Calvin: God the Father

“In seeking God,the most direct path and the fittest method is, not to attempt with presumptuous curiosity to pry into His essence, which is rather to be adored than minutely discussed, but to contemplate Him in His works, by which He draws near, becomes familiar, and in a manner communicates Himself to us.”

-John Calvin

Calvin: The Word of God

“The highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of Him whose word it is. The prophets and apostles boast not their own acuteness or any qualities which win credit to speakers, nor do they dwell on reasons; but they appeal to the sacred name of God,in order that the whole world may be compelled to submission.”

-John Calvin

Anselm: Is the Father Unjust?

“God the Father did not treat [Christ unjustly or irrationally]; nor did he hand over an innocent man to be killed in place of the guilty party. For the Father did not coerce Christ to face death against his will, or give permission for him to be killed, but Christ himself of his own volition underwent death in order to save mankind.”

-Anselm of Canterbury, Why God Became Man, Book 1, 8.

His Mercy Is More

What love could remember no wrongs we have done;
Omniscient, all-knowing, He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore;
Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more.

Praise the Lord!
His mercy is more.
Stronger than darkness; new every morn;
Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more.

What patience would wait as we constantly roam;
What Father, so tender, is calling us home.
He welcomes, the weakest, the vilest, the poor;
Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more.

What riches of kindness He lavished on us;
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost.
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford;
Our sins, they are many, His mercy is more.

-Matt Boswell and Matt Papa

Zhang: How I Became a Subversive Patriot

“Shortly after my family immigrated to America in 1999, my uncle handed me a history of the United States written in Chinese. I gobbled the book in two weeks, immediately captivated by the personalities and idealism behind America’s founding. I was particularly fascinated by the story of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, lifelong friends—and rivals—who both died on the 50th anniversary of America’s founding.

My fascination grew into an obsession with American presidents, politics, and John Adams. In college, I picked American Studies as my major. I was proud to know more about American history than any of my American friends in high school did, and even prouder when my parents and I took our oaths to become American citizens in 2005.

Many of my teachers in China told me that if a nation were compared to a canvas, China would be an ancient painting on which the strokes of history have been layered over and over through thousands of years. There is little room for change or improvement. The United States, on the other hand, is still a blank canvas with opportunities to grow and improve. While that may be a depiction of China’s historical baggage, the analogy is less accurate for the United States. Young though it may be, the relative brevity of American history makes this country’s social problems and historical contradictions even more prominent.

Splattered with Racism

The lofty ideals and heroic sacrifices of the American Founding Fathers did not halt the growth of slavery, a legacy that still haunts us. My own alma mater—the nation’s first Catholic university—had to recently reconcile with a history of Jesuit leaders selling 272 black slaves to raise money for the school.

The relative brevity of American history makes this country’s social problems and historical contradictions even more prominent. 

The abolition of slavery after a bitter Civil War did not end racial injustice. Jim Crow laws dominated the next century, along with the continuing slaughter of Native Americans, Chinese expulsion acts, Japanese internments, and many other measures of discriminations against ethnic minorities and immigrants. And our nation continues to grapple with police violence and injustice against African Americans in our criminal justice system.

As a church, we cry out, “How long?” As a Chinese immigrant, I ask, “Where is my place in this nation?” When a racial riot broke out in my hometown in 2001, I wrongfully joined in with my white classmates and asked, “Why can’t the black people just behave themselves and not cause any trouble?” But then I wondered, What do I have to do in this country to appear normal? Does it mean I have to work extra hard to blend in, make white friends, study American history in an elite college, and marry a white girl? And by doing that, do I have to relegate my Chineseness to my home and a few allotted spaces in order to not stand out among my friends?

As it turns out, I have done all these things. I received a great education, got a cushy job in a corporate law firm right out of college, married a lovely white girl, and am now serving as a pastor in a predominantly white PCA church. But my acceptance into the mainstream American society is always preceded by my willingness to play the assimilation game. The recent wave of anti-Asian rhetoric and sentiment in this COVID-19 pandemic again highlighted how tenuous my acceptance into society can be. When political candidates speak of a vision to restore America to a former greatness, it often makes me wonder whether this “greatness” has a place for people like me.

American Mosaic

Yet as I offer this personal critique, I also remember how the heroic ideals and sacrifices of our Founding Fathers shone through as a resilient nation came together after 9/11. I could see the progress of justice through the inauguration of our nation’s first African American president. I am grateful for the opportunity in this nation to come to Christ and worship God with his people in freedom. I am proud to be a citizen of this nation.

When political candidates speak of a vision to restore America to a former greatness, it often makes me wonder whether this ‘greatness’has a place for people like me. 

On this Fourth of July, I hope you can join me in taking pride in our national achievements and celebrating all the blessings that God has given us in this country. Yet we should be quick to remember that the Fourth of July belongs also to the protestors and the activists, the immigrants and the refugees, the Muslims and the Christians, the African Americans and the Asian Americans.

If there is any claim to exceptionalism in American, it is the sparkling light of the American mosaic that makes our society vibrant and beautiful. I pray that my Chinese culture, African American cultures, Arab cultures, Latino cultures, and others may shine as brightly in this society as the array of Caucasian cultures.

At the same time, we must remember that despite our progress and ideals, neither America nor the march of democracy and liberty is the fulfillment of history.

When I took my citizenship oath in the summer of 2005, I renounced my fidelity to any foreign sovereignty and pledged my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America. But I must admit that at best I can only be a subversive patriot—not because I am looking for opportunities to betray my country, but because I have been called into the kingdom of God. Every day of my life—when I see injustice, violence, evil, sickness—I will pray that the people of this Kingdom will be a light in darkness, and that the glory and authority of our King will soon be fully established in our world.

I am a subversive patriot because, despite the progress we have made as a nation, America is not my best hope for ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ My ultimate allegiance is to a King who gave up his own life, liberty, and happiness to redeem us from the tyranny of sin so that these may truly become our ‘unalienable rights,’ not just in this world but eternally. I am a subversive patriot who, in the process of seeking a good life in America, discovered ‘that I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ . . . who by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.’”

-Ryan Zhang, originally posted here:

Ellison: Trust While Life Is Normal

“The typical orthodox Christian lays great stress on correct doctrine about God, but Israel’s ancient sin is all too often his as well. It is not so difficult to trust, when all the old landmarks disappear and chaos seems to be resuming its sway, for then even the unbeliever is forced to throw himself on God, if he is to survive. It is amid the great uniformities of life, hemmed in by the great gods of “Egypt,” the state, public opinion, and economic pressure, that we find it hardest not to make concessions to the world.”

H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message, 79.

Anselm: Can God’s Honor Be Violated Even to a Limited Extent?

“Nothing can be added to, or subtracted from, the honor of God, in so far as it relates to God himself. For this same honor is, in relation to him, inherently incorruptible and in no way capable of change. But when any creature whatever maintains, either by natural instinct or in response to reason, the station in life which belongs to it and has been, as it were, taught to it, this creature is said to be obeying God and honoring him.

This is so most of all in the case of a rational being, to whom it has been given to understand what is right. When such a being desires what is right, he is honoring God, not because he is bestowing anything upon God, but because he is voluntarily subordinating himself to his will and governance, maintaining his own proper station in life within the natural universe, and, to the best of his ability, maintaining the beauty of the universe itself.

But when a rational being does not wish for what is right, he dishonors God, with regard to himself, since he is not willingly subordinating himself to God’s governance, and is disturbing, as far as he is able, the order and beauty of the universe. In spite of this, he does not harm or besmirch the honor of God to the slightest extent.

For, if those things which are contained within the ambit of heaven were to wish not to be under heaven, or to move away from heaven, it would in no way be possible for them to be anywhere other than under heaven, or to flee from heaven without approaching heaven. This is because, wherever they came from, and wherever they were going to, and by whatever route, they would be beneath heaven, and the further they would remove themselves from any part of heaven, the nearer they would approach to the part opposite.

Thus, even should a human being or a bad angel not wish to be subject to the divine will or governance, he cannot flee from it, because, if he wishes to escape from a will that issues orders, he runs beneath a will that inflicts punishment; and if you ask by what route he passes from one to the other, it is nowhere other than beneath a will that gives permission; and the supreme Wisdom changes his wrong desire or action into the order and beauty of the universal scheme of things to which I have been referring.

For—setting aside the fact that God does many good things, in all manner of ways, for the benefit of wrong-doers—the alternatives, voluntary recompense for wrongdoing, or the exaction of punishment from someone who does not give recompense, retain their own proper place in this same universal order and their own regulatory beauty.

If the divine Wisdom did not impose these forms of recompense in cases where wrongdoing is endeavouring to upset the right order of things, there would be in the universe, which God ought to be regulating, a certain ugliness, resulting from the violation of the beauty of order, and God would appear to be failing in his governance. Since these two consequences are as impossible as they are unfitting, it is inevitable that recompense or punishment follows upon every sin.

…It is plain, therefore, that no one can honor or dishonor God, So far as God himself is concerned, but, in so far as the other party is concerned, a person appears to do this when he subjects himself to God’s will, or does not subject himself.”

-Anselm of Canterbury, Why God Became Man, Book 1, 15.

Anselm: It Is Impossible for God the Lose His Honor

“It is impossible for God to lose his honor. For either a sinner of his own accord repays what he owes or God takes it from him against his—the sinner’s—will. This is because either a man of his own free will demonstrates the submission which he owes to God by not sinning, or alternatively by paying recompense for his sin, or else God brings him into submission to himself against his will, by subjecting him to torment,and in this way he shows that he is his Lord, something which the man himself refuses to admit yoluntarily.

In this connection, it needs to be borne in mind that, just as a man by sinning seizes what belongs to God, likewise God, by punishing him, takes away what belongs to man. For it is not just a person’s present property which is said to belong to him, but what it is in his power to possess.

Since, therefore, man was created in such a way as to be capable of possessing blessed happiness, if he were not to sin, when he is deprived of blessedness and of all that is good, on account of sin, he is paying back what he has violently seized from his own property, however much this is against his will.

For, although God does not transfer what he seizes to a use which is to his own advantage, in the way that a man diverts to a use advantageous to himself money which he takes from another person, God nevertheless utilizes for his own honour what he takes away, through the fact of his taking it away. For by seizing the sinner and his belongings he affrms that they are subject to himself.”

-Anselm of Canterbury, Why God Became Man, Book 1, 14.