We are so thankful to the Lord with the progress that has been made in the last few days. Last Friday, the surgeon placed another new vacuum in the wound on her leg to help with the infection; happily, she came out of this with no fever. By means of her wheelchair, she was also able to get some fresh air for the first time. At present, it appears that she will need surgery again tomorrow to have a new vacuum put in again. Please continue to pray for Tori’s healing and thank God for all the mercies that He has shown to this little girl!
A new rap song by Propaganda has caught the attention of a number of Christians in the blogosphere (lyrics here). It styles itself as a series of questions to a pastor who loves to quote the Puritans, criticizing them for their culpability in the slavery of African-Americans. The rap repeatedly uses the phrase “your precious puritans” in a way that is ironic, to say the least. It is sad that “precious” becomes a piece of sarcasm, for the Lord Himself said to His people that we are “precious in my sight” and “I have loved thee” (Isa. 43:4).
To his credit, Propaganda promotes the gospel of Christ in other raps, and says that he has learned a lot from reading the Puritans. But his rap song forcefully portrays them as deeply flawed men, profoundly guilty for their participation in the Atlantic slave trade and slave economy.
What should we make of this? The subjects of slavery and racism are huge, difficult, and beyond the scope of a single blog post. However, I would like to offer some perspective on Propaganda’s rap song. There are three dimensions to Propaganda’s song: emotional, historical, and theological. While these are intertwined, I think it will help to look at them one at a time.
(1) Emotional Dimension.
You don’t have to read between the lines to see the pain and anger in this song. He raps about “bewilderment,” “heart break,” and an “anger” that “screams.” Furthermore, he is not speaking just for himself, but as the voice behind “our facial expressions,” presumably the African-Americans in the church. White people reading or hearing the rap are also drawn emotionally into the pain in the “shackled, diseased, imprisoned face.” Propaganda’s lines pierce.
The enslavement of African-Americans was a horrific and shameful evil. It remains a stain upon our national history, a sin that only the blood of Christ could cleanse away. To read of the conditions of our fellow human beings in this bondage is painful indeed. Yet, like the Holocaust and the present international atrocity of abortion, slavery must be faced in order that we may renounce it fully and strive to end all human trafficking that continues today.
His imaginary conversation with a pastor is an important reminder that this has implications for preaching and pastoral care. The moral and relational effects of slavery are multi-generational, and we should not pass lightly over the suffering experienced today by African-American citizens in America and our brothers and sisters in the church.
But Propaganda’s song does not set a good example for us. Whatever his personal views may be, his rap portrays the Puritans in a starkly negative light. Some have commented that the song really isn’t about the Puritans, but is a clever, artistic work designed to make us question ourselves and to treat no one as inerrant. We will return to this theological point in a moment, for it has value. But making that point does not justify depicting godly Christians in such a manner.
It is naïve to say that the song does not make us recoil in horror away from the picture it paints of the Puritans. Surely many people who hear the song will be moved to anger and disgust towards the Puritans and resentment towards those who quote them, unless they come to know them better. The song could create a false shame in lovers of Puritan literature, and also give ammunition to those who are eager to write off biblical and Reformed Christianity as bigotry.
Perhaps someone might object that Propaganda’s song is just historical fact. Is that true? This brings us to the second dimension of his rap.
(2) Historical Dimension.
He characterizes the Puritans as “the chaplains on slave ships”—those who “purchased people” and believed that white men bore God’s image in a way that black people don’t. He also says, “Their fore-destined salvation contains a contentment in the stage for which they were given.” These words imply that the Puritan doctrine of predestination was a weapon of oppression that taught people to be passive.
In reality, the Puritan’s doctrine of unconditional election does not foster arrogance, but instead places people on an equal playing field before God as sinners utterly dependent on unmerited grace. The biblical teaching of God’s providence does not make us passive towards wicked men, but inspires courageous activism to resist evil because we believe a sovereign God hears our prayers and is working out His plan through our efforts.
Furthermore, the Puritan view of authority and servitude contained the seeds that ultimately grew into anti-slavery doctrine. They taught that masters could not treat servants and slaves as mere property like a block of wood, but as human beings with rights. Puritans like William Gouge did believe in corporal punishment, but warned strongly against cruelty that would wound or disable people. William Perkins and the Westminster Larger Catechism also recognized that “man-stealing,” the root of slavery, was a sin condemned in Scripture (Ex. 21:16; 1 Tim. 1:10). Some Puritans opposed the Atlantic slave trade, like Jonathan Edwards. Some Puritans followed this to the logical conclusion and opposed all slavery, such as Richard Baxter and Samuel Sewall. After the Puritan era ended and slavery grew in the magnitude of its evil, heirs of the Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, Jr., and Alexander McLeod became strong advocates of the abolition of the bondage of African-Americans.
(For specific quotations and Puritan sources, click here.)
My point is this: if we view the Puritans only through the lens of their slave ownership, then we draw a lop-sided and inaccurate picture of their character and views. Their theological system held the key to unlock the slave’s chains.
We must recognize that because of the sin and darkness that remain in the church, it takes a long time, sometimes generations, for the seeds of truth present in our theology to grow up and bear fruit in our practice. How many things will future generations see in us that will make them exclaim, “How could they tolerate that and still be godly Christians?” So we need to show a lot of grace to each other.
This brings me to the third and final aspect I want to consider in Propaganda’s rap song.
(3) Theological Dimension.
The rapper ends on a surprising note. After reflecting on his own fallibility and blind spots, he says, “So I guess it’s true. God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines. Just like your precious puritans.” The rap has a theological point, that the sovereign God uses flawed men and women to bring goodness and truth to the world. Amen! If that were not the case I would resign from ministry today. If we did not believe in God’s sovereign grace, we would have to view the Psalms as suspect because David committed adultery and murder, and the writings of Peter as of dubious value because he denied the Lord Jesus three times. I am thankful that Propaganda made this point.
However, I believe that Propaganda’s point needs more balance. It is true that believers in Christ still have much remaining corruption. The best of us have grievous sins, whether we are talking about the seventeenth century or the twenty-first century. But we are more than “crooked sticks.” We are the saints of God. We are not hypocrites, mere pretenders wearing a Christian mask, but sincerely repentant sinners walking in the light of God. Paul thanked God for the exemplary faith, hope, and love in believers (1 Thess. 1:3, 7). He could even say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
So while we need to be honest about the sins of our spiritual forefathers, let’s be careful not to view them or portray them as if they were nothing but sinners. Slavery is a big issue, but we should not make it the defining issue in how we view people lest we fall into another kind of idolatry. The examples and teachings of the Puritans, while not flawless, are very valuable to all who would know the living God. This is not putting someone on a pedestal, but following in the footsteps of the faithful (1 Thess. 1:5–6; 2 Tim. 3:10). The Puritans really are “precious,” not just to white people, but to all who love God and the Bible.
Attached please find a letter from my wife Mary about our recent conferences and itinerary in Brazil, together with a number of pictures. You’ll enjoy reading about how God is growing His church there. One conference alone had 2400 attendees.
Please pray for me as I get ready to fly to Asheville, North Carolina on Thursday to speak twice on evangelism at the NCFIC Conference. I hope to speak on Puritan evangelism and on evangelism in the home. Approximately 2100 people have pre-registered. Other speakers include Paul Washer, Scott Brown, and Doug Phillips.
Victoria is now out of the ICU. Her parents are now able to be with her around the clock. On Sunday they were able to get her in a wheelchair for some time and she was able to go into the atrium. From her floor in the hospital there is lots to see and she had lots of questions.
Yesterday the surgeon put in a new vacuum to clean out Victoria’s major wound and infection. The surgeon was happier with how things went and looked than previously; he did have to cut away a little tissue but not as much as on Friday. Thursday or Friday of this week, this procedure will have to be done again. Victoria does experience considerable pain and discomfort which is hard on her parents and family. Please continue to pray with us that the pain would be controlled and that her fever would not return. And thank the Lord for the progress that has been made.
Update on Victoria
Victoria went through her skin grafting surgery quite well. The surgeon had to cut away more tissue than he expected, but he is reasonably pleased with the way things are going. He also spoke of a possibility that she may leave the ICU and go to another floor soon. Although things are going in the right direction there are still many concerns and we wait on the Lord, knowing Victoria is in His hands. Pray specifically that the problem of infection would be resolved.
Installation of Rev. Brian Najapfour
Last night Rev. Brian Najapfour, a graduate of our seminary, was installed as pastor of the 500-member Dutton United Reformed Church (20 minutes from Grand Rapids) as its sole pastor. Rev. Brian Vos delivered a masterful and powerful message on the work of the ministry from 1 Timothy 2:1-7. A faithful ministry (1) brings the world to God in prayer (vv. 1-2), (2) reflects the heart of God in and to the world (vv. 3-4), and (3) brings God to the world in preaching (v. 7). Rev. Jeph Nobel read the installation form. I asked Rev. Najapfour his installation questions and gave him a personal charge from 2 Timothy 4:1-2: (1) remember before whom you stand, (2) remember your primary work, and (3) remember to be faithful. Rev. Mike Schout then gave a charge to the congregation, exhorting the flock to look to and end in Christ through Rev. Najapfour’s ministry. Rev. Najapfour then spoke some personal comments, encouraging his new congregation to pray for him and thanking them for all the love they have already shown.
Nearly 2 ½ years ago our family was stunned to receive the news that our niece, Marisa Kamp, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 4. This week we are rejoicing at her recovery and the end of her treatments. Here is an excerpt of what her mother, Teresa, just posted on Carepages.
“We rejoice to announce that Marisa’s treatment ended October 11! This past Monday, we had an appointment at the clinic to discuss her follow-up care. She will need to go to the clinic monthly for blood work and check-ups the first year post-treatment, then every 2 months the 2nd year, every 3 months the 3rd year, every 6 months the 4th year and from 5 years post-treatment until she is 18 years old, she will have long-term follow-up care in which she will go to the clinic once a year to monitor her growth, etc. She needs to continue with one anti-pneumonia medication for 3-6 months because her counts will take that long to get back to normal post-chemotherapy.
“After 2 years and 3 ½ months of treatment in which Marisa took 2,700 plus pills and had multiple spinal taps, it still seems surreal to have it come to an end. First of all, we want to acknowledge God, who has blessed her treatment and made all things go wonderfully well. He has helped us all the way through and we are so humbled and grateful for His care and kindness shown to Marisa. If we consider what we really deserve, our praise and thanks seem so inadequate. We pray that this will be blessed for Marisa’s soul, and as well as her body, and that it may be blessed for our whole family circle.”
Update on Victoria
Good news! Victoria is now more alert and interacts with every visitor. What she says makes perfect sense; she has something fitting to say to everyone. Nevertheless, she remains very uncomfortable and is on heavy pain meds. This morning she is scheduled for surgery in which physicians will use a vacuum sponge that is supposed to suck out infection and promote healthy tissue growth. Please pray with us that the infection may be controlled and that this procedure may work and be helpful. Pray, too, that Victoria may be less agitated and remain calm.
Bible Doctrine Class
Here is a picture of the Bible Doctrine class attendees who I teach on most Thursday evenings from September through April. I thoroughly enjoy walking through Reformed doctrine with them.
A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life
The first printing of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (4,000 copies) nearly sold out in a week. Today Reformation Heritage Books placed an order for 6,000 more. Hopefully, they will arrive November 9.
Reformation Heritage Books is excited to announce the planned publication of a new study Bible. Amid the vast array of study Bibles written in the past century, there has not been a single Study Bible using the beloved and trusted King James Version written from a sound Reformed perspective. The KJV Study Bible for Personal and Family Worship (KJVSB) will promote the preservation and use of the KJV while leading the reader into a deeper and richer understanding of the Word of God.
One of its unique strengths will be its focus on personal and family worship. Each book will begin with an introduction that will give not only a clear synopsis of the book, but also will explain how the book fits in the redemptive history of Scripture. In addition to highlighting key interpretational issues and explaining archaic words, the KJVSB will strongly emphasize the application of the Scripture to the heart and life. This “head-heart-hand” focus will speak to both the intellectual as well as the experiential needs of the reader. Unique to the KJVSB are the recommendations and pointers for personal and family worship at the conclusion of every chapter.
For more information on this project and how you can help, please see the KJV Study Bible ad.
Happily, there is some good news to report concerning Victoria’s condition. Her fever has dissipated and her breathing tube has been removed. Victoria is breathing on her own again. Soli Deo Gloria!
Victoria is less sedated now, but she is very restless and experiencing considerable discomfort due to itching. She has spoken some words and even asked for “chocolate cereal”! Her bad leg is still oozing; the dressing must be changed frequently. The doctors are still going to access the situation on Friday and determine then when to do the needed skin grafting. She does experience pain as well and they have administered a different pain medication as her body was getting accustomed to the pain meds she was on.
Please pray that Victoria would be able to bear this pain and pray especially for her parents as they witness her pain. “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).
1. Someone once asked me, “Besides preaching, what is your favorite thing to do in the ministry?” I responded immediately, “Elementary and high school chapels.” Today I got to lead chapels for the 500th time in my life—both the elementary and the high school of our own church schools which have four hundred students from K–12. I spoke about Abraham offering up his son Isaac, pointing to Christ as the greater Isaac who bore the real sacrifice. What a delight it is to bring the gospel to children and young people!
2. Once week ago today A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Mark Jones and myself was printed (4,000 copies). To our surprise, nearly all of those copies have been sold, so today we ordered another 4,000 copies. It excites both of us as authors to know that so many people are interested in reading Puritan theology. You can order your copy here.