David Powlison

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Friday June 7th David Powlison, director of CCEF, beloved husband, father and grandfather, departed this world to be with Our Savior. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He was a great friend to many, a trusted counselor, and a prolific author and speaker. He was a complete human being, wise, funny, and absurdly well read. Our hearts go out to Nan, his extraordinary wife and to his talented children. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, June 18, 3:00 PM at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Praise God for his unique servant.

William Edgar

The Devastating Fire

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May, 2019

Dear Friends,

How many deep emotions have come to the fore because of the devastating fire on the Notre-Dame roof? It is among the most celebrated buildings in the world. Victor Hugo wrote a long novel in which the cathedral is the subject, the hero, the story, and the harbor of such strange figures as Pierre Gringoire, Quasimodo, Clopin Trouillefou and Esmeralda. At one level, the edifice is a testimony to the creative capabilities of mankind. As Hugo puts it: “The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized.” The anonymity is refreshing. But is that all?

The walls have never been silent. The cathedral was the birthplace of the Organum style of music, a direct ancestor of polyphony. Centuries later, the incomparable organist Louis Vierne died at the consul of the grand Cavaillé-Coll instrument, before a congregation of 300. There has also been celebration in the visual arts. Matisse painted the haunting “Notre-Dame, Une Fin d’Après-Midi.”

Is there a link to eternity in these stones? Abbot Suger, the pioneer of the Gothic style, wanted the rose windows and the geometric proportions of the floors to connect worshipers with the presence of God. Protestants might balk at this statement of Roman Catholic mysticism, and its overt Marian theology, but it is well to remember the cathedral was completed in 1260 after some 200 years of collective labors. This is well before the Reformation.

At the opposite end, many historians see in the fire a metaphor for the decline of the Christian faith in France. In the absence of the cohesion once brought by the Christian religion, the question being asked in Paris these days is whether the burning of one of the world’s great monuments can help bring unity to a deeply divided country. While many modern French people are content to be secular, or laic, as this unique term has it, it does not take much of a threat to call forth the deep-seated Roman Catholicism of their heritage. Deep but likely ineffective. Real Unity? True cohesion? Not likely.

Whether believers or not, many French people consider the cathedral should be rebuilt. So far, so good. It is a place where kings have been crowned and heads of state gathered to remember events and persons significant in French history. Already billions of Euros have been raised to that effect. In a rare moment of church – state cooperation president Emmanuel Macron and archbishop Michel Aupetit have agreed to restore this architectural wonder of the world. Predictably, some have objected that such a groundswell should be directed to alleviate poverty, not restore monuments.

So many themes are woven together here: French pride; tourism; Christian faith; traditionalism; church-state relations (since 1905 Notre Dame belongs to the government); and deep questions of French identity. We are hoping this devastating incident will raise questions not so much about French identity but about human identity. Buildings, particularly magnificent buildings such as Notre-Dame, have their place. But the most profound edifice in the universe is the household of God, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21).

This is the heart of our Seminary’s message. This is the only basis for a permanent unity in France or anywhere. Please pray that Aix-en-Provence could become the center for a great revival, and that through it the people of France could enter “a building from God, a house not made with human hands, eternal in the heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Very Truly Yours
William Edgar
President

A Meaningful Life Within Empty Institutions

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February 2019

Dear Friends,

The students at Jean Calvin Seminary in Aix-en-Provence are preparing to preach and exhibit the Christian message in a particular context. It was ever thus. While the message is the same, from the eternal Word, the context may vary, in a changing world. Often we are unaware of the contours of our context.

The study of history is one valuable way that helps us better understand the present features of France. While this country shares many features with the West, it also has its own, unique history. A recent book, Les grandes décisions de l’histoire de France, comprises twenty chapters describing defining episodes in the making of modern France. They include Charlemagne’s coronation (800), the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572), the execution of Louis XVI in the aftermath of the French Revolution (1793), and then a series of attempts to reestablish the monarchy.

Of special concern for understanding our own day are the separation of church and state (1905), and France’s leadership in the European Economic Community (1988ff). Laïcité (the lay state) as it is known forms a major cultural backdrop for the manner in which Christians try to persuade the present generation. The battle in the early twentieth century was between anti-clericals and a (largely) Roman Catholic establishment. One ironic result is that while few people wish for the authority of the institutional church to return, nevertheless French people expect the state to provide for their needs. Because the state is not qualified to provide spiritual nurture, people seek it elsewhere. But they often pursue it in alternative religions or even New Age faith. The same is true for the “rule” of the Eurozone. While this economic community brings with it many conveniences, it has not real foundation in anything but pragmatism, coupled with rhetoric about human community. It carries no transcendent meaning.

This proves to be both a challenging environment and a welcoming one for the gospel of Jesus Christ our students proclaim, a way to live a meaningful life within empty institutions.

Very Truly Yours,

William Edgar, President

Theater of Grandeur

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November, 2018

Dear Friends,

“France cannot be France without grandeur” Charles De Gaulle declared. Throughout the ups and downs of French history since De Gaulle’s time, this theme is a constant. Never mind that critical theorists such as Michel Foucault were fiercely opposed to such profession of power. Never mind that there have been different notions of what that grandeur looks like, or that at least one President, François Hollande, did not see things this way. This view is in the French DNA. Emmanuel Macron, who has been called “Jupiter,” keeps a copy of De Gaulle’s Memoirson his working desk.

Charles De Gaulle was a Romantic. That is, his ideas were nurtured by the Romantic literary tradition. His favorite author was François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), the founder of French Romanticism, who wrote a powerful defense of the Christian Faith based on beauty. In his Génie du Christianisme he attacked the Enlightenment for its rationalism and defended doctrine and sacraments for their emotional value. De Gaulle agreed, and believed France’s calling was to “light up the universe”.

In a marvelous new book about him Queen Mary University professor Julian Jackson writes about A Certain Idea of France (Allen Lane, 877 pages). It is likely the best biography of De Gaulle available in any language. Jackson touts the General’s extraordinary virtues and his courage. But he is also quite candid about his limitations. Toward the end he began to realize that the French were not up to this high calling. “France is worn out, she is made to be supine, not made to fight,” as De Gaulle explained to one aide. “I keep the theatre going as long as I can and then, after me, have no illusion, things will go back to where they were.”

A theatre! This is where the Bible is prescient about the mortality of the theater of grandeur: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) Our Seminary, La Faculté Jean Calvin, in Aix-en-Provence, teaches that true splendor is found in nations and individuals who bow the knee to the Lord God, not in a Romantic idea of human grandeur. Oh that our beloved France would hear that call, not the call of De Gaulle, attractive as that may be, but the call to discipleship under the easy yoke of Jesus Christ.

Very Truly Yours,

William Edgar, President

Jesus in the City of Lights

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September, 2018

Dear Friends,

The City of Paris has long been the setting for romance and adventure. In her memoirs, The Only Street in Paris, master story-teller Elaine Sciolino recounts the marvels of the intricate, richly-human, colorful lives on a single street, La Rue des Martyrs, in the Pigalle Quarter. There she could purchase the best foods, buy the most specialized books, and witness the many public spectacles on the sidewalks. Each of its dwellers is a character, and each has a contribution to make. Paris is also the setting for the generation of world-changing trends and ideas.

Significantly the Rue des Martyrs is bookended by two historic churches, Notre Dame de Lorette and the Sacré-Cœur. Paris is populated by churches throughout the city. A many of them have stories going far back into the recesses of history. Sadly, not all of them have kept their original verve. Yet new initiatives are occurring on a regular basis. And they still connect with history, without being stuck in nostalgia.

Here is a marvelous story. A number of years ago Samuel Foucachon, a graduate of Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence, was working for a Jewish business man who knew he was a Christian and was deeply aware of Protestant history (there has always been a special connection between the Jewish community and French Huguenots who harbored them during the Nazi occupation). The man invited Samuel into his home and gave him a Bible from 1638. This Bible included a copy of the Gallican Confession, a rarity in that day. It had originally belonged to a Pastor Jacques Lafon, who signed the Confession. Today this Bible has come back to the Latin Quarter of Paris, where the Confession had originally been proclaimed. Samuel is the founding pastor of a church in the Chapelle de Nesle, two blocks from where the first Reformed synod met to ratify the Confession. Such an historical link gives credibility to the new church.

Samuel is not the only church-planter in Paris. Aix graduate Benoit Engel is working with Ed and Laura Nelsen, who have been involved in planting a church in the 17th arrondissement, where I grew up! The International Presbyterian church is planning to establish a community led by Westminster grad Gethin Jones. There are many more. As one person put it, “It’s the light of Jesus in the City of lights.”

Very Truly Yours,

William Edgar,
President

Reformation, not Revolution

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May, 2018

Dear Friends,

Fifty years ago this month the city of Paris was in a turmoil. Almost everything solid melted down. Students forced schools and universities to close; 11 million factory workers went on strike; and public transportation ground to a halt. President de Gaulle dissolved the National Assembly, and then fled the country, to the French military base in Germany where General Massu encouraged him to return. Events might have become seriously worse. Total chaos was right around the corner. And then... things calmed down almost as quickly as they had begun. Yet the upheaval of mai ‘68 is forever grafted into the French mindset.

Some of my friends even today are proud of their participation in the strikes. They call themselves “soixante-huitards” (sixty eighters). Like most revolutions, what the people were against was clearer than what they were for. Anti-authoritarian slogans echoed all over, which bespoke the general mentality: “il est interdit d’interdire” (it is forbidden to forbid); “jouissez sans entraves” (rejoice without limits), “Je suis Marxist – tendance Groucho” (I am a Marxist of the Groucho type); “CRS = SS (the National Guard is the S.S.). And yet, like most revolutions, it was not enough to be against the perceived abuses.

To be sure there were issues in need of change. The Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence opened its doors shortly after this mini-revolt. It boldly asserted a need not for revolution but reformation. The difference is crucial. We wanted to acknowledge the real needs for change but within a biblical worldview. We rejected the feverish tide of revolutionary fire which still plagues the French mindset, while we sincerely recognized the deep need for a true reformation.

If you would like to know more about the history and present influence of Jean Calvin Seminary, then, as you are able, come to our Soirée, October 12, 2018, in the Carriage House at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. We are hoping our featured guest will be Rodrigo De Sousa, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Aix. Rodrigo holds the PhD from Cambridge University, and is an expert on Isaiah. Most important, he is passionate about the Gospel in modern Europe and will articulate the spiritual state of the union as he sees it.

Very Truly Yours,
William Edgar,
President

Hope, But On What Basis?

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Dear Friends,

        Nicolas Baverez is a lawyer, essayist, and journalist, justly renowned for his perceptive views of where France and Western Europe are going in the next few years. He has been called a pessimist, because he has written books such as France Is Falling, which looks at sobering trends in the country, such as cultural lag, loss of a competitive edge, and a generalized fear among its people. But he considers himself more of a hopeful realist than a pessimist.

        His latest book, due out next month, is titled, Violence and Passions: A Defense of Freedom in the Age of Universal History. His argument is that no one escapes the forces of history in our times. Contrary to many predictions since the fall of communism in 1989, there is little reason to be optimistic. Forces reign such as terror, revenge, xenophobia, all of which confirm what French poet Paul Valéry said long ago: “Civilizations are mortal.” And yet, Baverez still says there is hope, hope for liberty, if only we would look in the right places. Unfortunately, while he says good things, he stops at the most important. He argues we need to resist terror, to strengthen our institutions, and to “take responsibility.” Sure, but on what basis? He says we simply need “faith is freedom and the courage to defend it.” Sure, but where does it come from?

      Only the Gospel can ensure such things. Our hope is not in the fall of communism or the strength of institutions, but in the rise of resurrection power, inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Seminary in Aix-en-Provence is training leaders for churches and missions that will proclaim this message loud and clear. Thanks so much for your support of this great cause.

Very Truly Yours,
William Edgar,
President 

Remember the Poor

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September 2017

Dear Friends,

            During tumultuous, eventful times, it is easy to forget the basics. The fundamental message of the gospel is that redemption has been accomplished through Jesus Christ, and that the great benefits of his finished work are available to anyone who asks, by faith. During epochs such as ours, which features terror attacks in Europe, a troubled American presidency, mass emigrations, but also medical advances, and so much more, if we want to respond sensibly we will want to stand on solid ground.

            One of the principal gospel essentials is care for the poor. Poverty relief was a principal sign that the Kingdom of God had arrived (Luke 4:18). A mark of true apostleship was remembering the poor (Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 13:16). This ministry is not an appendix, but an integral part of the gospel message.

            For anyone who knows them, the French are an extraordinarily compassionate people. If you are ever in trouble, you’ll want to be in France! French believers are particularly sensitive about the neediest. This is attested by the hundreds of Christian relief organizations in that country. One of the best is called Le SEL. It was created in 1980 by the Alliance Évangélique Française, with the purpose of being obedient to the biblical mandate to match words with actions. While its primary mission is poverty relief in developing countries, it has a strong educational commitment, which one can verify by accessing one of their web sites [https://www.topchretien.com/auteurs/sel/].

            Our Seminary in Aix is close to Le SEL. As you know, it trains leaders to be gospel proclaimers and also proper social activists. It does this in the classroom, and through mentoring, as well as special colloquia on such questions as “Pauvreté, Justice et Compassion”. In that particular symposium, seminars included, “Jesus’ Attitude toward the Poor”, “Obstacles to Poverty Relief”, “The Causes and Cures for Poverty”, and the like. Such conferences are broadcast far and wide through communications outfits such as Trésorsonore.

            This month, the Faculté Jean Calvin begins its forty-third academic year. Please pray that it remain faithful to the full message of the gospel!

                                                            Very Truly Yours,

                                                            William Edgar, President