Recently, Bill Edgar retired as professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. I urge you to read this tribute posted in The Gospel Coalition: ‘Learned Defense’ in Cultural Crisis: William Edgar’s Legacy.

I also want to tell you about my relationship with Bill Edgar. I first met Bill and Barbara in the fall of 1989, when he was a new professor. I visited Westminster at that time and providentially our paths crossed.

We talked for a good while. I did not know what to expect of a seminary professor, but he broke the mold of what I imagined, which was a stodgy, aloof, and cerebral scholar. Bill was, rather, warm, engaging, and quite interesting. I told him about my admiration for a French thinker, Jacques Ellul. Bill, who had served as a missionary in France for a decade, was quite knowledgeable about Ellul. (In fact, he was very knowledge about many subjects.) Bill then spoke his first blessing on my life and told me, “You will be a good Westminster student.”

I thoroughly enjoyed my apologetics classes with Bill during my master’s studies. He often brought interesting material to provoke our thinking. For instance, he played a video designed for children called Gryphon, a clever piece of propaganda concerning New Age spirituality. I remember feeling rage at the audacity of that film. But, indeed, it made me think, as did many lessons that Bill taught. (In fact, after almost twenty-five years, I still use the video for instructional purposes.)

Bill encouraged me to explore my interests. I wrote papers about ideas and thinkers that were not normally considered apologetical themes. After I began my doctorate studies, with Bill as my advisor, we began the Friday Forums for open discussions about theological issues. Many times I joined him for lunch at his house, or we met at our favorite pub. Bill and Barbara practiced intellectual hospitality, which I suppose they learned from Frances Schaeffer.

Which brings me to the second blessing. I prayed a lot about pursuing a doctorate. At one of meals together, Barbara said to me, “Richard, you must do a doctorate because you have too many questions.”

Towards the end of my studies, I sought God for direction after seminary. Bill, knowing my love for Europe, suggested that I contact the International Institute for Christian Studies (now Global Scholars) about serving as an academic missionary. About eighteen months later, our family arrived in Prague, and I began teaching non-Christians at a new college there. After our first year, we felt compelled to return―but we lacked $41,000. Little did I know at the time, that behind-the-scenes Bill urged a wealthy benefactor to support us, and he did. After we returned to Prague, I told this story to a non-Christian student. She commented, “It was a miracle!” And it was.

Perhaps the greatest blessing was the sermon Bill delivered at my first wife, Karen’s, funeral in 2002. His remarks were full of biblical wisdom and comfort. You should read it (below).

Finally, when I wrote a book about thinking based on the Old Testament, I dedicated the text to the those who molded my own thought: “I have learned from many excellent teachers . . . Cornelius Van Til, John M. Frame, and William Edgar explain the complex nature of human thought with biblical-theological sensitivity.”

Quite honestly, you should pray that God provide a Bill and Barbara Edgar in your life as well.

You can read his many thoughtful posts and articles here. 

His review of my book is here.

This is Bill’s sermon at Karen’s memorial service:

William Edgar, PhD
September 21, 2002

Dear Richard, Christine, Stephanie, Louis, and dear family and friends: I want to join these many voices and express, on behalf of Barbara and myself, our deepest condolences. We commiserate with you over this great loss, and want you to know, whatever else may be said, you are not alone. There is, of course, a loneliness from such a tragedy that only the Lord God, the Heavenly Father, can comfort. But inasmuch as we can be your friends, your helpers, your companions on the hard journey, we’re there for you.

This will be very simple. Here are some questions, five of them, that you must be asking, and that we all may be asking at this time. If there be answers, if there be any comfortable words, if there be a revelation from Heaven, then it is good to hear them.

First, you’ll be asking, why? Why did this have to happen? Your life’s companion, your mother, your daughter, and our very good friend, cut off at a young age, through a cruel disease. Why? You are in good company to ask. No less a spiritual person than the psalmist asks this question a lot.

“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you?” (Ps 30:9)

“Why have you forsaken me?… O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night but I find no rest.” (Ps 22:1-2)

No less a visionary than the prophet asks it as well.

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2)

Be assured that the Christian faith never skirts the question. Nor does it ever make evil to be anything less than evil. Evil is real. It is opaque. It is obstinate. It is perverted. We do not have a religion of detachment, but one, which can stare death in the face and say, “What, are you doing here? You don’t belong.” Some come to the conclusion there can be no God. But, as W. H. Auden found out, only if there is a God can we have right and wrong, and call a spade a spade.

As you know, God has wonderful answers for all these. But he usually does not frame them in the terms required by the question. The first answer we find may seem stoical, yet it is anything but. It is the answer of Job, in the midst of his great sufferings, as he tries to get through to God.

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him; But he knows the way that I take…” (Job 23:9-10)

In a powerful way, this is deeply comforting. God knows. He knows me. He knows the way I take. We don’t understand. We don’t have the answers. God does. What good would it do us to know all the reasons, anyway? How comforting would that be? Maybe a little. But it would not bring any lasting peace. People get desperate for answers at times like these. They make up foolish things, like, “God needed her in his choir.” Or, the innocuous, “It was a blessing.” “It leads to improvement.” “What a beautiful testimony,” etc. No, these are hopeless. It’s evil, and let’s face it. But God knows. He has reasons. And because he is a God who is good, his reasons are good. He’s not safe, but he is good. (C. S. Lewis’ Narnia)

Second, where were you, O God, in all this? Where was God when we needed him? If he had been more concerned, would he not have prevented this? Could he not have healed Karen, and spared so much grief?

Again, this question puts us in very good company. Both Mary and Martha asked Jesus the same question upon the death of their brother Lazarus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” they remarked.

Was he not there? No, he was not there in the flesh. But Jesus brings two answers that make it plain that he was, and is, and will be there: a far greater and more meaningful presence than simply being physically around when bad things happen. First, he makes that extraordinary assertion: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” There is a world, far more real, and far more certain, even than this present, sorrowful world of sin and misery and death. It is the world of life, of eternal life. It is the world of knowing and being known by God. It is the world of communion and friendship and conversation with him. It is the resurrection. Where do we go to find it? To Jesus. Karen knew that, and so she was already enjoying that part of resurrected life to which we have a right even now. We who trust in Christ are dead to sin and alive to God, and death no longer has dominion over us. (Rom. 6:6-11)

Second, Jesus himself not only wept, but also was furious over the death of their brother Lazarus, who was also his friend. And in his mournful fury, he went down to the grave and called him forth. With the voice with which he brought the worlds into being, the voice that calls the dry bones of the valley to live, Jesus calls him by name, and commands him to live. How could he do this? Because a week later, he would suffer for the sins of the world, his voice would not command but implore a deaf father, “why have you forsaken me?” And he would enter his own tomb. But because he was obedient unto death, he would come bursting out of the grave, full of life-giving Spirit, filled with resurrection power, which he freely gives to all who ask it of him. Karen knew he was there, and even through the sad reality of her broken body, she radiated the greater reality, not worthy to be compared, of the glory of God.

Third, what’s the good of this? If “all things work together for good,” then why did this have to happen? Who benefits from this?

We must be very cautious here. Suffering is not good. Evil is against the good. Death is an enemy. The Bible curses people who call good evil, and evil good. So, when it says, all things work together for good, it does not mean all things are good. The key idea is working together. In French, it’s concert. All things concert for the good.

So, what good can emerge from this evil? For one thing, God is known in weakness. We Americans have a hard time with this. We believe God must identify with success. But, the Bible has another take. Jacques Ellul is one of Richard’s favorite authors. Listen to what he says: “He is a God incognito who does not manifest himself in great organ music or sublime ceremonies, but who hides himself in the surprising face of the poor, in suffering (as in Jesus Christ), in the neighbor I meet, in fragility.”

We meet God in fragility. Karen was an amazing witness, a solace, and a comfort, to many who knew her, both in strength and in weakness. So many have said it. But, it is true. Her quiet strength, her humor in the face of negative diagnoses, this was contagious. And, Richard will be the first to tell you that it helped him get priorities straight. You’ll admit it, Richard, it was hard for you when you realized the work in Prague was not possible in the same way, given Karen’s condition. You had to come home. Maybe you wrestled with God. You certainly knew the frustration of managing things from a distance, and letting others take over for you. But, did not God do a wonderful work in your heart? We have all been astonished and delighted to see that in faithfulness and love, you devoted your time and attention to Karen? Did not your love, already strong, grow even deeper? Her suffering drove you to care for the things that really matter, and to relativize ministries and causes that will always be there. We’ve learned so much from you Richard, and we are deeply grateful.

Furthermore, Karen’s death shows us that death has lost the battle. It is overcome, swallowed up in victory. We take great courage in this. Not everyone dies so well, so peacefully as Karen. But those who do show the way to those who may not. You will remember at the end of the Pilgrim’s Progress, on their final journey through the deep river to the Celestial City, Christian loses nerve. And Hopeful has to remind him, “These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God has forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distress.” and then they both see Jesus, and take courage, and see the enemy only as still as a stone, impotent. “Thus they got over,” says the text. We saw Karen beginning to cross and we who may tend to sink down take great courage in her clear sight of Jesus.

Fourth, where is Karen now? Will we see her again? What happens at death? The psalmist who asked, “Will the dust praise you?,” knew in part what we know more fully. Here’s one of the best parts of the gospel. Yes we will see her again, and she’ll be there to greet us. “But we do not want you to be uninformed,” says the apostle, “about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope.” We do grieve. This is a sad day, not a happy one. But we grieve with hope that breaks through, knowing that we will see Karen again. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thess. 4:13 ff.) Heaven will be the greatest reunion, the greatest homecoming imaginable, all orchestrated by the one who left his family, his glory in Heaven, to come and fetch us and make us his bride.

So now, we wait. We’re sad because she is gone. She is herself waiting, like the souls under the altar, asking Jesus when he will come back to earth and finish the work of bringing justice to the land. And Jesus is saying to her, “Take this white robe of my righteousness, and rest a little longer, till the number of dead is complete. And then you can ride with me back to earth, and share in the final victory over sin and evil. And then, Richard, and Stephanie and Christine, and all who are close to her, will be reunited and nothing… nothing will separate us ever again.”

Fifth, and last, what do we do now? How do we spend our time while we wait for that great day?

I’ve already said that we wait. We wait with God-given patience. But we wait not in passive inactivity. There is work to be done. We do so with added motivation. We now do it to honor her memory, to emulate her example. As the hymn puts it:

Come, labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here:
By feeble agents may our God fulfill his righteous will;

Come, labor on.
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
Till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
And a glad sound comes with the setting sun, “Servants, well done.”

And yet, and yet, even this meaningful life we can lead, and will continue to lead throughout eternity, good as it is, cannot be the first and the last answer. You see, we have something far better, far more precious than a host of good reasons for bad things. We have God himself. We are his, and, amazing truth, he is ours too. And so, what we do is to know him, and to enjoy him, and to give him praise and glory. But we do not praise a faraway god, a distant deity. We praise the God who has made himself known to us by sharing our miserable condition:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction… For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”  Amen.


A Passionate Plea On Behalf Of Christian Scholarship – Guest Blog

Keith Campbell

URGENT PLEA! I recently had a conversation with a well meaning brother in Christ (I’ll call him “Joel”), a conversation that I’ve had at least a hundred times over the years. Joel-–– firmly, confidently and quite condescendingly––said to me that biblical scholars are worthless and a waste of time. All they do, he said, is sit around and discuss worthless things and confuse the “common Christian” (his words, not mine). They should spend their time doing more important things for the Kingdom.

Okay, I understand. Just like in any profession, there are those who don’t contribute much. Fair point. But, hear me well…very well: Joel, and 99% of Earth’s population, cannot read one word––NOT ONE SINGLE WORD––of the Bible without depending on scholars!

Seriously. Take the New Testament, for example. Your New Testament was transcribed from thousands of ancient parchments by scholars, and then translated from Greek into English by other scholars. This is no easy task. It takes a lifetime for one scholar to be able do this for usually just one book of the Bible. And, these scholars stand on the shoulders of literally tens of thousands of other scholars before them. Unless you can read Koine Greek in the original parchments of the first several centuries of the first millennium (or ancient Hebrew), you cannot read your Bibles without the help of scholars (including the Kings James Version and even modern Greek versions).

Besides being unable to read one single word of the Bible without the help of scholars, almost everything your Sunday School teacher and pastor mention on Sunday mornings (aside from most illustrations) comes either directly or indirectly from hundreds of thousands of scholars, throughout thousands of years, who spent lifetimes thinking, debating, and writing so that others can say these kinds of things in just a few simple, easy seconds, such as: (1) “There are four Greek words for the word ‘love’ in the New Testament….”; (2) “In the Roman world, crucifixion was considered the most humiliating ways to die.”; (3) “What this biblical word means is…”; and the list goes on and on and on and on and on!

So, here’s my plea. Please don’t dishonor good, Christian, Jesus- and Bible-loving scholars. In fact, thank them! Your ability to simply read the Bible depends on them.


“Try Me And Know My Thoughts!”

God is omniscient. He knows all our thoughts (spoken and unspoken). Psalm 94:11 proclaims: “The LORD knows the thoughts of man” (“They are but a breath.”) Similarly, Psalm 139:2b says: “You discern my thoughts from afar.” God declares: “For I know the things that come into your mind” (Ezek 11:5). Amos 4:13a states: “He who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought.” Additionally, God depicts his knowledge utilizing the image of the heart (mind): “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man!” (Prov 15:11). And David wrote: “The LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chron 28:9).

However, God does not simply observe passively but scrutinizes our intellectual activity—in real time, 24/7. Several terms are used to express this activity: “test,” “try,” “prove,” “search,” “search out,” and “examine.” The Lord declares: “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind” (Jer 17:10). Others testify about him: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts” (Prov 17:3); “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart” (Prov 21:2); “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?” (Prov 24:12); and “O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind” (Jer 20:12).

In the Old Testament mental piety appears in heartfelt petitions that invite divine testing. These are prayers for intellectual and motivational purification. David implored the Lord: “Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind” (Psalms 26:2). Psalm 139:23 states: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” Psalm 19:4 declares: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight.”

Perhaps the most poignant expression of intellectual piety and redemptive epistemology is Psalm 131:1—2.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Do you, Christian thinker, pray this way also?

Beware of Utopia

Because human beings are created as the imago Dei, we are hard-wired for extension, development, economic growth, even globalization. But, because we are fallen, the usual result are misguided visions of utopia on earth. From these we produce conquest, empire, mono-culturalism (consumerism, for example), subjugation, exploitation, plunder, and extinction. As a matter of course we often create cultures that are nothing short of abusive, inhumane, and unjust.

Clearly, “east of Eden” (Gen 3:24) and “under the sun” (Eccl 1:9) the human project is flawed. Existence is conditioned by finitude, falleness, and God’s curse (Gen 3:14–19; Ps 90). This is the “present evil age” (Gal 1:4), as Paul wrote. As a result, there will never occur in this eschatological epoch a utopia through communism or socialism, capitalism or consumerism, Islam, or any of the myriad alternative spiritualities. This side of eternity, there will never be a true “holy fill in the blank empire.”

Christians should be continuously wary of incarnations of the cultural mandate gone awry.

The reality is that history is full of failed and tragic experiments in culture building and identity formation. Consider the many corrupt leaders and violent empires of destruction, beginning with Babel: ancient empires such as Pharaoh’s kingdom of the sun-god or Caesar’s Pax Romana, the medieval Holy Roman Empire, modernity’s myth of progress, and ideologies like Nazism, communism, and totalitarianism.

We should honestly ask ourselves: How many millions have perished because of the lust for empire and its cousin, colonialism, throughout human history? God alone knows the suffering and injustice inflicted due to the divine right of kings and manifest destinies. How often have lands been acquired, peoples dispersed, raw materials confiscated, or access to the sea or trade routes expropriated for purposes of security, gain or glory? How often has mankind raped the earth of its natural resources, failing to steward God’s goodness? How many people have been enslaved or exploited for want of manpower or greed? And most importantly, how often has Christianity affiliated with the powerful and prosperous, but overlooked the victims of empire: the poor, exploited, enslaved, abused, and condemned? Surely, for all this creation “mourns” (Jer 4:28; 14:2; Hos 4:3).

Christians should, therefore, be continuously wary of incarnations of the cultural mandate (Gen 1:26-28, Psalm 8) gone awry. Whenever we hear a neo-Babelite battle cry, “Let us build ourselves a city . . . that we can make a name for ourselves” (Gen 4:11a); whenever would-be Pharaohs exclaim, “Who is the Lord?” (Exod 5:2); whenever God’s people declare “Give us a king to lead us” (1 Sam 8:6); or whenever an ideology proposes to “put an end to war and set all things in order” (spoken about Caesar and Pax Romana), the church should take heed. The impetus may be religious or philosophical, but the social and economic manifestations are usually totalitarian and theocratic. The forms can be explicitly religious (Islam or medieval Catholicism), ideologically secular (communism, National Socialism, Imperial Japan, North Korean Juche, or even secular humanism), or implicitly religious (consumerism).