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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The Anatomy of a Classis Exam

photo-8Today was the first major milestone in my seminary career. There are the regular milestones of passing first, second, and third year, of course, milestones that are reached when you get that final year-end email that says “Faculty Decision: May Proceed” at the bottom. But today I was given the grace to sustain my first classis exam, the exam that allows me to preach in the churches.

It’s the least serious of the three classis exams, but it is serious. You spend a month preparing for it, two weeks writing a sermon and two weeks studying your assigned doctrine. It’s not as though all day every day is spent studying, but it’s a lot of studying nonetheless, and your wife probably thought you were grumpy at times.

The sermon text I was assigned was Luke 6:6-11, the healing of the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath; and the doctrine I was assigned was the doctrine of Scripture. It’s a great doctrine for an aspiring preacher to study as it illuminates your mind to the very thing you will be preaching. Take 1 Corinthians 2:14, for example, which is a proof text for the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

Spiritual discernment isn’t something that can be taught at seminary, nor can it be examined at classis. Yet it’s essential to rightly interpreting Scripture. It’s an important point to make because there is any number of unbelieving scholars in the world who can offer valuable insights into Scripture. They can give insights into the Greek grammar, or the historical and literary context. They can read a passage and discover things that you in all your hours of careful research missed. What this means is that although they could give a fascinating lecture on some part of Scripture, they could never preach a sermon.
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And They Need No Candle: A Review of the 2015 CRTS Conference

RevelationPageIt might strike us as flippant to refer to eternal life as an eternal holiday. But if we consider that the word holiday is a combination of holy and day, and that Sunday is the Lord’s ordained holy day, then to refer to the eternal Sabbath as an eternal holiday is, in fact, quite fitting. So to spend a weekend meditating on eschatology, the doctrine of the end times, amounts to meeting together as a family and getting excited about a coming vacation.

That was our privilege at the annual conference of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. The theme this year was, “As You See the Day Approaching: Reformed Perspectives on Eschatology.” The speakers addressed questions such as, Will we be like pre-Fall Adam on the new earth? Will there actually be a physical new earth? Why is hell important, if at all? What happens to us when we die? Far from being speculation about what will happen in the future, the speeches were proof that a biblically grounded eschatology impacts our hearts and lives today.

The conference opened Thursday night with the first public speech. It featured the keynote speaker, Dr. Lane Tipton, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His topic, as he put it in his introduction, concerned the “intersection of pneumatology with eschatology.” He recognized that this sounded less than thrilling to the mainly non-academic audience, so he assured us that his goal was indeed to present these truths in a way meaningful to the average believer.

Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit, and Dr. Tipton wanted to show how the work of the Spirit was related to the end times. He gave us a speech that blended technical exegesis with pastoral warmth, mixing phrases like “eschatological plenitude” with concrete pictures of Moses’ glowing face. He spoke with a contagious joy that was clearly born of the material he was presenting, a joy that made his speech come alive. The focus of his talk was two passages, one from each of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians. Space won’t allow me to cover everything Dr. Tipton said, so I will focus on the one point that was the buzz later over coffee and dessert.

Dr. Tipton was emphasizing the glory of the life that comes from the Spirit, and how full that glory will be when we experience the resurrection. He worked through Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 regarding the natural and spiritual bodies (verses 42 and following), and demonstrated to us how striking Paul’s contrast between the two really is. The dead body of a believer, Paul writes, is in the category of “natural body.” But so is the body of Adam, pre-Fall. What this means, Dr. Tipton explained, is that the body that Adam had in Eden is closer in kind to a corpse than it is to the spiritual body we will be given at the resurrection. Compared to our resurrection bodies, Adam’s body was death-like. To make the point with even more impact, Dr. Tipton said, “The one place I would not want to go to, other than hell, is Eden.” This would take us backwards, away from our current and future Spirit-wrought life with Christ. It is a shocking statement, but it shocks us into recognizing the sheer volume of glory to which the Spirit is bringing us!
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An October Tinge to the Canon

Fall colours at the manor.

Fall colours at the manor.

If you’ve ever imagined yourself going to seminary, you’ll imagine yourself reading, memorizing, preaching, maybe even arguing over one of Ontario’s finest traditional ales. You don’t imagine yourself landing your first modeling gig. But you volunteer where you can; and besides, someone’s fetching visage has to grace the website and the CRTS academic calendar. So when the call from head office for volunteer models showed up in the inbox, a number of us replied in the affirmative. The pictures currently on the website need updating, as most of the depicted have graduated to the ministry. And maybe they’ll do something about the poster-sized ad at the top of the stairs, too, the ad with a picture of a man who’s likely never seen the inside of the seminary. Probably doesn’t even know it exists.

So Ewout de Gelder showed up with his camera today, photographing the lectures, the coffee break, the professors, the building itself, and then that willing group of dashing models. It may have been a better idea to do the photo shoot right after the semester started, when most of us were fresh from working for the summer. That is, when we were in possession of more bronzed and toned physiques. But I guess the payoff for having less Homeric students is having the resplendent wash of fall colours framing our modest campus.

We had our photos taken all over the campus, even where students normally don’t go, like outside the front of the building. At one point second-year James and I were asked to walk up a set of exterior stairs together, wearing expressions of “muted joy.” It took us a few moments to make the switch from “flamboyant glee” but we pulled it off. Ewout even said I was a natural – at muted joy, that is – and while I’m sure there’s something significant there, I don’t know what it is.

We spent some time in the library, too, putting on our business face. Second-year John and I posed with a copy of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies that probably hadn’t been read in a decade, and third-year William was shot checking out the Afrikaans literature. I was photographed on the couch, too, reading an evangelical quarterly, which one student joked would decrease my chance at a call. Yet I was sitting, another riposted, directly beneath a wooden bust of John Calvin. Sanctified feng-shui.

These are the sorts of non-academic events that contribute to one’s personal CRTS fellowshipping canon. Another example would be racing Dr. Van Vliet on the way back from the bowling alley, the students in the back of the van shouting “clear!” so I could run the stop signs. That was last year, and we beat him by a couple blocks. Or going out for beers and wings with Tyler and Gerritt last semester on the last night they’d ever have to study for a CRTS exam. It’s enough to make you sentimental.

CRTS Class of 2032?

I received a phone call from Dr. Van Vliet a month or so back, inviting me to speak, along with third-year Rick, to a special audience the seminary would be hosting. He asked us to give a presentation on altars, as this had been the topic of our Old Testament research paper. No, this special audience was not a group of Messianic Jews. Rather, it was these guys:

P1010041

That’s a class of astute kids who came all the way down from Owen Sound, what Google Maps tells me is almost a 3 hour drive. They made the long trip because their teacher was impressed by their keen enthusiasm for Bible class, and felt that a field trip to this hallowed abode of learning was just the thing for them. So I guess our job was twofold: give them a good presentation on altars, but also sell them on seminary.
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CRTS Conference Videos

The CRTS website has made available the public lectures from the conference, those being the ones delivered by Drs. Visscher and Van Vliet:

Public Conference Lectures

In addition, Alie de Vos made summaries for five of the eleven lectures, the first of which has been translated by Dick Moes and is available under the “lectures” tab of his website:

Lecture Summaries

Thoughts and Stories From the Conference

Over the past weekend CRTS hosted its annual conference, the topic of which was “Correctly Handling the Word of Truth.” The lectures dealt with how we read the Bible, and there were a lot of them, twelve I think. The seminary invited professors from the seminary of our Dutch sister churches to give lectures as well, with the goal of understanding some of the developments over there.

When Dr. Van Raalte phoned me the other night, I thought something was wrong. He’s normally not a quick speaker, but his words seemed especially measured this time and I expected some serious news.
But he said, “Are you able to drive the Dutch delegates on Monday?”
I relaxed; so everyone was ok, then. A little driving around was no problem.
The Dutch delegates were those who had represented the Theologische Universiteit Kampen van de Gereformeerde Kerken (TUK) at the conference over the weekend. There were eight professors, one student, and one member of the board of governors. Although I had picked some of them up from Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Wednesday, apparently I was needed to drive them back, too. I didn’t know why any of the other students with vans couldn’t do it, but I didn’t ask. None of my business, really.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I said.
“Well, there’s actually a little more,” he continued. “They would like to go to Niagara Falls first.”
Ah. You can drive to Pearson and back in under two hours in good traffic, but Niagara Falls is forty-five minutes from Hamilton in the other direction. Suddenly what was a small afternoon jaunt had turned into a day-trip, and I was to be something of a host. I understood now the measured tone.

I agreed to it, though, which is how I found myself cruising down the Queen Elizabeth Way yesterday morning in light traffic, explaining to the man next to me that those buildings across Lake Ontario were the Toronto skyline. It was Mr. deJong from the board of governors riding shotgun. He had also ridden shotgun when I picked them up from the airport, so he asked what I thought was a very reasonable question.
“So, are you the best driver at the seminary?”
“Yessir,” I said.
Actually, it’s what I should have said. But sarcasm doesn’t always communicate well, so I just stuck with the truth. Continue reading