How Martin Luther Built a Brand That Changed the World

The Reformation spread when an unknown monk leveraged a rudimentary piece of technology developed by a devout Roman Catholic.Listen Now

The Ordinary Virgin Mary: Hellen Stirke (Died 1543)

The Ordinary Virgin Mary

The drama of the Protestant Reformation casts big personalities and major characters, the types of men now etched into myths, legends, and giant stone figures. But the Reformation is also the story of everyday, ordinary followers of Christ, mostly forgotten, who lived out Reformation theology on the ground — and who paid the price for it with their lives. Martyrs like Hellen Stirke.

Mary’s Equal

Hellen was a fairly average Scottish Christian in the city of Perth, dedicated to daily domestic work as a wife and mother. Her life remained unnoticed to history until the birth of her last child in 1544.

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When the time arrived for Hellen’s labor and delivery, Catholic tradition called for earnest prayers to the Virgin Mary. Having a good sense of Scripture, Hellen repudiated these petitions. It was a tradition she would not follow. Her baffled midwives pressed her to make such a prayer, but she refused the ritual. The physical risk was real, but the prayers were nothing more than superstitious insurance.

“If I had lived in the days of the Virgin,” Hellen said with poise, “God might have looked likewise to my humility and base estate, as he did the Virgin’s, and might have made me the mother of Christ.” Her childbed sermonette must have triggered gasps. But Hellen was settled and comforted by her theology, knowing her prayers were going directly to God through her Savior Jesus Christ.

“I Will Not Bid You Good Night”

News of Hellen’s refusal to pray to Mary, and her bold claim that she was on equal standing before God, very soon found its way to the ears of the local Catholic clergy and quickly up the chain to the presiding cardinal. His response was swift to snuff out this spark of Protestant theology. Before long, Hellen was arrested and imprisoned, along with her husband and four other outspoken Protestants in the city. The small group was soon found guilty of “heresy” and sentenced to death. The following day, soldiers brought Hellen, her husband, and the condemned Protestants to the gallows.

Hellen asked to die side by side with her husband, James Finlason, but her request was denied. Men were to be hanged, women drowned, and James would go first. Holding her young child in her arms, Hellen approached her husband, kissed him, and gave him these parting words:

“Husband, be glad, for we have lived together many joyful days, and this day, in which we must die, we ought to esteem the most joyful of all, because we shall have joy forever. Therefore I will not bid you good night, for we shall shortly meet in the kingdom of heaven.”

James was hanged before her eyes. His life on earth done, eyes fell to Hellen, who was forced to hand her newborn to a nurse entrusted with the child’s care from this point. The authorities led Hellen to a nearby pond, bound her hands and feet, put her into a large gunnysack along with stones or weights, and threw her into the water like a bag of garbage. All for the crime of “blaspheming the Virgin Mary.”

A Cloud of Ordinary Witnesses

Heaven has all the details, but this is all we know of Hellen’s life. She was a bold woman made strong by Scripture. Her birthbed claim, that she was equally qualified to mother Jesus, was a radical ceremonial insubordination — but at the heart it was an act of faith, rendering the strata of all human superiority irrelevant in the presence of Christ’s supremacy.

Look deeper into the Reformation, and you will see that it’s more than printing presses and theses nailed to doors and theological debates. It’s the story of ordinary believers, husbands and wives and fathers and mothers, poised in the words of Scripture, reclaiming the primacy of Jesus Christ for their lives, their marriages, their families, and their eternal hopes, who stand as a cloud of witnesses calling us to do likewise. They call us to hold our biblical convictions without wavering, to enjoy God’s earthly blessings, and to endure all momentary afflictions now for the great eternal joy set before us.

Should Teens Own Smartphones?

Should Teens Own Smartphones?

When Silicon Valley’s 20-something techno-prodigies were awing the world with new, shiny, unveilings of iPods and then iPhones and then iPads, many of the inventors didn’t have kids. Few had teens. Now, most of them have kids, and many have teens — teenagers addicted to gadgets their parents birthed into the world years ago.

This is the story of Tony Fadell, a former Senior VP at Apple, known as the grandfather of the iPod, and a key player on the early design team for the iPhone. On the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone in an interview, he made this admission: “I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?”

Fadell, a father of three, has come to see the addictive power of the iPhone, an addiction that cannot be removed. “I know what happens when I take technology away from my kids. They literally feel like you’re tearing a piece of their person away from them — they get emotional about it, very emotional. They go through withdrawal for two to three days.”

“This self-absorbing culture is starting to [really stink],” Fadell said. “Parents didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know this was a thing they needed to teach because we didn’t know for ourselves. We all kind of got absorbed in it.”

Yes — we all got absorbed — techies and teens and parents. All of us. And now we’re trying to figure out how to wisely manage our devices.

Teens, Smartphones, and Depression

Digital absorption has coincided with the fast-changing dynamics of public high school life. Last winter, I asked an assistant principal at a large Twin Cities high school (of more than 2,000 students) how her job has changed over the past two decades.

Much remains the same, she said. “But the one thing that has changed drastically in working with teenagers for over twenty years is the dependency they have now on the instant gratification and feedback from others. How many likes do I have? How many followers? And there’s a compulsion to put something online to see how many likes I can get. And if that wasn’t enough, what does it say about me?”

“There’s a really strong connection to this behavior and the increased mental health issues we’re seeing in the school,” she said. “Over the past three-to-five years I would say my job has changed the most, because we’re now dealing with so much more mental health. I don’t think it’s singularly because of technology, but I genuinely believe digital technology is a major factor. It changes everything from the way people relate with others to the way they see themselves.”

Destroying a Generation?

The cold sweats of Fadell and the eyewitness testimony of this assistant principal are captured in the haunting headline over a recent feature article published in The Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

iGen is the new label for those roughly 12-to-22-year-olds, born between 1995 and 2005. Among them, the warning signs are prevalent. “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011,” wrote author Jean Twenge of the struggles faced by the iGen-ers. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

“The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression,” and, “girls have borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens.” Twenge cites sources that show depression is on the rise among both boys and girls. For boys, depressive symptoms rose 21% between 2012–2015. In the same span, rates among girls increased by 50%. The rates of suicide for both increased, too. Male suicides doubled; female suicides increased threefold.

From what I know about these spikes in depression, and what I have discovered about the allure of our devices, what we are addressing here are existential questions about the meaning of life and acceptance from others — massive questions, weighing heavy on a young generation. These are redemptive questions, identity questions, gospel issues.

Digital media force a teen and preteen into the 24-7 pressure cooker of peer approval. But it’s not just teens; all of us feel this addictive draw of our social media. Smartphones seem to influence us all in at least 12 potent ways.

But the question here is pretty straightforward: Given these warning signs, is it possible for a teen to resist the powers of culture and go smartphone-free through the middle school and high school years?

Smartphone-Free Teens

I asked Jaquelle Crowe, the author of the excellent book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, that question. She provides us with a rare example of an iGen teen who postponed the adoption of a smartphone until age 18. I asked her what it was like to wait so long.

Jaquelle, thanks for your time to share your experience. Studies are beginning to suggest that rates of teen depression are on the rise, and there is no single factor to get all the blame. But the pervasiveness of smartphones among iGen teens has to be considered as a significant cause. Would this connection surprise you?

Absolutely not. Smartphones contribute significantly to the 24-7 approval culture we live in. There’s no escaping it. This is something our parents don’t always understand, because when they were teenagers, that culture was largely limited to the 9–3 school day, and then they retreated to the boredom of family life.

But now there’s 24-7 social media. There’s a constant comparison and peer approval game that cannot be escaped. And it’s crippling, exhausting, and undeniably stressful. You can’t get away from the likes, the shares, the texts, the pictures. It’s like the popularity contest never ends. And it works both ways. Your smartphone gives you a front-row seat to watch the popularity contest, too.

That is a powerful dynamic, hard to escape the popularity culture on both fronts (feeding it and watching it play out). You did not get a smartphone until you were 18, but you had friends with smartphones, right?

Yes, I did, and I was well aware that most of my peers had access to something I didn’t. I could name every friend who had a phone, simply because I would see their phone. If Alison got a phone, I knew about it. If Jared got a phone, I knew about it. Not because they flaunted it or shamed me, but because it was always around. Even if we were talking together, it would buzz or ping or they’d be fidgeting with it. If there was a pause, a moment of silence, a break, they’d be on their phones, and I’d be left in the lingering awkwardness and boredom.

It definitely fed my FOMO (fear of missing out). It fed into some insecurity. Even though my friends never made me feel weird for not having a smartphone, it was an expectation, so they were surprised when they discovered I didn’t have one. There were times when I was the outlier. And not only with friends but also with my generation at large. I’d be walking through the mall or waiting in line or stopped on the sidewalk, and I would look around, fully present and disconnected — and stare at a sea of teens glued to smartphones. I was an exception, and that felt uncomfortable.

At times, I felt lonely — even if I was surrounded by people. They were constantly connected and I was isolated. I felt confined by my lack of access. At the same time, those feelings were largely emotional and visceral because I agreed theoretically with my parents — that I didn’t need a phone right then.

I applaud your parents for this foresight and conviction. Most parents, I fear, simply cave to the pressure, as their teen caves to the pressure — a domino effect of pressures, and certainly one I feel as a parent. But it’s worth giving this decision critical thought, because introducing a fully functioning smartphone is a decision that cannot easily be undone. For you, how much trust does this call for on the part of a teen, to wait? It seems like you have to trust your parents more than your peers, and that’s a main struggle of the teen years.

It calls for trust, definitely. And connected to that, a willingness to submit and obey. Ultimately, it requires a recognition that your parents are actually looking out for your best interests — emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically — and that they know you better than your peers do.

The thing is, deep down, most teens know that. They just push back because not owning a smartphone makes them feel ashamed.

I assume you had access to a phone of some sort?

Yes. If I was going out, I’d often borrow my mom’s flip phone for emergencies. I almost never used it.

That’s wise. As for digital media, what did you have access to before the smartphone?

I had a computer, I had email, I had access to some social media. I technically could do everything from home. But in a digital world with an expanding reach, that still somehow seemed limited.

For sure. Speaking as a 20-year-old now, what would you say to parents who are weighing the pros/cons and reading all the news and the testimonies of parents of teens, and who are coming to the conclusion that delaying the smartphone in the life of their teen would be wise? What kind of pushback should they expect to hear from their teen?

To parents, I’d say: It is worth it to have your kids wait. I’ve seen it and heard it and can attest to it since I got my own smartphone — smartphones change you. They give you overwhelming and shocking access. They zap your attention span. They are massively addictive. You can (and should!) put up safeguards, but a smartphone fundamentally changes your heart and mind. If it’s possible for teens to delay that change, I think it is a wise consideration.

Teach your teens discipline and discernment before you entrust them with the dangers of a smartphone. Of course, smartphones are not inherently evil; they have the potential for great good. But they need to be wielded well.

If you’re making your teen wait, don’t delegitimize the painful exclusion they’ll feel but use this time to prepare them to use technology wisely and faithfully. In the hands of unprepared, immature teens, smartphones can be deadly.

As for pushback that a parent is sure to hear, teens will feel left out. That might make them frustrated, confused, lonely, or hurt, and if they lash out, that’s why. They might feel like they’re separated from their friends. They might feel the pain of peer pressure. They might fear missing out. They might even have some legitimate concerns (e.g., having a phone with them when they’re out by themselves).

Parents, in the face of this pushback, be willing to explain your reasoning. When your teens ask you, “Why can’t I have a smartphone?” they really don’t want you to say, “Because I told you so.” Even if they don’t agree with it, they will likely respect your willingness to reason with them and the depth of critical thought you’ve put into this.

Share your research with them. Introduce them to other teens (in person or online) who don’t have smartphones. Instead of treating them like a child (just saying, “No” and moving on), pursue thoughtful, honest dialogue with them. Allow them to keep the conversation going, and be willing to do the hard work of communication for the greater good of your relationship.

Very good. And perhaps we can close with what you would say directly to the teens in this scenario. What should they expect to face by way of internal and peer struggle?

To the teens who take this countercultural move, you are an outlier in your generation. Obedience in life requires avoiding every clingy weight that will trip you up in the Christian life (Hebrews 12:1). I can only encourage you to hold fast. It comes down to this. Hold fast.

Jesus is better than a smartphone. You will rehearse this truth over and over in your heart.

And when you feel burdened by exclusion and isolation, don’t despair. Your identity is not in fitting in or meeting superficial expectations. It’s in Christ alone. And he gives you one task: be faithful. Right now, that looks like obeying your parents and trusting their good intentions for you — and that may mean not having a smartphone for a time.

Don’t run from this reality in shame; embrace it in faith. Your joy is not found in cultural connectivity; it’s found in union with Christ. So hold fast, and be faithful. Your reward is coming and it is far greater than any loss you will feel in this life.

The Nail in the Coffin of Our Hearts: Five Hundred Years of Fighting Idolatry

The Nail in the Coffin of Our Hearts

Five hundred years ago, God ignited a small flame in Wittenberg, Germany, and it grew into the golden blaze of the Protestant Reformation. What started in the hands of Martin Luther’s fabled hammer swings, soon became a battering ram which rung across the culture, smashing every false image of God in the cultural worship of the day.

It got messy.

Yes, it smashed images and statues and shrines and icons and relics. But these were simply outward manifestations of the invisible idols rooted in sinful hearts — idols sometimes perpetuated under the guise of “Christianity.”

The Reformers perceived the ancient expression of idol-making as simply the expression of an inner idol, a falsely placed confidence. The Protestant Reformation was a declaration of war on vain thoughts about God. And when war is declared against vain thoughts about God, war is declared on the culture’s idols.

Idol Factory

John Calvin fought in this battle, famously writing that “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” But listen to what Calvin says a few sentences later.

Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God. (Institutes, 1:108)

Nothing is more dangerous than religious confidence in a fake god of our own imagining.

Martin Luther fought this same war, writing against Rome:

The wicked say and confess . . . “I am a monk. I serve God with vows and ceremonies. Because of this he will give me eternal life.” But who tells you that you thus are worshiping the true God, when he has not commanded these things? Therefore you have made up for yourself some god who wants these things, although there is no true God who requires this or who wants to give eternal life because of this. What then are you worshiping except an idol of your own heart, whom you think the righteousness of your works pleases? (Works, 18:9–10)

Hear the unmasked lie: “I’ll be happy once I attain my spiritual security in my own meritorious deeds and vows and ceremonies.”

This claim is a false idol — a false security in the flesh — a false image of God and a false gospel and a false god altogether.

Shallow Theology

The Protestant Reformation was ignited by this confrontation with vain securities. The Reformers opposed images and statues and shrines and icons and relics. But far more central, the Reformers were aiming at the doctrinal idols, the false claims about God, and the presumptions concerning God that misled whole generations (Colossians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 10:4–5).

The Reformers drew from the first three commands to challenge this universal attraction of idols in every culture.

  • Command 1 in Exodus 20:3 — Don’t follow other gods.
  • Command 2 in Exodus 20:4–6 — Don’t corrupt your worship of God with vain images.
  • Command 3 in Exodus 20:7 — Don’t use God’s name in vain.

The three commands are three divine warnings against vain and shallow thoughts about God.

Warning 1 forbids syncretism. Don’t think that you can mix God with your worship of idols. If you want one-third of God, and two-thirds of other idols, you get none of God. Syncretism is vain thinking about God.

Warning 2 forbids reductionism. Don’t think that you can reduce God down into something manageable that you can hold in one hand like a household idol or a little golden calf. The earth is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1). Reductionism of God is vain thinking about God.

Warning 3 forbids presumption. Don’t speak rashly of God. It is vanity to think that we can invoke God’s name to cover over our ignorance of who he really is. Presumption about God is a cloak over vain thinking about him.

At root, all the physical idols of the Old Testament lie about God. That’s all they can do: lie. Idols are birthed from lies. Thus, in turn, idols can only preach sermons of deceit to their worshipers (Habakkuk 2:18; Zechariah 10:2; Jeremiah 10:15).

And as Luther discovered in the text of Scripture, the golden calf was fashioned with a stylus, a “graving tool” originally meant to write truth about God, but instead used to shape a golden lie (Exodus 32:4).

Our Idols Today

Taking aim at the religious idols of the age would become the battlefront as the Reformers reclaimed and proclaimed the epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Romans.

Man’s heart is an idol factory, and it took an entire revolution to slow its gears. Preachers had to be trained and sent out, evangelists had to take up the call, missionaries had to sail across dark seas to unknown lands, translators had to bring Scripture into the vernacular of the people, and healthy local churches had to grow so they could serve in this war. Every believer had to resist the idol factory of their heart by filling their hearts with Christ and nourishing themselves with robust knowledge of who God has revealed himself to be in Scripture.

This was the central concern the Reformers aimed at 500 years ago. Shallow thinking about God always replaces God, and sets in his place a fraudulent idol of security or sex or wealth or power or even of religion.


The Morning Star of the Reformation kbwo302a

Martin Luther didn’t stand alone 500 years ago. Nor does he stand alone today.

To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey, beginning October 1, just 5–7 minutes each day, to meet the many heroes of the Reformation.


The sad reality is that Scripture warns us over and over that we are all idol-makers. Seven billion polytheists today cannot (and will not) stop worshiping, because they cannot stop placing their hope and future security in things. Sovereign grace must break our idolatrous impulses.

As John Calvin so famously put it: The human heart is an idol factory, churning out new idols like the conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant rolling out new widgets. Viral idols gush out of fallen hearts and flood every nook and cranny of media in our culture — in social media, television, music, movies, and novels and memoirs.

A long time ago in Wittenberg, Germany, a monk ignited a 500-year war on idolatry. And the Reformation flame endures because the fundamental battle wars on today.

Do You Get ‘It’?

Do You Get ‘It’?

Grossing $117 million in its opening weekend, and $218.7 million in its first 10 days, the new horror movie It fast became the highest-grossing September release in Hollywood history.

The nightmare-to-paper thriller from Stephen King, about the child-hunting clown named Pennywise, was first an award-winning novel (1986), turned TV miniseries (1990), turned R-rated film phenomenon (2017).

But if a horrifying clown is good for the box office, it’s proving bad for the clowns-for-hire business. New York City clown John Nelson claims he lost six kid birthday gigs in the first week after It was released. In response he launched a pro-clown rally in his city to “raise enough awareness so when people think of clowns they won’t think of scary murderers.”

A group of clowns rising up in revolt brings a smile to my face like no clown has for many years (even if Nelson’s rally may have simply been a publicity stunt for the film, according to new reports).

Any clown with literary sense would know that since at least the time of Shakespeare, clowns have been called on stage, not to relieve tension but more often to jar the audience and to amplify the horrors of the storyline. The bard’s clowns didn’t draw blood, but their appearance often anticipated a tragic turn (Nason).

Why I Don’t Watch Horror

The wild success of horror movies in our culture, especially the most graphic and bloody ones, like It, mystify me. As a matter of settled principle, I don’t watch R-rated horror movies, and I have no intention of seeing It, nor do I encourage anyone else to. Violent games and films and shows feed in me a sinister curiosity for bloodshed and death. I’ve felt the lure.

And I see this conviction as part of the answer to the most beautiful question in the Bible: “Who has eyes that will behold the king in his beauty?” (Isaiah 33:17). Answer: He “who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil” (Isaiah 33:15). The beauty of God is for those who do not feed their sensory curiosities with violence and wickedness. On this basis I believe entertainment-by-gore is forbidden in Scripture, even at the level of what gets communicated to my senses as entirely fictional media.

Why Others Do

But I’m also intrigued by It as a cultural phenomenon, enough to dialogue with a Christian who, as a matter of professional calling, has seen the film. Among other things, Brian Godawa is an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter (To End All Wars), a teacher on faith, worldviews, and storytelling (see this and this), and a popular author of biblical fiction (like this series).

What follows is a discussion between two Christians who disagree. Brian is pro-horror film, and has studied the genre for many years. I am anti-horror film, and have been so my entire adult life. My prayer is that our discussion will enlighten believers on both sides, and so serve the church, her wisdom, and her witness. I want to understand the popularity of the horror movie phenomenon, both outside the church and even within it, because frankly the phenomenon leaves me perplexed and unconvinced (even after this discussion).


Reinke: Brian, thanks for your time. As you know, It experienced the biggest opening weekend for any horror film to date, now on pace to become only the fourth R-rated movie to ever gross over $300 million in the United States. Theaters will again be full of moviegoers this weekend. More generally, 2017 has been a huge year for R-rated horror films, and audience appetite for It and other films is very high. Why is It so uncommonly successful? And what is behind the popularity of the genre right now?

Godawa: I think the success of It (and its predecessor, Stranger Things) lies in the universal archetype characters and their issues that most of us relate to: nerds, outcasts, rejects, fatty, skinny, “losers.” The kids are classic sympathetic heroes with strong moral growth, and we are hungry for such things since we are awash in an entertainment culture of anti-heroes and morally relative stories that ultimately do not satisfy someone who desires moral clarity.

Reinke: I want to talk about these kids more in a moment, but we cannot talk about It without first talking about clowns. Why are clowns a favorite antagonist in the horror genre?

Godawa: Horror is often based on irony and the unveiling of evil that appears to be good. Like real life. In real life, evil monsters — as in abusers, rapists, and killers — use the disguise of good in order to capture and hurt the innocent. So, using common images of safety to caution the innocent against naive trust is an excellent moral lesson.

John Wayne Gacy was a professional clown for a reason. This doesn’t mean all clowns should be considered evil images, any more than all cops should be considered dirty, just because there are lots of movies that portray dirty cops.

Although, personally, I’ve always considered clowns to be creepy.

Reinke: Likewise, yeah. So what, in your opinion, is the positive value of horror films as a genre?

Godawa: Well, horror as a genre is not simply about fear and violence for the sake of fear and violence. Yes, some movies do descend into that, but it is not the essence of the genre. Every genre has good examples and bad examples. Is the “biblical movie” genre always holy and good? No. Even biblical movies can be evil. Take Noah, or Exodus: Gods and Kings. Those movies are demonic twists of the Bible into its opposite. It’s called subversion.

So we must understand that no genre is intrinsically good or evil. They are used for the purpose of good or evil. Genres are not for everyone. Romance isn’t for everyone. Neither is horror. But they each have distinct purposes.

Reinke: You have not convinced me to see It, though a movie adaptation of the opening chapters of Job would be horrifying (Job 1:1–2:10). Not to mention the first Passover (Exodus 11:1–12:32). Or the ravaging Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1–20). Given the nature of Scripture, to get into the grit of this fallen world, what are the redeeming traits you see in the horror genre?

Godawa: The moral purpose of the horror genre is to expose what evil is, reinforce our need for courage to fight evil, and to have a healthy righteous fear instead of naive innocence when it comes to discernment in the world. Sounds like the Bible.

God uses the horror genre to solicit righteous fear of evil, and encourage repentance and righteous living. Beyond your examples, the books of Daniel and Revelation are epic horror fantasies of blood and gore using symbolic horror monsters as an analogy for real life. That’s what all horror does. It works as metaphor for something else, like social commentary (Underworld), spiritual truth (Jekyl and Hyde), or man’s hubris (Frankenstein).

God uses zombies and vampires as metaphors for spiritual evil in Scripture — I kid you not (see Micah 3:1–3; Ezekiel 39:18–19). God uses Frankenstein monsters as metaphors for political and social commentary (see Ezekiel 11:19; Revelation 13:1–2). One of God’s favorite horror metaphors is cannibalism as a literary symbol of spiritual apostasy (see Ezekiel 36:13–14; Psalm 27:2; Proverbs 30:14; Jeremiah 19:9; Zechariah 11:9).

This does not justify all horror stories ever told. Far from it. It simply establishes the genre, in broad terms, as one that God uses; therefore, it can be used with moral purpose.

Reinke: So back to It. You’ve seen it. What’s the overall thematic impact that you took from it?

Godawa: I have, and it contains many elements, common to the horror genre in general, that are quite in line with the Judeo-Christian worldview and values.

Reinke: Stop it.

Godawa: No, really. The movie is a coming of age story, which means that it is a metaphor for what makes us adults, or as one of the Jewish characters says, what it means to “become a man.” Godless secularism often tells stories that try to tell kids that growing up is having sex before marriage —

Reinke: As do a lot of horror films, right? Glorifying teen sex as part of the coming of age motif.

Godawa: Yes, that’s right, but not in this case. It not only denies that common lie, but preserves the sexual innocence of youth by showing how children should not be considered sexual at so young an age (a couple adult characters are shown to be evil for sexualizing children). Rather, its message is that maturity, growing up, is about facing your mortality, not about having sex, but learning that we die and that life is not one big fun summer of play.

The kids in the movie don’t want to grow up and tend to run from the bad things in their life, like bullies and abusive parents. One kid has a controlling mother, another an abusive father, most all of them are bullied, and the protagonist has a stuttering problem. They all win only by facing their fears, not by running from them. Another biblical maxim.

Children run in fear, adults — mature people — face their fears. This comes not only from facing the monster clown, but every kid in the movie has a difficulty that they run from in their lives. They must learn to face these fears in order to grow up.

There is no gospel of Jesus Christ here, but this notion of growing up is very much in line with the Bible. But this is where I would use the opportunity to discuss my belief with others that growing up also includes wrestling with the afterlife and the existence of God. Every good movie can be a doorway to the gospel.

Reinke: And as you alluded to earlier, it’s more than simply facing evils, though.

Godawa: Right. Most important of all, It teaches very explicitly that we should fight evil, which is another excellent moral element of the horror genre. And not just “take a stand,” but fight real evil to the death. The evil clown monster is an obvious metaphor for the fear that cripples our society’s courage. In today’s postmodern world of schools that provide “safe spaces” to encourage childishness, while denying real evil like radical Islam, that will hunt us all if we don’t undermine it, this is no mere tautology of a simple existence of good and evil.

This is one of the most profound moral messages that we need to reinforce through our stories. We have become a relativistic society of cowardice, so fighting evil with a willingness to protect the innocent is a truly profound Christian value. And part of that “fighting evil” moral in the movie is to be willing to sacrifice one’s self to protect the innocent.

Several key turning points in the film stress that the kids must be willing to risk their own safety to protect or save others. It illustrates how to stand up to bullies and fight back, not merely in self-defense, but on behalf of others. This willingness to self-sacrifice is not merely a strong component of moral maturity, but it gets at the heart of a Christian worldview.

Reinke: That’s an interesting take on horror films in general, confronting the relativism of evil. Of course, many horror films, like this one, are graphic bloodbaths. So too are many military films. Each of us has different thresholds for the visualized violence we can handle. Mine is quite low. But many of the best horror films released over the years have become noted for a simple ability to build tension, and remain relatively free of blood and gore. What is the best case to make for the usefulness of gore in making a moral point?

Godawa: I challenge Christians to read Ezekiel 16:1–58 and Ezekiel 23:1–49, for two examples, and tell me if they think God is not graphic in his artistic descriptions of violence and sexuality, but all of it used as creative metaphors for spiritual moral truths.

Reinke: You say that, beyond the gore, It has other issues viewers need to weigh, including issues of profanity and in portraying all the adults in a negative light. There’s a number of things to consider in this case. But for Christians drawn to movies and novels in this genre, what will an obsession here do to Christian joy?

Godawa: An unhealthy obsession with horror stories can certainly reveal a character flaw, as would an unhealthy obsession with romance, comedy, or just about any genre. Why? Because truth is multifaceted and includes all of these elements, but too much of a good thing can be harmful to our spiritual balance. Horror is not intrinsically bad, but it can be used for bad, just like biblical epics can be used for bad.

But at the same time, the Christian joy is a balanced joy of righteousness and healthy fear of evil (in addition to other things). Yes, we must rejoice at Noah’s righteousness — but it is in the context of a violent evil world where everyone but eight people are drowned to death. The joy of entering the Promised Land does not exist apart from the righteous violent and bloody slaughter of every man, woman, child, and animal of the cursed Canaanite clans. A necessary part of the joy of the resurrection of Jesus includes the evil betrayal by Judas and the unjust crucifixion of the Son of God, all monstrous evils as part of God’s plan of ultimate good.

Horror sets the stage for Christian joy. We should maintain a balance and not be so focused on happy talk and flowery religious sentiments that we remain as children in reference to a very real world of evil within which we are supposed to be agents of redemption. Wise as serpents, innocent as doves.

Reinke: Yes, there’s a sense in which an inability to process the graphic nature of Scripture leaves the faith in a perilous place — a true threat to our own faith and eternal joy. That’s a good point, Brian, thank you.

Horror films remind us of things true about the evil in a fallen world, and about facing up to real evils. While I have read more Stephen King than I would like to admit, I’ve never seen any of his films or television series. And I have no plan to change this conviction. It seems to me there’s a fundamental difference between reading about bloodshed in a book, at a distance, especially as an expression of God’s confrontation with sin, as opposed to seeing it presented on a screen, in the full sensorial plunge of a theater. There are a lot of other things to address, and I’m sure we have plenty more to disagree on here, too. But alas, we’re out of time. Perhaps in the future.

The World Is Against You: Fighting to Keep Our First Love

The World Is Against You

Sooner or later the hard truth settles in that this world is out to kill you. Brown rivers swell up in Houston and Bangladesh to wash away everything you own, even wash you away if you don’t watch your step. Even on a calm, pristine beach day, the ocean’s sub-currents are silently trying to grab hold of you, and pull you out to sea, under the surface of the water before you even know what happened.

Forget sharks. The gentle tug of submerged water is our true ocean enemy. Look away for a moment and water attempts to assassinate — one reason why no one objects to bestowing upon the red-clad guardians the exalted title of “Life Guards” at the neighborhood pool.

But dried off and standing on solid ground, we fare little better because the air silently carries around invisible particles to slip in to our lungs and cultivate a little patch of cancer that can kill us from the inside. Or the burning rays of the sun might do the same from the outside.

And then of course there are the much less subtle forms of dangers. About one hundred times a second, bolt-action lightning snipers with an ungratified desire to spite mighty trees and tall steeples, and who occasionally take aim at arrogant creatures who dare to walk about on two legs. Under us, at any moment of the day or night, the ground can rumble and split and we can fall into an earthquake crack in the earth. Whole houses can get sucked down into a sinkhole without warning, or the gigantic white swirl of a hurricane or the wobbly freight train of a tornado can chase us off in a high-speed escape.

The world seizes one ankle and we pull it away and escape. For now. The world — as full as it is of wonder, and it is full of incredible wonders — surrounds us on all sides with deadly dangers.

Death of Love

Likewise, “this evil age” is perpetually trying to kill our loves — not through blunt force, but through coercion by seduction. The world tempts us daily to leave greater loves for lesser lusts.

“The moment we care for anything deeply, the world — that is, all the other miscellaneous interests — becomes our enemy,” wrote G. K. Chesterton. “The moment you love anything the world becomes your foe” (Works 1:59–60).

To love something genuinely is to immediately face all the second loves that are making an attempt at killing your first love. It is the wink of the adulteress to the married man. It is the invitation from a clique to abandon a true friendship. It is the ignoring of the familiar gifts around you, in search of the next thing to charge on your credit card. Worldliness kills because it exchanges loves. The world becomes your foe.

To Love Is to Fight

This is why true love must fight. “In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting,” writes Chesterton. “In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights.” The same is true of all our loves. In fact, “To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust” (Works 15:255).

A man who has stopped fighting for his marriage will not fight against the lure of adulterous flirting, because he is driven by the passivity of lust, not the earnestness of love. Which means that true love must be fought for.

Misdirected Love

Theologically speaking, this is why to love the world is to lose the love of God. It’s a horrible trade, but we do it all the time.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

Misdirected love is the root cause of worldliness. Worldliness sucks the sap from our greatest love until it becomes a dried-up branch.

So we can love and treasure the day Christ will return. Or we can love the world. But we cannot go on trying to love the world and love the day of Christ’s return (2 Timothy 4:8–10). In the same way, we cannot love darkness and love the light (John 3:16–21). Love for the light will die once the heart falls in love with the darkness. And this is how the world proves to be our love-killer.

Heart of Worldliness

When we talk about worldliness, primarily we are not talking about the substitutes of adultery and materialism and money. We are not simply warning against television shows too graphic and media too lewd and skirts too short. All of those things are secondary matters. Curing the true heart of worldliness is not in the forbidding or what is forbidden; mending the true heart of worldliness must always begin with finding a core love worth fighting for — a love so precious that we will guard it with the proper holy jealousy it deserves.

The problem of worldliness only emerges with any real clarity in our lives once we have discovered our “first love,” a fundamental love, a central love for our Savior Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:4).

If talk of worldliness falls into hard times and does not surface much in our thoughts and conversations, it is not a sign that the dangers have disappeared. It is a sign that we have grown careless with the exclusivity of delight in Christ at the center of the Christian life. And once the jealous love is gone, the danger of worldliness grows more deadly and more invisible at the same time.

The World Is Against You: Fighting to Keep Our First Love

The World Is Against You

Sooner or later the hard truth settles in that this world is out to kill you. Brown rivers swell up in Houston and Bangladesh to wash away everything you own, even wash you away if you don’t watch your step. Even on a calm, pristine beach day, the ocean’s sub-currents are silently trying to grab hold of you, and pull you out to sea, under the surface of the water before you even know what happened.

Forget sharks. The gentle tug of submerged water is our true ocean enemy. Look away for a moment and water attempts to assassinate — one reason why no one objects to bestowing upon the red-clad guardians the exalted title of “Life Guards” at the neighborhood pool.

But dried off and standing on solid ground, we fare little better because the air silently carries around invisible particles to slip in to our lungs and cultivate a little patch of cancer that can kill us from the inside. Or the burning rays of the sun might do the same from the outside.

And then of course there are the much less subtle forms of dangers. About one hundred times a second, bolt-action lightning snipers with an ungratified desire to spite mighty trees and tall steeples, and who occasionally take aim at arrogant creatures who dare to walk about on two legs. Under us, at any moment of the day or night, the ground can rumble and split and we can fall into an earthquake crack in the earth. Whole houses can get sucked down into a sinkhole without warning, or the gigantic white swirl of a hurricane or the wobbly freight train of a tornado can chase us off in a high-speed escape.

The world seizes one ankle and we pull it away and escape. For now. The world — as full as it is of wonder, and it is full of incredible wonders — surrounds us on all sides with deadly dangers.

Death of Love

Likewise, “this evil age” is perpetually trying to kill our loves — not through blunt force, but through coercion by seduction. The world tempts us daily to leave greater loves for lesser lusts.

“The moment we care for anything deeply, the world — that is, all the other miscellaneous interests — becomes our enemy,” wrote G. K. Chesterton. “The moment you love anything the world becomes your foe” (Works 1:59–60).

To love something genuinely is to immediately face all the second loves that are making an attempt at killing your first love. It is the wink of the adulteress to the married man. It is the invitation from a clique to abandon a true friendship. It is the ignoring of the familiar gifts around you, in search of the next thing to charge on your credit card. Worldliness kills because it exchanges loves. The world becomes your foe.

To Love Is to Fight

This is why true love must fight. “In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting,” writes Chesterton. “In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights.” The same is true of all our loves. In fact, “To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust” (Works 15:255).

A man who has stopped fighting for his marriage will not fight against the lure of adulterous flirting, because he is driven by the passivity of lust, not the earnestness of love. Which means that true love must be fought for.

Misdirected Love

Theologically speaking, this is why to love the world is to lose the love of God. It’s a horrible trade, but we do it all the time.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

Misdirected love is the root cause of worldliness. Worldliness sucks the sap from our greatest love until it becomes a dried-up branch.

So we can love and treasure the day Christ will return. Or we can love the world. But we cannot go on trying to love the world and love the day of Christ’s return (2 Timothy 4:8–10). In the same way, we cannot love darkness and love the light (John 3:16–21). Love for the light will die once the heart falls in love with the darkness. And this is how the world proves to be our love-killer.

Heart of Worldliness

When we talk about worldliness, primarily we are not talking about the substitutes of adultery and materialism and money. We are not simply warning against television shows too graphic and media too lewd and skirts too short. All of those things are secondary matters. Curing the true heart of worldliness is not in the forbidding or what is forbidden; mending the true heart of worldliness must always begin with finding a core love worth fighting for — a love so precious that we will guard it with the proper holy jealousy it deserves.

The problem of worldliness only emerges with any real clarity in our lives once we have discovered our “first love,” a fundamental love, a central love for our Savior Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:4).

If talk of worldliness falls into hard times and does not surface much in our thoughts and conversations, it is not a sign that the dangers have disappeared. It is a sign that we have grown careless with the exclusivity of delight in Christ at the center of the Christian life. And once the jealous love is gone, the danger of worldliness grows more deadly and more invisible at the same time.

Sovereign and Smiling: How Joy Makes and Sends Missionaries

Sovereign and Smiling

Pierre Richer and Guillaume Chartier became the first Protestant missionaries to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the first to step on American soil. They arrived in Brazil in 1557. From the moment Calvin offered his benediction over the team in France and commissioned them to “The New World,” frontier missions and Calvinism were wedded.

But the rich history of Calvinist missionaries over the centuries has not silenced the longstanding platitude that I’m sure you’ve heard in some form. It goes like this: The more sovereign you make God to be over the salvation of individual souls, the less compelling the call sounds to press the gospel into the corners of the globe with the gospel (much less need to share the gospel with our sister or co-worker). If God is sovereign over who comes to faith, it is said, we agents get pushed to the side as irrelevant onlookers in the theater of God’s saving work in the world. God’s sovereignty threatens urgent evangelism, we are told.

But truth is always more beautiful than platitudes. Here at desiringGod.org we delight in the sovereignty of God, just as we celebrate missions and evangelism. In fact, we celebrate an promote missions and evangelism precisely because we delight in the sovereignty of God. We’re not trying to hold together two magnets pushing against each other, we are holding two magnetic claims that are already attracted, bonded together by the joy of Jesus.

An Overwhelming Joy

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was once overwhelmed with joy in the sovereign goodness of his Father, in hiding the glorious gospel from the arrogant religious, and for awakening faith in the life of simple sinners.

At that time, Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:25–27)

Jesus’s mission is to reveal his own glory to sinners, which is also to know the Father. This is always a divine revelation. Once Jesus sees the plan of sovereign redemption unfolding in realtime, his heart is filled with praise to his Father.

God’s sovereignty over the salvation of any individual sinner is a glorious truth that should excite all of our hearts to Godward joy. And with that joy in our sovereign God, what do we do?

A Glorious Offer

In the same breath, Christ’s attention turns from Godward delight to a glorious call to those around him in offering this invitation:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Jesus immediately offers the good news of being released from the bondage of sin.

In other words, the proper response of seeing God’s sovereignty in the salvation of sinners is the open offer of the gospel to all sinners. The joy of Jesus in the sovereignty of God must get “vented,” says Puritan Thomas Boston, who observed: “As the fullness lodged in the Mediator has a free vent in his heart, so it seeks to diffuse itself into the souls of needy sinners” (Works, 9:171).

Or in the words of Jonathan Edwards: “Christ’s holy joy of spirit in the consideration of the Father’s sovereign grace, and the power he had given him as mediator, naturally excites the exercises of grace and love in his heart, which he expresses in this gracious invitation” (sermon 178).

Mission and the Joy of Jesus

As Jesus sees the Father’s sovereign work unfolding in history — in shrouding proud eyes from seeing the glory of Christ, and in opening the simple eyes of sinners to behold the immeasurable glory and beauty of his Son — Christ is thrilled with divine joy, and that divine joy gives expression in worship of the Father, venting out into a general call for all sinners, everywhere, to come to him for the true satisfaction of soul they can find nowhere else.

This seems to be an appropriate motivation for our gospel ministry from beginning to end. My personal delight in God’s sovereignty, and my wonder that he would save me, should work in me a joy so powerful that it cannot be shut up and silenced, but must escape out as a general call to all sinners everywhere to repent and turn from their sins to Christ.

In other words, the general call is no threat to God’s sovereignty, and the joy of God’s sovereignty is no closed-off meditation in the study of the Calvinist. The two converge, and they converge when we see how God’s power to accomplish anything is a soul-nourishing food for the souls of his reborn children, giving them a delight that will be expressed in an enlarged heart, willing to throw wide the doors for anyone and everyone who would come to the arms of our sovereign Savior.

The affections of Christ wed Reformed theology and the desire to reach the end of the known world with good news.

Sovereign and Smiling: How Joy Makes and Sends Missionaries

Sovereign and Smiling

Pierre Richer and Guillaume Chartier became the first Protestant missionaries to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the first to step on American soil. They arrived in Brazil in 1557. From the moment Calvin offered his benediction over the team in France and commissioned them to “The New World,” frontier missions and Calvinism were wedded.

But the rich history of Calvinist missionaries over the centuries has not silenced the longstanding platitude that I’m sure you’ve heard in some form. It goes like this: The more sovereign you make God to be over the salvation of individual souls, the less compelling the call sounds to press the gospel into the corners of the globe with the gospel (much less need to share the gospel with our sister or co-worker). If God is sovereign over who comes to faith, it is said, we agents get pushed to the side as irrelevant onlookers in the theater of God’s saving work in the world. God’s sovereignty threatens urgent evangelism, we are told.

But truth is always more beautiful than platitudes. Here at desiringGod.org we delight in the sovereignty of God, just as we celebrate missions and evangelism. In fact, we celebrate an promote missions and evangelism precisely because we delight in the sovereignty of God. We’re not trying to hold together two magnets pushing against each other, we are holding two magnetic claims that are already attracted, bonded together by the joy of Jesus.

An Overwhelming Joy

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was once overwhelmed with joy in the sovereign goodness of his Father, in hiding the glorious gospel from the arrogant religious, and for awakening faith in the life of simple sinners.

At that time, Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:25–27)

Jesus’s mission is to reveal his own glory to sinners, which is also to know the Father. This is always a divine revelation. Once Jesus sees the plan of sovereign redemption unfolding in realtime, his heart is filled with praise to his Father.

God’s sovereignty over the salvation of any individual sinner is a glorious truth that should excite all of our hearts to Godward joy. And with that joy in our sovereign God, what do we do?

A Glorious Offer

In the same breath, Christ’s attention turns from Godward delight to a glorious call to those around him in offering this invitation:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Jesus immediately offers the good news of being released from the bondage of sin.

In other words, the proper response of seeing God’s sovereignty in the salvation of sinners is the open offer of the gospel to all sinners. The joy of Jesus in the sovereignty of God must get “vented,” says Puritan Thomas Boston, who observed: “As the fullness lodged in the Mediator has a free vent in his heart, so it seeks to diffuse itself into the souls of needy sinners” (Works, 9:171).

Or in the words of Jonathan Edwards: “Christ’s holy joy of spirit in the consideration of the Father’s sovereign grace, and the power he had given him as mediator, naturally excites the exercises of grace and love in his heart, which he expresses in this gracious invitation” (sermon 178).

Mission and the Joy of Jesus

As Jesus sees the Father’s sovereign work unfolding in history — in shrouding proud eyes from seeing the glory of Christ, and in opening the simple eyes of sinners to behold the immeasurable glory and beauty of his Son — Christ is thrilled with divine joy, and that divine joy gives expression in worship of the Father, venting out into a general call for all sinners, everywhere, to come to him for the true satisfaction of soul they can find nowhere else.

This seems to be an appropriate motivation for our gospel ministry from beginning to end. My personal delight in God’s sovereignty, and my wonder that he would save me, should work in me a joy so powerful that it cannot be shut up and silenced, but must escape out as a general call to all sinners everywhere to repent and turn from their sins to Christ.

In other words, the general call is no threat to God’s sovereignty, and the joy of God’s sovereignty is no closed-off meditation in the study of the Calvinist. The two converge, and they converge when we see how God’s power to accomplish anything is a soul-nourishing food for the souls of his reborn children, giving them a delight that will be expressed in an enlarged heart, willing to throw wide the doors for anyone and everyone who would come to the arms of our sovereign Savior.

The affections of Christ wed Reformed theology and the desire to reach the end of the known world with good news.

Sovereign and Smiling: How Joy Makes and Sends Missionaries

Sovereign and Smiling

Pierre Richer and Guillaume Chartier became the first Protestant missionaries to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the first to step on American soil. They arrived in Brazil in 1557. From the moment Calvin offered his benediction over the team in France and commissioned them to “The New World,” frontier missions and Calvinism were wedded.

But the rich history of Calvinist missionaries over the centuries has not silenced the longstanding platitude that I’m sure you’ve heard in some form. It goes like this: The more sovereign you make God to be over the salvation of individual souls, the less compelling the call sounds to press the gospel into the corners of the globe with the gospel (much less need to share the gospel with our sister or co-worker). If God is sovereign over who comes to faith, it is said, we agents get pushed to the side as irrelevant onlookers in the theater of God’s saving work in the world. God’s sovereignty threatens urgent evangelism, we are told.

But truth is always more beautiful than platitudes. Here at desiringGod.org we delight in the sovereignty of God, just as we celebrate missions and evangelism. In fact, we celebrate an promote missions and evangelism precisely because we delight in the sovereignty of God. We’re not trying to hold together two magnets pushing against each other, we are holding two magnetic claims that are already attracted, bonded together by the joy of Jesus.

An Overwhelming Joy

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was once overwhelmed with joy in the sovereign goodness of his Father, in hiding the glorious gospel from the arrogant religious, and for awakening faith in the life of simple sinners.

At that time, Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:25–27)

Jesus’s mission is to reveal his own glory to sinners, which is also to know the Father. This is always a divine revelation. Once Jesus sees the plan of sovereign redemption unfolding in realtime, his heart is filled with praise to his Father.

God’s sovereignty over the salvation of any individual sinner is a glorious truth that should excite all of our hearts to Godward joy. And with that joy in our sovereign God, what do we do?

A Glorious Offer

In the same breath, Christ’s attention turns from Godward delight to a glorious call to those around him in offering this invitation:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Jesus immediately offers the good news of being released from the bondage of sin.

In other words, the proper response of seeing God’s sovereignty in the salvation of sinners is the open offer of the gospel to all sinners. The joy of Jesus in the sovereignty of God must get “vented,” says Puritan Thomas Boston, who observed: “As the fullness lodged in the Mediator has a free vent in his heart, so it seeks to diffuse itself into the souls of needy sinners” (Works, 9:171).

Or in the words of Jonathan Edwards: “Christ’s holy joy of spirit in the consideration of the Father’s sovereign grace, and the power he had given him as mediator, naturally excites the exercises of grace and love in his heart, which he expresses in this gracious invitation” (sermon 178).

Mission and the Joy of Jesus

As Jesus sees the Father’s sovereign work unfolding in history — in shrouding proud eyes from seeing the glory of Christ, and in opening the simple eyes of sinners to behold the immeasurable glory and beauty of his Son — Christ is thrilled with divine joy, and that divine joy gives expression in worship of the Father, venting out into a general call for all sinners, everywhere, to come to him for the true satisfaction of soul they can find nowhere else.

This seems to be an appropriate motivation for our gospel ministry from beginning to end. My personal delight in God’s sovereignty, and my wonder that he would save me, should work in me a joy so powerful that it cannot be shut up and silenced, but must escape out as a general call to all sinners everywhere to repent and turn from their sins to Christ.

In other words, the general call is no threat to God’s sovereignty, and the joy of God’s sovereignty is no closed-off meditation in the study of the Calvinist. The two converge, and they converge when we see how God’s power to accomplish anything is a soul-nourishing food for the souls of his reborn children, giving them a delight that will be expressed in an enlarged heart, willing to throw wide the doors for anyone and everyone who would come to the arms of our sovereign Savior.

The affections of Christ wed Reformed theology and the desire to reach the end of the known world with good news.