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      Thanks, Larry:

When Phil wrote the article (2018), and when "What it means to be Reformed" was penned (2016)  a person like Greta Thunberg had not captured the energies of today's youth and more. In posting this article, I thought about the recent Banner article which interviewed a number of young adults, and there too one gets the message that it is important to do something.

     I get a bit queasy when under the rubric of 'doing something' one of the first justifications is that we are "redeeming all of creation" or "doing justice." These are rich terms, but what do they actually mean? Can we use any of Phil's wisdom above to prevent us from falling into pragmatics, and I wonder where does some kind of work's righteousness derived from our doing start and end?

     Not long ago I heard a long list of things done by a group of Christians, and I asked myself, "Could any or all of these be done by a local humanitarian club, and do any or all of these absolutely require the power of the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled?"

   Maybe more questions than answers, but thanks for engaging.


Thanks Jason:

   Isn't it curious that the journal where this article was hosted is of Southern Baptist origin. Yet, the author comes across more Reformed than many Reformed people. That is to say, he is connecting the dots between mission methods and the "L" or if you like the "D" of limited atonement.

   I get your point about 'defining ourselves over and against Wesleyan-Arminianism' (WA) but what if some mission methods and underlying presuppositions that we are employing are actually more Arminian than Reformed? That seems to be another problem.

     In the article in Founder's the author actually believes that Christ gets the elect who he paid for, that missions can rest in a rock solid assurance of this. If we follow the logic, then it would appear that some of the Reformed adoption of the latest 'new and improved' outreach strategies such as the seeker sensitive movement with its Arminian presuppositions when taken to an extreme, might actually show that some Reformed people do not connect the dots.

As the author said, "Ideas have consequences."


Hello Stewart:

    You raise very key questions. It is a topic of great interest, especially since both secular and Christian authors are using the term "the religion of Anti-Racism" more and more. This is coming from people who have a lot more skin pigment than I do. Witness, John McWhorter of Columbia University's new book,  'Woke Racism: how a new religion has betrayed Black America' in October 2021 and his online articles “Antiracism, Our Flawed New Religion,” and "his “Kneeling in the Church of Social Justice,” Reason (June 29, 2020)  Atonement as Activism,” American Interest, (May 24, 2018)

    Just in case you think that I am being overly selective, check out some of Voddie Baucham's references in his Fault Lines, and Thaddeus Williams references in his Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020) .

     When analyzing what a denomination believes, look beyond the nice---and certainly true to a degree---statements "we follow the Bible" and ask these questions:

a. What is the predominant message coming out of denominational entities? Also look at official releases, seminars, and books that are promoted. Are they a wide spectrum? Maybe I have white fragility on the brain, but I am seeing a lot of that angle.  

b. Ask yourself, what is not promoted? Are certain readings, books, videos simply missing from the recommendations? Are authors like Lindsay of Cynical Theories, McWhorter, Baucham, Williams and more, being promoted?

c. Ask authors like myself who have submitted material to the Network who have been served a non-publication notice because the article did not fit a certain slant.

d. Observe the policy of the Network under the guise of avoiding inflammatory material, that has the draconian power to edit out what someone or a body with a certain philosophical leaning deems to be too critical, too sensitive, or too prone to raise hard questions. This might tell you the "unofficial-offical policies"


The real question is, whether the CRCNA has adopted what Thaddeus Williams so carefully distinguished in his book, the side A' of correctly addressing needed issues of humans inflicting pain on each other, or the side 'B' of this becoming a secular ideology of what the atheist author Camille Paglia termed "political correctness" as a religion.


Steve, keeping digging and asking. This is religiously charged stuff.


John Span



Good day Gilbert:

      Having lived in West Africa for 11 years and Egypt for 3 and now on a short-term teaching assignment in South Africa, your post caught my attention.

      In Egypt, I was the VP of a theological school and an estimated 90% of the funding came from outside of the country. At the same time, the students had expensive electronics, some drove some very modern cars, and when there was a celebration in a family, the catering costs were very high. Yet I repeatedly heard that there was "no money" to support the school.

      Some very good work has been done on the phenomenon of dependancy in Africa. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hnd there are many well-meaning North Americans who have a kind of God-complex and they see African in need of their saving hand. It provides a great ego-boost and nice newsletter material to document how many of these---and pardon the politically incorrect language---less than capable, less than endowed with resources from the Lord, have been saved. The problem with this picture is that these people actually are very capable, very endowed, very resourceful, and will survive and thrive long after the so-called saviors have left. If I have seen anything in Africa, it is the ability to be resourceful in the midst of difficult circumstances, and to be content in them as well as truly being able to reach out to the living Savior.

       The other side of the two-edged sword, is when local Africans adopt a mentality that they must be "saved" by a rich expat. It effectively cripples them. This seems to be the case in what you describe above, with respect to the vehicles.

     I am not proposing a facile answer, but the wisdom of agencies who have served for a long time in these circumstances might be very helpful, as suggested above.


Blessings in your service.

John Span (PhD) teaching theology at Mukhanyo (Reformed) Theological College, South Africa.



Good day Peter:

       Yours is certainly a provocative question: "Are there any good, Christian agencies under the CRCNA banner that are just doing the work of Christ in the world, without a political bias?"

       What gets complicated by such a question is that it seems that you are trying to ascertain the area of presuppositions, or the thinking behind the thinking of these agencies.  Take a poll of any Christian agency, CRCNA or otherwise, and ask them if they are adhering to biblical orthodoxy, loving neighbors, and loving Jesus and they will all declare "Yes and amen." However, if one peels back a few layers, then sometimes something else emerges. Here I will use an illustration from my soon to be defended PhD thesis.

     There is an evangelistic method out there that suggests that if one uses the sacred texts of non-Christian religions to "prime the pump" in a pre-evangelistic method, then better results are guaranteed than if one used the Bible in wise ways. Three things appear to be at work behind the scenes of this method. First, is a North American pre-occupation with results and pragmatism. Secondly, the method assumes that these sacred texts (and often an erroneous appeal is made to Acts 17 and the Apostle Paul at the Areopagus using the poetry of Aratus and Epimenides) are neutral raw material that can be utilized to advantage. Lastly, an underlying assumption is that the basic lack of humans is information, and that if information is packaged in user-friendly ways, then they will come.  These three assumptions, for all the declarations of orthodoxy etc of this method, are actually working against Christian truth. The way that this method works is more informed by non-Christian presuppositions influenced by the spirit of the age than Christian presuppositions informed by a Biblical-Christian worldview.

   So how does this apply to your question?  Your question asks for a qualification "without a political bias" and that needs a lot of qualification. Was Jesus being political or a-political when he suggesting giving to Caesar what is Caesar's? Might I suggest that you ask whether an agency, by its actions, passions, publications, and priorities leans towards Christian or non-Christian presuppositions, and to what degree they are being driven by the values of the surrounding culture and the spirit of the age. [Some of my ideas here are also influenced by Michael Kruger's excellent blog series, "The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity"

Here is a short list off the top of my head of some of the influences of the 'spirit of the age.' 

1. We must show hospitality to all ideas in the marketplace.

2. Respect for the ideas of everyone is more important than respect for God's standards.

3. God's standards are up for negotiation.

4. My negotiation and your negotiation must be affirmed.

5. Wholesale affirmation without judgment must be the new mark of the true church.

5. The true church is characterized by what my views of justice, equality and love look like.

6. My views are sovereign.



Blessings in Christ

John Span







Greetings Andrew:

  In no particular order, here are a few pointers for reading a report.

a. Have a few people read the same report.

b. Have them compare notes.

c. As they read they should ask, with dependance on the Spirit of truth:

    1. What is the report trying to help us decide, or predispose us to accept? Is that good, bad, or indifferent?

    2. What are the author's trying to address, change, or reveal? Is that good, bad or indifferent?

    3. How do the authors view the Lord of the Church, His Word, and His world? [the hints might be subtle and this takes close and careful reading]

    4. Ask how much the author's are influenced by historical Reformed confessions and global orthodox theological positions, and how much are they influenced by the spirit of the age?

   5. Ask if they are proposing a trajectory that will bring the church closer to Reformed interpretations of the Bible, or are they leading the church away from it?

   6. Ask if they are actually representing all points of view with intellectual integrity.

   7. Ask why a minority report might have been created, and what is it saying?

   8. Are there smokescreens or Trojan horses embedded in the report that might not be seen at first flush?

   9. Is the report out of balance either in the material covered, the suggestions it is making, or what it is not saying?

 d. Have the readers compare notes with other readers of reports. For instance it is possible to find two responses from the Young Adults Leadership Taskforce to a current Synodical report at the following link. They are not Gospel, but they might help to form an informed opinion.


Hope that helps.





   A few observations, if I may:

       At a point a while back, I was a CRCNA denominational employee. There were certain issues that I strongly disagreed with as to the direction of a certain ministry. I was told that on no uncertain terms, I must not voice them publicly, but rather work through 'proper' channels to address them.

        I find that the post above, suggests that a group of denominational ministry leaders have found it both necessary and possible to use the vehicle of the CRCNA Network to make a public disagreement with a report commissioned by Synod. Is it possible that they are using their positions to do an 'end-run'? If I understand correctly, all of these ministries exist to serve the local CRCNA churches.

        So what is the larger problem here? Am I just trying to split hairs? No, the post comes down, in my opinion to a theologically skewed presentation of the doctrine of God. Whenever we stack one of God's attributes in contrast to His others, we are in effect creating a God in our own image. Yes, God is love. Yet, if any one of God's attributes is the center through which all of his attributes intersect, it is His holiness. Think of the following quote by J.I. Packer:

             "“When Scripture calls God, or individual persons of the Godhead, “holy”, the word signifes
everything about God that sets Him apart from us and makes Him an object of awe, adoraton,
and dread to us. It covers all aspects of His transcendent greatness and moral perfecton and
thus is an atribute of all His atributes, pointng to the “Godness” of God at every point. Every
facet of God’s nature and every aspect of His character may properly be spoken of as holy, just
because it is His. The core of the concept, however, is God’s purity, which cannot tolerate any
form of sin (Hab.1:13) and thus calls sinners to constant self-abasement in His presence (Isa.
6:5)” [Packer, Concise Theology, p. 43-44].


         By shifting the focus, in the above piece, Mark Stephenson and company (MS+), have effectively displaced God's holiness by his love. It all has a warm, fuzzy, appeal to it, yet there is something deceptive about it. Whereas the  HSR report honors the fact that God's holiness moral code is what makes prohibitions against homosexual behavior timeless, both in the Old Testament and the New in a way of treating the whole counsel of God, the MS+ writeup appeals to an anecdotal phrase,"....“The first truth about God is this: God is love. And God loves you as you are”  and then buttresses it up with I John 3:16. It must be noted, the anecdote is bad theology. Since when does God "love us as we are?." If He does anything, He shows His love to sinners in spite of who they are. The anecdote serves to say, God loves anyone in any state of rebellion, no matter what they do. This is theological nonsense and is actually the antithesis of love, as it will give false comfort to many to whom Jesus must say, "I never knew you." Rather, Jesus said "if you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

         If we must address 1 John 3:16, then we might want to ask a few hard questions of that text, as any good exegete should do?

       a. If Jesus did the ultimate "laying down of his life"---i.e. his substitutionary death, then what should our proper role be?

       b. Should we assume that anyone who says that they are in the covenant community is necessarily our "brother and sister?" Recall that among the children of Israel, there were covenant keepers and covenant breakers. Might we consider the reality that even in the CRCNA there are those, who by the actions they advocate, are covenant breakers?

    c. If there are covenant breakers, what does "laying our life down" look like? Could it be that it actually means that we must risk the potential rejection and scoffing of such, in order, as Jude 1:23 said in the context of false teachers, "to rescue them from the fire?"

    It seems that there is a great need at this juncture of the CRCNA for those who will think theologically. Persons in the pew are looking for this in their denominational leadership. May it be so.


John Span, Commissioned Pastor    

   Mark, thanks for that clarification, re your COD booklet etc. I am having a hard time being convinced, that there is no "influencing" going on.

    For example, you make the deft switch of the "what" to the "how." You as a representative of the other ministry leaders, now are using the appeal to the "how." Mark, this is slippery stuff. In this post-modern posture, where there should be no absolutes, or absolute certainty---as some as complained about the HSR report---now the conversation is switched to the "how." Here we go: "the HSR committee was not empathetic enough", the "report was too 'clear'--with a subtext, muddy is better"; "the denomination is too rigid" etc. The problem with appeals to "how" is that they are a two-edged sword. That is to say, one can always assume the 'moral high-ground' posture of looking at those they disagree with, as having  no empathy, no Christian compassion, nor as your post above, "a lack of Christian love." This makes for good virtue signalling, but the sword can strike both ways.

       In the Old Testament, if a person engaged in the sin of the high hand, that is to say, their actions and words, no matter how 'compassionately and empatheticallty delivered' suggested a plan of action that outrightly defied the clear commands of YHWH, then there was no sacrifice that would atone for that sin. In this case, the "what" of the words and actions, which uncovered the "how" of a rebellious agenda, could not be atoned for.  It appears to me, and correct me if I am wrong, you are making an appeal to style over substance. Sure, we need compassion, empathy, Christian love, and forbearance, but how do you think the denomination should treat those who engage in the sin of the high hand? [as I ask the question, I think of one of the forms of subscription that I as an office bearer signed, namely that the 3 forms of Unity, including the Belgic Confession with its 3 marks of the church including church discipline had to sign].

     "The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it."

      Secondly, in another response, you appeal to the broader categories of sexual sin. Yes, there is much brokeness in the church, and we do a great job of covering it over. Then why didn't your post cover both love and holiness? That would have been a great antidote to the swatch of sins you cover.  Your addition of the quote---which I assume you quote approvingly---namely "God accepts you as you are" diminishes your argument. Then the devil's advocate could say that Mark says that God approves the pornographic addictions in the CRCNA, the adulteries in the mind, etc. You can't have it both ways.

    There is a term that came across my radar screen recently. It is 'plausible deniability.' As I read through your blog post, several responses and your responses, I have to wonder if this dynamic is at play? What do you think? Could it be that some leaders within the CRCNA, at the church level, at the classis level, at the denominational ministries level, have the ability to deny any involvement in adopting positions contrary to the CRCNA, because there is no clear evidence, or they have re-written set of rules to interpret the evidence, to prove involvement?

How can we have clear theological thinking AND deep Christ-like compassion simultaneously?





     Good day Alex:

Thanks for the affirmation. If you look around missions' literature you would be astounded at how many appeals are made to the Areopagus address.

     To answer your question, we can start with Acts 17, where the apostle Paul uses local Greek poets, and then turns their message on their head, in order to affirm the Christian message. Lots of people like to say that he affirmed the message of the poets, but in actual fact he told them that they had the wrong address when saying that in Zeus "they lived and moved and had their being."

      In a kind of a parallel way, but in reality a perverse way, "the Meccan religion" has taken Biblical figures and has subverted them for its ends. The Muslim Jesus is not different than a John the Baptist figure to pave the way for what they call the final prophet, M'd. The Muslim Abraham is simply an anti-idolatry, law abiding-Ishmael-sacrificing figure, who is an illustrious ancestor for M'd, just as Mariam (=Mary the mother of Jesus, mostly) was the model chaste and obedient Muslim mother of the Muslim Jesus, 'Isa. The list could go on. On this network, I saw that there is an article about Joseph and Yusuf and you can find it here {]

       Long story short, the Q. has systematically subverted Biblical stories to its own ends. That does not mean, however, that we cannot, as Christians be well aware of this process, and re-re-subvert things to Christian ends. For example. I once asked a follower of M'd why Abraham was called a 'friend of God' in the Q. He told me that it was because he was completely obedient to Allah's wishes, especially when it came to the sacrifice of his son---as he related it and as Meccans believe--Ishmael. In effect, he said that Abe merited Allah's friendship. I replied that the concept of friend of God is also found in the Bible. He was suprised. When I told him that the basis for God's friendship of Abraham was completely different, he took notice. I explained that God had befriended Abe. while he was "still a sinner" who was a moon worshipper in Ur, and when he had done nothing to merit God's favor, rather he de-merited God's favor. In spite of this, as I related, God befriended himself to Abe. and told him, that he would make him an agent of blessing. I told my Meccan friend that all of this occurred before Abe was circumcised, before he sacrificed his son, and before he did any good work. 

     As you can see, we have one common term of 'friend of God' and yet the meanings and motives are completely different. This applies to all the terms used in the Q. Just because, they are similar---as you observe above---do not consider them to be the same. This is a frequent mistake that well-meaning Christians make.

     Thanks again for a profound question.


John  (Phd in Christian-Muslim relations, senior lecturer at Mukhanyo Theological College, Rustenburg, South Africa and Commissioned Pastor in the CRC)


Good day Alex:

You raise several questions about the Islamic attitudes towards Christian and Jewish Scriptures. That is a large topic but in a nutshell, the Q refers to them as the 'former Scriptures' (Q. 5:48; 87:18) and it also says that it 'confirms'  (Q 5:46) them .  E.g. 5:46 in the Shakir rendition reads:

And We sent after them in their footsteps Isa, son of Marium, verifying what was before him of the Taurat and We gave him the Injeel in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Taurat and a guidance and an admonition for those who guard (against evil).  

    A lot of well-meaning Christians get excited over the idea that the Q likes what it calls the Taurat [roughly synonymous with the Torah]. the Zabur [roughly equal to the Psalms of David] and the Injeel [a kind of hadith on the life of Jesus]. But not so fast.

    All of these books are supposed to originate from the Mother of the Books [Ar. el ulm-el-kitab] along with the Q. According to Islamic thinking, as long as these 'former' books agree with the Q. all is well, but if they don't then the Q. takes precedence. Here is a quote from a scholar on the subject:  

Barbara Stowasser, “The Qur’an and Its Meaning,” Arab Studies Journal 3, no. 1 [Spring 1995]: 4) elucidates the Islamic position on the Qurʾān relative to the Bible:

According to the Qur’an’s doctrine of its own nature, it is God’s word revealed verbatim (word for word) and seriatim (in a continuous series over time) to God’s Prophet Muḥammad, seal of the prophets. As a book, it is the faithful copy of the text recorded on the heavenly tablet (lawh mahfuz), God’s heavenly scripture (ummal-kitab). As God’s final message to the world and guidance for all humankind, the Qur’an completes, confirms, and corrects all other earlier scriptures (such as Torah and Evangel) likewise revealed from God’s heavenly book, but whose later textual manifestations bear traces of (Jewish and Christian) falsification.


So where does this leave material by Musa and Dawood or the real Moses and David? The writings of the latter simply don't agree with the Q, as YHWH is knowable, loves his people, saves them, dwells with them, and is said to be incomparable (Ex 15).

    Again, this could be a great springboard for talking about who God is, and how the Torah and Psalms all point to Jesus.

  There is much more to say.


John Span        


If you would like to take this conversation off-line I can be reached at [my last n( first [email protected]]


Check out my PhD thesis at, and especially page 39. 

Posted in: Hermeneutics 101

Thank you for engaging, Daniel.

     These statements and more have been told directly to me, or have come up in class discussions. What we did in the class was break into small groups and look at the following:

a. What is the presupposition behind what is being asserted?

   Take the statement, "The Jesus of the Bible is always accepting, always kind." The person making such a statement has, in effect, created a designer, Jesus. This designer Jesus will indulge whatever this person wants. The presupposition is that it is fine to create a designer Jesus in one's own image. This is an erroneous presupposition, as it fails to reckon with multiple passages that present Jesus as the Judge of humanity and who will call into account the thoughts and deeds of humans. Little wonder that people in the book of Revelation would rather be buried alive than meet the wrath of the Lamb. 


b. What partial truth is being presented?

     Take, the statement, "....inclusivity of a creator God from whom we have never been separated."  Behind this statement is the idea that humans have never been separated from God. This is a partial truth, as all humans are the recipients of daily divine revelation..." the heavens are declaring the glory of God." In this sense, they are not blocked from receiving this revelation. Yet Romans 1 is very clear that humans "in the sphere of unrighteousness" are both truth holders and truth twisters. The partial truth here is that all humans have a connection---what John Calvin called the sensus divinitatis---with God. The blatant lie, of the above statement, is that the Christian God by definition is both Creator and Redeemer and Judge, and every human knows that there is something wrong with our relationship to this Sovereign.

c. How are two or more ideas being conflated illegitimately?e

    For example, on one level, we can all say that we are "in Christ" as he holds the universe together by the word of his power. For that matter, in this sense, we can say that even my sheep-dog is in Christ. On the other hand, the Apostle Paul uses the phrase "in Christ" in a very technical sense to differentiate those who are savingly in union with Him due to faith in Him, and those who are not. Yet, I had a person come up to me assert, in a universalistic sense, that "all people are in Christ" and by implication, already saved. My response was, "so why do we have a Savior?"

d. How are two or more ideas pitted against each other illegitimately?

    For example "Since it is a prophetic word and we can’t quench the Spirit it must be true." Here the need to discern the spirits is pitted against the injunction not to quench the Spirit. This is a clever way to disarm a person who may have serious questions with what is allegedly a prophetic word. If you think this is just theory, I closely examined a very faulty method of outreach to Muslims, which was supposedly "one of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit in this century." As I did so, I was warned that doing so would constitute quenching the Holy Spirit. 

     Daniel, what I tried to get across to the class is that "correctly handling the word of truth" is not unlike the work of the eye surgeon who removed my cataracts. It is serious business, and a cavalier attitude on the part of the eye surgeon could well lead to blindness on my part. How much more are we called to be skilled workmen knowing that how we handle this Word of God, has eternal consequences.

    "But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word." Isaiah 66:2


My question to you Daniel, is, what additions would you make to the list? I could use them in my next class.


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