Post Script

Although I formally ended this blog a month or so ago, I thought it may be helpful to explain in a public forum a little bit more about our situation. It’s becoming public knowledge that the reason I did not enter the ministry was because of substantial misgivings about the truthfulness of Reformed teaching. These misgivings are not mine alone; Arenda shares them. These questions have led us on a search for the truth, to find out whether or not the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints is found in Reformed teaching, or is found elsewhere.

Although a small handful of people had known about this for some time, we only very recently shared our misgivings with a broader audience. As a result of this information becoming more public, we’ve received many notes of support, prayer, and, understandably, disappointment, notes for which we are most grateful. But this has all been further complicated by our move three weeks ago from Hamilton to the small town of Fruitvale, in the West Kootenays region of BC.

It’s clear from the notes that we’ve received that our questioning of Reformed teaching and our move to Fruitvale have led to some speculation regarding our motives and our faith. I’ve enjoyed a certain amount of publicity over the past years, not only as a CRTS student, catechism teacher, and tenderfoot preacher, but also as a blogger, and it’s expected that people will be concerned, and that this concern will in turn lead to some speculation. I understand this, and I hope here to fill in the picture a little.

Seeing as we knew months before school ended that I would not be entering the ministry, we had considered many possibilities for what to do. Did we want to move back “home” to BC? If we stayed in Ontario, did we want to stay in Hamilton? What did I want to do in the long term? Go back to woodworking? Teach? I considered a wood-finishing job in Cambridge, ON. I applied for a cabinetry job on Vancouver Island. I thought about being an arborist in Brockville, ON. Did I want to commit to something long-term while at an unstable point in our lives?

Fruitvale, nestled in the Selkirk Mountains, in a valley above the mighty river from which British Columbia gets its name.

Fruitvale, nestled in the Selkirk Mountains, in a valley above the mighty river from which British Columbia gets its name.

We eventually made up our minds that we were going back to BC. The pull of family, and the pull of the landscape that had shaped our imaginations, was what did it. We didn’t want to live in the Fraser Valley, though, wanting both emotional and physical space. It’s just way too crowded and busy there to think straight about anything. We also concluded it would be best if Arenda worked as a nurse. This would give us the income we needed, as well as the necessary time to fully engage with our questions. So she applied for a number of positions throughout the interior of the province, and it was Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail that bit. So here we are in Fruitvale, just outside of Trail, on two thirds of an acre, carrots, radishes, beets, corn, and potatoes freshly planted in the raised beds out back, tomatoes and hot peppers in the greenhouse, all the fresh air we could hope for, and a view of the mountains that lifts our souls to God.

When people hear that I am not convinced of the truth of Reformed teaching, it leads to deeper questions about faith and the heart, and I understand that. There’s an ancient maxim, however, that prescribes the way in which a Christian must learn the truth: faith seeking understanding. One must first believe, and only then will one understand. You don’t first try to make sense of a man ascending into heaven, and then believe it. Rather, you first believe that a man ascended into heaven, and only then will you understand how the whole meaning of life depends on that fact.
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Thy Paths Drop Fatness

Seminary is not something to sum up in a single blog post, and I won’t even try in this final post. First of all, the whole Sixteen Seasons project was to provide a summary picture of seminary life – and all its tangents – through the eyes of one student. But even four years of blogging has been more than inadequate. Second, what kind of summary could you really make? “Well, it was tough, but good.” Or, “You know, we just, uh, went out there and gave it 110%. Got the right bounces and it just sort of went our way.” That’s true as far is it goes, but it doesn’t go far beyond useless. And it’s also true that there’s no way to avoid understating the whole venture, even with thousands of words and a longer blog post than anyone cares to read. To close, then, for good, I’ll do what I’ve done here since the beginning: I’ll offer some reflections, with some actual seminary experiences sprinkled throughout.

People love to use the old cliché, “time flies.” But I don’t think that it’s quite right. It’s not that time passes so quickly, it’s that the future arrives so suddenly. The first day of first year, when I showed up late to chapel, and the only open seat was in the front row, does feel like a long time ago. At the same time, suddenly I’m here, a few days after the end. What was once a great wilderness of dreams, possibilities, anxieties, and unknowns, has now been charted. What was future is now past. And the thing we call the “present” isn’t so much a moment as it is a process, the process of the potential becoming the actual. The present is the continual churning out of the one string of events that was meant to happen.

But I hesitate to use the words “has now been charted.” Yes, all the events of those four years are now completed, but the significance of those events is only just being revealed. So if the present is the process of the potential becoming the actual, remembering is the same process in the other direction. It is the process whereby the meaning of those actual events itself becomes actual. A few months back I posted a passage from C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. The main character, Ransom, is speaking with a creature called a hross on the planet Malacandra. The hross says to Ransom:

‘A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. . . What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then – that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?’

‘Perhaps some of them do,’ said Ransom. ‘But even in a poem does a hross never long to hear one splendid line over again?’

‘. . . The most splendid line becomes fully splendid only by means of all the other lines after it; if you went back to it you would find it less splendid than you thought. You would kill it. I mean, in a good poem’ (Out of the Silent Planet, p.73).

Only at the end of your life will all the events that happened to you find their fullest meaning. The four years of seminary are merely like the grain of sand, or some other particle, that gets trapped inside a clam, and the accretions that form the pearl are the layers of meaning that remembering unfolds throughout a lifetime. So it’s never a cheap string of events left to us by the present.

Someone dug up an old picture of me and memed it for the class notes...

Someone dug up an old picture of me and memed it for the charismatic gifts part of the Contemporary Issues class notes…

As it is, the events of the past four years belong now to the gallery of the past, right alongside that one time you went skydiving on the morning of your wedding. Events like listening to your professor lecture straight-faced about an eighteenth-century Dutch religious group called “the Coetus party.” Or another professor telling you, in front of the other students, that your good looks and comfortable manner could prove distracting for the women in the congregation. Or the collective lecture notes taken by some of our classmates in a shared Google doc, notes they always shared with the class at the end of the semester. They really were quality lecture notes, but it was the memes, asides, and imagined conversations that made reading them a delight.

Without question, without argument, far beyond any kind of reasonable dispute whatsoever, we had, as fourth-year William put it on Facebook, the “best class ever. Bar none.” For me, it’s only because I got to tag along with classmates who were smarter, funnier, and more gregarious than I was. Although Pipes & Steins faded away this year (third-year Jay-Z stayed faithful to the very end), as the semester wound down, some of us fourth-years revived the weekly bash, this time at night, and once even around the pleasant coals of my charcoal barbecue. Not only was it a welcome break from school work, it was a way to share the fading moments of an experience we’ll never share again.

I could tell you about each of the students, but you’ve already read their profiles on Facebook. Our secretary, Leanne, had arranged with a local minister/former statistician to analyze the Facebook data for those profiles and to determine which of the profiles was the most popular. Jake won a little trophy. Yours truly finished somewhere near the bottom of the list.

Speaking of Leanne, and Catharine, and Margaret, the reason the seminary doesn’t disintegrate into administrative dust is because of their excellence. It’s the students and the professors who get the publicity, but we’re merely the surface film. I’m sure Margaret had better things to do than to hunt down that book that you could’ve done without, or show you for the third time how to navigate the library software, when the instruction manual was lying right beside the computer. But she did it anyways, and she never left you feeling like you’d inconvenienced her at all. Catharine and Leanne, too, having to put up with students who don’t read emails properly, who leave dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, and who generally have difficulty following procedure. As was noted in the Dogmatics class lecture notes when we covered eschatology, one day the books will be opened and Catharine will know who left that big coffee stain in the carpet.

But it was the professors who had the privilege of introducing us more deeply to Christ. A seminary education is rewarding in many ways, but the greatest reward is a more intimate encounter with Christ through His Word. Although the professors showed us the Word through many different windows, it was only the one Christ whom we saw. We saw Him in Greek class, in Dogmatics, in Israelite history, Church history, and in Poimenics. We saw that He cannot be exhausted by any one field of study, but rather increases exponentially the more you learn. For these reasons, if you tended toward sloppy thinking and hasty conclusions, you soon came up hard against the diligence and care for detail the professors demanded of us in reading Scripture. For respect for Scripture is respect for Christ. I am indebted to these men, and thank them greatly for these gifts!

I’ve been reading the book of Ecclesiasticus lately, and there are plenty of verses in there that can work as windows into seminary life. For example: “A wife’s charm delights her husband, and her skill puts fat on his bones” (Ecclus. 26:13). There are layers of meaning here. There really is the bodily fat that results from wifely skill. And there really is delight in that too. But on another and more important level, there’s a different kind of charm, delight, and fat. The KJV retains the Hebrew idiom that uses fatness as a picture of blessings: “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness” (Ps.65:11). Written back when men believed that words did more than just “convey information.”

Anyways, wives, through their “skill,” that is, their tenderness, patience, and devotion, put “fat,” that is, strength and goodness, onto the bones of their husbands. That is the true charm that delights. It’s true of any good wife, it’s certainly true of seminary wives, and above all, it is true of my wife. I could have gone four years at seminary without being married; I could also go running uphill in a foot of snow, barefoot. Some people might consider being married with a family a hindrance for intensive study; and that’s true. It is a hindrance. If your goal is to get the highest marks you could get, then yes, reading nursery rhymes with your kids will certainly get in the way. So will bathing yourself, and eating anything beyond peanut butter on toast. All of life’s treasures are hindrances when looked at the wrong way. They all come at the cost of personal success and glory. And what a bunch of wasted effort and heartache to discover that personal success was a stupid joke, anyways, and that those crazy parents with eight kids had it right all along. No, I know that it’s as true of my classmates as it is of me that our families were the heartbeat and the sunshine of our time here, and that our wives are largely responsible for us having finished at all.

And while I’m here, and you’re reading this, go ahead and give the above-mentioned book of Ecclesiasticus a read-through. It’s a book of proverbs, and like the book of Proverbs the author of Ecclesiasticus would fail spectacularly at modern sensitivity training. Nor is that surprising – anyone who’s going to write anything that’s worth reading is going to write according to truth, not according to the pharisaical posturing we call “political correctness.” Political correctness is just a big lie that everyone knows is a lie but that everyone plays along with anyways.

And with that, I should part with an appreciative nod to my readers. I gained a few regular readers over the years, and lost a few, and usually as the result of the same posts. There were some posts that were popular because everyone liked them, such as The Anatomy of a Classis Exam, or Thoughts and Stories From the Conference. Those two posts have been read 1600 and and 1700 times, respectively. There were other posts like Evolution and the Gallery of Glory (900x) that were more contentious, but not nearly as contentious as those things can be. But the real high achiever here was A Time to Speak. I wrote it in 2013, and in both 2014 and 2015 it remained among the ten most popular posts. Every week it still gets read, and at last check it’s been read 4500+ times. It was read 2600x in one day, which is real star power for a blog that gets on average 25 hits a day.

I read a few years back that Tim Challies gets 10,000 hits a day on his blog; so compared to that, the brightness of this blog sits somewhere around the 20th magnitude. But really, the fact that anyone bothered to read it all is flattering, and I was overall quite tickled by some of the attention. I can only offer a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who commented, or emailed, or read a single post and thought, “Hey, this isn’t bad.”

As most of you know by now, I won’t be entering the ministry. I don’t know what lies ahead quite yet. Perhaps another blog, perhaps a book. Before my English 105 professor at UFV embarrassed me in front of my classmates by embarrassing herself in profusely praising my writing, I had never considered writing as a personal strength. But whatever strength is given to a man is given because there is a God in heaven, and because He is Almighty, and glorious, and wise, and terribly worthy: “Neither is [God] worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). What could we ever give to such a Lord and Master? We are not the givers, but He gives to us. We receive, we marvel, we journey along the fattened path. We accept His gifts as gateways into the garden of faith, and hope, and love. We use His gifts as tools to build up our neighbours in the love that Christ first showed us. In all things, serve that crucified and risen Lord. Serve the one to whom David wrote, “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness” (Ps.45:3,4).

May your Name be hallowed, O most gracious Father!

A Curl From the Burl

Mark Twain_zpssqyzpkfgWe are midway through the last exams we’ll ever write at CRTS. The profs sent us packing with seven of them, the most we’ve written in a semester outside of first year. We’ve done four – Dogmatics, Poimenics, Church Polity, Greek – with the other three waiting patiently and ominously, as exams are wont to do.

Personally, I think it’s a shame that we can’t smoke during exams. Some of our readings this semester were from Rev. Van Oene’s book, Inheritance Preserved. There’s hardly a picture in the book where the men aren’t smoking – that has to count for something. I’d probably score lower on my exams overall, as packing and tamping the pipe does take time. That, and smoking itself tends to be ponderous and lazy, whereas exams require speed and diligence. Who knows, though, the tension between the two may just result in some Barthian insights. But even if the grades were lower, they’d be better, if you know what I mean. (And yes, you do gain a thing or two in life by not smoking. But what do you lose? For an enjoyable read, check out Michael P. Foley’s essay, “Tobacco and the Soul,” over at First Things.)


Shifting in my seat
Warming briar deepens thought
Dogmatics complete


Hand on the brow, the mid-exam phase.
Room’s too clear for proper mind-gaze.
A match and a flare,
Slow draw debonair;
Fresh air matures into a blue haze.

And So Preachers Must

illuminatedJohnNo two people will observe the same event in the same way. So it’s no surprise that no three hundred people will hear the same sermon in the same way. When a preacher opens holy Scripture on a Sunday morning, he’s delivering a message of divine weight and eternal truth not just to bodies, but to souls. To complete people, hundreds of them, all listening in their own way. This is why a heart-wrenching sermon isn’t enough. It’s why a thought-provoking sermon isn’t enough. It’s why a motivational sermon isn’t enough. Each person in those pews has his own needs, and they don’t all need their hearts wrenched or their thoughts provoked or their wills motivated.

What each person needs, however, is to hear the whole gospel addressed to their whole person. Jesus Christ took on our human nature to redeem our human nature – the whole mess of it. As a result, his gospel has nothing less than a total claim on our being, on our emotions, our thoughts, and our wills. It was this conviction that lay behind the theme of this year’s CRTS conference: “Preaching the Whole Gospel to the Whole Person.”

Rev. Eric Watkins, pastor of Covenant OPC in St. Augustine, Florida, opened the conference with a public talk on Thursday evening. His talk was titled, “The Relevance of Redemptive-Historical Preaching in a Postmodern Context: An Optimistic Proposal.” Rev. Watkins became a believer as an adult, and only encountered redemptive-historical preaching well after his conversion. So the fact that he was speaking about such preaching to a crowd of people raised in that tradition led him to remark, “I feel like a lion in a den full of Daniels.”

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On Darkness Visible and the Celestial Light

There is nothing necessarily special or divine about the desire to go to heaven. There’s nothing surprising about it. Most religions offer some ideal afterlife as a reward for being faithful in this life. Ask the average Canadian if he would like to spend eternity in a perfect world that has no sickness, no poverty, no pollution, no war, no death. He’d probably say yes, he would like to go there. And ask him if he would rather spend eternity there than in hell, that everlasting fire where the smoke of torment goes up forever and ever. His answer would be even more obvious. Of course he would rather go to heaven than to hell.

Sometimes I think as Christians we limit ourselves to that kind of thinking. We recognize of course that hell is a terrible place and that as terrible as hell is, heaven is wonderful. And in order to escape hell and go to heaven we have to place our faith in Christ. But I think that shaping up the truth of the gospel this way leaves us with an incomplete understanding of salvation. It leaves out some of the most important truths.

To illustrate, I’ll quote a passage from John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. The poem begins with Satan and the angels lying dazed in the lake of fire. They’ve just been cast out of heaven, and it’s a long fall from heaven to the pit of hell. As the angels come out of their daze they begin to gather in a great crowd around Satan, their leader. They want to know what this eternal punishment means, and what if anything can be done about it. So Satan rises to the occasion and in no uncertain terms lays out how this is going to go. He says (with original spelling):

Is this the region, this the soil, this the clime,
Said then the lost archangel, this the seat
That we must change for heaven, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so . . .
. . . Farewell, happy fields
Where joy forever dwells: hail horrors,
Hail infernal world, and thou profoundest hell
Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
. . . Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

Satan and the angels being cast out of heaven. ~ by Gustav Doré

Satan and the angels being cast out of heaven. ~ by Gustav Doré

That’s one of the most famous passages from the poem, famous for how well it captures the essence of sinful rebellion. Satan knows full well the pleasures of heaven. The “celestial light,” the “happy fields where joy forever dwells.” These aren’t just something Satan has read about; these are memories of concrete experiences. Yet they all belong to the place where God is. They all belong to a place where you can only ever be inferior, where you can only ever serve, where your existence is dedicated to the glory of another. And so great is Satan’s pride that he would rather be anywhere else than there. He would rather be, to quote Milton again, in

A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe.

Satan would rather reign in darkness visible than serve in the celestial light. But the power of these words is not simply that they depict Satan’s condition. It’s that they depict the human condition. They depict a condition that is not merely distant from God, that is not merely unable to serve God. These words depict a condition that does not want to serve God. Satan knew the pleasures of heaven and yet rejected them for hell. Adam and Eve, too, knew the pleasures of paradise. They knew what it was to live in a world without sin, a world in harmony with God, a world of fellowship with God. But they rejected paradise, they rejected fellowship with God, they rejected life. They knew the penalty for eating of that tree, and they ate anyways. Better to serve myself and die than to serve God and live. And it’s that desire that has captured the human heart ever since. The desire to spend an eternity suffering in hell rather than living in heaven and serving God.

So to return to our average Canadian who would much rather go to heaven than hell. And the response that says that he escapes hell by putting his faith in Christ. You can see that that isn’t the full picture. Even if you stress that he has sinned and offended God and that Christ has taken away that offense, even that is not yet the full picture.
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Just Two Words

I’m studying for the Poimenics midterm tomorrow – Poimenics being the study of the pastoral and interpersonal side of the ministry. We read through a small book by Pierre and Reju called The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need.

Related to that – and at the same time unrelated – here’s a counseling classic:

A Sonnet for Reading Week

For Uncle Ron, recovering from open-heart surgery, a fan of sonnets.

Somewhere the chairs sit empty and alone,
Remembering the warmth of daily buttocks.
The echoes of the lectures died and gone
Betoken times of respite sans the flummox
Caused by thoughts abirth with pace of rabbits,
A number grim it blossoms into pressure.
But husbandry of thoughts, the goal of abbots:
Van Vliet, de Visser, Smith, Van Raalte, Visscher.
Somewhere a boiler furnace makes its case
By preaching hydraulic harangues at tables.
Lest such a groan take hold in soulish space
A blessed week of pause in restful stables.
     Somewhere in study bright over epistles:
     A smile and beer-inducéd sloppy whistles.