Dating Differently: A Review

When I saw that the RFPA had published a book on dating I was concerned that it might be a preachy how-to book on the dos and don’ts of dating. I might have had it in my head that it would be a book calling the youth of the PRC to being more pure in thought and action. And while I wasn’t necessarily wrong, the book exceeded my expectations. 

Rev. Joshua Engelsma managed to write this little book with a conversational tone that makes it akin to an interaction between someone who is seeking advice and a relative who is willing to give it graciously and without judgement. Rev. Engelsma makes very clear already in the preface of the book what he intends to do with it and what he hopes the reader will walk away with. “But I do hope,” he says on the first page of the book, “this main thought sticks with you: as Christians, we date differently than the world around us.” Rev. Engelsma also acknowledges the length of the book and admits that he made it short intentionally. Not, he says, because he doesn’t think the youth of the church can’t handle a long book, but because he “thinks there is value in a short book that gets right to the point, that hits some of the highlights of dating, and that gets you thinking.” 

And get to the point he does. The chapters are set up to get the reader thinking about dating in a prioritized manner. All of the titles of his chapters are phrased as questions. Rev. Engelsma starts out with the help that is available to those who aren’t sure how to begin dating, or those who have questions at all. “Who in your life can you turn to when you aren’t quite sure how to proceed with this whole dating thing?” Rev. Engelsma asks this in the first chapter: “Is There Help?” 

His second chapter seems to get a bit ahead of himself by asking “Where is This Headed?” This chapter deals with the fact that when you start dating, you should be thinking about the person you’re with as the one you will potentially marry. Rev. Engelsma begins the book with marriage, and he does acknowledge that this concept might seem backwards. “In fact,” he says, “I’m convinced that marriage is so essential that it’s the only way to begin the dating discussion.” He proceeds to give two main reasons for this conviction: first because dating must be purposeful, and second because marriage is not only the goal of dating, but also the governing factor of dating. Both points are further explained. 

From there, the rest of the book is straightforward and takes a step by step approach to how to think about dating differently within the Reformed tradition. When to start, how to know if this person is “the one” or not, what to do on a date, how to incorporate the other people in your life while you date, and more. Each chapter thoughtfully deals with an aspect of dating that one might feel lost on. There is even a chapter that deals with how to be single in the church. “What If I’m Single All My Life?” is a chapter that explores what it means to be called to a life of singleness and shows that singleness is not unbiblical. This was a chapter that I was surprised to see in a book about dating, but I’m glad that Rev. Englesma took the time to incorporate it. 

The chapters are brief enough that they are able to hold the attention of the reader for their duration. Rev. Engelsma includes relatable examples, both fictional as well as using stories from his own experience and others’ experiences, which help the reader understand that these are real questions that come up in dating. I could always place myself into these examples and think about how I might manage the situation, a helpful exercise to be prepared for what can come up in a relationship. 

This book affirmed a lot of what I already thought about dating, as well as offered some insight on how to think of things I hadn’t yet taken into consideration. This short book helped me to organize my thoughts and prioritize what’s important when going into a new relationship, something I am actually going into at this time in my life. While it wasn’t what I expected when I first picked it up, I’m glad I took the time to read it. It’s a book that clearly lays out how and why we date differently.

 

Michelle Hofman

A Divine Child Born Unto Us

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6 is among the most well-known prophecies of the birth of Jesus in the Old Testament. Young children often memorize it in school at this time of year. There is a popular part of Handel’s Messiah which uses the words of this verse. It is a beautiful description of who Christ is. However, because the verse is so familiar, there is a danger for us simply to read over it without ever thinking about the significance of it and its connection to the following verse. To do so is to overlook a passage that is both instructive and comforting for us. Isaiah 9:6-7 underscores who our Lord Christ is, the nature of his reign, and the confidence we have in him and in God.

Verse 6 reveals who Jesus Christ is in three ways. One is the list of names given to him. He is called “Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” What beautiful names for him! Focusing on only two of the names, Scripture tells us that Jesus is on the one hand the mighty warrior God, the God who is never defeated, the God whose purpose always stands. Yet the same verse calls Jesus the Prince of Peace. He is of royal blood, and his rule over his kingdom is a rule of peace. No spiritual harm can or will befall the citizens of that kingdom. What a comfort for us to know this! Our Lord Christ is the all-powerful God, and he is also our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

Verse 6 also reveals that Christ is the one on whose shoulder the government rests. This emphasizes his rule and his dominion. He is the one to whom Psalm 72:8 refers, which reads, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” He is the rightful ruler. Therefore, he is divine—no being of any less power and authority than God himself could rightly assume such a throne and such great authority.

Lastly, Christ is born and given unto us. This means that he is born for our sake. The second person of the Trinity did not become incarnate for his own benefit. Christ came into this world with a single ultimate purpose: to die for the sake of unworthy sinners such as we are. That’s amazing! Further, the fact that Jesus was born and given unto us shows we play no role in this work. The salvation Christ came to purchase on our behalf was exactly that: on our behalf. In no way do we contribute. Jesus Christ was born and given unto as our salvation. The very name Jesus shows this: the angel of the Lord told Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy was “of the Holy Ghost” and to “call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

However, Jesus Christ is not only Savior; he is also Lord. As such, he reigns over creation. Isaiah speaks to this truth as well in verse 7, which says, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” We read that the increase of his government and peace will be without end. This reminds us that the kingdom of Christ can never be defeated, and it never will. In the end, every knee will bow before him, and every tongue will confess him to be Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Isaiah also says that Christ’s rule is one of judgement and justice. He executes judgement on sin both temporally (shown throughout the book of Revelation, for example) and eternally. At the end of time, when every knee bows to him and every tongue confesses him, Christ will judge all people according to their works (Revelation 20:12-13). This does not mean that salvation is based on works, but it does mean that there will be varying degrees of reward and punishment into eternity. Christ judges wickedness in this way, but he is also just, and he rewards his people according to what they have done too (see also Revelation 22:12).

Finally, Isaiah’s prophecy emphasizes the confidence we have in God. The Old Testament Israelites did not have the luxury that we do of looking back on the coming of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet they were assured of its future fulfillment. This is because of the one who promised it: the Lord of hosts. He is God; there is none beside him. His decree is always fulfilled. Isaiah also told the people that it would be God’s zeal which would bring this about. God’s zeal refers to his ardent love for his people. Because God loved his people Israel (us included), he did fulfill this prophecy in the birth of Christ. Because of the zeal of the Lord of hosts, Israel had confidence that the Savior would one day come. Because of this same zeal, we too may be assured of our salvation in Jesus Christ, the Son of God born unto us.

 

MK

Appreciating Heritage Blessings

In my last young people’s society meeting with Reverend Huizinga before his departure for the seminary, he urged us all to know and appreciate our heritage. Recognizing the wisdom in this, and wanting to be able to understand this passionate urging, I decided to look more into the beginnings of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America (PRCA). I have now begun to read God’s Covenant Faithfulness. I often lack an interest in studying the history of the church, but as Reverend Huizinga suggested, it made me to greatly appreciate the heritage and many other things I have been blessed with in the PRCA. So I extend Reverend Huizinga’s urge to you as well; know your blessed heritage! I now want to take a moment to remind us of days long ago so that we might see how easily at times we take God’s blessings to us for granted.

  1. We take for granted the practical technologies that God blesses us. I start with this point with the mindset of saving the best for last. Remember the beginning of the PRCA at First Church. Most of the congregation walked downtown to meet for worship. People were so excited about hearing the truth that despite snow they would still make it to church. Heating was also an issue at times. Some churches, such as Hudsonville, lacked heating and struggled through the cold in a barn so that they might hear God’s gospel. In South Holland, someone would trek up to seven or eight miles on cold winter mornings at five o’clock so that the church might be warm for the congregation at nine o’clock. However, we have it so easy today. We do not have to meet in barns, bakeries, or store buildings, but God has blessed us with many beautiful church buildings. These buildings are equipped with heating, air conditioning, libraries, bathrooms, nurseries, and they are well furnished. Not only do we have nice buildings, but with cars our journey to church is much easier. It is not uncommon to live twenty plus miles from church and yet we still can travel more quickly and comfortably than those in the early days of our church.

“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” and God has surely supplied us with beyond that with our beautiful churches and our convenient transportation (Phil. 4:19).

  1. We have been blessed with many ministers in almost all of our churches. As synod has pointed out, we will start to face many vacancies in years to come; however, we still can appreciate how richly God has provided us with ministers currently and in years past. This blessing of many pastors stands out to me because so many churches that started out did not have ministers. A common trend I noticed was that new churches in the 1920s-1930s sat vacant for four years before receiving their first pastor. Many churches shared pastors with nearby churches. Reverend Hoeksema and Reverend Ophoff had much work during this time. They not only preached in their own congregations, but helped organize new churches, taught  in the seminary, and preached in vacant congregations. Then and now, God has been faithful to provide young men capable and ready to sacrifice their lives for His word.

God is faithful to His promises: “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15).

  1. I speak from experience that we take for granted the abundant resources we now have. God has granted such great abundance of knowledge to us about His truth. We know so much about His word and we have so many books, recorded sermons/lectures, pamphlets, and so forth to learn of His word. So often we take these resources for granted and do not read. Read! To take Reverend Huizinga’s picture, when we are not in the Word and studying/reading we are like the person who has laid in the hospital bed for months. His body has no strength so that he cannot even start to bench press half of his weight. We must never find ourselves so weak. The early members of the PRCA set a great example to us of a vigor for God’s word. In the beginning, families were eagerly inviting pastors (especially Hoeksema) to come and lecture on God’s word. There was a resilient excitement to hear the truth.

May we never neglect God’s great liturgical blessings to us, but rather may we be as the Bereans and our forefathers who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11).

  1. God has blessed us with great peace. Peace that we feel and experience. There have been many protests at synod and many letters in the Standard Bearer discussing the place of works in the life of a believer. Despite that there is peace that we share in the truth. The denomination has not strayed from God’s great truth. We have a fellowship in the good doctrines, we have good catechism classes which teach the youth the truth of God’s word, and we have Bible studies to come together and in “one faith and one hope” discuss God’s word together (Eph. 4:4-5). In the 1920s-1930s, the PRCA experienced much opposition from the Christian Reformed Church. Hear the troubles faced to meet together for the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland in 1926, “influential men in Christian reformed circles, who were not enthusiastic about Hoeksema’s overflow crowds, stymied all attempts to rent adequate meeting places. Bock’s hall, in Lansing, Illinois, above a hardware store and sandwiched between apartments, was the last resort of the persistent group who were pressing to hear the reformed truth.” Today, we rest comfortably as a denomination united by the truth of God’s Word. We stand fast in the same truths confessed by men in the 1920s when our denomination first was born, and the same doctrines confessed by God’s people through all ages.

What great blessings we experience today! How easy it is for us to become lethargic in our blessings. It is easy to lose the enthusiasm and the persistency of old which brought many through raging snow to church to be able to hear the truth in fellowship and instead for us to get used to coming to church only out of habit or tradition. May we be filled with excitement during the week and on the sabbath for God’s preaching. God has blessed the PRCA very richly and we see how much He has blessed us with growth, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17).

Luke Christian Potjer