Ender is confronted by a gang from school. At first, I couldn’t discern the fault in his thinking; it was completely logical: “I will have to face these bullies every day. No one will help me. Therefore, I must help myself. I will beat them at this game so badly they will never fight me again.” I realized that Ender’s decision was completely logical only if one believes that one is truly alone...
June 18, 2013 0 6 comments
Discussion Topic

Edwin Walhout, apparently a retired CRC minister, has written an article in the Banner suggesting and promoting the changing of a number of core reformation doctrines which the CRC holds to, and which are foundational to our understanding of who man is, who Christ is, and what our relationship...

June 10, 2013 0 64 comments
Perhaps in some of your studies you have found, probably through the help of commentaries, how a Hebrew prophet plays with words in order to communicate his message. The way in which the narrator of the Jonah story has crafted this book is indeed exciting. A variety of words are sprinkled throughout the book to give it a hidden and enriching unity. I can only...
June 6, 2013 0 6 comments
I recently attended a conference on spiritual leadership. The conference teacher encouraged us all to read many books on leadership. But he also encouraged us to spend considerable time reading books spiritually. So what does this mean? Spiritual reading is about quality, not quantity. It is to read a book with this question in mind...
June 6, 2013 0 4 comments
"Just because someone asks doesn't mean you should do." I heard Mark Cuban say this during a recent episode of Shark Tank. In a show where entrepreneurs try to get funding from a panel of successful business leaders to jumpstart their company, Cuban, the well-known owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was trying to figure out why someone wanted to take their business in a certain direction...
May 30, 2013 0 0 comments
I still cannot comprehend these facts three weeks after it all began. They've been playing in my head like a wicked song I can’t turn off. My response is not unique. Why does this young man’s death and his family’s grief make such a deep impact on so many who never knew Tim Bosma?
May 28, 2013 0 4 comments
It was the third evening in a row I had heard the steady hum of amplified music reverberating through the night air. In North America, I would have imagined the source to be a group of teenagers grinding out their favorite tunes in a garage. But in Nicaragua it is not teenagers who make the racket. “It’s the churches,” my host explained. “We’ve got five of them in this neighborhood. And they have services six nights a week.”
May 23, 2013 0 0 comments
In the forum regarding Overtures 3 & 4 for this year’s Synod, Meg Jenista quoted Augustine of Hippo, who said: "In the essentials, unity. In the non-essentials, liberty and in all things, charity." So what’s the question? The question is: what are the essentials, and what are the non-essentials when it comes to our faith?
May 16, 2013 0 10 comments
In two years I’ve done 24 funerals. Three of which have been for someone under the age of 70. One was for a baby. Each time, no one knew how to deal with death and dying. They kept going back to praying for the miracle. Praying against hope that things will not end in the inevitable. As pastors, ours is the calling to...
May 16, 2013 0 5 comments
Because of the radical changes in the sporting world, some rather difficult issues face any Christian believer or institution involved in competitive sports. To be honest, I think these changes have made it harder for the fan to keep a good Christian testimony than the athlete...
May 9, 2013 0 0 comments
What do the Scriptures mean when they refer to glorifying God? This teaching is, of course, a common one in Reformed circles. From childhood I have heard the exhortation, “Glorify God in all of life.” What this meant was that in everything that we do, we should reflect the glory of God—that we are children of God. People should be able to see from the way...
May 2, 2013 0 1 comments
I am learning that being a pastor is not about having the perfect text picked out for the anxious soul, articulating with winsome ease encouraging words to the grieving, dying, depressed, and preaching sermons where riots break out in the parking lot because of the work of the gospel (think Apostle Paul in Ephesus). I am learning by God’s grace the role of the pastor is about becoming unnecessary...
April 25, 2013 0 5 comments
Among all too many of us there is a hidden, unspoken, forgivable kind of blasphemy. It is the protest of Jeremiah when the Lord appointed him a prophet to the nations: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak” (Jeremiah 1:6). Unintended blasphemy – to preach, or refuse to preach, as if successful preaching depended primarily on me. The blasphemy is the implication that preaching is...
April 25, 2013 0 6 comments
Kelly (name changed) was a hardworking farmer—a salt of the earth kind of guy. He became a Follower of Jesus as an adult. And although he’s made considerable spiritual progress over the years, he admits that his growth is hindered because he struggles to read—especially God’s Word. I tell this story because it relates to one of my ongoing challenges in pastoral ministry: reading...
April 25, 2013 0 2 comments
First it was a short article in Christianity Today, and then Sam Hamstra’s piece came in, and today I read that John Piper preached his last sermon Easter Sunday in his congregation in the Twin Cities.  Suddenly, everywhere I turn retirement is being written about, and I think that is good, although late for me since I retired in 2008...
April 18, 2013 0 3 comments
It's difficult for me to believe that it's been now close to 8 years since I left my last congregation as pastor and weekly preacher. I like to think that my ability to draw on nearly 16 years' worth of preaching experience helps me in my job now training up a new generation of preachers via our students here at Calvin Seminary. But every once in a while I realize that maybe I've been out of the "game" just long enough that I have lost touch a little with the struggles of preachers today...
April 18, 2013 0 6 comments
Why are we sometimes so hard on ourselves? Or, for that matter, hard on each other? Ever notice that? No wonder someone said recently, “Christians can sometimes be SO mean!” That hurt to hear. But I think he was more right than I might care to admit. We CAN be mean – to ourselves, to each other...
April 11, 2013 0 0 comments
Spiritual biographies can be compelling reading. But fictional treatment of the spiritual journeys of four women? What kind of book would that be? And why would I read it? I had heard such good things about Sensible Shoes. And I DO find it helpful to hear others reflect on their deepening walk with Jesus and how that relationship...
April 11, 2013 0 1 comments
In the late 90′s I was a pastor reading business books with my missional cohort in our Sacramento mission field. We were attending conferences at Willow Creek and Saddleback trying to figure out how to “create a safe place to hear a dangerous message.” It wasn’t just seeker methodology we were mining. We were exploring cell churches, house churches, multi-site churches, and just about any methodology that ...
April 4, 2013 0 0 comments
I received a comment asking if I could verify “the apparent imperative in the Lord’s Prayer for the statements which are called the first, second, and third requests.” They stated, “It would almost seem possible that these three requests are praises to God as well, i.e., ‘hallowed be Your Name’ or ‘hallowed is Your Name.’” Great question, and I will address it on several different levels...
April 4, 2013 0 2 comments
I have to admit that when I first heard that the CRC/RCA’s Church Multiplication Initiative had plans to develop a Kingdom Enterprise Zone in Detroit, I was excited but also very anxious. Excited because I think the Reformed perspective can speak so well to the city’s culture and needs, yet anxious because the very idea of a Kingdom Enterprise Zone seemed a little sketchy ...
March 28, 2013 0 2 comments
I don’t want to be one of those pastors. I don’t want to be one who stays in a church even though it’s not a good fit, who keeps working just to get a paycheck, who refuses to retire even though the congregation is unhealthy and in need of new leadership. But I can see how I might just be tempted. Greeting at the local Wal-Mart just won’t pay the bills... 
March 28, 2013 0 4 comments

I just finished leading a discipleship class with some senior high students.  I thank the Lord for the way he blessed this class!  On the last meeting, I invited students to publicly profess their faith and/or be baptized.  Happily, one young lady expressed her desire to follow Jesus and be re-...

March 25, 2013 0 7 comments
In our enthusiasm for missional living, do we too often encourage people to “go all the way” without taking the time to first build a relationship with the neighborhood? In our desire to be missional, I wonder if have raced too quickly, too naively into bed with our neighbourhoods, without taking the time to really get to know each other ..
March 21, 2013 0 1 comments
When I met soon-to-be-retired Pastor Neil in the first community that I served as pastor, I saw a golden opportunity. “Pastor Neil, would you be willing to give me an hour of your time before you retire and give me some advice?” Perhaps he saw a golden opportunity, too, for he gladly agreed. The following headings highlight the three bits of advice that I received from Pastor Neil that day...
March 21, 2013 0 4 comments



I appreciate what the others are writing, and especially the resources that you have found helpful in trying to get a handle on what effective leadership is and how to maneuver through conflict. I have been at Zondervan for over 25 years, though never in a supervisory position. But all employees were required to take a course in Covey's Seven Effective Habits, one of which was "Think Win-Win."

Unfortunately in the American culture, our entire thought patterns are Win-Lose. We see it, naturally, in sports; we see it in the legal profession; we see it politics (the other term for that is gridlock). And I think we see it in church conflict--there will be winners and there will be losers. I don't believe it has to be that way. It wasn't that way in the NT church, but it took time to build a consensus. We need to think win-win (that is perhaps the X that Ron Klimp talks about).


You have posed the question as if the leader has three choices: A, B or remain neutral

When churches (or groups) experience conflict over choice A or choice B it may be because they (or their leadership) have not passionately sought out, defined, then repeatedly emphasized the ultimate goal X. If X (which it now occures to me can conveniently stand for Christ and his kingdom) is well defined in the current context -- we are called to be..... and to do... -- then discussions about whether route A, B, or C take us there more directly (and at what cost) can be more openly explored.

 I suspect that the leader who allows himself/herself to be identified with A, B, C, D or E before the group has adequately explored them all and chosen one by a clear majority (while being frequently reminded of X) is the leader who goes down in flames or cleans up after a train wreck. 

Eugene Peterson's book The Pastor: A Memoir has some good chapters on his honest struggling with a young church about what they should become (and at the same time what he as a pastor should become).



I am currently reading The Painful Side of Leadership, Moving Forward Even When it Hurts by Jeff Iorg. it's an excellent book for pastors and leaders. Sometimes pain comes as a result of followers, sometimes as a result of leaders. Sometimes it happens because of sin, other times it may be just misunderstandings. Iorg shares some insightful suggestions in dealing with painful situations in leadership.


Found your post most interesting in the light of my having just finished reading the book as well as the reality of being "on the scene" at this point. (I'm serving Calgary's former First CRC--now RiverParkChurch as their Interim Sr. Pastor.) When I asked Henry W. for some input regarding my serving here, he suggested "Read my book," which I obediently and wisely enough did.

But, having said all that, doesn't qualify me to answer all of your questions. A lot has transpired at the church since. Folks have headed in a variety of directions, and some of the differnces seem very minimal in the light of developments, even denominationally since. A pastor is always steering in a direction. It's impossible to be an impartial referee. When he/she is or becomes the center of the debate, I'd suggest it may be time to have an honest, reality show kind of discussion and determine which group goes where with whom, being obviously honest about why they're doing so. All too often we use all kinds of rhetoric to explain what is really not honest or maybe explainable.

Seems to me that in those kinds of situations, no real listening takes place. We're too busy givng our impressions or opinions and then forget/refuse to listen. Personalities are a reality, and it's best when we're honest about it. Read Acts again and see Paul & Barnabas' approach, with an eventual compromise and reconciliation. How do we keep the focus when persons become the focal point?  Anyhow, just some ramblings as I deal with a church/people greatly affected. No conclusions drawn......yet.......or ever. Not mine to do, I think.


that was Dallas Willard, as interestingly, I just read about that concept in a book earlier today  =)  he considered silence and solitude the 2 most radical discplines of the Christian life.  and Henri Nouwen said that "without solitude it is almost impossible to live a spiritual life."

interestingly the Native Americans tended to live in sync with their natural rhythm but it is not looked upon with much affirmation and usually to their detriment by those that don't follow their natural rhythms... most of us would quite likely get fired and lose our jobs if we did live in accordance with our natural rhythm...  if you are self employed, you have much more flexibility with your work schedule...

what was fascinating to me from my reading today, and I had never thought of this before, was that while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they worked 365 days a year, every day was the same, there was no Sabbath and the command to honor it had not been given yet... it was after they were freed that God gave them the gift of a day of rest via Mt. Sinai.


thx. for the invitation for input here... I know i'm a bit late to this thread, and classes are already back in session for the fall...

I'm a lay leader, and when/if my pastor/spiritual leaders have a lifestyle of praying and fasting, my confidence in all the other areas/decisions will be much higher that they are walking in step with and sensitive and open to the leading of the Spirit.  I believe the Spirit will help with whatever wisdom and insight they will need for whatever situation will arise, including using the potential gifts of other believers for certain situations, and that the leading of the Spirit will always be in line with the Word of God.

I will briefly discuss 3 areas that are connected to that, and it's possible these are already discussed in another class.

prayerlessness, The average time spent in prayer for 95% of believers is less than 5 minutes a day, and for pastors that average is 6-7 minutes/day.  there are all kinds of statistics on this, and I believe there is currently a group (Denominational prayer leaders network?) that is working on connecting with seminary leaders to encourage an increased emphasis on prayer in their curriculum.

One of my theories on prayerlessness is because many churches no longer view/teach Song of Songs as an allegory between Jesus and His Bride, the Church...  Song of Songs is a beautiful picture of that relationship (spiritual intimacy) if we are willing to work at understanding what each phrase symbolizes, instead of letting our culture influence what it means to us. (that's an entire discussion on its own ;)

and then there's the "practice" of fasting  ;)  that is often closely tied to prayer...  I think that would be an interesting discussion as well!!  Fasting is almost unheard of in today's church culture, and if brought up, the result is often strange looks along with "why in the world would we do that?"  or "that's not for the NT church"

and a discussion on cessationism/continuationism of the gifts I think would be very insightful.  What I have found is that "listening" prayer, that the Holy Spirit speaks and prompts today, is still considered a heresy by some, even though we/crc refuted cessationism back in 1973.

hope that makes sense!


again, thanks for asking =)




I grew up in a small church.  There were probably never more than 15 or 20 children, pre-school to high school.  As we grew up, we held the choir together; we taught Sunday School, Bible School, Bible clubs in open air, and in other ways learned the nuts and bolts of praise, worship, teaching and leadership.  We didn’t know about Dr. Klassen—he was long after our time; but his observation might have been made from us.  From our small group came two pastors, two international missionaries, a leader in Samaritan’s Purse, and a trained group of young adults who were ready to become leaders in their local churches.

SAMcGuire, Bourbonnais, Illinois

Hello President Medenblik,

Thank you for passing on the reading list.  'Looks very helpful!  And thank you for inviting our input as pastors in the field.  Three titles that immediately come to mind are: Leading the Congregation, by Norman Shawchuck & Reuben Job; Center Church, by Timothy Keller; and The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson.

May the Lord bless your teaching and leadership ministry!


Hello Mark,

Thank you for writing this insightful article.  I resonate with your concerns.  (And here I am, responding to your article--catching up on my email correspondence and social media--on a Friday evening!)  I recall the late Dallas Willard--or was it Richard Foster?--saying that solitude and silence is the most urgent spiritual discipline for us to practice today, as we live in an over-extended and distracted world. 

Thank you for reminding me to be more sensitive to our natural rhythms.  I think I'll log out now! :)


The Pastor by Eugene Peterson; Building a Discipleship Culture by Mike Breen; Christ-Based Leadership by David Stark; Church Unique by Will Mancini; The Making of a Leader by Bobby Clinton; The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory by Roberta Gilbert and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards was very helpful for me in dealing with "alligators" in the congregation. A quick, easy read.

To be honest, I found Bill Hybles' book Courageous Leadership to be very helpful and insightful. It gave me a lot to go by for my own perosnal growth in leadership. I know it's a bit more "pop culturery" (as in not Henri Nouwen) but it has some good stuff that can be taken away for leaders.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is always a good read and another I have found helpful is The Equipping Pastor by R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins which is a systems approach to congregational leadership. 

Leading with a Limp - Dan Allender; Spiritual Leadership - Henry & Richard Blackaby; Relational Leadership - Walter Wright; Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership - Ruth Haley Barton; Missional Leader - Roxburgh & Romanuk


You've probably already had this recommendation, but Center Church by Timothy Keller is an intriguing and helpful book. Its brought greater clarity to my thinking on a range of issues dealing with the role of the church in the broader community. 


Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher Heuertz is enriching, and woulr make for some great "deep skimming." 

As I mentioned in my comment to your first post, our future pastors need to explore what it means for the church to be inclusive with people with disabilities. What does the Bible say about inviting and welcoming these fellow image bearers to worship God with us. An excellent book on this topic is The Lost Mandate, A Christ Command Revealed by Dan'l C Markham. This book talks about the mandate given by Christ in Luke 14 to 'Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.'

Another subject closely related to disability ministry is biomedical ethics. How can the church be a light as people are being challenged daily with beginning and end of life decisions. How are pastors going to respond when people come to them asking for advice on these difficult issues.While we should not expect our pastors to know everything, we should expect them to be acquainted with issues such as bio ethics so they can encourage the church to seek answers with a Biblical perspective. How To Be A Christian In A Brave New World by Joni Eareckson Tada and Nigel Cameron is a very good source of information for bio ethics.

Both of these books are available in Kindle format which can be very helpful to a seminarian's budget.




You're right on!!!!  Growing up in a small church, I was able to play the piano and serve in the nursery and teach VBS starting at 11 years old! Even young teens weren't spectators. What valuable experience I received and carry with me today. I was 15 years in a large church as a young adult, and it was sad for me to never see teens participating in music. The pianists were great and very professional, but the teens didn't have opportunities to serve. Does God want only professionalism, or willing servants? I think the latter.

Hello August,

Yes, I know the Eskimos are struggling right now.  Actually, they look a lot like the 2012 Riders!  But since I wrote the blog, the Riders have also lost--to Winnipeg!  A humbling experience for them, I'm sure!

Actually, I think that perhaps there's more to learn from losing than winning.  So much to gain from reflecting on our mistakes and failures.  I suspect the Eskimos are doing that, and will improve before the season's end. 

Peace to you!


A real 21st century parable (even though the car comes from the 20th century). Thanks.

posted in: A Small Redemption

Tremendous post, brother! Thanks for sharing!

posted in: A Small Redemption


Glad to hear that I'm not the only one who has feelings like that for a car at times. Great use of such as a parable....of redemption. Enjoyed it immensely. Don't forget to change the windshield washing fluid...lots of baptism symbolism and seeing things clearly again......

posted in: A Small Redemption

Ken, my dear brother in Jesus,

Thanks--so much--for this piece.  Marcia's and my hearts were moved by reading it. 

Blessings to Kay and you,

Dale Cooper

posted in: A Small Redemption

We can all learn much from your story. If only I could learn to both love and forgive to such a degree. Nice to know that God vacuumed my carpets and changed my oil. Thanks for sharing a beautiful parable.  -- Jerry


posted in: A Small Redemption

Thanks for a great post, Ken!


posted in: A Small Redemption

Not very helpful for Edmonton football fans. Edmonton is at 1-9 The whole team is quite humbled by the ordeal. can we learn more by those who do not have 'success'?

Glad to hear you were able to catch a Rider's game in Toronto, Richard.

I haven't been to one in years!  Hope to catch one in Edmonton some day. 

The Lord be with you and your family!


agreed with Marshall and Miller. But we've moved on.

We went to a game in Toronto... got tixs from a couple of parishioners. There were more Green and White fans than Blue fans. We made a lot of noise! The UofS alumni folks thought we were alumni and invited us to a party. We declined.

Take care... and enjoy Alberta.

Hello Richard,

Great to hear from you! (We SK boys need to stick together! :)  Yes, I agree that we can learn much about leadership from many places.  Let's keep our ears and eyes open!

Another lesson I learned from the Riders, but didn't mention, is the importance of moving on and letting new leaders lead.  Remember when Coach Miller moved to the office after coaching, and Marshall was hired as head coach?  It appeared to me that Miller was still the coach, even though he was in the office.  I don't think Marshall was really empowered to lead.  And the Riders had one of their worst seasons!

Anyway, let's keep learning about leadership and cheering on the Riders!

Peace to you!


"God works thru means and ways that are sometimes beyond our categorizations, even though we ought to do the best we can to understand good theology and good practice in our walk of faith."

Nicely said and unmistakably true.  Sometimes he takes our best works, filthy rags, and creates a divine quilt anyway, thank goodness.

As your example of the tower of babel illustrates, God uses divisions and separations for his own good purposes.   Maybe this is also true within the church, not that we should be looking for divisions and contentions since scripture clearly indicates against that, but...

Last weekend, I heard an aboriginal Dene talk about his faith experiences.   He had been a Rom Cath, somewhat nominal apparently, who embraced alcohol and eventually ended up in jail.   But at one point he was given a bible by a Rom Cath priest, and began to read it.  Then he became a Christian, receiving his "prayer" in the Pentecostal church.  He has been a Christian for about 30 years (is now about 60yrs old), has left alcohol behind, and had a sister who became a Christian after 18 years of evangelism by him.  He talks/preaches in churches of various denominations, and often feels rejected by his aboriginal relatives and friends, but perseveres.   He knows his bible very, very well, having memorized some epistles completely. 

I guess my point in this example, is that even though he is no longer a Rom Catholic because he wants to follow scripture and not follow a hierarchy nor a human tradition, he still acknowledges that God worked through that priest in order to bring scripture to him.   That is where we ought also to have the humility to admit that God works thru means and ways that are sometimes beyond our categorizations, even though we ought to do the best we can to understand good theology and good practice in our walk of faith.   I believe that sometimes the struggles themselves are exactly the means that God uses for his good purposes. 

The tower of Babel was a sign of pride, but also of disobedience, since people were commanded to fill and replenish the earth, not hole up in some small corner to preserve their comfort...   so God made them move and disperse by other means.   It reminds me of the phrase, "every knee shall bow" to Christ;  we will either acknowledge him in this life willingly, or we will be forced to acknowledge God in the next life, unwillingly.  

Thank you Leon! Go Green and White!

We as church leaders can learn so much from leaders in other places. Learn both from the good and the bad. Not judging one way or the other, but applying.

That said... here is one of our sons with his "helmet" before the 2009 Grey Cup held in Calgary. The fall when stores had to make an extra large order for watermelons since Saskatchewan ran out that week.

Thanks for the very helpful thoughts.  I've never known quite what to do with the story of Babel because while God's dispersing people into different groups can be seen as punishment for human pride and aspiration, what happened there also created individual differences, both in human beings and in groups of human beings.  Those differences are wonderful.  Here in Sioux County, Iowa, the county with the highest percentage of Dutch-Americans in the entire country, we're blessed by our brand new Hispanic neighbors.  Good night, we eat a ton better these days--at least our foods are spicier.  Differences in worship style and substance are not an abomination; now two of us are exactly alike, right?  

And that's good.

The comment made by the Chippewa man is wonderful, not because it condemns Christians but because it illustrates how difficult it must have been for Native people to understand what on earth was going on when white Presbyterians fought with white Episcopalians and white Roman Catholics, etc., etc., especially snce they saw all white missionaries as emissaries from a culture that threatened their own way of life.

Coming from a background where my siblings and children are members of churches from eight different denominations, ranging from protestant reformed to baptist and pentecostal (but no anglicans nor rom cath), I have often asked myself what is God's purpose with regard to so many denominations or churches who all want to serve and worship the same Lord and Saviour.   I'm not sure I have a very good answer, except maybe this, that personalities and personal quirks sometimes cause problems in one church situation, and another church situation can allow a method of worship and service that is more tempered to an individual at that time.  Various disputable theologies and practices also play a role; we see changes sometimes in one denomination, but they happen too quickly or too slowly for some, or no change is desired.  Sometimes history of experiences, or separation of family relationships, combined with  a different worship environment, make old scriptural passages and applications take on a new life and vigour. 

Underlying all of this, however, is the common purpose and unity that can exist between Christians in different churches and denominations.   While differences are real, so is the unity also real.   Sometimes there is greater unity between christians in different denominations or churches, than there is within one particular church.   This might be because the focus changes to what unites, rather than to what separates, especially when churches want to work together.   

This realization has also ocurred to me, that some churches have great theology, but members don't practice it, while other churches have sloppy or incomplete theology on paper, but members practice a great theology in daily life. 

The different churches also allow some people to discover the essentials of the walk of faith, since they must separate their walk of faith from mere tradition, into a conscious discovery of God's will for their/our lives on a day to day basis with people who do not take their particular traditions for granted.  This will bring them back to scripture and God's will on a deeper basis than they have ever perhaps done before. 


Lincoln mandated that only 39 of the 300+ were guilty and sentenced to hang for their parts in what happened.  Thirty-eight were hung in Mankato, MN, on December 26, 1862, the largest mass hanging in American history.  

Interesting theory on mega-churches.  Personally, I've never really understood the dramatic attraction they have for so many believers, but they continue to grow and multiply and dislodge the kind of broader community that denominations once created, for better or for worse.  Thanks for your very perceptive thoughts.

Thanks, Ron--and blessings on a new school year!

Great post, James! But you left me hanging with the Lincoln encounter: were those 300+ souls spared? 

As to your main point, sadly I am disturbed along with you about the state of Christian unity nowadays--especially unity of the deep sort you and Whipple describe, in which we can see Christ in our disagreeing siblings. A major factor is the non-denominational denominations, which seem to splinter and balkanize the church more than ever. So many, whether mega or mini, seem to become a law unto themselves, and the megachurches that jump on the permanent multisite bandwagon have effectively formed mini-denominations and thus they exacerbate the problem of vulgar, proprietary denominationalism.

Great post James! Thanks! Indeed we do not have a very good answer to that question that was asked so long ago.

Hi Greg and Jeff,

Jeff, I've been retired for four years now and doubt that a gravaman would work as I have too many concerns to list in it.  I hope you and family are doing well.  We get up to Wis. quite often and do think of you.  You may have moved from there, but wish you the best wherever you may be.  Blessings.       Greg, I'd like to do a little wrestling over some of the issues with you, as I see they are important.  So if you're open, you could send me your email address and we could follow up on our conversation.  Thanks for your openness.   Roger

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Good to hear from you, Roger.  

I appreciate your honesty in your posts.  You have obviously thought about these topics a lot.  But to be fair, that has to be balanced with the form of subscription that we as officebearers sign.  Towards that, I wonder if you have ever considered writing a confessional-difficulty gravaman.  Could that possibly be a way forward for you?

posted in: What Is the Gospel?


I should have read more before responding to your first post!  

To be completely unfair, Your issue is that you are a convinced openness of God proponent who denies total depravity?  I gather that in your mind, people are really not "dead" in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3)?  Even more to the point, you think God is unjust so Christianity is nothing but a contentious, backward, mean-spirited religion?

While I think you did state these points, I hope you did not mean them!  If so, I ask you to consider again what the bible truly teaches about God, about creation, about humanity, and about the condition of the world.  Please consider these in light of the promise that God will set all things aright when Jesus returns to make a new heaven and new earth!

I think you have several huge errors in your overall logic.  I also think you have several errors in your understanding of "Calvinism" and what the bible teaches.  

While there are clear answers to your questions, I fear this is not the forum to answer them sufficiently as it is too public.  I would be happy to continue the conversation in a more personal form of correspondence.  All we need is for you to wish to continue the discussion and for the ability to figure out how to do this.




posted in: What Is the Gospel?


Where to start?  First, I encourage you to read other articles I have written so as to know that I would not, nor do I think we ever should ignore the fact, the reality, and the clear biblical teaching concerning total depravity.  The way you paint it, many Christians have lost the gospel story and the reality of the gospel announcement (to use Wax's terminology).  While I might agree, I hope to be more charitable.

What concerns me the most here is your issues with "the justice of God."  The way you wrote your response implies to my reading that you believe we ignore the question of the justice of God because we do not like the biblical answer?  Is this a correct interpretation of what you are saying?

Personally, I do not have a problem with the biblical answer.  We are guilty before a holy God not merely because of our inherited sin, but also because of our willful sin.  None of us deserve grace.  None.  That is why grace is so amazing!

Furthermore, you seem to confuse our experience of this grace, election, evangelism, etc., with God's understanding of all these events.  In our experience, we do not know who is "elected" so we are told to proclaim the gospel to all.  God has made salvation available to "all" (for example Titue 2:11), which means all types of people.  Our experience is one of us turning to God, of us sharing the message of Christ, and of us going out in ministry.  Yet, God is the one working, knowing, and leading.  Somehow in His sovereign will He is at work building His Kingdom through fallen people like you and me.  This is a mystery of the faith.  Yet, it is one clearly taught in scripture, affirmed by our confessions, and wrestled with by thoughtful folks.

What does this mean?  I will assume, pray, and hope that you are one of those thoughtful folks!  Yet, I caution you, as does Nick Monsma, that the way you are stating your questions/objections is itself questionable.  Arminius himself merely claimed to be "biblical."

The real goal is to be biblical.  We are a confessional church because we believe our confessions describe that the bible teaches.  If you do not agree with what the confessions teach as biblical, then we are at a different place in the discussion.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

A great question.  Sorry for the delay in responding.  I did not check the Network for comments until today.

I think all of them are missing at different times and by different groups.  If you are a person who states, "I believe in Jesus" but I do not think church is important, then you are missing the gospel community.  If you are a person who states, "Christianity is primarily about social action," then you are definitely missing the second leg of the gospel announcement.  If you are a person who wished to deny the clear teaching (and experience) of total depravity mixed with the incredible truth of creation as originally good and maintaining vestiges of that goodness, then you are missing the gospel story.  

As a historian, I find it interesting that entire churches, denominations, and groups can so over emphasize one of these dimensions of the gospel that they actually lose the gospel.  Part of our task as believers is to call these individuals, groups, and churches to repentance and renewed faith in the whole gospel- in other words renewed faith in all three legs of truth.

To be biblically faithful and solidly part of the Reformed tradition, we should hold to all three even if we lean more toward one leg.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?


I don’t think much was lost in communication, simply because my thoughts were in printed form.  I think you simply strongly disagreed with my comments to Greg. You appeal to some of the Reformed Confessions.  Most Calvinists would subject their church’s confessions to the authority and teaching of Scripture.  For most Bible believing Christians, the Bible is the ultimate authority.  Of course there is little agreement among Christians as to what the Bible teaches (interpretation).  Just consider the many differences within the CRC, but beyond that, the differences between Christian denominations gets bizarre.  There is a host of different denominations and teachings in Christendom.  It makes you wonder why there is so little agreement among Christians.  I have heard it said that Christianity has the greatest diversity of teachings of any religion.  It makes a person wonder about the validity of the Holy Spirit guiding the church in “all truth.” A Christian can make the Bible say almost anything they want.  Scripture often seems to contradict itself on many points of teaching.  Hence the variety of denominations.  The point I’m making is that as soon as I say something, you can contradict me with a specific verse.  But we’re speaking of Calvinists.  You may believe the Calvinist perspective is the most true to the Bible, but no doubt you would bow to the authority of Scripture.  So, to answer your concerns raised in your response.

As to the human inability to meet God’s standard of righteousness, I was not suggesting that people are equal to God (as Mormons may teach), but simply that God’s standard, apart from Christ, is impossible to reach.  Consider Matthew 19:25,26.  And certainly Paul suggests the same when he says, “there is none righteous, not even one.”  God set a standard that is humanly impossible to achieve. Calvinists would certainly teach this.  The conclusion:  Human reasoning would tell anyone this is less than just on the part of God; or fair, which is part of justice, to set a standard that is unreachable.

I would not expect you to agree with the idea of God putting people into that dark corner of sin.  But yet doesn’t Scripture speak for itself?  Does not Scripture teach that God credited to all of Adam’s posterity his original sin?  Don’t all people come into this world sinners, even before leaving the womb?  And won’t God hold all people accountable for that sin, a sin that Adam’s posterity didn’t actually commit?  This is a Calvinist teaching.  

Also contributing to the idea of God putting humanity in that dark corner, is that God also imputed a fallen and sinful nature to all of Adam’s posterity.  I believe, according to Calvinistic teaching, we would refer to this as a totally depraved nature (the T of TULIP), a nature that is sinful in all of its parts, and cannot help but to sin.  This nature was imputed to all of humanity by God.  And so when people cannot help but to sin, how can common sense say the acting out of this nature should not be placed at the feet of God?  Of course, Calvinists are not Arminian, and therefore can not claim that humans have a free will not to sin.  They would say a person’s will is constrained by his fallen nature and cannot help but to follow that nature and sin.  So of course, as the Belgic Confession says, “they willingly subjected themselves to sin...”, they had no other choice.  Humanity was programmed by God to sin.  So I would say, that God clearly put humanity in that dark corner.  The Biblical evidence is growing.

On top of all this is God’s electing purposes, which I mentioned in the earlier response as a “limited atonement,” limited to those chosen by God.  This also is a Calvinistic teaching.  It’s the “L” of TULIP.  This could be pictured as a parent who had been out fishing with three young children who couldn’t swim.  As the three boys got bored, they all started rocking the boat and all three fell in.  Because all three couldn’t swim, all three were destined to drown unless help was given to them.  So the father, although he could have easily saved all three, decides to save just one and leave the other two to perish.  If this parent was brought before any of our human courts or brought before a judge, the parent might say, “It was the kids’ fault that they fell in. They were all rascals. So I felt no obligation to save them all.  So I saved just one.”  Sounds like the Bible’s explanation of predestination and it doesn’t sound just at all.  

It’s too bad the Bible’s message of salvation could not have taught that God’s justice is met in the payment for sin made by Christ, and his mercy is demonstrated in the salvation of all people. But as it is, God only saves the few (“many are called but few are chosen).  The Bible teaches that God does not show favoritism and tells Christians they should not show favoritism.  But this Biblical teaching is definitely a demonstration of favoritism by which God chooses the few over the many, and it doesn’t demonstrate a truly just God.

You may still try to claim that people have painted themselves in the dark corner of sin and depravity.  But your reasoning is faulty.  You are not taking into consideration primary and secondary causation.  The Calvinist would say that in God’s electing purposes, God is the primary mover or cause of salvation and the convert’s actions are only  secondary.  The potential convert is called upon to repent and believe the gospel.  But of course the Calvinist will say that action by the believer is secondary to the primary cause, which is God’s choosing, God’s providential leading, the Holy Spirit’s leading and enabling.  And without God’s primary action the saved sinner’s action would never be possible.

The same is true in regard to God’s damnation of the human race.  God is the primary mover, according to the Bible, and humanity’s actions are secondary.  So your quote from the Belgic Confession (Art 14) is speaking only of the secondary cause of damnation.  Christians tend to do this when they don’t want to admit the less than desirable teachings of the Bible. The primary causation, as demonstrated above, is, of course, God.  The actual committal of sin is the secondary and is the act of the condemned. But remember it is the primary causation by God that ensures the sinner’s damnation.  Remember the sinner came into the world a sinner and was programmed (imputed fallen nature) by God to be a sinner, and called upon by God to meet a standard that was impossible for him to reach.  God was the primary cause.

It surprises me to hear Calvinists quote the Dutch theologian who said, “there is not one square inch  of this world  that doesn’t belong to God.”  That is to say that God is sovereign in and over all.  But he quickly denies God’s sovereignty in the huge sphere of human existence that involves the damnation of the human race, except for the few chosen.

Nick, I did say that Christians do the person targeted for evangelism a disservice by not giving a full disclosure of the God they would be responding to.  It would be very much like trying to sell a beautiful home to a potential buyer but never telling him/her that the foundation is infested with termites.  Let’s at least be truthful when evangelizing.  I’ll look forward to your rebuff.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?


Obviously much is lost when communication takes place only in print. Perhaps that is what has happened with your comment. Could you please clarify:

When you described the "less desiriable" "additional information" in response to each of Greg's points, were you intending to write from the perspective of someone who has misunderstood Calvinism? I noticed a few places where what you wrote is contradicted by our confessions - we expressly don't believe some of the things you wrote. 

One example:

[quote] Roger: Of course, that’s an impossible standard for humans to ever reach.  None ever have, other than Christ, and if one could reach it, he/she would be as perfectly holy as God himself, an impossibility.  So this standard of perfect holiness that God or Christianity sets is an impossible standard.[/quote] Your words seem to suggest that our inability to meet God's standard is partly attributable to our created finitude -- our "not-being-God-ness" -- which is, of course, not what we believe (BC 14, HC Q&A 6).

A second example:

[quote] Roger: And realize from the start that it is God who has put these people into that corner.[/quote] This is, perhaps, how people misunderstand Calvinism. But it is surely not what we believe or teach. [quote]Belgic Confession, Article 14: "But they subjected themselves willingly to sin... by their sin they separated themselves from God... they made themselves guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death..."[/quote] If human beings are in that dark corner, we have put ourselves there, not God. (see also Canons of Dort I.5, I.15)

I'm just confused. You suggest that what you wrote is some of the "additional information" that is needed to fully present the gospel -- but it is a distortion of what Calvinists believe, so surely shouldn't be added to a presentation of the gospel, at least not as you wrote it. Can you clarify, please? Thanks in advance.

Also, Greg, thanks for bringing this up!


posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Hi Greg, your gospel formula (or Wax’s) makes some sense.  But I don’t know if your short gospel description really does justice to the full accounting of the gospel or message of salvation.  I find that Christians sometimes accuse other religious groups of having insider information that isn’t shared until after a so-called conversion or commitment is made.  But Christians do that same thing, by which important information is withheld until after the new Christian is well on his/her way to maturity.  And even then, because this additional information is less than desirable it is often never shared or is ignored by the believer.

In leg #1 for instance, it often isn’t told to the prospective Christian that apart from Christ, God sets the standard of acceptance by him at perfection.  Of course, that’s an impossible standard for humans to ever reach.  None ever have, other than Christ, and if one could reach it, he/she would be as perfectly holy as God himself, an impossibility.  So this standard of perfect holiness that God or Christianity sets is an impossible standard.    On top of that, all humans have been credited by God with the original sin of Adam.  So before any human even comes from the womb he is declared by God a sinner and has fallen short of God’s standard of perfection.  But another item missing from the gospel story, is that not only does God credit all humans with Adam’s sin but also with Adam’s fallen nature, by which a person naturally gravitates towards sin.  In fact he/she can’t help but to sin.  He/she can’t help himself because of the sinful nature credited to him/her by God.   But on top of this helpless state that a person comes into the world in, he/she is held accountable for failure to meet God’s standard of perfection, as though it’s all his/her fault.    Seems, as though quite a bit has been left out of the gospel story.  Does this failure by human kind fall to the feet of humans or to God?  Is this what we call the “justice of God.”

As to the second leg of the gospel, which you point out is the gospel announcement of substitutionary atonement, you have shortchanged that leg as well.  You didn’t mention that this atonement is a limited (the “L” of TULIP) atonement, limited to those chosen by God from the cesspool of humanity.  Only the chosen by God are enabled to respond to the gospel invitation by the powerful conviction and influence of the Holy Spirit.  The rest are left to pay for having fallen short of God’s impossible mark of perfection, especially when God has credited to all humans Adam’s original sin and given him a fallen nature by which he can’t help but to continue in sin.  Although the “few” are the recipients of this wonderful salvation, the many are left to perish (“many are called but few are chosen”).  But for those chosen, this salvation is wonderful and is good news, if you can ignore what God has in store for the rest of humanity.

Those within the Christian community speak of Christianity as being unique.  Unlike other religions that view God as using a balance or scale of justice to weigh the good and bad of individuals, Christians proclaim that their religion is one of grace alone.  But realize that before grace becomes part of the picture, Christianity has to paint an individual into a corner of sin so deep and dark that he or she is utterly helpless.  From this dark corner, not even a person’s good works count for anything.  And realize from the start that it is God who has put these people into that corner.  

But as you say, Greg, the gospel is the  “good news” of Jesus, if you’re certain you are one of the chosen ones.  Thanks for your article.

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Which of the three legs is most commonly ignored or denied, in your opinion, Greg? 

posted in: What Is the Gospel?

Ed, thank you for your interest. Let me start with the easy one...#2. What I meant was that even in the corporate sector where the "change agent" (manager) possesses the power of the paycheck, systemic change is still difficult to accomplish. As a pastor of a church where membership is voluntary, bringing about change is that much more difficult

Now the hard one! Being proficient as a "change agent" means possessing both the knowledge and ability to lead a social group through the process of change. Jesus was a "change agent"...Paul was also. The OT prophets were God's messengers announcing that "change" was on the way.

I don't believe that there is a formula for bringing about change but it must start with a clear vision of what could be which contrasts with what already is. The vision must not only be shared with the broad leadership team but also those who in fluence the thinking of the group, but must be accepted by them.

Let me make a couple of assumptions: the group is ineffective in carrying out it's mission and they realize it but don't know what to do about it. You may think that THAT is the key to succeeding, but it often is not. "Change" is HARD! Status quo is easy and it is comfortable...we feel secure with it. Therefore in order to bring about even modest change requires that the benefits of going from one green pasture to the next be clearly shown to the group. It also needs to be presented to the group as an easy process (not hard, difficult nor sacrificial). Additionally each person needs to understand what it means for him/her in terms of actions and benefits. Finally the group must agree to "follow the plan" for 90 days. 90 days will establish a new norm. 90 days will reduce/end the old behavior/ways. 90 days will show new results which in turn will reinforce moving in this new direction.

I've wanted to write about "church as coutry club" for some time now and I believe it fits here. When I was that I mean that on a gut level many church members want church to be for them. Members think nothing about complaining about pretty much anything...the way the grass is cut...the cleanliness of the bathrooms...the length of the pastor's message or the style of the music. They don't think of the mission of the church in their criticism but only how they feel that it affects them...the same as the CC!

I and others in ministry that I know of were specifically called to a church to "help them move from an inward focused church to an outward focused church. Theg had a vision statement...a mission statemwnt, plans and programs for outreach, yet when the pastor arrives the message becomes clear that at best they just want to tinker around the edges. Why?...because when they see that change will require them to also change, that is when change has gone too far.

Now if a pastor is not proficient as a change agent he will wilt and back off the change stuff to keep the peace. But if he has had the training and possesses the knowledge of how to properly proceed, he will know how to proceed.

In order to say any more you would have to ask some more questions. I have donated my personal library but one of my books was titled simply The Change not remember the author. I am sure there is a wealth of resources on the subject.

I hope something I have said is helpful .
Jim Vander Slik

Jim (Vander Slik).   Thank you for your comments received Aug 16.  I enjoyed reading your input and believe you have hit on something significant with respect to teaching Seminary Students to be "Change Agents".   In order that I have the correct understanding of your statements, could you please expand on the following:  (1)  'that the pastor be proficient as a "change agent" (2) ' and that ability is difficult in the private sector where you have the power of the paycheck.'

With respect to (1) please define what  you mean by "change agent" i.e. the type of change you have in mind.  With respect to (2) I conclude you are of the opinion that being a change agent is difficult in a corporate life as it could jeopardize  one's paycheck.   Is that a correct understanding?


Ed Tigchelaar

Hello Martin,

Thank you for passing on this information re. covenants.  I'll keep them in mind as I plan for my sermon series on the topic.

Peace to you!