. What are the sins forbidden in the tenth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.

AuthorAnthony Bradley

In the book To Change The World, James Davidson Hunter rightly critiques the attempt by some evangelicals to fight for a form of American Christian nationalism but Hunter gives extremely unfortunate and unhelpful prescriptions in the end on Christian life in the public square--namely, "the healthiest course of action for Christians, on this account, is to be silent for a season and learn how to enact their faith in public through acts of shalom rather than to try to again to represent it publicly through law, policy, and political mobilization. This would not mean civic privatism but rather a season to learn how to engage the world in public differently and better" (italics his, 281). As a reactionary response to Christian nationalism, one has to wonder what Hunter might have written if the Reformed political theory tradition was any part of his conceptual background for thinking about how Christians should live as exiles in the sphere of political governance in a pluralistic society. It seems that Hunter is unfamiliar with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Johannes Althusius, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Francis Schaeffer, Daniel Elazar, David Koyzis, and many others in the Reformed political theory tradition, that would have been a great help and might have saved him from making a profoundly unhelpful suggestion in the end.

Presbyterians, because of their emphasis on redemptive history and covenant theology, should be encouraged to pursue public virtue in "law, policy, and political mobilization" because politics is an aspect of God's good creation. Law and politics belong to Christ. Politics is a sphere of creation that is being reconciled to Him. Asking God's people to "be silent" for a season from public political life is like asking them to remain silent for a season in the arts, in starting families, in the marketplace, and the like. 

Granted, the use of law, public policy, and political mobilization for the sake of transforming America into a Christian nation is fundamentally wrongheaded as David Koyzis points out in his book Political Visions and Illusions. I do believe admirably that this is what Hunter means to address in his book. However, remaining "silent" in those spheres of creation is modeled no where in the Bible nor in the Reformed and Presbyterian political tradition. It is, however, something one might expect from the Anabaptists or maybe even in Lutheranism's "Two Kingdom" approach.

God's people should be heavily involved in law and public policy because, as Abraham Kuyper observes, "the highest duty of the government remains therefore unchangeably that of justice, and in the second place it has to care for the people as a unit, partly at home, in order that its unity may grow ever deeper and many not be disturbed, and partly abroad, let the national existence suffer harm" (italics his).  Why would you want people to remain silent about that? Government, then, is fundamentally good because of its role in facilitating human flourishing within a nation. Besides, we are not at war against the "liberals" for American society.

The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks about the goodness of government involvement this way: 

It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion (23.2). 

In the American experience, Presbyterianism's federal (covenant) theology was used a model for the formation of America's constitutional republic, as we learn in Daniel Elazar's four volumes on the "Covenant Tradition In Politics." The Presbyterian understanding of the creational goodness of politics also resulted in Presbyterians holding office as Vice-President of the United States more than any other denomination in American history. Presbyterians are second only to Episcopalians in holding the office of President of the United States and serving on the Supreme Court. Presbyterian "silence" in politics would be a new occurrence in American history (even if, at times, Presbyterians have been on the wrong side of that history). 

Christian silence in politics and law can be detrimental to the proliferation of justice. Here's an example: in New York City evangelical Christians are not encouraged to work openly and publicly against issues like abortion. In New York City, about 60% of all pregnancies by African American women end in abortion. (Hunter also issues a harsh critique of those Christian who are publicly fighting against abortion throughout his book.) Here's a question: if Christians remain silent on abortion in New York City, who is going to speak prophetically to New York City in the public square, in multiple spheres, about the racial disparity of black women's abortions, marriage and family, the virtue of chastity, the joy of adoption, and so on? How are people of moral virtue going to be seated at the table in the various places across New York City where decisions about being made about healthcare programs for teens and single-moms regarding pregnancy? 

Here's the point: Christians should never be silent about any aspect of God's good creation. What matters, then, is how Christians are involved in law, public policy, and political mobilization. Political participation is a matter of prudential judgement. The church needs to encourage God's people to enter the political sphere as exiles modeled after Daniel and his friends in Babylon, for example. Christians are not called to usher in the kingdom of God in America through government coercion nor should Christian involvement in politics be a veiled attempt to coerce a community into adopting Christian values. Alternatively, God's people should seek to be agents of virtue in government, or any sector of society, for the purpose of fostering and facilitating human flourishing and the flourishing of creation. 

It is my hope that Presbyterian pastors (and other denominations as well) and their church communities are encouraging friends to run for local city council seats, positions on local school boards, for seats in state legislatures, seats as judges on local and statewide benches, and even for positions in the three branches of our national government. God's people have much to bring to the public discourse about the structural conditions for human flourishing and they need to be encouraged to do so locally, broadly, and even nationally--and often. There would be nothing more wonderful in American politics than if there were more people who were devoted to fostering a free and virtuous society and serving the public in law and politics because they recognize that all of life matters to God.

Resources: click the links above.

AuthorAnthony Bradley

 “For you Jesus Christ came into the world. For you he lived and showed God’s love. For you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last, ‘It is accomplished.’ For you he triumphed over death and rose to new life. For you he reigns at God’s right hand. All this he did for you, though you do not know it yet.” ---Church of Scotland

When parents have their infants baptized they are reminded that the promises of God are for them and their children. The above quote from the Church of Scotland beautifully describes the power of the sacrament of baptism for the children of believers. Infant baptism properly situates the life of covenant child in the journey of discovery of their role in the Kingdom. A journey of discovery where the children of believers come to who they are and what salvation is for in the community of God's people even though the they may not understand why until later, their primary orientation is that of being a child of the covenant. 

One of the most "world changing" things two of God's people can do is to become parents, baptize their infants and immerse them in a community that will disciple them to embrace and confess the meaning of their baptism, and raise them to love the Lord. What a wonderful opportunity!!

"It takes a village" to help covenant children live out the meaning of their baptism. When infants are baptized, then, the pastor calls the local congregation to accent to this vow: "Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?

Once a child confesses in Christ that God did all of the things mention by the Church of Scotland for him or her they are truly free to discover and embrace their role in the story of God redeeming all things. Parents and churches have a wonderful opportunity with covenant children to set children free, truly free, to become the adults that God will use in his work in the world to love God and neighbor in important ways.

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapt 28, para 4--"Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

The Belgic Confession, Article 34--We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children.

And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults.

Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, just as the Lord commanded in the law that by offering a lamb for them the sacrament of the suffering and death of Christ would be granted them shortly after their birth. This was the sacrament of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, baptism does for our children what circumcision did for the Jewish people. That is why Paul calls baptism the 'circumcision of Christ.'"

Scripture References: Gen 17:7, Gal 3:9, Col 2:11, Acts 2:8-9, Rom 4:11

In you'd like to read the why how the Bible teaches infant baptism please read Westminster Seminary prof Scott Clark's wonderful article A CONTEMPORARY REFORMED DEFENSE OF INFANT BAPTISM.

AuthorAnthony Bradley

There is no culture war in America that Christians are called to enlist in as soldiers. Neither the Bible nor the Westminster Confession of Faith speak of “culture” as something to be “won” or “lost” in the way that many Baby Boomers have framed Christian life in American society. The story of redemption is not about God coming to save America nor to build a society that is safe and comfortable for his people. Christian nationalism is idolatry. On the contrary, the story of redemption is a story of all things in creation being reconciled to God through the work and person of Jesus Christ in societies that will always be uncomfortable for God’s people until Christ returns. As such, the dominant command and mission of God’s people is to love well: love God and love neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).

By the way, the phrase “culture war” was first used to describe the German Kulturkampf as the Roman Catholic Church and a fledgling German government were vying over control of the German empire in response to the rise in atheistic Marxism. This understanding of “war” makes some sense when understanding the role of the church in the social hierarchical thinking Catholic Social Thought where the church is at the top directing society. The Bible does not provide a specific approach to serving the differentiated needs of a society in terms of a political economy and this Catholic “culture war” framework is only one historically situated attempt to frame Christian thinking. There are others, however. The Presbyterian/Reformed tradition did not historically embrace the notion of Kulterkampf which, in part, explains why the Westminster Confession of Faith does not direct the church to focus her energies on “winning the culture for Christ.”

The truth is that “the culture” already belongs to Christ. He already won the battle for his world. Culture is, after all, an aspect of creation. Christ created culture in the beginning. The Father is still creating culture. The Holy Spirit is still actively forming, directing, and moving in culture. The triune God has never abandoned culture nor anything else in creation and never will. In the mystery of God consummating the redemption of his entire cosmos, God has commissioned his people to certain tasks and given them particular responsibilities as full collaborators with God in very ordinary, day-to-day applications of loving God and loving neighbor. As a result, Christians are called to live a life of holiness, share the gospel with those in their communities in love, Christians bring the love of God and neighbor into their family life, their places of employment, their little league athletic associations, their community volunteer associations, their armed forces, their political parties and houses of government, their marketplace transactions, their creative activities in the arts and entertainment fields, their professional associations, their professional sports activities, their public schools, colleges, and universities, and so on, not to make any of these into “Christian” utopian spaces to “win” the culture war but to be fully and actively present in all of them, and more, as “salt and light” as "restorers" and "rebuilders" (Isaiah 60) as God fulfills his purposes in the saving of the world.  It is God, and God alone, who determines how his people’s everyday, ordinary lives will ultimately “impact” a culture.

Chapters 4, 5, 16, 20, 23 and 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith are wonderful places to start in the journey of discovering what the Bible teaches regarding what our salvation is for, here and now, in service to a culture that already belongs to Christ yet is tragically distorted by the Fall. Because America has never been a country that embraced the Bible’s norms of what it means to love God and love neighbor consistently, and never will, God’s people are free to treat their involvement in all aspects of American culture like Daniel and his friends did in Babylon (Daniel 1-6) so that people are put in positions to flourish as God intends. Love God, love neighbor wherever God places you and embrace what God does with it. In Christ, you are more than free to honorably discharge yourself today from a culture “war” that has no basis in God’s word.


For more:

Far As The Curse Is Found, by Michael Williams

Not The Way It's Supposed To Be, by Cornelius Plantinga

Truth In All Its Glory, by William Edgar

Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art, by Abraham Kuyper

Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, by Albert Wolters

AuthorAnthony Bradley
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I was recently hanging around some theologians and leaders in the PC(USA) and it struck me that they are not hoping the PC(USA) to be "a leader denomination" among the Protestant Mainline Protestant churches. They simply want to make PC(USA) style "Presbyterianism" better. They don't care about their numbers and position in relationship to the other mainline denominations. Then I thought, "hmmm, why have many PCA (Presbyterian Church In America) notables over the years tried so hard to be leaders of conservative/Reformed broad American evangelicalism (and drag many emerging young PCA leaders into time-wasting discussions in evangelicalism) instead of focusing their attention on building a better PCA-style Presbyterianism?"


Putting Numbers In Perspective

Below are the 2012 stats for the PCA. This is probably a big as the PCA is ever going to get and that's just fine. Really, what's the shame in 364,019 in country where there are nearly 6,200 distinct Protestant denominations? Presbyterians are not the only Christians in America doing evangelicalism and planting churches. Think about it: 364,019 is an important number of people God can use in the story in redemption in America's suburbs, small towns, and cities and around the world. God did a lot with 12 people after the first Easter.


Gen Xers Want Out of YRR Discussions

I've been having conversations with GenX PCA pastors all over the denomination who are walking away from involvement in YRR events and conferences because they want to invest the next season of life in building a better PCA-style Presbyterianism. The don't care about the PCA being an "evangelical leader." Boomers seem to want evangelical "influence" but these GenX leaders could care less about that. It's an interesting shift away from 10 years ago when many PCA leaders were trying to get a piece of the YRR pie (Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Acts 29, Reformed Southern Baptists, etc.). That attempt failed (#epicfail). That ship sailed and many PCA notables were left at the dock waving as the ship went off to sea with conferences, book publishing, magazine articles, national television profiles, etc. The PCA is too young to be bothered by trying to an "evangelical "this-and-that" is the consensus that I'm discerning from these GenX pastors.

The sentiment is that they want to free people to be proud to say, "I'm first and foremost a follower of Christ, a Presbyterian second, and an evangelical a very, very distant third." In other words, they only have limited energy and resources and their is a lot to be done with 364,019 people.


Christian First, Presbyterian Second

It is, then, ok to have "Presbyterian" in the name of your church and have Presbyterianism as a part of one's public Christian identity. It is ok, then, to lead off answering questions with what the Scriptures and the Confession teach. Quoting the Confession and Catechism in sermons and writings is a actually a good thing. Talking about Presbyterian history is a good thing to do. Explain to people what difference Presbyterianism makes in the practice of faith is a good thing to do. And so on. . . 

The result of this cultural shift would be something like this in the future if these guys are successful: if you are a PCA member attending the denomination's college (Covenant) or the denominational seminary (Covenant Seminary) the cost to families would be pennies on a dollar because 364,019 people value education in a distinctly, confessionally, Presbyterian context even if their own family members do not attend. Both schools would have waiting lists.

The stats from the Stated Clerk:

  • There are now 1,777 churches and missions — a net increase of six.
  • In 2012, there were 9,145 total professions of faith — a decrease of 922.
  • Total membership in the PCA is 364,019 — an increase of 12,613.
  • There are 138,010 “family units” in the denomination — an increase of 502.
  • Sunday school attendance is 101,809 — a decrease of 817.
  • Per capita giving is $2,580 — an increase of $119.
  • Per capita benevolences are $440 — an increase of $4.
  • Total “congregational disbursements” were reported to be $743,643,457 — an increase of $35,960,789.
AuthorAnthony Bradley
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