Here you will find brief writings of theological and general
interest written by Pastor Hartley. These are also archived via the links below.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
The Gospel and Labor Unions
8:06 pm est
The events taking place
in Wisconsin these past two weeks got me hungering for refreshment from the writings of the late Edmund Clowney. In 1979 Dr.
Clowney, then president of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, published an essay titled, The Politics of the Kingdom.
In this excellent biblical study on our heavenly citizenship Clowney was determined to address what he called "the secularization
of the gospel." Whenever the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is conscripted to legitimize the earthly political hopes
of this party or that party, the gospel is secularized.
use labor unions as an example. Does the gospel promote or negate labor unions? It does neither. The gospel is not a message
that speaks to the legitimacy or illegitimacy of labor unions. The gospel is not a hope that is gained nor lost
by the emergence or demise of labor unions (thank God!). As Clowney says: " The world of the future is not the better
world of the humanist dream but a new world when creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the
liberty of the sons of God (Romans 8:20, 21). Neither the strength nor the weakness of labor unions delivers us into
anything even remotely similar to what the gospel is delivering us into. The gospel delivers "men from themselves and
from the power of the devil" and "from God's own wrath and curse." Compared to the Christian gospel, neither
labor unions nor de-regulated capitalism do very much. But where the gospel
is not treasured, labor unions and de-regulated capitalism and a host of other earthly necessities will be expected to do
In his essay Clowney mentions
the Carmisard rebellion. The Carmisards were the French Calvinists (known as Huguenots) who in 1702 raised an insurrection
against King Louis XIV. The political trigger of the rebellion was the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had
granted the Protestants freedom to practice their Calvinism without persecution from the Catholic state. When Louis XIV revoked
the Edict of Nantes, the Protestants ironically rebelled with violent reprisals that lasted for 13 years. Clowney rightly
sees in this seeds of gospel secularization: "...Christ does not call his church to Carmisard rebellion. Rather, he gives
that grace that enabled the Huguenot galley-slave to call his chains the chains of Christ's love." Before the Edict of
Nantes, many non-violent Huguenot's were sentenced to lifelong service in the galleys of the King's naval ships for refusing
to covert to Catholicism. Clowney's remark accentuates the peace and submission of those who treasure the gospel. The very
peace Jesus pressed Peter toward right after Peter used a sword to sever Malchus' right ear from his head (John 18:10).
Because Clowney understands the gospel in full biblical proportion, he knows the gospel is about more than
hell-avoidance. The gospel is the promise of God to be our God - our treasure, our soul's shelter, our high tower, our inheritance
today, tomorrow and forever. When we begin to imagine that God is being all these things to us through the political policies
of this fading world then we are secularizing the gospel. When we begin to judge our neighbors as worthy or unworthy of our
interest, respect, and care - worthy or unworthy even of our evangelizing - by how they line up on the disputes taking place
in Madison or Washington, we are communicating that their position on earthly policies predisposes them to success or failure
in Christ's kingdom. This is secularization of the gospel. Nobody is predisposed to success in Christ's kingdom until the
Spirit radically invades their deadness and brings them to life. Outside of Christ men are predisposed to corruption and utter
ruin, no matter what their politics, no matter how tight their logic or sophisticated their thinking on any policy.
Does this then mean that the debates in Madison don't really matter?
No, they do matter. Having our hope in Christ alone does not mean we turn our back on all the concerns of earthly citizenship.
Policies and diplomacy matter because not all policies are equally good, nor are all manners of diplomacy equally noble. In
matters of earthly governance there is the good, the better and the best. And I think we can all agree: we have not seen
So the Christian is not barred from the messy work of ordering human existence under the
sun. Our life in this world is where our love and ordained good works bloom. But our life in this world is also the place
where the Spirit reveals our unadulterated love for God. We certainly do not wait until heaven for that to be revealed! Thus
we must never legitimize our neighbors' instincts to invest with supreme importance some temporal earthly policy or vote.
As Clowney says, this means "the Christian will be charged with other-worldliness, aloofness, non-involvement. He cannot
forget his heavenly citizenship to be conformed to this world. He refuses to make patriotism or revolution his religion or
a socialist utopia his hope. He sees the naivete and the apostasy of secular hope." To be detached from the angst of
the world will raise eyebrows, it may even bring subtle persecution. But we are like the Huguenot galley-slave. We will not be agitated by that which Christ has assigned to us as the means
through which we declare that He is our greatest treasure.
is a great encouragement to me personally to see this love for God evident among the saints of AVC. Your hope in the King
of kings and his coming kingdom above all worldly hopes and kingdoms is most obvious. You have something that faux civility
could never produce: a genuine love for the saints, both near and far. May God bless you with his joy knowing that it is his
grace that is at work within you!
Sunday, February 20, 2011
The Spiritual Discipline of Waiting
5:05 pm est
Have you noticed in the scriptures that waiting
is basic to our Christian identity? Waiting is a category of faithfulness mentioned frequently by Christ's apostles.
It usually appears in passages that focus on life between the already ("Christ is risen!") and the
not yet ("Christ is coming again!") of our Christian pilgrimage.
In his letter to Titus, who pastored the church at Crete, the apostle Paul wrote: "For the grace of God has
appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled,
upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the
glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for
himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).
Peter, teaching about judgment day in his second letter, leans quite
hard on the waiting button: "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you
to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according
to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore,
beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish,
and at peace" (2 Peter 3:11-13).
first letter to the Thessalonians he writes of their conversion saying, "...you turned to God from idols to serve the
living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who
delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:9-10).
It is clear,
even from these few scriptures (and there are many others), that the Spirit of Christ would have us consciously understand
our lives here and now in terms of waiting. This is not an identity that is to be lively just for persecuted Christians,
who are so obviously not finding a salvation in this world. Waiting is the lively identity of all Christians, because all
Christians have discovered through Jesus Christ that nothing in this world can deliver us into a kingdom of blessedness and
righteousness. Our deliverance from sin, from want, from strife, yes, even from boredom, is only through Jesus Christ.
So the Christian lives in this world like a child at mid-afternoon. There
is a rumbling in your stomach, a hunger to be satisfied and a desire to be satisfied now. Then that word reaches your ear:
"Don't eat that, wait for dinner." It is both a word of waiting and a word of promise. And so the Christian waits
- letting a hundred worlds pass by, letting a hundred gods go unworshiped, leaving a thousand satisfactions untouched. Like
Noah, you stand before the world as a fool, saying no to trendy and shiny satisfactions of ungodliness. Why? Because as a
child of God you have new eyes. You are no longer blind. You now see all these worlds, all these gods, and all these satisfactions
as counterfeits, counterfeits that would fill you for a moment but rob you from enjoying the feast that comes at day's end.
Through his bloody atoning death, Jesus Christ bought you new eyes. Not only can you now detect counterfeits but now you can
see the bounty of his promise from a great distance.
is another thing about this waiting that defines your life in Christ: it is not a passive activity singularly
concerned with time. Waiting for our blessed hope is a moral activity carried out by faith. In the above passages the
apostles bind your "waiting" to your "self-control" and to your "uprightness" and to your "godliness"
and to your "turning from idols" and to your "serving the true God." So this peculiar kind of waiting
generates a life that is ordered by personal holiness, relational integrity and reverent worship. What kind of waiting is
this? It is the waiting of love. It is the waiting of a Bride who has forsaken all others for her Groom. He has pledged his
love to her, giving up everything to purchase her, and now she lives her vows with love's holy zeal. And this is where we
must see the amazing grace that makes us the waiting ones. Waiting, with all
its jealous demands to remain faithful, is still only our privilege because of grace. You see the wicked do not wait because
they know not the Groom's love. Instead they bed down with the world and its gods. They know not the joy of a faithful groom.
However, those who do wait, even though they be mocked and refuse much this world offers, they wait because they know the
faithfulness of the One for whom they wait. At great cost he has already redeemed them from their lawlessness and with great
zeal he will soon appear to deliver them from the wrath to come. Blessed are those who wait!
Friday, February 11, 2011
To Change the World
7:56 pm est
"If heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but a place of exile?"
So John Calvin asked the question that still disturbs but for much good if we will ponder it awhile. This can also be said
of James Davison Hunter's new book, To Change the World, subtitled, The Irony, Tragedy,
& Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.
Hunter's book is disturbing
but in a very productive way. Like Calvin's question, Davison's work will dishearten you but for your good and for God's glory.
What is so disheartening about To Change the World? Well, Hunter, a Christian and first-rate sociologist,
has given us a social history of the recent Western world that basically confirms what we have been sensing for some time
- Christianity has lost its place of privilege in the West. But this is not what's so disheartening. What's disheartening,
as Hunter shows with a scholar's thoroughness, is that Christianity will not likely ever regain this place of privilege. In
fact, Hunter is confident that all attempts to do so will likely fail and shouldn't be attempted in the first place. This
does not mean that Hunter has no coherent vision for how to be Christian in a post-Christian world, but it does mean that
Hunter is very down on grandiose agendas that use phrases like "reclaiming the culture," "transforming the
world," or "building the kingdom."
Hunter's book is arranged around three large essays, as
he calls them. Essay I spends seven chapters proving that the traditional ways Christians think about cultural change don't
work and won't work even with tinkering. Hunter makes a strong case here that the individual "worldview" approach
to cultural change doesn't work. It is often assumed that if we can build into a young mind a thoroughly Christian worldview
we will have created an effective culture-changer. Hunter thoroughly disproves this. A Christian worldview benefits the faithfulness
of the Christian, but has little impact on changing the world. Here is a poignant summary from chapter 6, "The Cultural
Economy of American Christianity": "...the main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities)
have not had the influence in the culture to which they aspired is not that they don't believe enough, or try hard enough,
or care enough, or think Christianly enough, or have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the
arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted." Those arenas are the arenas of the elite. Hunter is
not optimistic that a sufficient number of Christians will ever reach those arenas, and he is concerned of the trouble we
would cause if we did. This leads to his second essay.
Essay II is titled, "Rethinking Power." In the
seven chapters of this essay, Hunter wields a double-edged sword against both Christian conservatives (politically conservative
not necessarily theologically conservative) and Christian progressives (again, politically not theologically). Hunter works
to show that both groups in recent decades have constructed a Christianity that exists primarily to fight against political
problems. Both left and right, says Hunter, tend to cast Christian mission in terms of winning cultural skirmishes through
elections and policy. Re-casting Christianity this way makes the winning of earthly seats of power the dominant narrative
of Christian pilgrimage in the modern world. In the modern West the Christian is no longer on pilgrimage to heaven's glory
but to a better political situation here on earth. Those who bar the way - opponents on the left or right - are then
increasingly viewed with animosity and contempt. Even worse, earthly life has become something of the Christian's true home.
This raises the prospect of entrenched idolatries. Can someone who is dissatisfied with being an exile on the earth have much
of a heart for Christ who has gone before us into the heavenlies?
In his third and final essay of the book, Hunter works out
an answer to this question: "How can one be authentically Christian in circumstances that, by their very nature, undermine
the credibility of faith and coherence of faith?" This is the problem for the Christian living in the modern world. Old
structures, that at least appeared Christianized, generously lent a credibility and coherence to faith (and, we may say, often
allowed for a falsifying of true faith). These structures are fast eroding away shows Hunter. As they erode Christians have
reacted in various ways. The three different postures Hunter chronicles are (1) the "Defensive Against" posture
- here the Christian is a fighter seeing secularization as the main problem; (2) the "Relevant To" posture - here
the Christian is a lover seeing the old traditional ways of the Church as the main problem; (3) the "Purity From"
posture - here the Christian is a bystander seeing the world to be a declining mess that needs calm bystanders to rescue those
who can be rescued. Hunter finds some good in all these postures but none of them sufficient in themselves to the testimony
of scripture. It is then in this last section that Hunter explicitly becomes a theologian and makes a case for what he calls
"Faithful Presence Within."
In this last section of the book Hunter works out the proposal
"that Christians are called to relate to the world within a dialectic of affirmation and antithesis." Hunter draws
on much scripture in this section and by and large makes a sound theological proposal. It is not innovative, for it is derived
from scripture, but it may be fresh to those who have been stuck in a posture toward culture that was out of balance when
considered in light of God's Word. Let me prepare to close with a nice encapsulation of Hunter's proposal from Essay III of To
Change the World:
"Indeed, insofar as Christians acknowledge the rule of God in all aspects
of their lives [sacred and secular], their engagement with the world proclaims the shalom to come. Such work may not bring
about the kingdom, but it is an embodiment of the values of the coming kingdom and is, thus, a foretaste of the coming kingdom.
Even while believers wait for their salvation, the net effect of such work will be a contribution not only to the good of
the Christian community but to the flourishing of all."
"Let me finally stress that any good that is generated
by Christians is only the net effect of caring for something more than the good created. If there are benevolent consequences
of our engagement with the world, in other words, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world
for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the Creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth,
a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfilment of God's command to love our neighbor."
I have now dipped into two excellent works on Christianity and Culture. One by David VanDrunen (ordained
OPC minister and seminary professor) and one by Dr. Hunter (sociology prof at Univ. of Virginia). If you are interested in
going further, of course, read the books. I also have a helpful review of both books in one article by Terry Eastland of The
Weekly Standard. Just ask and I will e-mail it over.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
8:20 pm est
Instead of finishing up those thoughts on Christianity and culture this week
I'd like to tack on a critical addendum to last Sunday's sermon. Next week, Lord willing, I will summarize James Davison Hunter's
important book, To Change the World. But for today let me revisit the call to obedience we heard last week.
In particular, I would like to re-double my efforts to show you that grace alone motivates God-glorifying obedience to the
challenge we heard in Hebrews 5:11-14.
Last Lord's Day we tip-toed our way out along the edge of a theological precipice. We heard
a strong challenge from Christ's apostle to keep moving, to shake off sluggishness, to make every effort to grow up in our
faith. It was a critical admonition. The apostle takes it even a step further this Sunday, showing us that if we sit down
in sloth we sit down in danger. But there is another danger here and in fact everywhere we find such "calls to action"
in scripture. The danger is not in the scripture itself, it is in us. When we are poked and prodded by Christ (through his
apostles and prophets) to obey, it is easy to rise up and run without looking to Christ for the reason
we run and for the strength to run. It is easy to run fast, looking down at our feet and the amount of ground we're covering
rather than up to Christ. It is easier to take joy from having taken some kind of action than it is to take joy from Christ,
our Redeemer. In short, it is easy to obey for own sake instead of for Christ's sake. And obedience merely for our own
sake is no real obedience at all and it soon fizzles again into sloth at best or resentment at worst.
The entire third point of Sunday's sermon was offered to guard against this.
The grace of Christ's purchasing with his blood our entrance into "the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1) is the reason
and the strength for our obedience to grow up in those mysteries which are now revealed to the sons of God. To underscore
what such "grace-based" or "gospel-based" obedience looks like I now turn the remainder of this letter
over to the long dead but still fruitful, Ralph Erskine (1685-1752), where he discusses the difference between legal obedience (self-concerned, flesh-based) and gospel obedience (Christ-concerned,
Spirit given). It is older English, but well worth the effort:
"1. Gospel and legal mortification differ in
their principles from which they proceed. Gospel mortification is from gospel principles, viz. the Spirit of God [Rom.
8. 13], ‘If ye through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live’; Faith in Christ [Acts 15. 9],
‘Purifying their hearts by faith’; The love of Christ constraining [2 Cor. 5. 14], ‘The love of Christ constraineth
us.’ But legal mortification is from legal principles such as, from the applause and praise of men, as in the Pharisees;
from pride of self-righteousness, as in Paul before his conversion; from the fear of hell; from a natural conscience; from
the example of others; from some common motions of the Spirit; and many times from the power of sin itself, while one sin
is set up to wrestle with another, as when sensuality and self-righteousness wrestle with one another. The man, perhaps, will
not drink and swear. Why? Because he is setting up and establishing a righteousness of his own, whereby to obtain the favour
of God here is but one sin wrestling with another.
differ in their weapons with which they fight against sin. The gospel believer fights with grace’s weapons,
namely, the blood of Christ, the word of God, the promises of the covenant, and the virtue of Christ’s death and cross
[Gal. 6. 14] ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom [or, as it may be
read, 'whereby,' viz. by the cross of Christ,] the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.’ But now the man under
the law fights against sin by the promises and threatenings of the law; by its promises, saying, I will obtain life; and win
to heaven, I hope, if I do so and so; by its threatenings, saying, I will go to hell and be damned, if I do not so and so.
Sometimes he fights with the weapons of his own vows and resolutions, which are his strong tower, to which he runs and thinks
3. They differ in the object of their
mortification. They both, indeed, seek to mortify sin, but the legalist’s quarrel is more especially with the sins
of his conversation, whereas the true believer should desire to fight as the Syrians got orders, that is, neither against
great nor small, so much as against the King himself, even against original corruption. A body of sin and death troubles him
more than any other sin in the world; ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?’
[Rom. 7. 24]. His great exercise is to have the seed of the woman to bruise this head of the serpent.
4. They differ in the reasons of the contest. The believer, whom grace teaches
to deny all ungodliness, he fights against sin because it dishonours God, opposes Christ, grieves the Spirit, and separates
between his Lord and him; but the legalist fights against sin, because it breaks his peace, and troubles his conscience, and
hurts him, by bringing wrath and judgment on him. As children will not play in the dust, not because it sullies their clothes,
but flies into their eyes, and hurts them, so the legalist will not meddle with sin, not because it sullies the perfections
of God, and defiles their souls, but only because it hurts them. I deny not, but there is too much of this legal temper even
amongst the godly.
5. They differ in their motives
and ends. The believer will not serve sin, because he is alive to God, and dead to sin [Rom. 6. 6]. The legalist forsakes
sin, not because he is alive, but that he may live. The believer mortifies sin, because God loves him; but the legalist, that
God may love him. The believer mortifies, because God is pacified towards him; the legalist mortifies, that he may pacify
God by his mortification. He may go a great length, but it is still that he may have whereof to glory, making his own doing
all the foundation of his hope and comfort.
6. They differ
in the nature of their mortification. The legalist does not oppose sin violently, seeking the utter destruction
of it. If he can get sin put down, he does not seek it to be thrust out; but the believer, having a nature and principle contrary
to sin, he seeks not only to have it weakened, but extirpated. The quarrel is irreconcilable; no terms of accommodation or
agreement; no league with sin is allowed, as it is with hypocrites.
7. They differ in the extent of the warfare, not only objectively, the believer hating every false
way; but also subjectively, all the faculties of the believer’s soul, the whole regenerate part being against sin. It
is not so with the hypocrite or legalist; for as he spares some sin or other, so his opposition to sin is only seated in his
conscience; his light and conscience oppose such a thing, while his heart approves of it. There is an extent also as to time;
the legalist’s opposition to sin is of a short duration, but in the believer it is to the end; grace and corruption
still opposing one another.
8. They differ in the
success. There is no believer, but as he fights against sin, so first or last he prevails, though not always to his discerning;
and though he lose many battles, yet he gains the war. But the legalist, for all the work he makes, yet he never truly comes
speed; though he cut off some actual sin, yet the corrupt nature is never changed; he never gets a new heart; the iron sinew
in his neck, which opposes God, is never broken; and when he gets one sin mortified, sometimes another and more dangerous
sin lifts up the head. Hence all the sins and pollutions that ever the Pharisees forsook, and all the good duties that ever
they performed, made them but more proud, and strengthened their unbelieving prejudices against Christ, which was the greater
and more dangerous sin.Thus you may see the difference between legal and
gospel mortification, and try yourselves thereby."
Apple Valley Church - OPC, 1750 Olde Buggy Drive, Neenah,WI 54956 (920) 969-1650